Submit your work, meet writers and drop the ads. Become a member
Ron Sanders Feb 2020
(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.
howard brace Feb 2012
Inconspicuous, his presence noted only by the obscurity and the ever growing number of spent cigarette stubs that littered the ground.  It had been a long day and the rain, relentless in its tenacity had little intention of stopping, baleful clouds still  hung heavy, dominating the lateness of the afternoon sky, a rain laden skyline broken only by smoke filled chimney pots and the tangled snarl of corroded television aerials.

     The once busy street was fast emptying now, the lure of shop windows no longer enticed the casual browser as local traders closed their premises to the oncoming night, solitary lampposts curved hazily into the distance, casting little more than insipid pools mirrored in the gutter below, only the occasional stranger scurrying home on a bleak, rain swept afternoon, the hurried slap of wet leather soles on the pavement, the sightless umbrellas, the infrequent rumble of a half filled bus, hell-bent on its way to oblivion.

     In the near distance as the working day ended, a sudden emergence of factory workers told Beamish it was 5-o'clock, most would be hurrying home to a hot meal, while others, for a quick drink perhaps before making the same old sorry excuse... for Jack, the greasy spoon would be closing about now, denying him the comfort of a badly needed cuppa' and stale cheese sandwich.  A subtle legacy of lunchtime fish and chips still lingered in the air, Jack's stomach rumbled, there was little chance of a fish supper for Beamish tonight, it protested again... louder.

     From beneath the eaves of the building opposite several pigeons broke cover, startled by the rattle as a shopkeeper struggled to close the canvas awning above his shop window.  Narrowly missing Beamish they flew anxiously over the rooftops, memories of the blitz sprang to mind as Jack stepped smartly to one side, he stamped his feet... it dashed a little of the weather from his raincoat, just as the rain dashed a little of the pigeons' anxiety from the pavement... the day couldn't get much worse if it tried.  Shielding his face, Jack struck the Ronson one more time and cupped the freshly lit cigarette between his hands, it was the only source of heat to be had that day... and still it rained.

     'By Appointment to Certain Personages...' the letter heading rang out loudly... 'Jack Beamish ~ Private Investigator...' a throat choking mouthful by any stretch of the imagination, thought Jack and shot every vestige of credulity plummeting straight through the office window and amidst a fanfare of trumpet voluntary, nominate itself for a prodigious award in the New Year Honours list.   Having formally served in a professional capacity for a well known purveyor of pickled condiments, who  incidentally, brandished the same patronage emblazoned upon their extensive range of relish as the one Jack had more recently purloined from them... a paid commission no less, which by Jack's certain understanding had made him, albeit fleeting in nature, a professional consultant of said company... and consequently, if they could flaunt the auspicious emblem, then according to Jack's infallible logic, so could Jack.  

     The recently appropriated letterhead possessed certain distinction... in much the same way, Jack reasoned, that a blank piece of paper did not... and whereas correspondence bearing the heading 'By Appointment' may not exactly strike terror into the hearts of man... unlike a really strong pickled onion, it nevertheless made people think twice before playing him for the fool, which sadly, Jack had to concede, they still invariably did... and he would often catch them wagging an accusing finger or two in his direction with such platitudes as... "watch where you put your foot", they'd whisper, "that Jack's a right Shamus...", and when you'd misplaced your footing as many times as Jack had, then he reasoned, that by default the celebrated Shamus must have landed himself in more piles of indiscretion than he would readily care to admit, but that wouldn't be quite accurate either, in Jack's line of work it was the malefactor that actually dropped him in them more often than not.

     A cold shiver suddenly ran down his spine, another quickly followed as a spurt of icy water from a broken rain spout spattered across the back of his neck, he grimaced... Jack's expression spoke volumes as he took one final pull from his half soaked cigarette and flicked it, amid an eruption of sparks against the adjacent brick wall.  Sinking further into the shadow he tipped his fedora against the oncoming rain, then, digging both hands deep within his pockets, he huddled behind the upturned collar of his gabardine... watching.

     It was times such as these when Jack's mind would slip back, in much the same way you might slip back on a discarded banana peel, when a matter of some consequence, or in particular this case the pavement, would suddenly leap up from behind and give the back of Jack's head a resoundingly good slapping and tell him to "stop loafing around in office hours... or else", then drag him, albeit kicking and screaming back into the 20th century.  This intellectual assault and battery re-focused Jack's mind wonderfully as he whiled away the long weary hours until his next cigarette; cup of tea, or the last bus home, his capacity to endure such mind boggling tedium called for nothing less than sheer ******-mindedness and very little else... Beamish had long suspected that he possessed all the necessary qualifications.  

     Jack had come a long way since the early days, it had been a long haul but he'd finally arrived there in the end... and managed to pick up quite a few ***** looks along the way.  Whilst he was with the Police Constabulary... and it was only fair to stress the word 'with', as opposed to the word 'in'... although the more Jack considered, he had been 'with' the arresting officer, held 'in' the local Bridewell... detained at Her Majesties pleasure while assisting the boys in blue with their enquiries over a minor infringement of some local by-law that currently had quite slipped his mind at that moment.  Throughout this enforced leisure period he'd managed to read the entire abridged editions of Kilroy and other expansive works of graffiti exhibited in what passed locally as the next best thing to the Tate Gallery, whereupon it hadn't taken Jack very long to realise that it was always a good place to start if you wanted free breakfast, in fact the weeks bill of fare was tastefully displayed in vivid, polychromatic colour on the wall opposite... you just had to be au-fait with braille.
                            
     No matter how industrious Beamish laboured to rake the dirt there always appeared to be a dire shortage of gullible clients for Jack to squeeze, what would roughly translate as an honest crust out of, and although his financial retainer was highly competitive he understood that potential clients found it bewildering when grappling with the unplumbed depths of his monthly expense account, which would tend to fluctuate with the same unpredictability as the British weather, the rest of Jack's agenda revolved around a little shady moonlighting... in fact he'd happily consider anything to offset the remotest possibility of financial delinquency... short of extortion... which by the strangest twist was the very word prospective clients would cry while Jack beavered around the office with dust-pan and brush sweeping any concerns they may have had frantically under the carpet regarding all culpability of his extra-curricular monthly stipend... and they should remain assured at all times... as they dug deep and fished for their cheque books, and simply look upon it as kneading dough, which eerily enough was exactly the thick wedge of buttered granary that Jack had every intention of carving.

     Were there ever the slightest possibility that a day could be so utterly wretched, then today was that day, Jack felt a certain empathy as he merged with his surroundings... at one with nature as it were.  The rain, a timpani on the metal dustbin lids, by the side of which Beamish had taken up vigil, also taking up vigil and in search of a morsel was the stray mongrel, this was the third time now that he'd returned, the same apprehensive wag, yet still the same hopeful look of expectation in his eyes, a brief but friendly companion who paid more attention to Jack's left trouser leg than anything that could be had from nosing around the dustbins that day... some days you're the dog, scowled Beamish as he shook his trouser leg... and some days the lamppost, Jack's foot swung out playfully, keeping his new friend's incontinence at a safe distance, feigning indignance  the scruffy mongrel shook himself defiantly from nose to tail, a distinct odour of wet dog filled the air as an abundance of spent rainwater flew in all directions.   Pricking one ear he looked accusingly at Jack before turning and snuffled off, his nose resolutely to the pavement and diligently, picking out the few diluted scents still remaining, the poor little stalwart renewed its search for scraps, or making his way perhaps to some dry seclusion known only to itself.
  
     Two hours later and... SPLOSH, a puddle poured itself through the front door of the nearest Public House... SPLOSH, the puddle squelched over to the payphone... SPLOSH, then, fumbling for small change dialled and pressed button 'A'..., then button 'B'... then started all over again amid a flurry of precipitation... SPLASH.  The puddle floundered to the bar and ordered itself a drink, then ebbed back to the payphone again... the local taxi company doggedly refused to answer... finally, wallowing over to the window the puddle drifted up against a warm radiator amidst a cloud of humidity and came to rest... flotsam, cast upon the shore of contentment, the puddle sighed contentedly... the Landlady watched this anomaly... suspiciously.

     The puddle's finely tuned perception soon got to grips with the unhurried banter and muffled gossip drifting along the bar, having little else to loose, other than what could still be wrung from his clothing... Beamish, working on the principle that a little eavesdropping was his stock-in-trade engaged instinct into overdrive and casually rippled in their general direction...  They were clearly regulars by the way one of them belched in a well rehearsed, taken-a-back sort of way as Jack took stock of the situation and was now at some pains to ingratiate himself into their exclusive midst and attempt several friendly, yet relevant questions pertinent to his enquiries... all of which were skillfully deflected with more than friendly, yet totally irrelevant answers pertinent to theirs'... and would Jack care for a game of dominoes', they enquired... if so, would he be good enough to pay the refundable deposit, as by common consent it just so happened to be his turn...  Jack graciously declined this generous offer, as the obliging Landlady, just as graciously, cancelled the one shilling returnable deposit from the cash register, such was the flow of light conversation that evening... they didn't call him Lucky Jack for nothing... discouraged, Beamish turned back to the bar and reached for his glass... to which one of his recent companions, and yet again just as graciously, had taken the trouble to drink for him... the Landlady gave Jack a knowing look, Beamish returned the heartfelt sentiment and ordered one more pint.

     From the licenced premises opposite, a myriad of jostling customers plied through the door, business was picking up... the sudden influx of punters rapidly persuaded Beamish to retire from the bar and find a vacant table.  Sitting, he removed several discarded crisp packets from the centre of the table only to discover a freshly vacated ashtray below... by sleight of hand Jack's Ronson appeared... as he lit the cigarette the fragile smoke curled blue as it rose... influenced by subtle caprice, it joined others and formed a horizontal curtain dividing the room, a delicate, undulating layer held between two conflicting forces.

     The possibility of a free drink soon attracted the attention of a local bar fly, who, hovering in the near vicinity promptly landed in Jack's beer, Beamish declined this generous offer as being far too nutritious and with the corner of yesterdays beer mat, flipped the offending organism from the top of his glass, carefully inspecting his drink for debris as he did so.

     A sudden draught and clip of stiletto heels as the side door opened caused Beamish to turn as a double shadow slipped discreetly into the friendly Snug... a little adulterous intimacy on an otherwise cheerless evening.  The faceless man, concealed beneath a fedora and the upturned collar of his overcoat, the surreptitious lady friend, decked out in damp cony, cheap perfume and a surfeit of bling proclaimed a not too infrequent assignation, he'd seen it all before... the over attentive manner and the band of white, Sun-starved skin recently hidden behind a now absent wedding token, ordinarily it was the sort of assignment Jack didn't much care for... the discreet tail, the candid snapshot through half drawn curtains... and the all too familiar steak tartare... for the all too familiar black eye.

     To the untrained eye, the prospect of Jack's long anticipated supper was rapidly dwindling, when it suddenly focused with renewed vigour upon the contents of a pickled egg jar he'd observed earlier that evening, lurking on the back counter, his enthusiasm swiftly diminished however as the belching customer procured the final two specimens from the jar and proceeded to demolish them.  Who, Jack reflected, after being stood out in the rain all day, had egg all over his face now... and who, he reflected deeper, still had an empty stomach.  Disillusioned, Jack tipped back his glass and considered a further sortie with the taxicab company.

     "FIVE-BOB"!!! Jack screamed... you could have shredded the air with a cheese grater... hurtling into the kerb like a fairground attraction came flying past the chequered flag at a record breaking 99 in Jack's top 100 most not wanted list of things to do that day... and that the cabby should think himself fortunate they weren't both stretched flat on a marble slab, "exploding tyres" Jack spluttered, dribbling down his chin, were enough to give anyone a coronary... further broadsides of neurotic ambiance filled the cab as the driver, miffed at the prospect of missing snooker night out with the lads, considered charging extra for the additional space Jack's profanity was taking...

     And what part of 'Drive-Carefully', fumed Beamish, did the cabby simply not understand, that pavements were there to be bypassed, 'Nay Circumvented', preferably on the left... and not veered into, wildly on the front axle... an eerie premonition of 'jemais-vu' perched and ready to strike like a disembodied Jiminy Cricket on Jack's left shoulder, looking to stick its own two-penny worth in at the 'Standing-Room-Only' arrangements in the overcrowded cab... and at what further point, Jack shrieked, eyes leaping from his head as he lurched forward, shaking his fist through the sliding glass partition, had the cabbie failed to grasp the importance of the word 'Steering-Wheel...' someone wanted horse whipping, and as far as Beamish was concerned the sole contender was the cab driver...

     In having a somewhat sedate and unruffled disposition it had fallen to Beamish... as befalls all great leaders in times of adversity, to single handedly take the bull by the horns, so to speak and at great personal cost, alert the unwary passing motorist...  Waving his arms about like a man possessed whilst performing acrobatic evolutions in the centre of the road as the cabby changed the wheel came whizzing around the corner at a back breaking 98 on Jack's ever growing list... and why, Jack puzzled, why had they all lowered their side windows and gestured back at him in semaphore..?  Rallying to its aid, Jack's head and shoulders now joined his shaking fist through the sliding glass partition and into the cabby's face, "Who" Beamish screeched with renewed vigour ,"Who Was The Man", Jack wanted to know... *"a
Part I

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
Mayst hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
“There was a ship,” quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropped he.

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

“The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

The sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon—”
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

“And now the storm-blast came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And foward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken—
The ice was all between.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.

It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner’s hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white moonshine.”

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner,
From the fiends that plague thee thus!—
Why look’st thou so?’—”With my crossbow
I shot the Albatross.”

Part II

“The sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariners’ hollo!

And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ’em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head,
The glorious sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
’Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down,
’Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky,
The ****** sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue, and white.

And some in dreams assured were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.”

Part III

“There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time! a weary time!
How glazed each weary eye—
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.

At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist;
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged a water-sprite,
It plunged and tacked and veered.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could nor laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood!
I bit my arm, I ****** the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call:
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in,
As they were drinking all.

See! see! (I cried) she tacks no more!
Hither to work us weal;
Without a breeze, without a tide,
She steadies with upright keel!

The western wave was all a-flame,
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the sun.

And straight the sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven’s Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered
With broad and burning face.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the sun,
Like restless gossameres?

Are those her ribs through which the sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a Death? and are there two?
Is Death that Woman’s mate?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
‘The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!’
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out:
At one stride comes the dark;
With far-heard whisper o’er the sea,
Off shot the spectre-bark.

We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white;
From the sails the dew did drip—
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The horned moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.

One after one, by the star-dogged moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

The souls did from their bodies fly,—
They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my crossbow!”

Part IV

‘I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.

I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown.’—
“Fear not, fear not, thou Wedding-Guest!
This body dropped not down.

Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie;
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.

I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came and made
My heart as dry as dust.

I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the ***** like pulses beat;
Forthe sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky,
Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.

The cold sweat melted from their limbs,
Nor rot nor reek did they:
The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.

An orphan’s curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man’s eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.

The moving moon went up the sky,
And no where did abide:
Softly she was going up,
And a star or two beside—

Her beams bemocked the sultry main,
Like April ****-frost spread;
But where the ship’s huge shadow lay,
The charmed water burnt alway
A still and awful red.

Beyond the shadow of the ship
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.

Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.

O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.

The selfsame moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.”

Part V

“Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
To Mary Queen the praise be given!
She sent the gentle sleep from heaven,
That slid into my soul.

The silly buckets on the deck,
That had so long remained,
I dreamt that they were filled with dew;
And when I awoke, it rained.

My lips were wet, my throat was cold,
My garments all were dank;
Sure I had drunken in my dreams,
And still my body drank.

I moved, and could not feel my limbs:
I was so light—almost
I thought that I had died in sleep,
And was a blessed ghost.

And soon I heard a roaring wind:
It did not come anear;
But with its sound it shook the sails,
That were so thin and sere.

The upper air burst into life!
And a hundred fire-flags sheen,
To and fro they were hurried about!
And to and fro, and in and out,
The wan stars danced between.

And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the sails did sigh like sedge;
And the rain poured down from one black cloud;
The moon was at its edge.

The thick black cloud was cleft, and still
The moon was at its side:
Like waters shot from some high crag,
The lightning fell with never a jag,
A river steep and wide.

The loud wind never reached the ship,
Yet now the ship moved on!
Beneath the lightning and the moon
The dead men gave a groan.

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise.

The helmsman steered, the ship moved on;
Yet never a breeze up blew;
The mariners all ‘gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do;
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools—
We were a ghastly crew.

The body of my brother’s son
Stood by me, knee to knee:
The body and I pulled at one rope,
But he said nought to me.”

‘I fear thee, ancient Mariner!’
“Be calm, thou Wedding-Guest!
’Twas not those souls that fled in pain,
Which to their corses came again,
But a troop of spirits blest:

For when it dawned—they dropped their arms,
And clustered round the mast;
Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths,
And from their bodies passed.

Around, around, flew each sweet sound,
Then darted to the sun;
Slowly the sounds came back again,
Now mixed, now one by one.

Sometimes a-dropping from the sky
I heard the skylark sing;
Sometimes all little birds that are,
How they seemed to fill the sea and air
With their sweet jargoning!

And now ’twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute;
And now it is an angel’s song,
That makes the heavens be mute.

It ceased; yet still the sails made on
A pleasant noise till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune.

Till noon we quietly sailed on,
Yet never a breeze did breathe;
Slowly and smoothly went the ship,
Moved onward from beneath.

Under the keel nine fathom deep,
From the land of mist and snow,
The spirit slid: and it was he
That made the ship to go.
The sails at noon left off their tune,
And the ship stood still also.

The sun, right up above the mast,
Had fixed her to the ocean:
But in a minute she ‘gan stir,
With a short uneasy motion—
Backwards and forwards half her length
With a short uneasy motion.

Then like a pawing horse let go,
She made a sudden bound:
It flung the blood into my head,
And I fell down in a swound.

How long in that same fit I lay,
I have not to declare;
But ere my living life returned,
I heard and in my soul discerned
Two voices in the air.

‘Is it he?’ quoth one, ‘Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low
The harmless Albatross.

The spirit who bideth by himself
In the land of mist and snow,
He loved the bird that loved the man
Who shot him with his bow.’

The other was a softer voice,
As soft as honey-dew:
Quoth he, ‘The man hath penance done,
And penance more will do.’

Part VI

First Voice

But tell me, tell me! speak again,
Thy soft response renewing—
What makes that ship drive on so fast?
What is the ocean doing?

Second Voice

Still as a slave before his lord,
The ocean hath no blast;
His great bright eye most silently
Up to the moon is cast—

If he may know which way to go;
For she guides him smooth or grim.
See, brother, see! how graciously
She looketh down on him.

First Voice

But why drives on that ship so fast,
Without or wave or wind?

Second Voice

The air is cut away before,
And closes from behind.

Fly, brother, fly! more high, more high!
Or we shall be belated:
For slow and slow that ship will go,
When the Mariner’s trance is abated.

“I woke, and we were sailing on
As in a gentle weather:
’Twas night, calm night, the moon was high;
The dead men stood together.

All stood together on the deck,
For a charnel-dungeon fitter:
All fixed on me their stony eyes,
That in the moon did glitter.

The pang, the curse, with which they died,
Had never passed away:
I could not draw my eyes from theirs,
Nor turn them up to pray.

And now this spell was snapped: once more
I viewed the ocean green,
And looked far forth, yet little saw
Of what had else been seen—

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breathed a wind on me,
Nor sound nor motion made:
Its path was not upon the sea,
In ripple or in shade.

It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a meadow-gale of spring—
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze—
On me alone it blew.

Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
The lighthouse top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?
Is this mine own country?

We drifted o’er the harbour-bar,
And I with sobs did pray—
O let me be awake, my God!
Or let me sleep alway.

The harbour-bay was clear as glass,
So smoothly it was strewn!
And on the bay the moonlight lay,
And the shadow of the moon.

The rock shone bright, the kirk no less,
That stands above the rock:
The moonlight steeped in silentness
The steady weathercock.

And the bay was white with silent light,
Till rising from the same,
Full many shapes, that shadows were,
In crimson colours came.

A little distance from the prow
Those crimson shadows were:
I turned my eyes upon the deck—
Oh, Christ! what saw I there!

Each corse lay flat, lifeless and flat,
And, by the holy rood!
A man all light, a seraph-man,
On every corse there stood.

This seraph-band, each waved his hand:
It was a heavenly sight!
They stood as signals to the land,
Each one a lovely light;

This seraph-band, each waved his hand,
No voice did they impart—
No voice; but oh! the silence sank
Like music on my heart.

But soon I heard the dash of oars,
I heard the Pilot’s cheer;
My head was turned perforce away,
And I saw a boat appear.

The Pilot and the Pilot’s boy,
I heard them coming fast:
Dear Lord i
robert ondis Jul 2014
DEMOCRACY-PLUTOCRACY-BUREAUCRACY



OUR DESIRE TO HAVE A DEMOCRACY
HAS VEERED TOWARD A FETID PLUTOCRACY
AND I KNOW WHAT YOU'RE THINKIN'
IT'S THE MONEY THAT'S STINKIN'
IN THE POCKETS OF OUR "ELECTED" BUREAUCRACY
“Give me of your bark, O Birch-Tree!
Of your yellow bark, O Birch-Tree!
Growing by the rushing river,
Tall and stately in the valley!
I a light canoe will build me,
Build a swift Cheemaun for sailing,
That shall float upon the river,
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,
Like a yellow water-lily!

“Lay aside your cloak, O Birch-Tree!
Lay aside your white-skin wrapper,
For the Summer-time is coming,
And the sun is warm in heaven,
And you need no white-skin wrapper!”

Thus aloud cried Hiawatha
In the solitary forest,
By the rushing Taquamenaw,
When the birds were singing gayly,
In the Moon of Leaves were singing,
And the sun, from sleep awaking,
Started up and said, “Behold me!
Gheezis, the great Sun, behold me!”

And the tree with all its branches
Rustled in the breeze of morning,
Saying, with a sigh of patience,
“Take my cloak, O Hiawatha!”

With his knife the tree he girdled;
Just beneath its lowest branches,
Just above the roots, he cut it,
Till the sap came oozing outward:
Down the trunk, from top to bottom,
Sheer he cleft the bark asunder,
With a wooden wedge he raised it,
Stripped it from the trunk unbroken.

“Give me of your boughs, O Cedar!
Of your strong and pliant branches,
My canoe to make more steady,
Make more strong and firm beneath me!”

Through the summit of the Cedar
Went a sound, a cry of horror,
Went a murmur of resistance;
But it whispered, bending downward,
“Take my boughs, O Hiawatha!”

Down he hewed the boughs of cedar,
Shaped them straightway to a framework,
Like two bows he formed and shaped them,
Like two bended bows together.

“Give me of your roots, O Tamarack!
Of your fibrous roots, O Larch-Tree!
My canoe to bind together.
So to bind the ends together,
That the water may not enter,
That the river may not wet me!”

And the Larch, with all its fibres,
Shivered in the air of morning,
Touched his forehead with its tassels,
Said, with one long sigh of sorrow,
“Take them all, O Hiawatha!”

From the earth he tore the fibres,
Tore the tough roots of the Larch-Tree,
Closely sewed the bark together,
Bound it closely to the framework.

“Give me of your balm, O Fir-Tree!
Of your balsam and your resin,
So to close the seams together
That the water may not enter,
That the river may not wet me!”

And the Fir-Tree, tall and sombre,
Sobbed through all its robes of darkness,
Rattled like a shore with pebbles,
Answered wailing, answered weeping,
“Take my balm, O Hiawatha!”

And he took the tears of balsam,
Took the resin of the Fir-Tree,
Smeared therewith each seam and fissure,
Made each crevice safe from water.

“Give me of your quills, O Hedgehog!
All your quills, O Kagh, the Hedgehog!
I will make a necklace of them,
Make a girdle for my beauty,
And two stars to deck her *****!”

From a hollow tree the Hedgehog
With his sleepy eyes looked at him,
Shot his shining quills, like arrows,
Saying, with a drowsy murmur,
Through the tangle of his whiskers,
“Take my quills, O Hiawatha!”

From the ground the quills he gathered,
All the little shining arrows,
Stained them red and blue and yellow,
With the juice of roots and berries;
Into his canoe he wrought them,
Round its waist a shining girdle,
Round its bow a gleaming necklace,
On its breast two stars resplendent.

Thus the Birch Canoe was builded
In the valley, by the river,
In the ***** of the forest;
And the forest’s life was in it,
All its mystery and its magic,
All the lightness of the birch-tree,
All the toughness of the cedar,
All the larch’s supple sinews;
And it floated on the river
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,
Like a yellow water-lily.

Paddles none had Hiawatha,
Paddles none he had or needed,
For his thoughts as paddles served him,
And his wishes served to guide him;
Swift or slow at will he glided,
Veered to right or left at pleasure.

Then he called aloud to Kwasind,
To his friend, the strong man, Kwasind,
Saying, “Help me clear this river
Of its sunken logs and sand-bars.”

Straight into the river Kwasind
Plunged as if he were an otter,
Dived as if he were a ******,
Stood up to his waist in water,
To his arm-pits in the river,
Swam and shouted in the river,
Tugged at sunken logs and branches,
With his hands he scooped the sand-bars,
With his feet the ooze and tangle.

And thus sailed my Hiawatha
Down the rushing Taquamenaw,
Sailed through all its bends and windings,
Sailed through all its deeps and shallows,
While his friend, the strong man, Kwasind,
Swam the deeps, the shallows waded.

Up and down the river went they,
In and out among its islands,
Cleared its bed of root and sand-bar,
Dragged the dead trees from its channel,
Made its passage safe and certain
Made a pathway for the people,
From its springs among the mountains,
To the water of Pauwating,
To the bay of Taquamenaw.
Rohit Mane Aug 2018
Sitting at my workstation I kept swirling my chair around,
Battling the strenuous drowse that tried to yoke me to the ground,
“How could this happen? This is the first hour of my job,” I wondered,
I chuckled. “How fool of me! It’s Monday today,” I remembered.

I peeked to my left to see an empty chair,
“No-one to talk around; hey, that’s so unfair!”


I cringed viscerally at the thought of spending the day without uttering a word,
I tried to re-task my focus on my computer screen when a soft voice I heard,
Made me turn, and as I did, I veered myself to the source of the euphonic voice,
I felt the dumbfoundedness of a person bewitched by a magical spell, twice.

For some moments I couldn’t decrypt the words that her lips uttered,
As I just kept staring into her graceful eyes, helpless and all cluttered.


She asked with a soft smile, “Is this person absent today?” and  motioned to the workstation on my left,
I felt my dopamine surge at the possibility of what might happen next,
I nodded as soon as I realised my tongue has gone numb,
She ensconced herself and smiled, her cheeks as rotund as a plum.

I swallowed a lump in my throat that I didn’t realise had formed,
I wasn’t hoping for anything like this but I liked what my day had unboxed.


“What is she? Are humans allowed to be this beautiful?” I questioned my mind,
Was she a manifestation of my dreams or an angel in disguise!
It seemed like her eyes possessed a power in them like Midas in his hands,
A sight of innocence that could even force the flying time to land.

I leaned forward a little to catch a glimpse of her pretty brown eyes,
She turned to me with a gaze of a doe and my tongue again got tied.


“Any problem?” She questioned me with a raise of her brow,
“Yes, your eyes. They’re too beautiful,” the response I couldn’t let out,
Instead I shook my head and turned my eyes away from her,
My peripheral could see her blushing; it seemed the bubble has finally burst.

I tried to venture a conversation but failed to remember the morphemes,
The anonymity between us allowed the nervousness to sweep in.


I sighed deeply and turned about to do what I’m paid for,
But her presence beside me made it harder for me to stay calm,
An unexpected “Hello” came from my left and an introduction followed the greet,
Although stunned by the suddenness I tried to smile at her, from cheek to cheek.

We exchanged our names and conversed a little for a while,
Before she got engaged in her work and I in mine.


After hours of punching the keyboard buttons I stretched my arms and yawned,
She giggled at me and I took it as a cue to move my first pawn,
I embarked, “I’m going to the cafeteria to have some tea”,
I hesitated for a moment and resumed, “would you like to come with me?”

She rolled her eyes and I understood she has refused my kind and genuine offer,
I began to walk away. “Wait a minute, let me lock my PC,” and then I saw her got up.


We walked our way to the cafeteria, slower than two people normally would,
My chivalry erupted as I held the door open for her as she entered the room,
We occupied a table for two and  it appeared like a date-night is about to happen,
With she in front of me and  the stories that we shared, it seemed like all the troubles in the world didn’t matter.

I mulled over the thought that I might have a crush on her smile,
But there was an absolute certainty that I had fallen in love with her eyes.


She shared some cheerful stories about her childhood and also the moments in her life she remorse,
She had a way of crinkling her nose adorably that made her appear cuter than she was before,
“You may have a body of a woman but you have a sweetness of a child,” I abruptly blurted out,
She smiled deep into my eyes and I could feel the brightest smile I ever had form on my mouth.

“That’s the sweetest thing someone has ever said about me,” she flushed a little while she said this,
It took us a moment to realise that we’re holding hands; the touch of hers was something I couldn’t resist.


We got up as we finished our beverages and sauntered our way back to our daily routine,
I tried to rein my thoughts that our day was  about to end, but my efforts were all just futile,
I just wished this night shall never pass as I wanted to spend more of my time with her,
We logged out of our PC’s as our shift ended but I craved for one last conversation with this girl.

While ambling towards the exit in silence I turned on my heels to look into her beautiful brown eyes,
I sighed as I looked at her and tried to settle down the feeling to hug her that was about to rise,
“I spent this beautiful day with a beautiful girl I wish I could see more of,” I said with truthfulness in my voice,
She smiled at the ground and then looked up, “You will. Tomorrow at 8. Here’s my number. The place is your choice.

========================================================­===
I wrote this poem for a girl I have a crush on (read: hopeless crush!). She works in my organisation only but in a different location than mine so I get to see her only once or twice in months.
When I first saw her it was the last week of March. For some reason she came to the location where I work and sat beside me for the whole day! But I didn’t get to talk to her or even ask her name as she was a complete stranger and also she was immensely busy with her work. (She was working on some important document.) During that day I only got to see glimpses of her beautiful brown eyes and her sweet smile but it was enough to give me butterflies in my stomach.
As fate would have it, after some weeks we ran into each other again!
She visited my office that day for some important work and asked me to help her with the printing machine as I was walking across her while she was having trouble with her prints. I immediately recognised those pretty brown eyes and the beautiful face but she didn’t recognise me. For her I was just a stranger that was helping her but for me she had become my crush.

That night while riding back home a couple of lines sparked in my head:

“I mulled over the thought that I might have a crush on her smile,
But there was an absolute certainty that I had fallen in love with her eyes.”

I instantly had a thought of writing something about her and what I did write is completely in front of you. I never had any intention of giving this poem to her and woo her with my writing abilities. I just used my affection for her as a muse to do something for me that I’d feel proud about. The above poem is the fictionalised version of the day I spent with her when she sat beside me for the first time.

I sincerely hope you guys enjoy the poem. :)
Reaching back,
Back to that fork
In the road
Where irreversible consequence
Hid like angina
In a dunhill bubble

And you veered left,
Smitten by the decadence of mint
And mythical circles
Blown with liberal disdain
From a camel's ****

You followed the green line
Rippling like waves
Of vintage wine
Through gomorrah

Caution blown
As a midsummers gale
Between tarred lips,
Your ship sailed
The straits of cool
From bogart to newport

If dean only knew
Nat the king
Could still be singing
Nature boy on the square,
Live

He might have spurned his spyder
And lucky strikes
For a slice of life
Beyond 24

And you might have
Veered right
At that fork in the road,
Swapping scarred consequence,
Tarred lips,
And angina
For the whole pie

~ P
(#FromTheCamelsButt)
12/24/2014
Kenn Rushworth Mar 2018
She sat by me, in her skirt, hand grenade green,
And an off-white blouse obscured by a jacket with dust in its seams,
Like leather, like elderly skin, like a crossword puzzle with half the letters filled in,
She sat by me and spilt her sentences and her tea:

She claimed her husband had been killed by a cabal of spiritualists,
Killed by a bull elephant in the streets of Nepal,
Killed by the seven plagues,
And never killed at all,

That he was once a number
Somehow both perfect and prime,
That he was Prime minister of the sea,
And independent of time,

That his bones were cracked marbles
Bought from a widow in Tennessee,
That his name continued to escape her,
But that he looked something like me,

Leaving I saw her wings drag her heavenward,
I saw her terrible wings,
As I stumbled and veered from concrete to tarmac
I heard the pavements start to sing:

“I was once a flowerbed,
My father was a field,
My mother was a source of light,
Before which all the people kneeled.”

Then lost in the eye of daytime and night,
Drawn to the moustache of a Spanish racketeer,
He was once abandoned by his books and his babies
In the boot of a broke-down cavalier,

His pasts and ideas caught up to him,
And gripped him by his belt and his teeth,
His pasts gripped him in quiet of his nightmares,
And slashed his arms in the street,

Visions shook me by the bleeding palm,
Her terrible wings now pinpricks for the moon,
Visions shook me as deities died,
With eyes like a card-trick and fingers like doom,

Then stuck in the endless space between words;
She sat by me, in her skirt, hand grenade green;
Stuck in the endless space between words;
And an off white blouse obscured by a jacket with dust in its seams...
Susan O'Reilly Nov 2013
Write yourself a letter

make yourself feel better

all of your imagined flaws

give them a round of applause

Put down all your good deeds

when you helped someone in need

give yourself a pat on the back

it will help when you've veered of track

Secrete it in a special place

when the day or yourself you can't face

replace tears with a smile

if only for a little while

Self-praise is not always wrong

we can keep our self-esteem strong

life will give us enough knocks

whatever you do give it socks
A song in a cornfield
  Where corn begins to fall,
Where reapers are reaping,
  Reaping one, reaping all.
Sing pretty Lettice,
  Sing Rachel, sing May;
Only Marian cannot sing
  While her sweetheart's away.

Where is he gone to
  And why does he stay?
He came across the green sea
  But for a day,
Across the deep green sea
  To help with the hay.
His hair was curly yellow
  And his eyes were gray,
He laughed a merry laugh
  And said a sweet say.
Where is he gone to
  That he comes not home?
To-day or to-morrow
  He surely will come.
Let him haste to joy
  Lest he lag for sorrow,
For one weeps to-day
  Who'll not weep to-morrow:

To-day she must weep
  For gnawing sorrow,
To-night she may sleep
  And not wake to-morrow.

May sang with Rachel
  In the waxing warm weather,
Lettice sang with them,
  They sang all together:--

"Take the wheat in your arm
  Whilst day is broad above,
Take the wheat to your *****,
  But not a false false love.
  Out in the fields
    Summer heat gloweth,
  Out in the fields
    Summer wind bloweth,
  Out in the fields
    Summer friend showeth,
  Out in the fields
    Summer wheat groweth:
But in the winter
  When summer heat is dead
And summer wind has veered
  And summer friend has fled,
Only summer wheat remaineth,
  White cakes and bread.
Take the wheat, clasp the wheat
  That's food for maid and dove;
    Take the wheat to your *****,
      But not a false false love."

A silence of full noontide heat
  Grew on them at their toil:
The farmer's dog woke up from sleep,
  The green snake hid her coil
Where grass stood thickest; bird and beast
  Sought shadows as they could,
The reaping men and women paused
  And sat down where they stood;
They ate and drank and were refreshed,
  For rest from toil is good.

While the reapers took their ease,
  Their sickles lying by,
Rachel sang a second strain,
  And singing seemed to sigh:--

    "There goes the swallow,--
    Could we but follow!
      Hasty swallow stay,
      Point us out the way;
Look back swallow, turn back swallow, stop swallow.

    "There went the swallow,--
    Too late to follow:
      Lost our note of way,
      Lost our chance to-day;
Good by swallow, sunny swallow, wise swallow.

    "After the swallow
    All sweet things follow:
      All things go their way,
      Only we must stay,
Must not follow: good by swallow, good swallow."

Then listless Marian raised her head
  Among the nodding sheaves;
Her voice was sweeter than that voice;
  She sang like one who grieves:
Her voice was sweeter than its wont
  Among the nodding sheaves;
All wondered while they heard her sing
  Like one who hopes and grieves:--

  "Deeper than the hail can smite,
  Deeper than the frost can bite,
  Deep asleep through day and night,
    Our delight.

  "Now thy sleep no pang can break,
  No to-morrow bid thee wake,
  Not our sobs who sit and ache
    For thy sake.

  "Is it dark or light below?
  O, but is it cold like snow?
  Dost thou feel the green things grow
    Fast or slow?

  "Is it warm or cold beneath,
  O, but is it cold like death?
  Cold like death, without a breath,
    Cold like death?"

  If he comes to-day
    He will find her weeping;
  If he comes to-morrow
    He will find her sleeping;
  If he comes the next day
    He'll not find her at all,
  He may tear his curling hair,
    Beat his breast and call.
Allan Pangilinan May 2015
#Y
We have never been so connected.
Humanity has never been this accepting.
Indeed, we are moving forward.
But isn't it ironic?
That in this age of openness,
It is considered wiser not to show care.
That caring is something miraculous.
Almost.
We almost did it.
We almost showed passion.
We almost cared.
We almost loved.
We.
Almost.
Made it.
Almost. But never enough.
Yes, now, we value honesty but we always forget that not saying what we really want to say is the opposite of what we uphold.
This is not honesty.
This is far from the truth.
We are lying.
We've been lying to ourselves.
Hypocrites.
Casualties.
We end up faking our deaths,
Eternally uncertain what could've happened if veered away from life's
What if's.
Michael Mitchell Apr 2013
A sapling restrained from its dirt prison
Wanting to sail across the vast seas
Yearning for liberation

Rain brew in the mighty sky
The little sapling endured valiantly
The sporadic growth of the sapling now on tie

Tempest devoured by the radiant sun
Absorbing nutrients from the sun’s jubilance
The days till maturity became none

The petals of the primrose began to blossom
A majestic scent pervaded the boundless air
The options veered from lean to awesome

Spain, Germany, Belgium, and France
Foreign mountains, towers, and customs
Now in sight from the blossom dance
This is my first poem ever written. Advice and other commentary will be immensely appreciated! :) Thanks for reading!
Amitav Radiance May 2015
As we congregate
For centuries
Humanity had
The best thoughts
To create an ecosystem
Where all lives can thrive
But somewhere
We have lost the plot
And veered away
From the values
That all lives matter
Now minuscule section
Takes decisions for us
Manipulating the ecosystem
Creating a façade
For us to believe
Lot many minds think alike
Individual thoughts drown
Mirror is the only escape
Where we can talk to ourselves
Without the distortions
“Speak! speak! thou fearful guest!
Who, with thy hollow breast
Still in rude armor drest,
    Comest to daunt me!
Wrapt not in Eastern balms,
But with thy fleshless palms
Stretched, as if asking alms,
    Why dost thou haunt me?”

Then, from those cavernous eyes
Pale flashes seemed to rise,
As when the Northern skies
    Gleam in December;
And, like the water’s flow
Under December’s snow,
Came a dull voice of woe
    From the heart’s chamber.

“I was a Viking old!
My deeds, though manifold,
No Skald in song has told,
    No Saga taught thee!
Take heed, that in thy verse
Thou dost the tale rehearse,
Else dread a dead man’s curse;
    For this I sought thee.

“Far in the Northern Land,
By the wild Baltic’s strand,
I, with my childish hand,
    Tamed the gerfalcon;
And, with my skates fast-bound,
Skimmed the half-frozen Sound,
That the poor whimpering hound
    Trembled to walk on.

“Oft to his frozen lair
Tracked I the grisly bear,
While from my path the hare
    Fled like a shadow;
Oft through the forest dark
Followed the were-wolf’s bark,
Until the soaring lark
    Sang from the meadow.

“But when I older grew,
Joining a corsair’s crew,
O’er the dark sea I flew
    With the marauders.
Wild was the life we led;
Many the souls that sped,
Many the hearts that bled,
    By our stern orders.

“Many a wassail-bout
Wore the long Winter out;
Often our midnight shout
    Set the ***** crowing,
As we the Berserk’s tale
Measured in cups of ale,
Draining the oaken pail,
    Filled to o’erflowing.

“Once as I told in glee
Tales of the stormy sea,
Soft eyes did gaze on me,
    Burning yet tender;
And as the white stars shine
On the dark Norway pine,
On that dark heart of mine
    Fell their soft splendor.

“I wooed the blue-eyed maid,
Yielding, yet half afraid,
And in the forest’s shade
    Our vows were plighted.
Under its loosened vest
Fluttered her little breast,
Like birds within their nest
    By the hawk frighted.

“Bright in her father’s hall
Shields gleamed upon the wall,
Loud sang the minstrels all,
    Chanting his glory;
When of old Hildebrand
I asked his daughter’s hand,
Mute did the minstrels stand
    To hear my story.

“While the brown ale he quaffed,
Loud then the champion laughed,
And as the wind-gusts waft
    The sea-foam brightly,
So the loud laugh of scorn,
Out of those lips unshorn,
From the deep drinking-horn
    Blew the foam lightly.

“She was a Prince’s child,
I but a Viking wild,
And though she blushed and smiled,
    I was discarded!
Should not the dove so white
Follow the sea-mew’s flight,
Why did they leave that night
    Her nest unguarded?

“Scarce had I put to sea,
Bearing the maid with me,
Fairest of all was she
    Among the Norsemen!
When on the white sea-strand,
Waving his armed hand,
Saw we old Hildebrand,
    With twenty horsemen.

“Then launched they to the blast,
Bent like a reed each mast,
Yet we were gaining fast,
    When the wind failed us;
And with a sudden flaw
Came round the gusty Skaw,
So that our foe we saw
    Laugh as he hailed us.

“And as to catch the gale
Round veered the flapping sail,
‘Death!’ was the helmsman’s hail,
    ‘Death without quarter!’
Mid-ships with iron keel
Struck we her ribs of steel;
Down her black hulk did reel
    Through the black water!

“As with his wings aslant,
Sails the fierce cormorant,
Seeking some rocky haunt,
    With his prey laden,—
So toward the open main,
Beating to sea again,
Through the wild hurricane,
    Bore I the maiden.

“Three weeks we westward bore,
And when the storm was o’er,
Cloud-like we saw the shore
    Stretching to leeward;
There for my lady’s bower
Built I the lofty tower,
Which, to this very hour,
  Stands looking seaward.

“There lived we many years;
Time dried the maiden’s tears;
She had forgot her fears,
    She was a mother;
Death closed her mild blue eyes,
Under that tower she lies;
Ne’er shall the sun arise
    On such another!

“Still grew my ***** then,
Still as a stagnant fen!
Hateful to me were men,
    The sunlight hateful!
In the vast forest here,
Clad in my warlike gear,
Fell I upon my spear,
    Oh, death was grateful!

“Thus, seamed with many scars,
Bursting these prison bars,
Up to its native stars
    My soul ascended!
There from the flowing bowl
Deep drinks the warrior’s soul,
Skoal! to the Northland! skoal!”
    Thus the tale ended.
Shaurya Pal Jan 2014
Seasoned melancholia,
The wrath of life.
Levelled free will,
A dangerous strife.
Kissing this poison,
Drinking my pain.
Swallowing vermin,
Throwing up in vain.
It ends with you,
Take this to your grave.
My story for you,
Isn’t the hunger you crave.

In the dark,
There lay a corpse,
Dead as dead could be.
Covered in blood,
The body decayed.
The screaming had veered,
An eerie silence prevailed.
I was alone with him.
I bore witness to the event,
It unfolded when he had stretched out his hand,
Toward, stupefied by the beauty,
Pulled in by the magnanimity.
I saw it all, up, close and personal.
I felt nothing, no remorse no conscience,
It was strange, the man had no relevance.

But I cried nonetheless,
Wept at his foolishness,
The fatal attraction lead to his end.
His stubborn belief to relieve all,
To save a soul he himself would fall.
In the hands of a stranger,
The devil all along.

Mesmerized by the set of eyes,
He walked himself to a surprise,
Before I could even blink my eye,
A wave of thunder swept the sky.

I panicked, hid myself tight,
The stranger helpless, got struck by the light.
Ecstatic, in shock he imbibed a misconception,
The eyes being admired were of awry intention.

As I took refuge in the darkness,
Gawking at the scenery speechless.
The stranger losing his cool, nigh suicidal,
Gave up, and terminated his life cycle.

I came close to the cadaver,
And squeezed out his soul.
It couldn’t have lasted forever,
Ending up as the Devil’s finger bowl.

And I dragged, dragged it all along,
To a refuge safe from the devil’s own.
I brought him to my humble abode,
A cage small enough for one or two whole.
I placed the weightless spirit on the floor,
He woke up and saw me leaving through the door.
Shouted at the top of his mettle, “You! I know you!”.
“Hush” I proclaimed. “You need not worry,
There’s another soul I seek and need to carry,
And bring it here before it’s too late.
Till then you relax here, in your undead state.”


The Ethereal now confused and dumbfounded,
Quietened himself, feeling astounded.
One last time he gathered courage,
“You can’t leave me here, I have done nothing wrong!
This place scares me, I’m not that strong.”
“Oh but you have no choice,
You were brought here by your actions,
This IS where you belong.”

And with that I left him hopeless,
Opened the door and locked it with firmness.
The outside air smelled bitter,
The rusty surrounding was no better.
With disgust I set my path precise,
Avoiding the stranger’s delinquent cries.
Blasted myself off the ground,
Towards a place which reeks with chaotic freedom,
A hermitage, sane man’s Elysium.
Magnolia, the mental asylum.
There committed was a man,
Who had dared to escape with a sound plan.
His inner demons tortured and pestered him,
With psychological pain, detaching limb from limb.
I was his guide, his guardian angel.
As I approached the tortured male,
A creature so weak, color yellowish pale.
Locked in a room, a chance to unveil.
I woke him up with my sweet dreary voice,
“Rise, awaken my soul.”
And I opened the door with a loud crack,
“Hurry up, lest the guard will be back.”

With that it was enough for the man,
To take the hint in the small span.
He fled with the meagre chance he got,
He wouldn’t stand another day in this rot.
Believing in my words, he opened the door,
Only to get caught again, as before.

The doctor tied him to a work bench,
The man writhing away, repulsed by the stench.
“Don’t resist, the society cannot accept you,
You killed your wife and children, their ******’s on you.”
At this point I knew I had to step in, else I’d never acquire,
His soul, the sweet nectar, which I dearly desire.



I stood beside him, so that only he could hear my whisper,
“You’re no killer, don’t pay heed,
Your whole life was laden with good deeds.
Rebel, Cause chaos, never give a ****.”
And he obeyed, like a good little lamb.
They held him, prepared the equipment,
He moaned and groaned a denial indignant.
The stage for lobotomy was set,
For his beliefs stood virtually *****.
I placed my hand on his shoulders,
My unwavering touch, aiding his composure.
The doctor struck and I took his grace.
That was all, the seraphim now intact,
My purpose was served.

The stranger’s soul on the other hand,
Grew impatient in the demoniac land.
Bright light engulfed his thoughts and blinded him,
Shattered his notions, faltered his whim.
Appeared a man in straightjacket with bloodshot eyes,
A fierce expression adorned his face.
Was this my savior? Or was he the reaper’s prize?
Will I vanish from the face of the earth?
Or shall I die again tonight?
I was tired now, exhausted.
So I sat in front of them,
Both looking at each other,
Then at me.
The stranger cried,
“It was You! They were Your eyes!
The eyes that deceived me,
Lured me closer then tricked me!!
Either you’re the devil himself,
Or someone completely insane!”
“He’s not insane….” Said the crazy
“It’s a ‘She’ and a spirit so pure,
My good shepherd, an avenging angel,
Who saved me from my cure.
He’s the reason why I’m free now.”
I smiled, amused and amazed at the contrast,
I shall hold back a little and see how long it would last.

“You are to be blamed for my condition,
You brought me here to devour me,
It was your scheming leading to my damnation.”
“So untrue, she’s my path to redemption,
It was she, who believed me and cared for me,
When nobody in the world would help so easily.”
“You don’t realize, he took advantage of the darkness and stabbed me,
He broke my trust and attacked fiercely.”
The stranger had retrieved his long lost will,
Thought it was a battle he couldn’t sit still.
The man in the straightjacket too was fed up,
Hearing allegations about his angel, he stood up.
“You lie, she cannot be so cruel, it was God himself who had sent her
To aid me and put me out of my misery.”

It is the very nature of human so judging,
Faith in their instincts was far more than recurring.
How will mankind evolve?
If it cannot see beyond its own self,
How will mankind survive?
If we keep fighting amongst ourselves.

With a huge sigh I pitched in,
Else this would be a debate never finishing.
“Fools of darkness and insanity,
I speak for you and you only,
I am the result of your delusions,
I am what you want me to be.
I am your savior and your killer,
The factor you avoid so carelessly.
Do not blame me for your doings,
I never attacked you in the darkness,
Nor I opened the door for you,
My eyes were never that captivating,
My soft voice was never comforting.
I am your imagination,
Your brainchild.
Yet you mold me in the worst way possible.
True I was there when you were dying,
But you summoned me and begged for an answer,
All I am is fire to your fuel.

In front of you there is a choice,
Only one of you qualifies,
To get out of this purgatory.
One in heaven one in hell,
Decide amongst yourselves,
I’ll be ready when you choose to tell.”




Both now baffled and flummoxed,
The choice they had was a paradox.
The deserving shall win the argument,
The other shall be caged and boxed.
For me neither mattered,
I act as a silent observer,
From what I know they’d **** each other,
My faith in humanity can never be restored.

Strange however, they didn’t utter a word.
They were just silent, staring at each other,
Interesting, humans always amaze me.
But my job wasn’t done just yet,
I reached out my hand and prepared a pyre,
A hell for both if they choose to retire.
“Decide and push your friend in the fire,
The other shall inherit the Pearly Gates.”



They now were just struck dumb,
The fire in front had made them numb.
I stood amused smacking my tongue,
Waiting for the serenade to be sung.
For when the instincts kick in,
Only one would survive, the other will burn.
I stood anxiously, anticipating their turn.

Together now they held hands,
Approached the fire and stopped.
What a surprise! They both decided to off themselves,
Foolish again, the outcome had flopped.
The Stranger and the Crazy, looked straight at me,
“If you’re our imagination, you don’t decide our fate,
If you’re our creation, our lives you cannot dictate.
Foolish we were, not recognizing you,
Cowards we’re not, we now construe.
You lived many lives, the lives we give,
We don’t permit you to outlive
Beyond our hopes and imagination.
We’ve had enough, time to end this fantasy,
We no longer bow down to your indecency.”


And in a flash before I could cerebrate,
They pushed me hard, their spirits elate.
I fell into the flames, of the everlasting fire,
Who knew my own design would be my funeral pyre?

The basket case neared as I was torn asunder,
“Even though I believed you tried to help,
I knew somewhere I was to be blamed,
I was no longer the innocent whelp,
You had intended to be tamed.
Die now in peace as I choose to forget,
This is your punishment, bear no regret.”

The stranger too, had something to say,
“Listen to me before you decay,
I lived as a fool, blindly trusting you,
In the light of darkness, I believed you to be true.
I now realize, after my demise,
You’re just pathetic fragment of my life,
An actor, who played his part all along,
There’s no happy ending for you,
You must pay for what you did wrong.
Die in pain as I won’t forget,
This is your penalty, you corrupted silhouette.”
With these last words, I faded into oblivion,
Hell awaited me,
This is what I get, for being their progeny.
All this time I believed they were fools,
Honing their servility.
The calmness before the storm,
The levelling of free will,
No freedom of choice, no survival.
They are no fools, they just play dumb,
Nobody’s innocent, see what they’ve become.
They create demons and monsters,
And then take pride in slaying them.
A tiresome feat,
They enjoy mayhem.
With my end, others will rise,
Till they are done playing with lives.
Part 3 of The 'Karma' Trilogy
Michael Briefs Aug 2017
I.
The black ruin exploded
on that cold night,
A drenching rain hid a peril,
unseen.
With lighting strikes
a thunderous white,
we drove in that hour late,
lost and wandering.
The dark road
stretched like a tight rope,
with twisted, wooded boughs
cloaked around.  
We searched the thick shadows
and kept hope,
but chaos is all we found.
Praying for safe passage,
clutching the wheel in fear,  
clinging to the way forward,
but the way was still unclear…
Suddenly
the elements flashed a
dagger of jagged disaster --  
we veered violently,
with vertiginous swerve and swallow.
sheer horror revealed
a visage, eviscerated –
eyes of deep pitch
and bone, hollow.  
Broke and black marrow, portends
no tomorrow;
shattering glass,
splintering wood,
shredding tires,
spilling blood.
Both of us cast into crushing trauma.
…I faded into a murk of the mind,
of Stygian sentience,
slipping beyond, resigned…

II.
Emerging back from a
wild twilight,
where I lingered,
drifting in a diffuse dusk
of a subconscious
dream…
with a flood
of shock sensations!
I awoke to a world of
twisted metal and wicked pain,
extreme.
…“This is really happening?!”
flashed across my mind,
as I struggled to free myself from
the maw of debris.
I could not tell the time or location
of place or friend, but there came
flashing lights and helpful
souls, rushing to attend.
In and out of temporal existence,
my eyes dreary --
heart beat shallow,
impressions of
people and rooms
were bleary.
Numb in my safety,
skating on the surface of an
induced calm, I thought,
“I am in their care.  I can only let go and
let someone else steer.”  
But I waver to explore
the depths of the well
in which I fell;
I can’t yet grasp what transpired,
and I recoil from the traps --
I resist,
I deny,
I withdraw,
I collapse.  

III.
The wet, dark, twisted
walls rise,
reaching high
and ringed around.
she sheltering shock
subsides, and in this
well of pain I drown.
It was only after many hours,
from the moment of
impact,
the difficult work
finally began.
To try to come to terms with
the meaning of this hard fact,
to wash the fear from my heart
and the blood from my hands.
With bracing clarity
I realized
how close to death
I had wandered.
All that my life stood for
and meant was crystallized,
and yet
there was so much weakness
and Fear I had not
conquered.
…And the tears rained down,
drenching my face…
I reeled in despair, clutching
in anguish at the reality,
my mind was white
with grief.
My short life had conceived no honor,
no art,
no lasting vitality!
A legacy of wisdom and
love was imperiled,
nearly stolen by that
phantasmal and cloaked thief.  

IV.
Reaching out through the tears,
calling on my savior for help,
I cried out for a way through
the shadow, clinging to
a hope.
Through the blur
of hot sadness came
a human face, with eyes
sending love, healing, empathy, and care…
Her voice and presence was
as an angel from above.
Her tender heart
struck like a thunderbolt
of compassion.  
I was instantly drawn out
from the deathly well,
and the darkness was
dissolved;
I was saved from Hell.  
this Motherly embrace
came and whispered soft
words of consolation,
as she held my soul aloft.  
I felt my hope
returning, I saw my
life revived.
This dawn,
I was thankful that
from black ruin
I survived.
This is auto-biographical.
Stephen Parker Aug 2011
Little Red Riding Hood's Last Stroll

Twas the darkest of nights in the prarie woodland
Little Red Riding Hood walked the raven strand
Her beaten path was strewn with briar and thistle band
Losing her way, she stumbled into the murky lowland
   
A steamy fog cut through the bleary bog
The rancid odor of vaporous springs did the air clog
A venomous frog full of spite sat on a jagged log
Vampire bats with their ebony capes the putrid air did flog

A Hoot owl from overhead bellowed out a dolesome refrain
Sprightly shadows followed forming a loathsome train
Every few seconds, an eery howl filled the air with a portentous strain
Creepy, crawling insects fiddled a tune of disdain

Little Red Riding Hood's heels became mired in the porous, sandy soil
Discarding her sandals, she screeched; slimy leeches clasped each, bleached sole
Thirsty, Vampire bats veered all about seeking her ****** blood to spoil
Frightened to her wits' end, she sat down on a log to weigh her dreary toll

Unbeknownst to her, the spiteful toad for a wary companion did troll
Taking aim, that malicious toad took a gleeful caper landing on her ****** mole
Discharging his vitriolic potion, Little Red Riding Hood screamed as the pain through her blanched tissue did roll
A minute later, her callous mole was transformed into a pusy, seething boil

Leaping from her bartered stool, she ran into the foreboding wood
Her homely cape snagged on an extended limb and from her fragile arm  spilt blood
The whiff of fresh, warm blood was immediately sensed by a wolf pack brood
Hearing the howling pack approaching, she froze right where she stood

Remembering Grandmother's wise advice, she climbed the nearest tree
Not realizing therein lay a poisonous snake perched so sprightly
Arriving on the scene first, the Druid lapped up the trail of blood that gushed from her wound so freely
To placate the menacing brood, she tossed down some of grandmother's crumpets briskly

A second later, the coiled up snake lunged at its helpless target with lightning speed 
Alarmed, Little Red Riding Hood whirled about wrapping around her the flailing snake like a nimble reed
Losing her balance, she fell headlong into the hungry jaws of gluttonous greed
That ravenous brood lapped up the crumpets, diced up the snake, and did the nimble limbs of Little Red Riding Hood knead

A word of caution to every rambling, ambling tite
If ever you venture into the perilous copse at night
Beware of the spiteful vermin that scour and stalk with stealthy might
And never from the beaten trail stray or malicious malcontents will your innocence spite
tread Sep 2011
Silly, silly, silly me.
To think I'm free, and that I'll be somebody?

Silly, silly, silly me.
You can't be free, and that's just it,
All you are is 'somebody.'
Some-body.
"Some body."

But that's not true!
Look at Trostky and Lenin,
Michael Myers and Lennon,
The other Lennon.
It's hard to differentiate in name and legacy,
Because both Lennon's were revolutionaries,
Marching around like the freshman from heaven.
But neither believed they were the result of divine intervention in the affairs of man,
Because this convention would threaten their worldview and beckon away their sanity...
In the same way that the Pope or ****** let their divine vanity commit greater blasphemy and bring them future agony.

Now neither Lennon nor Lenin came anywhere close to being men from Galilee,
In fact they were more the men of the galaxy,
Or at least, John was, with his peach fuzz beard and his belief that love is greater than fear.
The other Lenin implemented the New Economic Policy, to starve the proletariat and start his revolution on an already hypocritical trend that would continue quite the same until the very end.
And it proves something, does it not?
Violence sends a message to no one but the instigator,
Changing them to justify, and claim is wasn't misbehavior;
But that's a lie, no idea of mine is worth the death of a human mind,
And to pretend otherwise makes one delude themselves that they aren't an instigator, but an illustrator,
Painting in the blood as if ****** makes an innovator.

And for ******, there is no vindicator,
Violence is an image breaker,
Indulged in by poor imitators who think they're right, and the world is wrong.
Unaware this makes them weak, not strong.

Now John Lennon was the true revolutionary;
Although he succumbed to violence, he veered away from it, even when it was necessary.
He fought the war, and yes, the war did win,
But at least he didn't cover his scars with artificial skin,
Or deny his implicit wrongs as a result of all original sin.

John Lennon used the word '******' to the opposite effect.
He used the word to trigger something bigger and correct,
The wrong that seemed so propagated by the last colonial tide,
Of which the other Lenin defected and took colonialism's side.

John Lennon was Utopian and told us of a better world;
He interjected definition, and caused old thoughts to curl away in fright,
And bite the dust despite their might and past dominion of industrialism,
It was a schism, and it still plagues us to this day.

John Lennon understood we over-complicate way
To
Often.


Silly, silly, silly me.
To think I'm free, and that I'll be somebody?

Silly, silly, silly me.
You can't be free, and that's just it,
All you are is 'somebody.'
Some-body.
"Some body."

"Some body" is something,
And some body can change the world.
Darbi Alise Howe Nov 2012
We are the wretched broke down souls
Running through the boulevards
Though the warning bells do toll
We are hunted by our cards
Unfairly dealt, but the game is done
It is never us who won
We know who we are
Our eyes of shattered glass
The asylum is never far
And neither is our past
But still we sprint until collapse
Little pieces, found and captured.
Our minds have veered off the map-
Us of the mutual psychotic rapture
Javier Garza Mar 2015
I've strayed from the path that was set since my birth
I rebelled and chose to forge a new road instead

I was wrong you see, my path was wild
Free of limitations, I became powerful and left my mark
Everyone knew who Javier was
They knew his name, they knew his face

I escaped the path that had been dull
Didn't know that I was rebelling against myself
I broke through the chains, snapped the bonds

Didn't see that the path wasn't forged by them, but by me
I made that path, I chose my future
But just to rebel against them and show I was no puppet, I lost myself

I veered off the yellow brick road,
I veered straight into limbo
I lost myself and what I stood for,
And for what?
To prove a childish whim

I lost my path,
I rejected my future
Time to amend that idiotic mistake,
I must walk my path once more
Now that I've found who I truly am,
I can't lose myself once more to these bitter childish thoughts
John Niederbuhl Jul 2017
Have you ever wanted to do something just once,
Only once and never again, and then have it be as if
You'd never done it at all?

It was summer, like now:
Hot, hazy, sweaty--even in the evening.
The brook ran low, between banks covered with alders,
Overhanging, tall, immense;
The mountains were purple, indefinite through the mist;
The pines looked almost black.
You could smell the summer--scents from the marsh--
Things in their prime--you could hear them,
Tweeting and chirping and buzzing and peeping and croaking,
And barking and hooting:
Dead mid-summer--hot, sticky, buggy.

After the sun set, but before it was dark,
When you can still see, but everything's a different color,
I stood on the old bridge
Where the brook runs under the back road
On its way from the marsh, down through the village,
To the big river and the lake beyond.

I was looking up towards the plateau, trying to lose myself,
When around the bend, banking against the alders,
In formation, like separate missiles shot from different cannons
At the same moment, at the same velocity,
In the same direction
With systems to navigate and turn, elevate and descend, dart,
Follow the stream bed,
And stay exactly the same distance from each other,
Like an entity with an awareness
The no one part could experience,
Came a flight of bats, moving too quickly to count.

They rocketed under the bridge,
Appeared on the other side, raced
Down a straight stretch, veered right
And disappeared with the brook into the meadows
Headed for the dark pines, the rapids and beyond.
You could hear the swish of their wings as they passed
And their high-pitched pings, like the highest notes on a harp.
In a blink they were gone, in their ecstasy flying on,
And I wanted to be them, all of them at once--
Just once.
I think there is a consciousness in a well-coordinated group that no one
member can experience--that's why I wanted to be all of them.
Francie Lynch Sep 2014
I've a sinking friendship,
Torpedoed by the *******,
And listing.
The first mate mutinied.
Once a blood brother,
Like no other;
An intimate
At an imminent end,
An alter-ego
More than a friend.

I've been too patient,
Veered off course
With understanding.
I'm quite sure
This Pythias
Would run and leave me
Hanging.

I'm on a cliff
And won't hang on
To a blade of trust,
A fawning pawn.
He had my back,
I turn,
He's gone.

This partisan
Must part
A homeless homeboy,
A dissembling fraud.

No longer a mainstay,
He's insecure,
His equivocations
Make lines blur,
I don't believe
Him anymore.

He really needs a soul-mate,
Classmate, playmate,
But he's become a reprobate,
Lying prostrate,
Lying up straight.
I'll drown my Boswell
In my inkwell;
No longer
An advocate.

The laughs have left,
Yes,
I'm bereft,
But I'll catch the wind.
My course is true.
This friendship
Can't be salvaged.
It's scuttled,
And I won't
Sink with you.
“We are all actors in an idiots play A tale of sound and fury,
meaning naught. Yet who would care to be a wise man's pawn
Where every twist of fate is well deserved And where a single flaw
could ruin lives? Far better to be in a madman's mind At least for
those (and are we all not so?) Whom fate has smiled on more than
we deserve If life were fair, earth would be hell indeed.”

“Macbeth” William Shakespeare.


From out of the darkness I can see an ever increasing
glow. Intensifying with luminosity as it gets closer and closer.
The blinding eye of fate is upon me. I am thrown with
tremendous vigour. Into where? I have no idea! Surrounded now,
by the blackest of blacks. I can only liken it to a bubble in a pool
of crude that flows wherever the black tide takes me. All I have is
the familiar company of my own voice. A continual narration that
one could expect from a television documentary. The life and
death situ of Michael Simon Jones, filmed in black surround
vision. It reminds me of oh so many nights, when all I wanted to
do is sleep. My mind just wants to stay awake, spouting that
continuous torturous soundtrack into the early hours of the
morning.

Through the darkness a piercing light, coming to me and
then gone, to me then gone. Do I dream? Perhaps of the high
seas. I picture a large tower, It protrudes out of a vast nothing.
The only safe path to steer by is a beam of light, cast down upon
me, from up high. Its beam Revolves continually around, a never
sleeping sun. A light that prevents many flimsy craft, from
grounding onto the craggy rocks that are hidden in the darkness
of the stormy oceanic swells, that roar below.

Again the quiet is shattered, am I not to be allowed to
sleep.
It can only be a dream, for through my bleary eyes I see a figure
of a man, sporting a bright yellow helmet. He seems to be
holding a huge lobsters claw, it is chewing its way through shards
of steel that seem to imprison me. His mouth moving, but I hear
nothing. I half expect to see subtitles appear below him, like an
old Buster Keaton movie. Then he is gone and once more I drift
into that blackened void.

Now a shadowy figure appears. Bending over me his hands
are holding something over my face. I think I can feel myself
struggling against his advances. He is too strong, I can’t breathe,
is he is killing me?

What sort of nightmare is this? Flat on my back in the
darkness, I am gliding speedily along the ground. Intermittent
lights flash past my closed eyes. I recall the deep red on-off glow
of the light, diffused by the blood that rushes through my closed
lids. Can somebody turn the ******* light off, I’m trying to sleep.

Gaaaaa………… I am blinded by the worlds brightest
light! Where am I? The light subsides and I can see, but nothing
is clear. It is like looking through a frosty glass window. There is
movement below me and the bleeding blurs of colours finally
evolve into recognition. What is this? What’s going on down
there?

Rather, what the hell is going on up here? How did I get up here?
I am suspended in mid air. Look I can move my legs. Holy Mary
mother of God, I’m naked! Naked and floating around what looks
to be a hospital operating theatre. Hovering above several
gowned professionals in the toil of their labour.

A naked satellite orbiting above the planet NHS.

Now tell me if there is something wrong with this scenario, but
this is totally not normal is it? I just hope I don’t need to have a
****. I believe that there can only be two possible answers for my
predicament. First is that I am in fact having one totally out of
my head dream.

Second, that I am experiencing some sort of out of body
experience. If that is so, then I can only assume, that the person
lying on that operating table, somewhere under the mass of green
hat and gowns spread eagled on that table below, is me! If only
that fat doctor would move his head out of the way.
Bah! Only so another head can immediately take its place. I think
I now know how a ****** feels when he cant get a clear shot. Oh!
Hang on a second, the assassination can go ahead. I can see!
No that don’t help, I can’t tell who the guy is, he has a mask
covering most of his face and more tubes coming out of him than
a Scottish pipe band. Oh my God! Who else do you know with
that tattoo? I should of known that an indelible red cartoon of the
devil would not be the luckiest thing to have etched into my skin.
I wish now that I’d gone for the Sacred Heart. That might have
been the healthier option and may just of tipped the scales in my
favour. I can’t really see Saint Peter letting me through those
pearly gates with a picture of Beelzebub brandished for all and
sundry to see. Oh ****! That’s me okay, and from this position I
don’t look at all in a healthy state. Can a spirit or whatever I am,
throw up?

But how did I get here? I can’t remember anything that could of
led to this. I do remember going to bed last night, I had an early
night, don’t know why though cause I never get to sleep before
4am. Its a bit laughable I suppose, an Insomniac reading a book
called Insomnia. Perhaps a novel called sleeping tablet would be
more apt?

Unless of course…………… If I can’t remember anything since I
went to sleep then perhaps it’s because I’m still asleep and that
this is merely a dream. That makes more sense, doesn’t it? What’s
happening down there? Something doesn’t look right, things
seem very intense. If only I could make out what they were
saying, everything is silent.

“Hello! What is happening down there? Hello! Hello! Can you
hear me?”

They can’t hear me, no, of course they can’t but why can’t I hear
them? What if this is no dream? What if I am really dying on that
table down there? I can’t make out what they are doing to me but
it doesn’t look good.

There’s a lot of blood.

I wish I had taken more notice when ER was being aired on
television. The only thing I know for sure is, that is a scalpel the
surgeon is holding. The guy at the head of the table should be the
anaesthetist? the woman to the left whom looks like a nurse and
is passing the instruments, is a nurse. But the others I don’t have
a clue.

If only I could hear what they were saying. ****. This is a
nightmare, I can’t believe this. I can see them, why can’t they see
me? Oh please God let them hear me.

“I’m up here, listen to me you death ******* I’m up here.”

So close yet so far away. This can’t be real, this can’t be
happening, not to me. I’ve, never done anyone harm, I've worked
hard all my life. Always been a popular guy, never had a problem
mixing with people. What’s that the nurse is pushing around on
the trolley. I think its one of those crash box things. That’s it, a
defibrillator! *******! I don't think I'm breathing. Look at the
screen, I’ve seen enough movies to know that the green line
should not be one continuous solid.

Oh no, I’ve flat lined! I’m dead! Oh God no, not like this. Looks
like they are going to try and defib me. Here they go.

BAM!

Oh no, the line is still flat. They’re going at it again.

BAM!

****! Still nothing. What they doing now? No don’t stop!
What are they talking about? What have you got to discuss? Just
get on with it, this isn’t a ******* seminar. I’m dying down there.
Just crank that hunk of scrap iron up and send some volts through
me. God, I sound like ******* “Frankenstein,”

That’s it, he’s greasing up the connectors, here we go, here we
go.

_When I came back to the real world I had been in the land
of Coma-City for almost three months and for all of that time it
had been touch and go. It was later explained to me that I had
been involved in a RTA.

It had been surmised that due to my sleeping disorder I had fallen
asleep at the wheel of my car (A classic American 1950’s plated
Cadillac) and had veered into the oncoming traffic. Hitting at
least one vehicle and careering off road and down an
embankment. Finally coming to rest three parts of the way
through a brick built structure, this in turn supported a steel
constructed dome. Used as a point for ramblers trekking high
above Sheermont Cove and offering excellent views across the
horizon and out to sea. An ideal location in particular for budding
photographers to shoot the best possible images of Sheermont
Bay Lighthouse. The Caddie precariously balanced with its long
bonnet hanging over the edge of the cliff top.

In fact I believe that it was the domes heavy steel frame that
secured my fate. The brick walls now demolished beyond
recognition caused the now unsuspended dome to fall onto the
roof of my vehicle. Pinning it solidly to the spot, it crushed the
roof in on top of me, also saving me from plunging to the depths
below and almost certain death. I was trapped under the structure
for almost six hours. I remember very little of the ordeal as I
tripped in and out of consciousness. My rescuers had to cut me
out of the vehicle, with a tool commonly referred to as the Jaws
of Life and I was flown to hospital by air ambulance.

And here I am to tell the tale. But!

Did this metallic redeemer smile on me that fateful night? Saving
me from that almost certain death, on the rocks below Sheermont
Cove?

I think not.

The Dome. It saved my life I know this but the price I would
have to pay was far to high a toll. As I spend the rest of my days
drinking my food through the proverbial straw with only my own
mindful narration forever keeping me company.

I pray to die.
2012
Amitav Radiance Dec 2014
While introspecting
I came closer, to myself
Being distanced
I forgot the language
In which scripts were written
Became myopic
And veered farther
Enjoying being away
Lost in the din
Never realizing
I was being swept away
From myself
While my soul yearned
For a rendezvous
I was oblivious
Seduced by the glib talkers
Became gullible
And yielded to the manipulations
Was a hallucinating ride
In the scariest roller coasters
Mind in a jumble
Entangled in the web of lies
Now, I have come back
From the brink of oblivion
To myself
Once more to listen
To my soul and heart
A union
After a struggle
It was a starry night,

I remember the moon was bright.

As I sat in my canopied room

Atop the inn of gloom,

Its musty stench of walls and flesh,

Surrounded by dim light and floors below, strewn

-

At first I was anxious and nervous

About the spectre’s appearance

But something in his presence was calming

Curious as it was, I was longing.

-

He was not ghostly in the way you would think

He was as real looking, enough to drink,

Though it was something in his air and aura

That told me his demise like Gomorrah,

And how he was perished and dead,

And with these rotting words he said

-

“Gaze upon me and listen well,

For your silence I wish you not quell,

My words you will not stir,

You will absorb and then, good sir,

I will reappear as those who’ve been

You yourself and died again,

You are the last and only one,

Upon earth to know this secret done,

You will understand this true confusion

And soon be rid of your delusion.

But I warn there is a painful price,

In cherished aforementioned gift so nice

Of that you will find soon

And your burning soul will croon.

-

My name is High Lord Kellik,

And my touch you’ve already met.

You’ve felt me here before,

I walk with you, ancestor, but more.

I am the first of you in this lone world,

I suffered what once was unfurled.

-

Now know our cryptic secret revealed

Of the same bloodline congealed:

To all of us who are one,

This life is not your only one.

-

I’ve risen again from fallen,

I was in Jerusalem

When my Lord he calleth,

God chose not to follow them.

I was of the Tuetonics,

Though my death was quite ironic,

For they had me drawn for heresy

And quartered for allegedly

Stealing an Arab’s maidenhead

Even though my wife was pregnant then,”

(At this sentence, twas there I noticed,

The chainmail and a cross of lotus,

Betwixt his breast and penance

He seemed holy, even justice.)

“I loved my wife from first gaze through labor,

Twas the last I saw of her, I savored

The love in her eyes when I lost her.

All I wanted was to adore her.

They led me into ‘court’ they said,

Twas to be my own deathbed,

And when they called out all my sins,

Of course I denied, being pious within,

Although my truth they would not have,

I again suffered my brother’s terrible wrath.”

-

I spoke my first words, shaking, unstable,

Asking questions gated in stables,

“Sir, I know my silence is needed,

But I request some answers conceded,

Why did they not trust your pure enough claims,

Brothers, as you said, seeking no gain?”

-

Spake he “I understand your logic,

Twas mine although my brothers were stoic,

You see, it is the terrible price

That I spoke earlier, a wretched vice,

To know the things that we will tell,

You must know the darkest hell,

You must know that you will die

A most gruesome death without comply,

Because we are one, it must happen and then,

You’re born the same, to die again.”

-

I sat silent for a moment and pondered,

I thought of a tree that aimlessly wonders,

About its life serving no purpose,

To grow leaves and die, its only service,

It seemed of me, so pessimistic

To know this life is quite solipsistic.

-

He continued,

-

“Know that I had the easiest death,

The first brother-blade did pierce my chest,

It struck my heart, and I must make amends,

That is why none of us will find love again.

-

I was of the knights most valiant,

My fervor was the most resilient,

Whatever we may ever be,

It is irrelevant, you’ll die like me.”

-

Shocked, I sat in euilibrium,

You’d think it peaceful

But my world was undone,

It forever changed that starry night,

And was only the beginning of my hellish fright.

-

Lord Kellik departed there through my door,

I heard no steps upon the floor,

I thought it odd for plate boots to make,

No sounds on oaken plates of estate…

-

Soon my door was reopened again,

I looked up and gazed at him,

At me, twas now I started to see,

Resemblance in us, for no helmet he wore,

But rather a coat of a Hessian he bore,

He masked the same look I see on myself,

When I’ve been through darkness, my own hell,

The blue eyes like mine, were mine, and hair,

Dark brown, and had a piercing stare,

German accent had he upon conversing,

“Wie gehts? Ich heisse Kryztoff von Gersching,”

“Hallo Kryztoff, mein namme ist Andrew Marheine.”

-

“There is great hate between two factions,

Two worlds, once one, under taken action,

The English came and fought and tried,

The way Americans denied

The rights of those that were first here,

I was hired to broaden their fear.”

-

Surprised at his English,

I also switched,

“Sir, I noticed that your neck is stitched…?”

-

“A wound from battle, the only lucky

Thing that ever happened to me,

But knowing what I do know now,

I would pick severed jugular to doubt.

My unit was captured by a group of guerrilla yanks,

They slaughtered us each unless we joined their ranks,

In this massacre there was no honor,

In sending home bodies, lost sons and fathers,

I steadily refused to be a part,

So they began tearing me apart

Until they then realized

I would gladly be crucified,

That just for that, that I despised,

Each one of them for their “freedom” lies,

Their General King, although respected,

Washington should not have defected.

You see now where democracy has led,

The better off, are the lucky dead.

I see you ask of what I died?

Of what brought about a Hessian’s demise?

The gutless ******* shot me with small cannon

Direct in my stomach, you cannot fathom,

The amount of pain in three long hours…

I wished for death, but not from cowards.”

-

He was proud looking, but not Narcissus,

Battle worn, and quite seditious.

I noticed his sword, the handle notched,

For every inch of life he’d squashed

Like a child’s boot to an ant hill.

This man died alone and still.

-

He spoke once more

-

“You have been blessed with knowledge and wrought,

You though will be turned to naught,

The pain you’ll be in, too much to endure,

Your arteries pumping blood to the floor,

We know not how you will die,

But painful be it, no chance to survive.

Because, like us, you have no one here,

Like us, not missed, no tragic dear,

Your name be forgotten until

The next of us lives to see us fill.”

-

He exited without another word,

I found it quaint, unlike the herd,

I strove to be different, I suspect I’ve succeeded,

After all, who knew their death, and believed it?

-

Wondering if I would again be visited

Or if my passed lives were but two limited,

I also thought of how they appeared…

I could not recall how the first had veered,

Or why they ventured to me and told

Me of their stories that would make hearts cold

Stuck with this thought, another come forth,

From my wooden frame of door,

His brilliant armor, black with silver,

Across his back, a sheathe and quiver,

He looked at me, and I again saw myself,

And again saw another me been felled,

“Hello,” I said “won’t you come in?”

“Obliged,” spake he “see what lies therein.

-

He began,

-

“Young man, you know not missing your home,

But I come from the brightest years of Rome,

Although I knew only Coliseum

I hoped my soul be with Ellysium,

I was a slave in the rich man’s bloodsport,

And the crowd, they cheered for more and more,

To live every day knowing you must fight,

Can bring great depression to one’s very life,

Caesar said I could in time be free,

I fell my last fight, suffering,

The anguish that flowed through me at then,

Was not of physical harm, but when,

My bowels were visible on the ground,

All I could feel was loss never found,

I swore allegiance to men never met,

And all it brought was discontent.

Never think twice about an act,

It could save your life until this pact,

Although you will die, nameless forever,

Know that even the smallest endeavor,

Will not change this predestination,

This marvelous melancholy is Hades’ invention,

We will not wake until we’ve slept,

The eternal slumber, and mourner’s have wept,

About a loss that is so profound,

Until they forget why the feelings endowed,

Are the enemy to their own happiness,

They then know not of what ‘revolting’ is.”

-

This nameless man stood up and gazed,

Outside of my withered window pane,

His eyes lightened and looked ever broken,

And I could see a man who’s life and freedom were stolen,

If ever I had wanted to cry in confrontation

It would’ve been at his lamentation,

But I bit my tongue and held back from that,

Although he noticed with eyes like a cat,

He smiled at me, I smiled at me,

And it was then that he began to proceed,

Out of my door, and out of my eyes,

I thought about my ending surprise.

I now knew death was not to be,

An old man while I was in my sleep,

But rather a darker, gruesome end,

Perhaps lacerations from within,

And as this trickled across my brain,

I could swear to God I went insane,

I sat in my room for weeks despaired,

Tasting nothing except the stale air,

and then one day it finally clicked,

That life is what it is, a foul ******* trick.
Dark, Melancholy, Macabre
ashw May 2013
As I rest beneath a sturdy willow
I dream of days long past,
Of long before my universe
Had veered from its straight path.

I have lived a life with happiness;
I have no reason to complain,
But imagining things that could have been
Overwhelms my heart with pain.

I wonder if he'd be here with me,
Relaxing by my side,
Maybe we'd have children now,
To fill my life with pride.

But in this life I'm here alone,
Lost love my one regret,
And despite the grief it causes me,
I pray I don't forget.

As I stare up at the swaying branches,
I hum an ancient tune,
And though the words are long forgotten,
The melody stays true.

I feel a breeze upon my skin,
And the song begins to soothe,
Despite the choice I wish I'd made,
I find comfort in one truth.

That dwelling on my past mistakes
Will never bring you here,
That there's beauty in this world to find,
Even though you're never near.

I must focus on the subtle hope
That joy will find me soon,
But before I start to crest that hill,
I must appreciate the moon;

To humble myself enough to see
The awe in my surroundings,
All the gifts this world provides,
On display for us so proudly.
Diane Aug 2013
Skin pinked in the August heat
Thick with sunlight, we sit on the patio
One ordered a Manhattan
Another that local ****-in-a glass pilsner
The typical name dropping
Of “priest so and so” and
“The one I pretend to be my close friend
but we never talk about anything real”
Place cards adhered to locations
Cabins, sports and Disney vacations
Dreams that make up the American childhood
Those women are always a little louder
Those raging extroverts
Social club doorkeepers
Definers of the status quo
If they never had kids
Who would they be?
In their six bedroom homes and
Forgotten memories
Of why they said “yes”
Talk faster!
The topic just veered to the left
Tacky dangling earrings shout—
"Follow the prescription of happiness
I can’t hear you and I don’t want to!"
That sun just kept beating down
Nodding and smiling at vacuous words
I started reciting song lyrics inside of my head
Bailey B Dec 2009
We walk the world slowly
to pluck from thin air the sounds we've been thinking (or at least, I have)
but some curtain hangs between the realms of thought and reality
and won't let me transcend the division.

If I could pick the words up from the cracked sidewalk,
scattered like magnetic poetry on the concrete, I would.
But look, even if I could, I wouldn't be able to piece them together in a coherent fashion.
With my luck, I'd scramble to pick them up
only to have them fall into place in a different language entirely.

So we continue to walk, ignoring the phrases glistening like raindrops on our shoulders.
I watch the way your hair curls.

Decisions, decisions. Can we never go back?
The road's right here, and we've been there before,
retracing the bricks of the streets isn't in any way difficult.

But it's all in the past tense (or something of that sort)
and somewhere I purposely took a fork in the road
because I thought you'd stopped following my lead long ago.

My life is a series of crossed-out calendars,
and I scooted them aside to pencil you in.
But you didn't come.
You never came.

So I veered off course into my own little world.
Can you really blame me?
Here they all know me,
where I live down cobblestone lanes with my music and twelve cats named George.

I've accepted their offer because it held more water than yours...
(I was never quite sure what you were proposing anyway.)
At least I've allowed you this one last opportunity to break something
that wasn't really solid in the first place, and you're still suspending it.

The road's right here. I suppose we could go back.
But I'm not sure if I want to anymore.
My yes-or-no questions don't allow you much wiggle room.
They never did.

You look at me hard as if there's some constellation etched in my freckles, mapping your escape, your options, your halfway-open door.
I laugh and take a step back.
"It's a yes-or-no, dear."

I know I resemble a crazy, but truthfully? I don't really mind.
I leave you by a tree for shelter, stomp through the puddles down the street.
"Goodbye!" I scream.
"See you soon!" you reply.
"Orrrrr, how about never?" I shriek to the sky.

I prance down the roads, rattling with laughter.
I'd try to cry, but the tears don't come.
They never do.

And that's when I see them, glimmering at me like rain on the pavement.
"Mai dire mai."
I scoop them up in my pockets and call it poetry.
Maple Mathers Jan 2016
She frolicked through trouble, and dandled with mischief. Alison Wonderland; everything I wished I was and so much more. Ever emanating her doe-eyed façade; proclaiming our jests mere “mischief.”
Yet, an unspoken verdict (Foretaste? Conception? Notion?) had cloaked the truth: wickedness rippled beneath our parade.
I nuzzled her contours; my peripheral eye – nailed to her profile, her blueprints, her chassis. I stalked her mirage – dancing with vapor.
She glissaded about, no fool to my truth, varnishing my mantle.
I belonged to Alison: perpetually at her side. Our couplet became a “we.” So, We regretted nothing. We veered for the pyre: caroming(skimming?) those embers alit with vice.
She narrated my mental seminar. Discarding my dogmas to uphold her own; and thus, my mind was hers.
My mind was her mind.
Alison made heads turn, and mouths water, as we sidled – hand in hand – down the street. She was my Christmas morning: each colloquium – giftwrapped with finesse. She personified paradise, she illustrated utopia. Hatching our Carnival; netting us, enamored, sidling the Carousal. We’d skim, we’d sail, her halo – my fossil. Her lips, her eyes, her hands… they echoed the innocence of a child. Niave, innocent, and giftwrapped in wonder.
Little Miss Wonderland: my very own fairytale. She was mine alone; she was mine to keep.
Did I want her, or did I want to be her?
Alison Wonderland.
Her aura – so celestial – paralleled my prose. When she banished my husk – Maple Thatcher – I cackled good riddance… And I grew a new personality to accommodate her own.
For, without Ali – devoid of our we – I doubted the very existence of me.
On my composition, she bestowed rhythm. She gave tune to my silence; her chimes, her cadence. My ink was her song – fusing a symphony. A symphony of Alison: the melody to solidify our tryst.
My mind was her mind.
And yet… somehow, I missed a carriage – or two – aboard her train of thought. For, the same felon spiting my existence, was the angel I loved to life. Gladly, I huffed, and I puffed, and I blew Maple down.
Fused against Alison, I needed none of Maple.
Carnival infatuations…

Alison Wonderland.
(Carnival Infatuation)

(All poems original Copyright of Eva Denali Will © 2015, 2016.)
Alex Jul 2017
As sudden as an ocean wave, the valve in his heart gave up.
Standing at the cemetery gates I finally understood.
He is gone. He is missed.
But he is not coming back.

In the blink of an eye, he was under the truck.
Standing at the cemetery gates I finally found peace.
Peace with the truck driver and peace with myself.
Most importantly peace with God.

As the bullet hit the gun dropped from his head to the floor.
Standing at the cemetery gates I was angry.
Angry as his parents, angry at the school.
Angry with myself. But mostly angry at him.

Her car veered off the road, down the ledge and into the water but it wasn't an accident.
Standing at the cemetery gates I was lost.
I couldn't understand why this happened.
I couldn't fathom why she did this to herself.

Thanksgiving morning, metal on metal, laughter dies.
Standing at the cemetery gates I was broken.
My soul so tired, holding those around me.
One life was gone and another hung in the balance.

His father saw him drop the gun as his body fell, wanted to run and save his son.
Standing at the cemetery gates I was numb.
Numb with shock and fear and cold
During that frigid and depressing December.

You can't beat the train. He knew but didn't listen.
Standing at the cemetery gates I was empty.
So many pieces of my heart were taken during the year
I wasn't sure there was anything left.

Standing at the cemetery gates I look around at all the friends I have buried. I thought high school was supposed to be the simple time in life, but if that's the case, why did they all have to go?
RIP Mitch, RIP Ryan, RIP Christian, RIP Jenna, RIP Kyle, RIP Jack, RIP Dallas, RIP Kennedi
A vile serrated day that suffered
The wind and the air to be stifled,
Spread sick among the ashes of burning,
And held silence upon the screams of yearning,
Yelped frigid chorus of agonistic moans,
In pain and torment, of rotting bones.
-
I walked along a path paved of marble brick,
My temperment unnerving, my gait was thick,
The path aforementioned halted upon a gate,
There opened, I saw, where the dead gestate,
Leading down a snake-bodied trail,
Tried as I did to turn back, I failed,
I saw no reason to leave the place,
The corpse garden, it seemed, held great solace.
-
Trudging down in acute contempt,
I struggled to see all but lament,
Comforted, dare I might say,
With being surrounded by extent of decay,
I flowed forth as if some purpose,
Guided me to them, the reason unsurfaced,
At where I found them sitting aside,
The trail of things in past belied,
Quiet, and leading to the body swamp,
With scars detailing drunk mourners’ clomps,
Chipped and chiseled, repaired and mended,
The Stairs awaited me and repented.
-
The first step sat on the top of the hill,
Where the path veered, silent and still,
A narrow case were these stairs so shrill,
A horror oozed from them and fear me filled.
I could not but wonder why irony had found,
That in the graveyard, it started profound,
Aside this step a great living tree at each flank,
And aside the bottom a matching pair, but dead and rank,
Like a gateway from living world to dead,
This whispered somber secrets to my ears full of dread,
I took the first step and it’s concrete creaked,
Rather odd, I thought, a sound for stone to secrete,
Or was it a muffled wince of pain,
From another mortal stepping again?
-
The weeping willows here feigned not their name,
For I heard them cry again and again,
The tragedy in bark and each branch,
Etched inside were names and romance,
Initials of lovers on the first two trees,
Rotting off the second set like some disease,
The twins were mirrored like that in a story,
But this was reality, this was horrifying,
I knew their fate even without a headstone,
They loved and died, and only the trees had known.
-
The perils of this place seemed haunting,
The grass so green and at peace, seemed daunting,
I took each step with trepidation,
The caution here lingered with anticipation,
At the last step I was greeted with a chill,
The faint breeze had just marked another ****,
As I stepped forth once more on to the earth,
It seemed as though the staircase lurched,
I knew then I could not leave,
Until I’d seen all of what was bereaved,
The only thought I could think was one,
Were I to die here, I wouldn’t be alone.
dadens Jan 2019
I wrote about you for the same reason I photographed you

Because even though we aren't the same people now

You're the same person I fell in love with on the old pages of my journal

But instead of being wrapped in your arms, the words on my pages hold me close and bring warmth to my heart, much like you used to

The photographs of you pull up the corners of my lips to create a soft nostalgic smile, though my eyes start to pool in the corners

Not tears of sadness, but of melancholy remembrance for how much has changed since the ink dried on my pages

Tears that remind me why I write and capture

So that I can relive the moments I held dearest and preserve those who walked down my path with me, no matter where they veered off on their own, they'll always remain the same in my story.
© d.a.dens
g clair Nov 2013
The hillside before me rolled out like a wave
awash in my thoughts 'til I noticed the grave
the headstone was tilted and covered in rot
a memory of someone forgotten, but not.

The scene triggered feelings which drew me way back
to a time when I dwelt in a one bedroom shack
the love of my life had grown cold, and despairing,
my heart shriveled up like an unpickled herring

I remembered thereafter, and oh, what a mess
I led me to places too dark to confess,
dying for flowers from somebody dear
I'd fill up my window box year after year.

and soon the depression grew into a hedge
though flowering plants kept me back from the ledge
"I'll never be happy! " I quite often thought
a forgotten old headstone all covered in rot.

I swore if I ever recovered again
I'd wait for the right one, the Boaz of men
but for all of the damage, the shape my heart's in
be blessed if he'd notice, so how could I win?

With all of these memories weighing me down
I slapped myself silly and turned up the sound
and opened the windows to let in some air
the sun on my face and then suddenly...glare!

I veered off the highway which cut through the land
a two lane construction of asphalt and sand
took the embankment at an ungodly pitch
and suddenly airborne, shot over a ditch.

Landing my vessel across the divide
I hoped for the best for it's brave underside
the dust settled soon, and how foolish I felt
Thank God I'd remembered to buckle my belt.

And there in the front seat, assessing my plight
dazed, but amazed at this beautiful sight
as 'Love is a Battlefield' blared in the grime
Wildflowers grew in the trenches of time!

You the forgotten who languish for years
ditched and bedraggled and drained of your tears
thinking you're nothing, a sunset that's fading
grieving love lost while your best years are waiting

Tend to your gardens wherever they are
keep yourselves fresh with the watering jar
Remember, like flowers, the wild ones too
your maker, your husband, will take care of you.

For your Maker is your husband--the LORD Almighty is his name--the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.
Isaih 54:5
Perry Apr 2020
A lost black and white picture
-Misplaces forever
A protruding tree in a pond
-Endlessly drowning

But I showed you a strong face
Yes, I showed you a lie
I thought for you to leave in peace
It was necessary for my burden
To find a place to hide

Home in your eye veered north
A rebel endeavor to outrun
The fire that is your skin
Like a shooting star

A star that had to die
For my unremarkable eye
To catch a glimpse of light
Teaching me how to say

-Goodbye
Maple Mathers May 2016
I sat up in bed, wide awake.

Mere seconds separated my dreams from reality. Yet, consciousness had seized me more effectively than ice water.

I had been caged within sleep, until something ridiculous happened.  

Something ridiculous, and something real.

I sprang from the covers, pulled on a sweater, and burst out the door. All around me was silent. Life, it seemed, was not yet awake.

I took a deep breath, and began running. I ran so fast my surroundings blurred into a pallet of color; the sound, still muted.

My feet flew across the dewy grass.

I imagined myself into smaller, simpler spaces; tucked in with the ghosts. How fast could I run from my dreams? How fast could I run towards reality?

If the grass had soaked my socks, I barely knew. If the wind had serenaded my skin, I remained disembodied. The alexithymia of consciousness.

My thoughts snaked and swerved and collided in my head, but in that stretch of oblivion, a lone inference guided me.

Nothing mattered in the world but one thought.

Wake up, Maple. Wake up.

The House of Addictions was the epithet I chose.

It nestled several blocks from mine, and was the type of estate that demanded normalcy.

Upon reaching the front hedge, I examined the house; two blue paneled stories. I didn’t know what I’d expected, but this wasn’t it.

I coaxed the front door.

Locked.

I circled around to the backyard. The room I sought was on the second level. I ascended the balcony onto the porch; the room’s window stood several feet from where I could stand. There was a vacant flowerbox sitting on a ledge outside the window.

Without question, I clambered onto the deck’s railing and extended my leg into the flower box. It was a long way to fall, but I wasn’t scared. I had no choice. I clung with all my might to the window’s ledge, shifted my weight to the flowerbox leg, and plopped over the other. A scream frozen in my throat. Breathing heavily, a death grip on my perch, I crouched; the box seemed sturdy enough.

I peered through the window.

At this ungodly hour, he was most likely still asleep.

Unless.

The bed was vacated. Did this mean? I closed my eyes, took a breath.

Wake up.

Things like this did not happen – plain and simple.

A minute later, after clambering off the flowerbox and scampering back down the stairs, I rejoined the street, sprinting along with renewed vigor.

The sun glistened on the grass, the morning, ripening. Yet, I heard not the sound of birds chattering on secluded sycamores, nor my feet pattering along the sidewalk. I was immaterial. I was the wind – gliding fluidly towards that which waited.

My body was to be found at a stoplight, punching the button spastically.

But my mind had already arrived, several streets away.

The stoplight changed. I ran. Stores whizzed by, early morning traffic sheathed the street. I had to slow my thoughts, I had to separate from the stark possibilities that incased me.

I’d dreamed of his death; simple, like the twelve forget-me-nots he threw across my floor five years ago. The last expression I saw as he departed still had yet to leave his face.

Although he moved home a year ago, he never really returned.

Wake up.

I veered my course to the left, dodging through traffic, and found the street.

It was there that my mind had arrived.

This avenue was vacated and tranquil, an eclipse of the earlier. And there was that house; green and silent as ever.

Clutching a stitch in my stomach, I dove over the waist high fence and tripped on my own foot. I fell, scraping my elbows on concrete and swearing beneath my breath, but I couldn’t stop. I scrambled to my feet and staggered towards a ground levelled window.

Exhausted, I tripped again. Then several strangled events laced together. First, I tumbled to that window. I held my hands out, expecting to hit glass, but realized too late that it was open. Before that fully registered, I was toppling – headfirst – through the open window. My insides plummeted, muting my scream. I hit the bed with a sharp thump, before it tossed me to the floor.

There, I landed, **** first, mute and sprawling.

While my body congealed, my heart auditioned as drummer, and stars teased my peripheral.

The room materialized as I blinked through confusion. Softy, I sat myself upright.

His eyes were the first thing I saw.

Reality zapped me so hard I almost fell back again; he was alive, I’d woken up.

Then my senses caught up; my elbows cried, my head throbbed, and my breath rekindled in ragged crackles. As if a switch was flicked, I suddenly identified sound; the humming of cars outside, the crisp ticking of a clock, the gurgling of his fish tank. So loud – so distinct. Color sharpened and brightened.

My mind in overdrive.

He was here.

He sat on his bed, alive and well, speechless with alarm.

Oliver was shirtless, lidded only by flannel pants and black gloves. He considered me with bleeding elbows, disheveled hair, and desperate eyes. Then, the shock on his face gave way for a giant grin.

“Come here often?” He inquired. His voice, raspy with morning.

Still panting and shaking, I conjured a smile to match Oliver's.

“You’d think so. . .” I choked.

“And I’d be right, Maple.” He finished. I managed a laugh.

Nothing had changed.
Note: I dreamt about death, and awoke feeling frantic. Although logic confirmed that everything was okay, my intuition said otherwise. To remedy my unease, I channeled that dream into a story. A story I wrote when I was fourteen years old. Seven years later, the same story continues to illustrate my psyche; a story that set the foundation for Pretense (my novel). Herein, you’ll find that story; the origin and epithet of Maple and Oliver Starkweather.
Here goes?

(All poems original Copyright of Eva Denali Will © 2015, 2016)

~
sabrine Feb 2014
I could have sworn I had the green light
So I sped through the intersection
But I had to think fast
Because of a car coming my direction

My muscles were frozen like ice
I couldn't defend from the attack
So physics did its thing
As everything went black

I awoke in the same spot
With blood trickling out my ears
I couldn't hear anything
But my eyes could see quite clear

The driver in the other car didn't move
And I could tell he wouldn't ever
Even though it wasn't my fault
His life was gone forever

Adrenaline rushed through my veins
I didn't know what to do
I couldn't think so I panicked
Running so fast I flew

This was an unfamiliar place
I didn't know this city
I was blinded by the darkness
Drowning as it swallowed me

All the streets were different
Like I was born again
But I didn't feel alone
For the night was my friend

The silence was so loud
Yet all I heard was my mind
So I wanted to keep running
Until the end of time

There were no obstacles in my path
The streets were completely empty
I thought I would run out of energy
But it was evident I had plenty

And thats when I stopped to see
My moment of truth
I veered off the road
And jumped on a roof

I sat my self down
As I started to realize
That I needed to stop running
And covering the truth with lies

I told myself to face my fears
And in that moment that was when
I began to start all over
Like I was born again
i could do more with this poem so ill probably come back to this eventually
She didn’t look awfully well that day
Though she never would make a fuss,
I said we should get to the hospital
That I’d travel with her on the bus.
The weather was terrible, snow on the road
And a seaborne yellow mist,
So I wrapped her well in a scarf and coat
And did my best to assist.

She leant on me, walked out to the stop
And we sat on the ice cold bench,
I thought for a moment she’d faint or drop
So taking the bus made sense.
The car would be hard to manage that night
For the roads were covered with ice,
I couldn’t hold her while driving the car,
But we needed a doctor’s advice.

The cough had got worse as the day went on
And her hanky was spattered with blood,
I prayed it was just a vessel that burst,
Not that I thought it should,
But consumption sat at the back of my mind
It was rare, but still around,
I was praying a lot, but still my head
Would cover the same old ground.

We watched as the lights of the bus rolled up
So dim in the mist to see,
A double-decker, we climbed aboard
It was number twenty-three.
The passengers all were grey and drab
And some of them seemed asleep,
A skeleton sat hunched up at the rear
And Kathie began to weep.

‘It’s only a medical student’s thing,’
I said, ‘there’s nothing to fear.’
But Kathie flinched as we walked on past,
‘Then why did he leave it here?’
She settled down in a window seat
While I sat next to the aisle,
And the bus rolled into the swirling mist
So we sat quite still for a while.

The lights in the bus were more than dim
And Kathie was looking grey,
While I got up at the hospital stop
Kathie was looking away.
Then suddenly I was out on the road
As the bus took off in the mist,
While Kathie stared through the window pane,
It was like she didn’t exist.

I ran and I ran, and chased the bus,
But I ran and ran in vain,
For the bus veered off, went over the cliffs
And vanished into the rain,
I found her there on the bus stop bench
Where we’d sat, all grey and still,
And I wept, and thought of the phantom bus
That had taken her over the hill.

I could swear we’d stood, and climbed on the bus,
My love, my Kathie and me,
But they said there never was such a bus
As a number twenty-three,
And I see her now in my dreams at night
As she stares through the window pane,
Of a phantom bus that takes her away,
Over the cliffs in the rain.

Over the cliffs on a freezing night
When she died, ice cold on the bench,
What was I thinking, I ask myself,
Where was my common sense?
Then I take some comfort to think that I
Had once been a part of us,
And travelled some of the way with her
Where she’d gone, on the phantom bus.

David Lewis Paget

— The End —