The Confession

 

New Year’s Eve, a sultry bar—The Rusty Anchor. A light wind tapped on the windows. Or maybe it was the spirits of old sailors looking for a leeward place to steady themselves when their memory of freezing high winds and cold salty ocean spray begged for a bar such as this. No rattle of bottles or clinking of mugs, at least not tonight. Most old time sailors had long gone to their rest, and the younger ones who now fished on the big trawlers were tucked in with their families and friends for a night of celebration that was more about balls dropping, champagne, and movie of the year. He glanced at the clock, a few ticks after nine; a look in the mirror gave up the bar’s only patron, himself. The bartender had disappeared in back. No matter, he preferred being alone.

 

How had he gotten here? He was the victim of dreadful improbable events that should not have come together. What was that science program he had recently watched: the Kuiper belt? In extremely rare circumstances a chunk of ice would get pulled into the gravitational vortex of the earth, collide with the atmosphere with such velocity that it would burst into flame, and leave nothing more than a brief flicker of light in the sky. Few would see it. None would care. And here he was now: cold and alone, trapped in a situation too late for any possibility of escape.

He tapped the bottom of his glass into one of the many spills covering the splintered wooden bar. The bartender appeared without a look or a word, and tipped the three-quarter full bottle. He nodded, took a sip and allowed a furtive look towards the door. How long had he been here? One, two hours? And still no sign.

His left hand quivered. He pressed it against the bar; smears of blood. He had used his shirt to wipe away what he could before tossing the shirt into the bay. The t-shirt and black coat he had on were more suited for autumn that a cold winter’s night. There would be no going back to his room to get another shirt or a better coat. That ship had sailed, so went the old axiom: bridges burnt, horses or fucking cows leaving the barn with the doors open; whichever way it went. His brain exploded in full realization that none of those ridiculous clichés gave any measure to the magnitude of what he had done.

*****

“Bless me, Father…” The subtle aroma of spring flowers floated in through the small opening in the wall, lavender maybe; a memory of his sister popped into his consciousness. He pushed it away, but the smell lingered, as did the memory of Celia. He was unable to identify for sure what the wonderful aroma was, not being versed enough to tell one flower’s smell from another. His knowledge ended with telling the difference between a rose and a tulip, only then because he saw so many roses at funerals, and the lilies were always on display at Easter. He knew even less about women, coming from a family of four brothers, and only one sister, she much younger than him.  He had been shuffled off to the seminary at a very young age; his best memory of her was she as a child.

She stumbled with her words. “I don’t know when it was I had my last confession.”

He had given up long ago saying, “What are your sins, my child?”  Maybe that was when he had found out early on that few of his visitors were in fact children, and their dumping of sins was often repetitive as a drunk saying, one more time, he would never drink again as the last vestige of a relationship passed out his door. Not that he condemned anyone; he merely came to accept that the repetition of sin was not much different than taking a piss or a dump. You wipe your ass and move on until it happened again.

…and so he said, “You bring a most wonderful reminder of spring flowers. What is it you would like to share with God?” He would have liked to explain that he was not playing at being God. He was more facilitating a direct talk with God where one could be honest and sincere. He believed that to some degree. Yet, he knew somehow that the people who told him their sins looked to him to forgive them, as if he were the one in judgment. There was no amount of talking that could explain the difference, and so he allowed the sinner to follow through as they saw fit.

Silence. He could hear her breathing, and then a small sniffle; different than what might be heard from a head cold.

He held back a smile as he realized he was sort of an expert on such things; sitting here in the dark, his ears became his eyes, he had learned to read what the penitents were feeling and groping to share.

“Father!  It’s okay if you hate me for what I’ve done. I’m sure God does.”

He took his time before he answered. He didn’t want to come across insincere. “God does not hate anyone. He hates sin, but he loves the sinner.”

“I have to tell you my sins before I can be forgiven, right?”

He paused again. “No, you may focus on your sin and then ask for forgiveness. Our church teaches that it might be best to share with a priest as doing so states clearly what the sin might be, and in granting absolution both the penitent and priest understand the sin being forgiven. The priest might then offer a suitable penance before granting absolution, such that the penitent might reflect on the sin so as not to repeat it.”

More silence. She blew her nose this time, and stuffed the tissue in her handbag. She shifted on her knees, and in the dim light through the small latticed window he watched in his peripheral vision as she bowed her head.

“I didn’t want them to do it, but I let them.” She got up, opened the door to the confessional and raced away. He could hear her receding footsteps echoing against the walls and ceilings of the expansive basilica, and then silence.

The door opened, and someone else entered. “Bless me, Father…”

*****

The confession had taken place months ago, somewhere around the middle of July. His first assumption was that it was a young girl having her first sexual encounter. He remembered discussing that very topic with many of the other priests. He never saw it as temptation. He saw it as the natural urges of young men and women to pursue what the universe had given them—an incredible need to continue the species. How many got too mixed up in the sin and missed entirely the new responsibility of being sexually active? Once again he was no expert, but he had heard every view from it was God’s fault for making them want sex, to it’s not really sex unless there’s a child conceived.

He pondered in the weeks to come that the young girl might carry a more serious grief. The word she had spoken was them. That gave it a different possibility. Plus, her demeanor was one of total desperation. He thought of his sister again. No matter, the young lady was now long gone. He would let the mystery settle in with the many others that came to him in the confessional over the years. Even now as he sat at the bar, that small glimpse into her suffering soul resonated into a terrible sadness. He had not come here tonight for his usual escape; the finality of that flashed through his mind.

He loved the docks and he loved the water. He also loved to drink. Not to excess, just enough to keep the edge off of the strange life he led. It was by no means a hard life, but it had those few moments which shifted his very soul to scream stop; let me off. He had suffered the indignation of the priest scandal, where even a few of his pastor friends were shuffled away. He had scolded himself for being so naïve, even worse when he recalled some of the confessions where young men and women took on as sins of their own the cruel acts of the maggots and the filth of society. But even now he lifted his glass to the true sinners. “May God forgive them.” And the priest inside him could. It was a whole other matter for the man who had bared witness to so much. And so, he had found the docks, and the many bars in the area that asked no questions of him.

He had assumed he would be a fisherman like his father and two of his older brothers. When his mother died everything changed. His father became withdrawn and angry. His father’s love of whiskey went well beyond his hold on the bottle, and in many of those drunken stupors his father informed him that it was his mother’s wish he become a priest. In his final year of high school the decision was made, and he was shipped away.

His brothers, sister, and father had come to celebrate his ordination, and even though they were on different coasts they would find time to visit every so often, each telling him how their mother would be so proud of him. Still, he secretly longed for the sea and the life of a fisherman. It did not bother him as his brothers started families that he could not. Families, he soon learned, often came with secrets and dark places in great violation of the love and safety they depicted to represent. The things they told him in the confessional scorched his soul to where he would come back to his small room, get down on his knees, rock back and forth, and dream of the sea: wind and rain, high swells and white water, hard work, far away from the sins of this world. And every time he would get up off his knees and move on; his mother had wanted him to become a priest, even though he never once remembered her saying that to him directly.

The Nor’easter was the catalyst for all that was to come. And as one disaster might well insist on another, so it was that the second one went on to stamp a spot of darkness on his soul that knew no God or master. Two of his brothers on one boat, a hell of a storm, both lost at sea up along the coast of Maine. He had moved back here then to console his father, sister, and his only other brother. But his father was broken, and his sister soon found herself alone in a house with no parenting.

Instead of recognizing that Celia was a lost girl without a mother or father he had merely resented the shame that came when the principal of her school tracked him down to discuss his sister’s fall from grace, and his father’s apparent inability to deal with it. She was skipping classes, producing only failing grades, disrupting classes—the few she bothered to attend—and the principal informed him she was using drugs.

He talked with his brother, but Jared had family problems of his own. His father merely brushed him off as a priest who knew nothing about real life. When he finally spoke with Celia she screamed that she didn’t need a priest, she needed someone who gave a damn, not some prayer spewing robot who hid away safe and sound in some boy’s club. Her cutting remarks accused him of not being there for her. It left him feeble and useless. He took on her problem as his own, he the one being shamed, he the one having to deal with the circumstances—the school and the principal. He had totally missed the child that so needed help and guidance; he only saw the lashing out and the rebellion and his shame. He let his own feeling take precedence over the real guts of the situation. Returning to his parish, he researched the many forms of wayward behavior of teenagers, spending weeks on the computer looking for a solution, when he realized, too late, all he was doing was avoiding getting truly involved.

She skipped out one evening and was found overdosed on a park bench while he sat safe and sound in his parish rectory, becoming an expert on teenage difficulties.

Not a year later he received a call from the local police department asking if he was the son of Jack Martin. With the help of the many empty bottles spread about his house, his father had joined them there on the floor one spring morning. No need to research that one; he was dead; the alcohol had done its job.

He swore he would never leave a soul in need ever again.

This bar held a picture of his brothers and the others lost, but none knew they were his brothers, and none knew he came to drink not only for them, but for himself and his failure of his sister and father.

He gave another tap on the bar.

*****

“Hello, Father…”

That smell again, spring flowers. “You’ve come back.”

An icy chill shook his being.

“I have nowhere else to go.”

“Do you not have family?”

“I did, once.” Silence. He heard the shuffling as she shifted from one knee to the other, clearly uncomfortable.

“Would you like that we meet outside the confessional where you might sit and be more comfortable? Something he rarely offered.

“Oh, please. Yes.”

“If you will sit in one of the pews in front, I will finish with the two other parishioners waiting outside, and we will find a private place to talk.”

“Thank you, Father. But I only have a few minutes.”

“I’ll be quick, promise.”

She got up and left. No footsteps echoing off the walls this time. He listened to his two parishioners’ confessions, gave them absolution and their prayers of penance. The Lord would forgive him that he might have sounded a little impatient with the second penitent. He took off his purple stole and exited the confessional to find an empty church, other than the woman facing forward in the front pew. It was still two hours to the Saturday evening mass.

He gave a slight cough so as not to frighten her. She turned and stood up. She put her hand out, and then pulled it back. He reached out his, and when she took it he covered it with his other hand, and smiled. He saw his sister’s eyes, not the same color, very much the same sadness. “There’s a rectory in back where we can sit and share a tea while we talk, if that will be okay.”

She nodded, and followed him. He offered her a seat and readied the tea. He caught as she glanced at her watch. Otherwise she kept her head down until he joined her.

Mid twenties perhaps, maybe a little more. Those dark circles on her eyes told a story of its own. He took a sip of his tea. “You said you had family, once. Would you care to tell me about it?”

“I met you many years ago.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t remember.”

“That’s okay. You gave the speech at the service when my brother and father died. There were lots of people. You were even sadder than me. You had lost your two brothers to that storm.”

“Oh my, your brother and father were on that fishing boat. Oh, yes I remember… you and your mom, such red eyes, Stacey…  Stacey Driscol.”

She smiled. The smile disappeared as quickly as it had come.

“The sorrow, ten people died…” He forced himself back. “How’s your mother?”

“She’s dead.”

Another icy chill like the one in the confessional, dominos being stacked before they would all tip one against the other to some horrible finale.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.”

“You’re the only one I can talk to. I saw your grief and your pain even as I felt my own. I need someone who might understand what I have done. I don’t think anyone who has not suffered can really understand.”

He nodded and kept his eyes on her, waiting for her to continue.

“Soon after the funeral, my mom… took her life, and with two months to go until I finished school I was alone. I wish they had left me alone. I gave up on God, the world, everything.”

“God will never give up on you.”

“Oh Father. I’m so far beyond needing God to do anything, including forgiving my sins. I could have handled being alone, the bottom of that hole would have been bearable.”

“What do you need?”

“I need you to take her away. My daughter. She should not suffer for my sins. You have to help me.”

“I can get in touch with child services and…”

“No, no, you’re not listening. I came to you because there’s no one else who can help me.” She looked at the watch again, and got up to leave.

He grabbed her arm. “Wait, wait, I’m sorry. Tell me what you need me to do, please.”

She turned and stared into his eyes. “I have to go now. Can I come back tomorrow?”

“Yes, of course. What time?”

“Two, maybe three.”

“I’ll be here.

She turned and ran from the rectory.

*****

He glanced at the clock. Ten had come and gone. The bartender had made two more visits, and the bottle was now better than half empty.

One other person had come into the bar, asking for directions to a cruise ship. He had seemed excited and anxious he not be late for departure. The bartender had explained that this side was all about fishing boats; the cruisers could be found on the other side, and he pointed to where outside his barroom door would show the well lit piers on the other side of the bay.

Perhaps she had changed her mind. A deep remorse took hold. Not only for what he had done but that she might have to witness and withstand the terrible aftermath. And her daughter, and her baby, what would happen to them? He clamped his right hand over his left to stop the shaking.

Had he lost his way with God? What a silly question, as if God had some plan, some vision for everyone that lived or had ever lived. He had lost his way with mankind, and most importantly his family. He might not have been able to save his brothers, but he sure could have done more for his sister and his father. At least he had connected again with Jared; though the two needing each other might be a better take on the reality of the situation. And every one of their meetings brought along the ghosts of their pasts where no amount of talking and sharing could make them at peace. There was a bond of shared misery and guilt, and that somehow covered the shame.

  *****

The next day, a little after two, she returned. This time he had the tea prepared, and even added a few cookies.

“If you can’t help me, say so, and I’ll leave.”

“Of course, I’ll help you as best I can…”

“Okay, but once I tell you, that’s it. I don’t need you thinking and questioning, or wanting time to consider. If that happens I leave and never come back.”

“I’m not sure what you’re asking, but, yes, I understand.”

“After my mother died, I was three months from turning eighteen. There was no other family. Instead of carting me off, they thought it best I stay on in my home with a guardian, and finish my last few months in school, and as an adult at eighteen I could get a job and take over my family house.”

Stacey lowered her head and touched her belly. “I didn’t care much about living at the time, so I merely went along which what was arranged.”

Her story went from a sad tale of being left alone to incredible abuse at the hands of her guardian and the guardian’s boyfriend and his buddies. Even before school was out she was being fed drugs and alcohol to where she participated in anything and everything offered.

After school ended, the house was summarily sold, the money taken by her captors and she was moved to a house well isolated from any prying noses. Two other girls were added to the household, and the three were made to offer a consortium of sexual favors for paying customers.

She was cursed and beaten when found pregnant, and made to deliver her baby in the basement, the men watching and cheering her on, even as the girlfriend smacked the tiny child into life.

She was immediately after that put on the pill, a prescription that came without any visit to a doctor, the result being that four months ago she found herself pregnant again.

The only way she could get out to visit this church was because her four year old daughter was being left behind as a hostage, her captors too lazy to shop for themselves, their laziness at least providing the cover for her visits to him.

She went on to explain that one of the girls who had joined them had recently disappeared, and that the disappearance was final. They were none at all too subtle in explaining that the same would go for her and her daughter should she not do what she was told.

She believed that no matter who she went to for help, they would find out, first kill her daughter, and then kill her. A priest could not talk to anyone. He was the only one she would talk with.

The tears streamed down her cheeks as she told the last of her story. She continued to rub her stomach and wipe her eyes. “I can’t let them kill my daughter. And if I stay it will even be worse for her, and now…”

It was his head that went down this time. Celia had no one to talk to. His father in a drunken stupor, Jared lost in his own life, he wrapped up in the work of God. His sister all alone sitting on a park bench trying to find some escape that perhaps she did indeed find; all because her remaining family kept thinking about dead people more than the living.  The autopsy had showed her to be three months pregnant. The dark spot on his soul shivered as he remembered the details of the coroner’s report being read to him.

He reached out to hug her, to hug his sister. She recoiled and fled from the rectory. He followed. “Stacey, Stacey, please wait. I’m sorry. Please, let me talk to you.”

She halted but did not turn around. “I would kill myself. I should have. But then I would have given my daughter what my mother gave me.” She rubbed her stomach. “And this one pounds my insides. She wants so much to be alive. Even more than I want death.”

He went around to face her. “I understand what you’re feeling.”

“Then you know why I no longer want or need a God. But, I do need someone, someone that understands how desperate I am. Will you help me?”

“Yes.”

*****

 A few clicks before twelve. The bottle was all but empty.

He had gone back to his room after that last encounter with Stacey, got down on his knees and tried to find the sea. But there was no escaping this time. Them. That was the same word his sister had used. “You’re no better than them,” she had screamed during their last encounter. He now understood what Stacey had meant when she used the word. And he finally understood what his sister was trying to tell him, and he had refused to hear. All the listening to sins, the kind words, the absolution, yet he had not heard his baby sister cry out that she had been raped, and then ignored by her own family. He might as well have done it to her himself. He had, and now his dead sister was coming back to witness his failure and suffer his weakness a second time. His heart cracked into pieces, his mind sped out of control: the insanity of it all, the hopelessness, the sundering of innocence into depravity and guilt, utter despair, …and then nothing.

It was dark when he opened his eyes again; his knees ached. He crawled toward the bed and cradled his head in his arms against the quilt. Tears followed tears until there could be no more, and he remained on his knees until the light came.

His brother had not believed him when he told him what he had to do. Of course he left out the details, but explained the circumstances many times over. The two had argued a bit about their sister, each wanting to take the blame that the other strived to embrace. He looked at his cell phone, knowing Jared would not contact him. He had demanded him not too. There would be no trace to what was ordained to happen. Stacy would call Jared when she arrived, from a disposable phone he had gotten for her; if she arrived. Dear God, please let her show up.

A change of name for her and her child, a new life with the two-hundred thousand that sat in his late father’s estate for him to claim. His brother had found a place where she would be safe. He knew of course that she would not feel safe no matter where they took her to. She firmly believed they would track her down and kill her, her daughter, and her baby. But Stacy carried another secret she had not shared with him.

The barroom door opened. He led her to a booth in the corner where she laid her daughter who was fast asleep.

“I’m sorry I’m late.” She looked down at her daughter. “She was sick and throwing up. I couldn’t take her out in the cold. I had to pay the clerk at the motel to go get her some soup. She finally fell asleep. She glanced at the clock over the bar. Plus, …getting a cab this late on New Year’s Eve.”

He sent the bartender away with two-hundred dollars in his hand, telling him they would be departing shortly. The bartender grinned with some evil conclusion he had made of the scene and headed to the back once again.

“You have to come with me. You know they’ll kill you if they find out you helped me, don’t you?”

“Stacey, make the call to my brother. It’ll take him a few minutes to get here.”

He passed her the disposable phone, the number ready to dial. “Yes, I’m here…  We’re ready. She passed him back the phone even as she kept looking around, then at her daughter, and finally back at him. “I have never been more afraid in all my life. Please, take my daughter, and let me go back. I will kill them all, and she will be safe.”

He put his hand on her cheek. She shriveled and backed away a little. “There’s no going back. I watched as you pushed your daughter out through the window.”

“You were watching…?”

“Please, let me finish. I gave you a half hour to get on your way, and I climbed back in through the window you left open. You were right of course. They were all passed out, the extra strong dose of drugs and the crushed sleeping pills I provided did its job; even the other girl was fast asleep. Their early New Year’s party was meant to start early and end late. The extra dose of sleeping pills added to the dope made sure it ended early.”

He knew he couldn’t give her the details of what he did next; he couldn’t bring himself to believe it. Still it all flashed through his memory.

The immense amount of blood. He slit the girlfriend’s throat first. He didn’t want to see her eyes, but he knew who she was from the description he had carefully gathered from Stacey without her knowing his intention. She fell back onto the bed as the blood spurted out her neck. Her boyfriend was naked, his hand on his crotch, snoring in his stupor, a stupid smile on his face from some dream he did not deserve to have, the two lip rings that Stacey had described were holding onto something that had not made it completely in or out of his mouth. He pushed the pillow over his face and slit his throat, but he still sprung awake and grabbed his left hand. He tried to stab at the hand and did more damage to himself than the boyfriend. He finally managed a stab to the chest.

The second man in the bed tried to sit up. Covered from head to foot with etchings he looked much like an ad campaign for a tattoo parlor. He was the one who had raped her first.  He screamed an obscenity. A slice to his throat turned the screaming to gurgles and he slid back down on top of the other two dead bodies.

The other girl was by now awake. Stacey has said they called her Blondie. She scratched her blond hair as she tried to focus on what was happening. He screamed for her to get her clothes on and get out; she did so and was out of the house before the blood stopped dripping from his knife. His white shirt was covered in blood. He poured the two gallons of gas over the bedroom, lit the match and left. He removed his shirt and tossed it in a ball on the floor of the car, and put his black coat back on.

He left the rectory sedan a mile or so from the docks, wiped his blood seeping hand with the remaining clean spot on his shirt, and tossed the shirt and the knife into the bay, then headed for the bar.

He had almost lost his focus as he recalled the events. Stacey was staring at him, and so he hurried to continue. “I got the girl out of the house, but the girlfriend and her two boyfriends are dead; I burnt the house down so it will take some time if ever to figure out who they were. I leave it to God to figure out what they were.”

“Oh, Father, no.” She shook her head, again and again.

“Stacey, you never have to fear they will come for you.”

“Oh, Father, no. I was going back to kill them once my daughter was safe.”

“Yes, I know your secret. I knew you had no intention of saving yourself, only your daughter. I could not allow that.”

Head lights flashed in the window. “Let’s go. He picked up the child and carried her to where his brother waited. His brother tried to talk with him. He pushed him back inside the car. “No, no, please go.”

She looked him in the eyes. “Father, this was not…”

“Go. It’s what needed to be done.”

She kissed his cheek.

They sped away.

He touched his cheek; the cold wind brushed the warmth of the kiss away. A bell tolled; he looked out across the bay as a cruise ship pulled away from the pier. He turned and went to find his penance; a penance that was not something a few simple prayers would satisfy.

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Seals of the Ages

I have spent a fair amount of my life reading, and I joyously remember being read to as a child. I’ve dabbled in writing poetry and songs, short stories, and the like. I stayed away from writing novels for one reason only, well two: One I can’t type with more than two fingers, and more importantly, I can’t spell for the life of me. The internet and computers changed all that, and as the years wore on I could no longer contain the itch, and off I went tapping one key at a time, two fingers proving to eight others how little they were needed.

I recently completed my first series: Seals of the Ages, three books that stand alone, each with its own special story, yet connected in a bigger and hopefully more profound and intriguing way. I made some missteps along the way. Like most new writers I though myself ready and able to tell a story, all because I knew grammar and the difference between a verb and an adverb. I might give myself some credit, that the premise of my story was sound, but I had much to learn about the craft. As book two reached completion, and as I continued searching for perfection by taking courses and devouring everything I could find on the craft of writing, something clicked, not exactly a eureka moment, but damn close: first, there is no such thing as perfection, but there was a way to write better.

That moment made me tear apart my first book along with the second, and find an editor who would understand the strange place I had put myself in, and next beg his help that I might produce something that would be meaningful and enjoyable to the reader.

In the end I wrote five books to produce a series of three. The few readers I had (dare I say) captivated along the way were as confused as could be, and I offer a great thanks to them for allowing me to take my journey at my pace and in a manner where I could be proud of what I might accomplish.

About the books. It would appear I have a particular fondness for female characters without even having chosen to proceed that way. The story I started out to tell turned out to be more complex and far reaching than I had even planned. The first book, “The Druid and the Flower,”  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00STTTIAW went somewhat the way it was planned, yet the characters took hold and took me on a more elaborate journey than I had envisioned. This first book has a slower start than the other two that followed, such that even with the many changes I made having honed my craft somewhat, something inside me held me to leave the central part of the story alone, as it now belonged to the world. (albeit a small one).

The second book, “Ashima,”  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ABC6T2Y took on a life of its own. While the first book dealt with the time after the Great Collapse of civilization somewhere in the twenty-second century, the book, Ashima, introduced the seeds of Magic in a select few offsprings of the central characters from the first book. This second book does not sit and ponder what is to happen next, instead it dives in on a number of fronts, allowing a variety of circumstances and groups to converge at lightning speed on what can only be another Armageddon.

 

The third book, “Riddle of the Keep”   https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06WV867J6picks up where the second lets go. Well, yes, there is a twist there as well. The Guardians whom you meet in book one, and again in book two have done what was necessary for the Earth Garden (not a word used in any of the books) to survive. The story is fast paced and filled with surprise, the irony being that I caution readers to slow down and not miss a hidden agenda I have buried in the long journey to this point in time.

 

This third book brings the saga to a point where the Earth Garden is on a new and hopefully enlightened path. The journey goes on, and it might in some future undertaking have another story to tell, but the full breakdown and reintroduction of humanity along with some new attributed give a fresh start to a Garden that might have lost its way.

 

I hope you get a chance to read my books. I have put my very soul into their being readable and enjoyable. Just ask my editor; he now has to dye his hair to look young.
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He is nothing like me

Universe

Perhaps I look to others to define myself

My reflection in the mirror only points to a stranger:

someone I might know; but I have been with him so long I might not remember what makes him me.

That wrinkled brow, where did it come from?

The gray, the bitter pain inside my being, it was not put there by my will.

A deepening fear has grabbed hold of me.

That can’t be my doing.

No, the mirror gives a poor reflection

And so I look to find what best defines me.

Look at him, the beggar in the streets; there because of his own doing no doubt; nothing like me.

Look at him, wanting everything for everyone, as if some cornucopia got found; nothing like me.

Look at him, expecting to be treated like the rest of us as he burns the flag, but he is nothing like me.

Look at him, raging at a world he feels has betrayed his kind; nothing like me.

Look at him, kissing another man while walking down the street; he is nothing like me.

Look at him, telling me his God is dead; he is nothing like me.

Look at him, holding his gun like some phallus that has been cut from his body; he is nothing like me.

Look at him, ideas and speeches that alienate the masses; he is nothing like me.

Look at him, believing science has all the answers; he is nothing like me.

Look at him, believing God has all the answers; he is nothing like me.

Look at me, believing only what a special place in time might give reason for me to believe. Each one I saw; each one I observed; each one I listened too did their dirty work upon my soul, to where even the mirror does not know who I am.
And the least of what I should forget; eternity has had its way with me.

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Nocturne of the Red Wolf

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Courtesy of Pinterest

Someone posted a piece on the voice of the Gray wolf. I’m a gamer, even at sixty-five.  Many years ago I was part of starting a guild in the game of World of Warcraft,(WOW). The name of our guild was/is Nocturne of the Red Wolf. I have great memories of mostly young men and women coming together for a few hours, once or twice a week, and sharing a great deal of camaraderie as we fought the mighty evil lords of the dungeons. The guild members were kind enough to carry my meager efforts.  So, I write this for them.

He arrives with intent, but first he howls upon the moon filled night, when most of men and beast might be bedded down against the darkness.

It is his time to hunt and prowl the shadows. None who wait with anxious heart for the sun would understand.

Nor does he care for the stories that have gone to myth and risen again, that he should strike some ancient fear into the souls of men. If he were to ponder such things, he would deduce that it’s not his presence that swipes them cold with sweat when the howls penetrate the night; it is their own sins which devour them.

He ignites in them their memories—how festering the taint of evil doings can become, especially when such memories are reclaimed in the mid of night, where, desperately deprived of humanity, a soul finds itself consumed by the darkness.

He howls to tell his pack where he roams, or as a precursor of what he searches for, or perhaps a knowing tell to others like himself who may have strayed into his home; another time they might be welcome, but not tonight; he has too many matters to attend to, and the moon will not wait for what he must do.

And so he howls again. The answering howls sail in repetitious echo on a nocturne sheet of midnight where such deep soulful songs have found the only place they might be written.

 Even the Gray would not challenge him here; he might be the smaller of the two, but ability increases with age and he has been the leader for some time. His penetratingly high-pitched wail tells more than what he is; it tells who he is. Hunt by the moon, rest as the yellow sun lights up where eyes can see beyond the sense of smell. Four cubs to feed and another winter chill has set in to fight against his need, and made the rabbits go to ground, not only to protect themselves but to keep warm. There are no berries to sustain him; even if there where it is not food enough for a family of five, and a pack behind that must eat to survive.

He has not met more of his own kind for a long time, ten seasons maybe. Yet the Gray wolf and the coyote have come upon his path a number of times. One fight he had to rest a full moon’s wane into darkness before he could hunt again. From that incident he has learned to move and then stay awhile to establish a new territory, hunt, grow strong, and only then move on to repeat the process.

 One of his new litter would most certainly be leader by the time they find where they need to be. He little understands why he knows that, perhaps a far off scent of something on a distant northern wind that made its way this far down, perhaps a long lost dream of wondrous lights in the night sky, perhaps a great connection to the earth mother, her energy a mark of where his pack might be best cared for.

 To him it is becoming more urgent, many scars upon his hide no longer hidden by his winter fur. There has to be another place where noise and searing light does not invade the walk of night upon the land, to where the rancid smell of burning decay does not sail upon the evening breeze, to where the spoils of all that had been disregarded does not block the mountains in their pile upon pile to tear at the very heavens in silent screams of distorted and unnecessary death and decay.

 Tonight’s sky holds no magic lights. They are still far from where he must take them. No matter, tonight his need is more immediate. All who hear him sound his intention into the night will do as required. Any movement will be his and what he seeks.

The light of the full moon dances on his fur as he slips from tree to tree, a touch of red in the yellow light, a glimpse for what is to come.

His brothers should be with him, but he is desperate; his pups and mother must eat first, and it is upon him to provide. The pack would have to wait. He will do this alone. One of his howls told them that. It might be the howl is used to tell the pack to lay hidden, in wait, as he explores the territory, or challenges a foe. It matters not. They will stay put until he tells them different.

 The tipping of the offshore wind ticks in a change. The scents of what came his way from the south now drift in from the north, and so he changes his direction. It is against his nature to hunt upwind, there he would be the prey. At first he smells the remnants of his own travels as he goes back along the way he came, and then new scents catch his interest. It is unlike him to be tricked by a change in the wind. Anxious is not a usual part of his hunting skill. Yes, his cubs must grow, and one must become leader if they are to survive. But tonight holds none of that as an immediate possibility.

 No howls now, the night is silent: specks of red gliding past trees and boulders, barely moving the water as he crosses the stream, up a small hill, full motion. He knows when he hits that he must forfeit something in return for his need.

 He strikes and moves back, legs protected, without them he is useless as a bird without wings. The first trust had been to the neck, and he smells the blood. It excites his need to kill, only because it serves his need to eat. A sharp claw flashes across his hind quarter, and he fights against the urge to retreat and find easier prey—his payment had been given.

 Sometimes, there is a defining point in what must be and what might be. He rolls away and looks for the light of the moon, circling until it appears; there it it, the beast who fights him reflecting the moon’s glow in his eyes. He knows where he has to strike. No hesitation, a mighty leap, jaws as wide as might devour the entire universe. All of creation bears down on his determination. There is no longer a separation of prey and predator, they are locked in combat, one to eat, the other to die. Screams and growls announce the progress of the winner and the loser, and then stillness.

 The red wolf staggers to his feet and licks the blood upon his maw. Perhaps that a rabbit would serve easier prey, next time, might be his through should urgency not be his master. He pulls the carcass along the ground, the moon recording every movement. He stops but once to howl, and she answers in return. The cubs raise their heads and do the same, if lacking in skill; doing the best they can to call him home. He quickens his pace even as another test of his survival flashes from the moonlight upon his hindquarter.

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Holyholidays

Winter

Yesterday I took a ride into the city: lights and more lights, a glittering waste of precious energy, forgetting the money throw away on presents, and the lost time spent on the impossible task of fitting any one purchase to any one person. I wondered who had started all this? Probably some greed ridden shop where nothing sold for the year, and they needed some last minute effort to save the year.

Childhood. So odd to think that I was ever a child. So long ago. I held a belief in Santa Claus back then. Well, that was a different time. And then again that was not a time when I did the shopping; all the shopping was done for me. Well, not just for me, for my two brothers, and my sister; they were also part of the spree. My mom and dad did all the work. Did they enjoy those Christmases? They said they did, and one year there were sleight tracks and reindeer hoof marks. My father never explained how he had done it.

Ya, that was a time of magic. But that magic was nothing more than a child’s greed for new toys, and all kinds of food, and being treated special, and…

The first desperate beginning to Christmas was somewhere in the sixties, northern Vermont, and word came as my mother made a turkey soup from the leftover thanksgiving dinner. My brother, Des, was killed in action, in some place whose name I can no longer recall. That Christmas started out bleak. There was talk of not getting presents, of lights not being put up, or trees adorned. My father insisted that Des loved Christmas, and that all the chatter would be the complete opposite of what Des would have wanted.

I cannot remember a more sacred Christmas. The lights were all there, the tree, the presents. But there was something more. It was probably the last time that our entire family, with extended members, gathered for the Midnight Vigil. The red of Christmas was everywhere, bows and candles, scarves and hats, pins and broaches, all to signify the red heart of Christmas. All our family recognized who had given the greatest gift that year.

Of course things changed after that. The new progressive world took our family apart: My brother to Chicago, my sister to Boston, and I went off the Huston. The homestead stayed in Vermont, and there my mother passed away on a summer’s day, a woman in her middle age, but cancer knows no friend. That Christmas we all went to be with our father.

We talked among ourselves that it would be a difficult Christmas for dad, and we even told the children to be cognizant of his mood and demeanor.

It turned out to be the opposite of what we anticipated. The tree was adorned, the lights flashing, and presents where wrapped and underneath the tree. Dad explained that for him and our mom Christmas was a very special time of family and sharing, a time to allow abundance even if none existed, a time to proclaim love and compassion for the world. Dad added that one of the greatest gifts of family is tradition. The family allows one to belong, to be embraced by a common outpouring that might extend to all of humanity.

That Christmas was followed by many others where we gathered, rejoiced and renewed the grand ritual our family, now greatly extended, had come to embrace. My dad’s definition of family was anyone wanting to be a part of our tradition, so it was not uncommon to find new acquaintances singing along at the prerequisite carol session.

The anchor was of course our dad, and some years ago he passed away. The old homestead was soon sold off, and we siblings became busy with our personal lives, to where the ritual of gathering for Christmas was forgotten.

My two girls are married with young families of their own. Those kids have an abundance of toys all year long: play stations, x boxes, tablets, movies galore. I’m not sure anyone reads anymore.

I tend to shy away from the lights and all the pageantry, the greed as I see it. I insist that no one buy a present for me; it’s just a waste of money.

Then just this morning, something very strange happened. Two little monkeys showed up at my door. One of the little monkeys has a gleam in his eye, one that I often saw in my father’s eye when he was especially happy, as when we gathered for the holidays. This little monkey handed me a package as did the other, her tiny curls just like my daughter when she was at her age.

I opened up the packages, and each had the same message. “Our mother told us you need to come to our place for Christmas dinner. Your sister and brother will be there, as will  many more who want to, if only for a short while, change how we view the world.”

Perhaps Christmas has not changed at all. Perhaps it has been only me.

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Series Complete

Please don’t tell anyone, but my three book series, Seals of the Ages is complete. The last book, Riddle of the Keep, is back from editing, and will be available in the next few weeks.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image22414277

The first two, The Druid and the Flower, and Ashima take the reader on a special journey, some hundred years or so after the world collapses from an economic disaster. The few who remain build a new world, only to find that the remnants of the past cannot so easily be put aside. Each book stands on its own story, no cliffhangers at the end. That cannot be said about the end of any chapter, as each give good reason to jump into the next.

In the final book, Magic has come to humanity. But the Seals that were there to protect this newly healed world are about to fail. What was old must become new again; what was hidden must be show. An evil force wants nothing more than total destruction; one man, the Druid, and his small band of followers are the only obstacle in its way.

Loss, love, adventure, betrayal, Magic, conflict, soul gripping choices, and that’s just the first few chapters. So please, don’t tell anyone. Here is how the last book starts.

 Chapter 1 – The Hunt

 

From the Book of Last Days

What is the greater sorrow?

Is it when many grieve for the one,

or when one must grieve for the many?

 

“Sean, let me go with you, please?”

“For the umpteenth time, no.”

Brendan rubbed the horse’s nose. “He’s going to miss me. How’s he going to get a carrot without me around?”

Sean tightened the cinch strap. “You spoil him. He needs a rest from all your carrots.” The look on Brendan’s face told him he had said enough.

Brendan’s head went down. “Oh, come on. Let me come. Jason won’t mind.” He looked over at Jason, who was already in the saddle. “Will you?”

Jason looked down at Sean, and then back to Brendan. “It’s your brother’s decision. I would take you any—”

“No. How many times do I have to say it?”

Brendan kicked the ground and ran off, as his father and mother came out the door. His mother grabbed him and gave him a hug. “It’s okay, sweetie. We’ll make a rhubarb pie, and you can have all you want.”

“I don’t want any rhubarb pie. He’s mean. I hate him. And I hate his horse.” He tore away from his mother and ran inside the house.

“I’ll go talk to him,” Sean said.

“You’ve done enough,” his father put his hand up. “He’ll be fine.”

“Sorry.” Sean hung his head.

“He just wanted to go hunting with his big brother,” his mother added. “What do you expect when you tell him all those stories?”

“Next time. I promise.”

His parents exchanged glances. “The two of you go on,” his mother said.

Sean kissed his mom on the cheek and gave a shame-filled glance to his father. His father patted his shoulder. “Have a successful hunt.”

Sean and Jason headed off.

“Hey, Sean,” his father called. “Don’t forget about the vest.”

*****

The hunting had turned out more successful than planned. They got what they needed a few days ahead of schedule.

And last evening they had celebrated his birthday and the success of the hunt. He wore the vest as he had promised his father and mother. It was a vest that held a secret, a most important secret, they had informed him, which was why his father had reminded him to wear it on his twenty-first birthday.

 What a disturbing dream, but in some strange manner it wasn’t a dream. It came from the real world, from events he had lived; yet another part of him told him he could not have done so. His parents said there would be more to explain when he returned. There were things he needed to know and see, but first he must experience the knowledge of the vest. The vest was passing along real memories, impossible memories.

What the hell did castles have to do with what he needed to know? There were certainly no castles around here, or anywhere else in the world he knew of. The old Ruins were the remnants of a castle. When it had been built or who built it was now lost to the ages. His mother used to read them stories of those lost ages, stories filled with incredible technology: flying machines, boats that went under water, weapons of immense power, which in the end all but obliterated that age. It was hard now to tell the facts from the myth. His world had none of that; the most powerful weapon now was a sword or a bow. Of course, Magic was a whole other matter.

He chuckled. All this was probably a side effect from Jason’s bad cooking. He looked over to where Jason still snored on the other side of the small fire pit, a pit barely holding on to its last smoldering coals. He tossed a few pieces of wood and the fire started up again; a few larger pieces, and it was back to being a productive fire, chewing at the wood like an animal who hadn’t eaten for a long time. He grabbed the kettle, and walked down to the river. A morning wash was in order; the water was invigorating on his hands and face, with one last scoop of water back over his hair.

Such great autumn colors, the deep red of the oak leaves and the yellow of the birch stood out against the stands of evergreens and the rolling hills on the other side of the river. The oak looked stately and strong, which was why he preferred it when he needed to craft any intricate designs in his woodworking projects; its strength made it easy to work with.

Mixed in with the oak trees was a smattering of maples; that wood was hard and difficult to mold, but he so loved the fine grain, a grain that made any piece of furniture stand out. A few elms with their purple hue stood in a stately pose close to the riverbank; they added a special beauty to the landscape, and held a color in contrast to the reds, yellows, and orange that dominated the area. Farther down the river a young buck was taking a drink. On either side of the buck, a number of small trails went off into the woods, no doubt used by the local fauna to access the river. He wanted to stand there and take it all in until the sun went down. The buck lifted his head, caught a glimpse of him and darted back into the woods, a clear indication that he too should get on his way.

It was sudden and real, another flash inside his head, a blue light blocking the entrance to that castle door. Someone was there outside the door, someone he knew, but older … no, younger. It made no sense, two men in the same place, a younger and older version of the same person, someone he knew … get a grip. Okay, he would do the cooking from now on.

Could it really be that the vest was planting memories inside his head? His father had explained there would be things to show him on his return, things that made up his heritage.

He filled the kettle and headed back, placed it on the fire, and readied the dark roasted beans for a morning brew. He smiled. His mother had ground the beans for him, saying he would be too sleepy to do it himself. He glanced at where the bucks were skinned and drained, hanging high as they cured, the skins drying nearby in the crisp autumn air.

Jason sat up. “Mornin’. Brew ready?”

“Slow down, big fella,” Sean answered. “I was up half the night keeping the fire going so you wouldn’t freeze to death.”

“You just like watching the stars,” Jason said. “And you need me for an excuse.”

“Watching stars. It’s amazing I could see any with the noise hammering my head from your snoring,” Sean said. “I did have some weird dreams, however.”

Jason made his way to the river for his wake-up wash. Sean had the morning brew made and poured when he returned. “Here you go.”

Jason took the mug and sat on a piece of log near the fire. “That dream of yours … you probably had a nightmare about the last buck we took down.”

Sean bowed his head. “Ya, I felt bad about that one. Didn’t know he had a buddy.”

“They all have buddies, or mates, or parents, or whatever bucks have. He’s food, not fun, you know that.” Jason took a gulp of his brew, and threw a piece of wood on the fire.

“I know. Still, the other buck looked at me as his buddy fell, daring me to kill him as well; it was not one of my finer moments.” He looked over to where the venison hung. He had insisted he skin and prepare him alone, and Jason had accepted what he’d needed to do.

“Look, you and I know that if we find a fawn while on the hunt it’s going home with you; that goes for lost young wolves, foxes, wild turkeys, and even baby skunks, not to mention the blinker. Your brain might be six feet above the ground, but your heart is much closer. And if my memory is correct, I’ve been on hunts with you where each of those events has happened.” Jason refilled his mug, and topped off Sean’s. “So don’t be too hard on yourself. Killing’s hard stuff, but necessary.”

“Ya, I suppose you’re right … I’d almost forgotten about that blinker mouse.” He shook his head. “Sniffy … ya, Sniffy. He loved to disappear and then reappear again. That mouse knew he had Magic. He hung around for quite some time before my dad made me let him go.”

“I wonder why,” Jason said. “One second he would be on the floor, and the next second he could be in one of your pockets looking for a treat.” A hot spark flew down near his boot. He stomped it out. “Well, all the meat we need is hanging over there. You want to head back home?”

“Hell, no. Plus the meat can drain for a couple of days in this cold. And it’s my birthday week,” Sean answered. “I could stay out here forever. You got something you need to get back to?”

“All right, then. It’s not our fault we’re such good hunters.” Jason laughed. “And our families don’t expect us back for another couple of days … you going to tell them you’re moving out?”

“I’m not moving out. Just need a place of my own. A room next to the wood shop. I want some alone time.”

“Try living at my place. Even the house gets into the screaming,” Jason said.

“Would drive me crazy.”

“I love it. It’s my family. Been that way all my life.”

Sean shook his head. “I just need alone time. Or maybe I’m selfish.”

“What do you want for breakfast? Bacon, or bacon? Eggs, or eggs?” Jason returned with a cast-iron frying pan, ample strips of bacon, and one big hand cradling four eggs, with room to spare for another one or two.

“I love my family, too. But it’s time to get out on my own.”

“We are out on our own. Even have to cook our own breakfast. You made the brew, I’ll make the breakfast. Sit back and be alone while I cook you up a feast … Oh, what was that dream of yours? About women, I hope, and one of them playing with that curly hair of yours.”

“Nothing so exciting. It wasn’t a dream. I thought so at first, but no. This was different. It’s still there—a vivid memory of an enormous stone building, like a castle. Magic, of some sort, was at play, and a person who was both young and old. And, get this, I was totally aware of why he was that way.”

“Must be my cooking,” Jason said.

Sean laughed. “Now, there’s a thought.”

They finished breakfast, cleaned up, fed the horses and the pack animals, checked the meat and hides, and replenished the wood supply for their fire.

Sean had already tucked his birthday vest back inside his pack, so as not to soil it. An older, darker-colored vest now covered his shirt, one more suitable for hunting and working.

By midday, minus their bows, they were back out tracking animals, with a minimal invasion of the animals’ habitat, as their real hunting was over. Late afternoon they went for a ride along the river, did a little fishing, and carried back a few hardy brook trout for dinner. As the sun dipped to the west they were back at the fire, each with an ale in hand.

“What’s next for you?” Jason asked. “Set up a woodworking shop here in good old North Wind Clearing?”

Sean clinked his mug against Jason’s before he took a swallow. “Well, maybe that trip we talked about.”

“Port Tern?”

“Ya. Check out the craft schools, learn a little more about woodworking, maybe metallurgy—I could use a good sword. Plus, it’s time I saw a big city. Time you did.”

Jason nodded. “I’m in. But Vera’s not going to like it.”

“We’re just friends.”

“You might want to let her know that,” Jason said. “My guess is she sees it differently.”

“I’ll talk to her before we go … It’s time we both went our own way.” Sean took a long measure of his ale. “I hate confrontation.”

“If you’d stick to an ale and a kiss only now and again, you wouldn’t be in this mess. And more ale than kisses.” Jason had a grin on his face that lit up like a harvest moon. “We’re both destined to inherit our farms from our fathers, so I say we get a year or two of travel in before we fulfill our duties.”

“Oh, I know what’s expected of me. But maybe I can do more with woodworking than I can with a farm. Maybe my little brother should get the farm; he loves the place even more than I do.”

“He loves his big brother. We should have brought him along; you—”

“No, he would have been a nuisance,” Sean said.

“Okay, okay. Someone is feeling too smothered by his family.”

“Sorry. I love him. I love them all. But I need to be alone for a while and sort out my life.”

“Hey.” Jason picked up the keg and refilled Sean’s mug. “This is getting way too serious.” He raised his mug. “To adventure, ales, and new kisses.”

Sean took another long gulp. His friend’s heart was as big as he was tall and broad. And his friend loved to hunt as much as he did. Leather boots up to the knees, a knife tucked in the right one, pants down inside the boots, a leather belt and a leather tunic; he very much looked the part of a hunter. Best friends didn’t come any better. “You’re the best.” He held up his mug. “And to my family, may they always know I love them and never know that they love a selfish brat.”

*****

A few days later and their week of hunting was over, the time gone by much too quickly, and the last few days a grand vacation; they were now on their way home. He should be jubilant, and he was, but as he rode along he could not shake the notion that something was amiss. What could be wrong?

He let go of the feeling, hummed a song as the horses trotted along. There was nothing to worry about—a beautiful day, an easy gait for the stallions. He would have his own place, talk to Vera, and maybe find some woodworking course in Port Tern.

 It was a little before noon when they arrived at the diverging path that gave them each a different direction home. They split the meat and pelts, slapped each other on the back, gave hugs that comrades would give to comrades, and headed off on their separate ways.

Sean smiled now as he rode on alone; a picture of his family came into focus. He would soon show them the bounty of his efforts; they would be pleased, and later, just before bedtime, he would share the stories of the hunt with his little brother.

The familiar smell of the cool salt air hit him as he turned around the last set of hills. He halted his horse and pack mule and took a deep breath. “Ah.” He patted his stallion on the neck and continued on past the huge lake where he often fished. Maybe he would take his brother fishing tomorrow, after all the chores were done. His brother was such a pest, but he loved him more than life itself. He knew he should be spending more time with him, and he would from now on; it was one of the things he had promised himself as he sat around the fire pondering his next journey. Down a low hill, and the road allowed him a glimpse of the ocean. He was almost home.

He entered the Bearagan farmstead and dismounted; odd, a dead silence. Where was Frizzy? She should have barked her welcome by now. Blood all over the steps leading to the house. Something was wrong, very wrong. The main door stood open. He ran inside. It was as cold inside the house as outside. The door had been open for some time. More blood, Brendan on the floor. Sean’s legs gave way, and he crumpled to his knees. “Nooooooo…” His brother’s face was cold to the touch, the color gone from his cheeks. So much blood; where had it all come from? There, a stab wound, and another, stab wounds all over his small body. The tears came, streaming down his face. What had happened? His heart pounded; he shook his head and rubbed the tears away. His mother had slid down the wall, one hand still holding a knife, blood on the wall, one of her arms completely cut off. Should he pick it up? Oh, dear gods! His two sisters lay nearby, their hair matted with even more blood. They had suffered the same fate. A few inches from his older sister’s head, a hair band sat in a pool of blood. He looked down again and touched his brother’s chest; bending low he kissed his forehead. The rusty essence of blood saturated the air. He sat back on his heels and shut his eyes. He gulped, pain exploding in his chest; a silent scream made his head pound even more, forced his mouth wide open, his face arcing to the ceiling. He rocked back and forth, holding on to his brother, forced his eyes open again and stared at the scene, helplessly transfixed in some impossible moment that would not pass. He wiped more tears from his face.

He looked from one family member to another. A jolt of realization hit him; his father was not here. He pushed to his feet, and rushed from room to room. “Dad … Dad?” He continued calling as he wandered from the house to the barn, and there he stopped abruptly, one more scene straining to break his grip on reality—his father lying faceup on the ground, sword in hand. Beside him, Frizzy lay on her side, blood on her maw, her fur covered in blood. He fell to his knees for a second time, picked up the sword, and gently placed his father’s hand upon his chest to meet the other hand already there. He held the sword against his own chest, opened his mouth, and looked up, making no sound other than a desperate release of air.

He could tell from the freshness of the blood that they had been killed only hours before, sometime before the light of morning. A broken lantern lay next to his father’s body. It had all happened at a time when he should have been here to help protect them.

He cried some more for them, and then he cried for himself. His selfish act would forever haunt him.

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Transition

The wind has more to it than summer might want to be a part of; this is no gentle breeze, soothing and soft to usher in a sunny day where children might frolic in the park, or an old man with shorts and sandals might walk his dog in a slow stole, so slow that the dog would look up now and again to let the old man know they were all but not moving.

Hawk

Of course there were signs of what was ordained to happen before this morning. Not an omen of ill winds, though some might see it that way. It is more a celebration of what the summer has accomplished.  Some weeks ago the dogwood and the red oak had turned crimson along with the maples; the birch and hickory, not to be outdone had picked gold and bright yellow as their favorite hue, with the mountain maple picking a color in-between the others. Even until now, they have all held their leaves. One or two might have fallen, but the rest have held fast, a small rest in time and change where one season might get ready for the next.

It makes me wonder if there should be a time for people to ponder their seasons with greater speculation and planning; after all, there is but one turn of that wheel, and there is so much to learn should progress be measured by knowledge gained, or time well spent, or better still how much love was given to all that was encountered, especially should that measure be exacted by having lived the opposite of such encounters.

Nature does not do it by measurement, though I have heard that the turning of the leaves might be a signal for creatures that live with the trees to prepare for winter; the trees care about what sit upon their branches and live upon their leaves, to at least give them counsel of things to come. Much smarter than humanity.

We give more importance to the next sale of shovels and plows, pictures and warnings of old storms, fear of some cold that would not be feared but for having been delivered in a manner to do just that, as if we do not know enough to shelter from the cold as we do from the heat, such nonsense allowing us no place to sit on the bridges that must be crossed over, no time to contemplate, ponder, meditate on done and yet to be done. It’s why the time moves so quickly at the end. Where once only pulled along by what might be, now we are pushed and pulled as in some frantic race, pushed by all behind who dare not look at what is to come, pulled by a dire need to lay it all down, find refuse from what is finally understood might well have been a meaningless pilgrimage to nowhere.

The seasons know best, and the wind is purposeful in its job. There’s no reason to rush ahead to what is destined to be; let the transformation be as natural as day into night, or night into day. It’s not to destroy, rather to be what it is, an arbiter of change; and so, the leaves sail down and rattle on the ground, sweet smells lift and make the big Dane sniff the air. The Rat Terrier is more concerned about what makes the leaves move—monsters maybe. I chuckle with delight when a tiny whirlwind of leaves gives the Rat Terrier reason to jump to where you might think his next jump will be on the big Dane’s back, for refuge. Of course it could be the pup in him is having fun with the boy in me. The big Dane lays down on a clump of leaves and takes it all in; his time in dog years is past mine. He’s saving his energy to race the Terrier about the yard but still another round.

The sun gives a special sparkle to the ripples on the pond where leaves have gathered to take a final washing. This is a special time, transition from one season to another. The next season is no better no worse than the one before; each knows its duty and its way. Preparation is the key. You cannot take the leaves of summer into the heavy snows of winter, every birch knows that, and many bear the scars of having misread the change.

We could learn much from nature, were we not so human.

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A Leaf

A Leaf

by

Russell Loyola Sullivan

Autumn

A small buckled leaf

It skates across the deck

Bits of green still cling

Perhaps it is early to the fall

There’s a crackling dryness from the sound it makes as it moves

The brisk wind that carries it tells only of winter

The chipmunks know the truth of it

Or again it might have been the nuts that tipped them off

And so we take the time to tell each other

I know the drill but seem less inclined to join in all the preparation

Perhaps I do know more than I could tell

I merely pause and hope it might slow down for me

Before a long repose might find its rightful place to claim its time

You don’t think of such happenings in spring or summer

It’s our way to believe that things will not die when growth should be in favor

Yet that too my time has though me to be weary of

Still you best not be out of kilter with the ways of nature

Like having your dinner for breakfast

Or your breakfast for dinner

Such nonsense that even a child might see though the silliness

A shiver to the wind

That’s my acceptance

I enjoin the coolness

Anticipate the hoar frost to come

Smoke upon the ponds

Stillness as even the trees return to slumber

I will find them there

We might find each other

Let me see all your colors in full bloom

Let me feel the wind upon my face

Let me smell the lingering decay

Let me lay with you in sweet repose

Let me awake one more time

Where we might do it all again

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Going into the Darkness

oil-lampIt’s one of my favorite times of year, when the light gives way to the darkness. Growing up in Brent’s Cove, Newfoundland, without electricity, cars, or TV, it was even more profound. As children we were in bed by eight o’clock, nine at the latest in the summer, and with that one-half hour special time in Newfoundland, the light easily lasted until nine or so during those summer months.

As winter clocked in, and the hands moved back, the darkness would sweep in at four. On went the oil lamps and maybe a Tilley lamp for its extra brightness. For children that meant we were up even after the lights went on, a novelty, a feeling of being a bit adult.

Of course the only light in the cove would be those lamps, and they barely cast a glow more than a few feet out the windows. Such a rare occasion where clouds had gone missing, the view of looking up in a crisp autumn sky allowed a few of the stars that would put Disney World to shame.

The kitchen would be where we all gathered: supper, schoolwork, prayers, the radio, even bedtime stories were told in the kitchen. All the other rooms would be chilly if not cold, as the only heat was the kitchen stove, and the only other room to get any heat was the funnel room directly above, from the hot smoke as its moved up the funnel and out through the roof. There was an oil stove in the back of the house, but that was only lit on the coldest of days. Each of us had a hot water bottle to be tossed under the sheets a few minutes before bed time.

All of the windows were single pane, and Jack Frost left many a painting on them as the kitchen fire died down. But while the fire lasted, the yellow light of the kitchen bathed us all in its glow, and the wood stove drove back the whistle of the winds attempting to creep in.

Curtains were drawn, even though there were no neighbors so close as to even need curtains; yet, it meant the family was tucked in and cozy, as we indeed where.

And so I love going into the darkness, even to this day. Yes, it also holds the holidays and the holy days, the celebration, the sharing, the merriment that is so special to that time of year.

This time of year reminds me that we are indeed the sum of our experience, the places we have been, the people we have known, and the choices we have made. Going into the darkness is a time to reflect on what our life has meant.

I looked out this morning, my dished done, my coffee made by six, ready to slide the door open and allow the dogs to wander about as I enjoy my first few sips. The darkness stopped me. Yes, it was an overcast day, and so it had snuck up on me. It gave me pause to think what this dark season might offer.

I asked the universe for a favor. Please allow everyone to at least once find serenity and peace as they go forth into the darkness.

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Retribution

He walked past a barroom. Barrooms used to be a place where he could find escape and solace; not so much for the wine and beer, rather it offered the chatter of the living and the lively, even if the reality of the situation might in fact be different. And the lighting was always to his liking, dark woods and plenty of shadow where yellow light ate up the spaces in-between the solid and the ethereal: the atmosphere which gave no care to daylight and what it might want. Here was where the nighttime kept its vigil, no matter the time of day.

Cat for Friday 13th

That was all before a greater darkness found a way inside his already lost soul, darkness so deep and penetrating that silence would be a resounding clamor of unbearable screaming in comparison. It would be easy to blame it on a world gone mad with its insatiable greed, gluttonous consumption, immeasurable waste, venomous hate, and its blind devotion to an absurd self diagnosis on the value of self. It might be easier still to assess no blame, but to allow that what had unfolded must unfold. It was the nature of things.

The pain in the right hand had all but dissipated. Ice did that to pain. One would expect that warmth would be best, as warmth was what the soul best fed on. Maybe the body craved cold in derision of what the soul might want. A smile spread across his face. This was as close as he would ever come to being a philosopher. He shook his hand and moved the fingers. Good enough for what he needed to do.

He passed another barroom and turned down a dimly lit street towards the docks. He could smell the smoke and stale beer from this one; this bar did not follow the rules. What he was looking for did not follow the rules. It would appear he was in the right place.

Retribution would not change what he had left behind. There was no going back to that place: green eyes, as emerald green as a southern ocean, with a smile that … that would be no more. His fault in her death was what had claimed the last piece of him. No matter that all of his planning, all of his ability, all of his cunning, all of his efforts would not have changed the outcome. And that alone lay all the blame upon him.

He would join her if the gods had not blocked such a reasonable and doable escape. More than join her he would have made a grand exit and let the world see what retribution should really look like. He would have given them a display to equal the burial of Pompeii, and then end himself.

It was years before he even knew they had a daughter, a daughter who did not know about him. That didn’t matter. The dark past that had so engulfed him and the woman he had loved so dearly now came to seek the last link of the two of them. He could not let that happen.

No lights now.  No sounds. A pale moon rising above the hills on the other side of the harbor gave all the light he needed. He found a place to sit where the devil himself would not be able to find him, and there he waited. Minutes turned to hours, and midnight had him stand and shake off the stillness. The lights appeared. He knew who she was: the Star Sampler. Four decks high, four captains who would sail her round the clock. She wouldn’t dock here. He knew that. She would sit at a pier full of light where men and women would scurry to serve who sat below deck.

He boarded the small dingy and started the motor, an almost silent motor. He hit the shadow aft of the huge vessel, and was onboard even before she cut her engines and commenced sliding into the dock.

What happened next was planned and carried out to precision. He slipped back into his dingy and pulled back into the shadows even before any alarm was sounded. The six of them where here for a meeting on how to best find and capture his daughter. Her skills had been touted over every media facility. A girl with special ability. A girl that would change the world for the better.

He knew better. She was no longer available for appearances. The six who came to plan how they would claim her would miss their first meeting. The one who had ordained the meeting was next, but that needed a different outcome. He shook his hand. It appeared he still needed more ice: perhaps the bar with the stale beer and smoke.

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