Friday, May 27, 2005

Traversing the Wilderness: Works In Circulation

a few characters are out and about right now, hoping to pick up a warm trail. these include a team of alien scientists studying a miniature jungle, a girl named Aggie who plays vivid and disturbing games of imagination, a space-trucker with a problematic cargo, St. Francis and the creatures of the Italian woodlands, a lonely little girl who meets a very strange horse, and a Celtic warrior named Fionn mac Cumhaill. three new stories begin the entry--an elderly man discovers an alien in the woods of northern Canada; an aging guard protects an abandoned alien palace; a Haitian spirit intervenes in the life of a woman in despair;

here are a couple of samples from those:


Norman was walking slowly homeward when the explosion sounded. He stopped in confusion, looking around for a flash of lighting. To his mind came the sharp image of the Thunderbird, wings the length of a longhouse, her eyes clapping open and shut and flashing light across the sky. His heart pounded. For a second he was sure that she was there.

He stood quietly, listening, scanning what he could see of the sky. At that moment, distant smoke began to rise above the trees. Somebody was in big trouble, and they were far enough out that probably no one else had seen. He made up his mind without stopping to think about it. He found a good little fir tree and hung up his bags of groceries as high as he could, then headed through the woods in the direction of the crash.

Norman walked, and he walked. His hip began to ache where the logging truck had hit him years before, sending him spinning off the highway where he was working. He paused for a moment and rubbed his hip awhile, then carried on through the bush. Soon he would meet up with a trail that led to the river, and he could follow that a ways, but the last bit would be tough, and it was already late. He wasn't going to make it there tonight.

It was hard hurrying along in this old body. Once it had not been so difficult. That was so long ago he didn't worry about it anymore. He just carried on, puffing a little on the hills and moving steadily through the growing evening. He joined with the river, picking his way through brush along the bank, making it at last to a deer trail that headed for awhile in the direction he wanted to go. But the light began to fade finally and long before the moon was in the sky, he wasn't able to go on. He needed rest, and his hip was throbbing mercilessly.

Norman smiled to himself as he found a little spot to make a bed. He remembered those old days with his Dad when a hunting trip with no bed but his jacket was no big deal—he could sleep anywhere back then. Now, well, he would be a little stiff in the morning, he bet.

He pulled his bedding together from the trees and brush around him. He lay down carefully under the boughs of a fir, after brushing the cones and sticks away. He used his arm for a pillow and more boughs as a blanket, and curled up on his side, hoping he wouldn't get too cold.

Claude and the Henry Moores

As time went on Claude got used to the fact that people didn't see him, and he started not to see them, either. He'd "Please don't touch, Ma'am," whenever necessary and leave it at that. 

He read all the labels by all the paintings he guarded and he picked up the guided tour things, too, when they were available, and listened to them. He took to ducking in to the members' lounge when a certain girl was working and getting her to make him up a lox and cream cheese sandwich with a little crème caramel on the side. (Never ate like that at home!) 

He went for smokes with an older lady named Hannah out in the park on his lunch breaks and listened to her talk about her kids and that crap husband of hers, Kim, or sometimes he would eat his lunch with Benny Chan. Chan even invited him out to drink brandy and play cards one night, but Chan was a hard-living guy, and Claude didn't even like to stay up past ten, so that never really panned out. But the long and the short of it is, he got used to the place, and stopped worrying about feeling more special than he ever had.

Whenever he had the opportunity, though, he would hang out with the Henry Moores. The more he did, the more he felt he knew about them. He came to think of them by various names. Carla was the big honking blonde (well, okay, in his mind she was blonde) known as Draped Reclining Woman. By her date he could see she was old enough to be his mother but he knew in fact she was old enough to be his ancestor, back in the caves, if you know what I mean. Yet among the Giants, she was actually pretty young.

And the butt biter, well he turned out to be a real old yeller, maybe a light year or so old, maybe older—what could Claude know about a thing like that?—but way older than anything he could imagine, and yes he was a bit testy, old butt biter, whose real name, it came to Claude one icy winter morning, was probably Frank.

Standing Guard: a Vignette

As it cooled, Riddala went to the open door and out to the balustrade, to look across the vast lawns. There, once, on the far side of this great square courtyard, had been scented gardens that had so fascinated her when she was a young guard. Then, the Palasains were here in great numbers—not just in this building but everywhere, living their grand and boisterous life, building endlessly, exploring the land for its riches, sharing their wealth of culture with the people they'd discovered here. People who now proved themselves only thieves. People who would grin at her cynically when they glimpsed her at a window or a gate. Their hovels reaching nearly to the palace doors.

Riddala released a deep breath that might have been mistaken for a sigh, and returned to her cooled mush. She seated herself at the table where once such delicacies had been prepared—she smiled so slightly at the memory—vast quantities of Palasain foods, exotic fruits and animals, piled in impossible ways to resemble creatures from their world, jellied archways over crystallized cakes, tureens of satiny broths where living creatures swam. It dazzled the people—dazzled her, but the dignity she wore never let the wonder show. Yet even a guard could not help but glance at the marvels created in those days, and be amazed.

The gruel satisfied. The meatier chunks sustained. She rose and rinsed the bowl and pot and poured the water down a rusted drain, poured a few fingersful more of water after it to send the last bits away.
Standing, she folded the paper once more and put it back into her tunic, straightened her uniform again, and proceeded with her rounds.

Kouzen Zaka

And there was Denys, a neighbour and then a friend, and the growing sense that he was more than a farmers' activist, more than a man who dedicated his life to breathing health into his community, that he was almost a spirit of the land. She tried to explain this to him on one occasion when they were seated near cannons on a hill, old cannons built by frightened French who eventually sacrificed themselves to the violence they had made, men and women who had seen and despised and been savagely cut down.

He had laughed. A spirit he was not, but he knew a few, if she ever wanted to meet them, and strangely, although she desperately wanted to, she always declined. She would bring the question up, then dance evasively away, and he only smiled and moved on to other things. Denys was a patient man with only one agenda, and it was clear for anyone to see. It was clear in the early mornings and the late nights and the sleeves rolled up and the endless time to listen to any old man or child or work-worn woman who stopped him in his passage through their day. 

Yet Denys was not a spirit after all. He tired and he might have wept, if weeping had been an option, but instead he poured a little kleren on the concrete and sipped the fiery drink, and wiped his hand across his eyes and finally slept.Until the day he rose from his bed and washed himself and dressed carefully as every day and stopped by the home of Rochelle to walk with her awhile. 

As they stepped back into the street, he drew back to allow an urgent man to pass, and fell with a sickening cry beside her, his belly slit by an unseen knife.

Rochelle dropped to her knees and gathered him furiously, crying out, "No! No!!!" and pressing a helpless hand to his flesh in an attempt to hold it all together, a futile attempt to seal it back on itself, to roll back the seconds and unmake the attack, and as her own reality rushed violently away Denys, without a final word or glance, succumbed to a faint and on toward death.


ChiBraa sat with the slender, glass-clear jimns coiling and uncoiling around her body, her eyes set in the deep trance she could achieve in moments with the jimn, while I set about preparing their meals (a bit of slud and drunn) and, setting them aside, preparing hers and mine. 

She was a tungdra emissionist, ChiBraa was, and serious in her work. She examined the emanations patterns of the vast but miniscule jungle we had come to study. By individual, by species, and in association with the emanations of other organisms and the environment—it was her job to tease out each and begin to make some sort of sense of it all. 

It was a mind-crushingly complex and subtle field, from where I sat. A taxonomist only; that was me. Collect, dissect, and classify. Collect, dissect, and classify. Collect some more and return to the collection and redissect, reclassify. All the little informations were beautiful to me, from the molecular to the phenotypic, and balancing them one against the other was my favourite way to pass the time. 

It was a soothing pursuit and far less ethereal than hers but I was well aware that there are many strands to Mother Dextra's Web. I could only cling to my own, while watching others somewhat bemusedly as they clung to theirs.

After Hours at the Black Hole

He would have thrown away his own mother (he liked to joke) if she hadn't thrown him away first, for a price, of course, and a handsome one. He had towed space dirt of every kind, from the rubble of abandoned colonies to the floating jetsam of war—living or very, very dead—to the entrails of planets that had somehow gotten tangled up in somebody's personal space. 

Whatever—he didn't mind. But today's cargo was a whole nother thing, and it worried him.So, okay. Maybe those trusty black holes had swallowed everything so far without a burp. But he thought he'd spotted some energy shimmering where it ought not to last time circling Old Guzzler here, not just harmless vaccuum fluctuations, but something else. It was nothing he could pin down instrumentally and he let it go and puttered back for his next "desperately urgent" something that needed to be lugged away.

Now here he was, circling slowly at a distance of a handful of lightyears, a long trailer of ruinous lives in his wake, and he was nervous.

The White Worm of Dun na Gall 

Fionn passed one last day in search of Sabha in the southern woods, but he dared risk no more time than that. When he arrived at the twilight hour no closer to her than before, he tore a strip of cloth from his tunic and tied it to the branch of a thorn tree and prayed. To Oengus the God of Love, to Brigit for protection, to his own dead mother, to light Sabha's way. With a fallen heart he took leave that evening, and set out for Leinster and his mother's command. He arrived at the plain of Almu as the sun slid behind a long tattered bow of cloud. When the cloud had departed, so had the sun, lost again beyond the far hills.

He didn't need to search for his mother's body. In a line with the setting sun he saw on the plain a small group gathered together round a platform, and on that bier he made out the low mound of a fallen soldier laid beneath her green cloak. He walked toward them slowly, Bran and Sgeolan not leaving his sides, their long loose-hipped gait measured against his own. Soon he could make out the figures around his mother's bier. 

The Morrigna, three raven-black battle queens, standing like tall stones on three sides of Muirne's fallen form. Large, grey-bodied crows perched on their shoulders as they stood. The central queen had but a single, frightening eye, and a single powerful leg on which she stood without a quiver. As he walked closer he saw their eyes fixed hard on him, but he was not distracted. His own gaze was bound to his mother, and the upwelling of grief in him was even harsher than in losing Sabha, his wife. 

When he came up beside her, his eyes were blurred with sorrow. "Mother," he said. He lifted a hand to her uncovered face, black on one side with matted hair and blood. At her throat was the golden torc she always wore. He pulled back her cloak, examining her wounds, many and grave. She still wore the plaid tunic and leggings she had fallen in. Her hair was limed and her mangled hands lightly grasped the hilt of her sword, whose point stood out beyond her straightened knees. Her flesh, several days dead, was a misery, and the colour of her garments indecipherable for the blood. As he beheld her, one of the crows drifted from a Morrigna's shoulder to the corpse, and settled on the cage of her chest. It slipped it's beak into a crusted gash and tugged on the crumbling flesh.

"You have tarried," said the one-eyed one. He looked at her. 

"Morrigan," he said, taking a breath as he prepared to continue. "Do not waste her time," she hissed. 

Neamhain and Badh stared hard on her either side. Fionn closed his mouth. Nodded, eyes lowered. To a Goddess, even a leader of warriors was but a servant. To a Goddess protective of her kin, even a man who was half-God had best pay heed. 

The Morrigan pointed to a leather bag beneath the bier. "You have one night to rest in Almu hill. We will stand with your mother in final vigil. When you return in the morning, place her in this bag, and carry her with haste to Dun na Gall." She thrust her head low and forward on her outstretched neck. Her very cloak and mane of hair seemed to rise like feathers. "Do not delay." 

He was a man torn in two. Yet she was right. He would no longer play this fidchell with himself. He bent his head beside his mother's and clutched her horrid clothes. In the darkness of her blood-stiff hair, he began to weep at last.


Finding Creatures

This was worrying. She was far too big for me to make her follow. I could try to lead her, I guessed. She had no bridle or rope. I walked hesitantly back to her and looked at her glossy flank. I'd have to touch her. Pray God she didn't stomp me to death like I'd been warned horses might. I did a quick sign of the cross. "Hail Mary, full of grace," I whispered, the way Mom always did when she had to do something scarey. "The Lord is with thee...."

Then I reached a hand out, oh, so tentatively, and put it to her skin. It was very warm, wrinkly and finely haired, and it shivered under my touch as if I was a fly tickling it. Her long nose turned slowly toward me and raised to my hand. The great nostrils flared and sucked in my smell and blew out her own smell. She reached further and sniffed around my eyes, then opened her big lips to nibble my hair. I pulled back in surprise and she dropped her nose to look at me again. Then her head swung back to the weeds and the clippers of her jaw began tearing them, the tongue pushing them back in her mouth, the molars grinding, the plants moving back and forth as she chewed. I stared, fascinated, then remembered my goal. Before I could do one more thing, though, a voice rose from across the garden: my mother standing on the porch.

"Bernadette!! Come and get it!"

Lunchtime! She was looking around, her hand over her eyebrows to shut out the sun. I panicked, looking over at the giant at my side. There was no way to hide her. I was going to lose her, too!

Mom's eyes swept over us unseeing and carried on to the edge of the woods. She peered as if she could see down into the ravine and took a big breath, yelled even louder.

"BERN-A-DEEEEETTE!!! Come and get it!!! " Then she sighed, turned around and went back into the house.

I was stunned. I looked at the horse. The horse looked at me. I couldn't think of a thing to do. But a moment later, my body did it for me. There was just no way not to come when my mother called.

She was just coming out the door again, having put on her outdoor shoes, when I reached the end of the garden.

"There you are!" she said, looking relieved. "You had me worried. Come on in. Your soup's getting cold."

I couldn't resist glancing back at the horse. She was still there, watching our progress, munching. I was dizzy with surprise. To Mom, there was nothing unusual there at all.

"Were you in the ravine?" She asked. "See any dinosaurs?"

"No, Mom," I said quietly. Then, with a little smile, "I saw a horse, though."

"Really?" she said, looking surprised. "You weren't at the road, were you?"

I couldn't resist. "No, Mom. She's right there." I pointed to the horse in the garden.

Mom looked quickly, then smiled. "You monkey!" she said, and started off down the hall. "Get a move on, Cheeky. I have egg sandwiches for you, too," she called back. "Now hurry up."

I got to the front door and wiped off my feet. I didn't dare look back another time.

St. Francis and the Green Man

...But the true Francis, the one who gradually emerged over years of trial and prayer and self-reflection, was a man bathed in God, who slept God, dreamt God, sang God to the creatures of the woodlands, who saw God in everything. To him, creatures, persons, elements of wind and water and fire, even death itself were his brothers and sisters, were himself, his universe—for his Lord had made them all. Despite his troubles with his brethren, who would pull against the ways that Jesus preached and Francis returned to, of owning nothing and following only Him, with the church elders who called for houses, land and a semblance of normalcy, despite the weakness and pain in his ailing body, Francis, though not at all carefree, was a happy man, utterly in love with the Christian God.

But at some point in his life a thing happened that could not be accounted for.

It was when Francis was living as a hermit in the hills not far from Assisi. Already he was personal friends with the hare of Greccio, who trailed after him like a loyal pet, and the wolf of Gubbio, the kingfisher and fish of Lake Rieti, the pheasant of Siena and the cicada of the Portiuncula, who would come when Francis called him to sing the praises of God while sitting in Francis' palm. At a time when he was weakened by years of troubles and the constant seeping of blood from the wounds of Jesus he miraculously bore, he met the Man of the Woods, the leafy Godling, the Green Man of ancient times, and this is the general unfolding of that thing...

Aggie's Game

Even now when I think back on my oldest sister and her childhood games, there is something about Aggie that can make my hair stand on end. It wasn't just the way she could act so remote, even the odd time when she invited me into her games. She would weave a tale around herself and maybe her best friend Lisa and I would fill in the supporting spots—the driver, the waiter, the innkeeper. 

I would take my lead from her, with or without stage direction, and fill in the atmosphere the best I could. If Lisa was there, Aggie would give her a fair-sized role, and a fair amount of scope within it, but Aggie was always at the helm. She would interact with me only as the game demanded; she would stand delivering grand speeches or throw herself body and soul into her story, and yes, she was remote, unreachable by me. 

But it was more than that. It was how deeply she plunged, and how, sometimes, quite without warning, I would be carried in with her, and it was where, in her terribly accurate way, she could drag us both. 

Now when I look back on certain games I don't see her skinny self with bobbed hair and striped t-shirt and pale green shorts, standing in the front yard waving her arms around and spinning tales. I see instead the character she was playing, the room she was in, the misty headland or the silent sepulchre. My breath grows deep and slow and I am swept back to the wonder and danger of each place.


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