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Ashe L Bennett Feb 2011
I don't remember, any more,
The exact shape of your hands
As I held them in mine,
Caressed them,
Memorized the length of your fingers,
The depth of your calluses.

I don't remember, any more,
Exactly your height, how much
Taller than me
You were, where
My head rested on your chest
When you held me tightly close.

I don't remember, any more,
Your scent, when we lay together
Creating our own
Magic rhythm,
Matching our heartbeats as we
Touched the sky, together.

I don't remember, any more,
The sound of your voice, calling
My name as though
It were a song
Within itself, a precious treasure
You valued with all your being.

And I don't remember, any more,
The color of your eyes, the shape
Of your lips,
Only...
How your eyes crinkled at the corners
And your laugh, as you told me,

"I love you."
Copyright by Ash L. Bennett, 2011
Don’t squeeze me so tightly
I can’t breathe
I’ll come out hissing and scratching
So ready to leave
Backed in a corner is not for me
Don’t squeeze me so tightly
I’ll leave

Don’t squeeze me so tightly
You got to let me run
I’m not the kind of woman
You can hold under your thumb

You’ve got to let me down to play awhile
I might run fast but I won’t go far
I’ll always come back to you
Right where you are

Don’t squeeze me so tightly
That I can’t breathe
I’ll come out hissing and scratching
You got to let me be me

If you will just hold me gently
You’ll still have the lead
But don’t squeeze me so tightly
I’ll leave
Copyright *Neva Flores @2010
www.changelfulstorm.blogspot.com- From My Capricious Heart
Tommy Johnson Dec 2013
You can hear the voices of our peers being silenced, ignored, shunned and distorted.
Staggering out of their bedroom doorways to the street corner to score a dime bag.
Bright, insightful millennials freezing in search of warmth from something to believe in that will encourage them to look forward to see another day.
Where our economy has made financial prudence clear when talking about education, yet price tags of university tuition's skyrocket.
The refused, the ones with hope but no money or scholarships; tread the streets with the echoes of electro house pulsing in their skulls.
Those who strip themselves down and shred their own morals to scraps just to find themselves and to see their own limitations.
Searching for answers to the unknown, to ascertain what they are, who they are and why.
Timid in high school, pushed along with nothing and no one to put their creative vigor into.
The squeakiest wheels that were never even considered to be given a good greasing.
Faculties giving them lethargic hellos on the first day of school, bestowing celebrated goodbyes to them on graduation day, diplomas in hand.
Now are the ones slumped over in a lackadaisical position contemplating how they can afford an education.
They work eight to ten at seven twenty five an hour Monday to Friday; and weekends staying in as not to blow their earnings.
Those who commute to university and balance a job with it, I applaud you.
The bewilderment of adulthood, the overabundance of pressure and responsibility.
Awakened from nightmares of lost opportunities, missed trains and lost contacts.
To step out of bed and splash water onto a severely distressed face and staring into a mirror with a despairing look.
Then hoping a bus to Garfield to bring back weight for all the embryonic smokers not yet at the point of make or break, just save up enough to pave my own way.
Gazing at the town on a roof top, chugging down the tenth…no…twelfth beer of the night wondering how this all happened.
Wild sensations of kissing an attractive stranger, the rush of touching on things never felt, tasting pleasures only the lucky have known.
The passionate, yet dissolute yearning for that ever eluding ******* adrenaline. Pounding, Pounding, Pounding until the culmination of energy has come.
Flip sided to those dizzying, tear jerking thoughts of suicide, annihilation of ones being, the contradictions of their faith in themselves and the people around them.
Unexplainable waves of anxiety crashing onto the shore of a diminutive island of optimism
Striving to look past the panic, the gloominess and fury that may or may not be present. But to remain composed and press forward to what awaits them.
Coffee keeps them going. Cup after cup, late night cramming every bit they can; into their caffeine driven psyches until the indisputable crash and failure.
Packs and packs of menthol cigarettes to calm their rattling nerves but at the same time killing them slowly. Their lives will seem shorter than the time it took to finish one bogey when death is near.
Marijuana induced ventures to run down burger shacks, laughing hysterical in the car ride, eyes heavy with a most ridiculous elastic grin extending from ear to ear. While inside millions of thoughts and realizations of consciously simple speculations and troubles become clear and unproblematic. So the joy is mirrored outside in.
LSD trips in Petruska dancing and singing in the rain! Making music, making love; playing pretend and creating art. Becoming a family while kicking back under the warmth of an illuminated tree on a cool fall night.
MDMA streaming through the body, everything is as it should be
Beautiful, lovely to touch, wondrous to stroke, marvelous to move.
To contact and connect, converse and converge with the dwelling desire to share what you feel with everyone for it would be selfish and unpleasant to keep it in.
Mushrooms oh the emotional overflow I need not say more but ****.
Then there are over the counter candies, Oxycontin, ******, Adderall and Xanax, painkillers and antidepressants. Ups, downs, side ways and backwards.
Selling addiction and dependency legally to kids. Making heroine, ******* and speed easily obtainable to them. Changing the names and giving out prescriptions so the parents can feel like they're actually helping their children but are subconsciously making it easier on themselves because they cannot handle the way their offsprings actually are. Some parents a feel it is the only way, I wish it wasn't so. Becoming zombies, mindless addicts before they even start to mature into puberty. I've seen it, firsthand front row.
Oh, the monotonous, mundane rituals and agendas of our lives. School, work, sleep eat, the sluggish schedules and repetitions of yesterday's conversations and redundancy of itineraries we had plotted months prior.
Same people, the constant faces of boredom that groan in apathy and hold the fear of complacency.
We talk about how hum drum out lives have become and what we could to put some color in our world but don’t.
We speak of how unfair the system is but ultimately confuse ourselves and everyone else due to lack or organization and dedication so nothing is changed.
We speak of breath taking women we want to share ****** fantasies with but can’t even muster enough courage to send a trivial friend request.
Texting away for hours trying to court those who now occupy our minds and possess our hearts hoping they may allow us to acquire their attention and affection. Calling them only to receive futile dial tones and know we are being evaded.
Weeping on and on for seemingly endless time frames of a dilapidated relationship that was so strained that a miniscule breeze could cause it to collapse but still clinging to every memory as if they were vital hieroglyphics depicting your very essence.
Brilliant theories blurted out in a drunken stupor.
Ingenious hypothesis shrouded in marijuana smoked out room.
Remembrance of friends long gone.
The marines, the navy.
The casualties of drug addiction.
The conquerors or their afflictions.
The scholars.
The insane locked away on the flight deck never to be seen again.
Teenage mothers unsure of themselves, abandoned by their families for they believe that they brought fictional shame upon the family’s name. The fate of the child is unclear but the mother’s everlasting love shines through any obscurities in its way.
Dear mother of the new born winter’s moon may the aura of life protect you and your baby.
The father gone without a trace.
He will never know his daughter.
And it will haunt him forever.
Parents bringing up their kids with values and morals, The Holy Bible, mantras and meditation, the Holy Quran, The Bhagavad Gita, and Upanishads. Islamic anecdotes and Jewish parables.
The names all different
The message the same
The stories unlike
Goals equivalent
Faith
Kabala, Scientology and Wicca
Amish and Mormons
All separate paths that intertwine and runoff each other then pool into the plateau of eternal life.
But do we have faith in our country, our government?
They do not have faith in us. Cameras on every street corner, FBI agents stalking social media, recordings of our personal lives and police brutality. 4th amendment where have you gone?
We say farewell to Oresko the last veteran of the last great war. And revisit the Arab spring, Al-Assad’s soldiers opening fire on innocent protesters, one hundred fifteen thousand lay dead. Bin laden dead, Hussein hanged, Gaddafi receiving every ounce of his comeuppance. War, terrorism, the fear of being attacked or is it an excuse to secure our nation's investments across the sea? Throwing trillions of dollars to keep the ****** machine cranking away, taxes, pensions, credit scores, insurance and annuities all cogs in the convoluted contraptions plight.
My dear friend contemplates this every night laying in bed, fetal position; the anxiety if having to be a part of this.
Falling apart on the inside but on the outside, an Adonis, *******, Casanova wanna be. Who worshiped the almighty dollar, gripping it so tightly until it made change, drank until he had his fill falling face first into the snow. The guy who lead on legions of clueless girls wearing their hearts on their sleeves not knowing he had a girlfriend the entire time. Arranging secret meetings in hidden gardens, streaking into the early morning. Driving to Ewing in his yellow Mustang to woo a sado masochistic girl. The chains and whips do nothing to him he is already numbed by the thrill. Then he comes home, lays in bed until one, with no job and having people pay for his meals.
He knows what he does and who he is wrong. He recites and regurgitates excuses endlessly. He cries because he knows he is weak, he knows he must fix himself. I sit on the edge of myself with my fingers crossed hoping maybe, maybe he will set himself straight.
My chum who can talk his way out of any confrontation and into a woman’s *******. Multitudes of amorous affairs in backrooms, backseats, front rows of movies theaters. Selfish, boastful and ignorant, yet woman fling themselves at him like catapulted boulders over a medieval battle field just to say hello. These girls blind to see what going on, for their eyes were taken by low self esteem. A need to be accepted, to feel wanted even only for fifteen minutes. Poor self image, daddy issues, anorexic razor blade slicing sirens screaming on about counted calories and social status. Their uncontrollable mental breakdowns and emotional collapse. Their uncles who ***** them, their parents who split up and confusing their definition of love and loyalty for the rest of their lives. Broken homes, domestic abuse and raised voices, sending jolts of fright into the young girl’s fragile minds. I send my sorrows to you ladies, to see such beautiful creatures suffer then be used and thrown away with the ****** that was just ****** deep into their *****.
Then I see women and men of marvelous stature, romantic in the streets holding everyone and everything in high regards. Finding beauty in anything and anyone. Enjoying every second as if the rapture was over head eating exotic foods from unheard of countries and cultures. Bouncing to the sound of whimsical , reverb ricochets and sense stimulating music. Huffing inspiration to create something out of thin air. Dancing to retired jazz and swing albums as if no time had past since their conception. Wearing bold colors and patterns, thrifty leather shoes or suede.
Dawning pre-owned blazers because why spend hundreds of dollars on new clothes just to look good but feel uncomfortable with a hole in your pocket. Dressing up but dressing down, so class yet urban I love it, chinos, pea coats and flannels so simple but chic.
At night they go to underground dens, sweaty bodies, loud music and freedom. Expressive manifestations glowing fueled with MDMA and other substances to further their enjoyment of the dark glorious occasion. Kandi kids sporting colorful bracelets, not watches for time is of no concern to them, they have all eternity they know that.
Going to book stores, coffee shops just to have some peace of mind and a moment of silence to themselves so that can weave the tapestry of imaginative innovation. Writing their own versions of the same story, endless doors of perception, reading news papers and taking it with a grain of salt. Watching the news on TV with a hand full of salt. Searching for the real story so they can know if the world they all live in is actually safe.
She who made her own way breaking hearts, rolling blunts and making deals. The flower child of the modern age, left the rainy days in search of radiant sunshine, idealistic. Reality was subjective, purple dyed hair, multicolored sweater with sandals on her feet. A ten inch bowl with bud from California packed in tightly. Coming from Dumont to Bergenfeild then on to Philly to Mount Vernon. Off to Astoria and the Heights. Now to Sweden laying in the grassy plains below the mountains. Good for you my friend whom I have loved, may fortunes of unsullied joy come to you and all you meet.
Since you’ve left I have encountered drunken burly firemen just trying to have a good time. Pounding down Pabst Blue Ribbon as if it were water; as if it were good tasting beer. But heroes none the less.
EMT's, young eighteen years old high school graduates, saving lives reviving people who are a mere inch close to death.
Sport stars getting scholarships thanks to their superior skills and strength.
Striking beauty school students who are into making the people of this world a little bit more beautiful on the outside.
All these people, successful, doing things. Departing to their desired destinations. I see inside them, they carry baggage, loneliness and insecurities. I can feel their guilt slowing them down. All have their loads but it’s the way they carry them that shows who they really are. And to me their all gems.
Not far in Paterson I watch the junkies limping across busy winding street, perusing a severely needed fix. “Diesel!” they shout beneath flickering streetlights, asking for spare change and if bold enough a ride to some shady sketchy place. I give them a dollar and politely decline. They’ll die without it. Vomiting up bile and blood, twitches and shivers are all you feel when it’s not in you. They cannot stop, they need help. Why not help them instead of “assisting” those who are homosexual? Cleansing so they can be granted entry to the kingdom of God. Looking down on people who have found love and understanding and a deep attraction to others who just so happen to share alike genitals.
Narrow minded uproars about the spread of AIDS, nonsense! The puritanical onslaught of those who want nothing more than the rest of us, love. "Gay", "****", "******", "queer", how about "kind", "funny", "genuine human being"? The right to be married and divorced should be an option for everyone to enjoy. The strains and hardships of matrimony are yours if you want them. If you don’t agree don’t hate or harm just allow them to be peacefully. Same goes for anything for that matter, Jehovah's going door to door, Mormons from Burbank. New ideas are never a bad thing, they’re not a waste of time. On average you have about eighty years to mull over your options.
Some people don’t live long enough to do so, cancer is rampant, blood diseases, ****** diseases, natural disasters coming right out of left field and blindsiding the innocent bystanders of both hemispheres. Some go through life handicapped, autism is apparent these days. Schizophrenia, Asperburgers, ADD and ADHD. Some lose their golden memories of their many valuable years walking down Alzheimer's Lane, not being able to remember whatever transpired only a few moments ago but revisiting gold nuggets from from fifty-some-odd years ago with ease. Some go through life delusional or bipolar. Some can't even sleep at night but they still carry on. And if assistance is needed it is our job as a race to help our brothers and sisters, no one deserves to be excluded from the gala of life. Or be denied by society and pumped with brightly colored pills from doctors promising a cure but prescribing a crutch.
Finding solace in sincerity.
The serendipity of it all hasn’t been uncovered and that keeps me going.
“Radiate boundless love towards the entire world above, below and across. Unhindered without ill will without enmity.” Oh Buddha the truth as it ever was.
Who is he who keeps these thoughts from the conscious minds of the population?
Who is it that distracts us from the humbling beauty and overwhelming devastation of this place of existence we’re in?
It’s they who do under the table parlor trick behind our backs.
Those who broadcast mind numbing so called reality TV shows without an underlying value or meaning.
Those who produce music, proclaiming extravagance to be the end all be all gluttonous goal we all should aim to achieve.
And those who turn noble causes into money making scams and defile pure ideas.
And of course those who give false promises of easily obtained  bright futures, those who don’t care, those who steal, ****, curse, bad mouth and lie. But still manage to get elected into positions that more or less decide out fates. Monsters, demons, banshees howling inconsequential worries and leaving us deaf to hear the real issues.
The
Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water,
You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a bunch of flowers, every day, between my hands.

You are like nobody since I love you.
Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.
Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars of the south?
Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.

Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window.
The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish.
Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them.
The rain takes off her clothes.

The birds go by, fleeing.
The wind.  The wind.
I alone can contend against the power of men.
The storm whirls dark leaves
and turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to the sky.

You are here.  Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry.
Curl round me as though you were frightened.
Even so, a strange shadow once ran through your eyes.

Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,
and even your ******* smell of it.
While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies
I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.

How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.
So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes,
and over our heads the grey light unwinds in turning fans.

My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
Until I even believe that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells, dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.
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.
Nick Stiltner Aug 2018
Horns of triumph sound,
showering the day with a golden glow!
Apollo in his blazing chariot rises from the east horizon, reigns in hand as he flies towards the stars with the morning light tethered tightly behind
his shining carriage.

Eyes long blinded ache from the coming morning,
the dew on the grass shines in radiance
and an emerging smile escapes from lips tightly held together.

A laugh escapes!
The head rolls back, the eyes begin to water!
A gasp for air, a friend held tightly to your chest!

The mournful songs of the lasting night fade to blurred memory, drowned in new light.
The flicker behind a smile that was lost in the white moonlight cracks open again, one that was forgotten deep within the darkened cave.

The first time come again!
A child’s giddy laugh tolls from a mouth set in stone.
A stomach full of nervousness, a mind that will not rest.
I exist on a single beam of light in between two oceans of stretching, black infinity, and I walk the line as a tight rope, balancing deftly with my eyes in the clouds, and a pen held tightly in my hand.

Shades of blue, the morning doves throaty coo,
each second leaps and bounds, elastic stretching and it’s twanging rebound.
The tension in the rope that can’t help but reverberate, and love in exasperation, shiver as the chills come once again.

Eyes met twice, a joy to be now with no questions asked, no thoughts but what the others thoughts are, and how long a moment can actually last.

Nostalgic tones of youths throaty chords ring through the dreary sea, sending the still waves tumbling and crashing, setting a tranquil man into motion once again, releasing the tension in a brow long furrowed, in shoulders tightly hunched, and ending the silence of a tongue held once too many times.

The Sun Gods booming laugh echos down the valley,
a reverberating sound that even the soaring eagle must stop and perk his ears too, losing sight of the mouse he had planned for breakfast, forgetting all but that musical tone.

When the light comes, when the dawning sun rises again, let your eyes water and overflow, let your heart swell and stomach twist, let the chills flow like the white capped river, feel the rapids of emotion that erode even the strongest rocks in the way of the current.

Now I am and I am now,
I bathe in the light and let a smile touch my lips, with my arms spread softly apart.
I take a deep breath of the cool morning air, filling empty lungs to the straining brim,
Oh, the first time come again!
Frankie Gestone Mar 2013
He woke up in a rapid sweat, darkness surrounding him, his soaked pillow was pressing up on his neck as he could feel the uncomfortable stabbing cold run right threw his whole body. His mouth was dry and his body was in great pain. He lay there practically naked, but not just physically, also emotionally. It was like a catatonic state where the person’s body is paused in reality, but the actual person is far away and isolated even from himself. He wondered why he was so comfortable being uncomfortable and remaining frozen in time.  He saw nothing but the subtle moonlight that peaked through the blinds of his window. A point of existence, he feels nothing because all he has ever felt has drowned him. His numbness was being accepted and he embraced that if he remained this way, he would never have to feel hurt or heartbreak again. It’s better this way, he confirmed.

Eventually he got up out of his bed, walked outside to a nearby empty field. He looked up at the infinite night sky and contemplated the moon, the stars, and the endless space that sustained all of its existence. A tear fell down his cheek as he remembered the beautiful wonder of life and the universe; his realization that he is just a small spec of dust compared to all that is and all that is wonderful. Whatever happened to that universal happiness he used to feel? The feelings of the unseen, the cosmos, the mysteries that remain unsolved were all love. He then felt ancient and brand new at the same time-always being around all that is, but recently born into the unknown. The silence of the night swarmed him, and he suddenly embraced all the things he could not accept. The lullaby of the wind put him to sleep.

When he awoke, it was twilight. The sky was a lighter, deep blue and the sun in the far distance was rising in a fiery halo of mixed red, orange, and yellow colors, and the early morning clouds were clear and transparent. He heard the sound of a train horn in the far distance. He followed the sound with his ears as the sound became slightly louder and louder. Then, suddenly he could see the light of the early morning train.

The train had stopped as he approached it, and he hopped on with no hesitation or looking back. This runaway train was going to take him to where he needs to be, and he blindly and faithfully accepted that his fate was out of his hands now. No more heartbreak, no more reminders of the past, and most importantly no more drowning in his tears. As the train proceeded to move forward, he could feel fresh air gently touch his face, and all that he saw and ever knew were now flashing lights disappearing into eternity.

It was hours into the late morning when the train made its first stop. He listened to the train conductor speak out over the intercom, almost incoherently, say, “This is Brightstone Park. Next stop will be Riverhead.” A nostalgic feeling suddenly came over him as he could remember that his very first kiss was in Brightstone Park with Jessica Garzi. That was not his first true love, but his very first heartbreak. Riverhead was a forbidden memory, as he knew a classmate who had committed suicide off the Riverhead Bridge. He had not returned there in five years because of his haunting memories that would always come back to remind him just how cold and frightening the world really is.

While lost in thought, he felt a rough, sand paper-like wet feeling on his forearm. He looked down and it was a black cat, but not all black. The paws were all white like socks, and the chest and stomach were snow white. The loud prominent purr was a very peculiar reminder of a cat he once owned. Her name was Midnight. She was not the friendliest cat to strangers, but she loved him, especially when he massaged her paws. This cat was practically identical to Midnight. Midnight was put down three years ago though. As he began petting the cat’s back, it ran away and jumped off the moving train. He looked out in a hurry, but it was gone. It was just like everything else he loved. There for one moment, then gone the next. The strange thought that has one wondering if anything had actually existed that is now no more. A person, or a thing, could mean everything to you, but once they slip away, they become like the wind: occasionally brushing up against you, but never revealing its form.

On the train he began to wonder how he got where he was, and in general how the smallest decisions he made lead to bigger events and all in all, everything was all connected. There are no isolated events, or isolated people- it is all proven fact and science. Everything depends on each other to survive. The trees depend on the sun to keep themselves alive; we give off carbon dioxide to the trees and in return, we receive the oxygen we need from the leaves of the trees. He thought about the potential of a seed-for example, a tomato seed. Within that tiny seed is unlimited potential of life: The seed may produce one plant of several tomatoes, and within all those tomatoes are countless other seeds. This is all from one seed. Then, one may take a couple of seeds from a picked tomato and plant them throughout the yard creating a garden. That original seed came from another tomato seed inside a tomato on a plant, and that seed came from another seed. When did this cycle of reproduction begin and when does it end? Is it just another form of the infinite? When a person eats a tomato from that original seed, he receives certain essential vitamins his body needs for surviving and sustaining good health. This good health will effect his offspring and so on and so on. When he defecates, that will all return to the earth for potential fertilizer used for other tomato seeds. This is the same when he returns to the earth again. His dust will fertilize the same world that he came from, for all things come from it just to inevitably return to it.

He continued to think about how matter is never created nor destroyed and the same for energy. Nothing ever truly dies; the form changes into something new, like how water becomes a cloud and the cloud becomes water. Though this comforted him, he noticed that a few feet away from him was a former coworker and friend, Natasha Karev. She always infatuated him and they became close friends, but he always wished it had continued and gone even further than it did. One night, only a couple of years ago, they were at a friend’s party. Both were drinking, but not so heavily. That night they bonded and got so close, that she admitted she loved him. He was never quite sure how real that “I love you” was, but it was burned inside his heart ever since. That night there were moments she would tell him how much she wanted to make love to another guy at the party, Kevin, but was afraid to approach him. She told him she desperately wanted to lose her virginity that night to somebody because she was eighteen and only getting older. This was like a sharp knife slowly penetrating into his heart. He remained speechless for quite a few minutes. Finally he decided to go up in a bedroom alone. To his surprise, she followed him up and kissed him. He felt her clothed body up and down, and she touched areas not many have touched before. She told him she wanted to have *** and that she wanted him to rob her of her virginity. He was speechless, but extremely excited. Then, abruptly, she told him she could not because everything was happening way too soon. Why couldn’t she just make up her mind? He sat frustrated in the darkness, again, all alone. After that night, they spoke and remained close, yet that night was never mentioned again. It was as if it had never happened. After about two years of an on and off friendship, they just went their own ways. There were no fights or disagreements. Life just separated them.

“You’re just a figment inside somebody’s dream. So far from reality, you are a dream within a dream within a dream.” Startled by this soft voice, he quickly turned around to see Natasha smiling at him. “Ha-ha! I knew I could scare you. Were you abused as a kid, or something?” No words could come out at that moment, but he hugged her tightly. She explained to him that she is getting off at the next stop to meet a friend. He was sure he wanted to follow her and see where life would take him. She reminisced and told him how she had been away inside her own cave for several months, but is now very happy to meet up with everyone she had lost contact with.

The next stop arrived, but he did not catch the name of the stop he was getting off. As he got off with several others, both he and Natasha met up with her friend, Valeria, who he found quite cute. She resembled Natasha a bit in that they both had ***** blonde hair and blue eyes. They walked right into a giant street fair with a crowd of people looking at the foods and desserts, the trendy clothes, cheap jewelry, and children play rides.

As he looked around, he began seeing many familiar faces. He saw Kevin, a childhood and grammar school mate there with another co-worker of his, Jenny. Jenny was a Colombian beauty in his eyes and who was a flirt and tease to him, but never actually gave him any time alone. Incidentally, he knew both of them at different times in his life and had no idea they knew of each other. Kevin stopped contacting him during high school without any arguments or disloyalties that would tear a friendship apart. Keeping his head down, he walked a few feet to discover another childhood best friend, Jack, who was with a mutual childhood friend, Melanie. Melanie was a best friend of his and also a first childhood crush who also had a crush on him. He thought it was odd because even though Melanie and Jack were also best friends, Melanie never liked Jack in a special boy/girl way. He felt a moment of heartbreak, but quickly turned away and kept walking. A little further up the road, he saw two more childhood friends, Chris and Jimmy, who as children did not get along that well and only hung out with each other in the company of him. How peculiar it was suddenly seeing them together after ten years, and as seemingly best of friends.

That was not all. Things were getting stranger and stranger. It was like all the people who had made an imprint on his life were now coming together around him. He saw his two therapists, one he had gone to as a teenager and the other as a young adult, stand next to each other selling prescription drug samples. Both stared at him with a blank face, but with a prominent smile. He could barely nod at them. Natasha directed them to a local bar. Inside the bar was huge and also had a second floor. He noticed the music playing in the background was, Nocturne In E Flat Major, Op.9 No.2, by Polish born Romantic composer, Frederic Chopin. He became fixated on the elegant eighth note, left hand arpeggios, and the sweet and peaceful fast moving seven, eleven, twenty, and twenty-two notes from the right hand. If he thought about the most beautiful song ever written and all that is wonderful in one, this was the song.

They all took a seat and began looking at people and laughing at their behavior. Everyone was wearing masks. Social masks. They observed how different people act when they are in social gatherings, and how if you carefully study their body language, it will become clear that what they are saying and trying to put out is not what is actually being expressed through the body. One young man was frantically shaking his right leg as he tried to flirt confidently with a young woman he had just recently met. His face began to turn noticeably red, in an embarrassed flush, and he was making sudden hand gestures and quick eye blinking. She, on the other hand, pretended to be interested in what he was saying; yet her eyes would often look around the room and her body was a good distance from him with her arms folded.

Then as they were all laughing, he abruptly stopped and looked ahead to see two drunken women making out two tables away from them. As his eyes focused in on them, he realized they were two of his former crushes, Claire and Veronica, who he had no idea knew of each other because in fact, they were from different time periods of his life. He began seeing former teachers and professors from each stage of his school career, laughing hysterically with one another. Some of his most inspiring teachers and professors were gathered with other teachers and professors he despised. A young, tattooed hipster woman entered the scenery with a little Cairn Terrier that had an uncanny resemblance to his recently passed dog, Petey, who was put to sleep when he was away on a vacation, unexpectedly. His sorrow began to overwhelm him for not being able to say good-bye and see him for a proper last time. Everything about the dog’s high energy, playfulness, and watchdog attitude was exactly like Petey. A tear ran and fell off his cheek from his left eye right into the hand of Natasha. He looked up at her and she said, “Your tears are my tears. For what pain you withhold, I take and share with you.” She then wiped her right eye with the hand that held his tear. Natasha’s friend began to speak slowly into his left ear in Russian. Though he could not understand a word she was saying, it sounded just like a poem based on the pattern and rhythm’s consistency. It made him feel free of melancholy, but then thought of Angela Antonaci entered his mind.

He thought that the last painful experience ended with the break up of his closest best friend ever to play a part in his life. She was his girlfriend for the last three and a half years. They had known each other for ten years before they broke up their entire relationship. She was thirteen and he was fifteen when they first met in a park. She was always all over him like a little schoolgirl and he would often get frustrated with her obsession over him, for he believed he was no big deal. She was the first person to ever make him feel special and important, and even though he would resent her likeness towards him, he could never keep his eyes off of her or stop himself from always coming to her when he felt lonely. After about seven years, he realized he was in love with her. He had always been in love with her from the first time they met eyes. His long road had always lead back to her home in life. Every time he tried forgetting her and moving on, they would meet again. That person people search their entire lives for, he had found.

He rose out of his seat and briefly said goodbye to Natasha and her friend and went upstairs. He wanted time to be alone and walk around until he suddenly saw Jessica walking towards him. He stopped and waited for her to say hello, but she walked right by him, as if he had never existed. He felt a little insulted, yet relieved as any awkwardness that would arise was avoided. Looking ahead, he saw Angela’s two best friends, Kate and Julie, with her high school crush, John. John was playing an acoustic guitar on a lounge chair, singing to the two friends, almost enticing them with his eyes and voice. His jealousy overcame him, as Angela had been infatuated with him on and off even though he had played with her feelings throughout high school and college. John would tell her he loved her and make her believe he was a romantic, then when she fell into his words, he would leave her and keep a distance for long periods of time, leaving her in despair.

The conclusion occurred to him that maybe she was nearby. He searched throughout the entire bar not finding any other clues that she was around. When he went downstairs, he saw Natasha and her friend asleep, as well as most of the bar, except for the bartender. It was like everyone just passed out from the alcohol or possibly inhaled some type of knockout drug. The bartender was watching the news forecast of a tornado watch and dangerous thunderstorms. The bartender looked at him and said, “It’s better if you stay in here. It’s dangerous out there. I recommend you don’t go out!” He just listened, but decided to leave to the outside anyway.

He walked three blocks through the heavy rain and strong winds. He took a moment to stop and look at the black and gray clouds above him. As he looked across the street, he saw her. She was with her mother, sister, and mutual friends of theirs, Chrystal and Mike. He also saw behind them, his own mother and sister. He ran across the street to her and she shockingly with excitement screamed, “Hey!!! Oh my God!! Please stay with us. I missed you so much. You have no idea. We have to get to a shelter away from this storm. Hold my hand…” Smiling, he kept walking with them. They walked for twenty minutes and entered a giant field. After ten minutes of walking restlessly through the field, they all stopped to catch their breath. Angela’s mom ordered everyone to hold one another’s hand. An enormous gust of wind pushed them all to the grassy ground. He began to shake violently as he felt the touch of death nearby. He wondered if this would be the end, as he felt unaccomplished and left with so much left unsaid to her. Thoughts raced through his mind like a speeding highway about how to get to safety. Unable to control and remain focused on one rational thought at a time, he blacked out for a minute.

Then there he was right in the middle of a storm. In so many ways, he realized where he was ending was where he originally began. All the imprints from all he ever knew came back all at once to watch him finally leave all he ever knew from this life. And in the last moments, he found himself with her. He held her hand, while she held his, and the hands of their family and friends. The world was so dark and cold. The wind became much more rapid and an enormous bright light from it came within just miles of them. He kept looking up at the dark black and gray clouds over them, never as frightened as he was now. His focus was on the great strength of the wind. Whatever melancholic thoughts he had of his life, he would not give up hope. Maybe he was just hopelessly hopeful, but holding each other tightly might, in some miraculous way, save them. Then suddenly a deep peace began to sustain his very being. He remembered whose hand he was holding- the only woman to ever understand every level of his being. He looked down at her big, precious eyes pouring out tears. Their eyes locked, as she had been watching him the entire time. No words needed to be said from one another. They knew exactly what they felt and meant. For the first time in his life, everything was all okay. All was beautiful. The whole situation was beautiful, not tragic. In that moment, he understood this was where he was meant to be. This was where he wanted to be, for only in such a life altering moment does one comprehend the very nature of love and life. To just glance into her eyes and see the same person staring back in suspense, while all he ever knew was being born, growing, and dying simultaneously in complete acceptance. They began to fade and disappeared into the light.
Veronika Nov 2014
Goodnight, the fire burns brightly
Goodnight, you kiss my forehead lightly
Almost paternally now
- We were lovers

Goodnight, clinging to the sheets by your side
Goodnight, heartache in this house tonight
Someday we will forget
- We were lovers

This distance will turn my blood cold
A grave look on a pale face of youth
If I could shrink the ocean to be close
Would you save me anymore
Love became an ugly truth

Goodnight, the fire burns brightly
Goodnight, I held on to the moment tightly
Almost in retrospect
- We were lovers
I'm on a train.

One of those red ones with black trimmed windows you can imagine rolling through the suburbs on the way to NYC. Not a subway car but a classier vintage with proper rows of cushioned seats and a lever to pull if there is an emergency. There are sparse shrubberies on one side of the tracks and the ocean on the other. Young trees and bushes stroll by.  A little wind is pushing off the ocean, massaging the car ever so gently back and forth as we move along. A gentle click-clack is on the tips of our ears.

We got on together. I hadn't known you for very long but the connection was stronger than anything I had ever felt or have since. You practically sat on top of me for the first few miles. Couldn't keep your hands off me,  staring in my eyes like you were searching for something lost but you couldn't remember what. The edges of your lips turned upwards permanently as if you were always at the verge of a laugh. You interlaced my fingers with yours and held on like you would be ripped away if your grip loosened for even a second. Slender fingers holding so tightly that they were becoming red.

You were excited to to be riding with me, about where we were going and all the things we would do when we got there. I would see you peer out of the corner of your eye, then lean over to brush your soft cheek against my budding stubble. Kissing and gently biting my lips insatiably. The suns rays coming in at an angle and lighting up your perfect smile and dimple.

I had to remind you we were in public.

I was lost in your blonde curls and the incense of your neck. I had fallen incredibly hard and so fast that my face hurt from smiling and my heart beat with vibrations I had never known. Not even a whiff of anxiety or neurosis. Some of the best memories of my life, as fleeting as they turned out to be.

I yawned and you put your finger in my mouth. I bent over to tie my shoe and you would poke my **** and laugh with your own reflection in the window, like this was the first and best joke of all time. Maybe it was and maybe it is.

The waiter came and informed us that a thing called "the bar car" existed. We both jumped at the idea. I didn't exactly notice at the time, during our excitement, but that's when the train started going faster and everything out the windows began to blur.

The bar car was a wild ride and we took advantage of our lo'cal. All kinds of fine wine, liquors and illicit substances were available. We tried them all. You were beautiful, your laugh infecting everyone around you, I was charming and held a captive audience.   It was a dark, loud and glorious blur. We were the life of the party and it chugged on till dawn.

We woke up in our seats, disheveled and discombobulated. It was dark out already. Did we sleep through the entire day? The train was slowing down, maybe approaching a station. The party was amazing but we were certainly paying the price for the black out. You moved over to the seat across from me to have some more space and lay down. I saw myself in the reflection. My hat, charm and smile from the night before had vanished. I must have left them in the bar car the night before.
      You had changed, beauty uninterrupted but different somehow. I couldn't put my finger on it. Irritated maybe? I invited you to cuddle and battle the hangover together but you ignored me. Like you couldn't hear me or didn't want to. I decided to let you be.

I got up to use the bathroom and thought I would go look for my scattered belongings. Maybe I could find a scrap of leftover dignity while you rested. I inquired to the conductor who directed me to the bartender in the bar car. He hadn't changed a bit, somehow untouched and unaffected by last nights antics that had effected me so dramatically.  Same black suspenders and white pressed shirt with impeccably slicked hair. I asked him what happened and if I had an open tab. While slowly polishing a rocks glass he looked up and made eye contact for a split second before looking away.
He said:  "Oh the bar car takes its toll. In the end we all end up paying one way or another". I still don't know what he meant by that or if he knew.
      I asked him if he found my hat and he said he would check the camera. We walked in to a small back room, while he was reviewing the tape, over his shoulder I noticed a tragedy.

We were drunk. I was going on to a group of new friends on one side of the bar, they were hanging on my words and I was eagerly explaining whatever nonsense they were drooling over. You were in the corner wearing that red dress I love, with your hair up in a tight bun. A few curls had escaped and brushed your high cheekbones, a thin line of pearls dancing delicately across your perfectly symmetrical collar. You were stunning and inebriated, swaying with each bump and motion of the train. A man wearing my hat put his hand on your side to keep you from swaying over and then he left it there.
I took a sharp breath.

It looked like you put your hand on his hand to move it but then it stayed and you both swayed together. As the air left my lungs and the blood drained out of my face I watched your lips touch the strangers. A small piece of my soul slipped away forever. I couldn't watch any further. When I asked the bartender how long it went on he fidgeted for a moment and uncomfortably muttered "quite some time". I never found my hat or the other part of me that left that day.  

The train slowed. I walked to the back, as far away from you as I could get, in utter disbelief. How could you? I thought to myself.
I mourned the loss of the you as I knew you yesterday, quietly and to myself. A tear  escaped my eye and rolled down my now fully formed stubble as I fell in to a random seat in mild shock. There were a few passengers back there so I had to pull together relatively quickly. After gaining some composure I knew it was time to get off. I knew we could never get back to yesterday morning though I would have said or done anything to do so.

The train had stopped. I went back to my seat and you were sleeping. I took my coat and gathered my things. The conductor looked at me confused as to why I would leave something so magnificent, I assume he had no idea what had transpired.   

I walked to the rear of the car and slid the door open slower than required. I stepped to the stairs and put one foot down on the step and the other on the ground. I stopped, rooted with my hand on the railing, lingering between two very different paths.
     I knew that it was time to get off, I knew this was the sensible thing to do, that I couldn't get past this offense regardless of how I had felt earlier the day before. The whistle screamed from the locomotive. The conductor looked at me and shook his head, I'm not sure if he was trying to tell me to stay or go but a decision had to be made.

The train lurched forward and I watched as the station slip away slowly. I sat in between the cars for a while and watched the ocean and birds. With a heavy heart and shoes I walked back to my seat. You were waiting. Crying. You knew. The bartender had told you. You didn't mean do do it, didn't realize what you were doing and thought it was me. He was wearing my hat and the whole world was blurry and dark.

I believed you. Self anguish mixed with alcohol was dripping from your pores. I knew you didn't mean it and were drunk, but could I ever forgive you or trust you again?

I loved you still.

I caught a glimpse of my reflection, a weaker version of myself looked back. As if an invisible chip in my teeth had developed and my shoulders lowered. The charming, confident man from the bar car the day before had been replaced. Something was off but not enough for anyone else to notice, just enough to know a change has happened.
       The train started to pick up speed again as we distanced ourselves from the station.  I second guessed my decision to stay but I didn't look back.

I found the man with my hat and punished him with a few blows in the dark. He knew he ****** up, apologized and took the beating like a man. I never got the hat back.

The engineer announced that we would be going through a tunnel soon and to turn on our lights and keep our hands in the windows.

It would be dark.  

We stayed away from the bar car for a while but the draw was irresistible. After a few hours we were there again but you never left my side.  Then you did. I was looking for you but you would disappear and not answer me when I called you name. The tunnel went deeper and darker and I didn't know where you were and I suspected you liked it that way. The train began to slow down again as we exited the tunnel.

I finally found you back at our seat, you had moved one row away from me. I asked you to come back, tried to hold your hands but you pulled away with vehemence. When I came back from the bathroom you had moved another row farther.
I knew I was losing you.
I begged you to return but you told me calmly that it was time for you to get off. At some point in the tunnel you had decided that you didn't want to go anymore . Your mind was made. You were going to catch another train at the next station.

When the train stopped I thought for sure you would reconsider but you didn't. Didn't even give it a thought. You just grabbed your coat and hat with one big bag under your arm. You kissed me on the cheek like a french stranger and were off. Going somewhere else on a different train. Just like that.

I rode the rails for quite some time by myself , many people getting on and getting off, passing me by. Every once in a while I would think I saw you at a station or in a **** though the window of another train. I often thought I could smell you but when I breathed deeper it was always gone. A ghost dancing on the edge of my senses.

A young girl in a headband got on the train. She was listening to headphones and dancing to herself as she bobbed along. She sat down in the seat next to me flashing a smile. She had a wedding ring on and I dismissed her immediately.  She didn't move from the seat or stop glancing my way. Eventually she confessed that she wanted to talk. I told her I wasn't interested but she persisted.  I hadn't talked to anyone on the train for quite some time and after some more mild persistence, I gave in.

We had a lot in common. We were both riding alone, desperately wanted attention and were thrilled to receive some.  After a few laughs she slid her hand in to mine and interlaced her fingers. I left it there. It was warm, comforting and wrong. She was married but I had been riding alone so long it felt good to have some company. She stayed and we talked. She was broken and I had a knack for fixing things. After a few hours of dramatic conversation I fell asleep with her head on my shoulder.

When I woke up  the train was flying up the track on the side of a mountain. Trees and rocks were a blur of green and grey. The engineer must be trying to make up for lost time I thought to myself.

The girl was asleep with her head on my lap. I looked down at her hand and the rings were gone. I woke her briefly to ask where they went. She said she didn't need them anymore and had thrown  them out the window.  She could of sold them, I said, but she said she just wanted them gone so she could be mine and fell back to sleep.  All of a sudden I couldn't breath. This train was roaring down the tracks, the once gentle click clack had become a loud hum. Suddenly too loud. This girl in my lap who had just gotten on the train wanted to stay. I considered her for a while as she looked up at me with big blue eyes, shining and wet, like a puppy in the shelter, terrified of rejection and desperate to be adopted.

At the peak of the mountain, just when the train began to even out, you waltzed back in to the car with a champagne flute in one hand and your bag in the other.

I don't know when or where you got back on, must have been a few stations ago when I stopped looking for you. Maybe you were wearing a disguise, who knows what you had been up to while you were gone. I'm not sure how long you were away but it was quite some time. That you had been through something was obvious, a new wrinkle had formed on your brow and you're once confident stride had changed to a cautious stroll. What actually happened out there I don't know.  I never asked and I don't want answers.

You looked at me and smiled. It was good to see that smile, like sun on my face on a brisk day.  You took a step toward me and then I looked down in my lap at the girl at the same time you did. I looked up. You and your smile were gone.

Everything I had begun to feel for this broken, head banded girl in my lap dried up like a puddle in  the dessert.  I quietly and gently nudged her awake and told her I had to use the bathroom. She put her head down on my coat and fell back into what ever trance she had been in, eyelids gently fluttering, eyes searching beneath them for what I would never give her.

I dashed up the isle and threw open the door, almost shattering the glass. The conductor glared at me and rolled his eyes as I barged past to the space between the cars.

There you were. Standing on the stairs with your head out the opening. The wind was blowing your perfectly formed curls around your head like a blonde explosion of familiarity. I yelled your name and you dove in to me. My senses erupted, my mind went numb as the train was nearing another station and I inhaled your essence greedily.

We moved to another car. I abandoned my coat with the married girl and never looked back. I hope she found what she was looking for. I  never could have been the answer she was so desperately seeking but I know I  helped steer her towards it.

You told me you had encountered some other people out there on the rails and they had reminded you of what we had when we first left the station. I never forgot.  

The train started to rock and get going again. We were back in the bar car and starting to brown out. We had to get off of this train right ******* now. In a desperate moment we looked at each other and put our hands, together, on the emergency brake cord. I looked in your eyes with your hand on top of mine. You kissed me while yanking down on the cord. Time slowed, the breaks squealed and everything exploded throwing luggage, people and the entire contents of the bar car in to a nondiscriminatory chaos . We got up off the ground, ran to the end of the car, dove off the side in to a soft patch of grass and rolled down a small incline. We watched as the conductor sifted through  the mess and interrogated the passengers, trying to ferret out the party responsible for pulling the brake. He spotted us off the side of the tracks and shook his fist while shouting every conceivable obscenity combination.

We laughed, held each other in the grass and kissed deeply.

We watched the train pick up speed and disappear in to the hills as relief spread over me.

You interlaced your fingers in to mine and we both looked out to where the tracks disappeared into the horizon, wondering how far of a walk it was to the next station.
Laney Mejias Nov 2012
i may not be strong
but every ounce of strength i have
i will use to hold you
as tightly as i can.

i may not be tall,
but i will take you higher than you have ever been
where there is no color, race, fear, or pain
and all is filled with beauty, love, and hope.

i may not have money,
but i am rich in love, and happiness, and soul
and i will share everything i have with you
each second i am by your side.

i may not have been whole,
but that was only because
i did not have my souls twin to complete me,
i had not yet found myself in you.
Nathan Jul 2018
Seductive wayward hands
Like silk, soft to the touch
Travel down her lustrous skin
Southbound too their destination
Lips, neck combine in passion
Warm breath on the neck
Turns into sultry slow kisses
She grips his hair tightly
Her soft moans reverberate in his ear
As his fingers glisten with her lust
Andrew Switzer Jun 2015
Opia. Noun. The ambiguous intensity of looking into someone's eyes, which can fell simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.

As you lie in my arms, watching the television, you don't notice that my undivided attention is focused on you. Something I've been dreaming of for weeks, and it's finally come true. Even better, from your angle, you can't see me staring into your eyes, so I don't feel the nervous compulsion to turn away. Whether directly or not, I could drink in your eyes with mine, for hours, and they would be among the best hours of my life.
Then there's the other hand, held tightly by trepidation. I love the prospect of your eyes staring into mine, but it's not without its fears. I'm afraid you'll see all the pain and fears that I've spent the past seven years working to overcome. I'm afraid you'll see all the insecurity and doubts I have about myself. I'm afraid you'll see all the words that I long to whisper in your ear, but can't, because I'm terrified of scaring you away. I'm afraid you won't like the fact that, behind these eyes lies only pictures and thoughts of you. But most of all, I'm afraid that, unlike me, who loves every detail, and lives for moments like these, you won't love the things you see. I long for the day when you stare happily into my eyes, but I'm frightened that you won't enjoy the secrets they reveal.
Styles Jun 2016
Wetter than any weather
the better the wetter
deeper than any sea
shaved perfectly; lovely
lips that tightly squeeze
my hard rod and pleasure me
plush gush running a stream
delicious taste; fulfilling my need.
Alyssa Underwood Sep 2017
There is little in this world that consistently causes our hearts more pain or which produces in us more need for forgiveness than rejection, especially from those whom it has cost us so much to love. It is universal anathema to the soul, and much of our lives can be unconsciously governed by the fear of it. So we find ourselves naturally asking, "Joy in the midst of rejection? Is that even possible?" Oh, yes! Not only possible but commanded of us who are believers in Christ. And not only commanded of us but ready to be gloriously bestowed on us like the most precious of pearls.

It's in the season of greatest rejection that we enter the season of greatest opportunity to discover the fullness of God's joy by discovering the fullness of His own heart. Walking in intimacy with Jesus through this searing pain may be one of the most priceless privileges of grace granted to us on this earth, for it opens up one of the widest doors for us to enter into the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, and there is no more obvious chance to die to ourselves and live for Christ than in that holy communion of suffering with Him.

It's there that we're most able to clearly see Him and best prepared to clearly reflect Him, and it's then that we're empowered to live our lives here on earth from the very throne room of heaven, seated in the resurrected presence of our Bridegroom, where the joy always runs full and over. So our deepest heartaches will turn to deepest joys when we embrace them for the sake of Christ, to gain Him and be found in Him, to know Him in intimate detail through excruciatingly sweet experience. We will discover that the Lord entrusts the most luscious of blessings and the rarest of secrets to the most desperate and thirsty of souls, and that He delights to place the loveliest of wings on the lowliest of worms.

The gifts of myrrh's sorrow which the Father pours into the vessels of our lives are poured first into the hands of His own Son and flow through His nail-pierced scars before they ever touch us. And as we choose to graciously receive them as such, we are filled up with Him and enabled to pour Him out into the lives of others, even those who continually scorn and despise us.

The gift (yes, gift) of rejection is the high privilege of being asked by our Commander to become His flag bearer, receiving the esteemed honor of marching beside Him at the center of the front line, into the heat of the battle and into the face of the "enemy" (the rejecter), armed with no gun and carrying only His banner of love over our head for all to see. It's a sacred invitation into a certain death for the sake of knowing His love more intimately and for the service of displaying it more gloriously.

And if tempted to refuse the privilege, let us remember these two things: this life is so much more freely, joyfully lived when we have finally learned to count ourselves dead to it and alive to Christ, and the flow of His agape love through us will only be as strong as what it costs us to demonstrate it. The greater the cost, the purer the love; the purer the love, the more we are made like Him; the more we are made like Him, the more attuned we will be to His own heart's breaking and to our own breaking of it.

Oh, that we might be purged of ever thinking again that our neglecting of His love does not matter to Him! May He cause our hearts to break and break until we see how much it does! May we know the world's rejection again and again until we are finally scoured clean of our own despicable tendency to reject Him in favor of all our worldly playthings! No lover has ever endured more rejection than our Lover at our own hands and by our own hearts. And no lover continues to love through rejection with the determination and desire, suffering and sacrifice, tenderness and tenacity of our own Bridegroom. Can we not endure whatever He has called us to suffer for Him? Can we not allow it to drive us more fervently to His heart?... Lord, capture us by Your mighty hand and consume us by Your mighty flame, and may we pant and pine only for You, for Your love sets us free to dance in the midst of the fire!

How humbling, mystifying and worship-evoking it is to realize that the One we have so grievously rejected is the same One Who so perfectly understands and longs to comfort our own heart's grief when we are rejected. And to not run to Him now for that fellowship of healing would be to reject Him all over again and to break His heart once more. What could hurt Him more than our stubborn resistance to share in both His sufferings and His comfort when there is so much joy and intimacy waiting to be had with Him? Whatever ache our own heart knows, however deep and scathing, it cannot compare to the ache of His own heart when we let anything pull us away from Him, for He is rightly EVERYTHING to us—Father, Husband, Lover, Best Friend, Brother, Confidante, Kindred Spirit, Counselor, Nurturer, Rescuer, Healer, Hero... Behind the pain of every rejection is a legitimate need or desire that He is waiting to fill in us, and we have to let Him get to it by dying to our fleshly ones.

Or do we suppose that we might ever find true and lasting joy apart from dying to ourselves and abiding in Him when He died so that we might fully live in the joy of that abiding? No, true joy will only follow abiding; abiding and dying walk hand in hand, and rejection throws open the door for all three. Man's rejection is central to God's wooing, for it shatters our false expectations of human love and stirs in our hearts the longing for a perfect one. So let us not shrink back fearfully from that which can do us such good and teach us to love as Christ has loved us. With renewed passion, let us ask Him to wrap every affection of our hearts more tightly around Him that every desire might be united with His own and that we might learn to love in a way that sets our lives and the world around us ablaze!

To be despised and rejected and, still, to love—that is the ultimate triumph of Christ in our hearts, for we are never more like Him, never more full of Him, never more surrendered to His heart and His work than when He pours out His love through us to those who will not love us back. When we can stand in the face of bitter, cutting words, contemptuous looks and shaming mockery and still love fiercely but with a gentle and quiet spirit, we will know without doubt that it is His Spirit moving gloriously through us... Lord Jesus, Who so willingly floods our hearts with Your most precious gift, Yourself (and You are Love!), teach us to ever know You more and to rely fully on the love You have for us and ARE for us in infinite supply. Teach us to feast on the abundance of that love, and let it flow freely out of us to the ones who would reject, scorn, mock and hate us, so that they too might one day taste and be consumed by Your perfect love which drives out all fear—Your infinite, immeasurable love which heals all wounds and fills all emptiness and gives meaning to all of our pain. You alone, O LORD, are able to truly and purely love through rejection, but You live gloriously in us, so unleash Your mighty waters through us. Your love is everything, for You are Everything!...

Our all-sufficient Bridegroom is able to work His agape love most perfectly in us when that love poured out to another is not ever reciprocated, for it forces us to finally let Him fill us with Himself alone and to rely completely on His love instead of on the love of another to meet our heart's deepest hunger. The need for His filling IS our deepest hunger, and so our soul comes most alive not when it is loved by our fellow man but when it receives and pours out Jesus' love to our fellow man, expecting nothing in return but more of Him. Thus His love is made complete in us whether they ever love us back or not, and the fear of their rejection is eventually driven out by His perfect and perfecting love.

Even if love is never returned...never even received...it is never in vain, for "love never fails." To love someone, though we mean nothing to them, may seem too cruel a burden for the heart to bear, but the only thing worse than not being loved is to not love, and so the greatest tragedy of love spurned or lost would be to stop loving. For to cease loving that which causes us pain would be to let the pain win, but for as long as we love, really love with Christ's own heart, no matter what else happens, we win.

Love without pain remains unproven and, therefore, is meaningless, but love through pain invokes nothing less than the miraculous and inspires even the incredulous. The purer one's love, the more pain it causes when it is rejected, but only continued love can redeem the pain of loving, and only a perfect Love can heal love's scalding wound; the more scalding the wound, the better primed it is to receive that perfect Love fully into it.

There is great romance to be found in unrequited love that keeps loving, though it is beyond any human emotion or fleshly capacity or mortal understanding. It is a most sacred mystery which cannot be grasped with the head or even the heart but only with the spirit, for it is a love whose connection to Christ remains unsevered. There is perhaps no intimacy to compare to it, for it drives us to Him like nothing else will. It is a love whose longing for the other gives us the greatest insight into God's own aching longing for us. Only when it has cost us everything to keep loving do we begin to understand the smallest fraction of the wildly extravagant love Christ has for us or of the brutally scandalous pain which it has cost Him, and it will leave us in utter awe of Him and in love with Him like we have never been before.

As our focus is turned more and more toward His love for us and toward all of our previous rejecting of it, we will come to clearly see that agape love and rejection have everything to do with the the hearts of the lover and the rejecter and nothing to do with what the beloved and the rejected have done or deserve. For obviously we have done nothing to deserve God's love and He has nothing to deserve our rejection, yet He never stops loving us and we keep rejecting Him in ways we can't even comprehend. No one has ever known more rejection than the only One Who is completely worthy of love. Every time we sin we reject Him in favor of something else, but still He loves us without fail and without end. He loves us because He is love and because He has chosen to set His love on us. We are absolutely and irrevocably loved and accepted in Christ Jesus, and nothing and no one can ever change or mar that love. Our identity is completely secure in Him simply because of Who He is and who He says we are to Him.

Therefore no amount nor depth of rejection by anyone changes anything about who we are in Christ or our worth to Him. We do not need any man's love or acceptance to validate our worth, for it has already been established in the heavenly realms by the only One Whose verdict carries any real and lasting weight. We are significant and precious and holy to God regardless of what anyone else thinks of us or says of us or does to us. What has their rejection got to do with us? Nothing, for we are His! We are chosen and we are beloved! And so we are freed from the fear of rejection when we see that it cannot define us or taint us in the sight of the only One Whose opinion or judgment matters. It's a glorious thing to finally care what no man thinks of us, only the Master, for then we begin to be free to love all men as He loves them and to pray with deepest sincerity, humility and fervor even for those who spitefully reject us.

And even for that one who has hurt us most deeply, who has crushed our heart and thrown us to the wind like chaff without so much as a glance back, we will pray, no longer with only a slight and distant hope that he would return to us but now with a passionate desire to see the prodigal return to the heart of the Father. We will pray, not with a focus on life with him but with a focus on life for him. We will pray for a total and glorious restoration of his life to Christ, even if we will never be there beside him to share in the fellowship and joy of his homecoming, even if we will never get to experience up close in this life the thrill of seeing the Lord make something beautiful yet of his ashes. And this may be the hardest and truest test of our love for him—this painful sacrifice of desiring his absolute best apart from us. It is a wrenching blow to our pride and to our will (not to mention our codependence), for we had so longed to play the Muse and to awaken that beauty in him. So we know we could never yearn or pray for this out of our own strength or wisdom; it is simply too painful to our flesh. We must be led into it and through every delicate step of it by our loving Redeemer, our Bridegroom, as if He were leading us out under a canopy of the starry host and into the most intricate and intimate of moonlit dances. And so we begin to pray and to dance...

But even wrapped in Jesus' arms we are clumsy, stumbling miserably over our own feet. The music is perplexingly unfamiliar and the steps wildly unpredictable, and our toes feel terribly pinched in these new shoes. Maybe this dance is just too hard for us. Maybe we are not yet ready. Maybe we should sit it out for now and try again later when our shoes are a little more broken in or when our heart is a little less broken apart. So we pull away...

But He tenderly beckons us back: Dear and beloved bride, broken-but-beautiful one whom I have made My own, do not push Me away now, not after I have brought you so far. I have many more secrets to share with you and so much more to show you of Myself. But you are not letting Me lead this dance, beloved. Why are you so rigid in My embrace? Why so worried over the next steps? Let go of everything and abandon yourself to My love. Enjoy Me...Follow Me...Lean into Me...Keep watching My face...Let Me move you however I desire us to go...Trust Me...Love Me. Shall we dance, then?

Yes, we shall and we do! As He draws us into Himself, into the prayer of His heart and the dance of His Spirit, and as we give ourself over completely to the impulse of His leading, the details of our words and the precision of our steps give way to the desire and passion of His will, and the pulsating of our heart swirls to the rhythm of His own. The further He pulls us into union with Himself, the more we find ourselves desiring this same intimacy-with-Him for the very one who has so badly hurt us, for we see how badly he himself is hurting without it. We realize now that his running away from us and toward another is just as much a reflection of his insatiable yet misunderstood craving for God as was all of our running toward our own idols (including him). Our soul aches for his redemption and his healing and for his lost sheep's heart to be brought out of darkness and into the marvelous light that shines from Jesus' face, that he might truly know the pleasure of knowing the One Whose pleasure he was created for.

Somehow, through this heightened and mysterious intimacy of prayer for him, we are now discovering a strange and new kind of intimacy with this very one whose intimacy had so often given us the slip, this one whom we had so long loved and lived with but failed to uncover at all, and the fresh wind of it drives us even deeper into the ache of God's own heart for him and for us. It is at the center of that ache that we are finally able to let go of the hurt and the man and leave the matter entirely in God's hands, understanding that the Shepherd's aching heart knows fully all whom He has chosen and will never stop dealing with or seeking after any of His own sheep. And so...


                        We release to Him with a heart of trust
                        This one whom we love and always must
                        We can let go the man and rest because
                        It's out of our hands and always was



But the dance, like the feast, goes on and on, and the more we dance and the more we feast, the more we heal. Our Bridegroom wounds us by His own providence but washes our wounds with His faithfulness and binds them up with His love. The wounds and their healing make us beautiful to Him. They teach us to know Him, to hunger for Him, to enjoy Him and to please Him. And they get us perfectly ready for that most glorious of dances and that most joyous of feasts which are still to come but, perhaps, much closer than we might dare to imagine. It is time to awaken, dear bride of Christ, and to break in our dancing shoes!
~~~


"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us."
~ 1 John 4:16-19

"And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
~ Romans 5:2b-5

"As you come to Him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
~ 1 Peter 2:4-5

"He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem.
Surely He took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by Him, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions,
    He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him,
    and by His wounds we are healed."
~ Isaiah 53:3-5

"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things... I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death..."
~ Philippians 3:7-8a,10

"But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

"For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ."
~ 2 Corinthians 1:5

"'Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets...But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you...Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.'"
~ Luke 6:21-23,27-28,36

"Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18

"You make known to me the path of life;
    You will fill me with joy in Your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at Your right hand."
~ Psalm 16:11

"I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."
~ Ephesians 3:16-21

~~~
Bella Jul 2018
Sometimes I get stuck in this state of Darkness
where my eyes can see
but it's like my head is just pitch black
and I almost wish I couldn't see anything,
like I wish I could just curl myself into a ball so tightly that I disappear from space for a while

sometimes I get stuck in this space
and I feel like my tears and my thoughts
are climbing up my esophagus and clogging my throat
blocking my airway
suffocating me from the inside

maybe I never told you I was depressed because who wants to relive that moment
that choking hazard moment of cotton ***** in my throat

maybe I never told you I was depressed because there are no words I can use to describe it that don't transform themselves into their meanings
that don't take over my mind
crawl through my head like little worms
eating away at my brain
my thoughts
my skin

have you ever thought of a traumatic experience and then felt those events happening again
felt the dark hole of life-threatening-trauma attack your mind
Shiver through your body
like it was a demon you let in through a memory-
through a word

maybe I didn't tell you I was depressed
because I wasn't strong enough
my depression fills me to the brim
fills my head and my chest
my arms and my fingers
I can feel it moving through my body
I can feel it expanding and engulfing everything inside of me
every last vein, nerve, *****, and tissue
how can you expect me to have the energy to fight
how can you expect me to have the energy to pick up the phone
to open my mouth
how can you expect me to have energy-to have the courage to utter the words of how I feel
I feel so worthless
in those moments I feel like there's this black whole inside me and it's consuming everything
it's taking everything but my skin
and it disgusts me

can you imagine the feeling,
having something so utterly repulsive on your skin you had to scrape it off immediately
It felt like you needed to be cleansed
like you needed a shower
take that feeling
now imagine it being under your skin
imagine, every muscle ***** vein nerve every cell in your body underneath your epidermis disgusts you
imagine all you wanted to do was to
GET
IT
OFF
and you can't
no matter how hard you try
you can't scrape it off
you can't claw It off

imagine you're scared of spiders
now imagine you're covered in spiders
and someone's holding down your arms
so you can't get them off
imagine them walking on your skin
in your mouth
crawling on your open eyes
in your ears
you're cringing at your own skin
You can feel them going down your throat
Their disgusting tickle in the pit of your stomach
in every crevice of your body
their tunneling under your skin
and you can't get them off
what are you supposed to do
but cry
My best friend's mom who doesn't believe in depression asked why I never told her I was depressed...
Matt Jursin Nov 2010
Science says that there's a mathematical equation that explains everything in life.

But I say that not even physics bears an explanation for...the guidelines of attraction.
Our primal reactions are multiplied in...the highlights of passion.

These laws of love that linger like a lanterns lost illumination...
Like the campfire light on a clear night, leaves coals of culmination.

Sweat beads lead to bare threads and bare bodies.
And oh my, how bare bodies lead to imaginations running wild.

Cold winds inspire warm kisses and close skin.
Sincere actions aren't sins.

Bodies wound in union, formed by light and tightly bound.
Together, these twisted vines penetrate the hardest ground...
Together, harmonic souls produce passionate sounds.
Yet, still somehow, love gets lost more than love gets found.

This equation is unending...like numbers off lips that kiss the air.
Body language spoken...Our physical bonds parallel eternity and pi squared.
And you know that every moment that we share is nothing short of...molecular love for the masses...
Now held captive by gravity and magnetism...

See, the last full moon marked retrograde...and if the moon affects the tide of the ocean...and our bodies are roughly 75% water...can we assume that this is the only body powerful enough to keep ours apart?

This gravity...
This pull...
It's pulling me apart...so let me pull you closer, stop pushing me away!
Hold on tight, dont let these planets drift away into a dark rift of decay.

Let your love lap upon this solid stone like a river riffles smooth sandbars into hills of higher ground.

Because baby, without your water on my beach...
I'm nothing but a desert, dry and deserted.
Love, the drug.
cecelia Nov 2014
the miniscule, crystallized phenomena
floating down on their zephyr gondola
to the little children's enchantment.
the wintriness nipping at their stamina
produced petite gloved hands pulling tightly at their jacket.
to rollick the day away was their only commandment.
fast forward a few years, and they'll be learning algebra,
their minds drifting away during lectures on parabolas
to the forgotten days of freedom; they lament
the loss of their fragile frostwork taffeta.
Xavier Dec 2014
In crowds of shade,
In the place near the start.
There is only one face.

And she said with her last ounces of blood dripping from her face, with the last gasps of air she will ever know…

“There is a moon, there is a sun, and there are the stars. You were the moon among stars, I was the sun chasing you around the world.”

The words poured out like my tears as I held her closer turning her chin so I can stare into her fading eyes...

“I may have been with all those stars, but they’re all the same. They burn out fast, so it won’t last. You were the star of stars, and I was chasing you around the world.”

I watched the glow from her face leave as it walked off with my sanity. I pulled her in closer, tightly, with all my might.
I was hoping I would be able to hold her so tight that she would become apart of me.
i just remembered when it all began to fall apart i was in mid-thirties weary of taking advantage of women i wanted to change grow become better person more compassionate find loving respectful relationship maybe marriage i knew i needed to step away stop

chicago 1985 Odysseus is a stranger to himself living someone else’s life does he really want what Mom Dad Chris want? is he lying to everyone else or himself? he snorts another line of ******* moves on to next girl in dizzy way he is having time of his life so much occasion to waste doors to open slam rooms to pass through “In the room the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo, and time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions” thank you t.s. elliott his ****** liaisons carry on from several weeks to several months begin with him adoring some girl or she adoring him little fires that burn themselves out for his part infidelity is rarely in question instead typically he or she feels let down by some personal response or character trait and simply stops calling in actuality no girl ever bothers to stick around they follow his lead and evaporate his mind draws a blank he wonders what do girls want? Deep inside he knows nothing in life is greater than the love of a woman he would have liked all those girls to be just one girl but she is missing where is she? occasionally he will run into one of his ex-lovers on street she wears an expression that hints why didn’t you phone me back? why did you stop calling? he suspects she is playing victim in self-satisfying charade in fact Odysseus crosses into new territory it is difficult to go back he hones his edge no longer is he wonder-stuck child possessed by curiosity for girls he requires **** and kink longer buildups then urgent bursts of effort drawn out climaxes nameless girl wearing tight jeans cowboy boots braids whom he meets in drake hotel elevator pushes stop button she ***** him off he has **** *** with tan-skinned french-canadian female tourist in telephone booth on north avenue gorgeous longhaired creole girl from new orleans ***** him on fire escape stairs **** *** with skinny punk girl in dark alley dutch foreign exchange student gives him ******* between parked cars on clark street weird awkward *** with goth girl in graveyard ****** by older blond woman who positioning herself underneath table in ritzy restaurant he has *** with chatty college sorority girl in jet lavatory he goes down on nerd girl wearing thick glasses in criticism section of depaul’s library he gets ****** ****** by perfect stranger in lake michigan each evening before he goes out prowling he looks in mirror wonders what strange female he will have *** with tonight it always surprises him what a person might not admit to or accept but allow or give in to if the right moment or if the right person is there not that he is particularly the right person rather he stumbles onto an astonishing streak there is the paris/milantokyo fashion model with stylish french haircut who possesses astonishing beauty perfect ***** and haughty temper after night of too many ***** martinis and ******* she announces “you and your friends are going nowhere  you’re all second-rate artist losers! and your cousin and his group are obnoxious *******” she flips him the finger then shoves him he shoves back resulting in dual arrests and domestic violence charges there is the tall blond stripper who totally fulfills his ****** desires once she lets him insert garden hose up her **** laughs uproariously as stream of water shoots out on another occasion she requests he *** in her *** he begins to believe he will marry her she insists she is too low class for his family one night she drunkenly hurls champagne bottle gives him black eye drives away crashes her car there is blue-eyed sweetheart with divine ****** loving touch who after months of sleeping with Odysseus confesses she is ******* some other guy and swears she will be faithful in the future she begs for his forgiveness as he loses it pushes her out door throwing her clothes after her one girl lights candles gives him full body massage ******* another girl holds him tight cries pushes him away one girl writes confessions with permanent markers on walls of closet another girl slaps him yells why? why why why! one girl runs to toilet pukes passes out on floor another girl sits up all night talking teasing never relieving him another girl falls asleep snores while he is in conversation one girl makes fun of small left ******* later gossips to her girlfriends he meets girl who will do anything except allow him to enter her ****** he meets girl who is professional escort she offers to do him for free she has lots of toys videos he declines they mess around she gets him off with ******* he meets girl whose ***** hair grows to mid-thigh she incessantly calls for her dog Bertram! he meets girl who shivers moans furiously cries laughs when he climaxes he meets girl with self-inflicted scars on arms legs who only wants it up her **** he meets girl who likes gagging deep-******* him to skull-**** her harder the better he meets girl whose ******* are so fierce she loses complete control drenching him sheets with her fluids excrement he meets girl who wants ******* squeezed so tightly he fears he will draw blood he meets girl who likes to talk ***** slaps his face as he is reaching ****** he meets girl with gargantuan ***** ******* as large as thumb she gurgles hot breaths later tries to steal string of beads he meets girl who enjoys lactating on his thighs while she gives him head he meets girl who knows how to contract vaginal muscles so tightly all he does is sustain ******* inside her in order to reach ****** he meets girl who pees tiny squirts while he penetrates her **** she laughs wildly he meets girl with furry mound who requests he **** on her as she masturbates he declines she reproaches him accusing you’re not nearly as freethinking as you pretend to be in fact you’re full of ****! he meets girl who wants him to act out **** they struggle he meets girl who desires to be ******* whipped he is not into inflicting pain he meets large strong girl who forces him he never tells anyone about incident he becomes mindful many females are more depraved than him women remain puzzle to Odysseus he is repeatedly astounded shocked can never predict about girl what her ******* ****** will look like whether she has eager *** or what are her secret desires he is explorer women are vast mystery he wonders are females as sexually driven as males? are they as vulnerable? is their **** like tiny *****? he speculates if completely unknown attractive woman walks up to any average man grabs his crotch many possibly most men will willingly allow it are women that weak? more than anything what most excites Odysseus is female lust handjobs are test of adequacy distinguishing character having masturbated thousands of times he thrills in having girl do it he delights in watching her arousal just staring at his ******* is captivated by method of her fingers hands revitalized by degree of her determination throughout he needs to ****** her ******* ****** *** titillated as she licks lips after swallowing ***** he realizes if he were female he would be total nymphomaniac yet he finds it difficult to imagine desiring men are all so like him women are so strange fascinatingly different he craves their otherness Odysseus loves women more than they love themselves smell sight of them sends him into frenzy problem is he fears their power over him

it’s been 25 years since those days i live alone for many years in tucson arizona have not been with a woman for long long time last relationship 2001 with crack ***** i hang my head cry wish for love wonder do i deserve to be loved pray to be forgiven
Brittney T Feb 2018
He lays me down
For the first time
And kisses me gently.
His hand moves gingerly
Down my side.
He does his best to
Keep eye contact
while I'm naked under him.

I feel appreciated,
Respected,
Cared for.

I can tell I can open up to him
About what I'd really like
In this bed...

I want those tender lips
To part against my neck
And hips.
I want those gentle hands
Clasped tightly around my wrists.
I want his anxious eyes
To explore his lust with me.

And then I want him
To give in
To take me

Pull me
Grab me
Bite me
Scratch me
Pin me
**** me

I'll tell him its okay to pull my hair
And show him the best way to do it.
I'll tell him its even better with bruises
Tied down, blind-folded.
I'll be dripping with sweat
While you drip wax. And
I'll be soaking wet.

But we've only been dating for a month. Guess I'll keep secrets
Until they won't scare him off.
Asha Nicole Jun 2012
Ginger twine wrapped tightly round his finger.
A slight smile across his even tighter lips.
Wound around his liquid thoughts
His twiney figers grasp the drinking glass
filled to the brim with sweet, sweet ice tea
Its rich brown shade mocking the color of the sky

It is here, in this place, where lemon lovers meet
You easily pinpoint the kind of souls they carry,
Simply by the shade of their sweet iced tea
And they carry that ginger twine, tightly wound
They carry that coil everywhere they go

Many ask if it is a symbol, or subliminally literal?
A invitation, or a silent and quiet warning?
But its just that ginger twine and sweet ice tea
I too, carry them everywhere with me
Golden in the sun, red in the mid-light
Circular and quite rough with deep rouge ridges
they're placebos of purpose simply right, simply true

If you wish to comprehend,shutdown all distraction
Then you will be here now and here you will stay
Humbly accept your ginger twine and ice tea
for that, my friend, is exactly happened to be me
and the way every sip slides down my thought
It tastes of determination, solitude, and hope
Oh how I love that ginger twine and sweet ice tea

Ginger twine wrapped tightly round her finger.
A slight smile across her even tighter lips.
Wound around her liquid thoughts
Her twiney figers grasp the drinking glass
filled to the brim with sweet, sweet ice tea
her rich brown shade mocking the color of the sky


Ginger Twine and Sweet Ice Tea
Wrapped tightly around me
BarelyABard Nov 2012
Is that what we wake up to every day?

Fast food and gas stations are forever stamped in the corners of my eyes as they are looking through the glass of minimum wage to the red flashing lights of a man hoping to get back to his children safely.

Is life is a pointed dagger then my blade is rusted and dull when I wonder why I even try some days.

Do I dare defend my pride and still demand something more than this? Is this a call for engines in the air or wings made of wax? Death would be more alive than waking up to another day of shampoo commercials and microwave dinners.

You are always whispering in my ear though dear and telling me that you're more than just a particle flown into my imagination from a world so oh very different than ours.

Are your eyes as bright as I imagine? Will the glare from them blind me from the tax collectors whip and will your laughter drown out the screams of onlookers who are throwing peanuts through the bars at my feet?

Will your kiss melt me and cause me to fall into wind like leaves in a storm, a tornado of color and beauty..?

I lay in bed and my eyes close tightly, my breathing slows and thoughts drip into pits men drown themselves in, the murky waters of nihilistic cynicism...

Though my hand will still not be closed around yours when the sun rises, the whisper lets me know you are still awake and searching for me too...
awallflower Aug 2014
Hope surges upward from your core and to the heart. It warms your blood as your heart crushes into itself twice every second and unbelievably, your mind starts to think of a million and one possibilities. Your hand tingles and finally, after what seemed like eons, you think you are feeling hope again. You start suppressing it out of reflex- an unconscious, uncontrollable action. You push it down, right back to the void it came from but its too late and your lips are curving upwards into a gentle smile. You anticipate euphoria -almost can feel it at the top of your fingertips and you finally let yourself believe and hope.

It comes crashing down without warning. For a second, you still smile because your mind could not process the disappointment yet. Then - hurt, sadness, shock - flits through your mind. You still hold on to your hope like a child who refuses to let go of candy. Your smile wavers. But just like grabbing onto handfuls of sand, hope will fall out through your tightly clasped fingers. You realised that your hold on hope is no longer and instead, it is replaced by cold, unforgiving reality.

Like an icy slap to your face, like an unexpected kick to the stomach, like a bite from a dog you have always love- that is how disappointment feels like.
my feelings are so poignant, i don't think i can ever express it adequately in words. but i tried.
Ooolywoo Oct 2016
I LOVE MYSELF
With all my flaws
In my Beautifulness,
In my mistakes,
In my weakness,
In my darkness.
I love myself, because I am worth it.
I am a high power person who can move mountains with my love, thoughts and dreams
I am good, kind, funny, full of life and love, contagious with my explosive energy
Some things may be equally essential but nothing is more important than loving oneself
And at this moment the love I have for myself goes above and beyond.
It could reach the end of the universe if I just unwrap it
I love me in my inane, craziest, sanest, beautiful twisted, darkest and funniest way
I love me in a way that no one does
I love me in my fullest woes
I am everything that I can and will be
I am frightfully proud of my flaws and proudly wearing them as no one is perfect
This is the start of a new journey to me
The journey of love and self acceptance
The journey to fully embrace and value my own self
I allow myself to fall in my stupidest and biggest way, just to get back up and catch my breath again
Failure will not stop me but make me stronger
I am fully seeing me and smiling at my imperfected and distorted reflection
Hugging myself so tightly, refusing to let go
The more I am spending time with me,
The more and more my love grows
Is it bad for my health ? I do not think so.
It’s true, I am better, happier, more free, powerful, at peace
The sun is shining on me
I don’t need no help to be beautiful, ‘cause I’ve got me
I’ve got that uncontainable light from within me
I am smoldering a treasure, sharing laughter, joy and sadness with myself
I have learnt the phases of myself
So distant from that little insecure girl I used to know
As I allow her opinions to matter
I have accepted her difference
Her different kind of beauty, I have learned to love
This feeling of wholeness, self acceptance, comfort and love, is liberating
I wrap myself around my contorted and beautiful else to form a ME
As I am, Raw and Real
Mak Jul 2014
The room was silent. The only sound to be heard was the slow, steady dripping from my mother’s IV.      

“What do you mean, you’re dying?”

Multiple Sclerosis was, in short, a ***** of a disease. Somewhere along the span of my mother's 35 short years on this planet, her immune system made a giant mistake. For uncertain reasons, her body began to attack nerve cells, severely affecting her brain's processing ability and mobility. The only medication that had ever subdued the symptoms was beginning to **** her.

“It isn’t an immediate thing, Makayla. I still have plenty of time.”

Turning away from my mother, I wiped tears from my eyes. There was no way in hell I was going to let my family see me cry. Absolutely no way. This was a joke. My mom was not going to die.

“Kayla, baby, talk to us. It’s okay.”

With a deep breath, I forced a smile, as I often did, and blinked away all traces of tears from my gray eyes. Turning around to meet my parents’ worried expressions, I simply nodded.

“How long?”

The question came out as more of a statement than a question. The morbid implication of those two short words spoke worlds louder than any words I could muster.

“5 years, at the absolute worst.”

At that, I stood, and left. I ran, and ran, and ran. I ran until my lungs hurt, and then kept running. But no matter where or how fast I went, I knew I could not escape the horrible reality of the matter.

The woman who gave me life was losing hers.

I was always the type of person who knew how to talk my way out of any situation.

And this time, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

There’s no sweet-talking death.

And with that, I began to accept her demise, and my defeat.

///

The first sip burned my esophagus, and I felt the blaze continue to my stomach, where it left a lasting warmth. I coughed a little, as the hazy feeling of drunkenness set in, setting my head spinning and my insides ablaze.

The past two months (52 days, 4 hours, and 30-something seconds) were a continuous downward spiral into a constant intoxicated state. Instead of addressing my feelings in the endless sea of counseling sessions and semi-sympathetic family therapy hours, I isolated myself. When my mother asked how I was, my reply remained the usual, “Doing great, mom.”

I was not, in fact, doing great. The alcohol wrapped itself into me, braided itself within my better sense, and I began to let myself fall apart. The wall I so often hid behind, the wall of perfection, of cool, was crumbling. Short, yet deep cuts lined my thighs, just high enough to be hidden by the hem of my shorts.

My mother had the opportunity to save her own life. Russian research had found a possible cure for the disease that had been plaguing her very existence. 3 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by a few months of intensive care, and she would be normal once again.

My mother denied the treatment.

“Too much money,” she said.

“Too inconvenient,” she said.

Compared to the life of my mother, no amount of money nor convenience mattered.

I was furious.

I was drunk.

///

My mind swam, speech slurred, fingers trembled.

My phone sat in front of me, propped up on a gray tissue box, which had been halfway expended due to that night’s waterworks. The Coca-Cola can which held my ***/coke concoction was long past empty. I was drunk, and screaming words like ‘sorry’ and ‘doesn’t deserve this’ into a pillow. I knew my mother deserved to live. Compared to me, she was a saint. I felt empty and pathetic. I deserved to die.

I convinced myself that maybe if I did something extreme, she would value her own life more than she did.

I held tightly onto the railing of my house’s only set of stairs, as I attempted to keep my balance. I walked drunkenly to the medicine cabinet, careful not to make noise and wake my parents. I grabbed as many pill bottles as I could carry.

Exactly 41 pills of assorted shapes, sizes, and colors sat in lines on my bed. Small to large, rainbow order. The comfort of organization wasn’t helping this time. I wanted to die.

Before starting my buffet of medication, my phone lit up. One new text.

“I know you were feeling upset earlier, and I just wanted to remind you that you are special. You matter.” I instantly felt even ******* for what I was about to do.

I laid down in bed, beginning to drown in my own tears, and let myself fall asleep.

Neither I nor my mother would be dying tonight.
Leah Rae Apr 2015
This poem is for the *******.
The ice princesses.

Solid and frozen.
Hearts carved from arctic stone.
Jaw lines so sharp they could *cut
you.
Girls so bitter, *they bite.


Leave your mouth aching.

This is for the evil stepsisters,
The Ursulas,
The Queens of Broken Hearts -

I’ll tell you.
They are deadly beautiful.

They are the bossy, and the terribly too honest.
Mouths on fire,
jaws snapping,
man eaters,
sirens of the sea,
they will swallow you whole.

When the boys ask -
Tell them, no, I don’t need saving.

**** being a princess.
Be the dragon.

Be fire breathing, and pmsing.
Be angry, girl.

Cause you got **** to be angry about.

Every cat call –
Every glass ceiling you will shatter with your bare hands –
Every time you say the word no and mean it –
Every time they make you feel like you anything less than powerful.

You tell them –
You are eternal.

That you carry a generation in your belly -
That it all begins and ends here, inside you.

That you can bleed for seven days straight and come back with teeth sharpened for war.

Remind them that that when something is taken from you, you will do everything you can to get it back.

You will destroy what destroys you.
Eating fire and spitting brimstone.
And never, ever saying sorry.

They will call you crazy.
They will call you over emotional.
They will call you loud mouth.

They will ask for your smile, pretty girl.
Give it to them with poison ivy lips and a razor blade between your teeth.

What no body knew was that Ursula was King Triton’s sister.
A perfect storm.
Banished from the palace -
When a loud, powerful woman gets out of hand, we don’t call it leadership.
We call her dog.
*****.
Bossy.
Fangs out and snarling, we don’t battle, we cat fight.
**** kitten gone wrong, when she learns to leave scars.

A dog, no not a dog, a wolf in heat.
Domestication is a ***** word.

***** is to know your worth, and take it.

To carry it in your esophagus.
A war cry.
Feeding your enemies to your children, and coming back starving for seconds.

Doing anything to stay alive.

Because you were raised by a mother who fed you fear for supper.
Packed your backpack with mace, and brass knuckles.
She told you to turn your body into a weapon.
She knew there would be men who would try to cover your mouth.
So she taught you to bite.

This is how you protect yourself.
A mouth full of *****, and a bark to match.
“Beware of dog” sign around your throat.

This is how you keep them away.
This is how you warn them.

Because the villain was not always the villain.

She was made that way.
You were made this way.

You’ve got brands still healing, still smoking, skin still searing.
You’ve got a trauma written in your blood.
You’ve got a ribcage holding onto your heart too tightly.

You are chasing down a revenge so sweet it could rot your teeth.
A heart attack romance asleep in your chest.

You will come back home limping after this war.

And you will tell all the other girls -

It ain’t all about the love story.
**It’s about the “being in love with yourself” story.
This is originally a slam poem, I am open to all feedback :)
Anticipating the Meeting
Looking for the sun to shine again
Longing to feel the tingles that come with a touch
Seeking the security of being in arms tightly tucked
Imagining the passion of your kiss
Wanting to feel a belonging
Needing to be needed
Desiring forever
Waiting for you to come to my door
Dreaming of the magic once more
This poem was written for my friend D.M.T.
We made the connection online.
We are meeting face to face for the first time in less than 48 hours.
Robin Carretti Jul 2018
The numerals II Sir I to another
alphabet
ABC* confession
DEF feared_***
My bowl spilled my
heart soup

Have Merci Beau-coup
The S was left alone my survival
Do you love my eyes primal
He points widely- tribal his
marriage finger my editorial
Be kinder strawberry sugar high
Do you want me to bite down
on my wafers
-I for the Ivy League his polo loafers

He's my (Lifesavers)
The bow and arrow I met my
dark sparrow what a rainbow
So intrigued my mystery arrival

Why on earth do you want me down?

To focus staying upright but kinda
Tight-Net gown

I am not a falling we have eyes
The face to face prize to be eyed
The Carribean
That Native American
Johnny Depp
When I make my first movie wish

The pirate birdseye rash
Al Dente ziti  Eggplant Parmigiana
The headless horse Dante always neighs
kills me on
Valentine day hearts lucky horseshoe

Eyes have frozen bird's eye
They thought I was
the sweet pea
He knocked me off
My Twitter tweets
  
I am the writer don't flood
My words everything is shaking
This is the Godly earth

So confused we feel-tightly squeezed
The earthquake head over heels down to our knees

She is sipping her tears down
In her chamomile tea thumbs up
The world is evaporating
like the dead sea
Bring everything alive I am
counting to 1*2*3*4*5

Down to my last words
I'm staying alive my life is more than
A Saturday Night Fever
But feeling down to my sunrise
Your heart deeply graved
I will betcha life has
more downs downward

Even when you wake -up upward

No way out of expensive
price tags we need to save
The give or take to remake
We need to finish not at
the end of the line

Where we were left off
Whats yours is mine

Sometimes you think
you are down
But life has you
well planted

To say I do
With his mind enchanted
Let me go up---++

The spirit is a complicated thing
I got wits to carry on anything

I need more guts
Now Bill said I do
Oh! No love me to please
me as I do

My Bill is always waiting
at the upside down table
Like the will-hunting
For God sake who is on first
Going up with the bucket list
Feeling down to adore me
You're going down Oh! Christ
Don't push my buttons
the elevator
I saw your Realtor
going to
The Skyline Hilton

I-O-U trillion hearts that were
down and wasted

Falling eyelashes no surprise
That stock exchange stars fault

Money lip up and honey
eyes down
Do you want this in singing
or shall we both go down
drowning

I'm going to wash that
man right out
? And sent him on
the way he's gone
The brainwashing Scientology
misery loves religious company
Like Humpty dump me
His "snoop dog so sad eating
like Pig whistle steak
Peeping Tom sales week
Anthony Perkins down to seek

The sprinkler shower
Hitchcock scene French Tickler
At Tiffany's Audrey
breakfast jewels Ruby
Hanky Panky pancakes

Like the Amazon in Prime
With fruit slashed smile
Love to love you baby at
Perkins eggs are dreamy
The shoot of ringlets hair screaming
Niagara fall and action roll fall down

You're a shade too hurtful
The red-brown chair or orange perk me
up the crown the Gala gown me

Life is so unkind why
do people smile
Going in and out the door
The rush the high like you could
mop her curls up but your hand down

Feeling inside the apple of the core

The teapot all fenced in pretending
The downspout- you're up-sprout
He's the roundabout -handle
A stranger is routing someone
is always cursing
You're going down

The game sports ball out
And your always looking
down at me when you
talk me out

Like a ring fight
falling black eye
Where is our coffee down
to nothing, she got a pink eye

Her words spilled over
upside down
pineapple printed dress

Having a breakdown
Do you want me down
I am the New York City girl
A clap of party hands
Uptown

A figure of speech when you get
lonely go downtown
To my number
address 13
what a lowdown
In the Wizard of Oz,
the  cowardly lion
crashed the window
My only lip Solo so low

My computer froze my red
rose wilted
I couldn't bring my smile
back to suit you

They were jumping for joy
Do you really want to
love a tomboy
Almond eyes of candy
Grease me down
Sandy
My pretty pink illegally
Blonde pill
Google on down with Bill

Joining the falling down crowd
But no one had a clue my face was
falling down all-stars feeling blue
When we're down and about or feeling all over the place the roundabout we cannot get over something that we go more down and down but be pulling our weight going up but who will fill our heart when you just about had enough
Jules Jan 2014
I just want to be held in someone’s arms,
tightly so I don’t break,
so tightly that nothing could ever catch me,
so tightly that I don’t have to be afraid,
so tightly that I wouldn’t mind if it
lasted for an impossible forever.
And so tightly, that even if the breath is being
stolen from my lungs, I am able to just  breathe.
To be with someone, is just a human
instinct; an irresistible desire, to be
irresistibly desired. It is inside all of us,
even inside the tallest of walls.
And to be just like that, for a long, long time,
and maybe feel, for just a moment,
that everything will be okay.
But as I search for the key, I realize
that I should never dream about something
that doesn’t exist.
And never will.
Helen Dec 2011
I held you softly
as you slept
I held you gently
as you wept
I held you tightly
as you screamed
I stroked your hair
as you dreamed
I wiped the tears
that would not dry
I cried the tears
you would not cry
I took the demons
in your head
and made them
Mine instead
I need to be
by your side
don’t turn me away
I am not your Pride
I am not your Pity
I am not your Sorrow
I am here Today
I am your Tomorrow
This is one of my oldest and most beloved writes. I never considered adding it to any collections until today. Considering this will be my one true legacy I leave behind, it is as relevant to me today as the day it was written. Enjoy :)
Mitchell Duran Sep 2013
We met on the stairs
Of a 15th century cathedral in Rome.
I was wearing my
Light gray suit that she later told me reminded
Her of the color of fresh volcano ash.

She - cut in half by the moonlight -
Wore red flats,
A ******* linen dress that
Effortlessly pronounced her *******,
While her oaken red and auburn hair
Lunged down both of her shoulders like
A waterfall or an avalanche,
Just touching the top of her belly button.

I, looking up toward the marble spires
Spinning into the scattered stillness of the nights
Opaque and cream colored stars,
Did not know she was hovering behind me watching me,
Until she had decided to speak;

If I had known, I would have ran inside.

"The cathedral is very nice, isn't it?"
I heard her ask to my back.
At the sound of her voice, I was not
Filled with that melodramatic cliché dripping
With soap opera fused emotions.

No, I
Was dipped into a large cauldron of ice-water.

There was a tremor
Somewhere
Inside of me and a heat
Ricocheting in her.

"Yes," I replied,"It is
Very nice and very old and I wonder why it is still here."

I did not know what I meant, but
From the pause and inhalation I heard immediately after, I
Believed she must have thought what was said profound.
Was I profound? Why would she believe that if it was only from
The spontaneous question that held no real physical weight? Or
From me jumping so quickly into this little

Game,

No question's asked?

"These buildings still stand because they
Are a physical memory of what we have achieved
And what we must continue to achieve
In the future
." She had come up beside me now.
Vanilla lavender lotion and mint
Toothpaste were the first smells that came to mind.  

"The future..."I said, trailing off, "The future."

"Yes, the future is very important."

"It is all we have."

"Well, all we truly have is the present, don't you agree?" I asked,
Slightly turning my head to look at her.

She was still looking up at the cathedral. She was focused on the large church bell
That hung there like the moon in the night sky. I continued
To stare at her, my question hovering vulnerable in
The air as a butterfly with its wings damaged would. Then, a
Couple passed by us in a hurry. Their hands were clasped tightly together, the man
In front and the woman looking to be dragged by him. I saw
Neither of their faces, but I imagined them both to be calm and red.

"They look to be in a hurry," she said, "Where do
You think they're going?
"

"Somewhere very important I'd imagine."

"And where is very important for you, sir?"

She turned
To meet
My gaze a

As if challenging it.

Her lips were full and painted with red lipstick. Where I thought her eyes would prove to be light colored or forest green, they were actually colorless and black. I inhaled at the sight of her, then immediately blushed. Again, our questions back and forth to each other were more of an interrogation of one's hearts and minds than flirtation. As she stared at me, I sensed that we had met before. There was something in her face that brought the feeling of an old friend or an acquaintance, like the feeling one gets when they see a past school teacher or love interest back in grade school. There was a warmth and giddy tension between us that made me feel eight years old again. I had felt so old recently. There was a sudden wink in her eyes and I then remembered the question I had asked her before.

"You haven't answered my first question," I stated seriously.

"I agree," she answered quickly, "The present is the only thing we have truly and
Do not have, all at the same time."

"What do you mean?"

"Being present 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is a very exhausting,
Trying thing,
Isn't it?

"Yes, I would agree with that."

"And being present for whatever reason, be it socially, romantically,
Professionally, etc., is really all for the future. One's own's private future goals.
Something one desires in the moment and wishes to have for oneself in the future. Our
Motivations are our desires. Our wishes. The lives we wish to own in the future."

"At times, yes, I do believe
One is present for those reasons, but
Sometimes, and I speak for myself,
I wish to lay back and let the sun burn my skin and
The clouds to blanket me, chilling me, so to remind myself
Of my placement on this planet and the miniscule and
Tremendous affect I have on my surroundings. For example...
"

"You are very talkative," she said cutting me off, "I could
Tell from the way you looked up at this cathedral all by yourself,
Lost in thought or lack thereof, that you were a talker."

She smiled and I forced a tight-lipped smirk.

"Well, I am
So talkative because you have made
Me so.
"

"So be it."

"It is so."

"Are you mad? she asked.

"Not the least bit," I returned, unsure whether I was lying to
Her because I didn't want to offend her and scare her off or because
She was so extremely beautiful.

"Well, I am glad that I can do that to you." She looked back
Up at the church bell, trying to hide her satisfied smirk.

"I have said too much. Let us both watch
The cathedral stand on her own for a bit in silence, ok?"

"That sounds good."

She took a step down from the step she had been on with me. Two steps.
There she let her head and hair fall back, taking everything in she possibly could.
I needed a drink and she needed the sky, the cathedral, the city, but I
Could only give her my company, unsure whether she truly needed it or not.
I shifted my glance from the bell tower to what was behind me. There, I saw
A wooden trolley up against the far wall near a trickling fountain
With puppets hanging from their thin clear strings. The light from the oiled lamp posts
Was a dark orange and cast an array of ****** shadows along the walls that
Encircled the square which me and the woman and many others were standing around. Night
Had set on the square, but no one had decided to go anywhere.
The square was perfect for them; anywhere else would have seemed uncomfortable.

She looked at me from two steps back and asked,
"We are being present for a better future, yes?"

"What we hope will be a better future," I said, turning
My head away from the bottom of the square back to the
Cathedral. I emphasized the word hope.

"Yes, men and women must have
Hope for something better."

"Life does not guarantee anything, does it?"

"No, I guess it doesn't. It gives you chance and we give
One another choice."

"Or," I hesitated to say what I wanted to say, "Or God does."

"God," she laughed, "What's He got to do with anything?"

"Everything and nothing, I hear."

"Don't be so vague," she grinned, turning her body completely around to me
So I could see her full figure. Her dress outlined a woman's body,
But I knew, inside, there was so much more precious things then flesh. "Hear
From who and where?"

"You choose what you wish to believe
And no one can tell you otherwise. What
You need and
What others may need can be different and should be.
This does not mean that we cannot get along.

Is there a way to be wrong in what one believes in?
She looked to want an honest answer, so I gave her one.

"Yes."

"That's it?" she asked, wanting more.

"That can't be it?"

"Yes is a decent enough answer,
But because you looked to be so talkative before,
I assumed you would have more to say on the matter."

"Assuming something
Is a very dangerous, childish thing.

"Yes," she agreed, "It is."

"If one believes in something and tries to share
Those beliefs in an unaggressive, listen-if-you-will,
Dangerously friendly, perhaps even musical way, then
The listener has their choice in the matter. They can

Walk away

No questions asked or feelings hurt.

"That," she said, "Sounds good for the listener,
But perhaps not so great for the speaker.

"
Why?"* I asked, surprised.

"Because then the speaker may turn into something
They originally did not want to be. A prophet or voice for something
They may honestly have no interest or passion for.

"I see."

"
But, please, go on."

"
On the other side, someone may believe in something fully, to their bitter core, but there needs to be a validation from another to prove their conviction. This is a weakness in their faith. They secretly doubt themselves and are trying to prove, by the obedience and following of others, that
Their belief, system, God, what have you, is a truth, a fact like the sky is blue or that fishes swim in the sea. These people with their thoughts and beliefs are the one's that are wrong. The one's that push their way onto other's without any room for being challenged or accused of falsity."

"
There are some that do not want follower's, but as soon
As they turn around, there they are.

"Yes," I nodded, "I can think of a few thinker's
That I've read or heard of that happening."

"
God, though," she laughed again lightly, "It
Is
Funny that you bring Him up."

I didn't have anything to say, so I said nothing.

"
Are you a religious man...?" she asked.

"
My name is Robert Commento and no, I am not religious man."

I gave
Her my name
Out of my uncomfortable stance on religion and
To change the subject to less formal and conversational matters.

She put out her hand and I slipped my palm under hers. I was
Never taught to shake a woman's hand - for it is too delicate -
but to let their hand rest atop mine.

I bowed and gently kissed her hand.
Her skin smelled of fresh milk and uncut grass and
What morning dew feels like across raw fingertips.
I tried to force myself not to trip too quickly into love,
But there are some things
Men are absolutely unable to do.

"
Luria Rose," she said, bowing her head, "Very ncie to meet you
Robert Commento."

"
And very nice to meet you."

"
You are from here?" she asked.

"
Yes,"* I said, "Well, not exactly."
"From a city over where the tail of the river ends."

"I know this place, but I cannot recall the name." I could see
She was embarrassed by not knowing the location, telling me she
Was obviously from Rome and proud of it.

"Cuore Tagliente," I told her with zest,"That is where
I am from and where I was raised. My family still lives there to

Manage their small farm of olive trees.

"Do they make very much money?" At this question, I turned
On my heel and stared at her. By her look, she seemed to be
Unsure whether I meant this in seriousness or in jest. So not to scare her
Off again I forced a smiled, left my eyes upon her as if viewing a painting or a statue, and
Answered as truthfully as I could without insulting the name of my family
In truth, I lied a little.

"They were very
Well off when they bought the
Olive farm and they are still very well off
Due to savings and the like, but, because of the business they sold
And the expenses of starting from scratch in the scorching fields of where olives are grown,
They took quite a beating financially. We are quite fine now, very, very fine now,
But not as fine as if we had stayed with the old company. In a way, we were
Asked very professionally and cordially to step down. Of course, my mother, bless
Her body and soul, was very destroyed by this matter and that is why I find it hard to continue.

Luria, staring at me blankly, but with a slight hint of fascination,
Walked up the two steps she had just stepped down and
Two more past where she had been beside me.
She swiveled around on her flats and faced me. Her
Eyes were now impossible to see in the night, though I knew she was
Looking directly at me. Curious why she decided to say nothing in return
To my story, I said something in her place.

"I say so much about myself...well, then, what about you?"

Instantly, she pounced on the question,
"I am
An orphan of Roma
And grew up on the streets stealing and
Running amok quite happily, though
Sometimes I regret what I stole. Every single one was a

Necessary action."

This took me back, for she looked tanned, healthy, and
Well fed, instantly making me think she must be a very skilled
Thief. Eyeing her up and down, I wondered if this was why
She was even talking to me presently. I checked my wallet. It was there,
Though this fact made me feel only slightly better. I watched her
Blow a thick, crescent moon shaped strand of dark brown hair from her eye,
Seeing if the story had settled. Was she lying? Was she telling me the truth?

Why would she tell me anything at all?

"Let us get dinner someplace," I offered, "You can
Take me to your favorite, local restaurant in the city and I
Will pay. No favors thought to receive or anything. All I'd like
Is to have a conversation through the night with whom I have in front of me."

She nodded, said nothing with a smile, and stood still.

"You must lead the way for
I have no idea where you would like to take me. I, of
Course can take you to any of the many restaurants
I know of in my Rome, but I want to go to the one the thieves knows of.

Suddenly, her face contorted into a shape like
A razor had been dragged down the length of her face.

She shouted,"Do not call me a thief, Robert!
Your a poor son of olive farmer's! What do you know about
Anything of the street? So much so that you can ridicule and
Mock whoever's from it? You know nothing!

I immediately tried to tell her I was teasing, but she ran past me, down the stairs, and across the square. I stood stunned, embarrassed to see if anyone had noticed this outburst. No one
Had. Groups of people were still sitting around the fountain, throwing
Coin into the water as some children played and dipped their toes into the
Clear, tranquil water. The puppets waved back and forth in a light, chilled wind,
And the lamp posts still burned casting a curing light over the square. There,
I saw Luria cast in the dark orange light for just a moment. She turned around to look at
Me in the light and there, I saw her eyes were not black, but sky blue, like
The fresh melted ice I had once seen on my travels to Antarctica. Then she was gone.

Pausing, letting myself be hugged by the cathedral behind me,
Half of me wanting to stay in her embrace and the other wanting me to be in hers.
I could not hug stone forever," I told myself, "Man needs to hug a woman
Into eternity, not the church. Maybe later in life, but now, man needs the physical,
Not the metaphysical. There, I see her as she goes through the alley behind the fountain on the
Path toward my favorite bakery, Grano Gorato. I will follow her and find her.

I ran down the stairs carefully for they had become wet and slick from the light
Fog that sometimes rolls into Rome when it is night. There, I moved through the crowd
Which looked to have double in size with people. Where had they all come from?
The alleys, no doubt. They all felt the warmth and comfort of this secret square with Her
Majesty looking down on them from above, the church bell and moon like two great eyes,
The tinted cathedral windows depicting ancient actions Her heart, and the hard square
Slabs of concrete and smoothed stone Her skin. But, Luria did not care for such comforts, She
Believed in no comforts other then the one's another could give. Did she want that from me?

Once through the alley and passing Grano Gorato, I swiveled my head three-hundred-and
Sixty degrees hoping to spot the white dress with the long brown hair. There were many
Women about, but none that were Luria. I sat on the edge of another fountain in a smaller
Square which I had found myself in. Inside the café in front of me, I observed an old man order
A glass of red wine and a mini-short bread crust filled with cream with bright, light green
Kiwi on top. It is was brightly lit inside and everyone was smiling, even the servers. Looking up
At the sign for the restaurant, I saw its name was Mondi. I made a note to go there with
Luria when I found her.

"Luria! I shouted. The name echoed about the numerous walls that
Surrounded me. A few tourists dressed in sandals with socks and cameras
Wrapped around their shoulders and "*****-packs" around their waists

(Terrible Things)

Gave me a concerned glance, but I continued to
Shout, "Luria!

"Yes, Robert?" I heard Lu
Brandi R Lowry Nov 2015
She weeps not for the shore
As distance creates a shadow
She embraces the current
Becoming the wave
And gently pushes her sea home

She chases not the sun
As the day is put to rest
She is the moonlight
That cradles the stars
Tightly to her *******

She yearns not
Her pain-streaked tears
That fall below her feet
She is the soil beneath her toes
Her pain now colors the tree

She worries not
The flowers' bloom
Or the leaves that fall like rain
She is the wind
That will kiss the ground
And sweep it all away
John Jan 2013
Back when I was about ten or eleven, the only friend I had was the most beautiful girl I knew. Her name was Jessica and her and I did everything together. In school we were inseparable, always chit-chatting before, during and after classes. So much so that teachers bestowed upon us the annoying, yet endearing, encompassing nickname of "Jackica" - a combination of our names; Jack and Jessica.
     I was so thankful for her companionship, and thinking back it might have been a pretty uneven relationship, emotionally. I was an overweight and awkward Harry Potter fanboy and she was a cute little auburn-haired thing who could've won any Miss America Junior competition in the world, as far as I was concerned. She had the most piercing powder blue eyes. The kind that made my skin tingle and mouth curl up into a stupid smile at any given moment. I felt like she saw me, like she really saw ME. Not the blubbery flesh that coated my muscle and bones but what I was made of, the real me. And I loved her for that.
     Along with Jessica's physical blessings, she was also given an insatiable appetite for adventure. She loved to go to the park at night,  after the gates were locked and when everything was drenched in darkness. We'd hop the five foot chain-link fence and roam around the grounds. We'd go the water at the edge of the park and sit on the rocks, look up at the stars and take turns telling stories to each other with intent to scare the **** out of the other one.
     One humid night in mid-June, Jessica told a story that succeeded in making my skin-crawl. She always told decent scary stories, she was gifted in the art of fabricating tales of fright right on the spot, but this story really got to my core for some reason. I just felt uneasy as the words spilled from her mouth to my ears and with each sentence my muscles tightened and strained just from the mere tone of her voice as she told the story. She sounded serious, and she rarely did, even when telling these stories, but with this particular one it sounded like she really believed what she was saying was cold, hard truth.
     What she said was that she heard a story that her older brother's girlfriend had told her. It was about a house on the outskirts of town, placed just a few hundred yards from the mouth of the woods that lined our little suburban utopia. She went on to say that in the house was nothing all that scary. She said it was an old house, a very old house, as it was a log cabin that was built in the 1700s, when the town was first being settled. Supposedly, everything in the house was just as it was back then, little kerosene lamps sitting on home-mad oak tables. The maple-wood floors would moan and creak at the slightest hint of any weight being put on them. And then she said that no one had lived in the house since the man who built it died, around 1785.
     Needless to say, Jessica wrapped up the story by proclaiming that we had to find the house. And we had to go inside and see for ourselves what was so creepy about it. Being the scared, chubby little wimp that I was, I immediately rejected the idea. There was no way I was going to try to find a place that would only succeed in making me **** my pants in front of a girl, especially the one whom I'd placed the delusional label of "future girlfriend" on.  But, as I subconsciously expected, Jessica talked me into it with just a few graceful words: "I'll kiss you if you come with me."
    
     The very next Saturday night, Jessica and I put on some dark jeans and t-shirts and took the bus all the way to the last stop, the edge of town. We hopped off and right in front of the stop the woods were already waiting, I took a deep breath as Jessica's eyes lit up. She took my hand and pulled me as she ran, me clumsily waddling along behind her all the way to a little dirt pathway that paved the only marked entrance we could see. She asked me if I was ready and I shrugged, saying something like "I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be." And so we started down the path. As the tall trees swayed in the wind, I dragged my feet with  Jessica always about five feet ahead of me, as eager as ever. We walked for probably ten or twenty minutes before the foot of the cabin was before us.
     At first sight, it was a very old structure. I'd never seen anything like it outside of paintings in my history textbook and this Abe Lincoln documentary I saw on PBS. I never knew houses like that stood the test of time. But there it was before me, two stories high with wooden shutters clad in severely chipped paint and a big oak door that looked stronger than any door I'd ever seen. Jessica took my hand again, smiled enchantingly and rushed me forward.
     Once at the door, I was speechless. It didn't look as old as the rest of the house and whoever made it obviously meant for it to last a very long time, taking extreme care in carving it out impeccably and sanding it until it shined with a professional touch. Without a word, Jessica rapped on the door. Three hard times, and when no one answered after thirty seconds, she rapped again, and again. She shrugged and turned to me, asked if we should just go in. I said no and she frowned.
     "There's no way we came this far just to go back home with nothing," and then she wrapped her hand around the rusted doorknob and turned.
     The door opened with no hesitation as she pushed it all the way in. She stepped inside, and I followed. The first thing I noticed inside the cabin was the creaking floors. They creaked louder and longer with each step, affirming that part of the story, making my blood run cold. We looked around, going from room to room with wide eyes. We were amazed that we made it, that we got inside and now we were actually investigating a place that no one else supposedly had gone before. Truth be told, though, it was nothing special. There wasn't much at all to see, save for a few tables, the creaking floors and some very old paintings on the wall. We were just leaving when we noticed something on a table nearest the big oak door. It was a metal box with a small lock fastened to the front of it.
     "We have to open it," Jessica proclaimed after a second of curious inspection.
     "There's no way were going to find the key," I told her.
     "So we'll break the lock, Jack. Duh," she replied in her sassiest tone.
     I just shook my head as she grabbed the box and began to furiously slam it in the wooden table. The sound echoed through the house, exacerbating it and making me shiver from head to toe.
     "I don't know if you should keep-" but my sentence was cut off my the lock flying off the box and clinking onto the floor below.
Jessica smiled again, very pleased with herself and looked to me.
     "Wonder what's inside...," She said, lifting the top half of the box open.
     After an initial and cough-inducing puff of thick dust subsided, the contents of the box were revealed. It was a letter, written on old-school parchment in heavy ink. In neatly laid Victorian script, the likes of which I had never seen so simultaneously neat and scattered, like it was written in a hurry or during a time of distress, was a love letter. Well, a kind of love letter. It was addressed to a woman named Tania and it was signed by a William. It told the story of how William had loved Tania since they were children, and Tania was now to be married to a Pastor named Hensley. William told Tania how he couldn't bear the thought of her ever being with anyone else and that the fact that she could never truly be his was killing him. Literally. He ended the note by confessing his plan to **** himself.
     I took a step back, but Jessica just stood at the table with her eyes glued to the crumbling parchment in her hands.
     "I'm leaving," I said after a few moments, mulling over the sorrow that this poor man must've felt. I headed out the door, Jessica following. The walk back through the woods to the bus stop I couldn't get this feeling of dread from subsiding. It seemed like I felt what William felt, but not in a sympathetic sort of way. It felt like I was William and the pain he felt was actually my pain. And then I noticed that, rolled up tightly in her fist, Jessica had taken the letter with her.
     "Why'd you take that," I said, sounding thoroughly upset. "That's not yours to take, go bring it back!"
     "No way. There was no way I was going there and coming back with nothing to show for it," she said, gripping the letter tightly, her knuckles almost whitening.
     I knew how stubborn Jessica could be and I knew whatever I said probably wouldn't even phase her in the slightest so I did what I did best and just shrugged it off. I found myself wishing I could shrug off the terrible feeling the letter put deep inside me just as easily as I could Jessica's stubbornness.

     Over time, Jessica and I lost touch, as kids of that age often do. I grew up, lost weight and opened up, making more friends and acquaintances, no longer hanging onto the thought of Jessica being my only love. I didn't talk to Jessica all that much. Just once in a while we'd meet up and have a chat over some coffee or pizza. We had both changed and morphed into young adults with different agendas and dreams and I had no problem with that. But on one such meeting, Jessica began to worry me. She said that every now and then she'd open her desk drawer and take the piece of parchment out and read it. Over and over again. And lately, she had been opening the drawer more and more, she said that she felt drawn to it. Like something about it made her feel this deep-seated dread that no horror movie or scary story had ever made her feel. She said that she felt like the letter was beginning to take a toll on her. And, by the look of her, it didn't seem like she was lying or kidding around like she always used to love to do. She had dark circles underneath her once striking eyes, which were now darker and had taken on an odd and ominous color. I was scared for her. And I told her so but she hugged me and assured me she was alright. I wanted to believe her, and I tried to, hugging her back and telling her I'd talk to her soon. But when she turned her back I knew something was very wrong.

     I'm writing this now because a few weeks ago Jessica's mom gave me a call. When her number came up on my cell phone, I think I knew, deep down, e actor why I was getting this call but I pushed the thought away and said hello. Jessica's mother called to tell me that a few days before Jessica had gone missing. The only indication to her whereabouts was a note she left with the words "cabin at the edge of town", and below that, instructions on how to get there. Her mother said she took the note and hopped in her car immediately, and made it to the cabin. She said she was breathless by the time she got to the cabin but forged on and barged inside and looked around. She said she found nothing and was about to leave when she noticed a small door behind the big oak door she had swung open to get inside. She opened the little door to find a stairwell. She climbed it, calling Jessica's name all the way, sobbing and wiping tears from her eyes. At the top of the stairs was the attic. And she said she almost died herself when she saw Jessica. She was hanging from a wooden rafter on the ceiling. And next to her was a severely decayed skeleton, dangling from a rope only a few inches away.
It's definitely more of a short story but I felt obligated to post it here for some reason.
Haylin Apr 2018
Wetter than any weather
the better the wetter
deeper than any sea
shaved perfectly; lovely
lips that tightly squeeze
my hard rod and pleasure me
plush gush running a stream
delicious taste; fulfilling my need.
It seemed the space between us became torn and
Profoundly distanced....................

Jamming bony knuckles and spread eagled fingers,
Lying their mapped out journey.....direction on point patrol....
Adorned by silver decoration, delighting in their skinned habitat
Shafted, deceit punching the recipient of the poison digits
Prodding and pushing their intent....dare you contradict
The intended carved out dose of punishment, Risk and
Safety......not yours and never would be; stooped
Down under the assailing bony palmed attachements
That delivered penetrating power, cupped around
Your arm til it became discoloured, pressure points
Backed you into a corner, up against the grain of the
Brick wall, cold and damp, the odour reaching
And scolding your nostrils with its stale internal vows
Refuse, stretching and protruding its foul remnents
An earlier life, when you were not under threat fades
Your very existance in jeopardy, your eyes pleaded for
Normality, willing someone to hear your silence, grip you
Tightly, not with malice, but with bravery and valour
Right now you need that shining knight, that white
Horse galloping down the blind alleyway, yet you
Know that won't happen for you're already sinking
To the floor, the blow comes sharp and stings, warmth
Exudes and trickles a path downwards, leaving your
Body, finding the cold concrete beneath you, travelling
Outwards................
Ashley Day Apr 2015
the Eyes are the window to the Soul
really?
a tinted window, perhaps
or one with the shutters Tightly drawn
a shattered window
a window into an Empty room
or one so cluttered there is no where to Begin

maybe the window tells us more than what is Inside
shyann raulerson Jul 2013
I heard faint noises downstairs, and I decided to investigate. I pulled on a pair of cut-off jeans and grabbed the old pump shotgun that had served me so well in Viet-Nam from under my bed and crept downstairs to check. My Ranger training came into play, and I moved soundlessly, down the stairs and into the living room. An air of vague shadowy figures were searching through the cabinet that housed my collection of antique silver. I announced my presence in a sudden and intimidating manner: I merely pumped the action of the shotgun, then immediately moved to the right so if anyone shot, he would shoot where I had been, not where I was now. That sound was a language that everyone understood, including the two figures before me. They froze, and were still motionless.

"Mr. Steve?" one of the figures quavered. "Please don't shoot!"

I recognized the voice as belonging to Lisa, the twenty-year-old daughter of my nearest neighbor. I didn't know who the other person was or who else may be in the house, so I kept the shotgun pointed in their direction and hit the light switch with my free hand. Immediately a car cranked up in my driveway, and tires squealing, raced out to the road and away. I looked at my midnight visitors. I recognized Lisa and Julie, who was a close friend of Lisa's and a frequent overnight visitor of hers. They were holding between them a laundry bag containing most of my silver collection. I lowered the muzzle of the cut down shotgun.

"You sure know how to get yourselves killed," I stated. "Mind telling me who was in the car? You don't want to take the rap all by yourselves."

"Please don't shoot! That was Mike, it was all his idea! He made us do it! He said he would put us out and make us walk home if we didn't do it! Are you going to call the Cops?"

Now I could understand why the girls tried to burglarize my home. It was a fifteen-mile walk home in pitch darkness on a moon-less night for the two frightened girls. It was just what a worthless **** like Mike would pull. Knowing what I did about Lisa's boyfriend, I knew what he probably needed the money for. He was nineteen; the only job he had ever had was selling drugs, and I don't mean at the pharmacy. He was a charmer though. Girls fell for his good looks and his charm, and would do anything for him, and he of course chose the best looking one of the bunch, Lisa. She never realized what a slime-ball he really was. The problem was that Lisa didn't have a father to threaten to put a bullet in Mike's behind, and her mother was just as deceived as she was.

"You broke into my house and attempted to steal my belongings. Why shouldn't I?" I said with false sternness. I wouldn't really turn them in, now that I knew the situation. I would give the girls a good scare, then a ride home. Maybe then Lisa would see through Mike's veneer.

"Because we'll do anything you want," Julie offered, speaking for the first time. "Anything at all!"

Julie stepped over and ran her hand up my leg, pausing to tweak the head of my ****, which was hanging out of the leg of my cutoffs. I hadn't bothered to pull on any underwear. Julie was almost as good looking as Lisa was. Both girls had fabulous bodies, large firm ****, and smooth well-rounded *****. Julie had a cute face, whereas Lisa was absolutely beautiful.

"Yes, anything you want to do!" Lisa agreed.

The girls weren't wanton *****, but scared out of their wits and taking the only way out that they could think of. Of course they weren't virgins. It hadn't occurred to me to take advantage of the girls like this, and I would have declined Julie's offer if she hadn't fooled with my **** like that. You see, I was developing an outrageous *******, and with my **** hanging down the leg of some fairly tight shorts, the situation was rapidly becoming painful and serious. I had to get those pants off fast! Also, I hadn't been laid in quite a while. I decided to lay my cards on the line.

"You kids know me. I never had any intention of calling the Cops. I was going to give you a scare to teach you a lesson, then drive you home. Does that mean the offer is withdrawn?"

The girls looked at each other and both breathed a sigh of relief, big smiles on their faces. Lisa winked at Julie. "Nope," Julie said, smiling, "It still stands. Lets go upstairs."

I escorted the girls to my bedroom, pressed the magazine block on the shotgun, pumped out the shell that was still in the chamber, then put it back in the magazine. I tossed it onto the dresser with a loud thump.

I turned around and both girls were stark naked. Lisa came over, dropped to her knees, and planted a wet kiss on the head of my painfully throbbing ****. My ******* became harder still. I had to get out of those cutoffs! Julie solved that problem. She unzipped and unbuttoned them and gently worked them down around my rock-hard ****, allowing it to spring up to freedom.

"Lets get on the bed first," I suggested, "Then we have fun."

"Lay down on your back," Lisa insisted. "Have we got something for you!"

I complied, and Lisa leaned over and put my **** in her hot mouth. Her tongue swirled over the head, ran up and down the shaft, and started over again. I looked over at Julie and she was watching avidly. Not having anything better to do with my hands, I reached between her legs and caressed her ****. Julie gasped with surprise, then spread her legs. Her **** was already hot and wet, so I slid my ******* in all the way, then started finger ******* her and massaging her **** with my thumb. Her **** hardened and grew. Julie had her eyes closed and was erotically tweaking her ***** *******. She was slowly lowering her body, deepening the ******* of my finger, and rocking her hips back and forth, intensifying the stroking of her ****. Julie's hot ***** juices ran down my hand while Lisa's mouth was still working on my throbbing ****.

I began to draw my hand from Julie's sopping wet ****, but she grabbed it and held it tightly to her crotch. I pulled my hand now, and she came with it. I grabbed her thigh and swung her leg over me, so she was now sitting on my chest. I pulled my finger from her hungry ****, grabbed her ***, and pulled her ****** right up to my face. As soon as I flicked her **** with the tip of my tongue, she went wild, ******* my face, filling my nostrils with the sweet aroma of her **** juices. I thought I would give her all the licking she could handle. I rammed my tongue into her ****-hole with all my might, then gently nibbled on her ****. Apparently she had a low threshold, as this was all she could stand.

"Oh God, I'm coming!" she screamed, ground her **** into my face one more time, quivered, then collapsed sideways onto the bed.

One down, one to go. I looked at Lisa, still ******* my **** for all she was worth. I was nearing the end of my endurance, and I still hadn't had my **** in any hot **** yet. I grabbed Lisa's shoulders and pulled her mouth from my ****. I turned her around and held her up, her blonde ***** triangle just inches over my waiting tool.

"Give it to her! Now!" Julie whispered.

Lisa's **** didn't look wet or ready to take anything in it yet, but my **** was ready to take some *****. Julie reached over and spread the lips to Lisa's still dry *****, and began tweaking her ****. Lisa gasped her surprise at her most private place being touched by another chick. Within seconds though, her **** and inner ***** lips began to swell, and her juices started flowing. I slowly lowered Lisa to my rod, admiring her glistening pinkness. Julie guided my throbbing rod into Lisa's wet love hole.

"Please, be careful! Ah-h-h-h! Go slow, I'm so tight!"

I lowered Lisa very carefully, for her hot ****-hole was indeed the tightest ***** I had ever felt. With that in mind, I fought the urge to slam her down on my eager ****. As soon as she was down, I grabbed her *** and began sliding her back and forth. Lisa bit her lip as a tear trickled down from one eye.

"Stop, Mr. Steve! It's hurting her!" Julie commanded. Then to Lisa, "You haven't done it much, have you?"

"Just once, with Mike, and he isn't this big. It hurt then, too!" Lisa sobbed. "I wanted so bad to do it with Mr. Steve because he's been so nice to me, and I was so scared when I saw how big he was. Oh, it hurts!"

"You'd better get up then." I reassured, "I don't want to do anything to you that you don't want me to do."

"I want to go on, really I do! But don't you have anything I could use to make it easier?"

"Yeah, any Vaseline, or KY jelly, or something like that?" Julie asked.

"I have some KY jelly in the bathroom." I answered.

Julie jumped up and padded into the bathroom. I watched her naked *** jiggle as she left.

"You're gonna have to get up." I told Lisa. I gently lifted her ***. She bit her lip again and moaned as my **** slowly withdrew from her tortured hole. With a pop from her *****, a shriek burst from her lips as my **** sprung from her nearly dry ****-hole. She knelt on the bed next to me, softly crying, clutching herself where it hurt. I realized that she had been wrong in pretending to be so eager. A more gentle approach was needed.

I reached over, pulled her to me, and kissed her lips passionately. She ****** once in surprise, then melted into my arms, returning my kiss, forgetting the pain in her ****. I ran my hand around to her firm **** and gently stroked her *******, feeling them harden under my touch. I pulled my mouth from hers and kissed the point of each hard ******. She moaned and gasped with each touch of my lips, but from pleasure this time, not from pain. While I had her aroused, I lightly traced circles on her tummy with my finger, each circle going lower and lower, until I finally reached the blonde **** of her ***** hair. Slowly, I reached down and cupped her ***** with my hand, being careful not to press too hard or insert my finger. I would know when she was ready for *******. She responded with a **** and a gasp. I pressed again, and she gasped again. I kissed each firm ****** one last time, then started kissing down her tummy to her love nest, which was now warming and starting to respond to my touch.

I spread her legs and gently ran the tip of my tongue the full length of her slit. When I reached the vicinity of her ****, she reacted as though she had been shocked. She arched her back, pressing her **** against my face. Maybe she was ready. I probed again with my tongue, harder this time, hard enough to separate her ****-lips and tickle her ****. She went mad again, jerking and twitching in response to the touch of my tongue, moaning and panting. Then I felt her **** harden, her inner lips swell and spread, and her delicious juices start to flow. Now she was definitely ready for more. I probed her ****-hole with my tongue, licked all the way up to her ****, swirled it around, bit it gently, and then probed her hole again. When I started doing all this, she went even wilder. She spread her legs, ****** and reared against my face, and pulled my head tight against her hot cooze.

"Oh-h-h-h-h, **** me," she moaned, "I can't stand it any more! I don't care if it does hurt! Please, please **** me!"

I put her throbbing **** between my lips and gave it one hard ****, drawing it completely into my mouth, and pulled my head back sharply, causing her **** to pop back. She screamed, ****** her hips at me, and grabbed her sweating *******.

When she had subsided, her legs still spread, I mounted her in the traditional position. I started to position my throbbing pole for a gentle entry, but Lisa released her **** and spread her ****-lips with one hand and guided my tool to her sopping wet ****-hole with the other. She was much wetter now than when Julie diddled her ****, wet enough to ****.

"Please do it now!" Lisa pleaded.

I began to insert my **** cautiously, and found that due to her juices, entry was no problem. Lisa groaned like a ****** as I slid into her hot wetness. When she had taken as much of my ten-inch tool as she could, I still wasn't all the way in. But she began pumping her hips, causing the swollen head of my **** to ram against the back of her *****. She was as deliciously tight as before, but she must have been stretching, for with just a few strokes, my ***** were slapping against her ***, and I was in to the hilt. My tenderness and foreplay had paid off.

"Oh-h-h-h, that's good!" she purred when I began pumping to meet her rhythm. She wrapped her legs around my waist, and was pumping as hard as I was. With each stroke, I would completely withdraw from her hot, tight wetness, then shove my eager tool back in to the hilt, never missing her voracious target, always sliding easily in, jamming against the back of her *****.

Her pumping increased in tempo, and I sped up to match. Each pump became harder and more frantic than the one before. Lisa's breathing became harder and faster. She was about to come, and I wanted to come with her. I raised her legs over my shoulders so that I had a better angle at the depths of her tight hole, and started ramming as hard as I could.

"Don't stop! I think I'm gonna come! Oh-h-h, its so good! Come in me! Oh, please, I want to feel your load in me!" Lisa screamed. She bucked and reared and screamed incoherently, then went limp. I continued to pump. In just a few seconds, she began to pump anew. For more times than I could count, she orgasmed.

Once I felt my ****** approaching, I gave her one last hard ram and drove my weapon in as far as I could. I came at this point, spurting her sweet, tender Steve **** full of my hot sticky come, like an erupting volcano. She gasped, trembled, and fell back to the bed. I pulled out my softening ****. Our ****** energies were spent for the moment.

I glanced down at the foot of the bed, and saw Julie, whom I had forgotten. She sat in the chair at the foot of the bed, her legs spread, working a coke bottle in and out of her *****. She had found the KY jelly, then found us ******* away. Feeling left out but excited by the ****** sight of her best friend getting a good *******, she slicked up the coke bottle and began using it as a *****.

I saw that Lisa also was seeing something she had never seen before, her best friend's ****, gaping open, a coke bottle almost disappearing inside it. "Look how far in she puts it! And see how big it is to go in her like that. How does she do it?" Lisa asked, amazed.

"Why don't you get a closer look," I suggested. "Ask her." Lisa crawled down to the foot of the bed and sat on the end, astounded, watching Julie *******.

Julie finally looked down, under heavy-lidded eyes and saw Lisa so close. "Why don't you do this for me?" Julie asked.

"How?" Lisa queried.

"Just do what I'm doing now," came Julie's reply. Lisa watched for a few seconds more, then pushed Julie's hand aside and grasped the slippery end of the bottle. "In and out, and twist it a little bit. Oh, yes-s-s, oh, yes-s-s. Do it good, oh, that's so good!" Julie purred.

My **** was hardening again at the sight of one female ******* another.

I had an idea. If Julie was as promiscuous as she seemed, she might not object to what I had in mind. While Lisa continued to work the bottle in Julie's stretched ****, I helped Julie out of the chair and down to the floor, her heaving **** on the floor, her *** up in the air. She stayed in the position, crooning wordlessly, **** juice dribbling down her thighs, Lisa still ******* her.

I picked up the tube of KY jelly that Julie had used, and liberally covered my ***** rod with it. Then I stood behind Julie, straddling Lisa.

"What are you going to do?" Lisa asked.

"Watch and see!" I responded. With that I grasped Julie's hips and aimed my **** at the delicate rosette of Julie's ***. Using my **** like a weapon, I suddenly shoved my tool in as far as I could. Julie let out a scream, tearing out fistfuls of carpet.

"Oh God, **** my ***! That hurts so good! **** me harder, give me all you've got! Make it hurt! Give me more of that bottle!"

"I'm ***-******* Julie!" I informed Lisa, who was now completely mind-blown.

I needed no invitation, and neither did Lisa. Both of us gave Julie all we could, Lisa with the bottle in Julie's ****, me with my **** far up Julie's clenching ***. Julie rocked back to take us both in, then forward, then back for more. I couldn't see

— The End —