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Bryan Lunsford Aug 2018
It is within an unusually warm and early spring night,
Here, where I begin to feel something ever so unusual while looking deeply into this goddess' eyes,

With her eyes like a pair of diamonds sparkling in the sky,
It's at this moment–in this part of the night–
Love simply didn't need a reply,

With candles lit,
As it's surely to her delight,
And with rose petals all over the bed–
That, surely, was to her surprise,

Though, right now,
Can you really blame me for having this nervous butterfly-feeling whirling around inside?

For this will be the first-ever night that I'll get to hold this beauty tight,

And for such a divine beauty,
Surely I'd make any sacrifice to make sure her every whim and need is perfectly sufficed,

Yes, with our feelings for each other that couldn't be more pure or refined,
I already know, without hesitance, our love would satisfy any god's most delicate appetite inside,

And although, this world may never know how I truly feel inside,
I, myself, know with certainty that I love this woman more than anything I've ever loved in my whole life,

Yet, with nothing more than the sound of crickets chirping within the night,
I proceed to lay this beauty down–
Here, pulling her close to my side (where I tell her)
"I love you, angel, good night",

And even though our love never did need a reply,
She said
"I love you too, sweet dreams baby, don't forget to hold me ever so tight",

And thus with this crazy, whirling, butterfly-feeling, again, that I begin to feel take over inside,
She rolls over unexpectedly and surprises me with a kiss to seal any other reply–
To only roll back over and close her eyes,

Oh, and in the midst of her every action–every move leaving me mesmerized,
She decides to move an inch closer to me,
(Where I wrap my arm around her thighs)
As it's also nearly simultaneously that I hear the clock's stride finally hit midnight,

With a chime that struck once–
Then struck twice,
I begin to hear a set of chimes strike–and strike until they chime twelve times,  
(As these chimes come from this evilly wicked, horrid and heinous clock of mine)

Yes!–with this clock being a clock that through time I have come to slowly hate and despise!

Though, this tower of a clock reminds me of its presence with not the tics nor the tocs–
No, only when the minute hand climbs and the hour's hand meets another notch,

As only then, within that second of the minute, does my mind's thoughts get crossed and rocked–
With my thoughts that become locked within a box
(As it'll be for the next sixty minutes)
I'll just lie there and remain distraught,

Oh, and you ask why?–
Simply because of this chiming noise that won't stop!

With these reoccurring chimes that take my sleep and make most nights a loss–
I can assure you that if I don't go to bed by one or two o'clock,
Any sleep for me will become more and more implausible by every tic of the clock,

Yes, nearly impossible–
For it'll be with the next four or five hours, I'll just lie there, roll, and toss,

Though this is a different night!–
As I'm reminded with our legs crossed and with our fingers interlocked,

Yet, here as I begin to feel the warmth of her body block and fend off any kind or sorts of lingering winter's frost,
I also sense that numerous candles are still glowing bright,
(With the sight of their ambient light flickering off of the bedside's wall from abroad)

And, within this room filled with sentiment as I hear not a sound at all,
I smell the candle's aromatic scents,
With the atmosphere within the air being ever so calm,

Until that is, I hear another chime of a ****–
With it sounding like a melody that's gone ever so wrong–
It's with this tower of a clock, right here, that has just let me know it's now the hour of one o'clock–
And one o'clock, right on the dot,

With only one lone chime that I heard–as everything then simply paused and stopped,

Though, within my mind and with these thoughts that refuse to stop,
I reassure myself–
Knowing that the time is only one o'clock,

For I know I still have an aplenty of time to close my eyes and make these endless lines of thoughts stop,

So to this brilliant mind of mine,
You know that it's clearly time to let these thoughts wander off,

Just close your eyes and let your mind stop–

Though, didn't I just say enough with your thoughts?

Oh, and I can see you might think a lot,
But clearly and obviously you're not thinking about squat!

So just stop or I swear to god,
If you don't stop with these god awful thoughts,
I'll have no other option than to smash and squash your head against these bricks outside of this wall and then leave you there to rot–

For if you don't stop this exact instant then I am almost certain your beautiful woman will become a loss,

And I'm sure you don't want that to happen again, now do you?

So just stop with these thoughts–
Quit fooling around and whatever you do–
Oh, and whatever you do,
Don't let this beauty see that crazed loony side inside of you,

Just fall asleep now and you both can wake up tomorrow around noon,

Yes, just close your eyes and count these sheep jumping over the moon,
And count them jumping one by one–then two by two,

Yet, between one and two,
Surely I knew I was bound to come unglued,
(With the loony that came right out of me as I hear a tune)

With a chime that struck once and then twice,
It left my mind to know not what to do,

Though, that doesn't mean I am confused,
With the duo of chimes that struck–
Only letting me know it's now into the minutes of the night that come directly after two,

And though,
As I begin feeling as if a disaster was nearing in soon,
Still, I knew not what to do–

Because I know nothing as I'm thinking of nothing and just fading away within the scents of her perfume,

(Where I begin fading away within this serenity and hearing not a tune)
I feel the weight of my eyelids begin to feel like a caving-in roof weighing at least a ton or two,

And with just one of a few wondrous thoughts still wandering on through,
I wonder
"Could this be sleep that is nearing in soon?”,

With this feeling of a wonderful tranquil sensation subduing and leaving my whole body consumed,
(As I'm weary and with clearly not a thought left in this room)
I take one last deep breath
(With my lungs swelling like a balloon)

And within a dream is where I have just entered into–:
UNTIL ABRUPTLY I HEAR A SNOOZING OF A TUNE!

Yes!–As I'm awakened and with the insanity within in me being let loose to roam throughout this room,
My mind, then, begins to shift back and forth (like something caught drifting between a typhoon and a monsoon)

Where realizing as I view that I've opened my eyes too soon–
With it being this beauty here of mine that is the one who is creating this horrendous little tune,

And feeling, as I hear–
With every single breath that she breathes rattling the room–the walls–and even the shingles upon the roof,
I feel my mind, here, completely coming all the way unglued–
For all I want to do is make everything within this room mute!

Yes, that's all I want to do!–

For I’m sure I wouldn't even be in such a foul mood if I wasn’t sleep deprived,
And if this beauty here of mine and her snoring roar weren’t the main culprits of keeping me, my mind, and this night alive,

Though, hearing with her roaring of a snore that is beginning to drive me crazy inside–
Yes, as she snores, there!–just an inch or two away from my side–
I hear with her snore only growing more and more–

As I, then, within this second, try to ignore a chord of chimes striking once, and then striking twice,
(With this clock striking three times to remind me once again of the time)

–With this night now being at least 3:03, 3:04, and could possibly even be 3:05,
I know this night is at the most three or four hours away from seeing the sun shine bright through my window blinds,

Oh, and surely I already know I probably would just close my eyes–
Yes, that's probably what I would do!
But this little beauty here of mine is worse than any set of chimes,

And surely indecisive,
(As I move the pillow over my ears while I'm consumed by an irritating form of fright)
I move my body a little to the left and then a few inches to the right,
Where I hear her demon's rumbling from inside,
And screaming as if they're trying to come out and fight–

(Which is where I begin thinking)
“Is waking her up really that much of a crime?”

For if she knew she was snoring at such a high decibel level,
Then I'm sure she wouldn't even mind,

And thus with my decisions that couldn't agree more with my mind,
I decide to slightly lift her head and wiggle her,
(As I nearly tickle her left side)

Whispering to her as I say,
"Baby, wake up, I just had the worst dream of my life!
Oh, baby, wake up, I just need to see those sweet little angel eyes!",

Though motionless–
There, as I try to keep my insane and crazy side inside,
My whisper begins to intensify to a scream
(As she refuses to open her eyes or give me a reply)

I continued to scream–SCREAMED!

"Oh, why, oh, why won't you open your eyes!",

And with her snore being the only reply that she could give me,
It literally drove me crazy inside–
Thus driving me as it drove me to climb on top of her body,
(Where I grab her nose and squeeze)

As it's within the silence and in this exact instant,
Instantly and unbelievably, I see I've hit a stride that I couldn't believe,

Yes, mesmerized!
And content beyond belief–
With her snoring, here, that has finally ceased–

–Casually, I proceed to climb off of her body
(Wherein realization I finally can go back to sleep)

And in the silence, again, as I hear not a peep,
I roll over, close my eyes, and before I could even count one jumping sheep,
I hear a roar once more coming from this treacherous little beast,

And surely with not a second more could I go without sleep,
(As this pillow, right here, has just become my best friend, and the most plausible way to get any sleep)
I decide to move this pillow over her face–with my exertion at first lacking any tenacity,

But what I'd end up hearing would be like a growl or a roar of a wicked beast,

With this sinister snore of hers only increasing more and more with every tic of my heart's beat,
I begin to feel my thoughts shift toward the sentiment of either insane or crazy,

(As my hands push with more and more of an intensity)
I begin sweating–feeling the smothering warmth of her body's heat,

Though, simultaneously as I hear her heart throb and knock an unstoppable and irregular beat,
I begin putting even more weight upon this pillowcase
(With a galore of my sweat dripping upon these sheets)

And surely I have to know,
(For it should be as obvious as could be)
That if I put any more weight upon this pillowcase,
I'd likely break through the toughest of the most unbreakable concretes,

And thus coming to the realization–
With this crazy side of me that has taken over and been unleashed surely not being me,

It's here, against the greatest of restraints
(As I'm barely able to climb off of her body)
I climb off and begin waiting within the silence–

Waiting and hearing not a peep,
Where seemingly prompting myself to say,
Here, as I speak!
"Good night baby–sweet dreams",

Though, I'd hear not a reply–
As a reply was something our love never did need,

Yet, as I roll over to climb under these sheets and close my eyes
(Where simultaneously it all has seemed)
I have fallen fast asleep within a dream while holding my sleeping beauty tight–

Holding her as I squeeze–
Holding her!–
With her heart that holds not a beat–.
Purcy Flaherty Jan 2018
Initially she began contacting me over the course of a year or so and increasingly over the last few months she started visiting me, helping me, caring for me and occasionally employing me in different ways.

She’d just had a break up a few weeks before, explaining that things hadn’t been right in the relationship for some time!

She presents herself as respectful, thoughtful, gentle, kind and considerate and after what seemed to be a very short length of time; unexpectedly declared that she had feelings for me; regarding love, admiration, desire and some other adventures.

She then began to bombarded me with love talk; occupying around 70% of my time gaining my trust, I was swept off my feet; she took a great deal of interest in me, learning everything about me, what I liked, where I would go, always asking what I was thinking feeling, how she could help and I was flattered and she was charming, though a little awkward at times.

As our friendship grew she started sharing her back story, including some tragic life experiences; she vilified her past lovers, and ex-partners and branded them as crazy, or bitter liars and troubled souls; slowly gaining my sympathy, whilst securing my allegiance, and keeping me on side; keeping me close; drawing on my compassion loyalty & trust!

During intimate moments she would sometimes seem a little awkward, false, over enthusiastic, or a little insincere and I made allowances for this given my knowledge of her backstory. Re: (The tragic life events & experiences)

She began to choose and buy me clothes; outfits, take me shopping, gradually altering my outward image and appearance.

She introduced me to her friends; but was careful to keep me and them at arms-length, I realise now that she was building an alternative profile of me in their minds and that the people she introduced to me rarely exhibited the behaviours or characteristic that I was led to expect.

She soon started to embroil me in her own rituals and compulsive behaviour’s, explaining that tasks needed to be performing in very specific ways to prevent her getting distressed!

She made many promises : ‘The hook’ It was my expectation i.e. waiting for some of those promises to materialise that kept me hanging on; This increased her control and exited her too. (None of her promises came to fruition!)

She gradually had a hand in almost every aspect of my life i.e. my home, my work, my friends, family, my finances, the way I dressed, the food I ate and many other things besides, much of which I didn’t realise until our relationship was finally over.

She often took immense pleasure in duping, individuals or companies out of something through theft, shoplifting, or getting something for nothing, a profiteer, a chancer!


To question or challenge her authority would result in seeing her façade slip and watch her decline into meltdown. It's at that point, she would lose composure, and I would see her irrationality come to the fore; revealing the real person underneath; childish, contrived and very fragile; It’s as if control is the glue that holds her together, without it she just falls apart, during this time she can’t be consoled and it’s impossible to calm this escalating situation; in fact at this point that she would attempt to regain control by ‘gas-lighting’ me, she would distort the truth; who said what; in an attempt to damage my self-esteem, to make me question my own mind, my words, my intention and any actions, apportioning blame, pointing fingers, making me feel guilty, use rejection, or using hurt, sorrow, tears, shame and even threaten liable or legal action, and then use *** to pacify or regain control over me and my actions.

These episodes would appear often; though irregular and without provocation, I would always be deemed at fault! I found silent compliance was less stressful than engaging in discussion.    

She never took responsibility or made any apologies for her conduct.

She would set me tasks and go out a lot and lie or bend the truth as to where she had been; I never challenged this behaviour!

When the relationship was finally deemed over! I was both devastated and relieved.


I began to see my new position in the cycle; as she immediately begin to vilify me in order to give credence to her new backstory, I felt very confused, disorientated and emotionally fraught, shell shocked! questioning, how much of our relationship was true and how much was a lie? For everything I thought I knew was now knitted together with a very complex web of loyalties, lies and half-truths.

Her pattern of repetitive and controlling behaviours have seemingly remained unchanging throughout all her relationships!; (I know! as I was contacted by many of her previous partners and other casualties since I shared this account.)

Within two weeks of being apart she told me that she had fallen in love (My replacement) someone she’d had her eye on for some time, some-one she admires, someone kept in the background, a friend a mutual acquaintance, and thanked me for bringing them together.
The grooming of her new lover would have come about in exactly the same way as previously described. It's her M.O. (Her pattern of behaviours, her techniques have remained fixed.)

She’s incredibly self-conscious, her biggest fear is that other people will find out about her true demeanour, her image and appearance is everything to her. She's afraid that people will shun her for being so very different. She is a wolf, that’s not a malevolent creature par-say; but you don’t want to be her pray.

Full circle:
I too have joined the ranks of the discredited; labelled a liar, troubled, bitter and crazy. (I Know this because secretly contacted members of my, family, friends and some fellow musicians; and they shared these conversations with me.) I suspect that she may even attempt to vilify me with authorities or threaten some form of legal action; as she has to others in the past!

I'm still drawn to her despite my knowledge of her sociopathic nature, and all the things that go with it, her charismatic boldness, her ****** power and her Svengali like intelligence.

I’ve had to block all means of contact and cut her off entirely to curtail my pathological interest, for despite everything that’s transpired, her lies, her infidelity, her deceit and appalling behaviour, I feel no malice towards her; quite the opposite, I'm drawn, intrigued, bewitched, beguiled by the person hiding underneath the façade!

Now the dust has finally settled; I’ve somehow remained sound of mind, and I don’t feel guilty anymore; I’m aware that I’ve been manipulated into thinking and acting in ways that don’t truly represent my character; and that I’m just one of many people seduced by a sociopath.

She’s just another natural human variant , an attractive person devoid of empathy for others, that’s developed a narrow set of skills and mirroring behaviours, that allows her to blend into mainstream society in order to feel safe, secure and in control.

She would have preferred to keep me hanging on, like many other dependants, adding me to the hareem; a bank of beguiled individuals that she occasionally calls upon to perform simple tasks, or to simply monitor and re-assess her handwork.

The last time I saw her she opened with nervous politeness and finished with veiled cruelty, I left feeling drained, uncomfortable and quite fazed.

I’ve written this account to help further understand what had transpired during this complicated relationship, I’m not sure publishing this account will be useful as to others.

But I’ve not mentioned any names; and at any rate the next person targeted; will ignore any pre-warnings as just bitter ramblings, and most individuals are driven by the natural pursuit of love, *** and romance rather than following advice of some seemingly bitter ex.

Bittersweet! The reason you and I might attract the attention of a sociopath is because we shine like stars; stars are both attractive and further enhance the image and status of the sociopath and the people around them; a sociopath will orbit a shiny star and use its energy to slingshoting into a larger more attractive orbit, either stealing a bit of its shine or destroy it in the process; To these people love, *** and desire is simply a tool for manipulation and gain.

Expect high drama.
She loves to watch you *** unstuck!
Cynthia Jun 2017
Unexpectedly, like a thief in the night
Depression will come
Anxiety
Anger
Despair will introduce itself
threaten existence,
testing
Faith,
Assaulting the most precious possessions
Leaving behind bitterness
footprints  
in the coldest nights

But none define whose you are

Don’t fight alone.....
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.
s Aug 2018
Hi there.
Sometimes it hurts to think.
I'm driving around in my hometown
I saw this old park that me and my friends would run and laugh and play at all the time.
We played cops and robbers
Lava Monster
Freeze tag
We acted like knights in strong armor and princesses with glittery dresses and we all slayed the dragons
Well now here I am staring at this old swing set that no one swings on anymore.
I used to think that I could touch the clouds with my feet if I swung high enough.
There is something so lively about a group of kids laughing and playing on a playground.
There is something so eerie about an old empty playground where no one goes.
That playground used to be so alive.
Now the swing creaks as it sways in the slight breeze.
You can almost hear faint whispers of the kids laughing from years before.
Now all those kids are adults with lives and responsibilities that are much more important than slaying a dragon.
The wood has splinters that get stuck in your fingers.
It is not shiny and fun anymore.
It used to be new
But I have found that everything changes eventually.
I wish people didn't leave so unexpectedly.
Anyways I am just rambling
but next time you see a playground
just try to look away.
it hurts to think too long
Bye.
I am so sad. So many people keep dying
Kelly Bitangcol Jun 2017
Let me tell you the story about the 6 people I’ve met. Let me just say first that they are famous. They are always talked about. But don’t envy me or feel anything bad, because don’t worry, you will meet them all too. Or perhaps, you have probably met them. You probably met some of them already. We all did. Now I will tell you the story of when I met them, of where I met them, and how I met them.



I first met Happiness when my mom bought me my dream barbie doll. I was so eager to have it and seeing my mom holding it made me feel.. incredible. I couldn’t explain it at first because I was so young, I didn’t know emotions yet but when someone named Happiness came, I immediately knew what I felt. Happiness stayed with me for a long time, happiness was with me during my 7th birthday when I had a party. Happiness was with me when I became the first honor of my class. Happiness was with me when I watched the Hannah Montana movie. Happiness was with me when I traveled with my whole family, when we were all together. To sum it up, Happiness was with me when I was young. And when I grew older, Happiness needed to leave. I begged Happiness, “Please don’t go.”, like Happiness was my father leaving us, like Happiness was my childhood friend moving to another country. But Happiness told me, “I need to.”


And then nostalgia came. Nostalgia came when I missed my barbie dolls. Nostalgia was with me when I was listening to Best of Both Worlds and all the memories of being a Hannah Montana fan came back. Nostalgia was with me when I was looking at the old pictures of me and my family. Nostalgia was with me when I was looking for my shirt and I suddenly saw my dress when I was a baby that reminded me of my childhood. Nostalgia was with me when I was missing what it felt like to have a complete family. Nostalgia was with me when I wished to be just a little kid playing barbie dolls with no worries in life. Nostalgia made me miss Happiness more, and made me wonder when will Happiness come back. And then Nostalgia left, and another person came. I was hoping the person would be Happiness, the person wasn’t.


A person named Loneliness came unwanted. Loneliness came the first time I had a failing grade. Loneliness was with my side when my friend needed to move to another school. Loneliness was with me when I was no longer an honor student. Loneliness was with me when my mom scolded me about my low grades and I locked myself inside the bathroom, alone, crying, and I didn’t have someone, only Loneliness. Loneliness was with me when I was growing up. Loneliness was with me when I was compared to other people, and they were better than me. Loneliness was with me when I lost everything. Loneliness was with me when I became a nobody. Loneliness was with me for a long period of time. Loneliness was like a friend who I never wanted to be with, a friend who I hated so much, but that friend won’t just go away no matter how hard you try, and no matter how hard I try Loneliness will never be a friend to me. But Loneliness told me, “Don’t worry. I will leave soon. I won’t be here forever.” And so Loneliness left.


And this strange, mysterious, indescribable person came. The person was named Love. And I thought, “Oh, so this is the famous Love.” I wanted to tell Love I wasn’t ready to meet you yet, but I didn’t know Love would come, Love came unexpectedly. Love came when I met you. Love was with me when you held my hands. Love was with me when I felt safe in your arms. Love was with me when I was reading Murakami. Love was with me the first time I wrote poetry. Love was with me when my best friend told me she would never leave me. I didn’t know why Love came, but I didn’t want Love to leave. But just like everyone and everything else, Love wasn’t meant to last.


And so heartbreak came. I met Heartbreak two summers ago when you told me you would leave me. Heartbreak was with me when I saw you with someone else that wasn’t me. Heartbreak was with me when I wasn’t accepted at my dream school. Heartbreak was with me when I didn’t win the poetry contest I worked hard for. Heartbreak was with me when my best friend suddenly became a stranger. Heartbreak was with me when I saw sadness and disappoint in my mother’s eyes. Heartbreak was a ****** person. I couldn’t wait Heartbreak to leave. But Heartbreak was with me a little longer than I wanted Heartbreak to be. And when Heartbreak will finally leave, I asked a question emotionally, “Are you related to Loneliness or what?” and Heartbreak responded, “No. As much as I’m the opposite, I’m the twin of Love.”


And a beautiful person named Hope came. Hope came when the storm was finally over. Hope was with me when I decided to write again. Hope was with me when I see people believing in my strength. Hope was with me when I looked in the mirror and told myself, “I can survive all of this.” Hope was with me when I watched the film Dead Poets Society. Hope was with me when I saw the most genuine smiles of my family. Hope was with me when I helped myself and became better. Hope was with me when I found myself. And I was hoping Hope would never leave.


But then I learned the truth about these 6 people. These 6 people, they leave, and they come back, in no particular order. Happiness came back when I made my family proud. Happiness came back when I met you. And suddenly Loneliness arrived again in the middle night, but good thing I was stronger now and I made Loneliness leave sooner. Nostalgia came again when I heard this one song that reminded me of my friends. And then Love, Love was here again. And Love confessed, “I am the only one who can be with you always, but sometimes another person makes you feel something more. I was with you since the beginning. I am with you every time you’re with your family and friends. No matter what you’re feeling, I am with you every time you’re with the people that mean so much to you.” And the horrible person named Heartbreak came back again, and as usual, it was ****. But I’m starting to accept Heartbreak’s presence. And I’m currently with Hope. I was with Hope when I attended my first rally last year, when I saw the people who can help change the world and make it a better place. Hope is with me every time I see people who help each other, even if they don’t know each other personally, even if they knew each other on the internet. Hope is with me when I see people never giving up. Hope is with me while I’m writing this piece. And when I knew the truth about these 6 people, I accepted it. I accepted the people I don’t want to leave will do, and the people I don’t want to come back will do. I accepted they’re always here. I accepted they will be here unexpectedly, I accepted that any of them will come sooner or later. And when that time comes, I will greet the person, whoever the person is, “Welcome back.”


*(k.b)
Quite unexpectedly, as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe,
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb—
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing—nothing at all.
WistfulHope Nov 2014
I am darkness, I am fright
The deep blackness of the night
Nothing seen, nothing heard
Unpopular thoughts, my spoken words
Invisible until you feel my stab
Don't play games with me, I'm a match to be had
What the hell am I doing?
Words are so complicated.
I don't know what this is.
Just pretend it's not here,
shhh, now.
Jon York Sep 2016
The tragedy of life is not death, but
what we let die inside of us while we
are here and know that people who
don't understand your silence will
never understand your words and
the only time you should look back
is to see how far you have come.

Sometimes it is okay if the only
thing you did today was breathe
and sometimes you want to just
disappear but in reality you just
want to be found because the
worst part about being strong is
that no one ever asks if you're okay.

Often in life we forget the things
we should remember and remember
the things we should forget and
sometimes we have problems in
our lives because of two reasons;
we act without thinking or we keep
thinking without acting and the
beauty of life does not depend on
how happy we are, but how happy
others can be because of you.

You can....end of story, so remember
to keep the ones who heard you when
you never said a word and what is
meant to be will always find a way
so be patient, the best things
happen unexpectedly.                                      
             ­                                               Jon York       2016
murielle lemaire May 2014
coffee.
we meet at starbucks and i can almost pretend nothing changed until i feel the distance in your voice.
i am calm and quiet. i did not expect this
yet here i am sitting in front of you as you explain how you feel (a rarity).
and you and i are alike in more ways than i realized before.

cantalope.
flying through the young night air
i feel alive and free and happy again.
i meet theresa j hanson. dancer, 19, long thin hair and long thin body.
she says she's heard a lot about me and i am surprised and i like her very much (or my first impression anyways) even though you told me that one time that you had *** with her and other girls would probably instinctively hate her. but i can't. she's just so nice and anyways that *** had nothing to do with me.
she gives us cantalope and me ice water.

cigar smoke.
we go out on the little apartament porch and you smoke the cheap cigar, the kind your grandfather smokes. get a red solo cup for the ashes and i found an old ***** butter knife out here. and we sit. and unexpectedly you say can we start over. and im shocked(you've suprisde me so much tonight) but so grateful and of course we can. you blow smoke rings and when you say whooo are youuu i cannot help but think of alice in wonderland and you are the smoking catepillar who asks life's hard questions and am i alice or the queen or the mad hatter or lewis carroll

coming back.
we reinact a a scene as if we just met and i kiss you as if it's the first time and that is how you will remember me and my lips are cold and your mouth is full of smoke and the kiss is fire and ice it's a wonder we did not steam. something so you'll remember me{i will never forget} and i guess we'll figure out on the way.
Michelle Graham Apr 2012
like a static shock i feel you
running up my spine
tingling the hair at the nape of my neck
something harsh and unexpected
but unexpectedly pleasant
snapping me back into the present
eyes freshly opened and wide
like a still from a movie
quaking on the bed
feeling my limbs tighten against you
something soft and yielding
but not fully, pressing back
pushing my core deep into the down
we fight for a moment
tearing at each other with teeth
with claws
with fists, open, closed,
before the tension breaks
and calm floods over us with
no slight pause, sending us both
reeling into oblivion, all extremities
stilled as we stare gasping into the
dark nothingness that surrounds us
heads thrown back and hands clasped
together as we slip away
floating no where, watching galaxies
being ****** into black holes
and stars exploding into limbo
before we find ourselves back
in bed, abruptly, chests heaving and
slick with sweat
where we try to put ourselves back together
fruitlessly
Jason Cirkovic Nov 2014
Is there tear gas in this room?
Because I can't stop crying
The gas crawls down my esophagus
And crushes my wounded heart.

“God this hurts”

I keep typing,
Praying to computer screen
That I'll forget the smell of your hair
I type till my fingers bleed
So I can forget what your touch feels like
How our lips fit perfectly together.

“God I hate myself”

The only phrase I think of
When I'm pleading for things to back to normal
Back to the days
Where you didn't want to to crack open my skull
And see all of the ugly things
That drift around my cranium

“Baby please I'm sorry. I’m a mess,
A klutz, who waltzes around with stupidity
Baby I get this feeling in my head
When you are not around
I want to keep writing you these love letters
By sliding them under your doors called your eyelids”
But I can’t

I sit alone in the bus called life
Looking across my seat
I see you, my love
Holding onto the bar
Your pretty Blue headlights
That make me drawn to you
Your pretty Blue headlights
Covered with the rain I caused
I'm a rain man,
you see, when people get close to me
I get scared
And force the skies rain to tears with pain.


The only thing that floats in my mind
Is that I hope the man of you life
Buys you flowers
Sunflowers especially
And shows up to your work unexpectedly.
I hope you can travel to Paris
and keep a long list of all of the countries
you've cuddled in.
With him.
I hope you he can handle seeing the stars
From your eyes every time you guys cuddle
Under the moon light.
I hope he can teach you how to slow dance
And I hope that he can teach me
On how to be a better man.
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.
Nigel Morgan Nov 2012
She said, ‘You are funny, the way you set yourself up the moment we arrive. You look into every room to see if it’s suitable as a place to work. Is there a table? Where are the plugs? Is there a good chair at the right height? If there isn’t, are there cushions to make it so? You are funny.’
 
He countered this, but his excuse didn’t sound very convincing. He knew exactly what she meant, but it hurt him a little that she should think it ‘funny’. There’s nothing funny about trying to compose music, he thought. It’s not ‘radio in the head’ you know – this was a favourite expression he’d once heard an American composer use. You don’t just turn a switch and the music’s playing, waiting for you to write it down. You have to find it – though he believed it was usually there, somewhere, waiting to be found. But it’s elusive. You have to work hard to detect what might be there, there in the silence of your imagination.
 
Later over their first meal in this large cottage she said, ‘How do you stop hearing all those settings of the Mass that you must have heard or sung since childhood?’ She’d been rehearsing Verdi’s Requiem recently and was full of snippets of this stirring piece. He was a) writing a Mass to celebrate a cathedral’s reordering after a year as a building site, and b) he’d been a boy chorister and the form and order of the Mass was deeply engrained in his aural memory. He only had to hear the plainsong introduction Gloria in Excelsis Deo to be back in the Queen’s chapel singing Palestrina, or Byrd or Poulenc.
 
His ‘found’ corner was in the living room. The table wasn’t a table but a long cabinet she’d kindly covered with a tablecloth. You couldn’t get your feet under the thing, but with his little portable drawing board there was space to sit properly because the board jutted out beyond the cabinet’s top. It was the right length and its depth was OK, enough space for the board and, next to it, his laptop computer. On the floor beside his chair he placed a few of his reference scores and a box of necessary ‘bits’.
 
The room had two large sofas, an equally large television, some unexplainable and instantly dismissible items of decoration, a standard lamp, and a wood burning stove. The stove was wonderful, and on their second evening in the cottage, when clear skies and a stiff breeze promised a cold night, she’d lit it and, as the evening progressed, they basked in its warmth, she filling envelopes with her cards, he struggling with sleep over a book.
 
Despite and because this was a new, though temporary, location he had got up at 5.0am. This is a usual time for composers who need their daily fix of absolute quiet. And here, in this cottage set amidst autumn fields, within sight of a river estuary, under vast, panoramic uninterrupted skies, there was the distinct possibility of silence – all day. The double-glazing made doubly sure of that.
 
He had sat with a mug of tea at 5.10 and contemplated the silence, or rather what infiltrated the stillness of the cottage as sound. In the kitchen the clock ticked, the refrigerator seemed to need a period of machine noise once its door had been opened. At 6.0am the central heating fired up for a while. Outside, the small fruit trees in the garden moved vigorously in the wind, but he couldn’t hear either the wind or a rustle of leaves.  A car droned past on the nearby road. The clear sky began to lighten promising a fine day. This would certainly do for silence.
 
His thoughts returned to her question of the previous evening, and his answer. He was about to face up to his explanation. ‘I empty myself of all musical sound’, he’d said, ‘I imagine an empty space into which I might bring a single note, a long held drone of a note, a ‘d’ above middle ‘c’ on a chamber ***** (seeing it’s a Mass I’m writing).  Harrison Birtwistle always starts on an ‘e’. A ‘d’ to me seems older and kinder. An ‘e’ is too modern and progressive, slightly brash and noisy.’
 
He can see she is quizzical with this anecdotal stuff. Is he having me on? But no, he is not having her on. Such choices are important. Without them progress would be difficult when the thinking and planning has to stop and the composing has to begin. His notebook, sitting on his drawing board with some first sketches, plays testament to that. In this book glimpses of music appear in rhythmic abstracts, though rarely any pitches, and there are pages of written description. He likes to imagine what a new work is, and what it is not. This he writes down. Composer Paul Hindemith reckoned you had first to address the ‘conditions of performance’. That meant thinking about the performers, the location, above all the context. A Mass can be, for a composer, so many things. There were certainly requirements and constraints. The commission had to fulfil a number of criteria, some imposed by circumstance, some self-imposed by desire. All this goes into the melting ***, or rather the notebook. And after the notebook, he takes a large piece of A3 paper and clarifies this thinking and planning onto (if possible) a single sheet.
 
And so, to the task in hand. His objective, he had decided, is to focus on the whole rather than the particular. Don’t think about the Kyrie on its own, but consider how it lies with the Gloria. And so with the Sanctus & Benedictus. How do they connect to the Agnus Dei. He begins on the A3 sheet of plain paper ‘making a map of connections’. Kyrie to Gloria, Gloria to Credo and so on. Then what about Agnus Dei and the Gloria? Is there going to be any commonality – in rhythm, pace and tempo (we’ll leave melody and harmony for now)? Steady, he finds himself saying, aren’t we going back over old ground? His notebook has pages of attempts at rhythmizing the text. There are just so many ways to do this. Each rhythmic solution begets a different slant of meaning.
 
This is to be a congregational Mass, but one that has a role for a 4-part choir and ***** and a ‘jazz instrument’. Impatient to see notes on paper, he composes a new introduction to a Kyrie as a rhythmic sketch, then, experimentally, adds pitches. He scores it fully, just 10 bars or so, but it is barely finished before his critical inner voice says, ‘What’s this for? Do you all need this? This is showing off.’ So the filled-out sketch drops to the floor and he examines this element of ‘beginning’ the incipit.
 
He remembers how a meditation on that word inhabits the opening chapter of George Steiner’s great book Grammars of Creation. He sees in his mind’s eye the complex, colourful and ornate letter that begins the Lindesfarne Gospels. His beginnings for each movement, he decides, might be two chords, one overlaying the other: two ‘simple’ diatonic chords when sounded separately, but complex and with a measure of mystery when played together. The Mass is often described as a mystery. It is that ritual of a meal undertaken by a community of people who in the breaking of bread and wine wish to bring God’s presence amongst them. So it is a mystery. And so, he tells himself, his music will aim to hold something of mystery. It should not be a comment on that mystery, but be a mystery itself. It should not be homely and comfortable; it should be as minimal and sparing of musical commentary as possible.
 
When, as a teenager, he first began to set words to music he quickly experienced the need (it seemed) to fashion accompaniments that were commentaries on the text the voice was singing. These accompaniments did not underpin the words so much as add a commentary upon them. What lay beneath the words was his reaction, indeed imaginative extension of the words. He eschewed then both melisma and repetition. He sought an extreme independence between word and music, even though the word became the scenario of the music. Any musical setting was derived from the composition of the vocal line.  It was all about finding the ‘key’ to a song, what unlocked the door to the room of life it occupied. The music was the room where the poem’s utterance lived.
 
With a Mass you were in trouble for the outset. There was a poetry of sorts, but poetry that, in the countless versions of the vernacular, had lost (perhaps had never had) the resonance of the Latin. He thought suddenly of the supposed words of William Byrd, ‘He who sings prays twice’. Yes, such commonplace words are intercessional, but when sung become more than they are. But he knew he had to be careful here.
 
Why do we sing the words of the Mass he asks himself? Do we need to sing these words of the Mass? Are they the words that Christ spoke as he broke bread and poured wine to his friends and disciples at his last supper? The answer is no. Certainly these words of the Mass we usually sing surround the most intimate words of that final meal, words only the priest in Christ’s name may articulate.
 
Write out the words of the Mass that represent its collective worship and what do you have? Rather non-descript poetry? A kind of formula for collective incantation during worship? Can we read these words and not hear a surrounding music? He thinks for a moment of being asked to put new music to words of The Beatles. All you need is love. Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away. Oh bla dee oh bla da life goes on. Now, now this is silliness, his Critical Voice complains. And yet it’s not. When you compose a popular song the gap between some words scribbled on the back of an envelope and the hook of chords and melody developed in an accidental moment (that becomes a way of clothing such words) is often minimal. Apart, words and music seem like orphans in a storm. Together they are home and dry.
 
He realises, and not for the first time, that he is seeking a total musical solution to the whole of the setting of those words collectively given voice to by those participating in the Mass.
 
And so: to the task in hand. His objective: to focus on the whole rather than the particular.  Where had he heard that thought before? - when he had sat down at his drawing board an hour and half previously. He’d gone in a circle of thought, and with his sketch on the floor at his feet, nothing to show for all that effort.
 
Meanwhile the sun had risen. He could hear her moving about in the bathroom. He went to the kitchen and laid out what they would need to breakfast together. As he poured milk into a jug, primed the toaster, filled the kettle, the business of what might constitute a whole solution to this setting of the Mass followed him around the kitchen and breakfast room like a demanding child. He knew all about demanding children. How often had he come home from his studio to prepare breakfast and see small people to school? - more often than he cared to remember. And when he remembered he became sad that it was no more.  His children had so often provided a welcome buffer from sessions of intense thought and activity. He loved the walk to school, the first quarter of a mile through the park, a long avenue of chestnut trees. It was always the end of April and pink and white blossoms were appearing, or it was September and there were conkers everywhere. It was under these trees his daughter would skip and even his sons would hold hands with him; he would feel their warmth, their livingness.
 
But now, preparing breakfast, his Critical Voice was that demanding child and he realised when she appeared in the kitchen he spoke to her with a voice of an artist in conversation with his critics, not the voice of the man who had the previous night lost himself to joy in her dear embrace. And he was ashamed it was so.
 
How he loved her gentle manner as she negotiated his ‘coming too’ after those two hours of concentration and inner dialogue. Gradually, by the second cup of coffee he felt a right person, and the hours ahead did not seem too impossible.
 
When she’d gone off to her work, silence reasserted itself. He played his viola for half an hour, just scales and exercises and a few folk songs he was learning by heart. This gathering habit was, he would say if asked, to reassert his musicianship, the link between his body and making sound musically. That the viola seemed to resonate throughout his whole body gave him pleasure. He liked the ****** movement required to produce a flowing sequence of bow strokes. The trick at the end of this daily practice was to put the instrument in its case and move immediately to his desk. No pause to check email – that blight on a morning’s work. No pause to look at today’s list. Back to the work in hand: the Mass.
 
But instead his mind and intention seemed to slip sideways and almost unconsciously he found himself sketching (on the few remaining staves of a vocal experiment) what appeared to be a piano piece. The rhythmic flow of it seemed to dance across the page to be halted only when the few empty staves were filled. He knew this was one of those pieces that addressed the pianist, not the listener. He sat back in his chair and imagined a scenario of a pianist opening this music and after a few minutes’ reflection and reading through allowing her hands to move very slowly and silently a few millimetres over the keys.  Such imagining led him to hear possible harmonic simultaneities, dynamics and articulations, though he knew such things would probably be lost or reinvented on a second imagined ‘performance’. No matter. Now his make-believe pianist sounded the first bar out. It had a depth and a richness that surprised him – it was a fine piano. He was touched by its affect. He felt the possibilities of extending what he’d written. So he did. And for the next half an hour lived in the pastures of good continuation, those rich luxuriant meadows reached by a rickerty rackerty bridge and guarded by a troll who today was nowhere to be seen.
 
It was a curious piece. It came to a halt on an enigmatic, go-nowhere / go-anywhere chord after what seemed a short declamatory coda (he later added the marking deliberamente). Then, after a few minutes reflection he wrote a rising arpeggio, a broken chord in which the consonant elements gradually acquired a rising sequence of dissonance pitches until halted by a repetition. As he wrote this ending he realised that the repeated note, an ‘a’ flat, was a kind of fulcrum around which the whole of the music moved. It held an enigmatic presence in the harmony, being sometimes a g# sometimes an ‘a’ flat, and its function often different. It made the music take on a wistful quality.
 
At that point he thought of her little artists’ book series she had titled Tide Marks. Many of these were made of a concertina of folded pages revealing - as your eyes moved through its pages - something akin to the tide’s longitudinal mark. This centred on the page and spread away both upwards and downwards, just like those mirror images of coloured glass seen in a child’s kaleidoscope. No moment of view was ever quite the same, but there were commonalities born of the conditions of a certain day and time.  His ‘Tide Mark’ was just like that. He’d followed a mark made in his imagination from one point to another point a little distant. The musical working out also had a reflection mechanism: what started in one hand became mirrored in the other. He had unexpectedly supplied an ending, this arpegiated gesture of finality that wasn’t properly final but faded away. When he thought further about the role of the ending, he added a few more notes to the arpeggio, but notes that were not be sounded but ghosted, the player miming a press of the keys.
 
He looked at the clock. Nearly five o’clock. The afternoon had all but disappeared. Time had retreated into glorious silence . There had been three whole hours of it. How wonderful that was after months of battling with the incessant and draining turbulence of sound that was ever present in his city life. To be here in this quiet cottage he could now get thoroughly lost – in silence. Even when she was here he could be a few rooms apart, and find silence.
 
A week more of this, a fortnight even . . . but he knew he might only manage a few days before visitors arrived and his long day would be squeezed into the early morning hours and occasional uncertain periods when people were out and about.
 
When she returned, very soon now, she would make tea and cut cake, and they’d sit (like old people they wer
Lindsey Kristine Sep 2015
Dear Crystal ****,
I loved you
I put so much trust in you
I spent every hour of every day confiding in you
I told you my deepest fears
I let you know how broken i was
and you ******* took advantage of me
You took everything i owned
you stole my family from under me
you robbed me of all my money
We never had a healthy relationship

From the first night i met you
you beat me into a ****** pulp
You made me hate everyone
You turned me into a monster just like you..

You dug your claws into me
You slit my skin with your razors of control
But you just brushed it off and kept destroying me
I tried so many times to leave you
I tried so hard to cut you off
But the attemps just failed

You flooded my mind with thoughts of you
You gave me flashbacks of when we were together
I heard your voice screaming when all i wanted to do was forget about you
You controlled every aspect of my mind
my body
And my life

Then one day i couldnt take it anymore
Your abuse was to muc for me
You had me on my knees begging for a saving grace
I cried
I screamed
I begged god for the light
I wanted to die
I stood on the edge of bridges
I stared at knives and blades
I felt like i couldnt continue with you
and like i definitly count continue without you..

Then one dark august night
God awnsered my prayers
He wrapped his arms around me and rocked me to sleep after so many weeks without closing my eyes
I slept for almost 4 days
Waking only to use the restroom and to shove any food i could find in my face
You slowly left my system

You didnt go peacefully of course
You paniced
You clawed
You begged me not to do this
but i didnt listen

I stayed true to myself
I finally left you...

Things wernt smooth at first
I felt lost
I was confused about everything involving life
I didnt know who i was
I thought i would for sure go running back to you
But i gave it time

I pushed through the hot and cold flashes
Ignored the hallucinations and the fevers
It was pure hell on earth
But the torture was worth every second because leaving you was the best decition i have ever made for myself

Tomarrow is 30 days free from your shackles
Life still is a constant struggle
But honestly
I would not expect any different after breaking free from the cage of satan and into the sunlight of heaven

I now hae so many things to be greatful for
I have a roof over my head
I bed to sleep in thats not jail or a hospital.
I am a cherished member of y family again
I found love unexpectedly with a man who makes me feel like the most beautiful woman on earth
I have my goals and morals back
I see a future for myself
and most of all..
I am thankful i am breathing because you almost killed me

Someone once said
"Dope heads never quit, they only take extended breaks"
Well, i am proud to say i never am allowing you back into my life

So thank you ****
Even though you shattered every part of my soul
I now have a brand new outlook on life
I also never would have asked my now fiance for a ride home if you had never made me so sick i was in the emergency room
I dont regret you
Because i learned so much about myself and life from you

But now i can finally say...
I ******* hate you and i will never be with you again

Sincerally:
One greatful proud, life loving forever ex tweaker <3
My letter to the monster I overcame.
Harriet Cleve Jan 2019

A Skeleton gunslinger, takes on the Unholy of Hell and wages war against his nemesis Hatchet, as a portal to Hell threatens to unleash the putrid, rancid, Unholy hordes onto a desolate planet. "


The bringer of Death arrived in Dakota. Custer's Seventh lay dying on the Powder river and the Ancients had sent him to walk the Earth and help the Ghost-walkers to hold their land. In his mortal days, he carried a torch for Serela, an outcast from the Mind seekers.That's what got him killed in the first place. The saloon was full that night, and he was called out.
He pulled his gun first and knew he would die. His death was foretold in the ancient scriptures of truth. 'The bone that liveth shall slay the flesh and the flesh will become liveth bone'.
Justice will walk the plains and avenge the truth'.
Serela had looked on as a bullet pierced the gunslinger's skull.The spirit of the ancients swept through her soul then, as she watch his head explode, filtering its entrance into the new receptacle of justice.

No one saw the killer shadow draw or witnessed it's departure but John Bitumen's body lay dead, the blood flowing from a hole in his forehead. Even as he died, he was reborn.
The Skull of Death in search of a gunfight, Deathbringer, Cleanser of Evil.


Hatchet looked at his mangy horse, a wasted beast worn out and at the end of it's road.Two years it carried his weight and the saddle dug deep.Whippings were constant and the calloused cruel fists of Hatchet rained down on it's neck if it slowed any.The nearest town was a mile down the road and it was late in the day.
That was all it took to set the anger in motion.Hatchet took five paces away from his horse and hurled his razor sharp hatchet with violence. The horse's head was split in two.
He hauled his saddle, and wrestled his ****** weapon from the dead horse, then walked into the dusk. All the time, Serela had observed from the Spirit's eye, an artefact of the Ancients, entrusted to the Mind Seekers. Hatchet would pay for his offence against Nature's pure beast, for it was written' All Creatures will walk the Earth and all will be held Holy.Swift will be Divine retribution against those who slay the pure beast'.
Hatchet wasn't one to read the ancient scriptures and could not know that the Skull of Death would search him out in the next town.The Ancients had called forth their Gunslinger and a skeletal hand rested on the sacred Gun of Abe. Hatchet would be called out and a Gunfight would settle scores. A chill in the air unnerved him and he took comfort in carresing his ivory handled pistols.


Darkness fell on the land and the half moon shone on the dead horse.The night crawlers made to cut it's remains and scavenge it's carcass. Two hands were raised to the sky, pleading for forgiveness. Horsemeat was forbidden and a desecration of sacred laws.
A knife was produced and held to the beast's throat. In that moment, all became aware of the onlooker.A tall figure in a drab grey longcoat, black spurred boots, an old black stetson. The Sacred Gun of Abe was in his hands. The Skull of Death, the Ancients Gunslinger, walked the Plains once more.
All seven night crawlers stared in disbelief. Their last minutes of life ebbing from them as the eyes of the Ancients warrior scanned their souls and cremated their bodies.Seven figures suddenly engulfed in flames under the incessant stare of the Skull's empty sockets. Amongst the embers, the Gunslinger knelt beside the horse. In his mortal days, this beast was his closest companion.Hatchet had stolen his possession and the sight of it's remains stirred an anguished scream for the horrific end which befell his steed.

Gently the Gun of Abe was placed on the horse's neck. A small bottle of holy oil was rubbed in it's wounds.' Though death may stalk the pure, truly I say to you that righteousness will prevail and the dead will rise'. Even as the words were uttered, a ball of blue flame enveloped the horse. The light illuminated the darkness and from the light the skeleton of a horse emerged, raising itself up on its hind legs, in defiance of death. Approaching the Gunslinger, it nuzzled it's head to his skull, the brilliance of it's chalk white bones radiating a supernatural hue. Mounting his steed, he galloped into the night.Vengeance was coming.Death on a horse was looking for Hatchet!


Raihna woke suddenly and locked eyes withHatchet. She had been ordered to sleep with him, against her wishes. 'Something wrong with me, *****? Hatchet snarled when he'd paid his ten dollars to the House Madam.
'You better be worth it *****! He had roughed her up before falling into a drunken slumber. Now he was standing in his ragged long johns, at the end of the four poster bed.
A manic look was in his beady eyes, as he swigged his liquor jar. Unkempt rank hair covered his weasel like features. Reeking of horse and trail sweat, an ugly belly adorning his uglier frame, he leered for the longest time.Raihna took it all in, especially the hatchet in his right hand. 'Think you're mighty purdy, don't ya! he sneered. ' Let's see what you look like with a hair cut'!
Raihna noticed then that he had pinned her pigtails to the wooden headboard. Realising a scream would be the end of her, she stared back and waited. Hatchet hurled his weapon and it sliced into the headboard, shorning her hair.From the table, he grabbed his bowie knife and aimed for the other pigtail, slicing it off and nicking her neck. 'Well lookee now' he laughed as a trace of blood ran down her neck. 'Ain't you gonna scream, *****?


An eerie blue glow filtered into the room just then and the whinny and snortin' of a horse filled the air. 'What in Hell's name? muttered Hatchet. Looking out of the curtains, he saw the chalk white Skeleton of a horse and a skeleton rider brandishing a pistol. A fiery blue-red low glow radiated from their eyes and it seemed both rider and steed were on fire. Hatchet shouted out ' You one of them Resurrectionists?!' suddenly remembering the old shaman he had killed back in Piebald.
Hatchet had stolen his runes and kept them for trading with the Mindseekers. He thought now that maybe this was him come looking for him from the afterworld. Hot ***** trickled down his leg and he felt scared and sick to his stomach.

The gallows await !' It was almost a whisper as the ancients gunslinger raised his head towards the window. Hatchet grabbed Raihna and tried to shield himself from the spectre below. His mind raced as he hesitated, panic flooding his brain. 'Take them! We be even! he gambled as he threw the runes at the gunslinger. Even as he did so, they were grabbed instantaneously by a skeletal hand and placed around the gunslinger's neck. For these were the runes of time and in the coming trials would decide the balance of power between the Unholy and the Just.


Hatchet had thrown away his trump card and even as he loaded his gun, he was destined to die. 'Pearls before swine' whispered into the room and Hatchet descended the stairs, with Raihna in front. His pistol was cocked and he would shoot it out. If Hell was waiting, he wasn't going on his own. His hatchet lay in his side belt and he made his way onto the street.
The hallway was pitch black and Hatchet cautiously approached the parlour door hoping to get out the back street. He held a vice-like grip on Raihna's arm as he pushed her along. 'You keep your mouth shut ***** and open that door easy' he whispered, his voice betraying his inner terror. Suddenly and unexpectedly, he felt the cold muzzle of a revolver pressed hard to the back of his head. 'You take your claws offa my girl, Hatchet 'less you wants your **** brains spilled where you stand!
Hatchet knew Charlotte, the House madam, wasn't bluffing. He'd seen her do it too, back in Abilene, when China Jack beat up one of her girls. She'd shot him straight through his throat and followed up with a clean shot to his manhood. It hurt Hatchet even now just thinking about it'. Jesus! he thought as he cursed his situation. Things were moving too fast and nothing was going his way.
Hatchet loosened his grip, carefully holstering his gun.As she moved away, Raihna spat on his face and kneed him in the groin. ****! he bellowed and went to strike Raihna. His hearing saved her, as Charlotte cocked the gun and stopped him where he stood. 'Think I'd sleep easy with you on the premises, Hatchet? Take me for a fool? I don't know what the Hell is out on that street but it wants you!' By Christ, you're going out the front door to face it too!. 'Always were a cowardly *******, now move you lousy **** head!
Raihna had gotten hold of a shotgun and had it trained on Hatchet. 'Drop that hatchet right now, she said. ' You're facing that creature with your gun and nothing else! God knows you don't deserve even that much. Hatchet dropped his hatchet. 'Now kick it over here!' He did so and as Raihna picked it up, she hurled it back immediately into his right thigh, gashing him like a pig for the slaughter. Hatchet screamed in agony and Charlotte pulled it out of his thigh as the room sprayed with the red bloom of imminent death. Now move you *******!


Charlotte and Raihna ushered him towards the front door and kicked him into the dark dusty side street. 'You got it coming, Hatchet!, they shouted and there waiting for him was the Ancients Gunslinger. He had dismounted from his steed and now faced Hatchet.The look of death was in the Skull's eerie sockets and it was all Hatchet could do to stop his hands shaking. He threw up and finally faced the spectre before him.

'For those who have suffered, shall be avenged. The Righteous Light will shine on the Unholy and all dark souls shall be driven from the Plains. Fear will walk amongst them and even the shadows shall despise their ways.'
Thus it had been written and now was coming to pass.


Hatchet went for his gun, and time slowed down as his eyes scanned the scene. A chalk, pure white, skeletal hand reached for a gun and the fluid movement captured his attention. Hatchet knew he had been outdrawn and could see the gunslinger's bullet leave the smoking barrell, pristine, crafted by a master gunsmith. He noticed the leather holster, worn and faded, almost an antiquity, strapped to a dark trousered leg.
The long coat, ghastly grey, adorning the bones of the undead. Empty eyes stared him down, as he heard his own gun's sharp report and watched his bullet sail towards the spectre. Just before the gunslingers bullet blew his brains out, he finally noticed the spectre of the horse and instinctively knew this was the brutalised beast he had so callously slain. Blood and bone exploded violently and the mortal remains of Hatchet dropped to the ground.
Hatchet didn't know it then but he too was about to be reborn; for the Unholy were about to unleash the Scourge of Hossana and the Ancients Gunslinger stood in their way. Hatchet would be forged in the cauldron of Hell and in the coming trials would once again face the Sacred Gun of Abe.


Hatchet became conscious, and felt as ill as a cow in a slaughter house. The smell of death was rancid and his vision seemed out of focus. A nauseating, sickly stench permeated his nostrils and he winced as the pungent odour inflated his lungs. He was aware his whole body was bitter cold and he shivered uncontrollably. If this was a hangover, then it was the worst he'd ever been. Terrifyingly, he noticed that he was manacled, face down, to a massive ice block.
Encased within the block was a dead horse, it's head split in two, exposing brain matter, decayed pulped flesh, and grizzled bone. It's mouth was fixed in a ghastly grimace with it's eyes looking back into Hatchet's, it's gory mane matted in dirt.
His screams were hideous to hear and were lost in the din of the thousands of screams echoing within the air.The sound was deafening and burst his ears as the terror built up within him. Hatchet knew then he was in Hell, amongst the thousands of fallen souls now in the possesion of the Unholy.
His whole being was perished with unbearable, intense cold yet he could see flames, blazing blue and orange, feet away from him taunting him with intense glow.
Still the shrieks and squeals of thousands around him assailed his ears! The amplified volume resonated in his brain as his own screams built to a crescendo!
Yet, no light radiated from the flames and the pitch black illuminated only the horse within the ice block and the grimace which would be eternal. Still Hatchet screamed till he felt his throat would explode and his mind begged for deliverance! It was then that his shoulders and back ignited with agonising pain as he felt the sting of a whip.
Again and again the whip found it's mark and his flesh was pulverised. He cried out for forgiveness and begged to be spared and still he was lashed.He prayed to pass out and knew he never would ! For he was in Hell and the blackest deeds were now held to account.
A voice bellowed at him'Welcome Brother Hatchet! We will have a purpose for you soon! Enjoy the interim! Many more punishments await you yet until you are ready'. The eerie voice trailed off as Hatchet continued to be whipped. His agonising screams drowned the air and was unheard amongst the thousand others. Still the horse fixed it's empty eyes and stared at Hatchet and its grimace took pleasure in his suffering.

Seven days passed since Hatchet was despatched to Hell, and darkness fell on the Plains like a widows veil. No light illuminated the Earth and the Lakota knew this was the sign of the coming trials. The Ghost-walkers had appealed to the Great Spirit and no one who witnessed their victory at the Powder River could deny their courage.Truly this was evidence of the Spirit's intervention in their way of life. Reports had come in to Chief Red Cloud of a figure of flame riding amongst the Buffalo. A Skeleton on fire, riding the Skeleton of a horse at full charge. It seemed the very ground they rode upon was a torch of lightning, and the figure was at one with the Buffalo. Red Cloud rode out to witness it himself and noticed the blue-orange glow, like an aura of defiance, surrounding the figure. In it's hand was a gun, and Red Cloud recognised it as the Sacred Gun of Abe.
Many tales had been passed down from his ancestors, and Red Cloud knew this figure was sacred to his tribe.The Ancients Gunslinger would play a role in the destiny of his People.The Whiteman would pay a heavy price for the desecration of the traditions and way of life of those under the protection of the Great Spirit. He knew too that an enemy would arise which would destroy the Whiteman, and all the Earth's inhabitants. Only the Native American would take the battle to the Enemy, aided by the Ancients and the Mind Seekers.
Red Cloud knew his people looked to him for leadership, and he would provide it.They would hear how Red Cloud rode with the Ghost Rider and take pride in his courage. His fate was tied to the Ancients Gunslinger, and this had been preordained in the ancient Scriptures. Red Cloud looked down at the flaming figure and dug his knees into his horse. Charging down the hill, he shouted out a proud battle cry, and rode like the wind to the side of the Ghost Rider.In their trail the Buffalo followed.The trials ahead would be met and the Unholy would do battle with their most dangerous enemy.



**** it Charlotte! 'It don't make sense!
Hatchet weren't killed by no ghost, for Christ sake! Marshall John Lancaster was tired and couldn't believe the events which occurred in his absence. He had just brought in Ned Marlow.Got two of his men killed doing it, and suffered a leg wound himself in the shoot out. Marlow had been holed up in Tinkers Creek and came out unexpectedly with his guns blazing as the posse approached the log cabin. It had suddenly turned pitch dark, and all the horses got spooked, causing confusion amongst the lawman's officers.
Ned Marlow knew Hatchet; had lost an eye in a bar brawl to him once.It was said Hatchet carried the eye around with him ever since.
Ned was closing in on Hatchet, bent on revenge, and swore he'd see him dead. Suddenly a shot rang out, and startled Lancaster.
Ned had headbutted the Marshall's deputy as he was being placed in the holding cell.He had grabbed the deputy's gun then and blown a hole clean through him. Carelessness, or tiredness, maybe both, had cost him his life. Ned didn't give no quarter when his own life was on the line. He weren't going to no hangman's noose neither. He burst into the Marshall's office then and fired off two shots catching Lancaster in the left arm wounding him badly. The Marshall got off one reactive shot catching Ned's left ear.The sound deafened him and he put a slug through the Marshall's head.The fragrance of gunpowder filled the room and Charlotte could only look on.'You're coming with me, Honey!'bellowed Marlow as he grabbed her hair, pulling her close, and made his way onto the streets. A gun was held to Charlotte's head and Ned was figuring his next move.


He was too busy watching the streets but if he'd looked up, he would have seen a hatchet hurtling towards him with violent intent. The hatchet caught his gun hand and severed it clean off his wrist. Ned now had the indignity of losing his right hand.He screamed in agony as blood squirted from his severed wrist, spraying Charlotte in a plume of lifes red wine. Ned looked to the ground and his own hand lay there, holding his pistol, it's finger still on the trigger. Legend would record the severed hand fired off a shot moments after it's horrific amputation. Ned Marlow didn't know it then, but he too would play a role in the coming trials. The Unholy knew it only too well for it had been written 'The Deaf shall hear, the Blind shall see, and the hand of the sinner will turn on the Unholy'.


There the severed hand lay. A ghastly, grotesque, weather worn obscenity.
The gun had been removed from it's grasp since it's horrific amputatation from Ned Marlow. Three days had passed since the incident and no one dared to remove it from the street.cOminously, no decay had festered to spoil that monstrosity;for life still lingered within it's ghoulish flesh. Mangy street dogs looked at it with curiosity, yet kept a tentative distance. The little finger still wore a silver ring, set with a black stone. Once it had belonged to an ancient Pagan High King, who had been slaughtered in battle. An artefact from a distant time, carried across Europe into the America's. Evil had tainted it's properties and the Sons of the Unholy had sought it since. The ring now sought a new owner as the severed hand, an abomination of creation, crawled, like a filthy worm in the dirt. Slowly, laboriously, with uncanny certainty, the wretched hand made it's way towards the room of the one who had hurled the hatchet.


Raihna sat alone in her bedroom.The hatchet lay across her lap and it was emitting a low hum, almost inaudible, but she had heard it. At first she thought madness was setting in, but she realised that the voices communicating with her were real; the Mind Seekers had chosen her.
Her mind and body became a telepathic conduit and she was absorbed in receiving the messages. The Ancients were channelling through her and a deep trance held her almost comatose.
Slowly, sickening slow, the hand crawled it's way towards her., Grubby, thick, fingers inching themselves stealthily, dangerously close, while Raihna was immersed in the communication.
Her eyes were closed in the deep state between the conscious and the unconscious, so she could not witness the fingers wrap themselves around the handle of the Hatchet. Both hand and clasped hatchet lifted silently from her lap. As the hand moved to distance the weapon from her, the ring glowed a greenish hue, emanating the presence of the Unholy. Suddenly the hand lunged at Raihna's throat!
Raihna's life was ebbing into eternity.The possessed, filthy, unholy amputation squeezed her windpipe with the vengence of perpetual hostility. The ring on the severed hand's finger glowed brighter, as her life force lay on the threshold of destruction. It seemed as though the light of a thousand burning suns illuminated that room. A portal to Hell had been created and Raihna was pulled into that abyss. She was neither dead nor alive, for the Unholy had need of a pawn.The hatchet too was ****** into that void as it was destined to be reunited with Hatchet.The light was blinding and it seemed the very Earth could have been swallowed; as though the Gods had abandoned all of Creation!
Yet there he stood! A blazing figure astride a blazing horse.The chalk white bones of a skeleton horse carrying the Ancients Gunslinger towards the entrance to Hell! The ancient scriptures had written ' The Liveth Bone shall ride into Hell, and the Unholy shall cower'.
The Sacred Gun of Abe shall wield the vengeance of the Ages and the Earth and Heavens shall shake'. Thus it had been written and was now coming to pass.
A portal to Hell had opened and the Gunslinger charged into that cesspool of abomination. No Horse ever galloped with such energy and the Unholy prepared for the skirmish.The Gunslinger was possessed with a relentless rage for Justice. Hell quaked as both rider and horse fearlessly charged into the bowels of Evil's pestilent abode.
Furious at this brazen affront, the Unholy now made to close that portal. Even as they did so, Hatchet was resurrected from his tormented existence. His hatchet was reunited with him as he prepared to once again face the Gunslinger.Raihna must be rescued; for her destiny was tied to the Earth's salvation. For now, she lay in a corner of Hell watched over by a severed hand. The screams and anguished cries of all the lost souls in Hell echoed in the stagnant air. Still the Rider charged furiously as he sought to gather Raihna to his arms. A ****** hatchet sailed towards him and Hell looked on.


Hatchet charged from the cage of demons, his face etched with the pain of perpetual torment. His emaciated form like a malignant Phoenix rising from the ashes of Hell. The pitiful creature carrying his burden reared from his weight. A wretched carcass of a decayed horse which had been ressurected for battle. That same horse which had been encased within the ice block;whose ****** head Hatchet had split open when both were mortals on the Earth. Man and beast now tools for the Unholy; possessed by the collective evil of all who now suffered in Hell.cTheir dark energy would now be harnessed for the coming trials. A gruesome grimace was fixed on the horse's face and it's empty eyes stared ahead as Hatchet charged towards the Gunslinger. His violent countenace expressed the deadly intentions which would be borne down upon his enemy.
He had hurled his weapon and watched as it made it's deadly trajectory towards the Gunslinger. As the hatchet spun and revolved through the air, Hatchet emmitted the scream of the demented. The Gunslinger had lowered in his saddle and the hatchet narrowly missed it's target. Continuing on it's course, it landed in the back of one of the screaming forgotten whose souls were doomed to eternal agony.
Both riders now crashed headlong into one another and Hatchet fell from his horse. The Sacred Gun of Abe was now in the Gunslinger's hand and a skeletal finger pulled the trigger.
Once again, Hatchet would witness a bullet discharge from it's revolving chamber. His head exploded as the bullet entered his brain, exiting in one piece and landing in the dank soil of Hell.The blessed relic purified the soil and the Unholy recoiled with revulsion.
The dead cannot die and Hatchet struggled back to his feet. Grabbing the Gunslinger's reins, he attempted to pull him down. It was then that the runes around the Gunslinger's neck pierced the air with a deafening incantation.
The Unholy screamed as the Holy words of the Ancient Scriptures filtered into the bowels of iniquity and shook the foundations of Hell.
Hatchet reeled back and grabbed his hatchet from the spine of the forgotten sinner. He looked up then and witnessed a warrior's lance sail through the air.It violently struck and impaled the severed hand guarding Raihna.
Red Cloud had accompanied the Gunslinger in his charge into Hell!
Man proposes,
Women proposes
Both proposes at the same time unexpectedly
Wait, what?
Talk about hysterical
I wonder if that's ever happened before.
Like gold that washed from a shore
Thoughts racing back and forth galore
The excitement has overtakened me
My imagination might not take any more
Get me a pen
This has got to be on paper.
I'm a poet but i'm also curious.
A very wild and funny concept.
Wild-Youth Jun 2014
They always say the best relationships happen unexpectedly.
And my god were you unexpected.
It's like you fell right from the sky
And into my life where the puzzle piece was missing.
What a perfect fit you were.
The time will come
when you'll stumble upon
someone who will turn your life
upside-down and inside out.
Chances are, that encounter will happen when you least expect it...so
patience and diversion are key
for that special someone
to walk into your life
*unexpectedly.
I have been there. I've been the one waiting for love. I want to help anyone
needing relationship advice. Feel free to message me about your problems. I will try my best to fix them :)
Aseh Jan 2015
that feeling when (your) finger tips clutch (my) bare skin
veiled in casual apathy
we watch the screen in silence
not knowing what to say

i don't know what went on
behind your flickering eyes
as for me, the moment of contact
sent jumpy tingles up my spine

unexpectedly
my mind reeled forward
to unspent nights in dance clubs or backyard barbecues;
the way your hands felt in mine when we leaned in
lips still intact--
unbroken
Joe Workman Aug 2014
The radio alarm is a bit too strong
for his afternoon hangover taste.
He goes downstairs, sets the coffee to brewing,
rubs his hands through the hair on his face.
As he sits and he smokes, he can't quite think of the joke
she once told him about wooden eyes.

The coffee is ready, his hands are unsteady
as he pours his first cup of cure.
He tries to be happy he woke up today,
but whether being awake's good, he's not sure.
Outside it's raining, but he's gallantly straining
to keep his head and his spirits held high.

As soft as the flower bending out in its shower,
fiercer than hornets defending their hives,
the memories of sharing her secrets and sheets
run him through like sharp rusty knives.
He decides that his cup isn't quite strong enough,
takes the ***** from the shelf, gives a sigh.

He goes to the porch to put words to the torch
he still carries and knows whiskey just fuels.
Thunder puts a voice to his hammering heart.
Through ink, his knotted mind unspools,
writing of butterflies and of how his love lies
cocooned under unreachable skies.

From teardrops to streams to winter moonbeams
to a peach, firm and sweet, in the spring,
he writes of pilgrims and language and soft dew-damp grass
and how he sees her in everything.
He rambles and grieves, and he just can't believe
how much he has bottled inside.

He writes how the leaves, when they whisper in the breeze,
bring to mind her warm breath in his mouth,
how when walking through woods he loves the birdsong
when they fly back in the summer from the south
because she would sing too and he always knew
he wanted that sound in his ears when he died.

He writes even the streetlights, fluorescent and bright,
make him miss the diamond chips in her eyes,
how the fountain in the park plays watersongs in the dark
when he goes to make wishes on pennies
and while he's there he gets hoping
there will be some spare wishes
but so far there haven't been any.

He writes that the cold makes him think of the old
hotel where they spent most of a week,
lazing and gazing quite lovingly,
and how he brushed an eyelash off her cheek.
The crickets and frogs and all of the dogs
sound as mournful as he feels each night.

He writes about chocolate and fun in arcades,
he writes about stairwells and butchers' blades,
and closed-casket funerals, and Christmas parades,
then sad flightless birds and tiny brigades
of ants taking crumbs from the toast he had made,
and political goons with their soulless tirades,
old-timey duels and terrible grades,
strangers on  buses, harp music, maids,
the weird afterimages when all the light fades,
the pleasure of dinnertime serenades,
sidewalk chalk, wine, and hand grenades.

He writes of how much fun it would be to fly,
and saltwater taffy and ferryboat rides,

sitting on couches, scratched CD's
pets gone too soon and overdraft fees,

the beach, the lake, the mountains, the fog,
David Bowie's funny, ill-smelling bog,

jewelry, perfume, sushi, and swans,
the smell of the pavement when the rain's come and gone,

and shots and opera, and Oprah and ***,
and tiny bikinis with yellow dots,

stained glass lamps, and gum and stamps,
her dancing shoes on wheelchair ramps,
that overstrange feeling of déjà vu,
filet mignon and cordon bleu,

bad haircuts at county fairs,
honey and clover, stockmarket shares,
the comfort of nestling in overstuffed chairs,
and her poking fun at the clothes that he wears,
and giraffes and hippos and polar bears,
cumbersome car consoles, monsters' lairs,
singing in public and ignoring the stares,
botching it badly while making éclairs,
misspelled tattoos, socks not in pairs,
people who take something that isn't theirs,
the future of man, and man's future cares,

why people so frequently lie
and bury themselves so deep in the mire
of monetary profits when money won't buy
a single next second because time's not for hire,
and that he sees her in everything.

Then unexpectedly, unbidden from where it was hidden
comes the punchline to the joke she had told him.
He laughs -- it's too much and his heart finally tears
as a blackness rolls in to enfold him.
The last thing he hears is birdsong in his ears --
the sound brings hope and is sweet as he dies.
Akira Chinen Aug 2017
Never lie to the same poem twice
save it for the next one
or better yet don't tell it at all
for a lie no matter how beautiful
it may sound
or sweet it may taste
rolling off the tongue
will always leave behind
a sour smell
to linger in the mouth
of the past and present
and more often than not
carry knives into the future

Never kiss a new lover
with an old prayer on your lips
it will not bloom
to love or lust
only heartache and embarrassment
be alone and lonely and miserable
until there is no stain or trace
of old fire burning
or cinders glowing
or ashes still smoldering
forming the face and the name
that no longer cares
for your prayers

Never tell the truth to a kiss
that whispers only lies
when speaking of love
and dances with serpents
that tend to planting seeds
of venom and lust
in the skin
and the core of pleasure
that will only wither
and rot on the vine

be patient with yourself
be kind to yourself
time and life will pass
and pass too quickly
and pass too slowly

wait and listen

you will find
what you need
as it finds you...

unexpectedly

and then you can
kiss the love
that whispers in dreams
while only speaking the truth
Raihah Mior Sep 2018
1.  It always happens completely unexpectedly.

It could be a year from now, perhaps another 5 years, maybe tomorrow. It could be the person you've been liking for the longest time, it could be your bestfriend that you didn't think you'd fall for, it could be the guy you met for three days during your sister's graduation day. Nothing's ever really certain. You just don't know when it'll happen. And with whom.


2.  It's good to know what you want. But never set expectations.

I've come to realise that what's most important is that you share the same or similar end-goals with the person. Having different outlooks on life isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as the things you wish to achieve in life are, or should at least be aligned to one another - whether it's family, career or personal life goals. It's also good to know what you want in a person in terms of his/her core values. BUT, having a list of what your dream person should physically and mentally turn out to be? Nope, throw that out.  


3.  Self-love before anything else.

It's about acknowledging your flaws. Knowing and understanding your little quirks. Enjoying time by yourself and taking pleasure in your own presence. Looking in the mirror and feeling beautiful/badass. Ultimately, it's about accepting yourself exactly the way you are. Loving yourself first and foremost, above all else. And eventually having enough confidence to know that however and whoever you are, the other person will come to love every single little detail about you.

.....but what if they don't?

Simple. Get outta there. You don't deserve it.
You've got too much self-respect for that.


4.  Take all the time you need.

In an era of technological advancements and glorified instant gratification, it's easy to fall into the abyss of wanting more and more and wanting it NOW. Everywhere you look, everyone around you seems to be falling in love and having the time of their lives. Pfft, it isn't that hard is it? People find their soulmates all the time. It's just a mere click of an app. Swipe right, there you have it.

Now... here comes the hard-hitting truth. Falling in love is a literal piece of cake. Staying in love, now that's the hardest part. This is where patience and taking the time to know a person is crucial. It's very important to know the person as a friend first before anything else. Also, the friendship should make you feel comfortable enough to know that no matter how much time you take and need, it only proves that it'll further flourish into something even more meaningful as time progresses.

It's like cheese. It's only better with time.


5.  It should set you free.

I used to think love is somewhat this concoction of paradoxes -  it should be happiness and despair, goodness and pain, all jumbled up into one. You're supposed to love someone so much till it hurts. You're supposed to miss him till your head spins and your heart literally aches. It's supposed to make you feel like the worst.... but completely in love.

But as time passes and age matures me, I start to realise that it should be in fact, the complete opposite. Well, yeah, maybe it should make you feel like all those generic lovey-dovey things like in rom-coms. It should make you happy and grin like an idiot. It's gonna turn you into a big ball of cheesy fluff sometimes.

But what it should really feel is easy and breezy, like a pretty summer's day. No one has to feel like you're giving too much and receiving too little when there's mutual understanding and love for each other. It shouldn't feel burdensome when both of you respect your boundaries and spaces. There should too, be times spent apart. You are, after all, two completely different individuals merged together. Your union should make you strong but light on the feet; attached but not chained to one another. You are each the savoury and the sweetness of a PB&J sandwich; both constituting different parts of a whole.
I know this isn't the slightest bit like poetry, and that it belongs in a journal or something... But I dunno, it's been circulating in my head for quite a while. I've just been reflecting on past friendships and relationships a lot lately, I guess.
Months of stale, cigarette smoke
and spilt **** water pleasantly
offset the stench of cheap cologne
and ratty, abused furniture.
    
Fictitious stories occupy this tiny, dim
apartment, birthed on the lips of
rebellious juveniles whose tongues
pierce the ears of our elders.

In a forsaken corner, Jeremy lounges
awkwardly on a grubby-plaid sofa that
suitably complements his button-down shirt.  
I join him.

Behind his right ear rests a lonely cigarette, while
another sits snug between his lips, set ablaze
by the 1968 Slim Model Zippo he inherited from
his beloved grandfather.

His transparent sense of self-worth emanates
from his grubby, grease-stained hands, scuffed boots,
blotchy-checkered flannels, and faded blue jeans
that are completely obliterated with holes.

I look into his pale blue eyes, the depth of which
often goes unrecognized.  Jeremy is a soft-hearted,
pudgy youngster with the kind of chunky cheeks
that all grandparents love to torture.  

But his marred, acne-ridden face betrays the transition
that has been forced upon him.  Slowly, his trademark
grin appears across his face – subtle, mischievous, and
typically without reason.  But this time it appears justified.

Jeremy takes a moment’s break from his cigarette to drop two
hits of acid.  A new drug for him, he hopes to find relief from
his seething anxiety, evidenced now by the wide expansion of his
chest as he takes another, more lengthy and powerful pull from his cigarette.

The mundane chatter that fills the room continues, a seeming
necessity to offset any potential awkward silence. I feel as if
this noise is closing in around us.  But just as suddenly as I
feel overwhelmed by this sensation, the noise stops.

I look around, noticing everyone’s eyes staring in my
direction.  Jeremy is still next to me, now giggling
like a little school girl.
I begin to feel sick.

Jeremy swiftly leans forward, giving his
cigarette a premature but honorable
death, eliminating its glow as he smashes
the cherry into tiny bits against the ashtray.

As he sits back against the couch, I can see that
his eyes are now indifferent. Foreign.  With a perplexed
and fascinated stare, he watches the pearly-white smoke
slowly slither upwards towards the ceiling.

There’s no question in my mind that his
soul has fled. Jeremy sinks further into the
couch, turning his vacant eyes in my direction.
I want to *****.

His high-pitched giggle has now subsided into a
low whimper.  Gradually extending his left arm into
the air, he tilts it from side-to-side, examining it as if
an infant discovering his genitals for the first time.  

Bike wheels appear in the corners of the room.
Entertained, his eyes rapidly zigzag from the
corners of the walls to his hands. He asks me
if I can see the wheels. I don’t respond.

Intervals of psychotic emotion begin to cycle. Jeremy’s eyes
fill with tears as he tries to understand the hallucinations
engulfing him.  The expression on his face betrays the reality that
he has stepped onto the never-ending theme-park ride from hell.  

Together we leave and walk to the bus station, Jeremy
walking slowly and whimsically. The bus arrives,
and I hand him a few crumpled, single-dollar
bills as I attempt to instruct him where to get off.  

All I can envision is his mother’s first reaction to her son’s arrival.  
Would she collapse at her son’s knees, crying like a mother whose boy
has come home from war?  Would he forever be an awkward guest
at the dinner table? Would she disown him?  Would he become a feral child?






I no longer know what day it is. I am surrounded by lockers
and students, trapped in a tunnel of shadowy walls.  As I stand
alone, I find myself entranced by the blinding, January sunlight
that floods through the double doors a mile away.

My vision is unexpectedly blocked by a figure
standing in front of me. Clothed in little but jeans
and a bright, white t-shirt, Jeremy stares at me, his eyes
mirroring the emptiness I now feel.  

“Do you have a lighter?”  My hands pointlessly search my pockets for
what I already know is not there. “No, man. Sorry.” A look of confusion
spreads over his face, and I suddenly cannot help but notice the sick irony
of the scene in front of me - Jeremy flooded in light as if born again.  

My thoughts linger here too long, and just as swiftly as Jeremy
appeared, he is a mile away sauntering out through those double
doors. Estranged, I continue to stand here, hoping with
futility that this isn’t the last time I have looked upon him.
Year: 1995
Umi Mar 2018
The last judgement shall not hold mercy on the servants, but it shall not wrong them in their deeds either, it is the final decision to make,
The end of a long journey which births the desire to see you again,
Your reflection cast on a mirror in a sea of pure lunacy shall clear it all
It will open your heart and reveal all of your sinning impurities cast away by words of falsities, triggered by a simple yet small lie,
Heartfelt dream scapes shape the mirror; In a world so dark that the stars will blind ones sensitive, mortal eyes within seconds to come,
Experience of past events suspend memories from the future's dawn.
I will not show you any sad dreams, I'd like to heal your wounds if you have striven for righteousness and purity such as patience,
If you however have striven for corruption then you should know,
There's unending punishment and darkness awaiting your arrival,
Here we do have unlimitted time after all, unlimited cruelty and fear,
Love comes in misery, ends unexpectedly yet you won't see, will you?
Time ticks on, goes by and follows it's clear path in this devil's world which I am lurking over, ruling, which you have intruded tonight,
Take my hand oh all you pure souls, the love of light is for all to bear!

~ Umi
pieces Dec 2013
sometimes i feel so distant
i even feel like crying
without knowing why
& it makes me feel lost.
i don't want to go back
to the depressing days
when i could hear voices in my head
& had insomnia
neither to have depressed & suicidal thoughts.
i thought i got over it
i thought i overcome it
but no;
i didn't really do.
you can't just overcome someting
that has being with you for years.
maybe you feel better & better
as the time passes,
but depression will still be there
deep inside you
waiting for you to have a moment of sadness
so it can seize you again
& you better be prepared for it
because it can get you
without you expecting it -unexpectedly.
Sally A Bayan Jan 2014
( Filipino orTagalog version)

di sumasapit ang pagtulog
sa isang kaluluwang
sabik at di mapakali
isang pusong ubod tiyaga
ngayo'y balisang tumitibok
sa kabila ng malumanay
na pag patak ng ulan...

sa kaunting salitang nagbibigay kasiyahan
parang simoy ng hangin, may mga dalang palamuti
mga matatamis na pangako ng
maluwalhating bukas,
lumutang sa kapaligiran
at binago ang malamlam na
lagay ng kalooban.
ang mga darating na araw
ay muling yayabong.

isang kaluluwang hapong hapo
di-inaasaha'y, napangiti
sa unang pagkakataon
mga matatamis na tunog ng mahihinang
halakhak ay paulit-ulit na tumaginting
sa kalaliman ng gabi.

itong di maampat-ampat na pananabik
aking panalangin ay
tuluyan nang pumayapa
dito sa dilim, ako'y nakahimlay
habang  ang mga pangarap ng pag-asa
ay alak na lumalasing sa aking pag-iisip.
kasabay ng pagdatal ng madaling-araw,
nabubuhay na lalo ang mga bagong isipin
na lalong nagpapasigla sa aking utak...

mulat na mulat ang aking mga mata
di na sasapit pa ang antok
di na sasapit pa ang pagtulog...

::::::::::

(ENGLISH VERSION)

SLEEP DOESN'T COME...

Sleep doesn’t come
To an eager, restless soul.
A heart so patient
now beats anxiously,
Even with the gentle rhythm
Of raindrops tapping.

With just a few satisfying words
Sprinkled with whiffs of hope,
So magical,
A promise of a glorious tomorrow
Floated in the air
And altered the somber mood.
The coming days are to flourish
Once more.

Unexpectedly,
A soul gone weary
Smiled for the first time.
The sweet sound of soft laughter
Unheard in the still of the night.

This insatiable needing
I pray, to be quelled soon..
Here in the dark, I lay awake,
As visions of hope inebriate my mind.
With dawn comes new ideas,
Stimulating my brain even more..

.......my eyes are wide open........
.......sleep wouldn’t come at all……


       Sally

            Copyright 2014
       Rosalia Rosario A. Bayan
*...another old poem, with an  english and tagalog version...*
Mikaila Sep 2013
When I was eleven I joined the cast of the school play
Aladdin
And the genie was played by a girl
Three years older
With straight dark hair, and a nervously witty way with words
And the most captivatingly violent contempt for the world
That masked and mingled with a host of little insecurities,
And the largest jewel tone eyes I'd ever seen.
One was blue and one was green,
And she looked at me.
I think it was when I was peeking out from behind the curtain.
She just looked at me for a second and
I fell in love with her right there.
Six years later was the first day I forgot to think of her,
And I do believe I'll never go a solid month without the ghost of loving her pressing up against my back once or twice,
Quite unexpectedly.
I didn't speak to her for the first four years,
And when I did I became her best friend, sure that that was what I felt for her.
And two years after we met,
She disappeared and I was glad by then,
But loved her no less.
That was the first.

Then during my eighth grade summer,
Just before I started high school,
I walked into my summer camp
To the theatre to audition for the play
And there on the stage there was a girl
With freckles on her shoulders like cinnamon sprinkled.
She always wore a close fitting hat over her short hair
And her eyes were the deep, slate grey of the sky just before a rainstorm cracks through the clouds.
Her fingers looked like porcelain,
And I couldn't stop looking at them
Because I remembered the sculptures in the Museum of Fine Art
That I always wanted to touch as a child- smooth and white and delicate but with the suggestion of strength.
And when she spoke her voice was the lowest, richest one I'd ever heard
And everyone in the room bent toward her as if caught by gravity.
The way she uses words when she talks is the way a concert pianist uses the keys-
You have to stop and stand in awe, sometimes.
She can make you feel things.
I saw her on that stage, and I fell in love with her, right there,
And this time I think I knew it was love and not friendship.
Four, maybe five years later,
I know I'm not over it.
She was the first girl I ever thought about kissing.
That was the second.

Then my sophomore year, I suddenly looked at a good friend of mine
And saw her for what she was instead of passing by.
Chocolate brown eyes full of sweetness and vitality,
Long brown hair that fell in little curls about her face when it escaped its pinnings as she danced,
She was radiant, inside and out,
Full of this innocent joy, an ability to be... happy
That I had never imagined.
Her little beauties snuck up on you,
And then all of a sudden hit you hard and knocked you over.
It was her loveliness as a person that made her truly extraordinary-
She was nicer to me than anyone I'd ever loved.
By then I knew it was love, and I felt ashamed.
I gave her what gifts I could-
Perhaps too many-
To satisfy some need in me to thank her for existing.
And although I finally learned to keep myself from pining for her
I know that to this day I would fall for her again if I saw her.
She was like a balm for the hard cold brutality of everyday life;
Knowing her was like healing from being alive.
She's overseas now,
Lighting up some room somewhere,
And I hope that the people in it feel the warmth of her like the sun, like I did.
That was the third.

Then my junior year, quite unexpectedly,
I found that I loved no one and hurt over no one,
And I began to find a peace in that
Until on Halloween I walked into my friend's party
(My friend who has, since, sadly spoiled from the inside out over the years,
Or maybe he always was rather that way.)
And I saw what sunlight would look like if it were a person.
Dark hair, black eyes like whole galaxies, high cheekbones, full lips
And the softest, most radiant skin I'd ever seen or felt.
I thought I dreamed her that night,
And many, many times since then I've thought the same.
She kissed me and I felt it through every cell of me,
And although I slowly fell in love with her mind in the coming weeks,
I knew I loved her soul when I saw her eyes the moment she first looked at me.
The joy of being hers left such a glow upon my soul
That when she left I was blind, and fell to my knees.
For a long, long time, she was all there was-
First in love and perfection, and I shivered when she touched me,
Then in loss and devastation, and I shook without her near.
I worked harder and longer than I've ever worked for anything in my life this past year
To learn to love her and live through it even though she is gone
Instead of letting go of the memory of her and hence losing her for good.
Worth every second, I maintain.
She was the person who first loved me back-
The only one so far, honestly-
And I know I will be in love with her until the day I die.
That was the fourth.

And then when I had resigned myself to a life
Of loving someone who wouldn't touch me anymore,
I met somebody new.
She has dark hair that catches the light red,
Wild and curly and it dances in the breeze.
She has the bluest eyes I've ever seen, full of laughter and warmth-
Eyes like that are dangerous, they can make a whole room hot or cold
All on their own.
She saw me loving her, and drew my soul from me
With the touch of her fingers on my cheek
And took it with her when she pulled away and walked down the hall
At 3 am
And when she rounded the corner
She'll never know that I sat down and cried
Right there
Because I knew I'd never quite get it back.
I knew she wouldn't be so close ever again.
But I cried with a smile
Because everyone I meet who can make me feel so intensely that I lose control
Is the most important person I've ever met, all over again.
So now there is her
Her and all these ghosts that press cold against my back when I lay down to sleep
See-through arms around my waist,
Making sure that nothing warm quite touches me truly.
And if she fades with them-
For she is already blurring around the edges,
Starting to retreat into the part of my heart that can house the things that
Hurt
-If she fades with them
There will have been another lesson to go with this loss.
I never know what I'm being taught
So brutally
But hopefully someday I will figure it out.
Maybe then somebody will chase the ghosts away and put her arms around me
And I will know security for the first time in my entire life.
She is the fifth.
But heaven knows who will be
The last.
Mystic Ink Plus Dec 2018
Let me know
What was that
That made you
To choose him/her

She/He replied
Leave it, or listen
He/She is the future
Nothing more

Being an observant and a traveller of examined life I come to this conclusion. Tragedy does not happen, from the very beginning  It is "Us" who pave the path within. With the unawareness we focus to travel to the destination where we don't belong. Throughout the journey we keep on dreaming with a hope of a good day making us vulnerable to the threshold, when even a single undesired word, few seconds delay, lyrics of the background music could unexpectedly break us.
Trust me we all are fragile.

Let it be simple, if we are watering the leaves of the plant and hope to grow, we get the result what we have to accept. Sometime mishaps happens, we are the culprit. How dare we expect to water the roots of the plant in neighbor's terrace and wish for the fruit to be ours.

We may smell the fragrance if the kind breeze blow towards our side.
Even we may always get the fragrance if we follow the direction of the wind.
The choice is ours.
Does it worth?
Will we be happy?
Can we hide the pain?

Always
The choice is all ours.
Genre: Dark Diary
Theme: Examined Life || Words of wisdom
Benji James May 2017
(Yeah)
It seems I had to go and write
Untitled part two
Just to express
How much I hate you
Shouldn't have got that tattoo
The one that everybody
told me not to
Yep shouldn't have gotten
Your name Inked into my skin
That was a mistake
That shouldn't have been
But it seems
I was too stubborn to listen
Said I wouldn't be
another one of your victims

As stars fall from the sky
Everything was lost
between you and I
Every night another fight
Every time another lie
And when you set in
To get under my skin
I just couldn't see
What you had coming
A door was wide open
For the beast to creep in
And get me unexpectedly

I thought you were perfect
Only to find out
You were never worth it
You were never worth any of my time
Should have left you the first time
I laid my eyes on you
But I was ****** in by your smile
Yeah you may have been beautiful
But your ugly on the inside
There was no soul there to find
A monster is all you'll ever be
A heart eater why couldn't I see
Maybe I just didn't want to believe that you could hurt me.

Remember the time
You said that you'd be mine
So I left the girl
I could have been with
Just to get stabbed in the back
By you, never thought,
you could get so cruel.
You selfish *****
You left me to rot in a ditch
Broken hearted.
Goodbye dearly departed
Nah you are freaking *******
Do you think I'll let you
walk away, that easily?
I want you to feel
Everything you did to me
Like Remember when you said
That you loved me
You said it so convincingly
And did it so consistently
Only to **** me emotionally
and make it hurt physically
When your words hit
They hit like a brick
I shouldn't have sat
and taken it silently
I should have retaliated violently

As stars fall from the sky
Everything was lost
between you and I
Every night another fight
Every time another lie
And when you set in
To get under my skin
I just couldn't see
What you had coming
A door was wide open
For the beast to creep in
And get me unexpectedly

I thought you were perfect
Only to find out
You were never worth it
You were never worth any of my time
Should have left you the first time
I laid my eyes on you
But I was ****** in by your smile
Yeah you may have been beautiful
But your ugly on the inside
There was no soul there to find
A monster is all you'll ever be
A heart eater why couldn't I see
Maybe I just didn't want to believe
That you could hurt me.

Oh here it comes
Said I'd be your guardian angel
But now I hope you burn in hell
For leaving me to burn in the flames
To drown in your little love game
Yeah said I'd rise from the ashes
A Phoenix of vengeance
I never pretended I was in love
I never betrayed you in anyways
And how do you repay me
But walk away,
forgot every word
You ever said to me?
Do you know how much that hurt?
Do you know how much that burnt?
No, no you don't
Because you didn't careless
How I felt
And I gave you everything
Only to have it
thrown back in my face
Think your gonna
get away with that?
Nah **** I won't
let you get away with it

As stars fall from the sky
Everything was lost
between you and I
Every night another fight
Every time another lie
And when you set in
To get under my skin
I just couldn't see
What you had coming
A door was wide open
For the beast to creep in
And get me unexpectedly

I thought you were perfect
Only to find out
You were never worth it
You were never worth any of my time
Should have left you the first time
I laid my eyes on you
But I was ****** in by your smile
Yeah you may have been beautiful
But your ugly on the inside
There was no soul there to find
A monster is all you'll ever be
A heart eater why couldn't I see
Maybe I just didn't want to believe
That you could hurt me.

Stop psychologically messing
With my head
Because you plagued my mind
One, two, too many time
Everything we had
between you and I
Was all based on a lie
And I can't even explain how or why
I should have known
That I couldn't trust you
I should have seen all the cracks
Starting to show through
I should have known
That I couldn't let you in
So that you could
Just try to find a way to win
Should never have shown
you all of my scars
Just so you could cut in deeper
That made me bleed a lot easier
Yeah well, guess what girl?
This ends here, I've had enough
Because there was
never gonna be an us
I can't trust you now
I couldn't trust you then
So I'm gonna leave
you lying in the dirt
If you ever come running back again

As stars fall from the sky
Everything was lost
between you and I
Every night another fight
Every time another lie
And when you set in
To get under my skin
I just couldn't see
What you had coming
A door was wide open
For the beast to creep in
And get me unexpectedly

I thought you were perfect
Only to find out
You were never worth it
You were never worth any of my time
Should have left you the first time
I laid my eyes on you
But I was ****** in by your smile
Yeah you may have been beautiful
But your ugly on the inside
There was no soul there to find
A monster is all you'll ever be
A heart eater why couldn't I see
Maybe I just didn't want to believe
That you could hurt me.

©2017 Written By Benji James
Bea Amarille Sep 2014
the greatest people in your life
come unexpectedly
maybe it is the time
when you bumped them in the hallway
or played volleyball on the same team
it happens
and we just do not know
maybe they were your bus mates
or someone you thought was a ******
i thought everyone was the same
until i met each

*b.a
Gita Ashok Oct 2011
A widespread condition
related to nutrition
is lactose intolerance
that is in essence
the inability to digest and assimilate
the milk sugar-lactose-the substrate
that is acted upon by lactase-
the specific enzyme
over a period of time.
This may happen suddenly
and generally
at any age most unexpectedly.

Lactose intolerance
is caused by the absence
of the enzyme lactase
that breaks down lactose
to the simple sugars-
glucose and galactose.
The condition may be
secondary,  congenital,
or developmental.

Secondary lactose intolerance
invariably has its occurrence
related to a gastrointestinal infection
and its disappearance
is linked to the causative factor’s correction.
This type of intolerance-
(certainly a nuisance)
is reversible
if we are a bit careful.

Congenital lactose intolerance,
an inherited form of intolerance,
is a rare genetic  abnormality
that one can unearth
soon after an infant’s birth.
This need not cause any fear
as it lasts only half a year.

Developmental lactose intolerance
also known as primary  intolerance
is one wherein the enzyme synthesis
is progressively less
during childhood
and this persists into adulthood.

Gita Ashok
24/10/2011, 2 pm
Kewayne Wadley Feb 2017
I allowed myself to be loved by you.
Moving from across the street to a building that I always wondered what was inside.
I am not at all innocent.
Allowing myself to become busy.
Never really having the time to indulge in something I always wanted to do.
A new building in a familar place.
So welcoming.
Freeing myself of everything around.
The clock loosely ticking away.
The world no longer the same.
The steps taken from across the street becoming my favorite.
Remembering the first time I looked at you.
The term busy no longer existed.
Allowing myself to come at ease.
Opening the door.
Crazy how everything just happened.
Doing something unexpected, forgetting that I had something to do.
I allowed myself to be unexpectedly loved by you.
Completely forgetting where the door was.
Losing track of time
Julian Mar 2019
Tantalized by the fractious limerence of a vestigial habiliment of the old order, we conclude that hypertrophy leads to a limbo where random permutations alloyed by the rickety limits of concatenation subsume concepts that are equivocal but populate the imaginations of newfangled art forms that jostle the midwives of rumination to lead to unique pastures that are intuitively calibrated to correspond to definitive unitary events in conceptual space that sprawl unexpectedly towards the desultory but determinative conclusion of a meandering ludic sphere of rambunctious sentiments cobbled together to either rivet the captive audience or annoy the peevish criticaster when they dare to inseminate the canvassed and corrugated tract of intellectual territory created ad hoc to swelter the imagination with audacious ingenuity that is an inevitable byproduct of lexical hypertrophy. In this séance with the immaterial realm of concept rather than the predictable clockwork reductivism of a perceptual welter that is limited by the concretism circumscribed by spatiotemporal stricture we find that an extravagant twinge of even the smallest tocsin in the interstitial carousel of conscientious subroutines compounding recursively to pinprick the cossetted smolder of potentiality rather than extravagate into the vacancy of untenanted nullibiety can spawn a progeny of utilities and vehicles for dexterous abstraction that poach the exotic concepts we fathom by degrees of sapience malingering in lifeless bricolages of erratic abstraction in manners useful to transcend the repose of abeyance and heave awakening into the slumberous caverns of still-life to make them dynamically animated to capture ephemeral events that defy the demarcations of wistful indelicacy of the encumbered bulk of insufficient precision.

Today we embark on a quest to defile the anoegenetic recapitulation of canon that litters the dilapidated avenues of miserly contemplation that has a histeriological certainty and feeds the engines that enable novelty but ultimately remain rancid with the stench of the idiosyncratic shibboleths of synoptic alloyed impoverishment that leads to the vast wasteland of cremated entropy that is a stained foible of misappropriated context interpolated usefully as botched triage for daunting problems that require a nimble legerdemain of facile versatility that we easily adduce to conquer the present with the botched memorial of a defunct salience. Despite the travail of scholars to retreat from the frontier into the hypostatized hegemony of recycled credentialed information, we often are ensnared by the solemn attrition of decay as we traverse the conceptual underpinnings of all bedrock thought only to dangle precariously near the void of lapsed sentience because of transitory incontinence that is contiguous to the doldrums of crudity but nevertheless with mustered mettle we purport that the very self-serious awakening to our hobbling limitations is akin to a prosthetic enhancement of ratiocination capable of feats that stagger beneath the lowest level of subtext to elevate the highest superordinate categorization into heightened scrutiny that burgeons metacognitive limber. Marooned in the equipoise of specifiable enlightenment countermanded by the strictures of working memory we can orchestrate transverse pathways between the elemental quiddity of impetuous meaning and the dignified tropes of transitivity that bequeaths entire universes with feral progeny that modulate their ecosystems with both a taste of approximated symmetry and a cohesive enterprise for productivity that rests on the granular concordance of the highest plane to the indivisible parcels of atomic meaning that solder together to exist as intelligible if strained by the primordial frictions guaranteed by the brunt of motion incipient because of the metaphorical inertia created within insular universes to inform sprawling conurbations of mobilized thoughts designed to reckon with the breakneck pace of the corresponding reality to which they explicitly and precisely refer to.

We must singe surgically the filigrees that amount to the perceptible realities that transmute temperaments into the liturgy of routine conflated with the rigmarole of neural dragnets of reiterative quips in an elegant game of raillery with our supernal contumacy against the rigid authority of aleatory vagaries mandated by a dually arbitrary universe in a probabilistic terpsichorean dance with the depth of our dredge for subliminal acuity or the shallow bellicosity of common modes of glib contemplation characteristic of the basic nobility of improvisation. This basic interface with the world can either be mercurial or tranquil based on the interactionism of the enfeebled trudge of surface senses or blunt intuitions and the smoldering impact of the vestigial cloaks that deal gingerly with the poignant subtext evoked in the cauldron of immediacy rather than pondered with the portentous weight of imperative singularities of uniqueness derived from the plunge into the arcane citadel of microscopic introspection so refined that the ineffable drives we seek to fathom become amenable to the traipse of transcendental time that rarefies itself by defying the brunt of compartmentalized bureaucracies administered by the fulcrum of stereotypical notions of acquired gravitas imputed to mundane pedestrian quidnunc concerns that defile humanity rather than embolden the subaudition of gritty punctilios that show the supernal powers of the axiomatic divinity of sharpened sentience to reign with supremacy over the baser ignoble components of bletcherous nescience that leads to knee-**** platitudes that provoke folksy peevish divisions. We should rather orchestrate our activity by heeding the admonishment about the primogeniture of poignant sabotage buffered by the remonstration of innate tranquility and finding a whipsawed compromise of rationalization with true visceral encounters with the fulgurant quips of brisk emotions that grind industriously into amorphous retinues of the trenchant human imagination to either equip or hobble the leapfrogged interrogation of veracity and more consequently our notions of truth and fact.

When we see the hackneyed results of default ecological dynamics, we find ourselves aloof from purported transcendence because the whimpered bleats and cavils of the importunate masses result in a deafening din of cacophony because we strive throbbing with sprightliness towards the galloped chase of tantalization without the luxury of a terminus for satiation. Obviously a growth mindset is the galvanic ****** that spawns the imaginative swank of the pliable modulations of our perceived reality that, when protean, showcase the limitless verve of our primordial cacoethes for epigenetic evolution rather than the stolid and staid foreclosure of impervious sloth that memorializes the gluttony of speculation about fixed entities rather than imperative jostling urbanity that dignifies the brackish dance with dearth and the exuberant savory taste of momentary excess because it engages the animated pursuit of limerence rather than the exhumed corpse of wistful regret. Nature is a cyclical clockwork system of predatory instinct met with the clemency of the prosperous providence enacted by the travailing ingenuity of successive cumulative generativities that compounded unevenly and unpredictably to predicate a fundamental zeitgeist calculated to engorge the fattened resources of the resourceful and temper the etiolated dreams of the fringed acquiescence of a hulking prejudiced population of dutiful servants that balk at the diminutive prospects of a lopsided distribution of talent and means but slumber in irenic resolve created by the merciful hands of defensive designs that configure consciousness to relish comparative touchstones rather than absolute outcomes that straggle beyond a point of enviable reference to shield the world of the barbarism of botched laments clamoring for an uncertain grave from the gravity of the orbiting satellites of apportioned wealth both sunblind and boorish but simultaneously inextricable from the acclimated fortune of heaped nepotism and herculean opportunism. The intransigence of the weighted destiny of inequity is a squalid enterprise of primeval abrasive and combative tendencies within the bailiwick of the indignant compass inherent to the system that fathoms its deficiencies with crabwise and gingerly pause but airs a sheepish grievance like a bleat of self-exculpation but simultaneously an arraignment of fundamental attribution erroneously indicted without the selfsame reflexiveness characteristic of a transcendent being with other recourses to clamber an avenue to Broadway without malingering in the slums of opprobrious ineffectual remonstration against the arrangement of a blinkered metropolis of uneven gentrification.

We flicker sometimes between the strategic drivel of appeasement and the candor of audacious imprecation of the culprits of indignity or considerate nutritive encomium of the beacons of ameliorated enlightenment because we often masquerade a half-witted glib consciousness lazily sketched by the welters of verve alloyed with the rancid distaste of squalor and slumber on the faculty of conscientious swivels of prudential expeditions with an avarice for bountiful considered thought and wily contortions of demeanor that issue the affirmative traction of adaptive endeavor to cheat a warped system for a reconciled peace and a refined self-mastery. We need to traduce the urchins that sting the system with pangs of opprobrious ballyhoo and the effluvia of foofaraw that contaminate with pettifoggery and small-minded blather the arenas better suited for the gladiatorial combat of cockalorums tinged with a dose of intellectual effrontery beyond the span of dogmatism rather than the hackneyed platitudes that infest the news cycle with folksy backwardation catered to the fascism of a checkered established press that urges insurrection while tranquilizing dissent against the furtive actions of consequence hidden behind the draped verdure of pretense whose byproduct is only a self-referential sophistry that swarms like an intractable itch to devolve the spectator into a pasquinaded spectacle of profound human obtuseness that pervades malignantly the system of debate until the reductionists outwit themselves with the empty prevarication of circular logic that deliberately misfires to miss the target of true importance because of the pandered black hole easily evaded by creatures of high sentience but inevitably ensnaring the special kind of dupe into a cycle of bellicose ferocity of internecine balkanization. The vainglory of the omphalos of entertainment is also another reckoning because it festers a cultural mythos of glorified crapulence parading a philandered promiscuity with half-baked antics that gravitate attention and the lecheries of gaudy tenses of recycled tinsel alloyed by debased aberrations of seedy grapholagnia that magnetize as they percolate because of the insidious catchphrases embedded in pedestrian syncopation that ignite retention and acclimate to mediocrity the sounds of generations discolored by faint pasty rainbows rather than ennobled by majestic landscapes of ignipotent mellifluous sound that stands a supernal amusement still for the resourceful trainspotter.

Despite the contumely aimed in the direction of contrarians for deviating from the lockstep clockwork hustle of stooped pandered manipulation that peddles the wares of an entirely counterfeit reality, I stand obstinately against the melliferous stupefaction of entire genres of myth and subcultures huddled around the sentimental tug of factitious sophistries regaled by thick amorphous apostates that cherish the vacuous sidetracked spotlight with fervor rather than pausing on the enigmatic querulous inquisition about the penumbras that lurk with strained effort beneath or above the categorical nescience of the shadowy unknown that often coruscates with elegance even in obscurity. I fight with labored words to spawn a psychological discipline that invokes the incisive subaudition of the pluckily pricked exorcism of true insight from the husk of buzzwords that constellate auxiliary tangential distractions from the art form of psychological discernment that predicates itself on the concept that the rarefaction of rumination by degrees of microscopic precision enables the introspective hindsight of conscious events that can be parsed without the acrimony of cluttered conflations of the granular prowess of triumphant ratiocination that earns a panoramic perch with the added luxury of perspicacious insight into the atomic structure of the rudiments of our phenomenological field and the abstractions that linger beyond perceptual categorization. When we analyze the gradients of anger, for example, we can either be ****** into a brooded twinge of wistful resentment or we can decipher that through heuristics designed to cloister the provenance of subconscious repose with ignorance there exists a regimented array of tangential accessories embedded deep within the cavernous repository of memory that designates a cumulative trace of compounded symmetries of concordant experience immediately perceptible because of the tangible provocateur of our gripes and the largely subliminal tusk that protrudes because of primal instinct that squirms with peevishness because of the momentary context preceded by the desultory churn of smoldering associations swimming with either complete intangible sputtered mobility through the tract of subconscious hyperspace or rigidly fixated by an arraignment of circumstances with propinquity to the deep unfathomed flicker of bygones receding or protruding because of the warped and largely unpredictable rigmarole of constellated spreading activation.  
When we examine the largesse of the swift recourse of convenience we forget by degrees the travail that once bridged the span of experience from patient abeyance in provident pursuit to now the importunate glare of inflated expectations for immediacy that stings the whole enterprise of societal dynamics because it vitiates us with a complacency for the filigrees of momentary tinsel of a virtualized reality divorced from the concretism that used to undergird interaction and now stands outmoded as a wisp beyond outstretched hands straggling beyond the black mirror of a newfangled narcissistic clannishness that shepherds the ostentation of conceit to a predominant position that swaddles us with fretful diversion that operates on a warped logic of lurid squalor and pasty trends becoming the mainstays of a hypercritical linguistic system of entrapment based on the apostasy of candor for the propitiation of fringed aberration because of the majoritarian uproar about touchy butthurt pedantic criticasters with a penchant for persnickety structuralism. With the infestation of entertainment with the ubiquitous political cavils engineered by the ruling class to have a common arena of waggish irreverence we forget that sometimes the impetuous ****** of propaganda is cloaked by the fashionable implements of a rootless time writhing in a purported identity crisis only to gawk at the ungainly reflection of modernity in the mirror and remain blissfully unaware about the transmogrified cultural psyche that feeds the lunacy of endless spectacle based on the premise that one singular whipping post can unite an entire generation of miscegenated misfits looking for commonality to team up against the aging generations that cling to the sanctity of cherished jingoism against the intentionality of a revamped system that malingers with empty promises using exigency and legerdemain to obscure the mooncalves among their ranks that march on with quixotic dreams that tolerate only the idea of absolute tolerance and moderate only when feasibly permitted by the anchored negotiation of the fulcrum of totemic governmental responsibility between factions that wage volleys of invective at each other to promote a binary choice of vitiated compromises of mendaciloquence that ultimately endanger the republic with either the perils of hidebound conventionalism and nativist fervor or the boondoggles of fiscally irresponsible insanity cloaked with rainbows and participation trophies. Reproach can be distributed to both sides of the aisle because ironically in a world where gender is non-binary the most important reproductive ***** in the free world is a binary-by-default despotism that polarizes extremely ludic fantasies on the left met with the acrimony of the traditionalisms on the right that staunchly resist the fatuous confusions of delegated order only to the sharp rebuke of the revamped political vogue that owes its sustenance to a manufactured diplomacy of saccharine lies and ubiquitous lampoons that are lopsided in the direction of a globalist neoliberal bricolage of moderately popular buzzwords and the trojan horse of insubordinate flippant feminism that seeks to subvert through backhanded manipulation the patriarchy so many resent using lowbrow tactics and poignant case studies rather than legislating the egalitarian system into law using the proper channels. I myself am a political independent who sides with fiscal conservatism but libertarianism in most other affairs because the pettifoggery of law-and-order politics is a diatribe overused by sheltered suburbanites and red meat is often just as fatuous as blue tinsel and sadly in a majoritarian society the ushers of conformity demand corporate divestiture in favor of an ecological system of predictability rather than an opinionated welter of legitimate challenges to a broken system of backwards partisanship and wangled consent. Ultimately, I remain mostly apolitical, but I am a fervent champion of the mobilization of education to a statelier standard that demands rigor and responsibility rather than the chafe of rigmarole that understates the common objectives of humanity and rewards conventional thinking and nominal participation to earn credentialed pedigree when the bulk of talent resides elsewhere.
Kitbag of Words Jan 2018
an incredible incite (the ruthless volatility of words)

~for L.B.~

the only place of solitaire solitude in the city accompanies me
like a faithful country dog that doesn’t know better to be afraid,
of moving cars, sleepless night terrors and unscripted “dreams”

where image and words say come “follow me” with ruthlessness and no cloying come hither looks and
see and take and recall with perfect midnight blue sky clarity for

the incredible incite of credible insight

surfacing unexpectedly in a intemperate pool of slushy snow,
that will be an ice storm of painful confrontations with naked
inner truths standing outside in sunny sub zero playground

there is great risk.  volatility gone wild. when the speed
governor is removed and you live at 100 mph on local streets,
when the merest slight of an accidental incidental touch
transforms into an incite incident and hell is the threat
that you will not die today and your own words will ruthless
pull from the nerve places where sensible and sensual cannot
coexist and this write this script is a poetical insight inside, an
incredible incite and what your spilling is spaghetti sauce blood
when you left your brain on broil, instead of the faking daily of
slow simmering ineffectual intellectual words that just don’t
cut the crap. your addiction complete, you cannot live without
the incredible incite, the ruthless volatility of words,
otherwise why rough write what you see
in the blind
beyond the blind


1/6/18 5:03am
Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 5
“I took great pains to study and ’tis poetical
Nigel Morgan Dec 2012
He said I’m the wrong shape. I could do with putting on a few pounds and, almost as an after thought he said, you’ll have to cut your hair – yourself.  I know she was an artist, and a mother, and a gardener. I had to admit to him I didn’t know any painters. My cousin Julie’s a sculptor – same thing he said – but I had to tell him I hadn’t yet looked at her painting, only what he showed us in his presentation.  He then told me exactly where in the National Museum of Wales I could see one of her paintings – Gallery 14 – and its from this period, a Parisiene picture. He suggested I might go to Cambridge and spend a day at a place called Kettles Yard. There are more Winifreds there than anywhere else in the UK, and many pictures by her close friend Christopher Wood.
 
Oh dear. This is difficult. The only thing going for me seems I’m about the right age and I’ve have children, though mine are older than hers in the production. I was so surprised to get this part, but as Michael said over the phone, your profile fits. Except for the weight and the hair, and I know nothing about painting. Why should I? Jeff told me, the composer Morton Feldman once said if you haven’t got a friend whose a painter, you’re in trouble. I’m in trouble. But he has very kind eyes and when he touched me gently on the shoulder after Lizzie and I sung that shells duet I had to look away.
 
Reaching down arm-deep into bright water
I gathered on white sand under waves
Shells, drifted up on beaches where I alone
Inhabit a finite world of years and days.
I reached my arm down a myriad years
To gather treasure from the yester-millennial sea-floor,
Held in my fingers forms shaped on the day of creation….
 
They sleep on the ocean floor like humming-tops
Whose music is the mother-of-pearl octave of the rainbow,
Harmonious shells that whisper for ever in our ears,
‘The world that you inhabit has not yet been created’

 
Mind you, I don’t envy Lizzie being Kathleen Raine. Now that is a difficult part, even though she’s only in Act 2. Raine was definitely odd. He says I have to understand their friendship, because there was something about it that made them both more than they were. I don’t understand that.
 
Jane and the children are amazing already. Martin (my ‘other’ half Ben Nicholson) said they’d been rehearsing with Robert because his wife (Robert’s wife Debbie) is at WNO and they were scared about this one. I’ll say this for him he knows exactly how children interrupt, constantly. It’s clever the way he uses the interruptions to change direction of the dialogue. Conversations are often left unfinished. The bit when that ***** Barbara visits the apartment unexpectedly is brilliant. She’s completely demolished by these kids of her lover.
 
But those letters . . . he said, can you imagine your husband writing to you over a period of 40 years? Quite a thought that. David wrote to me a few times when I was in Madrid for Cosi just after we’d met, but it was all telephone calls after that. Why waste paper, time and a stamp. But I take his point – their letters are so beautiful – and they were separated for God’s sake. He’d gone off with another woman, and even brought her to Paris. And you could not have two totally different women – she ,slight, chain-smoking, work-a-holic, sharp-tongued with that Yorkshire edge, and me with ‘a quiet voice, trying always to be gentle and kind ‘– W would be called an earth-mother these days. She was a kind of hippie, only she had money – mind you most of those hippies of the 60s had money otherwise they couldn’t have done drugs (heard that on Radio 4 last week in a programme about Richard Brautigan). But they wrote to each other almost every day.
 
Dear Ben,.
            Do you know there are several kinds of happiness, and there is one sort which I have found. It is the sort that is within oneself, enjoying fresh promise, and taking all the experiences of life that one has been through, so-called sad ones and so-called happy ones, to make up understanding that is further on than joy or sorrow. I have been extremely lucky – I have had ten years of companionship with an ‘all-time’ painter, working in the medium of classic eternity and that has been better than a lifetime with any second-class person – isn’t it - I have found it so…
 
Best love Winifred

 
What’s clever about the letter sequences is the way the two-way correspondence is handled as a duet and right in the middle of it you’ll get a flashback – like Winifred suddenly remembering her first meeting with Ben.
 
I heard this voice
In the room next door
I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t move
I knew, I knew for certain
This was the man I would marry.
And when we were introduced
He seemed to know this too.

 
We gaily call this an opera, but it’s not. It’s something else. It simply doesn’t do what you think it’s going to do. Even when you do something for a second time the accompaniment doesn’t do what you expect and remembered. It’s this open-form business. Something else I know nothing about. He mentioned Umberto Eco – now I’ve read Name of the Rose. When Braque or Mondrian or Jan Eps visit unannounced I have no idea which one it’s going to be – these guys just used to turn up. Sometimes two at once. W didn’t invite them. They came for her English hospitality (home baking I think) and her beautiful apartment come studio – beautiful, because she made it so. Her French was appalling, and this is difficult because I speak quite well, and now I have to speak like an idiot. Bridget  (playing Cissy the Cumbrian nanny) having her French lesson is a hoot, and with the children correcting her all the time, it’s lovely.
 
He was very sweet when we broke for lunch. Sara, he said, as I collapsed into an auditorium seat to find my bag and mobile, Sara, we’ve got to find you a painter to spend a day with . . . so you’ll know how to stand in front of an easel.  I phoned Sarah Jane Brown who has a studio in Cardiff and she’d love to meet you. Here’s her number. She paints flowers and landscapes – as well as the abstract stuff - just like Winifred. Her tutor at the RCA actually knew Winifred. And with that he disappeared to a dark corner of the theatre and unwrapped his sandwiches. You can tell he’s not into break discussions with Julian or Michael. I think he’s terribly shy. He’s interested in the cast and so he picks them off one by one. Julian I know doesn’t like this. I think everything needs to go through me, he said at the end of yesterday’s rehearsal. Who does he think he is?! Lizzie reminded Julian he was the composer and what he doesn’t know about this whole period and its characters isn’t knowledge. Liz thinks he’s a sweetie – and she’s sung his Raine settings at Branwyn Hall last year – with Robert who was his MD with BBCNOW. Liz knows Julian hasn’t done his usual homework because he’s got this production in Birmingham on the boil. Unknown Colour is a distraction he can do without.
 
This afternoon it’s back to the mayhem of those ensemble scenes in Act 1. They’re quite crazy, but I’m already beginning to feel I can start to be someone other than me. Did you know I have this lovely song? It’s quite Sondheim . . .
 
*I like to have a picture in my room.
Without one, my room feels bare
however much furniture is there;
Pictures play so many roles.
My room has too much going on in it
for something extravagant.
In the morning it is a sanctuary,
in the daytime a factory,
in the evening a place of festivity,
and through the night a place of rest.
 
I want a window in it,  
And a focal point, something alive and silent.
A bunch of flowers on the window sill?
Yes, but they will wither.
A cat curled up on the hearth?
Yes, but it will go away and prowl upon the rooftops.
 
A picture will always be there.
It will make no sound. It will wait.
If it is true I shall never grow tired of it.
I shall see something fresh in it
when I glance at it tomorrow.
It will always be my friend.
Cassidy Shoop Apr 2014
It’s been thirteen months and I’ve forgotten your scent. I don’t remember the way it feels for your fingertips to brush against my bare skin. I can’t recall the spark that would reignite every time our lips came in contact. I can’t remember the way your tongue would taste in the early hours of the day. I don’t even remember what your voice sounded like whispering through the phone at 5am. But it’s been thirteen months, and I won’t dare forget the way it felt to watch you walk out of my life just as quickly and unexpectedly as you walked into it.
AJ Robertson Oct 2013
the child recieves his paper
****** backward by the one in front
flip the three pages flippantly
one : intimidating . . two : boring
the third adorned unexpectedly
a longer -than seems can be usually- grown hair with a clump of green root
sprung out and slaughtered, down across the width; stuck above the questions beneath

how could he not have seen?
a pile so viscous and obscene?
does everyone else have one???
are they holding their disgust beneath?

he looked up at the teacher.
A look of vigilance his face bequeathed.
B  ut now it sprung out almost pus like
a faint smile,
        a teachers calm reprieve

he then leaned back on his chair in comfort
drooping his head back
his nostrils flared now toward the child
the hairs brustling from inside, all locked up in a ***** days remnants
all foul
           and long
and dehydrated
    like a swamp now sunned crisp; reeds on a stale bank

drawn in he felt uneasy
unable to cease to stare
incased inside the world that spawned
in the swamp that lay up there
in the cavernous orifices there

then he saw the teachers eyes, his gaze it
stuck on him, the teacher began to grin
further back his head leant
his eyes jaundiced
his teeth tanned
his face pale
his grin outstretched and thin

— The End —