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

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Daylight 4U2C May 2014
"Grow up tall,
little kid,"
said grandpa Joe.
And so I did.

The watermelon grow tall too.
The sunflowers look to the sky,
keeping their chins up,
raised real high.

So maybe it's silly,
watching grass grow,
but if you never try,
how could you ever know?

So maybe it's crazy,
chanting for the rain,
but if it never comes,
how could I grow the grain?

I'd prefer to stare at clouds,
than sleep forever like a rock,
skidding by life.
Why, that would just ****!

So, if you ask me to leave this here place,
you better shove it,
before you wake up
in an unknown space,
******* with lace,
with a disfigured face,
completely full of mace,
and a strange case
of something poisonous.
Sahil Sharma Aug 2018
Book of life brings various mysterious chapters,one such spells my visit to village..
It was so awe aspiring, but no man's clock can be rewinded to bring that timeless age...

I shouted in wilderness like the way toy means to infant's rejoice...
my words couldn't jump over the peaks, bouncing back my voice...

I was panting and cramps got better of me,pushing me to rest on flat limestone...
But enjoying every bit of that pilgrimage and witnessing melodious chirping tone...

I resumed my journey upwards but soon grey clouds triggered the quenching rain...
Closing my eyes,i opened my arm,kids with cherry cheeks called me tenuous insane...

It seemed as if almighty took me to the heaven, being surrounded by the flowery and green hills...
In the east breeze those school kids were skidding down the ***** with their paper windmills..

An aged shepherd was looking for some shelter,not for himself but for his lamb and sheep..
Such care, such love,that's why the wool machine searched the banyan where her master could sleep...

Some urbans haven't travelled to such pictures just because of it's tech- remoteness..
Wish i had my own hut in the vicinity of woods giving utmost peace,but I'm hapless...

Darkness is floating through narrow lane yet eye catches only citylight..
But wish i could dream again in countryside under shiny moonlight..
it was warm
for a winters eve
unusually warm
but damp very damp
birthing a persistent
midnight mist that
crawled over everything

avenging
halogen angels
flitted down from
streetlight perches
skidding through
bare limb bars
of broken trees
roped in by sagging
telephone wires

skulking
seraphs
joined
ebullient
neon auroras
laughingly
brake dancing,
jittering away on the
pock marked rims
of hip hop streets

the fine drizzle
descending from the
black urban heavens
splayed holy water
over the bodies
of anything
that moved; and
layered mounds
of transparent beads
on all inert things
chiding those yolked
to weighty burdens
to seek relief of
a much needed
breaking point

our
slouching city
mired in a cycle
of a prolonged
historical rut
beavers away
to lift the lid
on tomorrows
tipping point
in a desperate
labor to stop
tripping over
itself...

a dinged up
Sentra’s
flashing spinners
twisted round
our dark corner
nearly clipping
our troop

inside the
yakking low-riders
scuttled along,
their hidden ***** eyes
cruising the stoops
and cyclone alleys
scoping opportunities
for the next
jolly hustle
to feed
a growing
angry fix

tonight
Mother Nature was
running a *****
to the wall third shift,
manufacturing a
stationary low
of gagging precip
churning volumes
of Vulcan smoke
conjuring
convective spirits
from all the
dim places

emanations lit
the balmy January air
rising from
stubborn gray patches
of despoiled snow
and rancid ponds
organic gutter water
composting
in distilled pools
awaiting leakage
through flotsam
clogged sewage grids

Paterson’s
litter police
could close the
city’s budget deficit
if all infractions
were properly cited
and paid in this
neighborhood

this queer elixir of
rising vapors from
evaporating snow
escaping the cracks
lining the bowels of
mordant streets
joining descending
screens of billowing mists
blurs boundaries of light,
diffusing temporal time

people and things
lose precise definition
reducing sentient beings
to moving silhouettes of gray
photographic negatives
framed in dribbling palettes
of pastel hues

our
5th Ward mission
planted in the
hub of a neighborhood
still holding on...

Old WASP’s
of St. Paul’s
long ago
winged away
from this
princely
Episcopate
principality

the abandoned
conical nest, its
chambers filled with
the mud of 50 dead rectors
precariously clings
to its shivering
boulevard corner

its endowment depleted
its earthly treasure rusting
grandiose Tiffany windows
remain the last legacy of an
opulent faith now
shamefully rattling away
in moth eaten frames

once icons of
adulatory reverence
the final sparkling asset
of a distressed religion
begs to be monetized
by flummoxed vestrymen
yearning to extend
a stewardship
over a dissipating
ESL flock

distress in the hood
parades down Broadway
in all directions

a few blocks east
a shuttered
Barnert Hospital
transfigured into an
urban enterprise zone
for health-care privateers
working overtime to
extract federal
corporate welfare
rent subsidies
dutifully fulfilling
fine print obligations of
Obamacare legislation

Old Mayor Barnert’s
namesake synagogue
once hard by
City Hall
is long gone
its absent footprint
now centered by
a thriving
White Castle

near Broadway’s end
on the outskirts
of Eastside Park
Art Deco Emanuel Temple
the last anchor
for the city’s Judaism
lies vacant
awaiting a renewed
purpose

fraught with irony
a thriving Islamic Center
stands juxtaposed
across the street
from the old
Hebrew Temple

we wonder what
will emerge
from the
hallowed chrysalis
of decommissioned
Emanuel?

rumors of a
Great Falls Art Center
trickle like a leaking faucet
failure to secure a mortgage
in the post credit
bubble pop economy
dams the possibly
of a new centers
coming to fruition

will
the city’s
changing
demography of
reverent Muslim’s
genuflecting
across the street
take time away
from prayer to
patronize a venue
offering decadent
bourgeois jazz and
risqué reviews
of retro Borscht Belt
vaudeville?

when Constantinople
became Istanbul they
converted the Christian
churches into mosques

when the Inquisitioners
drove the Moors from
Granada they converted
the Grand Mosque to
the Cathedral of the
Incarnation

what incarnations
will this city’s
twilight bring?

As Byzantine
begets
Constantinople
begets
Istanbul
the links
in the Silk Road
spanned west
to the new world
of mechanized looms
powered by
Great Falls
raceway water
and a distribution
and procurement
chain anchored
by the Morris Canal

Capitalist
modernity
begets
our Silk City
it also bespeaks
its demise

in the courtyard
of St. Paul’s
a muffled chorus
trawls the thick air

a posse of pimps
done wrangling
their stables
of $5 ******
sing reveries to
the evening haul

midnight lullabies
of corner crooners
lift a Capella hosannas
from the dark armpit
of an alley behind
the Autozone

“i said
you say
what can make
me feel this way
my girl”

juiced pimps
cashin in
livin large on
a skanks
50 cent haul

the trade in flesh
of distressed
human capital
remains a
growth industry

Music Selection:  
Temptations, My Girl

jbm
3/1/13
Oakland
Part 1 of extended poem Silk City PIT.  PIT is an acronym for Point In Time.  PIT is an annual census American cities conduct to count the homeless population.  Paterson NJ is nick named The Silk City.
Jessica Fowler Mar 2012
We’re reeling, thundering, flying.
We’re racing down the hill.
We’re sweeping along the pavement.
I will carry you; I’ll take you where ever you want.

We’re wobbling, swaying, tilting.
We’re blown and knocked; uneasy.
We’re pushing into the wind.
I’ll try to be steady; try my hardest to never let you fall.

We’re bumping, pounding, jolting.
We’re kicking up leaves.
We’re skidding along the track.
I’ll weave between every tree, don’t worry, my love.

We’re gliding, sprinting, whizzing.
We’re brushing by the hedge.
We’re crunching along the stones.
I shall trundle with you, gently down the towpath.

We’re moseying, wandering, meandering.
We’re stopping, choosing some lunch.
We’re pacing through the lanes.  
I’ll wait when you’re gone, wait to take you home.
Zane McHarris Oct 2014
Every Sunday they would play, dancing on water,
Skidding across the ripples, and climbing up together
Two skiers fall in love, I for her,

And she for another, a friend to both.
Coveting what we wished was ours.
Idly on the shore I stood

Where The water cooled my feet
Watching how she watched,
how she chased

with a smile, I'd have given anything to make.
When the object of her eye, fell
Hard into angels' arms,

And nineteen turns around the sun
Was all that he would have
She cried, and her tears broke my heart

We both lost a friend that day,
But what hurt me most
Was how I knew she'd have never cried like that

If it had been me who fell
And so inside I said, I wish I could have traded fates
So for once I'd have made her smile stay
I'd love feedback
Andrew Castillo Aug 2010
No more rain
Heavy aroma filling the darkened sky
Rain falling gently on our skin
Running in the empty streets
Playing with the atmosphere
The sweet scent rising
Still running and splashing
Falling down
Skidding
Into each other
Around once more
Around the gardenia
Kara Rose Trojan May 2012
Friend Rockstar,
            Listen, yield to a robust think-tank,
            earlobes skidding against wheat and grain.
Terrible story, yes, what happened to that little girl.
Sterile teddy nightgowns weeping in the squad car windows.
Teacher – Teacher, do you harken my yodels for grace?
            I’ve never been maternal.
            Put the game on. Abortion.
            That’s what I’m about.
            Grab a bra. Sling some weight.
            That’s what I’m about.
Some housefly wings on a weathered corn cob.
Some downhome, homegrown twang for those fancy, fussy britches.
            Muddy workboots. Sweat-soaked collars.
            That’s what I’m about.
Him done made me read, sir.
What sacraments did we write today?
            I can still remember my first broken bone.
            I can still remember my first broken *****.
                        That could be what this is all about.
Mary, Mary, you can be contrite,
            so knife – so critter – so laze – so stalked.
    Who fertilized your seeds? Who reared your sprouts?
            Cockle shells and silver bells, honey,
            can’t grow up
            to be pretty little maids all in a row.
Sterile teddy nightgowns – green bells in gaseous gardens.
Friend Rockstar, you may have to sleep.
This restless harbor is a shivering anecdote spilled from a belly,
            a vast, deep cavern with love notes written in milk.
Your fried, stern smile was a flaking fingernail adjacent to the crack in the flowerpot.
Some garden, I say.
Don Bouchard Jun 2015
Observing these old men sitting at the stockyard cafe,
Suspendered bellies hanging above huge buckles
And button-crotched Levi's tucked tight  over leather boots,
Legs grown bowed and thin, but carrying  them to the sale, still,
To hear the auctioneer, talking fast to work the buying crowd,
And get their fill of cattle, shoved indoors,
Sold beneath the steady cracking whips,
A spectacle to burn its way into my minds's forever eye:
The skidding steers, the rolling eyes, the frantic scramble to find cover,
While buyers gave their quiet signs:
A tilted cap, a winking eye, a thumb or index finger up or at a side,
To purchase cow or bull or horse, in living flesh...
Then out again, through the other door,
And turn our heads to wait for more, and read the scrolling numbers:
How many head, how much per pound, perhaps a buyer's name,
And then the swinging sound of other cattle coming in to start again.

So, here these old boys sit again,
Slurping coffee through their yellowed teeth,
Remembering days  of indoor cigarettes and harried waitresses,
The smell of cow manure and jingling spurs,
Though now the smokeless ring seems tame, more civilized,
I see the glory days reflecting in the old men's eyes.....

I was just a boy back in those good old days,
My memory is a little hazed, but I can recall
When smoking was allowed and sawdust covered the filthy floor,
A Coca-Cola cost a dime, and the cattle sale with Dad was the big time;
Quaking as we treaded light on the catwalks above the pens,
Looked for our calves, or cows Dad culled to bring to sale,
Then going down and in to see them sell.

Fondly now, I can recall the restaurant at the ring
Where  I hoped for a slice of lemon pie from behind chill-fogged glass,
Saw cowmen wearing spurs and neckerchiefs and chaps...
Dreamed of growing up to be a cowboy.
Reflecting on  boyhood experiences, Sidney Livestock Market, Sidney., MT, 1963 -  2015....
Rishi Bharat Sep 2010
The country road like  poet’s fancies unravels
Through the   giant hanky- sized paddy fields
And  the dream  sized ponds
Dotting  the landscape
in perfect  squires and riots of skewed and regular shapes
The green spread and the muddy beds, spell the village beauty.

Parrot green fields
And  stark blue skies  look at each other
In perfect silence, like mother and babe
And a   great , grey house  exposing its ragged bricks,
Bared like  the buck tooth of the old
Provokes a  village memory

Past picking itself slowy and ambling into the future
Its wooden columns
stand like mute  exclamation marks!
or so it may  look to me.
Flies  the  skidding scaly tarred  snake  
Fast and spreading like the traveler travelling on it.

Patchy it looks, now;  
And  full like the  misery  of the scorned lover
Eager like  the  maiden speech of a parlimentarian  
The country road, runs  fluid like a stream after the rains.
As the rustle of the engine   trips and   falls
into the  divine  air.

A  roaming peacock calling adds  charm to the great whole  fare
A winged beauty, struts across
Nudged by the sputtering , speeding me.
The exotic avian   attains the hedges galore
With its   metal blue  feathery strangeness blurred in my glancing eye
A species rare, found only in ornithologists diary.

A  clamour in the  air
And the   school boys emerge in buddy pairs
Beneath the  village banyan
That  let loose its tresses to dry like a country maid.
I see, a promising glint in their eyes
The  will make themselves of  king and ministers of the modern days


The  sonority of ringing bell  
clubs the cacophony of school boys  in into two dead parts.
They return to their classes, sanctified by the silence,
And open their minds to the feminine vocie.
A Glorious moment ,
As the  morn of wisdom is born

Rich are the sightings of poor country side
And many are the mappings on the way,
My sensibilities recouped,
I drove back
not spent
But profound.


sound.
Al Oct 2018
Scaling a dizzy height I struggle to achieve, as the ladder wobbles my jegs become jelly.  Step by step I grasp each rung, dreaming of the peak.

A secretary returns my smile, her note is exchanged in the wink of an eye.  To race like formula-one and hit a perfect swing , the satelite spins as the thread is stripped.

She lived for golf and danced like James Brown whilst, I surfed the airwaves seeking a new sound.
LJ Chaplin Aug 2014
You are the earthquake,
Tearing apart the ground
Beneath my aching feet
After years of running from
Your destruction,
You let me fall through the cracks
Like sand through fingertips,
Consumed by the dark,
Falling past wonderland
And the other side of the Earth,
Drowning in a sea of stars,
Flushed away to the farthest reaches
Of the universe
Just so I can feel beautiful again,
To reshape myself to fit the new mould
That I constructed after you had
So effortlessly contorted the previous one with your bare hands,
Like smoke and mirrors,
An optical illusion,
There are things that your eyes
Cannot see that are burnt into
My skin,
That I can't scrub from me as if
They were mud stains,
From skidding to avoid the collision
Of my dignity.
I am left suspended in ignorant bliss,
Silent and calm,
Comfortable and collected.
Daniel James Dec 2011
The cold brought the snow
And the snow brought the ice
And the frosty town dwellers
And chilled out urbanites
Thawed out a little
With a raise of the eyes
An exhaled expression
A neighbourly - Y'alright?

A young woman
In unfriendly red
Comes cluttering
And skidding
Around the bend
I look up -
She pushes past
On her way to the station
But I have the last laugh -
It's closed, I almost shout
There's not even a sign
But if she manages to make it on heels
She'll find out in good time
Things move slower in the cold
And with good reason.
Rebecca Gismondi Oct 2016
king of the sea,
with a rigorous exoskeleton peeling away
moulting causes such distress,
exposed to the thrashing undertow of the sea
and enemies

who protects you?
a callow arthropod poised on fractured shells

it isn’t your father,
balancing a bottle of brandy between his lips
or your confidant,
skidding his tires across your mind

a starfish tried,
she threw her arms round your shell
as you added new muscles underneath
she stuck her tube feet in her claws
as you brittled her skin
she said I love you
and you retreated

when you are 70
and clamouring the floor
put your arms behind your back to beckon her to you
try –
she is the sea and no one owns her.
Laura Ingram Jun 2012
He combs freeway fingers through heavy head traffic, take the first exit, my hair sopping coils of second-hand crinoline.
His sand-grain obscenities erode us as we’re skidding asleep, a salted shade of cerulean. Blind eels undulate through citrus eye sockets, acrid lemonade powder penetrating my paper-cup covering, short-circuiting their solar wires, picked clean by a half cup of high-tide.
I will carve a new clavicle with fisherman’s sinew and snippets of crawdad skull, stretch my oil-spill of skin taut over each coral reef  arrhythmia, the indigo arch of my spinal cord, you are now leaving   Atlantic City.
Emily Jones Sep 2012
Hips hunkered, rise to dapple-blue-toned dusty seat
Flush arch cheeky blush, excitement
Droll eye-glazing blue pupil toned in sleepy drug haze
Wind whipping wild air rushing through tempered glass
Wubing whoosh of wheeled blacktop pavement
Colored in eerie sunshade yellow
Lined, darting-flash gold white boundary crossing  
Tight knuckles, two hand hold
Blinking brown doe-eyed drowsy heavy lidded
Lolling head knocked back, head bash rested caressing faux blue
Ploom of dust
Dry-mouth open to catching fly’s
Or what’s left of dank-infused air
Quiet stillness

Blond hair crawling in busy wind,
Equally as gone
Thumping, jolting-momentum  
White line boundary lost, wheels ended grass
Ditching down, dirt slid slide
Floating weightless suspended-nightmare phase

Snapping,
Awake! Awake!
Screaming slotted terrified,
Panic! Painful-heart-wrecking rob breath
Nose dive, mounded metal drive inching closer
Hairs-breath away

Afraid, screaming ****** ****** inside sealed lips
Brown eyes; lid white
Hands upon steering slack, loose light
Asleep, peaceful in calamity
Unnatural shake and tumble
Nail dug bleeding ache
Skidding gravel, tree lined doom
A god not believed in a prayer ensued
Shaking, the calm unglued
“Baby, wake I beg you!”
Brown quick electric wide
Screaming, Screaming
“Oh my God! Why!”
Swerve snake skin peelout
Black lane orange in night
An almost death.
Midnight ride gone wrong.
Kendal Anne Jun 2013
I have often turned within my grave to ponder of the reason why
Upon the date of my birth, you took me to your secret hide

Underneath an aspen tree within the deadest of nights
You took to me like a moth to a ball of flickering light

With the devils own smile plastered upon your face and the slightest of hand
You produced a sanguineous jar of hearts and an ominous jar of black sand

You grasped my hands in your work enured and fairly calloused paws
Looked me in the eyes, and told me to forever leave my pale hands raw

"Never soil your untouched hands, your hands and eyes you shall avert'
"Never bruise, nor ever hurt, nor shall they be ever touched by dirt,

"Never touch a rose, nor touch a bee, as danger is an all you see,
"Close your eyes my little darling, and all of life shall be but a dream."

With the trust of a mothers child, I kept my eyes tightly squeezed
Wished upon the star within the midnight sky, wavering in the breeze

Held my hands up to my chest, hoping the fluttering and staggered slips
Not to be seen by your face within the light of moon as from the sun it dines and sips

Of a heart that had only once been given to me and should have forever stayed mine
But the greed inside all mens' hearts want, and reaches out to grasp a young new 'hind'

With another slight of those calloused hands, you took my life for your own pleasure
And stole what was rightfully derived as mine; a beating heart, you took your leisure

A working mind, once a clock, now fully had come to a skidding stop
You took my bones and my teeth and used them as a fertilizing crop

The very worst thing that you did, you took my pride when you took my skin
Shaved off clean with a diamond edged razor and worn as if you were mockeries twin

Burried underneath that beautiful aspen tree, I've been given the time to remold
But my life had been stolen, the soul forced out before the bells had tolled

In the time it had taken for my pieces to remold, I had realised something then and there;
There were always things that were meant to go untold, but the truth is ringing upon the open air

You wanted more than what was offered and had bitten off all you could chew
But if I'd known back then what I know now, I'd know real good men only come in few
dith Baker, was born in Athens ancient greece the middle of Spring and her parents
were Tom and Elizabeth Baker and they had 2 naughty brothers
named Ned and Jonithan who teased, and they looked like 2
big tough boys with heaps of muscle in their legs, and they told Edith she was a puny little girl, and a big wimp, and the boys said
they have more power than you loser girls, So Edith let us boys win
young edith let us boys win, and Edith ran to her parents crying and
they said, don’t worry about those boys, they can be tamed, and
Edith went to her room and said, i will find a way to tame those
naughty boys, yeah i will chop them up, from their juicy legs, and
have them for dinner, you can’t catch us ya girl, and the boys went
out , and the keep it secret who they actually were.
then the boys were attacked by a nasty witch and they were kept
in the witch’s back garden shed, with the fire on high, and the boys
yell out HELP HELP, PLEASE SAVE US FROM THIS MEAN LADY
we are only young we aren’t ready to die, please let us go, you see
Athena, put her power into Edith to defeat these boys, Athena made edtih grow into an adult to scare these boys out her, cause
she is the more powerful, than anyone on earth, and Edtih was
really suffering, and then Edith/Athena brought Ned and Jonithan
down to her dungeon, where she will keep these naughty boys till
they learn that teasing Edith baker was the worst mistake of their
lives, Edith was having a great time with Athena’s power giving these boys complete hell, and Jonithan said to Edith we are just
having fun with you, ok, i don’t want to change the world this way,
and Athena said to Edith, start with fattening up Jonithan, you see
he is expressing himself, he must be Cronus, cause he is the only
one that knows how to express himself, and jonithan said, Edith
don’t **** me, you are not going to pass go if you **** me, heh, and
Athena, fed Jonithan delicious treats, and after 3 weeks, he became a nice juicy fatty boy, and Edith with Athena’s help, cooked
Jonithan up and his bones were the only thing left, and Cronus was
discovered, as a religious god of Ancient greece, and Athena let Ned go home,and got out of Edith’s head and they lived happily ever after missing Jonithan but still lived happily ever after,

and on the following christmas two twins, Hansel who is Cronus, and his twin sister Gretel came into the world and lived  on a very rundown farm, which way back somewhere used to be the city of eternity, but Wanda Gray, who is the wicked witch, who used witch craft to destroy eternity and force the whole of mother earth to be destroyed and
humans will die, and Hansel and Gretel”s parents who lived a normal life in eternity by just normal family duties, and Hansel was
a great Rugby Union player, and he was a pick of all his friends,
and he was also a bit of a joker, making fun of Gretel every day,
making their parents very stressed out, mainly because Gretel was
a lazy girl ya know, never did anything constructive, and when Gretel said leave me alone, Hansel refused to listen to her, saying he was too tough for this mamby pamby girl, she just wants to play
with dolls and do all whimsy girlie things, and when Wanda Gray’s
plan to destroy eternity worked, every human was destroyed except for Hansel and Gretels family, and the father sent Hansel and Gretel off to find peace, and they walked in the destroyed debree of what was eternity, they came up to this old house,and Hansel recognised this place as the Rugby Union football club that Hansel
was a part of, so they came up to the front door,and hansel was
hoping to see his coach, cause he was too young to understand that they were the only civilised people on earth, and they knocked
on the door and then Wanda Gray who was the wicked witch, and
she put her mouth around Hansel and Gretel and brought them down to the dungeon, and Hansel and Gretel were screaming, saying HELP HELP LET US F..N GO WE ARE STUCK IN HERE FOREVER, after a few days, Gretel became very scared, as the only human she can see is her twin brother Hansel, they spent two
years down there, and Gretel was too shy to stay strong and was
getting weaker and Hansel was still trying even with out food, he
tried to keep the mascular part of the role of the male.
then Wanda Gray came back and said hi gretel, you are weak little girl aren’t you and then said, why aren’t you like that, you see Hansel had this plan, he just managed to weaken the chain, so
when the witch came he got free from the chain, and kicked Wanda Gray in the shins and it knocked her over, but Hansel couldn’t save
Gretel, so he just ran off, and then the witch got up and then stabbed Gretel in the stomach and after 2 hours she was dead, and
Hansel was nearly 12, and ran outside and then got a few old branches and push them against the door of the witch’s den, and then ran off into the fields, and then Hansel was puzzled, he was running in a direction, that his home was, and he couldn’t find it anywhere, so he ran back to the witch’s den, and he couldn’t find it either, and Hansel was scared, it looked like that Hansel was the only kid on earth, and started to run around the fields, and he was enjoying himself, and there was a big rainstorm that came into the
fields, and Hansel was picked up and went sliding down the hill and
fell asleep for 3 hours, and then Hansel woke up, and there was this giant Tyrannosaurus rex, and he looked mighty hungry, and then it started to chase Hansel through the woods, and Hansel was
sweating from the run and the fear that this dinosaur was going to eat him, and then Hansel slipped over and the tyrannosaurus rex
suddenly got out of the picture and then a deinanychus suddenly
came into site and fixed his eyes on Hansel, and Hansel found himself cornered by the tyrannosaurus rex and the deinanysaurus
and then a Megalosaurus came down and pushed Hansel down
into the ground and Hansel thought straight away he was going to
die, but he fell down on a patch of leaves laid down in a way like a
bed and this was the work of Athena saving Cronus, who was Hansel, and Hansel slept for 23 years, and woke up, and he looked like a new man, and he had Athena and Gretel, trying to rid evil out
of Wanda Gray, trying to send her to her next life, as Jesus Christ,
and Athena said to Hansel, that for eternity to come back again, we
all must, have these new names, Gretel you will be Mary, and now
with the power of Athena, i will send you to Joseph, after this reincarnation is completed and Hansel you are Cronus, as i told you and when i give you the warning you are going out there with a combination of mine and your power, to keep the dinosaurs away from Mary and Joseph, and Cronus did exactly that, and went out
to Bethlehem and got all the kings horses and all the kings men, all together to form a wall from one side of Isreal to the other, and
they find a home in Bethlehem, and the story they tell children is a
bit happy, don’t want to scare them off, but as donkey with pregnant
Mary on top, and Joseph walking , the tyrannosaurus rex and allosaurus and the stegosaurus were trying to get to the other side of Jereasulem and as they arrived the kings men got their guns out and said ready aim fire and every man fired at every dinosaur, and
the Anklylosaurus was the only the kings men couldn’t beat, so they chased him right around the country, and Cronus while that was going on was around making sure that Mary and Joseph can get to
the Inn in Bethlehem without any problems, and then this Anklylosaurus was nowhere to be found, and the kings men, decided to track down a source, to rid the dinosaurs forever and save this world from those terrible animals, so the source they found was killing the dinosaurs eggs from the tree they were carefully put,and the kings men fired their guns 5000 times into the
ground and after 4 days of doing this, they finally are achieving their
goal about making dinosaurs and then the kings men travelled through the fields and the Ankylosaurus, was running aroung having a wow of a time, and then they fired and fired and then just as they were losing bullets, the lizard was dead, and then Cronus
got Mary and Joseph to the inn, on August 23rd and she was nursed there till december 12 where Jesus was born officially, and
this was time to celebrate for everyone, they played, silent night
and when a child is born and away in a manger and jingle bells and
a very good version of It came upon a midnight clear, that as soon
as christmas eve was finished at midnight, the start of christmas day, Jesus was christened, the saviour of God,or buddha, or mohammed, anyway Cronus did a chant to start the ceremony, saying, ummmmm ummmmm um diddly dumb  dumb ummmm
welcome Jesus Christ to this land, every girl and boy and woman and man, um diddly dumb, umm diddly dum dum you see everyone is here to see, the kings men, killed each dinosaur to bring us peace, ummm diddly dum, and Cronus, then sat down and buddha
got up to also christen Cronus, for all his great work on bringing Jesus here, said you are now ST Nicholas, and then St Nicholas had to mend the feud between david and Goliath, and this was going to be hard, but St Nicholas, said, how about this Friday night,
New Years Eve, we will see the New Year in with a great fight, first
i will fight david and after that i will fight golliath, and then, david and gollath both had a duel to end the night and they still wanted to
**** each other, you see david beat St nicholas and gollath lost to St Nicholas, and then the last duel looked like david was doomed as
Gollath had him about to fall down a twenty storey medieveil building, and St Nicholas, went up there, and, used his powerful sword to bring david and gollath to safety, but then, well, they all went down to the party, and at midnight they screamed out 10, 9
8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 ,1, HAPPY NEW YEAR, and then they sang auld
leng zine and also St Nicholas welcomed a tiger to be trained to
protect the village from stowaways and then St Nicholas was walking around and met up with John the Baptist, and they were both having a chinwag, and Moses and Jesus who are known to be
very wise, said, to John the baptist and St Nicholas, you know the best thing that you 2 must do, is have a debate about your visions
for the future, and we will ask everyone to vote for whose views are
greater, and then, we’ll tell you who wins, and John the baptist and
ST Nicholas went away thinking about what they will say, but Athena wasn’t at all amused, because she hates competitive games, and ST nicholas said, competition is a great way to bring peace to this land, and with competitions, we can have fun stuff all
through each generations, and Athena said, ok very well, and then
after 4 months of deciding what to say in their debates, the debate was just about to start, and here it is

ST NICHOLAS

heaps of fun for children
enjoying new generation music
inventing ways to have real fun
not wanting to ****
but would **** to prove a point
keep the death cycle fun with great
stories about reincarnation, from buddha
untill eternity is reached i want all my lives to
start from scratch
and to enjoy parties in any shape or form

John the baptist

inventing the holy bible to stop people suffering
start up a building for people to feel at ease about
losing loved ones
keeping generations safe from death, cause it can
create problems
killing Jesus at age 33, on the third day of the third month
for our sins
and attempt to stop war by inventing the word religion

and then each member of the town had their chance to vote and
after 4 months of counting the votes, Moses and Jesus, announced the winner was John the baptist, apparently St Nicholas’s views were a little unrealistic, and then St Nicholas got out his sword and threaten to **** an innocent bystander, cause John the baptist was
planning to **** one of the jesus christ, he said, he is going to **** you
Jesus Christ and Jesus said, the townsfolk thought John the baptist was more right in the money, and then St Nicholas killed this 23 year old man, and then said, live in your own town without me, i quit this crazy life, and then ST Nicholas went to the ocean near by, and
threw rocks into the ocean, trying to play skidding games to see how far he can throw, and a boat of 323 armed bandits, put a blanket over st nicholas’s head and locked him in the dungeon and
started to sail toward Antarctica, and then they threw St Nicholas
into the ocean, and St Nicholas was starting swim and arrived on
Antarctica, and then walked for 3 days and then noticed this little
village, and it was great, it had great little houses and candy cane
fountains and a great stream going from one side of the village to the other, and in August of that year, St Nicholas started to dress up the place a bit, with his backyard he had the largest work centre on the island, where he got into making toys for the kids of the island and handy things for the adults on the island, you see, St Nicholas
did this all himself, no there weren’t really magic elves, no that is to
make christmas fun again, st nick did all this himself, and also made his stage coach out of fence palings and chopped up a pumpkin into very thin slices, and made that the floor of the trailer and where he sat and used Butch the brumby from the local farm as his guider, and every year till he was 323 years old, delivered
presents to every house and he will even drop in to speak to the
kind folk as they offered them biscuits to go with his nice cold beer
and on Christmas eve on St Nicholas’s 323rd birthday, Athena used her powers to bring upon the people of Antarctica a very big blizzard, which wiped out the entire village, and when the blizzard was at it’s worst, St Nicholas was given a gold beer mug, with the
words St Nick forever and ever in our hearts, but as St Nick was leaving they were snowed under, and there was no way of getting out, and all the people parished, and St Nick, was no more, just an
image, to be captured in future lives, you see Cronus took over to
rule Ancient Greece, and Cronus lived with Athena in ancient greece for 100 years, as brother and sister, never to be stopped
and i am St Nick, Cronus, Hansel and Jonithan,

© 2014 writer joe

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writer joe
Canberra, ACT, Australia

About
you see i have a mental illness and i express myself through imaginary poems and stories and my stories are in depth, but art is like that, i would like my writing to be good enough for television.. more..

Writing
<noimaget.jpg> THE PARTY THAT ROCKED LA
A Story by writer joe
<noimaget.jpg> my concert on jupiter moo..
A Story by writer joe
<noimaget.jpg> chrmical in the brain
A Poem by writer joe
[more writing]









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Helen Nov 2013
Seems to me like the Grim Reaper would have some sense of humour... Just look at his job description....

   He was staring at the fire with a horrified expression on his face.

   I quickly hid the stick with the marshmallow squished to the end of it behind my back. I frowned slightly at the look on his face and shook my head, thinking 'Nah, he’s not ready for that kind of humor' and I just stood slightly behind him and let the firelight dance in the night.

It certainly was a time for reflection…

  I go to touch him softly and he slowly turns his head away from the fire and as his eyes settle on my hand hovering above his shoulder and he shudders and jerks away. I’m offended at first until I realize I forgot my gloves that day.
Opps, scary, bony hand. Right! A real turn off and I duck my head to make sure the cowl is covering my face.
No more mistakes!

   “Where am I?” he grits though clenched teeth while his head swings between me and the fiery conflagration upon the motor way.

   “Who the hell are you”

“Me?” I ask, exasperated. Like the scary, bony hand didn’t give me away!

   “Am I dead?”

Oh ****, he’s now hyperventilating… not a good sign

“Not yet” I answer slowly… Hmmm, how to explain? “ No, your not dead, but you will be. I took you early because well…” and I wave my hand in the general direction of the car that just exploded, which quite nicely scored a point in favor of my benevolence. “I just swooped in a bit early because, lets face it… do you want to be there?!!”

He throws his hands over his head and ducks at the loud explosion and looks at me like it was my entire fault. Well I wasn’t the one that thought I was okay to drive home after drinking all night but I’m used to being pegged as ‘The Bad Guy’… rolls eyes Sheesh!

   “Where’s Janet?” he asks quietly then with an ear piercing scream (I don’t really have ears but by the howls coming from the forest behind us (because I can hear animals, I'm not completely deaf) I’m assuming his voice ratcheted up a notch or two…)
JANET!!

"Calm down dude. She’s gone already."

   "Gone already? What do you mean gone already? You got me out and left her in the car?!?" He seems really ****** now.

"No! I didn’t! I mean that Gabriel has already been to collect her. Hey you’re a lucky guy. Gabriel doesn’t just shuck his wings to swoop down for nobody. She must be a real nice piece of… well a really nice lady for Gabriel to come collect her."

   "Gabriel?" He's shaking his head slowly like he's trying to dislodge a twig from his hair and his eyes are growing wider by the minute. "Gabriel? As in Archangel Gabriel? So she's going to heaven?"

He seems relieved which in turn makes me breath easier until he focuses again on me with a crazy eyed stare which makes me think he's about to get hysterical again.

   "Then what the hell am I still doing here? Why aren't I with her?"

Oh, tricky question. I hate the tricky questions. I'm so not paid enough for this **** and tricky questions. Why can't they just ever come along quietly?

"Umm" I hedge, with a little twitch right about where my eye muscle should have been. "I believe it has something to do with your secretary?" I deliberately leave it ending in a question.

   "My secretary? What the hell does that... Ohhh..."

Bingo, there you go. I love it when the penny drops quickly.

But I'm saddened because I know for a fact that his secretary was a scheming ***** that came onto him and he sidestepped all her advances at every opportunity but he was caught late night at the office with a big case and she took advantage of the late hour and even though nothing happened he still fantasized occasionally about the almost moment.

I pointed this out to Gabriel when he came to collect Janet and also advised that Janet was less innocent than she looked and he just sneered to me in that pompous angel way...
"Yeah? So what. We're really bored up there and this one is pious enough to escape notice but just enough down and ***** we can have some fun.
Back off Death!

You've already touched this one.


You just make sure you clean up the mess left over and make sure her man doesn't come sniffing 'round our domain or we'll make sure Lucifer hears about your little mistake with the last Pope and how you let him escape upstairs when he was meant to take the elevator south... Yeah, you know what I'm talking about...."
and then he was gone. All shining light and white wings and trumpets and fanfare.

Pfffttt... the mans exit is the most exciting thing about him so I guess Janet really is going to get what she deserves...

   "So what about me?" he said to pull me out of my reverie

"What about you?" Oh! What
about* you? Okay, well I can put you back in the car and you can be burned alive until you take your last breath and get just a small taste of where you are heading"

He didn't really seem to like that answer and by the look on his face that is when I decided to toss the stick with the marshmallow squished onto the end of it far into the treeline. I really didn't think I was ever going to be able to pull that one out of the bag. But I was still really ****** at Janet (on his behalf) and I'd ******* this one up to royal proportions so I didn't think my next suggestion would be any less worthy of the moment.

"Or, I could bust you through the windshield on impact before the car sets alight."

He's not sure but he's nodding his head slowly and he's listening.

"Now, you have to remember, you were traveling at speed and not wearing a seat belt of course so you have to know that where you land after skidding a bit.... well, there will be scars..."

   *"Scars, chicks dig scars"
he murmurs thoughtfully

"Yes, they do" I warm up to the thought. "And don't forget, you'll be a Widower too... Chicks dig that too"

   "Yes, a widower, scarred and tragically losing their wife. I like, I like"

He's warming to my idea.

I'm so smart!

Because he wasn't supposed to be the one I was to escort to Hell.
It was supposed to be his ***** of a wife Janet, but who in their right mind fights an Archangel for a soul? Not me, I'm the biggest wimp of all time. I just touch them and they fall! I'm not a fighter. Janet, for all her sins was to be mate to Lucifer tonight. I could have just touched Gabriel but I noticed he didn't get close enough to me to allow it and I didn't push the cause because I knew his payload wasn't anything he should gloat about and I wished him well...

So I really did '****' two birds with one stone this night. Janet got what was coming to her (Gabriel is the biggest sadistic ***** of the bunch) and her husband is a little banged up but the sympathy vote is scoring him some serious chick points.

Me?
I love my job :-)
Mirlotta Oct 2014
Once upon a time, in a world that looks like yours      
there was a girl with
golden hair
that hung like a banner across her back in a
a sea of sandy metal
that whispered across the air
all the untold secrets of the water and the flowers
and their petals


and when she blinked, her eyes were blue
and if you leaned too close you'd
drown in them
like the hags who tumbled down the wells
and shrieked for help
that no one cared about
because they didn't hear their voice
or see their
ebony locks trailing like abandoned sea **** after them
because they didn't fit into the space the puzzle maker had carved
and couldn't conquer the tedium of difference



and the girl was tugged by hand to go to Church
and her prayers were secret treasures
that trickled from her lips
and tasted like righteousness
each word more crystal than the last
soaked in honey at the tip
and smothered in wonder and glory
and the days as they passed


and they never mentioned the girls she teased
who wore headscarves
or bindis
that she'd printed with the colours of endless torment
in hues of cheerless and agony
and the girls never told her that
if they took them off
like she begged them to
laughter sprinkled in and stirred
they'd have to show her how much more pain
her jeering caused them



and the girl made mockeries of the unconventional
but that was okay because
everyone did
their eyes creasing up into slits of derision
in universal agreement
skidding past the true
whims of their heart and growing to
resent them


and the eccentric pressed themselves carefully
into the mould of society's
baking tray
their souls thrashing out in pain and hatred
as they compressed their emotions
and intelligence
and the beauty they found in the strangest of things
into the shell that had been vacated for them
when its previous owner had shrivelled up
and given in
and died



and all the way through life, the girl was beautiful
but she still  blew char
over her eyelashes
and stained her lips the post-box red that's found in
first kisses and
poetry and
scrawled crayoned hearts and
fading wishes


and she made fun of the red that pulsed
in the form of acne on
her classmates' faces
growing their hair out long to cover their pain
until no one could see their shame
and pouring their money into
the collection tins of mass chain stores
of cream and gloop and products
until their faces were marred by make-up
until their mothers didn't recognise them anymore
and they cried



and the girl was thinner and happier than anyone
but because it amused her
her wrists were slit
so her peers doled out their sympathy
and held battles over
who could make her smile first
and she fasted to become thinner
and she collected
four leaf clovers


and her classmates ignored the tender puckered skin
of the children that hacked at
their flesh and
tried to hide it alongside their hurt
and she cackled at the ribs
that seemed to try and burst from their flesh
like hungry mouths were trying to eat
them from the inside out
and they collected things because they feared
what would happen if they didn't
because that was OCD



and when the girl grew up, she married a boy
and he was tall and
his hair was night
and he was handsome in the conventional way that was accepted
perfect match
the paradisiacal sight of
dainty damsel clutching the arm of the
kind of man she'd read about in books
she'd been infatuated with him before they'd met


and the boys who fell in love with each other were outcast and spat on
their hearts torn into tatters and shredded in machines
by the people who thought they could decide for them
that if they didn't love girls then they'd love no one at all
because in the fairy tales they'd read as young children
they learnt that
prince = princess
and the prince never runs away with the woodcutter
because where would the princess be then?



and the girl still lives on today, in a world that looks like yours
her words a deadly poison
reaping and bleeding
crushing her prey between *******
and showing songs to the ears of the impressionable,  young or old
sowing seeds in their brains
that blossom in their hearts
and she is beautiful
and she is terrible
and she is nameless but for the title of
Society’s own child
and she is blameless
for it is the parent
at fault.
Yay, first poem!
Architects plant their imagination, weld their poems on rock,
Clamp them to the skidding rim of the world and anchor them down to its core;
Leave more than the painter's or poet's snail-bright trail on a friable leaf;
Can build their chrysalis round them - stand in their sculpture's belly.

They see through stone, they cage and partition air, they cross-rig space
With footholds, planks for a dance; yet their maze, their flying trapeze
Is pinned to the centre. They write their euclidean music standing
With a hand on a cornice of cloud, themselves set fast, earth-square.
bucky Mar 2015
a person on the metro, six stops from their destination
leafing through a brochure titled How
To Get Rich Quick -
sighing in disgust,
"I was never allowed to go on the metro
when I was young," boasts the woman
sitting beside them, an accessory of
The Scene. a prop
(voice is loud and nasally, and the person - five stops - considers moving)
quick smile, polite:
which means, go away. or, at the very least, don't talk quite
so loud
okay? okay?
a softcover Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary is under the seat, discarded,
Sharpie skidding through it (four stops) at every jolt
of the train.
this is normal, all trains are jerky sometimes, and the loud woman
expresses her concerns.
an old man, older than both people,
older than anything really - coughs.
wet coughs.
the person frowns, but quietly, so
the woman and man won't notice.
(they are well-practiced in the art of subtlety)
three stops. the woman leaves
but the smell lingers
and the dictionary, having slid back
one or two rows for effect
a flock of tourists board. kids in the seats
parents hanging tiredly to safety holds
(be still be quiet keep your hands to yourself, mandy
a little boy of six clinging to the person's jacket with
sticky warm fingers)
two stops, and the boy asks why they look so sad.
what they're reading.
they have perfected the art of silence
but little boys don't understand silence.
the mother hovers in the background
sneaking ***** looks at the person,
wax smudged smile going crooked at the edges
one stop,
the boy asks where they got their hair
(my head;
he is unimpressed)
he is kicking the lonely dictionary
providing it with company,
or maybe unaware.
they leave, and the mother hisses something at them as they pass -
clutches the boy's arm.
the dictionary has been stuck on the word spectral for three days,
and the train hums to life.
Our hands clenched together
In a spontaneous dash,
We fly down the grand staircases and swirling halls
Of the Atlantis at 3 a.m.

I,
Skidding to a halt in triumph,
Push toward the wall of sleek windows
Containing the exotic creatures
Swimming swiftly and sweetly
Through the dark water of the night.

And you, my dear,
Drunk with the ancient incense
Of island air and twilight,
Nourish my curiosity with your voice.
“Go ahead.”

We approach the world of blue
And lift our faces to the glass,
Pressing coolly against the fins
Sprinkled with deep, dark gold.

Through the water I see
The scales twinkling in your eyes,
And in secret I see them return a gaze
Through the reflection of the window
Softly sprinkled with life.
Hunter Shields Jan 2013
Let me be honest
I am so freaking tired
I need rest like a Snorlax
And if you don’t get that reference
You were never a 90s kid
Skidding to a stop on route 16 or 12
Wondering what the hell
Was blocking your path
And slipping into “yo momma” jokes
The world over
So I pull my bike to the shoulder
Trying to find the melody
That will remedy my malady
Because it’s the opposite of what you used

See I don’t just need rest
From walking town to town
I need it from you, myself,
And from everyone around
Giving their two cents
Calling it common sense and
Of course I should listen since
My wallet is empty of that currency
While yours is apparently so abundant
That you feel a necessity
To force it upon me as charity

I’m tired of clichés and
Bits of wisdom from authors anonymous
Because I’m telling you I’m not a mess
That can be fixed with your
Two penny potion
Made from your split second emotion
Based upon empathy or sympathy
I can’t quite tell when it comes
To your simply pity
I’m sorry I don’t sound grateful
I know you’re just being helpful
I’m just so freaking tired

Tired of stopping myself
Before even getting started
Because I know
The battles everyday are hard and
I don’t know
That I can make it out
As the champion I need to be
This has been my reality
Stutter stepping from 1 to 2 to 23
So maybe now you see
Why I’m so freaking tired
Alex Apples Jan 2014
SPRING
Like a bull, she charged the dandelion hill
Her child-sister a pack on her back, until
The braves swarmed from the wooded rill
She shouted to her comrades to lie still
Among the sweet grass and the dewy chill
Wild girl

SUMMER
She clutched the bark skin of Hawthorne trees
Skidding down, then pressing in her knees
Mop of chestnut hair blowing in the breeze
Which smell'd of hot soil and sweet peas
The sun above as close as she could please
Wild girl

AUTUMN
Page after page, her blackish eyes devoured
Tales of elves and warriors, from her tower
Where real-life through the faery-glass did sour
In presence of such phantasmal power
Of all the leather-bound leaves they flowered
Wild girl

WINTER
So it was, she crafted bricks of blue and red
Into cathedrals and creatures concocted in her head
Riled dragons to hear the tales they said
Climbed mountains others would not dare to tread
And did it all before momma called her to bed
Wild girl
Our hearts flutter when we first brush hands with each other, and we walk on air when we get our first kiss.

A wise man once gave the analogy that falling in love is like riding a bike. You see, him and his wife saw a couple cycling and holding hands. He commented that it was dangerous. She replied that *“they are in love, and love is dangerous”.
While there is truth in that sentence, this man used the analogy that love is as dangerous as speed. Speed doesn’t ****, but it’s the sudden deceleration that does. There’s nothing wrong with falling in love.

Just like flipping a bike over when you were twelve. Speeding down a steep hill and hit a bump, which led to being flung over the handlebars. Recovering fairly quickly, but regaining an irrational fear of bikes. You muster up all the courage you have and clutch the brake until your knuckles turn white whilst trembling with fear. Eventually, you got the hang of it again and gradually increased speed, at a rather alarming rate. If you would have gone straight, you would have ridden clean off the mountain. To preserve your fragile life, you take a hard left, which results in your bike and yourself separately skidding across the gravel, wiping the skin clean off your calves and your thigh. Blood oozed out, pouring crimson red from your legs, speckled with the white of my flesh and gravel. It took over a month to heal, but it was only a surface wound and to find it, I have to thoroughly hunt for any permanent markings on your leg.

The first time you flip your bike is similar to love. It caused an excessive amount of fear and doubt. You're so afraid of getting hurt that you would flee before there was any real change of that. Getting on the bike the second time is similar to falling in love the second time. Knowing all the risks involved, you rid yourself of your fears and just let your gut feeling take over.

We put aside our incessant fears and qualms, and let our feelings take over. We let the cold sting of the wind kiss our face, and the adrenaline rush as we push into the pedals faster, and against our mind screaming warnings at us to protect ourselves, we let our heart and our gut take over.

There is something just as beautiful about the way a person who can make you believe in love again, and there is something so special about the person who teaches you how to love again.

*Every love is different, but every love is beautiful and sweet, even if it is just teaching you how to love again.
Kayla Lynn Oct 2010
My phalanges shake under the
Blood red sunset
My heart beats rapidly
In my throat
My nerves consume
Every inch of my flesh

I'm sitting on that bench
Our bench
Outside that little store
Our store
And I'm thinking of you
Dreaming of you
And it's Autumn
And that song you played
Our song
It's stuck in my head
Because I don't think
It ever left

If only there was a way
To avoid this whole situation
Some way to circumvent
Around life

But there's not

And suddenly
I'm distracted by an
Angel
Or the closest thing to it
That I've ever seen
On Earth

Straight purple hair
Pierced septum
Thick black eyeliner
Cuts down her arms
Oceans in her eyes

It's cold
And I'm alone
And I'm waiting for you
And she's there
And my mind is spinning
And my heart drops
And my posterior goes numb

And I swear to God
If you don't hurry up
I'm going to follow her home

Because my mind is
Skidding off the fringes
Of sanity
And my emotions are
Twisting like pretzels
In a bakery

Confused and broken
The girl
That caught my mind
And stole my time
Walks by in slow
Motion

And the reason
That I'm so easily
Obsessed
With her
Is because she did
Something
No one ever
Could

For a few moments
She actually helped me

Forget about you
Septum, Circumvent, Phalanges, Fringes, Posterior

© October 2010 Sarah Lynn
A skidding car sounds from my window
and quick feet scale the steps

Two short taps brush the wood
and our incomplete bodies embrace

Three fingers caress my cheek
and trembling lips skim my ear

Four words collide
"Baby let's run away"

Five sparkling tears escape my restless eyes
and his face lights up with hope

Six nods swaddle a smile
and hands clasp tightly

Seven seconds spent looking back
and as we drive away
*I know why I fell in love
Sean Flaherty Jul 2015
[page 1] I already regret writing this to you. I already regret sharing this with you. I've already told you, before, but I'm bursting---I'm skidding, like my brakes are busted--- bottling-it-all, inside. And, a wise man once told me, "If it's eating you up, you should ink it, all-out." I just wish I could remember whose words those were.

Sometimes, when I'm searching the Rolodex, for the right-scene, you've been around, to remind me. [Almost-like, you'd read along.] You tell me, you assume "I'm always awake," and, I would only elaborate: with-fear, my dear, for falling asleep would draw you back, to my dreams.

See, and I've said this (to much poorer souls than yours), [page 2] before I allow my ambitions the axiom, certainty must surround the word "love" like an aura. My so-flawed system of authentication, of authority, in my own-hearted matters, starts and ends with my dreaming. Only three romances have recurred. Randomness is much more regular. Rarely do my dreams speak with structure, or in-a-story. That real random. [The reason I'm a poet?] Flying symbols, from "seven hells," heavens, or highways. If you left the top-down, or had a bad-day.

[Relax, Flagstaff]

sighs

[Ready, again?]

Ready.

...
Essay #4 is even longer than #3 by a little bit and I'm posting it in parts. With parts missing. Because I'm keeping some of it personal. Or at least for one person.
Westley Barnes Apr 2013
“When people move-when they travel-they look at where 
they come from,
not where they’re going.” -Martin Amis, *Time’s Arrow

*

Let us now take this chance

to praise those dancing demons 
of ambition,
whose feigned clairvoyance 
of fortune
and exactitudes of fame

burn as the smell of smokey fallow 
to the new-retired mare.



Travel, and all its takeoffs,

all its energies in skidding towards

an unopposed truth, makes its mince

by outlining all we ever look for

but leaving the chalkdust prints

of what we fail, at first, to find.



Yes, spaces contrary to the familiar exist
Carnivore cities of grind and result

cascaded above the floodwalls that save

the vagrant’s midnight search.

Coastal clearings of pacific civs,

best kept secrets where trees are still planted

and further kinds of nowhere that you never expected

to simmer with all the prospects of bored and implacable youths

who pine to efface the status quo, which ,after all, is quite the average,

is quite like “HOME”



Though I suppose, we eventually find

whatever space can be considered our own

when everyone grows up and stops

pretending they read Burroughs,
have a lot more going on, or are a lot less busy
than they make out over infrequent coffee meetings
(where it is also admitted

that they brew their own hot beverages,
or tell their own jokes)

Somewhere in the near-space continuum where Travel has

become for us what essentially differentiates
the commonplace in nature from 
that most human of neuroses,

the acceptance of a willing to improve the conditional.



And so to Ambition, and its fiery fops who make us refute

steadiness, accountability, the routine of the resolute

Who let our ships of sanctimony attack

implied with the luxury of steering back.
Shadow Paradox Apr 2015
~Depression plants suicidal seeds, don’t copy hate, instead do good deeds~

◄►◄►◄►◄►
Rhythm and rhyme beats in the heart
Forming musical inspiration in a creative art
Beauty from pain
It lies within, as rainbows bleed a colorful stain
Razor marks tattooed on the skin
Is this a sign or a committed sin?
Learn from past, live the present
Don’t be a suicidal mocking bird who always laments
Copying others, with suicide entwined in imagination
Bleed the pen, and brightly color in your blank emotion
Represent a leader
You were born a survivor
Revolutionary options are provided for you to excel
Grow wings, spread them, and fly beyond this living hell
Skidding across icy obstacles
Wishing for miracles
Live your dream
Let the dying razor scream
No more suicidal mockingbird
Let hopefulness be today’s most used word
◄►◄►◄►◄►
This is such an old poem but I thought I'd share.
Mateuš Conrad Oct 2015
well it was the alternative to gregory isaac’s night nurse... but then the bouncer on the catwalk with flares... skidding up on a rhyme and cooling it with an edge of the appropriately cut fashion... chased it.*

innit kamikaze (rap’s shortchange in shaken pears
for martini bond and chanced cockney slang in shakespeare,
all 90’s groove though)
lyric’o gangsters
in the mollusk slush
two’s up freed
with the sly sly s.o.s. sloth
chinning up to the chariots of nero’s double for portrait:
naa na na na na na na na na na na na na naa,
naa na na na na na na na na na na na na naa
(i miscounted... didn't i?) -
where kurt cobian’s yeah yeah yeah used to be
along with r.e.m.’s cowboy astronaut.
come mike jagger with me the liszt skeleton
of b & w’s worth of crescendos tipping lazy waitresses
with a toreador’s worth of breezy napkins folded, flapped and sneezed into -
i’ll be dumping my shadow into splits for extras to boot frying it in
the hiroshima of paparazzi’s blinking.
failures are worth other people’s success when playing the lyre to a burn out of capitals:
anyway, edinburgh is the ultimate cameo in the literary bloodline
begot by paris for the 20th century ultimatum of identity scripted.
Nina Dec 2014
I just want you to know that before you came along I was fine-no, more than fine, good even. I was good. I had a future and I wasn't even looking for a boy but you just came into my life and you were so strong and you wrapped your tongue in mine and I was ******.
And I think of wine all the time, sweet as your sugar coated lips and burning in my throat and deep in the pit of my stomach and making me dizzy and crazy and making the **** lights spin again. And I remember when we made love the first time, and you brought the wine and there was sweat all over and pain and the crinkles on your forehead mapped out the way to my sanity, but I couldn't find it. Crinkled clothing and crinkled eyes and crinkled lives.
Time went by too fast for us, my love. We sped through life going 109 and when the red truck in front of us slammed on it's breaks we were destined to crash. Skidding over ice, skidding through fire. For weeks I thought of fire all the time. Burning so beautiful, shield from the cold, but too dangerous to get close to, too hot. And I've been third degreed. Ashes.
I just want you to know that even now the sound of your name makes my heart beat faster than the rain did on the roof of your car the night you made me cry the first time. But by now I've cried more than a thousand tears for you, and the ache in my heart is a constant pain that doesn't leave and I wish I was a blunt so you could breathe me in and still want me even more.
But most of all, I miss falling asleep in your arms.
K Balachandran Jan 2012
skidding on a banana peel,
like a ballerina she flew,
landed on his chest,
thus, beginning a stormy love life.
It charged us
Breaking through the enemy's ranks
Scattering men like toothpicks
Theirs, then ours
It was mad, but all war is mad

Some of us stood our ground
As it shook from its furious rage
Shoulder to shoulder, brothers
Hacking the enemy,
Sliding swords deep in to their skins

Until their ranks parted like the sea
And our phalanxes shattered
Whether men stayed, frozen
Or ran, ******* themselves in fear
The enemy now brought brother from fear

I watched from the vanguard
King's Own, Pride of the Empire
Our ranks splintered, trampled
Beneath massive, mad feet
Thrown by this four tucked beast

Solace might be found
Maybe in that both sides lost
This creature gored and pulped
Either with abandon
Whipping it's fury forward; blood blind

Scant twenty paces from me
I stood my ground as soldiers should
Memorized by its horrid beauty
Sword half drawn; paltry effort
To stem the storm, hold an ocean

It's massive head, tossed, twisted
The smallest figure, it's demonic handler
Astride its sinewy thick neck
Holding only a mallet
Riding it to the ground

Skidding, skidding the mass of flesh
A trickle of blood running down
Slipping down a behometh's head
A tear staining its rider's cheek
The creature, lungs heaving, just last

Finally, this nightmarish charge
Ended by its handler's love
A chisel driven deep into its brain
Berserker's stained rage
Stilled for want of war

A single moment's pause
Before I brought my own beast up
Charging up massive flesh
Hooves digging deep for purchase
Stooping deep, cocking arm
Deliver my own stroke
Long blade taking that mans head

I am off, my horse bellows
Lungs like billows, frosted breath
In this morning's war torn cold
My furs, now soiled red
Eyes just as red raged rimmed

Across the war machines back
Legs dancing to bring me next
Closer, nearer; exploit this pause
Turn the tide, bring chaos directed
I know my brothers are at my side

Hacking with strength unthought
No glance unnoticed, I simply know
Every move around me, everyone
My warbeast awakened, alive
Perfectly calm in this wake
Audrey Lipps Oct 2014
California Missionary,
crossed the border of my heart
atop the wings of the sunkissed quail
treading tires and
skidding across proud brown bear’s abdomen

California missionary,
sped fast ‘cross Pacific Highway
spreading to us the whispers
of spirits
and the cackling sun gods

California Missionary
abandoned ceramic pots and
Christmas-tree needles
unshaven and never watered
from her shivered trunk bed and

California Missionary
taught the pages of Abraham,
squinting through sunlight and
dreaming of typewriters that
ceased to exist in the broken
Golden State

California Missionary
arrived with garlic and crystal-clear mirrors
steering her mustang clear of
cats with dark complexion
top down, in the state of
tinted sunshine and

California Missionary
left the mountains of bigotry
to tell lies of ancient scripture
that she loathed
so that she could
live
again and

California Missionary
stole the ring on her finger
that promised devotion
from a man of Christ himself
so that
California Missionary
could begin to understand
herself

— The End —