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

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Alyssa Underwood Sep 2017
There is little in this world that consistently causes our hearts more pain or which produces in us more need for forgiveness than rejection, especially from those whom it has cost us so much to love. It is universal anathema to the soul, and much of our lives can be unconsciously governed by the fear of it. So we find ourselves naturally asking, "Joy in the midst of rejection? Is that even possible?" Oh, yes! Not only possible but commanded of us who are believers in Christ. And not only commanded of us but ready to be gloriously bestowed on us like the most precious of pearls.

It's in the season of greatest rejection that we enter the season of greatest opportunity to discover the fullness of God's joy by discovering the fullness of His own heart. Walking in intimacy with Jesus through this searing pain may be one of the most priceless privileges of grace granted to us on this earth, for it opens up one of the widest doors for us to enter into the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, and there is no more obvious chance to die to ourselves and live for Christ than in that holy communion of suffering with Him.

It's there that we're most able to clearly see Him and best prepared to clearly reflect Him, and it's then that we're empowered to live our lives here on earth from the very throne room of heaven, seated in the resurrected presence of our Bridegroom, where the joy always runs full and over. So our deepest heartaches will turn to deepest joys when we embrace them for the sake of Christ, to gain Him and be found in Him, to know Him in intimate detail through excruciatingly sweet experience. We will discover that the Lord entrusts the most luscious of blessings and the rarest of secrets to the most desperate and thirsty of souls, and that He delights to place the loveliest of wings on the lowliest of worms.

The gifts of myrrh's sorrow which the Father pours into the vessels of our lives are poured first into the hands of His own Son and flow through His nail-pierced scars before they ever touch us. And as we choose to graciously receive them as such, we are filled up with Him and enabled to pour Him out into the lives of others, even those who continually scorn and despise us.

The gift (yes, gift) of rejection is the high privilege of being asked by our Commander to become His flag bearer, receiving the esteemed honor of marching beside Him at the center of the front line, into the heat of the battle and into the face of the "enemy" (the rejecter), armed with no gun and carrying only His banner of love over our head for all to see. It's a sacred invitation into a certain death for the sake of knowing His love more intimately and for the service of displaying it more gloriously.

And if tempted to refuse the privilege, let us remember these two things: this life is so much more freely, joyfully lived when we have finally learned to count ourselves dead to it and alive to Christ, and the flow of His agape love through us will only be as strong as what it costs us to demonstrate it. The greater the cost, the purer the love; the purer the love, the more we are made like Him; the more we are made like Him, the more attuned we will be to His own heart's breaking and to our own breaking of it.

Oh, that we might be purged of ever thinking again that our neglecting of His love does not matter to Him! May He cause our hearts to break and break until we see how much it does! May we know the world's rejection again and again until we are finally scoured clean of our own despicable tendency to reject Him in favor of all our worldly playthings! No lover has ever endured more rejection than our Lover at our own hands and by our own hearts. And no lover continues to love through rejection with the determination and desire, suffering and sacrifice, tenderness and tenacity of our own Bridegroom. Can we not endure whatever He has called us to suffer for Him? Can we not allow it to drive us more fervently to His heart?... Lord, capture us by Your mighty hand and consume us by Your mighty flame, and may we pant and pine only for You, for Your love sets us free to dance in the midst of the fire!

How humbling, mystifying and worship-evoking it is to realize that the One we have so grievously rejected is the same One Who so perfectly understands and longs to comfort our own heart's grief when we are rejected. And to not run to Him now for that fellowship of healing would be to reject Him all over again and to break His heart once more. What could hurt Him more than our stubborn resistance to share in both His sufferings and His comfort when there is so much joy and intimacy waiting to be had with Him? Whatever ache our own heart knows, however deep and scathing, it cannot compare to the ache of His own heart when we let anything pull us away from Him, for He is rightly EVERYTHING to us—Father, Husband, Lover, Best Friend, Brother, Confidante, Kindred Spirit, Counselor, Nurturer, Rescuer, Healer, Hero... Behind the pain of every rejection is a legitimate need or desire that He is waiting to fill in us, and we have to let Him get to it by dying to our fleshly ones.

Or do we suppose that we might ever find true and lasting joy apart from dying to ourselves and abiding in Him when He died so that we might fully live in the joy of that abiding? No, true joy will only follow abiding; abiding and dying walk hand in hand, and rejection throws open the door for all three. Man's rejection is central to God's wooing, for it shatters our false expectations of human love and stirs in our hearts the longing for a perfect one. So let us not shrink back fearfully from that which can do us such good and teach us to love as Christ has loved us. With renewed passion, let us ask Him to wrap every affection of our hearts more tightly around Him that every desire might be united with His own and that we might learn to love in a way that sets our lives and the world around us ablaze!

To be despised and rejected and, still, to love—that is the ultimate triumph of Christ in our hearts, for we are never more like Him, never more full of Him, never more surrendered to His heart and His work than when He pours out His love through us to those who will not love us back. When we can stand in the face of bitter, cutting words, contemptuous looks and shaming mockery and still love fiercely but with a gentle and quiet spirit, we will know without doubt that it is His Spirit moving gloriously through us... Lord Jesus, Who so willingly floods our hearts with Your most precious gift, Yourself (and You are Love!), teach us to ever know You more and to rely fully on the love You have for us and ARE for us in infinite supply. Teach us to feast on the abundance of that love, and let it flow freely out of us to the ones who would reject, scorn, mock and hate us, so that they too might one day taste and be consumed by Your perfect love which drives out all fear—Your infinite, immeasurable love which heals all wounds and fills all emptiness and gives meaning to all of our pain. You alone, O LORD, are able to truly and purely love through rejection, but You live gloriously in us, so unleash Your mighty waters through us. Your love is everything, for You are Everything!...

Our all-sufficient Bridegroom is able to work His agape love most perfectly in us when that love poured out to another is not ever reciprocated, for it forces us to finally let Him fill us with Himself alone and to rely completely on His love instead of on the love of another to meet our heart's deepest hunger. The need for His filling IS our deepest hunger, and so our soul comes most alive not when it is loved by our fellow man but when it receives and pours out Jesus' love to our fellow man, expecting nothing in return but more of Him. Thus His love is made complete in us whether they ever love us back or not, and the fear of their rejection is eventually driven out by His perfect and perfecting love.

Even if love is never returned...never even received...it is never in vain, for "love never fails." To love someone, though we mean nothing to them, may seem too cruel a burden for the heart to bear, but the only thing worse than not being loved is to not love, and so the greatest tragedy of love spurned or lost would be to stop loving. For to cease loving that which causes us pain would be to let the pain win, but for as long as we love, really love with Christ's own heart, no matter what else happens, we win.

Love without pain remains unproven and, therefore, is meaningless, but love through pain invokes nothing less than the miraculous and inspires even the incredulous. The purer one's love, the more pain it causes when it is rejected, but only continued love can redeem the pain of loving, and only a perfect Love can heal love's scalding wound; the more scalding the wound, the better primed it is to receive that perfect Love fully into it.

There is great romance to be found in unrequited love that keeps loving, though it is beyond any human emotion or fleshly capacity or mortal understanding. It is a most sacred mystery which cannot be grasped with the head or even the heart but only with the spirit, for it is a love whose connection to Christ remains unsevered. There is perhaps no intimacy to compare to it, for it drives us to Him like nothing else will. It is a love whose longing for the other gives us the greatest insight into God's own aching longing for us. Only when it has cost us everything to keep loving do we begin to understand the smallest fraction of the wildly extravagant love Christ has for us or of the brutally scandalous pain which it has cost Him, and it will leave us in utter awe of Him and in love with Him like we have never been before.

As our focus is turned more and more toward His love for us and toward all of our previous rejecting of it, we will come to clearly see that agape love and rejection have everything to do with the the hearts of the lover and the rejecter and nothing to do with what the beloved and the rejected have done or deserve. For obviously we have done nothing to deserve God's love and He has nothing to deserve our rejection, yet He never stops loving us and we keep rejecting Him in ways we can't even comprehend. No one has ever known more rejection than the only One Who is completely worthy of love. Every time we sin we reject Him in favor of something else, but still He loves us without fail and without end. He loves us because He is love and because He has chosen to set His love on us. We are absolutely and irrevocably loved and accepted in Christ Jesus, and nothing and no one can ever change or mar that love. Our identity is completely secure in Him simply because of Who He is and who He says we are to Him.

Therefore no amount nor depth of rejection by anyone changes anything about who we are in Christ or our worth to Him. We do not need any man's love or acceptance to validate our worth, for it has already been established in the heavenly realms by the only One Whose verdict carries any real and lasting weight. We are significant and precious and holy to God regardless of what anyone else thinks of us or says of us or does to us. What has their rejection got to do with us? Nothing, for we are His! We are chosen and we are beloved! And so we are freed from the fear of rejection when we see that it cannot define us or taint us in the sight of the only One Whose opinion or judgment matters. It's a glorious thing to finally care what no man thinks of us, only the Master, for then we begin to be free to love all men as He loves them and to pray with deepest sincerity, humility and fervor even for those who spitefully reject us.

And even for that one who has hurt us most deeply, who has crushed our heart and thrown us to the wind like chaff without so much as a glance back, we will pray, no longer with only a slight and distant hope that he would return to us but now with a passionate desire to see the prodigal return to the heart of the Father. We will pray, not with a focus on life with him but with a focus on life for him. We will pray for a total and glorious restoration of his life to Christ, even if we will never be there beside him to share in the fellowship and joy of his homecoming, even if we will never get to experience up close in this life the thrill of seeing the Lord make something beautiful yet of his ashes. And this may be the hardest and truest test of our love for him—this painful sacrifice of desiring his absolute best apart from us. It is a wrenching blow to our pride and to our will (not to mention our codependence), for we had so longed to play the Muse and to awaken that beauty in him. So we know we could never yearn or pray for this out of our own strength or wisdom; it is simply too painful to our flesh. We must be led into it and through every delicate step of it by our loving Redeemer, our Bridegroom, as if He were leading us out under a canopy of the starry host and into the most intricate and intimate of moonlit dances. And so we begin to pray and to dance...

But even wrapped in Jesus' arms we are clumsy, stumbling miserably over our own feet. The music is perplexingly unfamiliar and the steps wildly unpredictable, and our toes feel terribly pinched in these new shoes. Maybe this dance is just too hard for us. Maybe we are not yet ready. Maybe we should sit it out for now and try again later when our shoes are a little more broken in or when our heart is a little less broken apart. So we pull away...

But He tenderly beckons us back: Dear and beloved bride, broken-but-beautiful one whom I have made My own, do not push Me away now, not after I have brought you so far. I have many more secrets to share with you and so much more to show you of Myself. But you are not letting Me lead this dance, beloved. Why are you so rigid in My embrace? Why so worried over the next steps? Let go of everything and abandon yourself to My love. Enjoy Me...Follow Me...Lean into Me...Keep watching My face...Let Me move you however I desire us to go...Trust Me...Love Me. Shall we dance, then?

Yes, we shall and we do! As He draws us into Himself, into the prayer of His heart and the dance of His Spirit, and as we give ourself over completely to the impulse of His leading, the details of our words and the precision of our steps give way to the desire and passion of His will, and the pulsating of our heart swirls to the rhythm of His own. The further He pulls us into union with Himself, the more we find ourselves desiring this same intimacy-with-Him for the very one who has so badly hurt us, for we see how badly he himself is hurting without it. We realize now that his running away from us and toward another is just as much a reflection of his insatiable yet misunderstood craving for God as was all of our running toward our own idols (including him). Our soul aches for his redemption and his healing and for his lost sheep's heart to be brought out of darkness and into the marvelous light that shines from Jesus' face, that he might truly know the pleasure of knowing the One Whose pleasure he was created for.

Somehow, through this heightened and mysterious intimacy of prayer for him, we are now discovering a strange and new kind of intimacy with this very one whose intimacy had so often given us the slip, this one whom we had so long loved and lived with but failed to uncover at all, and the fresh wind of it drives us even deeper into the ache of God's own heart for him and for us. It is at the center of that ache that we are finally able to let go of the hurt and the man and leave the matter entirely in God's hands, understanding that the Shepherd's aching heart knows fully all whom He has chosen and will never stop dealing with or seeking after any of His own sheep. And so...


                        We release to Him with a heart of trust
                        This one whom we love and always must
                        We can let go the man and rest because
                        It's out of our hands and always was



But the dance, like the feast, goes on and on, and the more we dance and the more we feast, the more we heal. Our Bridegroom wounds us by His own providence but washes our wounds with His faithfulness and binds them up with His love. The wounds and their healing make us beautiful to Him. They teach us to know Him, to hunger for Him, to enjoy Him and to please Him. And they get us perfectly ready for that most glorious of dances and that most joyous of feasts which are still to come but, perhaps, much closer than we might dare to imagine. It is time to awaken, dear bride of Christ, and to break in our dancing shoes!
~~~


"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us."
~ 1 John 4:16-19

"And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
~ Romans 5:2b-5

"As you come to Him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
~ 1 Peter 2:4-5

"He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem.
Surely He took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by Him, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions,
    He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him,
    and by His wounds we are healed."
~ Isaiah 53:3-5

"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things... I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death..."
~ Philippians 3:7-8a,10

"But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

"For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ."
~ 2 Corinthians 1:5

"'Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets...But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you...Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.'"
~ Luke 6:21-23,27-28,36

"Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18

"You make known to me the path of life;
    You will fill me with joy in Your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at Your right hand."
~ Psalm 16:11

"I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."
~ Ephesians 3:16-21

~~~
Mitchell Duran Dec 2013
In the Fall, when the temperature of the Bay would drop and the wind blew ice, frost would gather on the lawn near Henry Oldez's room. It was not a heavy frost that spread across the paralyzed lawn, but one that just covered each blade of grass with a fine, white, almost dusty coat. Most mornings, he would stumble out of the garage where he slept and tip toe past the ice speckled patch of brown and green spotted grass, so to make his way inside to relieve himself. If he was in no hurry, he would stand on the four stepped stoop and look back at the dried, dead leaves hanging from the wiry branches of three trees lined up against the neighbors fence. The picture reminded him of what the old gallows must have looked like. Henry Oldez had been living in this routine for twenty some years.

He had moved to California with his mother, father, and three brothers 35 years ago. Henry's father, born and raised in Tijuana, Mexico, had traveled across the Meixcan border on a bent, full jalopy with his wife, Betria Gonzalez and their three kids. They were all mostly babies then and none of the brothers claimed to remember anything of the ride, except one, Leo, recalled there was "A lotta dust in the car." Santiago Oldez, San for short, had fought in World War II and died of cancer ten years later. San drank most nights and smoked two packs of Marlboro Reds a day. Henry had never heard his father talk about the fighting or the war. If he was lucky to hear anything, it would have been when San was dead drunk, talking to himself mostly, not paying very much attention to anyone except his memories and his music.

"San loved two things in this world," Henry would say, "*****, Betria, and Johnny Cash."

Betria Gonzalez grew up in Tijuana, Mexico as well. She was a stout, short woman, wide but with pretty eyes and a mess of orange golden hair. Betria could talk to anyone about anything. Her nick names were the conversationalist or the old crow because she never found a reason to stop talking. Santiago had met her through a friend of a friend. After a couple of dates, they were married. There is some talk of a dispute among the two families, that they didn't agree to the marriage and that they were too young, which they probably were. Santiago being Santiago, didn't listen to anybody, only to his heart. They were married in a small church outside of town overlooking the Pacific. Betria told the kids that the waves thundered and crashed against the rocks that day and the sea looked endless. There were no pictures taken and only three people were at the ceremony: Betria, San, and the priest.

Of course, the four boys went to elementary and high school, and, of course, none of them went to college. One brother moved down to LA and eventually started working for a law firm doing their books. Another got married at 18 years old and was in and out of the house until getting under the wing of the union, doing construction and electrical work for the city. The third brother followed suit. Henry Oldez, after high school, stayed put. Nothing in school interested him. Henry only liked what he could get into after school. The people of the streets were his muse, leaving him with the tramps, the dealers, the struggling restaurateurs, the laundry mat hookers, the crooked cops and the addicts, the gang bangers, the bible humpers, the window washers, the jesus freaks, the EMT's, the old ladies pushing salvation by every bus stop, the guy on the corner and the guy in the alley, and the DOA's. Henry didn't have much time for anyone else after all of them.

Henry looked at himself in the mirror. The light was off and the room was dim. Sunlight streaked in through the dusty blinds from outside, reflecting into the mirror and onto Henry's face. He was short, 5' 2'' or 5' 3'' at most with stubby, skinny legs, and a wide, barrel shaped chest. He examined his face, which was a ravine of wrinkles and deep crows feet. His eyes were sunken and small in his head. Somehow, his pants were always one or two inches below his waistline, so the crack of his *** would constantly be peeking out. Henry's deep, chocolate colored hair was  that of an ancient Native American, long and nearly touched the tip of his belt if he stood up straight. No one knew how long he had been growing it out for. No one knew him any other way. He would comb his hair incessantly: before and after a shower, walking around the house, watching television with Betria on the couch, talking to friends when they came by, and when he drove to work, when he had it.

Normal work, nine to five work, did not work for Henry. "I need to be my own boss," he'd say. With that fact stubbornly put in place, Henry turned to being a handy man, a roofer, and a pioneer of construction. No one knew where he would get the jobs that he would get, he would just have them one day. And whenever he 'd finish a job, he'd complain about how much they'd shorted him, soon to move on to the next one. Henry never had to listen to anyone and, most of the time, he got free lunches out of it. It was a very strange routine, but it worked for him and Betria had no complaints as long as he was bringing some money in and keeping busy. After Santiago died, she became the head of the house, but really let her boys do whatever they wanted.

Henry took a quick shower and blow dried his hair, something he never did unless he was in a hurry. He had a job in the east bay at a sorority house near the Berkley campus. At the table, still in his pajamas, he ate three leftover chicken thighs, toast, and two over easy eggs. Betria was still in bed, awake and reading. Henry heard her two dogs barking and scratching on her bedroom door. He got up as he combed his damp hair, tugging and straining to get each individual knot out. When he opened the door, the smaller, thinner dog, Boy Boy, shot under his legs and to the front door where his toy was. The fat, beige, pig-like one waddled out beside Henry and went straight for its food bowl.

"Good morning," said Henry to Betria.

Betria looked at Henry over her glasses, "You eat already?"

"Yep," he announced, "Got to go to work." He tugged on a knot.

"That's good. Dondé?" Betria looked back down at her spanish TV guide booklet.

"Berkley somewhere," Henry said, bringing the comb smoothly down through his hair.

"That's good, that's good."

"OK!" Henry sighed loudly, shutting the door behind him. He walked back to the dinner table and finished his meal. Then, Betria shouted something from her room that Henry couldn't hear.

"What?" yelled Henry, so she could hear him over the television. She shouted again, but Henry still couldn't hear her. Henry got up and went back to her room, ***** dish in hand. He opened her door and looked at her without saying anything.

"Take the dogs out to ***," Betria told him, "Out the back, not the front."

"Yeah," Henry said and shut the door.

"Come on you dogs," Henry mumbled, dropping his dish in the sink. Betria always did everyones dishes. She called it "her exercise."

Henry let the two dogs out on the lawn. The sun was curling up into the sky and its heat had melted all of the frost on the lawn. Now, the grass was bright green and Henry barely noticed the dark brown dead spots. He watched as the fat beige one squatted to ***. It was too fat to lifts its own leg up. The thing was built like a tank or a sea turtle. Henry laughed to himself as it looked up at him, both of its eyes going in opposite directions, its tongue jutted out one corner of his mouth. Boy boy was on the far end of the lawn, searching for something in the bushes. After a minute, he pulled out another one of his toys and brought it to Henry. Henry picked up the neon green chew toy shaped like a bone and threw it back to where Boy boy had dug it out from. Boy boy shot after it and the fat one just watched, waddling a few feet away from it had peed and laid down. Henry threw the toy a couple more times for Boy boy, but soon he realized it was time to go.

"Alright!" said Henry, "Get inside. Gotta' go to work." He picked up the fat one and threw it inside the laundry room hallway that led to the kitchen and the rest of the house. Boy boy bounded up the stairs into the kitchen. He didn't need anyone lifting him up anywhere. Henry shut the door behind them and went to back to his room to get into his work clothes.

Henry's girlfriend was still asleep and he made sure to be quiet while he got dressed. Tia, Henry's girlfriend, didn't work, but occasionally would put up garage sales of various junk she found around town. She was strangely obsessed with beanie babies, those tiny plush toys usually made up in different costumes. Henry's favorite was the hunter. It was dressed up in camouflage and wore an eye patch. You could take off its brown, polyester hat too, if you wanted. Henry made no complaint about Tia not having a job because she usually brought some money home somehow, along with groceries and cleaning the house and their room. Betria, again, made no complain and only wanted to know if she was going to eat there or not for the day.

A boat sized bright blue GMC sat in the street. This was Henry's car. The stick shift was so mangled and bent that only Henry and his older brother could drive it. He had traded a new car stereo for it, or something like that. He believed it got ten miles to the gallon, but it really only got six or seven. The stereo was the cleanest piece of equipment inside the thing. It played CD's, had a shoddy cassette player, and a decent radio that picked up all the local stations. Henry reached under the seat and attached the radio to the front panel. He never left the radio just sitting there in plain sight. Someone walking by could just as soon as put their elbow into the window, pluck the thing out, and make a clean 200 bucks or so. Henry wasn't that stupid. He'd been living there his whole life and sure enough, done the same thing to other cars when he was low on money. He knew the tricks of every trade when it came to how to make money on the street.

On the road, Henry passed La Rosa, the Mexican food mart around the corner from the house. Two short, tanned men stood in front of a stand of CD's, talking. He usually bought pirated music or movies there. One of the guys names was Bertie, but he didn't know the other guy. He figured either a customer or a friend. There were a lot of friends in this neighborhood. Everyone knew each other somehow. From the bars, from the grocery, from the laundromat, from the taco stands or from just walking around the streets at night when you were too bored to stay inside and watch TV. It wasn't usually safe for non-locals to walk the streets at night, but if you were from around there and could prove it to someone that was going to jump you, one could usually get away from losing a wallet or an eyeball if you had the proof. Henry, to people on the street, also went as Monk. Whenever he would drive through the neighborhood, the window open with his arm hanging out the side, he would usually hear a distant yell of "Hey Monk!" or "What's up Monk!". Henry would always wave back, unsure who's voice it was or in what direction to wave, but knowing it was a friend from somewhere.

There was heavy traffic on the way to Berkley and as he waited in line, cursing his luck, he looked over at the wet swamp, sitting there beside highway like a dead frog. A few scattered egrets waded through the brown water, their long legs keeping their clean white bodies safe from the muddy water. Beyond the swamp laid the pacific and the Golden Gate bridge. San Francisco sat there too: still, majestic, and silver. Next to the city, was the Bay Bridge stretched out over the water like long gray yard stick. Henry compared the Golden Gate's beauty with the Bay Bridge. Both were beautiful in there own way, but the Bay Bridge's color was that of a gravestone, while the Golden Gate's color was a heavy red, that made it seem alive. Why they had never decided to pain the Bay Bridge, Henry had no idea. He thought it would look very nice with a nice coat of burgundy to match the Golden gate, but knew they would never spend the money. They never do.

After reeling through the downtown streets of Berkley, dodging college kids crossing the street on their cell phones and bicyclists, he finally reached the large, A-frame house. The house was lifted, four or five feet off the ground and you had to walk up five or seven stairs to get to the front door. Surrounded by tall, dark green bushes, Henry knew these kids had money coming from somewhere. In the windows hung spinning colored glass and in front of the house was an old-timey dinner bell in the shape of triangle. Potted plants lined the red brick walkway that led to the stairs. Young tomatoes and small peas hung from the tender arms of the stems leaf stalks. The lawn was manicured and clean. "Must be studying agriculture or something," Henry thought, "Or they got a really good gardener."

He parked right in front of the house and looked the building up and down, estimating how long it would take to get the old shingles off and the new one's on. Someone was up on the deck of the house, rocking back and forth in an old wooden chair. He listened to the creaking wood of the chair and the deck, judging it would take him two days for the job. Henry knew there was no scheduled rain, but with the Bay weather, one could never be sure. He had worked in rain before - even hail - and it never really bothered him. The thing was, he never strapped himself in and when it would rain and he was working roofs, he was afraid to slip and fall. He turned his truck off, got out, and locked both of the doors. He stepped heavily up the walkway and up the stairs. The someone who was rocking back and forth was a skinny beauty with loose jean shorts on and a thick looking, black and red plaid shirt. She had long, chunky dread locks and was smoking a joint, blowing the smoke out over the tips of the bushes and onto the street. Henry was no stranger to the smell. He smoked himself. This was California.

"Who're you?" the dreaded girl asked.

"I'm the roofer," Henry told her.

The girl looked puzzled and disinterested. Henry leaned back on his heels and wondered if the whole thing was lemon. She looked beyond him, down on the street, awkwardly annoying Henry's gaze. The tools in Henry's hands began to grow heavy, so he put them down on the deck with a thud. The noise seemed to startle the girl out of whatever haze her brain was in and she looked back at Henry. Her eyes were dark brown and her skin was smooth and clear like lake water. She couldn't have been more then 20 or 21 years old. Henry realized that he was staring and looked away at the various potted plants near the rocking chair. He liked them all.

"Do you know who called you?" She took a drag from her joint.

"Brett, " Henry told her, "But they didn't leave a last name."

For a moment, the girl looked like she had been struck across the chin with a brick, but then her face relaxed and she smiled.

"Oh ****," she laughed, "That's me. I called you. I'm Brett."

Henry smiled uneasily and picked up his tools, "Ok."

"Nice to meet you," she said, putting out her hand.

Henry awkwardly put out his left hand, "Nice to meet you too."

She took another drag and exhaled, the smoke rolling over her lips, "Want to see the roof?"

The two of them stood underneath a five foot by five foot hole. Henry was a little uneasy by the fact they had cleaned up none of the shattered wood and the birds pecking at the bird seed sitting in a bowl on the coffee table facing the TV. The arms of the couch were covered in bird **** and someone had draped a large, zebra printed blanket across the middle of it. Henry figured the blanket wasn't for decoration, but to hide the rest of the bird droppings. Next to the couch sat a large, antique lamp with its lamp shade missing. Underneath the dim light, was a nice portrait of the entire house. Henry looked away from the hole, leaving Brett with her head cocked back, the joint still pinched between her lips, to get a closer look. There looked to be four in total: Brett, a very large man, a woman with longer, thick dread locks than Brett, and a extremely short man with a very large, brown beard. Henry went back
a wind has blown the rain away and blown
the sky away and all the leaves away,
and the trees stand.  I think i too have known
autumn too long

                  (and what have you to say,
wind wind wind—did you love somebody
and have you the petal of somewhere in your heart
pinched from dumb summer?
                            O crazy daddy
of death dance cruelly for us and start

the last leaf whirling in the final brain
of air!)Let us as we have seen see
doom’s integration………a wind has blown the rain

away and the leaves and the sky and the
trees stand:
             the trees stand.  The trees,
suddenly wait against the moon’s face.
O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have
the
doting

            fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched
and
poked

thee
,has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
thy

      beauty       .how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
gods
        (but
true

to the incomparable
couch of death thy
rhythmic
lover

          thou answerest


them only with

                          spring)
Bouazizi’s heavy eyelids parted as the Muezzin recited the final call for the first Adhan of the day.

“As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm”
Prayer is better than sleep

Rising from the torment of another restless night, Bouazizi wiped the sleep from his droopy eyes as his feet touched the cold stone floor.

Throughout the frigid night, the devilish jinn did their work, eagerly jabbing away at Bouazizi with pointed sticks, tormenting his troubled conscience with the worry of his nagging indebtedness. All night the face of the man Bouazizi owed money to haunted him. Bouazizi could see the man’s greasy lips and brown teeth jawing away, inches from his face. He imagined chubby caffeine stained fingers reaching toward him to grab some dinars from Bouazizi’s money box.

Bouazizi turned all night like he was sleeping on a board of spikes. His prayers for a restful night again went unanswered. The pall of a blue fatigue would shadow Bouazizi for most of the day.

Bouazizi’s weariness was compounded by a gnawing hunger. By force of habit, he grudgingly opened the food cupboard with the foreknowledge that it was almost bare. Bouazizi’s premonition proved correct as he surveyed a meager handful of chickpeas, some eggs and a few sparse loaves. It was just enough to feed his dependant family; younger brothers and sisters, cousins and a terminally disabled uncle. That left nothing for Bouazizi but a quick jab to his empty gut. He would start this day without breakfast.

Bouazizi made a living as a street vendor. He hustles to survive. Bouazizi’s father died in a construction accident in Libya when he was three. Since the age of 10, Bouazizi had pushed a cart through the streets of Sidi Bouzid; selling fruit at the public market just a few blocks from the home that he has lived in for almost his entire life.

At 27 years of age, Bouazizi has wrestled the beast of deprivation since his birth. To date, he has bravely fought it to a standstill; but day after day the multi-headed hydra of life has snapped at him. He has squarely met the eyes of the beast with fortitude and resolve; but the sharp fangs of a hardscrabble life has sunken deep into Bouazizi’s spleen. The unjust rules of society are powerful claws that slash away at his flesh, bleeding him dry: while the spiked tendrils of poverty wrap Bouazizi’s neck, seeking to strangle him.

Bouazizi is a workingman hero; a skilled warrior in the fight for daily bread. He is accustomed to living a life of scarcity. His daily deliverance is the grace of another day of labor and the blessed wages of subsistence.

Though Allah has blessed this man with fortitude the acuteness of terminal want and the constant struggle to survive has its limits for any man; even for strong champions like Bouazizi.

This morning as Bouazizi washed he peered into a mirror, closely examining new wrinkles on his stubble strewn face. He fingered his deep black curls dashed with growing streaks of gray. He studied them through the gaze of heavy bloodshot eyes. He looked upward as if to implore Allah to salve the bruises of daily life.

Bouazizi braced himself with the splash of a cold water slap to his face. He wiped his cheeks clean with the tail of his shirt. He dipped his toothbrush into a box of baking powder and scoured an aching back molar in need of a root canal. Bouazizi should see a dentist but it is a luxury he cannot afford so he packed an aspirin on top of the infected tooth. The dissolving aspirin invaded his mouth coating his tongue with a bitter effervescence.

Bouazizi liked the taste and was grateful for the expectation of a dulled pain. He smiled into the mirror to check his chipped front tooth while pinching a cigarette **** from an ashtray. The roach had one hit left in it. He lit it with a long hard drag that consumed a good part of the filter. Bouazizi’s first smoke of the day was more filter then tobacco but it shocked his lungs into the coughing flow of another day.

Bouazizi put on his jacket, slipped into his knockoff NB sneakers and reached for a green apple on a nearby table. He took a big bite and began to chew away the pain of his toothache.

Bouazizi stepped into the street to catch the sun rising over the rooftops. He believed that seeing the sunrise was a good omen that augured well for that day’s business. A sunbeam braking over a far distant wall bathed Bouazizi in a golden light and illumined the alley where he parked his cart holding his remaining stock of week old apples. He lifted the handles and backed his cart out into the street being extra mindful of the cracks in the cobblestone road. Bouazizi sprained his ankle a week ago and it was still tender. Bouazizi had to be careful not to aggravate it with a careless step. Having successfully navigated his cart into the road, Bouazizi made a skillful U Turn and headed up the street limping toward the market.

A winter chill gripped Bouazizi prompting him to zip his jacket up to his neck. The zipper pinched his Adam’s Apple and a few droplets of blood stained his green corduroy jacket. Though it was cold, Bouazizi sensed that spring would arrive early this year triggering a replay of a recurring daydream. Bouazizi imagined himself behind the wheel of a new van on his way to the market. Fresh air and sunshine pouring through the open windows with the cargo space overflowing with fresh vegetables and fruits.

It was a lifelong ambition of Bouazizi to own a van. He dreamed of buying a six cylinder Dodge Caravan. It would be painted red and he would call it The Red Flame. The Red Flame would be fast and powerful and sport chrome spinners. The Red Flame would be filled with music from a Blaupunkt sound system with kick *** speakers. Power windows, air conditioning, leather seats, a moonroof and plenty of space in the back for his produce would complete Bouazizi’s ride.

The Red Flame would be the vehicle Bouazizi required to expand his business beyond the market square. Bouazizi would sell his produce out of the back of the van, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood. No longer would he have to wait for customers to come to his stand in the market. Bouazizi would go to his customers. Bouazizi and the Red Flame would be known in all the neighborhoods throughout the district. Bouazizi shook his head and smiled thinking about all the girls who would like to take rides in the Red Flame. Bouazizi and his Red Flame would be a sight to be noticed and a force to be reckoned with.

“EEEEEYOWWW” a Mercedes horn angrily honked; jarring Bouazizi from the reverie of his daydream. A guy whipping around the corner like a silver streak stuck his head out the window blasting with music yelling, “Hey Mnayek, watch where you push that *******.”

The music faded as the Mercedes roared away. “Barra nikk okhtek” Bouazizi yelled, raising his ******* in the direction of the vanished car. “The big guys in the fancy cars think the road belongs to them”, Bouazizi mumbled to himself.

The insult ****** Bouazizi off, but he was accustomed to them and as he limped along pushing his cart he distracted himself with the amusement of the ascending sun chasing the fleeting shadows of the night, sending them scurrying down narrow alleyways.

Bouazizi imaged himself a character from his favorite movie. He was a giant Transformer, chasing the black shadows of evil away from the city into the desert. After battling evil and conquering the bad guys, he would transform himself back into the regular Bouazizi; selling his produce to the people as he patrolled the highways of Tunisia in the Red Flame, the music blasting out the windows, the chrome spinners flashing in the sunlight. Bouazizi would remain vigilant, always ready to transform the Red Flame to fight the evil doers.

The bumps and potholes in the road jostled Bouazizi’s load of apples. A few fell out of the wooden baskets and were rolling around in the open spaces of the cart. Bouazizi didn’t want to risk bruising them. Damaged merchandise can’t be sold so he was careful to secure his goods and arrange his cart to appeal to women customers. He made sure to display his prized electronic scale in the corner of the cart for all to see.

Bouazizi had a reputation as a fair and generous dealer who always gave good value to his customers. Bouazizi was also known for his kindness. He would give apples to hungry children and families who could not pay. Bouazizi knew the pain of hunger and it brought him great satisfaction to be able to alleviate it in others.

As a man who valued fairness, Bouazizi was particularly proud of his electronic scale. Bouazizi was certain the new measuring device assured all customers that Bouazizi sold just and correct portions. The electronic scale was Bouazizi’s shining lamp. He trusted it. He hung it from the corner post of his cart like it was the beacon of a lighthouse guiding shoppers through the treachery of an unscrupulous market. It would attract all customers who valued fairness to the safe harbor of Bouazizi’s cart.

The electronic scale is Bouazizi’s assurance to his customers that the weights and measures of electronic calculation layed beyond any cloud of doubt. It is a fair, impartial and objective arbiter for any dispute.

Bouazizi believed that the fairness of his scale would distinguish his stand from other produce vendors. Though its purchase put Bouazizi into deep debt, the scale was a source of pride for Bouazizi who believed that it would help his profits to increase and help him to achieve his goal of buying the Red Flame.

As Bouazizi pushed his cart toward the market, he mulled his plan over in his mind for the millionth time. He wasn't great in math but he was able to calculate his financial situation with a degree of precision. His estimations triggered worries that his growing debt to money lenders may be difficult to payoff.

Indebtedness pressed down on Bouazizi’s chest like a mounting pile of stones. It was the source of an ever present fear coercing Bouazizi to live in a constant state of anxiety. His business needed to grow for Bouazizi to get a measure of relief and ultimately prosper from all his hard work. Bouazizi was driven by urgency.

The morning roil of the street was coming alive. Bouazizi quickened his step to secure a good location for his cart at the market. Car horns, the spewing diesel from clunking trucks, the flatulent roar of accelerating buses mixed with the laughs and shrieks of children heading to school composed the rising crescendo of the city square.

As he pushed through the market, Bouazizi inhaled the aromatic eddies of roasting coffee floating on the air. It was a pleasantry Bouazizi looked forward to each morning. The delicious wafts of coffee mingling with the crisp aroma of baking bread instigated a growl from Bouazizi’s empty stomach. He needed to get something to eat. After he got money from his first sale he would by a coffee and some fried dough.

Activity in the market was vigorous, punctuated by the usual arguments of petty territorial disputes between vendors. The disagreements were always amicably resolved, burned away in rising billows of roasting meats and vegetables, the exchange of cigarettes and the plumes of tobacco smoke rising as emanations of peace.

Bouazizi skillfully maneuvered his cart through the market commotion. He slid into his usual space between Aaban and Aameen. His good friend Aaban sold candles, incense, oils and sometimes his wife would make cakes to sell. Aameen was the markets most notorious jokester. He sold hardware and just about anything else he could get his hands on.

Aaban was already burning a few sticks of jasmine incense. It helped to attract customers. The aroma defined the immediate space with the pleasant bouquet of a spring garden. Bouazizi liked the smell and appreciated the increased traffic it brought to his apple cart.

“Hey Basboosa#, do you have any cigarettes?“, Aameen asked as he pulled out a lighter. Bouazizi shook the tip of a Kent from an almost empty pack. Aameen grabbed the cigarette with his lips.

“That's three cartons of Kents you owe me, you cheap *******.” Bouazizi answered half jokingly. Aameen mumbled a laugh through a grin tightly gripping the **** as he exhaled smoke from his nose like a fire breathing dragon. Bouazizi also took out a cigarette for himself.

“Aameem, give me a light”, Bouazizi asked.

Aameen tossed him the lighter.

“Keep it Basboosa. I got others.” Aameen smiled as he showed off a newly opened box of disposable lighters to sell on his stand.

“Made in China, Basboosa. They make everything cheap and colorful. I can make some money with these.”

Bouazizi lit his next to last cigarette. He inhaled deeply. The smoke chased away the cool air in Bouazizi’s lungs with a shot of a hot nicotine rush.

“Merci Aameen” Bouazizi answered. He put the lighter into the almost empty cigarette pack and put it into his hip pocket. The lighter would protect his last cigarette from being crushed.

The laughter and shouts of the bazaar, the harangue of radio voices shouting anxious verses of Imam’s exhorting the masses to submit and the piecing ramble of nondescript AM music flinging piercing unintelligible static surrounded Bouazizi and his cart as he waited for his first customers of the day.

Bouazizi sensed a nervous commotion rise along the line of vendors. A crowd of tourists and locals milling about parted as if to avoid a slithering asp making its way through their midst. The hoots of vendors and the cackle of the crowd made its way to Bouazizi’s knowing ear. He knew what was coming. It was nothing more then another shakedown by city officials acting as bagmen for petty municipal bureaucrats. They claim to be checking vendor licences but they’re just making the rounds collecting protection money from the vendors. Pocketing bribes and payoffs is the municipal authorities idea of good government. They are skilled at using the power of their office to extort tribute from the working poor.

Bouazizi made the mistake of making eye contact with Madame Hamdi. As the municipal authority in charge of vendors and taxis Madame Hamdi held sway over the lives of the street vendors. She relished the power she had over the men who make a meager living selling goods in the square; and this morning she was moving through the market like a bloodhound hot on the trail of an escaped convict. Two burly henchmen lead the way before her. Bouazizi knew Madame Hamdi’s hounds were coming for him.

Bouazizi knew he was ******. Having just made a payment to his money lender, Bouazizi had no extra dinars to grease the palm of Madame Hamdi. He grabbed the handle bars of his cart to make an escape; but Madame Hamdi cut him off and got right into into Bouazizi’s face.

“Ah little Basboosa where are you going? she asked with the tone of playful contempt.

“I suppose you still have no license to sell, ah Basboosa?” Madame Hamdi questioned with the air of a soulless inquisitor.

“You know Madame Hamdi, cart vendors do not need a license.” Bouazizi feebly protested, not daring to look into her eyes.

“Basboosa, you know we can overlook your violations with a small fine for your laxity” a dismissive Madame Hamdi offered.

Bouazizi’s sense of guilt would not permit him to lift his eyes. His head remained bowed. Bouazizi stood convicted of being one of the impoverished.

“I have no spare dinars to offer Madame Hamdi, My pockets are empty, full of holes. My money falls into everyone’s palm but my own. I’m sorry Madame Hamdi. I’ll take my cart home”. He lifted the handlebars in an attempt to escape. One of Madame Hamdi’s henchmen stepped in front of his cart while the other pushed Bouazizi away from it.

“Either you pay me a vendor tax for a license or I will confiscate your goods Basboosa”, Madame Hamdi warned as she lifted Bouazizi’s scale off its hook.

“This will be the first to go”, she said grinning as she examined the scale. “We’ll just keep this.”
Like a mother lion protecting a defenseless cub from the snapping jaws of a pack of ravenous hyenas, Bouazizi lunged to retrieve his prized scale from the clutches of Madame Hamdi. Reaching for it, he touched the scale with his fingertips just as Madame Hamdi delivered a vicious slap to Bouazizi’s cheek. It halted him like a thunderbolt from Zeus.

A henchman overturned Bouazizi’s cart, scatter
Three years ago today Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire igniting the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia sparking the Arab Spring Uprisings of 2011.
Coop Lee Jun 2014
to the young privateer.
the captain kidd & his bought n’ taut gang of holy bluffs.
they bribe and imbibe and swoon on the dock-way looking for a quest or two or three
to dream and bury their doubloons in island guts like little mysteries. little sundowns
over a rixdollar indian ocean.
let them take a turn.
destined to mutate from private to pirate, the kidd, like blackened rotten wood.
******* frigates.

the ship:
with her bob and sway. she is, the adventure.
& her song is calling out for a rapturous few,
for men ready to die on the highwater mark by glory or fire or dead glorious sun.
so they put her brass and bough to seafaring days,
the sweet galleon, barely wet, yet
completely riffed to voyage.
she is
from the shores of london. built. designed to kick 14 knots under a full sail blast.
& she will bite.

she’s in calm waters.
the kidd savvy toothed and butterscotched, he awaits the big show,
engorged to set forth the play like wily ocean dervish &
they do.
they do proceed with benefactors coined and crunched on postulations of pirate death &
pirate gold. reclaimed honor as they say. the hunt for pirate teeth.

& with official pass and parchment, high-throne approved,
king ***** III stamp & sealed,
this voyage is.
this voyage is and forever was, hereby charted, to recover said stolen goods.
to reclaim thy warrior vanity &/or vengeance.
to noble this **** with pinched loaf, like now.
set sail. now.
1696.

“**** them navy yachts at greenwich, the thames be ours, boys.”
slap *** and flick thumb toward those armada sons,
& as tribute
smoke balsam herbs on the starboard side for the mother she and the father be.
but for this slight,
this dishonorable silly ****,
one third of adventure’s men are pressed into service of the crown.

[continue.]

the adventuresome few, petty crew and crows.
steal the heart and mother-meat of a french ship. steal everything onboard.
steal the ship itself.
& on her way to new york, new boon, pure and entered into the new world.  
there are new men bought in the american port,
good men and odd men of long criminal legacy.
a small black vicious quartermaster. he’ll do.
a murderous preacher gripped by stars and celestial patterns. he speaks spanish. he’ll do.
another type of holy man and a wild drinker too, embattled by demons on the port side. sure.
plus the dock-boys destined to **** for fruits of exploration.
this is the way of the son of a gun.

the boatmen jockeyed. she is
the adventure
prancing the vertebrae of atlantic and beyond. cape of good hope, she
breathes easy out here on the wide tide and float.
out here on the vast blue this. she
evolves
out here. loves out here.

pirates.
the hunt for pirates or the lack thereof. she leaks.
she rasps into the years on. and on.
the kaleidoscope hallucinations of sun and moon, sun and moon, and moon and sun
forever.
the strait of bab-el-mandeb.
& there
she plunges into darkness, into the stars seen from and through a periscope formed
by ancient hominid lineage.
seen but untouched,
in dreams. the kidd, reluctantly lime, admits to his madness.
madagascar.

malaria and cholera and hell break the boat by the throat.
& thrash.
to be organic is to be ruled by a shadow, or entropy.
the mouth of a red sea.
one third of the men will die here.
simply as insects crushed and brushed off deck and into to her great spate of agua,
the mother gush.
her earth.
body.
father,
hear his whispers in the mirage.
the ancient mariner, the ancient holy ghost riming down there.

in destitution.
in a rough and soggy life squeezed and making men weird or violent or both be ******.
the kidd goes cold to hot sweating noxious.
turns pirate himself
out of sheer hunger.
out of sheer need to eat.
sets the boys like dogs upon a frigate of east india company men,
or french *****. either/or/or/either/or.
he & the boys are in a madness swirl of sun and heavy guts.
cuts to spill blood
or gold. this tender bit.
lip bit
& tested.

captain kidd fractures the skull of a deckhand named moore,
for bad attitude and giggles. moore gets death.
chisel on the deck.
& to think we are all troubled by some primal trauma.
some dumb thing called death, that is.
men starving, men dying, men falling in the vast black that is that eternal void.
dream of women and riches in the meantime.
fortunes.
1698.

savage kidd, cool kidd, cool spit
off the edge. to think of the once soulful idea of these paradise days
& trip.
savage to cool.
the two divine modes of a survived man.
a ghoul man, or aging man.
& to keep control of his crew kidd sets them upon the quedagh merchant;
a 400 ton armenian hulk chalk full of gold, silver, satins, and muslin. ‘tis *****.
renames her: the adventure prize.

madness quenched for now.
charmed for now
& on the horizon are fragrant times. blissful distance.
but robert culliford,
with his mocha frigate. this man, this suave pirate lord, his vengeance act.
he had stolen kidd’s ship years back, &
the captain opts to cut his throat.
take the mocha.
keep calm & carry on.
to paradise.
to dream of her cool warm beaches and fruit forever, peacefully thinking.
so that night they two drink together in good health, and in the morning
most of the men defect to this other man, this other ship, culliford.
other dream,
other captain of true buccaneer effect.
act 3:

13 remain in the galley firm.
this is the house adventure.
& she is burnt alive three days later for rot and ill repair.
but she was fun,
& a *****.
a stitch of old woodwork given-in
& crackling with the eyes of her crew seen in fire.

kidd steps the pond to caribbean times with the adventure prize, toad toxins
& high on the jungled shore.
he trades that colossus, flips her for a sloop and seven little chests of gold.
little bellies.
the island-gut doubloons to bury.
dream, remember?

but the men-of-war are after him now. the privateers & hunters & devil’s dogs.
the men he once was.
men of marked death.
& he is now some pirate, some forthright bandit
settled to **** or be killed.
some sad kid.

first: buries that treasure up the coast of america.
oak island rig.
cherry rocks of the maine bank and *****-trapped pit.
the hunted.
they catch him on an inlet ****, and sail back
to london to be tried for crimes against the crown.
the high court of admirality.
1701.

they hoist and gibbet his body with worn chains above the river.
not for piracy, but for ******.
the ****** of that strange deckhand moore and his giggle.
kidd’s bones
suspended there for three or more years at the mouth of the thames,
as warning
to the perverse travails of a criminal lifestyle on the highwater pond.
rebecca suzanne Dec 2014
When I was little my mother put me in several ballet classes in hopes to bring some grace to my stumbling gait.

I grew up walking on eggshells, wobbling to keep my balance on a tightrope that never really ended.

 My instructor pinched my thighs and shook her bony finger at me every tuesday and thursday for three and a half years.

4 am, I'm still tiptoeing around the creaks in the stairs as if anyone would notice an empty bed.

 This Christmas I came across the broken reminents of the ballerina ornaments my younger sister used to play with.

I never did master the delicate posture I was expected to adopt. My feet fell a bit too heavy, I suppose, on the ice tonight.

I'm not cold anymore, just exhausted from attempting to balance the wrong things for too long.

My life is flashing before my eyes, but all I see is a younger version of myself practicing Grand Battements on thin ice while everyone slept.
Ignatius Hosiana Apr 2015
Dear Math,
I wrote this letter to let you know how I feel about you. The thing is much as you love me so much, we can never be an Item when all you do is torture my brain and break my heart.
You claim to be a linguist, yet you know none of my languages. You don't know Kiswahili neither do you know English and only speak Algebra and statistics...I loathe you for all you do is play on my mind with words like Sigma and Meu, factorial and co-factor.You claim you want to be the only one but still ask me to find your X without even telling me Y.Well, grow up and solve your own problems because I'm tired of solving them for you.Just walk out of my life forever and not temporarily like the dew. You have hurt me enough with razors of matrices, pinched me simultaneously and never asked me whether I believed in your ancient beliefs like those of Pythagoras or not. We were never meant to be. I found a new one, her name is literature and she loves me so much.I won't apologize for saying I hate you because It's unfair apologizing for saying the truth.
Yours with anger
strong desire Mar 2015
He stroked it
I felt it
the warmth of his ****
was so sick
I licked it
he pinched my ****
I loved it
I was so *****
I wanted him to feel me
I wanted him to make me ***
I want....
Coz I'm *****
I'm just so bored
Coop Lee Apr 2014
son spreads knee blood into ******* &/or
sidewalk chalk.
mixes reds to pinks with head cracking asphalt.
of god & country.
of soggy bread in a lunch-bag; snackpack readied.
he skates.

the concussed ****** of booming youth.

omega he:
to the wolf pack outers.
breathing love of summer, he
is the son drunk on hi-c
& burping.
watching teenaged supersoakers yodel
on a bridge.
florida.

son sneaks out late to rationalize
the city’s features
under strange light & love of nightly people.
boy sculpts body out of beast,
turned dark corners.
arrives swollen.

his father erects a roofed flattop in the backyard slab
with flood light electronics taught to worship
the shred.
mother rattles the blender
on the kitchen outskirts, ***** breathed
& nearing with hugs.

blister-itched.
glossed folds of scar tissue.
those days on summer-beyond when the neighborhood pulsates.
with satellite dishes tuneforking high-frequency vibrations
from outerspace & pigeons explode.

son’s ears bleed, &
the television goes unwatched.
he snaps plank & ankle protein, refurbishing
his legs into iron-rods
or wands of summer anthem.
cold war.

he empties sugar-sweat & toxins
into the storm-drain.
essence of wet heat, skin pinched, & friend
of ghosts.
a three legged dog lay in the shade
leisurely watching the boy skate
on endless.
previously published in Stymie Magazine
http://www.stymiemag.com/2013/08/coop-lee-skateboard-gothic-poetry.html
rachel Nov 2014
As I outstretched
and reached
my hand
deep into the black infinity
of flowing wonders

I pinched my fingers
on something lovely
and pulled out of the black abyss,

A lovely star
dripping with
black infinity.
The Moon and Sun shared Ecliptical Longitudes the night They murdered The child.

Beneath a stelliferous empyrean,
Like Sojourners among the quiescent Twilight, Mother and child, Ventured to meet the woman’s husband, the father of the child.

She, no more than five and ten years Old,
The child, a girl, of only months,
Lay swaddled across the Woman’s
*****, tucked inside a papoose.
A rustic device carefully woven
From wool and hide, in it contained a
Priceless world.

She cooed and clucked in the frigid
Night air.
The sound penetrated the
Spectral calm and was matched only
By the maternal soothing of a muted hum.
Together, they represented the
Heathen form of the wilderness,
The Tempi Madonna among the
Silver and shadow moonbeams that
Glimmered like the dust of diamonds
Across the river’s obsidian sheen.  

Ahead, where the river narrows,
The silence stirred and was broken.
Hushed voices rose from the outer
Dark.
The woman strained to listen.

(British Soldiers, she thought)

Foreign words...

        (Drunken and ravenous)

                         ...slithered from their mouths like Venom. Fear bloomed in the woman’s Chest.
Her heartbeat quickened.

        (Touched by the chill of terror)

Her eyes darted madly about the
Darkness.

         (Alone no longer)

Their  shadows manifested like
Smoke along the tree line.
Their
Features blurred in the darkness.
Their gestures muted.
Like birds of
Prey, they set motionless upon their
Perch along the stony shore.

I say, a man said. Indian children are natural born swimmers,
Capable at birth of swimming great distances.

Utter foolishness, old boy, another opined.

We will need proof of this claim, my good sir, an anonymous voice Quipped from somewhere in the dark.

She let escape from her full lips
The tiniest of shrieks.
Followed immediately
By
Sick
Regret.

(stupid girl, her mother’s voice echoed in the dark.
                             You always were too impulsive.)

Rage consumed her as
She struggled against the current.  
She tried to paddle for deeper
Water as the men broached
The black sheen of the river.

The moments passed by
In jagged surrealism.
There was no sound
When they pitched the woman
And child into the
Frigid abysm.

The splashing of water.
The gasping
For air.
The primal
Grapple and
Grunt of men.
The cold, pungent scent of
Fear and sweat mixed with the
Alcohol-stale air.
The twisting of
Hands that groped about the
Darkness.

         (Her rage now eclipsed by fear)

She inhaled.
Her body, numb.
Her appendages quaked.
Her body fading
As they fall upon her.
Their thick bodies
Blacked out the stars.
Their gaunt faces
Pinched and rucked in the
Moonlight
Reflected the fury, the
Hatred, and
The disgust for what would come next.
Their hands moved across her
Ravenous
Like demons as they
Groped at her small body
Beneath the choppy wash of the
River.

(A hand grazed her thigh and she shrieked in Terror. Another
         gnashed at her buttock. Another fell upon her back. Her mind
         reeled at the possibilities of what would need to come next.)

They tore at her clothing.
Her body jarred about the water as
She writhed against their grasps.
She clawed against the murk.                  
    
         (Escape the horror)

She released the paddle—

(Forever lost to the deep, useless to her now)

Hysterical animalistic thoughts
Trounced off their tongues as they
Laughed at her doom—

        (Like a pack of hyenas)

She kicked at them in nameless
Places.
She thrusted her hand into
The fabric where the child had been
Moments before cooing and clucking. 
Mere moments ago she had sang to the
Babe the same song her
Mother had once sung
To her.

             (she felt nothing where the child had been…)    

She struggled away from them.
Her mind frantic with pain, the cold,
And panic
For the child.
She no longer cared for
Herself, or what they would need to
Do with her body.
Her appendages
Flailed and churned in the dark water.
          
         (A single gasp of air followed by
              The burning inhale of water)

A shrill call to the child—

(a name lost to time)

Her voice cut through their maniacal
Laughter.
It echoed off the water and vanished,
Disappearing entirely
In the outer gloom of the wilderness.

        (like afterthoughts, lost)

She groped relentlessly among the
Water for the child.
The men, near
Frozen, lost interest and returned to
The adjacent shoreline.
It was more ****** that way.
They jeered at her,
Proud of themselves.
          
        (The seething lust of the mindless savage, she thinks)

Their mouths salivate
As they watched
Vicariously.
Her struggle
Became the current
For which she bore.
The impending death of the woman even
More satisfying than the feeling against their flesh of her cunning, wet crease that lies exposed between
Her brown legs.
They watch like wolves
Unable to reach their prey,
Desperate for fresh meat.
Despite the frigid cold,
Their *****, hard,
With the anticipation of death.

The woman clamored among the darkness
She searched for the child.
Heavy fingers fell upon woolen fabric
By chance—

(Hope bloomed in her constricted chest)

Her body finally beginning to seize
Exhaustion permeated
Her mind.
She freed the papoose
From the frozen depths and expelled
The last bit of energy she possessed
To swim to the far side of the shore,
Temporarily out of their reach.

The soldiers,
Quiet now,
Returned to the spectral woods.
They disappeared back down the
Black road from which they came.

She felt the blood as it began to
Return to her appendages, the pins And needles feeling erupting in them.
Her teeth clattered nearly exploding In her mouth.
Her body
Quaked Violently

         (The child, near in her mind, cried)

She reached for it.
Her chest,
Rising and
Falling,
Rapid like the river
As she inhaled the burning,
Frozen air.
The child let loose a cough and  
She clutched it
tighter to her *****.  

(Deny the river its prize)

A stream of consciousness,
Steadily slipped from her lips.

       (A great heathen prayer calling up some
                       Great Spirit
                                As she relentlessly brokered
                                            For a
                                       Life for a life)

The moments passed by like hours.
And the
Great Spirit, with
His wanton lust
For despair, did not manifest that night.

The child fell silent, then still.
The tears came now.
Blurred vision and
Angry sobs.
Darkness consumed entire.

The river flowed by her electric as if
Its lights descended from a place far
Beyond the black taciturn veil of
Night to reflect the merciless
Tragedies among the wretched souls of
The Maine Woods.
Tamara Walker Jul 2018
An artist,
I’m scared to be left to my thinking atoms and nuclear cells
Why solder my raining thoughts to reality
In my head I can’t trust these clockworks
Rusted gears precariously tricking forward
Tensions unbalance on a pinched nerve ending
Hesitate I retract to others knowing what I don’t know
That once I start I might fail
I don’t do what I want to
I don’t speak when I want to
When I so desperately need to
Before I explode
Violently, into a void
Void of emotionless urges
An artist like me if I so believe I am
Doubtfully attempts to act in the face of thunder
Only to cowardly hide in a cat’s whisker
Inner bricking delays outer progress
Progress I provocatively flaunt to the alive bodies
While knowing the fallacious congrats is unwarranted
I don’t believe in magical rainbow kitten surprise wishes
But I won’t also hide my love
With the internal flame dimming
I want to act the part by flipping over the stones
For the mysteries hidden away
To see them crawling out
My untapped desires
This is a piece from a much longer poem called "Plenty Words." It's about my feelings as an artist without much to say.
Moshew Snurff Apr 2010
My oh my , dear oh my
Why sole me , deliberate shy
Arrouse me in meself inner sanctum
To cause penises go wild erectum

Why me frail and naive
Touched and grabbed feels so tactile
Breached and pinched gets me unleashed
Fortold and shadowed narrows me leached

Oh how i humble and crumble for pain
Pleasuring may not be enough, but not in vain
Showering me until it rains
Pumping my blood through my veins

Widely and unique i scorge and emerge
Make me *** till i purge
Bright and shiny i humbely traverse
For a non-stoping reverse
Mymai Yuan Sep 2010
I was born a sickly, screeching baby, two months earlier than expected. The doctor and midwife did everything they could to keep my little limbs moving and to keep my tiny heart beating, fluttering like the wings of butterfly.
“Is it a boy?” my mother whispered through her pale lips, as they bathed my naked body in hot water.
“No, ma’am, it’s a girl” The midwife struggled to add on something that would make the wailing creature seem more desirable. “With exquisitely shaped feet, so perfectly miniature”
She let out a croak of conflicting emotions: the joy and pride of a newly-founded motherly love, the fear of presenting a girl as a first-born, the relief that the hours of agony in childbirth were over and the dread of facing her husband once he found out about me.

My mother was not healthy after my birth for a long time; and when I was only one and two months old she fell dangerously ill, and the house whispered footsteps running to her room late at night and muffled voices of different doctors. Mercifully, she survived but was left barren and forever unfertile.
I can not imagine my father’s fury. He believed in having sons to carry on his old last name of thirty-one generations; it was his religion and had I been a son, I would have been worshipped as a god. I can imagine how my mother prayed and thanked her ancestors that her dowry was of a large one.

He could barely tolerate being in the same room as me during my toddler years. Every time he entered a room I was playing in, nurse would sweep me to our garden out side; answering to my startled queries, “Be an obedient daughter, don’t bother your father and don’t ask questions”
My body had been born frail, but my natural spirit was as healthy as could be, full of inquiries, wonders of the world around me and everyday I would learn something new just wandering around the neighborhood observing things, with my nurse trailing with a worried eye behind me muttering, “Girls are not supposed to be exposed to this” she spoke the words as if they were sour, “you should be sitting at home and accompanying your mother.”

Every day at dinner, the two females of the house, me and my mother, were silent while my father ranted on and on. My appetite being very delicate, I often just sat there as still as I possibly could and listened to my father talking about politics, jobs, money. Things he called ‘men business’. I longed to ask questions about these ‘men business’, especially ‘university’ for I had an inquisitive sort-of nature but was refrained with a sharp, piercing look from my mother every time I opened my mouth and sometimes, she pinched me under the table leaving purple splotches which flashed, “Don’t question your father”
Sometimes, he would talk about the future he had decided for me, “You will marry off, sixteen at the latest, to some one rich and beneficial to our family. You will do as I say till I marry you off, and then you will do as your husband tells you.”
“Yes father, for I should repay everything you have done for me” I replied as sweetly as I could.
“Yes, you’re a good daughter. Bear lots of sons for him and your house will be one of happiness.”
I was proud that he had given me a compliment. “Yes father, for it will make you joyful as I always wish to make you so”
My childish heart did not understand why my mother turned her head down while her left eyebrow twitched, and why that night, as she tucked me into bed, I thought I saw a tear roll down her cheek and why as she kissed me that night she whispered, “Do not love me so; love your father. The men in your life are your gods.”

My physical health would constantly limit the desires of my free spirit. I could not to do what others who were as free of spirit as I was could do, and couldn’t socialize with them and the rest of the children in my neighborhood had their siblings to mingle with, causing me to become the pitiful outcast.
I saw children around my age, around seven or eight, climbing trees and wanted to do so as well, but my white feet did not have grip enough to grasp onto the fat branches.
Father caught me once trying to propel myself up a tree and his expression was both of a resigned anger and sadness before he turned him and his face away and back into the house without a word.
That night, mother told me not to climb trees ever again. I noticed a faint bruise on her cheek bone that had been covered with white powder.

When I was eleven or twelve, and was allowed to wander further out into the neighborhood with my nurse I saw the boys fishing in the nearby pond and wanted to do so as well. Starting that day, every week I pocketed the three coins mother gave me until I could buy the best fishing rod in the little store and ran as fast as my skinny, weak legs could carry me to the pond. I mimicked the way the boys flung the fishing rod out over the water but the metal pole was too heavy for my pale, shaking arms. I tried over and over again as my nurse watched, biting her lip in anxiety. I held the fishing rod with trembling sore arms till  I felt a bite; I pumped my small arms to reel it in, but they were so tired and I was far too slow, losing the fish I had spent half the day trying to catch. “Ah, just bad luck, don’t worry! It was a smart fish, I tell you!” nurse exclaimed, though her eyes flashed a look of pity and I knew she knew it wasn’t just bad luck or a smart fish.
In anger, I sold the fishing rod to one of the boys for two-thirds of the price I had bought it for. He was delighted with the bargain and I watched with a lump in my throat as he caught three fish with the tug of his healthy, muscular arm within fifteen minutes. “This is a beautiful rod, and the pond is just filled with fish today, Little Sister!”
Wanting to spend the money jingling inside my pocket, money that to me was just a reminder of a painful memory, I headed off to the collection of little shops close to my house where I was guaranteed distraction. Nurse, sweating and complaining of the heat, followed me.
An ageing man with a bunch of filthy hair working away on a piece of thick, rough paper with wondrous colors inside a shop caught my eye as I peered inside the window. He turned the picture upside down and continued blending in the dark colors of the shape to create a shadow along the curve of it. I entered the shop. “What is that?” I asked of him.
“A face” he replied back absentmindedly.
“Doesn’t look like one to me” I confessed with my honesty.
He looked up at me, “No, it does not to you, and maybe, neither will it at the end. To me, it looks like an angle of a faded face. But slowly, with time, it will become clearer and clearer, yet only to me, and as it does, I will be able to choose more colors to make it yet more beautiful. The outcome of this painting is entirely up to me.”
I felt my challenging self rising up. “But what if you imagined a certain color in your head but couldn’t find it or be able to mix it to your mind’s perfection?”
“Then I would create my own paint color.”
“You know how?”
“No, but if I could not find the paint color already made I would make it myself, and no matter what, would learn how to. So far I have always been able to compromise and mix different colors to please me.”
“You do an awful lot of shadowing light colors with dark colors”
“Why do you think I do so?” he questioned me this time, with bright eyes.
I pondered for a moment to give as good an answer as he had given me and then told him my answer.
He nodded with impress, “Yes, yes, absolutely right. I never thought I’d hear that from a child” and looked at me with his head cocked in curiosity.
“What would you like to buy from here, Little Sister?”
Still deeply interested in our conversation I pulled out the coins I had in my pocket. “How much stuff can I buy with all this money? I’d like those crayons, I’ve tried them once before and they are so creamy and smooth.”
“Oil pastels?” he asked, a little confusedly.
Feeling ashamed of my ignorance, I nodded. The tutor father hired evidently bent to father’s strict rules of what should be taught and what would not be taught. Father disapproved of women painting, and would’ve dismissed nurse had he known that instead of taking me out for a little walk to smell the blooming daffodils, she in fact let me explore the environment around me to the best of my ability even in disgruntle.
The man gave my red-patched cheeks and undeveloped translucent frame a sympathetic look and when he spoke, his voice was gentle. “Little Sister, I’ve a whole basket of oil paints that I’ve used but rarely and so are still in perfect condition. Would you like to carry the whole basket home for all the money you have in your pockets?”
I handed him all my golden coins, “But first I must see if I like it.”
“You won’t be disappointed” he chuckled and walked with an imbalanced limp to the back of the store. I noticed a wooden stump protruding from the bottom of his long, black pants. My heart throbbed achingly; he was ****** limited too. I turned to his painting and smiled from deep inside, a smile I rarely wore.
He came back tugging a huge brown basket filled to the brim with sticks of oil pastels, some longer or thicker than others. He lifted an orange one up and showed the tip of it to me, which was stained with a black mark. “Sometimes when you blend colors this will happen, but it’s easy to rid off. Just softly, and patiently rub it off on a cloth until it disappears.” He demonstrated upon his black pants.
“Thank you. It’s kind of you. But...I can’t carry this home myself. It’s heavy.”
I turned to nurse and smiled my best pleading smile.

The basket was toiled up as nurse undressed me from my shower and father and mother were otherwise occupied. That night, with my precious basket safely under my bed, I cleaned all the multi-colored oil pastels on an old shirt, and as soon as the house was ringing with silence, I locked my door and flicked on the lamp light, and started pressing the smooth colors into the paper to blend and make a picture of kissing colors on a relatively large piece of white paper. A thrill ran from my finger tips and along my arm, and made my palms tingle as I held the colorful sticks in my hand to the paper. I hid it underneath my bed just as a rosy sun was rising.
*
I was sixteen, and I was thought beautiful: for now, at this age, it was considered beautiful to be so pale of skin, so small of feet and hands, graceful to have tiny limbs and charming to have little strength for it was now considered ‘feminine’.
It was three weeks after I had turned sixteen and for dinner, father had brought over an ugly man with a bulging waist and shiny bald head who continually made ****** jokes at the dinner table while he believed I did not understand them. He was infamous for the two wives he had had (before they died from sickness), and how he not only hit them but kept other lovers too. Yet he was desirable for his vast richness. He leered at me obnoxiously, in an attempt to smile.
Father caught him looking at me, “She’s incredibly silent, never says a word of defiance and will be a most dutiful wife.”
“Yes, she is beautiful”
My heart froze and my brain was stimulated to work twice as fast. Him?! Him?! The man who’s wives were killed through an illness called ‘abuse, neglect and disloyalty?!’
I cast my eyelashes down in order to appear a calm, modest young lady while my heart hammered in fury, disgust and a rising hysterical panic. I shot a look at my mother whose left eyebrow was twitching as she stared down at her dinner plate, and I knew she was having the same thoughts as I.
“I would be glad to have you as my son-in-law. You would have no trouble with her, and would be embraced with open arms into our family.”
They continued this path of talk through dinner while he eyeballed me in a way that made me cringe. I felt his foot nudge mine under the table and in haste tucked it under the chair with a little gasp. His eyes glittered at my gasp and I was furious with myself for letting him feel a rotten triumph. Though I had always felt an extremely strong dislike towards him from what I knew of him and sometimes saw of him with an immoral lady, something pushed in the pit of my tummy, and I knew it was pure hatred.
When mother tucked me in she was being strange. On closing my door she whispered, “I love you… so I wish you to know… don’t ever contradict men”

As I was secretly drawing a picture as I did every night till dawn, I heard my father’s voice roar in the dead of the night. In a sudden, I shoved my portrait under the bed and threw all my oil pastels into the basket, hid it, and switched the light off. I heard his voice roar again, accompanied by a thud. I was wild with fear as I crept to my door and pressed my ear against it, barely even shocked at my own daringness as my instinct, love, took over- my instinct of must knowing what was happening to my mother.
“How dare you say I’m wrong!?” there was another thud, and this time I heard a soft whimper. “She is worthless to me, not a son. And I will marry her off to a rich man who can actually benefit this family.” He roared.
There was a whisper which I strained to hear, “He will **** her”
“From the moment she was born she wasn’t made to live!” he yelled.
A hiss escaped my tongue and I coiled like a serpent, flinching as a thud was heard yet again and an immediate cry of pain escaped from both my lips and my mothers’.
A fire awoke inside me, burning my temples and my whole body and my eyes stung with hot tears; tears that burned my face as they splashed down. My whole body was shaking and my tightly squeezed eyes were going through spasms. I was no longer wild with fear, but with anger.
I turned my light back on and tugged my basket of oil pastels out. I yanked my portrait off from a thick of pile of different pictures I had drawn.
My breath was coming in quick short breaths as I finished my portrait to the utmost perfection, using every oil pastel in the basket. Every time I heard a thud, I colored with more fiery… shadowing my jaw line with the fat black oil pastel, in the crook of my ear, the corner of my mouth… where the light shone upon my fore head, how it reflected in the color of my eye and glowed on my cheeks.
When I was finished, the house was deadly quiet again and dawn was breaking. I looked down upon it and realized something that changed my life.
In frenzy I swatted out all the things I had ever drawn and stared at them in an awakening.
The colors on them were the events of my life, the things that characterized it, the decisions. They were beautiful for they had been chosen and controlled by me … I had chosen the colors I wanted and thought best for my pictures; and spent thought over how to blend different colors to the color I wanted.
And everyday, as I worked into the drawings with time, they became clearer and clearer on what was the right thing to do, and how it should possibly look like in the next stage.
I leaned over and kissed the thin lips of my portrait that didn’t look exactly like me for not even the most skilled artists have complete control over what they draw.

Then I remembered what I had told the one-legged man in the shop a few years go:
“Lights not only illuminate, they also cast shadows. The contrast makes you able to appreciate the power of both.”
Now it was time to truly let the light illuminate my life, and let the shadows let me appreciate the light that shines upon me; I color my own life, and choose my own colors.

To pull out the colors underneath the darkness of my bed…
And spill it to the world outside.
WHEN that Aprilis, with his showers swoot,                       *sweet
The drought of March hath pierced to the root,
And bathed every vein in such licour,
Of which virtue engender'd is the flower;
When Zephyrus eke with his swoote breath
Inspired hath in every holt
and heath                    grove, forest
The tender croppes
and the younge sun                    twigs, boughs
Hath in the Ram  his halfe course y-run,
And smalle fowles make melody,
That sleepen all the night with open eye,
(So pricketh them nature in their corages
);       hearts, inclinations
Then longe folk to go on pilgrimages,
And palmers  for to seeke strange strands,
To *ferne hallows couth
  in sundry lands;     distant saints known
And specially, from every shire's end
Of Engleland, to Canterbury they wend,
The holy blissful Martyr for to seek,
That them hath holpen, when that they were sick.                helped

Befell that, in that season on a day,
In Southwark at the Tabard  as I lay,
Ready to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Canterbury with devout corage,
At night was come into that hostelry
Well nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry folk, by aventure y-fall            who had by chance fallen
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all,           into company.
That toward Canterbury woulde ride.
The chamber, and the stables were wide,
And well we weren eased at the best.            we were well provided
And shortly, when the sunne was to rest,                  with the best

So had I spoken with them every one,
That I was of their fellowship anon,
And made forword* early for to rise,                            promise
To take our way there as I you devise
.                describe, relate

But natheless, while I have time and space,
Ere that I farther in this tale pace,
Me thinketh it accordant to reason,
To tell you alle the condition
Of each of them, so as it seemed me,
And which they weren, and of what degree;
And eke in what array that they were in:
And at a Knight then will I first begin.

A KNIGHT there was, and that a worthy man,
That from the time that he first began
To riden out, he loved chivalry,
Truth and honour, freedom and courtesy.
Full worthy was he in his Lorde's war,
And thereto had he ridden, no man farre
,                       farther
As well in Christendom as in Heatheness,
And ever honour'd for his worthiness
At Alisandre  he was when it was won.
Full often time he had the board begun
Above alle nations in Prusse.
In Lettowe had he reysed,
and in Russe,                      journeyed
No Christian man so oft of his degree.
In Grenade at the siege eke had he be
Of Algesir, and ridden in Belmarie.
At Leyes was he, and at Satalie,
When they were won; and in the Greate Sea
At many a noble army had he be.
At mortal battles had he been fifteen,
And foughten for our faith at Tramissene.
In listes thries, and aye slain his foe.
This ilke
worthy knight had been also                         same
Some time with the lord of Palatie,
Against another heathen in Turkie:
And evermore *he had a sovereign price
.            He was held in very
And though that he was worthy he was wise,                 high esteem.

And of his port as meek as is a maid.
He never yet no villainy ne said
In all his life, unto no manner wight.
He was a very perfect gentle knight.
But for to telle you of his array,
His horse was good, but yet he was not gay.
Of fustian he weared a gipon,                            short doublet
Alle besmotter'd with his habergeon,     soiled by his coat of mail.
For he was late y-come from his voyage,
And wente for to do his pilgrimage.

With him there was his son, a younge SQUIRE,
A lover, and a ***** bacheler,
With lockes crulle* as they were laid in press.                  curled
Of twenty year of age he was I guess.
Of his stature he was of even length,
And *wonderly deliver
, and great of strength.      wonderfully nimble
And he had been some time in chevachie,                  cavalry raids
In Flanders, in Artois, and Picardie,
And borne him well, as of so little space,      in such a short time
In hope to standen in his lady's grace.
Embroider'd was he, as it were a mead
All full of freshe flowers, white and red.
Singing he was, or fluting all the day;
He was as fresh as is the month of May.
Short was his gown, with sleeves long and wide.
Well could he sit on horse, and faire ride.
He coulde songes make, and well indite,
Joust, and eke dance, and well pourtray and write.
So hot he loved, that by nightertale                        night-time
He slept no more than doth the nightingale.
Courteous he was, lowly, and serviceable,
And carv'd before his father at the table.

A YEOMAN had he, and servants no mo'
At that time, for him list ride so         it pleased him so to ride
And he was clad in coat and hood of green.
A sheaf of peacock arrows bright and keen
Under his belt he bare full thriftily.
Well could he dress his tackle yeomanly:
His arrows drooped not with feathers low;
And in his hand he bare a mighty bow.
A nut-head  had he, with a brown visiage:
Of wood-craft coud* he well all the usage:                         knew
Upon his arm he bare a gay bracer
,                        small shield
And by his side a sword and a buckler,
And on that other side a gay daggere,
Harnessed well, and sharp as point of spear:
A Christopher on his breast of silver sheen.
An horn he bare, the baldric was of green:
A forester was he soothly
as I guess.                        certainly

There was also a Nun, a PRIORESS,
That of her smiling was full simple and coy;
Her greatest oathe was but by Saint Loy;
And she was cleped
  Madame Eglentine.                           called
Full well she sang the service divine,
Entuned in her nose full seemly;
And French she spake full fair and fetisly
                    properly
After the school of Stratford atte Bow,
For French of Paris was to her unknow.
At meate was she well y-taught withal;
She let no morsel from her lippes fall,
Nor wet her fingers in her sauce deep.
Well could she carry a morsel, and well keep,
That no droppe ne fell upon her breast.
In courtesy was set full much her lest
.                       pleasure
Her over-lippe wiped she so clean,
That in her cup there was no farthing
seen                       speck
Of grease, when she drunken had her draught;
Full seemely after her meat she raught
:           reached out her hand
And *sickerly she was of great disport
,     surely she was of a lively
And full pleasant, and amiable of port,                     disposition

And pained her to counterfeite cheer              took pains to assume
Of court,* and be estately of mannere,            a courtly disposition
And to be holden digne
of reverence.                            worthy
But for to speaken of her conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous,
                      full of pity
She woulde weep if that she saw a mouse
Caught in a trap, if it were dead or bled.
Of smalle houndes had she, that she fed
With roasted flesh, and milk, and *wastel bread.
   finest white bread
But sore she wept if one of them were dead,
Or if men smote it with a yarde* smart:                           staff
And all was conscience and tender heart.
Full seemly her wimple y-pinched was;
Her nose tretis;
her eyen gray as glass;               well-formed
Her mouth full small, and thereto soft and red;
But sickerly she had a fair forehead.
It was almost a spanne broad I trow;
For *hardily she was not undergrow
.       certainly she was not small
Full fetis* was her cloak, as I was ware.                          neat
Of small coral about her arm she bare
A pair of beades, gauded all with green;
And thereon hung a brooch of gold full sheen,
On which was first y-written a crown'd A,
And after, *Amor vincit omnia.
                      love conquers all
Another Nun also with her had she,
[That was her chapelleine, and PRIESTES three.]

A MONK there was, a fair for the mast'ry,       above all others
An out-rider, that loved venery;                               *hunting
A manly man, to be an abbot able.
Full many a dainty horse had he in stable:
And when he rode, men might his bridle hear
Jingeling  in a whistling wind as clear,
And eke as loud, as doth the chapel bell,
There as this lord was keeper of the cell.
The rule of Saint Maur and of Saint Benet,
Because that it was old and somedeal strait
This ilke
monk let olde thinges pace,                             same
And held after the newe world the trace.
He *gave not of the text a pulled hen,
                he cared nothing
That saith, that hunters be not holy men:                  for the text

Ne that a monk, when he is cloisterless;
Is like to a fish that is waterless;
This is to say, a monk out of his cloister.
This ilke text held he not worth an oyster;
And I say his opinion was good.
Why should he study, and make himselfe wood                   *mad
Upon a book in cloister always pore,
Or swinken
with his handes, and labour,                           toil
As Austin bid? how shall the world be served?
Let Austin have his swink to him reserved.
Therefore he was a prickasour
aright:                       hard rider
Greyhounds he had as swift as fowl of flight;
Of pricking
and of hunting for the hare                         riding
Was all his lust,
for no cost would he spare.                 pleasure
I saw his sleeves *purfil'd at the hand       *worked at the end with a
With gris,
and that the finest of the land.          fur called "gris"
And for to fasten his hood under his chin,
He had of gold y-wrought a curious pin;
A love-knot in the greater end there was.
His head was bald, and shone as any glass,
And eke his face, as it had been anoint;
He was a lord full fat and in good point;
His eyen steep,
and rolling in his head,                      deep-set
That steamed as a furnace of a lead.
His bootes supple, his horse in great estate,
Now certainly he was a fair prelate;
He was not pale as a forpined
ghost;                            wasted
A fat swan lov'd he best of any roast.
His palfrey was as brown as is a berry.

A FRIAR there was, a wanton and a merry,
A limitour , a full solemne man.
In all the orders four is none that can
                          knows
So much of dalliance and fair language.
He had y-made full many a marriage
Of younge women, at his owen cost.
Unto his order he was a noble post;
Full well belov'd, and familiar was he
With franklins *over all
in his country,                   everywhere
And eke with worthy women of the town:
For he had power of confession,
As said himselfe, more than a curate,
For of his order he was licentiate.
Full sweetely heard he confession,
And pleasant was his absolution.
He was an easy man to give penance,
There as he wist to have a good pittance:      *where he know
Francie Lynch Jun 2015
Lou,
You're an orphan now.
The deciding vote
In your favor,
The good kisses,
The latent reconciliation
Linger in this thick room.
You won't need to clean chimneys,
Work in a blacking factory,
Get your ears pinched, and your **** kicked.

You've laid out a fine plaster effigy
In this cherry box;
Yet Enzo's nature is hidden:
His personal tears
And public laughter
Aren't in this demeanor
With rosary weaved into the basket of his hands.

We've polished our shoes,
So we stand and discuss
The crucifix wedged
To hold up the lid,
And how we follow our fathers' footsteps.
We knew it to end this way
With our fathers' generation.
     But you must know your father lost a father,
     That father lost, lost his...

I too am orphaned, Lou,
And we'll continue on
As orphans do.
Quotation from Hamlet (I, ii, ll 89-90)
tranquil Nov 2013
once upon a stolen time
skies swore love to the earth
in a sight where all flew past
the splendor of a sailing romance

a passion so pristine

ever gentle as morning dew
which surrenders to the first rays
of a yawning sun toddling into
the laziest hour of day's fabric

when hope glittered as stars

and as formless light of souls relieved to be
strewn into the lap of merciful
enchantress content with her creation
whose world shone inspired on its own

an era where people breathed felicity

where foamy seas bent into a restless
swell of dreamy clouds
and smiling rainbows melted into perfume
drops of silver rain

when a grand pearl was born

the child of deepest seas
a gleaming myth so pure and unreal
born in nethers of the grand ocean
a spheric orb of life itself

whom the heavens embraced

as a savior of those lost within
the fading embers of abstraction
frolicking amidst solemn tranquil stars
shiny bright on the celestial parapet

the mortals named her moon

and furnished their barren lives with
colorless spread of her golden hair
traced along the milky laugh of joy
kissing tender skins of lovers asleep

but pinched upon by shores of neglect

lay the boiling heart of a forgotten god
leaning into the envious whispers of venomous deceit
sprung out of flaming ego of the great sun
overpowered by hate for his adversary

and the grand ocean who birthed her

so he raged upon like a nebulous explosion
drying up colossal seas and rivulets alike
while mortals bore the brunt of a deity
beneath all fiery blunders of infernal damnation

they all gazed in horror

to what became of once cerulean infinite ocean
now a volatile geyser of bloodied soup
a serene cradle of life incinerated by jealousy
amidst the dying cries of mercy

laid upon the ears of great mother

who rushed to her frightened children like
an avalanche of uplifting spells
as solace from the obliviating torrents of heat
above a crumbling earth

veiled in her merciful majesty

she called upon a parliament of beasts and men
starry denizens of the shivery black sky
ghostly natives of burning forests
restless roses of ashen hearts

as so were they all summoned

"for all ye did defile
with strength i lend to thee
reduce to shadow dust
spread thy cruelty
dispel a coat of fire
upon my hallowed sea
betray the rule of stars
but so mercilessly

for 'gainst the eye of war
ye sinned with hateful fright
and shall be doomed to hell
till life's last surmise
but if there be some more
ye need to speak awhile
speak aloud thee must
for this be thy time"

and so the mighty sun bared his heart

"for if i had a choice
sin i shall again
to breathe a demon's soul
engrossed with deathly pain

as when i saw her first
the light of purest love
allure of million songs
beaming anthems of

poetry set in sight
in fountains of her sleep
amid the faintest wish
of day we two shall meet

i ran and ran across
the length of starlit skies
in search of moon again
her burnished sheeny smile

only to learn the sea
would mask her in the day
in frigid soundless depths
until i fade away

spiralled across the space
i burnt to nothingness
a billion years in wait
perished to longingness

for choice was what i had
i chose to hate the world
one that does have no heart
one that does know no love

for if i had a choice
sin i shall again
just as the ocean sinned
and bring my soul this pain"

seeking out for the shattered cascades of his mind

the great mother did reach to the floundering soul
of a sun craving for one more sight of his beloved
all so distant as a tale of treasures lost
to the perpetual labyrinth of time

"of what shall thus be named
the blush of myriad glows
beneath the noble day
before the nights of pure

let there be a spell
where sun may see the moon
chisel his heart through clouds
scroll upon his tune

a time where them two shall
be one as dew and morn
ripple across as love
through dusky silhouettes long"

sweet scents of eager hope resurfaced

followed by the serene lush of a green symphony once more
while the sun bent down to touch the topaz glint of water
his beloved emerged riding upon whistling winds from east
once more piercing the restless swell of dreamy clouds

and just as day sank below a border of horizon
two lovers soared into the dreamy sight of each other
for hues of their daring glances tinge every twilight
again with a dream to have their love fulfilled

every day until the end of time.
CK Baker Sep 2018
there’s a network
of vigilance
around the guarded
causeway
of walla walla
the stacked cinders
smoking rails
(and weezers)
leave nothing
but black hood
fate

gray halls
and razor scrawls
mark the hellion crust
abandoned overtures
and dead fill
cloud the horror
and retribution
of this hell hole

bloaters and skin heads
(with wretched memoirs)
shout incessantly
from the
second floor
adolphus greely
reading over the
rights of nantucket
and banging his head
on the bent
steel bars

pockets pinched
and tumblers
dangling,
the stone walls
soften...
a seminal moment
crosses the roo house
as mother mary
and the good
painted warrior
loosen a
finely tuned grip
Nihl Jun 2013
“And as for you, River, there will be a day when you will flow with blood more than water. And dead bodies will be stacked higher than the dams. And he who is dead will not be mourned as much as he who is alive. Asclepius, why are you weeping? ”

CHAPTER I

The lake house was always a place of good memories. I couldn’t help but remember the countless summers just like this one, where I had spent days down by the lake, beside my father, catching rainbow trout with nothing but a line and a little bread or bait worm. The sound of crickets chirping in chorus at dusk, while just a slither of gold managed to peek over the mountain range that hung like curtains, draped across the horizon on every side. It was our paradise on earth, the Coulter families’ personal heaven. A humble log house nestled in the heavy shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Standing peacefully beside our private little lake, cradled within a thick pine forest. It was our pine forest.
-
We had arrived at the house two days ago, on a particularly overcast Friday afternoon. But the grey sky had parted, and left us with clear blue skies almost as soon as we arrived. Now nothing but the occasional broad, pearl-white, sky conquering clouds would dare to appear. This made the weather perfect for a swim in the lake, as well as an afternoon frying the day’s catch of trout in the fire pit just outside the cabin. I was inside the cabin, stuffing the weekend’s filthy clothes into my pack, in preparation for the long journey home tomorrow morning. Dad was gathering a load of firewood from our great proud pile of logs outside. I always liked adding to the pile the same way I found a mundane joy in saving money, I watched as we built it up into a neat pyramid, then imagined how long it would last us and how many cold nights they would ward off.
After packing my last well-worn flannel shirt into my now plump olive duffle bag the sun had disappeared behind the mountain; leaving a quickly dying amber streaked across the western sky.
I could hear my father’s footsteps as he entered the house, dropping a collection of heavy wood at his feet in front of the fireplace. Then quickly transporting the two best-looking ones straight into the warm mess of crackling flames that kept our cabin warm. I climbed under the covers of my bed and sat with my back against the wall, with a clear view into the living room.
I am Curtis, and George Coulter was my father, a broad man with dark brown hair, a short cropped haircut, bright blue eyes and dark stubble with traces of silver sneaking through. He was a weathered man with a tough 37 years over my easy 16, and always seemed to dress like a cliché lumberjack. Apart from the weathered appearance, sprouting grey hair and working class fashion sense, we were practically a splitting image. My mother would always say that looking at me was like stepping back in time and that every day I looked more like him.
-
“That should keep it going for a while.” George said, obviously exhausted from the events of the weekend and He slowly moved just inside the doorway and leaned against the frame, rubbing his eyes with his right hand before bringing it down to form a soft v shape on his chin.
“I’ve already loaded the truck, so we’ll be able to leave bright and early tomorrow.” He turned his head quickly as if to listen carefully for something else in the room. I found this to be a perfect opportunity to shoot a question I’d been wondering recently.
“Do you think there really is life after death?” I asked him abruptly and he looked straight at me with a quizzical expression and replied “Why do you ask, did someone say something?” I sat up straight on my bed pulled my hands into my lap.
“No, no one said anything. It’s just that I rode my bike by the cemetery last week, and there was a statue of an angel in the middle of all the gravestones, it just made me wonder, you know. Does all that stuff really exist?” I had a lump in my throat and swallowed hard to keep in down. My father sat down beside me at the foot of the bed.
“I think…” He started, still searching for the right words to say. “I like to think that there’s a place somewhere up there for us.” He turned his gaze towards the window and observed the last light in the sky before turning quickly back to me.
“Do you think mom will be up there?” I asked, and his face dropped a little.
“Your mother is up there waiting for us and the first thing she’ll do is tell us to take our shoes off so as not to get the cloud *****.” He said with a slight smile, I laughed at the idea as he continued. “But you don’t have to worry about that for a long time Curt.” He grinned, roughed up my hair, and then forced me into bed playfully. “I’ll do my best to make sure of that.” He rose from the bed and advanced towards the door. “Now get some sleep. I don’t want to have a conversation with myself on the ride back.” He disappeared into the main room and slumped into a lazy boy chair to gaze at the fireplace in the warmth of our now quiet cabin, as my room was filled with the soft lullaby of crackling fire. I turned towards the window and stared out towards the stars, my mind wandering as I closed my eyes. Tomorrow we would begin the long journey home.
-
Without any warning I was startled awake by a terrifying ripping sound. A great rip echoed throughout the house like a plastic bag violently flailing about in heavy wind. I immediately sat up on my bed, and blindly stared out into an ocean of black. A strange loud thumping sound rang from the living room in regular intervals. It had seemed like no time at all had passed since I had closed my eyes, my heart was thundering like the gears on a full-speed freight train and my eyes fed off the darkness in the room, starving for even the slightest idea of a source for the noise. But all I could see was darkness beyond my doorway. I struggled to pull myself back together from my state of screaming fear and cautiously got to my feet.
As far as I could tell the thumping was coming from outside, as I moved towards the doorway and peered into the living room. For some reason the fireplace that should still have been flickering with hungry flames was now dark and dead, as though it had gone cold days ago and the house completely vacated. The warmth that the fire had supplied moments ago had now been replaced with a cruel cold midnight breeze sailing in through the wide open swinging cabin door. The cabin door was clashing against the cabin wall outside in the wind I now knew was the source of the horrifying thumping that my imagination had played so helplessly with. My breath became shallow as I contemplated my situation, how long had I been asleep, and where was my father? I turned to the lazy boy in the living room and noticed it upturned and vacant. My heart started firing again like a machine gun and cold sweat now dawned on my brow. There was no sign of dad, not in the cabin at least. With my heartbeat slowing to the manageable speed of a cruising passenger train, I wondered where he could have gone while struggling to tame the rising feeling of dread as I hurried towards the front door and looked out over the hill and down towards the lake. There was no jagged black figure or human form in sight. A great deal of me was hoping to catch him investigating the same noise that startled me. But he was nowhere near, which made my blood run cold.  
-
The unforgiving night’s ice cold wind stung my ears and pinched my face, my breath trailing off in vapour. “Dad!” I called out, towards the southern wharf down by the water, nothing. Again I called, towards the vegetable patch on the eastern side of the house, nothing. I tapped my fingers anxiously on the door frame before proceeding down the few steps leading into the cabin, closing the cabin door behind me to stop the jarring thump. With that I was engulfed in the darkness and violent wind. Disoriented I called out once more towards the pine forests to the west, “Dad!” my voice cracked from desperation and bounced through the gale, ringing in the distance as if it had been carried by the wind and exploded skyward, amplified by the mountains surrounding the lake.
-
A light! A light darted between the tree line and danced in the darkness before disappearing just as quickly as it came. I stared in awe as the wind found its way through my clothes and now chilled me completely. My bare feet screamed from the cold grass that I tortured them with and I could hear the abhorrent ripping sound bellowing back at me from the distant forest. I stood still, confused and staring hopefully. I heard him, faint at first, but I was certain that I heard my father’s voice on the wind.
“Curt.”
I followed the voice out into the darkness, past the fire pit and towards the western tree line. I waved my arms in front of me pathetically probing the air for something to guide me. My eyes squinted hard to try and make out detail from nothing. “Curt.” Again it whispered from the distance. I stumbled across the field until I reached the outskirts of the woods and I could feel the first cluster great pine looming overhead. The wind and chill was slowly cut off by the wall of trees, as I followed the origin of my father’s voice.
The forest bed was thick with undergrowth and as familiar as this place was during the day, at night it was like another world, a world in which sight had to be thrown to the wind and I was forced to rely on my other senses for navigation. I could smell the heavy musk of the leaf litter, and hear the wind from the field. But I could see nothing more than the glare of the full moon hanging behind the thick clouds and the faint outline of the countless pine trees that shot skyward.

It was strange, I could smell him now. I could smell my father laced upon the air, boot-polish and old sweat. The same smell hanging among the trees as the red plaid shirt that he'd use to polish his boots and labour all weekend around the lake house. It was as if he was right beside me, this idea urged me to quickly turn side to side hoping that this was in fact, true. But all I found was more vague lines in darkness, freezing fingers and whipping wind songs from the distant clearing. The smell slowly disappeared, replaced with an eerily familiar, metallic, pooling scent…
My heart thundered at the realization, Blood. I could smell blood swimming in the air, as if someone painted the trees with buckets of human blood. I could taste it on the tip of my tongue the air was so filthy with the scent.
-
My eyes opened wide, panicking at the lack of visual aid as I stopped dead in my tracks. Something felt awkward, space felt strange, warped and twisted. It was like the world was turned on its side. It felt as though someone somewhere had invaded the space I now stood in. And I could feel its presence, I felt its eyes burning a hole in the back of my head, and the hair on my neck stood upright. My heart began racing faster and faster, thumping now like the cabin door, slamming against the wall in the wind. I could feel something out there, watching and waiting. I could feel it getting nearer, getting ever closer and growing. It was as if it was feeding on the shadows and becoming larger, filling the darkness with its horrid presence. I couldn't bare it anymore; I felt it creeping up on me and my skin was crawling. My head screaming for me to turn around but I couldn't move. I felt an impossible grip encompass my entire body and swallow me in darkness. Cold sweat like ice running down my cheeks and my clothes were now saturated.
-
My breath was pounding rapidly in short, sharp bursts as I watched it fog and pillar upwards through the cutting wind. I couldn't hear anything past the roaring noise in my head, raw panic like nails on a chalkboard. My thoughts were like a game of Ping-Pong, bouncing back and forth and I couldn't focus on anything. I felt it slithering at my heels now, like a python slowly constricting its prey, playing with it before a sudden death. A twisted cold breath falling onto my shoulders as every muscle in my body tensed to point where it felt I could explode at any time. I it leaned in closely beside me, with its face hanging inches away from my ear. I could hear its lungs gathering the icewind for speech, and its tongue slithering in between razor teeth, preparing for the first terrifying bite.
-
“It’s so close.” Hisses from its jaws in several thunderous voices spawning from the darkness in every direction, the trees dissolve, the sky falls apart and my entire world collapsed away into pitch black.

N.H.

CHAPTER II
http://hellopoetry.com/poem/possession-two/
L.
drenched in blue moonlight 
I admired her through
the sheet of smoke
in the gap between us

Carefully I
swayed and our arms
greeted with a gentle graze


"I tend to see the glass as half empty–
sometimes completely."

Sudden words drew me
like water from a well

A cigarette pinched by
the uneven crescents of her lips
pulsated, her sallow face
awash in a delicious red glow

"Either way, it's a beautiful glass,
isn't it?"

time nonexistent
She fumbled another
to a faintly open mouth
I lit it in silence
Brittany Wynn Feb 2015
TRIGGER WARNING*

They met at a dance recital.

His eerie blue eyes watched her, stalked her,
riveted by sinewy skin and the way her legs stretched and parted
skillfully, seductively: she knew how to captivate her audience.

They had mutual friends.

Her curiosity thirsted for more, for she had been taken
over by an empty lust, broken by another, but the way he spoke:
she felt as pretty as his charms sounded.

They went on a date.

He kissed her, pinched her, and spread those legs
that comprised his fantasies, not caring about the bruises he left
when he took off her lacey coverings, pinning her to the floor.

They learned more about each other.

She saw the empty, carnal look in his eyes, but her pleas
and shoves were not enough to lessen the weight of him, to push
his hands or his hips away, as he broke her over and over again.

They ended the night with a kiss.

He grabbed her face like a starving man grabs his first meal,
forcing an intimacy she could never get back, but he said,
“You liked it, didn’t you.”

They kept in touch.

She tried blocking his calls, his messages, asking her if she’d
come over to his place. Like the continuous force he prodded her with,
the pounding in her head beat out a thumping heart-line of no’s.
Kara Jean Apr 2016
Spinning chairs, crashing
Dollars bills, in a G-string
Face hammering,
by sweaty sticky ***** cheeks
Plastic suitcases, held tightly
Chug your drink it's time to leave
Walk cautiously, drink powefully
Ting, ting, goes the machine
She winked at her, she pinched back
He said let's go
Their room opening
Laying, the mysterious women on the bed
He grabbed her hips
His wife watched, caressing her ****
Door goes cold
Sun shining brightly
Eyes being punctured into gaping holes
Cheesy over done smile, stepping into the livingroom floor
Perfect outstanding family
Morally hidden, detrimental corrupting
Their professional suits, look so clean
Appearance is everything
Anastasia Webb Sep 2014
I have opened up my mouth
and taken out a spare pair
of butterfly wings
(pinched between thumb
and forefinger),
used-to-be-dusty but now
slightly damp from their
place of residence.
I dried them myself,
striking match after match
and holding each underneath,
close,
but not too close.

Instead of drying they
shrivelled up like petals
after leaving the flower.
As if to preserve warmth,
curling inwards,
they shivered, animated
by the heat of the glowing stick.

The flame got too close
to my fingers. I dropped it,
swearing. Pinched the wings too
hard (reflexes), the membrane
broke between my fingers
and the remnants
of freedom fluttered softly
to the ground.
Meredith Dec 2013
Before reading this I want people to know that I have never been *****.
I got the inspiration for this poem from a post on tumblr.*

One
After the first time he put his hands on her
she never thought she'd be able to escape the grasp of the feeling
she stayed up till 3:41 in the morning in the bathtub
sitting in the scalding water
trying to burn the dirt from her skin.
she sat there until the water turned cold
and she had not one tear left to cry
and until her skin was rubbed raw and bleeding.
she counted the bruises on her body
9 on her stomach
1 on her face
1 on her neck
a yellow and purple necklace around her collar
from the telephone wire he abused
from the telephone she didn't dare use
even after he finished manipulating her.
she scrubbed his fingers from her hair
but decided cutting it off would be easier
she washed his yelling voice from her ears
but found that screaming made him quieter
she scraped his taste from her lips
a dry martini
a cigarette
and someones tears from the past.
she couldn't scrub her wrists hard enough
to erase the feeling of the ropes he had her anchored with
so instead she sliced the flesh of where the imprint lay
attempting to release the strain from the burn marks on her skin.

Two
That same morning when she almost bled out
she checked herself into a hospital.
They sewed up the crimson bracelets she made
trapping inside of her wrists
each scream he muffled
with every new stitch.
she guessed they figured out what happened
whether it was the bruises
or the way her speech sounded like morse code but
they told her the police were informed
and that they'd do everything in their power to find monster
who opened the door to her own personal hell.
When the sketch artist asked her to describe him
she told her he was a photocopy
the regular John Doe
medium hight
brown hair brown eyes
nothing special or unique that would make a girl cross to the other side of the street
just like she said she should have done.
When they told her she needed to be inspected
she didn't even flinch
that seemed to be the only thing that people did these days
was inspect one another for an outcome that they'll be paid for
in paychecks or pleasure.
They stripped her down
apologizing for the cold
they took pictures
apologizing for the flash
they held her hand
apologizing for the feeling
but why apologize if he already imprinted it on her body
there's no going back from this
she will never be able to look at a man the same way again
she will always see cold hard hands on her shoulders
even at the warmest touch
she will only see flashes of his lips forced onto hers
when she receives the smallest peck
she will never be able to feel anything but a mattress beneath her back
rope around her wrists
and a freezing cold emptiness inside of her stomach.

Three
After the second time he put his hands on her
she stayed up all night in the freezing cold water
not even trying to remove his mark from her.
she figured that if the dirt beneath his fingernails were still there the second time
the dirt would still be on her too.
she let the filth engulf her
telling herself that all she was was dirt anyway
and as she lay with her head underwater
she screamed as loud as she could
for as long as she could
until her face was red
her voice was scratchy
till the veins in her neck pulsed
and when she finally sat up she was deafened by a deep silence
with no more sound than rippling water and the ticking of the clock.
That's when she realized that no matter how loud she screamed
she would never be heard amongst other peoples silences.
silences full of beeping cars and TV commercials
buzzing air conditioners and clinking plates
quite whispers and loud laughs
full of family and friends and the whole world spinning around them.
she would never matter to anyone
no brakes would squeal at the sound of her desperation
no ears would turn to decipher the morse code she mustered shakily from her lips
no one would ever care that her screams for help were muffled
and no one would have a hole in their stomach if she disappeared.
at this thought
she slipped deeper into the tub
unwraps the bandages from around both her wrists
uncovering scars that would never heal.
She explored the wounds with her fingers
and saw how weak the stitching was
like the nurse who repaired her found it pointless
and attempted it half heartedly.
She discovered that pulling the dark material that was woven through her flesh
would release her blood
like opening a door to another universe.
the purple would quickly turn to red
drop slowly into the tub
creating a water color painting of the war inside her head.
She pinched the strings holding the two parts of her together
******* their rough surface
she began to feel tired
dreaming of a happier place
of a happier her
of feeling like a person again.
she pinched the string
and pulled.
hard.
Abby Orbeta Dec 2014
Your life came in a kit:
Wrapped in shiny paper, tied with big red bow.
Inside was an instruction manual,
Containing everything you could ever need.
Easier. It was life made easier.
You find it ill-fitting. Restrictive.
Like a straitjacket masquerading as a ball gown.


You live in a world where the Word was the law
and the law was the Word.
A world of pointing fingers and pointed words
like shotgun blasts (Boom. Boom. Boom.)
that leave you hollow.


You feel flawed.
Trapped.
Alone.
No room for discussions.
Future already set.
Suffocated.


You knew you were different.
The kit was not who you were.
Yet you pinched and pulled.
Cut and cut deeper.
Put yourself in restraints and kept all emotions in check.
You hid who you were.
You wanted so badly to fit in.


You hated yourself;
For not fitting in,
For being who you are,
For thinking the way that you do,
For being attracted to people you weren’t supposed to.
You hated others for the same reasons.


You don’t have to feel this way.
It’s going to be okay.
You are not alone in this.
You are loved.
You are made perfect in the way that you are:
“flaws” and all.
Noah Jun 2015
curled in bed
eyes pinched tight
whole body trembling,
sleep escaped hours ago
this is how it is trying to talk to you.

like pulling teeth with pliers
clenched in a small boy's fist
a wry grin on his determined face,
knotted eyebrows will ache for days

like being pulled by a speedboat
tossing and turning in the wake
skin on my palms already gone
taking a breath, giving up, letting go,
crashing hard onto cold water's surface

like my chest giving out
every breath catching on its way in
hands digging through a too messy bag
inhaler nowhere in sight, help nowhere in sight,
breathing is too hard to handle right now

like a beach beyond the caves
crawling through at low tide,
sand gritty under fingernails, sun stinging on flushed cheeks
lounging on sharp boulders that dig between shoulder blades,
then rushing back home to escape being trapped for the night
toes tickled with goodbye kisses from the dark, growing waves

through missing teeth and breath,
under wrinkled sheets, and sand and water,
I can't hear anything.
I never could.
Mymai Yuan Sep 2010
It all began when someone left the window open.
The love bird cocked its bright green head at the shut door of Woodren’s third floor bedroom, perched on her bedpost. Its bright black eyes glittered, listening for the sounds of Woodren’s footsteps. None came. It ruffled its feathers impatiently; waiting for Woodren to come back with some water for its thirsty beak.
The love bird’s first memory was of Woodren: her clear gray eyes expressing her great happiness through them and not through the tiny curve of a smile on her thin pale lips. Her small white fingers pressed on the syringe gently, and a hot, mushy substance that tasted of apples and bananas went down its throat. The tiny black beak clattered against the plastic syringe greedily. “Aw, you poor baby. You’re hungry aren’t you, my Hoopsie-girl?” she murmured.
She then later taught her baby lovebird to fly with the patience of a mother. As soon as its wings started flapping feebly, she lifted Hoopsie up on the palm of her hand above her head and drew her hand away quickly, teaching the lovebird to fly and landing on Woodren’s soft bed. On cold nights, Woodren would wrap her favorite emerald green scarf around Hoopsie and place her behind the television where it was always warm and sellotape the electric sockets and wires so that Hoopsie was safe.
Woodren never even considered snipping the feathers of Hoopsie’s wings; she would never hurt her darling creature, and snip of its greatest glory. She would comb the feathers with a miniature pink Barbie brush, noticing how blue feathers had started to appear on Hoopsie’s wings and red ones slowly layered beneath the blue as time went by.
Showering Hoopsie was the hardest of all. Aunt and Uncle Palmer had no idea that Hoopsie even existed and revealing her presence would leave both Hoopsie and Woodren with no home. Late at night, Woodren would have to sneak out to the bathroom on the first floor (not on the second floor because that one was right next to Aunt and Uncle Palmer’s bedroom), down the stairs (taking care to step over the thirteenth stair that groaned so loudly), turn on the taps quietly and wash a sleepy Hoopsie with warm water.
Her two youngest cousins often made fun of her for the funny smell that stuck on her clothes sometimes. Linda and Lucy, her bratty twin cousins, asked in their scornful sing-song voices, “Why do you lock your room Woodren? Scared we’ll find all your old ***** clothes under the bed that you wouldn’t let Ma throw away?”
“No, maybe she’s scared we’ll find naughty magazines? If we do, we’ll tell Pa and you’ll have nowhere to stay ‘cause Pa says that type of behavior is sinful and he won’t tolerate it in his house!”
Woodren found it in her heart to look upon her silly cousins as childish entertainment. What did they know of the love she had for Hoopsie? “No, I’m scared you’ll find the monster under my bed and start crying for your Ma”
Linda narrowed her blue eyes, “I’m telling Ma you mentioned Lucy’s fear of the monster under the bed to her face! Besides, you don’t have anywhere else to go. You live on Pa’s charity. Ma said so.”
It was the lowest of insults based on a harsh truth. Woodren’s mother had died of cancer when Woodren was very young and her father followed her mother not a year after with heart grief. Her mother had asked her younger sister to take in Woodren; they were her only relatives and had stopped being fond of her once their own two twin daughters arrived and Mr. Palmer started to have to work harder to feed the six bellies at his dinner table. She just became another mouth to feed.
The only person Woodren got along well with in the household was her eldest cousin, Max. Max rarely spoke in anything but grunts, thought of his two little sisters as annoying brats, refused to say more than two sentences at a time to his simpering mother and loudly obnoxious father and often came and sat in Woodren’s room with his large feet against the wall, stroking Hoopsie’s head in silence. She really was fond of Max sometimes. He could be so thoughtful. Just two weeks before, for her birthday, Max had bought her maroon silk curtains with white birds imprinted upon them. He had even gone further than that and stitched in white thread, “Happy birthday. I love you” a red wonky heart followed and then “From Hoopsie.” Simply imagining him sitting there with a huge, thick curtain holding a tiny needle in his bear-like paws, cursing as he stabbed his rough fingertips and fumbling clumsily made her shout with laughter.
It was Max’s idea to buy Hoopsie a big metal cage and attach it to a branch on the big tree in their garden with a piece of shoelace, hidden among all the green leaves. That way, when Hoopsie sang Woodren wouldn’t have to blast her music and radio at the same time or pinch Hoopsie’s beaks shut when her Aunt or Uncle come to  yell at her if she was deaf or crazy or both. And that way, Woodren’s room wouldn’t have its twangy smell of bird **** and Woodren wouldn’t have to be paranoid all day long at school, wondering if nosy Aunt Palmer had broken into her room and found Hoopsie. And that way, she could leave her window open during the day, trying to rid her room off the nutty, sugary smell.
Max’s room was on the same floor as Woodren, the third floor. Every morning, bright and early before school, Woodren would run with a small lump in her sweater and the keys to her locked room jingling on her wrists to Max’s room. Max would barely acknowledge her as she ran across his room, opened his window and climbed out like a monkey to the branch that pushed against his window sill. She crawled along it with speed and sat there, with her legs hanging down and the branch between her legs, fumbled for the cage door above her head, made sure there was enough water and food to last Hoopsie for the day, popped Hoopsie inside with a quick kiss, arranged the fan-like fresh morning-smell leaves to cover the cage completely and skate back towards Max’s window.
Hoopsie mourned with a few high whistling notes. She hated being away from Woodren during the day- waiting for the moment when the sun was getting hot, and Hoopsie was tired of chatting to the birds in the nearby trees, when Woodren’s sharp little white face with its explosion of frizzy black hair would appear in between the leaves with her happy grey eyes and let her fly around the tree before calling, “Hoopsie” followed by her signature tilting whistle. But for now, and for every morning till noon, Hoopsie would have to wait.
“You don’t think they’ll find her do you?” Woodren would ask Max as she clambered back into his window. It was their daily morning ritual.
“No. Pa told Ma that it’s all about privacy now that I’m a growing-up boy. I’ll lock my door; promise.” He would reply back, completing their ritual.
“Are you still eating lunch with that Ed kid?” he asked, completely breaking their ritual this morning.
“Yes.” She was completely surprised. Not only was Max breaking a routine, Max of all people, he was doing so by asking her a question about her personal life.
Woodren eyed Max strangely. To her, Max was her huge cousin that somehow managed to communicate with a variety of different grunts and hated cutting his hair because of his fear of sharp objects; but to the rest of the school and neighborhood, she knew Max was the “strong and silent” handsome tall boy, every girl’s dream, with his shaggy blonde hair.
“Why?” her gray eyes grew rounder when suspicious instead of narrowing.  
“You don’t have many friends at school.”
“You know I don’t get along with any of them but Ed. I don’t like being friends with people unless I actually like them… unlike all the other girls at school.”
“I don’t like you staying around the Ed kid too much.”
Woodren felt a little glow of affection for Max in her heart. She understood why Max was worried. Ed was unstable with the rest of the world. He did what he wanted to, he said exactly what he wanted to and he wasn’t afraid of anything because he didn’t care what anyone said. He was the kid that the no parents wanted their children to stay near. There wasn’t anything Ed hadn’t done before.
Despite what everyone else thought, Woodren knew that his morals and sense of good and justice were strong in his heart. And when it came to Woodren he was always there for her since he moved to the neighborhood more than half a year ago. No matter how many offending remarks he made, she felt he had become the only stable thing in her life in spite of him being so apt to change. She had learned to depend on him.  
At the breakfast table, Woodren’s gray eyes slid over from Linda to Lucy to Aunt Palmer to Uncle Palmer and rested on Max the longest. Until she had come to look at Max, all four of them were identical in their attractive features and identical in their pinched-up, suspicious and petty expressions glazed over with a courteous mask. Max’s blue eyes, though the same shape as Aunt Palmer’s and the same color as Uncle Palmer’s, expressed a good heart and sincerity.
Her first subject of the day was an art lesson. All she had to do was sit comfortably, a palette with swirls of colors, paintbrushes, charcoals and pencils, a *** of water, and a fresh-smelling page. Usually she drew herself as a monster, or Linda as the devil- disturbing pictures that made people believe she was “talented”. But today, it came to her all of a sudden she’d never done a good, worthwhile painting of Hoopsie. Sure, her tables and notebooks were filled with carvings she’d doodled in class but never something she would want to keep.
She started to sketch Hoopsie on her bed post, eyeing the nuts Woodren had stolen from Aunt Palmer’s snack cupboard. She drew Hoopsie in the big tree and painted a metal cage around her. Somehow, the silver cage ruined the picture completely, making Woodren grimace. When the paint dried, she erased Hoopsie from inside the cage and drew her beside it, her small black feet gripping a twig.
Woodren remembered how elegant birds looked when she looked up into the sky, and saw them with their wings spread out and imagined feeling the wind rush through her feathers and ripple down her head and spine, with a heaven of azure blue surrounding her, shooting through clouds cold and refreshing like a sprinkler in the garden. Maybe that’s what freedom tasted like. She tried drawing Hoopsie soaring in the sky before she realized she’d never seen Hoopsie soar like other birds do, because Hoopsie had never done so.
Broodingly, she packed up when class was dismissed, slowly and thoughtfully. Somehow, that small beginning of a painting had darkened her frame of mind completely. Still ruminating, she headed down the hall way to eat lunch.
“Woody!” Hearing the sound of that voice, she momentarily forget her unease and Woodren’s thin, pale lips spread in a smile even before she turned around to him. Ed was the only one who ever called her that. His oval head was covered in small black bristles and one of his black eyebrows rose as he smirked with his pink lips curving down. The diamond earring in his ear glinted like his teeth did. He caught her eyes with his hazel ones; his eyes were warm and lively.  His mouth formed words that were witty and charming and could always make Woodren laugh.
Woodren put a look of amazement on her face. “You came to school today.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve been coming to school nearly all month.”
“That’s why I’m surprised.”
He hit her arm lightly. A few girls nearby turned around and giggled when they caught Ed’s eyes. Woodren remembered when Ed had first come to school. All the prettiest girls at school kept sidling over to him and batting their eyelashes. Ed had taken one look at the curves on their bodies; his eyes flickered over their face, a little bored, and continued his conversation with Woodren as if there had been no interruption.
It was a mark of their friendship three weeks later when she told him about her family. His hazel eyes had burnt hotly. When he was angry, his voice was quieter, but strained as if the passionate anger behind the words were being controlled with the greatest effort, “People who ruin other people’s happiness on purpose and with joy are just plain evil.” He told her that he hated the monsters that kidnapped children, crippled them, not only in body but mind too, and forced them to beg, far away from those that loved them. Here followed a stream of facts, all said in the same tone that both scared and impressed Woodren.
“How do you know so much about it?” she had once asked him.
He looked at her with an odd gleam in his eyes, “Because I care.”
Now he was looking at her without breaking his gaze, the same odd gleam in his eyes, searching her face. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She had still been brooding over Hoopsie in a cage, and why the picture upset her so much.
“Woody, tell me what’s wrong.”
Every time Woodren mentioned Hoopsie, Ed would go silent or make an offending remark about the way that Woodren took care of Hoopsie. Over a very short time, Woodren had learned never to mention Hoopsie’s name and though it drove her crazy with frustration, she knew Ed would never tell her reason the why if she tried to pry it out of him. Knowing not to answer truthfully, “I told you, nothing”
“I can tell when you’re lying. Your eyes grow whopping and your mouth pouts to the right.”
“Shut up.”
He looked at her searchingly before giving up with an irritated sigh.
“Come with me.” The chair scraped as he pulled out and pushed the table away from him. His tall frame dwarfed her.
He brought her to the back of the school where teachers and students never went, leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette. “You want to try one?”
“I don’t smoke, Ed”
“Why won’t you even try it?” The tone he used when he was about to state something that began an argument leaked into his voice smoothly, like oil. Woodren opened her mouth to list the damaging things it did to your lungs and heart but his voice had begun in its rapid, silky tone:
“Because society has brain washed you so that if you smoke when you’re a child, you’re a horrible ungrateful creature that will never go far in life. But when an adult smokes, it’s okay. You don’t smoke because people and teachers tell you not to try it. Well I say, **** them. These are the best years of your life. Do what you want, try everything so you can make the choices of your life later with a rounded experience and knowledge. I’m not saying get addicted. You have to be strong if you’re gonna be a risk-taker…” he inhaled deeply and exhaled in a husky voice, “I just thought you always went on about how you were such a strong risk taker.” He blew a cloud of heavy smoke above her head. “Oh, and of course you won’t try it because Aunt and Uncle Palmer said it’d be sin, isn’t that right?” he asked with a tantalizing grin in a mocking tone. He watched her face contort with anger, his hazel eyes dancing with glee. He knew he had hit at the bull’s eyes. No one ever jeered at Woodren’s inner power and then put her on the same note as her Aunt and Uncle.
A sudden snarling sound flared from her. She didn’t have to listen to anything Aunt and Uncle Palmer said… they never did anything worthy intentionally. She knew that. He was just stupid. She swore at him and knocked the cigarette out of his hand with a smart slap before storming away. An amused laugh from behind her made her ears tingle pink.
As soon as school was over, she pushed pass Ed who was waiting for her and ran back home. Opening the front door of the house, she scurried up the stairs to the third-floor and knocked on Max’s door. When she opened it, Max was already holding Hoopsie in his big hands. Hoopsie sang with joy when she saw Woodren.
“Hoopsie-girl” Woodren whistled with a tilting note that Hoopsie identified instantly. Hoopsie flapped over and landed on her shoulder.
“By the way,” said Max, “she must have knocked over her water because it was wet on the bottom of the cage. She kept trying to drink it. She’s thirsty.”
“Oh you silly Hoopsie! Why did you knock over the water? You know I’m supposed to have 8 cups a day?” she pampered the lovebird with caresses and endearing words before hiding Hoopsie in her shirt and running back to her room.
Woodren placed Hoopsie gently down on the bed post
The weight of the night is starting to settle on my shoulders
and everything is heavy and everything is breaking
And I’m honestly lying on the open carpet
Shifting between positions where I might not get sick
From a hangover of tears and sinking realizations
And my body aches badly where you pinched me too hard
Yes you’ve drawn some blood and left some scars
Yes you wanted too much and you clung too hard
But  it’s proof that you played an equal part
And that you cared to stop about as terribly much as a brush fire
cares about leaving the earth un-charred.
08/28/12




An Eagle Creek poem.
DEW Mar 2018
The waves undulated as if
they were the backs of 100 wriggling worms
The sky shed tears as if
a 1000 angels wept for the death of hope
black clouds roiled, sparking with fury
casting lightning down upon the mire
but below, upon the sea,
a miracle was set to transpire.

A boat rushed down and over the waves...
Back and forth,
a juggler's ball tossed and turned it appeared to be.
Yet, despite the malice,
and the seething spite of the sea,
the boat was safe
snug as can be.

And in this boat was a silent baby
his eyes stared out into the turmoil
he did not understand the frustrations of the elements
how they wished to smite him where he lay.
Despite the twisting of the boat
he did not roll, nor did water coat
his soft cheeks, his baby blanket
he passed on into sleep,
into dream he
went.

He awoke to battles raging about him
the crashing of thunder
was the desolation of a mountain
the world knew war for the first time
deaths in the billions, no pasture without crime.

He stood as a man
with bearded face
skin like the earth
armor embraced.
He realized he held a mighty weapon
it gleamed in his hands
power coursed through his veins
down to his soul
up to the heavens!
A beacon of light he seemed to be
but heir to destruction he truly was.
He did not know what power does
to the feint of heart
to the well-intentioned...
He struck the ground amidst the battle
the whole Earth shook, oh, the chattering teeth!
The mountains lumbered to form again
as if by the shovels of skyward giants!
The battle paused for the barest of moments
the awe was palpable
like a kingly feast
but the people's hearts hadn't forgotten the pain
their hate surged up, like volcanic bile
despite their peace present for a while
the massacres began again in earnest
perhaps more so than before his deed.
No one knew the power he wielded.

He still had hope, he could do something!
But what greater act was there than mending mountains?
His heart was up to good,
but his mind couldn't ground him.

"I must stop their wanton annihilation!"
He roared within himself,
"Are they not my people? Am I not their savior?"
He went to the most heated battle
struck the air with his weapon
and every person's foe was replaced by their loved ones.
The battle ceased in an instant.
Each person stared in utter disbelief.
By what power had this happened?
It was said that mountains climbed back into place,
but what could summon loved ones,
even from the grave!
The fighting ceased despite their hatred,
and the stories magnified in flavor.
Many who were hungry
for peace from the storm of violence
fed upon the hearts of those in doubt
they claimed they knew who stopped the battle
they hoped to mobilize a peace effort.
He gathered these hopeful souls
banded them together so their efforts became tenfold!
Soon enough, the stories crept across the lands
across the seas
and underground.
For once, hope had purchased ground,
but hate, when cloistered, beaten back, starved,
becomes ever more malevolent,
ever more conniving.

He did not call his people an army,
he called them the Samaritan Initiative.
They did not fight their war with weapons of battle,
they fought with hands that mend and bind,
they saved the sick and the dying,
they uplifted the oppressed and those denying.

As time passed, his efforts grew,
but someone used his deeds as currency,
mobilized the scandalous, the warmongering,
someone hated he who mended the broken...
Someone plotted his demise.

He led his Samaritans across the world
each place they touched was left whole again
and though war still did reign, rotting and true,
he did not tire to end the end.

A new beginning he hoped to create,
but whispers that he was a fraud began to sate
the ears of those whose purpose it is to doubt peace,
they sowed the malice back into the healing wounds
soon enough, his power began to abate,
therefore, rumors seemed to be true.

He grew restless when he was barred from homesteads
barred from cities,
even countries!
Somehow these echoes of forgotten civilization rose
only to defy him
and he smelled someone's stench in the air.
His weapon yearned for someone's death.
For once, it did not wish to mend, but break,
and he felt spiteful all the more.
All the adoration he had garnered
had blinded him from his true purpose.
He sought out the taint that spread its tendrils.
"Someone."
He said,
"Is ruining my... empire..."

One day, while regrowing a desolated forest with his weapon,
someone came to see him.
She smiled at him, marvelled at his work.
"Who are you?"
He wondered, suddenly charmed.
"Someone you know..."
She grinned.
He spent weeks distracted and curious about her,
what was her riddle all about
and why did he feel her in his heart?
She did not seem to threaten or scheme
in fact her presence was a dream
and he yearned after her like nothing he knew
his mission delayed
his plans askew.
Many around him questioned him saying,
"Who exactly is it with whom you're playing?"
He would blush,
"Oh, someone..."

One day,
she did not meet him at their lover's spot.
She did not appear for a week, then another.
His mind began to churn about the months.
Since when had he last sent forth his healers,
or mended cities and silenced weapons dealers?
He began to be suspicious of her
he could have summoned her with a flick of his weapon,
but he dared not discover if she really were foe,
for if he should break, what can he grow?

Eventually, she appeared again,
smiling broadly, like an old friend.
He then knew the anger that so many harbored...
Oh, the twisted things he felt by her abandon,
the sheer weight of his turmoil felt too much to bear....
So he ****** it upon her without any care.
His voice was louder than a church bell,
flashing out across the forest where they would meet.
She cried out in fear
she ran from him swift
he chased after with guilt he couldn't lift.
He found her weeping by a well
on his knees he apologized incessantly.
"How could there be darkness in you,
the mender?"
Her question struck him in all places tender.
Doubt crept into his addled mind.
His weapon's glow flickered
his conscience was blind.
Surely not now should he have such trouble?
Could it really be so simple to pop his bubble?
"I love you more than I can bear!
When you leave me,
I begin to tear."
She nodded and held him close to her.

Someone watched from shadows not far,
they saw his frailty,
like a door ajar...

The months passed and he went back to work
new cities to grow and malice to mend
people saw him more for the savior he was
even though the rumors of fallacy were abuzz.

A special time became the moment of his life worthy of note,
a marriage to the woman whose life he knew by rote.
They consummated in the night and in the day.
Time seemed to stretch on and shrink all at once.
His happiness was a thing of infectious charm,
but all that glittered soon became alarm.

Upon returning home from time spent mending the broken world,
he returned to find his home
covered in blood.
He knew whose blood coated the walls.
Bones, ground into paste, smothered pictured frames.
Flesh reduced to pulp covered the floor.
His mind fractured in no way subtle.
The light of his weapon winked out with no rebuttal.
He wept uncontrollably in fits of despair.
The world seemed cold, frozen over,
desolate of love or laughter.
"I can't bear to live."

Someone crept in through the doorway.
"It's a shame, isn't it?
No man is greater than any other,
yet no man is born equal.
No man lives without love,
but every man dies alone.
Maybe you can understand now,
why we deserve our own genocide...
Maybe now you'll let us fight to the death,
and have our peace that way!"

He looked up and,
despite the pure evil that stood before him,
he did not see that.
He saw someone lost,
someone abused,
someone desperate for truth,
any truth.
He saw someone fighting to love something,
anything.
He saw someone forgotten by loved ones
after committing acts that person was unable to avoid.
He saw a frightened being
lashing out at the world
in the hopes that the suffering would end.
He felt boundless compassion.

"I have no power left."
He said.
"No power to mend or bind.
No power worth your scorn."

"I'm going to **** you now."

"If I'm to die,
I hope my blood is enough for all who suffer."

"You're no messiah! You're just a lie we all want to believe!"

"If I was just a man...
I would have died when you killed her.
I would have hungered for torturous retribution.
But you have broken no one.
You're someone who needs to see your own suffering
out in the world
to justify the injustice dealt upon you.
But for every drop of effort you put into destroying her,
I wish you never experience my pain.
I wish to mend what drove you to break me,
so no one else may be harmed by you,
or anyone you inspire to deal death."

"No, I defeated you..."

"You tried..."

The weapon flickered.

"No, no, you can't feel love for me...
You don't have the *****."

"I have very big *****."

"You think you can love me?
After how I destroyed you!"

"If I could be destroyed,
I would already be dead!"

The weapon burst forth with light!

The killer realized they were someone foolish
Someone lost
Someone in need of healing.
For if "he" could not be broken,
surely there was hope.
If he could mend mountains
bring back loved ones and unite lost families
grow cities from the earth itself
grow forests from twigs
and deny a cold-hearted killer
the satisfaction
the honor
of seeing the fractures of a shattered soul
in blood-red, swollen, tearful eyes,
perhaps this man,
this one man,
could reveal what love is
to the killer's own famished soul.

He saw something shift in the eyes of that tortured someone.

That's when he realized...
That's when he understood.
He had the thirst for solving puzzles,
but humanity is not a machine,
it is a collection of gears
each just as vital as the whole,
for the whole does not exist without the worth
of every individual.
And to ignore an individual like this...
Someone who stood at the center of all the woe,
the evil,
and the tragedy in the world.
To ignore them would be to throw out the puzzle completely.

"May I mend you?"

Realizing they were someone facing an open door,
that person nodded.

He struck that person with his weapon.
Light flooded out as if by the sun itself.
Time seemed to stop.
People looked up in wonder of the light.
The very winds halted,
seas stilled,
nature perked up in unison.

When the light faded, he saw himself staring in a mirror.
The man in the mirror had blood-stained hands.

He stepped across the threshold and hugged himself.
His darkness hugged him back and the blood seemed to vanish.

"I forgive myself for killing her."

His darkness melted into a bulbous, gooey form and sank into him,
as if he were some kind of sponge,
leaving no trace of the darkness visibly.
He accepted within himself that he was capable of
unimaginable evil.
He accepted that he had control
and that he was responsible for the health and sickness
of the world.

Around him, the world began to shift.
In fact, it appeared to melt into liquid
and splash around him.
The liquid became clear, like the ocean.
It splashed and slid,
rocking him about.

Light flashed!

The baby awoke, curious about the world around him.
His boat had touched some distant shore.
Flecks of water spotted his cheeks and he laughed.

A couple crept up to the boat.
"I swear I heard a baby," a man said.
"You're crazy," a woman said, "Out here?"
The couple looked within the boat
and found the baby smiling at them with his
toothless, innocent smile.
The woman held a hand to her chest in awe.
She tenderly carried the baby out of the boat
and rocked it in her arms.
The baby laughed.
The man reached out.
"Not that hand!" The woman said, "You just cut yourself!"
"It's okay, no blood anymore, see?"
He pinched the baby's cheeks.
The baby touched his hand.
His **** healed in an instant!
"Woah!" The woman yelled.
Feeling for a scar where there were none,
the man stared in wonder at the child.
"Honey," he said, "This kid's got potential..."
This poem sort of came out of nowhere.
It does sit on the border between a poem and a story.
I've been fascinated by the Poetic Edda and the Iliad, how a poem could be hundreds of thousands of words long.

So here's my little poetic narrative.

Enjoy!

DEW
Coop Lee Oct 2014
rotting horse carcass.
green glowing filament by moonlight ******
& mistrust us.
radioactive drums of waste &/or dreams.
boys swimming.

fistfights at night
by headlight & tooth crackle. (spit) then bonfire pallets
lit & danced upon.
plumes
of gas-can outcries.

the days & abuelitas
& ghosts
pinched cheek - pinched cooler - grandaddy
on the grill.
his gasping yellow dogs.

judy is in the underbrush with a walkie-talkie
& a p.b.j.
desmond leaps from high rocks; he
descends into another world by way of molecular-mishap.
dove deep.
riding the portal boar.

wasps hover above spilt wine
& declare war upon brothers with b.b. guns
& firecrackers
& spf 50+. the saturday/sunday sagas
between beams of heat laughter breakdowns
to knees, to bees,
honey.

homecoming queen dead & wrapped
in plastic.
body found with
turtle bites.
fungi.
the slabs of granite.
old iron tractors bent & held by tree wives.
toast.
jam hewn hwedges of crisped bread.
previously published in Deluge Magazine by Radioactive Moat Press
http://www.radioactivemoat.com/deluge-issue-three.html
JJ Hutton Jun 2013
Just below the ridge line, east of Tinnamon's Creek, that's where we found Lily's dachshund.
The brown, island patch of fur beneath its snout was caked with blood -- throat turn, chewed.
No coat remained on its front legs. Framework mostly. Some dangling, loose tissue.
White fibers I didn't recognize dotted the shriveled body. How many days had it been?
Three? Four?

"What'd you expect to find?" Harvey said, lifting the tag. "Brannagh. 5321 Starlite Drive."

"I know, I know. Lily's still going to break. Doesn't matter what I expected."

Harvey ran his palm along the dog's belly. Whispered something I didn't catch. The sun began to sink behind the mountains -- everything turned a variance of purple. And the wind came in, unannounced, as wind tends to do. What's the protocol on a dead dog? Bury at the scene of the crime? A pile of rocks left behind for hikers on the passing by to say, "I wonder what happened there." Or did we bag the unfortunate beast? Ring the doorbell. Ask Lily if she's got a shovel. Our fathers made no mention of times like that.

"I've never understood why people have pets," Harvey said. "Do you just want to be miserable? Your cat Socks, Millie, whatever, is gonna die. Your turtle Larry is gonna die. The charismatic hamster in the classroom, running the wheel, knows every step with its stupid paws could be its last. 22 fourth graders taught expiration dates. Teachers sign up for that. Brannagh was gonna die. Lily knew she'd outlive the dog."

Four deer looked on down by the creek. Still, yet comfortable in their stillness. I could have touched them if I wanted to. I hated that. Deer in Colorado made me feel powerless. They assumed, automatically, that I carried no firearm, only a camera and a bit of Chex Mix. Pallid threads continued to float down from the sky.

"What is this stuff?" I asked.

"What stuff?"

"Falling. In her fur, right there. On your shirt. In your hair. The white stuff."

After a quick scan of his chest, Harvey pinched one of the white fibers between his index finger and thumb. Hardly gave it a thought before giving it a flick.

"They're just coming off the cottonwoods. Happens toward the end of spring," Harvey said, reaching in his back pocket and pulling out a garbage bag.

"Is that what we are going to do?"

"I'm not burying the dog out here. Lily needs closure. If she 'breaks,' she breaks."

Harvey opened the black bag. Stepped on the bottom of it. So it would hold against the wind.

"Put the dog in here," he said.

"I'm not doing that."

"Well, you have to."

"Why?"

"I'm holding the trash bag."

The dog's eyes weren't there. Whatever mysterious factor that leads people to buy dachshunds, whether concentrated dose of cuteness or unmerited friendliness, it had bled out. I walked around to the other side of the dog. Stuck my hands under its spine -- cleanest spot. Stiff from rigor mortis, sure, but stiffer than rigor mortis alone. I knew the stiffness of death from my childhood collection of unfortunate pets. The sun had baked him, made the matted tufts sharp. I dropped Brannagh in the bag. Harvey lifted up quickly, as to not let the corpse hit the ground.

With the deer still watching, we began to climb up the rockface, taking us back to the trail. My eyes fixated on my feet to avoid a misstep. Harvey took the lead, looking only forward. When he began to speak, he did not turn around.

"You know what's funny about the cottonwoods? I hadn't thought about this in a long time -- both my mom and dad had a theory about what you so eloquently called 'white stuff.' Mom, sticking by her poverty- and church-induced eternal optimism, said that the white strands falling from the sky, came off the clouds. 'Heaven's confetti,' she said. It was God reminding us that his grace reaches all of us."

"What did your dad think?"

"Well, Dad worked hard for what money we had, and going to church wasn't exactly his idea. Believed God owed him a little more. He didn't even sit with us. Back pew kinda guy. Mom would lead prayers focused solely on him moving up a few benches. Anyway, I say all that to say, being poor and going to church created optimism's opposite in my father. It wasn't long after I graduated high school, before I moved to Fort Collins, that Dad gave me his theory."

Harvey reached the top of the ridge. Gave me a hand. Dog's corpse slung over his shoulder. He looked at me.

"My dad said that the white strands from heaven weren't signs of encouragement. He said they were tears of those who'd gone before. People looking down, weeping at -- not only what violence brother does to brother -- but also at how we **** away every breath. 'Trading dreams for dollars.' "

"Which do you think is true."

Turning away from me, Harvey switched the garbage bag from his right shoulder to his left.

"Neither is an option. And to remind you, neither is the correct option. For the sake of humoring you?"

"Yes, for the sake of humoring me."

"I think my mother's would be more accurate."

"Why is that?"

"The cottonwoods shed one time a year. Seems to me that white stuff would be falling all the time if it was the disappointment and sorrow of those who've passed. One time a year. I can see God giving us a little something one time a year."
It was like camp
But I spent the first night
On a thin plastic mattress with ****** sheets freezing
Instead of encircling a campfire
Singing cowboy songs of the West
And little dogs

My first activity was not making a bow and arrow or a target but instead I was
sitting after breakfast
on a concrete bench
in the Sun
Trying to fill myself with that allusive happiness.
That was my plan.

On the next occasion in the open
I did not get a compass
nor a map
but I sat with a table of girls
And spoke up without being asked
They started to show off their pale pinkish arms
I was at the cutters’ table
Smoker’s edition
Layers upon layers of
Rippling Scar tissue
at the elbows in particular
It is thick.
Bleeding and healing
To be sliced open again
For crusting over.
They were cheerful
Despite hallucinations and panic attacks,
Lost children or tomorrow
Scuttling along a murky seabed that did not want them but
Here’s a cigarette

I did not make a sundial or find my canoe
Or make shoes out of leaves
but let the morning sun stick around
while the smoke issuing from their chatty mouths pinched my nose
I would take their smoking breaks with them.
I claimed two for myself and once lit,
slyly handed them over
As I listened to the chatter and laughed
I feel a faint yellow heat
From up over there.

We didn’t at first hover around each other
Talking about nothing like high school
Girls with braces and dorky pajamas
Or bend over from the top bunk to say
one more thing before lights out
At first I never added more than a informed observation about lipgloss or
a roll over the eyes over the next dumbbell talking about nothing that existed
But I was tolerated
And as their numbers diminished
only to be refreshed again
my comfort grew
I made “friends”
We laughed and co-conspired
Over pills, soda and what’s that on your tray?

There were movies on the tv
But no westerns
With horses trekking through the tall grasses
Nor
Smoke arising in the distance
Imitating a life that we were imitating as well
Yes we were!
Just a slightly different tale about
Endless treks and wandering

On the weekends
The rules relaxed and the counselors,
Had there been any,
Would have been preoccupied with private intrigues and how to make pineapple cocktails
And we, left to our own devises,
Would saunter in and around each other
Braiding hair and reading magazines.

There was a telephone.

When it was time to get into the car to go back home by way of the freeway
I didn’t have a hat that I had painted myself with only three colors
Nor feathers
or a blue ribbon for starting fires
We all said our good-byes
Even the mean one called me by my name
And we shot off like the explosive plumes of fireworks
into a dimming sky.
Rangzeb Hussain Mar 2010
Said the Prince unto his raven-haired Lady as he rode and galloped away,
He leaned back and this is what he had to say:
“Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.”

Jack O’Lantern prowls and haunts the frosted hills hunting to ****** for fresh meat.
This monster, this dark beast creeps down from upon the heath!
Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.

“Where be the Lord of this warm and happy house?” says Jack O’Lantern with claws tapping.
“Gone to London town,” says the Nurse the coins from Jack receiving.
Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.

“Where be the lovely Lady of this house?” smiles Jack O’Lantern mouth full of jagged teeth.
“She’s in her red chamber,” says the Nurse asking for a treat.
Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.

“Where be the delightful baby of the house?” says Jack O’Lantern purring like a cat.
“Asleep in the cradle,” says the Nurse accepting Jack’s gold sack.
Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.

“We will pinch him, we will ***** him, we will stab him with a long pin!
Nurse, you will hold the basin for the blood all to run in.”
Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.

So they pinched him and they pricked him, then they stabbed him with a very sharp pin.
The false Nurse did hold the basin for the blood all to run in.
Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.

“Lady, come down the stairs, come drink this tasty gin,” says Jack O’Lantern dripping sin.
“How can I see thee in the dark?” says the Lady unto him.
Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.

“I have silver bracelets and rings fashioned out of gold,” says Jack O’Lantern bowing.
“Lady, pray sail down the stairs and come see them glowing.”
Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.

Down the stairs the radiant Lady gently glided without alarm, thinking there to be no harm.
Black-eyed Jack stood ready to snap her in his arms.
Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.

There is blood in the kitchen and blood on the chamber floor, there is blood also in the hall.
There is blood upon the open door and blood upon the wall.
Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.

There is slippery blood in the parlour and bedroom too where the Lady did slip and fall.
Now Jack will be caught and hanged and punished in hell’s hall.
Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
Be concerned! Lock and bolt the door until I return.

And the false Nurse will be broken and burnt in the fire raging scarlet and black.
Said the Prince unto his Lady dead as he rode back:
“Beware the moor, beware the fog, beware the nightly shadow of Jack O’Lantern!
O why did you unlock the door? My heart will now forever twist and turn!”
Inspired by a traditional Folk song which has been sung and rearranged by many artists over the years.
david badgerow Jan 2012
two young hitchhikers
with big dumb cajun mouths
sinking below the roadside
in an abandoned cotton field
an oasis of sunkissed tractor parts
one in a ten gallon hat
the other wrapped up in barbed wire
two miles south of the state penitentiary
headed toward a pinched pachuco sunrise
onward, into the vortex.

— The End —