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Rhia Dec 2018
On the first day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: a bowl full of doggy food.

On the second day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: two sloppy kisses and a bowl full of doggy food.

On the third day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: three doggy biscuits, two sloppy kisses, and a bowl full of doggy food.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: four doggy beds, three doggy biscuits, two sloppy kisses, and a bowl full of doggy food.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: five carrots, four doggy beds, three doggy biscuits, two sloppy kisses, and a bowl full of doggy food.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: six yummy greenies, five carrots, four doggy beds, three doggy biscuits, two sloppy kisses, and a bowl full of doggy food.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: seven scents to smell, six yummy greenies, five carrots, four doggy beds, three doggy biscuits, two sloppy kisses, and a bowl full of doggy food.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: eight freshies hidden, seven scents to smell, six yummy greenies, five carrots, four doggy beds, three doggy biscuits, two sloppy kisses, and a bowl full of doggy food.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: nine wee-wee markings, eight freshies hidden, seven scents to smell, six yummy greenies, five carrots, four doggy beds, three doggy biscuits, two sloppy kisses, and a bowl full of doggy food.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: ten tails a-waggin', nine wee-wee markings, eight freshies hidden, seven scents to smell, six yummy greenies, five carrots, four doggy beds, three doggy biscuits, two sloppy kisses, and a bowl full of doggy food.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: eleven rawhides hidden, ten tails a-waggin', nine wee-wee markings, eight freshies hidden, seven scents to smell, six yummy greenies, five carrots, four doggy beds, three doggy biscuits, two sloppy kisses, and a bowl full of doggy food.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my Kirby gave to me: twelve stuffed buddies, eleven rawhides hidden, ten tails a-waggin', nine wee-wee markings, eight freshies hidden, seven scents to smell, six yummy greenies, five carrots, four doggy beds, three doggy biscuits, two sloppy kisses, and a bowl full of doggy food.
Yet another poem written by my brother circa 2006-ish in honor of our illustrious beagle, Kirby. My family all marveled at the poem's accuracy.
Test Ting Won To Tree
By
Charles Fleischer







Rifleman decal water is to Tiny basket liners as Strained yo-yo string is to?
Dark wool glowing is to Oldest lost oddity as First genetic engine is to?
Black quail taint is to Nut curdled paint as Hemp biscuit dominoes are to?
Steam traced paper is to Lemon ash vapor as Digital ****** wig is to?
Eccentric brine mimes are to Electric silk slacks as Spark formed lava is to?
Sunchoked black hornets are to as Rescued orphan doves as Retold cat jokes are to?
Hand traced videos are to Braided rubber spines as Opal rain dancers are to?
Halogen anchor gong is to Annoying bread portraits as Soft bracelet lockers are to?
Old troll bios are to Select cherub echoes as Broken matchstick parasols are to?
Dome nine chariots are to Frayed lunar remnants as Fuming honey flasks are to?
Bluing assault operas is to Beading fluted flowers as Magnetic lawn tweezers are to?
Converted flea sponges are to Floating dog murals as Frozen Archie comics are to?
Molded road pads are to Crusty gumdrop thread as Straw ribbed pelicans are to?
Inflatable diamond vowel is to Single gender raffle as Groovy desert coffee is to?
Temporary solution radiation is to Idiotic witness mumble as Motorized marshmallow kit is to?
Panoramic utopian paranoia is to Aggravated **** silhouettes as Unhinged gun sellers are to?
Homesick ghost pajamas is to Virtuous fly fungus as Royal sandpaper gloves are to?
Gangster hayride tickets are to Deer milk Oreos as Turnip fairy maps are to?
Glue gun **** is to Nocturnal cabin mice as Cab fare corn is to?
Speckled fish nickels are to Under water bric-a-brac as Epic snakeskin paisley is to?
******* bungalow pranks are to Drowsy vapid oafs as Quantized cavern fish are to?
Raunchy snail kimono is to Coiled time dice as Smeared equator malt is to?
Metallic centaur franchise is to Transparent cheese chess as Spotted glacial remnants is to?
Sky fused pong is to Rustic mothers brattle as Granulated canister ointment is to?
Overgrown maze mule is to Mated smugglers hugging as Floating thesaurus exam is to?
Sliding coed sprinkler is to Soapy whitefish rebate as Precious lamb diaper is to?
Mushy acorn luster is to Lilac protein rings as Slapstick wrestler dialect is to?
Freaky plankton bells is to Rolling horse divorce as Morphing morphine lips are to?
Sticky razor sparkle is to Emerald muscle spasm as Glaring cat cipher is to?
Peppy unisex mustache is to Pelican fighter syndrome as Clumping night grumble is to?
Scanning paired pearls are to Ruby rubbed roaches as Satanic sailor flotsam  are to?
Glowing asteroid solder is to Ideal shark data as Failed frail doilies are to?
Numb nuts boredom is to Fantastic icy phantoms as Sporadic silk creations is to?
Crooks crow chow is to Loading spackled bonder as Gargled snowdrop blasters are to?
Outdid myself today is to Outside myself again as Outlived myself controls is to?
Venting shuttlecock upset is to Texting badminton kitten as Settler tested motels are to?
Prepare paired vents is to Prefer paid events as Pretender predicts fiction is to
Crunchy mental fender is to Catching mentor menace as Poorly seasoned lettuce is to?
Outside sidewalk inside is to Seaside outcast input as Sideways landslide victory is to?  
Compile fake password is to Compost world poo as Compose village anthem is to?
Crooked crotch blunder is to Loud crowd thunder as Divine vine finder is to?
Chucks’ wooden truck is to Bucks good luck as Sticky ducks tucked is to?  
Overhaul underway overseas is to Overturned downsized pickup as Underground onramp overloaded is to?
I’ll bite there is to Aisle byte their as Isle bight there is to?
Gnat gnawed wrist is to ***** show beans as See through putty is to?
Flapping floppy guppies are to Buzzing zipped dozers as Muddy ****** strippers are to?
Dark diagonal dialogue is to Diabolical dihedral die as Interesting circadian exposition is to?
Experimental flossing expectations are to Waxed dental traps as Permanent impermanence resolution is to?  
Outran ringside intrigue is to Sidetracked onboard boatload as Loaded firearm topside is to?
Phony ****** phone is to Chewy ego honey as Yogi Mama’s dada is to?
Nimble teardrop squiggle is to Humble cage curtains as Loyal truckstop morals are to?
Torching curled elastic is to Sonic neighbor clamor as Golden droplet integers are to?
Duplex pupil scanners are to Nacreous cloud clocks as Shrouded flute shops are to?
Lawn rocket tendrils are to Finding surreal borders as Sheep monarchs children is to?
Gloating ungloved squires are to Busting double doubters as Pushing woeful doctors are to?
Tricking snowbelt firedogs is to Panmixing blackened haywires as Unclothed shameful leaders are to?
Malicious ranch ritual is to Internal puppet bubble as Ornate underworld masquerade is to?
Rustic debonair Eskimos are to Mindless sassy elves as Gorgeous somber acrobats are to?
Learned earthy pimps are to Fearless sneaky Queens as Somber gentle vagrants are to?
Shocking horse wear is to Glossy sled fluid as Damaged chipmunk tongue is to?
Traditional agony chart is to Damp voodoo motel as Backwoods museum quote is to?
Magical cat cabin is to Dapper porpoise humor as Malicious graveyard foam is to?
Therapeutic gazelle cushion is to Stored alibi equipment as Stunning tempo light is to?
Fantastic rascal art is to Wasted prune dust as Jupiter’s ****** law is to?
Little nut razor is to Gigantic hyena shield as Hourglass pillow fever is to?
Coiled rain clouds are to Dizzy tycoon clowns as Lime eating cowards are to?
Possessive epicurean demonstrators are to Faded eavesdropping giants as Determined swanky drunks are to?
Aquatic preview pocket is to Soggy judicial topiary as Finicky hamster fabric is to?
Enlarged fruit cuff is to Obedient mumbling orchestra as Dark tenant tariff is to?
Recycled flash thermometer is to Botched temptation probe as Pet glider grid is to?
Seriously shy idols are to Costly driving perfumes as Ferryboat chapel wine is to?
Winged jalopy details are to Faithful spectral fathers as Sprinkled mint rainbows are to?
Spelling unneeded words is to Sprouting donut ***** as Blaming mellow mallrats are to?
Eroding loom keepsake is to Magnificent accordion canoe as ***** bongo fumes are to?
Souring violet ink is to Juvenile insult park as Periodic ferret envy is to?
Obedient boyfriend aroma is to Sanitized fat lozenges as Dramatic jailer garb is to?
Mysterious patrol group is to Dynamic maiden discharge as Captured hurricane ratio is to?
Lackadaisical bigot bingo is to Oblong care merchant as Expensive swamp shampoo is to?
Petite orifice worship is to Atomic barge pet as Plucked hair exhibit is to?
Elite officer wallop is to Automatic yard rake as Healing ****** glitter is to?
Needless swan costume is to Giant jungle goat as Organic picnic napkin is to?
Leaky jet steam is to Innovative fascist whistle as Enchanting idol evidence is to?
Plastic mascara seduction is to Greasy thermal ointment as Attractive muskrat crease is to?
Lucky camel pills are to White coral Torah as Eternal stage clutter is to?
Roasted oat **** is to Sloppy *** glue as Nylon table debt is to?
Steep nook catastrophe is to Empty dome damage as Pulsing breeze powder is to?
Empty sack power is to Hitched buck stroke as Red claw warning is to?
Ultra brief slogan is to Yummy lab mutant as Pathetic ball armor is to?
Nauseating fish splatter is to Obstinate ****** twitch as Strained ***** coffee is to?
Mezzanine intermission fossil is to Proven **** apathy as Golden duck shroud is to?
Civil tutors torment is to Thor’s posted theory as Yellow melon rain is to?
Immense olive raft is to Exploding kangaroo buffet as Ethereal witness index is to?  
Marching dark speeders are to Searing scribble fighters as **** tripping sinners are to?
Seeping viral angst is to Aged hermit tea as Murky bowl nibble is to?
Condensed blister guzzle is to Pink dorsal pie as Lavish speckled runt is to?
Needy insult poet is to Sedated acorn trader as Dry honey zoo is to?
Veiled trust flicker is to Deranged poser fashion as Flat sizzle tangent is to?
Purified diet spray is to Nebulous wishing target as Thrilling screen dope is to?
Majestic ribbon astronomy is to Bizarre formation sector as Rebel bell gimmick is to?
Sealed dart whisper is to Green silk draft as Cold vacuum varnish is to?
Clumsy raven power is to Insect island circus as Minted mink drapes are to?
Curved map ruler is to Tiny lethal radio as Blue fused metal is to?
Inverted laser invasion is to Damp sheep dump as Puffy gown smoke is to?
Saucy Channel blazer is to Leather goat filament as Starched locomotive hat is to?
Broken jumper leads are to Disgraced mini exorcists as Designer shamrock caulk is to?
Tweaked poachers smokes are to Assorted sulfur pathways as Collected bedlamp trickle is to?
******* bungalow pranks are to Drowsy vapid oafs as Quantized cavern fish are to?
Crawling battle worms are to Vibrating metal pedals as Mentholated matrix wax is to?
Missing meshed rafts are to Liquid rock pipes as Crinkled bean bikinis are to?
Tithing **** joggers are to Perforated buck fronds as Leather zither picks are to?
Fearing truthful cowards is to Rambling preachers mumble as Gazebo ambulance gasoline is to?
Shelving elder’s whiskers is to Poaching goalies pesto as Radical tricycle angst is to?
Mucky gunboat polymer is to Primeval maypole flameout as Cathedral greenhouse intercom is to?
Diaphanous safety prize is to Unleashed saucer lion as Dorky blonde ropewalker is to?
Tapered spring meter is to Silver silo mythology as Misguided judges medallions are to?
Alligator x-ray money is to Cherry unicorn water as Coyote cactus toy is to?
Cowardly dorm scrooge is to Atomized pewter script as Flattened spore smoothies are to?
Trash can yodel is to Flashing wired spam as Exploding chocolate pudding is to?
Sonar blasted bushings are to Threading ruined wheels as Forty shifting boxes are to?
Tiny balloon rebellion is to Softened square cleanser as Iconic soul sucker is to?
Harmony night light is to Spanish nitrogen desire as Squirrel cavern iodine is to?

Lazy winter secret is to Slow airport widget as Silly mustard binder is to?
Elephants raising raisins are to Microscopic lamb planet as Purple hay puppets are to?
Caribou venom vaccine is to Electronic lemonade choir as Demonic princess massage is to?
Beet coated bridge is to Fattened needle point as Mylar monkey spine is to?
Ashy ink dust is to Youngest rabbi planet as Orange cartoon geometry is to?
Cold green chalk is to Cobalt ladder farce as ***** river filters are to?
Sublime sheep master is to Sleeping past rapture as Subliminal bliss jelly is to?
Ocean crust slippers are to Twigged germ radar as Popping sharpie scope is to?
Zen wrapped beep is to Oak foamed code as Wicked flashing sizzle is to?
Dew eyed sleigh is to Say I do as Act as me is to?
Humpback on hammock is to Ham hocking hummer as Hunchback with knapsack is to?
Corned flag jelly is to Draped wing chewers as Tripping swan acid is to?
Futuristic Rembrandt chant is to Almond likened meadows as Asian timber blue is to?
Nap in sack is to Flap on Jack as Ducks dig crack is to?
Flowing flavored lava is to Gleaming optic layers as Enhanced goose gibberish is to?      
Flag tied pajamas are to Saline checker choir as Speed reading quotas is to?
Whipped spam spasms are to Misted shaman scripture as Testing pitched bells is to?
Cave aged eggs are to Crowded tiger cages as ****** wagon pegs are to?
Pigeon towed car is to a Man toad art as Wolf whisker wish is to?
Second hand clothes are to Minute hand gestures as Final hour prayer is to?
Slick wicked shavers are to Tricky watch boxes as Sprouting pine tattoos are to?
Waxed stick ravens are to Match stick foxes as Narrowed thermal towers are to?
Ice cave rice is to Laced face lice as Gourmet pet **** is to?
Diamond lane anniversary is to Space age appropriate as Time travel agency is to?
Lime bark violin is to Lemon twig guitar as Lunar sky waffles are to?
Fake rat **** is to Smart cake batter as Rugged fur tax is to?
Tarred raft fluff is to Flaked rafter dust as Lined liquor flask is to?
Flakes will fall is to Take Bills call as Broken maze compass is to?
First faked voter is to Entombed cartoon honey as Smallest aching smurf is to?
Fancy bared ******* are to Flaky fairy treats as Kings amp filter is to?
Bone window folio is to Whittled fake pillow as Little fitted jackets are to?
Nine nuts brittle is to Ate pear pie as Six packed poppers are to?
Incandescent playground pencil is to Elastic hand worm as Perfumed piano ink is to?
Opal shifting anode is to a Windup lion decoy as Pale paisley trolley is to?
Stacked black boxes are to Old packed tracks as a Throwing micron hammers is to?
Apricot bark furnace is to Merry Orchid Choir as an Ivory rinsing funnel is to?  
Narcotic honey nuts are to Slick flag toffees as Silk fig sugar is to?
Orange coin raisins are to Low note candies as Smelling balled roses is to?
Pocket packed monotints are to Tragic ladder hayracks as Ravishing speed traders are to?
Crayon spider resin is to Coral squirrel forceps as Wolf tumbled loaf is to?  
Silver wheat flies are to Width shifting wheels as Golden blister blankets are to?
Really tiny hippopotamus is to Masked fat podiatrist as a Sad sack psychiatrist is to?
Miniature Mesopotamian monuments are to Apple minted elephants as Raising wise ravens is to?
Lathered nymph nacre is to Sonic ion constellations as Concealed iron craft is to?  
Epic gene toy is to Ladies bubble sled as Jagged data bowl is to?
Bugged dagger bag is to Pop sliced meld as Atom bending moonlight to?  
Rural madam’s deed is to Dyed dew dipper as Eight sprayed dukes are to?
Jiffy grand puffer is to Floating altar myth as Vintage dark mirth is to?
Undercover overnight underwear is to Overpaid undertaker overdosing as Overheard understudy freebasing is to?

Black grape crackle is to Red cactus ruffle as Installing padded pets are to?
Snide snobs sniffing are to Sneaky snails snoring as Snared snipes sneezing are to?
Exploring explosive exits is to Explaining expansive exports as Expecting expert exchange is to?
Shrewd logic ledger is to Puppets dropping cupcakes as Placated topaz octopi are to?
Door roof tools are to Cool wool boots as Wood cooked root is to?
Bright fight light is to Night flight fright as Mites bite site is to?
Floor flood fluid is to Wooden door Druid as Nasty **** broom is to?
Accurate police photography is to Intelligent microbe geography as Condensed aerosol biography is to?
Cowardly cowboy grime is to Corpulent corporate crime as Bosnian dwarf necromancer is to?
Jell-O clearing shaker is to Brillo cleaning shiner as Cheerios bowling shields are to?
Mumbled mindless hokey is to Fumbled found money as Humming kinder bunny is to?
Daisy’s clock setter is to Lilly’s boxer toxin as Poodles rose paddle is to?
Watch Bozo Copernicus is to Hire Clarabelle Newton as Find ***-wee Einstein is to?
Amethyst thistle whistles is to Lapis pistol whip as Diamond bomb scar is to?
Dandelion seahorse rescue is to Crabapple dogwood farm as Faux foxglove lover is to?    
Optical poppy stopper is to Polar halo lens as Day-Glo rainbow sticker is to?
Savanna leopard spotted is to Eskimo lassos kisses as Alligator lemonade standard is to?
Bill of Rights is to Will of left as Thrill of night is to?
Baptize floozies quickly is to Useless outsized nozzles as Puzzled wizard wanders is to?        
Chaps wearing chaps are to Chaps contesting contests as Consoling concealed consoles is to?
Quiet squirming squirrels are to Aeon beauty queens as Queasy greasy luaus is to?
Knew new gnu is to Sense scents cents as We’ll wheal wheel is to?
Blazing zingers ringing are to Wheezing singers flinging as Freezing finger number are to?
Lamb tomb jogger is to Dumb numb **** as Thumbed crumb bug is to?

Blue accordion casket is to Jaded scholar ***** as German mushroom circus is to?
President George Flintstone is to Funny Fred Washington as Abraham Jetson’s dog is to?
Google Desmond Tutu is to Kalamazoo Zoo Park as Zodiac actors Guru is to?
Swamp cradled whisperer is to Cherished drawbridge cello as Bludgeoned prankster outlaws are to?
Dukes pink mittens are to Smeared nest carava
Bryan Lunsford Aug 2018
It is within an unusually warm and early spring night,
Here, where I begin to feel something ever so unusual while looking deeply into this goddess' eyes,

With her eyes like a pair of diamonds sparkling in the sky,
It's at this moment–in this part of the night–
Love simply didn't need a reply,

With candles lit,
As it's surely to her delight,
And with rose petals all over the bed–
That, surely, was to her surprise,

Though, right now,
Can you really blame me for having this nervous butterfly-feeling whirling around inside?

For this will be the first-ever night that I'll get to hold this beauty tight,

And for such a divine beauty,
Surely I'd make any sacrifice to make sure her every whim and need is perfectly sufficed,

Yes, with our feelings for each other that couldn't be more pure or refined,
I already know, without hesitance, our love would satisfy any god's most delicate appetite inside,

And although, this world may never know how I truly feel inside,
I, myself, know with certainty that I love this woman more than anything I've ever loved in my whole life,

Yet, with nothing more than the sound of crickets chirping within the night,
I proceed to lay this beauty down–
Here, pulling her close to my side (where I tell her)
"I love you, angel, good night",

And even though our love never did need a reply,
She said
"I love you too, sweet dreams baby, don't forget to hold me ever so tight",

And thus with this crazy, whirling, butterfly-feeling, again, that I begin to feel take over inside,
She rolls over unexpectedly and surprises me with a kiss to seal any other reply–
To only roll back over and close her eyes,

Oh, and in the midst of her every action–every move leaving me mesmerized,
She decides to move an inch closer to me,
(Where I wrap my arm around her thighs)
As it's also nearly simultaneously that I hear the clock's stride finally hit midnight,

With a chime that struck once–
Then struck twice,
I begin to hear a set of chimes strike–and strike until they chime twelve times,  
(As these chimes come from this evilly wicked, horrid and heinous clock of mine)

Yes!–with this clock being a clock that through time I have come to slowly hate and despise!

Though, this tower of a clock reminds me of its presence with not the tics nor the tocs–
No, only when the minute hand climbs and the hour's hand meets another notch,

As only then, within that second of the minute, does my mind's thoughts get crossed and rocked–
With my thoughts that become locked within a box
(As it'll be for the next sixty minutes)
I'll just lie there and remain distraught,

Oh, and you ask why?–
Simply because of this chiming noise that won't stop!

With these reoccurring chimes that take my sleep and make most nights a loss–
I can assure you that if I don't go to bed by one or two o'clock,
Any sleep for me will become more and more implausible by every tic of the clock,

Yes, nearly impossible–
For it'll be with the next four or five hours, I'll just lie there, roll, and toss,

Though this is a different night!–
As I'm reminded with our legs crossed and with our fingers interlocked,

Yet, here as I begin to feel the warmth of her body block and fend off any kind or sorts of lingering winter's frost,
I also sense that numerous candles are still glowing bright,
(With the sight of their ambient light flickering off of the bedside's wall from abroad)

And, within this room filled with sentiment as I hear not a sound at all,
I smell the candle's aromatic scents,
With the atmosphere within the air being ever so calm,

Until that is, I hear another chime of a ****–
With it sounding like a melody that's gone ever so wrong–
It's with this tower of a clock, right here, that has just let me know it's now the hour of one o'clock–
And one o'clock, right on the dot,

With only one lone chime that I heard–as everything then simply paused and stopped,

Though, within my mind and with these thoughts that refuse to stop,
I reassure myself–
Knowing that the time is only one o'clock,

For I know I still have an aplenty of time to close my eyes and make these endless lines of thoughts stop,

So to this brilliant mind of mine,
You know that it's clearly time to let these thoughts wander off,

Just close your eyes and let your mind stop–

Though, didn't I just say enough with your thoughts?

Oh, and I can see you might think a lot,
But clearly and obviously you're not thinking about squat!

So just stop or I swear to god,
If you don't stop with these god awful thoughts,
I'll have no other option than to smash and squash your head against these bricks outside of this wall and then leave you there to rot–

For if you don't stop this exact instant then I am almost certain your beautiful woman will become a loss,

And I'm sure you don't want that to happen again, now do you?

So just stop with these thoughts–
Quit fooling around and whatever you do–
Oh, and whatever you do,
Don't let this beauty see that crazed loony side inside of you,

Just fall asleep now and you both can wake up tomorrow around noon,

Yes, just close your eyes and count these sheep jumping over the moon,
And count them jumping one by one–then two by two,

Yet, between one and two,
Surely I knew I was bound to come unglued,
(With the loony that came right out of me as I hear a tune)

With a chime that struck once and then twice,
It left my mind to know not what to do,

Though, that doesn't mean I am confused,
With the duo of chimes that struck–
Only letting me know it's now into the minutes of the night that come directly after two,

And though,
As I begin feeling as if a disaster was nearing in soon,
Still, I knew not what to do–

Because I know nothing as I'm thinking of nothing and just fading away within the scents of her perfume,

(Where I begin fading away within this serenity and hearing not a tune)
I feel the weight of my eyelids begin to feel like a caving-in roof weighing at least a ton or two,

And with just one of a few wondrous thoughts still wandering on through,
I wonder
"Could this be sleep that is nearing in soon?”,

With this feeling of a wonderful tranquil sensation subduing and leaving my whole body consumed,
(As I'm weary and with clearly not a thought left in this room)
I take one last deep breath
(With my lungs swelling like a balloon)

And within a dream is where I have just entered into–:
UNTIL ABRUPTLY I HEAR A SNOOZING OF A TUNE!

Yes!–As I'm awakened and with the insanity within in me being let loose to roam throughout this room,
My mind, then, begins to shift back and forth (like something caught drifting between a typhoon and a monsoon)

Where realizing as I view that I've opened my eyes too soon–
With it being this beauty here of mine that is the one who is creating this horrendous little tune,

And feeling, as I hear–
With every single breath that she breathes rattling the room–the walls–and even the shingles upon the roof,
I feel my mind, here, completely coming all the way unglued–
For all I want to do is make everything within this room mute!

Yes, that's all I want to do!–

For I’m sure I wouldn't even be in such a foul mood if I wasn’t sleep deprived,
And if this beauty here of mine and her snoring roar weren’t the main culprits of keeping me, my mind, and this night alive,

Though, hearing with her roaring of a snore that is beginning to drive me crazy inside–
Yes, as she snores, there!–just an inch or two away from my side–
I hear with her snore only growing more and more–

As I, then, within this second, try to ignore a chord of chimes striking once, and then striking twice,
(With this clock striking three times to remind me once again of the time)

–With this night now being at least 3:03, 3:04, and could possibly even be 3:05,
I know this night is at the most three or four hours away from seeing the sun shine bright through my window blinds,

Oh, and surely I already know I probably would just close my eyes–
Yes, that's probably what I would do!
But this little beauty here of mine is worse than any set of chimes,

And surely indecisive,
(As I move the pillow over my ears while I'm consumed by an irritating form of fright)
I move my body a little to the left and then a few inches to the right,
Where I hear her demon's rumbling from inside,
And screaming as if they're trying to come out and fight–

(Which is where I begin thinking)
“Is waking her up really that much of a crime?”

For if she knew she was snoring at such a high decibel level,
Then I'm sure she wouldn't even mind,

And thus with my decisions that couldn't agree more with my mind,
I decide to slightly lift her head and wiggle her,
(As I nearly tickle her left side)

Whispering to her as I say,
"Baby, wake up, I just had the worst dream of my life!
Oh, baby, wake up, I just need to see those sweet little angel eyes!",

Though motionless–
There, as I try to keep my insane and crazy side inside,
My whisper begins to intensify to a scream
(As she refuses to open her eyes or give me a reply)

I continued to scream–SCREAMED!

"Oh, why, oh, why won't you open your eyes!",

And with her snore being the only reply that she could give me,
It literally drove me crazy inside–
Thus driving me as it drove me to climb on top of her body,
(Where I grab her nose and squeeze)

As it's within the silence and in this exact instant,
Instantly and unbelievably, I see I've hit a stride that I couldn't believe,

Yes, mesmerized!
And content beyond belief–
With her snoring, here, that has finally ceased–

–Casually, I proceed to climb off of her body
(Wherein realization I finally can go back to sleep)

And in the silence, again, as I hear not a peep,
I roll over, close my eyes, and before I could even count one jumping sheep,
I hear a roar once more coming from this treacherous little beast,

And surely with not a second more could I go without sleep,
(As this pillow, right here, has just become my best friend, and the most plausible way to get any sleep)
I decide to move this pillow over her face–with my exertion at first lacking any tenacity,

But what I'd end up hearing would be like a growl or a roar of a wicked beast,

With this sinister snore of hers only increasing more and more with every tic of my heart's beat,
I begin to feel my thoughts shift toward the sentiment of either insane or crazy,

(As my hands push with more and more of an intensity)
I begin sweating–feeling the smothering warmth of her body's heat,

Though, simultaneously as I hear her heart throb and knock an unstoppable and irregular beat,
I begin putting even more weight upon this pillowcase
(With a galore of my sweat dripping upon these sheets)

And surely I have to know,
(For it should be as obvious as could be)
That if I put any more weight upon this pillowcase,
I'd likely break through the toughest of the most unbreakable concretes,

And thus coming to the realization–
With this crazy side of me that has taken over and been unleashed surely not being me,

It's here, against the greatest of restraints
(As I'm barely able to climb off of her body)
I climb off and begin waiting within the silence–

Waiting and hearing not a peep,
Where seemingly prompting myself to say,
Here, as I speak!
"Good night baby–sweet dreams",

Though, I'd hear not a reply–
As a reply was something our love never did need,

Yet, as I roll over to climb under these sheets and close my eyes
(Where simultaneously it all has seemed)
I have fallen fast asleep within a dream while holding my sleeping beauty tight–

Holding her as I squeeze–
Holding her!–
With her heart that holds not a beat–.
howard brace Feb 2012
Inconspicuous, his presence noted only by the obscurity and the ever growing number of spent cigarette stubs that littered the ground.  It had been a long day and the rain, relentless in its tenacity had little intention of stopping, baleful clouds still  hung heavy, dominating the lateness of the afternoon sky, a rain laden skyline broken only by smoke filled chimney pots and the tangled snarl of corroded television aerials.

     The once busy street was fast emptying now, the lure of shop windows no longer enticed the casual browser as local traders closed their premises to the oncoming night, solitary lampposts curved hazily into the distance, casting little more than insipid pools mirrored in the gutter below, only the occasional stranger scurrying home on a bleak, rain swept afternoon, the hurried slap of wet leather soles on the pavement, the sightless umbrellas, the infrequent rumble of a half filled bus, hell-bent on its way to oblivion.

     In the near distance as the working day ended, a sudden emergence of factory workers told Beamish it was 5-o'clock, most would be hurrying home to a hot meal, while others, for a quick drink perhaps before making the same old sorry excuse... for Jack, the greasy spoon would be closing about now, denying him the comfort of a badly needed cuppa' and stale cheese sandwich.  A subtle legacy of lunchtime fish and chips still lingered in the air, Jack's stomach rumbled, there was little chance of a fish supper for Beamish tonight, it protested again... louder.

     From beneath the eaves of the building opposite several pigeons broke cover, startled by the rattle as a shopkeeper struggled to close the canvas awning above his shop window.  Narrowly missing Beamish they flew anxiously over the rooftops, memories of the blitz sprang to mind as Jack stepped smartly to one side, he stamped his feet... it dashed a little of the weather from his raincoat, just as the rain dashed a little of the pigeons' anxiety from the pavement... the day couldn't get much worse if it tried.  Shielding his face, Jack struck the Ronson one more time and cupped the freshly lit cigarette between his hands, it was the only source of heat to be had that day... and still it rained.

     'By Appointment to Certain Personages...' the letter heading rang out loudly... 'Jack Beamish ~ Private Investigator...' a throat choking mouthful by any stretch of the imagination, thought Jack and shot every vestige of credulity plummeting straight through the office window and amidst a fanfare of trumpet voluntary, nominate itself for a prodigious award in the New Year Honours list.   Having formally served in a professional capacity for a well known purveyor of pickled condiments, who  incidentally, brandished the same patronage emblazoned upon their extensive range of relish as the one Jack had more recently purloined from them... a paid commission no less, which by Jack's certain understanding had made him, albeit fleeting in nature, a professional consultant of said company... and consequently, if they could flaunt the auspicious emblem, then according to Jack's infallible logic, so could Jack.  

     The recently appropriated letterhead possessed certain distinction... in much the same way, Jack reasoned, that a blank piece of paper did not... and whereas correspondence bearing the heading 'By Appointment' may not exactly strike terror into the hearts of man... unlike a really strong pickled onion, it nevertheless made people think twice before playing him for the fool, which sadly, Jack had to concede, they still invariably did... and he would often catch them wagging an accusing finger or two in his direction with such platitudes as... "watch where you put your foot", they'd whisper, "that Jack's a right Shamus...", and when you'd misplaced your footing as many times as Jack had, then he reasoned, that by default the celebrated Shamus must have landed himself in more piles of indiscretion than he would readily care to admit, but that wouldn't be quite accurate either, in Jack's line of work it was the malefactor that actually dropped him in them more often than not.

     A cold shiver suddenly ran down his spine, another quickly followed as a spurt of icy water from a broken rain spout spattered across the back of his neck, he grimaced... Jack's expression spoke volumes as he took one final pull from his half soaked cigarette and flicked it, amid an eruption of sparks against the adjacent brick wall.  Sinking further into the shadow he tipped his fedora against the oncoming rain, then, digging both hands deep within his pockets, he huddled behind the upturned collar of his gabardine... watching.

     It was times such as these when Jack's mind would slip back, in much the same way you might slip back on a discarded banana peel, when a matter of some consequence, or in particular this case the pavement, would suddenly leap up from behind and give the back of Jack's head a resoundingly good slapping and tell him to "stop loafing around in office hours... or else", then drag him, albeit kicking and screaming back into the 20th century.  This intellectual assault and battery re-focused Jack's mind wonderfully as he whiled away the long weary hours until his next cigarette; cup of tea, or the last bus home, his capacity to endure such mind boggling tedium called for nothing less than sheer ******-mindedness and very little else... Beamish had long suspected that he possessed all the necessary qualifications.  

     Jack had come a long way since the early days, it had been a long haul but he'd finally arrived there in the end... and managed to pick up quite a few ***** looks along the way.  Whilst he was with the Police Constabulary... and it was only fair to stress the word 'with', as opposed to the word 'in'... although the more Jack considered, he had been 'with' the arresting officer, held 'in' the local Bridewell... detained at Her Majesties pleasure while assisting the boys in blue with their enquiries over a minor infringement of some local by-law that currently had quite slipped his mind at that moment.  Throughout this enforced leisure period he'd managed to read the entire abridged editions of Kilroy and other expansive works of graffiti exhibited in what passed locally as the next best thing to the Tate Gallery, whereupon it hadn't taken Jack very long to realise that it was always a good place to start if you wanted free breakfast, in fact the weeks bill of fare was tastefully displayed in vivid, polychromatic colour on the wall opposite... you just had to be au-fait with braille.
                            
     No matter how industrious Beamish laboured to rake the dirt there always appeared to be a dire shortage of gullible clients for Jack to squeeze, what would roughly translate as an honest crust out of, and although his financial retainer was highly competitive he understood that potential clients found it bewildering when grappling with the unplumbed depths of his monthly expense account, which would tend to fluctuate with the same unpredictability as the British weather, the rest of Jack's agenda revolved around a little shady moonlighting... in fact he'd happily consider anything to offset the remotest possibility of financial delinquency... short of extortion... which by the strangest twist was the very word prospective clients would cry while Jack beavered around the office with dust-pan and brush sweeping any concerns they may have had frantically under the carpet regarding all culpability of his extra-curricular monthly stipend... and they should remain assured at all times... as they dug deep and fished for their cheque books, and simply look upon it as kneading dough, which eerily enough was exactly the thick wedge of buttered granary that Jack had every intention of carving.

     Were there ever the slightest possibility that a day could be so utterly wretched, then today was that day, Jack felt a certain empathy as he merged with his surroundings... at one with nature as it were.  The rain, a timpani on the metal dustbin lids, by the side of which Beamish had taken up vigil, also taking up vigil and in search of a morsel was the stray mongrel, this was the third time now that he'd returned, the same apprehensive wag, yet still the same hopeful look of expectation in his eyes, a brief but friendly companion who paid more attention to Jack's left trouser leg than anything that could be had from nosing around the dustbins that day... some days you're the dog, scowled Beamish as he shook his trouser leg... and some days the lamppost, Jack's foot swung out playfully, keeping his new friend's incontinence at a safe distance, feigning indignance  the scruffy mongrel shook himself defiantly from nose to tail, a distinct odour of wet dog filled the air as an abundance of spent rainwater flew in all directions.   Pricking one ear he looked accusingly at Jack before turning and snuffled off, his nose resolutely to the pavement and diligently, picking out the few diluted scents still remaining, the poor little stalwart renewed its search for scraps, or making his way perhaps to some dry seclusion known only to itself.
  
     Two hours later and... SPLOSH, a puddle poured itself through the front door of the nearest Public House... SPLOSH, the puddle squelched over to the payphone... SPLOSH, then, fumbling for small change dialled and pressed button 'A'..., then button 'B'... then started all over again amid a flurry of precipitation... SPLASH.  The puddle floundered to the bar and ordered itself a drink, then ebbed back to the payphone again... the local taxi company doggedly refused to answer... finally, wallowing over to the window the puddle drifted up against a warm radiator amidst a cloud of humidity and came to rest... flotsam, cast upon the shore of contentment, the puddle sighed contentedly... the Landlady watched this anomaly... suspiciously.

     The puddle's finely tuned perception soon got to grips with the unhurried banter and muffled gossip drifting along the bar, having little else to loose, other than what could still be wrung from his clothing... Beamish, working on the principle that a little eavesdropping was his stock-in-trade engaged instinct into overdrive and casually rippled in their general direction...  They were clearly regulars by the way one of them belched in a well rehearsed, taken-a-back sort of way as Jack took stock of the situation and was now at some pains to ingratiate himself into their exclusive midst and attempt several friendly, yet relevant questions pertinent to his enquiries... all of which were skillfully deflected with more than friendly, yet totally irrelevant answers pertinent to theirs'... and would Jack care for a game of dominoes', they enquired... if so, would he be good enough to pay the refundable deposit, as by common consent it just so happened to be his turn...  Jack graciously declined this generous offer, as the obliging Landlady, just as graciously, cancelled the one shilling returnable deposit from the cash register, such was the flow of light conversation that evening... they didn't call him Lucky Jack for nothing... discouraged, Beamish turned back to the bar and reached for his glass... to which one of his recent companions, and yet again just as graciously, had taken the trouble to drink for him... the Landlady gave Jack a knowing look, Beamish returned the heartfelt sentiment and ordered one more pint.

     From the licenced premises opposite, a myriad of jostling customers plied through the door, business was picking up... the sudden influx of punters rapidly persuaded Beamish to retire from the bar and find a vacant table.  Sitting, he removed several discarded crisp packets from the centre of the table only to discover a freshly vacated ashtray below... by sleight of hand Jack's Ronson appeared... as he lit the cigarette the fragile smoke curled blue as it rose... influenced by subtle caprice, it joined others and formed a horizontal curtain dividing the room, a delicate, undulating layer held between two conflicting forces.

     The possibility of a free drink soon attracted the attention of a local bar fly, who, hovering in the near vicinity promptly landed in Jack's beer, Beamish declined this generous offer as being far too nutritious and with the corner of yesterdays beer mat, flipped the offending organism from the top of his glass, carefully inspecting his drink for debris as he did so.

     A sudden draught and clip of stiletto heels as the side door opened caused Beamish to turn as a double shadow slipped discreetly into the friendly Snug... a little adulterous intimacy on an otherwise cheerless evening.  The faceless man, concealed beneath a fedora and the upturned collar of his overcoat, the surreptitious lady friend, decked out in damp cony, cheap perfume and a surfeit of bling proclaimed a not too infrequent assignation, he'd seen it all before... the over attentive manner and the band of white, Sun-starved skin recently hidden behind a now absent wedding token, ordinarily it was the sort of assignment Jack didn't much care for... the discreet tail, the candid snapshot through half drawn curtains... and the all too familiar steak tartare... for the all too familiar black eye.

     To the untrained eye, the prospect of Jack's long anticipated supper was rapidly dwindling, when it suddenly focused with renewed vigour upon the contents of a pickled egg jar he'd observed earlier that evening, lurking on the back counter, his enthusiasm swiftly diminished however as the belching customer procured the final two specimens from the jar and proceeded to demolish them.  Who, Jack reflected, after being stood out in the rain all day, had egg all over his face now... and who, he reflected deeper, still had an empty stomach.  Disillusioned, Jack tipped back his glass and considered a further sortie with the taxicab company.

     "FIVE-BOB"!!! Jack screamed... you could have shredded the air with a cheese grater... hurtling into the kerb like a fairground attraction came flying past the chequered flag at a record breaking 99 in Jack's top 100 most not wanted list of things to do that day... and that the cabby should think himself fortunate they weren't both stretched flat on a marble slab, "exploding tyres" Jack spluttered, dribbling down his chin, were enough to give anyone a coronary... further broadsides of neurotic ambiance filled the cab as the driver, miffed at the prospect of missing snooker night out with the lads, considered charging extra for the additional space Jack's profanity was taking...

     And what part of 'Drive-Carefully', fumed Beamish, did the cabby simply not understand, that pavements were there to be bypassed, 'Nay Circumvented', preferably on the left... and not veered into, wildly on the front axle... an eerie premonition of 'jemais-vu' perched and ready to strike like a disembodied Jiminy Cricket on Jack's left shoulder, looking to stick its own two-penny worth in at the 'Standing-Room-Only' arrangements in the overcrowded cab... and at what further point, Jack shrieked, eyes leaping from his head as he lurched forward, shaking his fist through the sliding glass partition, had the cabbie failed to grasp the importance of the word 'Steering-Wheel...' someone wanted horse whipping, and as far as Beamish was concerned the sole contender was the cab driver...

     In having a somewhat sedate and unruffled disposition it had fallen to Beamish... as befalls all great leaders in times of adversity, to single handedly take the bull by the horns, so to speak and at great personal cost, alert the unwary passing motorist...  Waving his arms about like a man possessed whilst performing acrobatic evolutions in the centre of the road as the cabby changed the wheel came whizzing around the corner at a back breaking 98 on Jack's ever growing list... and why, Jack puzzled, why had they all lowered their side windows and gestured back at him in semaphore..?  Rallying to its aid, Jack's head and shoulders now joined his shaking fist through the sliding glass partition and into the cabby's face, "Who" Beamish screeched with renewed vigour ,"Who Was The Man", Jack wanted to know... *"a
Ron Sanders Feb 2020
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Benji James Apr 2018
Nothing on me to light a fire
In this dark place
Only my instincts can save me
A shattered heart and torn soul
But I’m still holding on
There’s not much hope
But I hold faith
That one day I’ll make it free
From this place
I’ll do everything it takes
To get out of here alive
It’s not as easy as it sounds
The hardest things take time
And this is an endless war
Between a conscious mind
Of doubts and regrets
That fill an insomniacs head

All these monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
Hellhounds chase me down
For many monsters, I have slain
But there were only more that came
It’s just the monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
I’ve followed winding roads
Hid in dying woods
Snuck through the marsh
Covered my scents with mud
In this land, it’s always dark
Woods with leafless trees
It gets lonely here in purgatory

Can you hear the howls,
screams and cries
Deafening to the ears
It’ll make you tremble and shake
You can’t give into fear
Or you won’t make it alive out of here
I’ve been facing down monsters one at a time
Too many at once and they’ll eat you alive
It’s not easy to decide
Which one will be next
Just hope that you don’t mess up
And end up dead
I’m locked and loaded
With guns in hand
I’m prepared as I’ll ever be
I’m gonna make it out of here eventually

All these monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
Hellhounds chase me down
For many monsters, I have slain
But there were only more that came
It’s just the monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
I’ve followed winding roads
Hid in dying woods
Snuck through the marsh
Covered my scents with mud
In this land, it’s always dark
Woods with leafless trees
It gets lonely here in purgatory

The battles are far from over
Still on guard, ready to defend
Every corner I turn
It gives them a new chance
To catch me off guard
And rip me apart
I’ve got a lot of scars and marks
Barely scraped through
some of my past fights
At the last moments
I was able to turn the tides
How much longer
Can I keep myself alive
I guess the future holds the secrets
Just gotta keep moving
Until I find the exit light
And break free
of this apocalyptic dream

All these monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
Hellhounds chase me down
For many monsters, I have slain
But there were only more that came
It’s just the monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
I’ve followed winding roads
Hid in dying woods
Snuck through the marsh
Covered my scents with mud
In this land, it’s always dark
Woods with leafless trees
It gets lonely here in purgatory

I’m panting
Taking a deep breath
Bite wounds in my leg
Hellhounds found me out
All is lost now
Guns are out of reach
Might as well accept my fate
Just give in
Let the monsters win
Sometimes you can’t beat a sin
Unless you devote
your unconditional love to him
This was something I never did
So where I’m going is uncertain
Now it’s finally time to
Let the curtain close
Shut my eyes
This is it
I’m torn to bits

All these monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
Hellhounds chased me down
For many monsters, I have slain
But there were only more that came
It’s just the monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
I’ve followed winding roads
Hid in dying woods
Snuck through the marsh
Covered my scents with mud
In this land, it’s always dark
Woods with leafless trees
I died alone here in purgatory


(To be continued...)
©2018 Written By Benji James
AUGUST Nov 2018
Sitting on the corner while Starring
At the glances of your smile all over
Cover the room by your face unveiling
Up to this moment, I want to be near,
(you were a mile from here)

Thinking It was cloudy on my mind,
But when you are here by my side
You are making my day as bright
Showing the beauty behind,
(They have nothing to hide,
nothing to hide.)

How deep is the ocean trenches?
How far is the stars throughout the abyss?
How much warm is your embraces?
How much cold Is your lips to kiss?

l don’t much care about counting all of these,
As long as you are with me, you are my bliss

(I could tell,) heaven’s gate is not the place of happiest
And angels are not those prettiest,
Indeed, God is always be the wisest,
For sending me a fallen angel, I’ve caught the brightest, the brightest

Lately, You stole what between these lungs
You open my chest, You let it pour, my bleeding heart
I cant deny, how i feel, you are my crush
I have been stunned on Your eye lashes, (glances, perfume scents, and blushes)

How deep is the ocean trenches?
How far is the stars throughout the abyss?
How much warm is your embraces?
How much cold Is your lips to kiss?

Do I have to care about all of that anymore,
As long as you are with me, what should I have to ask for?

Emerald, jade, diamond, gold and silver,
I guess nothing is forever, unless me and you
In this world of deception, anyone can be a liar
Just remember, Nothing is to fear, I am always here.
.......I am always here.
Honestly, I did not know what is sonnet and how to make one, but I did it unconsciously. It is true that poets have a universal language in terms of making thier poems.

This was Dedicated for Margaret
Stephen E Yocum Sep 2013
Returned flush with excitement,
From a ten mile bike ride,
On a day near perfect,
Out along the river,

Temp in mid seventy's
not a cloud in the sky.

Beside the river I ride,
the water summer calm flat,
Scents of wet mossy rocks,
and dogwood trees non relenting.
The perfume of the Valley,
the River damp, sweet and pure.

Ride as I did the trails,
some on paved surface.
most on wood chips and dirt.

Shifting gears to suit the,
changing terrain and the
resources within my aged knees.  

The wind from my speed,
blows refreshingly in my face,
Dark glasses slipping down my nose,
yet keeping sun glare from blinding.

I pass some people,
I smile and wave,
they reply in kind,
Maybe we even
exchange brief
verbal greetings,
Some lost in a blur
of movement.

Easy for us all to smile,
we are happy in our work.

Half way there,
I stop for a drink,
Ease my burning legs.
The spot I pick is under  
cover of a huge old walnut tree.
It's massive umbrella shade,
an embracing sanctuary.

Across the way, a little lake,
On the far bank there stands a
metal skeleton outline of three
buildings that once stood there.
This recreated site of the first
European settlement in Oregon,
Clear back in the year of 1837.

Methodist Missionaries they
were, came overland West,
from North East by wagon.
Bringing so they thought,
Needed "Civilization" to the
poor "heathens" here about.
Almost as always a very,
mistaken, arrogant notion.

There effort lasted only
four years, the locals
responding not so well to
their well intending invitation.

In historical retrospect,
one can not but applaud
their self scarifies, hardship
and strife, some of them even
died still trying.

However they did open
the door, to a new beginning,
Be it for good or ill.
Soon other settlers
made the long journey.
Becoming "Oregon Or Bust"
for many.  

As I reflect sitting beneath
this tree those early people
no doubt planted,
from seed or sapling,
brought so far to this
new land of beginning.
It stands here still,
176 years later,
a wonderful living,
still growing testament
to human efforts of trying.

The breeze livens,
stirs sweet pungent
scents of brackish water,
forest, and Valley,
hints of crocus,
ripe black berries and
summer flowers blooming,
All these scents mingle,
and grow ever stronger.

Off in the near distance,
a strengthening breeze whispers,
Approaching through forest trees
coming ever closer and nearer.
Reaching me in a refreshing
gust that lasts for only a minute.
The sweat upon my face
cooling at it's touch. As I smile,
in grateful acknowledgement.

I have seen this day,
two kinds of squirrels
one red, one grey colored.
Coveys' of doves taking flight,
from my approaching bike,
And birds of many description,
A Red Tailed Hawk on wing,
Harassed by two small pursuit birds
protecting their nests from him.
A huge Bald Eagle diving for fish.
And one of my very favorites,
a spindly legged Blue Heron.
Standing in mud, fishing.
Even a smart fox,
scurrying back to hide
in the foliage, too shy
and too fast to be viewed
for too long by a human.

Thankful as I am,
for this one more
glorious day of living,
In the ***** of nature
so inspiring, so splendid.
I embrace Life and in return,
it grants me, continuation.

I plan on returning soon,
maybe tomorrow if my legs
let me.
To those new agers, young hip and maybe even a little
judgmental friends out there. I'm a plain simple old guy,
not word fancy, I write pretty much like I speak, a little
old fashion but straight from the hip and heart. No pandering,
no pretense, no ******* and surely no apologies intended.
It's not pure, maybe not even poetry, but what I guess I'm
saying is consider the source and take it or leave it.
It was written and intended all for me, from the beginning.
Which is what all writer's and poets should always do,
write for themselves not a Jury. There is a real freedom in that.
Nigel Morgan Nov 2012
As a woman, and in the service of my Lord the Emperor Wu, my life is governed by his command. At twenty I was summoned to this life at court and have made of it what I can, within the limitations of the courtesan I am supposed to be, and the poet I have now become. Unlike my male counterparts, some of whom have lately found seclusion in the wilderness of rivers and mountains, I have only my personal court of three rooms and its tiny garden and ornamental pond. But I live close to the surrounding walls of the Zu-lin Gardens with its astronomical observatories and bold attempts at recreating illusions of celebrated locations in the Tai mountains. There, walking with my cat Xi-Lu in the afternoons, I imagine a solitary life, a life suffused with the emptiness I crave.
 
In the hot, dry summer days my maid Mei-Lim and I have sought a temporary retreat in the pine forests above Lingzhi. Carried in a litter up the mountain paths we are left in a commodious hut, its open walls making those simple pleasures of drinking, eating and sleeping more acute, intense. For a few precious days I rest and meditate, breathe the mountain air and the resinous scents of the trees. I escape the daily commerce of the court and belong to a world that for the rest of the year I have to imagine, the world of the recluse. To gain the status of the recluse, open to my male counterparts, is forbidden to women of the court. I am woman first, a poet and calligrapher second. My brother, should he so wish, could present a petition to revoke his position as a man of letters, an official commentator on the affairs of state. But he is not so inclined. He has already achieved notoriety and influence through his writing on the social conditions of town and city. He revels in a world of chatter, gossip and intrigue; he appears to fear the wilderness life.  
 
I must be thankful that my own life is maintained on the periphery. I am physically distant from the hub of daily ceremonial. I only participate at my Lord’s express command. I regularly feign illness and fatigue to avoid petty conflict and difficulty. Yet I receive commissions I cannot waver: to honour a departed official; to celebrate a son’s birth to the Second Wife; to fulfil in verse my Lord’s curious need to know about the intimate sorrows of his young concubines, their loneliness and heartache.
 
Occasionally a Rhapsody is requested for an important visitor. The Emperor Wu is proud to present as welcome gifts such poetic creations executed in fine calligraphy, and from a woman of his court. Surely a sign of enlightment and progress he boasts! Yet in these creations my observations are parochial: early morning frost on the cabbage leaves in my garden; the sound of geese on their late afternoon flight to Star Lake; the disposition of the heavens on an Autumn night. I live by the Tao of Lao-Tzu, perceiving the whole world from my doorstep.
 
But I long for the reclusive life, to leave this court for my family’s estate in the valley my peasant mother lived as a child. At fourteen she was chosen to sustain the Emperor’s annual wish for young girls to be groomed for concubinage. Like her daughter she is tall, though not as plain as I; she put her past behind her and conceded her adolescence to the training required by the court. At twenty she was recommended to my father, the court archivist, as second wife. When she first met this quiet, dedicated man on the day before her marriage she closed her eyes in blessing. My father taught her the arts of the library and schooled her well. From her I have received keen eyes of jade green and a prestigious memory, a memory developed she said from my father’s joy of reading to her in their private hours, and before she could read herself. Each morning he would examine her to discover what she had remembered of the text read the night before. When I was a little child she would quote to me the Confucian texts on which she had been ****** schooled, and she then would tell me of her childhood home. She primed my imagination and my poetic world with descriptions of a domestic rural life.
 
Sometimes in the arms of my Lord I have freely rhapsodized in chusi metre these delicate word paintings of my mother’s home. She would say ‘We will walk now to the ruined tower beside the lake. Listen to the carolling birds. As the sparse clouds move across the sky the warm sun strokes the winter grass. Across the deep lake the forests are empty. Now we are climbing the narrow steps to the platform from which you and I will look towards the sun setting in the west. See the shadows are lengthening and the air becomes colder. The blackbird’s solitary song heralds the evening.  Look, an owl glides silently beneath us.’
 
My Lord will then quote from Hsieh Ling-yun,.
 
‘I meet sky, unable to soar among clouds,
face a lake, call those depths beyond me.’
 
And I will match this quotation, as he will expect.
 
‘Too simple-minded to perfect Integrity,
and too feeble to plough fields in seclusion.’
 
He will then gaze into my eyes in wonder that this obscure poem rests in my memory and that I will decode the minimal grammar of these early characters with such poetry. His characters: Sky – Bird – Cloud – Lake – Depth. My characters: Fool – Truth – Child – Winter field – Isolation.
 
Our combined invention seems to take him out of his Emperor-self. He is for a while the poet-scholar-sage he imagines he would like to be, and I his foot-sore companion following his wilderness journey. And then we turn our attention to our bodies, and I surprise him with my admonitions to gentleness, to patience, to arousing my pleasure. After such poetry he is all pleasure, sensitive to the slightest touch, and I have my pleasure in knowing I can control this powerful man with words and the stroke of my fingertips rather than by delicate youthful beauty or the guile and perverse ingenuity of an ****** act. He is still learning to recognise the nature and particularness of my desires. I am not as his other women: who confuse pleasure with pain.
 
Thoughts of my mother. Without my dear father, dead ten years, she is a boat without a rudder sailing on a distant lake. She greets each day as a gift she must honour with good humour despite the pain of her limbs, the difficulty of walking, of sitting, of eating, even talking. Such is the hurt that governs her ageing. She has always understood that my position has forbidden marriage and children, though the latter might be a possibility I have not wished it and made it known to my Lord that it must not be. My mother remains in limbo, neither son or daughter seeking to further her lineage, she has returned to her sister’s home in the distant village of her birth, a thatched house of twenty rooms,
 
‘Elms and willows shading the eaves at the back,
and, in front,  peach and plum spread wide.
 
Villages lost across mist-haze distances,
Kitchen smoke drifting wide-open country,
 
Dogs bark deep among the back roads out here
And cockerels crow from mulberry treetops.
 
My esteemed colleague T’ao Ch’ien made this poetry. After a distinguished career in government service he returned to the life of a recluse-farmer on his family farm. Living alone in a three-roomed hut he lives out his life as a recluse and has endured considerable poverty. One poem I know tells of him begging for food. His world is fields-and-gardens in contrast to Hsieh Ling-yin who is rivers-and-mountains. Ch’ien’s commitment to the recluse life has brought forth words that confront death and the reality of human experience without delusion.
 
‘At home here in what lasts, I wait out life.’
 
Thus my mother waits out her life, frail, crumbling more with each turning year.
 
To live beyond the need to organise daily commitments due to others, to step out into my garden and only consider the dew glistening on the loropetalum. My mind is forever full of what is to be done, what must be completed, what has to be said to this visitor who will today come to my court at the Wu hour. Only at my desk does this incessant chattering in the mind cease, as I move my brush to shape a character, or as the needle enters the cloth, all is stilled, the world retreats; there is the inner silence I crave.
 
I long to see with my own eyes those scenes my mother painted for me with her words. I only know them in my mind’s eye having travelled so little these past fifteen years. I look out from this still dark room onto my small garden to see the morning gathering its light above the rooftops. My camellia bush is in flower though a thin frost covers the garden stones.
 
And so I must imagine how it might be, how I might live the recluse life. How much can I jettison? These fine clothes, this silken nightgown beneath the furs I wrap myself in against the early morning air. My maid is sleeping. Who will make my tea? Minister to me when I take to my bed? What would become of my cat, my books, the choice-haired brushes? Like T’ao Ch’ien could I leave the court wearing a single robe and with one bag over my shoulders? Could I walk for ten days into the mountains? I would disguise myself as a man perhaps. I am tall for a woman, and though my body flows in broad curves there are ways this might be assuaged, enough perhaps to survive unmolested on the road.
 
Such dreams! My Lord would see me returned within hours and send a servant to remain at my gate thereafter. I will compose a rhapsody about a concubine of standing, who has even occupied the purple chamber, but now seeks to relinquish her privileged life, who coverts the uncertainty of nature, who would endure pain and privation in a hut on some distant mountain, who will sleep on a mat on its earth floor. Perhaps this will excite my Lord, light a fire in his imagination. As though in preparation for this task I remove my furs, I loose the knot of my silk gown. Naked, I reach for an old under shift letting it fall around my still-slender body and imagine myself tying the lacings myself in the open air, imagine making my toilet alone as the sun appears from behind a distant mountain on a new day. My mind occupies itself with the tiny detail of living thus: bare feet on cold earth, a walk to nearby stream, the gathering of berries and mountain herbs, the making of fire, the washing of my few clothes, imagining. Imagining. To live alone will see every moment filled with the tasks of keeping alive. I will become in tune with my surroundings. I will take only what I need and rely on no one. Dreaming will end and reality will be the slug on my mat, the bone-chilling incessant mists of winter, the thorn in the foot, the wild winds of autumn. My hands will become stained and rough, my long limbs tanned and scratched, my delicate complexion freckled and wind-pocked, my hair tied roughly back. I will become an animal foraging on a dank hillside. Such thoughts fill me with deep longing and a ****** desire to be tzu-jan  - with what surrounds me, ablaze with ****** self.
 
It is not thought the custom of a woman to hold such desires. We are creatures of order and comfort. We do not live on the edge of things, but crave security and well-being. We learn to endure the privations of being at the behest of others. Husbands, children, lovers, our relatives take our bodies to them as places of comfort, rest and desire. We work at maintaining an ordered flow of existence. Whatever our station, mistress or servant we compliment, we keep things in order, whether that is the common hearth or the accounts of our husband’s court. Now my rhapsody begins:
 
A Rhapsody on a woman wishing to live as a recluse
 
As a lady of my Emperor’s court I am bound in service.
My court is not my own, I have the barest of means.
My rooms are full of gifts I am forced barter for bread.
Though the artefacts of my hands and mind
Are valued and widely renown,
Their commissioning is an expectation of my station,
With no direct reward attached.
To dress appropriately for my Lord’s convocations and assemblies
I am forced to negotiate with chamberlains and treasurers.
A bolt of silk, gold thread, the services of a needlewoman
Require formal entreaties and may lie dormant for weeks
Before acknowledgement and release.
 
I was chosen for my literary skills, my prestigious memory,
Not for my ****** beauty, though I have been called
‘Lady of the most gracious movement’ and
My speaking voice has clarity and is capable of many colours.
I sing, but plainly and without passion
Lest I interfere with the truth of music’s message.
 
Since I was a child in my father’s library
I have sought out the works of those whose words
Paint visions of a world that as a woman
I may never see, the world of the wilderness,
Of rivers and mountains,
Of fields and gardens.
Yet I am denied by my *** and my station
To experience passing amongst these wonders
Except as contrived imitations in the palace gardens.
 
Each day I struggle to tease from the small corner
Of my enclosed eye-space some enrichment
Some elemental thing to colour meaning:
To extend the bounds of my home
Across the walls of this palace
Into the world beyond.
 
I have let it be known that I welcome interviews
With officials from distant courts to hear of their journeying,
To gather word images if only at second-hand.
Only yesterday an emissary recounted
His travels to Stone Lake in the far South-West,
Beyond the gorges of the Yang-tze.
With his eyes I have seen the mountains of Suchan:
With his ears I have heard the oars crackling
Like shattering jade in the freezing water.
Images and sounds from a thousand miles
Of travel are extract from this man’s memory.
 
Such a sharing of experience leaves me
Excited but dismayed: that I shall never
Visit this vast expanse of water and hear
Its wild cranes sing from their floating nests
In the summer moonlight.
 
I seek to disappear into a distant landscape
Where the self and its constructions of the world may
Dissolve away until nothing remains but the no-mind.
My thoughts are full of the practicalities of journeying
Of an imagined location, that lonely place
Where I may be at one with myself.
Where I may delight in the everyday Way,
Myself among mist and vine, rock and cave.
Not this lady of many parts and purposes whose poems must
Speak of lives, sorrow and joy, pleasure and pain
Set amongst personal conflict and intrigue
That in containing these things, bring order to disorder;
Salve the conscience, bathe hurt, soothe sleight.
Benji James Jan 2019
Nothing on me to light a fire
In this dark place
Only my instincts can save me
A shattered heart and torn soul
But I’m still holding on
There’s not much hope
But I hold faith
That one day I’ll make it free
From this place
I’ll do everything it takes
To get out of here alive
It’s not as easy as it sounds
The hardest things take time
And this is an endless war
Between a conscious mind
Of doubts and regrets
That fill an insomniacs head

All these monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
Hellhounds chase me down
For many monsters, I have slain
But there were only more that came
It’s just the monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
I’ve followed winding roads
Hid in dying woods
Snuck through the marsh
Covered my scents with mud
In this land, it’s always dark
Woods with leafless trees
It gets lonely here in purgatory

Can you hear the howls,
screams and cries
Deafening to the ears
It’ll make you tremble and shake
You can’t give into fear
Or you won’t make it alive out of here
I’ve been facing down monsters one at a time
Too many at once and they’ll eat you alive
It’s not easy to decide
Which one will be next
Just hope that you don’t mess up
And end up dead
I’m locked and loaded
With guns in hand
I’m prepared as I’ll ever be
I’m gonna make it out of here eventually

All these monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
Hellhounds chase me down
For many monsters, I have slain
But there were only more that came
It’s just the monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
I’ve followed winding roads
Hid in dying woods
Snuck through the marsh
Covered my scents with mud
In this land, it’s always dark
Woods with leafless trees
It gets lonely here in purgatory

The battles are from over
Still on guard, ready to defend
Every corner I turn
It gives them a new chance
To catch me off guard
And rip me apart
I’ve got a lot of scars and marks
Barely scraped through
some of my past fights
At the last moments
I was able to turn the tides
How much longer
Can I keep myself alive
I guess the future holds the secrets
Just gotta keep moving
Until I find the exit light
And break free
of this apocalyptic dream

All these monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
Hellhounds chase me down
For many monsters, I have slain
But there were only more that came
It’s just the monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
I’ve followed winding roads
Hid in dying woods
Snuck through the marsh
Covered my scents with mud
In this land, it’s always dark
Woods with leafless trees
It gets lonely here in purgatory

I’m panting
Taking a deep breath
Bite wounds in my leg
Hellhounds found me out
All is lost now
Guns are out of reach
Might as well accept my fate
Just give in
Let the monsters win
Sometimes you can’t beat a sin
Unless you devote
your unconditional love to him
This was something I never did
So where I’m going is uncertain
Now it’s finally time to
Let the curtain close
Shut my eyes
This is it
I’m torn to bits

All these monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
Hellhounds chased me down
For many monsters, I have slain
But there were only more that came
It’s just the monsters and me
Stuck here in purgatory
I’ve followed winding roads
Hid in dying woods
Snuck through the marsh
Covered my scents with mud
In this land, it’s always dark
Woods with leafless trees
I died alone here in purgatory


(To be continued...)
©2019 Written By Benji James
for leather accrues
The miracle of the streets
The scents & smogs &
pollens of existence

Shiny blackness
so totally naked she was
Totally un-hung-up

We looked around
lights now on
Top see our fellow travellers
~~~

I am troubled
Immeasurably
By your eyes

I am struck
By the feather
of your soft
Reply

The sound of glass
Speaks quick
Disdain

And conceals
What your eyes fight
To explain
~~~

She looked so sad in sleep
Like a friendly hand
just out of reach
A candle stranded on
a beach
While the sun sinks low
an H-bomb in reverse
~~~

Everything human
is leaving
her face

Soon she will disappear
into the calm
vegetable
morass

Stay!

My Wild Love!
~~~

I get my best ideas when the
telephone rings & rings. It’s no fun
To feel like a fool-when your
baby’s gone. A new ax to my head:
Possession. I create my own sword
of Damascus. I’ve done nothing w/time.
A little tot prancing the boards playing
w/Revolution. When out there the
World awaits & abounds w/heavy gangs
of murderers & real madmen. Hanging
from windows as if to say: I’m bold-
do you love me? Just for tonight.
A One Night Stand. A dog howls & whines
at the glass sliding door (why can’t I
be in there?) A cat yowls. A car engine
revs & races against the grain- dry
rasping carbon protest. I put the book
down- & begin my own book.
Love for the fat girl.
When will SHE get here?
~~~

In the gloom
In the shady living room
where we lived & died
& laughed & cried
& the pride of our relationship
took hold that summer
What a trip
To hold your hand
& tell the cops
you’re not 16
no runaway
The wino left a little in
the old blue desert
bottle
Cattle skulls
the cliche of rats
who skim the trees
in search of fat
Hip children invade the grounds
& sleep in the wet grass
’til the dogs rush out
I’m going South!
Me Nose knows da way she goes.
Da smells herb throws,
me Nose just knows.

Da smell kush gives.
Da way me lives.
Me Nose just knows.

'avin a ****
with a **** lovin' bloke.
enjoyin' da incense.
But me losing da essence.
Me Nose knows, but me eyes don't.

Me **** lovin' bloke,
who me was 'bout to ****,
was not a gurl,
just a lyin' shmuck.

He was not a chick
'cause he had a ****.
Me eyes now know
what me Nose knows.
By Herb I Mean Kush
xei Oct 2014
He stood fifty times his height,
his palms pressed against the glass
separating him from the road in their glamour;
blurred images of car in their splendor –
and there isn’t the
familiar scent of coffee –
I call this pandemonium.

Nothing beats a day in a café
redolent of the finest Arabica,
he’d inhale deeply and recall :
unroasted gives the sweetest scents
of blueberries –
roasted’s entirely different:
fruit, sugar, perfume –
They call this addiction.

Mnemonic – a wind chime
lost in the array of winds.
“You used to be my cup of tea –
I drink coffee now.”
These words slip out of his dry lips,
and a lone tear trickles down a milky cheek;

They all say if they’ve got love,
they don’t need money –

And he’d say if he’s got coffee,
he doesn’t need love –
He calls this heaven.
Lyn-Purcell Jul 2018
My Court is a battle
As a Queen, I will endure
so my kingdom thrives

Standing in gardens
My treasure trove of colours
that never fails me

Flowers bow gently
The winds make the tall trees sing
Rivers flow calmly

Scents drift in the light
I hear its sweet melody
As I stand with pride

A Queen now enters
The daughter of Spring and Deer
The tender Queen Fawn

Who smiles so sweetly
Fragrant, soft-spoken and kind
With deer by her side

Another Queen comes
The angel with a kind heat
The gentle Queen Sue

Who has healed her wounds,
broken her chrysalis
And spreads her warm light

Another Queen comes
Wise and soon to be married
Joyful Queen Donna

Who goes with the flow
A talented haikuist
with a flower crown

Another Queen comes
She who is always giving
The giving Queen Kim

Whose crown's a halo
And her words, so spiritual
fragrant and calming

Another Queen comes
Who has birds singing so sweet
The sweet Queen Robin

Who is a true joy
Whose words are just like music
A kindred spirit

And now a King comes
Who is very much like me
The great King Omni

Who is an artist
Who is both seen and unseen
Very much like me

Another King comes
Ever so mischieveous
The playful King Paul

Such a playful tease
He who makes me smile and laugh
And looks out for me

Another King comes
His heart is strong and tender
The wise King Edmund

Who writes for himself
Speaks so well of others and
how vital love is

To these Kings and Queens
Thank you for your melodies
You are golden souls

For now I do see
The true power of my quill
My ink is gold too

I write out my life
My pain, my fears and my loves
And my achievements

I must stay above
I will walk with my head up
and ignore the bad

People will hate me
But I will thicken my skin
to be a true queen

I will empower
And give you all your respects
and never denounce

I am a true Queen
With a Court that is growing
steadily but strong

The reign of Queen Lyn
Who is sensitive and shy
It has just begun
To these poets in particular, thank you so much for pushing me forward!
I'm grateful to everyone here to all my fellow poets on HP
You're all Kings and Queens of your own right!
Much love and blessings!
Lyn ***
Carter Ginter Sep 2018
I can barely stand certain music now
Each song holds a memory locked into it
Multi-Love for instance
It's fitting that I'm burning incense right now
Because this song brings me back to December
You were into hookah at that point
The sweet and smoky scents danced around us
As your sonos speakers
Cascaded those guitar riffs into our ears
I thought you were ecstasy
But you became an addiction
And like that smoke in my lungs
You burned me instead
K Balachandran May 2013
1
Backwater nymph,
queen of serpentine black tresses
flaunting its coconut oil gleam;
envy of  leggy girls from the Western ghat mountains,
and lissome  maidens from the plains,
who can never eat as much fish, even if they wish.
Wearing hibiscus flowers,
on coiffure like hood of a king cobra,
your coral lips  silently speak
of hot peppery kisses,
waiting for me at shaded corners.
Your sultry body in me arouses desires,
that could only be whispered in your ears.
2
On a coconut lagoon when we met,
for the first time and spoke,
non stop, as if we knew each other life long,
I heard music in your words.
Oh! in the tongue you spoke,
I heard the cadence of a nightingale
ecstatic, on its wings above the clouds,
love had prompted us to fly above the storms.
Your  gleaming coal black eyes,
like silver hooks, tug at my heart strings,
that makes music, only I can hear,
you are a free flying lark,
above Kerala's lush coconut coast,
that extends from sea shore to the mountains.
3
*When we relished steaming brown rice,
mixed with clarified butter,
with spicy tuna curry, tasting so dainty,
cooked in bubbling sweet coconut milk,
my eyes like two crazy butterflies
circled your face, a blossomed Champak
.

Mashed cassava and roasted squid,
melted on our tongues,
in a perfect culinary language
any one would understand without effort.
4
Your lips had cinnamon scent,
spice land's boons,
when we kissed we touched heaven
of scents and spicy tastes.
When our eyes fell on each other,
near the ancient synagogue,
the hay days of which is over,
a long jasmine garland coiling your hair,
    marked you different,
from the  the ladies of your neighborhood,
                                          surroundi­ng you.
How well you did pretend
that you have never seen my face before!

You have mastered love's cunning,
and all the wily tricks to cheat
the enemies of our fiery love
my Freudian mind perfectly understood.
Just imagine the brouhaha we would invite,
when we elope, in the last boat,
to *Alappuzha, stealthily at midnight.
Cochin----(Now Cochi) ancient sea port in south western sea board of India, in the state of Kerala, South India,where,Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Arabs, Jews and Chinese used to frequent even before 1000 BCE,seeking black pepper and other spices. Cochi, it  is said had one of the earliest emporiums of Greeks,showcasing their best of  wares including wine in  containers called amphoras.
**Champak---A plant of Magnolia family with musky fragrented flowers(Michelia champaca)
*** Alappuzha--The lake district of Kerala
jane taylor Apr 2016
in the midst of an emerald slumbering forest
laced with pungent scents of jaded wood
a burgundy blushed tail
of a chestnut hued fox
scurries as copper sunbeams part the day

a hospital lumes starkly nearby
its aura exudes hints of melancholy
commingled with faint impressions
of halcyon futures
not yet lived

at neighboring dartmouth
a student sprinting to class
drops his crimson colored backpack
the prospect of cancer
far from his budding consciousness

my beloved sits patiently
pondering pensively
his last chemo treatment
elusion of death
not far from his mind

i feign to fend off future catastrophes
watching letters scramble across my screen
earnestly writing
in a desperate attempt
to be with him forevermore

an aquamarine hummingbird drenched in tranquility
senses the inverse
its amber tipped wings stand seemingly stationary
while it steals a quick glance through the window
curious at chemical infusions meant to heal

my beloved walks out
of the austere building
with rose colored glasses i feel
that we’ll whirl on the tips of gilded stardust
dancing with another chance to fly


©2016janetaylor
Christian Bixler Nov 2014
I sit and hear the desert wind, sand hissing past,
winging by on the deserts breath. The moon hangs
still above the earth, enshrined in vaults of darkest
black, an infinity of stars to frost the sky. I sit here,
on the shifting crest of a tall and windswept dune,
contemplating the majesty of starry sky, and the silence
of the desert winds. My mind empty, wanders, and I
seem to hear, in the howling of the desert wind, the yipping
cries of jackals, and a strain of music, faint and thin, riding, on
the whisper of the desert winds. I look and see, a palace, light
shining from many windows, and colored pennants, whipping
in the desert breeze, spices seeming, rich and dry, waft around
me, caught, in the twisting zephyrs of the deserts breath. I stare, and
slowly, the sounds of the palace reach my ears, women laughing, singing, and the lilting tones of music strange and wonderful, lift me
from the desert sand, and set me forward, stumbling from fatigue and
thirst, towards that place of light and sound, a refuge surely from the
stinging sands, and the whispering voice of the desert, dry in its susurrations, as an empty skull, bleached and hollow, sockets set to the
contemplation of the desert winds, dessicated remnant of mortal man, till wind and sand consign it to the deserts breath. I stumble forwards, eyes locked on that vision held before me, and I, with all remaining strength and speed, run towards that deserts dream, and in my folly, I
strive for speed, even exceeding the desert wind. At last I halt, and in my weariness, stumble against a mighty gate, set with gold and jade and onyx, moonstone high, and amber low. I set my hands to wondrous gate, but lo! the gates are fast and strong. They do not yield to the feeble push of weary traveler, nor to the entreaty of dry and sand parched throat, imploring it to stand aside. I fall at last, defeated, and thought, to die here, before these gates of opulent splendour, would not be so tragic a fate, as the deaths of thousands, lost as I in the immeasurable vastness of the desert sands. But yea! There in the darkness of night as I made my peace with God and his angels and consigned myself to the inevitable fate of eternal rest, that near unnoticed, the gates swung voicelessly open, and through it I inhaled weakly, the scents of anise and cumin and cinnamon and allspice, all mixed with the intoxicating perfume of the daughters of the desert, scented waters and mulled wine. I reeled, dazed by the glory of light and sound and scent. I was lifted then by gentle hands, soft and cool, with the featherlight touch of sweet virginity. I fell, spinning, into the cool dark of grey oblivion. I awaken, rested, in the dark. Birdsong wafts in through arched windows. Below, I can hear the women singing, talking, as their needles clack in unrelenting harmony. And yet, this all seems to fade, to become less real. I listen harder, and yet, I hear instead of the singing harmony of before, the lonely song of the desert wind, faint and yet as if it had ever been, and this all some fantasy, imagined dream more true than life? I open my eyes. I lie there, back pressed to chill stone, jutting up into the heavens. The scents of man dissipate and are gone, replaced by the dry and whispering aura of the lonely desert, faint sage upon the wind. I close my eyes. falling, I slide to the cold sands and lie there, waiting only for death to take me, that I might once more approach that vision of holy beauty that awaits those that live and die in piety, and with the grace of heaven. A hand touches my shoulder. I do not look up. The hand remains, insistent in its immovability. I rise, slowly, turning, so I might see my unknown companion, with me, in the heart of the windsept sands of the great expanse. A man stands there, robed in white, black veil obscuring all save for dark eyes, set deep in his weathered brow, like jewels of onyx, set in a dark and seasoned stone, left to the desert, in years gone by. "Come. It is time" The man whispers through the desert wind. He beckons me, fingers set with jewels and stones, gold thread belts his waist. He turns and walks silently, out, towards the eastern sky. I follow him, seeming vision of guidance, sent to set my feet on the path of life. I follow him and yet, gradually he fades and is gone, vanished, beside a weathered stone, lonely in the great expanse. I fall to my knees, head bowed, strength gone from soul and body. I hear dimly through the haze of weary enervation, even as death enshrouds me, the trickle of falling water. I lift my eyes. water pools before me, gift of life, sent by spirit of guiding thirst. I drink and life within me lifts its head, water streams down wind partched throat, and even as I fall into cool oblivion, knowing that that vison of heaven awaits me, water soothes me, as I fall at last into darkness, and the shining vision of heaven around me, I close my eyes, darkness enshrouding, as I perish beneath the moon and frosted sky.
I am in awe of the infinite possibilities and horizons of the imagination.
Virginia Whiddon Nov 2014
It's so odd how one smell can trigger so many emotions.
I used an old deodorant today and I
swear every time I lift my arms I am
back in your bed, one hand behind my head
and the other wrapped around your petite body.
The nostalgia has a choke-hold on me these days.

It's so odd how one smell can trigger so many feelings,
like the scent of Old Spice,
or the perfume in your favorite store.
Or the smell of our frequented restaurant,
or the metallic blood on my lips when your cutting words
blended with your sweet kiss and caught me off guard.
Perri May 2015
I will randomly get whiffs of scents
that remind me of moments spent with you.

The smell of the lake in the city at your dads that first summer.
That scent that stuck to our clothing from burning cedar in the barn we called home.
A whiff of cologne that you would wear only because I loved it so.

I hope I never have to smell those again.
Painful nostalgia.
Amy Irby Mar 2017
In the months before my wedding,
I searched for a special perfume
high and low, sampling scents,
making everyone crazy with
"What do you think of this one?"
My reason for obsessing was this:
to smell this fragrance
and be instantly taken back to the day I married
the man that I love; my best friend.
Because scents can trigger memories.
When we smell, the scents and odors around us
get routed through our olfactory system
which, in short, is closely connected
to the regions of the brain
that handle our memories and emotions

So one day, I opened a package
which held one of many, many, samples I purchased inside.
with notes of gardenia, jasmine, rose and a personal favorite, violet leaf - I thought I would enjoy it
however, this small vial held more than I ever expected.
I removed the stopper, and took a big whiff...

A warm floral scent, with a soapy musk, a slight spice
Suddenly, without any warning...
I was in a small, white bedroom, with two twin beds
a table between them, and on top, the lamp filled with shells.
The window with lacey curtains.
The two small shelves on the right wall with trinkets -
the dolls at the foot of the bed by the door
I could see the closet, with all the special clothes
the ones us grandkids wore to play dress up
and there, in the middle of everything, was the vanity.
That special vanity we couldn't touch, but secretly did
I could see the old makeup on top the warm stained, wooden vanity with the big mirror,
and the little bench
which sitting on made you feel so special.
In the middle of the memory,
I could smell it... this perfume
I knew it wasn't the same, but it smelled exactly like that room
like her...
like my grandma

I could almost hear her in the kitchen, yelling behind the closed door
"You kids better not get in my stuff!"
she always let us play in that special room
   that little bedroom, once shared by siblings
always mad when we played with her things,
but she never stopped letting us play in that room

I remembered where I was,
and felt the wet tears in my eyes
But I kept smelling... (inhale)
hair rollers, and combs
doilies and the sandwich cookies
her black as night coffee and how she drank it at all hours
the giant backyard, and how it seemed to stretch for miles - a place to get lost and have adventures
the clothesline we would always hang off of,
   for which we always got into trouble
the kitchen island, and the barstools
   grandma always got on to us about kicking our short legs and marking up her cabinets
the special character cups collected over the years
that were for just us kids to drink from
I can see all the fridge magnets,
pictures and trinkets of all the places she and grandpa had been - all the places they planned to go
I remember Christmas, and the tree shaped birthday cake for Jesus
how she made us sing Happy Birthday to Jesus
and the mice, oh the mice
   only Grandma, only Leila James
   would collect figurines of something she was afraid of

I remember where I am, in my room
but I can smell her perfume
and can hear her sass and her jokes
   I can hear her speaking the colorful language of a sailor
I remember the weeks we stayed with grandma and grandpa, when a hurricane took our home
   In all the frustration and heartbreak
   she told me it was rough, but I needed to be strong

I remember when I am
I remember that she has too slowly forgotten
No matter how strong the will
the mind does not remember
but I will remember, my small piece
I know so many others knew her better than me
We all remember when she began to forget
She started asking all of us grandkids
"When are you getting married?"
and now I know I can't look in the aisles and see her face

I never thought I would be without a grandmother on my wedding day
I never really thought I would ever get married
But I certainly never imagined without three fourths of a generation

I remember the night I wrote these memories down
the day she died, a day that was strange,
a day that I knew hurt her husband and children,
a day I knew she was finally at peace.
I remember the decision I made that night...
When I smell this fragrance, I smell her
maybe it only smells like her to me
I know if she were here, that is how she would smell
standing next to me in pictures
and telling me to shrink down because I was taller than her
On my wedding day, I want to know the ones I have lost are present in spirit
I want to wear my grandma's perfume
March 20th, 2017 - My grandmother, my mother's mother, passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimers. This poem is for her, my mom and grandpa.
Patricia Tsouros Nov 2013
The dogs chasing the late autumn leaves
Fluttering down the lane way
The sound of the train as it passes by
Peaceful afternoon walk
The cottage walls and porches
Flourish of colour
Enwreathed with ivy green
Bellflowers, hollyhocks, hydrangea
Scents of lavender and sage
Evoke
Memories of childhood days
Visiting grandparents cottages
One in the Irish Wicklow mountains
The other in the suburbs of Athens city
The free flowing sound of the river
Smoke billowing from chimneys
The cottages have no pretense or grandeur
Just a sanctuary of comfort in the silence of the lane
Reaching the darkest corner of the soul
Stephen E Yocum Dec 2013
Once I undertook a journey,
Out upon and completely around,
the very face of our entire world.
To view for myself the many pictures,
And written descriptions of all the writers
In all those geography books and History Classes,
National Geographic magazines poured over
and movies seen.

My personal Quest to see with my own eyes
What I had only experienced second hand.
And in my mid twenties, like a dream,
One foot in front of the other,
I went about doing it.

I sniffed and tasted the scents of foreign lands,
Incense, Sage and Frankincense, fish curry,
fried snake and even monkey brains.
Walked in lush Jungle Bush and Desert sands,
Along the shores of many Islands and the coasts
Of Four Continents.

Heard the voices of 30 divergent Dialects
And cultures.  Smiling and laughing with,
The beautiful children of all of them.
Set beside the fires of primitive tribal men,
Heard their chants to their gods above,
Or upon the ocean and land.
Clapped my hands and moved my feet in
Their Ancient mystic dance.
Drank their tea, Kava or whatever they shared
Grateful for their offered unselfish brotherhood.

Stood on the flanks of the tallest Mountains
In the world, on my toe tips, to try to see the
Face of the God of my youthful teachings,
Mildly disappointed when I did not see him, or Her.
Found instead an inner tranquility, imparted to me
By Red robbed Monks from within their chants of
Peace and wise earthly enlightenment.

Strolled the cobbled streets of two thousand year
Old Cities. Walked among the ruined remnants of
Nearly forgotten once great Civilizations.

Explored Modern Euopean Citiadels of wealth and learning.
Over time rode on planes, ships, buses, backs of open trucks,
Horse pulled carts and human drawn rickshaws, taxis, subways,
Rented motorcycles and cars.  Walked perhaps 1000 miles.
In all a journey of the mind and heart lasting three years.

And why you might ask, "What qualifies you as a pilgrim
of any kind, to travel so far, for so long a time?"
"And what was I looking for, what did I hope to find?"  
All indeed, fair questions.

When a boy, I read a simple five word line,
“Seek and thee shall find”.
And it stayed with me all my life.
I read books, saw films, did Research,
all in a quest to understand,
what those five words truly meant.
After a stint in the Military,
still wondering and seeking,
I embarked on my own personal,
physical and emotional Journey.  

The next obvious question you might
repeat of course is, after all that;
“What did I find?”
That answer is very simple,
I found myself.
Sally A Bayan Jul 2018
The sight of rain,
of wet clothes, wet plants,
wet doorsteps, wet hopes and dreams,
and, that known scent of sadness and grief
all these...create soggy, sluggish minds

we just lost two dogs to the virus
the glum of monsoon rains affects the moods
the "yays" from cancelled classes
have all passed...
sun is shining, not too bright, though,
peeps like a tease, but,
enough to dry the ground...

i see vacant lots...almost naked now
motor's droning hum is a lullaby
that lulls the mind
a strong smell stirs the nostrils and
defines a welcome pleasance...
i sniff....and chase away sadness,
with this intriguing scent
.....of freshly cut grass....


Sally

© Rosalia Rosario A. Bayan
    July 25, 2018
Roberta Day Feb 2015
Warm laundry gives me the
fuzzies, makes my hands grasp
   majestic purple soaps
to cleanse away the ***** wails
compacted under fingernails
A selection of smell good things
lotions accompanied by fuzzy things
to rub away and radiate the aura
of calm, balance, and tranquility
Lavender is condusive to many
different uses, inhaling the graces
of herbal essence, soothing said coolings
inducing mood peelings of layers of grime
a skin liberative—figuratively speaking
Flowers of passion brew thoughts into actions
silent buds permeating scents
   so invigoratingly innocent
Cera Apr 2014
Betrayal is the closest friend
and the most eager lover.

Betrayal is the whetted apathy towards the willow tree
that lay in the rubble of old letters and scents.

Betrayal feels nothing
but joy in itself, blinded by its ignorance.

Betrayal is the abrasive hug
and the facile drawings of a thundered smile.

Betrayal feeds the poppies
and waters the corpse.

Betrayal is the closest friend
and the most eager lover.
Nigel Morgan Oct 2012
When Zuo Fen woke day was well advanced into the Horse hour. In her darkened room a frame of the brightest light pulsed around the shuttered window. A breeze of scents from her herb garden brought sage, motherwort and lovage to cleanse the confined air, what remained of his visit, those rare aromatic oils from a body freed from its robes. Turning her head into the pillow that odour of him embraced her once more as in the deepest and most prolonged kiss , when with no space to breathe passion displaces reason in the mind.
 
The goat cart had brought him silently to her court in the Tiger hour, as was his custom in these summer days when, tired of his women’s attention, he seeks her company. In the vestibule her maid leaves a bowl of fresh water scented with lemon juice, a towel, her late uncle’s comb, a salve for his hands. Without removing his shoes, an Emperor’s privilege, he enters her study pausing momentarily while Xi-Lu removes himself from the exalted presence, his long tail *****, his walk provocative, dismissive. Zuo Fen is at her desk, brush in hand she finishes a copy of  ‘A Rhapsody for my Lord’. She has submitted herself to enter yet again that persona of the young concubine taken from her family to serve that community from which there seems no escape.
 
I was born in a humble, isolated, thatched house,
And was never well-versed in writing.
I never saw the marvellous pictures of books,
Nor had I heard of the classics of ancient sages.
I am dim-witted, humble and ignorant,
But was mistakenly placed in the Purple Palace . . .

 
He loves to hear her read such words, to imagine this fragile girl, and see her life at court described in the poet’s elegant characters. Zuo Fen’s scrolls lie on his second desk. Touching them, as he does frequently, is to touch her, is to feel mystery of her long body with its disregard of the courtly customs of his many, many women; the soft hair on her legs, the deep forest guarding her hidden ***, her peasant feet, her long fingers with their scent of ink and herbs.
 
He kneels beside her, gradually opening his ringed hand wide on her gowned thigh, then closing, then opening. A habit: an affectation. His head is bent in an obeisance he has no need to make, only, as he desires her he does this, so she knows this is so. She is prepared, as always, to act the part, or be this self she has opened to him, in all innocence at first, then in quiet delight that this is so and no more.
 
‘A rhapsody for me perhaps?’
‘What does Liu Xie say? The rhapsody is a fork in the road . . .
‘ . . . a different line’, he interrupts and quotes,’ it describes people and objects. It pictures appearance with a brilliance akin to sculpture or painting.’
‘What is clogged and confined it invariably opens. It depicts the commonplace with unbounded charm.’
‘But the goal of the form is beauty well-ordered . . . . as you are, dearest poet.’
‘You spoilt the richness of Lui Xie’s ending . . .’
‘I would rather speak of your beauty than Xie’s talk of gardening.’
‘Weeding is not gardening my Lord.’
 
And with that he summons her to read her rhapsody whilst his hands part her gown . . .
 
Over the years since he took her maidenhead, brusquely, with the impatience of his station, and she, on their second encounter deflowered him in turn with her poem about the pleasure due to woman, they had become as one branch on the same tree. She sought to be, and was, his equal in the prowess of scholastic memory. She had honed such facility with the word: years of training from her father in the palace archives and later in the mind games invented by and played with her brother. Then, as she entered womanhood and feared oblivion in an arranged marriage, she invented the persona of the pale girl, a fiction, who, with great gentleness and poetry, guided the male reader into the secrets of a woman’s ****** pleasure and fulfilment. In disguise, and with her brother’s help, she had sought those outside concubinage - for whom the congress of the male and female is rarely negotiable. She listened and transcribed, then gradually drew the Emperor into a web of new experience to which he readily succumbed, and the like of which he could have hardly imagined. He wished to promote her to the first lady of his Purple Chamber. She declined, insisting he provide her with a court distant from his palace rooms, yet close to the Zu-lin gardens, a place of quiet, meditation and the study of astronomy.
 
But today, this hot summer’s day, she had reckoned to be her birthday. She expected due recognition for one whose days moved closer to that age when a birthday is traditionally and lavishly celebrated. Her maid Mei-Lim would have already prepared the egg dishes associated with this special day. Her brother Zuo-Si may have penned a celebratory ode, and later would visit her with his lute to caress his subtle words of invention.
 
Your green eyes reflect a world apart
Where into silence words are formed dew-like,
Glistening as the sun rises on this precious day.
As a stony spring washes over precious jade,
delicate fishes swim in its depths
dancing to your reflection on the cool surface.
No need of strings, or bamboo instruments
When mountains and waters give forth their pure notes . . .

 
Her lord had left on her desk his own Confucian-led offering, in brushstrokes of his time-stretched hand, but his own hand nevertheless, and then in salutation the flower-like character leh (joy)
 
‘Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart’.
 
Meanwhile Xi-Lu stirred on the coverlet reminding Zuo Fen that the day was advancing and he had received no attention or conversation. It was whispered abroad that this lady spoke with her cat whom each afternoon would accompany his mistress on a walk through the adjacent gardens. It was true, Zuo Fen had taught Xi-Lu to converse in the dialect of her late mother’s province, but that is another story.
 
Lying on her back, eyes firmly shut, Zuo Fen surveyed the past year, a year of her brother’s pilgrimage to the Tai Mountains, his subsequent disappearance at the onset of winter, her Lord’s anger then indulgence as he allowed her to seek Zuo Si’s whereabouts. She thought of her sojourn in Ryzoki, the village of stone, where she discovered the blind servant girl who had revealed not only her brother’s whereabouts but her undying love for this strange, ungainly, uncomfortably ugly man who, with the experience gained from his sister’s persistent research had finally learned to love and be loved in equal measure for his gentle and tender actions. And together, their triumph: in ‘summoning the recluse’, and not one alone but a community of five living harmoniously in caves of the limestone heights. Now returned they had worked in ever secret ways to serve their Emperor in his conflict against the war-lord Tang.
 
She now resolved to take a brief holiday from this espionage, her stroking of the Emperor’s mind and body, and those caring sisterly duties she so readily performed. She would remove herself and her maid to a forest cabin: to lie in the dry mottled grass of summer and listen to the rustle of leaves, the chatter of birds, the sounds of insects and the creak-crack of the forest in the summer heat. She would plan a new chapter in her work as a poet and writer: she would be the pale girl no longer but a woman of strength and confidence made beautiful by good fortune, wise management and a generosity of spirit. She needed to prepare herself for her Lord’s demise, when their joyful hours living the lives of Prince and Lady of Xiang, he with his stallion gathering galingales, she with her dreams of an underwater house, would no longer be. She would study the ways of the old. She would seek to learn how peace and serenity might overcome those afflictions of age and circumstance, and when it is said that love’s chemistry distils pure joy through the intense refinement of memory.
This short story with poetry introduces the world of Zuo Fen, one of the first female poets of Chinese antiquity.
May 9, 2012, 7:01:02 PM by ~OmegaWolfOfWinter
Journals / Personal




The rivers of winter ice had melted with spring sunshine's awakening and the noises of the forest announced the awakening of the fauna. a young fox stretched her long legs and fluffed up her tail as she yawned awake. this winter had been a lonely one for her, as she did not have a mate. throughout the winter she had felt the tingling feelings of her ****** urges creep between her legs and she moaned slightly as she felt them creeping there again.  she stepped slowly out of her den and took a cool breath of the spring air, bringing her the scents of the amorous flowers and the frolicking prey. she watched two birds in courting flight above har and she sighed at her loneliness. the fox hung her head low and walked softly forward. at some point she closed her eyes and yet kept walking, a few tears of longing falling from her eyes. the tingling urges grew stronger and she fought to keep them at bay. she kept walking a bit, aimlessly, though. she cried out as she stumbled over a heavy rock.
She tumbled into the nearby brook and felt a sharp stone cut her right hind leg. she clambered on to the bank, shivering and soaking wet with the chilled water. she attempted to stand and felt a fiery sting to her leg. she looked and saw a shallow **** marring her orange fur. "ow... ow..." she whimpered as she walked on. as the sun peaked over her, she felt her stomach's pleading for sustenance and she groaned. she could faintly smell a rabbit nearby and crouched low, going over how to stalk her prey. she sniffed for it and it seemed to be close, on the other side of a group of trees. she flanked around as best she could and spotted the furball. she licked her lips hungrily and pounced. the rabbit was dead in an instant as she tore its throat out. she chomped at it once and then felt a feeling of dread. she gulped once and heard a wolf growl nearby. i'm wounded... i can't avoid it now.
.
she thought. she heard the wolf running toward her and was bowled over by it. when she stopped
Rolling she was on her back. looking up at the wolf, a young grey, white chested wolf, at the beginning of his manhood. he snarled at his prey as she whimpered beneath him. then to her surprise, he sniffed at her and tilted his head, the tenseness of the hunt gone from his yellow eyes. the wolf took a step back and looked her up and down, stopping as he saw something. he spoke softly, almost caringly, "you are female... and in heat... i apologize for interrupting your meal."
the fox looked at him curiously, "You...?"
he glanced at her and finished her thought. "...do not harm females. it is a code of honor i choose to live by."
she sniffed at him, "you have no mate, no lover."
his breath caught. "nor do you, young fox, lest he'd be satiating your body's desires, and his as well."
she felt the tingling between her legs again and attempted to say something, but was stopped. the wolf said, "nor do i wish to take advantage of females either."
The fox replied suggestively, "you spared my life, surely theres some way i could repay you, handsome wolf."
the wolf looked at her, eyes dilated and his breathing rough. he shook his head, "no.. i couldnt. its not my place."
she could feel the urges burning inside her, she wanted to release them, she wanted this wolf to release her. "chivalrous, i see. then, dear wolf, alleviate my longing, my pain, and i shall alleviate your own."
the wolf took a step closer, his own longing feeding his fire. "beautiful fox... your offer intigues me... you- you are wounded..." she looked and saw her leg still bleeding. "let me aide you, dear fox." he took a few steps and lay beside her, licking her wound. with each lick, the pain receded and was replaced by a wave of pleasant ache. the bleeding stopped and he stopped licking, for the moment. he sniffed her, his cold nose brushing the swollen flesh, and as it quivered between her legs, he knew she was ready for him. "my den is close by, young fox."
She nuzzled against his chest and felt his heart pounding. she took his paw and pressed it against her own chest, letting him feel her heart. "you know we cant wait that long, here.. in this group of trees." she gestured to the spot a few feet away. the wolf quickly walked into the tangle of trees, followed by the fox. the wolf had hardly stepped inside the treeline before the fox began nudging at the furry bulge between his legs. "you're not quite ready yet, dear wolf." the wolf whimpered a few times as she licked at it, taking his smooth member in her mouth and enticing it with her tongue. once it was throbbing in its full glory, she licked one last time and said, "now you're ready." and raised herself in preparation for him. he got into position on top of her and with one paw she guided him inside her. she gasped as he stretched her a little. she glanced over her shoulder and
realized that he wasnt that much bigger than her. he looked nervous and she realized something,
This is his first time... mine too... lets make this memorable.. she experimented with different positions, and after finding her favorite, set about making this wolf howl.
the wolf ****** slowly at first, drawing out the ecstasy. only when she began to whimper amorously did he begin to ****** harder, faster. she joined him, as he pulled back, she leaned forward, leaving only his tip inside her. when he ******, she leaned back on him with a wet squish. the wolf's tongue lolled and his eyes were glazed over in sweet agony. he howled softly at first, and as the ****** came, he howled again, echoing with the fox's cries as the ecstasy reached its ****** and rocked their bodies. the wolf staggered slightly at the passionate waves of ******. he pulled out his member and looked at his mate. "come with me to my den, so we can sleep, dear fox." the fox looked at him and nodded, grateful.
* * *
The fox and the wolf walked quietly to his den, set inside a secluded cluster of trees. the den itself was set in the ground, like a cavern, just large enough for the two of them to lie down comfortably. "its going to get cold tonight," said the wolf. "we should... share body heat." he had a faint twinkle in his eyes as he glanced nervously at her. when she tilted her head to him, the wolf looked down at his paws. the fox licked his muzzle and laid down next to him. the wolf's grey fur was thick, and she was  already beginning to feel warmer. she felt the wolf's heart beat a little faster, and he curled around her. his furry tail wrapped around the fox and she purred slightly as she nuzzled him and rested her head on his foreleg. for a moment they lay there, eyes closed, listening to the others' breathing, when he whispered to her, "i never did catch your name, young fox."
she grinned at him, "my name's Sasha, the only fox in this forest. and what be your name, dear wolf?"
The wolf opened one eye slightly to look at her, "my name is Ronan, i'm the last wolf of my pack."
she held him in her gaze a few beats and replied, "i haven't seen many wolves 'round these parts, where do you come from, Ronan?"
the grey sighed and said, "Farther north, over the mountains and into ice country. the food became scarce and the pack withered away, all but me. i treveled over the hills and mountains, through forests and grassland, and i kept going, finally stopping here. what of you? you said yourself you were the only fox in this forest."
Sasha swished her tail back and forth for a moment before, "i was separated from my family during a blizzard. i- i couldn't see anything, and i couldn't hear anything over the wind. i wandered aimlessly in the whiteout, tripping and stumbling until i bumped into something big. then again, i was just a kit and everything was big to me, but i looked up and saw a pair of eyes looking at me. i was so scared the snow beneath me turned yellow.
The monster bent over and picked me up by the scruff of my neck and carried me for a long time. i was so exhausted i fell asleep in its grip. when i woke up i was in a chilly den. i looked and realized that the monster had been a snow-white she-wolf. she sat at the enterance to the den and kept looking outside, waiting for something. when the snowstorm cleared out, she turned to me and said, 'little fox. have you a family?' i shook my head as i realized they were gone. from then on, the wolf raised me and taught me how to survive. then one day a few years ago... she was gone..."
Ronan was watching the fox as she told the story. "i'm sorry."
"don't be, ronan. ever since she left ive been alone. no fox to breed me, no one for a lover. until you came along..."
ronan licked her muzzle, "no need for loneliness now." sasha smiled and was soon asleep, warmed by her lover.
*
The sun rose and shone brightly into the entrance of the den the next morning, waking sasha from her slumber. she yawned and felt around for the grey. she felt nothing. she stood up and looked around the empty den. did he... leave me? a single tear fell when she imagined the possibility. "no.... please no..." she whimpered. her breath caught as she heard something rustling the grass outside the den. sasha shrank back and hid behind her tail, peeking over it slightly. she could hear her heartbeat in her ears and feel it rising in her throat as the rustling got closer and closer. she squeaked, "who... who's there?"
she flinched as a dark mass blocked the sunlight, its shadow stretching across the wall. the mass stepped slowly forward and sasha shut her eyes tight, fearing what might come next. "sasha?" it was ronan. "what's the matter?"
she gasped at him before rushing forward and burying her muzzle in his chest fur. "i thought you'd left me..."
with a paw, ronan stroked the fur on her back. "i'm a wolf, ***. loyalty and chivalry are the only things i know." she buried herself deeper in his fur and scolded herself for not realizing that. "i caught breakfast, i figured you'd be hungry after i interrupted your meal yesterday." she looked behind him and saw a small pile of ****** rabbits. sasha licked her lips hungrily. "its all yours, dear fox." she looked gratefully at Ronan before pouncing on the pile of carcasses, tearing into one and bloodying her maw. ronan watched her with pleasant  affection. the den was filled with the sounds of flesh being rendered from bone and the snapping of Sasha's teeth. she feasted upon the **** until she could eat no more, her belly now filled. two rabbits still lay uneaten, and ronan devoured them slowly, savoring the ****** meat as it slipped down his gullet. sasha lay nuzzled up against him while he ate, toying at his tail and
otherwise teasing at him. he gave her a look of amusement and somehow got into a game of tag with her.
He chased her around the den and she dodged his paw as he reached for her. when he did finally touch her, sasha dove between his legs and poked his furry belly. leaving him with a dumbfounded expression on his face. he then chased sasha outside and they continued their game within the cluster of trees around them. sasha laughed, a liquid smooth, crystal clear laugh. ronan watched her jump around him, the sun's rays catching her fine orange fur in such a way that it seemed almost like fire. he watched her a moment and loosed a soft howl. she's so beautiful... he thought.
* *
'And when was this? I dunno, I dunno:
like everything else, twenty years ago.' - August Kleinzahler

I
Whosis slunk next to the rastamagnet
dj booth, in a limabeanhued suit
jacket, limabean sleeves rolledup to
deploy albino ancons for jostling.
II
My ****** lungs ached; gluttonous Venomised
pelicanbills. Cig o' no mercy, cig of life.
Serpivolent smoke is nicocreaming
ceiling of this dive Dasein dosses in.
III
Unrequiting snoutcloud of her chuffing
form siffles thru her mousy enamel.
'Light reflecting booster technology',
advertising Boswellox, scents her hair.
IV
Male Black Widow Complex boings in my brain,
as the vogueress exits conceivable zone
of address. Yet she cigawrenches
my stalking thoughts across the pumptup ballroom.
V
O those farouche salad nights following
swotting up in the humid Octagon!
Male Black Widow Complex, th'always boinging,
lidded by lemony orange lager.
VI
I crashed Crasherkid frabble, rocked to
DJ Shoppinghour feat. MC Niche Jah.
My Sax Pustules & Dead Kinnocks LPs
accusingly mouldered in my heart.
VII
Crasherkids twatted then, dated now, now
grooveriders haggard. But time was the thud
of arterial Cherry7up
was the dub of their youthful BPM.
VIII
Triptown beefnecks w/ classic legoman's
Acid House ecaf (before e-cafes
had come & gone), mandy stag party.
I still slow my pace at their fearless napes.
IX
The rock club had delusions of grunger,
crush at the bar was lumberjack cubism.
Era of Jingajing-chicka-jing-jing Kurt,
anno domudhoney, left a zeitgash.
X
& in the goth club, cadavolescent,
guylinered Xennials listened to
Placebo, but poo-pooed manginas.
Identi90s: genres, not genders.
XI
Blotto elbows on sudsy bar, I cross
lanky barkeep's gulchy palm w/ nugget
for latest in a lost count of snakebites.
Streak of **** is a broom in a skinnytie.
XII
'I'm hyperboring as much as you!' quip I
to a cheetahthinking softdrinker.
There'd be no ruction if pickled franion
spilt his Tab Clear Kaliber, H2ooze.
XIII
Yestreen's teen mums of teen mums, renubile
on the glash. Simuladies who soft soap
saps to buy them...a drink, QVCexy.
If shopgilfs surrender the goods, QVChy.
XIV
Whosis, tattie-bogie of the floor,
turned Turok w/ liebestorschlusspanik.
But his limabean lines are jejune, even to
zirconia Zsa Zsas on the zhelf.
XV
Whosis, lima green last chancer, I'm a
aphroluddite like you. Both crud dancers
too, corybantersauruses. It's all
smoke 'n' mingers & we've got lunge cancer.
XVI
'There's a party on the hillside, would you like
to come? Bring your own cup & saucer
& your own cream bun!' Friends joyride
home dead, so ride dead joy home alone.
XVII
Simian, simulacrum, something for
the weekend, sir? Or are weekends just for
something before ip dip dogshit
******* ******* silly *** meet the kids then what?
XVIII
Stereotripe, not Stereospeare, yet unknown
plexors would kick in. Or was it the joypop?
Popliteal self on higher neon knees,
Mother Brown's got nothing on me!
XIX
Anansesum of my fancy footwork,
Bez in blossom under tiger strobe.
Chemical cochise, call me 'Tarantulip':
totem, tarantism, bruxism, bloom.
**
Yeah, I liked DJ Offroseanne before
the coward sounds of Simoncowellland
killed Cool. Taxi for the Corpse of Cool/
fetch your coat, love, you've pulled the Corpse of Cool!
XXI
Since the ears dot, aural laurels were hot.
& the beat authenticity lays down
is still the drill sergeant instrumental
that leads blind zeit pipers of all pied geists.
XXII
Lima bean fugue, forearm flash, Dear John tats.
Nocturnal vernal mental of the comeup
becomesdown w/ no summerlove, bad trip
(Raggaman Kafka say 'Uneazee Dreamz').
XXIII
'Taxi Driver' cinematography,
neon printcest of clubland signs dimmens.
Pick up your tuttifrutti braindamage
- time to go home, hungover twichildren.
http://www.pilkipedia.co.uk/wiki/index.php/Boswellox
Styles Jun 2020
The walls painted,
In the accent of lavender,
air tainted with *** scents,
of him and her.
Margaret Apr 2014
That Axe cologne floats
as I await patiently
at the green locker
I love that cheap Axe cologne
There's a certain peace that settles inside you when you hear the wind whip through the forest, the sound soothes you until your muscles quiver with joy and you begin grinning with delight as the cool air runs soft fingers down your spine and sends shivers back through you. That was the feeling going through Fayowin as he stalked his prey, a nimble buck that mindlessly grazed in the snowy glade. Fayowin was a wolf, tall and regal, his fur ran a silver-white with intricate blue lines spiraling and writhing around his muscled body. His eyes glowed pure white in the night and shimmered in the daylight. The fangs lining his jaw were longer than the other wolves'... then again he was also larger than his alpha as well. Fayowin saw everything clearer and faster than the most skilled hunters in his pack, and he was also the swiftest. He should have felt proud of his uniqueness, but he felt outcast instead. The other hunters shunned him and disliked hunting alongside him, leaving Fayowin to hunt alone.

Today was no different. It was his turn to hunt and he had to hunt alone. If he failed, the pack would force him out into the cold. "If the pack starves, the hunter freezes," was the motto of his alpha, Alexei. Fayowin narrowed his white eyes and drew in the scent of the deer. As he did, he caught the hint of a she-wolf nearby, not of his pack. Distracted for an instant, he snapped back and sprinted for the deer, lunging for it and tearing into its throat and ripping out the windpipe and blood vessels all in one bite. As the smell of blood coated his senses, he began to feel uneasy and whirled around to see a silver wolf snarling at him. It was the she-wolf he had sensed earlier. She stood just a little shorter than him and had strange markings of her own: she bore black marks under her eyes and one on her forehead that resembled a paw. What struck him the most was the band around her upper foreleg. His eyes wandered as he observed her and she growled, bringing his attention back to her glaring green eyes.
"That... was my ****!" she growled. "I don't know how you managed to get it before me, and I don't know how you managed to escape my notice. Who are you?!"
Fayowin sneered and raised an eyebrow, "This, my dear, is MY ****. I've had my eyes on it for a while now. And frankly, this is my territory as well, and unless you want to become part of my territory, I'd suggest you treat me with respect."
She edged closer to him, surprised and infuriated at this male's straightforwardness. But there was something about that and his scent that appealed to her though. "I'm not leaving without this deer."
Fayowin chuckled, "It looks like you will be leaving without it, whoever you are."
"My name... is Feiria!" she licked her lips hungrily, "and that is MY deer!"
Fayowin narrowed his eyes thoughtfully as he studied her. Even through her winter coat, he could see the outline of her ribcage and could smell the desperation on her scent. He saw Feiria's muscles contract as she prepared to lunge at him. He sidestepped and she landed face-first in the snow, a mere inch from the warm deer meat. She looked at him hungrily, almost pleading. Fayowin sighed and nodded his head once, after which Feiria voraciously tore into the carcass.

He slowly meandered towards the center of the clearing and flopped down into the snow. He could hear the she-wolf eating ravenously behind him as he thought of his next move. If he returned to the pack, he'd be ridiculed and forced to live in the snow. If he stayed out here he faced the same problem.

Fayowin flattened his ears back and started to doze off, still listening to Feiria eat his ****. He began dreaming of gaping mountain passes, tall forests, and warm valleys. He felt oddly warm, not freezing cold as he had expected. He didn't care though, warmth was a gift in the winter. He slept peacefully until nightfall overtook the forest and the moonlight shone down and illuminated his fur, the lines becoming like blue fire. His eyes would have glowed if they were open, but they remained oblivious to the change in scenery until a cold wind blew through his fur and he shivered awake. He nearly jumped when he realized why he was so warm: the she-wolf lay curled up, pressed against him, sound asleep. He tilted his head slightly as he watched her sleep, probably the most peaceful she'd been in a long time. Fayowin would've hated to ruin his gift to her, albeit an unwilling one.
Feiria woke up soon after midnight, and gazed fearfully into Fayowin's glowing white eyes, taking in his
Cynical stare and his glowing body. She whispered, "I've heard of your kind..."
he looked curiously at her, "my kind?"
"the star wolves.."
he averted his gaze, "Never heard of them.. I'm just a normal wolf.."
Feiria glared at him, "You're glowing, *******.. Not normal. Unless.... Unless your whole pack is made of star wolves!" her face seemed to light up as she said it.
Fayowin whipped his head around, "No! I'm the only one like this..." he looked solemnly down at his feet as he finished.
She blinked, dumbfounded. Clearing her throat, she said, "I really should get back to my pack. They'll be worried about me if I stay out for much longer." she glanced at the massive deer behind them and sighed quietly.
"Your whole pack is starving...aren't they?" said Fayowin quietly.
Feiria nodded and he stood up and walked through the snow silently towards the deer. "you'll need to lead me to your pack if they're to get this meat."
Feiria blinked again, then nodded, getting up and starting off  
Towards the north. Fayowin gripped the deer's neck and drug the carcass behind him as he walked. After a half hour of walking, Feiria howled long and low, signaling her pack that she was near. Fayowin sighed as he heard their howls respond. He thought, there will be no howls for me tonight...
As they neared her pack's clearing, a group of young wolves sprinted towards them, rushing past Feiria and surrounding Fayowin. "Who is this outsider, Feiria? Why did you bring him here?"
there were five of them and they all went into attack mode, growling and circling him.
Feiria attempted to stop them before they got into a fight, but one of them pounced, and in a flash Fayowin had him pinned to the ground with his fangs around the wolf's neck. Fayowin watched the wolves around him react, stepping back and glancing at each other. Feiria shouted at them to stop but they didn't seem to hear her immediately, backing down only as Fayowin's growl tore through the trees, echoing throughout the forest
. They finally heard her, "he's a star wolf!" by now a crowd had gathered around them, Feiria's packmates watching Fayowin closely. He let go of the young wolf beneath his paws, who quickly scampered away, and Fayowin sat up straight and tall, his markings and eyes glowing for all to see. The wolves ooh'd and ahh'd amongst themselves before the alpha stepped forward and looked him up and down. "You killed this deer, yes?"
"I did."
"Why bring it here? We are strangers to you."
Fayowin glanced at Feiria, who shifted, uncomfortable with the silence. "I brought it here because i could tell that this pack needed the meat more than my own." Fayowin looked directly at Feiria and continued, "besides... She saw it first."
[[][][][][][][][][][][]
(End of day one of writing, really enjoyed it, look forward to writing again)
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Fayowin perched high upon an rock outcropping, overlooking the clearing below and the wolves within. The alpha had allowed him to stay, grateful for the meat. Feiria was pressed against him again, but this time Fayowin didn't mind. He enjoyed the warmth that she provided and felt at ease around her. She nuzzled his cheek affectionately, a move that surprised him enough that he turned to face her, brushing her nose in the process. He gazed fondly into her eyes for a moment before standing. "I have to return to my pack."
Feiria looked shocked, "No, stay here with us. We could use a hunter like you. Plus you're a star wolf, and it doesn't seem like your pack appreciates that."
He let the words sink in before replying, "I have to go. I'll return in the morning." Seeing the desperate and doubtful look on her face, he added, "I promise. I will come back."
Fayowin walked to the edge of the forest, the glow of his body soon disappearing from Feiria's view.
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...
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F­ayowin sprinted relentlessly back to his territory, smelling the familiar and not so pleasant scents of his packmates. The smell of blood ran thick in the air as he neared the clearing. The moonlight cast eerie shadows around him and he could feel the eyes of the wolves watching him as he reached the gore pile. The mound of bones and rotting flesh dripped blood into the white snow.
"You're late. And emptypawed. You know what that means, filth." the voice was that of his alpha, Marroy, who stood three feet tall at the shoulder, a whole foot and a half shorter than Fayowin. His fur was a mottled black with a grey underbelly.
Fayowin bared his fangs, the longest being three inches long, and he growled, "My name.. is Fayowin."
Marroy cackled in the darkness, "So straightforward. That's unlike you. No matter, you failed to bring us fresh meat. As punishment, you'll be reminded why we protect you in the first place."
Fayowin heard growls emanating from the trees. The pack of around 25 wolves was massive compared to other packs, and there were enough hunters to go around. Fayowin took a step back and let his eyes adjust so he could see them in the trees.
"You don't protect me, Marroy! You fear me!"
Marroy laughed again, "Not from where I'm standing, Mutt. You look pretty frightened." Fayowin took another step back. "Run! Run! Give us some entertainment!"
The wolves started bounding out of the trees and began chasing Fayowin out of the clearing. They seemed to be pouring from every shadow. He ran faster than ever before, the trees blurring past him as he tried to get away. He ran for what seemed like an eternity before seeing the snowy valley at the edge of the forest. He added a burst of speed and instantly regretted it. A rock beneath the snow tripped him and pain shot up his left foreleg. He tumbled end over end in a heap of blue and white, coming to a stop twenty feet away. Fayowin heard the pack coming for him and he tried to crawl away, but to no avail; the pain was too much. He whimpered as he was surrounded, and shut his eyes tight as he felt them bite and claw at him, retreating only after there was a ****** pool around the star wolf. Marroy walked slowly up to him after they had gone and said, "I hope you die out here. If you aren't, we'll make sure that changes." Then the alpha left him there, cold, ******, broken and alone.
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* (End of Day two/Start of day three of writing and i'm really hooked on this, I believe this may be one of my better stories...)*
[][][][][][]]][][][][][][][][][][
Feiria lay silently on the rock outcropping above the pack and she thought of the star wolf. Something about the breeze brought thoughts to her mind.  
Feiria lifted her nose into the air as the smell of blood became present. She sniffed intently and heard her packmates do the same. She looked in the direction that Fayowin had left in and saw a dark form slowly shambling through the shadowy flora towards her. As it neared her she could see that it was dripping a dark liquid, trailing it through the snow in a scarlet path. "Its Fayowin.." she thought to herself. "Why are his eyes so dark? Why isn't he glowing?"
she rushed to his side and the smell of his blood was almost overwhelming. There were numerous bites and cuts all over him and his left foreleg seemed broken.
Feiria called for the healer, an older female named Sheya, and supported Fayowin as they walked to the glade and waited for the healer. Fayowin collapsed in the center of the clearing, the moonlight hitting him directly, making the blood seem black against his white fur.
Feiria whimpered helplessly, waiting for Fayowin to answer, but his eyes seemed so lifeless that
She felt it was almost a false hope. When Sheya finally arrived, the blood had stopped flowing and his breathing had slowed until he was asleep. When the healer examined him, she looked puzzled.
"what's the matter, Elder?"
Sheya pondered a moment before saying, "His wounds have healed. I'd say its a miracle, seeing as he lost so much blood."
Feiria examined the sleeping wolf herself and found the elders words to be true; there wasn't a scratch left on him. "Leave him here, the sunlight will warm him once daylight comes and his fur is thicker than ours so the cold will not affect him as much." the gathered wolves sat in silence as Feiria washed the blood from his fur with snow and lay down next to him, pressing her body against his. The blue lines on Fayowin dimmed and brightened in tune with his heartbeat, and Feiria listened as her own beat matched it.
[][][][]][][[][][][][][][][][][]
...End of day 3....
[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]
Fayowin felt like he was in another world, this one so much quieter, but at the same time he could sense every noise, every movement, every vibration. His fur was no longer the bright white it once was, but rather a deep black with crimson lines flowing round him. He was lying down, surrounded by a wolf pack, Feiria pressed against him for warmth. He saw, or rather sensed her spirit energy, a type of green fire that outlined her entire body as she slept. Fayowin stood up, thinking to wake her and let her know he was alright, but she hadn't moved. And neither had he; his white furred body remained as it was a moment ago, but he was looking at it as if in another body. He took a step back as he realized he was roaming about in his spirit form. He looked around at the pack and none of the gathered wolves seemed to notice him. He exited the circle of onlookers and gazed up at the falling moon, watching it descend into the horizon, chased away by the rays of the sun coming over the mountaintops to the east. As the sun peeked over the ridge, Fayowin caught something out of the corner of his eye, a dark mass that didn't fit right with the rest of the environment. He looked and saw two sets of glowing purple eyes in the shade. He called out to them, hoping they might hear. "Hey! Can you see me?"
The eyes looked at each other and then back at him, staring for a moment before turning and running.
"Hey, wait!!" Fayowin called after them and began to chase them deeper and deeper into the mysterious forest.The beings moved faster than Fayowin had anticipated, disappearing soon after the chase had begun. Fayowin stood there in the middle of the woods, panting and searching for the elusive forms. After a moment he saw them at the very edge of his vision, their eyes glowing brighter, almost as if they were taunting him forward. Snarling, Fayowin bolted towards them and they led him on a winding path marked by a barely discernable scent trail. The smell was that of burnt wood and crushed pine needles and was oddly alluring to Fayowin as he ran. It seeemed as if he were running for ages, the sun and moon rotating numerous times around him as he traveled over mountains and rivers, through forests and valleys. On the thirteenth solar rotation, the figures finally stopped, joined by eleven other figures surrounding a circular rock with vines and overgrowth covering its base.
As he neared the figures, he saw that they all looked like him, long furred and covered in glowing lines. "Star wolves... Like me..."
The wolves all surrounded the dais and watched him with razor sharp eyes, watching his every move. As he gazed back, Fayowin noticed that each of them had some form of a trident mark right below their left eye, the color matching the lines tracing their bodies. He felt the urge to move forward, as if an instinct were telling him to stand in the center of the circle. Fayowin stood, all eyes on him as he waited for whatever was about to come.
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....I have nothing to say to you HP... I dislike you at the moment....
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Nightfall was coming swiftly, the moon and the stars swirling into place above them, reaching their peak and then halting completely. All of time and
The old lady planted roses near the corner by the driveway
She never planted roses by the door
I remember once she told me, "Bees come out to get the nectar"
And a bee sting can be deadly or quite sore
Instead, she planted herbs along the walkway to her cottage
You'd pass by, the scent was rather nice
Rubbing rosemary and lemon grass and sage against your trousers
Sometimes you would even walk by twice

She had hollyhocks and primrose, a classic English garden
Lots of fragrant trees and bushes there as well
There were cedars by the windows and hyacinth close by
If she even had a lawn, you couldn't tell
There were irises and tulips, daffodils and more
And great bushes of white lavender abound
Not only was the lawn gone, with the bushes and the trees
I bet from inside you'd nary hear a sound

Around the back the same thing, exactly as the front
Herbs and plant life, and I'd say maybe more
Than all the plants in Englands  Kew Gardens have to see
And more lilacs by the walkway by the door
The vents from down the basement blew through cedars and the lilacs
Sending warming scents around the clustered yard
There were windows to the basement, blocked by flowers and the trees
And to see in was really rather hard

The one day I remember when I came out to the house
Is one I know I'll not forget
For walking down the pathway with a policeman on each side
Was the old lady with a look of deep regret
It seems the scented flowers and the bushes and the trees
Provided scents to hide the smells from deep inside
The air was vented out directly through the flowers
The house was just a grow op in disguise
Cherry Cupcake May 2013
Summer scents and summer heat
Teenagers' laughter and water flying
Dripping heads and shoeless feet
Trees wear flowers and the sun is shining

To him the day's grey and there's too much noise
Smothered in his black shirt he's ignored by other boys
Saved by the bell, he joins the row some teacher leads
While a group of pupils talks, two girls argue and one reads

At his usual seat he takes his usual things
Acting like he's writing while he's finishing some drawings
Yet his mind slips away to something near
Someone's stare makes his concentration disappear

Frustrated his eyes find her silent stare
When the teacher turns his back, she leaves her desk in one, two, three
Unbalanced he acts like he doesn't care
He could just pretend like he didn't see


Next to him she takes place
The seat astonished by the company
Her hands slowly reach his face
And before he knows his vision gets blurry

Still wondering what's going on, the poor boy has no clue
Until she whispers- with his glasses on:
Now I see the world like you.



Y.
Overwhelmed May 2010
I stir the pool water
with a basket attached
to a stick

little whirlpools form
where I once was,
disturbing the even
distribution of tiny
white particles on
the water’s surface

the whirlpools *****
them in, but does
not drag them down  

I smell chlorine on my hands,
a deadly poison I deal with out
of necessity

I smell the honeysuckles growing
on the chain link fence, a beauty
to every sense

the sky is gray and turning dark
with night

the pool is blue and cold with it’s
lack of sunlight

the trees are green
and their wood is
brown and while I
stir tiny whirlpools
in the pool floating
with tiny particles
I take a deep breath
and decide I will
enjoy all of this
Kitt Jul 2017
It smells like first love
Says the perfume bottle
Smells like true love
Says the bath bomb

What does first love smell like?
First love smells like rain
The heavy scent of the air
Before a thunderstorm

True love smells like cookies
Baking in the background
And a rich *** of coffee
Brewing from fresh beans

And of cinnamon in hot chocolate
And lavender, like my lotion
And spice, like his deodorant

First love smells lightly of sweat
Because you're nervous
True love smells like tears
Because it's never a dry-eyed affair

It smells like the flowers
Of the wedding bouquet
And the crimson and white
Christmas flower display

First love smells like body spray
Slathered on to hide the sweat
True love smells natural
Bad breath in the morning
And yet fine
Because it's theirs.

First love turns to sweet summers' air
Vanished with August's last week
True love kisses the scents
Both foul and fair
That break upon my cheek.
Poetic Artiste May 2016
There is something about the beauty of a woman,
it shines in the whites of her eyes,
and the pearls of her teeth,
it is in the melanin of her skin,
and the black of her hair,
it is is the warm browns,
midnight blacks,
and the pinkness of her hidden flesh,
it is in the smell of her skin,
and the natural pheromone scents,
There is something about the beauty of a black woman,
that keeps pulling me in...

— The End —