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L Gardener Feb 2012
Choking on a grape that wasn't mine,
I shouldn't have plucked it from the gardens vine.
Under the starry linen draped above,
I noticed a dragonfly nearby
sitting on a fountain watching me die.
Asphyxia was kicking in,
looking up it seemed the moon did grin.
I closed my eyes for the end to begin
and amongst the darkness inside of me
the dragonfly was buzzing free.
It left behind a silver trail,
swirling up and through the veil,
behind which I could finally inhale,
the infinite taste of wine.
Lou Jul 2017
4
At the Zoo

Patriots and faux exhibit and binge on synonyms of liberty printed on beer and underwear
Advertising what should be unspoken and inspired to pervert and romanticize
Preludes to the parades and finale above us all
Weeks of saturated irony
Cuckoo bird irony and BBQ
As they reform Phoenix, rebirth of distractions and thievery
Predators in ally ways pursing America's diamonds and legs

Then gunpowder
Gunpowder of colors and cuckoos
Layers of streets in gunpowder
Towns built of gunpowder
Sky is gunpowder
We are born addicted to led and gunpowder
Gunpowder ****** in the air
Success, display and diversion and more gunpowder to ingest.

The Grand Finale
The Volta of the evening
The hammer of the judge
*** appeal of death and nature flexing it's muscles-  
show us some skin!

Covering your ears
Eyes fastened-
Ready to burrow back to mothers womb
Binged and free
Chinese celebration hijacked
Red, White and Blue
And a moment of silence  

Orchestrated onomatopoeia in heaven
Chorus of arousal on Earth
Band marching war machines in hell

The showdown of 241 years!
This freedom we are all grateful to only talk about

Only free to battle shackling intoxication
Men and women tugging extra weighted offspring
Sulking for indoors and portable addiction  
Chanting three letter obedience
God being counted by his blessings
Fear and Statism in every breathe for salvation from our stick swatted enemies
Checkpoints that serve and protect asking for a toll;
liberty synonyms.
Arresting the too free

At the Zoo,

The cuckoos regaining reality.
The phoenix red eye and held under oath
To the next day where we are back
To hate each others freedom, again.
Written on the 4th of July.
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.
cr Aug 2014
you robbed me,
at the tender age
of non-consent and
bony knees from
something i will
never win back

and i'm not
talking about
virginity anymore
i'm ruined i'm ruined i'm ruined i can't put myself back together i'm a puzzle with a missing piece and god, it hurts so bad i can't feel anything else
vircapio gale Sep 2012
our thievery done,
you steal my ****** prize--
gems bouncing on moss
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.
CharlesC Jun 2013
This bird
of duality
distinct black
and white..
but then:
a high perch
seeing all..
in swooping flight
separates join and
one body soars..
Mr. Magpie retorts
I'm two in one...

Then this from
a friend:
you are forgetting
the thievery..
How about thievery
Mr. Magpie..?
collecting and
hoarding of
shiny objects..?
Mr. M. once more:
black is thievery
shiny is white..
I'm two in one..!
thanks, linda... :)
Osiria Melody Feb 2019
Jubilant child, gently prancing to the candy store
A lollipop, chocolate bar, or a fruit paid in full
Locked door, crying river tears that make my sad
eyes swirl red, like peppermints
Mommy and daddy don’t love each other anymore

Notorious teen, aggressively committing thievery
A pack of cigarettes, alcohol, or pills paid in full
Locked door, smiling sunny teeth that make my
cheeks radiate, hurt
Popping pills like death candy
Mommy and daddy just got divorced

Apathetic adult, hating to have my own family
Bottles of colored juices, packs of funny looking
lollipop sticks, or death candy sprawled across the
table
(Alcohol, cigarettes and drugs are my friends,
how pathetic)
Haphazard mess, failing health over death candy,
coughing smoky clouds, dragon voice sadness
Mommy and daddy are dead

Harder to breathe when you’re trying to speak
through grains of sand
Found a dull romance, much more emotionless
than my parents’ relationship
Your promises of climbing mountains and
swimming oceans

Nothing more than promises, false and broken
A living dream of what it all means, withering
dignity
At least, death candy never commits infidelity, an
insatiable lover
Takes me to my grave, burying me in all
these substances



Melody
2/14/19
I drew my inspiration from admiring the sweetness of a candy store.
Among the mountains and oceans we claimed,
Environments we no longer know,
Starvation from the knowledge lacked.
Strange men of unknown origin push us away
With feathered spears and their spirits
Flying above us like the angels we seek.

The spread of our culture like margarine
Angers the earth it's ancestors tread on;
War and thievery. Disease and infection
Was wildfire in a land containing no such
Immunities to the harshness.

First cities died as infants, stillborns
Of history and freedom, yet
They survived in their determination.
for many years
I have wondered
how one could put
a pair of socks
into the dryer
yet
only one sock
would emerge
at the end
of the drying cycle

this

I
must
        admit

has perplexed me
for some time

there have been rumors

of sock gobbling monsters
and the all too common
“roommate sock thievery”

along with
some varied excuses
such as haunted houses
and
old
people
memory
problems

but alas

nothing
has been discovered
as far as proof
to validate
these outlandish claims

a great deal of research
some call “sock studies”
has been done
over the years
with
      no
          real
                clear
                        data
available to
the general public

Many people
from different
“walks of life”
have given their all
in numerous attempts
to find the answer
to the burning question
of the LOST SOCK DILEMMA

My hope is that
someone out there
will find the solution
to this mystery

but to be completely h
                                     o
                                     n
                                     e
                                     s
                                     t

I do fear it could be
a MONSTER
eating my socks though

I say this due to the fact
that every time the drying cycle finishes
instead of hearing a buzz

well

I hear a growl instead

(and I have 17 mismatched socks...just sayin' )
Juliesen Night Mar 2014
I meander about the countryside,
Coming upon a fishing city.
They call it Riften,
Home of the thieves.

The guard that stopped me,
Persuaded with a shakedown.
I didn't believe him,
And persuaded back with venom.

The gates opened,
Before thy words.
Revealing a peaceful city,
With many souls.

I roam the marketplace,
Searching for supplies.
Before I make my journey.
To Ivarstead.

A man of charm and price,
Spoke with me.
He sought a job to be done.
He asked me?

Break the law!?
Seriously?
He nodded quietly.

I sigh,
Agreeing to do as he asked.
My friend faendal has taught me well
Of thievery.

This dark elf,
A Argonian lizard.
I took the ring to deliver.

Brynjolf spoke of snow elves,
And an elixir.

As I put the ring,
Into Brand-Shei's pocket.
Escaping the shadows.

The task was done,
And he asked me.
To join the Thieves Guild.
It's Skyrim-Riften quest
Kj Dec 2015
I firmly believe that the issue with us
was not an uncanny ability to dissemble,
but rather intense desire.

You craved submission and control,
you wanted compliance
and you sought out a weakness I didn't know I had.

I craved acceptance and confidence,
I wanted acquaintance.

In your pillage of my soul
you took a piece of me
that's need I knew not.

You took the very piece holding me together
and tried to shove it into yourself,
hoping, wishing, praying
it would make you who you wanted to be.

And in the flurry of your thievery,
you ripped me apart
and left me without the innocence
I'd never know.
Doy A Sep 2014
As I breathed life into your soul
I found myself hollow
Emptied of the zeal I possessed
Before you came
And crossed the narrow bridge I built
For the one brave enough to fall
And you did.

Yet I still feel deserted
As if your coming signaled my sanity to leave
As if you took every last molecule of passion
I have left
And gave nothing in return.

I have so much Love to give
I kept telling myself before You, before Us
And I gave it all

Or threw it all
Away.
One4u2nv Mar 2012
Even though we're not of the same womb, we share the same fleshy coat covering our bare and brittle tomb.  

I will never sigh a moment of disappointment again after you picked from my pocket, my deep throated eight-***** deep right corner socket, the envious green bank locket. 

Eight months and some silver change went by without so much as an apology, my effigy standing momentarily proud, my everlasting quieted eulogy seeking nothing more than a loud creaking to my bleating apathy.

Just relax those temptations and sweet sensations, fix the tooth yearning for it's familiar ache, that familiar feel of the snake, learning to break that stride of your pride. In the dark through the mist I arise to ****** back what is rightfully mine.
Shalene Nov 2014
He told her she was pretty
Made her feel wanted and loved
Then walked away with the innocence
Of that sweet little dove
It's hard to extol the merits of mankind
and to lavish excessive praise is insane;
recognize the gamut of vain emotion
and treatment of our brothers that's inhumane.

The natural nature of man is hardly good -
Proof is found in our vocabulary;
despite incredible accomplishments of this world,
poor relationships of man to extremes are still carried.

Our literature and news is littered
with ugly views of crime and hate.
For brief review of the damage perpetuated,
let's take time to reiterate.

There's slavery, ******, ******, torture,
greed, ****, hatred, genocide, racism,
bigotry, fear, starvation, thievery,
lasciviousness and terrorism.

Uncaring predators have always existed,
unable to overcome the evil within.
Such conditions show our need for a loving God,
to triumph over the presence and affects of sin.



Author Note:

From my book: Reaching Towards His Unbounded Glory
The ISBN is: 1-4196-5051-3

Learn more about me and my poetry at:
http://www.squidoo.com/book-isbn-1419650513/
Äŧül Nov 2013
Let me declare in the opening of this article that at the time of writing this article I was a young man aged almost 23 years but have never had *** as a personal choice based upon my experience. My reasons for not getting laid till now are not many but just three reasons:
1. I am a guy who is a one woman man.
2. I believe that whatever may be my future wife's virginity status, I am not to loose it to anyone else but to herself.
3. I have analysed and found that for Indian men the best age to loose their virginity is not before 25 years of age and similarly for Indian women, the best age to loose it is not before they themselves are at least 23 years of age.

You all might already have labeled me various titles till now, but wait let me tell you the whole story and I would rather recommend you to be ready for trashing all your presumptions. It's all about self-control that this article is about. You can easily relax and lie back as you are going through my article.

I have a female friend from a big city in India who has been subjected to the raging problem of today's world. I'll be referring to her as Dhara, she was in the first year of her college life when she fell for a good looking rich guy and this guy, Sagar, was her classmate.

In the beginning of their relationship, they both were like the very much perfect 'made-for-each-other' couple like in stories. They both shared a golden relationship between each other and neither of them were aware that one day they will be made to separate away from each other.

The two of them seemed inseparable and one fine day Dhara even eloped with Sagar to start a new life with him. Sagar took her to a new home that he succeeded in procuring for them. It was a farmhouse away from the city. Dhara started following all the daily chores as an ideal housewife would. Both of them ceased attending the college and dedicated all their time to love making. Three months after having eloped, Dhara happily told Sagar that she was pregnant.

In the mean time, Sagar's father who is a powerful person in politics decided to make him marry a different girl for political benefits. And this way a problem arose from this fact that Sagar was told by his family that soon he would be married to a girl for political reasons. Along with this, both Sagar and his father were jailed in a political context. The trouble which had befallen was resolved by another powerful politician who bailed both the father-son duo out of the problem with a condition that Sagar married his daughter.

Sagar then told Dhara regarding the same problem at his home. Dhara straight away went to Sagar's home hoping to win hearts and showed them the Mangalsutram which Sagar had tied around her neck. The Mangalsutram turned out to be the same which Sagar's mother had found missing.

Dhara was accused of thievery and was put behind the bars for the same in the followup time. Sagar somehow succeeded in bailing Dhara out from behind the bars. Soon, Dhara was asked by Sagar to take some emergency contraceptive pills which halted her pregnancy in a period less than three months. Then Sagar ejected himself out from the unregistered marriage, resumed his regular college studies and ditched Dhara.

Here, both Dhara and Sagar were at fault according to me. Neither of them were at an age which could be considered marriageable, either medically or morally. Both had studies to undertake which they turned to for diverting their minds.

Dhara shared with her elder brother regarding the same event having taken place in her life. Then one fine day, I met Dhara at our university's Students' Activity Centre - SAC, where I had been to the University Food Orbit - UFO, and I started conversation with a group sitting there and we both got to know about each other and exchanged numbers at her insistence.

So much experience had made Dhara a wisecrack when it came to making friends. She accepts that it was her mistake that she took a rush of hormones to be love.

In addition to this Indian viewpoint over the subject, a Western viewpoint needs to be mentioned separately because of the biological differences between our bodies' biological observations and our differently made up societal liabilities and settlements.

The West has a superior physique for both men and women and professional services. So the ideal age to loose it dips by 2 years.

To end with the article, I would like to summarise the best age and conditions of loosing virginity globally with a special localisation to India:
1. Get married firstly and then loose it only to your life partner.
2. If you must still have the pleasures of love making before your marriage with the person you have your first *******, keep it safe and pleasant. Use a ****** or similar contraceptive if you must have *** before the ideal age but remember that these may fail as well, even if rarely.
This is not a poem, so comment keeping this thing in mind.
Originally published at:
http://aksspiritualthoughts.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-best-age-to-loose-it.html
Natasha Smith Jun 2013
You are a thief
Why did you steal from me
Id wish you'd give it back
I might suffer an attack
We can not be apart
Cause what you stole from me was my heart
I pull my damp,
faded jean's jacket
out of the machine.
Something clatters.
Oh good, a dime.
No. A cherry seed.

Now you're going to tell me
that cherry have pits, right?
But "pit" is such a dismal little word.
And this shiny clean trophy sports
a history of petty thievery,
committed in the local grocery store.

A big yellow cherry with a pink blush.
Just one, chewed boldly. Its hard center
hidden in my pocket.
©Elisa Maria Argiro
Andy Cave Feb 2013
Everyone has there own personal story
in this book we call life.
Some stories are happy with fairy tale endings
while many are tragic and filled with despair.
One thing all of our stories in this book
have in common with each other
is that we all make choices
that can and will effect how this book
turns out, for better or worse.
This book is filled
with love
with hate
with mistrust
with deceit
with sexism
with racism
with ******
with family
with friends.
This book of stories
will never end
will always have tales
of heroics
of thievery
of superstition.
This book called Life
has billions of authors
and billions more to come.
This book
shows bravery
and cowardice.
This book is amazing
this book is full of
crazy story lines.
This book
will
never
be
read.
I wrote this when I was falling asleep so it might be a little weird to read. Please leave feedback on my tired writing :)
Louis Fraser Apr 2012
Sociopathic spiritualist
Confused by this?
Ya gettin' the jist
Years in a green mist
Gorilla ****** at the sight of poachers hi-viz
Blatant thievery
Gettin' me irate & militant
Conductin' information like a cobalt filament
Hippocracies imminent
If you don't know the deal look at Africa's innocents
The future for a fee
Monitory
Cold as the Chukchi seas
If your wonderin' where they be?
Let go of Albert Square & check your geography
Menace to sobriety
Rudarellis playin' tennis with the moods it's supplyin' me
Preachin' no class As
Hittin' the mirror like the mans buyin' me
Joseph Schneider Dec 2014
Our earth has turned
Our lives are torn
We are able to see light no more
If only for a second we shine bright
We are reminded of our destiny
That of which is death
We strive to survive
We strive to stay alive
Being surrounded with demons of flesh and bone
Demons who are torn
Tattered
Look defeated but are actually reborn
Reborn through blistering scorn they rise
Their numbers are growing
We do nothing for god is showing
Showing his hatred for our kind
Showing his secret and sacred mind
We scream
We cry
For he gives no sympathy
We scream
We die
For he gives no sympathy
They feast off our loved one's limb by limb
We hear their screams as he dies
As she dies
No goodbyes
Just demise
Torn eyes
Black skies
Reaching at us from above tearing our hope from our chest
Our dreams as we rest
Our lives as we suppress
Suppress who we once were
For that is no more
Only for so long can we hide our screams
We will be found
We will be desecrated
Piece by piece
Our mothers torn and brothers death through scorn
Our wives see blood and flesh before being reborn
Now one of them they fight it but only postpone
Postpone the inevitable
The inevitability of turning
Turning from who you once were to a demon
Your birthdays
Weddings
Memories become waist
As you see through the devils eyes you hunt to feast
Inoperational your emotions become
Through the eyes of evil you become ****
No way out
Our end has begun
Our god has given up
On our petty existence we call success
Given up on the killing
The thievery
The ****
The pedophiles
This is why we die
This is why black takes our sky
Why evil is now his ally
Why we are ripped apart before we depart into hell
We become the hatred we once rebelled
The hatred we once repelled
Your children ask you why
Ask you why we have to die
You look into their eyes knowing they will once too be deleted
Deleted from existence
The tattered flesh and blood is insistence
Insistence of his wrath
While we beg to his knees
He returns to his kin with this disease
This plague
This is why we hide
The conquering he takes with pride
Vague emotions to hell we ride
This rapture has become our end
This rapture has become our end


-Joseph B Schneider
© Joseph B Schneider. All rights reserved
Mateuš Conrad Aug 2018
.i'm pretty sure that someone like Mozart, composed, in total silence, didn't hum out a tune, given that he had to micromanage symphony, or rather, the latter stage of polyphony - synchronization of all subsequent parts... whereby music was more optical in its genesis than people might like to believe... of course auditory in its exodus from the godhead, but... i'm pretty sure the composition process for classical music, would never amount to the sort of fun impromptu of jazz... must be a black privilege sort of, "thing" to have found jazz lying around...

how did the beatniks even believe that
a cross-generational mongrel of an art
form, fusing poetry with jazz could ever work?
robert pinsky still has the dream -
but it's a bit like:
      you think you can smoke marijuana
and listen to blues?
              not drink a drop of the devil liquor
and take blues seriously?
       just like sonny clark would have
said: 'if you don't shoot it,
     you don't smoke it'...
         given that... this is not stoner rock
type of wasp hive droning, humming,
heavily repeated rhythm...
              nothing wacky like
thievery corporation doing a live
rendition of the forgotten people
                                             live on KEXP...
what's that phrase?
    i feel monged -
   i.e. so ****** that you don't know
if it's a brain or a jelly,
         a stomach or krāng...
an 8th of an ounce could last me a week...
never mind...
   but how could they even suppose
that, somehow... jazz would dissolve
into acid jazz...
   that ****** variant you don't hear
in a jazz club...
   sure... the one up in Edinburgh was
jazz by name only...
       instead?
   one night i heard the cover
of neil young's song old man...
yeah... very ******* jazzy...
                what's next, a banjo quartet?
first jazz song i ever heard was
art blakey & the jazz messangers'
      opening track from the album
   of the same name - moanin'...
          SOLD...
           had to stash on some of the records...
but did i really want to speak over
the music?
             did i want to contaminate
the music and produce some ****** mash-up
akin to the beatnik experiment?
     *******... high on dope...
              never bothered to call jazz...
the black man's equivalent status of
what white man's classical music is...
     and where's jazz now?
joshua redman isn't exactly a lifejacket
when a boat with 20 is sinking...
jazz has been neglected...
    relegated as posh black boy music
heading off to Yale... wap... or wrap it up...
talk with a mouth but forget playing
the ******* horns, the sax...
              can't exactly see a revival...
   but would i really want to speak to this music?
feels a bit like talking over an opera...
made sense back then, makes little or no sense
now...
                    beside the point...
      there's still a heatwave in england...
every morning i wake up in a furnace -
    or as if attired in a metallurgy suit working
raw metals...
       and i always ask myself the question...
to rehydrate...
   would i rather eat half a watermelon,
or drink a big glass of water?
                         it's always the first.
AvengingPoet Sep 2014
Justice is lost
Paper gone inflated
Don’t expect to recover anytime soon.

Spending, spending, spending
Killing any value
The massive corporation in bed with everyone.

I’m not talking about Walmart or Exxon or Apple
I’m talking about those on The Hill
What else would they be?

A massive conglomerate of corruption and thievery
Who can decide who dies when
And who the true enemies are.

Snowden is not a patriot they say
But how can he be anything but
No so-called Democracy deserves this right.

Our paper is dying
But keep on falling for ‘hope’ or ‘change’
By the massive two
Who will control, control, control
Until you decide to say ******* no.

Justice is lost.
Jay Apr 2014
I still think about
   the night you stole all those kisses
                  from me.
                Well, darling, I'm here to tell you
                                     that I've come to steal them back.
AvengingPoet Nov 2014
So frustrated, so humiliated,
I stand alone,
On The Shore,
I do not have much else,
But my objective reality,
Nobody can take that away from me,
I may be confused,
But answers will come,
I can do what I want,
As long as I don’t hurt anyone else,
At least I would like to think so,
As burdens are placed upon me,
By entities who do not understand me,
By the men who hold high places,
On top of The Hill,
Who haven’t a clue,
But thievery,
I will not compromise,
I can’t let them take me over,
You can,
But I will not,
I have my objective reality,
That is all I’ve got…
Mateuš Conrad Apr 2016
i told you, the most volatile substance,
auto-combustion:
let's see:
the (ν / v'eh point) - touch on elocution,
almost δ'eh                   point -
but then the oddity: thievery -
hence coupling θ                and            φ,
well                     s                and             z (hardly an ß)
might also make a hush sh sh sound
for the eyes to spot with a şiş kebab being served
(kebaab if you're talking africān - prolonged
on dentistry's dire inspection) -
no diacritics and many eccentricities -
many accents, and a bowler hat at the
royal Ascot - peacock feathers to a flutter
ooh! firewood for the comedy scene -
the / d or v? veering point or the deepened
point? thyme - now that's a solitary τ (tau),
well, many more examples! ha!
thighs and thievery - theta cheese -
thrombosis - that - now that's definitely armed
with δ - thermometer - thick -
in-between scotch fudge - thinking -
throw - viably also famished - invariably
also alphabetically accounted for as: thrice -
and phosphorescent - pucker up now dear,
no point calling jane austen right now,
it's too late: better watch the jane austen book club,
now that's a great romance movie -
serious though, ah, there you have it,
though rather thought - another eccentricity
to curse periodic examples to rule:
vogue in that though - feta cheese in that latter -
no one dared to say: i vote, deer fur i am -
imagine that said in Chelsea or Camden -
you'd never get rid of those crack ******* junkies
following you to Waterloo shouting:
'we've found Napoleon! we've found Napoleon!
Napoleon! Napoleon!'
Persephone Sep 2018
It will protect you from my demons and me from my dreams.
It grasps at hollow beauty and piercing lustful eyes.
It guards me from the outside through wire disfiguration
And laughs at their ohh so horrid haunting humor.
It stabs through my back the ones who want me closer
And chants a hundred times for sleepless nights and seventy two nightmare perfections.
But you see this is all just for me
So no one can steal the light that threatens to turn itself free
The one that is dimming through my very own thievery
For when I put on the mask
It stops me from being me.
We all have one
Dorothy A Mar 2017
It’s a horrible feeling when you belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to you. When you don’t matter to a single soul—there is no worse feeling in the world. That feeling nagged Clem throughout much of his life. He used to walk around, wounded and broken inside. Though what he felt inside may never have shown on his tough armor that he wore in public, Clem often felt his life pretty much meant nothing. So how did he ever get to where he was today? How did he get to be so blessed? It amazed him.

Born in 1917, Clem Manning never thought he’d ever make it to one hundred years old, yet here he was. Today was his special day, though he didn’t want any fuss over it all. But he was living with his daughter, Violet, for the past few years, and she wouldn’t have it any other way but to put together a celebration to remember. With a houseful of people, some inside, some in the backyard, and some on the front porch, Clem could say that he no longer felt that he belonged to nobody and nobody belonged to him. It was a beautiful Arizona day, and the distant mountains were ablaze in a fiery purple.  It was a day made for birthdays.  

Seeing one make it to one hundred was rare and amazing sight to witness. To make it this long meant you beat the odds.  Most of all, it was amazing to good, old Clem, himself. His parents died young, long before he could remember them. If others in his family lived longer, he never would have known. The only kin he knew of was his aunt and her husband. They may have taken him in, but he certainly never felt wanted. Both of them slapped him around, punished him by locking him in closets, and prevented him from eating meals when he was bad. They also neglected his needs of decent clothing and a good bed. He had a beat up mattress on the floor or nothing but the hard floor, itself, when he was being punished.  Thankfully, somehow someone intervened, and he ended up in a boy’s home. That place wasn’t a whole lot better when it came to dodging a hard hand, but he was kept clean and with a full belly.

Clem ran away when he was fifteen from that place, and that was in the throes of the Depression. From there on, he fended for himself. His days of experiencing hunger from living at his aunt’s house helped him to be street smart. The petty thievery he learned to master—just to manage to stay alive—continued on beyond childhood.  Like many men, down on their luck and traveling the country, he rode the rails illegally. Just how did Clem survive to be so old, anyway? In his hobo days, he’s been shot at, chased by police, and bitten by dogs. He also almost drowned once in a rapid river, and had a bout with double pneumonia that made him downright delusional and on Death’s door.  

But when the second world war came about, life became easier for Clem. He found his sweetheart, Bess, married her and settled down out west. He wanted to fight in the war, but a hernia disqualified him from joining. His life was surely spared then, for many of his friends were drafted in the army, went overseas, but never made it back alive.    

It sure has been one heck of a life. Resting in his easy chair, he was thankful he still had his wits about him—had a sound noggin—and that he could see and hear still alright—with the help of coke bottle glasses and a hearing aid. Everything that surrounded him was a grand sight to look at, knowing that he helped to create all this hustle and bustle of people in his presence, those here simply to honor him.

He and Bess had three of their own children, Hank, Violet and Daisy, and they also adopted two more, Ted and Sam. It was during those days in the home for boys that Clem saw some of the luckier ones go to good families, selected by potential parents that could give them the secure homes they desperately wanted.  Clem was never picked but picked over. Because he never got that chance, he swore he’d help out those just like him, ones who felt unwanted or ignored, ones that belonged to nobody and nobody belonged to them. He did just that very thing and strove to become the best dad he could possibly be. This was a learning experience for him, and his mistakes were his teachers. Nobody showed him how to be a father, but Bess was his rock and his ally. How he longed to be with her, again.

Clem outlived all of his friends. He lost his sweet Bess fourteen years ago, and buried one of his children—his beloved firstborn child, and it wasn't easy to bury Hank. It should have been the other way around.. There were now thirteen grandchildren, and he never did remember how many great grandchildren that there were, but they were all here now. It was a miracle to have everyone under one roof, as there was family scattered all across the country. He smiled to himself as he thought about how everyone took the time out of their busy lives just for one, old geezer.  

“You better matter to someone right now”, Clem once told a good friend, “Cuz one day you’ll be long gone, and you’ll be lucky if anyone knows your name. It doesn’t matter if you are loved by one hundred people—or one person. That’s how I see it, anyways”.  

With his wife’s relations, and his children and their families, Clem knew the family tree had plenty of branches on it. His life did matter in this world. One of his grandchildren, Amber, mapped a tree out, and she made it all seem so spectacular, and put together like a royal family’s would be. Sketched around the details was a tree done in colored pencil—vivid greens and browns that were eye catching to even a old man with weak eyes—and today it was on display for everyone to inspect and talk about.  

Clem knew very well that his days were waning, that soon he’d just be a memory in the minds of his children and his grandchildren—probably not his great grandchildren who would barely remember him, if at all. Someday, he’d just be a name in the family records of that famous family tree. Like he said to his friend, his name would barely matter to anyone some day. He was simply Clem Manning, a guy who got a break in life and dodged disaster. Maybe only the good did die young, or perhaps he was just too stubborn to die.

But this wasn’t a day for having a sourpuss or for dwelling on the hard things. This was a day to remember for everyone, more than just a birthday for a lucky, old guy that beat the odds. Clem couldn’t eat much of the food made for his birthday feast—too rich or not appealing to his declining appetite—but he promised to have a nice sized slice of cake. It was red velvet with cream cheese frosting, his favorite.

Happy Birthday to you…happy birthday to you…happy birthday, dear Cle-em

Da-ad

Grand-pa

Happy Birthday to you!

There was lots of applause, cell phones out and cameras snapping for picture taking, as Clem tried to blow out the three candles—1-0-0. Thankfully, he had a bit of help from the little ones up close, for Clem wanted to still show nothing was going to beat him, especially three, little, measly candles. But those weren’t just measly candles. They represented so much of who he was.

He still couldn’t believe he made it to see this day. How on earth did he pull it off, anyway?
I moved out of my real self
so many years ago
now a tiny ghost am I
floating to and fro.
Among the suits of armour
and thickly painted oils
of the family portraits
and other, plundered spoils.

My father was a noble thief
with a good eye for the gems
my mother wore the finest clothes
diamonds sewn into the hems.
Hidden in dad's shiny boots
a hundred signet rings
each one bore a mark that told
they'd once belonged to kings.

To bolts of silk he took a fancy
way out on the waves
his galleon went rainbow hued
wind billowing the sails.
He showed the King and Queen of France
around in London Town
and liberated them of furs
three horses and a crown.

He stuffed his urns and ginger jars
with gold and silver coins
and from a love illicit
I sprang from his *****.
Mother had to keep me secret
the shame dad couldn't bear
I was, half-bred, of purple blood
with a name I could not wear.

A brace of dark-eyed gypsies
my dear mama and I
although she was the greatest beauty
which was how she caught dad's eye.
The Sisters of Good Grace
entrusted her unto his wardship
and soon, without their guidance
she forgot the taste of hardship.

With fluttering, coquettish looks
not a thought for dad’s pale wife
my mother guaranteed her place
in a wealthy, well-kept life.
She was a great distraction
in the game of ******-and-grab
the mark would set his eyes on her
dad would steal all that he had.

So we lived a grand old life
in our secret gilded cage
until all dad's enemies
got together in their rage.
The princes, kings and dukes
all the rich men he'd robbed blind
decided it was payback time
with a warrant duly signed.

My father's noble head
was ordered on a platter
his life of joyful thievery
they were about to shatter.
He boarded up the castle
and vowed to make a stand
he sent away the workers
and laid waste unto his land.

‘They will not take me lightly’
he promised me that day
‘but, my love, go with your mother
for here you cannot stay’.
‘I've done a deal of safety
with the priest at Chateu Neuf’
I didn't like and didn't trust
this man of foul and ample girth.

If God was in his substance
he was well and truly hidden
but mama knew she had no choice
and did as she was bidden.
Father John was at the chateau
when we arrived, quite late
like a raven in his black robes
on the ramparts, stood in wait.

‘Well, my dear,’ he said to mama
standing far too close
‘I believe your erstwhile lover
is about to get a dose
of right and proper retribution
for every sorry deed
but the wronged ones are all men of God
and came to me for what they need’.

‘Forgiveness for their vengeance
and that is mine to give
a holy waiver for his blood
on the promise you shall live.
Now you and your ******* child
are under lock and key
and I'm a man of varied pleasures
and will do just as I please’.

‘Never’! screamed my mother
she was quick and swift and strong
gathered me into her arms
and in a flash was gone.
But escape was barred at every turn
by doors locked fast and tight
and we could hear the guards behind
so to the roof we took our flight.

And, when Father John caught up
we were backed against the wall
mama hitched her skirts up high
and prepared to take our fall.
‘I'll not be a prisoner
never shackled, no, not I
left on earth without my love
I would rather die’.

‘My child will not be left behind
the other half that makes my heart’
then she stepped out into air
toes pointed like a dart.
And Father John, he bellowed
as a beast stuck in the side
‘Without my prize, now I must have
a thief's fresh and ****** hide’.

We fell down through the ages
a pair of rolling doves
and hitting ground was painless
the rocks our pillow, red as love.
Then came a waking moment
we trod a path of light
fear nor pain considered
mama saw us through the night.

And so by dawn we came upon
the place had been our home
all destroyed, razed to the ground
smoke rose, as white as bone.
Through the mist we saw him striding
just as tall and bold
we three stood, reunited
our story all but told.

We had passed into a realm
that we can never leave
some say they've seen us here and there
though very few believe.
Now among the ancient trees I run
and dance from hall to hall
locked in my forever land
because I took The Fall.
Francie Lynch May 2018
I'm ******* with Robert Frost
And the guy who wrote Paradise Lost.
I ain't happy with Aristotle,
And especially John, the weird Apostle.
Don't mention, please, Shelley or Keats,
Blake, Byron or Wordsworth;
Each and every one you see,
(If you're ready for the truth),
Took their themes from me.
Don't look aghast,
Don't tsk and titter,
Their thievery's left me
Mean and bitter.
Just because they said it first,
Doesn't mean I find it just;
It doesn't give them ownership
Of my themes and authorship.
I write of Roads, Good and Evil,
God and Satan, love and leaving.
I know, I sound like I'm bleating,
But I won't stand for this beating.
Although they're merely dust and bones,
They don't have the right to own
All the great lines I have sown,
Like The best laid plans of mice and men.
(I said that before Robbie Burns).
Let me make this crystal clear;
If I was there, or he were here,
I'd sue the *** of Will Shakespeare.
Owen Phillips Jan 2011
I scribble on
With a half lobotomy;
A radar seeking Hell by looking up
And another dictionary
From another time and place;
An alternate timeline
Reaching right and left
As well as fore and aft;
The beard of a ******
And naïveté too;
Undiscovered depths of emotional manipulation
Unseeing, unthinking,
A new old structural familiarity
To abduct and probe
The time-honored, vacuum-sealed
Ineptitude of ideology
Whose meat is sweet
But suits the skeletons of standardized educational theories
Like a pair of jeans at age eleven that you expect to grow into;
In hope of justifying
Overuse of monetary resource
For the sake of bonus states of mind;
Scouring the depths of discarded everything
With hooks catching on to all the similarly forgotten names
Who live in fear of obscurity
Clinging, not unlike insects
To their sixteenth minute of fame;
Finding in myself no way but out
To understand that which lives inside;
With disregard for any thread which weaves past me and takes no hold,
And loathing for the ones that do but unravel before the eyes;
Lightheaded, ending any sense of continuity
When, prostrate in the comfort of another tapestry
I stand abruptly, let my dreams be drained from me through tendrils
Like the passing of a temporal existence;
Drinking in the dust and glue of crowded bookshops
In fear of losing inspiration
To the insatiable jaws of my consumerist natural state;
Rummaging in a bargain bin
In search of someone to tell me, “Stop!"
With heads in clouds and bodies in ice trays,
Stealing lines of logic and lyric,
Throwing down and hacking into
Elemental bits which fit into my own vernacular
Sacrificing beauty for originality and vice versa;
Choosing idols idly with the tides
Of knowledge and of art
Rising and falling without fail
Never apparent and never blurred by motion;
Searching for a style like an odd-numbered jean size;
Finding greater inspiration in waves of unopened mysteries;
Following examples laid by unsuccessful fictions;
Learning ethics only from the prologues of ****** novels,
Unsuspecting victims snuffed in interesting and lurid ways;
Letting technological distraction detract from the projections of psychological complexity
Which I, from atop the high horse of my own pretensions
Pretended to embrace;
Committing massive acts of thievery, fraud, and infinite lethargy
For the sake of juvenile, illegitimate art forms;
Seeking other seekers who exist autonomously
For the sake of personal independent credibility;
Leading unsuspecting, overreaching, overeating, understanding, undemanding,
Too forgiving, not forgetting,
Victims of domestic warfare
To a loveless watery grave
For the sake of my own loneliness;
Patronizing every segregated buffet
With courage enough only for a small taste of everything;
With the flavors of the day swirling around
For me to shoot them down
And pin their carcasses to elementary school walls
And Mormon tool sheds
And nature centers
And all the forgotten places of summers past
In the hope of rediscovering
Some old buried treasure
Be it wondrous or worthless;
With the uneasy insincerity of a rodent who pretends to understand a city;
With adopted methods
And repeated thoughts
And ideas which came to me in waking dreams of my own retirement;
Sharing, for a captive audience,
The formidable giants which
Inform our common denominator
Searching through myself for only the most indecipherable
With the fear of being understood
And the fear of being ridiculed
And pretensions of some preternatural predetermination for greatness;
With acceptance of predisposition for obscurity,
The cost of the inundation of the new airwaves.
The series of tubes that feed us intravenously
With information, information, information,
Having killed God and left material validation in His wake;
It could be that new gods are born in the minds of the innovators,
Those wonderfully wealthy
Whose social structuralism
Was a beacon to us all;
In the darkness of an architectural anomaly
Where lights extinguish as my body lies dormant
Alone and abandoned
Only by my own subversion;
Confined ever to a convolution of passages
While above me all my peers still carry on;
Overstaying welcomes
And letting emotionality
Color conversation
A sicklier green,
A green of a tree only just sprouted,
A green of a new recruit,
A green of an inexperienced schoolboy
Faced with the daunting and timeless act
Of copulation;
Somehow taking in the sights and sounds and smells
Of advanced mathematics
Even occupied, as I am,
With explaining my actions
Most eloquently;
Devoting myself to another cause,
Another, another, another
Always relaxing my grip by losing focus;
Desperately hoping not to let my fellow travelers
Lose their innocence
While I reluctantly, dogmatically
Keep mine on a leash;
Always keenly aware
Of the universe of worlds
Beyond my control,
And even my understanding;
On the increasingly frequent
Intrusions of risk
Into my significant reality
And the iota of explainable truth which guides the motion of my body but most frequently my mind;
Questioning the meaning of all words
Without thought or coordination;
Considering another restful journey
To clear my mind of human language
And in its place acquire thoughts and emotions from the street;
Without foreseeable direction,
Malice aforethought
Or noticeable signs of critical reaction
Giving birth to litter
Forgetting articles
And floating my sense of time up the Ganges;
Taking only seconds to counter the possibility of
Accepting more responsibility for myself;
Complicating matters with an interesting or bitter goodbye.
Title inspired by Mel Brooks' film *Young Frankenstein*
My uncle slit a man's throat with a box cutter in my childhood home and didn't apologize.
Sitting in a circle filled with crack smoke and stale beer breath.
This is a shining example of what I've lived with
and the lengths I've had to go to escape the thing people call "destiny".

Thievery, lies, pressure, and violence
has been calling my name for the longest.
But I know the voice too well to be taunted.  

Words are my freedom and words are my piece of mind.
There is not a single substitute.
Whether poem, prose, or paragraph,
This is the only calling I've ever had.

I've lived with a hoarder, addicts, senility, and ignorance
in a variety of different combinations and forms.
At times, power, water, freedom, money, necessities, have all been an unachievable thing to me.
Lost to the vile goals of those folk I love.
I am the only one who sees the beauty in the fragile and odd.
The others see only a mess on a paper, and move their eyes to the nearest glowing box.

My father drowned when I was six.
My grandfather followed soon after.
My mother felt the stab of this and caved so many times.
I witnessed and shared the burden of her pain and grief.
My grandmother forgot everything she ever loved or knew, and short after passed as well.
Pets and possessions,
friends and followers.
All gone with a drastic breeze.
I am the one with the vision, but I am trapped in a shell of a city,
covered with that wretched stink of refined soy.

Will I be able to unburden the world from myself?
You all give me such great courage and allow me to share the beauty as I see it.
You all have such great skill with symbols and it makes me feel like home isn't far.
I want this. I want this.

If I keep breathing like the rest of the world
I feel I may miss the sound of the world's heartbeat.
But my death would not bring a solution for the ones I love.
Only a warrant for more death.
I need this. I need this.

With my words, I conjure up hell.
And hell brings with it the familiar.
Run little kitties, run.
The Doubling House and The Sequential Church will not hold forever.
My havens are temporary, but the craters are forever.
I will struggle till the pain becomes all I am
and I buckle under the weight of what I shouldn't have taken
from the mighty Atlas.

I do this for me.
I do this for you.
I plan on this being much longer once I find the time and courage to add to it.
Gavin Barnard Mar 2015
You over react about anything I do,
Steal from me because I broke something in you.
Slander my name for the sake of control,
I'm getting my head out of this hole.

Its not my fault you're weak and open,
I'm not sorry that you painted a target on your chest.
I won't say I'm sorry for hitting the circle in the middle
And I won't take any of it back, I said what I said.

You violated my rights with thievery,
Why would I show you any mercy?
I have a bigger life than what goes on in my freezing room,
You can't just assume that you have complete control.

All I wanted was an answer
And I asked nicely at first.
But all you said was "just because I can,"
And that gave me the right of way
To call you a tyrant, a *****,
Another worthless dollar more.
Louis Fraser Apr 2012
Bored , hearing bout the state of the country
Whords struggles & rich #*#$ thievery
I debate all this negativity   be   a tool
To keep me melancholy not living to my ability
Nobility still be on the wickedry
Hierachy plunder
Just wanna
Drift with snow gypsys out on the Tundra
Stifle the hunger   for all things wild
Hear the thunder roll
Sounds of the souls of the war child
No road    No tiles
One code   No files
Survival mode no abode for miles
Helen Aug 2015
When saying you love me,
don't say it while crying
My smile is not free
while inside I am dying
Please don't say I'm sorry
when you're really saying goodbye
Watch my eyes very closely,
witness as my soul dies
When saying you'll miss me
say it like you'll try
"Love! I will miss you!
I'm sorry for this goodbye!"

You say you love me
whispered words upon my soul
tearing into this broken heart
clueless to what you stole
Mark Lecuona Feb 2012
Vomiting talk on love, greed and politics
Obsessing about pain, loneliness and metaphysics
The delusionist prophet in his unslumbering mind
Wandering over to you to let you in on a revelatory find
That you may or may not want but will come to know
While you raise the glass to your sweet red lips trying not to show
How bored yet fascinated you are with the next word or forty
Because it’s life before it happens or a coda to some other story
Told in a way that you cannot ignore because it’s the truth that blows
Flooded with the tears that you dried before they stained your pretty clothes
To mask the vacuousness of Saturday night boys who can only look
Acting **** sure in banter they memorized from a dead man's book
No more or less meaningful than anything I’ve ever said or could reveal
Of all things that I believe about life that I can no longer conceal
From my solitary existence where no man can stomach or stand
The constant state of thought rejecting out of hand
Trendy desperation of approval and shrewd thievery
Faith sales, unkindness and notorious celebrity
The things that make me sick with disgust over the human race
As I run through the cavities of another poet's dark place
I see men bragging and living on vicarious pleasure
Accepting ill-gotten gain for an earthly treasure
And emotionally immature desires fueling a mob’s fury
In reckless celebration causing injury
I see the down-hearted unable to find love
Because they are different or unattractive
I see two men born of the same mother
Begging on Christmas day leaning on one another
I see the bitterness I feel towards a woman
The one I thought was the only one
I laugh as I pass the things I once desired
And sneer at the people I once admired
I see adults talk while my child sings
And block my view to rearrange their things
I see a happy ******* her wedding day
But soon to be divorced with nothing to say
I see the only thing that makes people able to cope
Is to drink, smoke and **** while death tightens the rope
I see good people adopt a young boy
And then cancer robbing them of their joy
I see reality TV and a material girl become rich
Because of a *** tape and being a *****
I see a man go to war and learn about the horror
And then speak loudly with truth that causes furor
I see praying, evangelizing and moralizing
By men of sin taking advantage of true believing
I see selfish behavior in search of a feeling
Become useless activity devoid of meaning
But then I touch you and you turn to me
With the look of love that I want to see
And I wonder why I burden you
With the injuries my mind cannot subdue
I continue to kick the apple core in your garden
And curse the snake that made my mind harden
As your desperate beauty dances within my burning soul
Mocking it almost as if superficiality is in control
A lightness that incubates within the flame
Impervious to all its trauma and pain
Waiting for madness to end
And for sanity to begin
Prince Sep 2019
Vicious cycle of incarceration led my down a dark road I've trampled people to the point of exhaustion. All I want is my mind, body , & soul to be happy. Some nights I spent in the shadows watching the world revolve around me, the feeling was overwhelming. Trespassing & thievery was my usual, from time to time I would have no normalcy. My ears were in tuned to funeral music, my eyes were focused on lust, my body was being controlled by a higher power.
B Kenneth Avery Nov 2012
Dedication:

Nectare bred of an artist's haught testament—
        brings only stunted buds of tastelessness.
Be it naught for the height in numerous tidal of Muse—
        to cause the strike of warmth in bruise.

Upon the cheeks shadow'd in might—
        strength of amour upon near-sight.
You!—Blossom, are of a frightful power—
        to journey nestled mind of dark tower.

As though a hawk perched higher than the peak—
        of mountainous and controlling streaks,
Colourblind by potent affair lost—
        by centuries of sicken'd fever crossed.

By and by another name, honeyed pursuit—
        yearning that cause a poet becoming mute.
Meagerly, he instead scribes his burning allegory—
        that shall cause a life—eternal fragmentary.



Dangers of Kimberleigh

“Love Jo all your days, if you choose, but don't let it spoil you, for it's wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can't have the one you want.”
― Louisa May Alcott, "Little Women"

I.

When the morning demands you and I—
        our ghosts shall pass empty resides,
Against fields where lines opposing light, force and bind—
        of Angel's breath and Dæmon's spine.

Of shrieks louder than their first meeting's kiss—
        residing now—perfection upon midnight's bliss,
Abiding near the tender gardens upon the blinding dark—
        creating haste of love-song made by grave Skylark.

Who in joyous play—should cause collapse—
        towards serene, augmented lapse.
Lapse of falling, of where gentle screams—
        of every child that's ever been,

Who stroke themselves against empty glass—
        and where visions pray upon the grasp,
Of wind—Of blinding—Of melody—
        to hold faint—Immortality.


II.

This shall be where morning seeks—
        no longer calming of beauty's cheek.
Instead to lash with vain and hostile mount—
        crimson over dashed and harsh doubt.

Until image engraved by forgiving rite—
        speaking neglect of fiend or fiendish blight.
In-versed—coole angelic heart to passéd—
        passage beside Lilac's memory in mortal castéd.

In the unwashed Earth, where the unwashed play—
        'till they unfairly capture it from younglings— Away.
Lonesomeness of watchtowers in gossamer's breast—
        when airy words strangled from bless.
  
Reachéd by the hand—abide in fable—
        quiet tho—in fruitation, a single silver Maple.
Shyly envisioned inside salvation's solitude—
        where tenderness drowns tenderéd concludes.


III.

The sister was lovely—inside my sight—
        in our union—created Nature's first night.
Through our throats rendered fragile lullaby—
        which slaughtered silence and made soldiers cry.

Her bristles—exploit in darkness—I could not see—
        or merely recollect in memory.
A mouth moving inside of mine—
        creatures in mawkery of untouched divine.

Eyes whom beatéd harder than the breeze—
        to remind me—gently of the ease.
Of being caught in cognitive stance.
        which leaves surrender to in traditional, disciplined dance.

Upon the backs of universal forestry—
        and inside their stomachs to where we would meet.
Offended to death by requiem—
        made inside our faint dream's drum.


IV.

Where dreamer's would lash upon in endless screams—
        innumerable Rubies ruin'd before their first gleam.
Upon reflection in lover's loss—
        diminished to demise before their first gloss.

It is upon the fool's finest end—
        where lies his fantasy—condemned.
The jester who remains as undefeat—
        before death shall cause lackluster's retreat.

Unaware tho, in current mode—
        as body by body closely will hold.
And messages of Gold conspire in streaks—
        immersed—affection in mind eternally correlates oblique.

Ringing and humming throughout what laid—
        against blonde grass from Sin was made.
Refraction's cast that betrayed—to promise me—
        endless nights of haunting harmonies.


V.

Held tightly in grieving bourne—
        broken—in new blood is sworn.
Across the snow-cover'd Evergreens—
        where the temptress grave is left unseen.

Not upon her kiss—did darkness fall—
        alone—in shining pieces did crawl,
Against creator—and thus creator hence—
        bitter loving shrouded by bare defense.

As her finite skin had laid eternal flesh—
        of what laid inside Pine's parting mesh.
Holding and crying out for uncertainty—
       feelings moaned into sudden Mercenaries.

Morose and fledgling in their stand—
        spiritéd to Death's light misunderstand,
Of peerless eyes and broken brooks by the sea—
        casting ruined cloth over our Evergreens.


VI.

Unfurnished dawn may scour for length of furnished night—
        quick—until mirroréd ebbed ocean does wrong.
To consume the idles of Man's afraid mind—
        fairest—lest His idles struck into divine.

Exclaiméd none tho, in archaic lust—
        deceased—firmest in high robust.
Where pleasure finds comforted pause—
        inside arched-back in neglected cause.

Betray the shallow grimace flee—
        and ethereal composed by the breeze.
Lies delicate delusion before sorrow—
        that shall thieve away the Artist's morrow.

And in thievery is where the Angels lie—
        angelic beasts with unlawful guise,
In courts—castrated by the throat—
        hardened in assumption by blackened elope.
Argument: A paramour in his youth reminisces upon the topic of attachment and devotion in his unrequited infatuation after having the harsh reality of yearning and his memories come across his frail mind due to waking up from a dream he thought of as being a nightmarish realm that resided in a deep sleep after an exhaustive and forlorn'd day. The poem appears in three phases: The false appearance of the admirer finally inside a catacomb of mutual love in bliss after a long-while of misery; the confusion and untouched heart slowly being composed inside a mixture of both love and loss; and finally, the innamorato becoming awake completely and being torn by the realization of the falsehood of his fantasies and wishing to be able to go back to his previous slumber and having the image return untouched and yet also having the horrific realization of having the aspiration of mutual love, seeing it, intellectually, as futile.

— The End —