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 down the across the station and into the tunnels, 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.
2009
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?