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Ron Sanders Feb 2020
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Torn scraps of paper in a torn scrap of time

Both equally insignificant

yet have unseen potential

to create a masterpiece



Eyes glazing over both microscopic elements,

forgotten and unrecognized



Torn scraps of money

weigh down the pockets of peacoats,

feather light



We are blinded by bills and coins

not seeing the scraps that surround them

not seeing the materials they are made of

not building on those elements



A mountain of scraps builds,

having more benefits

than coins and bills.
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
Tommy Johnson Dec 2013
You can hear the voices of our peers being silenced, ignored, shunned and distorted.
Staggering out of their bedroom doorways to the street corner to score a dime bag.
Bright, insightful millennials freezing in search of warmth from something to believe in that will encourage them to look forward to see another day.
Where our economy has made financial prudence clear when talking about education, yet price tags of university tuition's skyrocket.
The refused, the ones with hope but no money or scholarships; tread the streets with the echoes of electro house pulsing in their skulls.
Those who strip themselves down and shred their own morals to scraps just to find themselves and to see their own limitations.
Searching for answers to the unknown, to ascertain what they are, who they are and why.
Timid in high school, pushed along with nothing and no one to put their creative vigor into.
The squeakiest wheels that were never even considered to be given a good greasing.
Faculties giving them lethargic hellos on the first day of school, bestowing celebrated goodbyes to them on graduation day, diplomas in hand.
Now are the ones slumped over in a lackadaisical position contemplating how they can afford an education.
They work eight to ten at seven twenty five an hour Monday to Friday; and weekends staying in as not to blow their earnings.
Those who commute to university and balance a job with it, I applaud you.
The bewilderment of adulthood, the overabundance of pressure and responsibility.
Awakened from nightmares of lost opportunities, missed trains and lost contacts.
To step out of bed and splash water onto a severely distressed face and staring into a mirror with a despairing look.
Then hoping a bus to Garfield to bring back weight for all the embryonic smokers not yet at the point of make or break, just save up enough to pave my own way.
Gazing at the town on a roof top, chugging down the tenth…no…twelfth beer of the night wondering how this all happened.
Wild sensations of kissing an attractive stranger, the rush of touching on things never felt, tasting pleasures only the lucky have known.
The passionate, yet dissolute yearning for that ever eluding ******* adrenaline. Pounding, Pounding, Pounding until the culmination of energy has come.
Flip sided to those dizzying, tear jerking thoughts of suicide, annihilation of ones being, the contradictions of their faith in themselves and the people around them.
Unexplainable waves of anxiety crashing onto the shore of a diminutive island of optimism
Striving to look past the panic, the gloominess and fury that may or may not be present. But to remain composed and press forward to what awaits them.
Coffee keeps them going. Cup after cup, late night cramming every bit they can; into their caffeine driven psyches until the indisputable crash and failure.
Packs and packs of menthol cigarettes to calm their rattling nerves but at the same time killing them slowly. Their lives will seem shorter than the time it took to finish one bogey when death is near.
Marijuana induced ventures to run down burger shacks, laughing hysterical in the car ride, eyes heavy with a most ridiculous elastic grin extending from ear to ear. While inside millions of thoughts and realizations of consciously simple speculations and troubles become clear and unproblematic. So the joy is mirrored outside in.
LSD trips in Petruska dancing and singing in the rain! Making music, making love; playing pretend and creating art. Becoming a family while kicking back under the warmth of an illuminated tree on a cool fall night.
MDMA streaming through the body, everything is as it should be
Beautiful, lovely to touch, wondrous to stroke, marvelous to move.
To contact and connect, converse and converge with the dwelling desire to share what you feel with everyone for it would be selfish and unpleasant to keep it in.
Mushrooms oh the emotional overflow I need not say more but ****.
Then there are over the counter candies, Oxycontin, ******, Adderall and Xanax, painkillers and antidepressants. Ups, downs, side ways and backwards.
Selling addiction and dependency legally to kids. Making heroine, ******* and speed easily obtainable to them. Changing the names and giving out prescriptions so the parents can feel like they're actually helping their children but are subconsciously making it easier on themselves because they cannot handle the way their offsprings actually are. Some parents a feel it is the only way, I wish it wasn't so. Becoming zombies, mindless addicts before they even start to mature into puberty. I've seen it, firsthand front row.
Oh, the monotonous, mundane rituals and agendas of our lives. School, work, sleep eat, the sluggish schedules and repetitions of yesterday's conversations and redundancy of itineraries we had plotted months prior.
Same people, the constant faces of boredom that groan in apathy and hold the fear of complacency.
We talk about how hum drum out lives have become and what we could to put some color in our world but don’t.
We speak of how unfair the system is but ultimately confuse ourselves and everyone else due to lack or organization and dedication so nothing is changed.
We speak of breath taking women we want to share ****** fantasies with but can’t even muster enough courage to send a trivial friend request.
Texting away for hours trying to court those who now occupy our minds and possess our hearts hoping they may allow us to acquire their attention and affection. Calling them only to receive futile dial tones and know we are being evaded.
Weeping on and on for seemingly endless time frames of a dilapidated relationship that was so strained that a miniscule breeze could cause it to collapse but still clinging to every memory as if they were vital hieroglyphics depicting your very essence.
Brilliant theories blurted out in a drunken stupor.
Ingenious hypothesis shrouded in marijuana smoked out room.
Remembrance of friends long gone.
The marines, the navy.
The casualties of drug addiction.
The conquerors or their afflictions.
The scholars.
The insane locked away on the flight deck never to be seen again.
Teenage mothers unsure of themselves, abandoned by their families for they believe that they brought fictional shame upon the family’s name. The fate of the child is unclear but the mother’s everlasting love shines through any obscurities in its way.
Dear mother of the new born winter’s moon may the aura of life protect you and your baby.
The father gone without a trace.
He will never know his daughter.
And it will haunt him forever.
Parents bringing up their kids with values and morals, The Holy Bible, mantras and meditation, the Holy Quran, The Bhagavad Gita, and Upanishads. Islamic anecdotes and Jewish parables.
The names all different
The message the same
The stories unlike
Goals equivalent
Faith
Kabala, Scientology and Wicca
Amish and Mormons
All separate paths that intertwine and runoff each other then pool into the plateau of eternal life.
But do we have faith in our country, our government?
They do not have faith in us. Cameras on every street corner, FBI agents stalking social media, recordings of our personal lives and police brutality. 4th amendment where have you gone?
We say farewell to Oresko the last veteran of the last great war. And revisit the Arab spring, Al-Assad’s soldiers opening fire on innocent protesters, one hundred fifteen thousand lay dead. Bin laden dead, Hussein hanged, Gaddafi receiving every ounce of his comeuppance. War, terrorism, the fear of being attacked or is it an excuse to secure our nation's investments across the sea? Throwing trillions of dollars to keep the ****** machine cranking away, taxes, pensions, credit scores, insurance and annuities all cogs in the convoluted contraptions plight.
My dear friend contemplates this every night laying in bed, fetal position; the anxiety if having to be a part of this.
Falling apart on the inside but on the outside, an Adonis, *******, Casanova wanna be. Who worshiped the almighty dollar, gripping it so tightly until it made change, drank until he had his fill falling face first into the snow. The guy who lead on legions of clueless girls wearing their hearts on their sleeves not knowing he had a girlfriend the entire time. Arranging secret meetings in hidden gardens, streaking into the early morning. Driving to Ewing in his yellow Mustang to woo a sado masochistic girl. The chains and whips do nothing to him he is already numbed by the thrill. Then he comes home, lays in bed until one, with no job and having people pay for his meals.
He knows what he does and who he is wrong. He recites and regurgitates excuses endlessly. He cries because he knows he is weak, he knows he must fix himself. I sit on the edge of myself with my fingers crossed hoping maybe, maybe he will set himself straight.
My chum who can talk his way out of any confrontation and into a woman’s *******. Multitudes of amorous affairs in backrooms, backseats, front rows of movies theaters. Selfish, boastful and ignorant, yet woman fling themselves at him like catapulted boulders over a medieval battle field just to say hello. These girls blind to see what going on, for their eyes were taken by low self esteem. A need to be accepted, to feel wanted even only for fifteen minutes. Poor self image, daddy issues, anorexic razor blade slicing sirens screaming on about counted calories and social status. Their uncontrollable mental breakdowns and emotional collapse. Their uncles who ***** them, their parents who split up and confusing their definition of love and loyalty for the rest of their lives. Broken homes, domestic abuse and raised voices, sending jolts of fright into the young girl’s fragile minds. I send my sorrows to you ladies, to see such beautiful creatures suffer then be used and thrown away with the ****** that was just ****** deep into their *****.
Then I see women and men of marvelous stature, romantic in the streets holding everyone and everything in high regards. Finding beauty in anything and anyone. Enjoying every second as if the rapture was over head eating exotic foods from unheard of countries and cultures. Bouncing to the sound of whimsical , reverb ricochets and sense stimulating music. Huffing inspiration to create something out of thin air. Dancing to retired jazz and swing albums as if no time had past since their conception. Wearing bold colors and patterns, thrifty leather shoes or suede.
Dawning pre-owned blazers because why spend hundreds of dollars on new clothes just to look good but feel uncomfortable with a hole in your pocket. Dressing up but dressing down, so class yet urban I love it, chinos, pea coats and flannels so simple but chic.
At night they go to underground dens, sweaty bodies, loud music and freedom. Expressive manifestations glowing fueled with MDMA and other substances to further their enjoyment of the dark glorious occasion. Kandi kids sporting colorful bracelets, not watches for time is of no concern to them, they have all eternity they know that.
Going to book stores, coffee shops just to have some peace of mind and a moment of silence to themselves so that can weave the tapestry of imaginative innovation. Writing their own versions of the same story, endless doors of perception, reading news papers and taking it with a grain of salt. Watching the news on TV with a hand full of salt. Searching for the real story so they can know if the world they all live in is actually safe.
She who made her own way breaking hearts, rolling blunts and making deals. The flower child of the modern age, left the rainy days in search of radiant sunshine, idealistic. Reality was subjective, purple dyed hair, multicolored sweater with sandals on her feet. A ten inch bowl with bud from California packed in tightly. Coming from Dumont to Bergenfeild then on to Philly to Mount Vernon. Off to Astoria and the Heights. Now to Sweden laying in the grassy plains below the mountains. Good for you my friend whom I have loved, may fortunes of unsullied joy come to you and all you meet.
Since you’ve left I have encountered drunken burly firemen just trying to have a good time. Pounding down Pabst Blue Ribbon as if it were water; as if it were good tasting beer. But heroes none the less.
EMT's, young eighteen years old high school graduates, saving lives reviving people who are a mere inch close to death.
Sport stars getting scholarships thanks to their superior skills and strength.
Striking beauty school students who are into making the people of this world a little bit more beautiful on the outside.
All these people, successful, doing things. Departing to their desired destinations. I see inside them, they carry baggage, loneliness and insecurities. I can feel their guilt slowing them down. All have their loads but it’s the way they carry them that shows who they really are. And to me their all gems.
Not far in Paterson I watch the junkies limping across busy winding street, perusing a severely needed fix. “Diesel!” they shout beneath flickering streetlights, asking for spare change and if bold enough a ride to some shady sketchy place. I give them a dollar and politely decline. They’ll die without it. Vomiting up bile and blood, twitches and shivers are all you feel when it’s not in you. They cannot stop, they need help. Why not help them instead of “assisting” those who are homosexual? Cleansing so they can be granted entry to the kingdom of God. Looking down on people who have found love and understanding and a deep attraction to others who just so happen to share alike genitals.
Narrow minded uproars about the spread of AIDS, nonsense! The puritanical onslaught of those who want nothing more than the rest of us, love. "Gay", "****", "******", "queer", how about "kind", "funny", "genuine human being"? The right to be married and divorced should be an option for everyone to enjoy. The strains and hardships of matrimony are yours if you want them. If you don’t agree don’t hate or harm just allow them to be peacefully. Same goes for anything for that matter, Jehovah's going door to door, Mormons from Burbank. New ideas are never a bad thing, they’re not a waste of time. On average you have about eighty years to mull over your options.
Some people don’t live long enough to do so, cancer is rampant, blood diseases, ****** diseases, natural disasters coming right out of left field and blindsiding the innocent bystanders of both hemispheres. Some go through life handicapped, autism is apparent these days. Schizophrenia, Asperburgers, ADD and ADHD. Some lose their golden memories of their many valuable years walking down Alzheimer's Lane, not being able to remember whatever transpired only a few moments ago but revisiting gold nuggets from from fifty-some-odd years ago with ease. Some go through life delusional or bipolar. Some can't even sleep at night but they still carry on. And if assistance is needed it is our job as a race to help our brothers and sisters, no one deserves to be excluded from the gala of life. Or be denied by society and pumped with brightly colored pills from doctors promising a cure but prescribing a crutch.
Finding solace in sincerity.
The serendipity of it all hasn’t been uncovered and that keeps me going.
“Radiate boundless love towards the entire world above, below and across. Unhindered without ill will without enmity.” Oh Buddha the truth as it ever was.
Who is he who keeps these thoughts from the conscious minds of the population?
Who is it that distracts us from the humbling beauty and overwhelming devastation of this place of existence we’re in?
It’s they who do under the table parlor trick behind our backs.
Those who broadcast mind numbing so called reality TV shows without an underlying value or meaning.
Those who produce music, proclaiming extravagance to be the end all be all gluttonous goal we all should aim to achieve.
And those who turn noble causes into money making scams and defile pure ideas.
And of course those who give false promises of easily obtained  bright futures, those who don’t care, those who steal, ****, curse, bad mouth and lie. But still manage to get elected into positions that more or less decide out fates. Monsters, demons, banshees howling inconsequential worries and leaving us deaf to hear the real issues.
The
Abigail Marie Apr 2014
You cause
a break inside my organs
Pointing out my flaws
our differences.
You are at peace.
I sit jittering, worrying
what everyone will think
of when I didn’t care
you made me laugh at
everything
Changes.  You’re not right for me
Nor I for you, but I can’t help
Thinking
What if?  Then I remember
you’re not what nor
Everything I want.

You are an intellectual snob you
have a depth about you
I would love to delve in,
a psychological study
that even the best critics would praise,
but I don’t want anyone else to have been there
or ever go there.
I cannot hold on to you
tear me away while
You’re haphazardly gluing us together
We’re a kindergarten art project
messy, trying to see
Beauty within the confusion,
unfinished    

You asked me
Where am I most at peace
4 years old.      
I could be anything
No fears
I hadn’t been ripped apart.
I was the girl that said everything,
until I felt the need to screen my thoughts,
like the filter you use to make your coffee
each morning.  I wish that’s where I was,
having you tell me
that you like your women like your coffee
Dark and bitter.

I can look past your chauvinistic ways,
not giving a **** about anyone.
You’re not really closed minded
You just act like it,
which annoys the hell out of me
Sometimes.  I wish life was simple.    
But then
I would never know your complexities nor
Feel the things you help me feel,
like hate for train whistles
or the burn of gin hitting my throat.
Music      
you introduce me to
offstage trumpets, bad movies.  Your politics,
your brown eyes      
and how you can hear frequencies
that most everyone else can’t.  I worry
that you hear
the fear in my voice and heartbreak
With every word I speak.

When were you going to tell me?
Or was that your plan all along?
To throw me out
like yesterday’s coffee grounds
or cut up scraps
Used and unwanted.
I wish I could tell you
to tell her you don’t want her
but me instead,
you don’t, I don’t want you to.
I want holding hands, laughter
comfort, personality, humor, intellect.
You want that plus things
I can’t give
But you always take.

You are your coffee
disgusting, caffeinated,
addicting
the only patch that helps is
comforting words you never spoke.
We had many conversations
of your desires, lusts, mistakes,
but I was burned,
by lies, distrust.
You left, like always,
a harsh, acidic aftertaste
on my tongue.
KM Hanslik Jul 2018
Keep your eyes soft and your dreams
up on the highest shelf so you won't take them down too early;
keep everything that you spill in the dark locked
behind your teeth during the day, don't bring it out before dusk;
like secrets we drip over sidewalk cracks
from cotton-candy sticky fingers and leave our names
dissolved under each other's tongues, the warmth of you is keeping me company
as I try to crawl out of my blood again, they told you to leave
a bread-crumb trail in case your heart becomes too watered down by just visiting
to even remember the vacation at all; you carry
kisses on the knuckles of amputated arms,
driving through parking lots with your seatbelts on,
collections of constellations growing
in the bruises on the insides of your thighs, reminders
of salt & the whites of your eyes;

I'll always carry you around
like scuffed knees and the last time I told you "I'm okay",
I wanna press my fingers into you until your skin is melded
with fire and scraps of things that I could never be,
I hope steel rods grow out of your bones and I hope you gather
bruises before you gather dust,
we are all a little lost and lonely but that never stopped
the accumulation of well-spent nights
coughing up new ways to spell my name
(it sounded foreign before you)
leave this on repeat,
we're going in again.
ipoet Jul 2012
I have always liked,
Defiant Africans,

Nelson, Patrice, Kenyatta,
Martin Luther King,

Groovy black men,
******* with attitude,

But they intimidate me,
Black men.

Freedom fighters,
Bar room brawlers,

And I rise from sleep,
Sheened in sweat,

Running away,
Scribbling my number,
On scraps of paper,

On foreheads and trousers,
On outstretched palms,

And I’m breathing heavily,
Feeling stained,

Because,
That one there,

The white man in Navy uniform,
With hair on his *****,

I know him,

-conquistador-

He smells of garlic and grease,
And my black friends call me,
******, *****, *****.

Will he take the lion tooth offered,
Will he make the tribal dance?

-I can teach him to love the earth,
Teach him to plant his feet in, deep-

I ******* from sleep, supported
By thick, colonial, muscle.

I am forging steel,
Industrial iron,

I am engineering a white lover
Beneath the sheets, whilst

Apologising to freedom fighters,
Who call me ******, *****, *****.
Jeff Raheb Aug 2014
Dal Lake

I float on Dal Lake
Suspended
between the thick soupy crisp air of soldiers
water lilies, Kashmiri bread
and the Muslim prayers
that penetrate the hardness of war
chanting Allah Bismallah
Floating Islam
Holy words drenching the air
Drenching the green cloth of Hindu soldiers
Sliding down the cool metal of a rifle
9 years of war
1,000 houseboats lie empty
in the Himalayan fog
Intricately carved furniture
Thick with dust
and the powder of blood and bullets

Himalayan silhouette etched black
against the song of lotus gatherers
Foggy voices like cloud of moon
Lotus lake
Gray of war and desperation
Children beg
1 rupee
1 rupee
1 rupee
Endless monologue
Parched like lotus shaped paddle
They throw flowers to me
endlessly
I throw them back
endlessly

Time passes slowly
like smoke on a lizard’s tail
trailing in the thick, rancid air
of burning meat and maple leaves
Like a shikara
moving over the glass of Kashmir

The sound of a dozen Bangees
floating over the water
Hollow, solemn and mournful
Echoing against the hardness
of the surrounding mountains
The circle of Himalayas
Like a womb
around the prayers of Pachin

In the middle of the lake
I hear the call to prayer
Azan Nemarz Suba
Azan Nemarz Pashin
Azan Nemarz Degar
Azan Nemarz Sham
Azan Nemarz Koftan
From dawn till dusk

Azan
4 mosques
4 singers
4 directions
staggered by a breath
like an imperfect echo

Azan slips into the pockets of island soldiers
Waters the impatience of soldiers on the shore
Steals into the vacant eyes of soldiers in the Mosque
They want to go home to their wives and children
They want to leave the place of prayer, which is not theirs
The place of prayer, which has seen death
The place where God was pushed out
In order to not see the killing
To **** what they don’t see
The place, which was no longer a refuge

Outside

Dal Lake turns to the color of red lentils
cooking in a dented metal ***
In the Shikara boat we eat dal and rice
and throw scraps into the silver water
where it washes up
onto the ***** boots of a soldier
I hear the dull gray click, click of his rifle
as it touches the ground

The prayers have ended
Jackie G Jul 2018
My heart is full
So much resides there
Memories wish to stop it from beating
Scraps & unforgiveness have tried to choke it out
My heart once ached from betrayal
To stone i thought it would turn
But through all of that
I cant seem to get rid of LOVE
LOVE still lives there
Reassuring me in life I can go on!!!!
As for me & my heart we're gonna be just fine!
To all the broken hearted, I can relate but i also realized that everything will be ok. Things happen and then purpose follows behind! You got this
Amelie May 2013
I want to take the bits of you I love
and press them like flowers
between the pages of my favourite book
because I know these will never fade.

And I want to take all the scraps
that you dislike about yourself
and display them on my refrigerator
to show you I'm still proud
of the person you are
and of the person you are becoming.

But most of all, I want to spin you like a globe
and drag my fingers accross until it stops
to discover the pieces of you
that you've yet to reveal to anyone else.

I want to wrap them up in linen
and place them in an old cigar box,
I'd tuck it away safely
in the top drawer of my bedside table,
so you know I will never let
those pieces of you go

Because when you share
hidden parts of yourself
with someone else,
you're trusting that person
to hold the secret sections
of your heart,
and to love the bits you thought were unlovable.
Tawanda Mulalu Sep 2015
Uncle Sam sometimes whispers a little bit too close.
I’ve felt so many scraps scraping against my cheek-
those numerous numberless things he carries in his
beard by ‘accident’. So many things get stuck there
and I feel them all, whenever he dares, and he dares
often, to whisper alittlebittooclose. One time the grey
beard leaned in and touched me in my sleep and
planted in me strange dreams of faraway gothic towers
passing off as libraries: Harvard dreams, Princeton
dreams, Yale dreams: I haven’t quite slept since. The
shaggy scraps stuck to the forest of strands on his face
would never let me. They scratch away at me often
even in the brightness of day, and claw jaggedly in the
darkness of night. Little heart of mine has lost its own
beat. It beats to the beat of a beat on a beat from a beat
with a beat by a beat which beats those beats and beats
beats that beat not of my beat. Little heart of mine, when
did you lose your own pulse? Why won’t you tell your family
that Uncle Sam’s whispers are more than whispers? Why
won’t you tell your family what Uncle Sam does to you
in the brightness of day when everyone is smiling as Uncle
Sam pats your shoulder? Little heart of mine, why doesn’t
your family know what Uncle Sam does in the darkness
of night as he whispers whispers under your whispers and
what he does beneath your skin? Didn’t you know, little heart?
They have laws that say that greybeards shouldn’t be digging
into little boys’ insides, don’t they.

(Uncle Sam has travelled
far and wide, far and wide to tell me lies.
Recall that this is not the first time…)

But little heart you know why. This is not the first time.
It is the natural progression for a Coconut like you:
darkness of night on outside and brightness of day on inside.
Your skin doesn’t matter; you all taste the same.
Cut you off the homeland-tree and cart you all away.
Then, in this way we can say and say the homeland is “Rising”-

Uncle Sam tells the world of his diversity in selection
of little boys to touch with strange dreams.
And I like the feel of the scraps in his beard. Maybe
I can become one of them. One with them.
So... I'm yet another African scholarship student in America.

What else is new?
Madisen Kuhn Sep 2014
i don’t know how someone as small as me
with bones that break at the sight of heat lightning
and heart strings that thread apart at the sound of his voice
could make anyone feel like the sun shines brighter
through kaleidoscope eyes—
you’re okay if it brings out the freckles on your face,
and you feel good, you feel alive
you say i showed you how to love in a new way,
that i taught you to be so much more okay with your tummy,
“it’s been very freeing and life is a lot better, thank you,”
but i feel like i can’t say you’re welcome
because i am a messy cliché of imperfect scraps and hypocrisy
loosely sewn together with
“you are strong you are strong you are strong,”
but i feel so weak i feel so weak i feel so weak
and i am not steady hands, they shake like
wet dogs after kiddy pool baths,
i am flower seeds that forgot how to bloom,
trapped below the surface of a garden that feels like quicksand
and i’m sorry but you don’t see all the mistakes i make,
all the words i’ve preached that look back at me
and laugh when they see
what i feel, what i think, who i am behind closed doors,
i’m sorry.
you keep hanging medals around my neck, and
they’re so heavy, and i don’t know
what to say besides i love you
when you speak words of adoration,
but please do not praise me, i am not good.
Nat Lipstadt Apr 2019
My Prize for Waiting
~
tucked in all by myself,
resting dark and quiet
in the thin place^
where the distance between
this world and the next,
is no distance at all,
but  a few inches separating,
easily fordable, back and forth-able

my palms, hands down,
come to rest on my *******
and the two thumbs in unison,
begin to sweep the streaming space of their in-between,
conducting a radar sweep-search for the precise point
passageway to poetic mystical places,
hoping to snag any residuals for safekeeping

no hurry to either arrive or depart,
in patient attendance for
rhythms of woven word arrivistes,
coming in no particular order,
asking to be seized, greedy to be
nominated and recognized, immortalized,
as great poetry, prize worthy,
kept for all time inside others poetry chests

but in the thin place,
dream records are not kept,
hazy scraps at best retained,
a recipe for a witnessed totality,
is only a soupy reduction of a
few seconds of hazed video,
that can neither give nor get
no satisfaction

the plastic surgeons attempt to reconstruct
the body of the meal, the real deal,
alas, there are no prizes either
for botched surgeries and pretty but meaningless
poetry scraps

the only evidence of my travels,
a flushing, blushing residual flow,
slow to dissipate, a hangover makers mark
of a sojourn best described as unsatisfying,
my blush, a prize for waiting but failing,
“the most peculiar and most human of all expressions”^^

woe to me when returned in ignominy,
medaled in only base irony,
me and philosopher Pliny,^^^
both dying while recording our own private Vesuvius,
our bodies preserved by voluminous volcanic ash,
but alas, you cannot recite the ash of poetry

so one waits, cut and pasting brown edged
burnt photographs epistles,
that are clinging and clung to the distaff spindle,
insufficient to weave a flax complete

and yet we return perforce twenty four hours from now,
to snag another prized piece of meaningless,
my prize for waiting
in the solitude of the thin place


3:35am Saturday April 6th, 2019

~
last nights scrap

cease your whining,
seize your waiting,
therein is your own paid price
for the prize of inspiration


inspired by Jean Fisher,
a real prize winning poet
^”It turns out these destinations have a name: thin places. ... No, thin places are much deeper than that. They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we're able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever”. The New York Times

^^ Charles Darwin on blushing

^^^ “For my part I deem those blessed to whom, by favour of the gods, it has been granted either to do what is worth writing of, or to write what is worth reading; above measure blessed those on whom both gifts have been conferred. In the latter number will be my uncle, by virtue of his own and of your compositions.”   Pliny the Younger to his uncle, Pliny the Elder, who most likely died in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius while trying to save a friend.
Emily Marie Aug 2014
Society sells beautiful lies,
Emphasis on the beautiful,
They sell you the definition of beauty in
small pictures,
small ads,
small sizes.
Spinning the world on a string,
They've got us all fooled.
Telling teens they don't need to eat,
"Skip the food today,
be beautiful tomorrow".
Selling the idea that beauty can replace sorrows.
Society sells the idea that beauty is empowerment.
Society sells the idea that if you are beautiful,
then you could have the world on a string.
These lies lead our leaders of tomorrow into disarray.
Sell us the idea that if we are beautiful
today will be better than yesterday.
But the empty promises lead us all astray,
Abandoned on street corners begging for scraps,
because we didn't think we felt empowerment.

Society sells small,
Society sells beauty,
Society sells small.
Small models,
Small manikins,
Small sizes.
Spinning the world on a string,
Society sells the idea that the size of your waist,
defines how beautiful you are.
Society sells the idea that beauty
is empowerment.
Society sells small.
Society sells the idea that if you are not small,
you are not empowered,
ugly,
waste of space.

Society sells small.
Society says beauty is empowerment.
These lies lead our leaders of tomorrow into disarray,
Too many teens today are to prone to facings their problems with razor blades,
Because today was not better than yesterday.
Then tomorrow won't be either.

Society sells small,
small pictures,
small ads,
small manikins.
Society sells protruding plastic ribs,
ribs sharp enough to cut paper.
Society sells the figures of the sick and dying.

Society sells small.
Small enough to be drop dead gorgeous,
Emphasis on the drop dead,
Society sells women who are severely underfed.
Society sells women suffering from malnutrition.
Since when did this become tradition?
Since when was fragile stature empowering?
Society sells skin and bones.
Society sells so small,
**women are literally dying to feel beautiful.
Society has given the world un-realistic proportions to try and shape our bodies into, and it *****.
Allison Jones Jun 2016
I searched for you my whole life.
Ripping people open to see if I could recognize you inside them.
None of them were you.
The day I found you, I could barely hold on.
I had scraps where slabs should be.
I hadn’t realized they were ripping me apart too.
Do you want a slice of cake,
might keep you going just for now.
But as you are not used to eating,
you have the hooves we'll keep the cow.

The modern world is dying younger,
unlike those in the poorer east.
Who die through lack of food and water,
we're dying because we're obese.

In this modern city arena,
it seems our portion is the more
free health and overwhelming safety
but we save that small slice for the poor.

The waste is massive, over burdened,
tons of food are chucked away.
As we stick to our sell by clearance
just think for what so many pray.

Do we need such a massive slice,
even half would fill our needs.
The west gets fat the east is wanting
scrubbing around for scraps and seeds.

So next time when feasting in McDonalds,
and washing down with large milkshake.
Try and see your own reflexion
and you'll see whom eats all the cake.

Before you leave that busy food-hall,
just have a quick look in the bin
and you will see the unholy waste,
perhaps you'll also see the sin.

The slicing of this planets cake  
seems to be divided wrong.
So cut it into a fairer slices
and send it to where it belongs.
November 13th 2014
Thanks go to my friend Joe Malgeri who through his wonderful comments gave me the idea for this poem!
Madisen Kuhn May 2013
i want to take the bits of you i love
and press them like flowers
between the pages of my favorite book

and i want to take all the scraps
that you dislike in yourself
and display them on my refrigerator
to show you i’m still proud
of the person you are
and the person you are becoming

but most of all, i want to spin you like a globe
and drag my finger across till it stops
to discover the pieces of you
that you’ve yet to reveal to anyone else

i want to wrap them up in linen
and place them in an old cigar box,
i’d tuck it away safely
in the top drawer of my bedside table,
so you know i’ll never let
those pieces of you go

because when you share
hidden parts of yourself
with someone else,
you’re trusting that person
to hold the secret sections
of your heart
and to love the bits
you thought
were unlovable
Willow Branche Mar 2014
I offer myself to you.
Bare and naked.
I rip my heart out for you.
Cold but still beating.
I work my fingers to the bone for you.
Nothing but scraps of what they used to be.
But you can't see what you don't want.
And you don't want what you can't see.
So you throw me away, bare and naked.
You step on my heart, cold - no longer beating.
You push my bloodied hands away from you in disgust.
You don't see how hard I've tried.
You ignore the tears I've cried.
I guess this is all I'll ever be.
I love you anyway mommy.
judy smith Apr 2017
So you know you’re looking at two very different styles of dress, here. But precisely what decades? When did that waistline move back down? What details are the defining touches of their era? How long were women actually walking around with bustles on their backsides?

Lydia Edwards’s How to Read a Dress is a detailed, practical, and totally beautiful guide to the history of this particular form of clothing from the 16th to the 20th centuries. It tracks the small changes that pile up over time, gradually ******* until your great-grandmother’s closet looks wildly different than your own. As always, fashion makes for a compelling angle on history—paging through you can see the shifting fortunes of women in the Western world as reflected in the way they got dressed every morning.

Of course, it’ll also ensure that the next lackadaisically costumed period piece you watch gives you agita, but all knowledge has a price.

I spoke to Edwards about how exactly we go about resurrecting the history of an item that’s was typically worn until it fell apart and then recycled for scraps; our conversation has been lightly trimmed and edited for clarity.

The title of the book is How to Read a Dress. What do you mean by “reading” a dress?

Basically what I mean is, when you are looking at a dress in an exhibition or a TV show, reading it in terms of working out where the inspirations or where certain design choices come from. Being able to look at it and recognize key elements. Being able to look at the bodice and say, Oh, the shape of that is 1850s, and the design relates to this part of history, and the patterning comes from here. It’s looking at the dress as an object from the top down and being able to recognize different elements—different historical elements, different design elements, different artistic elements. “Read” is probably the best word to use for that kind of approach, if that makes sense.

It must send you around the bend a little bit, watching costume adaptations where they’re a bit slapdash. The one I think of is the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice, which I actually really enjoy, but I know that one’s supposed to have all over the place costuming-wise.

Yeah, it does. I mean, I love the BBC Pride and Prejudice one, because they kept very specifically to a particular era. But I can see what they did with the Keira Knightley one—they were trying to keep it 1790s, when the book was written, as opposed to when it was published. But they’ve got a lot of kind of modern influences in there and they’ve got a lot of influences from 30, 40 years previously, which is interesting to an audience and gives an audience I suppose more frames of reference, more areas to think about and look at. So I can see why they did that. But it does make it more difficult if you’re trying to accurately decode a garment. It’s harder when you’ve got lots of different eras going on there, but it makes it beautiful and interesting for an audience.

The guide spans the 16th to the 20th century. Why start with the 16th century?

Well, partly because it’s where my own interest starts, in terms of my research and the areas I’ve looked at. But more importantly in terms of audience interest, we get a lot of TV shows, a lot of films in recent years—things like The Tudors—that type of era seems to be something that people are interested in. That time is very colorful and very interesting to people.

And also because in terms of thinking about the dress as garment, obviously people wore dresses in medieval times, but in terms of it being something that specifically women wore, distinct from men’s clothes, I really think we start to see that more in the 15th, 16th century onwards.

Where do you go to get the historical information to put together a book like this? What do you use as your source material? Because obviously the thing about clothing is that it has to stand up to a lot of wear and tear and a lot of it doesn’t survive.

This is the other thing about the 16th century stuff—there’s so little surviving. That’s why that chapter was a lot shorter and also that’s why I used a lot of artworks rather than surviving garments, just because they don’t exist in their entirety.

But wherever possible, you go to the garments themselves in museum collections. And then if that’s proving to be difficult, you go to artworks or images, but always bearing in mind the artist will have had their own agenda, so they won’t necessarily be accurate of what people were actually wearing. So then you have to go and look up written source material from the time—say, diaries. I like using letters that people have written to each other over the centuries, describing dress and what they were wearing on a daily basis. Novels can be good, as well.

Also the scholarship that has come before, the secondary sources, works by people like Janet Arnold, Aileen Ribeiro. Really well researched scholarly books where people have used primary sources themselves and put their own interpretation on it can be really, really helpful. Although you take some of it with a pinch of salt, and you put your own interpretation on there, as well.

But always to the dress itself wherever possible.

What are some of the challenges you face, or the constraints on our ability to learn about the history of fashion?

Well, the very practical issue of trying to see garments—some of them I did see here in Australia, but a lot of them were in the States, in Canada, in New Zealand, so it’s hard to physically get there to see them. And often, even when you can get to the museum, garments are out on loan to other exhibitions or other museums. That’s a practical consideration.

But also, especially when I’m talking about using artworks and things, which can be really helpful when you’re researching, but as I’ve said they do come from a place where there’s more interpretations and more agendas. So if someone’s done a portrait and there’s a beautiful 1880s dress in it, that could have been down to the whims of the person who was wearing it, or the artist could have changed significantly the color or style to suit his own taste. Then you have to do extra research on top of that, to make sure that what you are seeing is representative.

It’s a fascinating area. There’s a lot of challenges, but for me, that’s what makes it really exciting as well. But it’s really that question of being able to trust sources and knowing what to use and what not to use in order to make things clear for the audience.

Obviously many of these dresses were very expensive and took a lot of labor and it wasn’t fast fashion—people didn’t just give it away or toss it when it fell out of season. A lot of times, you did was you remade it. When you’re looking at a dress that’s been remade, how do you extract the information that you need as a historian out of it?

I love it when something like that comes up. I’ve got a couple of examples in the book.

Well, it can be quite challenging, because often when you’re first looking at a piece it’s not obvious that it’s been remade. But if you’re lucky enough to look inside it and actually hold it and turn it round different angles, there’ll be things like the placement of a seam, or you’ll see that the waist has been moved up or down according to the fashion. And that’s often obvious when you’re looking inside. You can see the way the skirt’s been attached. Often you can tell if a skirt’s been taken off and then reattached using different pleats, different gatherings; that can give you a hint that it’s then been remade to fit in with a different fashionable ideal.

One of the key ways is fabric. You can often see, especially in early 19th century dresses when they’ve been made of these beautiful 18th century silks and brocades. That’s nice because it’s the first obvious clue that something’s been remade or that an old dress has been completely taken apart and it’s just the fabric that’s been used. I find it particularly interesting when the waist has been moved or the seams have been taken off or re-sewn in a different shape or something like that. It can be subtle but once your knowledge base grows, that’s one of the most fascinating areas that you can look at.

You page through the book and you watch these trends unfold and there are occasional sea changes will happen fairly quickly, like when the Regency style arises. But how much change year-to-year would a woman have seen? How long would it take, just as a woman getting dressed in the morning, to see styles just radically alter? Would you even notice?

Well, this is the thing—I think it’s very easy, when we’re looking back, to imagine that in 1810 you’d be wearing this dress and then all the frills and the frouf would have started to come in the late 1810s and the 1820s, and suddenly you would have had a whole new wardrobe. But obviously, unless you were the very wealthiest women and you had access to dressmakers who had the absolute newest patterns and newest fabrics then no, you wouldn’t have seen a massive change. You wouldn’t have afforded to be able to have the newest things as they came in. You would have maybe remade dresses to make them maybe slightly more in line with a fashion plate that you might have seen, but you wouldn’t have had access to new information and new fashion plates as soon as they came. To be realistic, there would have been very little change on a day to day level.

But I think also, for us now—it’s hard to see it without hindsight, but we feel like we’re fairly fluid in wearing the same kind of styles, but obviously when we look back in 20 years, we’ll look at pictures of us and see greater changes than we’re now aware. Because it happens on a slow pace and it happens on such a subconscious level in some ways.

But actually, yeah, it’s to do with economics, it’s to do with availability. People living in towns where they couldn’t easily get to cities—if you were living in a country town a hundred miles away from London, there’s no way that you would have the resources to see the most recent fashion plates, the most recent ideas that were developing in high society. So it was a very slow process in reality.

If you have a lot of money you can change out your wardrobe quicker and wear the latest styles. And so the wealthiest people, their clothes were what in a lot of case stood the best chance of surviving and being in modern collections. So how do we know what working women would have worn or what middle class women would have worn?

Yeah, this is hard. I do have some more middle class examples, because we’re lucky in that we do have quite a few that have survived, especially in smaller museums and historical collections, where people have had clothes sitting in their attics for years and have donated them, just from normal families over the years.

But, working women, that’s much more difficult. We’re lucky from the 19th century because we have photographic evidence. But really a lot of it will come down to written descriptions, mainly letters, diaries, not necessarily that the people themselves would have kept, but there’s examples of people that worked in cotton mills, for instance, and people that ran the mills and their families and wives and friends who had written accounts of what the women there were wearing. Also newspaper accounts, particularly of people who would go and do charity work and help the poor. They often wrote quite detailed descriptions of the people that they were helping.

But in terms of actual garments, yeah, it’s very difficult. Certainly 18th century and before, it’s really, really hard to get hold of anything that gives you a really good idea of what they wore. But in the 18th century—it’s quite interesting, because then we get examples of separate pieces of clothing worn by the upper classes, like a skirt with a jacket, which was actually a lower middle class style initially and then it became appropriated by the upper classes. And then it became much fancier and trimmed and made in silks and things. So then, we can see the inspiration of the working classes on the upper classes. That’s another way of looking at it, although of course that’s much more problematic.

It’s interesting how in several cases you can see broader historical context, or other stories happening through clothes. Like you point out that the rise of the one-piece dresses is due to the rise of mantua makers, who were women who were less formally trained who were suddenly making clothing. Are there any other interesting stories like that, that you noticed and thought were really fascinating?

There’s a dress in the book that a woman made for her wedding. I think she was living on her own, or she was living with a servant and her mother or something. She made the dress and then turned up to her wedding and traveled quite a long way to get there, and when she arrived, the groom and all the guests weren’t there. There was nobody. So she went away and came back again a week later, and everyone was there. And the reason that no one was there before was that a river had flooded in the direction that they were all coming from. She had obviously no way of finding out about this until after the fact, and we have this beautiful dress that she spent ages making and had obviously gone to a lot of effort to try and work out what the latest styles were, to incorporate it into her wedding dress.

Things like that, I find really interesting, because they talk so much about human and social history as well as fashion history, and the garment is the main way we have of keeping these stories alive and remembering them and looking into the kind of life and world these people lived, who made these garments.

Over the centuries, how does technology affect fashion? Obviously, we think of the industrial revolution as really speeding up the pace of fashion. But are there other moments in the history of fashion where technology shapes what women end up wearing?

One example is where I talk about the Balenciaga dress from the early 1950s—with a bubble hem and a hat and she would have worn these beautiful pump shoes with it—with the introduction of the zipper. Which just made such a huge difference, because it suddenly meant you’d have ease and speed of dressing. It meant that you didn’t have to worry about more complicated ways of fastening a garment. I think the zipper made a massive change and also in terms of dressmaking at home, it was a really quick and simple way that people had of being able to create quite fashionable styles on a budget and with ease and speed at home.

Also, of course, once women’s dress started to become simpler and they did away with the corset and underwear became a lot less complicated, that made dressing a lot easier, that made the introduction of the bias cut and things that sit very closely to the natural body much more widely used and much more fashionable.

I would say the introduction of machine-made lace as well, particularly from the late 19th, early 20th century onwards where it was so fashionable on summer dresses and wedding dresses. It just meant that you could so much more easily add this decadent touch to a garment, because lace would have been so much more expensive before then and so time-consuming to make. I think that made a huge difference in ordinary women being able to attain a kind of luxury in their everyday dress.

That actually makes me think of something else I wanted to ask you, which is you point out in your intro the way we casually use this word “vintage.” I think about that with lace. Lace is described as being a “vintage” touch but it’s very much this question of when, where, who, why—it’s a funny term when you think about it, the way we use it so casually to describe so much.

Oh, yes. It’s crazy. I used to work in a wedding dress shop and I used to make historically inspired wedding dresses and things. And brides used to come in and say, “Oh, I want something vintage.” But they didn’t really know what they meant. Usually what they meant is they wanted something with a bit of lace on it, or with some sort of pearls or beading. I think it’s really inspired by whatever is trending at the time. So, you know, Downton Abbey became vintage. I think ‘50s has always been kind of synonymous with the word vintage. But what it means is huge,
Stephen James Apr 2019
gathering these scraps together to build
from a world crumbling and unfulfilled
take to heart these tenets that convey ways
to adapt to that which can not be changed
deep meditation see what patience brings
strumming chords that sing the hearts melodies
freely giving in grand contribution
this breath of life and soul's restitution
take up your wings they are broken no more
you're an angel in full glory adored
born with a globe sized burden like atlas
navigate the unplanned and then map it
bring answers to the change you wish to see
soon you'll live the life you pursue and seek
a sonnet
B Nov 2014
You burn bridges and take names
Playing love like its a game
You'll never be able to return
After all the bridges you've burned
You burn them trying to escape
That which is sealed in fate
I'll collect the charred scraps of wood
And build you a house for good
Maybe then you'll stop and realize
In fire, not everything dies
Birdy Thyne Oct 2012
As I brush my teeth in the bathroom, a young woman enters- tooth brush and face wash in hand.  I watch her reflection in the large mirror a front the sinks, I put an over-sized glob of tooth paste on my brush.
******* it Danielle, she sees this mistake you’ve made.

I turn the water on and attempt to wash away some of the toothpaste. We start brush at the same time, I smile to myself because these synchronized flukes, such as speaking in unison or laughing simultaneously, make me feel briefly connected to someone. Sounds a little silly, but don’t all ways of relieving loneliness?

My anxiety stirs again as I realize the volume of bristle to tooth.* Can you hear this? Is is disgusting to you? That sound of saliva and paste being ground into my teeth.
I lean forward to spit, inspecting the rusted faucet. I see my face in it’s metal stem, it convoluted my face.

I’d rather be disfigured, so that I’d no longer have to guess and worry about whether people were eying me. I would know. They could clearly see my faults if I had a missing jaw, drooping eye and liver spots mapped across my grey skin. I wouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of being seen in a favorable light.

The possibility of fooling anybody into thinking I’m not repulsive. I would know it.  I stare into the metal, I spit. Blood is all over the sink. I spit again and more blood. Again, blood. It’s pouring out of my mouth. I turn the water on high, panicked that the girl beside me will see. But she leaves, “goodnight” she says as she walks by. I try to say something but I’m choking on the blood. Where the **** is this blood coming from?

I glance up to the mirror, there is no blood in my mouth. Back to the sick- no blood. I am so confused, just moments ago Armageddon was spilling from my mouth; and now it’s vanished?
I stumble back wards into a stall.

“I saw that.”

A voice whispers from within the stall, or was it outside?   I open the door, but nobody is there.
Okay, Danny, calm down. Nobody is here, you’re imagining things.

“No, you heard.”

Confused, the voice, that voice- it’s coming from the stall door. No, doors can’t speak, I open the door but still, I am alone.

I run, bladder still full. Sundries still on the counter, I need to get out of there.
_______________________________
Paranoid Schizophrenia- A mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of the process of thinking and of emotional responsiveness. It most commonly manifests as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking, and it is accompanied by significant social or occupational dysfunction.*
___________

Within two weeks of my first experience of hallucinations, I was in the Summit Valley Institution for Mental Disorders. Highly medicated, with stitches along my chin and staples in my head.
I’d lost all control, they found me at the bottom of a stairwell after falling 3 stories.

Nurses told me that when I’d been taken in, they found more that one hundred scraps of paper in my pockets, on them were different snipets of conversation I’d heard throughout the day. It was a compulsion, I was told, associated with Schizophrenia.
Joel A Doetsch Aug 2012
A man was invited to his boss's house for dinner.
The dinner was fabulous, made by a private chef
and served by the family butler.  It was, all in all,
a wonderful evening.

At the end of the meal, the man saw his host
collecting all the table scraps from the table.

"What are you doing?" asked the man
"Ah, well whatever I don't eat, I give to the butler and the chef."
"They can't buy their own food?"
"Well no, I pay them in scraps"
"That's terrible!"
"Why?  I eat my meal, I usually leave enough for them to live off of, unless I forget"
"Unless you forget?"
"Well, yeah...I mean a few glasses of wine and that food is as good as gone"
"You see nothing wrong with this?"
"Hmm...no.  Should I?"
"You are feeding your staff table scraps!  The amount they're getting is miniscule!  It's a miracle they haven't sued you!"
"Aha! I do see your point.  It is a rather meager amount.  Fortunately, since I'm such a clever fellow...I have a solution"
"You mean to give your staff full meals to eat?  Maybe pay them with money instead?"
"Haha, no no my simple man.  I'll just have them cook and serve more food!"
"What."
"Well it's rather simple.  If the amount of food that is cooked and served is increased, and I eat the same amount, then what's left over will be equivalent of a full meal!  Brilliant!"
"Well...yes...but what if you get drunk on wine and eat all of that food"
"I'm sure that I would never do such a thing.  Probably"
"Probably"
"Well, one can't always predict these things"
"So instead of giving them a fair meal, you'd rather them put in more effort and time so that they 'might' see an increase in their rations?"
"I know.  I should get a Nobel prize for this stuff"
"Or commited"
"What?"
"Um...commended"
"Quite right"
This is all off the top of my head, unedited, and probably makes no sense.
Moon Humor Apr 2015
~Many people rely on the convenient, easy ways of living in this age of fast food, plastic packaging and rapid development. Most people do not care to see why they live the way they do or what it takes to live in such a way. Toxic pollutants leaching into our earth and water should not be worth the convenience! Third world women working in dusty, cramped factories to make designer purses for fifteen year old girls. Garbage is America’s biggest export and it ends up in China, on the coast of Somalia... anywhere that American citizens won’t be bothered to see it.

~What does it mean to buy a pack of plastic razors? Some metal, some chemicals, some plastic, more plastic for packaging. Use a razor a few times and toss it in the garbage. Somewhere, maybe at La Chureca, someone will pull the rusted metal and plastic from the landfill. They might make one US dollar per day collecting scraps of aluminum, glass, plastic and other scrap metals. What does it mean to wear deodorant? The plastic stick isn’t reusable. The ingredients are highly toxic. Aluminum-based antiperspirants have been linked to Alzheimer's and cancer. Soap comes in plastic bottles, coffee makers made of plastic, water bottles made of plastic… hell, my plastic shower curtain came wrapped in plastic packaging.

~Americans are lucky. Indoor plumbing with quality water. Green lawns and exotic flower beds. Buy and use, throw away and repeat. Big corporations pay off politicians to pollute. Industrial waste, land erosion, low air quality, pesticides. Why are we so quick to trust an artificial sweetener being promoted by a company that makes poison? They call you a hippy, a conspiracy theorist. They tell you that you only live once and to stop being so worried about it all. I ask them, how can you look away? Deforestation and destruction are all around. Those that profit are not concerned with what happens to the land after the loggers and miners have left the ground scarred and desolate.

~Modern living is a hoax. Yeah, you get around quick in your car but at what cost? Carbon dioxide, greenhouse gasses choking us and everything alive that lives with us and cannot speak. Can’t you walk to the corner store? Can’t you grow a few things in the garden or in the windowsill? When was the last time you saw a sunset and didn’t take a picture of it? Dairy cows packed together so tight they can’t turn around for your glass of milk. The disconnect is everywhere. Overpopulation. Overconsumption. People don’t care.

~They can choose. They can choose paper over plastic. They can buy a water filter instead of 20 plastic bottles. They can bike to work. Anyone can lessen their impact, anyone can think more deeply and live more sustainably. But we’ve made it so easy to be lazy. We’ve become so dependent that we’re forgetting to use technological gains to make the way we do things better. We’ve come so far that we’re forgetting what brought us here.

~

‘We are slaves in the sense that we depend for our daily survival upon an expand-or-expire agro-industrial empire – a crackpot machine – that the specialists cannot comprehend and the managers cannot manage. Which is, furthermore, devouring world resources at an exponential rate.’ Edward Abbey

‘In the developing world, the problem of population is seen less as a matter of human numbers than of western overconsumption. Yet within the development community, the only solution to the problems of the developing world is to export the same unsustainable economic model fuelling the overconsumption of the West.’ Kavita Ramdas

‘Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.’ Jacques-Yves Cousteau

‘Globalisation, which attempts to amalgamate every local, regional, and national economy into a single world system, requires homogenising locally adapted forms of agriculture, replacing them with an industrial system – centrally managed, pesticide-intensive, one-crop production for export – designed to deliver a narrow range of transportable foods to the world market.’Helena Norberg-Hodge

‘Throughout history human exploitation of the earth has produced this progression: colonise-destroy-move on.’ Garrett Hardin
Quotes from: theguardian.com
B S Apr 2013
Tonight I will sleep on my fragmented thoughts
that my anxieties found too delicate to embrace.

Crushed by nature and neglected from nurture
I'm not one to hoard but my head must rest.

Is it so wrong for a woman to caress her melancholy
as tenderly as she does her lover?

These pieces of madness once smelled so sweet
like the roses I've kept from years foregone.

I crowd my mind with scraps of death
to remind myself that what is dead, is never gone.
'Tell me I'm not in a dream. Or one of my trances.' She uttered the two sentences between gasps and seem-to-be quickening pulses. In midair, the tension between them kept growing intensely, trying desperately to meet its peak every second, before finally disappearing into the sightless distance above it. 'You're not,' the man said, his voice distant even when his face was only a few inches from hers, and cupped his free hands around her chin to calm her pale face. Her cheeks were warm in his palms, as if being burnt by hundreds of heaps of dying, yet ravenous flames. She closed her eyes, recording the touch of his perfect skin that seemed able to charm her endlessly since the first time she had fixed her gaze on his shimmering features. The angelic voice which accompanied it woke her a few seconds later. 'And even if you are,' he traced his soothing fingers along the reddening skin of her cheeks, 'I'll bring you back to life. Which is here.' He emphasised the last two words with a smile, a heartbreaking, infuriating smile - because of its astounding beauty, before tenderly touching his cherrylike lips to hers, making her start to tremble uncontrollably in deep confusion. She was, again, in the middle of these steep rocks without any aid to support her unstable weight, meanwhile the air over their heads began to twirl in circles, the weather around them getting pink and turning red in five seconds' time. She was lost. In someone else's magical world, with a rendition of one of The Beatles' hit singles from the 1900s or 1950s - she could not exactly recall which period of years it came from - playing smoothly in the CD player in the languid atmosphere of the living room behind them.
After a moment of enjoyment the kiss brought them he pulled back, before slamming his left hand into the tiny depth of his shirt pocket and taking a silver locket out of it. He threw a confident smile at her, and in one blink of his eye, the room fell dark. Petrified yet washed out by the sudden darkness among them, the girl let out a heart-rending shriek, which was followed by her heaving her body onto him, making his head hit the floorboards and the long necklace break in half. In seconds, blood-red light began to shuffle out of the center of the torn necklace, mingling with the air outside its shell and sending the woman into gradually-coming unconsciousness. She could now only see shadows, muttering and brimming all over the weather around her, and had not the strength to stand up apart from lying helplessly on the feathered carpet beneath. Before her, she saw how he started to rise and reveal his claws, and fangs, and bright red eyes above her. He laughed mercilessly. Instantly, she covered her sweating face with her hands - which now felt too shaky and she hated it, she loathed it very much - and brought out a despondent, lamented sound of cry. Her evil lover, at the same time, continued to soak up as much energy as possible from the change of circumstance.
'Again, I successfully, harmlessly tricked you,' he whispered this to her right ear. Around them, the horrendous wind potter faster and faster meanwhile their invincibly powered circles got bigger. 'You should thank me for that.'
'Th... Thank you for what?' She abruptly gathered her courage to confront him. If this meant that the end of my life was approaching, I would be ready, she thought silently.
'For letting me bound my ways into your life again, Em,' his angelic voice replied, and before she realised what was coming next, she wailed with all of her might when she laid her eyes on his real monstrous, vampiric face before her.
'I am indeed sorry to say that you - a clever and sanguine girl like you - was granted the chance to relish your life only momentarily,' he cleared his throat. 'You have always known that you could not outrun us at the end..., and so have your family.'
'No,' she mumbled, and drifted her gaze to his face - his now burning face. 'NO!'
'No,' he mockingly repeated her words, 'or YES, my dear?'
'Don't call me using that 'D' word, beast,' she put her best effort to yell at the top of her lungs, ''cos I am not your dear, and prefer death to becoming one of you!'
With those last few words, she scrambled to her feet, and stood up in just two swift movements. In her both hands, which he did not know were protected by the two stashes of garlic and one wooden cross in her dress pockets, were two shiny swords with special blades carved onto their two edges which were designated to **** vampires. Get rid of them. And their malicious world of beasts.
She stepped forward, and new powers began to regenerate inside her - despite the cries she felt start to roll into her heart, upon knowing that her beloved Joe had died. Joe had been deceased now. He was lifeless, and no longer able to help her here. She should never have ditched him. It dawned on her now, when everything was already too late to fix up. But she knew that she should never give up. Javier and his vampire family might have tasted every single drop of her other family members - and the rest of Ludirus town's residents - including her Joe, before she idiotically kicked him out for this pathetic, heartless beast who wore a disguise to displace him. She stretch the first sword - the one in her right hand - out to him. He took a step back, his eyes remained focused on her.
'You won't hurt me,' he pretended to be in pain, and in one and a half seconds, he transformed into the figure of the innocuous, blue-eyed prince once more.
'I won't be deceived by your looks, pig,' spat her, meanwhile her brain rummaged through a thousand ways to stick the two swords into his chest. That was, in fact, the only way to **** him. To drain his evil life out of him.
'You were, once,' he laughed, the sound of his devious laughter echoed in the very room, and later left it in such dread and wariness.
'Not anymore,' she bravely took a step forward and, without any further doubt, without caring about her being imprisoned for the rest of her life before getting her blood dried by the fangs of Javier's two older brothers, she stabbed the swords into his chest with all the energy she had left. And the effects sprayed out by the action were beyond any of her expectations. Thousands of blood droplets poured out of his body and onto the floor beneath her, flooding the entire living room and finally the streets outside the building until no litter, little scraps of food, and wheels of vehicles were seen anywhere in sight. Surprisingly, these endless streams of blood did not cause any floods, and rapidly soaked through every single layer of soil the earth had on its surface. The blood that had been consumed out of the poor people of Ludirus, the rural village in South Ireland, famous for its cruel killing rampage for several thousand years, where a group of aristocratic vampire ruled the lives of humans and their own species. But now, there would be no more of them. No more of their horrible treatments. No more of their sneaking-up-on-humans tricks they secretly did at night - to savour human blood, which was lawfully removed from the protecting-human law renewed every year. It was all a lie. Yeah, a lie. A lie that allowed Javier's family to approach Lucinda's family members to be victims in their lifelong killing spree. But now, there would be no more vampires, thought Lucinda as she kissed her holy cross and sets of garlic affectionately. There would be no more blood sacrificed to fend for those beasts' hunger, even though it meant for her to live alone. Live on her own, as she no longer had anyone around her to turn to. To soak up her tears when she was scared away by the bunch of vampire kids on the way home from school. To calm her with her melodious chords at the piano. Mother. To serve her the best spaghetti in the world as a reward for her outstanding grades at school. Sister Sheila. To rub her back and put her to bed at night - at the age of sixteen! Father. Luce's tears just would not stop while she kept counting her memories, as every single shadows of her deceased beloved came back to her. And finally, the sight of her Joe lying his tired head on her lap, and reading out loud to her his newest poem he composed at the office for her. All were gone. Dissolved into the ravenous sea of blood in the guts of those psychotic, simpering, abusive monsters.
But she was satisfied. She felt, somehow, proud of her heroic, or at least, brave actions. She had taken control of her fear, and that was one of the most important characteristics a woman should have to succeed in this cruel world, her father had once said. Now she could prove to them all that she was a newly reborn person, and was no longer the old Lucinda. Lucinda Hale who had always been the 'tail' of her sister while they were six and four, and the little, spoilt daughter of Jim and Aileen Hale who could not hold a plate properly in every banquet their family was invited to. Luce knew that she was now completely a stranger to her family. She squinted her eyes shut, trying to imagine how nice it would be to show off her new self to her late family if only they were all alive with healthy pink cheeks now. In her own peace and this momentary solitude, she found herself sinking onto the floating warmth of blood, but strangely, she did not fall. She did not plunge into the limitless red colour underneath, and remained flowing above it while her tears started to crawl out of her eyes. She did not know, and did not want to know how long this remained until she eventually felt the rough surface of the bearskin carpet again. She woke up with a dizzy head and quickly threw a hasty look around her living room. The prince, beastly Javier had vanished. Oh, there are his remnants, she thought and unconsciously, chuckled quietly to herself when she came to take hold of several white, lifeless bones laid in front of her. Then suddenly she understood what had just happened. The legend in that book she had borrowed from the library transported the knowledge back into her mind. All the members of Javier's family had been crushed now. They were dead. Her sacred tears, which came to mix with the blood flood, became the cure for all the people who had been ****** by the vicious vampires in town. They were now freed, and reawarded, although still mortal, but yet a very rare, elusive, privileged chance to be alive once again and start their lives all over again. They must not be far from her now, thought her. Without any further wait, she raced out of the room, and wormed her way onto the street.
And here they were. The streets of Ludirus were no longer deserted. Traditional markets with a thousand-metre long series of antiques roamed them, occupying every single tiny space provided to place racks containing jewels, valuables, and gold pots. There were also shelves of books about cookery, traditional healing potions, sports, literature, and anything else someone ever wanted to buy. And then she spotted a book with a bright yellow cover, entitled 'Love Poems: From 1900 to the Present, by Joe Grogan.' Her breath seemed to stop at that time and suddenly, before she even got the opportunity to touch the cover of the copy in front of her, two warm arms wrapped her waists and turned her body around to face the owner. Once again, she was at a terrible loss for words. 'Joe,' she mumbled.
'I am,' the writer nodded solemnly. And just like the evil Prince Javier had done before, he pulled out a beautiful silver box and opened it. Inside, two rings shined beautifully before their eyes, radiating a smile as bright as the one seen on others' faces among them. A smile that celebrated the comeback of their long-lost independence. Before she knew it, Joe knelt before her, and presented the ring upwards onto her.
'What would you like to do first, Madam? Marry me, or buy my book?' He grinned and held both her hands. Before she could answer him, he inserted her left ring finger into the perfectly made ring, and helped her right hand fasten his own ring onto his finger. She lifted him up and wrapped her hands around his neck.
'Do you have time for both, Sir?' She rubbed his smooth cheeks and kiss them before looking deeply into his hazel eyes.
'Absolutely,' he answered firmly, and scooped her whole weight into his arms and spinned her around. Luce could no longer say anything when a sudden wave of happiness washed all over her, and became even at a more unfathomable loss of words when she caught the sight of her beloved father, mother, and her sister, all alive, start approaching to deliver their congratulations. Here we are, she thought with a satisfied feeling. We were, are, and will always be meant to be together.
Madison Sep 2018
The moths followed the little square
Like he was a flame
The little square wrote a book about his despair
And the moths made a proclaim

The little square didn't like us
So he told the moths to find us, "the mess"
He told them to do it without fuss
'Cause without us his garden would be flawless

The moths came out to his garden
They found me and my kind
And pulled us out with a gun
Treating us like we aren't apart of mankind

We were put on trial by them
And thrown into fire
We were shoved into a room by 'em
And gassed because it was "prior"

Occasionally the moths were bored
So they played hangman with us
This was a game that they adored
All we could do was stare at the hanging carcass

They were our friends and family
They were the only medals we had left
We were too broken to be angry
So we ignored the theft

When the moths got rid of us
They went for the most damaged weeds
That often made us anxious
Because of it some did misdeeds

Some couldn't deal with the pain and fear
So those weeds jumped to the birds
On the floor they left a smear
The smears thought jumping would send them homewards

Though we saw death so many times a day
We were still able to eat and treat people with hate
It was because from our god we have gone astray
Maybe because we were all under weight

In our stomachs prowled lions
Our hunger was so severe
If we found stray scraps we would go for the ****
If you went for the food you were a volunteer

One time we ran out of food
So we complained even more
The moths got tired of our complaining mood
So we ran to a new camp door

We were often moved
We went from camp to camp
Of course we all disapproved
On the house that was based by our stamp

On each of our wrist
Was and inky black stamp
It was on the moths checklist
It was our name in each concentration camp

When we were saved from hell
We were all broken weeds
We couldn't even sleep well
But the ones that saved us answered our needs

The ones that saved us helped end the war
And some were normal citizens
Everyday we are grateful for their loving core
Even if we had great differences

Though the Holocaust made us different
And the memories haunt us
It was kind of a movement
Because now people won't walk into war without a fuss
This poem is dedicated to the Jews that suffered from the holocaust
One word is all it takes
To explode a seemingly
Perfect output

Smashed! One nose
Dive after the other

Straight as a pole turned,
Askew with every turn.

A jab, a punch
as scraps appear.

A pinch and a puncture
Hurts like never before.

Until blood and matter
Sprayed on the cold asphalt

While everything occurs,
You watch. Soundlessly

It takes effect but you
Just watch it happen

You realize one singular,
Grand idea whilst pain climaxes
Life goes on.
MV Blake Apr 2015
Like tigers scratching over scraps,

The fat cats posture and hiss

Over who gets the favoured meat

From the cows nervously

Chewing the cud, scuffing their hooves,

Pacing the green and pleasant hills,

No longer fooled by the purring soothe.

Each tiger takes a swipe,

Claws trailing blood lines

Over fatted flanks of meat

Of the cows hiding

In their homes, in their fields,

Pacing the mud that replaced the trees,

Not picked for need, instead for yield.

The fat cats grow full on our flesh.

I hope they choke on it.

Get it while it’s fresh.
Larry Potter Sep 2013
They say, in the wheel of life, you'll spend half your years rising to the top and the other half tumbling to the bottom. I guess they got it all wrong. I believe life is a crooked tire that can never roll up and down. Pretty sure, it is nailed to the ground where weeds could grow to entangle it forever. Until now, what they keep trying to say remains a puzzle to me. Perhaps I can never understand what they mean. Or maybe I just won’t. Why? Because from the moment our eyes opened for the world, we’re already stuck down below and I’m afraid we’re trapped here in this limbo for all eternity.

We’re just simple people living an ordinary life. Like every family who seeks refuge from the storm, we do have a place we call home although it’s not much of an architectural delight. However, for some reasons, I find our roof appealing like a real work of art. Patches of cardboard embellish the underside while a combination of tarpaulin and ad posters works in harmony to provide an extended shelter. On bright mornings, we’ll wake from the sunbeams piercing through its many gaps. On rainy days, however, the sound of raindrops falling from the gaps down to our water containers serves as our wake up call.

To jumpstart ourselves for another day’s challenge, we could either eat breakfast (if there were any), or just sing our skipping meals away and spend the rest of the day with sacks of scraps and rubbishes on our back hoping to make a good deal with Mr. Gomez, the junk shop proprietor. He reminded me so much of my father but without the alcohol problem and violence, though. During nighttime, we bring with us our drum to sing carols on the lonely streets. If our feet become too weary to walk, that’s the time we head home. We rush all together, eager to count the coins we’ve collected that night. We make sure to put a plastic cap underneath two of our table’s feet so that it won’t lean uncontrollably and spill the tiers of ten, five and one peso coins we’ve dedicatedly piled over. Then the next part does the trick. A portion of our collection for the night goes straight down a big jar and joins in the many others which fill more than half of the container. The remaining part is used to buy supper to save our hungry tummies from
shrinking again. However, during slack nights when drivers and busy people decided to become miserly, we’re fortunate enough to have a pack of noodles for supper. But if we ran out of luck, we just set our untidy beds ready and drown our raging stomachs to sleep. I know there’s not pretty much but this is where our lives revolve. And as they say, life must go on no matter what.

Together with the three most important persons of my life, I continue the journey for a better living. Along the way, we try to search for the good things out of life’s bitter truths. We never let misery **** our hopes and dreams. Instead, we work harder and tougher. Take Islay, for example. She’s cheerful,
clever, aggressive, talented, a model of hard work. She’s got most of everything. Well, except for height, probably. I wanted to be a doctor so I could help the needy. Islay dreams of becoming an elementary teacher. She said she really likes kids and teaching them would surely be a more exciting thing to do.

Then there’s Nova. Her looks may require you a little more time to think and consider, but she has a good heart. However, she gets a little, uhhm, what term do we use for an unsociable person? That’s it! She’s a bit of a Killjoy!

Islay and Nova caroled a store swarmed with drunkards. It was always Islay who’ll find every creative idea and propose it convincingly to Nova, who in turn hesitates and rejects it but then ultimately respects it in the end. Islay always has the winning edge. Maybe that’s one of her abilities. Her convincing power deserves a credit to the list.

The two didn’t mind the ***** that welcomed them. Inside her mind, Nova asked herself how many people could waste their money on a doze of liquid or spirit that can poison their mind and bring them to imminent danger. If only they have given it to the poor and needy, they could have saved a lot of lives instead of ruining their own.

But Aling Nena, the wicked storeowner, unleashed her witchy wrath to the two. She looked at them with eyes of contempt, of prejudice and disgust. She accused the two as jinxes and blamed them for the
store’s unprofitable end. If only she could look at herself and discover a chest of shimmering blame, she might shrink into shame. Islay and Nova ran off not because they were afraid of Aling Nena or the drunken men but because of what Aling Nena said to them. They cannot defend themselves from such
an attack. How could they when they were surrounded with eyes of ridicule?

And of course, there’s my dearest sister, Juaning. We’ve only got each other since our mother’s death. It has been months already. Juaning was still 15 when mama left us. She’s 16 now. It’s been quite a while and I know she misses mama a lot like I do.

And so they fought life’s bitter realities. They begged and implored to the unconcerned passers-by, almost falling to their weak knees for one very important thing - to live. But even if the three of them were sitting, lying, and rolling down the cold pavement, these people with more graces just pass by without even sparing a glance of concern. Wouldn’t it be happier if they shared their God-given blessings? But as the day continues, they have to endure the hunger, the contempt. Because other than filling their
hungry stomach, they have a sibling, a friend to support.

That’s my part of the story. It has been months now since I caught a serious illness which bound me
to this bed, flat on one’s back, weak, inutile, and useless. Every time they come home, I wish I was with them to taste the sweet and feel the pain, not just a good listener to their stories of survival and moments of friendship. Someday, I’ll become strong again, and this curse of a disease shall be gone.

I woke up to the longing for water. I’ve never been this thirsty before. I called out their names but my voice just echoed deep in the four dark walls of our crooked house. With no one to help me, I summoned my strength and decided to get a glass of water by myself. But my legs aren’t as strong as my will. And as I attempted to stand, they betrayed me. I collapsed and plodded down the floor. Luckily Islay came and helped me get back to bed. She scolded me for being careless. I cried. I can’t help it. I pitied myself all
over again.

The cold evening wasn’t a problem for Islay. Seeing me cry like that crushes her heart. I know, as a friend and a part of our family, she wishes the best for me. And that’s why she’s still out there in the middle of the night, working late to earn more for our better future. She ignored the chills and the exasperation. She knows she has to work harder and she’s more than determined for it.

But something happened to me while she’s away from home. I cannot move my body, not even my mouth. Tears just fell from my weary eyes. And before it’s too late, Juaning caught me unresponsive and paralyzed. My sister cried for help. Nova sprinted to get the jar. Juaning told her what to do. And wasting no time, Nova rushed to the nearby pharmacy to get me some medicine, and most probably to save my life.

But Nova’s effort was in vain. Prescription drugs cannot be bought that easily. The pharmacist closed down the only lining of hope for me. The security guard felt pity on Nova and he suggested her an alternative decision that will change our lives forever.

Islay was still busy serenading the busy streets with her chants of joy and sweet hums. But the clouds become unwelcoming. And by the sound of the thunder, big droplets of rain started pouring down the highway. She ran as fast as she could and sat on a corner where she thought of something deeply. She hugged the drum that she was carrying for five hours or so and tried to remain calm in the presence of the bad weather.

After half an hour, Nova came back with a pouch of medicine on her shaking hand. She handed it carefully to Juaning whose faith and hope were hanging to the tiny bottle of miracle.

Days gone by and my condition wasn’t going any better. It turned out that my medicine was consumed to the last drop. Still I remained immobile and my hands are going number by the days. Slowly I was losing hope. I wish they weren’t mad at me. I’m trying my best to live on. That’s why I’m still here. But Nova shared something worth listening to. She revealed how and where she got the medicine.

It was from a quack doctor on a stall put up on the corner of Rizal Avenue. She said he was well versed and very convincing. And that she spent all of our savings for a bottle of deception. But we can do nothing about it. We did not have formal education. We were fortunate enough to meet kind children on
the streets who would try to teach us something they have learned from school. We would attempt to read newspapers and the description in the carton boxes we spread beneath the Badelles overpass.

Nova cried in guilt and shame. Islay was still angry at her, and it can be understood. My sister, Juaning, comforted Nova with a promise that everything will get better in time.

December 27. It was my birthday. And more than anything else, what I wish is for the four of us to be happy. Nothing in this life is more important than seeing everyone you love smile with absolute
happiness. Juaning never forgot her job and that’s to buy me a cake. Every year, they will try to surprise me with every creative possible way. But that’s how their surprises become predictable with my age.

They sang me a birthday song. But this time, they were the ones waiting for a surprise. As my sister was about to hand me the cake waiting for me to blow the candle, she noticed something she was least expecting for. My lips are pale and my eyes are shut from the light of the world. I caught my last breath and before I gave it away, I left a smile on my face that can never be changed forever. That is how I want them to remember me. Not that heck of a frown clown whose audiences are stricken with sadness.

They say, in the wheel of life, sometimes, you'll spend half of your years rising to the top and the other half tumbling to the
bottom. Maybe they were right. It was then that I’ve come to understand what they were trying to say.

Our life’s wheel revolves around things way beyond just money, food, and shelter. It is about the moments you spend with your loved ones, friends and family that will be forever carved in your heart. We can never know when our life here on earth will be over. So let us cherish every bit of it. And for me, even if we skip breakfasts and eat only noodles for supper, I have realized in these last fleeting moments that my life has always
been on the top of the wheel after all.
Danny Valdez Apr 2012
My Mom needed something from the store
So I told her I’d walk up there for her and get it.
We were barely getting by
The two of us.
She was living on a disability check
And I was in between jobs
Again
So these little walks to the store were all I had.
I got her some Epsom salts and was walking back
Had just walked past the hardware store
When a small, sleek, black, BMW pulled up next to me.
To my surprise it was a chick
A big titted redhead with pink sunglasses.
There was something in her eyes
When she peeked below the sunglasses
I saw something in them
that frightened me
A voice inside was screaming at me
Just keep walking
Just keep walking
But like a fool
I ignored it
And bent over the passenger seat
In the convertible that smelled new.
“How big is your ****?”
The lady asked
Her chest just heaving and jiggling
With every breath she took
And every word she spoke.
“What?”
“I said….how big is your ****?”
“Ha ha!”
I took a look around
Expecting to see a hidden camera
Or a film crew in a van across the street.
There was no one
No witnesses.
I leaned back down
“7 inches? Maybe 8? I don’t know lady, I haven’t measured my **** since the 11th grade!”
The redhead took off the sunglasses completely and looked me up and down
Those bright green eyes scanning me
From my worn out Converse to my greasy pompadour on my head.
It seemed like an eternity
I got uncomfortable.
Just standing there
Squirming
While the redheaded fox
Kept inspecting me.
“Okay. Get in. Hurry up.”
I wasn’t even thinking
Just reacting to it all.
I’d always dreamed of this
When I was walking down that
Same old ******* street
The only street that I ever saw
Dreaming of
A beautiful woman in a sports car.
And now here she was.
Here we were
Driving down the street
The breeze blowing in our hair
She made an immediate right turn
Onto a suburban side street.
She parked in front of a house that was up for sale.
Again she took off the sunglasses.
“Let me see it.”
She said, staring at my crotch.
“Whoa, whoa, lady. What’s this all about?”
“My husband and I…..we have certain…..tastes. Things we like, things we enjoy. He’s an older guy, so he likes to watch young guys **** me. I mean, just really give it to me good, make me scream. And of course after your services have been….rendered….you’ll be paid two-thousand dollars. Now do you think you can do that?”
“Uh……I—I think so.”
“Well, I need you to know so. And if you were bullshitting me, if that **** isn’t at least 7 inches, you can get out of the car right ******* now.”
“No it is, it is.”
“Well...”
“Well...you gotta start my engine first—“
Before I could finish my cheesy line
She was in the passenger seat
Climbing on top of me.
“Rip it open” She said looking down.
I did as I was told
And ripped the front of her blouse open
The buttons flying in all directions
Bouncing off the windows and rolling on the dashboard.
Her two, round, fake, **** sprang out of the top
Hitting me in the face
As she rubbed them up and down
And all around.
She kissed me sloppily
And then started in with that biting *******.
She met my lip so hard
It drew blood
acting purely on reflex
I grabbed her by the arms very hard
And pulled her back from me
Staring at her with those crazy, intense, eyes
That I sometimes got when startled.
“Oh…..” She said looking down, at the ******* in my Levi’s.
“Alright. You wanna see the house?” She asked.
I let go of her arms and she rolled off of me,
hopping into the driver’s seat and starting the car up.

She drove all the way to the edge of the city
Where the Red Mountains in the east
Meets the long winding road out of town
And into the desert.
It was a large ranch style mansion
Decorated with cowboy themed ****.
The redhead parked the sports car in
A massive garage
Filled with dozen of rare and expensive automobiles .
She told me to leave my plastic grocery bag of Epsom salts
In the car
She said I could get it later, when we were done.
I followed her to an elevator at the back of the garage.
We took it all the way down to the very bottom.
Stepping out of the elevator
I found myself in a large expansive grey room.
The floors were concrete
But they were shiny and slick
Reminded me of the floor in the meat department
At the job I had just lost.
The room had a few beds in it
Some custom built sets were erected all over the room
An office, a jail cell, a medieval dungeon, a medical examination room,
There were a lot these little sets built all over
In the back of the room
The corners
Were pitch black and covered in darkness.
I wondered what they had over there.
“So what do we do?” I asked, fidgeting in my pants
thumbing my switchblade stiletto in my right front pocket.
“We have to wait for my husband to come down. I just texted him.”
“Oh okay.”
“You should take your clothes off and put this on.”
The redhead said, taking a hospital gown from a hanger
Next to the medical examination set.
“….put that on and I’m gonna go get into character.”
She said, walking behind a white privacy screen
The old kind, like they used to have in doctor’s offices.
I undressed myself and got into the hospital gown.
I can’t say what it was exactly
But I still had that real nervous feeling
I couldn’t ignore it
So for some reason
I hid my switchblade on me.
Put it in the waistband of my underwear.
And that made me feel a little bit safer
This whole thing was beyond belief
I was never this lucky
Something was rotten in Denmark
I could feel it in my bones.
But there was no backing out now
I was riding this all the way
No choice.
I took a seat on the medical examination table
The thin paper crunching loudly beneath my ***
They had it down to the finest detail.
Even the little slots with the Highlights magazines.
I watched the black & white clock on the wall
And it took them 28 minutes to finally come out
The two of them together.
The tall, beautiful, redhead and the rich old man.
But they matched in an odd way
His face was nearly the same color as her hair.
A red faced, big nosed, drinker,
I’ve seen that face a thousand times
Ain’t no mistakin’ it.
He had white hair all spiked up
Like how young people have it
And he wore nothing but gold
All over himself.
Gold necklace, full fists of rings, bracelets,
I couldn’t ******* believe it
I tried my best not to laugh
I was snorting to myself
The ******* had a Mercedes medallion around his neck
Like Flavor Flav or something, it was that flamboyant.
But the guy was like 70 years old
None of it made any ******* sense.
The florescent lighting above
it did this thing where
his eyes were so sunken in
that it created these two black shadows
where his eyes should’ve been
just pitch black
endlessly hollow and empty
with a red face.
Satan himself, covered in gold and diamonds.

“What’s up?” He said, extending his well tanned, leathery claw.
“Hey.”
“Alright, so let’s not waste any time. Let’s get down to business? Huh?”
“Yeah, sure.” I said.
“**** yeah! Let’s ****! You wanna **** him baby?”
”Why do you think I got him? Hell, I almost ****** him on the way home.”
“Did you now?” He said, looking over at me with this look
I couldn’t tell if it was pleasure or rage.
“Alright, alright then.”
The chick started to walk up the three little steps
Of the examination table
Her feet were pale as snow and her toes
Shiny and red like a the paint job on a brand new Cadillac in 1956
I remember that.
She climbed on top of me
Started kissing me and
Rubbing my ****
Under the examination gown.
From the corner of my eye
I saw the husband moving over to the camera
Which was setup a few feet away
Looked to be hi-def ****.
She bit my lip again
Really ******* hard
Pulled a big chunk of skin off
“*******!” I yelled.
“What?” The husband shouted back.
“He hates it when I bite him!” The redhead shouted with a smile
blood on her lips, from mine.
“Well, don’t take any **** son! If she does that again, you just give her a good smack!”
“What?”
“Yeah, don’t be timid boy! This ain’t ******’ Sunday school! We’re ******’, here!”
She did it again
And I wasn’t even thinking of what that old coot was yelling about
I just hit her on principle.
A good open handed smack across the cheek.
“There ya ******’ go! That’s what I’m talkin’ about.”
The old man threw his hands in the air
And started doing this little dance it was the weirdest ****
I had ever seen.
The redhead grabbed my face with her hands
Taking my eyes off the old man
Who was now singing some song
And shuffling around the floor.
She looked right into my eyes
Those mint colored eyes
She whispered to me
But I read her lips
“I’m sorry.”
And she pulled me in and kissed me
Put my hands to her *******
And proceeded to kiss me
Like a long lost love
Not some guy off the street.
And that’s the last thing I remember.
Besides the ***** of the needle in my neck.
Just her red hair hanging in my face
The florescent light shining through.
When I came to
I was standing upright
But I was strapped to a table
My arms
My legs
My head
Every part of me strapped down
Tight.
I wasn’t going anywhere
This was that bad feeling I got when she looked at me.
This was where it ended. Right now.
They were both standing there
Staring at me
Smiling with drinks in their hands
The cameras rolling
They had multiple cameras setup
Some 80’s techno playing from an iPod dock.
“What? What are you gonna do?” I slurred, it was hard to talk.
“I know, I’m sorry. Okay, look. We both agree that you probably are owed an explanation, I mean….these being your last moments and all…”
The redhead interrupted, looking at me, like she had before
There was love in her eyes
“Honey…remember what I said? About how there are things that we like and things that we enjoy? I’m sorry, but this is what we like.”
“*****?” I managed to choke out,
just the sound of the words chilled my ******* blood.
“Yeah. Hey…son, let me tell ya…we’re actually saving you a whole lot of heartache and disappointment. You weren’t gonna go anywhere, you weren’t going to accomplish anything. You’d work the same **** jobs, bouncing from one to the other, until you finally died of either ***** or drugs.”
“It’s for the best, sweetie.” The redhead said.
And I’d love to tell you that
They left the room for a few minutes
And I was able to free my hand
Taking the switchblade
From my underwear
Cutting myself free
Killing them both
And cleaning out their safe’s cash and diamonds.
But this was no movie.
Well not the kind with a happy ending anyway.
That’s when she walked over to the table
And grabbed the knife.
The song on the iPod changed
And I instantly recognized it.
It was the song.
I never could explain why
But as a boy
This song would come on the radio
This 80’s electro song
And it always scared the **** out of me
Turned my stomach
I never knew why
But now it all made sense.
That song would be the last thing I ever heard.
With the cameras rolling
The redhead gave me one more kiss.
I closed my eyes and pretended.
I pretended that she was a girl that loved me
That she was kissing me goodnight
Sending me off with a smile.
I just kept my eyes closed
Squeezing them tight
And I didn’t even feel the knife
When she slit my throat right there
In that slick, shiny, grey basement.
It didn’t hurt
I didn’t feel any pain.
Just warmth.
The blood flowing down the front of my neck and chest
pure warmth sliding down me
And I started to get light headed
Everything getting dark
Very quickly.
I could hear my heartbeat
In sync with a high-pitched ringing in my ears.
The last thing I saw
Was the redhead standing there
Luckily the husband had his head behind the camera
So I didn’t have his scary face as the last thing I ever saw.
No
It was the redhead
And those mint green eyes.
They never found my body.
The couple put me through a wood chipper
And fed my scraps to their dogs
After slicing off my biceps for dinner that night.
They went on doing this for years
Picking up guys and girls from the streets
who were down on their luck
And wouldn’t be high profile missing persons.
They acquired hundreds of DVD’s
Selling these ***** films
To their elite and powerful
Friends in high places.
But they justified it all.
Surely I wouldn’t be missed.
I didn’t have a mother
Like they had a mother
I didn’t laugh and love
Like they did
I was expendable
Disposable
Use once and discard.
The rich eating the poor
Blood meal for their insatiable & gruesome appetites.
It’s okay though.
I’m not mad or anything now.
It’s just blackness
A dreamless sleep
I don’t even know how I’m telling you this
But the worst part
The thing I still think about the most
Is my mother.
And what she must of thought
When her only son
Went to the store for her
Epsom salts
And just never came back.
liz Jun 2018
i've just realized
i am a little too hungry
for the world's delicious hidden things
to sit here idly still
waiting upon those who watch over me
to figure out i'm not a figurine
to handle with care and
twirl on pedestals for the eyes of family friends
as though accomplishments
are only made of paper and years' hardships
and "look, dear, she did it!"s that
only bring bile to my lips
not proud smiles like i plaster
as though i'm only yours, nothing more

can you feel the furnace in my roots
lapping at the scraps of solitude
and fanciful imaginings that i throw
to sate the beast begging for death
of your dominion over my wellbeing
i don't want to be safe right now, love
i want to feel the rain on my face
and have permanence taper
until all that's left of me
is lived experience, no paper trails
and accolades that gather dust and wither.
so much to do and then regret later, until i'm past regret at age 87 with tattoos up my thighs and lots of fun stories about lived experience to tell.
Michael S Davis Feb 2013
Grandma read her Bible every day. She cherished those words of Psalm Twenty-three. With delight, I find that she provided a way for us to physically cling to those words in the days and weeks and months and years to come.
Grandma loved flowers, she loved her church, she loved her dogs, she loved her family and she loved to sew. For each of her children and their children, and their children, and other family and friends she made dolls, potholders, and… quilts. Each one pieced together by her hand. She worked on her last quilt at age 96.
Into each of those quilts we find the words of that psalm symbolically emblazoned. Those words were part of all she did, as God so lovingly knit them into her heart over the years; with every fresh sunrise and stunning sunset, with each beaming smile and falling tear, every sparkling joy and shadowing sorrow, each blossoming flower and obstinate ****, every delightful birth and parting death, and each victory and defeat.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”
So she takes some cloth - scraps from favorite dresses of sunshine yellow, powder blue and rose pink, and with experienced hands stitches patches of provision and contentment into the heart of that quilt that is ours.    

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures...”
In go some bits of green with a little floral print and we have something to wrap up in for moments of rest in the midst of our tumultuous lives.

“He leadeth me beside still waters...”
She picks up some clear bright blue strips and with them provides some satisfaction amidst all of our frustrations.

“He restoreth my soul...”
She understands that so, she makes sure the quilt is just the right size and lets us know that we are worth the effort and time and love that God focused on her throughout the years.  

She stitches and sews the words...
“He leadeth me in the path of righteousness for His name sake...”
As she joins each piece to another and then to another until they make a square, and one square to another until she has a block, and one block to another until the quilt needs a border; and with that border, she frames for us a picture of what happens when there is a plan. She wants us to know that God has a plan for each of us, that there is a right way.

With the words...
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me...”
She adds piece upon piece until that quilt is part of who she is, and then she gives it to us, each one, and we have a part of her that tells us who we are. That she is with us, as God is with her. No matter where we go or how far we range, how high we soar or how low we fall, her quilt reminds us that she is part of who we are. She wants us to know that she found her security in her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Grandma wants each of us to be that secure.

“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me...”
It is amazing how soft and full and pleasant Grandma’s quilts are to the touch. They are quilts of substance.  All those many different pieces of cloth of diverse sources and materials come together to make a quilt that brings us comfort while laying across our lap, or when we curl up in it when a chill is in the air.  Her quilt comforts us because it gives us a boundary that is safe. We are wrapped up safe and warm in here, and the cold world is out there. In the same way Grandma found that God gives that same sense of comfort - boundaries that we are safe within. Comfort comes for each of us when we wrap ourselves up within the boundaries that God has prepared for us.

“You prepareth a table before me in the presence of my enemies,
you anoint my head with oil, my cup runneth over,
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life...”
Grandma learned long before she began her hundredth year that, as bad as things often got and as bleak as the future often seemed; in proper perspective, God had abundantly and mercifully blessed her. In all those years that she lived alone and independently, she found that God was ever present with her. He was her constant companion. Her quilt provides us now with that sense of her abiding love and presence in our lives, and points to God’s constant presence in hers.  When we wrap ourselves up in our quilts made by Grandma’s own two hands, we can put things into perspective; realizing anew that we, indeed, have been blessed. If nothing else, we can know that we have been touched in such a special way as to have someone who loves us make us each our own personal quilt.

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Alleluia! To know that Grandma today is safe and secure in the arms of God is a comfort that we cherish. That body, worn down by a century of living here on earth, God will make fit for eternity.
How does that relate to her quilts? It’s all about belonging. She has an eternal home. She belongs there, now. Having been given a quilt by someone who made it especially for you, you can know a little about the sense of belonging that she is experiencing with the saints today. It says that you are part of the person who made it and that they are part of you. You belong.
     There are many, many people in this world who do not know and will never know what it means to belong. Your mama, grandmother, great grandmother has given you that gift; the gift of belonging. She also wants you to know that only God, through Jesus Christ, can give you that gift for eternity.
     More than anything else today Grandma’s prayer for you is that you will find the quilt of God’s love that is found in Jesus Christ. Her hope for you, in the days, weeks, months and years to come, is that you will find contentment, rest, satisfaction, renewal, security, perspective, comfort - and belonging; as you curl up with the quilt she made, just for you.

©2001 Michael S. Davis, An Eulogy by her Grandson
In Memory of Grandma,
Mrs. Beulah Bachman Bradley
December 29, 1901 - August 2, 2001
I think this fits in as poetic in broadly defined way. It is an eulogy using a poem (Psalm) of David as a framework that I did for my grandmother. Tell me what you think.
Indian Phoenix Oct 2012
I hated Dawkins a little less when his words came from your mouth.

Your unabashed sincerity endeared me to you from the moment you showed me your vintage Atari. I don't recall if that was before or after you bragged about your Star Trek DVDs. Not that it matters, but I hope you've found a place to store all of those wires protruding out of your gadgets like Medusa's head of snakes.

My family liked you, especially my mother. It was probably your staunch advocacy of 4th amendment rights.

Remember those nights we sat in bed and traded secrets on small scraps of paper? We were lovers  for... five weeks by then? It struck me by the third slip that it didn't matter what it would say--I knew I'd still love you anyway. But I knew that from the moment you removed my knee-high boots and kissed my feet when I rode up on my Harley. You unstrapped my helmet and poured me wine. Though we promised to never tell anyone, I just wanted to say: I still smile when I think of your 15-year-old self trying to pick up a ******* on a desolate dusty road. Do you still have those hastily-written pieces of paper? They're yours to keep; I hope they're safe.

Nothing of my new world reminds me of you. There's no Jeopardy to watch, no NPR to hear in your white Saturn, and no desert mountains to hike. Not in India. Maybe it's because nothing is similar that my memories of us stay so firmly imprinted in my mind. Similarities would only erode my recollections. Maybe that's why I almost forgot about the chai tea I'd serve you in bed, coupled with almonds and apricots on the saucer.

But you, you're a walking encyclopedia of my home town. You knew every cactus-lined freeway, the name of the state attorney general, and the best place to grab a Four Peaks beer. Because of this, I could never extricate my love of home and my love for you. To me, you'll always be home.

For better or for worse, I remember it all. Including the soft piano rift of the chess game we'd play on your XBox. I'm guessing you'd beat me, should we play again today. I still have the wooden chess set I got you for your birthday... but we both know I can't give it to you. I'm sorry.

I never believed in saving people before I met you. Before, damaged was a weakness; now I think you just needed a polish. I never told you, but I read your psych evaluation--I found it when I was cleaning your room (with your permission, I add). The therapist was right: you're not aloof, just too smart for the room. I thank God that you never bought that container of nitric oxide.

I know we said we'd marry if I ever came back home. A no-frills city hall marriage suited us just fine. I have no doubt we would have had a simple, sweet life. You would've relented to letting me get a dog to keep your arrogant cat company. Our biggest fight would be over which castle door the RPG character should open, and you would've helped me improve my golf swing on the inexpensive dilapidated course near my old junior high school.

But likewise... our biggest adventure would've been only a roadtrip to the neighboring county. And I wanted to explore. I needed to explore. You, who never wanted to stray outside of a 100-mile radius could never satiate that curiosity. But I know we could have made it work. I know we would've been happy.

Sometimes I wish we could be the best of friends. I know we can't; not when I started dating my now-husband so close after we ended things in tear-stained emails when I went overseas. He swore off her; I swore off you. That's the way things go, I guess, when you get older.

I know it might seem like I've moved on and forgotten you.

Moved on, yes. Forgotten? Never.

It probably wouldn't be the same if we met again. I have too much love for you that could never be conveyed. My love for you has changed; it's not romantic. But it's still this throbbing appreciation for everything you are. I couldn't bear guarded chit chat. Not with you.

And I hope you are happy. Have you realized your worth yet, or are you still wasting your time with broken high school grads who listen to Ke$ha? I can't tell you who to love... but I hope she's an astrophysicist, someone who loves Carl Sagan even half as much as you. I want her to read Noam Chomsky to you late at night, and wake you in the mornings with a glass of milk and cookies. She'll prefer simple mashed potatoes to dim sum, and have a weakness for microbreweries. She'd be gorgeous in that bookish sort of way. Yes. That's the girl for you.

....I'm sorry it's not me, my dear atheist.
Arya Arun Jul 2014
STRANDED

Shards of glass and scraps of metal
As the sand finally settled
I stared at the plane; a total wreck
Stranded, in hot soup we had landed

Quickly, we fled
Thoughtlessly, we ****** ahead,
Onto a lost, unknown trail
Unaware of what time would unveil

Days flew by without notice,
Every drop of water was bliss
Several miles away from home,
Stranded in what could be our tomb.

Tears rolled down our cheeks
Definitely, our future was bleak
Death was hiding under every stone
We were terrified, hungry and cold

We soon got bored
Our hopes were dashed
The situation was rather like a game show
We were stranded and so full of woe

Soon, Superman came,
But it was nothing like the video games.
Oh, at least we were alright,
Far, far away from the crash site

We were soon in the limelight,
Part of international affairs, just overnight
With parents, we reunited
No longer stranded, but certainly undecided
Loosely based on the book Walkabout

— The End —