Friday, May 17. 2013
You seek the ten thousand things?
Then start at the edges
with long, even strokes.
The flow will carry you,
from the shoulders of one,
to the arms of another.
See the path where it isn’t.
Follow in straight lines
toward the centre.
And as you journey,
shrink to nothing,
until nothing’s not done.
Tuesday, May 14. 2013
There shall be a judge for every crime,
and whosoever sins shall be found.
Let them be stripped, pieces put on display,
their children taken away.
They shall be paraded before the people,
that all may see this is a sinner.
Then let the healing by hammer begin
the forge will burn their edges away.
Run again and all is well.
Monday, May 6. 2013
And it was the year of the incontinent pig in the Gregorian Calendar. And it was the year of the thirteenth eclipse in the Blind Readers’ calendar. Right here you can see the problems in the Land. No one could agree what time it was, let alone who owned what land. So naturally they went to war over it. One thing everyone agrees is that as wars go it wasn’t great. Nothing like the wars we have these days. Back then people got raided they would pack their belongings and flee down the Ilsaran road. Refugees trod the road, a high dirt track that ran between flooded fields. It was in one such bunch that the joke was told
“So I said, those aren’t my bananas,”
A ripple of laughter ran through the group. The originator of the joke grinned. His name was usually Sweeper but sometimes Gundrea. Rain trickled down his lined face, as it afflicted everyone in the little group of refugees. That included a little girl whose hand Gundrea clasped. In his other hand he carried a broom.
“Ok I’ve got one,” The speaker was a man who’d been fat but recently done a lot of exercise. “Why did the basilisk cross the road?”
“Go on, give it to us,” said a woman with no eyebrows.
“It thought it was a cockatrice,” finished the fat man.
There was a short period of headscratching, to the sound of the refugees’ footfalls.
“Keep at it Lou,” said Gundrea. His eyes were on the girl. What her eyes were on he couldn’t guess.
“Well if you’d read a bestiary, sweeper,”
“Are those horses?” asked a woman with no eyebrows.
All eyes turned to the horizon.
Lou speculated to no one in particular “Deserters?”
The horses closed rapidly, masked riders on their backs.
“Off the road,” urged someone.
They scattered. Man or woman they dived down the embankment, plunging into knee-high floodwaters without a second thought. Gundrea dragged the girl with him
“Stay low,” he said calmly.
The riders slowed to a canter, their armour bore scars of battle. Leisurely they strung bows. People waded away in all directions. No warning was given. The only communication was the twang of a bow An arrow splashed into the waters.
“Go on,” said Gundrea.
He gave the girl a push, she struggled ahead. He turned back.
The reaction was instant. The arrow whistled through the air. Gundrea twirled his broom. A crack echoed across the fields. He picked the broken arrow from the waters.
“Say, is this the road to Ilsaran?”
Another arrow was loosed. Gundrea caught this one. His palm burned from the friction. He waved it at them.
“Sorry, think you dropped this,”
The riders took aim.
Continue reading "Formative Influences"
Sunday, April 21. 2013
Smoking, Kelv waited for the fire.
He didn’t have to wait too long. Just an eternity. Leaning against his car he stared speculatively at the pines. Dark sentinels, they waited just beyond the lamplight. Kelv patted the boot reassuringly. Something inside thumped. He’d never liked this Skoda, the back wiper didn’t even work. Another car rolled up the trail, oozing between the trees. Kelv gave the driver space to park, admiring the car. The Kia Venga, probably not something you could say in mixed company. His cigarette died and a fresh faced fellow with a brittle smile stepped out. He held a kitchen knife.
“Hey,” replied Kelv.
“You made it,” said the man. He stared at the Skoda.
“You have any trouble, Edgar?” asked Kelv
Edgar looked suspicious “What? Are you messing with me?”
“Just making conversation. How about we inspect the goods?”
“How do you know I’m not a guard?”
“I reckon I could take you,” Kelv grinned with all his teeth. He pulled his keys and lifted the boot. Inside lay Delilah. She squirmed uselessly against the tape about her limbs. Kelv got an aggrieved look as if he'd slightly inconvenienced her. She mouthed something through the gag.
“Whoah,” Edgar took the bait. “She’s cute,”
He reached out, only to nearly lose his hand when the boot slammed shut.
“She was a bitch to get,” said Kelv.
“You didn’t hurt her did you?”
Kelv threw his arms wide, strolling towards Edgar's car “Pure and unspoiled. Just don’t ask if she’s virgin,”
Edgar fiddled with his key. “Yeah, women have no self-respect these days. Makes me ashamed to be a feminist,”
Kelv let him work. A shudder ran through him and scrabbled for a cigarette. Not yet. “Mind if I smoke?”
“Sure, go ahead,” Edgar heaved his boot open. Inside slept an angel. She had blonde hair and pale skin, even the exposed black bra couldn’t detract from her innocence. Edgar hastily adjusted her blouse.
“How much did you drug her?” asked Kelv. The cig barely kept his hand from shaking.
“Only half a pill like. She barely weighs anything,”
“Well, dead girls don’t say no,” Kelv took a drag.
“So… we doing the trade or what? I've got places to be, people to do,”
“Yeah, yeah. Just give me a minute,”
The Summer air was cool. Kelv could smell the pines through smoke. Hand stuck in his back pocket he gazed upwards. This was it then. One last fling and he was off to better climes. He’d made all the arrangements. Edgar was making smart comments about his treasure in the boot. Kelv entertained just for a moment making the trade.
“One thing before we do this,”
“Yeah?” Edgar looked up.
The knuckledusters caught him on the chin. It was enough to knock him back. He took another blow to the face before he got his knife out. There was a brief struggle but Kelv was used to surprising people in the dark. Soon enough the knife travelled Edgar's throat. Blood spurted like hot rain. Kelv hit him a few more times. Until the iron tang gripped his senses. That hot body writhed between his legs and Kelv did what he always did. He gave in.
He could still smell the pines. They judged him, they all did. He gave them the finger. He remembered he was trying not to be American, so he gave them two instead. His shirt was slick and he couldn’t resist licking at the spillage. Slowly he clambered upright. The angel still slept in the open boot. Eighteen? Hopefully not. Kelv waved the knife at her and chuckled. He wished his dad was here right now. He’d give the old sod a hug and tell him he was sorry. That nurse on Capel Street. He could have bought her chocolate. He licked the knife clean. She was his woman, clad in sweat and steel. All of a sudden his stomach lurched. He retched a vile, bloody mess into his hands.
When it was over Kelv scavenged his cig from the grass. That went in the Skoda. He lit another as he glanced between the cars. For the moment he owned two and a pair of fine wives to go with them. If only. He popped the boot on the Skoda. Delilah glared up at him. He wiped the look off her face with the knife between her lips. Carefully he sliced her gag off.
“Oh god,” she cried.
Kelv bit back a witty retort. He slit the tape around her wrists and then stood back. He’d expected her to bolt. Instead she huddled there, clutching at herself.
When she arose it was slowly, as a bird creeping out of the nest. Her knuckles clenched white. Kelv could smell her sweat, mixed with faded lilac.
“The fuck are you playing at!”
Kelv held up a hand. “I’m not going to hurt you,”
He let her take in the scene. He still wore the bloody shirt. Edgar lay on the ground, pale and unmoving. The Kia’s boot lay open, exposing its sleeping contents.
“It doesn’t look like it!”
“Relax. I saved you,”
“You kidnapped me!”
“Yeah but…” Kelv fumbled now “It was to trick him into coming out here. He was a bad guy,”
Delilah looked agog. She edged around the pool of light towards the Kia. Kelv chucked her the keys.
“Nearest Garda station’s a few miles. Take a left when you come onto the main road,” Kelv licked his fingers again, disregarding his audience.
“That’s it? You bring me out here and then just let me go?”
“What me to do something else?”
He’d meant it as a joke but the response was glare of pure poison. He said nothing else, simply watching her close the boot. When the Kia’s engine revved he was sure she’d run him over. She just sped away. Alone at last he enjoyed his cigarette. It took the edge off. As a distraction from his groaning stomach he pulled a bundle from his car. Fresh clothes felt good and the weight of the jerry can reassured him. He heaved Edgar into the driver’s seat and doused him in petrol. A match flared.
“You’re a shit car and your back wiper never worked,”
Sunday, April 14. 2013
Once a witch lived at Domhaincoill. Secrets she knew of life, of death. Many visited her hut, from where hot fires roared and cloying smoke poured. They came away with cures, paying in geese and gander.
The witch she took a lover. A fine husband gave her daughter and three sons. For a while they were a family. Till the husband died in dark woods. Then the daughter left for darker dreams. A child must make their own mistakes.
So the witch alone brooded and married off her boys. They went as good sons, all except the last. The youngest like his sister rejected mother’s plans. He stayed with her to tend the fires and keep the smoke pouring.
He kept those fires well. Some said they spoke to him and taught him secrets their own. Taught him to steel axe and plough. So as his mother salved the sick, he cured their tools. Time passed and the witch grew grey.
And so it came to pass that a noble came to Domhaincoill. A rival struck down her child with poison. The witch knew both the venom and the boy’s fate. Yet she fought it still. The fires roared and none slept that night.
In the morn the witch went to the noble and spoke no word. Two women grieved in silence. That would have been the end of it but for the witch's son. He approached as the noble departed.
“Sorry I am for your loss,” said he “All I can offer is justice,”
“There is no justice” said the noble bitter.
He offered her a package, wrapped in skin of doe.
The witch called back her son. So opened the skin did the noble to find a bloody axe.
And that was the beginning of the axe, Justice.
Tuesday, April 9. 2013
“Hear that?” Taka leapt from her perch. She flew as spirits do, through the echoes of the forest. Her paws brought her to where a brook ran beneath an oak tree. Beneath stooping branches nestled a basket. It drew her questing nose. A pink hand greeted her, grasping weakly. She drew back in surprise “Baby!”
The brook took up her exclamation “Baby, baby, baby,” it babbled. The wind too picked up the word, shaking stooping branches awake.
“What now?” complained a voice of rustling leaves.
“Hi!” said Taka “Did you lose a baby?”
From the right angle the knots formed a face. Wrinkly bark eyes peered down at Taka.
“Away trickster, Old Man Willow does not play games,”
Taka danced around the basket “But you're Old Man Oak!”
The old tree groaned, acorns dropped into the brook, startling slumbering trout. Frothy bubbles chased them away.
“I said no games,”
Taka gnawed on oaken root “Did you lose this baby?”
“I have lost many babies. Madame Brook carries them off,”
“Away, away, over the land,” sang the brook.
“But what about this one?” Taka nudged the basket. There was a gurgle from its depths.
The tree continued unabated “That is the way of things. I love my children so my love takes them away that they might grow greater than my shadow,”
Taka tested the brook, the waters splashed her playfully “Do big babies float? I think it's human,”
“Human?” The tree rustled and quivered “Send it back down from where it came. No good comes of humans,”
A face formed amidst the waters. Taka peered at it curiously. The face became that of a woman's kneeling before the tree. Rivers ran from her eyes as she laid the basket down.
Taka slashed a paw through the image. The brook laughed “Someone lost this baby. I'll find them,”
The oak sighed, loosing more acorns from its leafy eaves “Take my children with you. They may help,”
Taka gathered them in her mouth “Fank you,”
In a clearing not far away two hunters hunted. Now they were not the best of hunters but they could feed their families usually. Today was not a usual day though. The rabbits fled their snares and the deer dodged their arrows. Yet they persisted, for they were honest, fearful men.
“I told you this was a bad idea,” said the shorter one.
“Hush, Harald,” said the older one.
“I've heard stories about this place, Frank,” said Harald.
“You listen too much to old wives,” said Frank. He stared at an empty snare as if a rabbit might appear in it.
Something cried out. It was strangled and strange, almost a sobbing.
“Was that a wolf?” whispered Harald.
Frank shook his head “I think that was a fox,”
Harald gripped the hilt of his knife “I never trust foxes,”
“Well Harald, don't play cards with them,” Frank poked at the undergrowth with a stick.
A small, shiny acorn rolled out. Harald snatched it up “An acorn tree?”
“An oak tree,” corrected Frank. He cast his gaze about the clearing “There's none here though,”
Harald stuck his hand into the bush and drew forth another. He trampled it and went among the trees “There's a whole trail of them, back here!”
Frank stepped lightly after. There was indeed a trail of acorns. They were wet as if from rain.
“What do you reckon?” asked Harald.
Frank drew a knife.
In the shadow of an oak tree sat a brook. Its waters ran deep and clear. Beneath the tree’s leafy bowers sat a basket. Harald went to it immediately. Frank hung back, scanning the brush. The trail ended here.
Harald grunted in surprise as his beard was grabbed “Hey Frank, I think it's a girl,”
Frank stared at it, finally and with much begrudgery he said “Well we found one of your stories,”
Monday, March 4. 2013
Orange flames melted into a red sky. The campfire called cheerfully, its crackling drawing travellers from the road. A wagon sat nearby laden with barrels. Its owner tapped them, knowing coin to be lighter than mead. Wanderers joined a circle, raising mugs and voices. All were welcome in the circle and as the sun set they shared their tales.
Tatula stared out across the rocky foothills. The wind whipped her dress, carrying with it warm scents.
“Come on, be human for once,” Hel said.
If she heard she gave no sign. Hel stood there awhile to see if she took notice. Eventually he was called away by Chiffre and joined the laughter by the fire.
She remembered Hel, standing there speaking. He had used that same tone when speaking to a woman. She scanned the rocks, gaze drifting towards the sky. He had used that tone since the second time they met. Some of the clouds reminded her of graffiti on the ring-barrow at Menth. There had been an argument over femininity. It seemed a curious now, though Hel was still incorrect. Someone slipped behind a broken wall, fumbling with his crotch. She examined the argument in more depth. Of course the assertion was the central point. However the disassociation was also a factor worth considering. Something moved, out beyond the camp. She had disassociated herself forcibly at the fall. This made it a statement of intent. Such works were to be erased. It was a fox. A philosophy of self-destruction was no philosophy at all. Red coat, tongue lolling out, she remembered it well. Billowing smoke streamed overhead.
“So the priest said to the hunter, that’s not a pig, that’s my husband,”
Laughter broke again. The drunker ones slapped their knees, turning to each other and smashing mugs. The noise drowned out a quiet voice, far on the periphery. The storyteller sat back, patting his belly. He looked upon his audience satisfied until he noticed the girl on the edge of light. He stared at her as his neighbour asked
“So who’s next?”
The chatter faltered.
“I remember a fox,” said Tatula.
People craned to see the speaker. Tatula approached, hands clasped demurely. Chiffre sat straight with interest, watching Hel invite her in. So Tatula told her tale.
Eyes glimmered in the dusk. The fox crept between the rocks and turned to face her.
“Mari,” said a stern voice.
The girl started at her name. The animal was lost to shadows. She searched in vain until she was grabbed by the ear.
“Lugh’s teeth! Get back here, girl,”
“I was having a vision, Caoimhe!” complained Mari.
“And whisht your tongue!” Her cousin was both older and stronger. Mari gave in for the sake of her ear. She was dragged back towards the longhouse. Smoke billowed from its roof and doors. Covered by a boar’s hide, light and noise echoed from within. Clustered before it was a gaggle of girls, most older than Mari. They whispered in hushed tones, passing rumours of witches. Mari ignored them, left to boredom again. When her cousin’s eye turned away she peered through a crack in the wattle. There were dancing flames and a pair of smoky eyes staring at her. She stumbled back, right into Caoimhe. The elder girl treated her to a silent derision. Mari was still working on a biting remark when the skins were brushed aside. A woman stood there, ancient to Mari’s eyes. Soot lined her wrinkles and blue paint peeled from her face.
“Come, meet your ancestors,”
Cormac started from his haze. Cattle bellowed, far off. Fires too, they flickered in the night, reminding him he was not alone. Cormac reached automatically for his pouch. The mush stung on his fingers and even more in his eyes but the sleep-death faded and he came awake. He shook off the night’s chill, eyes roving the darkness. There were no lights, no signs of raid. He dropped to the ground the rattle of his spear giving him away. He cursed, securing it before patrolling about his vigil tree. He knew the ground blindfolded and finished quickly. Nothing. The cattle bawled again in the distance. His brothers would tend to them. Cormac relaxed, rubbing his watering eyes. Whatever disturbed them was not his problem. He stared up at the dark form of his tree. Its branches reached toward him like black fingers. Then he heard the crack.
Someone approached the tree. They did not know the land for their feet trod awkward upon its soil. Twigs cracked, loam groaned and a voice that sang. Cormac held his spear close, straining to hear the words. Hidden behind the tree there was no way that she could see him. He knew it a she by the voice, soft and sweet and dangerous. Innocent women did not travel at night without a light. Cormac clutched at his spear until the wood bit his hand. She grew closer and a thumping grew audible. A low, heady beat accompanied her words. It was not till Cormac slapped his chest that he realised it was his heart. The singing stopped. She was right there. A thousand fears welled up; bean an sidhe, taibhse, cruach. He pushed them away.
Cormac stepped from the tree; his spear flew through the air. Before it was gone he had his club out. He bit back the battle cry, charging the dark shape. It backed away, holding up placating hands. Cormac slowed, stopped. She was young this witch, no more than his own age. She cowered before his raised club. He shook it threateningly and her song began again. Then he made his mistake.
“Back! Back the way you came!”
Cormac felt embarrassed and fell back on rite “These grounds belong to my mothers,”
“And who are your mothers?” she asked, growing closer.
The blood rushed to Cormac’s face.
“I am- who are you?”
“I am the Woodbine, who are you?” said she.
Cormac’s eyes narrowed “I do not speak to plants,”
She laughed and Cormac felt betrayed. “Who are you really?”
She gestured to the sentinel behind him. “I am the tree,”
Cormac shook the club. “One more time before I call my brothers, who are you?”
The girl shrugged. “I am Mari, daughter of Iris,”
She began to sing and Cormac realised he’d lowered the club. “Come again in day, Iris,”
She flanked him and he turned to follow, watching as she stroked the tree. He was sure she meant no good but he could not bring himself to light his grandmother’s flare. The cattle bayed in the valley. Cormac listened for with them someone sang. His head sang too and felt woozy. He knew the girl was there but forgot why he feared her. Then she called his name.
The first stars of night glimmered in the sky. The group by the campfire listened to Tatula's tale attentively, withholding comment. Chiffre sat with arms folded, brooding until he could take no more. He shot upright.
“I will not be regaled with tales of witchcraft!”
The assembly looked upon him, insulted by his interference. He stabbed one finger towards the stock still Tatula. “I know where this story goes and by Dia's grace will not allow it!”
The others turned this way and that, their comments turning ugly.
“Sit down!” yelled one, aggrieved beneath his helmet.
The fire faded from Chiffre's words and he turned obsequious “Pray, forgive my interruption. I wish only to rest the lady's tongue,”
Tatula appeared not to object. Indeed she appeared not to notice. So Chiffre took up the tale almost where she left off.
The air was ripe with the stench of cattle. She smelled them beneath it. The herd stamped and bellowed, unsettled. She heard them amidst the din. She was almost upon them. Almost. Light burst from the hills. One cry amongst the rest, a war cry. She moved fast, Cormac following at her heels. One turned, illuminating her. Cormac charged and brought him down. She grabbed the stick, letting them tussle.
Cattle milled about, blinking at her with stupid eyes. She held the gourd to her lips, coughed the liquid down, and took a deep breath.
The herd scattered. She howled again, relishing the sound that near burst her eardrums. Cattle ran this way and that, terrified by the sound. The men gave chase with yells and screams.
The warrior stood, axe in hand. Mari's eyes glowed with fallen torchlight. She gave a toothy grin. With a motion she called Cormac, still lying on the ground. He did not stir. Something dripped from the warrior's axe. The warrior strode toward her.
Chiffre's voice died away. The patrons shook their heads and frowned. The fire burned fiercely.
“That can't be the end,” one finally protested.
Chiffre's head turned, snakelike. His gaze was furious
“Justice is the only fitting end,” he said.
“So the warrior killed her?”
Chiffre rolled his eyes.
“No,” Hel rose to his feet.
His eyes met Chiffre's full of fire and challenge. They duelled for a moment before Chiffre bowed.
Hel raised his eyes to heaven and began to speak.
The sun squatted in the sky. Teeth chattered. Smoke blew. An old woman drew patterns in the sand. After a while another joined her. Indistinguishable were they, faces worn the same. Only their markings gave them away. One fringed with orange whorls, the other seashells blue. They drew with sticks, of stick men who chased stick bulls. They met briefly in the centre then continued, drawing now over each other's work. The wind changed and the smoke blew back toward them.
“So,” said the orange witch.
“So,” said the blue.
“Seven, and the boy,”
The blue witch nodded in sympathy. Good heifers were hard to come by.
“My men ask for blood,” The orange witch drew weapons now.
The blue witch sniffed “A man with a mind,”
“Is just a dangerous animal,” finished the orange witch with a smile “I miss your sharp tongue, Iris,”
Iris scratched her nose, blue paint flaking “Not what you said last time, Bríol,”
“And the young lose all respect,”
Bríol's face darkened. “So you caught her,”
Bríol scraped out a tree shape silently.
Iris gave in “Yes, I caught her. Fool girl thought herself a hero,”
“It was a cattle raid, just like the days of old. Days of blood and thunder,”
“No, sister. I did not mean it,”
“She did,” said Bríol.
“And she will be punished,” Iris paused before continuing “You may have her,”
Bríol abandoned her stick, turning to look at Iris with curiousity “Just like that?”
“I will not keep a fox among chickens,” said Iris.
The old women nodded and the pact was sealed.
The campfire banked low. There were shuffles among the crowd. Someone coughed and they realised Hel was finished.
“What happened then?” asked the girl beside him.
As one they turned to Tatula. She swayed slightly in the wind.
“They killed me,”
Sunday, February 10. 2013
Taka had the covers ripped from her. She groaned, goose pimples running across her skin. Last night’s revelries hit her slowly, making her head pound. She heard people moving in a world she didn’t care about.
Taka’s eyes fluttered open, just in time for the water. Cold! She yowled, and kicked out. Odette stumbled and her empty bucket clattered to the floor. It rolled away on the bare floorboards and knocked against the screen blocking dawn’s approaching light. The screen was promptly moved to one side. Taka snarled uncertainly.
“A miserable excuse for a demon,”
Sibyl stood in the doorway. Tall and regal, she was dressed in winter finery, her face the colour of death. Taka wrung water from her hair and flicked it. A fan clicked open and deflected the droplets.
“Wash and dress her. They will be gone before the sun has finished waking,”
Sibyl said in her imperious tone. Then she was gone. Odette picked up another bucket.
Sibyl stood by the door. Situated furthest from the nobility the furnishings were sparse. Old mats littered the floor and battered oil lamps provided scarce heat. Still, it was alive this morning with the passage of servants. They carried packs and bundles, politely ignoring her. She returned their courtesy. Whenever a servant slid open the door, frigid air flooded in. By the time Taka appeared the corridor was freezing. Taka waved a parasol cheerfully. Sibyl was silently impressed. Odette had even managed to pin that untameable hair.
“You did not harm her I trust,” said Sibyl in greeting.
Taka made a face, flouncing around the corridor in her fur lined dress. “She’s gone to change out of her wet clothes,”
Sibyl gestured to the door. A servant opened it automatically, the morning breeze washed over them.
“Why do we have to be up this early?” complained Taka, lurching into the gathering dawn.
Sibyl lifted her dress off the ground and stepped after her. “Because, dear sister, we have failed,”
They made their way down the frost limned path to the house’s central yard. A great crowd, horses, men and servants milled in equal measure.
“So, can we die or what?” Taka opened the parasol and waved it in the air. Its shaft began to glow, like it was made from a stick of light.
Sibyl paused, fan pressed to her lips “What is that?”
“I found it,” Taka protested. The parasol stuck out like a sore thumb.
Sibyl’s tone did not change “Dispose of it.”
The glow shifted colour, slowly it suffused with aquamarine.
“If we get to start tomorrow morning how I want,” said Taka, one eye on the pretty colours.
There were shouts from the yard beyond. Time moved on without them.
“Your word is your bond,” Taka reminded Sibyl.
The fan clicked shut. Sibyl nodded.
An army gathered in the courtyard. Horses bucked beneath their armour. Flags fluttered, hanging off the backs of men. They were pretty, though something seemed missing. Servants hurried back and forth, presenting bundles. The warriors armed themselves with sword or spear and bow. A precious few bore matchlocks, revealed briefly from lacquer cases. Some men practiced, some chatted, some merely waited. It all seemed a bit pointless to Taka. If you wanted to kill someone go and do it. Waiting around dragged the whole thing out. She stood on the sidelines by Sibyl, parasol stabbed into the ground. They shivered, though Sibyl pretended not to. They were positioned far from the growing army yet a black warhorse rode by them. From its back glared Lord Hyun, decked out in armour. Taka thought him wearing a mask until his scowl twitched. Sibyl bowed to him. To Taka’s amazement he returned the acknowledgement. He rode out towards the centre and bellowed orders. Taka returned to scanning the crowd and spotted a reason for coming.
He was young, barely a man. He had no helmet leaving loose locks to spill over his shoulders. He practiced with a spear, testing its balance and heft. When done he held it to the naked sky. Then his eye caught hers. They stared at each other, transfixed. Taka searched for a ribbon and roughly pulled it free. Her hair spilled out to one side. The young warrior mounted his horse and rode towards them. Sibyl glanced between them.
“May I ask what you are doing?”
She was ignored.
The horse pranced before the women, unwilling to settle. Sibyl felt the eyes of others turn, especially Hyun, leaning forward to watch.
The warrior lowered his spear “My lady, I ride to battle, perhaps to death. I beg you to bestow your favour that I might live to return it,”
Taka shook her head, eyes unfocused. “Ride out in this battle, young lord, and you shall not return,”
Fear gripped the warrior’s heart “Is there no hope of victory?”
The woman smiled with a great sadness “Far from it. You alone will decide your clan’s fate, and your own,”
He hesitated only a moment. “May I make my ancestors proud,” He offered the tip of his spear, she bound her ribbon about it.
Sibyl gently brushed an eyebrow. Her fan opened and shut repeatedly, clicking each time.
“What was that?”
Taka smiled playfully “Now it’s pretty,”
Sibyl sighed “A little more warning perhaps. Indeed, any at all would be a marvel,”
Taka patted her on the shoulder “You do your thing, I do mine,”
A roar drowned Sibyl’s response. The soldiers thrust their spears to the sky. It was time for war.
Sunday, January 20. 2013
Adapted from a Korean Folktale
In a time many ages ago there lived the farmer Song. No house was more respected than Song’s and his two sons. However Song had one desire his years could not settle, secretly he wished for a daughter. So he journeyed mountain paths to a forgotten shrine and prayed there. “Please I long only for a daughter, even if she is a fox!” Soon after his wife fell pregnant and nine months later gave birth to a beautiful girl. Song doted on his beloved child and left his sons to tend the herds. Years passed and his daughter grew hale and strong. That was until one evening when song’s dutiful sons reported to him the disappearance of some cows. Song scolded them for being negligent and set his eldest to watch them all night.
In the morning the son reported trembling. “Father, I wish I had not seen it but I saw our sister creep out in the night and into the cattle shed. I followed her there and saw by the moonlight her tear the heart from a cow! She ate it raw and bloody and when she was done she stuffed the cow into a seed!”
Song refused to believe such madness “You are a bad son. Not only do you betray your duty by falling asleep but you dishonour your sister by recounting nightmares! Do not darken my door again,”
And so the eldest son was banished. Song set then his second son to guard. In the night another cow died and Song asked for his son’s report in the morning. Having seen the fate of his brother the younger son said only
“Father, I saw my sister pass in the night but she did not go near the shed. When I looked in a cow had fallen, perhaps it saw the moon and died of fright,”
Song was satisfied and ordered his son to close the shed from the sky.
Dispirited and disinherited the elder son wandered. He could not abandon his family but he did not know what to do. His travels brought him to an old temple and there came upon a monk, warding off a demon. He rushed to the monk’s aid and afterward pleaded “Master please help me, a great evil has bewitched my family,”
The monk heard his story and took him on as a novice. For a year and a day the monk trained him in the righteous ways. Finally the son could stay no longer, he gathered wards and potions and left, his master giving him one final advice.
“To kill a fox, you must first trap it,”
The son returned home but found it not as he remembered. His village had fallen far. His friends hid behind boarded windows. His family’s house was dark and the fields lay abandoned. Feeling a great foreboding the son passed through the door. There were no lamps, only the glow of his sister’s eyes.
“Welcome home brother, I have prepared a feast for you,”
The brother was wary but he could not refuse his sister’s hospitality. The food was good and the wine plenty but the son could not shake an illness in his stomach. Finally he excused himself and made ready for bed. Using his teacher’s lessons he purified himself before retiring and drew protections on his own skin.
In the night he awoke, with a great pain in his chest. It was his sister crouched atop him.
“Shh, dear brother,” she crooned “Just one more and I’ll be human.”
She reached into his chest as if flesh was water. However there came a great sizzling noise and she leapt off of him in fright. The brother staggered from his bed and ran into the kitchen seeking a weapon. The moon had come up and the brother beheld the remains of his family. Their chests had been opened as if by a child’s hands. Around the carcasses sat plates heavy with meat and cups filled with blood. He heard a growl and turned to see his sister behind him. Her eyes were aglow and there was fur behind her ears.
He fled from the house and fled up the mountain paths. Always she was a step behind, her laughter a horrible barking. She hunted him to a forgotten shrine, guarded by a stone archway. There was but one entrance and the brother thought himself lost. But his master's advice came to him and he heaved mightily against the stone arch. It cracked to the patter of feet and fell upon a form shrieking. Snatching up a bit of rubble the brother dashed it upon his sister's head. The woman died away until only a fox lay there. The brother buried it and left it to be forgotten.
Monday, December 24. 2012
Vernon peered over the mirror. The docks were dead; the rain had driven them away. It trickled down the window randomly. His living room smelled of glue.
“So tell me about your mother,”
“No. I don’t want to talk about her,” his patient said from the couch.
He could see her glare in the mirror. Selme had so many glares. It was hard to tell them apart. He didn’t pay attention till it was too late. Wood snapped. The mast had broken in his fingers. He set down his half-built model and picked up tiny pliers. “Your father then?”
“He deserved to be taken,” his patient growled.
Carefully Vernon teased the broken mast from the little ship. He set it apart on a clear space and gauged the extent of the damage. The side had cracked slightly. “So, who’s your favourite author?”
“Do you know Gorgias?”
The question caught him off guard. In the mirror Selme was laid out on the couch. Her knee-length dress was all old-fashioned frills. She was looking at the crack in his ceiling.
“Who’s Gorgias?” he asked.
“A philosopher of course! He posited the theory of solipsistic creation,”
Vernon took the bait “And what was that?”
“That everything we create, literature, children, model ships, are reflections of ourselves. They are created solely that we might bask in their creation,”
“A rather bleak view,”
“What else could they be?”
“Well…” Vernon paused for thought, eyes fixed on the pieces he glued. “Children could be the result of biological impulse. An inbuilt behaviour that we rationalise after the fact,”
“And you called me bleak!”
“I’m sorry Selme,”
Rain spattered against the window indignantly.
“Why did you ask about authors?” Her question was tinged with suspicion.
“I was looking for formative influences. I want to try and build a picture of the world you perceive.”
“So you want to prejudge me based on my preferences,” She sounded exasperated.
It had sounded better in his head “I’m sorry. I did say I’m not a psychologist.”
Selme swung off the couch, righting her dress as her feet touched the ground. “We’re none of us meant for what we have to do. Can I have the medicines now?”
Vernon pulled open the second drawer from the top. “I think it might be good for you to visit a real doctor sometimes, just to be safe,”
The rustle of cloth signified her approach “And let them put their sick hands inside my head? At least wood is honest.”
Vernon drew a small bottle from the depths and counted out two pills. They were finish roughly. He'd only made them this morning. She held cash in her hand. Vernon turned away, leaving the pills on the counter.
“If you don’t mind-,”
“Yes, yes, could I show myself out and leave the money by the door,” She made an animal noise of frustration, then snatched up the pills.
“Why are the unemployed always so busy? Is it such hard work doing nothing?”
Vernon said nothing. He picked up his model and held it against the window. The waters were calm outside and he could imagine it riding the waves. Only when the door slammed did he sigh.
The newsstand sat at the corner of the square. Vernon watched it from the corner of his eye. There was no passing trade today. The old man was busy reading a paper. Vernon left him to it. He had one mission outside today. From afar the docks looked so peaceful. Carefully he picked his way along the edge. The closer you got to something the worse it looked. Water splashed the sides, slopping and slurping. You couldn’t see into its murky depths. Oblivious gulls bobbed on the waves, riding the death spasms of the ocean. If you were a bird could you be free? They might fly out down the coast or inland to the city, but only in search of food. Would they ever go to another country? Only if they had to. The birds had nothing. He marched right into a flock. They launched skyward, shrieking their contempt. Most wheeled about him for a while before turning out to sea.
Idyll’s had a customer. It wasn’t unusual. It was just unusual to wear a business suit on a Saturday. Maybe he was stuck here for the weekend. He was stuck in front of the deli counter now. The girl behind the till was perched, waiting for him to decide. Vernon busied himself down the back. He only needed the staples. Bread, butter, some more glue. White batch was bad for you but he picked it up anyway. It was when he went to the till the trouble started.
“Hey, hey buddy,”
Vernon turned. There was the business man. Close up there were three things wrong with him. A purple shirt, a white hat but worst of all was his false smile. It was better to look glum than to lie about it.
“Say, you look like a local, how's the cheese baguette?”
“Uh, I’ve never ordered from the deli counter here, sorry.” Strange really, the hat looked like a mask.
“Damn. You won’t believe this but I’ve been here half an hour trying to pick lunch.” The business man slouched back, like he was settling down for a long conversation.
Vernon exchanged a glance with the girl behind the till. “Really,”
“Yeah. I’m up in the new Telsin Block for the weekend helping with their projections,”
The girl frantically shook her head.
“Oh yeah. We got plans for this place. It’s going to be the new analytics centre of the Western hemisphere. The numbers we’ll put through the statisticians here would make your head spin.”
Vernon stared out the window and thought about ships.
“You look like you have a thing for numbers yourself. You a mathematician maybe?”
Vernon stirred slightly. “No.”
“Shame. Damn shame. They’re hiring you know. What line of work you in?”
Vernon stared at his feet. “I’ve got to get going,”
The girl rang up his items. He could never remember her name. Vernon looked back on his way out. The business man was still there, pulling the mask down over his face.
It wasn’t the biggest building along the docks. The banks were bigger, sprawling across campuses, growing like cancers. It was certainly a block though. From this side of the docks it squatted, daring someone to move it. The windows were all dark. The stone was dark. The stylish metal encasing half of it was dark. It put Vernon in mind of a beetle facing the sun. He wasn’t sure about analytics but he knew a differential from an integral. For a moment he fantasised about marching back into the newsagents, shaking the business man by the hand and asking for a contact number. It passed like all his fantasies. Unemployment couldn’t kill anyone. Vernon let his gaze fall. There was a dark fence around the block, behind it were dark bushes. Perhaps unemployment could kill the unemployed.
He manned his newsstand with the faithfulness of a soldier. Vernon crept up but it stealth did him no good. The sentry was always on duty. A toothy grin looked up from under its peaked cap, the old man put down his paper.
“Afternoon Mr. Vernon.”
“Afternoon Henry. How’s business.”
“Oh you know. Same old, same new,” Henry chuckled hoarsely. There were two bumps in his cap. They stuck out from his skull like war wounds.
“And how’s the wife?” Conversation with Henry was always relaxing.
“Still dead, Mr. Vernon.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,”
“I ain’t,” Henry gave another chuckle.
Vernon stamped his feet. Henry went back to paper. They had a script Henry and Vernon and it was short and sweet. With a red pen he circled a word on one page, and then drew an arrow linking it to another.
“Seen anyone from the Telsin Block?”
Henry was surprised to see Vernon still standing there. “The what?”
Vernon pointed. Henry looked from the building to Vernon. Slowly he lifted the pen and tapped his nose.
“Keep your head down, Mr Vernon. That's what I always say,”
Vernon nodded slowly. “Thank you Henry. Good luck with the business,”
Henry lifted his cap to wave Vernon off. Funny, how it looked like he had horns.
Vernon stood in his room. The bread and milk were put away. The glue was set on the desk. Everything was ready. The dark approached slowly. The day’s gloom slowly gave way. Rain blew against the window. Vernon didn’t pay attention. He stared into the mirror. Solipsism had been Narcissus' problem; he’d created an image and fallen in love. Vernon had the opposite problem. The discarded wrappers, the broken glass, the textured wood, he took it all in. In until he could bear it no longer. He tilted the mirror so he could see the room instead. It was better that way. He watched a while longer, until the sky grew dark, Then he set to work.
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