My Abandoned Blog

“Wait here,” Alfred said. “I have something to do way over there. I’ll be back for you.”

Do you promise?

“Yes, of course. I started out with you, so why would I leave you?”

It happens.

He laughed, took its hand, and kissed it lightly on the tip of its nose.

“Yes, it does, to other blogs. It won’t happen to you.

Very well, Alfred. I’ll wait here for you.

And Alfred left it, looking plaintively but hopefully at him as he turned to wave goodbye; it gave him a brave, if tremulous smile, and waved half-heartedly, wanting to believe…

And way led on to way, as the poem says.

The blog tried on its own to be good, to be relevant, to be vital and important, to be witty and charming, but without a fresh infusion, its health waned, and the visitors who came to see it didn’t stay long, and soon grew infrequent, and one day, stopped altogether.

The blog tried to be brave, but then a cold fog rolled in; still the blog waited, gathering its thin shawl about its shoulders, and folding its arms for warmth. It worked for awhile, but didn’t last.

By  now it was shivering, cold, and hungry for text, but there was no one around.

Alfred was hard at work, loading Christmas packages into trucks, first for fourteen hours, then twelve, and the blog was a vague thought, fast on its way to becoming a distant memory.

Weeks went by, and the blog finally sat down, and began to cry out its heart…

It’s almost Christmas, and he broke his promise. I’m sorry, Alfred, I couldn’t hold them…they left, and now, I’m leaving too…

The blog searched for a way to self-delete, when a voice called from the distance….

And now, before I end it all, the madness comes. I thought I heard his voice.

Again, the voice sounded, echoed, seemed to be closer.

No, thought the blog, no, I dare not hope…

The voice called it by its pet name. “BP!”  (an unfortunate choice, given recent events, but there it was…)

“BP!”

Footsteps, running hard, pit-patted on the road as Alfred came into view, anxiously looked for a sign that his blog was still there.

He didn’t see anything. He ran faster, hoping he was not too late.

The blog, rising on thin, shaky legs, used the last of its strength to stand.

It’s voice, cracked and raspy from disuse, was faint, but not gone. Alfred…

Just as Alfred reached it, it sagged into his arms, and he sat down, and laid it gently on his lap. His tears fell copiously onto the page of his abandoned blog, now dirty, dusty, and bleeding from the harm it was about to cause itself. He’d returned just in time.

“BP…” he sobbed.

And the blog reached up a trembling hand, and touched his bearded cheek.

You came back…

“I told you I would.”

But you forgot about me.

The words hurt, all the more so because they were true…

“I did,” Alfred whispered. Shame and sorrow heated his face. “I’m so sorry, BP. We’ve lost so much time. I don’t know if I can ever make it up to you…”

Time lost is…irretrievable, Alfred, but…we can go on….from here. Can you….?

“Yes, yes of course,” Alfred said.

Hands trembling with emotions, he spread his fingers over the warm, familiar QWERTY keys; the relief of finding his blog alive,  its forgiveness of his negligence, its still-abiding love for him, shamed him, humbled him, and gladdened him all at once.

And as he typed, the blog sighed in relief, and eagerly drank the text it craved; color returned to its cheeks, and its breathing evened. It was going to take more time, but at least now, there was a beginning.

“I’ll never leave you again, BP” Alfred said.

BP gave him a sad, amused smile, and kissed him lightly on the cheek, beard and all.

At least while you’re alive. Never say never, Alfred.

Alfred smiled back.

Beyond Panic was going to be all right.

A Thread of Human-ness

We all have

Uniqueness

in

Common

And

Conform

in

our striving to

be

Individual

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

November 28th, 2014

A Thread of Human-ness

All rights reserved

Ariana by the Sea

Ariana felt the hot sand sliding between her toes, heard the distant crash of the water smashing on promontory rocks. Not for her the water’s edge. The vastness of the ocean was a strange and fearful thing, and creatures lurked beneath it; she’d heard the sailors’ tales when she worked the tavern houses and inns, and did not wish to find herself bewitched beneath the waves.

And yet, her eyes kept straying there. So beautiful and savage was the sea. Swirling and surging now with a contained rage, blue and green and gray by turns, and powerful, flecked with the gold of a high morning sun, the wind like a child’s fingers on her cheeks and in her hair.

The wind hugged her like a lover; her dress clung to her, and a brief and rueful smile touched her lips, for she felt the curves of her body beneath, her childhood faded like a receding wave, once and done, never to be again, which carried a fear of its own.

Do you want to sail, Ariana?

Her heart beat faster with the thought.

Is there someone across the sea who’s named you for his own?

Her body tingled as an image formed in her mind, faceless, strong, with the hands of a sculptor, the hands of a man who could wring emotions from clay and metal and stone.

But what will he do with your heart, Ariana? What will he do with your heart? Will it still be loving when he’s done? Tender, or will he harden it in the kiln of his own soul?

She couldn’t answer, but did she dare find out?

A prod into the sole of her foot made her wince, and she hopped in the sand. It startled more than hurt.

An empty shell, curved and pink and white, gleamed from its sandy sepulcher.

She lifted its wavy, opalescent edge; it was warm to the touch, though there was no life in it.

She’d heard the stupid stories of how the ocean’s crash could be heard; she knew it was something else, but the notion was appealing, and no one was watching.

Plucking it out, emptying the sand, she walked with it awhile, admiring the useless beauty of it; its owner, no longer needing its protection, either abandoned it or was pulled out by a crafty predator.

Looking up, she saw a lone gull pass overhead; it called to her in solitary greeting, and seeing the shell was empty and the girl alive, he flew on.

Sitting on a dune where the sand grasses tickled her legs, she looked out at the mating blue of sky and water on the horizon, and put the shell to her ear.

And listened to the sea song, her heart beating in harmony, and from her thoughts it brought the face of her shadowy lover, and made the vision clear.

And he would sculpt her heart, and she would sing his hands, and when their work was done….

It would be as timeless as warm sand, enduring as stone and metal, beautiful as a seashell, curled and delicate, with thunder in its midst, tempestuous as a wind tossed wave, and fear of the edge and hiding in shadows would be no more.

You would venture beyond the edge, where you are afraid, Ariana?

The shell slipped from her fingers, its silenced song soaked into her soul.

Yes… yes

She would go.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

November 22nd 2014

They Have to be Invited In

They have to be invited in

After they ring the bell

I did, but didn’t know she’d make

my life a living hell

And ever when they lie with you

They lie to you as well

I thought the difference would be plain

But no, I couldn’t tell.

She left a desiccated heart

Inside a broken shell

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

2014

They Have to be Invited In

All rights reserved

Sharing Homework with Cheerleaders: A Cautionary Tale

Nothing made my day brighter in high school than when there was a game pending, and the cheerleaders would walk around the school in their outfits, pleasant distractions from the daily drudge of learning. They carried themselves like queens, however, and we males would smile and nod and greet, trying not to ogle, and then wipe the sweat and drool from our faces when they passed. One of them happened to be in my homeroom, and in she walked, strong, shapely legs in a short skirt,  and all the bells and whistles in my heart rang with adoration, and not a little lust, but I was tongue-tied around pretty girls, like most nerds.

She was a nerd too,  with aspirations of being a writer, so the yearbook said when we graduated, but she was also a cheerleader: popular, pretty, capable of breaking hearts with a dismissive swish of the hand, and I was a tragic figure, secretly in love (and not a little lust)  hiding my feelings.

Then, one bright magic morning, in her cheerleader outfit, she approached me, and I felt the stupid grin spreading, willing it to go away, and making it worse. And then she smiled at me! I was, for whatever reason, deemed worthy of her smile.

And then it got better: she spoke to me. If it had been manly to swoon, I would have done so on the spot.

“Alfred, did you do the homework for English class?”

In the midst of controlling my swoon, I thought: Who doesn’t do homework for English class? But I replied that I had.

“Can you let me borrow it; I didn’t get the chance to do it.”

Chivalry, thy name is Alfred. I produced it, and handed it to her, thinking again: We’re both in the honors class; surely she knows how to paraphrase and make it her own.

At lunchtime she gave me back my homework, and later that afternoon, I submitted it to Mr. D. He was my favorite English teacher, a large man with a droll and deadly wit. He wore Van Dyke whiskers, and had the memory of a herd of elephants. I took several elements of style from him in my own career later on, though I never got to tell him.

The following day, he distributed the homework back, and on mine was a bright red ‘D’ with the comment: “Who copied from whom?”  He looked at me askance, and said nothing, and I took the paper in a silence of my own, thinking “How did she screw this up?”

Class was taught, and then over, but since he was my favorite teacher and LOVED my writing, encouraging me often to pursue it, even up to the time I graduated, I felt I owed him an apology. Here’s what came out:

“Mr. D, I deserve this grade for what happened, but really? You should know who copied from whom.”

His laughter boomed as he nodded, and said “Okay. That’s what I thought.”

I walked away, restored to myself, the spell of the cheerleader broken forever. Until she signed my yearbook.

Wearing her cheerleader outfit.

Dammit….

Quest

A knight set out upon a Quest

The Lion blazon on his chest

To rescue him a maiden fair

From wizard’s cold and darkened lair

“Fair maiden,” cried he, “I have come

to take thee back to thy kingdom.

“We must make haste! ‘Tis dusk I see

and we have many miles to flee!”

The great oak door that barred his way

Did not yield to the axe’s sway

“Fair maiden, do not take a fright.

I think the moon shall rise tonight.”

He swung until his arm was sore

And in due time broke down the door

He burst inside and flushed deep red

For there he saw upon the bed

The maiden and the wizard locked

And both of them complete defrocked

And breathing hard and laughing soft

within the wicked wizard’s loft

She started up. “Get out!” she cried,

“And tell not what you here espied!”

“But maiden…” cried he, sore and vexed

Not seeing she was oversexed

“Get out, you empty armored head

or ‘pon the road they’ll find ye dead.”

And this was what the wizard said

And so the brave knight turned and fled

The knight, his courage gone astray

Vowed he would Quest no more that day

that month, that year, that century!

He still lives with the memory

Of lovely woman’s treachery.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

Quest / Day of the Dark Full Moon (compilation)

December 10th, 1983

All rights reserved

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.

“Jaika.”

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.

“Partners.”

******************

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.”

“Meralys?”

“No.”

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?

  “No.”

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.

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

Fading Echo: Chapter 2

KurtKomoda_EchoDkSM

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.

2014

All rights reserved

Fading Echo: Chapter 1

The_grim_reaper_by_Funeriumcycle

Chapter 1:

    Death and Time were walking through a mountain pass in the waning light of a westering sun, a path they’d walked many times before.

As he walked, Time cycled between youth and age, but whether he skipped with youthful exuberance, or hobbled painfully along on his walking stick, Death’s tread was ever constant, and eventually, he would catch up to Time.

Whenever Time stopped to rest at the end of his age cycle, Death covered him with a new blanket, until the child shaped re-emerged, sticking out its tongue at Death, sprinting away as fast as it could, and Death would take the remains of the blanket, now full of holes and moth-eaten, frayed and rank, and pack it away in a satchel he kept on his back until the next cycle.

And Death would rise, patiently, and plod behind, the mountain winds snapping at the hem of his black and crimson robe, the bone handle of his scythe, serving as a walking stick, making puffs of dust, or crunching gravel, or click-clacking on stones, or making divots in the soil, depending on the paths they walked that day.

His rhythm never varied, but seemed random somehow.

Time never waited for Death, but Death always waited for Time, though there were moments Death grew impatient, and pulled Time along before he was ready.

Time wept the hardest when Death took him away, because sometimes he simply wasn’t prepared to go; there were more memories to share, more places to explore, but Death would not hear his pleading.

It didn’t matter to Death; his world was ever silent.

Where Time saw colors and seasons, meadow and river, flower and tree, birds and animals of all kinds, heard their songs and braying, saw them breed in the spring, saw them in the fullness of life and strength and beauty, Death saw only bones, twisted trees and blackened flesh; the only splashes of color in his world were scarlet and sepia, which turned to black when what he’d seen centuries before passed from being merely old into ancient, and from there began its long, slow descent into the Mire.

Death and Time worked in tandem then, to nourish the earth and comfort the living, but other than that, they went in slow, seemingly senseless circles around the earth.

These circles they made by land, walking trails or in the backs of wagons, tracking the migrations of animals, the turning of seasons; by air, flying through the dark, spinning inside the maelstroms of calamitous storms of rain, or sometimes, sand; by sea, riding the backs of drifting clouds across oceans and continents, Time all the while proclaiming what would be, and Death, watching, waiting, to proclaim when it would not.

****************

Time was cycling now, coming out of the uncertainty of musky puberty into the more mature stability of manhood. His whiskers grew full and shiny, black as crow feathers, black as Death’s Mire.

His muscles filled out, and he was hard and rugged. Instruments of violence and building filled his hands at any given moment, depending on his mood. Sometimes the instrument was the same, like when he used a hammer once…

Today would be different.

Through a trick of the light in the shadowy canyon, Time saw a face inside the rock.

“Death, do you see?”

Death turned his eyeless sockets on the place, and nodded sagely, turning again to look at Time as if to say, “What of it?”

“There’s a face in it! A woman’s face! Someone is in the rock, Death. I swear! I can see it!”

Death, if he were capable of it, would’ve given a smile.

His bony arm swept in an expansive gesture, his finger pointing to the setting sun to indicate the twilight shadows playing tricks.

“Then it plays well, alchemist! She is in there…”

Death took out a broken hourglass;  the sand sloughed off his fingers, and the shards of glass glistened like iced tears in his ivory palm as he slowly shook his head: No time.

Time threw back his head and laughed, and the canyon echoed, and so did the rock face beside him.

Death and Time stared at it then. It had moved ever so slightly, its mouth barely a gash, and laughed as Time did.

“The rock is enchanted,” Time whispered, and the rock whispered it too, softly, but there was no mistaking it this time.

A chisel and hammer appeared in Time’s hands, and with great patience and skill, he cut around the contours of the rock, following its grain.

Death gave up all hope of moving, and walked off, his walking stick scraping in agitation at the packed dirt.

On a large flat rock that overhung the canyon below, he waited, looking down into the wide and windy chasm, to see if there was anyone he knew…

********************

There, in the valley below, by a dried up crater that once contained cool, still water surrounded by willow trees, a withered flower had grown through the bones of a man who died with his arms outstretched, as if embracing something that had pried itself from his desperate grasp.

The flower was where his heart would’ve been in life.

Ah, Death had known him.

What a vain and foolish boy…

******************

Time’s whiskers, glossy and black in the evening, were now streaked through with white, and his body was becoming a bit rounder, his face a bit more full, the hard angles retreating.

The moon rose, full and pale and high, and clusters of stars glittered and flashed like celestial fireflies.

The figure was indeed a woman, and by the light of the moon her stony appearance melted, to reveal beneath its hardness a woman of great beauty, stunned by her new found ability to move and feel once more.

She touched Time’s face with a grateful hand, and kissed him for a long time.

He eagerly returned the embrace, and parting breathlessly, he thought she would thank him, but she did not. As she gathered herself, he questioned her.

“Can you not speak?”

“Not speak?”

“Yes, madam. Can you talk?”

“You talk?” She patted his chest, shaking her head in frustration.

“You can’t talk?”

“Can’t talk?

Time seemed amused, but she wasn’t; she was trying to tell him something, but could not seem to get it out. She only repeated what he said, and in time he realized.

“Gods be…you’re…” he snapped his fingers, “Echo. The nymph Echo! You’re Echo?”

She pounded his chest again, nodding hopefully. “You’re Echo? You’re Echo? You’re Echo?”

“Yes, yes, all right then.” He tried to take her hands down, but she clutched at him and would not let go, but he finally got her in a firm grip, and lowered his head, and looked into her eyes to calm her.

Her manner was of a bird, set free from its cage, which could only walk trustingly into a waiting hand because it couldn’t fly.

She seemed to settle, and held his gaze, her breathing slowing, her liquid eyes large and luminous in the lunar light.
“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered.

“You’re so beautiful.” She smiled, and put her hand to her mouth, blushing.

Time also smiled at the unintended compliment, and then shook his head, frustrated now as she was.

Death grew tired of waiting, and they could hear the skritch of his walking stick scythe as it scraped the path, and emanated from Echo’s slightly parted lips.

Behind them now, he looked at Echo, and her skin went from blush to blanche.

Time turned to look, and keeping one face on Death, made another to look at Echo.

“Don’t worry, he won’t harm you.”

“Harm you.”

“He’s not here for you.”

“Not here for you.” Her face twisted, as if with a bitter memory; he saw the agony in her eyes that she could not speak on her own.

Time straightened his stance, and put his hands on her shoulders, looking down at her.

“I will give you a gift, a once-in-a lifetime gift. It can only happen once. Do you understand?”

Death was no longer motionless, however, and upended his scythe,  and Echo fidgeted under Time’s hands again.

He tightened his grip once more. “Do you understand?”

“Do you understand?” she was nodding again.

Death’s scythe descended, but seemed to slow the closer it got to cutting them down.

As it whisked through where they’d been standing what only seemed like an instant ago, Time disappeared.

And there was no echo.

© Alfred W. Smith, Jr.

2014

All rights reserved