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

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

Bring Me No Flowers

(HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY).

“I will bring thee flowers,” said he, “to prove my love.”

“Doest thou so,” said she, “and that wilt but prove thou lovest me not.”

“Sayest thou so? But they are beautiful: they are surpassing colorful, fragrant beyond compare! Add but a little water, a little light, and long will they last for thee.

“Arranged to please the eye, the nose, the fingertip, with petals bright to tickle at thy dimpled cheek, I would gather them for thy pleasure.”

“Dear love,” said she, her fingers laced through his own, “all thy words are truth, and yet…”

“And yet…?”

His hand she kissed, and filled his eyes with hers.

“And yet they will fade and die: the petals grow dull in brilliance and fragrance, the leaf curl in upon itself, and black death, like a creeper worm, shall decay all of a once vibrant bloom; I would not have it so for love.

“Nay, my heart, bring me no flowers. If thou wouldst prove thy love, take me far a-field to where they grow wild and bounteous:

“For in the soil are they rooted, their tender beginnings delicately intertwined, to help, nurture, assist, and lift the first tender shoots of love upwards, even as they descend to take what is needed to live, and to grow, and then, to grow strong.

“There is no anchor for them in water alone. All the more are they rooted in the very essence of Creation, and from there, do grow to full height, despite the sorrow of storms, the plucking and plundering of bird, bee, bug and butterfly, the high heat of a sometimes overbearing sun, and the random whip and toss of whimsical, tempestuous winds.

“There, in the field, their colors fade not until the proper time, in the fullness of their season, where they expire together in their full glory.

“There, they take what they need, and in the taking, give freely and with purpose to bless and increase the stock and store of all who need them.

“There, in the wild and verdant field, their perfumed prayers of fragrance fill the world and heaven both night and day without ceasing, and in the turning season, they press, with gentle touch, the essence of their scented offering into the seeds to come after.

“That, dearest, is how our love, like flowers, should be as nature; and be they gathered into any hand, let it be only the tender fist of their Creator, there to scatter them across the spans of seas to all who love.

“If thou wouldst bless our love with blossoms so, let us to the fields now go.”

“My love, thy fields await.”

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

Making Warr (excerpt 2)

7.

We found a vacant flyer, white with red stripes. It looked like a flying candy cane.

“You drive.”

“Me? Why me?”

“It’s girly.”

“But you guys call me Ed.”

“It’s just a nickname.”

“I’ll change it officially before I ride in this; it’s ugly,” she said. “We’ll attract attention we don’t want, and people will make fun of us. Well, you.”

We waited until another one came in, dark blue, clean lines, driven by a bureaucratic drone, who looked us over as if we were beetles on a pincushion before wiping his travel program from the hologram key map.

She programmed the key with our map, and the flyer whirred to life.

“How’d you two meet?” Ed asked.

“Candace? I met her in high school.”

“I didn’t mean Candace.”

“Oh.”

“If you don’t want to tell me, it’s okay.”

“I don’t. Not now.”

“You miss her, don’t you?”
“Now we’re talking about Candace?”

“Yes.”

“Just making sure. Every day, Ed. They didn’t have to shoot up the neighborhood to find me.”

“They were sending you a message.”

“They killed my neighbors, innocent people. Children died. What was the message in that?”

She was quiet a moment, then she said “They’d do anything to anyone to get to you.”
“I didn’t consider myself that important.”

“Well, you were wrong.”

“No,” I said, struggling against the rise in my voice, “I wasn’t. They made me that important. It wasn’t the worth the show of violence and power. I’m going to find out who did it, and why, and then I’ll take care of it.”

“And after that?”

“I don’t expect to live ‘after that.’

“So how does Lliya fit in?”

“I’m going to ask for her help; the squad will be in Nanjasi looking for Steele’s key; it might be related, it might not. I don’t know what part I play; it seems pointless for them to go through all that and then summarily suspend me.

“Something’s going on, and since I don’t have the squad’s resources, I’m going to need Lliya.”

“Can you trust her?”

I chuckled with a grim humor. “In this context, I don’t know; I guess I’ll find out.”

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

What I’d loved about Candace was that she wasn’t part of any of this; there were times I wanted to include her, and sometimes I’d start to, but she’d put her finger to my lips to stop me; and she was right, because if she ever became a part of it, we were both in danger, and she was my refuge.

If I defiled her with my knowledge of the world’s maggot- filled underbelly, I’d have no place to go to get clean and sane again.

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

     It was a quiet Sunday afternoon, and she was rubbing my shoulders, humming   softly to herself.

   “What’s that song?” I asked.

   “I don’t know; I remember my mother humming it sometimes when she was in the kitchen.”

   “She never told you what it was?”

   “I never asked. Why?”

   “I don’t know; just seemed to me you would know something about it.”

   She stopped rubbing. “Why is it so important to you that I know about it?”

   I shook my head, “It’s not, babe. Forget I said anything.”

   She resumed. “It’s that mind of yours.” Her voice deepened, mocking me. ’All data must be analyzed and re-analyzed.’ Really Warren, it’s a pain in the anal-ize.”

   “Ha, you have jokes.”

    She sighed, “No, just one; a big one, right between my hands.”

   I reached back and pulled her into my lap as she squealed and laughed.

   “I’ll put a big one between your hands.”

   She wriggled her rump on my lap, and her voice grew husky as she drew close.

   “Oh, yeah? Big talk, big man. Back it up.”

   “I think that’s your part,” I said, slipping my hand inside her blouse.

    And then she kissed me, and time went away.

*****

“Warr, you listening?”

“What?”

“Put the shields on; it’s starting to rain.”

I put the shields on, and the rain slipped off around them, keeping thing visible.

The afternoon was turning into evening.

“You’re going to have to go pack for Nanjasi soon, right?”

“Not taking much. I’m a girl, but not a girly- girl, otherwise I would’ve flown in that candy cane and talked your ear off about how pretty it looked.”

“You thought it looked like a candy cane too?”

“Yep.” She pointed. “There’s her place,” she said. “No lights on.”

“Course not.”

“You know her haunts.” Again, not a question.

“I doubt I know them all, but we’ll try what I know first.”

8:

We split up; Ed walked one side of the street, and I walked the other.

It was dark when we finally found Lliya; she was in an aging bistro, peeling, spotted paint, dank upholstery, long past its prime, which made it great for clandestine meetings, and hiding. She was sipping something fancy and expensive from what looked like a ceramic thimble.

I signaled Ed, and she waved goodbye, mouthed the words, ‘Be careful,’ opened her coat like a flasher and smiled.

I returned it, shaking my head.

She closed the coat, turned up the collar against the drizzle, and started walking back.

I slid into the seat across from Lliya. She never looked up.

“Want a cup of this?”

“Does it come in a larger size?”

“No.”

“Pass.”

She shrugged. “What are you doing here?”

“Came to ask you a few questions.”

She sighed, looked up then. “I’ll save you the trouble: I didn’t set you up; you were happy with Candace, you were out of the life, you were out of mine, and I missed you, but not enough to do that.

“I don’t know why they took you, but if I had to guess, it was because out of all your squad, you’d worked everything. I don’t think sometimes you realize how long you’ve been at this.

“Surveillance, tech, infantry, sniper, impalement, martial arts; you’re a government agency wet dream. You’re not just a jack of all trades; you’re actually good at all of them.”

Kriley did say I was the best all around; still didn’t explain how I got caught.

“Any ideas who?”

“I know you’re thinking inside job; could be my people too. They didn’t send me after your squad. I came after you.”

“Why risk it, Lliya?”

“You’re an ass, Warr. Why do you think?”

“May I take your order sir?”

I’d been so focused on Lliya I didn’t see the waitress walk up.

“Is the food still good here?”

“They still have waitresses.”

“Something strong, with something broiled.”

The waitress smiled, her menu for savages at the ready: “Bourbon and steak?”

“I like you.”

“How do you want the steak?”

“Like a satisfied woman: well-done.”

Lliya sputtered out some of her droplet, and went into a coughing fit.

The waitress blushed and flounced away.

“Really?”

I shrugged.

“My god, how did you ever get Candace to marry you with lines like that?”

“I didn’t use lines like that on Candace.”

She sobered. “I’m sorry, Warr. I didn’t mean…”

“S’okay, Lliya. Drop it. We’re good.”

She gave us a minute to make sure I meant it. I did.

“Listen to me, okay? She can’t be a distraction, and it’s my fault for bringing her up. You know how I feel about you, but we’re on opposite sides here. You had a choice to make, and you did, and I stayed away.

“It seems that circumstances are putting us back together, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. If it comes down to it, Warr, you know I’ll kill you, and I know you’ll kill me. We’ll hate it, and we’ll mourn inside, and move on, but there’s no question whether or not we’d carry it out.”

Her voice took on a note of wistfulness.

“That’s what would’ve made us great, but it’s also what makes us impossible.”

“What?”

“Our devotion. It’s misdirected: it could’ve been for each other, but now it’s for what we do.”

“You didn’t have to be on the opposite side.”

“I didn’t choose it; I needed a job. We had history, and Kriley didn’t like it.”

“Screw Kriley.”

“Sometimes I wish I had; he would’ve left us alone.”

I looked at her.

“No, he never made a pass. Seriously, could you imagine?”

I couldn’t.

“Anyway,” she finished the liquid in her thimble, “it doesn’t matter now, does it? What do you need from me?”

I sat back, breaking the intangible tension.

“Well you’re right; I’m thinking it was inside, I just don’t know if it’s mine or yours. If it’s mine, I need someone from the outside looking in. I want you to shadow me, see if anything looks out of the ordinary, anybody I can’t see.

“Steele Industries has their own trackers on me; they’re good, but not as good as you, and they’ll be gone with nothing to report in a few days.”

“Wouldn’t Ed be better for this?”

“Don’t know, because I can’t use her. And if it’s on my side that would tip them off that I knew, though Ed is hard to track, and I think she’d do it. Anyway, they’re going to Nanjasi without me. I’ve been suspended for getting caught; the suits at Steele say I’m a liability.”

“The suits at Steele are wrong.”

“Kriley tried to say that, but they weren’t interested. Will you do it?”

She sighed.

The waitress came back with the bourbon.

“Should you be drinking?”

“Question is, shouldn’t you?”

She considered it.

“What the hell.” With that, she answered both questions.

I poured some into her thimble, but she took the glass from my hand.

“On the rocks ruins it,” she said.

“I didn’t want you taking advantage of me.”

She smiled.  “We both know I can do that whenever I want.”

I reached over and brushed a strand from her eyes, my thumb brushing her temple, and she wanted to lean into my hand, and I saw the effort not to; I put my hand back on the table, and it was a little colder where her cheek would’ve touched.

“That’s what would’ve made us great, but it’s also what makes us impossible.”

She lifted the glass in a silent toast, and I lifted the thimble, and we drank.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

March 3rd 2014

All rights reserved