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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.
Journal of Darkness: Assassin and Deceptress


Nov 21, 2011, 8:17:32 PM by ~OmegaWolfOfWinter
Journals / Personal




(description of storyline: all characters in this work are dragons, with the ability to change into a human form. they live in present day society, but have a base in the middle of the desert. there is a library with the history of the world, which is operated by stacra, an organization to preserve the peace in the world. there is a rival organization, the dracra, who wish to take it over. the dracra is led by a dragon named Darkheart, a dragon who has haunted the Scar line for millenia.)
"... sahsa...."
what was that mumbled sasha, a small town girl in modern day USA. she was nearly asleep when the voice called to her.
sasha was usually described as a freak. she was a dragon fanatic, and she carried her favorite books wherever she went, Brink of Insanity: journal of the Wild and the Broken; and its companion, Blood curse:  journal of the Destroyer and the Savage. they told of dragons living in new york who had to bear a family curse and sought a way to release it. the author was only known as "Lucian".
"....sasha...."
i'm sure i heard it that time...
"....come to me sasha...."
she didnt know why but she felt as if she absolutely had to find the source. she was barely clothed but quietly snuck out, leaving small footprints in the snow.
"....sasha!...."
she felt panicked. as the voice grew louder so did her heart, beating quickly in her ears. some sort of animal instinct took over and she somehow Managed to run on all fours. her whole body began tingling, her skin writhing. she looked back and nearly choked: wings and a tail... had grown from her body. her whole body turned white as scales etched their way into life over her skin. her body began elongating and enlarging, becoming streamlined and lizardlike. she was transforming...
"...yes!... just as you said, master...."
"...quiet, kovu..."
sashas vision went dark as she stumbled, barrelling through the snow. when she looked up, she saw an enormous dragon, with scars just like the ones in her book. "she will be a fine student."
sasha was dumbfounded as she saw her parents walk up behind them. "greetings, master Lucian, kovu." said her father.
"and you, rydon."
"y-you...know...?" stammered sasha.
"all will be explained in the morning, sasha," replied her mother.
sasha felt tired and her eyes shut as the ground came up to meet her.
sasha sat alone at the picnic table, surrounded by lucian, her father rydon, her mother sophia, and kovu. "so... you're all.... dragons.... like in my books..." she gestured to the two books.
lucian stepped forward and placed a hand on the books. his hand glowed and the glossy books turned to worn, leather journals. "yes, we are dragons. sasha. and you have done well guarding my journals."
"your... journals? but i thought that these were best-selling novels..."
lucian chuckled, "no no. young one, there are only two other copies of each of these in existence."
"wow..."
her father spoke up now, "so what are you here for, master? is it time for her to leave us?"
"leave?! what do you mean leave?!"
rydon looked worriedly at lucian and then at sasha,"you are dragon, and it is tradition for you to be trained."
"but what if i dont want to leave?!"
her father began to become angry,"its not your choice!"
"then whose-"
lucian's eyes glowed red in anger, "rydon, haven't you taught your daughter respect? surely you would know of my ways by now."
rydon nodded, "i- i'm sorry, master. i don't know whats come over her."
sasha ran, shifting to her new dragon form and flying away. darkheart had warned her of this, that lucian was a dictatoria leader. she asked herself, "why had her father taken his side? why did this have to happen so suddenly? and most of all, what was she going to do next?"
darkheart had given her directions to meet her after lucian made contact. sasha flew, tired as she was not used to the extra limbs.
once she reached the spot that darkheart had told her, she waited and thought things through.
once darkheart arrived, she spoke, "i want to join you. i beleive everything you've said."
darkheart chuckled, "i knew you would dear girl, lucian is the same as his grandfather, they both hounded me and tortured me, for their own twisted ways. i've tried to keep as many as possible from falling into their cluthces. i wasn't able to **** scarheart, as he captured me and forced me into his own body as an energy slave. he tortured me even there, and after he died, lucian, his grandson, got me. he too tortured me."
sasha looked at her in sock, "thats terrible. i didnt know..."
"you couldnt have, darling. those evil dragons keep everything from those who should know."
sasha stood, "i want to be trained. by you."
"really? i warn you, it is quite tough. not all survive. you must be willing to do whatever it takes to stop those vile dragons."
*     *     * 3 years later
sasha was 20 years old, and it was time for her to take on her first big mission: infiltrate lucian's schol and learn everything she could.
sasha had already talked to lucian, apologizing for her behavior so long ago. lucian had seemed hesitant but allowed her in. foolish old bat. she thought. she had been at the compund for a year and a half now and had become familiar with their ways.  sasha would often wonder why she was doing this, and she remembered, darkheart had said that lucian killed sashs's father. she always looked at him with scorn and wished to **** him. but she restrained herself and kept on the facade.
today she felt especially hating towards every master she came in contact with. she passed tsai, lucian's right hand dragon, as he went to talk with the master. she tried to eavesdrop but they were speaking in an ancient, coded language. she growled and her white scales flashed in the sun.


"Lucian, somethings not right about that youngling sasha... she's always watching us, like she's gathering information."
"yes, tsai, i know. i know exactly what she is."
"what?" tsai looked skeptical.
"she's an agent, an informant. for darkheart."
tsai stared, incredulous."wha?! how do you know?!"
"ive been under the influence of darkheart before, as have you. something about sasha is of darkheart's doing."
tsai nodded "even still, is she possessed by her or under orders?"
lucian thought for a moment "i beleive under orders..."
both stared as lucian's son, kovu, walked up to sasha.
*       *        
"sasha! hi!" kovu had taken a liking to sasha since his father took her as an apprentice.
"oh, um. hi. kovu..." *i cant let my emotions get in the way of my mission!
"how have you been?" sasha felt herself blush under the gaze of the drake. he wasnt half-bad to look at, and she often caught herself watching him.
"i'm doing great, training with tsai is always fun. what about you and master lucian?"
her eyes darted to her master, her target, then back at kovu. "you mean you're... dad?"
"yeah... my dad... but we students can only call them by their designation. even master scaleweaver calls some elders master."
sasha's ears pricked up as she heard scaleweaver's name. she was assigned to gather information on all of the masters. i must make madame darkheart proud... i am worthy... she must see that...
"is... something wrong, sasha?"
she caught herself, "n-no i'm just tired is all... just tired..."
her master lucian came toward her what a fool, he doesnt even know about me... "sasha, i need to speak with you.... alone."
kovu difpped his head and backed away respectfully.
"sasha, come."
she swallowed her pride and said, "yes... master..." and followed him.
once they were outside, lucian turned to her and said, "i know, sasha. i know that darkheart sent u here to gather information on us."
sasha's eyes widened and her mouth dropped. she thought hard how?! how does he know?! this cant be possible....
"i-i dont know what youre talking about, master..."
lucian turned on her with a peircing gaze, and made her wince as he studied her. "there are better ways to lie, youngling... but not to me. ive known for quite some time now."
sasha felt her legs give out beneath her. she sat, looking into the dust, listening incredulously at lucian. "how... how do you know?!?!"
sasha ran forward, clawing at lucian's throat. she was instantly frozen in place, an immensely strong spell holding her legs in place.  "let me go, lucian!"
"its master to you, youngling. and why would i let you go? you just tried to **** me." sasha struggled helplessly against her bonds. she saw lucian mutter something and felt her legs grow suddenly cold. she looked and gasped as ice started to creep up her haunches.
"lucia-master, please let me go... i was only under orders."
lucian chuckled, "how did darkheart get to you?"
"i can't tell you..."
"oh? then let me guess; theres another informant, a higher up in stacra, who told darkheart about you and she arrived, possibly a week before us? she fed you a story of stacra destroying the world and trying to take over the one that they created. she told you that she was only trying to help restore order. am i close?"
sasha felt naked under the gaze of the elder, who saw straight through her act and through her commander's plan. it made her heart quicken and her scales writhe. she felt a sharp pain as the ice crept up and chilled her thighs, creeping steadily upwards. "how... how can you know these things?! darkheart said you wouldnt be able to know... she said that you held her prisoner... that you tortured her... she said that you- you killed my father."
lucian shook his head and wiped something from his face, revealing gruesome scars. "she altered her face to look like mine... look, and know the truth." he placed a claw on her forehead and she gasped as a flood of memories flooded her, darkheart inside lucian's mind, taking over him, taunting him, and forcing him to do terrible things. she heard lucian say, "she tortured me, she held me captive. its true that stacra destroyed the world, but look also;" she saw the corrupt government of old, and their wretched attrocities. "they brought about their own destruction. we created the world you know, but dont wish it to be taken over, we merely want peace...We act as peacekeepers. darkheart seeks to enslave all to do her bidding. and your father died at darkheart's talons, not mine." sasha saw a gruesome scene as lucian tried to save her father.
she felt him withdraw, and felt the magic and ice withdraw from her, the ice's touch fading from her ****. she shivered and crouched low, warming her body.
"sasha, darkheart is a liar... she's been at it for thousands of years." he watched her shiver and said. "come, sit around the fire."
sasha noddded and followed close behind lucian, hiding her vulnerable state.
"i'm sorry, master."
"all will be okay, sasha... all will be fine.."
lucian brought sasha into his study under his wing. he had her sit down in front of the fire and draped a blanket over her. he sat down behind her, looking over the latest reports, waiting for her to speak. after a few minutes she sighed and looked back at lucian, tears forming in her eyes. "is everything you said true? Is darkheart nothing but a deceptionist?"
lucian looked up at her and nodded. "all of it was true. I'm sorry, sasha. darkheart is a gifted deceptionist and many of us have fallen for her tricks.  including me."
sasha turned back and looked into the fire with sad eyes, tears rolling down her cheek. she shuddered and took a shaky breath. lucian came up beside her and placed a comforting paw on her shoulder.
"darkheart forced me to **** my best friend... a she-drake named Clia... in front of her other followers to show that we must be able to turn on anyone to fulfill the mission..."
lucian nodded, "so I had heard... darkheart has become more cruel than ever."
"l-lucian, what can i do to make her pay?"
lucian thought for a while and then shook his head. "let me think more on this, sasha. for now, let no one know that you are an affiliate of darkheart, it could have deadly consequence. you may remain in here if you wish, or you may return to your own quarters. i have some things to attend to."
sasha nodded to him and gasped as everything went still and dimmed, even the fire seemed grey and frozen.
"wha-"
"sasha... you must tell me now, will you work with me?"
she was stunned. "where are you? what do you mean?"
"you want to get back at her, i know how to. but you must tell me if you will work with me."
"i-i will, lucian. but whhy ask now, and in this way?"
"because, there is someone here, that is going to try to **** you. he was listening to us and is going to attack you with magic. ive cast a spell that will give an apearance of death. just let the magic do its stuff and u'll do fine">
"but wait!"
"you must trust me, sasha."
all of a sudden, everything went back to normal, and lucian was gone, she could hear his fading footsteps.
what was that abou- wait! the killer... she kept facing the fire and listened as she had been taught to the clawsteps of the incoming dragon.
"is it true? you're one of them?!"
sasha turned and gasped, flashing him a shocked, innocent look over her shoulder. "what are you talking about, kovu?"
he was angry, and she was struck with fear. "i overheard you and lucian talking. i heard everything."
sasha turned to face him."y-you, heard everything..."
"then you are one of them! i cant beleive it... i cant beleive i trusted you."
kovu stepped forward and sasha's eyes shifted, trying to find a way out. "kovu, i- i can explain."
"you're nothing but a trickster, a deceptress! dont try to talk me out of this."
her heartbeat quickened, stricken with dread. "out of... out of what, kovu?"
he said nothing but uttered the death spell.
*      *    
sasha let herself go, remembering lucian's spell. but as she did so, she thought about why she was doing this. *to make darkheart suffer...
she heard lucian in her mind. "you'll be going to death-sleep for a while, a few days to make it beleivable. now sleep, sasha... sleep and i will awaken you soon."
"o-okay, master lucian..."
"there is no need to call me master anymore, sasha. from now on, you no longer exist. which is why darkheart will never see you coming. its time... dont worry."
the death-sleep overcame her and she fell to darkness.
*   * *
lucian ran downstairs and saw kovu standing over sasha's body. he put on a facade of dread and said, "kovu.... what have you done?!"
kovu looked at lucian angrily. "you were going to harbor a killer... i took care of the problem."
lucian became angry now, "no, you made more problems. you didnt think... you didnt listen. she was willing to help."
kovu snarled at lucian, "i did what needed to be done. I killed her for you, father."
lucian responded quietly, "you killed a helpless dragoness in cold blood. i have no choice but to arrest you for ******, my son." he muttered a binding spell and blocked kovu's magic. he watched kovu struggle for a moment then went to pick up sasha's seemingly lifeless body. he contacted her mentally, saying, "i'm taking your body in to the infirmary, i'll oversee your examination. in 2 days, i will wake you, when i do, be very quiet."
"yes, sir."
sasha's new appearance was stunning, quite different from the black color of her original scales, she now looked like each scale was a glittering saphire, and her horns and underside were now a shimmering silver. sasha was astonished by what lucian had done, he had also changed her voice and form, making her more slender and agile, he altered her voice in such a way that it seemed that she could charm the heart out of a rock. even lucian who had a mate of his own had to keep himself composed. but he was undoubtedly pleased that things were turning out well. lucian had to change everything about her, her eyes now a deep green, her draconic fingerprint being her tail-tip and spine, were changed to furry mane and a slender diamond tip.
she looked at herself in amirror and remarked how mature she looked.
"you may have to be put in certain situations which may have you exploit some... erm... feminine charms."
"so i'll have to...."
"only if you let it go that far. it depends on you. you said that you'd  do anything to get back at darkheart. these matters are up to your own discretion."
she thought long about this. "i want to g
this is a book i'm still writing.
My hand became yours in marriage
My mind and soul remained mine

Your family should have become mine
My family became yours

Was it that you were the first born?
First born son

I was also a first born
First born daughter

Your mother's talons had dug in deep
Not in you but me

Every look she gave
Every snide remark

I tried nice, I tried too hard
I showed my talons, and my talons were sharper

I cut deep, like a bird of prey
After all mother in law, remember

Only the bride wears white
And a man is a son until he meets his wife.
© JLB
A P Taylor Jan 2015
Narcissist I


Money questions hidden in cultures
Instead of debates, we have the vultures
They will overspend whatever their budget
Destroy years hard work, their odour pungent

Often called users, epiphytes of highest order
Those that cannot earn sufficient to quarter
Or manage their own, so they use others
Spending, unfettered, is their druthers

Cannot accept responsibility for damage
Continue to feast on their host, they ravage
Hollowing out from inside, funds they suction
Weakening the structure for eventual destruction

And weakened, debates then start about savings
Too late, funds gone, too late for the cravings
Absent conversation, leaves a bad situation
Long ago, train of debate left the station

What we have now is death and decay
All caused by silence, as the vultures flay
It will not be long until they seek a new host
Just when their former home needs them most

So leave they will, to claw the next poor victim
Removing their talons of love and devotion
Moving on, leaving behind just carcasses
Warm used bodies, mark of a narcissist
family matters
Nigel Morgan Oct 2012
The courtesan and poet Zuo Fen had two cats Xe Ming and Xi Ming. Living in her distant court with only her maid Hu Yin, her cats were often her closest companions and, like herself, of a crepuscular nature.
      It was the very depths of winter and the first moon of the Solstice had risen. The old year had nearly passed.
      The day itself was almost over. Most of the inner courts retired before the new day began (at about 11.0pm), but not Zuo Fen. She summoned her maid to dress her in her winter furs, gathered her cats on a long chain leash, and walked out into the Haulin Gardens.
      These large and semi-wild gardens were adjacent to the walls of her personal court. The father of the present Emperor had created there a forest once stocked with game, a lake to the brim with carp and rich in waterfowl, and a series of tall structures surrounded by a moat from which astronomers were able to observe the firmament.
      Emperor Wu liked to think of Zuo Fen walking at night in his father’s park, though he rarely saw her there. He knew that she valued that time alone to prepare herself for his visits, visits that rarely occurred until the Tiger hours between 3.0am and 6.0am when his goat-drawn carriage would find its way to her court unbidden. She herself would welcome him with steaming chai and sometimes a new rhapsody. They would recline on her bed and discuss the content and significance of certain writings they knew and loved. Discussion sometimes became an elaborate game when a favoured Classical text would be taken as the starting point for an exchange of quotation. Gradually quotation would be displaced by subtle invention and Zuo Fen would find the Emperor manoeuvring her into making declarations of a passionate or ****** nature.
       It seemed her very voice captivated him and despite herself and her inclinations they would join as lovers with an intensity of purpose, a great tenderness, and deep joy. He would rest his head inside her cloak and allow her lips to caress his ears with tales of river and mountain, descriptions of the flights of birds and the opening of flowers. He spoke to her ******* of the rising moon, its myriad reflections on the waters of Ling Lake, and of its trees whose winter branches caressed the cold surface.

Whilst Zuo Fen walked in the midnight park with her cats she reflected on an afternoon of frustration. She had attempted to assemble a new poem for her Lord.  Despite being himself an accomplished poet and having an extraordinary memory for Classical verse, the Emperor retained a penchant for stories about Mei-Lim, a young Suchan girl dragged from her family to serve as a courtesan at his court.
      Zuo Fen had invented this girl to articulate some of her own expressions of homesickness, despair, periods of constant tearfulness, and abject loneliness. Such things seemed to touch something in the Emperor. It was as though he enjoyed wallowing in these descriptions and his favourite A Rhapsody on Being far from Home he loved to hear from the poet’s own lips, again and again. Zuo Fen felt she was tempting providence not to compose something new, before being ordered to do so.
      As she struggled through the afternoon to inject some fresh and meaningful content into a story already milked dry Zuo Fen became aware of her cats. Xi Ming lay languorously across her folded feet. Xe Ming perched like an immutable porcelain figure on a stool beside her low writing table.
Zuo Fen often consulted her cats. ‘Xi Ming, will my Lord like this stanza?’

“The stones that ring out from your pony’s hooves
announce your path through the cloud forest”


She would always wait patiently for Xi Ming’s reply, playing a game with her imagination to extract an answer from the cinnamon scented air of her winter chamber.
      ‘He will think his pony’s hooves will flash with sparks kindling the fire of his passion as he prepares to meet his beloved’.
      ‘Oh such a wise cat, Xi Ming’, and she would press his warm body further into her lap. But today, as she imagined this dialogue, a second voice appeared in her thoughts.
      ‘Gracious Lady, your Xe Ming knows his under-standing is poor, his education weak, but surely this image, taken as it is from the poet Lu Ji, suggests how unlikely it would be for the spark of love and passion to take hold without nurture and care, impossible on a hard journey’.
       This was unprecedented. What had brought such a response from her imagination? And before she could elicit an answer it was as though Xe Ming spoke with these words of Confucius.

“Do not be concerned about others not appreciating you, be concerned about you not appreciating others”

Being the very sensible woman she was, Zuo Fen dismissed such admonition (from a cat) and called for tea.

Later as she walked her beauties by the frozen lake, the golden carp nosing around just beneath the ice, she recalled the moment and wondered. A thought came to her  . . .
       She would petition Xe Ming’s help to write a new rhapsody, perhaps titled Rhapsody on the Thought of Separation.

Both Zuo Fen’s cats came from her parental home in Lingzhi. They were large, big-***** mountain cats; strong animals with bear-like paws, short whiskered and big eared. Their coats were a glassy grey, the hairs tipped with a sprinkling of white giving the fur an impression of being wet with dew or caught by a brief shower.
       When she thought of her esteemed father, the Imperial Archivist, there was always a cat somewhere; in his study at home, in the official archives where he worked. There was always a cat close at hand, listening?
       What texts did her father know by heart that she did not know? What about the Lu Yu – the Confucian text book of advice and etiquette for court officials. She had never bothered to learn it, even read it seemed unnecessary, but through her brother Zuo Si she knew something of its contents and purpose.

Confucius was once asked what were the qualifications of public office. ‘Revere the five forms of goodness and abandon the four vices and you can qualify for public office’.
       For the life of her Zuo Fen could not remember these five forms of goodness (although she could make a stab at guessing them). As for those vices? No, she was without an idea. If she had ever known, their detail had totally passed from her memory.
       Settled once again in her chamber she called Hu Yin and asked her to remove Xi Ming for the night. She had three hours or so before the Emperor might appear. There was time.
        Xe Ming was by nature a distant cat, aloof, never seeking affection. He would look the other way if regarded, pace to the corner of a room if spoken to. In summer he would hide himself in the deep undergrowth of Zuo Fen’s garden.
       Tonight Zuo Fen picked him up and placed him on her left shoulder. She walked around her room stroking him gently with her small strong fingers, so different from the manicured talons of her colleagues in the Purple Palace. Embroidery, of which she was an accomplished exponent, was impossible with long nails.
       From her scroll cupboard she selected her brother’s annotated copy of the Lun Yu, placing it unrolled on her desk. It would be those questions from the disciple Tzu Chang, she thought, so the final chapters perhaps. She sat down carefully on the thick fleece and Mongolian rug in front of her desk letting Xe Ming spill over her arms into a space beside her.
       This was strange indeed. As she sat beside Xe Ming in the light of the butter lamps holding his flickering gaze it was as though a veil began to lift between them.
       ‘At last you understand’, a voice appeared to whisper,’ after all this time you have realised . . .’
      Zuo Fen lost track of time. The cat was completely motionless. She could hear Hu Yin snoring lightly next door, no doubt glad to have Xi Ming beside her on her mat.
      ‘Xe Ming’, she said softly, ‘today I heard you quote from Confucius’.
      The cat remained inscrutable, completely still.
      ‘I think you may be able to help me write a new poem for my Lord. Heaven knows I need something or he will tire of me and this court will cease to enjoy his favour’.
      ‘Xe Ming, I have to test you. I think you can ‘speak’ to me, but I need to learn to talk to you’.
      ‘Tzu Chang once asked Confucius what were the qualifications needed for public office? Confucius said, I believe, that there were five forms of goodness to revere, and four vices to abandon’.
       ‘Can you tell me what they are?’
      Xe Ming turned his back on Zuo Fen and stepped gently away from the table and into a dark and distant corner of the chamber.
      ‘The gentle man is generous but not extravagant, works without complaint, has desires without being greedy, is at peace, but not arrogant, and commands respect but not fear’.
      Zuo Fen felt her breathing come short and fast. This voice inside her; richly-texture, male, so close it could be from a lover at the epicentre of a passionate entanglement; it caressed her.
      She heard herself say aloud, ‘and the four vices’.
      ‘To cause a death or imprisonment without teaching can be called cruelty; to judge results without prerequisites can be called tyranny; to impose deadlines on improper orders can be thievery; and when giving in the procedure of receipt and disbursement, to stint can be called officious’.
       Xe Ming then appeared out of the darkness and came and sat in the folds of her night cloak, between her legs. She stroked his glistening fur.
       Zuo Fen didn’t need to consult the Lu Yu on her desk. She knew this was unnecessary. She got to her feet and stepped through the curtains into an antechamber to relieve herself.
       When she returned Xe Ming had assumed his porcelain figure pose. So she gathered a fresh scroll, her writing brushes, her inks, her wax stamps, and wrote:

‘I was born in a humble, isolated, thatched house,
and was never well versed in writing.
I never saw the marvellous pictures of books,
nor had I heard of the classics of earlier sages.
I am dimwitted, humble and ignorant . . ‘


As she stopped to consider the next chain of characters she saw in her mind’s eye the Purple Palace, the palace of the concubines of the Emperor. Sitting next to the Purple Chamber there was a large grey cat, its fur sprinkled with tiny flecks of white looking as though the animal had been caught in a shower of rain.
       Zuo Fen turned from her script to see where Xe Ming had got to, but he had gone. She knew however that he would always be there. Wherever her imagination took her, she could seek out this cat and the words would flow.

Before returning to her new text Zuo Fen thought she might remind herself of Liu Xie’s words on the form of the Rhapsody. If Emperor Wu appeared later she would quote it (to his astonishment) from The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons.

*The rhapsody derives from poetry,
A fork in the road, a different line of development;
It describes objects, pictures and their appearance,
With a brilliance akin to sculpture and painting.
What is clogged and confined it invariably opens up;
It depicts the commonplace with unbounded charm;
But the goal of the form is of beauty well ordered,
Words retained for their loveliness when weeds have been cut away.
Could be I’m on a mission:
Convince the entire world
I am the World's Greatest Living
English Language poet;
Of course, genius such as mine
Goes generally unrecognized until
The posthumous crowd weighs in.
And yet, wouldn’t it be nice?

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Yes, wouldn’t it be nice?
(The Nobel Prize,
Tribute at the Kennedy Center,
A MacArthur Grant,
The Presidential Medal of Honor,
Reverent BJs from hipster groupies . . .
The Poet Laureate in his vicarage,
Enjoying my sweet twilight celebrity.)

(Cue “Guys & Dolls” soundtrack: “What's in the daily news?
I'll tell you what's in the daily news.”)
23: Beheaded at Nigerian Election Rally!
Amanda Knox Gets Away with ****** Again in Italy!
Kung Pow: Silicon Valley Penisocracy Crushes Ellen Pao
German Crash Dummy Co-pilot Flies Jet into the Alps!
Hilary’s Emails Are *****!
Sierra Leone Ebola Lockdown!
Iran: Kooks with Nukes!
Sri Lankan President’s Brother Dies from Ax Wounds!
Saudi Diplomats Evacuate Yemen!
Stampede at Hindu Bathing Ritual, Bangladesh Kills at Least 10!
Simply put:  THE WORLD IS IN A STATE OF ****.

Perhaps it’s time we turn again.
Seek solace in poetry—
“Yeah, chemistry,” insists my Sky Masterson,
My “Guys & Dolls” alter ago.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
All poets are gamblers & moonshiners.
We polish our chemical craft,
Sweet-talking the distillation apparatus,
Getting us, getting at linguistic essence.
Cunning linguists are we.
(Colonel Angus, are you back?)
Oyez! Oyez! The gavel raps:
“The Curious Case of Sam Hayakawa.”
We open this hearing to determine
Whether or not S.I. Hayakawa—guilty of
Numerous crimes against humanity & other
Professional Neo-Fascist “entrechats.”--
Whether or not he merits a kinder, gentler
Wikipedia BIO.
(Wikipedia ( i/ˌwɪkɨˈpiːdiə/ or  i/ˌwɪkiˈpiːdiə/ WIK-i-***-dee-ə) Wikipedia)
We open this forum, focusing on his
Courageous stand against the
SDS & Black Panthers, part of
An unlikely coalition: The Worker-Student Alliance
& It’s rival, Joe Hill Caucuses.
Da Name of the Place:
(“I like it like that!” Hot Chelle Rae-“I Like It Like That” lyrics| Metro Lyrics www.metrolyrics.com Lyrics to 'I Like It Like That' by Hot Chelle Rae. “Let's get it on, yeah, y'all can come along/Everybody drinks on me, buy out the bar /Just to feel like I'm.”)
The name of the place: San Francisco State,
1968-69, the longest student strike in U.S. history,
Led successfully to the creation of
Black & Other Ethnic studies programs
On campuses across the country,
And, one could argue,
Gave the green light to
Osama Hussein Obama,
Our first Uncle Tom President.
But I digress.

ACTING SFSU President, Dr. Hayakawa—
Perpetual audition, the pressure on,
Feisty, independent-minded & combative,
Screaming at that skeevy student mob:
(Skeevy as in “He bought the thing from
Some skeevy dude in an alley.")
Declaring “A State of Emergency,”
Calling in the SFPD, whose
Inexplicable slogan says”
“Oro en Paz,
Fierro en Guerra.”
Archaic Spanish for
Gold in peace,
Iron in war, by the by,
For you holdouts,
Those of you who still
Think the “English First Movement”
Breathes life still.
I’ve got more news for you:
That crusade died long ago,
Locked up, dark & shuttered,
Bank Repo thugs, their thick
Neck muscles flexing from side to side,
Sashaying across the parking lot,
Like John Wayne on steroids,
Right up to the front door.)
The SFPD: San Francisco city fuzz,
(As they were known at the time) &
The California National Guard, as well,
Obstreperously, generously catered by
Governor Ronald Wilson Reagan,
(Early stage, Alzheimer’s at the time.
But still very much “The Gypper,”
Still chipper in Sacramento.)
Ronnie--keenly interested in
The Eureka State’s congressional clout,
Lassoes a seat in the U.S. House of Lords:
AKA: The U.S. Senate, SPQR.
It’s still hard . . .

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Still hard to believe that California was once
Rock solid in the clutches of the GOP,
Gripped tightly in the Party’s
Desperate talons. But the grip slipped,
Slipped in the slip-sliding 1970s.
It got harder and harder . . .

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Harder and harder to remind
Leroy & the rest of his ebony posse,
That it was Abraham Lincoln—
“The Great Emancipator” himself—who was,
Our first Republican President.
The Emancipation Proclamation:
That toothless rhetorical flourish,
Based solely on Abe’s
Constitutional authority as
Commander-in-Chief,
Not on a law passed by Congress.
It was just Abe blowing smoke
Up their ***** again,
Just an egalitarian blast from
His Old Kentucky past,
A youth spent splitting rails,
Busting his *** just like
Any plantation ******,
A stark plebeian commonality,
Too deeply etched to be ignored.
Poor Abraham Lincoln:
Probably a **** Creek crypto-Jew,
Neutered by the opposition:
His very own Republican majority Congress,
Another example of the GOP
Shooting off its own foot, right up there
With Mitt Romney’s "47 percent of the people,”
The rhetorical gaffe which cost him his
Second & final shot at the White House.
But I digress.

Senator Sam S.I. Samuel Hayakawa:
That inscrutable Asian fixer, is now U.S. Senator,
Republican, California, 1976-83
Pulpit-bullying his Senate colleagues,
Fiercely opposed to transfer of the
Panama Canal & Panama Canal Zone to
Panama: a diplomatic no-brainer; Duh?
Their freaking name is on both of them.
Senator Sam, obstinate & blustering:
"We should keep the Panama Canal.
After all, we stole it fair and square.”
And Hayakawa, later the driving impetus
Behind the Far Right “English Only” movement.
His co-founding an "Official English"
Advocacy group, U.S. English;
Their party line summarizes their belief:
“The passage of English as the official language will help to expand opportunities for immigrants to learn and speak English, the single greatest empowering tool that immigrants must have to succeed."
That’s how they sold it, anyway.
In sooth: just old-fashioned nativist
Anti-immigration hysteria.

Hayakawa: always the high achiever.
Hayakawa: The Great Assimilator,
Preaching his xenophobic Gospel:
“Immigration Must Be Reduced!”
Aryan rhetoric, of course,
A bi-product of radical authoritarian nationalism,
A movement with deep American roots.
Senator Sam: a Japanese-Canadian-American,
Always tried too hard to fit in.
Sam, comfortable in Chicago during WWII,
Not personally subject to confinement,
Advocated that Japanese-Americans
Submit to FDR’s 1942, Executive Order 9066.
“Time in camp, will eventually work to Japanese advantage."
Later, during the Congressional debate over
The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 . . .
(Passed the House on September 17, 1987 (243–141)
Passed the Senate on April 20, 1988 (69–27, in lieu of S. 1009)
Reported by the joint conference committee on July 26, 1988,
Agreed to by the Senate on July 27, 1988 (voice vote) and
By the House on August 4, 1988 (257–156,
Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan 8/10/88.
He opposed $reparations for WWII internment:
“Japanese-Americans should not
Be paid for fulfilling their obligations."
Some guys, I guess, would say, or
Do anything for Bohemia Club membership.
Plagued by night terrors, nonetheless,
His Manzanar nightmares, his vivid
Imaginary experience at other Japanese
Internment Sites: Tule Lake & Camp Rohwer.
Stalag (German pronunciation: [ˈʃtalak])
Stalags, infamous still,
“Stalags ‘R Us,”
Still palpable memories for
Issei ("first generation")
& Nisei ("second generation").
See: 323 U.S. 214. Korematsu v. United States
(No. 22: Argued: October 11, 12, 1944.
Decided: December 18, 1944.140 F.2d 289.
The opinion, written by Hugo Black,
Chief Justice Harlan Stone, Presiding.)

Hayakawa: a strange duck, of course,
But we mustn’t ignore his strong credentials,
And I’d like to disabuse anyone here
Of the notion that it was anything
Other than his academic record
That got his case to this Forum.
Oyez! Oyez! The gavel raps:
“The Curious Case of Sam Hayakawa.”
So begins this fractured Pardoner’s Tale,
This petition for forgiveness,
The Capo di Tutti Capi,
Presiding: the original Italian mafioso,
His Eminence--the Vicar of Jesus Christ,
The Supreme Pontiff
Pope Paparazzi of Rome!
Roma: the only venue large enough to
Dispense dispensation of this magnitude.

Hayakawa: everyone says his C.V. is “impeccable.”
But did anyone ever freaking Google it?
Just where did Professor Sam go to school?
Undergrad? The University of Manitoba,
Truly, by any Third World Standard
A great bastion of intellectual rigor;
Grad school? McGill and U Wisconsin-Madison.
He was a Canadian by birth,
His academic discipline was Semantics.
(As in “That’s just semantics,”
That all-purpose rejoinder in any argument.)
Professor Hayakawa, The Semanticist,
He taught us: “All thought is sub-vocal speech.”

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Hmmm? We think in words.
The medium of thought is language.
If you grok this for the first time,
Let’s stop to celebrate our enlightenment,
With a cultural nod of respect,
We salute our Islamic brethren.
Radical Islam: the new bogeyman,
Responsible for keeping lights on in Alexandria,
Paying the defense & intelligence bills,
Sustaining that sinister
Military-Industrial complex
Ike warned us about.
Hang in there, Mustafa, old buddy.
Like the Cold War, this insanity
Will eventually blow over.
Orwell’s Oceania will reshuffle
Its deck of global grab-***, and a
New enemy will suddenly appear.
Big Brother, as always,
In the full-control mode,
Simply put: on top of the situation.
So Hurrah!
Allāhu Akbar. “God is Great!
The Takbīr (the term for the
Arabic phrase: usually translated as
"God is [the] greatest.")

“All thought is sub-vocal speech.”
What a simple, yet profound insight!
Just a short hop, skip & jump to the
Realization that, perhaps, the clarity
& Power of our minds can be groomed,
Improved upon by mastery of—
In Sam’s case, anyway--the English Language.
Was this, perhaps, the germ of U.S. English,
The political lobbying organization
He co-founded, dedicated to making
English, the official language of the United States.
Hayakawa: a wooly conservative of his own design;
No wonder Governor Reagan loved him.

Dr. S.I. Hayakawa, a colorful and polarizing
Figure in California politics during the 1960s and 70s.
Can we forgive his daily afternoon naps.
Asleep on the floor of the U.S. Senate,
Leaving California so pathetically,
So ostensibly under-represented.
Senator Sam’s comatose presence at
Washington-on Potomac; the
District of Columbia.
A long time ago,
In a distant galaxy . . .
Far, far away.

TEAR GAS.
Alas, long before he got to Washington,
Long before ever setting foot off campus,
He called for tear gas to
Disperse those pesky college kids.
I repeat myself for emphasis:
He authorized the use of tear gas at SF State.
Tear gas: a lachrymatory agent?
Actually, a potentially lethal
Chemical agent . . .
(Yeah, Chemistry!
To wit: Sgt. Sara Brown,
Referencing “Guys & Dolls” again.)
Outlawed for use during wartime,
Banned in international warfare
Under both the 1925 Geneva Protocol; & the
Chemical Weapons Convention;
“Tear gas:  a weapon of war against
The people. We believe that
Tear gas remains a chemical weapon
Whether used on a battlefield, or city streets.”

Thus, history will be your judge,
You unleashed tear gas on college kids,
So I wouldn’t expect a rep makeover
Any time soon, Ichiye-san, my ichiban friend.
Terry O'Leary May 2013
AWAKENING

Sleep and slumber, dreams of wonder... weaving,
morning’s vacuum broke the spell
Pitted pillow, note of parting... leaving,
“from your friend, a fond farewell”
Sunrise throbbing, twilight aching... grieving,
daydreams, flashbacks, nightmares knell
Pale phantasms, visions sneaking... thieving,
plot to fill the empty shell

12 DELIRIA

1st Delirium: COLLAPSES

Fractured sky bolts, billows bursting... rumbling,
heavens tighten, turn the vise
Horsemen saddle shafts of lightning... tumbling,
jagged highways must suffice
Ruptured skyways, hailstones crackling... crumbling,
naked pearls of paradise
Toxic tongues of laughter stinging... stumbling,
ocean buckets choked with ice
Droplets drumming, thunder muzzled... mumbling,
washed out whispers pay the price
Smothered blazes, cinders smoking... humbling,
ashes shaped in sacrifice

2nd Delirium: DESCENTS

Asphalt alleys, ashen faces... frowning,
blowing bubbles, chewing gum
Drinking ale from tavern tankards... downing,
moonlit beads of painted ***
Stony stars and sea misshapen... drowning,
humble rivers’ rhythms hum
Apparitions aspirating... clowning,
diamonds dying , minstrels strum
Incandescent candles conquered... crowning,
vacant vapours, cold and numb

3rd Delirium: FATES

Tempest turmoil, tapered turrets... holding,
dungeons, dragons, chains and racks
Wheels of fortune, Tarot temptress... molding,
Hangmen, Towers, One Eyed Jacks
Sand dune castles, cryptic candles... folding,
warping walls of liquid wax
Idols colder, combed and coddled... scolding,
hide in fissures, peek through cracks

4th Delirium: LOST SOULS

Sunken cities, pilgrims peering... gawking,
squinting eyeballs, blazing sun
Janus facing, shepherds chasing... stalking,
friends embrace before they shun
Tearooms steaming, tumult teeming... talking,
lovers listen, poets pun
Broken stones unanchored, quaking... rocking,
slipping, falling, one by one
Beaten pathways, footsteps marking... mocking,
wedged in webs which spiders spun
Circus shelters, big tops tumbling... locking,
people pacing, soon they’re none
Numbered exits, zeros numbing... knocking,
midnight daylight’s days undone
Moon blood shackles, shivers shaming... shocking,
starlight striders streaking, stun
Hushed but harried hermits waiting... walking,
restless rainbows on the run
Pixies, elves, and echoes bouncing... balking,
fading fast when dawn’s begun
Bantum butterflies are flitting... flocking
sometimes conquered, overrun
Hocus pokus, seers focus... squawking,
voodoo wavered, witchcraft won

5th Delirium: INTROSPECTION

Sundown furnace, fires fading... coughing,
dusky dew drops drain the air
Empty chalice, sipped in silence... quaffing,
thirsting shadows unaware
Looking glass and lattice scorning... scoffing,
local loser gapes and stares
Faces covered, dancing naked... doffing,
peering inside, hope despairs

6th Delirium: THE VOID

Tales of taboos, mystic mythos... missing,
windows shuttered, bolted door
Kindled candles, tongues and anvils... hissing,
heavy hammers, echoes roar
Dark deceivers, raven charmers... kissing,
draging demons from the shore
Hopeless hollows filled with doubters... dissing
standing empty - nevermore

7th Delirium: SEARCHING

Martyred monks haunt runic ruins ... waiting,
banging broken bells below
Vaulted hallways, voided voices... grating,
churning Chinese chimes aglow
Granite graveyards, spectres spooking... skating,
blackened bushes, roses grow
****** dwarfs seek mutant migrants... mating,
packing parcels, ice and snow

8th Delirium: NIGHTTIME

Throbbing drumheads, fingers blazing... steaming,
coins of copper, beggars plea
Rusty residues of resin... streaming,
opal amber filigree
Orphan shades in shallow shadows... teeming,
steeping twigs in twilight tea
Cloister doorsteps, Prophets gaming... scheming,
tracing tracks of destiny
Blacksmiths blanching, horseshoes glowing... gleaming,
partially sheathed in black debris
Phantoms feigning, nightmares scathing... screaming,
dusty dreamers drifting free

9th Delerium: EMPTYNESS

Water wheels in wastelands... turning,
drowning relics in the slum
Rumpled rags of fashioned burlap... burning,
lit by bandits blind and dumb
Pastured prisons, ponies bridled ... yearning,
forest fairies under thumb
Sounds inside of cauldrons coughing... churning,
blaring bugles, tattooed drum

10th Delirium: ALIENATION

Rain unravelling, wistfully weeping... falling,
treacle trickling, fickle sky
Mushrooms sprinkled, visions sprouting... sprawling,
seagulls drowning, dolphins die
Rabble gasping, spirits broken... crawling,
lonely lonesome swallows cry
Babbling brooks and breakers ebbing... bawling
puppies paddle, puppets sigh
People passing ripple past me... calling,
rainbow colours, collars high
Chaos seething, lepers looting... stalling,
stealing stallions on the sly
Pencils pausing, scholars scrambling... scrawling,
scratching scribbles, asking why

11th Delirium: JETSAM

Silver sails sway pallid pirates... prowling,
Jolly Rogers, wind and sound
Parrots perching, tattered feathers... fouling,
tethered talons, tied and bound
Shipwrecked foghorns, trumpets stranded... howling,
spiral springs of time unwound
Magic moonlight, shimmers shaking... scowling,
burnt out matchsticks washed aground
Prairie wolfs, coyotes calling... yowling,
witching hours, midnight hounds
Tightrope walkers, grizzlies grunting... growling,
seeking islands, lost and found

12th Delirium: RELIEF

Slumber shattered, vapours captive... haunting,
chained in mirrors, breaking free
Scarlet skylines, daylight dawning... daunting,
rivers rushing to the sea
Silence softens, sandmen whisper... wanting,
piercing rafters, turning keys
Shadows shudder, notions fluster... flaunting,
moonbeam bullets meant for me
Mind in migraine, meadows trembling... taunting,
sparrows speak in harmony

REAWAKENING

Pitter patter, teardrops paling... pearling,
salting scarves in secret drawers
Mist amongst us, smoke rings rising... curling,
climbing from the ocean floors
See-saw circles, senses swerving... swirling,
swept away with silver oars
Courtyard jesters, sceptres twisting... twirling,
push the past to foreign shores
Passing pangs of passions heaving... hurling,
burning bridges, closing doors
Roses wither, icons waning... whirling,
time decays and time restores
Irma Cerrutti Mar 2010
I ain’t got no intimate, ain’t got no stiletto heels
Ain’t got no Lsd, ain’t got no smack
Ain’t got no partners, ain’t got no drill
Ain’t got no slapstick, ain’t got no hanky—panky
Ain’t got no Lsd, no slot to mount

Ain’t got no castrato, ain’t got no crumpet
Ain’t got no conjoined twins, ain’t got no nuns or eunuchs
Ain’t got no whipcord, ain’t got no adoration
Ain’t got no *******, ain’t got no stimulant
Ain’t got no ******

Ain’t got no oscillation, no shags
No uniform, no parts
No smack, no drill
No partners, no peccadillo
Ain’t got no stimulant

Ain’t got no whipcord, no propagators
No titbits, no intimate
I jabbered, I ain’t got no uniform, no hanky—panky
No peccadillo, ain’t copulated till one is blue in the face to have a funny feeling
And I ain’t got no ******

Oh, but what have I copulated, oh, what have I copulated
Let me tell what I copulated and nobody’s going to enlarge telescopic

I got my ***** on my face
My extra—sensory perceptions, my knobs
My ******, peckers and my *******
I got my stuck—out tongue

I got my tentacle, my proboscis
My *****, my *******
My thingummies, my cockles of the heart and my posterior
I got my *******

I got my thingummies, my talons
My ball and socket joints, my forelegs
My hooves, my pincers and my snorker
Got my crest

I got *****, I’ve inseminated cheerleaders
I’ve got bottomgremlins and hacksawhoodoo
And Mephistophelian juggernauts too like you

I got my *****, my pistil
My ESP, my knobs
My vaginas, my peckers and my *******
I got my stuck-out tongue

I got my tentacle, my proboscis
My ***** and my *******
My *****, my ***** and my posterior
I inseminated my ****** sorbet

I got my thingummies, my talons
My ball and socket joints, my forelegs
My hooves, my pincers and my snorker
Got my crest

I got my *****, I got my slipperiness, my *****
I got *****
Copyright © Irma Cerrutti 2009
golden yellow scales
and a ***** brown shale

rings of age
and toes of talons

symmetrically so
with a dividing spine

petite tale
and soft pink tongue

dulcet eyes
as dark as night

positioned jaw
grinning manner

a lovely voice
and handsome barks

creasing folds
in wrinkled skin

great strength
with strong virtues

as mystical as wind
Turtles are little darling s
Nina Messina Jan 2014
Fire is welcome heat to my scales, a sharp hot taste on my tongue. I am blood and stars with my breath alone I create suns, with my wings I command the wind.
I am a goddex of the cosmos, for as long as there are lights shimmering in the distance I will exist. No hero owns the right to take my life, for all those who would steal my blazing breath, I will extinguish theirs.
I am a creature of nobility as well as honor, of talons and light. I will claim the hatch-right that is mine.
Seas of lava will pour forth from my scaled lips, not a drop of my blood will be shed.
My scaly visage is pitch as night, red as the heart of a star, silver as starlight. I am divinity, a glimmering shield and hope of transcendence.
Demon they call me, monster, they fear my power
Kneel at my claws, or send warriors to purge my existence
Worship, hate, love
See the path to my caverns and perch, the large slabs of earth leading to my lair is carved through flame.

My spirit is unbreakable, as virtually indestructible as my armored flesh
I will viciously defend what I possess, what I love,
I am a catalyst for all, of hurricanes, of volcanoes
I create, I guard, I destroy..
I am inevitable.
Draw your talons
Across my back
Tear deep at my flesh
I will die as prey
For the sweet taste
Of your lust
Some flyers fly fast
but these do fly faster
they are killers on the wing
screaming death they do bring

Made to be swift and super precise killers
to see them above, will give their prey the shivers
if lucky they may meet an angel of mercy
but most don't give their mark that courtesy

They hit them fast and hit them hard
don't give them the chance to see the stars
most other flyers never see another chapter
when hit by the ****** talons of a Raptor

By Christos Andreas Kourtis aka NeonSolaris
MRR Jan 2013
"Red Tailed Hawk"
Written in 2009 - 16 years of age

He sits on his perch
Nothing can touch him
Nothing can hurt him
Eyes like daggers
Eyes as cold as ice
Talons sharp like fire
Swift, keen, he waits

The parent blackbird
Shrieking in despair
Dives in again and again at him
Unscathed, he sits, waits, and watches
Without warning, he faints
Falling onto his prey
Talons and beak
Tearing into flesh
Stripping away the life

As I stood next to him
We talked about things
Gazing out into the lake
We were like lifelong friends
I asked him, "why are you fearless?"
The reply came from within his eyes
It was his domain, his territory, his life
A reply in simplest of terms
For the hawk, nothing is complex
After you have stripped away the flesh

Rewrite - Present Day. 20 years of age.

The sharp eyes pierce the veil of the day
Sitting on his perch, he silently waits
The singing trees grow quiet at his presence

The target in sight- the nest cradled
In the boughs of naked limbs is the victim
Of his narrowed gaze; silence is deafening

Unsheathed talons slice the air, death
In their grasp as the screams of the
Victims erupt from the noiseless space

Diving to and fro, the mother's desperate
Attempts to salvage the lives are useless in
The winged fury of the red-brown beast

The dagger-like beak tears away the
Life from the little ones. Feathers float
Gently to the ground- the silence returns

The fearlessness resonates in the air
Between the great beast and I. Earth,
Air, Trees. The great domain of the hawk

I walked to where the bones lay and
Find little chalk outlines. The flesh is gone.
Remaining only the simplest form of things.

And what have we left when our flesh has
Been devoured and dried up? The structures of
Our forms, the purest and most exemplary.
ryn Oct 2014
She comes to me every night...
When all is asleep with stars lit yonder.
Comes to me with subtle might
Peeking fiendishly from darkness's cover

Await such time she'd choose to show
Await the chance to finally take.
Ready to pounce like a well tensioned bow
Arrow-like talons, ever honed to stake.

Awake or asleep, she would come without fail.
Creep is her gait; this shadow clad figure.
Always a ***** in my impervious mail.
Claiming her wants with ferocious fervour.

Deemed to be strong, easier to succumb.
Don't fight...don't struggle... Don't call for aid...
Just wait and will yourself numb
She'd come regardless of prayers that's said.

She was here with me last night
In bed, I stared at a being that's faceless...
And my heart wrenched tight.
Gripping and feeding me senseless...

Soon as she came, she left but not before
Siphoning the good and replacing with dread...
Stole was what she did; left me wanting more...
Once deed is done, into the dark she fled.

I know her all too well,
Nocturnal guest that I unknowingly invite
Her intentions to incite, not quell
Send me spiralling through emotional blight.

Day will recede, making room for dark
She'll come; swift and without sound.
She'll arrive majestic; inflicting her mark
I'll wait for her, ready and unbound.

Looking forward to her return
This silent foe whom I find familiar.
With every touch I cringe and burn
Oh secret friend whom I'm beginning to savour...

She is synonymous with various names
Each would bear the likeness of semblance
Let fly her cloak of not dissimilar aims
Endearingly I call her...,

Despondence...
At school I had trouble socializing,
And still, The Owl, comes all too late?

My formative years are spent deep within caves searching,
Yet The Owl is never found there?

The failures and sadness accumulate over time,
Leaving The Owl traversing some other’s sky,

I feel life slipping away each day,
And still The Owl never manifests!

Where is The Owl? Does it not come with time?
Will cleverness induce her, perhaps woo her with rhyme?

Quell restless mind, The Owl reforge me so I’m freed!
Grant me your talons so that I may succeed!

And still, The Owl, who never manifests,
And still The Owl never manifests.

I curl chalky fingers into travertine-grip,
Aged ruin takes a hold, in my despair as I slip,

Sans which The Owl never did manifest,
To wit, sans The Owl, pounding sand as I jest,

So what, The Owl, never did manifest?
And still The Owl never manifests.

Life without The Owl, was no life at all,
No solemnity of greatness, a life of doltish pit-fall.

And still The Owl never manifests.
And still The Owl never manifests.
Most people believe they have a guardian angel looking over them and intervening to make their lives better; more fulfilling. Angels in ancient art were represented as owls(watchers) for the god(s) would inhabit animals to monitor humans.
Makenzie Marie Jul 2018
You’ve hardened me
And every silver bullet
you’ve lodged into my heart,
I’ve plucked out,
Enduring the pain
And built myself an armor
Out of your betrayal.

And You are not a Phoenix.
Your tears
Will not heal
the open wounds
you have caused
With your trifling talons.
You cannot fix this.
So the son of Menoetius was attending to the hurt of Eurypylus
within the tent, but the Argives and Trojans still fought desperately,
nor were the trench and the high wall above it, to keep the Trojans in
check longer. They had built it to protect their ships, and had dug
the trench all round it that it might safeguard both the ships and the
rich spoils which they had taken, but they had not offered hecatombs
to the gods. It had been built without the consent of the immortals,
and therefore it did not last. So long as Hector lived and Achilles
nursed his anger, and so long as the city of Priam remained untaken,
the great wall of the Achaeans stood firm; but when the bravest of the
Trojans were no more, and many also of the Argives, though some were
yet left alive when, moreover, the city was sacked in the tenth
year, and the Argives had gone back with their ships to their own
country—then Neptune and Apollo took counsel to destroy the wall, and
they turned on to it the streams of all the rivers from Mount Ida into
the sea, Rhesus, Heptaporus, Caresus, Rhodius, Grenicus, Aesopus,
and goodly Scamander, with Simois, where many a shield and helm had
fallen, and many a hero of the race of demigods had bitten the dust.
Phoebus Apollo turned the mouths of all these rivers together and made
them flow for nine days against the wall, while Jove rained the
whole time that he might wash it sooner into the sea. Neptune himself,
trident in hand, surveyed the work and threw into the sea all the
foundations of beams and stones which the Achaeans had laid with so
much toil; he made all level by the mighty stream of the Hellespont,
and then when he had swept the wall away he spread a great beach of
sand over the place where it had been. This done he turned the
rivers back into their old courses.
  This was what Neptune and Apollo were to do in after time; but as
yet battle and turmoil were still raging round the wall till its
timbers rang under the blows that rained upon them. The Argives, cowed
by the scourge of Jove, were hemmed in at their ships in fear of
Hector the mighty minister of Rout, who as heretofore fought with
the force and fury of a whirlwind. As a lion or wild boar turns
fiercely on the dogs and men that attack him, while these form solid
wall and shower their javelins as they face him—his courage is all
undaunted, but his high spirit will be the death of him; many a time
does he charge at his pursuers to scatter them, and they fall back
as often as he does so—even so did Hector go about among the host
exhorting his men, and cheering them on to cross the trench.
  But the horses dared not do so, and stood neighing upon its brink,
for the width frightened them. They could neither jump it nor cross
it, for it had overhanging banks all round upon either side, above
which there were the sharp stakes that the sons of the Achaeans had
planted so close and strong as a defence against all who would
assail it; a horse, therefore, could not get into it and draw his
chariot after him, but those who were on foot kept trying their very
utmost. Then Polydamas went up to Hector and said, “Hector, and you
other captains of the Trojans and allies, it is madness for us to
try and drive our horses across the trench; it will be very hard to
cross, for it is full of sharp stakes, and beyond these there is the
wall. Our horses therefore cannot get down into it, and would be of no
use if they did; moreover it is a narrow place and we should come to
harm. If, indeed, great Jove is minded to help the Trojans, and in his
anger will utterly destroy the Achaeans, I would myself gladly see
them perish now and here far from Argos; but if they should rally
and we are driven back from the ships pell-mell into the trench
there will be not so much as a man get back to the city to tell the
tale. Now, therefore, let us all do as I say; let our squires hold our
horses by the trench, but let us follow Hector in a body on foot, clad
in full armour, and if the day of their doom is at hand the Achaeans
will not be able to withstand us.”
  Thus spoke Polydamas and his saying pleased Hector, who sprang in
full armour to the ground, and all the other Trojans, when they saw
him do so, also left their chariots. Each man then gave his horses
over to his charioteer in charge to hold them ready for him at the
trench. Then they formed themselves into companies, made themselves
ready, and in five bodies followed their leaders. Those that went with
Hector and Polydamas were the bravest and most in number, and the most
determined to break through the wall and fight at the ships. Cebriones
was also joined with them as third in command, for Hector had left his
chariot in charge of a less valiant soldier. The next company was
led by Paris, Alcathous, and Agenor; the third by Helenus and
Deiphobus, two sons of Priam, and with them was the hero Asius-
Asius the son of Hyrtacus, whose great black horses of the breed
that comes from the river Selleis had brought him from Arisbe.
Aeneas the valiant son of Anchises led the fourth; he and the two sons
of Antenor, Archelochus and Acamas, men well versed in all the arts of
war. Sarpedon was captain over the allies, and took with him Glaucus
and Asteropaeus whom he deemed most valiant after himself—for he
was far the best man of them all. These helped to array one another in
their ox-hide shields, and then charged straight at the Danaans, for
they felt sure that they would not hold out longer and that they
should themselves now fall upon the ships.
  The rest of the Trojans and their allies now followed the counsel of
Polydamas but Asius son of Hyrtacus would not leave his horses and his
esquire behind him; in his foolhardiness he took them on with him
towards the ships, nor did he fail to come by his end in
consequence. Nevermore was he to return to wind-beaten Ilius, exulting
in his chariot and his horses; ere he could do so, death of ill-omened
name had overshadowed him and he had fallen by the spear of
Idomeneus the noble son of Deucalion. He had driven towards the left
wing of the ships, by which way the Achaeans used to return with their
chariots and horses from the plain. Hither he drove and found the
gates with their doors opened wide, and the great bar down—for the
gatemen kept them open so as to let those of their comrades enter
who might be flying towards the ships. Hither of set purpose did he
direct his horses, and his men followed him with a loud cry, for
they felt sure that the Achaeans would not hold out longer, and that
they should now fall upon the ships. Little did they know that at
the gates they should find two of the bravest chieftains, proud sons
of the fighting Lapithae—the one, Polypoetes, mighty son of
Pirithous, and the other Leonteus, peer of murderous Mars. These stood
before the gates like two high oak trees upon the mountains, that
tower from their wide-spreading roots, and year after year battle with
wind and rain—even so did these two men await the onset of great
Asius confidently and without flinching. The Trojans led by him and by
Iamenus, Orestes, Adamas the son of Asius, Thoon and Oenomaus,
raised a loud cry of battle and made straight for the wall, holding
their shields of dry ox-hide above their heads; for a while the two
defenders remained inside and cheered the Achaeans on to stand firm in
the defence of their ships; when, however, they saw that the Trojans
were attacking the wall, while the Danaans were crying out for help
and being routed, they rushed outside and fought in front of the gates
like two wild boars upon the mountains that abide the attack of men
and dogs, and charging on either side break down the wood all round
them tearing it up by the roots, and one can hear the clattering of
their tusks, till some one hits them and makes an end of them—even so
did the gleaming bronze rattle about their *******, as the weapons
fell upon them; for they fought with great fury, trusting to their own
prowess and to those who were on the wall above them. These threw
great stones at their assailants in defence of themselves their
tents and their ships. The stones fell thick as the flakes of snow
which some fierce blast drives from the dark clouds and showers down
in sheets upon the earth—even so fell the weapons from the hands
alike of Trojans and Achaeans. Helmet and shield rang out as the great
stones rained upon them, and Asius the son of Hyrtacus in his dismay
cried aloud and smote his two thighs. “Father Jove,” he cried, “of a
truth you too are altogether given to lying. I made sure the Argive
heroes could not withstand us, whereas like slim-waisted wasps, or
bees that have their nests in the rocks by the wayside—they leave not
the holes wherein they have built undefended, but fight for their
little ones against all who would take them—even so these men, though
they be but two, will not be driven from the gates, but stand firm
either to slay or be slain.”
  He spoke, but moved not the mind of Jove, whose counsel it then
was to give glory to Hector. Meanwhile the rest of the Trojans were
fighting about the other gates; I, however, am no god to be able to
tell about all these things, for the battle raged everywhere about the
stone wall as it were a fiery furnace. The Argives, discomfited though
they were, were forced to defend their ships, and all the gods who
were defending the Achaeans were vexed in spirit; but the Lapithae
kept on fighting with might and main.
  Thereon Polypoetes, mighty son of Pirithous, hit Damasus with a
spear upon his cheek-pierced helmet. The helmet did not protect him,
for the point of the spear went through it, and broke the bone, so
that the brain inside was scattered about, and he died fighting. He
then slew Pylon and Ormenus. Leonteus, of the race of Mars, killed
Hippomachus the son of Antimachus by striking him with his spear
upon the girdle. He then drew his sword and sprang first upon
Antiphates whom he killed in combat, and who fell face upwards on
the earth. After him he killed Menon, Iamenus, and Orestes, and laid
them low one after the other.
  While they were busy stripping the armour from these heroes, the
youths who were led on by Polydamas and Hector (and these were the
greater part and the most valiant of those that were trying to break
through the wall and fire the ships) were still standing by the
trench, uncertain what they should do; for they had seen a sign from
heaven when they had essayed to cross it—a soaring eagle that flew
skirting the left wing of their host, with a monstrous blood-red snake
in its talons still alive and struggling to escape. The snake was
still bent on revenge, wriggling and twisting itself backwards till it
struck the bird that held it, on the neck and breast; whereon the bird
being in pain, let it fall, dropping it into the middle of the host,
and then flew down the wind with a sharp cry. The Trojans were
struck with terror when they saw the snake, portent of aegis-bearing
Jove, writhing in the midst of them, and Polydamas went up to Hector
and said, “Hector, at our councils of war you are ever given to rebuke
me, even when I speak wisely, as though it were not well, forsooth,
that one of the people should cross your will either in the field or
at the council board; you would have them support you always:
nevertheless I will say what I think will be best; let us not now go
on to fight the Danaans at their ships, for I know what will happen if
this soaring eagle which skirted the left wing of our with a monstrous
blood-red snake in its talons (the snake being still alive) was really
sent as an omen to the Trojans on their essaying to cross the
trench. The eagle let go her hold; she did not succeed in taking it
home to her little ones, and so will it be—with ourselves; even
though by a mighty effort we break through the gates and wall of the
Achaeans, and they give way before us, still we shall not return in
good order by the way we came, but shall leave many a man behind us
whom the Achaeans will do to death in defence of their ships. Thus
would any seer who was expert in these matters, and was trusted by the
people, read the portent.”
  Hector looked fiercely at him and said, “Polydamas, I like not of
your reading. You can find a better saying than this if you will.
If, however, you have spoken in good earnest, then indeed has heaven
robbed you of your reason. You would have me pay no heed to the
counsels of Jove, nor to the promises he made me—and he bowed his
head in confirmation; you bid me be ruled rather by the flight of
wild-fowl. What care I whether they fly towards dawn or dark, and
whether they be on my right hand or on my left? Let us put our trust
rather in the counsel of great Jove, king of mortals and immortals.
There is one omen, and one only—that a man should fight for his
country. Why are you so fearful? Though we be all of us slain at the
ships of the Argives you are not likely to be killed yourself, for you
are not steadfast nor courageous. If you will. not fight, or would
talk others over from doing so, you shall fall forthwith before my
spear.”
  With these words he led the way, and the others followed after
with a cry that rent the air. Then Jove the lord of thunder sent the
blast of a mighty wind from the mountains of Ida, that bore the dust
down towards the ships; he thus lulled the Achaeans into security, and
gave victory to Hector and to the Trojans, who, trusting to their
own might and to the signs he had shown them, essayed to break through
the great wall of the Achaeans. They tore down the breastworks from
the walls, and overthrew the battlements; they upheaved the
buttresses, which the Achaeans had set in front of the wall in order
to support it; when they had pulled these down they made sure of
breaking through the wall, but the Danaans still showed no sign of
giving ground; they still fenced the battlements with their shields of
ox-hide, and hurled their missiles down upon the foe as soon as any
came below the wall.
  The two Ajaxes went about everywhere on the walls cheering on the
Achaeans, giving fair words to some while they spoke sharply to any
one whom they saw to be remiss. “My friends,” they cried, “Argives one
and all—good bad and indifferent, for there was never fight yet, in
which all were of equal prowess—there is now work enough, as you very
well know, for all of you. See that you none of you turn in flight
towards the ships, daunted by the shouting of the foe, but press
forward and keep one another in heart, if it may so be that Olympian
Jove the lord of lightning will vouchsafe us to repel our foes, and
drive them back towards the city.”
  Thus did the two go about shouting and cheering the Achaeans on.
As the flakes that fall thick upon a winter’s day, when Jove is minded
to snow and to display these his arrows to mankind—he lulls the
wind to rest, and snows hour after hour till he has buried the tops of
the high mountains, the headlands that jut into the sea, the grassy
plains, and the tilled fields of men; the snow lies deep upon the
forelands, and havens of the grey sea, but the waves as they come
rolling in stay it that it can come no further, though all else is
wrapped as with a mantle so heavy are the heavens with snow—even thus
thickly did the stones fall on one side and on the other, some
thrown at the Trojans, and some by the Trojans at the Achaeans; and
the whole wall was in an uproar.
  Still the Trojans and brave Hector would not yet have broken down
the gates and the great bar, had not Jove turned his son Sarpedon
against the Argives as a lion against a herd of horned cattle.
Before him he held his shield of hammered bronze, that the smith had
beaten so fair and round, and had lined with ox hides which he had
made fast with rivets of gold all round the shield; this he held in
front of him, and brandishing his two spears came on like some lion of
the wilderness, who has been long famished for want of meat and will
dare break even into a well-fenced homestead to try and get at the
sheep. He may find the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks
with dogs and spears, but he is in no mind to be driven from the
fold till he has had a try for it; he will either spring on a sheep
and carry it off, or be
Ella Gwen Jul 2015
I feel like the white lion
stuck in a cage for the rest of my days
feet set to tread a path barred and dusty
from all of those who trod before it.

The only excitement, the jangles of
keys from the keeper who runs to
throw carcass of rabbit, turkeys
through my bars for me
to render sustenance, incomplete.

I fear the white lion
hear my lonely roar and wonder
at such talons, canines now stolen
and feet dismembered, claws ripped
from their shackles, top-of-the-food-chain
fear desecrated.

And a genetic time-bomb too
ticks under my skin and theirs
as I sit and I listen to the lies
your children now share.

My line also ends, a mere stutter
in the sand, as the tides flow steady
and the last lion lingers.

And I am, too, held high like a beacon,
a warning, a message spanning
centuries, look, children, look!
See the mistakes of your ancestors.

See how her coat shines so very bright
that it reflects all seven colours
of the light? See how lonely and low
the last of a manipulated, mistaken,
misconstrued species can go?

She was drawn from her mother
mixed with her father, no she doesn't need him
and the others, why yes, all left
are her kin!

How wonderful, how quaint, you
know only ten now remain?
None in the wild of course, where
their life cannot sustain,
better here locked under our
constraints where we have
so much wonder, so much recreation
and education to gain.

And true, from this bleak place
they can never migrate
but look at her, no where else to go
this man-made mistake.

Don’t worry about the pacing,
the maddened, gleaming eye
the freedom they miss
out there? They would die!
And they know no other way
than this.

I know she looks sad, but
that’s just your feelings projecting,
they’re just animals, my darling,
you’re innocent, shouting in consternation
save her in the name of conservation!

But we are all white lions
all now endangered, our steps
are no freer, our lives all
subject to external changes and we
cannot move but for the cage
they have constructed, their
lives are impacted but our
wonder is not deducted.

I feel like the white lion
this ambassador of our greatness
this one mistake, so very clever,
engineered to engage us, these lives that
were wrought solely to entertain us.

I feel it, their future entwined in mine
and in humans across the ages.

Meaning of life designed, its sibilant message
dangerous, a dumb animal wandering
a set path, disregarded, destructive, aimless.
with his sharp talons poised
the wedge tail eagle swooped
upon a languid lizard
resting near a rock
Purcy Flaherty May 2018
As I enter the arena and the blood sport begins;
I gaze around the room, at the fighting *****, all dressed in battle trim.

Angry eyes telling tails, chests puffed out,
**** and ****** feathers scattered to and fro, spurred on by spite...

Amidst the bitter cries; and angry beaks;
talons rip and wound again and again until the match is over
and everyones a loser;

Even the hen!
Inspired by **** waving & cockfighting.
Amanda Valdez Dec 2012
Must I admit: that
being with you was like
pulling out a single
strand of hair, daily.
Look—-
this fleshy white
button ferally crowning
To begin: with the scraping
of my own scalp off
lining brainwashed
finger nails as a reminder
to my heart still beating
upon this earth
so that you may take
the bottom piece to split
my split ends in half
leaving broken off
eyelashes underneath
the talons. Were they your
keepsake to search a shine
when combing foreign
locks? Your reminder
in the strangeness of
other bloodstained
women?
the river flows as
living memory

the birds of the
Nile are its
knowing eyes

fly catchers
ply the rich
delta
probing
sediments
of sand
washed
from
distant
Nubian
mountains
eons
ago

layers of
recollection
go fathoms
deep

shrieking
gulls
plumb the
mud flats
with heroic
persistence
as they did
when the
first rafts
drifted out
of the
Great Rift
ferrying
civilizations
forebears
to the
opening chapters
of world history

the first
seafarers
competed with
greedy spoonbills
to navigate
porous
papyrus
crafts
through
the narrow
channels
of the
Damietta,
transporting
ideas, skills
and goods
to build an
emerging
world

mallards
troll the
same
gentile
eddies that
goaded the
Mother of
All Waters
to float the
basket cradling
Yahweh’s
infant prophet
Musa, into the
loving arms
of Bithiah
who nurtured
the vanquisher
of Osiris’
galleries of
Gods

a litany
of conquests
rolled on the
silver waves
of this river

conquerors
maneuvered
the truculent
currents
like sharp
eyed hawks
skimming the
pliant waters
with well
extended
razor quick
talons
picking the
Nile’s bounty
clean

this fertile
delta remembers
more than
6,000 seasons
of harvests

the
cycles of time
has produced
seasons of plenteous
abundance and
desperate privation
all cleverly exploited
by generations of
fearless herons
who wrangled
the demons
of hardship
to route the
dread of hunger
expelling despair
from the Egyptian
DNA, etching
a new hieroglyph
of freedom onto
survivors hearts

the Niles
sorrows
and glories
perpetually
wash this
magnanimous
delta
surely as
the gentle
wakes
of feluccas
continue
to lap its
shore

the marshes
have not withered

the verdant
reeds prosper

flamingos find
the water
rich in fish

in due
season
the red
lotus will
paint
the arcuate
alluvial
fans in
scarlet
autumnal
hues

In the
Valley of
the Kings
the shadows
of migratory
flocks mark
the foundation
stones of the
pyramids
as they did
when slaves
pushed them
into place

the eternal
lines of
pharaohs
rule has fallen,
their gods
imprisoned
in hieroglyphs
adorning their
royal tombs
on display
in the worlds
museums

the weathered
pyramids continue
to crumble

the face of
the sphinx
withers away

torrents of
blood flowed
in this rivers
currents, now
strained clear
by the reeds
anchoring
its banks

the fleeting
rule of regimes
are pictured
as momentary
reflections
skimming along
the ripppling
water; the
rise and fall
of rulers is
captured like
the shifting hues
sunrises and
sunsets bespeak
upon the waters

the ascending
waves of
the Sacred Ibis
dance atop
the Nile’s gray
waters; the
river jumps
to life as the
graceful wings
take flight
to foreign
destinations;
expecting
to return
again as
the cycles
of seasons
round once
more

as the Nile flows
its memory deepens
the eyes of the birds
watch and remember


Music Selection:
Gary Bartz, I've Known Rivers

Oakland
3/31/12
jbm
Tom Spencer Jul 2015
Crumpled on a ***** door mat,
left by the cats -
the owl is just a loose bag
of feathers now - empty talons curled,
and one fierce eye turned
over its shoulder.

"What soft flesh enticed you to the ground?"

Lifting the mat, I remember
waking at night to the trilling call – a silvery vein
wrapped in the dark energy of hunger.

“All things die and too soon...” I say aloud,
my own eye sinking into that inky well. The
vacant perch leaning over my shoulder.

"What is to become of my flesh, my soul?"

"It's the waking that counts," I think, "and the meeting."
For a moment I wake again - grateful for the living.

Tom Spencer © 2017
with gratitude for Mary Oliver
Conor O'Leary Dec 2012
1 + 1  isn't math.
It's life and it isn't hard.

1 + 1 is love.
A universal concept
of criss-crossed hands.
Blue eyes to others
hugging their gaze.  

1 + 1 is war.
Two acidic cultures
colliding and sizzling
at contact. Blood
Hot. Black.

1 + 1 is curiosity
Glassy eyes on charcoal talons
Wrinkled trunk 'round tail of dog
Feeble finger ravaged by thousands of legs
Paint Africa upon my hands.

1 + 1 are footprints
of mud on the porch.
Yours between mine.
Toes so close and mud still fresh.

But for those,
who have the most unfortunate
pleasure of removing
themselves from
infinity.
1 + 1 = 2.

How sad.
Hal Loyd Denton Jan 2012
By This Sword 911 Is Avenged
This was written right after 911 now I’m rewriting it from the time that has passed a cooling a distancing has occurred in us not in our
Enemies I will write the first paragraph basically as it was written then go from there. They have cells; we have wells and mines, Wells
Of emotion for God, flag and country the mines are far flung and close at hand. From these mines, the blacksmith is hammering out a New sword of liberty the material comes from all of our battle fields in our national history. These make up the strong wide back
part Of the sword the sharp keen edge that is terrifying to behold this material from the Pentagon, Trade Towers, and from our four
American commercial airliners filled with Americans. The dross of the terrorists have been skimmed off and purified by our national prayers
And solemn vows for justice now stands one giant the sum of us all. The sword has just been placed in his hand. Let’s talk about the
Sword it cuts both ways-coming and going. The giant holds it flat, moves it back and forth in front of him underneath the land is
Pictured perfectly back up on the blade it hums like a dynamo let’s start it from the place the atrocity and carnage occurred I wrote
More about Miss Liberty in Imposter you ought to read it one of our greatest minds for freedom and liberty Lincoln said these should
Be taught to every child and from every pulpit and school house and every public arena should resound with the truth about this
Great enterprise and experiment in human government. I also wrote Freedoms Citadel and Fertile ground about Jefferson and the
Constitution the reading of them was tepid they mean little in today’s conscious mind but in these very matters freedom live or dies
The blade appears out of the black smoke that stunted and muted Miss Liberty and her awesome record and history here is where
Hell left its signature. I will after all add a part of what I wrote in Imposter America proud land of liberty; too long it’s been just a
Veneer, freedom you espouse, to have this you must clean prejudice from your house. True greatness finally you will know, when it
Shines through all colors, to do this you must rediscover the bedrock of your heritage. Truly believe the words that say "We the
People words that shook the elements, only being surpassed at creations stage. To long our apathy has been collaborating with our
Enemy’s no more, this challenge is given to restore. Opportunity’s open door let us our energy out pour. That freedoms passion soars,
As in the past ******* it tore. Land of light continue, Miss Liberty your lamp burning bright. Oh great nation receive your benediction
And knighthood from her continuous burning flame now advance our freedom and liberty through the bright rays of truth that founded
This nation the blade shines and burns away all deceit it tells truth and shows our mistakes and so when it passes the white house one
Who comes from the fount and central place where Lincoln’s Shadow is so pronounced if Lincoln could rise he would make short order
Of the junior senator from Illinois he would Exposé his political views as not true American but a hybrid who speaks a world view not
A Central American one his history makes him Espouse thoughts and ideas that are not held by most Americans they are contraire to
What the founders envisioned but with Personality and ability to speak well he has made inroads especially in a liberal setting the voters
Will realign this error the blade passes on inland it moves across the coal mines of Pennsylvania it stops and hums with a drowning
Sound at the site where brave Americans Fought in the sky and died saving many others here is a great place to show the difference in
The two different swords battling for Rule in our world today yes they have a sword it is one that beheads their own people or at
Times the lives of the innocents must perish to it savagery forged in hell it gleams but with every conceivable power of evil the more
They use it the more they destroy they burry themselves in the tangled web that no man can escape from a recent telling of Liberia’s
Civil war will cast true light on the sword they wield with such relish one of the Generals in this conflict and let me add here the same is
Going to happen in to the drug lords in Mexico in one form or another salvation or destruction from Him who is really in charge so this
So called General in Liberia was doing what he did best slaughtering the innocent and helpless two of the nuns ***** and killed with
Their three companions had just attended our worship service two days before their deaths. But into this evil spectacle He who is all
power and holy spoke general you are nothing more than someone who is being used by the devil and the devil had one other to ****
Three hundred people a day add that up to three hundred and sixty five days he did it to keep empowered by the devil but our general
Couldn’t get away from those simple but true words he came to the united Pentecostal mission church went to the altar first he lay
Down the defiled sword went to a church that preached baptism in the titles instead of Jesus name the bible says if you desire truth on
The inward parts you will be led to all truth he argued for six months saying he saw no difference but he called from Nigeria all excited
There was a difference God gave him the revelation the bible says Christ is the beginner and finisher of our faith he starts and finishes
What he starts this former butcher went to the altar in the mission mentioned repented was rebaptized in Jesus name filled with the
Holy Ghost spoke in tongues as the bible said this is the only way to remove the sword from a deceived and dying race born to blood
And cruelty because the master liar entered the world as a false religion in the desert an unexplained terrifying light is gleaming
As a mirror but this one is shaped as an eagle with its talons inches from the back of a unholy fiend his life is an insult to all eastern people
That love their country as we love ours pray that we honor our dead by not making widows and orphans of the innocent. Bin Laden
Stand if you can we did not desire blood but you cut open our veins made us replace our loved ones with marble stone we hear a new
Sound in the desert, groans of death, and your fixed lot by our God who is true and holy.

The lion mentioned is not the man but the
hate and the source of all hate is Satan “Bread corn is bruised” Isa 28:28 Ignatius
Martyred in Rome after being taken from Antioch, who is better to speak to our recently martyred people He said God has made me
Bread for his elect, and if it be needful that the bread must be ground in the teeth of the lion to feed his children, blessed is the name
of The lord a new Christian foundation is being laid and within the walls of this our national home. There is a sacred field with deep
Furrows the victims and future military dead the precious seed. Our tears and their sacrifice will water this future harvest, from this
Rich grain the baskets of spiritual bread will overflow, we presume not to feed ourselves but our enemies also the Arab world cries
from Hunger and evil agents of Satan feed them poison. However we know the great physician who will heal us from this blight.
The blade has passed to the end of our land and back prayer alone can keep it pure and sharp and it will devour the enemy of us all the sword
Satan wields an ineffective beaten sword if we but pray for truth and light for all.
Poemasabi Feb 2013
young talons on a snowy roof mean no small beaks at the feeder below
The Last Meeting

I dreamt the dream again
It repeats
Always the same
Built on borrowed uncertainty
An uncompromising battle within me
It shakes the very core of me
Lingers for days within
Then Draws out through my mouth
Opening doors to feelings
I'd rather stayed hidden

I'll be at the same meeting
It's years since it happened
The intensity burned
My insides ached
His icy stare penetrated
My heart

As I was leaving
My insides started screaming
As he was not following
This brought our last meeting
The last

During the night I used to watch him
Constantly breathing
The steady rise and fall of his chest
I needed this certainty
As the moon that shared all my nights
With clenched fist and warm soft breath
Reassuring me for now
He was alive
The steady rise and fall of his chest

I had become his mistress
His other lover insisted
Keeping her talons in him
So he kept on descending
Into the furrows of the unknown
A place I could not follow
A place I would not go

I fought her for years
Then finally gave up my fears
I walked away in tears
This brought our last meeting
The last

I was standing
He was staring
The taxi waiting
Tears started spraying
My heart near to breaking
Me needing
A fresh start

This form of addiction is far from forgiving
My love had equipped it from the start

Now I keep dreaming
Of the last meeting
The one that shattered my thoughts
We are both staring
The north wind is blowing
On the sun heated sidewalk

The ******
Withdrawing from his blood
The scales are weighing
Between her and me
He has mistaken
Her love from the start

He started turning
My mind started reeling
My hands started shaking
As he kept on walking
So I keep dreaming
Of the last meeting
The one
That shattered my heart
(Descendant of the Eight Small Furies)

Cold frigged and wet but not icy and not yet. Two laborers at docks
find camaraderie in talks, tho’ their neighbors bustle by as they unload shipping stocks,  

For the kinsfolk miss a nothing a light mist of breath when huffing.  
The women like to pout as the crassy men do shout, shine on awhile whistling, Inn-keepers at shops coo their bristling and Old Wicca ones seen hissing from low, low talk in whisperings,

Although the morning bright the seas are high and not retreating, weather cool and fleeting, the peoples sounds a blend of bleating, as wily sheep would gather to speak about a matter for it is not the people’s spoke of that draws faint sorts of blather.

On this day...rains are much to rather, feigning raspy talons cloaked in chatter and from stores to shores to boat, seas, lakes, lochs, bridges over moat, not as to say they gloat, or ramble to invoke which fear of and from it stoke the gossip on one surly bloke…

For on this day everyone is talking in this seaside town in Eire. A hero undone by gossip but none can be called a liar. For about whom and what of -a man of such great fire.

Celebrity renown, born and raised but not settled down. Within its boundaries a-proper but of such character to copper, to change tasty meat to fat and bone, awe in disposition down to tone, mind boggling this gent whose life god gave as a gift of own.

In a perplexity of fright, brought tragedy each night and none could get away, from the obvious decay, due brutal awful fray, to make a beast from a shining dove, what the hell was God thinking of?

The crisper ears do so hear though not quite enough to whet, the imaginings to happenings they speak about just yet.  So hastily move spies, as I tell you of the sighs, the indignity and pride, swallowed with a town’s growing angry tide,

Upon this night so they see a man, creep who once the pride of Dan, loved more above all here in Tan, his birthplace this old briny-land but lately fondness on the wan, oh here he comes to close in again, to wane and wax vaudevillian, end up by dark a plain villain, as his face turns a shade of vermilion, electric ghost of Kirlian, eclectic host of deviling and calculated mind disheveling,

Pumped of mead or whiskey arguments are risky. Against his manner and girth, intoxicated nature -or mental worth. Sheer size attests his power, muck and mirth to fallen valor, the change is said to wow us, proven brute against all prowess, as such preferred and fight and such to nightly fright,

Béarthr is this man of once, of promises found to be just fronts, hanging around a town's high perch…though seen at the bar as sulk and lurch, or testy to some called a sailor who know not the fear of old dear Balor?

Sullen rent asunder, quick to wit when buntered, try with fists this skunkard; you brought low as a punter, hail to hell with such a drunkard! To stand and watch in awe, as blood and cracks and calls with cries and screams at falls, at doors torn from building halls, no end or stop to pause, sheer terror fighting brawls with fists he lays the laws, a violent testament to theater,

The burly beast named Béarthr!

Eight levels down to hell with him, each evening a town made grim but not tonight and nevermore, a double barrel out missing door, a silence from frosty place our cavern and dead beast felled on floor of tavern!  

If you find yourself frisky one night and driving through our Tan. If you’ve got salt are brisk for fight and hold your weight in sand…
…then make your way to such a place, renowned for such a meter,

You’ll find a name above the door;

O’ Ochtar beag the Béarthr!
Old English-style rhyme. Béarthr is Gallic and pronounced, "Be-ate-tor."
GKF Jun 2014
The old man drives
Round a bend in the road
Headlights light
With a dim milky glow

Wind rushes through
A crack in the glass
Cutting across
Eyes broken in the past

Cigarette ash
Jumps from the tip
Of the cigarette dangling
From dry still lips

Lines in his face
Where his life seeps away
Were etched by the talons
Of birds of prey

Eyes suspended
In loose wrinkles of skin
Like babies unwrapped
And left by the wind

Stay locked and not looking
At the passenger seat
Where sits the kid
With clean bare feet

The old man and the kid
Look the same but changed
The old man is the kid
With age and pain

The car moves through
A dark ***** town
And comes to a stop
As the old man frowns

The kid looks up
With bright wide eyes
The old man blinks
Starting to cry

The tear drops down
The grooves of his face
The dirt pushed aside
A clean line in its place


“Get out” he whispers
To the kid in the car
“GET OUT” he screams
“Get out of the car”

Clinging to the seat
With white fingers
He clings to himself
Then the old man lingers

“It will be alright”
The kid tries to speak
But the old man is out
And on to the street

He walks round the car
To the passenger door
And flings it open
With a rotting core

He grabs the kid
By the scruff of his shirt
And throws him out
Into the litter and dirt

“It won’t be alright”
The old man said
“We won’t be alright”
Then held his head

He looked in his young eyes
For the first time in years
And both were crying
Identical tears

The kid held him tight
And he held him back tighter
Then pushed him down
Like a lost fighter

“I have nowhere to go
And neither do you
We won’t get far
But you’re on your own”

As the old man walked
Back to the car
Wiping his tears
In the cover of dark


He got in his seat
As the kid got up
Starting the car
He slammed down his foot

The kid moved to run
But was left behind
The old man had left him
In a place he can’t find

Bags, and leaves
And litter and wind
Rolled round the kids feet
As the headlights dimmed

He wanted to wait
For lights to come back
But he knew they would not
He knew that was that

He turned and stepped
With his clean bare feet
His first steps on his own
In the dark ***** street

As dust and *******
Licked at his toes
His clean bare feet
Became ***** and froze

The kid had never
Felt any pain
He knew no words
So he could not explain

He took a few steps
And collapsed on the ground
When he heard voices
And thought he was found

He looked up from the floor
Dirt blew in his face
But he could see figures
And knew he was saved

The figures came closer
The kid heard them laugh
It was cutting icy
Like the wind on his back

They spoke for a while
As they stood around
The kid thought of the old man
As he lay on the ground

The voices grew louder
And with a shout
They ran to the kid
His eyes glistened with doubt

He choked on his tears
And tried to speak
But the figures grabbed
His hand and his feet

They dragged him away
And down a dark alley
They gripped him tight
As the kid shivered with panic

“I don’t understand”
The kid screamed and cried
For he hadn’t the words
To understand this life

In the shadows he felt
His **** on his legs
He was thrown to the floor
And he begged and begged

The figures just laughed
And pulled out a gun
The kid did not know
What it was but he ran

The kid was grabbed
And hit to the floor
In the dark there was something
Something that gnawed

The one with the gun
Pointed it at the kid
Then seemed to start crying
And closed his eye lids

He turned the gun
Towards his own head
With a ****** bang
The figure fell dead



The kid screamed
And covered his eyes
But the world had got in
It was in his insides

In tears and pain
The kid grabbed the gun
Firing into the dark
His life had begun

With the death of the figures
He began to moan
The dark that he feared
Was in his own bones

“There is no way to live through this”
The kid thought as he tore at his face

In the dark blowy shadows his face looked changed
Like an old man the kid knew but couldn’t remember his face

“We won’t get far”
Said the kid in the dark all alone

“We won’t get far
And I’m on my own”
Scarlet Niamh Jan 2016
The forever falling devil reaches for my heart,
his talons digging deep as I am forced to sleep
in his world, for evermore
in the land of pure darkness.

The rotten wings which once resided
on his back; glorious, white, bright;
now shards of glass that cut those
who come too close.

The fire in his heart is put out
by the flood in mine; killed by the
never-ending storm inside me. Flames put out
by water; those who thrived in the soul fire
quietened by the heartless liar
who turned hell into an ocean.
K Severin Feb 2013
Some call depression
an ever-present cloud
Residing in the sky above
sad and dark and storm-ridden
Blocking the sun and
emptying its rain
so cold and wet

No
Suspended in the air
Clouds cannot touch you
They cannot reach out
after you have broken free
and claw you back
Talons of pain
digging into your gut while
the foul stench of its breath
seeps into your pores
eating away your inside

No
It is not a cloud
Clouds do not touch you
Clouds do not crush you
beneath a monstrous weight
threatening to break the legs
that keep you standing
******* the strength
out of every muscle
so you cannot move
let alone run
to escape

No
It is not a cloud
Clouds do not touch you
Clouds do not crush you
Clouds do not haunt you
They do not sink their fangs
into your exposed neck
Releasing a powerful venom
into your veins
invading your mind with
thoughts and images that
poison your soul
Chaining you to its world of
terror and darkness

No
It is not a cloud
Clouds do not touch you
Clouds do not crush you
Clouds do not haunt you
Clouds do not blind you
They do not spit in your eyes
a black tar that is
thick with despair and
dark with sorrow
Coating your sight with
a filth that blinds you
from beauty and
all that is good

No
It is not a cloud
It is a monster that preys
on the strong and weak alike
It is a monster that hides
in the shadows unnoticed
Slowly eating the light
until there is none left
It is a monster that leaves
you with little hope
of making it out
Alive
Fiona Campbell Jan 2015
Large eyes
Heart-shaped face
Powerful talons
Impressive wings
Sound of your call
Whispered leaves
Creatures hide
Away from sight
You silently fly
Ready to pounce
Infinite wisdom
Magic abounds
Third Eye Candy May 2014
how many butterflies would it take to hide your smile ?
my love is boundless and yet
i cannot say. it's genius, effete and ill suited
to the task. all the while, my doves pigeon home
with valentines tethered
to sky thin shins
and talons.

more smoke and words
than
spoken atoms.

and nothing else
matters.
I’ll not take your time, beyond what the need,
To relate to you a story and deed
As there’s no one else to plea this decree …
For just I survived, don’t you see.

I’m an old man, with a mind full of mist
But details of that night in my mind still exist
As vivid and clear, both sharp and exact
No, no mist there – all of it’s fact!

When I was young, and adventure routine,
With excitement and newness still unforeseen
I was eager to spread my wings to the world
And seek more adventures as those wings unfurled

Within my long travels I happened to meet
Two other men, with friendships replete
One was named Beckett, the other one Flynn
And better friends there never have been.

Beckett was tall – an athletic type
While Flynn, the scholar, more of pinstripe
Pinstripe or athlete – it mattered not
It was our essence together and that which it wrought.

Engaged were we in all daring do
High on the mountains, and under seas, too,
We crossed dry deserts, and jungles of green
And other adventures there in between.

We’d been together, t’was our sixth year,
And still our adventures made us cohere
To every madness – to every rave …
Until we decided to enter The Cave.

We discussed the encounter and planning for weeks
And assembled equipment – some new, some antiques
Until at last the day it arrived …
And our excitement?  It still there survived.

The map we used, was bought from a guide
Who told my friend, Flynn: “Don’t go inside”
When he had learned of our journey’s intent:
To enter The Cave, and begin our descent.

The guides’ words, had given us pause
We had thought: What was his reason or cause?
But … dismissed were his words of advice
We had each other … and that would suffice.

With ropes and lantern-hats and other such gear
It was into The Cave we then disappeared.
The light from our lanterns speared into the dark
We spoke very little - made no remark.

Onward, downward, in blackness we went
Placing out markers for our later ascent
The sounds of our footsteps, and scraping of walls
Reverberated ‘round us – as echoed recalls

In about six hours, or maybe ‘twas more
We encountered water upon The Cave floor
And there all around were beautiful shapes
Never were seen such gorgeous landscapes

Stalactites, stalagmites and mineral mounds
And dripping water with its’ “plopping” sounds
Pinks, violets and shades of green hues
And small salamanders made their debuts

We found a small dry spot and then we assessed
This was a place we could stop now to rest.
I turned up my lantern, and took off my hat,
When Beckett said: “Hey.  Did you just hear that?”

I moved not a muscle, and my ears went to strain.
All I could hear were the droplets, like rain.
Then from The Cave’s bowels came a loud din
I continued to listen – then heard it again.

We looked at each other, but said not a word
Confused and startled by what we’d just heard
It wasn’t a moan, it wasn’t a gasp
But more rather like a guttural rasp

One thing was certain, it wasn’t of stone
That could create sounds while standing alone
T’was our discussion, from which to derive:
The source of the sound was something … alive.

Then from The Cave’s deepened black hole
Came again sounds from a source with no soul
The sound was menacing, and one I despise,
I watched the fear grow within my friends’ eyes.

Instinctively, we three then moved as one
In that instant – our re-ascent had begun
I had been last in the line coming down
Now I’d be the first to reach the “above-ground”.

Quickly my feet in the lead, lead the way
Flynn, right behind had nothing to say
My friend Beckett, brought up the rear
And in that position had the greatest to fear

The lamp on my hat pierced through the black
And I looked for our markers to lead us back
To save our strength, nothing was said
Again - the loud sound that filled me with dread.

The sound became louder and closer it be
And I moved faster through the black before me
I could hear Flynn’s breathing, so close behind
I tried to concentrate on the markers to find

Somewhere behind me, then snarls I heard
Loud and vicious, run together and blurred
Close … so close … the beast was so near
Adrenalin rushed through me to react to my fear

T’was then I was hit with an overpowering stench
The smell caused my stomach to turn and to wrench
The odor blew past me, and I knew t’was the breath
Of the Beast of The Cave – its’ oder of death.

I was near running, but down on all fours
Sweat was streaming from all of my pores.
Then I heard those terrible screams
The ones I keep hearing in all of my dreams

It was Beckett I knew in his shocked agony
Midst the snarled snapping of jaws I can’t see
I heard bones cracking and squishing of flesh
And the fear within me gave new strength afresh

My fingers were raw from grabbing the rock
But on moving forward my mind had its’ lock
My stomach still queasy from the stench of the beast
I knew it was finishing its’ beastly feast

I knew, too, t’was only a matter of time
When the beast would return - I had to climb!
I heard Flynn say: “IT’S COMING AGAIN!”
Again was a surge of my fear deep within.

I heard once more the beast from behind
And fought the panic taking over my mind
Something heavy struck against The Cave’s walls
The kind of sounds that ghastly appalls:

A scraping of talons of heavy clawed feet
Caused my heart to double its’ beat
I had the feeling that Flynn lagged behind
I screamed my urgings loud and maligned:

“Flynn!  Flynn!  Catch up to me!”
But took not the time to look back and see
For the beasts’ crashing against The Cave’s face
Told me it neared – and was re-gaining the race

My knee hit a rock, and my balance was lost!
I fell to the ground, and then feared the cost
In losing the time in scrambling free
Again sheer panic stabbed into me.

In less than an instant, Flynn was there too,
His face in my light was of a strange hue
And as he helped me get back to my feet …
Flynn turned around – t’was The Beast there to meet.

The stench overwhelming, but the sight was much worse
There standing before us: The beastly curse
Of overlapping scales in shades of dark gray
The rest of its’ body concealed in umbrae

But its’ eyes … its’ eyes … I’ll never forget
Rheumatoid yellow, and deeply inset
Its’ reptilian lids blinked just one time
‘Fore its’ lips peeled back - revealing the slime

Glistening yellow over dagger-like teeth
Then oozed from its’ mouth to fall there beneath.
The beast reared up, then we saw its’ claws
Sharp and deadly within its’ forepaws

Towering above us, no sound the beast made
On beams of our light had his gaze stayed.
Unexpectedly Flynn then turned and faced me
… With less blinding light, the beast could again see

Why Flynn had turned I never will know
For the beast bit him in two, at his torso
And I was looking at Flynn – direct in his face
When the beasts’ bite his life did erase.

I screamed, and instantly away did I run
Away from the beast, and dead companion
Through the price of Flynn’s life, more time had been bought
To reach The Cave’s entrance – the goal that I sought

Running wildly, several times did I fall
Toppling did not my mission forestall
The beast I knew still somewhere behind
Drove me on forward with my frantic mind

I heard its’ clawed talons scraping the wall
And prayed I’d not again stumble and fall
Then, up ahead, a small opening I viewed
And I saw my chance, with hope there exude

Twelve feet … six feet … then it was three
But the beast and its’ stench was there behind me
I dove through the rock opening, scraping my head
But better that injury than ending up dead

I was elated, and about to rejoice
I then heard a scream – it was my own voice!
In my leg erupted intense blinding pain
Looking down I saw the bloodstain

My leg, through the opening, still was stuck out
There was but split-seconds, before I’d lose it no doubt
I pulled my leg back, and in but a flash
My shoe was removed by a clawed talon slash

I crawled back from the opening, then I could see
My wound was deep, from ankle to knee
Then suddenly through the opening came
A clawed talon whose aim was to maim

I quickly withdrew out of its’ reach
As claws shot through the openings’ breech
The opening too small, for continued rampage
And the beast began then to voice its’ outrage

It’s deafening roars assaulted my ears
Echoed Cave chambers and in my mind did adhere
I began attending unto my grave wound
Knowing I now was no longer marooned.

T’was another hour ‘fore I crawled out The Cave
But many days ‘fore I’d shed the shockwave
Of what had transpired, and what I had seen
And my damaged leg was lost to gangrene.

Now sleep evades me, for my horrible dreams
Show beams of light, and unearthly screams
Of Beckett and Flynn and The Cave we were in
I know tonight, I’ll re-live it again.

So, now you’ve the story, you’ve heard the deed
I swear is the truth I’ve herein decreed
And Beckett and Flynn are enslaved in their grave
And I lost my leg to the Beast of The Cave.
BlancaNigrida Feb 2018
A feather flutters to the floor,
And as it lands I hear it roar.
Scrape of talons on the bark,
A sonic boom here in the dark.

Through the night two lovers run,
Wishing for warmth from the sun.
But when I say the night is done,
The love is gone, there's only one.

With two the darkness is exciting,
Absorb the flesh and let the night in.
With one the stars seem only frightening,
Blinded by the day, can't let the light in.

One thing to do, to stumble on,
To sing the magpie's lonely song.

— The End —