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Tintswalo Sep 2015
straight and easy is the path of righteousness
The late childhood days and the early youth make seem so easy
With passion and contentment I take it with ease
With a smile and an eager heart I join the soldiers of the cross to tell of the master of it.
Marching over was never hard .
You see this path has so many perfect derailed paths attached to it.
A perfect path of love has a path of hatred to it
A path of joy has a path of sadness to it
A path of peace has a path of war to it
And yes this is a path of righteousness but with a derailment called sin
Very tempting, absolutely charming
My eyes glaze to this path and see no point of this path of righteousness.
Great is your faithfulness O Lord
But exciting is this path
Or so it seems.
One mistake
Waiting on the path of righteousness to stare at this derailed path
You see, an idle mind is the devils play ground
The derailed path of danger
Pulling so many to its fold
Only by a simple glance.
Craig Daugherty Nov 2011
A path seldom walked, it seems, overgrown by the broken
Things of this world, scattered here and there ,
Threatening to remove clear light found so deep,
So bright, at its destination end.

Where I am called, I think, by the divine, heavenly
Counsel above, to wait for feet which soon will
Tread upon this trail laid from foundation of
World, created for this moment, this meeting Divine.

So I wait, upon a bench of prayer, placed along side
By spiritual hand, knowing by chance encounter,
Laid out from beginning of time; I sit, I pray
Encounter living God, nourished by His Word,
His plan—His hope, makes mine!

I notice now, that here by bench upon which respite
Comes, paths diverge, goes every way which
Feet may trod, while still I sit, and pray, and
Wait, as those go by, no connection still, He
Enters in, through Spirit, Holy, divine!

One path is huge, and easy staggered down, no resistance
Found. The way that many want, of comfort,
Ease it seems, yet leads only to the stagnant
Waters of this world, of brokenness profound,
A bellyful of emptiness offered all around.

Others not so wide, not so easy a stroll, yet still leads
To pitfalls, shattered lives, cracked, ruined,
Destroyed. Leads to defeat, but to the feet
Walking along, not so easy to see. But lives
Crushed are offered on its way.

So, still I sit and watch, wonder why I’m here when
All surrounding me, people go, not realizing
He has put me here, as a guide, knowing path
To blissful life, a heavenly price, a toll, already
Paid by One that came, is yet to come.

I see the path, some take, bright light upon their lift-up
Face. Cool breezes of rest, refreshment, come
Tumbling down. I want to scream for all to
Take, but heavenly hand tells me to wait;

Something inside, it stirs my soul, speaks so clear,
So encouraged to my heart; a spark of His
Reflection consumes my desires, my dreams,
And makes me only His. Time is soon, I
Know—I watch with His given eyes.

I see a soul, so lost, so broken, alone, come staggering
Down this path of life upon which I’m called
To sit; to pray; to wait. I gaze upon this life—
A life of knowing defeat, without hope it
Seems—my  heart breaks as does His.

A connection made, as eyes meet, mine full of life,
Comes from Him, with eyes that know no
Peace, no calm, no serenity; eyes that are
Searching for meaning and purpose, and
Above all else, unconditional love!

The One speaks to me, my soul responds, as slowly I
Rise from this bench of mine—I seek this
Lost soul, to find a connection only He can
Provide—to walk with, to guide, to hopefully
Choose this path of life.

This lost soul, a boy so young, so broken still,
Misses the path I so long for him to take,
Choosing death, destruction, empty promises
Of Prince of this world, whispers seductively
Into his ear; he listens—Treachery!

But still, the One speaks to me, prods me to go down
The path with him for just a while. I’m scared!
Assurances come from up above, that His
Guide, His Spirit, will accompany us as we
Seek, we see, what brokenness this world offers.

I realize now, this path divine, as I look around, take
In, learn; this path can be found all along this
Path of life. And so I’m called to walk alongside
Those who do not know, who will not find, unless
Drawn by Spirit divine.

So I walk for now with this lost soul, on a journey of life,
In hopes that He will use me to introduce to path
Of heavenly hope, of lives made clean. He chooses
Wrong path now, but, oh, the hope of broken one
Discovering that path divine.
Clueless Oct 2016
The Path Of True Life

Everyone is on a path,

Either the path of right or the path of wrong.
Though it may be difficult to know which you are on

Just remember the wrong path is a fire that will burn;
The flames will scar your soul and become a part of you.

Staying on the right path may be mountainous,
But it is a beautiful path unlike the desert of wrong.

Right is happy, wrong is painful.
Right is life, wrong is death.

To be on the path of life
Do what is good,
Do what is kind and gentle,
and you can stay on the path of life.

Do not stray too far from the path of life,
Or you will become something your not.

Make sure you're on the right path,
And lead all others to the right path.

The Right Path is life,
The Wrong Path is death.
Deb Jones Sep 2017
The life path I walk,
Is mine alone to tread.
Sometimes the way is rocky
and the hills I climb feel so sharply steep.

The obstacles I encounter
seem insurmountable.
And l want to lay down in defeat.

I Can't

At times the way is filled with such joy.
Some loving wayfarers will share my heartbeats.
Some say
"I know you're tired but come,
this is the way."
And it's ok.
It's ok to walk the path of others once in awhile.

I don't forget it's my path.
Only my journey.
My steps that need to forge the way.
My heart won't ever forget them.

There are other friends that carry lanterns,
So I won't stumble in the dark.
But their path is not my path either
so they will have to leave me at dawn.
My heart hurts for those that left me.
Even when it was my choice.
Always my choice.

There will be sunshine on my path,
But not every step of the way.
I may trudge for a while in the darkest woods,
My head down
and not looking ahead as maybe I should.

And when it's time
I will stand in the rain without shelter. Letting it bathe everything.
Including the cleansing
of my heart and soul.
Then I will appreciate the warmth
of the sun's rays again as I have before.

I see how the sun is sometimes dappled
on the path in front of me
as it is filtered through the trees.
The wind will blow
and the shadow of the leaves
make intricate patterns
that change unexpectedly.

So shall my life path diverge and change. Sometimes the changes feel random.
And I wonder if I am lost.
I search my heart,
am I really right where I should be?
The questions are not always
real questions, just a feeling in my heart. Does that count?

During days of despair, I look back.
My path stretches far and wide behind me. I see how far I have come.
I see the path behind me
and see the shortcuts I took.
See the paths I strode with others.
See the things I overlooked.  

I forgive my childish wanderings.
I forgive the mistakes I made.

Sometimes I walked the path
with monsters.
I was lucky to escape.

My past defines me.
I see how much I've grown.
Outgrown my mothers shoes.
Outgrown my fathers.
Outgrown the dictates of a society that expects me to follow a map of paths that was written for others.

I am thankful for the pure of hearts
that walk my path with me.
No matter how far or how long.
In my heart the memory of them will linger on and on.

New friends will light my way.
I hold close the ones that already do.
I call to the ones that love me,
when I need a hand to hold on to.

And even in my darkest hours
when there is no sunlight
or even moonlight to light my path,
I light a lantern for others
and walk with them.
It's the least I can do.

So many may not realize
how having them in my life influences me.
I wish I could explain it to them all.
Sometimes no words can do.
But I try and say "I love you"
Every chance I get.

What a legacy to leave.
A part of myself
with every loved one I meet.
What a perfect legacy to leave.

Thank you for walking with me.
Nom De Plume Jul 2014
My friend and I were walking along
a sweat-dripping,  suffering path.
So many obstacles had been thrown at us,
only for us to break through them
together, one by one.
We suddenly came along a fork,
gasping for air.
One path was full of footprints.
A sign that many people had gone along
this merry and easy path.
The other path was a dark path.
No footprints were marked on this path.
It seemed dark, hard, stressful.
Each path would only let one person live the path.
So we decided to separate onto our own ways.
My friend chose the dark path.
I chose the light path,
questioning  him about his choice.
He stepped into the path of his choice,
and just before he disappeared,
he simply replied,
"I've come this far, from a miserable start.
I want to end with a satisfying ending."
As I've lived my enjoyable life,
his last words pounded against my head,
waiting to ge figured out.
Now, as it has come to the end of my life,
I understand more than anything else in the world,
while he celebrates how his hard work
paid off throughout his life.
While he proudly shows his scars
to show how much he's been through.
While he celebrates how he's risen
from the "miserable start"
to the most highest spot he could ever be.
Pure joy written all over his face.
While I stand in the exact same place
as where I had started on my path alone.
I'm not satisfied.
I've wasted my life.
UPDATE: 2016 I JUST READ THE ROAD NOT TAKEN AND REALIZED HOW SIMILAR THIS VIEW IS WOW IM SORRY FOR THE INORIGINALITY BUT I SWEAR I DIDNT MEAN TO I WAS 10
Nigel Morgan Jan 2013
The sun rises tentatively through the forest heights behind the palace. In the pre-dawn light Jia Li has secured water and fuel for her visitors and despite the attentions of the pack horse men, who have returned from an evening at her village the worse for drink, she settles to feed her infant child. Meng Ning enters to seek her counsel. She already guesses his intentions and answers his brief questions with confidence. She knows the route to the Red Slate Path, perhaps four li distant. The path is clear, though little used. It is not a place those of her village visit, though she has learnt that the path itself defies nature’s attempts to cover its existence.
    Zuo Fen is standing on the terrace as Meng Ning returns to the Emperor’s Hall. She has slept deeply, is refreshed after a period of meditation and, despite the cold, has been washed and massaged by her maid. She appears dressed for walking, her boots, fur cloak and hat in purposeful combination. As she surveys the lake flocks of wild geese and duck chatter and squabble as they float on the surface. There are some experimental flights, pairs of duck taking off to fly in wide arcs only to return to the same stretch of water from where they rose in tandem. Soon the geese will leave to fly across the forests and moorland for distant harvested fields where they will spend the day foraging. Meng Ning points to a distant peninsula jutting out from the northern shore of the lake. Behind it, he says, lies the cove of the Red Slate Path. Perhaps there they will be able to understand more keenly the why of this mystery.

‘At such a distance,’ says Zuo Fen, ‘the detail of a boat would be quite lost. I imagine the peninsula acting like a pointing finger to its floating form. There is already fashioning within me a possible story that might explain this mystery.’

She smiles warmly at Meng Ning who bows his head rather than stare into her jade green eyes. She moves closer to his standing posture, taking his left hand secure but tense against the balustrade of the veranda. Lowering one leg before the other she slowly kneels, removing her hat, loosening her fur cloak that now spreads itself of its own accord beside and behind her. With both hands behind her neck she lifts her long hair found to parted and tied in simple peasant fashion. Raising her hands to full-stretch her sleeping hair warm from the bare skin of her back slowly cascades forward and across each of her ******* to curl like two cats in the bowl of her robe.

‘Mei Lim is with Jia Li’, Zuo Fen says curiously and with a voice Meng Ning has not encountered before. ‘I fell to sleep dreaming of your kind presence and the joy of being touched and kissed.’ He cannot see her face as she speaks, only the quivering fall of her hair across her kneeling body. ‘I awoke feeling your breath on my cheek and so brought your limbs to entwine with my own.’ He now senses the delicate unguents of her body; they compass him about, his hand falls from the balustrade to touch her hair.

Finding her right ear his fingers describe its shape, its sculptured relief of folded forms and crevices. He is becoming faint with something outside passion that requires him to go beyond her ear and flow of hair about his fingers. He unties his cloak, letting it drop behind him. He removes his boots and outer garments. She follows his example. He moves to her side, adopts the position of the swallow resting on the wind. They face one another.  To the accompaniment of their breathing, her hands begin a dance in the space between their lower limbs as though they are birds turning and falling in flight. Unlike the courtesans he sees at court her nails are short, her fingers long. Then, it is as though her hand holds a brush forming characters and she begins to write on his body with short deft movements this way that way describing her flight of passion. Some intuition tells him to allow this, and not to seek repricocity, as it seems from her breathing that these very actions give her the greatest delight, bring her to the edge of the first coitus. Eyes closed, he moves his nose into a glancing embrace with her own, feeling there a semblance of perspiration, that tell-tale sign of a woman’s readiness for the deeper embrace. She responds to this with sighs and swift movements of rapture that envelope him, and now, as she quickly brings her limbs into a right conjunction, he places one hand beneath her, the other to recline her body gently to the floor, her cloak becoming a pillow for her head.
    He now looks directly at her, her face expressionless as though all thought and feeling has entered her body in preparation to receive his own. She does not blink. There is a moment of great stillness, a great wave of calm breaks, moves forward and pulls back – and again, again. In an instant he will enter her Jade Gate to caress and kiss and move where only his Lord has visited. He knows that once there he will seal his own fate . . .
     It is the talk of poets that women are often at their most sensitive to love’s attention in the morning hours, and that this was, for so many reasons, the most impractical of times for men. Zuo Fen herself had written fu poems that took the reader to the most intimate moments of a concubine’s experience in the morning hours, those times when alone the body gathers to itself its essential nature, and is often caressed with the woman’s own hand and thoughts. To understand such circumstance, to hold its sweetness as an abiding taste during the formalities of the day, only to release its flavour in the pleasure hours of the night, was a manly attribute, said to be treasured, indeed honoured by women.
      When Meng Ning withdrew Zuo Fen lay for some while letting the unaccustomed circumstance and its location only gradually allow a return to conscious and present thoughts. She pictured now her journey to the Red Slate Path, Jia Li, her baby on her back, striding beside Meng Ning, then herself and finally Mei Lim - who would have entreated her mistress to be allowed to accompany her. There was the glade, a small bowl in the hillside where it was just possible to see a small cave from which, glistening, the broken patterns of the slate path fell after half a li into the lake. She would investigate the cave. She would walk to the water’s edge, where the trees stepped into and reached over the lake to lay a carpet of fallen leaves. Then to see the path gradually, gradually disappear into the depths.
    Whilst Zuo Fen, with her eyes closed, projected her thoughts forward in time, with accustomed tact Mei Lim left those accouterments a woman needs after the attentions of a lover. She feared for the young man, though she knew her Lord prized too much his Lady of The Purple Chamber to effect jealousy or display anger.
    As the sun cleared away the thin cloud and approached its zenith the company broached the crest of the hill above the glade. It was, Zuo Fen had to admit, just as she had imagined lying prone and in disarray in the Emperor’s hall. In silence, and in the company of her imagination, she now paced from cave to path to water, and standing at the very edge of the lake’s bank focused her mind to envisage the events of twenty years past.
     It was as though a rhapsody was already formed. She found herself recounting the tale in her world of characters where there is only present time. She felt her hand describe them with the flow of her brush, heard the sound of its movement across the thick parchment. She was slow to notice that Meng Ning had disrobed and was entering the water. Without a word she watched him move through the carpet of floating leaves, some sticking to his nakedness, and onwards, slowly, following the submerged path until his torso then only his shoulders were visible. She then knew what he hoped to find, even after the passage of so many years.

She saw it all, suddenly. The sorcerer Yang Mo and the Emperor’s second wife descending the Red Slate Path as a cavalcade of fire and smoke, loud flashes of light, noises of brass and clashing metal enveloped the glade and the boat itself. The watching company witnessed for a moment the couple disappear under the waters only for their collective sight to be shrouded in a climaxed confusion of the sorcerer’s devices and effects.

When, finally the smoke cleared, the boat and the lovers had vanished.

Zuo Fen watched Meng Ning disappear from view. She imagined him, as the pearl fishers she had heard tell of, diving down to the depths, holding his breath to seek what might remain of the illusory boat. But time passed beyond the possibility of what she knew could be endured by human-kind. The surface of the water remained unbroken. The division of open water made by Meng Ning in breaking apart the carpet of floating leaves was already reforming itself.
   Removing her cloak and her boots, and unpinning her hair, Zuo Fen stepped into the water. A memory floated towards her of bathing in the lake near to her summer retreat. Water held no fear for her, only now the cold consumed her. Her loosed hair, and her elaborate untied robe settled on the water’s surface: to surround her like a lily pad, she the budding flower at its centre. She felt her feet still firmly on the Red Slate Path, her chin now resting on the water’s surface. Whatever had happened to Meng Ning she knew her action to be compliant. She had immersed herself with the very element that had brought him either death or, as she knew in her heart, a most honorable escape.
Curtis C Jun 2018
For me, there is a path between my heart and my head.  It is not a long path but it is a very used path, a circular path.  I am always on this path before I go out to another path.  This heart-head path is my cross roads.  It is where my house is built and this is the house that I am always changing and it grows bigger and better.  I live on this path, Heart-head Lane. Every adventure starts here, the main house, the big house, the house that is protected but there are no walls around it.  The house with all the windows to see all that life has to offer.  The house that has the open floor plan, that no matter where I stand, I see the Love, Joys, abundance, prosperity and even those lil fear monsters that are hiding in the basement.  The house on Heart-head Lane is where I work and deal with all the facts, my reactions and stuff.  Where I surrender, let go of stuff and open up to the new, the good and the ride always starts and ends here.

Even though this is a short path, Heart-head Lane, the house is huge, the yard goes on for days, both are unlimited and unconditional.  The house has a good foundation, Love and Truth and a strong roof of Freedom.  There are times I forget what my house is built upon and what cover it, but I always feel it there.  Deep, deep down to my core, I always know I am protected.  For this house on Heart-head Lane, is always mine.  I know no matter what the change, the lessons received and given, whatever the path I walk down; I know the house at the cross road, that house on the short, circular path of Heart-head Lane, is always there, a light that shines out and leads back to Love, Truth and Freedom.  Whatever level I have moved up to, I find that house with its changes and growth, welcomes me, just as I am, just where I am – giving and receiving, open to all, unlimited, unconditional and powerful.

I Love this path, Heart-head Lane and I am thankful, blessed and oh so grateful for the house that is built on Love and Truth with a roof of Freedom.  My house, my Life, the beginning and the end of the rides I take.  Here at the cross roads,
The house on Heart-head Lane

Curtis C
Ramin Ara Sep 2016
The Path

by The Buddha

Best of the paths is the eightfold,
best of the truths the four;
best of the virtues is freedom from attachment;
best of the people is the one who sees.
This is the path;
there is no other that leads to the purifying of insight.

Follow this path, and Mara will be confused.
If you follow this path, you will end your suffering.
This path was preached by me
when I became aware of the removal of the thorns.
You yourself must make the effort.
The perfected ones are only preachers.
Those who enter the path and practice meditation
are released from the ******* of Mara.

“All created things perish.”
Whoever realises this transcends pain;
this is the clear path.

“All created things are sorrow.”
Whoever realises this transcends pain;
this is the clear path.

“All forms are unreal.”
whoever realises this transcends pain;
this is the clear path.

Whoever does not rise when it is time to rise,
who, though young and strong, is lazy,
who is weak in will and thought,
that lazy and idle person will not find the path of wisdom.

Watching one’s speech, restraining well the mind,
let one not commit any wrong with one’s body.
Whoever keeps these three roads of action clear,
will make progress on the path taught by the wise.

Through meditation wisdom is gained;
through lack of meditation wisdom is lost.
Whoever knows this double path of progress and decline,
should place oneself so that wisdom will grow.

Cut down the forest of desires, not just a tree;
danger is in the forest.
When you have cut down the forest and its undergrowth,
then, mendicants, you will be free.

As long as the desire, however small,
of a man for women is not destroyed,
so long is his mind attached,
like a ******* calf is to its mother.

Cut out the love of self,
like an autumn lotus, with your hand.
Cherish the path of peace.
Nirvana has been shown by the Buddha.

“Here I shall live in the rain,
here in winter and summer.”
Thus thinks the fool, not thinking of death.
Death comes and carries off that person
who is satisfied with one’s children and flocks,
whose mind is distracted,
like a flood carries off a sleeping village.

Sons are no help, nor a father, nor relations;
for one who is seized by death, there is no safety in family.
Understanding the meaning of this, the wise and just person
should quickly clear the path that leads to nirvana.
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.
O'Reily Jun 2014
The calm before the storm,
Wake up and it's gone,
The right arm of the law,
It scrubs out what we ignore,

As one by one we fall,
As General's make their call,
Its never the twain,
As all it's never the same,

As time had stood so still,
On a war path for its ****.

She's on a war path,
Blitz cleans up those,
She's on a war path,
Her defining trumpet blows.

The War as if it's over,
She cleans up all distress,
The last post to the wake,
The cuddle toast of her handshake,

Time waits for no one,
No one he believed,
Just one more circumstance,
To Face the music and concede..

She's on a war path,
Blitz cleans up those,
She's on a war path,
Her defining trumpet blows,

She's on a war path,
She's on her war path,
You know her war path,
Please stop your war path!

War path, she's on a war path broom!

O'Reily29052013
Sebastian Macias Jan 2019
You close your eyes
And it's a new path
You close your eyes
And then it's a new path
Time and time again
It's a new path
After you open again
8 hours of sleep last night
A new path
10 minute nap in the afternoon
A new path
Phone call in the morning
New path
Train ride in the evening
New path
No music today
New path
Photo and photo and photo
New path
Sadness
A new path
In which direction will it stay on
Where is heaven on Earth
A new path
Marian Jan 2014
The path of healing is there for us all
It is there for even the most saddest of souls
With God walking by your side
There is nothing to fear
On the path of healing
Iris scented breezes
Waft through this forest path
The sunshine in calm rays
Dews sparkle on tender grasses
And rain has washed delicate leaves
Ferns delicately dance in the cool breezes
That blow through the warm air
The path of healing is very beautiful and comforting
Even through the hardest and saddest of times
When your heart is raw and needs healing
With God leading the way, right by your side
Don't you know, my precious one, that there is nothing to fear?
I am here too, I am God's humble servant
He is my Best Friend and Comforter
And He is yours too, if you allow Him to be, dear one
The path of healing is so beautiful
With green mosses and tulips
Kissed by a mist of dew
Tall, tall trees are growing
On either side of the path of healing
Everything is so peaceful, calm, and tranquil
But it is God's Presence along by your side
That causes your sweet and gentle heart to heal
Maybe you will comfort in my words hear, dear child
If so, then, my precious one,
Don't thank me, thank God
For He is ever knocking
On your beautiful, broken heart
And if you will allow Him
He will enter and softly heal your heart
And that is what the path of healing is all about
Not just ferns washed in dazzling spray
It is the One who created those ferns
He is the path of healing
For if you will allow Him to enter
He will heal even the most broken of hearts
And I know if you ask Him to save you
And truly wish to be His Child
Then, my sweet one, He will heal your heart
And that is how healing begins
Only through God
For He is our path of healing

*~Marian~
Dedicated to everyone who suffers of a broken heart...depression, or anything dark and sad!!!! :) ~~~~<3
My dear ones, allow Jesus Christ to enter that sweet heart of yours and He will heal it if you ask Him too!!! If you truly believe in Him, then ask Him to heal your heart!!!!
He will!!! So if you aren't His Child, then I sincerely hope that you will ask Him to!!!
If you haven't and wish to, message me if you have any questions!!!! ~~~~<3
I'll be more than glad to answer any of your questions, my darlings one and all!!! :) ~~~~<3
And don't think it's too late or that it can be done!!! It can!!!! ~~~~~~~<3
The trial i must follow
the legacy i must keep
the track i must maintain
my own path
is where i wanna follow
not the legends of yester-years
not the model’s of the present
not the fatherhood legacy box
not the fantics of people
or the fantasy of people
but my own path
a path that’s new
that many scarcely know
that none has not seen
my own path is a push
like a destiny maker
am a chief of my own track
a track am not meant to compete
but a path of creatives
where only me knoweth it
my own path
i aim to follow it
my own path
that i vow to follow
in this journey of life
it’s inevitable many would forsee me
many might push me
but my own path
that i vow to follow
in my own path
a story i must create
never to cross another
but to follow my own path
that is my greatest acheivement to follow
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AhNQd1U-OsE&fulldescription;=1&client;=mv-google≷=NG&guid;=&hl;=en-GB#watch_actions
Sherri Harder Nov 2014
Once upon a time in the land of snow,
where snow-drifts hang like cliffs and icicles do grow.
Along thine winter's path, like a child out to play.
The air so fresh, and sunlight sparkles; what a lovely day.
Along thine winter's path, the trees majestic in blankets of white.
The stars shine through like magic ***** of light.
Along thine winter's path so crisp and serene.
Along thine winter's path, a winter-wonderland scene.
Along thine winter's path, memories so clear.
Along thine winter's path, no shadows and no fear.
To see children sledding down a hill playing so care free.
Along thine winter's path with snow light sparking, I long to see.
Along thine winter's path, with mittens, gloves, and scarves,
lending a helping hand.
Along thine winter's path I write, this winter poem now
hath come to say...The End.
Melody Jan 2011
I feel like I should just start hypervenalating right there.
I don't know how to respond.
Should I let the tight tears just run down my cheeks unstoppingly.
I'm in the middle of confusion.
My stupid teenage years.
Of every memory I've had...
Never like this has happened.
Never this confused.
But as a teenager you're all like actually caring about what you look like, who likes who, the latest couples and all this other crap.
Well looks like my worrying of caring about that stuff is over for  the rest of my life, because my life will be full of confusion and nothing else.

While all confusion lays on my hands.
I walk into the dimming light.
the killing, murderous light of love.
It's so strong.
Am I walking the right path?
Did I take the right turn?
Did I turn into the wrong corridor?
There were millions.
For a Melody like me.
I took the right path.
The right map.
The right direction.
The right corridor.
There is no doubt.
Though I'm not perfect.
So something has to be an obstacle then.
And so I have my too tall of a hurdle to try to jump over.
My millions of corridors I could've taken I took the right one.
And ended up with the millionth corridor of confusion.
But I took the right path.
I know it.
And so I'm sitting here writing this.
If I hadn't of taken my millionth path.
I would have never been sitting here writing my feelings out.
All of my millionth path of confusion too you.
My millionth path was my right path.
What is your millionth path?
Does life ever get you thinking,
that you're not you but you're someone else?
Exactly. I'm not Melanie. I'm Melody.
And you can't be me.
Because I'm one of a kind.
And so are you.
So take your millionth path.
And make it different.
All true feelings. All true story.What a long explanation to go along with it. Take your millionth path to happiness.

"Happiness is not what we're given or give out,but what we have to find our millionth path."- From Unreplacable.
The glass beneath my feet,
I walk along this path
Narrow and treacherous
The blades almost glass
I walk barefoot non-the-less.
Seeking sand between my toes
And sun on my back.

This grass could be worse
Slicing my hills atop the jagged rocks
Bleeding until my heart stops.

I need to find my rest
As the moon climbs high in the sky
And the sun plummets to the abyss
Must I seek out a cave or forest canopy?
Beyond the borders of my four foot path
I cannot see
A curtain of darkness shrouds both sides

There once was a world outside this path
I know there must be another direction than the path I walk.
One of beauty and tenderness
But I have seen neither beauty nor tenderness
And my mussels have began to ach
And honestly, I fear the rest for I might not wake

I once came upon this flower
The stem stood tall and the bloom grew red and blue.
Beauty grew from this path
And I picked this flower
Because I must have this beauty with me,
In the instant, the roots left the ground
The flower wilted to a dull black and crumbled in my hand

A world that must remain beyond the darkness
Beyond my path
Has been picked and wilted
And left blindness among people

I now stagger along this four-foot wide path
Missing most the autumn leaves
That never falls to my path.
The glistening snow
Which has never been underfoot,
The summer springs
That I have not swam to cool my body.

The seclusion however
Doesn’t bring a thorn to my heart
My fellow’s destruction
Is greater than my destruction of beauty
More tortures than the sight of this path
They are the ones who have picked the world from my sight
Therefore, which situation is better?
Ones who see the horrors
Or the one who believes it doesn't exist?
© Nathaniel Justice 2010
It is a general saying that What You Seek is Seeking You. If it is so , then why the sought for (i.e. God ) is not meeting the seeker or seeker is discovering the sought for (i.e. God). It is very easy to say that God is looking and searching for us. If it is so, then why we deviate from our path. Why we are attracted to the lust, money or other worldly material. If God is searching us, then certainly he has to guide us in tracing him. But the reality is just opposite. If tread the path of God, people will laugh at you. If you are working in any office, it is very easy to talk about politics, movies, girls, foods, clothes etc. It is very difficult to find a companion with whom you can speak about God. It looks as if God has created all these hindrances so that it is not convenient to seek him.

       You seek about movie and you find movie theater. You look for clothes, you find the multiples mall easily. But what about God. Go and ask questions to so called Spiritual Leaders, Spiritual Guru and ask for their experience regarding proof of god, and you do not find definite answered.

       I have met various so called spiritual leaders, spiritual Gurus and asked about their spiritual experience about the God. But I receive only hesitating answer, that too also in Negative. I do not want to name such leaders.

        I have also read many books like GOD SPEAKS by MEHER BABA, LAW OF SPIRIT WORLD by KHORSHID BHAWNAGRI, AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF YOGI by Yogananda Paramhansa, Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna. But the end result is confusion. Each book gives different account of God. If God is seeking us then why the same is confusing us by providing so diverse ways of following him. Ramakrishna says money and women has to be avoided on the path of God. While Osho and Modern Gurus says just contrary. In fact in word of Osho, without treading the path of *** , it is difficult to follow the path of God for modern man.

          For Vedanta, the seeking has to follow the ascetic path. The path the self restraint. While the path of tantra (the Left Marg) to utilize women and wine for attaining the Samadhi. It is Just incomprehensible to believe that just two contradictory path lead to realization of same God.

          When you look to go nearer to a particular cities or places , then on the way you start meeting land marks, evidencing that the path, you are following , is going to lead you to your destination. In fact on the ways, you find many stones, indicating the distance which is yet to be covered in reaching the destination. But in case of God, things are just contradictory. The more people you approaches to seek advise regarding the God, the more disappointment comes to you. The more book you read to tread the path of God, the more confusion you creates for yourself. The more you discuss the topic of people around, the more alone you become. The more you tread the path of truth, the difficult your life become.

            Then how it can be said that WHAT YOU SEEK, IS SEEKING YOU?????

           In   fact , truth is that What we seek, creates hindrance in being sought for.
AJAY AMITABH SUMAN
Ryan King Oct 2011
A path I’ve walked before
A path I know so well
A path that was old
This time the path was cold
As I walked it seemed new
New and fresh feelings
New like freshly fallen morning dew
Like morning dew is wet
So were my eyes
From my cries
As I walked home

As I walked I wept
As my mind tried to sweep
The pain and tears away
By demons I am blessed
But it’s an angel that got me messed
I’ve never had much luck
It seems I’m always stuck in the muck
You could have saved me
Demons are in my head
From what an angel said

What kept me walking
Was thoughts of your laughter
What made me cry
Was the thought that came after
The thought that you didn’t want to save me
Even though you’re my angel
You sent the demons to me
My loving angel is gone
Because she done wrong

You will always be my angel
The angel that made me glad
Glad to see your smile
Now I look at pictures
I get a taste of bile
I’m getting sick of missing you
Sick of the demons that haunt
The demons that taunt
That this is a useless life

What keeps me going
Is the thought that your still there
I still need an angel friend
To stop the demons from time and time again
So I call you up
Listen to your voice
I know it drags on the suffering
But I got no choice
You’re an angel with power
And your presence is a cleansing shower
From the demons that are around

I’m walking a new path now
A path in my mind
That I thought I’d never find
A path that should not have been found
A path that you, an angel did show
A path were the demons follow as I go
Will you ever save me some day?
Or will another angel have to help me find my way
I wish it could be you
But I guess the devil
Was an angel too
Emma Chatonoir Jan 2015
We both are on the same path right now
Heading to the same destination
The map says you have to walk beside me
I want to rip it up and throw the pieces everywhere
I don't want you here

But the map says we have to take the same path
So it will be a very awkward journey
Now without a map it'll be hard to tell you to get lost
Because I might go down the path I send you on by mistake
How weird would that be?

People ask me why I am scared to travel with you
They think you're a good person for me to walk with
You're good at reading maps and helping others
It feels like no one understands how fearful I am
To be walking with someone like you

You said once the map will lead us to be together
I rip my hair out at the very thought
You now say you're only taking the same path I am on
Because you want to be with someone else
I'm scared to walk with you in case you fall again

You say you're over the idea of traveling with me now
But why are you still walking next to me?
I have no choice but to run off the path
This destination isn't for me
I must escape

Now I walk on a different path
It's less paved and friendly for me and I'm all alone
Was it really worth taking to escape you and the others?
Is this new destination worse?
What have I even done?

I wonder if I will ever stop walking
But I'm glad I started
Because when walking a path without you
I can appreciate the happiness the world has to offer
Instead of daydreaming about ditching you

Yes, I changed my path for you
But life is too short to be with people who make you upset
And if I could trade being frustrated with you
For being happy with myself
It would be a beautiful life.
I'm not following a map that leads to you.
Tavia Robshaw Nov 2013
The path I take depends on my fate.
The path I take is built from society and my privacy.
I strive to create my world, and the adventures I seek.
Life may hold me down but my path was chosen for me.
Not that path I want, but the path of the world.
The path that everyone has to take.
Like a conveyor belt we fallow the path of what we are supposed to be. 
We do not find ourselves, we have our ourselves found by someone else.
There is no adventure in the path we have no life beside what the path someone else has chosen for us.
Toni Seychelle Feb 2013
The ground beneath the stiff leaves is frozen. The cold, brisk air invades my lungs, I exhale, my breath visible. I step over fallen branches and tugged by thorny vines. A red tail hawk screeches overhead, this is a sign of good luck. There is no path, no trail to mark our way, just an old, flat railroad bed surrounded by walls of shale, blown up for the path of the train so long ago. The only ties to remind of the rail are the rotting, moss covered ties that once were a part of a bridge that would have carried the train over a small creek between two steep hills. I see a fox burrow, and it's escape hatch is one of the hollowed railroad ties. I want to be a fox... The trek down this hill is not easy, thorny blackberry bushes and fallen trees impede progress. At the bottom, the small, bubbly creek is frozen at the edges, traveling under rocks and continuing its ancient path. I look up the hill that I just descended, and wonder how the return will go. Keep moving. The next hill will be easier, there are no thorny tangles, just treacherous leaf litter that will give under my feet if I don't find the right footing. The trick is to dig my boots into the ground as if I'm on steps. These hills are steep. Finally at the top, I look back at this little spring valley, I'm not that high up, but what view. Here, there is a dilapidated tree stand, falling apart from years of neglect and weather. Surrounded by deep leaf litter, there is a patch of rich dark earth, a buck has marked his spot, his round pellets are nearby. The saplings catch my hair as I walk by, and at these moments I am thankful for this cold snap that took care of the ticks. A creepy feeling takes over me, so thankful for this snap. A few feet further, as I watch where I am walking, another tussled bit of earth and I notice some interesting ****. It's furry and light grey; I poke it with my stick and find a small skull when I turn a piece over. Owl. I continue my walk, I didn't come here to play with poo. The last time I took this hike was three years ago, on a similar frigid day. It was a lot easier to make it through the shale valleys. Last summer, a wind storm felled trees and took out power for two weeks. The evidence of that derecho is clear here in this untouched forest. I remembered a tree, which now is a fallen giant, that had lost it's bark. The bark had separated and laid around this tree like a woman's skirt around her ankles. Now the tree lies with it's bark. I pass another tree I recognize whose branch extends out but zig zags up and down, as if it had three elbows. The tree signifies my next move, to descend from the flat railroad bed, down to a creek that flows through the tunnel that would have carried the train. The creek is considerably larger than the last creek I could step across. Descending towards the creek leads me over moss covered rocks and limbs, still bearing snow. Outside the tunnel, the hill walls are large stones, covered in a thick layer of moss, some of which has started to fall off due to heaviness. There's a sort of ice shelf in the creek, it's three layers thick and can support my one hundred and twenty pounds. Laying across the creek is another derecho-felled tree. Some sort of critter has crawled on this, using it to avoid the water below and as a short cut up the hill. His claw marks are covering the the limb, a few are more clear, it looks as if the creature almost slipped off. His claw marks show a desperate cling. I walk through the tunnel, in the mud and water; the creek echoes inside. I look above. There are drainage holes lining the ceiling, one is clogged by a giant icicle. I imagine the train that used to ride over this tunnel, I pretend to hear it and feel the rumbling. The last time we were here, we found cow skeletons. We placed a few heads on branches and one over the tunnel. We stuck a jaw, complete with herbivore teeth, into the mossy wall and a hip bone on a sapling. The hip bone reminded us of Predator's mask in the movie. All these bones are turning green. When I was here before, there was a bone half submerged in the creek; I had taken a picture of it but today, it isn't here. I'm sure it was washed away. After our exploration of the previous visit, we turned back. We are cold again, can't stay in one place too long. I climb through the deep leaf litter and over the rocks back to the railroad bed. Passing all the things I've already seen and spotting things I missed. I find two more fox burrows. They utilized the shale rock and burrowed underneath the jutting formations. Hidden coming from the south, the gaping openings seem welcoming from the north. My friends, the spelunkers and climber, want to descend into the darkness but I remind them, it is an hour to sundown, our trek is hard enough with overcast daylight. Wisdom prevails. We pass a tree, we didn't notice before, that was struck by lightening. The cedar tree was split in two and fell down the shale wall. I see the evidence of the burn and a smoldered residue at the base. Nature has a cruel way of recycling. The downed tree still has snow on it and the path of a raccoon is visible, I like the paws of *****. Though the way is flat, the walls of shale tower above us, limiting routes. At one point I can't see through the fallen trees I have to pass through. I have to crab walk under, crawl over, duck again and find my way around the thorny collections of bare black berry bushes. Finally into a clearing, still surrounded by sharp shale, there is another wall covered in inches of thick, healthy moss. I place my hand, taking time to stroke the furry wall. My hand leaves an imprint. I wonder how long that will last.. Back down the steep hill up and up the thorny tangle. I know I'm on the right path up, I see the fox's hole through the railroad tie, and his entrance burrow up the hill. Going down was definitely easier. The summit is literally overgrown with thorns, there is no clear path through. It is, again, impossible to see through the tangle of limbs and saplings and more thorns. Somehow we make it through. We are close to breaking off this path. We know this by the remains of a cow skeleton that more than likely fell from the top of the shale cliff. Femurs and ribs and jaws abound. On the last trip, we placed a hip bone in the "Y" of a sapling. The young tree has claimed it, growing around it. We add a piece of jaw to the tree's ornamentation and move on. We climb down from the railroad bed to our car - parked on the side of the road with a white towel in the window so that no one suspects a group of people walking through private property, past faded NO TRESPASSING signs.

When I undress for bed later, there are many small scratches up and down my legs from those ****** thorny vines. I'm okay with that, it's better than searching for ticks in my head.
I couldn't write a 'poem' about this hike. It was too full of nature.
Mark Lecuona Apr 2016
The path is not of this earth
except when loving thy neighbor
for holy forgiveness is how we are fed

The path is not of this earth
though you wash dirt from your feet
it is your soul that remains pure

The path is not of this earth
except the memory of your savior
for his life was spent among us

The path is not of this earth
though it is in everyone you meet
for as the prophets walked so will you

The path is not of this earth
except the wood for your cross
for it is their judgment you must bear

The path is not of this earth
though the weeping of your heart
was caused by those sleeping soundly

The path is not of this earth
except to comfort them for their loss
for this is why we pray his will be done

The path is not of this earth
though where we begin is where we part
and whoever desires this path will find it
Cat Lynn Jul 2017
There’re are two paths going opposite ways
People travel these paths every day
The first path leads to a place of tears
people who take this path, reflect death like a mirror
Guilt haunts them when they do wrong
The memory of their sin creates a mournful song
People say you can do whatever you please, they say, “Come over here, join us!”
But a wise person knows down that path, people give into their lust
Most people who follow this path, don’t see the dangers around them, But those who truly believe in Christ can see through the fog
For they are the ones pulled out of the miry bog
                                                            The second path is thin and narrow
It is thinner than a golden arrow
There are very few who find this path
Those of the world look and laugh
This is the path that leads to life
It is full of danger, hardship and strife
There are trials on this path, it won’t be easy
But that gives no excuse, like the rabbit to be lazy
What’s so great about this path is that someone cares for you when you fall
Through the church, He sends out his gospel call  
He is all holy, powerful, and merciful
He is Author of the universe, and Creator of all the people
You must be born again through his holy Son
Who died on the cross – the victory won!
Strolling up green grassy hill,
and through forest in summer breeze.
I come upon two paths
leading both high and low.
One is wider, and the other is narrow.
Like paths of life,
paths of choice.
Before me.

Which shall I take?

The wider, the easier, the popular?
Upon which many shall tread.
The path of comfort.
The path of man's approval.
The path.
Of the soul's dead?

Or shall I take the straight, the narrow,
upon which few shall travel.
The path of self-denial.
The path of suffering.
The Way of the Cross.
The Way.
Of Life.
The narrow path of trial and difficulty.
Upon which few shall walk with me.

The narrow, straightened Way.
The Way of Glory.
The Way of Eternity.
Where my Good Shepherd travels
side by side with me.

Which path shall I choose?
I have already chosen it.
When I lost what I did love so dear.
And replaced it with comparing
all things as loss,
compared to knowing Christ my Lord.

I have chosen the narrow path.
The path upon which few travel.
For me it is the only Way.
To Life.
CharlesC Nov 2018
paths must be lines on maps
no matter how subtle their appearance..
there is a leap
in realizing all paths reach nowhere..
futility then is the path end
and our key to the heart...
~CC



(You must always keep in mind that a path is only a path. Each path is only one of a million paths. If you feel that you must now follow it, you need not stay with it under any circumstances. Any path is only a path.
There is no affront to yourself or others in dropping a path if that is what your heart tells you to do.
But your decision to keep on a path or to leave it must be free of fear and ambition.
I caution you: look at every path closely and deliberately.
Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone this one question. Does this path have a heart?
All paths are the same. They lead nowhere. They are paths going through the brush or into the brush or under the brush of the Universe.
The only question is: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then it is a good path. If it doesn’t, then it is of no use.
Carlos Castaneda)
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Nigel Morgan Jan 2013
In the morning the wind is vicious, tossing vigorously the woodland on the heights above the village. The sky is a hanging of grey and charcoal black bands of cloud. On horseback and in her male attire Zuo Fen is led by the village guide up the steep forest path. She is already questioning the past, the accounts she’s read of the annual transhumance to this remote spot that give no answer to its sudden abandonment. It seems the Emperor made himself incommunicado for the latter part of the third season. The palace inventory shows local provisioning, and the most carefully chosen companions. They also describe how season-by-season the habitation was enlarged in order to accommodate further and different visitors. Poets and musicians were particularly favoured and would accompany the Emperor to select locations to add a delicate resonance of word and sound to the natural world.
​         As the travellers came out of the forest a wilderness of rock and moorland stretched before them, relentlessly upward. The path was now vague and Meng Ning was perplexed at how his guide had brought him across this terrain in the near darkness of the previous afternoon. The ponies often stumbled here and in the high wind he had to stop himself from looking behind to check his Lady’s progress. Eventually the ascent became less precipitous and a clearer path asserted itself, and in the near distance a pile of stones marked the summit. There, Meng Ning alighted to see Zuo Fen walking purposefully beside her horse leading her maid for whom this was an unaccustomed adventure. Together they approached him as he surveyed the panorama that to the west revealed Lake Psumano, a silver thread of water curled between the thick forests.
​        In silence Zuo Fen handed the reins of her pony to Meng Ning and with a signal to the village guide strode off on the descent to Eryi-lou.
 
‘We are to wait here until my Lady is out of sight,’ said Mei Lim’s smiling voice. ‘Then we may go forward.’
 
Mei Lim sat firmly in the saddle, as though assuming command of this small party. This now comprised herself, Meng,Ning and two rough-spoken men from the village each leading a pack-horse of luggage and provisions.  
 
‘You know I travelled as far as Stone Village on my Lady’s visit to the Tai Mountains. I would have gone further but she required me to stay. She is a woman who is in love with the wilderness, who will walk out in any weather to greet it lovingly. You should have no fear for her. She is a strong woman.’
​          Meng Ning nodded, declining to speak, afraid to disturb the rough music of the winds that seemed to press on them from all directions. Such is the journeying spirit, he thought, and looking into the distance realized Zuo Fen and her guide had disappeared from view.
          ​Soon the autumn forest had been regained and Zuo Fen and her guide began the descent to Eryi-lou. The path here was well made and marked at regularly distances with small stone columns. The whirlwind, that had buffeted the travellers since their departure, was now being played out in the highest treetops leaving ground level to echo like a large hall as the trees above swayed, groaned and cracked sharply in the heights. Soon vistas of the lake began to appear. They were still high above, the path frequently winding in steep loops across the hillside. Suddenly they found themselves looking down almost precipitously onto rooftops, a maze of buildings falling in tiers, joined together with walkways and terraces, many invaded now by trees and undergrowth: the Emperor’s summer palace of Eryi-lou.
​          Here, Zuo Fen bade her guide turn back. She would now imagine reclaiming this place of her waking dream, alone. When she felt confident her guide had retreated up the path she removed the pins from her hair, loosened her cloak, took off her stout boots of Yak leather. There would be more later.
 
​Barefoot, she began her descent to the palace eventually finding a staircase to one of the terraces from which she began to survey the palace. She found many of the rooms as she had dreamed them, small guest apartments with open spaces where doors and windows might have been, and hangings of the richest almost translucent silks, torn, faded, some covering the ground. The detritus of twenty autumns had blown through these spaces: plant material had taken root in between the planks of the raised wooden floors. Miraculously, there were rooms almost untouched by nature, just piles of leaves providing a matted covering.
         ​In one room somewhat larger than its surrounding structures Zuo Fen feels a special and continuing presence. A veranda-like structure occupied its lake-facing wall. This room, almost a hall, had been recently swept. There is a faint memory of incense as she comes close to the wooden walls. She paces the area until she feels guided to a spot where perhaps a formal chair has long ago been positioned. From there she can see the leaves but not the trunks of the trees as they swirl about in the continuing wind. A long vista of the silver lake spreads itself across the hall’s panorama. But the space enjoys shelter from the prevailing wind and has a stillness and silence all its own. Here, after removing her cloak, her thick riding trousers, the woolen garments that bound warmth to her, she kneels in her shift, closing her eyes to feel the room, the palace, its surroundings, come close to her all but naked body in its repose.
       ​Losing all sense of time it is only the gentle covering of her shoulders by Mei Lim that wakes her from her reverie.
 
‘Gracious Lady, we are installed in rooms kept for the use of official visitors. The guardian here is a young woman with a small child. She would like to welcome you when you are dressed and have eaten.’
 
And so, being led by her maid, Zuo Fen is taken to a distant suite of rooms suited to the autumn weather. There are recently lit braziers, and fitted doors and windows provide a little protection against the relentless wind and the damp cold. Mei Lim reassembles her lady’s wardrobe, and having dressed her, places a hot infusion into her cold hands. The afternoon light has barely a few hours left, but already the cold deepens. This will be a hard place to spend the night, a palace built for the third season – the summer of the solstice, a time of laughter and of fire, and the phoenix red.
 
Meng Ning is also imagining the palace in its summer dress when to wake at dawn would be witness to the sun flooding the partially cleared forest from its heights. The palace is lit up by vibrant reflections off the lake and the very roofs of the many buildings pulsate and shimmer with the heat of a cloudless day. The women of the palace are deep in slumber, their maids with silent tread reclaiming their ladies’ dignity after a night which may have seen much experimental congress of men and women amidst the subtle music of the qujin, the drinking of local wine, the close inspection and divination of the heavens reflected in the still lake, and the elaborate trading between memories of poetry and folk tale.  Even without such imaginings, to be here, and in the company of the illustrious Zuo Fen is the richest gift in a life otherwise stunted by ceremony and courtly intrigue. Zuo Fen has clearly taken Emperor Wu beyond custom and, though briefly, fashioned moments of love and friendship. To witness this woman at close quarters, this artist of the brush whose selection of characters holds both charm and innocence is wondrous. Even in these cold quarters he is warmed by the thought of her presence and the journey they will make tomorrow along the lake shore – to the Red Slate Path.

( to be continued )
CharlesC Jun 2015
Path #1

Forgiveness is the sinking
head into heart..
The head dwelling in separation
concedes logic's demands
but confronting questions
time after time:
Why? and What?
Surrendering at last
to the sinking..
dissolving..
becoming..
the Heart...


Path #2

Forgiveness is downloading
of new software..
Our old software
employs the ego rampant
rendering forgiveness
a difficult dream
searching in forlorn places
finding only traces..
New software finds it all
Here and Now...!


Path #3

Real forgiveness is Now
not in time..
Events in the past
seeming in need of
forgiveness
are only known
Now..
and what of the Now..?
it's other name
our true identity:
Forgiveness...



Path #4

Chaos
is an iteration
of Forgiveness..
a shading and
concealment of
formulated light..
Our awaking brings
the repentance
the return
the feedback
to never absent
Forgiveness...


Path #5

A shock it is
to learn that
Forgiveness is not personal..
It is a realization
of a substance common
to all concerned
transparent and eternal
the real Self..
With that realization
duality of conflict
dissolves in the
Light...


Path #6

Quantum forgiveness
is the only
forgiveness..
A leap into
infinite non-locality..
The suddenness arrives
within painful progress
or perhaps
strangely enough
out of the blue...!


Path #7

Forgiveness
an experience of sealing
our separate brokenness..
It is mandatory..
Yet the sealing
can be accomplished
only by those who see
there is no need
for the sealing...


Path # 8

Immersed
in a separated
dualistic reality
seeking forgiveness
in thought and time
is not satisfying..
The lingering pain
from a fruitless search
for forgiveness in
all the wrong places...


Path #9

Forgiveness
is a restoration of
peace and happiness
with new clarity:
The Awareness of
peace and happiness
was never in need of
restoration...


Path #10

We need to see clearly
that all relationships
take place in
infinite Awareness..
But wait..
not in .. but as..
All those hurts
are constrictions
of Awareness
crying out their
illusory separation...
Elvis okumu Dec 2013
Upon the beaten path I walked
and though I tired still I walked  
upon a glittering stone I came
and I stopped in my palm It lay
upon my gaze It shone
but in my heart reach it did not
upon the beaten path it fell
and still on I walked

upon a young woman I came
her eyes, upon me, she looked
a flutter Within I felt
and in my arms I wished she lay
But upon my heavy tongue my words stopped
and upon me ceased look did she
so upon the beaten path I walked
my tears slowly following me

tired a grew of this beaten path i knew
upon my tired frame exhaustion came
and down I went to Sit
Upon my beating heart relief came
and with it a wash my memory came
Of a time where on this  long road I did not walk
and upon my relaxed heart came grief
brief my rest was and up I stood
and upon my beaten path I walked
my past barely understood


upon an old well I came
Parched my throat had become
so away from my beaten path I strayed  
my journey temporarily delayed

upon the water did the light shimmer beside lay a  bucket
upon it I wished to drink so down the bucket want to sink
up it came with satisfactions wink
upon my lips did I drink
and upon my mind was I releaved
But upon the bottom lay a snake
Its  poison within the water  it slyly  lay
upon the road did I go
blissful in what I did not know

upon my eyes the darkness came
sluggish my legs began  to feel
  and upon my mind worry came
as upon  the path my body fell
Rasping came my breath  labored came my air
But upon  the ground i began to see
all that had been around me
upon the scenery came beauty
And upon my heart did it reach

upon the road had I stayed when all around me I could have played
upon the second when the reaper called
I cursed not the path  I took
for upon   the  moment of my death
at last I came to my peace
upon the goal of the path did I clearly see
For without the beaten path beauty waiting in the scenery would I have missed entirely
Xan Abyss Oct 2014
The ******* sufferer beholds another necrologue for Christ
In the savage, barren, ugly, wretched wilderness of God
Forsaken wanderer, alone again forevermore
His crippled heart is a raging fire trapped in a cage of ice
Beyond these walls of darkness, waiting in the shadows
that obscure the night so well
The hiding place of Hell
The path of fire burns on, ever in the silence of the night as it shines
in the eternal void of light
And I will walk the dark path infernal
Left in the razor edge balance
Between the shadows of the night
And incendiary light
I will walk the dark path eternal
Pleasures of the mind and treasures of the flesh
Temptation. Reward. Validation. Disinterest.
A cycle of cannibalism - inhumane
Channel the rage to desire, and feed her the pain
She so needs, she so craves, she is begging you for
Feed her the pain and call her a *****
Deep inside, the fire in those eyes
Give her what she needs to remember she's alive
Tread lightly through the fire of the dark path infernal
Remember the cold. Remember the slumber.
Between the shadows of the night and incendiary light
We will walk the dark path eternal
Now walk with me forever
And I will never leave your side
Walk with me forever
Between the shadow and the light
Walk with me forever
On this dark path infernal
With me, eternally
Alive on the Black Path of Night!
Another stream of consciousness piece from Fall 2012. Obviously there's something ****** to do with it but other than that idk what this is about either.
Christian Bixler Dec 2015
I once walked a lonely path,
that threaded its way so elegantly,
throughout that vast and wooded
sea. I had thought to walk for peace of
mind; for that calm and refreshing clarity,
that comes from long unbroken solitude.
But instead, to my increased confusion,
knowing as I do that all men walk with the
seeds of chaos and confusion buried in their
hearts, I found that my thoughts walked
with me, down that lonely mountain path.
My attention lingered, as it were, on the
roughness of the track, and from there leapt
from wood to sky, to consider the path itself.
Such a wondrous creature, this winding thing,
such a strange and marvelous structure! So simple
to see, to comprehend, upon ones first inspection,
but upon further query and strain of ones senses, one
sees that indeed, against all sane reason, it warrants some
further reflection! Oh true, very true, this thing of which I
speak, so endearingly, is merely a track, an ignominious scratch,
stretching its dusty way through these unending woods, but think, for a moment, simply think, about all this, all that I have to say, regarding this humble path. Think how it stretches, for miles, for years! All unbroken and unwearied continuing on through cracked gorge and wooded valley, over hills and mountains tall, never speaking a word of complaint or discomfort, only seeking to deposit its travelers at their desired destination, and continue on its way. Consider if you will the vastness of this earth, of the uncounted millions of miles that lie between her frozen poles. If you are certain of nothing, be certain of this; that this single path stretches the length and width of our planet entire, be it a dirt track through a sighing wood, or a goat path high among the jagged cliffs and peaks of Patagonia, or even the mighty ocean currents used by those unknowable dwellers of the capricious sea.  There is only one path, one long mighty river with innumerable tributaries, which stretches its way to the ends of the earth, and back again, and everywhere in between. Such were my thoughts that day, as I wended my way down that interminable path, and such was my concentration upon the fascinating madness that lay within them, that I hardly noticed that the sun was dying, and evening was coming on, and only when the light was gone, and the darkness began to weigh heavily on my soul, that I roused myself from these winding thoughts, and even as I did so, a light drizzle began to fall, which soon compounded into a driving rain, under which I was left to stumble and trip my way back down that terrible path, back to the small hamlet where it began, or passed. And yet I was glad, for I had gained, if not what I had desired, a thing of worth at least as great, if not more so, and that strange mad enlightenment which I had gained while walking the long and wearying miles of that mountain path would, I knew, remain with me, for better or for worse, for always, and for forever.
A strange train of thought. I really have no idea where it came from. Perhaps it was something I read awhile back. Whatever. Read if you will, comment if you do.
I rue the day I began to wonder,
"Who will be the first to insult my dead Father?"
I am nearly 20, and it's finally happened.

Though it would be easy to say
I am tempted to rip the boy's throat out,
I can't.

The path is too smooth, too short;
to which I say:

I avoid as best as I can to take the shortest path,
not because I am stubborn, not because I want to prove anything,
but because the shortest path
-often filled with smooth stones and the scent of roses-
is often the wrong path.
You are tricked into feeling rewarded before realizing you've plunged deeper
into your selfishness.

With every decision there is the offer of the short path,
and with every short path taken,
you become smaller, and smaller,
until the world around you is but a forest of colossal leaves and giant insects.
The world will be too big to understand,
and you will be small, confused, and sad.

You might lie to yourself and say "But I am big! I see what many cannot; I see what YOU cannot see!"

And that is not correct, but it's alright.
Maybe you can die happier,
believing you have not been consumed by your choices,
believing you understand,
believing you are big.

Lie to yourself, it's alright.
If the short path is what you've chosen all this time,
then truth is not what you seek.

Lies should not be a problem to you,

should they?
Toni Jan 2011
I walk the path
not knowing my destination
I walk the path
not knowing where I am
I walk the path
sometimes happy and sometimes sad
I walk the path
sometimes excited and sometimes angry
I walk the path
making choices
I walk the path
living breathing sharing laughing crying
But most important
I walk the path of life not knowing where I'm heading
and in no rush to get there
Toni Preis
James Kelly Apr 2015
Straying from the straightened path
Its as easy as it gets
The voice inside telling you no
But the enticing idea of leaving is too much
Like leaving the trail of the woods
Once you wander far enough
Only then do you realize your lost
The dark and cold of your soul
Matching the night sky above
The ones picking you up when you fall
Are back on the sunny and straight path
That you can no longer see
The only company you keep
Is your warped thoughts and your past
Your loneliness causes inner demons
It leaves you bitter and wounded
Cynical and dead inside
You have only you
To mend the permanent damage done
Because off the path are thorns
And those thorns cut little by little
But after a long time they leave gashes
And those gashes never fully heal
They only scar
I'm still wandering aimlessly
I no longer know the direction of that path
That I left long ago
So let this poem be a warning sign
With big bold red letters
To those leaving the path
That this isn't where you want to be
I could've been king of my path
Yet I ended up a pawn in an evil game
So to those of you out there
Rise up and become more
Because the woods are very dangerous
And its so dark and cold here

— The End —