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I'm on a train.

One of those red ones with black trimmed windows you can imagine rolling through the suburbs on the way to NYC. Not a subway car but a classier vintage with proper rows of cushioned seats and a lever to pull if there is an emergency. There are sparse shrubberies on one side of the tracks and the ocean on the other. Young trees and bushes stroll by.  A little wind is pushing off the ocean, massaging the car ever so gently back and forth as we move along. A gentle click-clack is on the tips of our ears.

We got on together. I hadn't known you for very long but the connection was stronger than anything I had ever felt or have since. You practically sat on top of me for the first few miles. Couldn't keep your hands off me,  staring in my eyes like you were searching for something lost but you couldn't remember what. The edges of your lips turned upwards permanently as if you were always at the verge of a laugh. You interlaced my fingers with yours and held on like you would be ripped away if your grip loosened for even a second. Slender fingers holding so tightly that they were becoming red.

You were excited to to be riding with me, about where we were going and all the things we would do when we got there. I would see you peer out of the corner of your eye, then lean over to brush your soft cheek against my budding stubble. Kissing and gently biting my lips insatiably. The suns rays coming in at an angle and lighting up your perfect smile and dimple.

I had to remind you we were in public.

I was lost in your blonde curls and the incense of your neck. I had fallen incredibly hard and so fast that my face hurt from smiling and my heart beat with vibrations I had never known. Not even a whiff of anxiety or neurosis. Some of the best memories of my life, as fleeting as they turned out to be.

I yawned and you put your finger in my mouth. I bent over to tie my shoe and you would poke my **** and laugh with your own reflection in the window, like this was the first and best joke of all time. Maybe it was and maybe it is.

The waiter came and informed us that a thing called "the bar car" existed. We both jumped at the idea. I didn't exactly notice at the time, during our excitement, but that's when the train started going faster and everything out the windows began to blur.

The bar car was a wild ride and we took advantage of our lo'cal. All kinds of fine wine, liquors and illicit substances were available. We tried them all. You were beautiful, your laugh infecting everyone around you, I was charming and held a captive audience.   It was a dark, loud and glorious blur. We were the life of the party and it chugged on till dawn.

We woke up in our seats, disheveled and discombobulated. It was dark out already. Did we sleep through the entire day? The train was slowing down, maybe approaching a station. The party was amazing but we were certainly paying the price for the black out. You moved over to the seat across from me to have some more space and lay down. I saw myself in the reflection. My hat, charm and smile from the night before had vanished. I must have left them in the bar car the night before.
      You had changed, beauty uninterrupted but different somehow. I couldn't put my finger on it. Irritated maybe? I invited you to cuddle and battle the hangover together but you ignored me. Like you couldn't hear me or didn't want to. I decided to let you be.

I got up to use the bathroom and thought I would go look for my scattered belongings. Maybe I could find a scrap of leftover dignity while you rested. I inquired to the conductor who directed me to the bartender in the bar car. He hadn't changed a bit, somehow untouched and unaffected by last nights antics that had effected me so dramatically.  Same black suspenders and white pressed shirt with impeccably slicked hair. I asked him what happened and if I had an open tab. While slowly polishing a rocks glass he looked up and made eye contact for a split second before looking away.
He said:  "Oh the bar car takes its toll. In the end we all end up paying one way or another". I still don't know what he meant by that or if he knew.
      I asked him if he found my hat and he said he would check the camera. We walked in to a small back room, while he was reviewing the tape, over his shoulder I noticed a tragedy.

We were drunk. I was going on to a group of new friends on one side of the bar, they were hanging on my words and I was eagerly explaining whatever nonsense they were drooling over. You were in the corner wearing that red dress I love, with your hair up in a tight bun. A few curls had escaped and brushed your high cheekbones, a thin line of pearls dancing delicately across your perfectly symmetrical collar. You were stunning and inebriated, swaying with each bump and motion of the train. A man wearing my hat put his hand on your side to keep you from swaying over and then he left it there.
I took a sharp breath.

It looked like you put your hand on his hand to move it but then it stayed and you both swayed together. As the air left my lungs and the blood drained out of my face I watched your lips touch the strangers. A small piece of my soul slipped away forever. I couldn't watch any further. When I asked the bartender how long it went on he fidgeted for a moment and uncomfortably muttered "quite some time". I never found my hat or the other part of me that left that day.  

The train slowed. I walked to the back, as far away from you as I could get, in utter disbelief. How could you? I thought to myself.
I mourned the loss of the you as I knew you yesterday, quietly and to myself. A tear  escaped my eye and rolled down my now fully formed stubble as I fell in to a random seat in mild shock. There were a few passengers back there so I had to pull together relatively quickly. After gaining some composure I knew it was time to get off. I knew we could never get back to yesterday morning though I would have said or done anything to do so.

The train had stopped. I went back to my seat and you were sleeping. I took my coat and gathered my things. The conductor looked at me confused as to why I would leave something so magnificent, I assume he had no idea what had transpired.   

I walked to the rear of the car and slid the door open slower than required. I stepped to the stairs and put one foot down on the step and the other on the ground. I stopped, rooted with my hand on the railing, lingering between two very different paths.
     I knew that it was time to get off, I knew this was the sensible thing to do, that I couldn't get past this offense regardless of how I had felt earlier the day before. The whistle screamed from the locomotive. The conductor looked at me and shook his head, I'm not sure if he was trying to tell me to stay or go but a decision had to be made.

The train lurched forward and I watched as the station slip away slowly. I sat in between the cars for a while and watched the ocean and birds. With a heavy heart and shoes I walked back to my seat. You were waiting. Crying. You knew. The bartender had told you. You didn't mean do do it, didn't realize what you were doing and thought it was me. He was wearing my hat and the whole world was blurry and dark.

I believed you. Self anguish mixed with alcohol was dripping from your pores. I knew you didn't mean it and were drunk, but could I ever forgive you or trust you again?

I loved you still.

I caught a glimpse of my reflection, a weaker version of myself looked back. As if an invisible chip in my teeth had developed and my shoulders lowered. The charming, confident man from the bar car the day before had been replaced. Something was off but not enough for anyone else to notice, just enough to know a change has happened.
       The train started to pick up speed again as we distanced ourselves from the station.  I second guessed my decision to stay but I didn't look back.

I found the man with my hat and punished him with a few blows in the dark. He knew he ****** up, apologized and took the beating like a man. I never got the hat back.

The engineer announced that we would be going through a tunnel soon and to turn on our lights and keep our hands in the windows.

It would be dark.  

We stayed away from the bar car for a while but the draw was irresistible. After a few hours we were there again but you never left my side.  Then you did. I was looking for you but you would disappear and not answer me when I called you name. The tunnel went deeper and darker and I didn't know where you were and I suspected you liked it that way. The train began to slow down again as we exited the tunnel.

I finally found you back at our seat, you had moved one row away from me. I asked you to come back, tried to hold your hands but you pulled away with vehemence. When I came back from the bathroom you had moved another row farther.
I knew I was losing you.
I begged you to return but you told me calmly that it was time for you to get off. At some point in the tunnel you had decided that you didn't want to go anymore . Your mind was made. You were going to catch another train at the next station.

When the train stopped I thought for sure you would reconsider but you didn't. Didn't even give it a thought. You just grabbed your coat and hat with one big bag under your arm. You kissed me on the cheek like a french stranger and were off. Going somewhere else on a different train. Just like that.

I rode the rails for quite some time by myself , many people getting on and getting off, passing me by. Every once in a while I would think I saw you at a station or in a **** though the window of another train. I often thought I could smell you but when I breathed deeper it was always gone. A ghost dancing on the edge of my senses.

A young girl in a headband got on the train. She was listening to headphones and dancing to herself as she bobbed along. She sat down in the seat next to me flashing a smile. She had a wedding ring on and I dismissed her immediately.  She didn't move from the seat or stop glancing my way. Eventually she confessed that she wanted to talk. I told her I wasn't interested but she persisted.  I hadn't talked to anyone on the train for quite some time and after some more mild persistence, I gave in.

We had a lot in common. We were both riding alone, desperately wanted attention and were thrilled to receive some.  After a few laughs she slid her hand in to mine and interlaced her fingers. I left it there. It was warm, comforting and wrong. She was married but I had been riding alone so long it felt good to have some company. She stayed and we talked. She was broken and I had a knack for fixing things. After a few hours of dramatic conversation I fell asleep with her head on my shoulder.

When I woke up  the train was flying up the track on the side of a mountain. Trees and rocks were a blur of green and grey. The engineer must be trying to make up for lost time I thought to myself.

The girl was asleep with her head on my lap. I looked down at her hand and the rings were gone. I woke her briefly to ask where they went. She said she didn't need them anymore and had thrown  them out the window.  She could of sold them, I said, but she said she just wanted them gone so she could be mine and fell back to sleep.  All of a sudden I couldn't breath. This train was roaring down the tracks, the once gentle click clack had become a loud hum. Suddenly too loud. This girl in my lap who had just gotten on the train wanted to stay. I considered her for a while as she looked up at me with big blue eyes, shining and wet, like a puppy in the shelter, terrified of rejection and desperate to be adopted.

At the peak of the mountain, just when the train began to even out, you waltzed back in to the car with a champagne flute in one hand and your bag in the other.

I don't know when or where you got back on, must have been a few stations ago when I stopped looking for you. Maybe you were wearing a disguise, who knows what you had been up to while you were gone. I'm not sure how long you were away but it was quite some time. That you had been through something was obvious, a new wrinkle had formed on your brow and you're once confident stride had changed to a cautious stroll. What actually happened out there I don't know.  I never asked and I don't want answers.

You looked at me and smiled. It was good to see that smile, like sun on my face on a brisk day.  You took a step toward me and then I looked down in my lap at the girl at the same time you did. I looked up. You and your smile were gone.

Everything I had begun to feel for this broken, head banded girl in my lap dried up like a puddle in  the dessert.  I quietly and gently nudged her awake and told her I had to use the bathroom. She put her head down on my coat and fell back into what ever trance she had been in, eyelids gently fluttering, eyes searching beneath them for what I would never give her.

I dashed up the isle and threw open the door, almost shattering the glass. The conductor glared at me and rolled his eyes as I barged past to the space between the cars.

There you were. Standing on the stairs with your head out the opening. The wind was blowing your perfectly formed curls around your head like a blonde explosion of familiarity. I yelled your name and you dove in to me. My senses erupted, my mind went numb as the train was nearing another station and I inhaled your essence greedily.

We moved to another car. I abandoned my coat with the married girl and never looked back. I hope she found what she was looking for. I  never could have been the answer she was so desperately seeking but I know I  helped steer her towards it.

You told me you had encountered some other people out there on the rails and they had reminded you of what we had when we first left the station. I never forgot.  

The train started to rock and get going again. We were back in the bar car and starting to brown out. We had to get off of this train right ******* now. In a desperate moment we looked at each other and put our hands, together, on the emergency brake cord. I looked in your eyes with your hand on top of mine. You kissed me while yanking down on the cord. Time slowed, the breaks squealed and everything exploded throwing luggage, people and the entire contents of the bar car in to a nondiscriminatory chaos . We got up off the ground, ran to the end of the car, dove off the side in to a soft patch of grass and rolled down a small incline. We watched as the conductor sifted through  the mess and interrogated the passengers, trying to ferret out the party responsible for pulling the brake. He spotted us off the side of the tracks and shook his fist while shouting every conceivable obscenity combination.

We laughed, held each other in the grass and kissed deeply.

We watched the train pick up speed and disappear in to the hills as relief spread over me.

You interlaced your fingers in to mine and we both looked out to where the tracks disappeared into the horizon, wondering how far of a walk it was to the next station.
Michael Mar 2019
Dappled sunlight danced
About your greasy, sweating body,
Oh! What fun.
It saved us shooting twice, and just as well,
For when we finally came your eyes were glazed
And staring at the Sun.
SC Jul 2015
She minds her own business,
      not one to be where she is not wanted...
Walked away from many relationships
     Confrontation is futile!
          from husbands -
                  to casual acquaintances
not one to "bark up a dead dog's ***".
Simply won't fight - seen too much....
Instead -
      She'll smile at strangers
           say excuse me
               walk around...
Yet while she tries to focus on the positive
        out of the mouth of one no older than three
            clear as a bell
*****!
she pauses - not wanting to believe what she heard
Four more times
*****!
     *****!
         *****!
             *****!

The "mother" doesn't try to quiet or even correct the child
Too cowardly to acknowledge the hurt in the eyes of a total stranger.
      White passers by giggled...
She looked at the baby-
      pure hatred looked back.
With a shake of her head she walked away...
So evil - to each a baby to hate.
    who teaches a baby to hate?
       That, to her, is true obscenity....
The overwhelming sadness of it all
   Makes it difficult to function
        yet another day
            in a society that denies
     racism
        still
            exists!
Indelicate is he who loathes
The aspect of his fleshy clothes, --
The flying fabric stitched on bone,
The vesture of the skeleton,
The garment neither fur nor hair,
The cloak of evil and despair,
The veil long violated by
Caresses of the hand and eye.
Yet such is my unseemliness:
I hate my epidermal dress,
The savage blood's obscenity,
The rags of my anatomy,
And willingly would I dispense
With false accouterments of sense,
To sleep immodestly, a most
Incarnadine and carnal ghost.
JAC Apr 2017
I don't like when men
Make women uncomfortable.
As an observer,
I've little confidence to step in
But I see so often
These women can handle things.
One such man
(You know the type all too well)
Shouted a complimentary obscenity
At two women who glared back
With a heat that scorched even me
On the train a few seats away
They seared holes in the man
As he scurried away
Then they laughed
And kissed eachother.
zebra Aug 2017
where's the van twila quist
throwing voices around
like whistling stray dogs

the voice and the vision
a crystal *****
whispering
with mud in the mouth
the ***** don't lie
a yammering van twila quist
who's voice springs from a blood cream corridor
with electric lips and rainbow flesh

a lost beast dazzled in endless wander lust
in search of a scarlet women
surrounded only
by aspiring virgins
sworn to be true
by desolations caress
in black ash weddings
with white frilly dresses
weeping for delicate cruelties
they will never know

his father a falling star
his soul
an undulating cobalt shrine
to her
who he can not find

a catalog of discrepancies
a noxious experiment
with a wandering eye
lust ******
embattled between reason and passion

is that look your giving me
short hand psychic humiliation
for my vile indiscretions i'm trembling to visit upon you
i'm wearing my face like window dressing
hiding the obscenity of my true will behind a curled lip
eyes down cast
hoping to use you like a vacant room
to smear the walls and floors
with your flesh like ******* glitter

too bad
i'm outnumbered by good people
there are sky-fulls of them
agitated with moral concerns
ruining my life with logic

those scoundrels
got pedigree
ideologies
religion
folded ears and moving lips
all monkey see and monkey do

who are they
and
where
is
their
van twila quist
zebra Aug 2018
i was told not to read that book
it said right there on the cover
that if i did
i would become a scourge
like a hidden genies dagger
the sight of which would terrorize some
and draw others to me
those strange few
who cry to feel it wound their flesh
and crave its rupturing cold edge
an obsession in motion
demanding they lose themselves in the rapture
of dangerous weapons of pleasure and pain
their kiss an obscenity

sure i thought

and as i read it anyway
it's words  
where like a cocked gun blasting
a slow-motion bullet
like a bomb in the skull  
shattering brains
with a storm of licking tongues
and kicking feet

my death scattered me
into a great light that casts a long shadow
of headless prancing nymphs
their menstruum,
kaleidoscopic winding red ribbons
fruits of both heaven and nightmares
like a river of elastic mouths
shifting form like chewed gum

thunder filled the house
a dark paradise found
lost in the realm of the senses
quaking and torn
from
this gleaming blade

its caress a sanctuary
pulled tight
over searching fingers
that roam for damp places
in a flickering daze
hiding a frozen scowl
in
impossible times
1.

From our
safe windows,
we crane our necks,
rubbernecking
past the slow
motion wreckage
unfolding in Homs.

We remain
perfectly
perched
to marvel at
the elegant arc of
a mortar shell
framing tomorrows
deep horizon,
whistling through
the twilight to
find its fruitful
mark.

In the now
we keep
complicit time,
to the arrest
of beating hearts,
snapping fingers
to the pop
of rifle cracks,
swooning to
the delicious
intoxication of
curling smoke
lofting ever
upward;
yet
thankfully
remain
distant
enough to
recuse any
possibility
of an
intimate
nexus
with the
besieged.

2.

From our
safe windows,
we behold the
urgent arrivals of
The Friends of Syria
demanding
clean sheets
and 4 Star
room service at a
Tunisian Palace
recently cleaned
and under new
management
promising a
much needed
refurbishment.

The gathered,
a clique of
this epochs
movers and shakers,
a veritable
rouges gallery of
ambassadorial
prelates, Emirs and
state department
bureaucrats
summoned
with portfolio
from the
darkest corners
of the globe.

They are
eager to
sanctify
the misery
of Homs,
deflect and
lay blame
with realpolitik
rationalizations,
commencing
official commissions
of inquiry,
deliberating
grave considerations,
issuing indictments
of formal charges for
Crimes Against
Humanity
while
remaining
urgently
engrossed
in the fascination
of interviewing
potential
process servers
to deliver the bad news
to Bashar al-Assad
and his soulless
Baathist
confederates,
if papers
are to be
served.

Yes, the diplomats
are busy meeting
in closed rooms.

In hushed circles
they whisper
into aroused ears,
railing against
Russia’s
gun running
intransigence
and China’s
geopolitical
chess moves.

Statesmen
boast of the
intrepid justice
of tipping points
and the moving poetry
of self serving tales,
weighing the impact
of stern sanctions
amidst the historical
confusion of the
asymmetrical
symmetries
of civil war.

Caravans
of Arab League
envoys roll up
in silver Bentleys,
crossing deserts
of contradictory
obfuscations,
navigating the
endless dunes
with hand held
sextants of
hidden agendas.

The heroic
Bedouins are
eager to offload
their baggage
and share
on the ground
intelligence from
their recent soirées
across Syria.

They beg
a quick fix,
the triage of a
critical catharsis
to bleed their
brains dry
of heinous
recollections,
pleading
release from a
troubled conscience
victimized by
the unnerving paradox
of reconciling
discoveries of
perverse voyeurism
with the sanctioned
explanations
of their respective
ruling elites.

The bellies
of these
scopophiliacs
are distended;
grown queasy
from a steady diet
of malfeasance
an ulcerated
world parades
in continuous loop;
spewing the raw feeds
of real time misery;
forcibly fed
the grim
visions of
frantic
fathers
rushing
the mangled
carcases
of mortally
wounded
children
to crumpled
piles of smashed
concrete that were
once hospitals.

We despondently
ask how
much longer
must we
look into
the eyes
of starving
children
emaciated from
the wanton
indifference
of the world?


3.

From our
safe windows
we wonder
how much
longer can
the urgent
burning
ambivalence
continue
before it
consumes
our common
humanity in
a final
conflagration?

My hair already
singed by the
endless firestorms
sweeping the prairies
of the world.

How can we survive
the trampling hoards,
the marauding
plagues of acrimony
fed by a voracious
blood lust aspiring to
victimize the people
of Homs and a
thousand cities
like it?


4.

From my safe
window I stand in witness
to the state execution of
refugees fleeing the
living nightmare
of Baba Amr.

The ****** of innocents,
today's newly minted martyrs,
women and children
cornered, trapped
on treacherous roads,
mercilessly
slaughtered and
defiled in death
to mark the lesson
of a ruthless master
enthralled with the
power of his
sadistic fascist
lordship.

I cannot avert my eyes
marking sights
of pleading women
begging for the
lives of their children
in exchange for
the gratification
of a sadists
lust.

My heart
is impaled
on the sharp
spear of
outrage
beholding
careening
children mowed
down with the
serrated blades
protruding
from marauding
jeeps of laughing
soldiers.

I drop
to my knees
in lakes of
tears
reflecting
a grotesque
horror stricken
image of myself.

My eyes have
murdered my soul.

The ghastly images
of Homs have chased
away my Holy Ghost
to the safety of a child's
sandbox hidden away
in a long forgotten
revered memory.


5.

From my safe window
I seethe with anger
demanding vengeance,
debating how to rise
to meet the obscenity of
the Butcher of Damascus.

The sword of Damocles
dangles so tantalizingly close
to this tyrants throat.  

The covered women
of Homs scream prayers
“may Allah bring Bashar to ruin”

Dare I pray
that Allah trip the
horsehair trigger
that holds the
sword at bay?

Do I pick up
the sword
a wield it
as an
avenging
angel?

Am I the
John Brown
of our time?

Do I organize
a Lincoln Brigade
and join the growing
leagues of jihadists
amassing at the
Gates of Damascus?

Will my righteous
indignation fit well
in a confederacy
with Hamas and
al-Qaeda as my
comrades in arms?

Do I succumb to
the passion of hate
and become just
another murderous
partisan, or do I
commend the power
of love and marshal
truth to speak with
the force of
satyagraha?

I lift a fervent prayer
to claim the justice
of Allah’s ear,
“may the knowing one
lift the veil of foolishness
that covers my heart in
cloaks of resent, cure
my blindness that ignores
my raging disease of
plausible deniability
ravaging the body politic
of humanity.”

6.

Indeed,
physician heal thyself.

I run to embrace my
illness.

I pine to understand it.

I undertake the
difficult regimen
of a cure to eradicate
the terrible affliction.

This
pernicious
plague,
subverting
the notion
of a shared
humanness
is a cunning
sedition that
undermines
the unity of
the holy spirit.  

The bell from
the toppled steeples
still tolls, echoing
across the space of
continents and eons
of temporal time.

The faithful chimes
gently chides us
to remove the wedge
of perception that
separates, divides
and undermines.

Time has come
to liberally
apply the balm
that salves the
open wounds
so common to
our common
human condition.

The power of prayer
is the joining of hands
with others racked
with the common
affliction of humanness.

Allah,  
My eyes are wide open,
my sacred heart revealed,
my sleeves are rolled up,
my memory is stocked,
my soul filled with resolve,
my hand is lifted
extended to all
brothers and sisters.
Lift us,
gather us
into one
loving embrace.

Selah


7.

From the safe
windows of
our palaces
we live within
earshot of
the trilling
zaghroutas
of exasperation
flowing from
the besieged
city smouldering
under Bashar’s
symphony of terror.

Our nostrils
fill with the
acrid plumes
of unrequited
lamentations
lifting from the
the burning
destruction
of shelled
buildings.

Our eyes spark
from the night
tracers
of sleeking
snipers
flitting along
the city’s
rooftops.

The deadly jinn
indiscriminately
inject the
paralysis of
random fear
into the veins
of the city
with each
skillful
head shot.

These
ghoulish
assassins
lavish in their
macabre work;
like vultures
they eagerly
feast on the
corpses of their ****,
the stench of bloated
bodies drying in the
sun is the perfume
that fills their nostrils.


8.

From our
safe window
we discern the
silhouettes of militants
still boldly standing
amidst the
mounting rubble of an
unbowed Homs
shouting;

Allah Akbar!!!
Allah Akbar!!!
Allah Akbar!!!

raising pumped fists,
singing songs
of resistance,
dancing to
the revelation of
freedom,
refusing to
be coward by
the slashing
whips of a
butchers
terrible
sword.


9.

From my
safe window
my tongue laps
the pap
of infants
suckling from
the depleted
teats of mothers
who cannot cry
for their dying
children;
tears fail
to well from
the exhaustion
of dehydrated
pools.

10.

From my
safe window
my heart stirs
to the muezzin
calling the
desperate faithful
from the toppled
rubble of dashed
minarets.

We can
no longer
shut our ears
to the adhan
of screams
the silent
voices that echo
the blatant injustice
of a people under siege.


11.

From my
safe window,
I pay
Homage to Homs
and call brothers
and sisters to rise
with vigilant
insistence
that hostilities
cease and
humanity be
upheld,
respected and
protected.


12.

From my safe
window
I perceive
the zagroutas
of sorrow
manifest as a
whiling hum,
a sweeping
blue mist,
levitating
the coffins
from the rubble
of ravaged streets.

The swirling
chorus of
mourning
joins my
desperate
prayers;
rising in
concert
with the
black billows
of smoke
dancing
away
from the
flaming
embers
of scorched
neighborhoods.


13.

From my
safe window
I heed
the fluttering
wings
of avenging
angels
furiously
batting
as they
climb
the black
plumes,
lifting from
the scattered bricks
of the desecrated
city.

It is the
Jacob’s
Ladder
for our
time;
marking
a new
consecrated
place
where
a New Adam
is destined
to be formed
from the
pulverized
stones of
desolation.

14.

From our
safe windows
we peer into
resplendent
mirrors
beholding
the perfect image of
ourselves
eying
falling tears
dripping blood,
coloring death
onto the
blanched sheets
of disheveled beds.


15.

From our
safe windows
our voices are silenced,
our words mock urgency
our thoughts betray comprehension
our senses fail to illicit empathy
our action is the only worthy prayer


16.

From my
safe window
I hear the
mortar shells
walking toward
my little palace,
the crack
of a ******
shot
precedes
the wiz of a
passing bullet
whispering
its presence
into my
waxen
ear.


17.

From my
safe window,
my palms scoop
the rich soil
of the flower boxes
perched on my sill.
I anoint the tender
green shoots of  the
Arab Spring
with an incessant flow
of bittersweet tears.

Music selection:
John Coltrane
A Love Supreme
Acknowledgment

Oakland
2/28/12
jbm
Lily von Rider Dec 2011
A little girl; so innocent

Broken, like concrete

Forsaken in this world

As God had chosen to replete

Forever damaged

Spare me the deceit

That I have long encountered

Mentally ****** and incomplete

I broke the mirrors

That distorted my vision

I am not perfect

I am far from precision

Just a judicial decision

To execute this excision

To ensure that this provision

Of unwanted unborn children

Remain broadcasted on public television

For the captivity of the elderly

Scorned, defeated and miserable

Left in utter decay

Salvaging day and night

Part of this twisted foreplay

That took place on Christmas Eve

For Chirst to be born

On such a horrible day, to entail

This sad story of evil

Demons from hell rose in this tale

But Jesus did nothing

Except to defy the Holy Grail

My exorcism, my ghost

To whom shall I toast?

To the one who left me to burn?

To define myself in these lies

God, I am flawed by your unconcern

Jesus, I am mocked by your reputable lies

For that you deserve a noble prize

Can't you see the concern in my eyes?

I have lost my allies

And I have become the worst

That I could possibly be

Part taking in these sins

Is that what you wanted from me?

You deny my existence

You hide behind pride

You force coincide

And you deny individuality

You force this conceited ******* to form

Or so you implied

Turns out the shock was worldwide

But that didn't stop you

From setting me aside

Sitting in your corner

Contemplating

Is she human or a mutation

Something somewhat malformed

Or perhaps just a devil

An ogre at best

Fine be that way

I am not one to detest

My worst side though

I do not advise you test

I am not blessed

For it is in black that I dress

"Satan's spawn!" they protest

Is it my fault that I am possessed?

Conniving and witty

I am sick of this mess

God you put me here

But nevertheless

I am obscene

And forever your mess
Harriet Cleve Jan 2019

A Skeleton gunslinger, takes on the Unholy of Hell and wages war against his nemesis Hatchet, as a portal to Hell threatens to unleash the putrid, rancid, Unholy hordes onto a desolate planet. "


The bringer of Death arrived in Dakota. Custer's Seventh lay dying on the Powder river and the Ancients had sent him to walk the Earth and help the Ghost-walkers to hold their land. In his mortal days, he carried a torch for Serela, an outcast from the Mind seekers.That's what got him killed in the first place. The saloon was full that night, and he was called out.
He pulled his gun first and knew he would die. His death was foretold in the ancient scriptures of truth. 'The bone that liveth shall slay the flesh and the flesh will become liveth bone'.
Justice will walk the plains and avenge the truth'.
Serela had looked on as a bullet pierced the gunslinger's skull.The spirit of the ancients swept through her soul then, as she watch his head explode, filtering its entrance into the new receptacle of justice.

No one saw the killer shadow draw or witnessed it's departure but John Bitumen's body lay dead, the blood flowing from a hole in his forehead. Even as he died, he was reborn.
The Skull of Death in search of a gunfight, Deathbringer, Cleanser of Evil.


Hatchet looked at his mangy horse, a wasted beast worn out and at the end of it's road.Two years it carried his weight and the saddle dug deep.Whippings were constant and the calloused cruel fists of Hatchet rained down on it's neck if it slowed any.The nearest town was a mile down the road and it was late in the day.
That was all it took to set the anger in motion.Hatchet took five paces away from his horse and hurled his razor sharp hatchet with violence. The horse's head was split in two.
He hauled his saddle, and wrestled his ****** weapon from the dead horse, then walked into the dusk. All the time, Serela had observed from the Spirit's eye, an artefact of the Ancients, entrusted to the Mind Seekers. Hatchet would pay for his offence against Nature's pure beast, for it was written' All Creatures will walk the Earth and all will be held Holy.Swift will be Divine retribution against those who slay the pure beast'.
Hatchet wasn't one to read the ancient scriptures and could not know that the Skull of Death would search him out in the next town.The Ancients had called forth their Gunslinger and a skeletal hand rested on the sacred Gun of Abe. Hatchet would be called out and a Gunfight would settle scores. A chill in the air unnerved him and he took comfort in carresing his ivory handled pistols.


Darkness fell on the land and the half moon shone on the dead horse.The night crawlers made to cut it's remains and scavenge it's carcass. Two hands were raised to the sky, pleading for forgiveness. Horsemeat was forbidden and a desecration of sacred laws.
A knife was produced and held to the beast's throat. In that moment, all became aware of the onlooker.A tall figure in a drab grey longcoat, black spurred boots, an old black stetson. The Sacred Gun of Abe was in his hands. The Skull of Death, the Ancients Gunslinger, walked the Plains once more.
All seven night crawlers stared in disbelief. Their last minutes of life ebbing from them as the eyes of the Ancients warrior scanned their souls and cremated their bodies.Seven figures suddenly engulfed in flames under the incessant stare of the Skull's empty sockets. Amongst the embers, the Gunslinger knelt beside the horse. In his mortal days, this beast was his closest companion.Hatchet had stolen his possession and the sight of it's remains stirred an anguished scream for the horrific end which befell his steed.

Gently the Gun of Abe was placed on the horse's neck. A small bottle of holy oil was rubbed in it's wounds.' Though death may stalk the pure, truly I say to you that righteousness will prevail and the dead will rise'. Even as the words were uttered, a ball of blue flame enveloped the horse. The light illuminated the darkness and from the light the skeleton of a horse emerged, raising itself up on its hind legs, in defiance of death. Approaching the Gunslinger, it nuzzled it's head to his skull, the brilliance of it's chalk white bones radiating a supernatural hue. Mounting his steed, he galloped into the night.Vengeance was coming.Death on a horse was looking for Hatchet!


Raihna woke suddenly and locked eyes withHatchet. She had been ordered to sleep with him, against her wishes. 'Something wrong with me, *****? Hatchet snarled when he'd paid his ten dollars to the House Madam.
'You better be worth it *****! He had roughed her up before falling into a drunken slumber. Now he was standing in his ragged long johns, at the end of the four poster bed.
A manic look was in his beady eyes, as he swigged his liquor jar. Unkempt rank hair covered his weasel like features. Reeking of horse and trail sweat, an ugly belly adorning his uglier frame, he leered for the longest time.Raihna took it all in, especially the hatchet in his right hand. 'Think you're mighty purdy, don't ya! he sneered. ' Let's see what you look like with a hair cut'!
Raihna noticed then that he had pinned her pigtails to the wooden headboard. Realising a scream would be the end of her, she stared back and waited. Hatchet hurled his weapon and it sliced into the headboard, shorning her hair.From the table, he grabbed his bowie knife and aimed for the other pigtail, slicing it off and nicking her neck. 'Well lookee now' he laughed as a trace of blood ran down her neck. 'Ain't you gonna scream, *****?


An eerie blue glow filtered into the room just then and the whinny and snortin' of a horse filled the air. 'What in Hell's name? muttered Hatchet. Looking out of the curtains, he saw the chalk white Skeleton of a horse and a skeleton rider brandishing a pistol. A fiery blue-red low glow radiated from their eyes and it seemed both rider and steed were on fire. Hatchet shouted out ' You one of them Resurrectionists?!' suddenly remembering the old shaman he had killed back in Piebald.
Hatchet had stolen his runes and kept them for trading with the Mindseekers. He thought now that maybe this was him come looking for him from the afterworld. Hot ***** trickled down his leg and he felt scared and sick to his stomach.

The gallows await !' It was almost a whisper as the ancients gunslinger raised his head towards the window. Hatchet grabbed Raihna and tried to shield himself from the spectre below. His mind raced as he hesitated, panic flooding his brain. 'Take them! We be even! he gambled as he threw the runes at the gunslinger. Even as he did so, they were grabbed instantaneously by a skeletal hand and placed around the gunslinger's neck. For these were the runes of time and in the coming trials would decide the balance of power between the Unholy and the Just.


Hatchet had thrown away his trump card and even as he loaded his gun, he was destined to die. 'Pearls before swine' whispered into the room and Hatchet descended the stairs, with Raihna in front. His pistol was cocked and he would shoot it out. If Hell was waiting, he wasn't going on his own. His hatchet lay in his side belt and he made his way onto the street.
The hallway was pitch black and Hatchet cautiously approached the parlour door hoping to get out the back street. He held a vice-like grip on Raihna's arm as he pushed her along. 'You keep your mouth shut ***** and open that door easy' he whispered, his voice betraying his inner terror. Suddenly and unexpectedly, he felt the cold muzzle of a revolver pressed hard to the back of his head. 'You take your claws offa my girl, Hatchet 'less you wants your **** brains spilled where you stand!
Hatchet knew Charlotte, the House madam, wasn't bluffing. He'd seen her do it too, back in Abilene, when China Jack beat up one of her girls. She'd shot him straight through his throat and followed up with a clean shot to his manhood. It hurt Hatchet even now just thinking about it'. Jesus! he thought as he cursed his situation. Things were moving too fast and nothing was going his way.
Hatchet loosened his grip, carefully holstering his gun.As she moved away, Raihna spat on his face and kneed him in the groin. ****! he bellowed and went to strike Raihna. His hearing saved her, as Charlotte cocked the gun and stopped him where he stood. 'Think I'd sleep easy with you on the premises, Hatchet? Take me for a fool? I don't know what the Hell is out on that street but it wants you!' By Christ, you're going out the front door to face it too!. 'Always were a cowardly *******, now move you lousy **** head!
Raihna had gotten hold of a shotgun and had it trained on Hatchet. 'Drop that hatchet right now, she said. ' You're facing that creature with your gun and nothing else! God knows you don't deserve even that much. Hatchet dropped his hatchet. 'Now kick it over here!' He did so and as Raihna picked it up, she hurled it back immediately into his right thigh, gashing him like a pig for the slaughter. Hatchet screamed in agony and Charlotte pulled it out of his thigh as the room sprayed with the red bloom of imminent death. Now move you *******!


Charlotte and Raihna ushered him towards the front door and kicked him into the dark dusty side street. 'You got it coming, Hatchet!, they shouted and there waiting for him was the Ancients Gunslinger. He had dismounted from his steed and now faced Hatchet.The look of death was in the Skull's eerie sockets and it was all Hatchet could do to stop his hands shaking. He threw up and finally faced the spectre before him.

'For those who have suffered, shall be avenged. The Righteous Light will shine on the Unholy and all dark souls shall be driven from the Plains. Fear will walk amongst them and even the shadows shall despise their ways.'
Thus it had been written and now was coming to pass.


Hatchet went for his gun, and time slowed down as his eyes scanned the scene. A chalk, pure white, skeletal hand reached for a gun and the fluid movement captured his attention. Hatchet knew he had been outdrawn and could see the gunslinger's bullet leave the smoking barrell, pristine, crafted by a master gunsmith. He noticed the leather holster, worn and faded, almost an antiquity, strapped to a dark trousered leg.
The long coat, ghastly grey, adorning the bones of the undead. Empty eyes stared him down, as he heard his own gun's sharp report and watched his bullet sail towards the spectre. Just before the gunslingers bullet blew his brains out, he finally noticed the spectre of the horse and instinctively knew this was the brutalised beast he had so callously slain. Blood and bone exploded violently and the mortal remains of Hatchet dropped to the ground.
Hatchet didn't know it then but he too was about to be reborn; for the Unholy were about to unleash the Scourge of Hossana and the Ancients Gunslinger stood in their way. Hatchet would be forged in the cauldron of Hell and in the coming trials would once again face the Sacred Gun of Abe.


Hatchet became conscious, and felt as ill as a cow in a slaughter house. The smell of death was rancid and his vision seemed out of focus. A nauseating, sickly stench permeated his nostrils and he winced as the pungent odour inflated his lungs. He was aware his whole body was bitter cold and he shivered uncontrollably. If this was a hangover, then it was the worst he'd ever been. Terrifyingly, he noticed that he was manacled, face down, to a massive ice block.
Encased within the block was a dead horse, it's head split in two, exposing brain matter, decayed pulped flesh, and grizzled bone. It's mouth was fixed in a ghastly grimace with it's eyes looking back into Hatchet's, it's gory mane matted in dirt.
His screams were hideous to hear and were lost in the din of the thousands of screams echoing within the air.The sound was deafening and burst his ears as the terror built up within him. Hatchet knew then he was in Hell, amongst the thousands of fallen souls now in the possesion of the Unholy.
His whole being was perished with unbearable, intense cold yet he could see flames, blazing blue and orange, feet away from him taunting him with intense glow.
Still the shrieks and squeals of thousands around him assailed his ears! The amplified volume resonated in his brain as his own screams built to a crescendo!
Yet, no light radiated from the flames and the pitch black illuminated only the horse within the ice block and the grimace which would be eternal. Still Hatchet screamed till he felt his throat would explode and his mind begged for deliverance! It was then that his shoulders and back ignited with agonising pain as he felt the sting of a whip.
Again and again the whip found it's mark and his flesh was pulverised. He cried out for forgiveness and begged to be spared and still he was lashed.He prayed to pass out and knew he never would ! For he was in Hell and the blackest deeds were now held to account.
A voice bellowed at him'Welcome Brother Hatchet! We will have a purpose for you soon! Enjoy the interim! Many more punishments await you yet until you are ready'. The eerie voice trailed off as Hatchet continued to be whipped. His agonising screams drowned the air and was unheard amongst the thousand others. Still the horse fixed it's empty eyes and stared at Hatchet and its grimace took pleasure in his suffering.

Seven days passed since Hatchet was despatched to Hell, and darkness fell on the Plains like a widows veil. No light illuminated the Earth and the Lakota knew this was the sign of the coming trials. The Ghost-walkers had appealed to the Great Spirit and no one who witnessed their victory at the Powder River could deny their courage.Truly this was evidence of the Spirit's intervention in their way of life. Reports had come in to Chief Red Cloud of a figure of flame riding amongst the Buffalo. A Skeleton on fire, riding the Skeleton of a horse at full charge. It seemed the very ground they rode upon was a torch of lightning, and the figure was at one with the Buffalo. Red Cloud rode out to witness it himself and noticed the blue-orange glow, like an aura of defiance, surrounding the figure. In it's hand was a gun, and Red Cloud recognised it as the Sacred Gun of Abe.
Many tales had been passed down from his ancestors, and Red Cloud knew this figure was sacred to his tribe.The Ancients Gunslinger would play a role in the destiny of his People.The Whiteman would pay a heavy price for the desecration of the traditions and way of life of those under the protection of the Great Spirit. He knew too that an enemy would arise which would destroy the Whiteman, and all the Earth's inhabitants. Only the Native American would take the battle to the Enemy, aided by the Ancients and the Mind Seekers.
Red Cloud knew his people looked to him for leadership, and he would provide it.They would hear how Red Cloud rode with the Ghost Rider and take pride in his courage. His fate was tied to the Ancients Gunslinger, and this had been preordained in the ancient Scriptures. Red Cloud looked down at the flaming figure and dug his knees into his horse. Charging down the hill, he shouted out a proud battle cry, and rode like the wind to the side of the Ghost Rider.In their trail the Buffalo followed.The trials ahead would be met and the Unholy would do battle with their most dangerous enemy.



**** it Charlotte! 'It don't make sense!
Hatchet weren't killed by no ghost, for Christ sake! Marshall John Lancaster was tired and couldn't believe the events which occurred in his absence. He had just brought in Ned Marlow.Got two of his men killed doing it, and suffered a leg wound himself in the shoot out. Marlow had been holed up in Tinkers Creek and came out unexpectedly with his guns blazing as the posse approached the log cabin. It had suddenly turned pitch dark, and all the horses got spooked, causing confusion amongst the lawman's officers.
Ned Marlow knew Hatchet; had lost an eye in a bar brawl to him once.It was said Hatchet carried the eye around with him ever since.
Ned was closing in on Hatchet, bent on revenge, and swore he'd see him dead. Suddenly a shot rang out, and startled Lancaster.
Ned had headbutted the Marshall's deputy as he was being placed in the holding cell.He had grabbed the deputy's gun then and blown a hole clean through him. Carelessness, or tiredness, maybe both, had cost him his life. Ned didn't give no quarter when his own life was on the line. He weren't going to no hangman's noose neither. He burst into the Marshall's office then and fired off two shots catching Lancaster in the left arm wounding him badly. The Marshall got off one reactive shot catching Ned's left ear.The sound deafened him and he put a slug through the Marshall's head.The fragrance of gunpowder filled the room and Charlotte could only look on.'You're coming with me, Honey!'bellowed Marlow as he grabbed her hair, pulling her close, and made his way onto the streets. A gun was held to Charlotte's head and Ned was figuring his next move.


He was too busy watching the streets but if he'd looked up, he would have seen a hatchet hurtling towards him with violent intent. The hatchet caught his gun hand and severed it clean off his wrist. Ned now had the indignity of losing his right hand.He screamed in agony as blood squirted from his severed wrist, spraying Charlotte in a plume of lifes red wine. Ned looked to the ground and his own hand lay there, holding his pistol, it's finger still on the trigger. Legend would record the severed hand fired off a shot moments after it's horrific amputation. Ned Marlow didn't know it then, but he too would play a role in the coming trials. The Unholy knew it only too well for it had been written 'The Deaf shall hear, the Blind shall see, and the hand of the sinner will turn on the Unholy'.


There the severed hand lay. A ghastly, grotesque, weather worn obscenity.
The gun had been removed from it's grasp since it's horrific amputatation from Ned Marlow. Three days had passed since the incident and no one dared to remove it from the street.cOminously, no decay had festered to spoil that monstrosity;for life still lingered within it's ghoulish flesh. Mangy street dogs looked at it with curiosity, yet kept a tentative distance. The little finger still wore a silver ring, set with a black stone. Once it had belonged to an ancient Pagan High King, who had been slaughtered in battle. An artefact from a distant time, carried across Europe into the America's. Evil had tainted it's properties and the Sons of the Unholy had sought it since. The ring now sought a new owner as the severed hand, an abomination of creation, crawled, like a filthy worm in the dirt. Slowly, laboriously, with uncanny certainty, the wretched hand made it's way towards the room of the one who had hurled the hatchet.


Raihna sat alone in her bedroom.The hatchet lay across her lap and it was emitting a low hum, almost inaudible, but she had heard it. At first she thought madness was setting in, but she realised that the voices communicating with her were real; the Mind Seekers had chosen her.
Her mind and body became a telepathic conduit and she was absorbed in receiving the messages. The Ancients were channelling through her and a deep trance held her almost comatose.
Slowly, sickening slow, the hand crawled it's way towards her., Grubby, thick, fingers inching themselves stealthily, dangerously close, while Raihna was immersed in the communication.
Her eyes were closed in the deep state between the conscious and the unconscious, so she could not witness the fingers wrap themselves around the handle of the Hatchet. Both hand and clasped hatchet lifted silently from her lap. As the hand moved to distance the weapon from her, the ring glowed a greenish hue, emanating the presence of the Unholy. Suddenly the hand lunged at Raihna's throat!
Raihna's life was ebbing into eternity.The possessed, filthy, unholy amputation squeezed her windpipe with the vengence of perpetual hostility. The ring on the severed hand's finger glowed brighter, as her life force lay on the threshold of destruction. It seemed as though the light of a thousand burning suns illuminated that room. A portal to Hell had been created and Raihna was pulled into that abyss. She was neither dead nor alive, for the Unholy had need of a pawn.The hatchet too was ****** into that void as it was destined to be reunited with Hatchet.The light was blinding and it seemed the very Earth could have been swallowed; as though the Gods had abandoned all of Creation!
Yet there he stood! A blazing figure astride a blazing horse.The chalk white bones of a skeleton horse carrying the Ancients Gunslinger towards the entrance to Hell! The ancient scriptures had written ' The Liveth Bone shall ride into Hell, and the Unholy shall cower'.
The Sacred Gun of Abe shall wield the vengeance of the Ages and the Earth and Heavens shall shake'. Thus it had been written and was now coming to pass.
A portal to Hell had opened and the Gunslinger charged into that cesspool of abomination. No Horse ever galloped with such energy and the Unholy prepared for the skirmish.The Gunslinger was possessed with a relentless rage for Justice. Hell quaked as both rider and horse fearlessly charged into the bowels of Evil's pestilent abode.
Furious at this brazen affront, the Unholy now made to close that portal. Even as they did so, Hatchet was resurrected from his tormented existence. His hatchet was reunited with him as he prepared to once again face the Gunslinger.Raihna must be rescued; for her destiny was tied to the Earth's salvation. For now, she lay in a corner of Hell watched over by a severed hand. The screams and anguished cries of all the lost souls in Hell echoed in the stagnant air. Still the Rider charged furiously as he sought to gather Raihna to his arms. A ****** hatchet sailed towards him and Hell looked on.


Hatchet charged from the cage of demons, his face etched with the pain of perpetual torment. His emaciated form like a malignant Phoenix rising from the ashes of Hell. The pitiful creature carrying his burden reared from his weight. A wretched carcass of a decayed horse which had been ressurected for battle. That same horse which had been encased within the ice block;whose ****** head Hatchet had split open when both were mortals on the Earth. Man and beast now tools for the Unholy; possessed by the collective evil of all who now suffered in Hell.cTheir dark energy would now be harnessed for the coming trials. A gruesome grimace was fixed on the horse's face and it's empty eyes stared ahead as Hatchet charged towards the Gunslinger. His violent countenace expressed the deadly intentions which would be borne down upon his enemy.
He had hurled his weapon and watched as it made it's deadly trajectory towards the Gunslinger. As the hatchet spun and revolved through the air, Hatchet emmitted the scream of the demented. The Gunslinger had lowered in his saddle and the hatchet narrowly missed it's target. Continuing on it's course, it landed in the back of one of the screaming forgotten whose souls were doomed to eternal agony.
Both riders now crashed headlong into one another and Hatchet fell from his horse. The Sacred Gun of Abe was now in the Gunslinger's hand and a skeletal finger pulled the trigger.
Once again, Hatchet would witness a bullet discharge from it's revolving chamber. His head exploded as the bullet entered his brain, exiting in one piece and landing in the dank soil of Hell.The blessed relic purified the soil and the Unholy recoiled with revulsion.
The dead cannot die and Hatchet struggled back to his feet. Grabbing the Gunslinger's reins, he attempted to pull him down. It was then that the runes around the Gunslinger's neck pierced the air with a deafening incantation.
The Unholy screamed as the Holy words of the Ancient Scriptures filtered into the bowels of iniquity and shook the foundations of Hell.
Hatchet reeled back and grabbed his hatchet from the spine of the forgotten sinner. He looked up then and witnessed a warrior's lance sail through the air.It violently struck and impaled the severed hand guarding Raihna.
Red Cloud had accompanied the Gunslinger in his charge into Hell!
Akemi Jan 2019
The Ache is leaving. Three years languished by dead end jobs, drugs and friends. Last week above a bagel store, the sun morphs mute amidst travelling clouds, indifferent fluctuations of light on an otherwise featureless day.

You arrive a tight knot of anxieties over a moment in time that could only have arrived after its departure. The Ache welcomes you into their sparse interior. You trace last month’s 21st across the black mould complex; navigate piles of stacked boxes, unsure if anything is inside of them.

“I always make the best friends in departure,” the Ache says, flipping a plushy up and down by the waist.

“Maybe you can only love that which is already lost,” you reply, with an insight a friend will give you a week later.

The acid tastes bitter under your tongue. Small marks your body bursting, a glowing radiance of interconnections you’d always had but only now begun to feel. The Ache follows suit and you sit on the couch together to watch .hack//Legend of the Twilight. The come up entangles you in the spectacle; the screaming boy protagonist, the chipped tooth gag, the moe sister in need of saving from the liminal space of dead code. You take part in it; you revel in it. Bodies morph on the surface of the screen in hyperflat obscenity, their parts interchangeable to the affect of the drama. Faces invert, break and disfigure, before reformation into the self-same identity form.

A month earlier, you’d hosted a house show at your flat. Too anxious to perform you’d dropped a tab as you’ve done now. An overbearing sensation of too-much-ness — of sickening reality — washed through the nexus of your being. You writhed on the ground screaming into a microphone as a cacophony of sounds roiled through you. Everyone cheered.

The floor rose later that night. A damp, disgusting intensity that triggered contractions in your throat and chest. Pulled to the ground, you fought off your bandmate’s advances, too shocked to express your revulsion and horror, to react accordingly, to reconstitute a border of consensual sociality. You broke free and slurred “I’m no one’s! I’m no one’s!” before running out of the room. Hours later, you tried to comfort them. Weeks later, you realised how ******* ******* that had been. Months later, you learnt their friend had committed suicide days before the show.

Back in the lounge, a prince rides onto the screen on a pig. You turn to the Ache and say “This is ******* awful.”

The Ache responds “I know right?”

Outside the world burns blue with lustre. The Ache trails you and falls onto their stomach. “Oh my god,” the Ache blurts, “this is why I love acid. Everything just feels right.” They gaze wistfully at the grasses and flowers before them; catch a whiff of asphalt and nectar, intermingled. “Like, gender isn’t even a thing, you know? Just properties condensed into a legible sign to be disciplined by heteronormative governmentality.”

“Properties! Properties!” You chant, stomping around the Ache with your arms stretched out. You wave them in the air like windmills. You bare your teeth. “Properties! Properties!”

“You know what I mean, right?” The Ache asks, pointedly. “You know what I mean?”

You continue chanting “Properties!” for another minute or two, before spotting a slug on a blade of grass beneath your feet. You fall to your knees and gasp “It’s a slug!”

You and the Ache stare at the tiny referent for an indefinite period of time, absorbed in its glistening moistures. Eventually, the Ache says “I think it’s actually a snail.”

You used to read postmodern novels on acid. You loved their exploration of hyperreality; their dissection of culture as a system of meaning that arises out of our collective, desperate attempts to overcome the indifference of facticity. Read symptomatically, culture does not reveal unseen depths in the world, but rather, constitutes shallow networks of sprawling complexity — truth effects — illusions of mastery over an, otherwise, undifferentiated and senseless becoming.

Then one day, the world overwhelmed you. Down the hall, your flatmates sounded an eternal return. As they spoke in joyous abandon you traced the lines from their mouths — found their origin in idiot artefacts of Hollywood Babylon. The joy of abstraction you once relished in your books took on an all too direct horror. You recoiled. You bound your lips in hysteria, for fear of becoming another repeating machine of an all too present culture industry. Better dumb than banal — better to say nothing at all, than everything that already was and would ever be. You cried and cried until everyone left — until you were alone with your silence and your tears and your nonexistent originality.

Dusk falls in violet streaks. You reach your room on the second floor of the building, open the bedside window and stick your legs out into a cool breeze. The Ache joins you. Danny Burton, the local MP, arrives in his van, his smiling bald face plastered on its side like an uncanny double enclosing its original.

“Hey look, it’s Danny Burton, the local MP.” Danny Burton turns his head. He glares at your dangling feet for a few seconds before entering his house. “You know, this is the first time in three years he’s looked at me and it’s at the peak of my degeneracy.” You turn to the Ache. “One of my favourite past times is watching him wander around the house at night, ******* and unsure of himself. He always goes to check on his BBQ.” You bounce on the bed in mania.

“See this is what people do, right?” the Ache says, mirroring your excitement. “Like, look at that lady walking her dog.” The Ache motions, with a cruel glint in their eyes, to the passerby on the fast dimming street. “What do you think she gets out of that? Doing that every night?” Without waiting for you to respond, the Ache answers, in a low, sarcastic tone “I guess she gets enjoyment. Doing her thing. Like everyone else.” The lady and the dog disappear beyond the curve of the road. Another pair soon arrives, taking the same path as the one before.

A few months back, you’d met an old friend at an exhibition on intersectional feminism. After the perfunctory art, wine and grapes, she drove you home, back to your run down flat in an otherwise bourgeois neighbourhood. She sat silent as the sun set before the dashboard, then asked how anyone could live like this; how anyone could stand driving out of their perfect suburban home, at the same time every morning, to work the same shift every day, for the rest of their stupid life. The dull ache of routine; the slow, boring death. You said nothing. You said nothing because you agreed with her.

“Life began as self-replicating information molecules,” you reply, obliquely. “Catalysis on superheated clay pockets. Repetition out of an attempt to bind the excess of radiant light.”

It is dark now; a formless hollow, pitted with harsh yellow lamps of varying, distant sizes. The Ache flips onto their stomach and scoffs “What’s that? We’re all in this pointless repetition together?”

You respond, cautiously “I just don’t think that being smart is any better than being stupid; that our disavowed repetitions are any worthier than anyone else’s.”

The Ache returns your gaze with an intensity you’ve never seen before. “Did I say being smart was any better? Did I say that? Being smart is part of the issue. There is no trajectory that doesn’t become a habitual refrain. When you can do anything, everything becomes rote, effortless and pointless.

“But don’t act as if there’s no difference between us and these ******* idiots,” the Ache spits, motioning into the blackness beyond your frame. “I knew this one guy, this complete and utter ****. We went to a café, and he wouldn’t stop talking about the waitress, about how hot she was, how he wanted to **** her, while she was in earshot, because, I don’t know, he thought that would get him laid.

“Then we went for a drive and he failed a ******* u-turn. He just drove back and forth, over and again. A dead, automatic weight. A car came from the other lane, towards us, and waited for him to finish, but he stopped in the middle of the street and started yelling, saying **** like, ‘what does this ******* want?’ He got out of his car, out of his idiot u-turn, and tried to start a fight with the other driver — you know, the one who’d waited silently for him to finish.”

You don’t attempt a rebuttal; you don’t want to negate the Ache’s experience. Instead, you ask “Why were you hanging out with this guy in the first place?”

The Ache responds “Because I was alone, and I was lonely, and I had no one else.”

It is 2AM. Moths dance chaotic across the invisible precipice of your bedside window, between the inner and outer spaces of linguistic designation. There is a layering of history here — of affects and functions that have blurred beyond recognition — discoloured, muted, absented.

In the hollow of your bed, the Ache laughs. You don’t dare close the distance. Sometimes you find the edges of their impact and trace your own death. All your worries manifest without content. All form and waver and empty expanse where you drink deeply without a head. Because you have lost so much time already. And nothing keeps.

Months later, after the Ache has left, you will go to the beach. You will see the roiling waves beneath crash into the rocky shore of the esplanade, a violence that merges formlessly into a still, motionless horizon, for they are two and the same. You will be unable to put into words how it feels to know that such a line of calm exists out of the pull and push of endless change, that it has existed long before your birth and will exist long after your death.

The last lingering traces of acid flee your skin. Doused in tomorrow’s stupor, you close your eyes. You catch no sleep.
“Self-destruction is simply a more honest form of living. To know the totality of your artifice and frailty in the face of suffering. And then to have it broken.”
NickBlockOneLove Dec 2015
I came to a room
Made of darkness
Made of light
Across all the vastness
One simple thing
All to see clear
That's what she told us
As we entered
Started resting
Want to consume
The Beauty everywhere
Created your madness
Greatness and doom
Where can we run to
When we lose
Everything we hold so dear

Swirling were my thoughts
As we approached the blackness
No I could not tell
What it was
Or what could be
Materials and obscenity
A number that is serial
We can not find our serenity
Tommy Johnson Apr 2014
Winnie the Pooh is trying to think
As are Plato and Socrates
While The Little Rascals get rambunctious
And The Marx Brothers cause calamities
Jim Jones stirs the Kool-Aid
And Georgie Porgie makes his move
Bo Peep and Miss Muffett start to blush
Red Ridding hood just swoons
The Muffin Man does a deal
With Johnny Apple seed
These beings and people our real
In our Surreal Reality

******* lets the paint splatter
And Moses parts the sea
Belushi buys an eight-ball
Bruce is on trial for obscenity
Rorschach is on the case
Right behind Sherlock Holmes
John the baptist goes for a swim
Along with Brian Jones
Jack and Jill meet Hansel and Gretel
They're hungry, they're thirsty
These figments of imagination do exist
In our Surreal Reality

Rasputin was so evil
As bad as Captain Hook
Now was it ** Chi Minh or Nixon
Who said "I am not a crook?"
Mao Zedong looked at Stalin
With a shared murderous grin
Booth stormed the Ford theater
And shot President Lincoln
Kennedy and King we're both casualties
Of the process of the deciphering
Of our Surreal  Reality

Zeus said to Aphrodite
"Wow, you look real good tonight"
And Handel says "Hallelujah!"
As the Wright Brothers take flight
Baby Face Nelson
Teams up with Dillinger
Moe, Larry and Curly
Mengele, Mussolini and Adolf ******
Three bears, three little pigs
Along with three blind mice
Sit together, while Maurice Sendack
Cooks them chicken soup with rice
Charlie Bucket had a buy out
Wonka gave up his factory
Fiction or nonfiction it's all a apart
Of our Surreal Reality

Chicken Little tried his best
To warm The Little Red Hen
Of the sly trickster
They call Rumpelstiltskin
Rimbaud applauds Leonidas
And his 300's final stand
Da vinci  paved the way
For both Newton and Edison
Folklore and war heroes
And those with intellectual mentality
Are all just pieces
Of our Surreal Reality

Wee Willie Winkie's scream
Wakes up Rip Van Winkle
But not Sleeping Beauty who's been asleep for thirty years
But has no acquired a single wrinkle
Caligula has lost his mind
And Nero's lost his fiddle
What does Beethoven's hearing aid
Have to do the March Hare's riddle?
Abbie Hoffman fights for civil rights
Thomas Jefferson for democracy
Products of the conceptual
In our Surreal Reality

Berryman writes an ode
To Washington's wooden teeth
Manson speaks of Helter Skelter
Neruda damns the fruit company
Charles Schultz frames the story
And Seuss gives it rhyme
Some where far, far away
Taking place once upon a time
And the villagers all had omelettes
Thanks to clumsy Humpty Dumpty
It's all food for thought
In our Surreal Reality

Santa brings us presents
And Cupid bring us love
But we can never get back
The members of the 27 Club
Warhol makes his movies
And Buddha meditates
Joseph Smith reads the golden plates
Mohammed and Jesus save
Theses figures bring people hope
In life's dualities
Trusting faith
And our Surreal Reality


Han Solo is in carbon freeze
Don Juan's preoccupied
Sinbad sets his sails
Simple Simon didn't get his pie
Caesar looked at Brutus
Brutus looked at Saddam Hussein
Hussein looked at L. Ron Hubbard
Who prayed to Eloheim  
Dionysus can out drink us all
We cringe at Achilles fatality  
As Ra soars through the skies
Of our Surreal Reality

Aristotle says to Shakespeare
"Well Billy you old bard"
Frodo trades the ring of power
To Fidel Castro for a Babe Ruth Baseball card
Biggie and Tupac write their lyrics on paper
Ted Bundy is put in jail
They're making another skyscraper
For King Kong to scale
Hemingway is too far gone
Kant's take on morality
Einstein says it's all relative
In our Surreal Reality

Churchill said victory
John Lennon said peace
Judas gave back the silver
Then hung himself in a tree
Tojo and Kim Jong-il
Wanna be as cool as Brando and Dean
George Carlin warned us all
Now Hermes leaves the scene
So do the butcher, the baker and the candle stick maker
Followed by Old King Cole and his Fiddlers Three
As they make their way to find
A sense or Surreal Reality

Odysseus pines for Ithaca
Paul Bunyan chops the trees
The Jersey Devil has not been found
Noah herds the animals by twos not threes
Anubis wraps the mummies
And Augustus leads Rome
Bugs Bunny laughs with Pryor
All at the expense of Job
So what can we all make of this
Is this all actuality?
Symbolism or nonsense?
Realistic Surrealism or Surreal Realty?
Noah Sep 2013
Twenty percent who die in cold water do so within the first two minutes -
it's called cold shock response,
which is a really boring name
and kind of how i feel because
when your body hits the water
     it panics
and can't stop trying to breathe
and the water cools your blood
and hits your heart
so if you happen not to hyperventilate,
cardiac arrest is always an option.

I talked to a girl who claimed that earl grey is better than any other tea -
i wonder if she's had anything else
because if she did she'd know
that sharp cinnamon apple spice
warms best on a cool fall day
and hibiscus and rose hips
make you feel like a little kid again
and throat coat is something to be worshiped
or so i've heard, anyway
it's something i need now, anyway
because like this so called fact
this sore throat has been passed on
from one room to another
has sneaked down stairwells
and curled under blankets
and that's kind of how i feel
like autumn and rose hips and sore throats
and i'm not really sure what that means
but like obscenity when it is here
it's impossible not to know so.

i have killed my flower three times since i've been here, and i think i'm giving up -
i knocked it off the window ledge
and then watered it too much
and then watered it too little
not really learning from my mistakes
as much as letting them evolve
each stage a new form of destruction
and i kind of feel that way because
each time i pick up a book
or open a new tab
my fingers linger on my phone
and i'm replying to a friend
checking my email
playing spades
and when i play i bet too high
though i've been low for weeks
i've been as dry as my flower's soil
and it hasn't bummed me out
as much as other things have
and that's feeling less and less incongruous.

the boy sitting in front of me has a really high voice and a really small body -
his beard is well groomed
and it fascinates me
and while i'm trying not to make
any assumptions about him or anyone
which is turning out to be
a lot harder than i thought
he gives me hope because
he represents something i want
something i'll get one day
because nobody looks at him weird
when he speaks so soft and high
and nobody laughs at how short and small he is
and nobody asks any questions
because there aren't any to ask
that's just what he is, how he looks
and even if it wasn't always
how are we supposed to know
and why should we even care
but even so i find these people and
i want to be close to them, to speak to them
because they look like how i think i'll look
even if they didn't get there the same way i will,
but we spoke in an elevator once
and i thanked him for his help.
Andrew Minter Jun 2015
Our falter, whose art is Heavy,
Halloween be thy name.
Your kingdom’s numb
your children dumb on earth
moldy bread unleavened.
Give us this day our
wayward dead.
And give us our
***** as we forgive those
who *** against us.
And speed us not
into wimp nation
nor bequiver us
with needles, for thine
is the flimflam and the sour,
and the same *******
story in leather
for never and ever.
Ah: gin.
This was written by Mary Karr
A dying man does nothing easy,“Lock and load. Let's do it”,said G.W. Green
Right before Jack Pursley sent 3-5 grams of sodium thiopental coursing through his veins
in Texas. Sticking with the states motto it was probably 5. As lethal drugs flowed into his arms, he used an obscenity to describe life, gasped once and made no further movement.
Imagine his brief confidence in the face of this adversity, before the heart’s blood
Settled in the ventricles.
             Some have called such confidence a monstrosity titled, “Hubris”--
Alexander of Macedonia thought it necessary, to cross the turbulent river against fear
-ful odds. For destiny demanded imitation of his exemplar Achilles
Quickly eroded was this by the pleas of Parmenio, who reasons it would be,“failure at the outset.”

Imagine Alexander reciting the words of G.W. Green, instead of heeding to this squelching caution
How quickly we’d throw this decisions bones in the pile, with ******
In Stalingrad & Nixon in Vietnam
All to be shoved in to, a mass grave of faulted zealots.
Covered with soil, bitter compost not to be forgotten
Rosemary sprouts next to a burning
bush in Iraq.
topaz oreilly Aug 2012
Versions of Faith in the City:
Food parcels Baptist Trinity Church
Post euphoric Olympics nation building
dashed by morally decrepit
Premiership  football  -
Obscenity chokes dumb defence.
A late Summer's surge,
harshly the un-starred
kick those generic dustbin lids
crumpled again.
MereCat Oct 2014
I have studied **** Germany
Someone stood and preached to me
All the ‘important’ names
All the ‘important’ dates
I wrote them down like longshore secrets
And debated over them
Like they were the pencil sharpenings
With which I littered the floor
‘Excellent analysis’ she said
I have even stood by the gas chambers
And the gallows
At Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
And written insensitive poetry about insensitivity
But have I heard of Hans Litten?
Of course I haven’t.
I have stood in the Berlin gestapo office
And formed philosophies that feel more like profanities
Wondering how it can ever be appropriate
To take a school trip to a genocide
But tonight my ‘important’ education
Feels like the greatest atrocity
My guilty ignorance beats almost unbearably
Around my rib-cage
And waits for the shatter and the shards
Because I have never heard of Hans Litten
We all know six million
But who knows the six million?
We remember names that we stored away
Because mentioning them in an essay
Might bring about a higher grade
Displaying ‘a highly developed and complex level of understanding’
We remember names like we remember shopping lists
Or science lessons;
A few particular points
No attachment necessary
In fact, clinical detachment is far more becoming
When it comes to essay questions
They never told us about Hans Litten
Or about the men who also ran in the race to be in history books
Or about their mothers
And their fathers
And the people they shared cells with
And the people they shared graves with
My God, they never told us about Hans Litten
And Hans Litten is better known
Than most of those phantom dead
Those cracked-open voices that dared to raise
Until they were too loud for anything but the conveyer-belt
Concentration Camp system.
And the thing is that six million is not such a big number anymore
Because there are 49,506,514 views of Simon Cowell crying
And nearly 300 million of One Direction singing a song which is not so beautiful after all
And people are so desensitized to the number six million
That they believe that the world
Would not have enough **** in it
Without them posting hatred after obscenity after hatred in the YouTube comments
And Hans Litten, I can’t help feeling that I’ve failed you
My generation could tell you the private lives of their idols
But would not know your name
And we will still pour into school on Monday morning
And chorus our tireless fatigue and our lack of motivation for life
And I will still pour into school on Monday morning
And let myself complain and moan and grapple for sympathy.
I’ve acquired this abstracted self-loathing recently
That is less a hatred of myself than a hatred of what I have made of myself
Of my ingratitude and self-centred inability
To compose poems that do not start and end with Me
And of my procrastination and my ceaseless desire
To live something other than the life I’ve been given
Like I asked for extra cheese and got given Margharita
****.
I’m insufferable.
Hans Litten your list of injuries was ten times longer
than the list of all the wrongs I’ve had done against me.
Last night I went to watch a play called Taken At Midnight... it's about Hans Litten, in case you hadn't guessed... it tore me to shreds and then made whatever was left of me want to be ripped up too.

It is brilliant.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/11138692/Taken-at-Midnight-Chichester-Festival-Theatre-review-harrowing.html
D Conors Sep 2010
The King of the World is on his way now,
he always shows up when the chips are down.
Everyone just loves The King of the World,
he always arrives with his banners unfurled.

The King can be a loud chap,
or The King can be quite a quiet mime,
he even puts his pants on
one royal leg at a time!

The King might eat breakfast,
or The King just might not,
he is everything you are,
yet is is all that you forgot.

He's a musician of sorts,
with a very big band,
his arrival is in herald,
throughout every land
-with brass trumpets a-blare,
and snare-drums rat-a-tat,
he makes everyone aware,
that he's now where you're at!

The King marches his forces
through the cities and fields,
assure of his courses,
lying flat beneath his heel.

He revels at the sight of deterioration,
fills his belly with the joy of nations in extinction.
The King grounds everything down to things he scrapes off his boots,
he topples the governs and poisons the cultural roots.

The King's fixations are splashed with spatters of blood,
turning kingdoms into crumbles of ashes and mud.
He bulldozes the bodies into toxic pits of ****,
contaminates by obscenity, wringing his hands at the wit.
Lionized by his minions in the empty empires he wrought,
The King's elite ruling class is dictated with rot.

In the aftermath of the bile
of his genocidal, sweet plight,
The King celebrates with great style,
turning the daylight into night.

With bonfires a-blaze on the wicked, windy wasteland,
The King of the World strikes up his big band,
and once marching again will torch and ravish the land,
dropping massive, beautiful bombs for the sake of the thrill,
melting the people and villages and eroding the hills.

The time for The King
always is nigh,
for he is surrounded by
the conjurations of lies.

Some say he is evil,
(but, he's not the Devil, you see)
-He's The King of the World,
he is you, he is *me.
D. Conors
August/September 2010
Mike T Minehan Jan 2015
No, no, I haven’t been doing this myself,
but I live in Cambodia,
and 2 guys and a girl were deported recently
for riding around on a motorbike in the ****
in broad daylight. Actually, you see,
naively or deliberately,
they rode right past a police station.
Now that must have been a sight for sore eyes.
So the police set out in hot pursuit,
rubbing their sore eyes, or whatever they rub,
maybe their truncheons, eh?
And when the perps were pulled over,
the cops didn’t fall about with hilarity
when these riders said quite calmly
that they were going to pick up their laundry.
Truly! They were backpackers! As if that explained it.
But publicly, the cops said nope,
these perps are obscene to be seen like this
and they violate Khmer customs and culture.
The cops even took pictures of this outrageous obscenity.
Indeed. The riders' rapture of being bare assed
and naked and **** free is not for Cambodia.
Certainly not at this juncture.
So their capture resulted in them being deported,
never to show hide nor hair in the country again.
Just goes to show...
But you can get away with ****** here,
particularly shooting union leaders or critics or protestors,
or you can throw a grenade into the opposition,
and **** a few right there. Those killers go free.
It's probably dangerous to speak openly,
but I don't think these guys read poetry.
They're probably busy oiling their artillery,
and even rocket launchers, as the PM
threatened to use against the opposition recently.
Seriously.
They're on the lookout for dissenters here.
Oh yes. And bare *****. Obviously.
So watch you **** in Cambodia,
especially if it's bare on a bike.
And ssshhh! Watch out for your mouth.
You need to cover your mouth up properly, too.

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

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Mateuš Conrad Aug 2016
now i know why i might engage with writing obscene
poems, chauvinism included, but still there
is no burning excuse in my mind with the way
western society actively desires censorship of certain
words, i already attributed censoring obscene
words as worse than what this tactic precipitates into:
the apathetic spread of *******, and violence
in general... it crosses my mind that sparring with violent
language cushions people from violet action...
to utilise violent language with that: pardon my French
attitude does more good than evil on the users...
how many road rage incidents could have been avoided
if people were unable to watch their tongue:
somehow we're making language sterile, by actively
pursuing this sort of censorship: which is not even
remotely politically related / motivated, we're bringing
an anaemic status quo in how fluidly we speak -
we desire to not hear the sometimes funny and the sometimes
awful... but we choose to see the god-fearing horrific...
ask any blind-man about music and he'd say:
well, i can dance to it in a nucleus position, centrally
gravitational pull - but ask the deaf man about
what he has to say when seeing **** written to counter
obscenity, as in cartoon-like: f&%£! it's just plain silly,
pocket-sized expression of psychotic behaviours,
rummaging through them i find only one source of inspiration:
the fact that we're in this blind-man's garden of innocence,
somehow dressed in the camouflage of censorship such
a tiny problem, that it does indeed require 23 mattresses
for the princess to not feel the frozen *** agitating her...
this sort of censorship in its application is under
a false sense of purpose, it really doesn't change people's
behaviour for the better, it doesn't pacify them, in does
the reverse: it infuriates, it makes violence more potent...
i'm still trying to figure out why such words
will make our perceptions saintly... unless of course
that's the reason behind them, as way of invoking an
anaesthetic placebo, a placebo that's actually active rather
than passive - presuming the anaesthetic placebo gives
way to an aesthetic active apathy-inducing ingredient...
meaning we can't bare to hear swear words, but we can
gladly watch 20 hours of 20 : 1 ****... censoring **** ****
**** **** will not escape Newtonian physics...
given our current scenario, Newtonian physics is far
more important than Einstein's relativity, i'd hate to be
in denial about cause & effect... as began with Socrates,
i too abhor moral relativism... of course Newton got
the gravity bit wrong, but i like the simpler version...
plus... there was no Romance with Einstein...
no apple, no tree, no Voltaire... meaning we don't necessarily
write history collectively, with all of us starting from
the big bang or the view from the Galapagos islands...
we don't... we continue writing history not from a
collective consciousness genesis... or from the collective
unconscious genesis - that's Jung with his archetypes
(devil, god, wise man, mother, father etc.) rather than
dreams (Freud) - we can chose were to write the future...
it's not so much ignorance as arm-chair intellectualism,
it's not about the safety of understanding something,
but the comfort of choosing to understand something...
which is pretty much to my excuse for my previous poems...
Heidegger... and that concept of Dasein -
i never bothered to understand it to the point of
reacting subjectively to it, by that i mean an interest
in writing about it, an interpolation of the subject with
alternative variations... i objectified it, i also countered it
when objectifying the concept turned out to be an
everyday object, shortening my quest.
the counter? hiersein, i.e. being here, here denoting a
solipsistic classification of awareness with / in the world -
which is basically me in my room, admiring my library,
my record collection, my torn sneakers, everything that
is classified exclusive to what dasein evolves into
when all its grammatical weaving only express a verb,
i.e. concern... so i thought, given this what can hiersein
(being here / nonchalance) actually show me as
my lack of interest in: "changing the world".
it became obvious yesterday, i had a hard time when i
didn't read the day's copy of the times (more on this later),
instead i had to suffice with construction site media,
you might have heard of this newspaper: the daily star,
at 20 pence a pop, you will see what £1.20 makes to
your psyche... but that's basically it, i objectified Heidegger's
concept and made it into an everyday object, in this
case and as the only case available: a newspaper -
and the trick is? well, with a newspaper like daily star
you don't actually experience dasein - it's completely
missing in this style of media, and that's worrying given
my barbaric poetry of yesterday... it's missing, not there,
such object-for-object chirality is what gives birth to
hiersein (being here); but today i returned to my usual
media diet, a flicked through the times and the natural
balance of personal objects and a fresh impersonal object
coexisted - the newspaper is truly the most adequate
compounded expression of Heidegger's dasein -
which i attribute to the constant need to emphasise an
empathy with others... empathising is a neutral form
of sympathising, since sympathy is sourced in shared
experiences: **** victims (e.g.) - therefore empathy is
something that in the ontological structuring of dasein,
which opposes the ontological structuring of hiersein,
which is structured by apathy; there is nothing else for
me to write, apart from the compendium proof
of the disparity of sources, i.e. headlines and subheadings:

- prior compendium -

i will never understand the point of autobiographies,
the majority of autobiographies are written
on a p.s. basis, after the facts / actions,
never immediately, concerning ideas /
solidified thoughts, thoughts condensed into idea
that allow thinking / cognitive narration to
continue regardless with what's being achieved...
i haven't anything autobiographical dissimilar
with something biographical...
Plato wrote that wonderful biography like
Shakespearean theatre, but i guess his critics felt
the claustrophobic tug & pull of mermaids...
still the problem ascends heights unparalleled -
even with ghost writers doing the leg-work...
cheap-buggers never learned to write, let alone read,
and here they are writing biographies...
ah, **** it... they're only sketches... whether biographic
or autobiographic... they're still mere sketches...
if this was the art world the revenue would come
posthumously, when it comes to literacy
nothing really distinguishes poets from
those prescribing pedestrian signs...
the Olympians can moan at the vacant stadium...
that there's a hierarchy in sports,
with the favoured monochrome idealisation
of where the bunny money is in the whirlpool
of the rabbit hole investment: football, volleyball...
but the literary events are the same...
people love to lie that they read the bestseller to
its full extent... but treat books like chairs and tables...
inertia prone half finished, sat on for 2 weeks of
the entire year... the Olympians are very much
like poets, and i care to distance myself from either
demand for more interest being invoked...
i like esoteric sports, i like esoteric writing...
but that's how it stand: poets are Olympians where
novelists are footballers, who retire at 30 and
then think about what to do with their wages
that are 10x higher than the everyday labourer...
start a restaurant, buy a strip of houses in Liverpool
like Michael Owen? good guess, here's to exploiting
youth disgracefully... that's what they're getting,
and these are the dilemma points to consider...
they're the equivalent gladiators of our time,
Rome was just a sleeper before it awoke once more...
but i'll never understand why these
people decided to exploit literature for gain...
all these academics with their pristine purity of discovery
are pacified when dictating print,
what poet, has a chance in hell, to appear gladly
excavated from Plato's cave of television?
about none.
i too was focusing on 20th century literature,
before 21st literature came about...
and i thought, oh god: they're really going to create
a totalitarian democracy, every artist will be
strip-searched for adding cinnamon and chilli to their
writing to bounce away from conformist
sober and sane extraction of alter wordings...
this 21st scene will become polarised...
we'll have the extinction of One Direction over a joint,
while the Rolling Stones drank a keg of whiskey
and pulled off a show... we'll have moralisation
of the fans to subdue the artists, which will mean
no artist will ably create a zeitgeist to rebel... everyone
will suddenly experience a weird sort of communism...
the worst kind... it will mean having
all the mental freedoms without the ability to
economise a coup... basically an inertia, an immediate
fatality... we can't economise a coup...
which boils down to why so many autobiographies
aren't really biographic, but rather consolidating,
by the meaning: autobiographic i intended to relate
the everyday... the most secretive account of life:
the everyday... this is stressing Proust,
even though i preferred Joyce over Proust i keep
the everyday the prime ideal: the only detail,
so that an autobiography can make sense,
automation of writing, like breathing or sneezing...
not some monetary-spinning device 20 years after
the facts... 20 years later you're pretty much writing
fiction... i am all for the biosphere of expanding
Alveoli... but when did you ever read an autobiography
that mentioned the taste of weak coffee
from the Friday of 20th of August 2016? never;
you read autobiographies
like you read self-help books...  waiting for
all that experience regurgitating motivational talk
about reaching a plateau of comparative success...
i can understand autobiographies written by the elders,
i understand biographies written about people
posthumously - but the tragedy is, given the spinning
wheel of money? we're getting "auto" biographies
written toward their 3rd volume renditions of
people aged 30... let alone 40... so much for
western society having the upper hand on political matters...
just saying: sort your own **** before trying
to sort other people's problems...
i could understand if these autobiographies were written
as described: automaton solo... but they're not...
before the compendium it's this everlasting presence
of a desired body of power being depicted:
prior the monopoly of knowledge, there was a monopoly
of literacy... given that 99% of us are literate, it
actually doesn't mean a third donkey's *******
whether we can read, or write, we got shelved in controlling
this once priestly vanity, we got taught bureaucracy alongside...
but the monopoly of literacy is way past us,
we're being convened in the ability to monopolise knowledge,
(oh please, don't let the paranoia seep in,
remember yourself when reading me, once in a while,
i don't drag you to phantasmagorical heights, even if i could,
i'd prefer you being agile in learning how to be bored
than letting your repel the same boredom i too share,
well... but **** me if you want to be the next Lenin) -
and the easiest way to monopolise knowledge? the media...
you basically need a lot of facts, and an evolved version
of dialectics, dialectics being the prime enemy of democracy
(it's not an alternative political model like despotism as
we are held to believe, it's actually dialectics,
suppressing other forms of collectivisation is the one
sure method of suppressing the attempt at dialectics
(individualism) - by making people overly opinionated,
ergo: the inability to engage with opinions, blind-alleys
throughout all plausible attempts to do so) -
so once you have enough facts to fiddle with the Rubik's cube
of juxtaposition, you end up with the ultra-scientific
form of dialectics... the matter of opinion in relation
to truth without a relative uniformity that prescribes
the status quo stasis is a debate about how accurate
we all are: i.e., is that true to the closest centimetre,
or the closest millimetre? it's a bit like watching a Zeno
paradox:
                 10.1                           and 10.01
      which one's tortoise and which is Achilles?
well, you know; ah ****! the compendium of the two
newspapers which got me slightly depressed...

- the compendium -

a. daily star

- B. BRO SAM'S SECRET 'NERVOUS BREAKDOWN'
- Laura & Jason's baby joy
- Robbie (Williams) £1.6M a night!
- BREXIT BOOST ON JOB FRONT
- ANGE DAD BACKS TRUMP
- JR'S wife Linda set to Holly
- Edd's no Beverly Hills flop
(Lana among cow *******)
- LAURA: OUR TINY TROTTS WILL BE WORLD-BEATERS
- FURY AT BAD LOSERS' SLURS
- 'Jealous sis' jibes
- MAKE YOUR KID AN OLYMPICS ACE
- Peaty: I want to be a rapper
- TV girl really ill
- **** SAM, 'ON THE BRINK OF BREAKDOWN'
- COSTA ***** HELL
- CAGING ANJEM WILL INSPIRE NEW JIHADIS
- POG'S LOADED AGENT BUYS CAPONE'S LAIR
- I'll make Kylie a pop star
- JEZ DOESN'T KNOW ANT FROM HIS DEC
- GUILTY OF DEMONIC SAVAGERY
- Great British Rake In
- Britain is *******
- BAYWATCH U.K.
- Va Va Vroom
- JUST JANE: My lover snubs plea to get wed
- HART: I'LL DECIDE WHEN TO GO.

b. the times

- Boy victim becomes a symbol of Assad's war
- US Olympics swimmers invented robbery tale, say Rio police
- Make us sell healthy food, supermarkets implore May (P.M.)
- Lost weekend of the lying best man
- fears over free speech delay law to silence hate preacher
- Met's 'commuter cops' live in France
- Husbands happiest when they earn half as much as wives
- Socialists plot to drive Britain left
- Fake human sacrifice filmed at European high altar of physics
- Officers investigated over ex-footballer's Taser death
- Number of pupils taking languages at record low
   (Mandarin @ 2,849 - % decrease of 8.1,
    alarmingly religious studies 27,032 up by 4.9%
    and psychology of status 59,469 up by 4.3%....
    meaning the mad will soon be diagnosing the sane
   as mad, just because the curriculum said so)
- Top grades add up to 100% at the school for maths prodigies
- Deprived sixth formers thrive on competition
- European students rush to get into British universities
- DVLA earns £10m selling driver's details
- Mystery over Kenyan death of aristocrat
- Journalist who voted twice reported to police for
  'fraud'
- Tomato tax threatens European trade war
- Love story of the Pantomime
- Homeless conmen fleeced widow, 81
- Brownlee brothers at the Olympics...
- Hopeful shoppers give sales a lift after Brexit vote
- MoD guard could be stood down despite terrot threat
- Owners spit mansion after failing to sell
- The job with international appeal: saving our hedgehogs
- Finch warns unborn chicks if weather gets warm
- Migrant violence rises after decline in policing around Jungle
- Longest road tunnel promises a relaxing ride under Pennines
- Mothers step up to drive Tube trains through night
(rowdy teens ageing exponentially on a Saturday night
when not getting a lift, ******...)
-MP's deal with bookmaker to be investigated
- Ebola nurse 'hid high temperature'
- Shoesmith's ex-huspand kept child *******
- Morpurgo war tale springs into life
- Supergran fights off teenage muggers
- IVF is more successful for white women
OPINION SECTION
- Great political fiction is good for democracy
- the BBC is leaving its audiences in the dark
- airline food? just pass me the gin and tonic
- Modern Olympics began on the fields of Rugby
/ greasy polls, holding firm, tongue tied,
  call for compulsory targets to tackle obesity,
second in line, mindfulness course, cost of planning,
puffins v. ship rats.... and all future letters to the editor /
- Moscow presses Turkey for access to US airbases
- Hundreds killed each month in Assad's jails
- Putin bans celebration of defeated KGB coup
(another James Bond movie on the cards,
i'm assured, and with a moral carte blanche) -
Hollande clams Carla Bruni spied concerning his
use of diapers...
- Euthanasia tourists flock Belgian A & E from France,
  where a revival of ****** made people dress shark-fin
  sharp on the catwalk...
- Mosquito pesticide linkage application = intersex /
   East German women
- Haiti cholera linked to Nepalese **** and ***** via
  the
Samantha Dias Dec 2011
And I’ll swear by forty swords
If a sword is what will appease you
SWORDS!” I’ll shout with mock obscenity, “Oh, swords!”
And you’ll wordlessly curse me through pinched eyes
And you’ll inform me that I am not a jester
And that you are not my mother, nor my caretaker.
But I swear, (swords!)
I swear that my mother has never hatefully condemned me for making light of a situation
Never folded her face into contorted revolt at my weak attempts to mend a fractured conversation.

And yet it seems as though I’ve prodded you with too many swords
You’ve plastered your negligible scars with bandages irrelevant–
Trivial, for though once wounds, they’ve since been healed.

Like a puppet master, like a ventriloquist
You’ve got me speaking in idioms

A foster home, I’ve adopted your character

And, doing so, determined your actions foolish
And you the fool and jester.
Deidre Lockyer Jan 2019
Honey tastes slow, glowing like amber
Trapping touch in a heady crush of warm
Nestling between my ******* where sweat pools, delicate
Dipping fingers into pots, swirling, lingering
Licking the syrupy sweetness
Craving the rose scented dark and the musk

You, above me like summer
Creating me from the flesh of your hands
Describe me with your kisses, unwrap me with whispers
Suspend the rules of us between my lips
Breathe your will into words that glint with
Consequence, etching heat into flesh
Charge the oxygen around us with sweet almostpain
That draws out my ghosts, blood over flames
Leading the Moon out into the depths, into the crevasse
Wallowing in my softest curves as you
Follow me down to the forest bed and
Claim my world as your Fetish

And if I open to your insistence, slowly unlaced
Kiss me in obscenity until I speak in tongues
Silence me with your sternest hand of fire on flesh
Bring my bruises to boil beneath your gaze while l,
Shyly revealed by your voice,
Try to cover my eggshells and hush my moans

You, beneath me like summer
The seed will grow where l place my kisses
Divining water from your ancient well
Suckling the slick pomegranate flesh
Until the star on your forehead is burning
Shudderfall down into night, into my storm
Collide in me, where the clouds are heavy with rain and lust
Leading the Moon down into the depths, into the crevasse
Melding desire with Fate as you
Meet me down on the forest floor and
Claim my love as your Fetish

Wrap my body in silken cords that sing of you
Handfast beyond gesture
My flesh, your manifesto
Fetish
Ayeshah Mar 2010
Why are you appealing to me-

Stimulating my ****** desire
tending to arouse evil with inside

Me- You

Us
Identical-

Suggestively I've laid out
flowery perfumed petal

trailing to the bedroom

I've characterized you

by obscenity's & indecency's
you've already let me get away with

**** vivacious recipient-
eluding the lubricious

embraces of
my prurient thought.

Thigh high boots

Whips Creme & chains

Swing chair done up tight to the ceiling,

Lubrications lotions & potions,

Candlelit flickers

as

Our
silhouette's merge into

Identical
mirrored image

You-  Me

Mingling

Melting- the little death

becomes

Us!

Identical........

Always me Ayeshah
Copyright ©
Ayeshah K.C.L.N 1977-Present YEAR(s)
All right reserved
Jeremy Bean Aug 2013
How about *******,
how about that?
How about eat ****
from a ***** ******.

Ohh. . .
you want drama?
Ohh. . .
you want violence?

You want entertainment
at anothers expense?

Here is more **** for your eyelids
*****, *******, and ******* kids
Let me ***** your face with drivel
Skull-****** till my ***** a shrivel

Blow my head off
leave you riddled
something soft, you can to belittle.

Let me **** and moan for you
your attention brings my **** to spew
on the lovely **** of praise
this ******* idiotic age

Am I coming off as crass?
Shove it up your ***** ***.
Have a problem?
Go on, push me
your offense makes you a *****

What more obscenity could you want?

What have I forgot?

Ohh Yeah. . .

****.
Vernon Waring Jul 2015
the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
poem
is a strange animal

with lines
monosyllabically
short
and then
perilously   freakishly    faulknerically
long
but not to worry

the trick is to ***** around
with the readers' heads a bit
let them wonder
   what's going on
get them used to
   obnoxious departures
   sudden jolts
      of expression
   devious detours into
     obscenity, indecency

these are the
tourette's moments
of a poet's creative life:
a move to keep those with the
attention span of an infant gnat
awake  alive  responsive

some may expect poetry
to take them down
safe  bland  routes:
         a snowfall enhanced by red robins
         perched on a rustic fence

         a lake with canoeing lovers cooing
         in a shimmering moment
          
         heartfelt elegies
         quaint quatrains
         hip haikus

but can these images
really keep you entranced?

well, can they?

it isn't like i didn't warn you
or the horse you rode in on
Mohamed Amer Oct 2011
Books covered with dust on the shelves of my life
Words omitted, Forgotten or not accompli
Birds sang no more in the storms of deceit
No leaves left in the branches of the Memory tree

Schizophrenic attitude from lost meanings and definitions
Spending a whole life in delusion or fake Ideas
People I spent my life with, turned into marionettes
Hopeless faces and diminished hopes discoursing Aporia

In Sickness
In Dementia
In Eternal Fight
In Hypomania
Lost
In Insomnia
What else
In Amnesia
Who am I?
In Dysthymia

Visions of dear, lost in the addiction to smoke and beer
Now the glass is empty, I am Paranoid
Walking in the streets, where to go? Just following my feet
Everyone is staring in disdain, I am Schizoid
Natural Disasters, time passes by like it never passed by

Dreams like reality, where is it? Where is Adam and Eve?
Nobility, loyalty, and all this nonsense of history
Now the time for thieves and the aces in their sleeves

Don’t look at me
In Scopophobia
Leave me alone
In Ochlophobia
Stop your war
In Hoplophobia
What’s doomsday?
In Theophobia
Who am I?
In Phobophobia

Now what happened, happened
I don’t dare to change
I surrender to the glowing eyes of the Sun
In the daring waves of the grain fields
No other chance in the middle of the symmetry

Run Away Run Away
Dare you to stay
Double Dare You
Laughter
Run Away Run Away
Dare you to stay
No Way

Where will you go? There is always a horizon in the end of the day
This thin line of endless misery will never fade
Close your eyes and you lay, as you surrender to failure
Open your eyes.

Arbela
Metaurus
Tours
Baghdad
Jerusalem
Hiroshima

Wait there is a light coming through that hole
Is there a crack in this mighty wall?
Shall I look through or will I ruin it all?

Dare You to Look
Double Dare You
Laughter
I will look and see through history
Look and see who my ancestors were
Dare you to look
Wait, I will double dare you

Khan
Vlad
***
Dada
Sheridan

Digging graves
Writing names
Changing fates

I believe in you
No longer a Human
Depraved of emotions
Dare you to stand in my face
Double dare you
I will run away
Dare you to Say
Dare you to Stay

What is the point of saying?
You **** like breathing, Lord of the Flies
You are an anathema
Genocide, all men are slaves

What is the point of staying?
You pour the pain like rain from the skies
You are an artist
In the Art of **** and depravity

Symmetry, who sets the scales of balance?
Apathy, who will care more than me?
Futility, why do you set a course without reason?
Sanctuary, where is the shelter?  Never existed anyway

Come with me across the ocean of suffering
When we land you will live forever
In peace and innocent laughter

Fool me again, and what about the memories of hurt
Leave my hand, all what I had, was falling from the edge
You have no glimpse of an idea where you’re taking me
All those promises of faith and immortality

Wait,
A Moment of clarity
A Degree of Sanity
A Victim of Society
A Beautiful Monstrosity
A Nocturnal Supremacy
A Diminished Eternity
A Puzzle of Ecstasy
A Ballet of Tragedy
A Tide of Tranquility
A Motivation for Obscenity
A Divine Eulogy
A Celestial Obituary

Before I gave up on Him, He Gave up on me
Who Am I? Who is He?

Dare you
Double Dare you
Take your Daring Away

The Art of **** and Depravity
Faith and Immortality
Lord of The Flies
Darius and Alexander
Khan and the end of the last civilization
Dracula
Amerinds and our Forefathers
Salahaldin and a million corpses for the sake of salvation
Ruhollah

In the end I am to blame
Yes this is the price of fame
The Infamous human
The Beast of Mystery
The Bringer of Misery
The Vandal of Humanity
Carol Cummons Mar 2013
Half sweat, half sweet, her sea-salt skin,
My sun, my star, my scorpion -
Is tarot-tongued and tiger-tame,
And pink, and pure, and so profane -
A painted, pagan, poetess,
All dizzy depth and paper dress -
And carousels, and cigarettes,
On cloudless skies, her silhouette -
Is scissors through the sundown silk,
She moves like molten mood in milk -
All infernos, and ivory,
And orchids, and obscenity -
And brothels full of butterflies,
She steals the starlight from the skies -
Her whisper makes the world wet,
My ******, velvet, Violet.
"But, sir," I said, "they tell me the man is like to die!" The Canon shook his head indulgently. "Young blood, Cousin," he boomed. "Young blood! Youth will be served!"
-- D'Hermonville's Fabliaux.


He woke up with a sick taste in his mouth
And lay there heavily, while dancing motes
Whirled through his brain in endless, rippling streams,
And a grey mist weighed down upon his eyes
So that they could not open fully. Yet
After some time his blurred mind stumbled back
To its last ragged memory -- a room;
Air foul with wine; a shouting, reeling crowd
Of friends who dragged him, dazed and blind with drink
Out to the street; a crazy rout of cabs;
The steady mutter of his neighbor's voice,
Mumbling out dull obscenity by rote;
And then . . . well, they had brought him home it seemed,
Since he awoke in bed -- oh, **** the business!
He had not wanted it -- the silly jokes,
"One last, great night of freedom ere you're married!"
"You'll get no fun then!" "H-ssh, don't tell that story!
He'll have a wife soon!" -- God! the sitting down
To drink till you were sodden! . . .
Like great light
She came into his thoughts. That was the worst.
To wallow in the mud like this because
His friends were fools. . . . He was not fit to touch,
To see, oh far, far off, that silver place
Where God stood manifest to man in her. . . .
Fouling himself. . . . One thing he brought to her,
At least. He had been clean; had taken it
A kind of point of honor from the first . . .
Others might do it . . . but he didn't care
For those things. . . .
Suddenly his vision cleared.
And something seemed to grow within his mind. . . .
Something was wrong -- the color of the wall --
The queer shape of the bedposts -- everything
Was changed, somehow . . . his room. Was this his room?

. . . He turned his head -- and saw beside him there
The sagging body's *****, the paint-smeared face,
And the loose, open mouth, lax and awry,
The *******, the bleached and brittle hair . . . these things.
. . . As if all Hell were crushed to one bright line
Of lightning for a moment. Then he sank,
Prone beneath an intolerable weight.
And bitter loathing crept up all his limbs.
Higgs Oct 2012
Our little one is learning words,
Which makes things hard for us.
Because, you see, I am afraid,
We really love to cuss.

My wife, when vexed, will often shout,
A word which starts with C,
And I cannot express a thought,
Without obscenity.

And though we've tried to give it up,
This habit just won't budge,
So now we substitute these words,
With SUGAR!, COUNT! and FUDGE!
Elise Oct 2013
This soul is covered in ash left behind
from those who've burned me with their selfish lies
with matches in hand and flawed regrets they stand
as they watch the heat that chars my bones
and melts away the last heart-string I own.

No going back, they can't change this obscenity
they made their choice when they walked away,
my love was in their hands,
the love that encompassed my entire being,
now I am forced to give what's left to the dark,
the dark I've been forever running from,
the death I will now gladly welcome.
M Harris Mar 2017
Butterfly Desires & Fictional Highs,
Magnetic Spells In Her Emerald Eyes,
Bleeding Perpetual Fire & Toxic Cries.

Lucid Screams Of Her Plastic Love,
Paper Towns & Serenity Above,
Refracting Into An Apocalyptic Dove.

Postcards Of Her Estranged Serenity,
Diffusing Into Polaroids Across Infinity,
Rhythms Of Lusts Erupting Obscenity.

Bluest Shade Of Her Misguided Confessions,
Uncharted Fragments Amplifying Obsessions,
Profane Prodigies Detonating Desecrations,

Digital Dreams & Fictional Desires,
3D Symphonies Inside Her Crystal Wires,
Purple Streams Translating Fires.

Tunnel Visions Transmitting Reality,
Suicidal Trance & Static Eternity,
Molotov Solution Is Her Lighthouse Of Ecstasy.

- 04:19AM -
Joe Wilson Mar 2014
He was sent to Aldershot for training
He would learn ******* or be killed
The training was all done with broomsticks
When he thought back it made his blood chill.

His unit was sent down to Portsmouth
To board a ship and go over there
It was packed to the gunwales with weapons
And the rations left no room to spare.

He practiced with his rifle on the journey
Like others who’d not held one before
He’d no sense of the horror he’d be facing
Nor the violence he’d always abhorred.

It was such a small piece of shrapnel
Caught both eyes as a shell case shattered
He never saw his two boys as they grew into men
Missing out on so much that had mattered.

His wife who he loved always helped him
And a life with new interests grew
He learnt how to read the braille papers
It pleased him he’d still know the news.

But the trauma from the experience scarred him
And ire with politics grew by the day
So he took to his new odd braille keyboard
And wrote articles and letters to complain.

He could sense the new way that the wind blew
In the corridors of power in the House
There was money to be made in new weapons
And politicians ignore those who grouse.

Then again two decades later it started
Another war that would mean more dead men
The obscenity rose like a bile in his throat
So once again he took to his ‘pen’.

©JRW2014
One in a group of poems recognising the centenary of WWI
zero Jan 2018
The day you left I felt the seed
plant in my brain.
The negative thoughts of you caused it to
flourish into a ****,
one that rooted itself in my eyes,
performing dance routines in my sockets,
blurring my vision every step-ball-change,
making my eyes leak the water it tried
so desperately to drink,
drowning me in my own tears,
forcing them down my oesophagus,
gorging me with my own dismal identity,
Muffling my whimpers for help,
as it deflowers my innocent happiness,
and forces it into a pit of despair.

When people walk by me in the street,
and they see the elegant,
amber dandelion,
thriving and expanding out of my ears,
down my nostrils and out of my mouth,
they compliment me on my smile that
seems to pair so well with it,
almost as if it were made for me.
But they fail to see that it is choking me,
blocking my airways,
obscuring my vision and forcing me to the ground
with every clogged breath I breathe.
I could curse the stars and heavens for cursing me,
with the wondrous obscenity that is located under my left eye,
it grows outwards,
haunting my dreams.

It's the reminder of you.
I felt disgusted,
that I still water the plant that attacks me,
But as I watched you walk out of the door I realised
that you were happier this way.

So I am happy to make myself bleed,
as I shall do so better than any king would,
but before you leave,
trim the blooming flower that blinds my eye
and take it with you.
Reminder to water your plants,
you're their parent.
Like, c'mon.
Be an adult...

-Dilon.xo

— The End —