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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.
Ave Dec 2019
the loudest voice you know
is the one you'll never hear

it screams and it ponders
for every crevice of your body,
to stain your every wrinkle,

how were you supposed to know
that you're already whole,
but spend your every blink,
borrowing all the seeds
that you can swallow?

seeds to fill up your stomach
so much so, that
they have no room to grow at all?

but the loudest voice you know
doesn't know the quiet sunrise,
as well as you do,
when morning felt impossible

the loudest voice you know
doesn't know you
as well as the sky that
watched you build a shelter from
your bones,
the same sky
that cast a storm over it,
and the same sky that smiled
to find you dry and warm.

the loudest voice you know,
is the one you'll never hear,
so why do you listen to it?
Daniel James Sep 2011
Neil was a nervous boy
Who no one ever noticed
He often knew the answer
But he very rarely spoke it.

He had an older brother, Jim,
Who was big and tall and strong.
He never said a word to Neil
Except – Eargh - “WRONG!”

So Neil took to playing
His own game of hide and seek
How long could he be silent for?
His record was a week.

“Wakey, wakey Neil!”
Said his dad one night at dinner.
“You had a quiz at school today –
I asked who was the winner?”

But just as Neil’s words
Were forming into song,
His brother flicked a pea at him
And said – Eargh – “WRONG!”

All his family laughed at him
But rather than go red,
Neil bit his fingernails
And disappeared upstairs.

He stayed up all night in his room
Plotting his revenge,
Still fiddling with his fingers
Till he’d bitten off the ends.

Morning came – he did not stop
He plotted and he fiddled.
He did not even notice that
His knuckles had been nibbled.

Back at school it carried on
Pinky – Ring – Index – Pointy – Thumb…
It wasn’t till the lunch bell rung
He noticed his two hands were – none!

“How embarrassing!” He sobbed,
“I ate my hands!” But did he stop?
“I can’t go back to class like this
Everyone will take the ****.”

Nails, fingers, knuckles, wrists
Then funny bones and both armpits
Head, shoulders, knees and toes –
That’s how nervous nibbling goes.

By the end of double biology
Neil was half the boy he used to be
And by the time he’d got back home
He was no more than a mouth and a nose.

“Neil’s quite quiet tonight,”
Said Neil’s dad, “Think he’s all right?”
“Oh he’ll be fine,” Said Neil’s mum,
“Probably just lots of homework on.”

That night, Neil’s mouth and nose
Packed a toothbrush and some clothes
And stepped out on to the moonlit road
Their plan: to run away from home.

They wandered round the town all night
And saw a hundred unseen sights
They saw the things most people miss
The shadows of unhappiness.

Till round a corner he found a group
Of kind old ladies making soup
“Oh dear, my dear, what’s up with you?
Has someone been ignoring you?”

Now Neil’s nose was so surprised
He stood there, mouth open wide -
One lady took this as her cue
And poured in some tomato soup.

“There you go dear, see – much better!
Your neck and belly back together.
Now be a dear and lend a hand –
This piece of bread’s for that old man.”

Though Neil was less than a head
He did his best and took the bread
And when the man said “Thank you friend.”
Neil’s face lit up again.

So Neil worked the whole night through
Making, stirring, pouring soup.
“My dear, why don’t you sit down now as
You’ve been on your feet for hours.”

And sure enough, below his head
Were shoulders knees and toes
“Oh!” Said Neil, “Hello, hello…
I missed you lot, where did you go?”

His foot said, “I was in your mouth.”
His knees – “We knocked each other out.”
His gut - "All eaten up with doubt.”
Till his whole being began to shout.

"WE are Neil! Stand up for us!
Or others will just miss us all -
And the boy in each of us
Who eats himself invisible."

So, next morning, back at home,
Neil put on his brightest clothes
And in his loudest voice he spoke
Of that long night that he left home.

And no one interrupted him –
Not mum, not dad, not even Jim,
And when he’d told of the whole night
Jim turned to him and said… “Oh. Awright.”
Scott M Reamer Apr 2013
Man life know just set eyes way like young world soul day hunger space mouth earth thoughts ignorance blind things mind knew final moment human creation kind creatures souls high forgotten dream love spoke self existence face holy deep bound think home void say surrender ear forever called held ephemeral red state end shall heed hope edge living waking fall sea wake garden need February thought past wanderer got men page colored tepid terrible **** proudly untitled features point painted faceless box forgot render wild spring splendor  handfuls looking half brain lost torn ancestral  unseen vision inner summer honor mister owned banner save today fear groans wasn't smoke  street fable strange year contrast black years  able pain body spoken word known motion  palpitate reeling nature culture disclaimers  cancer beg attentive frames ****** base profound double remember wholly finger death token  cries continue folk oh fishing form broken true  divides spread ah twas away breathe wait warning hallowed wish closer lens turn eye live  constant current author hung theory dangle  bramble chemical new force changes adderall  anymore giving beneath possess pardon commentaries eternity internal walk reason  long change does idea glimpse consciousness  wandering simply wonder physical dreams war  sleep told rest benign prior begging truth little  2012 born tale crow bowels allegory animal rule  exasperate making horse curse hands ones read  rearrange capture doing command fail awake  aperture seedlings shift steely sir nap spead ****** demons slits clever telling loud spits la-la-di-dah killing slip game reflected nameless ask  lovers rabid bear salivate plunder shameless  famously savior mint rides menthol bully fate traded melodies play misunderstand mammals gentle witless fine utterly savage silt tongue-less  dirt dilutes pure non-sensory taste briefly ravage dismember it''ll shedding ruined curtain  knots offers plot fulfills munificent two-act  relegates boxz bug altruistic wintergreen tossing  callously guise grovels one's singers treachery ashes mid-life mutter fashion parading  ambiguity separatist liars staple steeping neath  guidelines scoffing stitch moans civil wrote  Fictitious undoing fables table effigies serve  sonnets staged remark psalm swoll praise harken  beggar verse bread lines heavily electricity detection snow sack-happy preaching credit  spotted wicked best gravity gun campaign owe  barge choir revelry celebratory satiated sinking  headline pack hound persistently propaganda  gentlemen excluding diminished ******* run idles  occupied levies wolfishly honestly misinformation cuba vehemently dumb grace spectator erasing  toned sage crowded secrets inter-connectivity  loaned prayer hymns grave mistaken magnified  vandals selective jump leak escapes says minister  buckle mass honesty shut tar children's hats  monument doping long-lived electrical ladle  exaggerated cartoons address seconds cool cradle bleak yang's mind-framed hypnotic  walker caps folly treble claim streaks mixtures  swelled interstate elapse teasing spoon mobile  succulent witchcraft borderline fatal 99 temple stacks sups plastics creeps neurotic ills tossed  meek sipping old crack interlock wax alleyway  coughing blown freak clock birthdays societies  slow flashing viscous candy argument toothless  pills cerebral rapt wall bisect lives wheezing  photo kid starter foiled pair saturated self-castrating pre-packed naked uncertainly pill  used came chaos coated reprisal fells wrack  irreverent mirth sickly disinherited proudest  collate wheeze appearance palette disharmony  discontented bastardized emotive bio inhale diction beat spoiled reclamation loudest tempo  totally disembodied matte imperfect shells flat  struck sounding imparts flak origin severance remarked bone walls snared leaflets mocking  hot scripting adjective noun agape seemingly  resistant gawk calamity passage paintings wind  trashcans signings sits cheap makers poetry persist scrap slipping individual talk wonders  leaving questions fold actor fancy parchment  fates engenders flown jaws stripped longer music  sacrifice fakers book boldly frown sigh atop patient hang trade occupation blows spectacular  whispers worthy backward waving certainty danced suppose needn't ‘drawkcab’ second-guessing  boys forget marched motto heads tightly lies two-tone earthbound harp twice turns goodnight  lying ***** internally indiscriminate nickname  drunk convictions myth steep  in-consumption  fitting artist **** universal sick expressions bad  du spell melody big siphon proud learn sprawls song spastic something temperaments utter check  fissures stomp totality blend definitely thrall sing rug voice shade pestilence ties commiserate round devil steady brains emotional certain gate  suckling gates dearth decay weight bounce pound  carrier pangs glass startle contest earthen web  tug pressed air patience flush amassed guest gone apprehension staring empathize captain believe fading in-perceivable deathbed guarder makes surrounds scatter drooling ebb blink cob tome  venom near door lair derision draws host stairs scent parts curiosities spider webbing surprise wares tips stepping ascetics starkness realize picture surroundings dictations grand pillars  deaf limited comparisons greet visual residents  personal settings dismiss alien law stability common earthly shiftless places prelude  understanding mosaic keen trifling embodiments  geared inception whisper visible jowls kiss murky  puddle rank dawn dichotomy single faithful fraying pays tailor veil climb mores pence whim  breath wellspring samara god stony pear  shadows fruiting forebodes moonlit looming  shown passed bog gold wracked faint tongues  noble preachers mirror shifting layered depth  threads jungle narcissus bemused seamstress self-worshiping architect's wore slumber anomalous  opened barren seam lip caustic scene coupled brick gardener's clenches -with forms idle breed  embodied lore starving empathy design illusion  tree coat fabricate lucid mason scatter-all  narrative seeking imbued 16th shivering chemicals 17th 15thrisk improperly dare  deliberate plan purge try brought chapter speed  aide utmost spirit leading intervention felt  recall recent advent sincerity times diary  lackluster piously lasting happy holding hear  stem tasteless whimpers wet spine monstrosity  dripping causes position quite softly claws pallet  answer digging tearing beast satiating circle breaks skips redwoods beckoning rotted hushed  gray lapsing monoliths deities creborus  imbuement hand stroll paradigm rendered chorus shy whispering forest residual tension  surrenders tolerance lull anew sentenced  bearing tide birds dirge divergent rim joined  cogs wood hesitant mist emergent towering offer  awareness confinement inverted faultier stowed  plane sanctified blanketing trusting memory fossil flash twists laden self-indulgent fleeting invitation agony grip shore impetus lingering  crows promise gift union swallowing endless floor supposed ecstasy sensory intent  psychotropic cradling placement interned  jagged connectivity exchange congenial begun  summons singular spiral assumes ambient reciprocates re-entry fruition reached aggregate lifetime limbs birthed instinct  frightening tarry proper entire light  boundaries innocence pursuit ago discover left  youth's unknowing sacred time place meager  simple fact cast ceaseless wide-eyed literal  apparent coincidence create boldness morphed  crooked kempt mere stumble buried shutter fairy  pivotal definitive months worth shear ambition sound required journeyed self-reflections title  facets vague restless intimation gut wanderer's  leap motivate path account boy soon bears faith  question tripped reasons uproot awaited confronted days step heal provocations wisps crushing transcend chronicles instance  directness raw drove occurrence objective-less  real enters slightest confident nondescript  typify  foreshortened interment paradox bitter heart  devoid jeopardy angry sensation confidential guilty arrogance mercy compliance reprieve  vincent deadening factual sign emotion awe  inhibition shackled butterflies absence actual sciences acknowledgement violent stagnant  spiritual American doors roots lack matted fore  gestures society cause streams intensity hair impossible discord lonely hearts resounding  jest  what's flavored pains closed toxic contented  happenstance scientific knowledge yeah  wizardry shaking stifled withdrawn bloom  jitter dreads settle asocial hulton make  predisposed figurative reflections demeanors  wondered affect hulton's projected sense  morning industry arrays ghosts feeling  certainly endomorphic where's partially wrath  passer mornings jovial unease advertized asking  trash onward wished tempers media mentality connect pasts sharp-toothed scramble great colours trial test salvation continually lent  degree secretly subjection social waned  disconnected colors grimly intellectual civilization cash trading baffling particular  digest myths monumental ending seasons winter  repetition introducing agent everlasting  shoulders delivered honestly-- possession funny  continence history unsightly function suffering propulsion profession divulge familiar tugs era  importance capability perpetuation spite inventory words entirety leveling fray insight  date record continues writer getting evermore fellow tongue possessions identical proof accuracy education similar sack admittance  favor unravel conveyance guilt gives beginnings  predicting audacity definition bobby heady eaters frameless learned release stone grandeur sang  speak molds sleeps split built seats people folded  sheer pour evoked playhouse liquid boring  tellers frayed stark walked reality pleas doth  preformed shows beak pride squawks opinions  greatest bold stunning sightings he'd loudly slain  sunk watch legend precipice theater deeper compound commentator civility justly silly sin  reverent seen prophetic moral confounds notion  lacking explain attempt prolific viral estrange proclivity scorn hide blur pious strung eden's  horror cut skin arch cruel twig mother vile  pass lend woods peach shrunken trail man's canopy worn 434 eat warm limb familiar father delete.

You are what your reading lady. Now would you hold this gun?
Melanie Rose Mar 2014
Silence –
The loudest sound at night
When cars go by
And babies cry,
Silence screams at me

And your five o’clock shadow against my face
It makes me feel like I’m in the safest place
Your breath against my neck
So calm, I have to check
for you…

Whispers –
The loudest voice anyone speaks
When you reach those peaks
And someone is yours to keep
Whispers whisk on by

And my dreams are only of you
I could only hope you dream of me, too
So hold on tight
I might be here all night
with you…

Love –
The loudest feeling out there
When war is in the air
And death hangs near
I still love you…
Breanna Stockham Mar 2013
She lives a quiet life,
she tiptoes around,
she whispers when she speaks,
she hardly ever makes a sound.

Although her words are quiet,
her mind is very loud.
She has so much to say,
but no one listens for soft sounds.

She's an invisible girl,
who doesn't want to stand out,
she just wants to be heard,
without having to shout.

Sometimes the loudest people,
aren't saying much at all.
Empty words and promises,
just leave their mouths and fall.

But whispered words fly high,
and catch peoples attention,
they're intriguing, so amazing,
but only when they listen.

So look outside the spotlight,
because often the real star,
isn't anyone on stage,
but the mind behind it all.
AP Jun 2011
Having been in his chair all day,
It wasn't clear
I did not know.
I did not realize.

At nine years old,
Nine that day, January 1,
How could I be blamed?

I went on about life.
I was not grown,
I did not notice,
I knew no better.

In fact, I don't remember hearing...
My mother's frantic voice,
The intermittent sobs,
The paramedics pulling up.

But in the wake,
In the subsequent hours and days and YEARS,
Ten or eleven years,
I've grown. I understand...

Those things now give me chills just to acknowledge.
I still can not remember the commotion, but that's not what matters.
That disaster didn't shake me, you know.

But his absence is the loudest sound there is.
It's rang in my ears for the past decade or so.
It's the loudest sound I've ever heard.
Edna Sweetlove Nov 2014
I heard the world's loudest **** today
It echoed round the town enough to say
"I am a **** of great renown and fame,
I am a **** who's worthy of the name
Of
  KING of FARTS!"  Unthinkingly I sniffed
And, let me tell you, I have never whiffed
Aught so potent, dank and dread and foul
Blasted out from heaving human bowel
As that king of farts I smelled today
And which took my ******* breath away.

Who was the pumper of that putrid beauty?
How many curries in the line of duty
Had he consumed?  It must have been a man -
No pong so strong ere blew from female can.
Can no one answer yet my urgent question:
And say who suffereth such dire indigestion?
O heavens! his torment must be something chronic.
Can no one subsidise a high colonic
Irrigation to prevent another
Noisier and more noisome than its younger brother?
This has a slightly Shakespearian or even Chaucerian ring to it I feel. Or maybe even Marlovian, bearing in mind some of Christopher's well-documented sodomitic frolics. Yes I know it's a teeny bit ******, but then so were Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Marlowe. It has tragically never won a prize of any sort, although it's secured quite a few rounds of applause elsewhere. It is truly one of my masterpieces.
Allison Oct 2017
Follow the kick-drum of the heart
to the point where it’s heard loudest.
Spend ten thousand hours on the lungs:
Read the textbook on what fills us.
Dedicate a white board
to what makes us collapse.
Hold the bell lightly
to differentiate your own pulse from another’s.
Then drink, and dance, and pray,
to relearn that they’re the same.
b Hawk May 2013
On a vine grew the loudest tiny flower ever to grow,
Glowing blood-orange in the yellow day’s sun,
It sprung from the brightest green stem
Like an old victrola horn into little
Powdery pistolas firing from the center, piercing ears

Like sound. Inside out along the walls of
The horn shaped a star that daydreamed of first kisses
Dismissive with bliss, or the first feet to ever
Leave their heavy prints on the cold blue surface of the moon.
On a vine grew the loudest tiny flower ever to grow.
Mitch Prax Aug 2014
They’ll be
no sleep tonight
Not when you’re
on my mind
the night:
It’s cold, it’s silent
But your silence:
it freezes, it screams
It’s the loudest sound
The loudest sound
I ever heard
Venesa Jun 2014
How beautiful art thou; rain.
Pittering and pattering, into nothingness.
Dripping and dropping in a steady beat.
Splitting and Splattering but soothing.
What a feat.

How beautiful art thou; rain.
Small and light, crystal and clear.
Sent from the heavens above.
The gentle weeping and tear.
What a sight.

How beautiful art thou; rain.
With soft drops to the loudest of splashes.
Big but small, quiet but not so.
Call upon the lightening, your company.
What a sound.

How beautiful art thou; rain.
Washing away sadness and bring new life.
Day or night, you see through everything.
Morning or evening, your steadiness fails to change.
What a night.
I'm too shy
to say my thoughts.
I'm too shy
to speak up.

I'm too isolated
to make many friends.
I'm too isolated
to defend.

When you find me some paper,
or a gentle screen,
I'll speak up,
and I will say what I please.

I will rant,
I will rage.
I will create a war,
though it doesn't seem me.

The thoughts in my head,
kept quiet until now.
I have found some paper
to make my crown.

Don't put me in public,
don't put me on stage.
I will only blush
and stammer away.

I am an introvert,
so quiet, you see.
But I am the loudest
of the three.
Extroverts are loud.
Introverts are silent.
Ambeverts are both
where the three are seen.
B Nov 2014
I've got a mess of a mind as of late
Thoughts so loud, that I can't concentrate
They're behind my eyes and beneath my skin
So many now, both are wearing thin
But you don't know, for I don't show
The thoughts racing around below
Of all the noise they always make
I'll keep quiet for sanity's sake
You don't see, that in the course of a day
The loudest thoughts are those I never say
Logan Robertson May 2017
Lost Love


He remembers that day
many sad years ago
it was sunny out,
but soon a storm raged.

He returned home early
from work,
eager
to rest and nurse a cold.
Eager
to see his gorgeous wife
fix him a delicious soup
and give loving care,
a remedy not.
He caught a surprise.

Was it then a hallucination?
To see her ex's car
in front of their house,
fanning the flames in his heart?
Or to imagine the house shaking,
or to hear love noises howling
from the rafters of contempt,
as her fireplace warmed tempest.
He sure hoped then... it had been a misfire
it wasn't.

He slowly opened the front door,
walking decrepit and sad,
like he was in hospice care.
He could see the final script
playing out,
more so the tragic ending
the trail of clothes,
her ex-boyfriend's scent,
calamity,
and approaching closer
the devil speaking louder.

He opened the bedroom door
to their parts caught in honey jars
and scarlet red on his tainted wife
over bed sheets of shame.
Their eyes catch,
both flush, and tearful,
as breathing stopped,
his melancholy eyes asking why?
Why?
What about the future  lily pods,
our family, house, kids
... and you sell out.
What about being fresh
out of college with our dreams,
passion and honor...us.
What about the bonds,
pinky swears, pricking of blood
marital vows.
Her eyes had no answers.
She cried, loudest
as her ex-boyfriend bolted
not before passing the mill.

He closed her door for good
that mournful day,
dismissing darkness,
opening his wrath for her
in his mind, yet
what words or light can be exchanged?

Uprooted and lost, he walked
scarred over and over
by her promise and lost love.

That was thirty years ago
and he still walks with her
ghosts, and it still pains.

LR-5/4/17
Dorothy A Jun 2012
With great recollection, there were a few things in life that Ivy Jankauskas would always remember—always.

She would never forget where she was when 9/11 happened; she was in her algebra class, doodling a picture on a piece of notebook paper of her dog, Zoey—bored out of her mind by Mr. Zabbo’s lecture—when she first heard the shocking news. Certainly, she could remember when she first properly fell in love; she was fresh into college when she knew that she loved Trevor Littlefield—the day after they agreed to get back together, right after the day they decided to split up—after she finally realized that she really loved him, much more than she ever, really, consciously thought. She would forever remember when her parents first took her to Disneyland; she was seven and got her picture taken with Snow White and Mickey Mouse, and she instantly decided that she wanted to become a professional Tinkerbelle when she grew up.

And, like it or not, she could remember her very first kiss. She had just turned five, and it was at her birthday party. How could she ever forget those silly paper hats, and all her little playmates wearing them? They were a good sized group of children, mostly from the neighborhood and her kindergarten class, which watched her open present after present. Ivy remembered her cherry cake, with white frosting, and the stain she had when she dropped a piece on her pretty, new dress that her mother had bought her just for the occasion.  

It was later that day, behind her garage, that Gordon Zachary Durand, the Third, a boy her same age, planted one on her. It was a strange sensation, she recalled—icky, wet and sloppy, and Gordon nearly missed her mouth. Not expecting it, Ivy made a face, puckering up her lips—but not for another kiss—as if she had just ****** on a spoiled lemon. Ever since then, it was the beginning of the dislike she had for Gordon Zachary Durand, the Third. She didn’t exactly know why—there was just something about him that bugged her from then on.

There grew to be several reasons why Ivy knew that Gordon was a ****, something she first sensed at her birthday party behind the garage. Since about third grade, children picked on Ivy’s name, teasing her by calling her “Poison Ivy”.  And the one who seemed to be the loudest and most obnoxious of the name callers, chiming in with the other bullies, was Gordon Zachary Durand, the Third.  Ivy was proud of her name up until then, but the taunts made her self conscious. Her mother told her to be proud of her name, for it was unique and different, as she was unique and an individual. Still, Ivy felt uncomfortable with her name for quite a while. Only in adulthood, did she feel somewhat better about it.

A bit of a tomboy back then in school, she would have loved to punch Gordon right in the nose. If only she could get away with it! What a joke! Who would name their child Gordon anyway? She had thought it was far worse than hers.

So to counter his verbal assaults to her name, Ivy called Gordon, “Flash Gordon”, after the science fiction hero from TV and the comics. But Gordon was no hero to her. He was more of a villain, creepy, vile, and just plain mean!

Soon, new name of him caught on, and other kids were joining her. She had a smug sense of satisfaction that Gordon grew furious of the title, for it stuck to him like glue.

Gordon’s family lived right around the block, just minutes away from where Ivy lived. Ivy’s mom, Gail, and Gordon’s mom, Lucy, both went to the same Lithuanian club, and both encouraged their children to take up Lithuanian folk dancing. Ivy remembered she was eight-years-old when she began dancing. It was three years of Hell, she had thought, wearing those costumes, with long, flowery skirts, frilly blouses, aprons, caps and laced vests, and performing for all the parents and families in attendance. Worst of all, she often had to dance with Gordon, and he was one of only three boys that was dragged into taking up folk dancing by their mothers. Probably all of those boys went into it kicking and screaming, so Ivy had thought.

Many years have came and gone since those days. Ivy was now a lovely, young woman, tall and dark blonde, and with a Master’s degree in sociology, working as a social worker in the prison system. Ivy’s parents would never have imagined that she would work in a field, in such places, but she found it quite rewarding, helping those who often wished for or were in need of redemption.    

When Ivy came over to visit her mom one day, her mother had told her some news. “Gordon Durand’s mother passed away”, Gail announced. It was quite disturbing.

“What? When?” Ivy replied, her face full of shock.

“Well, it must have been a few days ago. I saw the obituary in the paper, and a couple of people from the Lithuanian club called me to tell me. The funeral will be Friday. Why, I didn’t even know she was sick! She must have hid from just about everyone. If only I knew, I would have gone to see her and make sure she know I cared”.

It had been a long time since Ivy saw Gordon, ever since high school. Now, they were both twenty-six-years-old. It never occurred to her to ever think of Gordon, to have him fixed in her mind like a fond memory from the past.

“Could of, would of, should of—don’t beat yourself up, Mom” Ivy told her "I guess I should go pay my respects”. But Ivy was not sure if she really should do it, or really if she wanted to do it. “Mrs. Durand was a nice lady. Sometimes, it is the nice ones that die young. What did she die of anyway?”

Ivy’s mom was pouring herself and her daughter a cup of coffee. “I believe it was leukemia. In the obituary, it asks for donations to be made to the Leukemia Society of America”.

Ivy shook her head in disbelief.  As she was sitting down with her mother at the kitchen table, drinking her coffee, her mom shocked her even more. Gail said, “Only twenty-six, same as you, and now Gordon has no mother or father! How tragic to lose your parents at such a young age! It breaks my heart to think of him without his parents, even though he is a grown up man now!”

“What?!” Ivy shouted in disbelief. “When did Gordon’s dad die?!”

Gail sipped on her coffee mug. “Oh, a few years ago, I believe. Time sure flies, so maybe it was longer than I think”. Gail had a far away look on her face like she was earnestly calculating the time in her mind.

“He died? You never told me that! How come you never told me?”

Under normal circumstances, the thought of Gordon Zachary Durand, the Third, would almost want to make Ivy cringe. But now Ivy was feeling very sad for him.  

“I did!” Gail defended herself. “You just don’t remember, or you weren’t listening. I am sure I told you!”

Gail was a round faced woman, with light, crystal blue eyes that always seemed warm in spite of their icy color. Ivy was quite close to her mother, her parents’ only child. She was grateful that her dad, Max, was still around, too, unlike the thought of Gordon’s dad dying. She felt that she could not have asked for better parents. They loved her and built her up to be who she was, and she felt that they could be proud of how she turned out, not the stereotypically spoiled, only child, not entitled to have everything, but one who was willing to do her share in life.  

“I would have remembered, Mom!” Ivy insisted. “I would remember a thing like that! What happened to him? Did you go to the funeral home?”

“I think he had a heart attack”, Gail replied, tapping her finger on her temple to indicate that she remembered. “I did go…oh, wait a minute. You were in Europe with your friends. It was the year after you graduated from high school, I believe. You couldn’t possibly have gone to the funeral home at that time”.

Since Gail did not want to go to Daytona Beach, in Florida, for her senior trip, her parents saved up the money for her to go to Germany and Italy. Ivy wasn’t into being a bikini clad sun goddess, nor was she thrilled by the rowdy behavior of crowds of *** craved teens—a choice that her parents were quite grateful that she chose, level headed as she was.

Since she was a little girl, Ivy dreamed of going to Europe. Her parents, both grandchildren of Lithuanian immigrants, would have loved for her to go to Lithuania, but Ivy and two of her friends had found a safe, escorted trip to go elsewhere,  on to where Ivy always dreamed of going—to see the Sistine Chapel and to visit her pen pal of eleven years, Ursula Friedrich, in Munich.  

Now, Ivy was available to visit the funeral home for Gordon’s mother, and she had decided to go with her mother. Not seeing Gordon in years, Ivy had her misgivings, not knowing what to expect when encountering him. Perhaps, he would be different now, but maybe he would prove to be quite the ****.

As she came, she noticed Gordon’s sister, Deirdre, and she gave her a hug. “I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. She was so nice”, Ivy told Deirdre. She felt uncomfortable talking to Deirdre, for she did not know what to say other than the usual, I am sorry for your loss. It was “sympathy card” talk, and Ivy felt like she was quoting something contrived from a Hallmark store.    

Deirdre was two years older than Gordon. She slightly smiled at Ivy and sighed. She must have said just about the same thing all day long, “It is good of you to come. Thank you for your kind support. Mom would appreciate it”.

Ivy looked around the room. There were many flowers, in vases and baskets, and people surrounding the casket. Ivy could not see Mrs. Durand in the coffin, for people were in the way, her mother included. She was glad she couldn’t see the body from her view.

Funeral homes gave her the creeps, ever since she was thirteen years old and her grandmother died, her father’s mother, and she had to stay at the funeral home all day long. Even a whiff of some, certain flowers was not pleasant to smell. They reminded her of being at a place like this, certainly not evoking thoughts of joy.          

Ivy looked around the room. “Where is Gordon?” she asked Deirdre.

Deirdre sighed again. “Gordon cannot handle death very well”, she admitted. “Go outside and look. He has been hanging around the building outside, getting some fresh air and insisting he needs a big break from all this.”

Ivy shook her head and smirked. “That sounds like Gordon, I must say”  

“Yeah”, Deirdre agreed, as she looked like Gordon’s help to her was a lost cause. “And he’s leaving me to do all the important work—talking to people who come in while he goes away and escapes from reality”.

Ivy went outside to search for Gordon. Sure enough, she found him by the side of the building, under a broad, shady tree. He was having a cigarette, standing all by himself, when he saw her approach.

Gordon looked the same—wavy brown hair and freckles, but much more grown up and sophisticated, his suit jacked off and his tie loosened up. Ivy knew that he always hated wearing ties. She knew that when both her mom and his mom convinced them to go out with each other—a huge twist of their arms—to the Fall Fest Dance in ninth grade and in junior high school. Gordon’s mom bribed him to go with her by promising to double his allowance for the month, and Ivy actually had a silly crush on Gordon’s cousin, Ben, hoping that she might get to talk to him if she went with Gordon to the dance.

Ivy glanced at Gordon’s cigarette, and he noticed. “Been trying to quit”, Gordon told her as she approached. He dropped it on the sidewalk and stepped on it to put it out. His face was somber as he added without any emotion, as if parroting his own voice, “Ivy Jankauskas—how the hell have you been?” It sounded like he had just seen her in a matter of months instead of years.

Well, at least he had no problem identifying her or remembering her name. She must not have changed that drastically—and hopefully for the better.

Ivy stood there before him, as he looked her down from head to toe. Same old Gordon! She thought he was probably giving her “the inspection”. She thought he almost looked handsome in his brown suit vest and pants—almost—with a sharp look of sophistication that Gordon probably wasn’t accustomed to. Surely, Ivy had no real respect for him.

“I’m well”, she responded. “But the question is more like…how are you doing?” Ivy studied Gordon’s blank expression. “No—really. I’d like to know how you are coping”.

Gordon stood there looking at the ground, his hands in his pants pockets, like he never heard her. “Come on. Let’s go for a walk”

“Here? Now?”

“Just a short work, around the block”, he told her. He already started walking, and Ivy contemplated what to do before she decided to follow up with him to join him.

They walked together in silence for a while. From anyone passing by, they surely would have looked like a couple, a well-paired couple that truly enjoyed each other’s company. Ivy could not believe she was actually walking with him. Gordon Zachary Durand, the Third? Of all people!

“You haven’t answered my question”, Ivy said. “How are you coping? You know I really liked your mom a lot. She always was pleasant to me”.

She wanted to add, “Unlike you”, but it certainly was not the right time or the right place. She felt a twinge of guilt for thinking such a thing. Under more pleasant circumstances, she would have jabbed him a little. That was just how they always communicated, not necessarily in a mean-spirited way, but in a brotherly and sisterly way that involved plenty of teasing.

Gordon thought a moment before he answered. “Yeah, it’s hard. But what can I do? I lost my dad. I lost my mom. Period. End of discussion. I’m too old to be an orphan…but I kind of feel like one anyhow. That’s my answer, in a nutshell”.

“And I wish I knew about your dad”, Ivy said, with a great tone of remorse. “I was in Europe at the time, and I couldn’t have possibly gone to the funeral”.

“Europe? Wow! Aren’t you the jet setter? Who else gets to do that kind of stuff but you, Ivy?”

Now that was the Gordon she always knew! It did not take long for the true Gordon to come forth and show himself.

“No! I don’t have all kinds of money!” she quickly defended herself. “I actually helped pay for some of that trip by working all summer after we graduated from high school. Plus, it was the trip of a lifetime. I may never get the chance to go again on a trip like that again”.  

Ivy was a bit perturbed that Gordon seemed to imply that she was pampered by her parents. He accused her of that before, just because she was an only child.

Autumn was approaching, but summer was still in the air. It was Ivy’s favorite time of year, with the late summer and early autumn, all at the same time.  The trees were just starting to turn colors, but the sun felt nice and warm upon her as Ivy walked along. It was surely an Indian summer day, one that wouldn’t last forever. She wore a light sweater over her sleeveless, cotton dress, and took it off to experience more of the sun.

“It has been ages since I’ve seen you”, Gordon admitted. “Since high school. So what became of you? Did you ever go to college?”

“I did and I work as a social worker…I work in various prisons”

Gordon laughed out loud, and Ivy gave him a stern look. “What’s so funny?” she demanded.

“I just can’t picture you going in the slammer, even if you aren’t wearing an orange suit”, he said in between laughing. He looked at Ivy, and she had quite a frown on her face. He changed his tune. “I was only joking, Ivy. I think you’d probably do good work at your job”.  

“And where do you work?” she asked, a devilish expression on her face. “At the circus?”

Ivy caught herself becoming snarky to Gordon. It did not take long. She opened her mouth to apologize, but Gordon, sensing her need to be sorry, stopped her.

Laughing even more, he said, “Good one! You are sharp and fast on your feet! You always have been! I work for an insurance agency. I work for Triple A”.

“Oh, really? Do you like your job?” Ivy asked. Her interest was genuine.

“It pays the bills. But, hey! I am going back to college in January. I just have an Associate’s degree right now. I am not sure what I want to take up, but I want to go back and at least get a Bachelor’s”.

“That’s great!” Ivy exclaimed. “I think you should keep on learning and keep on moving forward. That is a great goa
David Jin Mar 2014
The loudest sounds most kids hear on a school day
are lockers slamming, or maybe the late bell tone
I hear all of those, but the loudest sounds by far
are those created by the lacrosse team
when they beat the **** out of me
every day,
after 8th hour, at the intersection of nerd street and **** avenue

The attacks were formulaic, more complex than Pythagoras
but simpler than Newton’s Binomial Theorem;
Two would tackle me, one would pin me down,
and the rest would kick me around as if it were soccer tryouts
and I was nothing more than a ball
and regardless of whether you derived or integrated this equation
you always got the same solution
me ******, and them ****** happy

I would go home bawling; so would they
but instead of tears they dropped floaters
And I had a rep as the kid with a concussion before the season even began

I was born five pounds tops, with no biceps whatsoever
and as I grew my arms didn’t follow
making me as clear a target as a corpsman in World War 2
To my doc’s urging I drank milk religiously
but that didn’t do **** when I tangled with Darren Shields and his Air Jordans on 4th and eternity
Instead of my ankles however, he broke my ribs; 6 of em’
Told me he’d **** me if I ratted
So I told the mother I fell off my skateboard
Because I didn’t want a rematch with Muhammad Ollie

I considered hitting the off switch on my life
at least three times a week
but I didn’t know how to tie a noose,
didn’t know where my dad’s shotgun was
and I wasn’t ballsy enough to try a steak knife
Which is ironic because if I was brave enough for that
none of this may have happened
I’ll even admit I liked to daydream about building
and bringing a bomb to school by backpack
getting revenge by leaving a crater
where my class was at

And though the bible said suicide was cowardly
I was too cowardly for suicide
So I reasoned that if I got into college out of state
it would be worth a couple more years
of broken bones, ***** dousings, and concussions
So I did nothing


Fast forward eight years
I gained two feet in height
Armanis replace my Reeboks
a multinational corporation, my 4.0’s
I’ve made the covers of Fortune and GQ,
my speed-dial list comprises of more celebrities than actual friends
my annual salary consists of two significant numbers
followed by double-digit zeroes

When I’m not working overtime I spend my days
pulling beautiful women and enjoying the pleasures
that God gave us
Every time I yank my shirt off, each girl gives me the
same wide-eyed expression and unspoken question
regarding the cruel scars all over my body,
to the point where I resort to answering every time with,
“I played lacrosse in high school.”

And I have never forgotten about high school
But Darren Shields has, and fate has him working several floors down
He HAS forgotten
He has forgotten me, my face, my voice when I pleaded for mercy
But I have not forgotten him
Nor have I forgotten my hatred
Nor my fear

I could hurt him
I could fire him with contempt
or disgrace him publicly
or to the very least, remind him of the good old days
and make him feel like the **** he was
But I don’t; I won’t

He must wonder why I struggle
to look him in the eye
or shudder when he cheerfully claps me
on the shoulder every morning  
As I am still haunted by them old days

And despite how I now spend my life in a huge office
surrounded by wealth, women,
and mostly absolute silence
I can still hear the sounds of lockers slamming,
of late bell tones
But loudest of all, I hear the sound of my body breaking
Thanks to Darren Shields on 4th and eternity
Entirely fictatious poem, no references to people I know. If you are reading this, try to imagine someone is presenting it as a slam poem, you know?
Listening doesn't always mean understanding
- Listening could mean getting lost in your own thought of tranquility
- Or even your own devastational whir
- Listening doesn't have to be with your ears
- Just the exhaustion of emptiness that outlines your skull;
- Or even the numbness that conquers every length from spine to external excellence of your mind;
- Gliding from one emotion to another could be the loudest transaction without making a single clamor;
- Listening doesn't always mean understanding
- But the utter perplexity of ones thoughts drowning in the sound of nothingness.
By Macee L
gothicc May 2014
Anything that makes noise
Should not be done on a Sunday.
Don’t mow the lawn,
Don’t vacuum your home.
Respect the stillness that is meant to be.
There are but few exceptions
(However, your yard work and
Home improvement projects are not included).
The birds singing, for example.
Or the  sound of breakfast sizzling
Or the whisper of coffee pouring.
The loudest thing that should be heard
Is the laughter of company.
Family and friends are what the day is for.
If you don’t have those, then meet a stranger
So that next week, you have a friend for Sunday.
we still suffocate in our atmosphere, I saw you but were you really there?

We tore ourselves inside out, just to become invisible. A faded shadow in the background is what I was.

Our silence cuts like a knife, razor blades and salted eyes...I grew numbed, I could not cry.

It had to be the loudest silence I've ever heard...hurt without words.

...and so, that was where we were, stuck, total strangers curled up in bed at nights with each other.

Rocked mentally by the fool I am...I was in your presence for a minute each day until I fade.

It had to be the loudest silence I've ever heard.

S.B
Rameen Aslam Aug 2020
I had too much to say yet too little I could comprehend
Had my hands swinging in the air but tied with metal cuffs and restraints
Apparently I sang out loud , the world could hear my melodious voice
They only heard it masked over, it was indeed my loudest cry.
Craig Harrison Apr 2015
A million voices screaming out in pain
not one of them is mine.
Each muscle weighing more than a plane
not able to move, traped in this uncontrollable body
listening to the millions of diffent voices screaming
but no sound comes out, it never does.

Once, along time ago, one of the voices was mine
it was the strongest, the loudest
when I spoke the other voices fell silent
but no more.
What changed?
I don't know but as the days tick on by
I can tell that my voice is dying


STOP, Don't talk to him!!
Don't listen to anything he has to say.
He had his chance and he blew it
now it is mine, my voice is the loudest and all other voices will fall
Bus Poet Stop Sep 2017
the bus poets

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

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

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

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

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

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

tell your children,
you knew one in your youth,
then take them to the attic
retrieve your mother's and father's,
teach your children
how to read, how to see,
the ways of their forefathers,
the forsaken,
the bus poets.
dedication: for them, for us, for me
Letters from Lia Nov 2018
We are all victims
of failed society
They criticize
They hate
They judge
and we all just
stood there
crying,
tired,
and broken.
We are too numb
to feel,
We pretend to be deaf
about what they say,
We stay blind
of the things they did,
We are the outcast
of this broken world,
We remain silent
creating our own
vast world within
our enormous
minds—There,
we stand
taller than towers
There, our inner voices
speak the loudest
There, our sight
and imagination
is boundless.
I said
"someday
they will
all fall, and
I'd be too
oblivious to hear
all of their screams"
—they made me like this.
Siin.li
Lily Apr 2014
I see her..
she sits alone,
smiles to people and inside she cries...

I see her..
I see the pain, she tries to numb it;
and sometimes she fails..

I see her..
trying  to hide her scars,
and when she goes home, she gets new ones..

I saw her..
she waved goodbye,
it is true as they say;
silence is the loudest cry...
sparkjams Oct 2012
Here we have knives
here we have a garlic clove
pass it on to the next target and mentor
perhaps it is turnip's turn
possibly a dreamcoat

you know
I haven't eaten you in weeks
this last decibel from my banjo-guitar is joyous and ruggedly pleasing to my pear ears!
and I don't feed on mortals

steep is an overshot
this cliff will knock you backwards, refreshingly
teetering on the edges of my fingernails
where aren't you headed, anyway?

Walking and pondering along
questing to the hindering goal
march march for words
tell me a heart
tear out apart

get to the ice creed! This will be cruel
cautious yellow fondling off-white egg beater
he sneezed for me, please
thanks, I mean!

troubadours dance lightly in my mind
feet, feet, focus on their feet
that's a loudest saxophone. that' s a loudest horn
I'm
Scared
heavens no I don't smoke cigarettes!
We do this for a living.
JR Falk Dec 2014
An artist has a busy mind.
Whether it be lines of a poem
or lines of a play.
One may argue that literature cannot be art,
But I will look at the accuser and ask him to count the callouses on my hands
he’ll ask what for,
what they are from,
and as I count them I’ll tell him,
"From crawling out of my own little hell."
Of course, he’ll scoff and leave, but who is he to blame?
Poets are emotional.
Others fear to feel.
Which, in retrospect, is very ironic when you think about it, because technically, they are still feeling.

My mind is like rush hour all hours of the day,
Because there is so much left to think about,
So little time to enact,
So little time to involve yourself in the thoughts.
Things occupy my mind often and when I sit alone on a park bench,
I see a collection of cars screeching against the pavement toward me,
or hear a phone call that tells me my mother,
my father,
my sister,
my brother,
is or are dead when all of the above are very much alive.

No, my mind does not silence,
It is persuasive and deceiving and it never fails to fail me,
Yet I’m trapped inside, because it’s all I've got.
When people ask if I’m alright, I respond with
"I’m fine! I’m perfectly OK!"
Because this is how my mind has been since I could count to ten,
and I cannot seem to picture it being any other way.

Normality is boring, but normality is accepted.
Being expressive is not.
So I’m told I’m too emotional when I speak in a crowded room,
I do not argue, though I still wonder how
An obnoxious burst of laughter is far too expressive.
They say the saddest people laugh the loudest
Because they are most vulnerable and susceptible to a comedian’s antics,
Especially considering they've muted their own expression to the point of near insanity,
Smiling and suicidal,
Laughing but decaying and cracking drastically with each and every chuckle,
Ironic like an abandoned amusement park-
A dying happy place.
People say that “the saddest people have the brightest eyes,”
And the most common compliment I get is
“*******- I love your eyes!”

I do not try to be obnoxious.
The words slip, and the volume cracks up,
And my mind continues running when I am standing still.
I am trying to figure out why I cannot catch my breath,
When I am not even moving.

I wish I could be normal,
I wish I wasn't so ****** up and broken
But you can’t just take a totaled car,
hand someone the keys and say,
"Take her for a spin!"
Because it will forever feel useless and it will not function.
Therefore, neither will I.

Writing helps in easing the plethora of trains speeding through my mind,
Trains of thought just chugging along,
But it only slows them down, if only for a while.

As an inexperienced conductor,
When someone asks me if I’m “BUSY,”
I can never answer them “no” honestly,

Because an artist has a busy mind.
Old, finally revised. Still unsure if I'm proud of it.
Oliver Benjamin May 2014
Where do I see you my blue eyed mum?
In colours of rainbows lit up by the sun,
In the chair by the window with your tea and a crossword,
In the picture you drew of me when I was a young boy,
In the last birthday card you were ever to send me,
In the list that you gave me to help me get sorted,
The photo of you holding me as a baby.
The love that you showed never came with a maybe.

How will I remember you my blue eyed mum?
Thinking of others would name but just one,
Camping with children from near and far places,
Cooking meals in the kitchen for friends and for family,
Changing the subject whenever you wanted,
Asking me to speak louder because you could not hear me,
The eggs that you bought for me every Friday,
Making the dress for your youngest granddaughter.

What did I learn from you my blue eyed mum?
The list would be endless but here are just some,
The listener learns more than the ones that are talking,
Words spoken in anger may someday be regretted,
Hate towards others will only consume me,
The loudest voice heard may not be the wisest,
Happiness cannot be measured in coins or possessions,
Let beauty be seen in all colours, shapes and sizes.
This is the poem I wrote for my mums funeral.  I know it may seem a bit dissjointed but I make no appologies for that as it was and still is relevent to my memories of her .
The inspiration came from the song "A hard rains gonna fall"  by Bob Dylan as my family (especially my parents) have been involved with the peace movement for many decades.
Undoubtedly he will relent, and turn
From his displeasure; in whose look serene,
When angry most he seemed and most severe,
What else but favour, grace, and mercy, shone?
So spake our father penitent; nor Eve
Felt less remorse: they, forthwith to the place
Repairing where he judged them, prostrate fell
Before him reverent; and both confessed
Humbly their faults, and pardon begged; with tears
Watering the ground, and with their sighs the air
Frequenting, sent from hearts contrite, in sign
Of sorrow unfeigned, and humiliation meek.
Thus they, in lowliest plight, repentant stood
Praying; for from the mercy-seat above
Prevenient grace descending had removed
The stony from their hearts, and made new flesh
Regenerate grow instead; that sighs now breathed
Unutterable; which the Spirit of prayer
Inspired, and winged for Heaven with speedier flight
Than loudest oratory:  Yet their port
Not of mean suitors; nor important less
Seemed their petition, than when the ancient pair
In fables old, less ancient yet than these,
Deucalion and chaste Pyrrha, to restore
The race of mankind drowned, before the shrine
Of Themis stood devout.  To Heaven their prayers
Flew up, nor missed the way, by envious winds
Blown vagabond or frustrate: in they passed
Dimensionless through heavenly doors; then clad
With incense, where the golden altar fumed,
By their great intercessour, came in sight
Before the Father’s throne: them the glad Son
Presenting, thus to intercede began.
See$ Father, what first-fruits on earth are sprung
From thy implanted grace in Man; these sighs
And prayers, which in this golden censer mixed
With incense, I thy priest before thee bring;
Fruits of more pleasing savour, from thy seed
Sown with contrition in his heart, than those
Which, his own hand manuring, all the trees
Of Paradise could have produced, ere fallen
From innocence.  Now therefore, bend thine ear
To supplication; hear his sighs, though mute;
Unskilful with what words to pray, let me
Interpret for him; me, his advocate
And propitiation; all his works on me,
Good, or not good, ingraft; my merit those
Shall perfect, and for these my death shall pay.
Accept me; and, in me, from these receive
The smell of peace toward mankind: let him live
Before thee reconciled, at least his days
Numbered, though sad; till death, his doom, (which I
To mitigate thus plead, not to reverse,)
To better life shall yield him: where with me
All my redeemed may dwell in joy and bliss;
Made one with me, as I with thee am one.
To whom the Father, without cloud, serene.
All thy request for Man, accepted Son,
Obtain; all thy request was my decree:
But, longer in that Paradise to dwell,
The law I gave to Nature him forbids:
Those pure immortal elements, that know,
No gross, no unharmonious mixture foul,
Eject him, tainted now; and purge him off,
As a distemper, gross, to air as gross,
And mortal food; as may dispose him best
For dissolution wrought by sin, that first
Distempered all things, and of incorrupt
Corrupted.  I, at first, with two fair gifts
Created him endowed; with happiness,
And immortality: that fondly lost,
This other served but to eternize woe;
Till I provided death: so death becomes
His final remedy; and, after life,
Tried in sharp tribulation, and refined
By faith and faithful works, to second life,
Waked in the renovation of the just,
Resigns him up with Heaven and Earth renewed.
But let us call to synod all the Blest,
Through Heaven’s wide bounds: from them I will not hide
My judgements; how with mankind I proceed,
As how with peccant Angels late they saw,
And in their state, though firm, stood more confirmed.
He ended, and the Son gave signal high
To the bright minister that watched; he blew
His trumpet, heard in Oreb since perhaps
When God descended, and perhaps once more
To sound at general doom.  The angelick blast
Filled all the regions: from their blisful bowers
Of amarantine shade, fountain or spring,
By the waters of life, where’er they sat
In fellowships of joy, the sons of light
Hasted, resorting to the summons high;
And took their seats; till from his throne supreme
The Almighty thus pronounced his sovran will.
O Sons, like one of us Man is become
To know both good and evil, since his taste
Of that defended fruit; but let him boast
His knowledge of good lost, and evil got;
Happier! had it sufficed him to have known
Good by itself, and evil not at all.
He sorrows now, repents, and prays contrite,
My motions in him; longer than they move,
His heart I know, how variable and vain,
Self-left.  Lest therefore his now bolder hand
Reach also of the tree of life, and eat,
And live for ever, dream at least to live
For ever, to remove him I decree,
And send him from the garden forth to till
The ground whence he was taken, fitter soil.
Michael, this my behest have thou in charge;
Take to thee from among the Cherubim
Thy choice of flaming warriours, lest the Fiend,
Or in behalf of Man, or to invade
Vacant possession, some new trouble raise:
Haste thee, and from the Paradise of God
Without remorse drive out the sinful pair;
From hallowed ground the unholy; and denounce
To them, and to their progeny, from thence
Perpetual banishment.  Yet, lest they faint
At the sad sentence rigorously urged,
(For I behold them softened, and with tears
Bewailing their excess,) all terrour hide.
If patiently thy bidding they obey,
Dismiss them not disconsolate; reveal
To Adam what shall come in future days,
As I shall thee enlighten; intermix
My covenant in the Woman’s seed renewed;
So send them forth, though sorrowing, yet in peace:
And on the east side of the garden place,
Where entrance up from Eden easiest climbs,
Cherubick watch; and of a sword the flame
Wide-waving; all approach far off to fright,
And guard all passage to the tree of life:
Lest Paradise a receptacle prove
To Spirits foul, and all my trees their prey;
With whose stolen fruit Man once more to delude.
He ceased; and the arch-angelick Power prepared
For swift descent; with him the cohort bright
Of watchful Cherubim: four faces each
Had, like a double Janus; all their shape
Spangled with eyes more numerous than those
Of Argus, and more wakeful than to drouse,
Charmed with Arcadian pipe, the pastoral reed
Of Hermes, or his ****** rod.  Mean while,
To re-salute the world with sacred light,
Leucothea waked; and with fresh dews imbalmed
The earth; when Adam and first matron Eve
Had ended now their orisons, and found
Strength added from above; new hope to spring
Out of despair; joy, but with fear yet linked;
Which thus to Eve his welcome words renewed.
Eve, easily my faith admit, that all
The good which we enjoy from Heaven descends;
But, that from us aught should ascend to Heaven
So prevalent as to concern the mind
Of God high-blest, or to incline his will,
Hard to belief may seem; yet this will prayer
Or one short sigh of human breath, upborne
Even to the seat of God.  For since I sought
By prayer the offended Deity to appease;
Kneeled, and before him humbled all my heart;
Methought I saw him placable and mild,
Bending his ear; persuasion in me grew
That I was heard with favour; peace returned
Home to my breast, and to my memory
His promise, that thy seed shall bruise our foe;
Which, then not minded in dismay, yet now
Assures me that the bitterness of death
Is past, and we shall live.  Whence hail to thee,
Eve rightly called, mother of all mankind,
Mother of all things living, since by thee
Man is to live; and all things live for Man.
To whom thus Eve with sad demeanour meek.
Ill-worthy I such title should belong
To me transgressour; who, for thee ordained
A help, became thy snare; to me reproach
Rather belongs, distrust, and all dispraise:
But infinite in pardon was my Judge,
That I, who first brought death on all, am graced
The source of life; next favourable thou,
Who highly thus to entitle me vouchsaf’st,
Far other name deserving.  But the field
To labour calls us, now with sweat imposed,
Though after sleepless night; for see!the morn,
All unconcerned with our unrest, begins
Her rosy progress smiling: let us forth;
I never from thy side henceforth to stray,
Where’er our day’s work lies, though now enjoined
Laborious, till day droop; while here we dwell,
What can be toilsome in these pleasant walks?
Here let us live, though in fallen state, content.
So spake, so wished much humbled Eve; but Fate
Subscribed not:  Nature first gave signs, impressed
On bird, beast, air; air suddenly eclipsed,
After short blush of morn; nigh in her sight
The bird of Jove, stooped from his aery tour,
Two birds of gayest plume before him drove;
Down from a hill the beast that reigns in woods,
First hunter then, pursued a gentle brace,
Goodliest of all the forest, hart and hind;
Direct to the eastern gate was bent their flight.
Adam observed, and with his eye the chase
Pursuing, not unmoved, to Eve thus spake.
O Eve, some further change awaits us nigh,
Which Heaven, by these mute signs in Nature, shows
Forerunners of his purpose; or to warn
Us, haply too secure, of our discharge
From penalty, because from death released
Some days: how long, and what till then our life,
Who knows? or more than this, that we are dust,
And thither must return, and be no more?
Why else this double object in our sight
Of flight pursued in the air, and o’er the ground,
One way the self-same hour? why in the east
Darkness ere day’s mid-course, and morning-light
More orient in yon western cloud, that draws
O’er the blue firmament a radiant white,
And slow descends with something heavenly fraught?
He erred not; for by this the heavenly bands
Down from a sky of jasper lighted now
In Paradise, and on a hill made halt;
A glorious apparition, had not doubt
And carnal fear that day dimmed Adam’s eye.
Not that more glorious, when the Angels met
Jacob in Mahanaim, where he saw
The field pavilioned with his guardians bright;
Nor that, which on the flaming mount appeared
In Dothan, covered with a camp of fire,
Against the Syrian king, who to surprise
One man, assassin-like, had levied war,
War unproclaimed.  The princely Hierarch
In their bright stand there left his Powers, to seise
Possession of the garden; he alone,
To find where Adam sheltered, took his way,
Not unperceived of Adam; who to Eve,
While the great visitant approached, thus spake.
Eve$ now expect great tidings, which perhaps
Of us will soon determine, or impose
New laws to be observed; for I descry,
From yonder blazing cloud that veils the hill,
One of the heavenly host; and, by his gait,
None of the meanest; some great Potentate
Or of the Thrones above; such majesty
Invests him coming! yet not terrible,
That I should fear; nor sociably mild,
As Raphael, that I should much confide;
But solemn and sublime; whom not to offend,
With reverence I must meet, and thou retire.
He ended: and the Arch-Angel soon drew nigh,
Not in his shape celestial, but as man
Clad to meet man; over his lucid arms
A military vest of purple flowed,
Livelier than Meliboean, or the grain
Of Sarra, worn by kings and heroes old
In time of truce; Iris had dipt the woof;
His starry helm unbuckled showed him prime
In manhood where youth ended; by his side,
As in a glistering zodiack, hung the sword,
Satan’s dire dread; and in his hand the spear.
Adam bowed low; he, kingly, from his state
Inclined not, but his coming thus declared.
Adam, Heaven’s high behest no preface needs:
Sufficient that thy prayers are heard; and Death,
Then due by sentence when thou didst transgress,
Defeated of his seisure many days
Given thee of grace; wherein thou mayest repent,
And one bad act with many deeds well done
Mayest cover:  Well may then thy Lord, appeased,
Redeem thee quite from Death’s rapacious claim;
But longer in this Paradise to dwell
Permits not: to remove thee I am come,
And send thee from the garden forth to till
The ground whence thou wast taken, fitter soil.
He added not; for Adam at the news
Heart-struck with chilling gripe of sorrow stood,
That all his senses bound; Eve, who unseen
Yet all had heard, with audible lament
Discovered soon the place of her retire.
O unexpected stroke, worse than of Death!
Must I thus leave thee$ Paradise? thus leave
Thee, native soil! these happy walks and shades,
Fit haunt of Gods? where I had hope to spend,
Quiet though sad, the respite of that day
That must be mortal to us both.  O flowers,
That never will in other climate grow,
My early visitation, and my last
;t even, which I bred up with tender hand
From the first opening bud, and gave ye names!
Who now shall rear ye to the sun, or rank
Your tribes, and water from the ambrosial fount?
Thee lastly, nuptial bower! by me adorned
With what to sight or smell was sweet! from thee
How shall I part, and whither wander down
Into a lower world; to this obscure
And wild? how shall we breathe in other air
Less pure, accustomed to immortal fruits?
Whom thus the Angel interrupted mild.
Lament not, Eve, but patiently resign
What justly thou hast lost, nor set thy heart,
Thus over-fond, on that which is not thine:
Thy going is not lonely; with thee goes
Thy husband; whom to follow thou art bound;
Where he abides, think there thy native soil.
Adam, by this from the cold sudden damp
Recovering, and his scattered spirits returned,
To Michael thus his humble words addressed.
Celestial, whether among the Thrones, or named
Of them the highest; for such of shape may seem
Prince above princes! gently hast thou told
Thy message, which might else in telling wound,
And in performing end us; what besides
Of sorrow, and dejection, and despair,
Our frailty can sustain, thy tidings bring,
Departure from this happy place, our sweet
Recess, and only consolation left
Familiar to our eyes! all places else
Inhospitable appear, and desolate;
Nor knowing us, nor known:  And, if by prayer
Incessant I could hope to change the will
Of Him who all things can, I would not cease
To weary him with my assiduous cries:
But prayer against his absolute decree
No more avails than breath against the wind,
Blown stifling back on him that breathes it forth:
Therefore to his great bidding I submit.
This most afflicts me, that, departing hence,
As from his face I shall be hid, deprived
His blessed countenance:  Here I could frequent
With worship place by place where he vouchsafed
Presence Divine; and to my sons relate,
‘On this mount he appeared; under this tree
‘Stood visible; among these pines his voice
‘I heard; here with him at this fountain talked:
So many grateful altars I would rear
Of grassy turf, and pile up every stone
Of lustre from the brook, in memory,
Or monument to ages; and theron
Offer sweet-smelling gums, and fruits, and flowers:
In yonder nether world where shall I seek
His bright appearances, or foot-step trace?
For though I fled him angry, yet recalled
To life prolonged and promised race, I now
Gladly behold though but his utmost skirts
Of glory; and far off his steps adore.
To whom thus Michael with regard benign.
Adam, thou knowest Heaven his, and all the Earth;
Not this rock only; his Omnipresence fills
Land, sea, and air, and every kind that lives,
Fomented by his virtual power and warmed:
All the earth he gave thee to possess and rule,
No despicable gift; surmise not then
His presence to these narrow bounds confined
Of Paradise, or Eden: this had been
Perhaps thy capital seat, from whence had spread
All generations; and had hither come
From all the ends of the earth, to celebrate
And reverence thee, their great progenitor.
But this pre-eminence thou hast lost, brought down
To dwell on even ground now with thy sons:
Yet doubt not but in valley, and in plain,
God is, as here; and will be found alike
Present; and of his presence many a sign
Still following thee, still compassing thee round
With goodness and paternal love, his face
Express, and of his steps the track divine.
Which that thou mayest believe, and be confirmed
Ere t
Enya Costa Nov 2013
I have longed for this year since fourth grade
When I learned what a val-e-dic-tor-ian was
And realized I wanted to be one.

I have longed for this year since I was fifteen
And wanted to leave home
Go out and explore the bigger world
Free of parents and noisy siblings.

I have longed for this year since my first college tour
And I saw the hubbub
The libraries, the labs, the dorms, the giant sweatshirts
And noticed how small and quiet my high school was.

We picked out caps and gowns
Red
We lead the pep rallies now
The loudest yet
We're taking physics, and calculus, and the SATs
Feeling scholarly
We picked out how our names appear on our diplomas
First M. Last
We have our licenses
Drive to school
We fill out college applications endlessly
And endlessly...
We picked our prom theme
Great Gatsby
We're getting lazy very quickly
Senioritis

Graduation keeps us going
Graduation is the goal
Graduation is the light at the end of the tunnel
Graduation in June
Graduation in red polyester
Graduation in the sun
Graduation is the end

But wait.
Hold up.
Stop.
Stop.
STOP!

Seven more months with you?
You, who I've stared at for four years?
You, whose smiles make my day?
You, whose face I look for in crowds?
You, who are the most amazing person I've ever met?
You, who I haven't even asked out?
You, who have no idea who I feel?
You, who might by some miracle possibly feel the same way?
You, who I'll regret never making a move with for the rest of my life?
You?
Seven. Months.?

HOLD UP SENIOR YEAR SLOW DOWN GRADUATION THERE'S A BOY.
April May 2014
in the silence
our thoughts are the loudest
they're the creaks of the floorboards
letting us know
we are not alone
whether the voices are good or bad
the silence really will never invade our minds
Edward Coles Apr 2017
Be kind to yourself.
You have come so far.
Each emotion you feel tattooed
to your skin
the seasons wash away like chalk.

Be kind to yourself.
You are braver than you thought.
No longer scared of what lies
beneath your bed
but what awaits when you wake up.

Be kind to yourself.
You are worthy of love.
Only you give permission
for forked tongues
to leave passing words as lasting scars.

Only you can adopt old failures
and stack them as obstacles
upon each new path.
You cannot dictate what will be
only – who you are.

Be kind to yourself.
You are doing enough.
You cannot always be switched on.
Sometimes you have to lay down
and breathe –

it is not greed.
If you are always exhausted
you cannot help anybody.

Be kind to yourself.
You did not grow
from a single cell
born from a dying star
in order to feel so small.

You did not close the door
on friends when you expected
more from them.
Why beat yourself up
for who you were before?

Be kind to yourself.
A faltering dancer who gets up
again and again
draws the loudest applause
at the curtain call.

A person who spent half their life
at war with themselves
knows the value of peace,
the feat of getting out the house;
the measure of good mental health.

Be kind to yourself.
You have come so far.
They say ten thousand hours
is the time it takes
to master an art.

You spent so much longer than that
learning the patterns of your heart.
You can pull at those common threads
that keep you together
even when you are falling apart.

Be kind to yourself.
You are stronger than you thought.
Like Leonard says,
“there’s a crack of light in everything. “
You do not have to be perfect.

You do not have to live in the dark.
Be kind to yourself.
Make sure you get to the end.
Do not worry
how you stumbled at the start.
C
"One lie weakens a thousand truths."

"Time heals, steals and reveals."

"Karma finishes what revenge neglects."

"The future is uncertain, but we play a part in its design."

"Help when you can. Pray when you can't."

"If your life is out of focus, it's time to change the lens."

"Honesty is in the alcohol."

"The only thing better than a second chance is never needing one."

"Sometimes the most valuable company is yourself."

"Instincts over impulse, always."

"The greatest comeback is the one least expected."

"Fear is a light sleeper."

"You can't change the past, but it can change you."

"Some are born with a silver spoon, others with a pitchfork."

"Even the smallest of pebbles has its place in the sand."

"The humble voice resonates the loudest."

"Write your failures in pencil, your triumphs in ink."

"Scars speak every language."

"Two things you should always trust: your gut and your God."

"Every tear leaves something behind."

"Courage brings you to the fight, wisdom wins it."

"Relationships start and end, but the lucky ones get to begin again."

"The devil doubts. The angel accepts."

"Biggie makes you dance. Tupac makes you think."

"Justice is money green."

"The only thing better than good friends are lifelong ones."

"I'm in a fight with life and I'm losing on points."

"We are remembered for three things: the times we did good, the times we did bad and the times we did nothing."

"Every underdog wants to be top cat."

"Love never travels alone."

"Dreams reveal what thoughts conceal."

"The problem with the world is the wolves outnumber the sheep."

"You can't spell tragedy without rage."

"Focus on the valley and the hills will disappear."

"When you ignore pain, it ignores you."

"The past and future are distant cousins."

"Hope is always listening."

"Moonlight is for lovers and devils."

"Nothing will get you in better shape than a breakup."

"Time is a tattletale."

"Sometimes all that's left is a penny and a wish."

"There's a special place in heaven for those who suffer on earth."

"We are connected by smiles and tears."

"The mirror mimics what the mind imagines."

"What the blind man sees, the sighted man seeks."

"The ego is a phony friend."

"Luck will take you as far as fate allows."

"I used to think life was hard, until life got hard."

"Two things that never forget: elephants and broken hearts."

"My train of thought has no conductor."
Ysa Pa May 2015
The perfect romance
The overwhelming trance
Is such a scary state
For it can be negate

You were my home and my fortress
You were my dragon and I was your warrior princess
You were my thief and I was your jewel
*Back then... * Everything was mutual

Until

The flames stopped glowing
The fires desist from burning
The candle ceased flickering
Our love halt from growing

You lost that look, your warm stare
I no longer felt your loving care
We've grown apart while we were together
So much for that thing called "forever"

I knew that your love was gone
I felt that I was no longer the one
I decided to ask whether our love was fading
Hoping that I was just complicating

My eyes see what is real
My soul knows what you feel
My heart pleads for it to be untrue
My ears beg to hear the words "I love you"

As my lover didn't utter a word
*It was the loudest silence I've ever heard
"Silence is the loudest scream"

A part of me wished that he would lie and stay with me.

Special thankies to a good friend i call Mr. Footlong (Vincent) for making minor revisions <3
Spenser Bennett Apr 2016
It's been said that ignorance is bliss
But I think that phrase took a swing and missed.
Cuz I look around and all the ignorance I see and hear
Seems to stem directly from fear.

Fear of knowledge, change, and what may come next
From both sides of the aisle, right and left

Mother help us we walk along in confusion
Pointing fingers, spewing hate filled abuse and
Forgetting to speak of love for fear of rejection
Father help us we ask your protection

There's more to learn if only we allow it
We should listen to more than just those who shout the loudest

Even jesters garner much attention
And are showered with affection
But their ideas are farcical and dilute
If one but tried they are simple to dispute

Die not with fear in your heart
Remember courage requires fear to start
To defeat our burgeoning ignorance
We must supplant our living indifference
Jacobo Raymundo Mar 2013
Our two souls speak
Even from many miles apart
While I long to hold you
In my arms
I do every day
I say I love you
You say you love me
I say I love you
And you say you love me

It's those beautiful words
That I hear although unsaid
I hear you calling for me
Wanting for me to break you from you cage
That damnèd creature
Gripping you with such monstrous claws
But I can hear your voice
From somewhere deep within
From your heart
And baby,
I love you too
the voices that are loudest in the dark
need not be those on which we must depend
call on a hope that's ample and not stark

for which new voyage when we first embark
there's no clear meaning that we could intend
the voices which are loudest in the dark

are not the ones we first set out to mark
on whose loud booming our thoughts would perpend
call on a hope that's ample and not stark

that is the task of scholar priest and clerk
here now to master each unworldly trend
the voices that are loudest in the dark

will not be those who cannot just remark
on ordinary passage they must bend
call on a hope that's ample and not stark

allow the motion to ignite a spark
of true humanity before the end
the voices that are loudest in the dark
call on a hope that's ample and not stark
Abigail Sedgwick Nov 2016
"God is my strength"
were the first words spoken
when we saw your small body
lying still, broken.

"God is my strength"
was braided in the prayer
that your Nana spoke over you,
even though you weren't there.

"God is my strength"
was my loudest heart cry
when the doctor came in
and didn't speak, but sighed.

"God is my strength"
said Jon's hand on my hair
"God is our strength"
his eyes spoke through the air.

"God is my strength"
our eyes locked in to say
while we slept and we cried
countless hours away.

"God is my strength"
as the pain grew stronger,
"God is my strength"
as the night grew longer.

"God is my strength"
as I wept through my prayers
"God is my strength"
although this feels unfair.

"God is my strength"
in the silence that followed
"God is my strength"
my womb and arms, hollow.

"God is my strength"
when the nurse held you first.
"God is my strength"
when the silence was burst.

"God is my strength"
I've never seen this before.
"God is my strength"
I can't take anymore.

"God is my strength"
tiny son in my hands
"God is my strength"
For I know the plans...

"God is my strength"
that day and still.
He holds my baby
as part of His Will.

"God is my strength"
and I know it's best
for Gabriel to be there
where he is best blessed.
Robert Guerrero Jul 2012
Their screams of terror
Their cries for help
Their weeps of sorrow
Their the voices in my head

They have grown so old
They have become so loud
Now they echo all day long
I just wish for them to gro silent

The voices in my head
Grow more and more reckless
That I can't even think
Of the consequences to my actions

But no matter what they say or how they say it
They love you just as mush as me
Yet you dont see the love in my eyes
And you cant hear the songs that they sing

The voices in my head
Maybe sweet and comforting
But most of the time
Their sick, demented, and twisted

They argue over whether or not I should
Put a gun to my head
And all but one agrees
For me to pull the trigger

That one voice who cares
If I pull the trigger
Is the voice of reason
It's your beautful voice

The voices in my head
Are they wrong for wanting me dead
Are they right for causing my insanity
All I know is that I can trust them

Every second of my time
I spend listening to their screams
Their cries and their weeps
I realize why they do it

The voices in my head
Echo my pain
Because they know it
And know my demons

The voices in my head
Have never seen my heart
Yet they know the truth to my lies
And the tears not in my eyes

Of all these voices
Yours is the loudest
Causing me to put this gun down
And think of a better way to end it all

The voices in my head
Tell me you the only one
I can and will ever love
And the only one I can't hurt

But I feel as if
The voices in my head
Want me to be hurt
Due to the pain I have dealt

I beg of them to stop
And let me live on my own
To die on my own terms
But they continue on

Then I begin to notice
That all these voices
Are the voices of those I have hurt
Except your one voice of reason

Could it be
That all the pain
Not only my own
But the pain of others
Is the reason to the voices in my head

The voices in my head
Laugh as I piece together
A puzzle to bid to understand
A puzzle not meant to be pieced together

The voices in my head
Grow louder and louder
Even as I fight with them
I realize why I write about war
Because the biggest war is with myself

As I reach for the gun
To end their eerie laughs
I know it will bring satisfaction
So I load and **** it back
Squeezing the trigger slowly

Darkness engulfs me
The voices stop
Peace I don't have
As tears roll down your cheek
Another life I have wasted along with mine

— The End —