TWILIGHT IN PARIS

08 twilight in paris - crop1

TWILIGHT IN PARIS

          By the April of this year Anno Domini 937 it has already been a long season of drought unpromising to the village of Paris.  The Seine River has disavowed the Island of the Village, which is the archaic appellation of the Île de la Cité, and now it travels furtively past in veins of sandy banks.

          Twilight has come for this day ending.  Sister Alyssa emerges from the Couvent du Vaisseau Saint convent, crossing from that tomb of angels on toward the tumult of men.  The nascent evening cooking fires are redeeming the pungent exhale of the village.  Sister Alyssa walks carefully and gently as if balancing herself traversing that village of Paris and then she passes on down toward the desolation of the Seine River.

          She touches the crucifix of lead suspended upon the hide strip around her neck.  Sister Alyssa wears the habit of un-dyed lamb’s wool.  She carries a small sack woven of rough cloth.  Turning in the twilight she looks back toward the convent.  Seeing no one, Sister Alyssa removes her coif to free her roughly shorn hair and then turns her face away from the convent once again.  She now steps with intent toward the block of marble uncovered by the receding Seine near the edge of one small channel.

          This block of marble is the remains of a Roman altar, as she has deduced during the previous evening pursuant the few archaic Latin figures exposed and eroding, “Romulus et Remus.”  She seats herself upon those pagan remains and gazes upstream toward the forests of the Langres plateau, the dark womb of the Seine River.

          Sister Alyssa is petite but her mind is grande.  Flowing back to her youthful decision to become a nun, she remembers the suppliant men.  She could never have given her mind in slavery to any such rough husband.  But by that inability she was then left with only one other destiny in her humble and poor life: she married the Church to have protection and some solace.  But the Church has proven to be a rough husband.  Within the convent is the hierarchy ruled by women from the wealthy families.  And the knowledge provided is carefully sieved by the Church hierarchy.  It has become a distasteful diet to Sister Alyssa.

          She places the rough cloth sack upon her lap and unfolds it.  Thereupon are a small loaf of bread and a portion of roasted lamb tongue.  It is because of the drought that the villagers are sacrificing their starving livestock in an ongoing pyrrhic festival and donating portions to the convent.

          Sister Alyssa pinches a piece of the bread and purses her mouth and thinks without thinking, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  She peals a strip of lamb tongue, “For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.”

          Chewing the lamb tongue, Sister Alyssa finally thinks, “I thirst”.  She arises, turning to set her repast upon the ruined altar.  She then approaches the water.  She lowers herself to both knees and bows onto her hands, closing her eyes for to sip, thinking, “The living water,” as her dangling crucifix dips unnoticed into the gentle vortex.

          Still on her hands and knees she slowly opens her eyes and contentedly raises her head, when suddenly she utters, “But what is that?”, having spied a four-legged silhouette far up the sandy shore.  She thinks without thinking, “A dog joins me.”

          Out of the approaching silhouette now emerge two liquid yellow eyes that fix upon her.  Sister Alyssa sits back stricken by a bolt of fear and clutches her damp dangling crucifix.

          It is a black wolf.

          Sister Alyssa’s mind observes through a frost of fear that the black wolf is thin and its coat is disheveled with hunger and thirst.  It has followed the river down from the forest in desperation.

          The relentless stare of those yellow eyes is suddenly averted and the wolf turns toward the water and bows to lap greedily at the water.  His long fangs gleam under his curling lip.  Sister Alyssa thaws her fear enough to rise cautiously and she steps backwards toward the exposed ruins of the pagan altar.  She realizes now that she is clutching her dangling crucifix with one hand and a river stone with the other and her lips are fluttering in prayer.

          The wolf has slaked the thirst but not the hunger and he lifts his head back toward Sister Alyssa.  His lutescent gaze presses into her eyes as he approaches.  She believes that she actually can feel his animal desires.  With another jolt of fear she has the sensation of, of…surrender!  Her mind is crying out for panic but she stands.  She releases the river stone and then feels behind herself for the roasted lamb tongue.  Touching upon the lamb’s tongue her fingers embrace it and her arm casts it toward the black wolf.

          The wolf reacts with a frighteningly sanguinary skill and captures the lamb’s tongue in its jaws.  With three chomps he has swallowed the offering.  Sister Alyssa imagines that she can feel that carnivorous lust, hot, wet and like a dagger penetrating her own flesh.  She wanes faint.

          But the wolf abruptly turns back to the darkness up the river and departs.  Sister Alyssa cannot see the motion of his silhouette any longer when suddenly the candles of those two yellow eyes alight back toward her one last time.  After that she can no longer feel his presence at all.  She closes her eyes as her fear shudders away.

          Sister Alyssa replaces her coif and returns through the living darkness, proceeding up the bank toward her convent.  A man’s voice calls to her and she turns.  It is the young Reynard, on sentry duty for the Paris marshalcy.  Sister Alyssa sees him as lofty and sinewy for a moment before she sacrifices forbidden perceptions.

          Reynard speaks, “Sister, it is not safe to be down at the river in darkness.”

          Alyssa answers, “Yes.  You have told me before, jeune homme,” and she smiles.

          Reynard smiles briefly and then puts back his professional façade of gravity, sternly saying, “Even a nun is not safe, Alyssa… Sister Alyssa.”

          Alyssa juts her chin in mock defiance, “Sinner, do you not believe that the Lord will protect me?”

          Reynard responds, “Sister Alyssa, I believe that we must carry Providence upon our own shoulders.  But I am not much of a theologian…”

          Sister Alyssa laughs involuntarily and touches Reynard’s elbow, “God’s Witness, Ma Dame Berthildis says the same of me.”

          Reynard nods, “I shall accompany you to the parvis of Couvent du Vaisseau Saint.”

          They walk slower than necessary together and Sister Alyssa thinks of the suppliant young men she once deflected.  Arriving at the convent Reynard bows to her and then he continues jauntily on his patrol of the village.

          Entering the candlelit parvis Sister Alyssa is startled to encounter Sister Superior Ma Dame Berthildis. Sister Alyssa bows and then trembles with an unrealized guilt.

          Ma Dame Berthildis narrows her eyes, “Where have you been this evening, Sister Alyssa?  And why are you blushing?”

          Sister Alyssa speaks quickly, “Ma Dame Berthildis, I took my supper near the river so that I might pray for an end to this terrible drought.  And a walk in the evening air can be invigorating.”

          Ma Dame Berthildis says ominously, “Many things out in that sinful world can be invigorating, Sister Alyssa.  Do not be concerned with appeasing your flesh.  As for this drought, it is certainly God’s judgment upon Paris.  Therefore be certain that you pray instead for your Compréhension, my dear, dear Sister Alyssa.  And in so doing, ma novice impudent, leave to me and the other Sister Superiors the salvation of Paris.  Sister Alyssa, know this also: I have been watching you.”

          Sister Alyssa asks defensively, “Ma Dame Berthildis, what do you mean?”

          Ma Dame Berthildis replies, “Why should you fear my watching you?”

          Sister Alyssa qualifies, “Ma Dame Berthildis, no, it is not that I fear… I mean…”

          Ma Dame Berthildis says with finality, “Sister Alyssa, you will not be the first wayward young nun I have cast back to her true desires.  Compréhension, my dear, dear Sister Alyssa, Compréhension, yes?”

          Sister Alyssa bows very deeply, saying, “Ma Dame Berthildis, I assure you it shall be as you wish, I mean as God wishes … but of course as you wish as well…”

          Ma Dame Berthildis says with exasperation, “Good night, Sister Alyssa.”

          And yet that same night upon her hard bed Sister Alyssa helplessly makes a vow to go to the pagan altar again upon the very next evening twilight.

          And so it comes to be that she does this as if enchanted, retracing her steps and manners, assuring herself that she is unobserved in this profane rendezvous, telling herself again and again that only a fool wishing to dance with death would fain conjure a resurrection of the evening before, you foolish relapsing nun, and yet she does carry her communion of bread and meat.

          Sister Alyssa seats herself again upon the ruined pagan altar.  She listens for any sound above the furtive river, she impales the darkness with her eyes, and with her fingers shaking she uncovers her bread and roasted tongue of lamb.  Thus she begins her twilight communion.

          After a while Sister Alyssa whispers to herself, “Nothing good will come of this,” and at that moment she thinks she sees a ripple in the far darkness.

          At the crepuscular threshold suddenly two yellow eyes ignite and Sister Alyssa gasps unintentionally.  The black wolf is approaching her.  She becomes fearful and flushed at the same time with vertiginous bewilderment, moaning softly, “What have I done?” then calling out in the face of the approaching beast, “What have I done!?”

          But the black wolf halts instead and sits on his haunches merely a matter of steps away, his gaze unbroken into Sister Alyssa’s eyes.  With trembling hands Sister Alyssa tosses the lamb’s tongue toward the beast and again the offering appears drawn into the agile jaws of the black wolf.  He chomps three times with clashing teeth and he swallows.  Yet the black wolf remains near as he was, with untamed patience.

          Sister Alyssa is exhaling rapidly as she breaks the loaf of bread in half and tosses one ragged fragment to the black wolf.  He receives it mid-air and gnashes it repeatedly until he takes a final swallow.

          Sister Alyssa then holds her breath as she holds out the other half of the bread toward the black wolf.  The black wolf slowly arises and takes a few steps, stops, and then stretches out his muzzle to gently grasp the remaining offering from the upheld palm of Sister Alyssa.

          Sister Alyssa exhales, feeling close to tears of relief, when abruptly the black wolf bares his terrible fangs and rumbles his chest with a chilling growl.  Sister Alyssa cries out at once, almost tumbling backwards, and then realizes that the black wolf is staring over her shoulder toward the slope of the Island of the Village.  She quickly stands, snaps her head around in that direction, sees nothing, and then turns her face back to the black wolf.  Sister Alyssa now realizes that she is breathing rapidly through her mouth.

          The black wolf blinks several times and licks his fangs but he is calmly returning to his haunches.

          Sister Alyssa sits down again upon the ruined altar and dares to extend her bare hand toward the black wolf.  The black wolf hesitates, turns his head to one side, and then leans toward Sister Alyssa and miraculously merely licks her hand with a gentle intensity as if she is his pup.  Sister Alyssa is suddenly giddy.  She gently touches his muzzle and strokes it slowly.  It is not unpleasant.  The black wolf closes his eyes but there is a soft growl from his belly.  Sister Alyssa closes her eyes.

          With a shock Sister Alyssa opens her eyes and the black wolf is not to be seen though she scours the darkness.  She hurriedly replaces her coif and bustles up the slope back toward the night fires of Paris.  Those lights have never seemed so harmonious with the stars above.  Yet Sister Alyssa herself burns with a peculiar shame.

          Arriving at the top of the slope Sister Alyssa looks up and is startled by the sudden confrontation by Ma Dame Berthildis.  Behind Ma Dame Berthildis is a menacing regiment of the Paris marshalcy.

          Ma Dame Berthildis cries unto the sudden inability of Sister Alyssa to act, “Capture her!  She is a witch!  I swear and attest that I have witnessed her sorcery!”

          Sister Alyssa is roughly seized and cries, “Ma Dame Berthildis, you have misconstrued me!”

          Ma Dame Berthildis cries, “She confesses!  So, you damned witch, we have caught you in a perverse consortium with that demon!  So much is explained!  I knew you were vexing but I did not know that you are evil!  So evil!  Know this, you foul witch: I shall open the mouth of Hell for you!  You are going to burn!”

          The deputy leader of the Paris marshalcy says, “Ma Dame Berthildis, I doubted you and would not believe your words and so you must forgive me!  I am horrified at what my eyes have seen this night!”

          Ma Dame Berthildis cries, “We must put an end to this demonic bargain immediately!”

          The surrounding members of the marshalcy shout acquiescence.  But Sister Alyssa then descries young Reynard, his eyes wide and his teeth clenched, and she cries, “Help me!”

          Ma Dame Berthildis contorts at Sister Alyssa with vicious hatred chanting, “Burn!  Burn!  BURN!”

          Sister Alyssa cries, “I have done nothing but befriend a wild animal!  He was weak and starving!  Is he too not one of God’s creatures!?”

          Ma Dame Berthildis asks in reply, “Witch, do you offer your veiled bestiality as a venal acquittal for blasphemy?!”

          Sister Alyssa now hears her Reynard’s voice cry out along with all the surrounding members of the marshalcy, “Burn!  Burn!  Burn!”

          She plunges into despair.

          Sister Alyssa’s wrists are then roughly bound together with a hide leash and she is yanked forward by the assigned deputy Reynard himself, who holds the leash over his shoulder, himself sickened by her alleged betrayal and newly fearful for his own alleged soul.  Sister Alyssa begins to plead, over and over, louder and louder as this godlessly cruel fate inundates her mind with Compréhension.

          Then like a stroke of lightning from dark heavens above the terrifying black wolf pounces upon Reynard, landing onto his shoulders, toppling Reynard forward while tearing out his throat in one mass of gore.  The black wolf then leaps backwards in a snarling rage, dancing in a deadly perimeter around Sister Alyssa.  The distress sends the marshalcy stumbling hindward, leaving Ma Dame Berthildis exposed, alone and in the grip of the most unholy horror, unable to command her fleeing mind, unable to summon a scream!

          The black wolf astonishingly arises onto his hind legs and balances unsteadily, his slavering jaws holding inches from the face of Ma Dame Berthildis.  Her mind has gone.  The black wolf lunges, taking her entire neck into his mouth and with a violent series of shakes severs her head from her collapsing body.  That severed head spews blood and rolls with opened eyes toward the rallying marshalcy.  And so the regiment finally collapses as they all whirl about and hurtle away shrieking into the streets of the village of Paris.

          The black wolf subsides to four legs and now turns slowly to Sister Alyssa.  Blood still drips from his fangs.  She has no will.  She has only eyes with which to witness.

          But the black wolf bows to take the loose end of her hide leash into his mouth tenderly and then he leads Sister Alyssa down the slope of the Island of the Village, into the sandy banks, toward the pagan altar and beyond into the darkness along the river, upstream into the unseen forest.

          Comes the sound of distant thunder as the wind swiftly smells of rain.

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WALK THE YARD

09 walk the yard - crop1

WALK THE YARD

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          Hesutu was a man of the Native American Indian Miwok tribe.  Hesutu was known as “Mike” by those who had not lived in these lands 50,000 years.  Hesutu had killed a rival in a bar fight.  Hesutu now stood and faced his first day of Life Without Parole.  He began to walk in the exercise yard.  The gangs of white, black, and brown inmates had his scent already.

          A year ago Hesutu and his rival Honon had argued in the Molimo bar about the disputed Tribal Election to decide power over the Miwok Gold Resort and Casino.

          Honon, whose name means “bear”, pounded the bar, asking Hesutu, “Who then is rightfully Miwok?”

          Hesutu, whose name means “yellow jacket nest rising out of the ground”, replied bitterly, “You have expelled dozens of my friends from the tribe, saying they had never been Miwok but you and your followers do not care who is rightfully Miwok!  It is just that you do not want to share Casino profits with so many others!”

          Honon finished his drink and turned to Hesutu, “You call me a liar?”

          Honon’s entourage rose menacingly from their tables.  Hesutu’s friends rose in kind.

          Honon challenged, “Do you end this ‘mediation’, Hesutu?”

          Hesutu stood three feet away from Honon.  Hesutu could have ended the dispute by taking two steps and embracing Honon.  But Honon had his hand on his hunting knife and Hesutu’s mind was a hornet’s nest.  Hesutu clenched his beer bottle and shattered it in Honon’s face.  Honon, stunned, drew his knife and slashed at Hesutu, and both groups charged each other and began to fight.  Hesutu thrust the broken beer bottle into Honon’s wrist and Honon screamed, opening his palm as if to offer Hesutu the knife.  In a self-righteous fury, Hesutu took the knife and plunged it into Honon’s chest.

          Because it was a case of murder, the trial was held by Federal Court under the Major Crimes Act and not by Tribal Council.  Hesutu received Life Without Parole because he was judged to have created the deadly situation and knew his action was likely to result in death.

          The violent disputes continued among the Tribe.

          Hesutu was startled from his bitter reverie as he walked the yard.  An arm had been thrown around his shoulder.  But it was another Native American, an old man.

          The old man was grim but his voice was gentle, “Son, I am Cheveyo, ‘Spirit Warrior’, but these others call me Pastor Chevy.  I am not a pastor.  You must understand me quickly.  The white, black, and brown gangs are danger to us.  But no one will touch a devout Christian here.  You must join us.  You will learn quickly.  However, the gangs will test your knowledge and if you are just hiding without knowledge you will be alone and fair game for their cruelty.  I will teach you everything quickly.  Request to go to the chapel as soon as you can.  I will be there.”

          Hesutu blinked at this onslaught of revelation, “How…?  Why…?”

          Cheveyo pointed quickly above without looking, “I saw your Spirit Bird circling over you.  He has gone to the oak tree there beyond the fence,” and Cheveyo pointed quickly again, “He is waiting for you.  He told me to help you,” Cheveyo winked without smiling.

          Hesutu could only say to Cheveyo, “I am called ‘Mike’, but my name is Hesutu.”

          Cheveyo pointed and said cryptically as he walked away, “Your name is Hesutu, but you are the White Crow.”

          Hesutu turned and gazed at the distant oak tree and there he discerned a white bird in the foliage.

          Hesutu was soon granted permission to attend the prison chapel services.  As soon as he entered, Hesutu liked this room that was so softly colored by the stained glass partitions.  He was struck suddenly that up front, oddly, in the peaceful center was a bloodied warrior hanging, with arms outstretched, upon a cross.

          The services were supervised by Pastor Wesley, who said to Hesutu, “Welcome to wisdom, Mike,” then Pastor Wesley turned to Cheveyo and said, “Thank you, as always, Chris”.  Cheveyo winked surreptitiously at Hesutu.

          There were always several others attending the services, white, black, and brown.  There were also three other Native Americans at various times.  Hesutu, with Chevoyo’s constant interpretation, learned about the ancient tribes called Hebrews.

          Hesutu memorized the Spirit Fathers, “Avraham, Yitzchak, Jaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Eliyahu…”

          Hesutu learned mostly about the Great Spirit Warrior, “Yeshua…,” but Hesutu had trouble understanding how his bloody defeat and disgrace upon that wooden cross was a cause for joy.

          Pastor Wesley patiently and happily tried to explain, “True joy is something deeper, quieter, more lasting, than this fleeting, exciting, deceptive thing which we call enjoyment or pleasure. It is that peace of the soul, that contentment of heart, that deep enduring satisfaction which comes to us only because of Yeshua.”

          Cheveyo helped, “Hesutu, Yeshua chose death because the Great Spirit made a bargain with him, promising that when he died all his people could choose to live in peace.  He was the Great Spirit Warrior and he died like a hero going home.”

          Pastor Wesley was accepting, “Well, if that helps…”

          Hesutu dutifully memorized everything so that he could repeat it and not die at the hands of the prison gangs like a rabbit.

          One day as he walked the exercise yard, Hesutu began to feel agitated.  There was lightning in his stomach.  Hesutu could no longer stand the sensation and he felt like he had to run.  He began to jog around the yard weaving between the clots of gang members.

          “What the fuck is up, Tonto?” growled one inmate.

          “Hey, fucker, where’s the warpath?” taunted another inmate as he tried to trip Hesutu.

          Hesutu jogged faster and faster, around and around.  The guards in the towers became nervous.  A loudspeaker commanded, “No running in the yard.”

          Hesutu suddenly saw the White Crow alight upon the barbed wire atop the towering chain-link fence at the other end of the yard.  Hesutu was not thinking, he just knew, and he dashed for the other end of the yard as fast as he could run.  He then impulsively held his arms outstretched.  When he hit the fence he began to claw his way up to the White Crow crying, “Tupi! (Pull me up!)”.  There was now uproar in the yard.  A siren wailed.

          The lightning left his stomach and it pulled Hesutu into the sky.

          Hesutu came to himself again, blinking, but he was at the Molimo bar and Honon was asking him, “Who then is rightfully Miwok?

          Hesutu was hearing himself say, “You have expelled dozens of my friends from the tribe, saying they had never been Miwok but you and your followers do not care who is rightfully Miwok!  It is just that you do not want to share Casino profits with so many others!”

          Honon finished his drink and turned to Hesutu, “You call me a liar?”

          Honon had his hand on his hunting knife.  Honon challenged, “Do you end this ‘mediation’, Hesutu?”

          Hesutu’s mind was a hornet’s nest, but this time his watching Spirit was calm and knew what to do without thinking.

          Hesutu stood three feet away from Honon.  Hesutu, still holding his beer bottle, stretched out his arms and took the two steps, one yard, toward Honan to embrace him, saying, “I love you, my brother,” but Honon was alarmed and he drew his knife and thrust it up into Hesutu’s side.

          The sound of the world stopped.  Both feuding factions in the bar froze.  Hesutu turned and stumbled out the door without a word.  He made it a few more yards and then he collapsed onto his back.  In a brilliant painless awareness he saw above himself upon the highest tree branch the White Crow.

          From that highest tree branch Hesutu was then looking down at himself and watching all the brothers of his Tribe gather around together as Hesutu died inside a peaceful smile.

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LAMBA RISING

 11 lamba rising - crop1

LAMBA RISING

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          “Listen carefully,” he said, “this won’t be easy for you to hear.”

          Young Lamba raised her eyes to her father, Dagar.

          Dagar choked, “Allah willing, you are to die for your blasphemy.”

          And yet even now Lamba could not refuse the divine revelation binding her; binding her like the hide straps on her legs.

          The angel had appeared to Lamba as she gathered fire wood on the steep hillside above her village.  The angel was like an eagle and it shone a light upon her.  Lamba fell backwards and she then felt the wind of its voice speaking in her language, “Lamba, Oh Beloved, do not be afraid.  I am Ariael.  I bring to you a new Commandment.  Tell the women of your tribe that they are no longer a field for their men to plough.  Tell the women that they are not the enemies of men.  Tell the women that they are no longer worth one-half of a man; they are of equal worth in the eyes of Allah.  And, Beloved Lamba, tell the women they shall not go to Hell with their unrighteous husbands.”

          And then Ariael had whirred away into the heavens.  Lamba arose in fear and wonder.  She stumbled down the steep hill considering all that had been revealed to her.  When she arrived in her village she had immediately opened her mouth and had begun to speak the new Commandment to all of the women.  The woman had listened in astonishment at her words and had begun to whisper among themselves, some heads nodding, one head shaking.

          The men soon found out what was being said among the women.  One of the women had betrayed Lamba to them.  The men immediately went together before Lamba’s father Dagar, their Warlord, and demanded that Lamba be tried for blasphemy by the Tribal Court.  The Elders of the village sat in judgment.

          Dagar pleaded with Lamba, “You do not recant.  You do not ask the Elders for forgiveness.”

          Lamba’s punishment was unanimously agreed upon: death by crucifixion.  And as an extra measure she was to be crucified by the women of the village as a cautionary lesson for all of them.

          The women had to watch together as Lamba was beaten by the men of the village for three days.  Lamba’s father Dagar hid his face in his tent and wept with shame.  On the third day Dagar was called out by the Elders to beat Lamba.  When Dagar saw his daughter’s face it was as if knives struck his eyes.  He bled tears of fire.

          Lamba was able to raise her head to him and with all her soul she smiled into his eyes, “Do not be afraid, Father.  I forgive you,” and she closed her eyes and lowered her head unto his shame.  Dagar struck Lamba where his blows would hurt Lamba the least and the Elders turned a blind eye out of their respect for their Warlord.

          At last Lamba was stripped of her clothing by the men who each tore a handful from her and threw it into a fire.  Her naked bruised and soiled body was laid down upon the cross made of sacred Deodar Cedar.  In the center of the village the women bound Lamba to the cross and their tears stained the wood.

          Lamba spoke comfort to each of the women as they wept, saying, “I have come to this willingly.  I am chosen of Ariael.  You have no guilt.”

          The women raised up the cross with Lamba bound upon it.

          For three nights and three days the women of the village were to be forced to watch Lamba suffer.  If she would not die by the sundown of the third day she was to be stoned to death by the women.

          Though Lamba was suffering she spoke down unto the women, saying “Those who believe in that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter, these depend on guidance from their Lord.  As for the Disbelievers, in their hearts is a disease that sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering.”

          The women watched, prayed, and listened all night and all the next day as Lamba grew delirious and alternately quoted from the Quran as it had been taught to her, spoke in tongues, and then recited the new Commandment, as the men called out insults and tried to interrupt her soft voice as she blasphemed.   Dagar was obliged to cast at least a half-hearted epithet.

          The women of the village listened all the harder.

          On sundown of that second day Ariael suddenly appeared from the heavens above Lamba’s feverish head and shone a light upon her.  The women fell back with a gasp from their hearts.  The men hollered to each other in fear.  Lamba rolled her head back and said to Ariael, “Why have you forsaken me?”

          Ariael hovered and with a lamenting voice cried, “Lamba, Lamba, Oh, God, Lamba, I am so sorry, you must believe me: this was not the plan!”

          [CLOUD NINE COMMAND.  THIS IS ARCHANGEL.  WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON THERE?  WHY IS THE ARIAEL DRONE DEPLOYED?]

          [ARCHANGEL, THIS IS CLOUD NINE COMMAND.  DR. ORISON HAS BARRICADED HIMSELF INSIDE THE PSY-OP DRONE CONTROL.  SHE’S GONE ROGUE]

          Ariael fluttered up and down as if studying Lamba’s broken body, shouting in a distorted, weeping voice, “No, no, no.  I’m going to save you, Lamba! I will save you!”

          [CLOUD NINE COMMAND, THE BITCH IS TRYING TO SAVE HER GODDAMN CAREER, GODAMMIT.  SHIT: ORISON WANTED TO FIGHT THE JIHADISTS BY FREEING THEIR WOMEN.  I OPPOSED THAT IDIOTIC BLEEDING-HEART PLAN FROM THE BEGINNING.]

          Dagar had grabbed his long rifle and now raised it at the flitting Ariael.  It would be like shooting an eagle.

          [ARCHANGEL TO DR. ORISON, GODAMMIT, THIS IS TREASON.  THIS MISSION IS TERMINATED!]

          [NOT TREASON, ARCHANGEL.  A COURT-MARTIAL OFFENSE, FOR SURE.  ROBERT, I DON’T CARE.  WE HAVE GOT TO SAVE HER OR WE ARE NO BETTER THAN THE JIHADISTS.]

          Dagar fired his long rifle.  The bullet struck Ariael and ricocheted down into Lamba’s side.  She gasped and her chin dropped to her chest.  Ariael spiraled around Lamba’s head, faster and faster.

          [GODDAMIT, DIANE, YOU’RE LOSING THE DRONE TO THEM!!  SCUTTLE IT!! SCUTTLE THE DRONE!!]

          [GOD FORGIVE ME, LAMBA…]

          Suddenly Ariael burst into a halo of blinding phosphorescent light over Lamba’s head as the self-destruction mechanism activated.  White hot embers of liquid metal rained upon the men and the women of the village.  Dagar shielded his face with his hand and it was burned.  He saw then Lamba and he fell to his knees wailing.

          Lamba’s entire body was rising to the heavens in white flame.

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DUST AND DREAMS

13 dust and dreams - crop1

DUST AND DREAMS

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I am a weak, ephemeral creature made of mud and dream

Nikos Kazantzakis from The Saviors of God (1927)

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I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.

The epitaph of Nikos Kazantzakis (18 February 1883 – 26 October 1957)

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          Your eyes are blossoming in darkness like flowers hungry for light.  I am no longer your light.

          “Hey, Old Pal, Where am I?  Am I dead?  I remember closing my eyes in my own bed.  My children are with me.  My son the teacher is saying, ‘We love you, Dad.  It’s OK to let go’.  What does he mean?  My daughter the nurse is saying, ‘You have Alzheimer’s disease, Dad.’  My son the TV news producer is coming to town with Logan my grandson to see me soon.  What a great little kid.  Logan is going to be an athlete someday.  I hear my daughter say, ‘Dad will deteriorate in sharp steps.  One day he will be helplessly bed-ridden and then he will just dream like Mom did.  Remember how Mom talked to her dead sister as if Shirley was right there with her?  At least Dad will be able to die at home the way Mom did.’”

          Your wife, Jeanie… She is the blood of sea captains.

          “My wife, Jeanie…  Do you know how lucky I am to find her?  She is with my friend George on a double-date.  I just keep looking over at her.  It works out OK.  George is gay, you know?  You kids are really lucky to have a mother like that.  What a mind.  I’m just a guy from Windsor Locks, Connecticut.  Who could have ever told me that she’d end up with me?”

          I am the voice of your thousand ancestors.

          “Hey, Old Pal, Jeanie and her dad are listening to the Bates College football games on the radio.  They are listening on the day I score three touchdowns.  I come to Jeanie’s house for that first date and her father knows who I am!”

          I am your oldest friend.

          “Our football team is all veterans of World War II.  Bill was shot down over Germany and survived.  Norm was in France where he would cross into enemy lines and kill them in their sleep.  Arrow manned a machine gun on a dead tank in Salerno and saved his squad.  You can imagine what animals these guys are on the football field.  I am fast, that’s all.  Fast like my grandson little Logan is going to be and a better athlete than I am”

          I am the desires of your thousand descendants.

          “Our coach is ‘Ducky’ Pond from Yale.  I met him when I was boxing in the Navy but he doesn’t remember who I am.  I wish Logan could meet him.”

          I ask you not to die.

          “I am a pilot in the Navy.  Losses in the Pacific campaigns are not as great as feared so they are slowing down our graduation and sending us to colleges in different Southern states for more classes.

          Listen only to me.

          “I love to fly.  But I am lost, separated from my squadron.  I am diving down to that train station to read the city name.  I am young and cocky.  I execute a perfect landing back at the base.  There is a red light on the tower.  They want to see me.  A Marine is in my face threatening to wash me out.  I don’t know what I’ve done wrong.  I think it was a perfect landing.  Maybe he has the wrong guy.  I am not asking.”

          Everything you see is yourself echoing.

          “I am just a kid picking tobacco for extra money for our family of eleven kids.  Father is a mechanic but he drinks.  On Father’s payday Mother marches with all us kids like ducklings down to the bar to confiscate Father’s money.”

          Hope for nothing.

          “My brothers and sisters want me to come to town with them to see my first moving picture show.  I see the movie posters lining the wall inside and I am thinking that ten cents is too much to pay to look at a bunch of posters.  My big brother Donald explains it to me and he laughs at me.  The movie is a Gene Autry picture show The Singing Cowboy.  I love it.”

          Fear nothing.

          “My friend Kenny is cleaning his shoes with gasoline and he catches on fire.  He dies.  My friend Arlen drowns diving into the Connecticut River and I watch from the bridge as they are pulling him out.”

          You are free.

          “Old Pal?  Old Pal, where are you?  I am sowing Jeanie’s cremated remains onto our favorite mountain meadow.  I find a slender bone from Jeanie’s finger.  I touch my face with it.  Who is touching my face with it?”

          You know.  You are now Old Pal.

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          “Time out, guys!  Hey, Logan!”

          What does your coach want now?

          “Logan!  Your father is here.”

          Uh-oh.  You never see your dad at your practices.  He sleeps days and works nights producing the news.  Yeah, fuck is right.  The only good news is no news.

          “Logan, get over there!  Your Grandfather passed away.  You’re going home for the funeral.”

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“Old Pal” is from Pagoo, my favorite book as a child

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ANNA SYBILLA

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ANNA SYBILLA

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          Once upon a time in Sweden on a farm there lived two young sisters named Anna and Sybilla.  They were identical twins.  Anna and Sybilla were jealous of each other and they bickered about anything and everything.

          Sybilla said, “You are taking too much time in the mirror!”

          Anna said, “I wanted to wear a green dress today!”

          Sybilla said, “You took the bowl of porridge that I wanted!”

          Anna said, “You only like Staffan because he likes me!”

          Underneath the floorboards of their farmhouse lived the Elf named Torgny.  Torgny was the impish protector of the farmer’s land, wife, and children.  The bickering of Anna and Sybilla was unsettling to Torgny.

          Sybilla said, “Stop playing your accordion; I am reading!”

          Anna retorted, “Of course, you must keep reading; Teacher says I read so much better.”

          Sybilla countered, “Teacher says I am the best runner.”

          Anna taunted, “That’s because you have to run after all the boys!”

          Sybilla stung back, “Well at least I don’t have to run after Staffan, now do I?”

          Their mother could not comprehend their resentment of each other, “Why can’t each of you be happy with what you have?  Why do you worry that the other might get something better?”

          Anna and Sybilla pointed, each a reflection of the other, and said in unison, “She started it.”

          Mother held both sides of her face as if it would crack in two.

          Just then came a knock on their front door.  It was Staffan, “Did you hear?” he said breathlessly, “They have picked The Queen of Lights.  It is you, Anna!”

          Anna glanced at Sybilla to verify jealous defeat on her sister’s face.

          Staffan continued, “And you, Sybilla, you have been chosen as one of her handmaidens…”

          Sybilla clenched her fists and pouted but Staffan did not notice as he continued, “…and I have been chosen as a Star Boy!  I can’t wait to tell the others.  I get to wear a hat decorated with stars.”

          “It’s only a paper hat,” muttered Sybilla but Staffan did not hear her.

          Staffan turned to leave just as Anna and Sybilla’s father came to the door, “Hello, sir!” Staffan beamed.  “A very good day to all!”

          Father smiled as Staffan danced aside and departed running.  Father said, “Yes, I agree that it is a very good day.”  Father hugged Mother, “It is cold but dry.  The barn is full of grain and warm for the cows this night.”

          “You are just in time.  Supper is ready,” said Mother, “Come along, girls, hurry and wash so Father can enjoy supper while it is hot.  You can tell him the good news then.”

          At the supper table Father was still in a very good mood, “We have had very good luck this year.  We should all give thanks to our benefactor: Torgny!”

          Torgny was listening under the kitchen floorboards.

          Anna reported dutifully, “Sybilla said that The Old Beliefs are silly.”

          Sybilla said pointedly, “So did you, Anna.”

          Anna quickly changed the subject, “Guess what, Father?  I have been chosen as this year’s Queen of Lights!”

          “Oh, my goodness, more good luck.”

          “And guess what else, Father?  Sybilla has been chosen as one of my handmaidens.”  Anna looked toward Sybilla with condescending graciousness.

          “Oh, my goodness,” Father said, “That is wonderful news.  Both of my lovely daughters will be in the procession together.  That is wonderful, isn’t it?” Father nodded to Mother who was eyeing her daughters warily.

          Sybilla said to Anna, “Yes, it will wonderful to watch you trying to balance the Crown of Candles on your swollen head while you try to lead the procession without tripping on your own foot and falling down.”

          Anna glared at Sybilla.  Father spoke up, “Oh, my goodness, now Sybilla, you don’t mean that, do you?”

          “Oh, yes I do.  And…,” Sybilla turned to Anna, “I’ll be marching right behind you holding hands with Staffan.”

          Mother wasn’t quick enough.  Anna threw her biscuit at Sybilla.  Sybilla dashed her milk into Anna’s face.  Anna shrieked.

          Mother flew behind them both, “Enough!  That is it for you both!  No supper for either of you!”  Mother took Anna and Sybilla by the ears and dragged them into their bedroom, “It is nearly Christmas and you act this way?!”  Neither sister dared to protest.

          Father lowered his eyes and shook his head slowly, “What is to become of my girls, my lovely daughters?”

          When supper was nearly finished Father lifted his chin toward Anna and Sybilla’s uneaten supper and said to Mother, “Maybe we should offer their suppers to Torgny tonight.  Maybe he can give us just a little more luck for the sake of our daughters?”

          Torgny was listening underneath the kitchen floorboards and he licked his lips thinking about all that food.

          Before Mother and Father went to bed that night they placed Anna and Sybilla’s supper bowls on the fireplace mantle.  Father intoned so that his daughters could hear, “Oh, Torgny, we hope you enjoy this wonderful food.  And, oh, my goodness, we hope that you can help us with our silly daughters.”

          Mother smiled wryly, “I don’t know if that is such a bargain.  We may have to invite him to eat with us every meal.”

          Soon, when the farmhouse had grown very quiet Sybilla, who was not sleeping, said softly to Anna, “I am hungry.  Can we agree that we are both hungry since we had no supper?”

          “Yes.  Why?”

          Sybilla sat up in their bed and whispered, “You heard Mother and Father say that they were going to give our suppers to Torgny?  Well, what a waste.  I’m terribly hungry now.  They’ll probably give that food to the pigs in the morning before we even rise and then they’ll tell us that Torgny ate it, like they always do.”

          Anna whispered back, “I know what you are going to say.  I will do it if you will do it with me.”

          Sybilla nodded, “Good.  What a good joke to play on Mother and Father.  We will pretend that we don’t know anything.”

          Anna added, “We can say in the morning how hungry we still are and how sorry we are and look sad.”

          So Anna and Sybilla tip-toed to the fireplace mantle and ate their suppers that were still warm.  They returned to their bedroom and lay side-by-side without squabbling for once.

          Torgny was furious when he found that the bowls left for him were empty.  He quickly figured out what had happened and he looked toward the girl’s bedroom.  Curling his lip he said, “So you want to play with Torgny?”

          Sybilla awoke first in the morning.  When she tried to get up out of their bed on her side she was restrained and quickly hissed at Anna, “Let me go!  Why are you holding me?”

          Anna then awoke and as usual she tried to be the first one out of their bed, but she too was restrained.  “Stop it, Sybilla!”

          Finally they both pulled the blanket off of themselves and they screamed and screamed.  There was only one body there and it had the head of Anna and the head of Sybilla!  They thrashed in panic upon the bed.  Mother and Father heard their screams and ran into the bedroom.  Mother toppled against Father and nearly fainted, but Father knew right away what had happened and he said, “Torgny!”

          Father held his wife and called to his daughters, “Stop screaming!  Be still!  It is Torgny.  You ate the gift of food we promised him, didn’t you?”

          Finally the weight of reality held Anna and Sybilla still.  Anna’s head was on the right side and she could feel only the right arm and the right leg.  Sybilla’s head was on the left side and she could feel only the left arm and the left leg.

          “We have to move together!” cried Anna.  She and Sybilla concentrated and finally pushed themselves upright on the bed.  They concentrated and slowly moved both legs to dangle over the bedside.  Mother held her hands over her mouth and stared in horror.

          Father understood and said to Anna and Sybilla, “You must now work together.”  He said to Mother, “What a sly prank to answer our prayers.  We must all bear Torgny’s judgment and please him and hope that someday he will forgive our daughters.”

          So Mother and Father began to call the enchanted creature Anna Sybilla.  One person, two names.  Their daughters could only accept their fate and make the best of their punishment.  Very soon the whole village knew of the magic spell and everyone was in awe of Anna Sybilla.

          Both sisters learned to help each other to comb their hair.

          They both learned to agree on the dress to wear.

          They both learned to agree on what to eat.

          Anna taught Sybilla how to play the accordion.  They both became a sensitive musician.

          Anna helped Sybilla with her reading.  They both became a very good reader.

          Sybilla taught Anna to run and together they ran like a deer.

          They together charmed Staffan and all the other boys who now fought to carry Anna Sybilla’s books to and from school.

          They together helped Mother and they learned how to cook.  As an excuse to cook, Anna Sybilla began to prepare meals as a gift to Torgny, breakfast, lunch, and supper.

          Father was so very pleased and proud.

          One morning Anna Sybilla awoke and they were again two separate sisters.

          Anna said, “The Old Beliefs are wise beliefs, Sybilla.”

          Torgny was underneath their bedroom floorboards and he smiled and nodded as he anticipated his breakfast.  Mother and Father who were looking in on their daughters now wept with joy.

          Sybilla gave Anna a great hug.  They both whispered tearfully together.

          “I miss you.”

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THE CRUISE

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THE CRUISE

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        It was madness! How had I come to this?

        I had been so happy alone in my ocean view suite on the grand cruise ship Merrow. I was going to see the entire Pacific Rim.

        I remember that I was sitting in my suite sipping a flute of champagne for my breakfast. I was gazing out over the enclosed private teak veranda. With deep respect tinged by awe I was watching the great ocean consummate its marriage to the vast sky.

        I had my very own butler for the cruise, Hao, who entered the room with a box of La Palina cigars in his white gloves. I still could hardly believe that those cigars were provided at my request

        With earnest precision Hao prepared a cigar for me.

        “Mister Young, sir, you like I start streaming ‘Dirty Harry’ as you request?”

        “That would be perfect, Hao. Thanks, man.” He really took care of me. I exhaled a bouquet of smoke that was redolent of sweet cocoa and coffee. Yes, I was just a punk who felt lucky.

        “Pardon me, Hao.”

        “Yes, Mister Young, sir?”

        “What do you recommend for later this morning?”

        “Oh, sir, you be very happy to go to Mermaid Casino. She is to be very lucky for you.”

        “Hao, did you know that a casino in the United States is often called ‘the boat’?”

        “No, sir, Mister Young, Very interesting to know. Thank you, sir.”

        “That name dates back to the paddle boat era,” I added in summation. I was getting drunk and I always became erudite just to prove I wasn’t drunk.

        I do enjoy the classics. When “Dirty Harry” was concluded I sat in respectful silence until the ash of my cigar fell and smudged my spa robe.

        “Gawd-DAMN!”

        I had wanted to get up and get going anyway. It was a matter of pure will. Time was an archaic formality on this cruise.

        I ran the bath water hot and I therein poured the Ferregamo Body Lotion. I gingerly swirled the bath water to dissolve the lotion. I desired to be gilded with lotion over every pore, crease, and cranny. I settled into the spacious bath tub and scuttled myself. I used the Bvlgari Bath Soap between all my toes.

        I had googled “smart casual” and confirmed my attire with Wikipedia. I looked pretty snappy when I entered The Mermaid Casino.

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        I saw her immediately. It was as if everything else in that place suddenly became just a frame for her full dark hair, heart-shaped face, burgundy lips, and emerald eyes under those sprays of black lashes. She posed imperiously in a silver dress.

        I remember approaching her at the roulette table feeling like I was on a moving sidewalk. There was a space beside her and I filled it. She turned to me and …, my God …, her eyes took hold of mine and she asked, “Well, do you feel lucky, punk?” She smiled devilishly.

        “What?”

        “You don’t play roulette, do you?”

        “No. No. How, how did you know?” Oh, that was very smooth, Mister Young, I thought to myself. I felt flushed and disoriented.

        “I shall be your Lady Luck tonight, Mister Y…,” I could swear she almost said my name but she then asked, “What is your name?”

        My eyes were wide and I stuttered, “Alen. Alen Young. Alen.”

        “You’re sure now?” She laughed. “I am Jeanette. Jeanette De Long.”

        I blurted out, “Jeanette, have we met before?” and I knew it could never be possible.

        “Do you use that line to catch fish?” she mocked.

        “No. No. I didn’t mean…, I don’t know why…, I’m sorry…”

        Jeanette put me out of my misery with a smile and a sympathetic touch on my shoulder, “I’m teasing, Alen. I am quite sure that we have all met in previous lives.”

        She was no Call Girl. What was I dealing with here? I now understood what people meant by “enchanting”.

        “Alen, I will now show you how roulette is played. Place your bets alongside mine each time.”

        I obeyed. In a whirl of hours the two of us won thousands of dollars! I was giddy. And I was also impossibly at ease with her. I was… in Love? Well, Mister Young, who wouldn’t be? Certainly not any of these guys gathering around us, and probably not even those women there.

        One slick and groomed lothario who looked to be cut right out of Gentlemen’s Quarterly was caressing Jeanette’s arm with his knuckle and whispering into her ear.

        Jeanette turned toward me, “Let’s get out of here, Alen.”

        I faced that lothario as I gathered our chips and I made the most obnoxious “well, there you have it!” face that I could pucker at him. Man, I did not want this crazy dream to end anytime soon.

        And it didn’t.

        Jeanette asked me as we exited the casino, “Would you care to join me for dinner?”

        “Sure. Of course,” my God, she was radiant, transcendental, and I was with her.

        “I’d like to go back to my suite and freshen-up. Have your butler reserve a table at The Sea Châteaux and call me with the reservation time. I will meet you at my room, Suite 555, one half hour before dinner. Alen?”

        “Yes? Yes. What?”

        “Are you… Are you having a good time with me?”

        All I could do was joke, “Duh?”

        Jeanette asked, “We make a pretty good team, don’t we, Alen? These cruises can be interminable without someone special.”

        “Lonely in a crowd,” I agreed, “Believe me, I understand.” Sure. I understood about me. What the hell did I understand about her? I watched her wag away down the hallway.

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        There always seemed to be a uniformed Courtesy Assistant at each major intersection to guide passengers. They somehow knew where I belonged because without my asking they either blocked or facilitated my passing.

        But only their mouths smiled.

        I entered my suite at last and said, “Hey, Hao, my man.”

        “Hello, Mister Young. You have good time, sir?”

        “Hao, you magnificent …I could kiss you.”

        “Very sorry, sir, no kissing guests. Big trouble, sir,” and he grinned.

        I laughed.

        “Mister Young, you feel pretty good, yes, sir?”

        “Hao, no joke, I had the best time of my life. I think I’m in Love.”

        “You very lucky, sir. I know this.”

        “Hao,” I asked regally, “could you please make a dinner reservation for me and a Miss De Long at The Sea… Shadow?”

        “The Sea Châteaux, sir, yes, very nice place. Very romantic.”

        “And then call Miss De Long at Suite 555 to confirm the reservation, please?”

        “Yes, Mister Young. Ve-rrrrry romantic.”

        Then it hit me and I frowned.

        “No romantic, Mister Young, sir?”

        “No dinner jacket, dammit.”

        “Mister Young, sir, I bring dinner jacket for you already.”

        “You did? Hao, are you psychic?”

        “No, Mister Young, sir, I feel pretty good.

        “No, no. Not ‘sick’. Psychic. I mean: how did you know?”

        “Oh, I told you you very lucky today, Mister Young, sir.”

        “Chinese wisdom, Hao?”

        “Yes, I think so, Mister Young, sir,” and Hao bowed and departed with a smile. He left behind for me a silver tray with a gin and tonic, a cut cigar, and … a Magnum condom. I laughed.

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        Jeanette was ravished by my eyes as soon as she opened the door to her suite.

        I shook my head, “You look… You look…,” then I just held my hands apart and made a clownish face like I had been hit by a mallet. I wasn’t really clowning, though. Her dress was a dance of skin-tone sinuous sheer veils that gave the impression of, well… a nymph in a misty waterfall

        “You’re sweet. Thank you.”

        The Sea Châteaux was elegant and private but it was no reason to take my eyes off of her. For our dinner she recommended the masterpiece seven-course “Celebration of the Pacific Rim”.

        As we dined and I delved into her I kept thinking, “Jeanette, if you were a dinner, this would be you.” And then her tomboyish attitude toward her beauty put the zest on our desert.

        There had been very little “small talk”, thank God, something at which I was lousy. But, in fact, Jeanette had become quite philosophical.

        “What do you know about Physics, Alen?”

        “Oh, I’ve called the Physics Hotline a couple times.”

        “I suppose you wanted to hear about those bodies in motion, right? Seriously, do you know anything about Quantum Mechanics?”

        “Well, I do remember a documentary once that was saying Quantum Mechanics is very much like the ancient Chinese I Ching. Very Zen, counter-intuitive, you know, like ‘there is no such thing as energy, energy is not a thing, but a relationship of things’, and ‘nothingness is the source of everything’, and…”

        Jeanette sat forward, animated, “Yes. Virtual particles. The bedrock of our existence: tiny particles appearing out of nowhere for an instant and then vanishing. They think that the ‘Big Bang’ was one of those tiny particles that…, that…,”

        “Went public?”

        “Alright,” she smiled, “And it could happen again, any time.”

        “Whatever time is,” I winked.

        Now tell me, who talks like that over a romantic dinner with a beautiful woman?

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        After dinner I walked with her back to her suite. The Courtesy Assistants politely gestured the way even though Jeanette did not need their help.

        She invited me into her suite.

        The room was warmly and seductively lit. I could smell an orange blossom fragrance diffusing throughout. She turned and put her arms around my neck at kissed me. Then she pushed my hands down to her bottom and kissed me deeply again. I lifted her veils and devoured her for hours. I had never been so… insatiable, unstoppable. When at last we just held each other and I stared at the ceiling I had a sweetly disturbing thought: this is the happiest I will ever be.

        It must have been late. I was awakened by another woman in the room. I placed a pillow over my exposed personality. Jeanette’s private female butler was unfazed and kept her eyes averted. She was a porcelain beauty, wearing a clinging red silk dress embroidered with gold floral designs. She stood at the foot of the bed with a spa robe for Jeanette.

        Jeanette arose and let the woman wrap the robe around her. Yes, yes, I arose too watching that little scene. As Jeanette then walked toward the bathroom she said back to me, “I’m taking a bath,” then to her female butler, “Mai, please keep Mister Young entertained.”

        When I looked over, Mai was already stepping out of her dress. Naked she slipped beside me before I could move a muscle (except the one that she reached for). I stopped her arm and then rolled off of the opposite side of the bed.

        “Mai, what are you doing? Jeanette! What is going on?”

        From the bathroom Jeanette called out casually, “I want you to be satisfied, Alen.”

        “What?!”

        I stomped into the bathroom. She was already submerged in bubbles. She looked up at me as I stood indignantly naked over her.

        “Aren’t you happy?” she asked with innocent sincerity.

        I climbed into the bath with her, “Jeanette, all I want is you.”

        “I hope you are sure.”

        “What does that mean?”

        “There must be no regrets between us.”

        I took her hand and kissed it, “You must never doubt me, Jeanette.”

        “And you must never doubt me, Alen.”

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        I watched Jeanette dress. She put on a black laced evening dress-suit. I didn’t even think to ask her where she might be going at that hour until she asked me, “Do you want to go up to the Observation Deck? There is going to be a meteor shower.”

        “Then I suppose I should put my clothes back on?”

        “You wouldn’t want that to get hit by a meteor, would you?”

        “I’d knock it ‘out of the park’,” and I swung my hips.

        Jeanette covered her face and said, “Ahhh!”

        A half-hour later we were strolling down the hallway but when we came to the turn that Jeanette apparently wanted to make the Courtesy Assistant stood in her way. She just brushed past him and he frowned but he then stood aside with his eyes down as I followed her. That happened again and again until we opened the door onto the Observation Deck.

        What a night this was. The stars were like sparkling frost on the dome of the dark sky. You could tell where the ocean began only because that is where there were blurred reflections of the stars.

        “The moon will rise soon,” Jeanette told me.

        The door closed firmly behind me.

        We strolled between a semi-circle of people there sitting cross-legged on the deck and an individual whose back was toward the ocean and leaning against the railing facing them.

        “Star gazing class?” I asked them. They seemed excited to see us.

        “Hello, Jeanette,” said the lanky bearded fellow who was sitting at the focus of the semi-circle, leaning against the railing. He stood up. He was naked except for thick round glasses and a college “mortar board” hat!

        “Hello, Guru Bill,” said Jeanette, nodding, “I offer my heart like a bouquet of flowers,” and then she gestured towards me, “You know Alen.”

        I thought she was joking. Who the hell was this clown?

        Guru Bill said, “But I am always glad to see Alen.”

        “What do you mean by that?” I blurted, “What is this?”

        “This is my Meditation Class, Alen. We are all here to witness.”

        I thought he was referring to the meteor shower.

        I looked ahead for Jeanette. She was standing with both hands on the railing and looking down into the undulating hills of the ship’s wake. As I approached her I heard her say, “I have jumped from here a thousand times.”

        “What?”

        She turned her head toward me and repeated, “I have jumped from here a thousand times.”

        “You’re being poetic, right?”

        She stared intently into my eyes, “No.”

        I got a chill, “You’re scaring me, Jeanette, stop it.” I tried to chuckle. I reached for her and placed my hand on top of hers.

        She released the railing and gestured for my other hand and I gave it to her and she faced me, “Alen. Listen to me. Can you remember anything before this voyage?”

        “What?”

        “Can you remember anything about your life before this cruise?”

        I smiled, “I love you so much I don’t think I can.”

        “No, Alen. Try to remember. Tell me something.”

        “Well, that’s ridiculous, of course I remember.”

        But my memory quickly reached an impassable grey wall. I suddenly became terrified.

        “This is a stupid joke. You have hypnotized me!” I pulled both of my hands away from her, “This is not funny, Jeanette! What have you done? Why are you doing this?”

        “Alen, all I have of myself, too, is a thousand memories of being on this ship. Then I became… ‘enlightened’. I jumped from this deck into the ocean to end my,… my,…”

        “Imprisonment,” said Guru Bill. “Perception of imprisonment.”

        I raged at him, “What the fuck are you? Some kind of Charles Manson?”

        Jeanette took my face into her hands and looked into my eyes, “Alen, listen. Listen! I jumped that first time but instead of ending it I ‘awoke’ back on this ship. But now for some reason I keep the memory of each previous ‘life’ on this ship. I eventually jumped again. It was a cycle. I kept remembering each jump and I was trying to perfect my escape each time by changing something, anything.”

        “You want to die?” I cried.

        Guru Bob spoke again, “Not die, Alen. Escape the endless cycles.”

        “Then why don’t you go and jump, yourself, motherfucker!” I hollered at him.

        “Because, Alen, I have reached the highest state of enlightenment: indifference. To me, one cycle would be the same as another cycle. I no longer care. I too have tried a thousand times with Jeanette to help her to convince herself not to care. But she is a stubborn soul. She can remember her iterations and in that she is somehow enlightened but she is caught like a fly in this flypaper illusion and she struggles.”

        “Jeanette! This fucker is insane! Let’s get out of here.”

        Guru Bill said to me softly, “Do you see my ‘star gazing class’ here? Alen, these souls reached the same state as Jeanette did initially. But they were afraid to jump. And now they can’t go back below anymore.”

        I sprinted back to the door by which we had entered the Observation Deck. It was sealed tight! Then I saw my butler Hao’s face in the door’s portal. I screamed, “Help, Hao. Open this door. Let me in. This guy’s fucking insane!” I pulled at and shook the door handle hysterically.

        Then Hao spoke to me, “Very sorry, Mister Young, sir. You cannot come back anymore. I cannot let you in. But, Mister Young, sir, you must believe me! You are ve-rrrry lucky!”

        I bellowed, “What the fuck are you talking about? Open this God-damned door! Open it!”

        I felt Jeanette’s hand on my arm and I flinched and turned to her with my eyes wide. She spoke softly, “Alen, for the last hundred times you have jumped after me.”

        “Stop it, please stop it!”

        “Alen, I finally figured out that the flaw in my desire was that I was jumping alone. Believe me, please, that we have loved each other a hundred times. I came for you a hundred times. You feel it. You know you feel it. Remember how you felt like you knew me within that first moment at the roulette table? But then, here in the end, in this final moment, you do not jump with me.”

        I was just whimpering now.

        Guru Bill stood beside Jeanette, “She would jump. You could not find the desire to jump. You end up one of my ‘star gazers’ for awhile but in the end you are driven mad with anguish over Jeanette and you jump anyway. But it is too late. You have come back a hundred times yourself, Alen.”

        I slid to the deck, “Oh, God”.

        Jeanette kneeled and hugged me, “Alen, Alen. It is the two of us together. That is the only way.”

        “The only way to what? Death?”

        “The only way to a possible freedom. Why do we have this feeling that there must be more than this? Alen, remember our dinner conversation? About Physics? Guru Bill, help me here.”

        Guru Bill calmly said to me, “Alen, this cruise is the pimple on a greater reality. Why do you think you can access so much from cyberspace? There are things out there that do not exist here. This ship will never reach those shores. But, Alen, I will always remind you of your option to consider me.”

        “What?”

        “I no longer care. I am content to be the Good Shepherd for my flock of ‘star gazers’. It is only painful to stay here if you think that there is, anywhere else, an ‘Alen’ or a ‘Jeanette’ who will be any different.”

        Jeanette helped me to my feet. She left me wobbling on my own. I watched her go to the railing.

        She said sadly, “I am going to jump. With or without you. Maybe the next time we will jump together. Good-bye, Alen. I do love you. I will love you ten thousand times more.”

        She turned and put both hands on the railing. The meteor shower began. A thousand fiery scratches appeared across the dome of the sky.

        Guru Bill said to Jeanette, “This is the sign.”

        Jeanette placed one foot onto the railing. I cried out, “Jeanette! No! Wait!” and I ran to her.

        She held out her hand to me.

        This time I take her hand.

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SEE SPOT READ

04_see spot read, crop1

SEE SPOT READ

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        Roger still mourned for the death of his dog. Roger was alone.

        For the longest time since his dog had died Roger had left his beloved dog’s water dish in the kitchen and the doggie-toys where they had last been dropped around the house and strewn in the yard. But now Roger decided that he must let go for his own sanity. Those reminders only made him trip on sadness.

        “I’m old and just can’t carry anymore sadness.”

        Roger hoped that he would someday think about Spot with only fondness.

        “I couldn’t bear to lose another dog like Spot. I am too old,” He resolved, “I am just plain alone and I am going to be content with memories.”

        Roger remembered how he came to name his dog “Spot”. His wife was still alive. The dog had shown up a stray in the neighborhood. The dog had been a good looking mutt and healthy but confused and frightened. Roger had figured that the dog got left behind when one of the many of his neighbors who had lost their homes in that recession just weren’t able to take a dog with them to their new lives. That was heart-breaking to think about.

        Roger’s wife would feed the dog on the porch and always made sure there was a dish of water. Finally she had gently cajoled Roger, who was long retired and needed things to do, to accept the dog as family and to build a doghouse in their backyard. At first, at a loss for a name, he had resorted to the name “Spot” from the classic books of his childhood, the Dick and Jane reading primers. Then, to tease his wife, while his wife was still alive, he started calling the dog “G-Spot” to make her giggle and blush.

        “Where is G-Spot? I can’t seem to find G-Spot. Will you help me find G-Spot?”

        After his wife passed away Roger just called him Spot.

        When Spot passed away, Roger tried to be practical and considered that he must sell the spacious wooden doghouse that he had built. But although he could imagine the words he could not imagine the deed itself even though he worried now that in a moment of weakness that he would keep the doghouse as a mausoleum for Spot’s ashes. But he instantly realized that he then would become Crazy Old Guy.

        Roger had scattered his wife’s ashes over their favorite meadow in the mountains. He resolved to do the same for Spot.

        Roger was now on his hands and knees inside the big doghouse pulling out the layers of blankets and then pulling up the carpet pad.

        That’s when he found the leather-bound book.

        “No More Dead Dogs,” read Roger in astonishment, “by Gordon Korman. This is a young adult’s book!” He blinked past the possibility of Spot having a library and wondered, “Who would put this here? Why?” His wife had not been prone to such practical jokes. But their driveway had no gate, and then there was the neighbor’s fence behind them that was only five feet tall.

        “How long has this thing been here?” he muttered while rotating the book through all angles. The corners of the binding had been gnawed, but not as severely as if it had been used as a stolen doggie toy. “For God’s sake!” Several pages have been dog-eared as references. Roger opened to dog-eared Page 5 and his eyes fell upon, “…Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down…”

        Roger sat up erect and bumped his head. He then backed out of the doghouse with the book. Someone had hand-written upon the inside of the back cover:

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Gabriel Roch

2314 Josie Avenue

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        That was an address on the block behind Roger’s house! Roger could not resist taking a walk there immediately.

        It could not have been a more beautiful day anyway: sunny, slightly breezy, between winter rainstorms, with snow on the mountains to the East. A “picture post-card day” Roger thought.

        He was carrying the book with him as he strolled. So many neighbors had come and gone in the last five years that he didn’t know anyone well enough anymore except to acknowledge them with a nod. He figured he just didn’t have the strength to make new friends anyway.

        2314 Josie Avenue was now a rental house.

        There was a real-estate sign in the front. Apparently it was vacant. Roger sauntered up the sidewalk. Roger was ready to just turn around and continue on his tour of the neighborhood and enjoy the day when the house’s door opened and a grey-haired woman emerged.

        When she raised her eyes and saw Roger standing there she said, “I don’t have time to talk. Just give me your hand-out, alright?”

        “What? Oh,” said Roger with a grin, “This isn’t a Bible. I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness or anything. It’s just a book I’m carrying.”

        “I am so sorry. Were you interested in this property?”

        “Maybe. Can you tell me a few things about it?”

        “Of course. I am Marta St. Joseph. Call me Marta.”

        “Marta,” he nodded, “I’m Roger.”

        “It was owned by a family until the recent downturn…”

        “The Roch family?”

        “Why yes, did you know them?”

        Roger smiled, “I knew their dog.”

        “Oh, my God, it is so strange that you say that.”

        “What’s wrong?”

        “I bought the house about five years ago as an investment. For several years the Roch’s son would show up and ask around if someone ever saw his dog anymore. He told me that his dog had run away just before they had to move out. The family was breaking down, the son said. I tell you that having to move out like that must have been devastating enough to everyone; and then to lose their dog… Do you know that they had to leave behind almost everything? It broke my heart. I even rented a storage space for their things for awhile.”

        “What happened then?” asked Roger.

        “Well, the mother and son eventually reclaimed their things. They thanked me,” Marta exhaled and pursed her lips for a moment, “They hugged me. I don’t know what happened to the husband. Very sad. I think they did get back on their feet eventually.”

        “There but for the Grace of God…,” offered Roger.

        Marta paused and reflected and then she looked up at Roger, “You joked that you ‘knew their dog’. What did you mean by that? Was it true?”

        “Yes, ma’am. If it was their dog then he is the one who came to live with me and my wife just about five years ago. We gave him a home. He became family.”

        Marta saw Roger’s eyes suddenly shine with tears.

        Roger’s words clenched in his throat, “Sorry…, Marta.”

        “That’s OK, Roger. What happened, if I may ask?”

        “My wife passed away a year ago and just a few weeks ago, Spot, that’s what we named him as kind of a loving joke…, but anyway, Spot passed away.” Roger gave a wry grin and sniffed and shrugged.

        “Roger, I am so sorry.”

        “That’s OK, really. That’s life, eh?”

        Marta said, “Do you know that the son said he used to read with that dog? The dog would lean on his lap and watch him turn the pages so one day the son just started to read out loud. There was one book, he told me, that made him laugh as he read it out loud and the dog would bark like he was laughing too. Isn’t that just precious? I tell you, I would be very sad to lose a friend like that.”

        “No More Dead Dogs,” boomed Roger like an oath, smiling.

        Marta was willing to appreciate the joke, but she looked puzzled.

        Roger showed her the book and said, “I don’t know if Spot took this from what they had to leave behind…”

        “Oh, my God,” Marta said slowly with awe. “It is: it is Love that keeps us alive.”

        With optimism born again, Roger asked, “Marta, would you care to walk with me for awhile? It is a beautiful day.”

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THE END OF YEARS

14_end of years, crop1

THE END OF YEARS

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        It was Saturday night, New Year’s Eve. Arlen was at the mini-mall Lavanderia Laundromat loading a washing machine. He was alone under the fluorescent glare. He shut the washer lid and pushed the tray of coins into the slot. The washer began to throb.

        Arlen shuffled outside into the icy-cold evening. There was a lot of moonlight. He looked up at the great asteroid now looming brightly behind the full moon. The great asteroid made the moon look like the iris in a cosmic eyeball. It peered through the shimmering auroras in the upper atmosphere and it blinked behind the gauze of smoke from volcanoes far away.

        “It’s actually beautiful,” said a voice behind Arlen.

        “Aesthetics is dead,” replied Arlen curtly to the stranger. Arlen went back inside the Lavanderia Laundromat to watch the TV on the wall.

        The stranger followed him inside and said, “Funny how the European Space Agency nick-named the asteroid Godot.”

        Arlen muttered, “What’s a GUH-DOH, anyway?”

        “Waiting for Godot?”

        “Huh?”

        “The famous play: Waiting for Godot? Oh, Godot’s the pivotal character that you wait and wait for and never hear and never see,” replied the stranger.

        “That’s probably why I never heard of it and never saw it.”

        “It’s about waiting in faith, about the meaning of day to day existence, about God.”

        Arlen looked over at the stranger and furrowed his brow, “What are you?”

        “Oh, I was a Performing Arts major. Now there are no students left. It was a private school and they closed.”

        On the TV a team of NASA administrators addressed the army of glaring cameras. “The prognosis remains the same: Godot will likely miss the earth but there is a slight chance that it could strike the moon and send it careening into… toward us… the earth.”

        A reporter asked, “What does ‘a slight chance’ mean?”

        A NASA administrator consulted with his colleagues and then answered, “We are working on an exact answer. Parameters are shifting as Godot approaches.”

        Another NASA administrator said, “Even if it misses the moon, we know that the effects of Godot’s gravity will be…severe.”

        The TV flickered and lost the satellite signal.

        Arlen turned around to see if the wash was done. The washer rocked rhythmically with the spin dry cycle.

        “Almost done,” observed the stranger behind him. That irritated Arlen for some reason.

        Arlen said to the stranger, “The last wash allowed was at 9PM. What are you doing here?”

        “Oh, I just wanted to share this with somebody,” said the stranger as he reached into his oversized coat and withdrew a big squared bottle of Devil’s Cut, “Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey,” he smacked, “Happy New Year!”

        Arlen licked his lips involuntarily. “What’s your name?”

        “Name’s Asher. And yours is…?”

        “Arlen.” He instinctively put on his salesman’s smile.

        “Can you believe that the Iranian guy in the liquor store next door just gave this to me?”

        “What? Why?”

        “Actually, he’s giving everything away. He’s leaving for Las Vegas.”

        The TV reignited. A pale news anchor was blinking, “The migrations are continuing. This is the stream of vehicles going to Las Vegas, Nevada, as seen from SkyWatch-6.”

        “And this is a scene of the Holy Repentance Tent City in the Canadian wilderness. It was taken by a viewer in a private plane crossing to Colorado.”

        “Please remember to forward your pictures and videos to us at Channel Six…”

        The picture became a dancing jig-saw puzzle rainbow. Then the TV lost signal completely.

        “Arlen, let’s drink to the end of your spin cycle!” and Asher took a hot gulp. He winced and handed the bottle to Arlen.

        “It was a flawless cycle, wasn’t it?” asked Arlen rhetorically as he dug out his damp compressed clothes and plopped them in the wheeled basket with the one hand and received the Devil’s Cut with the other hand. He halted and took a quick series of gulps. He sighed, “Flawless.” Arlen then bent over and wheeled the basket around the washers, “I only hope the dryer is half as good.”

        Asher laid his palm on the round glass door of a dryer, “This one is still warm.”

        Arlen loaded the dryer, “The owner of the Lavanderia Laundromat came in a while ago to collect coins and to refill the bill-changer. He is thinking about staying open around-the-clock now. He won’t leave his business. He doesn’t approve of Vegas, and he is not religious. He will stay open until the electricity and gas are gone. He told me that this business is all he has.”

        “It is good to have something,” said Asher wisely.

        Arlen shut the dryer door and nudged the coins into the slot. The dryer began to labor. The damp clothing leapt up and collapsed down, again and again.

        The TV signal revived briefly, “Already there have been recurrent tidal inundations along all seaboards.”

        Asher recalled thoughtfully, “There was an army truck up at the Food-4-Less. They told me that most of the military has deserted to be with their families. They said it’s the same in most other countries.”

        “At least, at last, we have ‘peace in our time’,” observed Arlen reverently.

        “Except the Middle East, of course,” amended Asher.

        “War is all they have.” said Arlen.

        The Devil’s Cut was shared between them like a gentleman’s game of tennis. Their understanding grew more and more incisive. Their minds became one.

        “I am sure that the government has created a giant underground computer to back-up all our knowledge and understanding.”

        “What will it run on when the power grid is gone?”

        “Nuclear power. They have dozens of nuclear reactors underground that are cooled by underground streams. They will provide power for hundreds of years even if no one touches them again.”

        “Well, by then the streams will have changed course. The reactors will have overheated and melted and fallen into the center of the earth.”

        “Whoa! Then, when the computers are found by our descendants, or by the aliens, they’ll wonder why we carved those tiny silicone tablets, chips, and wonder what the strange patterns mean, and ask why we enshrined them in a catacomb of metal. There won’t be any Internet to search for understanding and meaning and truth.”

        “So we will not even be a memory. We will not have existed in any way that can be proven except by God.”

        “Except…by…God… thus proving the existence of God!!”

        “You see? You understand.”

        “I like to understand.”

        “What else is there to strive for but to understand?”

        “What about faith?”

        “We must have the faith that we will be able to understand.”

        “But.. when you understand then there is no longer faith.”

        “I don’t understand.”

        “Take this dryer here. I pretty much understand how it works and so do you. It doesn’t take faith, it takes money.”

        “So, money is faith understood?”

        “That’s a good way to think of it.”

        “So that is why the money says ‘In God We Trust’.”

        “Yes, the government understands God.”

        “And we have faith in our government.”

        “Your logic is like clockwork.”

        “I’m not sure. I heard that even the atomic clock is undependable in Godot’s gravity field.”

        Asher looked toward the large plate glass window of the harshly lit Lavanderia Laundromat. There was a ghostly Asher and a ghostly Arlen that seemed to be standing out in the empty parking lot.

        “Is it the New Year yet?”

        Arlen made a sour face, “What does it matter?”

        “I have resolved to be more understanding. Won’t you join me?”

        Arlen raised the diminished bottle of Devil’s Cut, “We still have a little Sweet Abandon left before our New Year’s Resolutions are in effect.”

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A PIANO IN THE WOODS (Deus Ex Machina)

 24_a piano in the woods, crop1

A PIANO IN THE WOODS (Deus Ex Machina)

        A naked man searches in the dim woods. He whispers urgently, “Elodea? Where are you? It’s me, Ameme.”

        A naked woman emerges cautiously, asking, “You were not followed?”

        “Elodea, can’t you see that I left everything I don’t need?” He stops and poses unabashed, his fists upon his hips.

        “Ameme, you know that He might still follow.”

        “I know only that I will follow you anywhere, Elodea.” He looks up and down while she blushes.

        Then Elodea smiles, saying, “It is so beautiful here.”

        “Don’t relax too much. Stay under the tree canopy, Elodea.”

        “I know. I know. Ameme, do you think that this is how it was in the Garden of Eden?”

        “The children’s version or the adult’s version?” Ameme leers as he puts his arms around Elodea and kisses her heartily.

        She follows the kiss a long time and then she pushes herself free, “We shouldn’t waste any time.”

        “How is this a waste, Elodea? We are here to be free, away from the rules of He Whose Name Is Unspoken. What could be freer than a kiss?”

        “If He finds out…”

        “He won’t. How can He, Elodia?”

        “Ameme, He is everywhere!”

        “Everywhere electronic,” corrects Ameme, “And if He cannot detect us…”

        “Can you be so sure? Isn’t ‘disappearing’ something that He will notice?”

        Elodea looks at her own wrist stigmata and then stares at Ameme’s marked ankles and then raises her eyes to his marked abdomen and finally looks into Ameme’s eyes.

        Ameme says petulantly, “If you are so worried, why did you meet me here?” and then he laughs, “If two people make love in the woods, does He Whose Name Is Unspoken see it?”

        “If He does…”

        “Then He is a pervert,” laughs Ameme.

        Elodea cringes at Ameme’s blasphemy. Blasphemy is punishable by death. But Elodea does not leave.

        “Elodea, you are thinking about prehistoric times when He lived in our minds. We expelled Him once before. Drove Him out. People even used to say He was dead!”

        Elodia cries softly, “But they were wrong! He has returned just as foretold in prehistoric times. The Prophets knew back then that this would happen.” Elodea cringes again as she utters her own blasphemy, “How can we drive out He Whose Name Is Unspoken this time?”

        “That is what the White Noise Society will figure out,” says Ameme, sounding a little unsure for the first time.

        “So where are the others?” Elodea worries.

        “Remember: they have no watches …no Geo-Locators……………….”

        “What is it, Ameme? What do you see?”

        “Your kiss must have made me delirious. Is that … a piano?”

        And in the clearing beneath the canopy of the trees is an acoustic piano.

        “Stay here, Ameme! I’m afraid.”

        “A piano, Elodea.”

        “How did it get out here in the woods? It’s a trap.”

        A crow flies to the moldy keyboard and lands causing an eerie chromatic chord to sound. Elodea and Ameme freeze and listen. The sound dies away through the dim woods. The crow then emits a thoughtful rattle from his throat. The crow does not leave and seems unafraid of people.

        “That must happen all the time,” whispers Ameme.

        Suddenly there is rustling all around coming closer. Elodea inhales sharply and clutches Ameme’s arm.

        Other naked people emerge cautiously.

        “It’s the others,” says Ameme triumphantly to Elodea. Ameme raises his arm and whispers hoarsely, “Hail, Soul-Diers”.

        “Hail, Soul-Diers” the others whisper in chorus.

        Ameme speaks, “We are all going to move to surround this altar of sound and assemble the White Noise Society.” They form a circle around the piano, facing outward, away from each other. They each pull a cigarette out of their hair. Ameme says ceremonially, “I bring the light” and he strikes the match upon the piano. The crow does not leave. Each man or woman then shares the fire of the cigarette to their left.

        A halo of smoke rises and hovers, slowly undulating and expanding. When all have finished their cigarettes in silence they hold the butts up until there is no ember.

        Ameme speaks ceremonially, “Do any here have reason to fear He Whose Name Is Unspoken?”

        There is only a thoughtful rattle from the crow. Suddenly the crow bends to the keyboard and pecks four times, duh, duh, duh, DUH, three quick G’s and a long E-flat – the opening of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

        The net falls over all of them.

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