Halloween Huntress: Chapters 5 and 6: Sometimes you just need help

Chapter 5:

“We’ve got t’leave,” said Orliss.

He spent the rest of the day packing what he needed for the road. Being a hermit, of sorts, there was always a travel bag at the ready.

He opened Meralys’ closet to Jaika; nothing was an exact fit, so she took what felt snug, and left the rest. There were also riding clothes, an unexpected and welcome bonus, so she took those as well.

“We was farmers once, and Meralys loved ‘er horses,” Orliss explained.

“You must tell me more of your life once we’re on the road.”

“I daresay we’ll not have th’ time, missy.”

He still called her ‘missy.’ She’d given up trying to change it. Besides, it could also be her name; no one need know her real name here. As of now, only two men who’d she’d had no intention of meeting, and had stumbled into quite by accident, knew it.

And then she received another startling revelation, from none other than Orliss himself.

“But you must tell me how it came to be that a young woman came to be traveling alone.”

She looked up, surprised, a smile of shocked amusement on her face.

“Your accent’s a ruse,” she said.

He smiled, “You’re quick. A good one, isn’t it?”

“Very much so, but why?”

“Helps me fit in, gain information. When I’m drunk though, it doesn’t seem to be a character. But it was ever my intention to fight back. With you here, that will make it easier.”

“He said we were to be wed. He knew my name, and when he left…I felt…”

“We’ll have to look into all that. Now’s not the time. We need to be gone by nightfall. I’ve a feeling he’ll be back, and he won’t be alone, and he won’t have those dogs.”

She nodded, and couldn’t repress a shudder, which he saw.


She sighed, and composed herself.

He placed a meaty hand on her shoulder. “I know. You’ve been swept up in a series of events that make absolutely no sense to you. I can’t explain how they do. I don’t know why you’re here, or why Dominick is after you, or me, for that matter. He won the war when he killed Meralys, and I was too devastated for thoughts of revenge.

“But I let him take the woman I love from me, and did nothing about it.

“I can’t allow that to happen again, but I can’t promise you it won’t.

“The truth is, the years of dissipation were real, and have taken their toll, but now there’s what’s left, and I have to use it to rid the world of him, and not just for you.

I don’t know the part you play; I’ve read no great books, and there’s no ancient prophecy.

“In fact, we had a somewhat shaky beginning.”

“Yes,” she reddened at the memory. “We did.”

“This is a strange and dark place; you’ve doubtless felt its power. That’s where I’ll need your wood lore; you’re under no obligation to stay, and I can see you to a ship this very afternoon that will give you safe passage, but I’m asking: will you help me?”

“I will help you, Orliss. If it wasn’t for you, I likely would not have survived. He’s attacked me twice, and there’s no denying there’s a bond. I felt it. I have to break it, but I don’t know how, and that’s where I’ll need you.

“So, partners then?”

His hand was still resting on her shoulder, and she put her own hand over it.



They left the cottage empty and set out for the town to buy horses.

Jaika had to admit that in her travels, she’d never met anyone like Orliss. There was more to him than met the eye. He’d been stinking and drunk, and she’d been violent and desperate and frightened out of her wits, and in a few days, they’d become totally different people, though she was still frightened out of her wits.

Her travels up until now had been solitary; she slept when she needed to, ate when she was hungry, and traveled often to the point of exhaustion, wandering, seemingly aimless, but now knowing it wasn’t.

None of what happened to her now seemed coincidental, but she hoped she wasn’t some sort of celestial pawn, even though the darkly divine nature of her encounter was already a factor.

Gods of the forest, is that why you removed your protection? If so, you’ll not find me a willing puppet to your unknown plans.

Chapter 6:


   The bargain for horses struck, they rode back on the dirt trail that led to the temple.

“I’ve not seen it in many years. I went as far as the tavern, and it seems the devils were content to leave me be, after they destroyed me.

“Now, that’s not the case.”

They arrived on the temple grounds. It sat in the middle, a circle of smooth walls like an aged, empty turtle shell.

The ivy leaves were beginning to turn with the season, as were the trees, edged with the slightest of red and orange and gold.

We must kill him before winter.

   She stayed at the top of the trail, holding the reins of their horses as they grazed, and Orliss investigated.

There was no way she could bear to go near it right now; it was enough she might have to later.

He peered through the cracks, same as she did, but he didn’t stay long to observe anything, or so Jaika thought, as he walked around it rather quickly for his size.

She wanted to call out, to ask him if he saw anything, but the demon priest might not necessarily be nocturnal.

Orliss stopped, seemed to be thinking of something, then walked toward the back of the temple, but instead of going around again, he walked through the high wild grass.

Jaika only saw trees and weeds. It seemed to her there was nothing to mark it as a path.

Curious, she dismounted, tied off the horses, and went to follow him.


He was standing at the edge of a cemetery, the stones faded, fallen, and the gates broken. There was a low-lying fog covering the grassy ground, burning off slowly in the mid-morning sun.

She came and stood next to him.

“Who’s here?”

“Most of the people I’ve known.”



She pressed no further, and let him have his moment, and started to walk back toward the horses.

“Don’t go, Jaika.”

She’d learned that when he called her name, things were different, so she stayed, standing beside him, scanning the mossy, discolored markers.

After a moment, she said “We should be going, Orliss.”

He sighed, and nodded. “There’s just one more thing left to do. Something I should have done years ago.”

“What’s that?”

“We’re going to burn the temple down.”

“Orliss, it’s stone, and there’s nothing in it. You’re not thinking clearly.”

“Oh, stone burns, Jaika. There’re different kinds of fire.”

“You’re talking in riddles.”

“I’m going to bind the spirits in this place.”

She went quiet at that, put some stray strands of hair behind her ear, losing the set of her shoulders, sighing.

“Is this something I should be a part of?”

He turned to face her. His eyes held a tenderness, but also a glimmer of fire.

“You already are.”

“But you’ve burned your books.”

“I’ve help.”

Jaika didn’t want to know, so she asked no more questions.


He sat on the stained marble bench, and closed his eyes.

Jaika took the quiet time to look around.

The gravestones, faded with age and stained with elements, listed precariously in their slots, all but toppled, the names and dates long obliterated.

The high grass extended all across the plot land, and the mausoleum sat squat and dark, a diseased mushroom full of decay and vermin, a black blot on the green field.

She shuddered. There was something tainted and palpable in the air, like demon breath.

Orliss, some memory tapped, began to chant in a soft voice that pushed against the silence, chipping away at it.

Jaika didn’t know if he was praying, or casting a spell, but either way it looked like he would be a while. She went to check on the horses, and stayed with them to reassure them that their riders were still close by.

She ate a small snack while she waited.

The fog had burned off, and the mild warmth and clear skies of the early afternoon belied the peril they faced, and as the morning lazed into the afternoon, Jaika saw spread through the fading mist where Orliss sat.

The nervous horses whickered and stamped, and Jaika moved out of the range of their hooves. Fighting panic, her hand trembling, she drew her short sword, and went to investigate.

Orliss was where she’d left him, but what was in the light got her attention.

There were people, hundreds, of all ages, standing by their markers, but something about them was very strange.

Jaika realized that their features were just the veneer over their bones, and the wounds and diseases that ravaged them were visible: there were murder victims , their ghastly wounds almost translucent in the afternoon sun.

And of those who were mutilated: she could see their severed limbs flickering where they’d been hacked, the bloody stumps of meat and gore still dripping spectral blood.

Those who’d died of diseases, in childbirth, in accidents, all bore the marks of their passing, she saw the skeletons just underneath the veneer of flesh. The people were buried dressed in their finest formal wear, which was now little more than scraps, hanging like dead creepers from their limbs.

Sunken eyes, missing teeth, swollen tongues, open sores, torn female clothing, bruised faces, tilted heads with rope burns on their necks, and heads of glorious female hair ridden with lice, and small children with smiling mouths full of worms and centipedes pushed back against Orliss’ magic with a palpable malevolence.

He might have been marble himself, though his whiskers flew about him like a halo of tumbleweed, and sweat stains ruined his clean clothes.

Vermin began to appear and tentatively sniff at him, and began to snap at his flesh.

They went right through Jaika, as if she wasn’t there at all.

He flinched, and winced, and gasped, but picked right back up and didn’t stop chanting until, finally, he did.  As he stood, he brushed the vermin from his body with a fell sweep of his arm, and  Jaika gasped as they vanished. It had all been illusion to get him to stop.

A spirit-man came forward, his transparent flesh desiccated, and pointing what was left of his finger at Orliss, he spoke telepathically.

Jaika heard his voice in her head; it sounded like wet, shifting gravel, grating and unpleasant. She bore it for Orliss’ sake.

You should be here among us, priest.

“I know, and I’m sorry, but I’m not.”

We could make it so you are.

   “Or you could tell me where Thonian ran off to fight.”

You name him! Oh, your boldness

  “I’ve no time to sit here preening with you; do you know where he is, or don’t you?”

If we did, we would not tell you, for your magic is weak, and cannot compel us. But it is as you say: we know not where he has gone.

    Why do you disturb us, Orliss?  A woman’s voice was speaking now, as she made her own way to face him. Have any of among us haunted you?


Then why do you seek us?

   “This is my friend Jaika.” He extended his arm in her direction, and their broken eyes followed it to land on her. Jaika tried not to tremble.

” Thonian has marked her for his bride. I cannot allow it, and in the process of stopping him I might…I might be able to…free your souls.

The outburst was immediate, with some opting to pass through him and kill him, and still others to finish hearing what he had to say.

The latter won.

This is a bold claim, from a man whose magic has passed into legend.

“And yet I say it.”

Making no promises!

“But telling the TRUTH! DAMN your obstinate, bitter, foolish minds!”

Along with our souls, you mean? The woman spoke to them both, not unkindly.

Orliss seemed to deflate. “I meant…will you help me find him?”

The staring seemed an eternity.

A breeze stirred, and Jaika gagged on the stench from the risen dead, and held her breath; if either of them said anything now, they would lose their cause.

The two spirits that spoke to Orliss conferred, then walked among the others.

The early afternoon went into the late afternoon by the time the two of them returned.

Yes, Orliss. For the sake of our souls, we’ll be glad to help, but if you fall into the river of doubt, the stream of surrender, your souls are forfeit to us.

   Are we agreed?

   Orliss looked at Jaika, and after considering, she gave him a nod.

“We are,” Orliss said.

Then we take our leave, until tonight.

They slipped back into the ground in clusters, angry at their awakening, but excited to be involved in what could be the ancient land’s new beginning.

© Alfred W. Smith, Jr.


All rights reserved.

Halloween Huntress: Silver remains the color of betrayal

Chapter 2:

Jaika’s forest training took hold; she stood still, and let the silence grow for a bit, showing them she meant no harm.
“I didn’t intend to disturb you. I was looking for shelter from the rain.”
The man laid the knife on the altar, took a black linen cloth, and daubed the blood away from his chin in a rather elegant motion given the context.
His silver eyes, scorching in their intensity, never left her, as he set the cloth aside.
“Well, you’ve found it.”
Two men moved to block the aisle.
If they closed behind her, she was dead.
She slashed at the closest one, the blade cutting his hand in half, his scream joining the surprised shouts of the others, and as the second man lunged, his right hand landed on her shoulder, his fingers snatching at the vest, but as she passed him she spun, and his hand slipped off.
Pulled off balance, he stumbled into the aisle where the thrown dagger slipped under his raised arm and pierced his chest from the side, and he dropped like a stone.
The demon cleric roared at her to stop.
Caught off guard by Jaika’s swift escape, there was a delayed reaction, and as others rushed forward to chase her, she shoved the front door open, pushing down the panic…
And was out in the downpour, in the gathering dusk.
She kept running, partly to get away from the temple, partly to keep her thoughts from spinning out of control.
Thoroughly soaked, shaking from the adrenaline and fright, out of breath, she began to slow down.
She looked back, but the only signs of disturbance were her own; no one, nothing, pursued her.
The rain began to ease as she continued walking, putting as much distance between her and the temple as she could before she needed to sleep. Somehow she managed to keep focused on walking, on trying to find a place to sleep. If she gave in to the other now, the fear would paralyze her, though she doubted she’d ever forget the heaviness of those silver eyes burning into her soul.
I wonder if I’ll even sleep tonight.
Traveling on fading reserves, she needed a shelter that was dry so she could make a fire, but she’d have to forego hunting. She decided to look for a cave, and made for the low lying hills.

The problem with caves was that other things lived in them; she’d have to make her peace with what was there, or kill it. She was fine with either; killing it would solve her hunting problem, and she’d cook it over her fire.
Stopping to fill her water skin from a small stream, she arrived at the hills just as the clouds were blowing away, and the gibbous moon was rising. Her clothes were still damp, and she was shivering.
A wavering light was coming toward her, and she tensed, having no real fight left, but not willing to die.
It was a man carrying a torch.
Concealing herself as best she could, she listened; he was by himself, and he was singing something incomprehensible. From the sound of it she surmised he was drunk.
The torchlight lit up the wet trail a little distance in front of him, and he was weaving.
Stepping out from behind her cover, Jaika’s knife was at his throat, and in an instant she regretted it; he reeked of vomit and cheap beer and bad perfume.
She managed to hold her gorge, however, and kept her voice low.
“Keep walking. I’m in need of food and shelter, and you’re going to provide it, or die.”
He stopped, burped, and chuckled, his soured breath a cloud of foulness in her nostrils.
“Whazzat cha say, girlie? Y’wanna bed down with ol’ Orliss?”
She pressed the knife harder, and he stiffened, rising up on his toes.
“Eh, now.”
“I said nothing of the kind, and I don’t think you’re as drunk as you’re pretending.”
He swallowed, feeling the chill of the blade in a cool thin line at his throat.
“I’ve pretended t’ be a lot o’ things, missy. Drunk ain’t one of ‘em. If it’s food n’shelter y’need, I’ll provide such without all the threat o’ red violence, if y’please.”
His voice was strained, but audible, and reluctantly, Jaika lowered the knife, and gratefully stepped out of the circumference of his stink.

The threat of red violence, however, sobered Orliss up a bit, and as they walked the road, he gave Jaika the torch in case he stumbled and lost it in the wet grass. He’d taken it from the tavern, and had no way to relight it if it went out.
Jaika realized she must’ve been closer to a town than she thought, if he’d found a tavern. She’d ask him about that later.
On the way, he told Jaika he was a hermit, and lived alone in an old ramshackle cottage that belonged to a hedge witch, now deceased, courtesy of some farmers that had lost some livestock to wolves, which they said worked for her, and they took care of the wolves too, lest she come back through one of them.
He found all that out by way of the tavern where he drank, and had no idea if it was true, since he’d found the cottage empty when he arrived.
“So, is abandoned property normal around here?” Jaika asked.
“Whaddya mean, missy?”
She told him of the abandoned temple, and her adventure there.
His eyes widened, and he sobered up even more when she was finished.
“Yer lucky y’got out o’ there, missy.”
“If they’d managed to block me in, I’m not sure I would have.”
“Aye, good judgment there. Here we are, just up this path.”
She followed him off the main trail to a gravelly path that led to a small cottage in a small clearing.
It looked comfortable enough.
Jaika found herself beginning to relax.

There was a large fireplace, and he built a fire from wood he had stocked in a neat pile just outside. He lit it expertly, in spite of his bleary demeanor, and heat filled the place and beat back the chill of the night.
And Orliss, it turned out, was a wonderful caretaker.
He provided her a voluminous robe (for he was a voluminous man), and she had to double tighten the belt, and she laid her clothes out flat before the hearth to dry.
“You can hang ‘em after the place heats up, missy. I’ve a rope for that. Sorry to peek at your smallclothes,” he shrugged. “There’s a creek you can wash ‘em at in the mornin’.” They both turned red at the mention of it, and said nothing further.
His cat, it turned out, had a litter of days-old kittens, which he let Jaika tend to as he left her to get himself clean.
When she’d finished with the kittens, he’d returned from his bath and gave her a half loaf of toasted bread and a small wheel of yellow cheese, and made a pot of honeysuckle and ginger tea, sweetened with wild honey and a dash of dandelion brandy.
“Bless you, Orliss.” Jaika cupped the steaming mug in her hands, and inhaled the wonderful aroma, erasing the earlier smells of the evening. “I’m sorry I threatened to kill you.”
Orliss chuckled dryly.
“Happens more often n’ you know, missy.”
“What do you know about the temple?”
He looked at her a moment, and she stopped chewing the big piece of bread she’d just bitten off, her cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk’s.
“What?” she mumbled around the mouthful.
It was a funny sight, and Orliss wanted to laugh, but the seriousness of what she just asked outweighed the merriment.
“Are y’ sure y’ want to know?”
She downed the bread with a couple of swallows of tea.
“They were going to kill me, Orliss, so yes, I very much want to know, but hurry. This brandy’s beginning to work, and given the day’s events, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be awake.” In spite of those silver eyes…
Orliss gathered himself into the chair on the other side of the fire, his breathing steady now, his eyes more clear of the haze of drink.
He took a small swallow of his own tea, and his gaze grew glassy staring at the fire.
“A’ right then, missy: a fireside tale it shall be.”


It was a typical village, like a thousand others, full of farmers and tradesmen, and the countryside provided them with healthy crops and livestock, and prosperity. Their women were strong and hearty, and their children well cared for and loved.
Close knit, they say, and everyone known and counted as friend or enemy, sometimes depending on the circumstances, until one man’s reach exceeded his grasp, and greed settled like gold dust upon his soul.
What was one farm, when he could own all, one wife, when he could have women, and what were children for, if not labor?
But if discovered, his neighbors would drive him out at best, or have him drawn and quartered at worst, so he kept the smile on his face, and the lust in his heart, until the day a caravan passed.
Full of strange folk, the wagons were. Their women wore jewels and gold and silver around their slender necks, gold studs and chains that ran from their noses to their immodest navels, and between their rounded breasts, and gods-knew-where else. Their bodies were marked with whorls of colored ink, and they bewitched the people, men and women alike, with their bonfire dances.
Their men wore bands of copper and bronze and leather on strong biceps and thick wrists, their calloused and scarred hands carried knives with wavy blades and hooked serrations, strange markings on them, and bejeweled handles, and the blades sharpened keen to where a man wouldn’t know he was cut ‘ til he died.
Among all the finery, there was one dagger, plain, with an onyx handle, a single diamond at the top of the pommel. It had a long, tapered silver blade that never seemed to lose its shine, or its edge, which the leader of the caravan demonstrated, cutting wood, leather and metal alike as if they were melted butter.
Some of the men were drawn to it, but when told the price, weren’t willing to pay, until one night, by the light of a single candle, in the scarlet tent of the caravan’s leader, the price was whispered into the ear of the greedy man.
His eyes widened, his thoughts raced, and his heart raced faster.
Here was the key he’d been looking for, and though everything that was still decent in him railed against it, he sat back in his chair, amazed at the thought that he would soon be plunged into a river of blood that would carry his soul to the underworld, and he would willingly ride its damning current.
And he agreed.
By morning, there was no trace of the caravan.
The day dawned as before, and the villagers, puzzled but relieved, slowly picked up the threads of their lives, and the rhythms and comforts of life resumed for a while.
Until the next full moon.

A lone wagon creaked along the well-traveled path, its bright colors washed out in the bright moonlight.
Four of the caravan’s men came out of the wagon, each bearing one of the long bladed daggers, and met the greedy man at his home.
In an hour, the spell was cast, the villagers in a deep sleep.
By morning, in the middle of the village square, the hearts were burning, the bloody night’s work was finished, and the spell was complete.
The price was paid.
And when the greedy man put the long blade into the fire, his eyes turned silver, his soul was damned, and his flesh became immortal.

© Alfred W. Smith, Jr
All rights reserved

Halloween Huntress: Sometimes it’s better to stay at home.

My attempt to get into the ‘spirit’ of Halloween. 

Chapter 1:

It was strange to return after all these years.

This had been the forest of her childhood, full of wonder and magic, a king’s treasury of things to do and see. She’d explore it for hours, get caught up in the building of a spider’s web, or watch squirrels hide their winter stashes, or imagine herself among the hawks soaring above the pines, or rarely, with the eagles above the hawks.
At night, she knew where to find the owl’s nest, and where the foxes burrowed.
She hunted rabbit and quail, and fished the river.
If she got there in time, she’d watch the torrent of bats blast from their caves into the warm summer nights.

She’d return home then and eat dinner; her mother had stopped worrying about her forays, thinking one day death’s hand would simply close, and that would be the end, but she left dinner out all the same.
They had their ritual, which sometimes varied, but not much: Jaika would sit down to eat, the scrape of her chair signaling to her mother that she’d arrived safely, and her mother would join her.
“How was your walk?” she’d ask.
“It was wonderful. I wish you’d explore with me.”
“I’m too old, and you’re too curious. I’d slow you down, Jaika.
Jaika would smile, and look fondly at her mother, now with subtle white streaks in her chestnut brown hair, knowing it was true, but saying it wasn’t.
Her mother would smile too, and wonder at her daughter’s own ginger mane, all disheveled and smelling of creation, her freckled cheeks flushed from the outdoors, her dark brown mahogany eyes, bright but slowly filling with sleep, and she’d sit with her chin in her hand, loving her daughter, listening to the woodland stories until Jaika finished eating.

Jaika had her father’s appetite. He’d passed away some time ago on a boar hunt. As he chased one, he didn’t see the other in time as it burst from the underbrush, and the horse reared and toppled him. The younger boar’s tusks were smaller, but they killed him all the same.
She shot it in the leg with an arrow to mark it by its limp, and when her time of grieving ended, she sought it out and slaughtered it, leaving the carcass for the scavengers.
There was no one left who remembered now, but the act of vengeance satisfied her.
After her mother died, she left home the following summer and went off to see the world. In the years that followed, she learned that just beneath the surface of the senses were creatures of nightmare and beings of dread so harrowing that if they ever breached the ethereal barriers that held them, the sight alone would drive people insane.

It was a new forest in a new land, and its wonders were a bit darker; there was a sense of timeless power buried deep within, full of the sense of presence and aura, but invisible, inaudible, moving just underneath, and all over, like meadow mice.
She could almost hear the chants, feel the runes etched in wood and stone, see the small lights that flickered in her periphery fade from her direct gaze.

She felt no danger; her instinct was well-honed for such things, but she was wary, and walked with a lighter tread than she would have normally.
The needles beneath the pine were still dry, and she had a blanket in her pack, which she spread, and laid out some light fare, and her water skin, and sat in the lap of the tree’s roots, a spreading web of wood covered tendrils like fingers grasping and clutching the ancient dirt beneath.
Around her, the land was quiet in the way that rainy forests are, full of small noises and rustlings that would have otherwise gone unheard and unnoticed.

She’d come across the abandoned temple quite by accident, not even seeing it at first, as she took shelter under a panoply of thick and fragrant pines to get out of the damp drizzle that caught her outside in the early afternoon.
About to close her eyes for a moment’s respite, she saw the ravaged gray wall through the lattice of evergreen branches.

Knowing by the light that evening was soon, and not knowing when the weather would break, and doubtless far away from anything that resembled civilization, she regrouped, repacked, and set out to explore what could be excellent shelter to spend the night.
She hoped she was right.

The temple walls were broken in diverse places and heights, cracked and discolored with age, but they weren’t fallen.
Unfamiliar ivy snaked along its sides and roof, seeking out the holes, and slinked through them to claim the inside too.
The surrounding grass was high, which could work to her advantage, or detriment; she was willing to gamble. Whatever hunted her would have to see her first.
There was a door, but something was blocking it, which only made her curious.
Walking around, she found a stone she could step on, and testing the sturdiness of the ivy, she used it to pull herself up.
She peered through one of the cracks, and gave her eyes time to adjust to the view.
A bare altar of black marble was the first thing she noticed, with black candles in bronze stands on either end of it.
There was a runnel carved into the altar on one end; her knife had one. Her mind resisted the implications of what that could mean.
Above the altar was a symbol, a rune of some sort that she didn’t recognize; another vibration of that unseen power shimmered under her skin, a sense that she ought to know it, but nothing came to mind.
She walked around to the back, and peered through another crack.
There were two rows of long benches, ten on each side, and a center aisle.
And in the aisle, just by the door, was a casket, old and ruined, long and heavy, but the wood was broken and splintered outward, as if what had been inside broke through to walk the earth again.

“Or maybe it was just broken up for firewood.” But she wasn’t convinced.

The drizzle turned to rain, and the sky had grown perceptibly darker.
The rain hardened, and she pulled her leather vest over her head, which was the only thing it could protect.
Hearing water falling inside, she looked in again, and saw a hole in the roof, the water cascading through it, draining off somewhere she couldn’t see.
She hadn’t noticed it; she dared not ask herself if it had been there all along.
It was big enough for her to get through, and the drop wouldn’t hurt as long as she braced herself. She’d jumped off enough rocks and boughs to have gotten the hang of that.
Her choice of shelter, it seemed, had been decided for her.
She scrambled onto the roof, pelted by the hardening rain, and tossing down her pack and short sword, she turned feet first and let herself slip through, landing on the floor with a solid slap as she bent her knees to absorb the impact.

And the place flared to life about her, full of candlelight and fireplace heat, with the low rumbling speech of men in blue tunics and the dulcet, softer tones of women in red gowns.
There was a window full of resplendent moonlight, and the air full of funereal music, and a man in black leather crosshatched with bands of gold studs was standing at the altar, a long blade dagger glinting like a steel diamond in his fist, looking directly at her with silver-blue eyes that heated her skin and iced her spine.

There were no cracks in the wall, no water, no ivy, and nowhere to run.
The altar gleamed with dancing firelight like a portal into the void.
The music stopped, and every eye in the room turned to focus on her.
The man at the altar smiled, and a drop of blood bloomed at the corner of his mouth, and meandered its way down to his chin.

“Welcome, sister.”

© Alfred W. Smith, Jr.
October 23, 2014
All rights reserved

Winter Woods

It started again.
That damn twinge of melancholy that quivered
in her everytime she saw a leaf fall.
How she hated the cold months.
Hated them!

Coming with their inevitable fury, trapping her.
She would bundle up, drink coffee, anything to try and stay warm.
But somehow, they always got through her defenses.
Catching her up with their swirling winds, nipping at her.

She would take flight.
And they would follow.

And she would find herself naked and alone in a blasting wind of white
attacking the bare trees and stubborn pines,
and they would laugh at her.
She was trapped again.

Caught up in the majesty of it. Calling her.
Haunted by the wind’s lyrical melodies. Calling her.
She would reach, and touch, and feel and taste the snow,
laughing with all the giddiness and abandon of the little girl she once was,
the wind wildly tossing her hair, and she would say, very softly:

“Be still.”

And the winds would die.
And the snow would drift gently.
And the stars would glitter tranquilly in
her eyes.

She was held in reverence here.
They always had to remind her.

She was
a goddess.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
Winter Woods / Day of the Dark Full Moon (compilation)
December 10th, 1983
All rights reserved

A Happy Poem or Two: (from A Scattered Shower of Poems, circa 1985)

As I was moving from PA, I literally found some of my old poetry in a shoe box I thought was long gone. The following poem is from the second of two collections I wrote back in 1985. One was called Assorted Absurdities, and the other, A Scattered Shower of Poems, hence, the image. Both volumes were a mixed bag, and seeing some of the poetry here on wordpress tonight, I got jealous (yes, jealous. Don’t judge me…well, go ahead, but it won’t matter…really, it won’t…ok stop, I can’t bear it)

I hope you enjoy one of the better efforts (imho, as they say…)

A thing I must more often do

Is write a happy poem or two,

To fashion words into a smile,

To while away a little while.

But then a word, a line

Not right,

And then I’ll stay up through the night

And curse and brood and BREAK MY PEN!

Oh goodness, there I go again…

A thing I must more often do

Is write a happy poem

Or two.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

A Scattered Shower of Poems

1985 All rights reserved

Closed for the Season

One of my favorite summer activities in my new state was to go down by the waterfront and look out over the sun spangled waters of Raritan Bay, watch the dinner cruise ships, the fishing boats and jet-skis, hear the gull cries echo, smell the brine (that is brine, right?) and envy the homes of the comfortable with their private beaches WAAAAY on the other side. (Here, I imagined a home invasion where I arrived with luggage in hand, saying, “I’m only staying for a week. What’s for dinner? Is that flatscreen a 1080p? Where’s the guest bedroom? Is the maid friendly? )

As I imagined my bemused but agreeable hosts allowing me access to their luxurious residence, I’d go to the ice-cream parlor and get a chocolate shake, or something with cookies in the title, or a chocolate based flavor with an extra ‘drizzle’ of caramel, which in my case means almost more syrup than ice cream. Next to living free in a rich person’s home for a week, (before I get my own, of course),  I could happily die drowning in a vat of caramel.

Soooo….it was the third week of October, and a quiet Friday evening. I went down to the waterfront, and after re-establishing the fact that the homes I liked were still there for the envying, I ventured to the ice cream parlor, only to see this sign:

CLOSED FOR THE SEASON: Our last day was October 13th (Columbus Day)

   I suppose it’s the right thing to do with an ice cream store in the winter, but really, could they not have converted into a coffee shop for the winter?

I stayed for awhile, enjoying the peace and quiet, not envying anything or anyone, happy to be alive, happy the gulls were still there, happy the sun was out even though it was setting, happy to feel the cool wind off the water, and I could see the twilight colors filling in with deep blue shadows, and watch the night lamps come on to push back the impending darkness for a while.

I could hear the gentle lapping of small waves against the rock wall, and I watched the first stars come out, small and shy, like children peeking from behind a grown-up’s leg.

It became all right that the ice cream parlor was closed for the season.

In fact, it was perfect.

Underground Encore

Just to provide some background for this story:  I started out as a guitar player at the age of 11. I had a classical acoustic guitar and I was going to be the next Earl Klugh. Between the ages of 14 -17 I sat in with these old jazz heads in Washington Square Park.

I stayed mostly silent but they let me join them on some of the easier stuff, until one day I heard the words from the de facto leader of the group. “You did a nice job on that.” It was, at the time, like a five-star rave review in the New York Times, but way led on to way, and in time, the group thinned out, and eventually they didn’t come back. And after awhile, as I sat in with new players and did new songs, way continued leading on to way, and I stopped going there as well.

I’ve often thought about those men, old men even then, no doubt passed on by now, and I’ve been thankful they were gracious to a young man with a love for the music who didn’t have the equipment or the know-how to play it, but who took what he had, and eventually heard the words, “You did a nice job on that.”

As jazz continues to hold a precarious place on the American music scene, I wanted to write something to show my appreciation not just to those men I sat in with, but to others like them who keep the flame in the hot tunnels, smoky clubs, concert halls, and  libraries and museums around the country and around the world. Now, without further ado….

The sun was sinking into the river against the city skyline. Leon sat in a patch of it as it came through the window, his shirt and tie barred, like Cyrano’s body, with the shadow of crossbeams that separated the window panes.

The doctor came out, and Leon stood up.
The doctor’s face said everything.
“I’m sorry, Leon. The tests are conclusive. I don’t know what to say that would make it easier.”
“Ain’t nothing left to say.”
“Is there anyone you’d like us to contact?”
“Got someone, but I’ll take care of it.”
“All right then. And Leon…” The doctor offered his hand.
Leon took the doctor’s hand in both of his.
“You done what you could, doc. thank you.”

He walked out into the evening, the street alive with people and lights, cars and movement, the last of the sun ray’s deepening the shadows to a dusky blue.
The subway rumbled beneath him, and he headed toward the nearest station, then stopped.
Be underground soon enough. No need to rush.

He chuckled at his own weak joke, and took the long walk home.

His daughter was all he had left for family, and he wrote her now:

“Everything you need to know is in that old cookie tin you gave me for Christmas all that time ago. Everything’s in there, along with a note for my last wishes. I got some time yet, but I don’t, so you don’t have to come tomorrow, but don’t come too late. I don’t want to go in no potter’s field, though He’ll find me if I do.
“Just try not to let it happen, that’s all.”

His battered saxophone case was under the rickety bed, with the tarnished, well worn saxophone inside. He pulled it out, and sat on the edge of the bed, and looked at it, going back in his mind to the smoky nights, spent playing til the sun came up, so dapper he glittered in the spotlight, and later the feel of a full, warm woman on his lap, in his arms, in his bed, til time passed and the people moved on, and the clubs closed, and his career stalled, and stopped where it had started, and never moved again.

Bars replaced clubs, drink replaced music, and even the most stubborn woman he’d ever met who tried to stay with him no matter what, threw in the towel before her own youth was wasted with a man who couldn’t move on, whose identity was too closely tied to what he did, and not who he was.

Back into the evening streets, his case bumping along his spindly left leg, his suit fitting badly, but clean, and his face washed, he paid his fare, went down to the subway platform, but he didn’t open his case for change this time.

In his mind’s eye he saw her, regal in her red dress, her red lips matching, all of her full and shiny in the dim light. Her mahogany eyes gazed into his as she leaned forward to light his cigarette, and as he took her hand in both of his, she leaned forward and whispered in his ear.
“Play me something.”

She was leaving it up to him what to play, and he knew so many songs, but as he looked back into her eyes, and saw her smile at him, the song came like a lightning strike.
He played her something. And something else, and something else, til the band caught the pattern and the gist as they caught them staring, and they smiled and shook their heads, and simply followed.
“Leon at it again,” said the piano man. “On three, fellas…”
Three months later, they all came to the wedding.

Leon played the set through, but it was melancholy with a twist of bitter, haunting and bluesy and sad, with a splash of hope, and a sprinkle of joy.
A young cop began to walk toward him, but something made him stop, and he paused for a moment to listen, and a crowd began to gather. This was not the average subway joe who practiced for coins. Those who knew music knew this was the real thing, and those who didn’t felt it.

“All the Things You Are” echoed throughout the station and into the tunnels, a plaintive, restive, devotion leaking out with the realization of how utterly unattainable all of her had been, in the end.


The song ended, and the crowd clapped loudly until the rumbling train drowned it out, and they turned away to get on with their lives.
The cop came up to him.
“I know you. I know that song. My father had one of your records, and he played it all the time.”
“Did he, now?” said Leon, wiping the mouthpiece. He grinned, turned to look at the cop, a twinkle in his eye. “Only one?”
“No sir,” the cop laughed, “he had others, but that’s the one he played the most.”
“Played,” Leon said. “Is your father still alive?”
“No sir, he passed away five years ago.”
Leon straightened, gave the cop full attention.
“I’m sorry, young man.”
The cop said nothing for a moment, then “It was an honor to hear you play live, sir. I only wish my dad would’ve been here.”
“My pleasure,” Leon began to walk away.
And then he turned to the cop, and seemed to think a moment, and walked back, and held out his saxophone case.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m giving this to you.”
“Why? I can’t take it. Don’t you need it?”

Leon sighed. “No, I don’t. See, I’m about to meet your daddy, and we’re gonna be talking jazz for a long, long time.”
It took a moment, and then the cop’s eyes widened.
“Won’t be long now. Left everything else to my daughter, but she ain’t gonna want this old battered up horn. Won’t mean nothing to her except her daddy wasn’t home a lot, and she won’t even think to sell it, and probably just throw it away.”
The cop looked downcast.
“You gonna take this?”
“I can’t, sir.”
Leon leaned in, like he was telling a secret. “Tell you what, turn it in to lost property, then file a claim for it on my daughter’s behalf, and take it later.”
“Mr. Leon, are you sure?” The cop took the case like a sacred offering.
Leon straightened again. “I am. It’s the least I can do for a young man who grew up with my music, and who saw my last concert.”
The cop seemed to flinch.
“I…I’m sorry, sir. I truly am.”
Leon put his hand out, and the cop took it, and Leon put his other hand over it.
“It’s all right, son, you done what you could. Thank you.”

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
May 2, 2014
All rights reserved

Shadow Whispers

I stared into the Shadows

The Shadows stared at me

And so we asked each other

“What is it that you see?”

I said “I see the ashes of plans

I once did trust”

The Shadows whispered back to me

“We see but blood and dust.”

 © Alfred W. Smith, Jr.
All rights reserved

Waiting on the World to Change

A few years ago, I heard a song by John Mayer called Waiting on the World to Change, a song about idealistic and virtuous youth waiting for the corrupt and evil aged to die off. The song’s most telling lyric went as follows:

“It’s not that we don’t care, we just know that the fight ain’t fair,

So we keep on waiting for the world to change.”

I thought it rather lightweight  for a protest song. I also thought it was the most naive thing I’d ever heard from a young man who’d traveled the world several times over.

Why would you wait?

Still, it will be interesting to see what unfolds while you do. Here’s why:

The ‘love your brother’ and ‘equality for all’ generation, when they began to experience true competition for resources as a result of their policies to ensure that equality in the 60’s, became the ‘angry white men’ of the 90’s and began working to repeal the very laws they enacted, becoming, in the process, worse sell-outs and hypocrites than they accused their corporate fathers of being in the 50’s.

And the computer, an invention of the Boomer generation which Mr. Mayer is waiting to go the way of the dinosaur, has upped the ante considerably, and taken things globally in an instant.

Today, a segment of the 60’s generation of love, peace, equality and freedom throws rocks at immigrant children, repeals voting laws, advances the aims of the very corporations they once vehemently denounced, and seeks to distance themselves from those who they were once like in the past;  the other segment is permissive and apathetic in their adult responsibilities to the point of letting the country fall into anarchy.

So no, dear young people, you can’t afford to wait on the world to change. You are going to have to wade into the American wasteland, and get blood on your clothes, and get in peoples’ faces, and make unpleasant sacrifices, and make your voices heard. There is seldom a birth of a new thing without some labor pains being involved, and getting stoned like your grandfathers did for most of their first thirty years is not the way to go about it.

I’ve heard the saying: “These kids live in a different world.”

No you don’t; you live in a different time.

Yes, it is a scary, parasitic, greedy, lustful, materialistic, and intimidating time enhanced by constant connections and distractions, and things baying at you for your attention and money, but you are not in a different world; you’re on the same planet, and as far as we know, it’s the only where you can live outside of a clunky spacesuit, and without devices that will keep you from becoming a runaway hot air balloon.

So let me ask you, Mr. Mayer and company:

Can you really afford to spend it waiting?

Will you?

Fading Echo: Chapter 2


In the early afternoon, Echo felt the cool grass under her bare feet, and her white diaphanous dress barely hid her charms for modesty.

She gazed about in amazement, looking for Time, who’d manifested himself to her in the form of a sculptor, and barely pushed her through time before Death’s gory scythe claimed their lives.

Can time be killed?

She dismissed the thought; it was enough that she was free from the rocks that imprisoned her in her grief all those centuries ago.

The gods had long ago abandoned the region, and her, and the rains had stopped, leaving the land to change to desert, and her alone inside her stony dungeon; she no longer had the luxury of even repeating the words of someone else, and her loneliness crushed her spirit as she slept, and woke to silence, and slept again, in a cycle of living death.

And then the netherworld travelers happened to stop in front of her.

And now she was here.


Breathing in the fresh clean scent of the forest, even in its pungency, made her shiver with pleasure at life once more. She wanted to kiss Time again; his scent had stirred her, but he’d hidden himself.

Maybe there will be…time…for that later. Her mischievous thought brought a smile to her lips when she heard someone rushing through the woods in her direction.

Before she could hide, the figure emerged; it was her King, flushed, panting, and looking over his shoulder as if a wild boar pursued him.

She took the knee before him, and he paused a moment in front of her.

“Rise, child.”

She stood. “You do me honor, lord.”

“I would, had I time.” He smiled at her with lust, but time was of the essence, and he’d sated himself elsewhere.

“How may I serve you?”

“Juno pursues me for my dalliances with some of your sisters. I would that you use your skills of conversation to detain her while I escape until she calms down.”

“I am at your service, Majesty.”

“There’s a good nymph.” His hand cupped her cheek in a mix of paternal affection and a lion testing the softness of the skin of its next kill.

There was a rustling behind them, and Echo wanted to laugh as Jupiter bolted like a frightened deer into the woods to escape Juno’s wrath.


The scent of lilac wafted in the air, and Echo walked toward the blooming bush, and gathered some in her hands, letting the scent wash over her, as Juno came from the same direction as Jupiter, her eyes sparking with fury, her nails digging into her palms.

She spied the nymph by the lilac, and rushed over to her.

“Did Jupiter pass through here? Tell me, and don’t you dare lie!”

“To lie to my Queen is to die. I only just arrived, smelling the lilac in the air, and wished to gather some for my bath. Would my Queen like some for her own?”

“No. Thank you. Did you see Jupiter?”

“I did not, my queen. I would run to hide, for I am but in this faerie cloth, and the King is potent in his lust…”

Juno’s eyes flashed.

“…so my sisters say, my queen. He has not taken me to bed, nor would I go, for we are friends, you and I, are we not?”

Her voice softened.

“I have sat at your feet, and eaten from your hand. I live at your pleasure, and die at your command, and my queen has been most gracious not to seek my death. I would not risk such by bedding your lord and husband, though he grow angry with me, and threaten my life.

“So again, I would not lie to you; I did not see my king pass this way.”

Some of Juno’s steam began to dissipate as her gaze scanned helplessly around the woods; it seemed he’d eluded her once again, and her eyes began to shine with welling tears.

“Come, my friend,” Echo smiled, and held out her hand, “come smell the lilacs in full bloom. I will lace some through your hair, along with flowers of white and gold. We will look for them together, and when I am done, my King will be enchanted by you once more, and bring you his heart, cloven in repentance, for you and you alone.”

Juno sighed. “Oh, Echo. Dear, sweet, kind Echo, you are ever my solace, ever my friend.”

“I’ve no other desire, my Queen.”

Echo surreptitiously cast about for Time once more, but he was not present.


They spent the afternoon together, and Echo chattered away; her knowledge of the woods and all therein was extensive, her curiosity about matters royal always favored Juno’s views, and as the sun wheeled to the chariot house, they gathered the lilac, the yellow posy, blue periwinkle and daisy, and Echo wreathed them round, and crowned Juno, saying she was now a nymph, and had to stay in the forest where Echo could teach her all there was to know.

Juno laughed, and Echo laughed with her, not like her.

And so the afternoon went, until they came to a clearing, and sleeping by the base of a tree, was Jupiter.

Both women stopped in their tracks, and gazed upon the sleeping man, clothed only in a loincloth, his royal vestments left wherever the pool was that he’d indulged himself.

Juno turned to Echo, who in trying not to reveal anything, revealed her guilt.

Slowly, Juno took off the crown of flowers, and her arm flashed, and she caught the nymph across the cheek, knocking her to the ground in a spray of blood and blossoms, her dress now immodestly gathered about her as she scuttled along the ground as Juno bore down on her.

Then Juno stopped, remembering she was queen, and shuddered with unspent energy as she pointed at the nymph, her extended hand alight with power…


Echo closed her eyes, Time forgotten, reliving the horror of the day of Juno’s curse, unable to scream, or plead, or move, she lay like a newborn babe before a ravening wolf, and suddenly Juno shimmered, and stood still,  immobile as Gorgons’ men, yet not of stone.

Time stepped from the woods, and at first Echo was uncomprehending; then she began to realize what had taken place, and slowly, she got to her feet, and walked over to him.

He’d aged more, his rounded frame now thinning, his beard, neat and trimmed, salt and pepper, was now ragged, stained and unkempt.

His eyes, sharp and keen when he sculpted (for she’d looked deep into them as he cut her out), were now almost rheumy to the point where she wondered if he was blind.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

“This is my gift to you,” his voice rasped in her ears.

“You’re giving me back my voice?” Her eyes welled up in wonder.

“It is better to die than to never speak your own words,” said Time.

Echo was overwhelmed.

“What will happen to them?” her gaze took in Juno and Jupiter.

“She will strike him with the bolt that’s meant for you, and he will lose his ability to charm your sisters to his bed.”

Echo ran to him, embraced him, ironically now speechless with gratitude.

She looked into his eyes, and saw the light go out; he was truly blind now.

Death had his shroud; he didn’t bother to tell her he would not make it back to save himself.

He’d answered her question now: Time could be killed or saved, redeemed or spent.

She found that she had a choice to make, and with her heart quailing inside her, she made it.

© Alfred W. Smith, Jr.


All rights reserved

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