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Quite a Place

In Short Story on February 15, 2011 at 5:54 am

Quite a Place

Divad Eel Chakrah

 

Up above the world, their feet dangled and dipped in the clear pond of the sky.  Their palms rested on comfortable stone that was cracked here and there by upshoots of grass.  They instinctively twirled and pulled, gently, the grass whenever it their fingers encountered it.  It was a marvel, how that soft grass breached the stone, how unimpeded its growth could be.  The two of them breathed fully and easily.  They were safe, and while neither of them might have known what true danger was, having not that experience with which to draw comparison, they could feel it and appreciate it like no other time in their short lives, so encompassing was their present tranquility.  A few dandelions drifted by, mixed with bits of grass and leaf.

“Quite a place this is,” the boy said, breaking the silence with an understatement he hoped she would appreciate.  He could think of no more words to say.  It was an understatement, he knew that, a pretty good one.  Clandestinely his eyes shot in her direction and he hoped she wouldn’t under-cut his understatement with one even more brief and understated.

“It is, my young friend, it is.” Her hazel eyes never wavered, instead they stared satisfied at the church.

Drat, he thought, we’re the same damn age.  He let his gaze follow hers; a few hundred feet of gap across from them was another hilly green shelf on which an old church or temple stood, a single broken figurine standing watch.  The bridge across the sky had long ago collapsed.  Its falling stones probably formed a mysterious and important structure down below, that or delightedly dove into the Atlantic, Pacific, or Indian.

There was never an ocean so big and vibrant, none so deeply blue with white carved in it, as that sky below them.  It was as if giants’ paint had been applied thickly and evenly in the morning, dried by the afternoon.  Below them birds flew, mingling with the pterodactyls, cousins dimly aware of their relation.  They weaved through the picture silent and graceful.  Maybe some were on their way some place, and maybe others were just flying forever.

“Do you think that one day, we’ll have to go home?” He asked.  He looked at her meaningfully, a child whose question must be answered meaningfully, and waited.

“No, I think we’ll stay here forever.  I don’t wanna go back, do you?” She didn’t look at him but stared firmly, down, down through the clouds and the sky, at whatever was real below the painting with the flying beasts and birds in it.  At their backs were great stones entrenched in ivy.  Pieces of walls, half-parapets, and stand-alone doorways.  Once upon a time those stone blocks had sat on hills, and working together, had made great castles and keeps and impenetrable fortresses.  Now their ruins were homes for anything that wanted refuge from the breeze, or open playgrounds for the playful.

“Not really, I don’t I mean, but what about our friends, family, other people?  What about that word that grownups use, re-spon-si-bil-ity? ”  Her nose crinkled at the grownup word. He continued to coax.

“It’s lovely here, but what will we eat?  What will we wear?  Eventually, won’t we get bored?” He studied her now, wondering how well he could play the game chicken.

She glanced at him.

“You’re right, we will get bored.”

He was no good at chicken.  He was hurt, and he knew it, so he watched one of the big winged reptiles float in the air as an orange and blue phoenix of paradise wound around its huge green leathery body like a butterfly.

“It’s your fault for asking, fool,” she said, still smiling at him.  “Learn to be satisfied.”

He pretended not to hear, studying intently the creatures’ flight paths.  The little phoenix darted around and around, trying to capture the dactyls attention.  It’s up to then futile flits finally gained notice, and the dragon gave chase to the hummingbird.  Meanwhile, Neptune bowed before Venus, and the latter flecked the blue canvas, gradually, imperceptibly, with pinks, lavenders, and violets.

“Let’s go,” she said, and took his hand.  He got up stubbornly, feigning annoyance.

 

They came upon a forest first, where the leaves shone like emeralds under a light.  Sensing something wonderful, they took hands and began to run, leaving the sky shelf, its quiet ruins, and contemplation behind.  The forest was dim due to the roof of treetops obscuring the sun, but it was not a frightening place.  There were conifers and weeping larch, oak and spruce and maples.  There were berried bushes and wildflowers.  And the silence that greeted their arrival, the only sound in accompaniment being the chirps of cricket orchestras, began to pulse with energy.  The children felt this, and slowly they began to dance.

They danced and switched partners between each other and saplings supplely swaying.   The wood moths, both bright and dull, came out to play.  Now, the boy felt like the pterodactyl, as they wound around his head like a nimbus; he growled and sprang after them.  A teenage sapling, apparently something of a frisk, challenged the girl, and they shook and spun, faster and faster, until the poor sprout nearly uprooted itself and had to concede.   In apical dominance, the wall’s of nature’s castle, the mother trees towered over the scene below extravagantly.  With detachment they allowed their young their revelry.  But then, as if realizing simultaneously that in all their centuries of stoic observation, there was something about these two new beings, yes, something special, the mother trees let their branches -branches that pillowed the very sky-stretch and spread out until they formed a filter for the sunlight to cast many golden dots like nuggets among the grass where the children ran and whooped and shook themselves.  They ran circles around the mulberry bush, cartwheeled, and spun in place till they saw a kaleidoscope of green, brown, blue, and yellow and were so dizzy that she was forced to sit and he to fall.  Silence for a beat.  They giggled and laughed, and when they looked up, it seemed even those great big mother trees bent their boughs a little in time with the melody that every single thing in that glade could hear.  This encouraged them to begin anew.

More animals began to join the party.  Field mice, squirrels, weasels, fawns, and caribou were joined by  arrow frogs, marmosets, tapir, and lions.  The smaller animals chattered and joined in, while the larger ones, sensing that this was the children’s time, were content to move silently to the beat.  Still more came, the nocturnal owlheads that slept always with one eye open, the slithering nagas half snake and half woman, two headed bomble boars, three eyed pino-lolos, and the transluscent, ermine like napaa.  Their laughter grew louder with the growing audience, and Apollo undetectably peeled away the sun, threaded oranges and reds through the canopy sifter.  As the light through the trees drew closer to the color of blood, all of a sudden, there was a pause.  All the animals stared in one direction.  The children dared not breath for fear of disturbing this new quiet.  A single, nervous cricket, quite by accident, needled the hush with a single squeak, was met with a murderous look by a panther, adder, and lion, and promptly died of fright.  Something, or someone, was making way to the stage.

Pan appeared from the folds of the forest, and every living thing, from the snakes and salamanders, the bears and beasts, and the most regal of the trees bowed before the Music Maker.  The boy and girl looked at each other, frightened for only as long as it took them to see Pan’s smile, and even before he began to play his magic flute of reeds they shouted and leapt in happiness.

Whereas before it was something they could only faintly hear , the Music Maker’s flute brought the natural rhythms of the glade to life, and now all the animals exclaimed their joy and stamped their feet and hooves.  The flute’s notes were sweet layers overlapping and sliding off one another; from soft to shrill to soft again, they alternately pierced the world and coaxed it to sleep.  Pan was a whirlwind himself, dancing on his hooves, his antlers hung with the lace of weeping willows and the jewels of raspberries, strawberries, blackberries.  His eyes were closed as he concentrated all his being into the songs and dances, but now and then the children would catch a mirthful peek shot their way, a knowing and approving smile that excited them into new fits of rapturous contortion.

The boy began to do the twist with the bears and beavers, their pendulous bellies swerving.  Once he got too close to an enthusiastic young black bear and was almost bowled aside by elbows and belly.  He laughed and somersaulted, dancing closer to his new friend, and Pan blew a high, snappish set of notes in acknowledgement of that lack of fear.

The girl sat with the nagas and mushrooms for a time, observing the boy and Pan.  The light deepened from red to dark, royal purple, and the Music Maker’s tune became more infused with softer notes and a slower tempo.  To this change the nagas reacted, and uncurled their serpentine tails.  Two of them lifted the girl to her feet, and the boy and the rest of the animals, sensing the mood had shifted, watched.

She moved gracefully, naturally, like a gull feather in the wind.  Her arms and hands crisscrossed high above her head, submerged and swimming.  Her eyes were closed, her hips unlocked, and she created the rhythm now.  Pan’s flute followed her aqueous movements, and while her feet moved confidently over the mossy ground, the Music Maker punctuated each step.  The nagas leaned and swerved, cobras before the charmer, their long black hair flowing as their bodies copied the movements of the girl, this tiny girl who danced like watery Undine, and told her story.

Undine, princess of an underwater kingdom, alone.  Longing for love she would sing with her sisters until one by one they found their mates and left her in her tower of ivory shell.  She fell in love with a fisherman, who glimpsed her through scarlet coral and called to her.  They married and were happy for a time, until he grew jealous of her beauty, callous with his words, and poisoned his own love with hatred.  She escaped, broken hearted, back into the sea, and allowed the currents to carry her wherever they wished and for however long she lived.

The mushrooms glowed, and their fungal lights were now the sole illumination of this night concert.  The girl swayed as the flute’s song carried her on different paths, mimicking the currents that carried anguished Undine.  In and amongst the coiling nagas, in and around the mushrooms.  Her feet moved rapidly to keep her body from falling, and on her face was an expression of joy, and of pain.  The boy stared.  She suddenly seemed years older than he.  This dance, this music that she had created from it; it spoke of experiences he knew he could not understand if he tried.  And at that moment, in his heart began a longing.

Eventually, the music stopped.  Pan bowed twice, whether it was to them or not, the children weren’t sure, and disappeared.  The animals conversed for a while, a wolf nuzzling the boy and the nagas hugging goodbye to their leader in dance.  Then, they too were gone.

The children began to grow cold.  A trail of mushrooms formed a path out of the forest, but one by one their lights were blinking out.  Soon it would be dark.

“Let’s go!”  she said and grabbed his hand.

“We have to hurry!” he agreed.  He hoped she had not seen the fear in his eyes, which indeed she had.  Much more he hoped she’d not noticed the change that had come over him during her dance.  And in this, he was fortunate because she hadn’t.  Still, as they ran along the path of extinguishing mushrooms, outrunning Nyx’s blanket, he wondered at his strange new dread.

 

They reached a cave in a mountain of ice.  Winter’s gales blew about it, and Pan, the animals, and the forest seemed a shadowy memory.  They entered shivering, holding each other tightly for warmth.   Droplets echoed.  They tried their best not to trip in the gloom.  Slowly, very, very, very slowly.  There was no telling how far down a fall might take them…

Gradually, their eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, and little twinkles began to catch their eyes.  There was something embedded in the walls.

“Jewels!” she exclaimed.  She unclasped herself from him and ran along the walls, stopping to marvel.  Shocked at her sudden, near-teleportation from his side, he frowned.

“So what?” But she took no notice, and instead began to catalog.

“Amethysts, topazes, moonstones, sapphires, rubies, opals, ambers, garnets, emeralds, tiger’s eye…”

“It’s cold and I’m hungry.”

“…malachite, jasper, sunstones, bloodstones, lapis lazuli, obsidian, turquoise, jade, corals, pearls…”

“Are you listening to me?”

“…all cut perfectly, carved and sanded from crystals, luminescent, luxurious.  Brilliant. BEAUTIFUL-“

“’HEY!”

“-you don’t think they’re awesome?” she finished and grinned.

His mask of anger cracked and fell apart.  He softened and said,  “No, they are pretty awesome…”

“Hahaha!” she laughed and hugged him before returning to her marveling.

He felt strangely exasperated.  Why was she so obsessed with these colored rocks?  What, as soon as she saw something pretty she could just stop and ignore him?  He was annoyed at himself too, at how easily she could manipulate his feelings.  He yearned for the girl from an eternity of moments ago, when they danced and played in the woods.  He missed the terrific sadness in her face when she danced with the nagas to Pan’s flute.  He was vaguely aware that he was most frustrated by the fact that he felt something so strong for her, but it was not reciprocated, nor even known by her.  He buried this awareness and followed her down the icy halls which led into a vast open chamber of the cave.

Here the ice-blue walls glimmered like mirrors, and the children stood in awe and breathed.    In corners of the chamber from mounds of ice grew massive crystal plumes, shimmering as bright as any jewel in the halls, but each crystal here ended in sharp spires.  There’d be no running around in here, lest they glide, slip and find themselves cut, pierced, or impaled.  The cold silence was such that the smoke from each breath of theirs seemed intrusive.  They looked at each other, embarrassed.  Everything about the place seemed so solemn and unwelcoming.  Here was nothing carefree; instead, as they walked around the chamber they were aware only of themselves, miniscule and reflected, so small in so much bigness.  Most disturbing of all, it almost felt like they were being watched, observed, and judged.  They agreed they had to leave.  They separated and began to explore the chamber for a way out, for there was none easily seen.  The boy went right, the girl went left, they combing the walls and walking carefully around the crystal spines.  After some minutes, the boy found an exit hidden behind a mass of them.  He turned to shout at her from across the floor and stopped.  She was frozen!  No, he realized, relieved, she was staring at something in the wall.  Transfixed, absorbed, this was beyond the greedy movements incited by the precious stones.  She seemed completely spellbound.

“What are you…” he began to walk over to her and stopped.  She was staring at her own reflection.

The two of them, girl and reflected girl, looked at each other.  There was no movement of the face save the eyes.  Large brown eyes staring with intensity, curiosity, as if they had never known themselves previously.  They craned their necks, casting mirrored sidelong glances at each other.  The recognition of beauty was instantaneous in both their images, for in that instant, their mouths began to move.  Subtly at first, the corners turned up in fascination.  And then, wider:  the mouth smiling in a way not innocent, friendly, or even radiant, the boy thought, but something unctuous.

He hid behind a spiral of crystal, keeping his own image out of sight, not daring to interrupt whatever process she was going through.  Part of him was afraid of breaking the spell, because he wanted to see how deep her vanity would go and with it, his newfound feeling of umbrage.  For while he had admired her beauty before, her newfound discovery of it ate at him and boiled in his belly and he stood off to the side not only to allow them both to fester but because in that chamber he had discovered his own shame at his hideousness and he stood now off to the side and out of frame, not wanting to stain this image of a narcissus that however ugly on the inside became would still be a thousand times more lovely than he.  And even worse, he realized as the smog inside him grew, what if she were to see both the reflected girl and the reflected monster together?  He silently and furiously scrabbled at his eyes, feeling about to burst.

The girl and her reflection began to grow, taller, more lithe, more elegant.  They stretched together in smugness, high on their toes.  The reflection began to grow faster as the girl posed and turned, admiring every new curve of her body, every smooth surface of skin.  She blinked her eyes purposefully and laughed, and the reflection batted its lashes and laughed back, growing ever taller.  It grew faster, much faster, outstripping her own transformation, doubling, tripling in size, until it rose to the highest vertical of the walls, a giant with cat’s eyes, looking down now, at him.

Her day dream broke. “Hey!” she said, embarrassed.  Far away, a water droplet dripped.

“We should keep moving,” the boy mumbled, looking down.  She strode over to meet him, her face sweet, but her gait changed.  There were hips now, and breasts.  His eye-level was now her shoulder-level, and while the monstrous reflection had disappeared, when she looked at him, grinning from a face now more seraphim than cherubim, she was still looking down.  Cat’s eyes.  Pejoratively, his lip stuck out of its own accord.

She nodded.  “But first…” and she backtracked, moving fluid like a damned antelope, to the halls.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m just going to take ooooone.” Her foot was braced against the ice and she pulled at a rose colored stone set in gold.  It was the size of her fist.

He cast a fearful glance back at the chamber.  This was quite a place, and while no words of warning were inscribed, his instincts to obey unwritten rules were sharp.  Near as sharp as those plumes of wicked crystal.  He looked back at her; the ruby seemed to be giving a little.  Her muscles tensed, visible under her skin.   Her body had become more feminine and lissome, but also very strong.  She had grown, and he stood there a ways away hesitant, holding one limp arm with his other.  He shook his head so as to wake himself up, steeled his jaw, hardened his eyes, and in a voice meant to master the silence of that cave called out to her.

“It’s NOT YOURS to TAKE.”

She stopped and walked over towards him.

“DON’T.  Tell ME.  What to. DO.”  Her eyes were diamonds to his pebbles, and he cowered and did not say another word until she’d freed the jewel with satisfaction.  She admired it for a moment, and then strode past him.

“Wait, wh-“

“You found the exit right?”

“Yes, it’s over there.”

“Then Let’s Go.”

As they crossed the chamber he felt the cold again, but she seemed many steps in front of him, her strides purposeful and nearly authoritative.  He trailed her meekly, and remembered with some disbelief how they had huddled for warmth when they entered that cave of ice.  A kind of embrace so long ago it was unfathomable, and yet so close he could recall it tangibly, and yearn for that tactile feeling of life and breath and plush against his body with enough bitterness as to crack the cold with doldrums.  He hurried to keep up so he could point the way, but she had already found the exit.

 

Upon crossing the threshold they were greeted by a blast of air so strong their eyes snapped shut and they clutched at the walls to keep from falling backwards.  When they opened their eyes, they were in a grey room.  Grey.  As if every surface were covered in layers of ash.  A fire burned in the hearth at the back wall, providing a yellow glow that reached to the middle of the room.  The corners of the walls were in staked in shadow, and the boy and the girl thought of spiders.  Overhead was a big white faced clock that tocked loud and ominous.  There were book cases lining the walls, a globe of the earth composed of dusty steel, and from the ceiling hung a grey mobile with cars, and ships, and planes.

As they moved over the dry wood floors five posts rose through hidden openings with a sound like sand poured through a sieve.   There was a glass globes upon each one, and they stopped at eye level (for the boy) with five little clicks.

“Greetings, little boy and girl in front of me.” Out stepped a man in black.  Time stopped.  His voice was hoarse, with the sound of sharpening knives in it.

“You needn’t be afraid of me.  Come warm yourselves by the fire.”  He doffed his top hat; a white mask with a long, thin beak covered his face.   The boy stood poised over one of the globes, still unmoving.  The clock tocked heavily. “Or,” the man said, “take your time and discover what the world holds.”

The boy peered through the glass at a book that floated, suspended by some magic.  Its cover was old leather, and from its edges there passed sparks of different colors.  He longed to open it, to be able to see those pages, to feel ancient parchment between his fingers.

“There…there must be secrets in those pages.”

“All of the knowledge in the world, little boy.  And if you want it, you must ask me, and then it will be yours.”

The boy exhaled slowly, fully.  He ran over to another globe, one that shone like a lamp of blue in the grey room.  “What’s inside this one?  It’s so bright I can’t see.”

“Ah, this globe is very special, little boy.  It holds a power called electricity, an energy that moves the world, lights it, and warms it.”

“I know what electricity is, we learned about it in school.”

“And if you so wish it, it is yours.  All the energy in the world, but you must ask me for it first.”

The boy marveled.  Meanwhile, the girl circled around the edges of the room, keeping close to the bookshelves, away and behind the man who stood like a great bird in black robes, as still as a statue but capable of swift, terrible movement.  She was now directly across from the boy and caught his eye.  “No” she mouthed and shook her head urgently.  But he ignored her, running to the third globe.

“Many men desire this most of all, little boy.”

Inside the globe was a house on a hill, one of gigantic proportion to its surroundings.  There was a lake, a forest, mountains on one side.  A rolling garden ending in a hedge maze filled with marble statues.  On the front lawn a red aeroplane was parked.  The palace, for the boy realized it was more palace than anything else, opened up.  Inside were venetian blinds, vermilion carpets, and servants moving back and forth quickly but unhurriedly.  There was a smoke room with animal furs, and the clinking of glasses in the banquet hall.  The boy could smell the sumptuous feast being prepared in the kitchen, with the sound of cutlery, pots and pans breaking the buzzing of the chefs’ voices.  The greenhouse held flowers and fauna too rare and delicate for the outside and created a density of color outstripping any collection of jewels.  Suits of armor, walls of glass, a bedroom designed by a master decorator for no one less then a king, and finally in one regal corner of the palace was a room with a desk of oak outlined by bookshelves carpeted by Persian and on the oak desk was a ledger that opened and revealed endless riches for a present day Midas.

The boy’s eyes widened.  Anything he wanted.

“You but just have to ask me, and it is yours,” the man said.  The girl saw him take a step towards the boy, and with a start she realized that the five globes were arranged to form a pentagram.  The figure in mask and robes was no man, either.  She stepped back further and clutched at the shelves behind her.  They crumbled away.  Ash.  All at once the bone-white mask with hollowed eyes spun around and fixed her in place.  She felt coldness unlike any she had ever known, a thousand times icier than the caves, fill her body and begin to force itself from her tear ducts.  Slowly the thing turned back to the boy, who in a daze at all the power and riches arrayed before him, approached the fourth globe.  The ice filled her lungs, and stopped up her mouth.

The globe contained a small mirror, and inside the boy saw bright swirls of light in the midst of which stood a shape flickering.  Something majestic.

“I can’t quite see, is it a lion?”

“He is the man you could be, little boy.”

Tall and strong and handsome.  It was the boy’s turn to stare at his ethereal reflection, a future of vigor and adventure.  A body that could withstand and beat back the elements, a presence or an aura of raw of lifeforce.  Surely, he would be admired by so many, if he chose that globe and became like that.  The hall of ice and mirrors and his shame, it could all be undone, he thought.  His fingers caressed the glass surface, pining for their transformation into a warrior’s talons.  He stopped and sighed.  There was one last globe.

 

 

 

Projecting a faint rose-colored light, floating inside much like the tome of knowledge, was a heart.

“Men, women, birds, beasts, germs, particles, and all little girls and little boys desire this even more.” The mask was now bent low next to his ear.

The boy needed no explanation.  He didn’t need to see the last globe.  All of the knowledge, power, and wealth in the world were nothing if he could not possess that which he desired most.  He turned toward the man in black unafraid, defiant, with eyes feverishly reflecting the blazing fire.  He spoke out loud his wish.

“I want this, the heart of the one I –“

And the girl screamed.  Her lungs expelled all the demon cold at once and in impassioned fury directed at the monster in black, at the greed in the boy’s heart and the heart of all men, at their jealousy of the world and cruel, base desire to be master and maestro of it, unleashed a primal scream that composed of every creature in the emerald forest, an uninhibited product of all the rage and love she felt in her heart, for truly she loved that boy, and to the best of her ability and his they two understood each other in that moment and in all the moments they had shared, including the ones muddled by mystery and elusiveness and colored by illusion, but perhaps actually those moments more than others for while they questioned each other and grew angry and sullen they felt the strong bindings that existed between them and were all that mattered and could under no circumstances be captured and harnessed by some arcane hand, formed into a mass to be shelved, boxed, documented and displayed, and least of all, given away on a wish granted by a djinn of the netherworld.

 

The black robes billowed before the girl’s scream, but the thing moved towards her undeterred.  “Little children who stray, who defy, who defile, will be punished.” It stepped in front of the fire and stretched out a menacing hand.

She ran forward and pushed with all her newfound might, and the monster fell back into the fire with a roar.

The boy snapped out of his trance.  The girl backed away from the burning thing.

The mask first melted away, revealing a face stern if not handsome.  A human face with jet black hair in the flickering wall of flame.  The voice that spoke to them was human as well, the voice of a father, clear and deep.

“So this is the decision she makes for you, and this is the heart you would follow till your final days?  Grow up, little boy, grow up.  You do not deserve this, but before I go, I will grant you a penance: you may choose, still, one of the four remaining globes. Its contents may still be yours.  But you must choose now.  This is your last chance. THIS is the way of the world, THIS is its reality: to take, to achieve, THAT is living for a man!  Some never get a chance, and no one gets a chance like this. Take it or leave it, leave it and die.  As I leave you both.”  And then the man was gone, swallowed by the fire.

As if in response, the girl strode over to the grey steel globe of the earth picked it up, and crushed it in her hands. “It’s all dust and ashes.  All of it.”

The boy hesitated.  The globes shone bright despite the revelation.

“You can’t believe him, you can’t.”  She waited for him.

He stared at the sparks, the blue crackle, the mansion and the magic mirror.  The last globe was nowhere to be seen.

“Do you need those lies?” She looked at him meaningfully, a child who was born knowing some kind of truth rare if not forgotten.  Finally, though he remained silent, his eyes met hers.

“Please…” she took his hand in hers, pleading.  He looked at her face a long time.  Then, he nodded once, and they fled the grey room from the entrance they came.  The gust carried them up into the air, fast and faster, far and farther, and they slept in their carriage of wind.

 

 

 

They awoke on the stone floor of an old church, or temple, motes swimming in the streams of light coming in through windows and breakages in the walls.  For the first time they noticed they were naked.  They laughed, voices a little deeper, a little rougher, but still somehow bright.  Outside they heard birds.

 

The two looked at each other; the boy’s smile was a little tired now, his brow showing the signs of worry wrinkles.  The girl did not smile, but her eyes were deep pools that were clear for him to see into, to get lost into.  She hoped that would be enough.  They joined hands and, stepping outside, jumped down from the sky.

 

 

 

The End

 

Character – “Ostrich eyes” Gilritch

In Short Story on January 9, 2011 at 12:15 am

From afar he looked normal, but at about the medium range his eyes were black blotches, close in a little and one could see the scar tissue plump in the eye sockets.

Gilritch was blind, all a result of a fascination with birds of prey and his pet ostrich.

Love in the MOrasse II

In Love in the Apocalyptic Morass on September 21, 2010 at 4:24 am

Karl lifted the man’s skull with a firm grip and shoved it with all his strength on the rocks.  It made a gristled cracking sound amplified by the walls of the burned, brown valley.  He saw that the eye had come lose and was starting from the eye sockets and he closed his eyes and turned his head, but maintained his own strong fingers in a death grip that could bend steel or crush the wind from a child’s throat.  Twice, three times he smashed the man’s head into the dust covered precipice, and with the third strike the sound became a wet, dull thud and he felt the skull give way and crumple like a bag of soft fruit, and the man’s arms suddenly fell away from Karl’s throat and face where they’d scrabbled in vain.

He sat down by the yellowed stone wall jutting out of the precipice like a steeple, and looked at the body. He looked for a long time, trying not to concentrate on the smashed head and the pulp.  How long could he keep doing this?  How long could his luck hold?  How long before he met a man bigger, stronger, craftier, or more desperate than he?  He was tired and he allowed himself to sigh aloud and decided he would come back here the next morning to bury the body.  If it was still there.  The blood sun, dark and deep as a shimmering lump of lava rock pierced and hung in the sky, kept the land dying in its shimmering heat.  That bitter old sun, with nothing to do, but roast away as much life as it could every day before it too died.

Karl walked down the precipice, with that sun bearing down on his back, wary of his footing.  A long time ago (months, years?) he had spotted a deer and in his haste for its flesh had fallen and cut himself badly.  The wound became infected within a few days and grew yellow and then black around the cut.  He remembered Laura using every last bit of their splinters of soap, scrubbing them into the wound.  He remembered grimacing with pain and especially how he thought even then that the pain was nothing compared to his fear.  Not of dying, but of being lame.  He had been terrified of becoming unable to provide for her, and forcing her out of their hut into the sodden madness hell the world had become.

Death’s wide skulled grimace and cold cloak did not bother him, but the thought of Laura alone stopped his breath midway in his body and held it there.  Karl quickened his pace and carefully scanned for friends of the man he’d killed as he descended, though he knew the man had none and was just a lone scavenger spying and starving.

Karl jogged to the hut and saw Laura waiting for him, smiling.  He felt his skin tingle and lift from his toes to his face.  What was she smiling about?  I’m so happy you’re home and safe.  Me too, my little baby.  Your hands?  I had tried to kill a deer but the bugger got away.  What’s the matter?

She was touching his face, the marks of the dead scavenger’s fingers.  He cast his eyes downward.  It wasn’t a deer…you killed someone didn’t you?  Yes, I did.  He had been spying on us from above.  He would have killed us.  You don’t’ know that, maybe he just wanted some food.  Food we don’t have to spare.  We could have helped him, and learned from him, and worked together…or…or learned about where he came from – Shut up!  Do you remember the last time?  Huh?  Santiago?  My point is we don’t know, and we’ll never get out of here!  I’m sorry about that time, I was stupid…but if we’d approached him carefully.  CAREFULLY?  Bring him into our hut so he can stamp out or brains with a stone while we sleep and then take everything we’ve stored away.  This rotting meat!!!? These blankets that the cold laughs at?  These walls themselves?!!  Or…take YOU?!! I’ll be damned if I let any man safely set foot within a mile of here!  I’ll wrip his throat out, twist his arms until they crack, pull them out of their sockets, and stomp them into the putrid ground.  I’ll push their eyes into their brains, and crush…I…oh…

Laura sat silently on the floor of the hut.  She’d long ago dried up in that beautiful husk, with water too scarce to refill her wells.  She just sat there with her back slumped looking at the ground.  Karl stood over her with his palms hanging limply at his sides.  She glanced at their basket of food and supplies that had kept them alive for countless days and nights after the atomic dust had cleared and the nice old world was proven vanished.  She looked up at him and saw his eyes brimming with tears and his lips pursed and beginning to quiver.  She smiled up at him, like a child in a world without children.  She was the last one left, and he bent down and sobbed his guilt and grief.  That big malnourished bear of a man, just as he did the last time he murdered someone.

Karl walked up the stone steps to the temple and saw the Doctor waiting.  He thought he was smiling underneath the bone-white paint covering the Doctor’s face.  Karl glanced at each guard at the entryway, huge men as big as Karl but with bodies untouched by hunger.  And the secret of their strength, and the Doctor’s, lay in Karl’s arms.  The Doctor walked behind Karl as he carried the body and lay it in front of the fire.  Women lounged among the walls and blankets of the temple, some covered slightly in the heat, some fully nude.  All of them gazed languidly at Karl for a moment before staring back into the whirpool of nothingness.

Karl squinted at the fire and turned around.  The Doctor looked him from head to toe and back again, and then he grinned.

“We of the Temple of the New World thank you for your kind offering, and may your rags turn to riches and you live a long life full of love.”

Karl looked into the eyes for a moment and felt fear for the first time.  He had never seen the Doctor so happy.

“How are you, Karl?”  The Doctor was a powerful man, a man who’s gaze never wavered in one part because of his stature in the morasse and the burned plains and the junkyards, and one part because he was insane.

“I’m fine,” Karl responded.  In the swirling smoky air, the smell of burnt flesh and the toxic inscense that permeated the atmosphere of Eden, Karl felt sick.  He yearned to be outside, outside in that baked wasteland, back in his hut in the morasse.

The Doctor’s head stayed in absolutely the same physical plane, only it moved forward as if the face was being zoomed in, or his neck were extending out of his body like a monster.  The skull white face, smooth shaven, the cannibal grin, the yellow-red eyes, were now just a few inches from Karl’s own nose.

“You look very thin.  Out there, everyone, everything, withers and dies.  Even love.  I won’t ask my question again, that is, my offer, with all its original, unsullied kindness, neighborly love and generosity…my OPPORTUNITY, now will in most respects and angles be in its final phase.”

Two of the girls took the body and were preparing it for the fire, there was a large steel shaft with a point being carried by a third.  Karl wished for something to steady himself on.  The guards looked in.  He coughed, hacked, and coughed again.

The Doctor spoke again, his hands moving like two animals wrestling with each other in front of his chest, his head and body not moving, “What I am saying, dear friend Karl, is this is your last chance to join our beloved Temple.”

“I won’t,” Karl said.

“It is time to enlighten yourself, and to partake in the reality of our glorious world.”

“No.”

“You’ve already killed, you’ve already done this much for your survival.  You’ve brought offerings, why do you hold yourself back?  Why cling to the past in misery?”

“He would have killed us, I did this for survival.”

“Yes, survival, in the end we do everything for survival.”

“I’m leaving.”

“What of your wife?”  The Doctor’s hands were moving faster now, and with a concerted effort he stopped them and held them against his breast.

“I told you not to talk about her!” Karl took a step forward and the guards moved into the temple before the Doctor waved them away.  The acrid smoke, the cooking man, was building up.

“I won’t cross that line, I won’t do that…”

“Why deny her a haven from the misery you live in?”

“Stop, shut your mouth, or you will receive nothing from me in the future.”

The Doctor looked at him gravely, the smile was faded.  “Look at you, Karl.  I give you this last chance because you no longer will be able to provide our Temple with anything.  Realize your situation, the carrion crawlers creep closer to you and she every night.  Your love is a selfish one, keeping her in squalor, unable to provide for her like you promised.  You deny her with your idealism, while the crows pick at her body by day and your scrounge like an animal for the carcasses and feces of the plains.”

Karl took the axe and flung it.  It went end over end over end at the Doctor.  The Doctor had raised his finger and pointed it at Karl right before the axe was thrown; it happened that the axe blade sliced through the index finger perfectly down the middle like the peel of a banana and buried between the first and second knuckle of the hand.  The Doctor looked in disbelief at his right hand and suddenly his other fingers began wiggling wildly.  He screamed at his hand, looked up and roared at Karl.  Karl paused to say something, then turned and ran out of the castle back to Laura.

1.       Murder

2.       Body to the Doctor, nasty reaction

3.       Returning home and reflection

4.       Home, fight, and shining star from above

5.       What to do?  Paranoia, decision

6.       Returning to the Temple

7.       Love