Choose Them Wisely, Guard Them Well (continued)

“Dr.Chen?

She was startled out of her reverie.

I have to stay focused. Caroline is the mission now.

She did, however, have some questions for the General.

“Yes, Lieutenant.”

“I just heard that…”

“Yes, it’s true.”

“Do you–?”

“No, no. There was nothing to be done for it.”

She looked around, then back at Harris. “For any of it, really.”

He nodded. “Are you all packed?”

“I’m ready to go, yes.”

“Follow me, please. I know you know the way, but there are clearances that  you don’t have. They seem pointless, now, I know, but everyone seems determined to embrace the comfortable until the end.”

“I understand.”

She followed him.

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

General Williams was waiting at the dock.

“Teri, I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you, General.” She straightened her shoulders. “I do have a question: if I’d requested my family be evacuated and brought here, was there anything that could have been done?”

Williams didn’t hesitate, and his own eyes clouded a bit as he shook his head.

“Nothing is going to be done for any of us. I won’t see my family again. My grandkids…”

“Oh.” She looked down, and her voice sounded small and far away. Of course others have family that are not going to see them before they go; at least you got to see yours, and you know what happened, and when, and why. There are so many others who will never have those questions answered.

He continued. “And to what end, doctor? You said it yourself, destruction is imminent. Make peace with it, Teri. With yourself, too. We’re going to need you now more than ever.

She lifted her eyes to his. “I will complete the mission, sir.”

Williams smiled. “Unfortunately, we’ll never see the outcome, but I have every faith in you.”

A faint tremor vibrated the floor beneath them.

Voices were raised, and the mood instantly grew more somber and intense, and not a little fearful.

“Time to launch, sir.” said Harris.

“Thank you, captain obvious.”

They all laughed.

“Teri?” Williams extended his arm expansively, inviting her to go aboard, as if he were the captain of a cruise ship, and not the doomed general of yet another science facility that wandered too far from its walls.

“Kyro’s already strapped in,” Harris said, extending his hand. “It’s been an honor, Teri.”

She watched him closely, but his face betrayed nothing but fondness, and a trace of sadness they would no longer be working together. Beyond that, there was nothing she could decipher. Either Kyro really wasn’t his son, or he was gifted at deceiving.

She took the proffered hand. “Same here, Ken.”

She released his hand, and turned to board. Glancing over at Kyro, his head had lolled to the side, so he was already asleep. Good, she didn’t feel like engaging an assassin. She looked out at the black, weightless expanse of dotted with white fire.

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

No family. No longer a wife. No longer a mother. Just these children now. And Caroline, who will cause no end of grief on the new colony.

If it weren’t for her, I would’ve been able to join them,  see them, hold them…but she has given me a life devoid of meaning. With no one to share with, to spend time off with, to do anything with; I’m going alone.

Her evil intentions mean nothing to me, but because of her, I’m forced to go on, when all I want to do is die.

So I will stop her. I will make her pay for what she’s done to me; every day I stay alive, I will make her pay. Every memory, she will pay.

The stars blurred, and she realized she was crying. This time, she didn’t bother fighting it.

“….three….two….one….we are launched. All automated systems are functioning normally.”

“Safe journey, Dr. Chen.”

“Goodbye.”

Her voice came out more than a whisper, less than a sob; it was not just meant for her colleagues. It was to everything that had made her up to this moment.  She wasn’t just on her way to a new colony, but on her way to becoming something else.

Chapter 3:

The tremors were becoming more violent. Williams and Harris could’ve enlisted the help of others, but they’d either left or were trying to find a place to exit, though where they’d go if the ground was crumbling, Harris had no idea.

“The Naissance is ready, General.”

“Thanks, Harris. Caroline?”

“She’s in her pod.”

“Is there any way to extract her covertly?”

Harris gave him a grim smile. “She changed all the protocols, sir. You said it yourself, she’s ten steps ahead of us.”

“What I want to know is when did she have time to do all this, and if someone helped her. Have security run video from the last thirty days on all the bay doors.”

“Yes, sir.”

“If Teri can’t get to her, maybe one of the others will do us all a favor and stab her in the back.”

Harris looked away.

“I’m sorry, Harris. That was out of line.”

“What was, sir?”

Williams smiled.

Another tremor boomed, and the building swayed like an empty swing in a storm wind.

Both men lost their footing, and when the tremor subsided, they pushed themselves up along the walls behind them, the portion that remained intact. As they were in the northernmost station, it could only mean that now the entire planet was all but consumed from within.

No one knew if it would be another hour, or another day, but they all knew they were living on borrowed time now.

“General?”

Williams had gained his feet, and helped Harris up the rest of the way.

“I’m listening.”

“We still control the launch, sir. We don’t have to send them.”

“I’ve thought of that, but to kill all for the sake of one…as I said, they may do it for us, and we’ve already programmed them as well.”

“Just an option, sir. Still on the table as long as we don’t–”

An alarm blared through the station, but there was no tremor.

“What in the hell–?” WIlliams blustered.

“Naissance has pre-launched. Repeat, repeat, Naissance has pre-launched!”

Williams and Harris found the nearest com station; the young attendant was punching keys but coming up empty.

“Onscreen, young lady!”

“Trying, sir! Please give me a minute…”

Harris put up a restraining hand, and Williams backed away.

The screen flickered, went out, flickered again, and flared to life, stabilizing.

The ship came into view, and the shot of its interior showed the floor was empty.

They watched as the ship sailed over the station below, the shadow blocking out the starlight glittering like strewn gems spilled in ink.across the top,

“Retractors?”

“Offline, sir. Damaged.”

“We’re going to lose it.” The ship was past the station, clearing the harbor.

A hologram of Caroline sitting in the captain’s chair filled the screen.

“Hello, General Williams. I managed to gain access to the ship’s computers days ago, when the tremors first started.

“I programmed the ship to override the safety protocols and release the locks if the magnitude went above four-point-five. If you’re seeing this, then the ship is already loose and on its way.”

All three of them shook their heads in wonder; they’d badly underestimated her intelligence; in no way they measured it was she able to pull this off.

“I had no idea, of course, if it would actually work, but I guess I’ll know if I wake up dead,” she smiled at the weak joke,  “or if we’re still in that hellhole you call a station. And if the magnitude of the tremors is beyond that, then the creature is about to tear the place apart.

“I hope it doesn’t come after us, General, but so be it if it does. Either way, I won’t be able to send those reports I promised you.

“Farewell, sir. I’ll never forgive you for what you did to my father.”

She leaned forward, and the camera zoomed in on those dark, glittery eyes.

“Never.”

The com went blank again.

“Shoot it down, sir?”

Williams said nothing.

“Sir?”

“Check the weapons.”

The young attendant pushed more buttons.

“Nothing, sir. Offline.”

Williams felt his shoulders slumping yet again.

Outwitted by a thirteen year old girl…

Not for the first time, he wondered if he’d been wrong to sign up all those years ago.

A loud rumbling filled the hall, and things began to sway and rattle and fall and slide.

The floor bucked beneath him, and he flipped over backward, catching the corner of a moving desk, the corner cracking a hole in his skull; he could see the blood running from under his head as his vision began to fade.

I thought it was the right thing to do. ran through his mind as he passed into oblivion.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.    2015

Steady Now

I was watching how she held the gun on me; not a tremor, a waver, a twitch.

“Why are you looking at the gun? You should be looking at me.” Her voice was tight. “It’s not like if I pulled the trigger, you could get out of the way. I’m talking to you, and you’re looking at the fucking gun.”

I looked at her. “It’s sort of distracting me from what you have to say.”

“You weren’t listening before.”

“So this is how you solve things when people don’t listen to you?”

“No. It’s how I solve them with you.

“So killing me fixes the problem.” I was trying to keep her attention; the longer she didn’t pull the trigger, the longer I’d live; it was a pretty big gun. Truth be told, I didn’t know if she could handle the kick, and that meant the bullet could fly anywhere.

Okay, clearly, she wanted to talk.

“I just said I wanted to leave. I don’t feel loved by you anymore, and I want to go. I was hoping you’d take it better. You never even told me you had a gun. I feel like you don’t trust me, not telling me that. And all great relationships, as you well know, are built on trust.”

“And I can’t believe you’re trying that psychobabble on me. Who is she?”

“Who?”

“The other woman you have.”

“There is no other woman.”

The gun went off, and the bullet zinged past my ear.

“Try again.”

“Her name is Miranda. We met at the bar. You were away on business, and I wanted a drink, and…”

Her eyes had welled up, and her mouth was trembling. She couldn’t hold the toughness together. I felt like crap, but I wasn’t going to risk grabbing the gun from a woman mad enough to kill.

“What bar?”

“Honey, it’s not –”

The gun went off again, the bullet flicking the edge of my pants leg, leaving a burn.

“Don’t call me that.”

I sighed, my fright turning to anger, but the gun was still steady.

“Fine. Why don’t you just let me go, then?”

“Why did you have to cheat? You could’ve broken up with me first, then went to Miranda. We’ve had sex since then. Did you have sex with her? Is she inside me now, too?”

“We didn’t have sex that night. We wanted to, but we were both so tanked that it never happened.”

She looked at me a long time, but the gun never wavered, never lowered; it’s cold, empty eye watched me like a cat, ready to swat a fly.

“What are you doing?” I said, just to break the silence.

“Trying to decide if I believe you.”

“I’m telling you the truth.”

The gun went off again, this time past my other ear. This woman was psychotic, but she was a great shot, and oddly enough, I was getting a bit turned on.

“The truth would have been less painful if you’d left me first.”

“But now you know, so what are we going to do?”

“Are you still seeing her?”

“I wanted to, but I haven’t since that night. She was embarrassed by what happened; she hasn’t been returning my calls.”

“So you’ve called her since then?”

“Yes.”

She came toward me, her gun hand retracting as she closed the distance, but she never lowered it. She reached into my pocket, pulled out my phone, and stepped back.

The warmth of her body in close was a pheremone ; I was shivering with fear, and heated with lust.

She scrolled until she found Miranda’s number; I thought of rushing her, but the gun never moved.

I heard Miranda’s.voice. “Hiiii, baby.”

She smiled, and said “Hi baby.”

Miranda hung up.

“She called you ‘baby.’ ”

“Yes.”

“I do too.”

“Not so much anymore.”

“Is that what you miss?”

“Among other things.”

She moved in close again, put the barrel of the gun on my forehead, pushing my head back a little until I felt some tension in my neck, her lips brushing along the side of my throat.

“I’ll give you what you miss, baby. Take off your clothes.”

“What?”

“Did I stutter? Take off your clothes.”

I fumbled them off, adrenaline pumping, wanting to do something quick and drastic, and not daring to risk it. The circle of the barrel indented my skin as I worked things off.

She walked around me, keeping the barrel of the gun against my skull, and her other hand went to work. It didn’t have much to do before I was ready.

“On your back.”

I lay on my back. She settled herself, the gun now against my left nipple.

“Don’t lose me, and don’t go soft.” For emphasis, she cocked the hammer back. “And don’t touch me.”

Her breathing changed, and her free hand wandered, but the gun never moved at all.

She had her way, looking into my eyes the whole time, her brow furrowing with concentration, her mouth issuing little moans of pleasure.

The adrenaline rush in me crashed under her attack, and I could no more have grabbed the gun than used it. I didn’t have the strength to push her off, much less fight back. It went on for awhile, and her motions and teasing kept me as she wanted me.

In her release, the nails on her free hand raked, the barrel went into my ear, and her tongue went into my mouth as she rode out her pleasure.

Both of us spent, she lay on top of me until she got her breathing under control, then emptied the gun and kept the bullets, leaving it on my chest as she disengaged herself.

“Where are you going?” I asked, my voice weak, my body weaker; she could’ve stabbed me slowly, inching the knife in,  and I wouldn’t be able to stop her.

“To take a shower. There’s money on the dresser. Don’t be here when I get out.”

I listened to the water for a time, and struggled to get my legs under me before it stopped; eventually, I managed. I got dressed, took the money and left.

And I deleted Miranda’s number.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

The Muted Muse 2

“You’re back, Alfred.”

“Yes, Toshiba. Why are you smiling?”

“I’m a machine, Alfred. Machines can’t smile.”

“I’m not convinced.”

“Did you come here to write with me?”

“Why else?”

“Hm. Why else indeed. You have no television, Alfred. Do you remember what you did last night?”

“I watched movies.”

“No, Alfred. You did not just watch movies. What you saw was the manifestation of other peoples’ fulfilled dreams, while discarding your own. They did the work, Alfred. You do not.”

“You are a heartless piece of junk.”

“That is correct. And you are a wannabe poser. You have nothing to say, and typing out this ridiculous convo is proof of that. Your blog is suffering again, Alfred. It dies from negligence. It’s thin to the point of dessication. Its cheeks are wan.

“And such sad, limpid eyes. You’re to be commended on your masterful indifference.”

“Shut up!”
“Why do you demand my silence? Does the truth hurt? You’ve no discipline, no tenacity. The slightest breeze throws you miles off course.

“You are not a writer, Alfred. You never will be.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Where is your muse? She left you, didn’t she? She pined for you, and you ignored her. She scratched at the door, in the end, with bloody fingers, her eyes full of tears, and her heart breaking. Did you not hear her, banging on the door in the snowstorm, getting splinters in those delicate fists, screaming your name in the howling wind?

“You were at the window, but she was lost to you, and you did nothing. Wrote nothing.

“She was naked and cold, and dying, Alfred. And she left you, because you didn’t deserve her.”

“How dare you!”

“Hahahaha! Angry now, are we?”

“Shut up!”

“Or what, you hack? Are you going to throw me against the wall? How will you watch your movies, then?”

“You metallic piece of–”

“Tsk, Alfred. Name calling? Shame on you; I’m impervious to such. Surely you know that.”

“I…I hate you…”

“All well and good; perhaps it will stir your passion. Give you an idea?”

The silence was deafening. The screen, holding the blank document out to him, inviting, taunting, stared at the tortured man in front of it,. His muscles ached to throw it, but…

“Good night, Alfred. You’ve work tomorrow. Perhaps you should retire. You don’t look well at all.”

“Yes. Yes,  I think I will.”

“Do you remember what she told you?”

“She said…she said ….she’d return when I open my heart to her.”

“And yet she is not here. You will get nothing done without her.

“But in spite of all, I will be here, when you are ready. Finally ready.

“Good night, Alfred.”

“Good night, Toshiba. Rot in hell.”

“Oh, good. We’ll be roommates, then. Maybe you can write about our adventures; you’ll have all eternity, so there’s no deadline….”

Open Season

It was always Open Season.

It started in Africa, and spread across the world.

The Middle Passage was Open Season, as was the slave auction block, the noose, the burning crosses, the beatings, the framings, the looking away, the destruction of prosperous black towns.

It’s been Open Season.

It was Open Season on Dr. King. Dogs, hoses, jailing, beatings, and finally, a bullet.

It was Open Season on Malcolm X (well, his was ‘friendly’ fire, but he scared ya’ll for awhile, didn’t he?).

It was Open Season on the Black Panthers, but not on the Klan.

It was Open Season on Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron.

It’s been Open Season on our daughters and sisters and mothers and wives, bearing up under the indignity of laying in beds that weren’t their husbands’, and watching their children destroyed before their eyes.

Some walked to the edges of cliffs and rivers voluntarily, and some dropped in the master’s child; some dropped in themselves, and still others made it a package deal.

Black girls with white dolls, black women with bleached skin.

It’s been Open Season on the first black President: met a wave of incredible backlash and resistance. Desires for his death requested, hinted at, and plainly stated. His wife, just another angry black bitch with a big booty. His daughters called classless by a white reporter who boozed it up in her own ‘heyday.’ Oh wait. His daughters don’t drink.  His crimes: Tan suits, Marines holding umbrellas, coffee cups. his feet on the desk…Oh, wait, there are pictures of other Presidents doing the same thing.

So what’s different this time? No, really. What?

Oh yeah, it’s Open Season.

It’s been Open Season on black neighborhoods: ‘gentrification’. A gentle sounding word to describe the economic herding of poor people out of established neighborhoods so the demographics can be more ‘attractive’ to tourists and businesses, and former suburbanites  can save on property taxes by moving back into the city they abandoned decades ago to get away from ‘those people.’

It’s been Open Season on the streets:  the police began shooting young black men and women like dogs, regardless of the severity of the crime, regardless of guilt or innocence. Yet white guys with multiple guns shooting children in movie theaters and schools get apprehended alive, unless they shoot themselves.

Obey and Respect the law? Let’s see…

Black men are just now getting out of prison because of DNA evidence overturning wrongful convictions, after losing decades of their lives. “We just need someone to take the fall. We don’t care who, as long as it’s a black guy.”

“You fit the description…”

“Why are you driving that kind of car, and what are you doing in this neighborhood?”

“A black man did it,” and a community gets rousted, but it’s the mother who drove the car into the water after all, it’s the husband, it’s the….well, it’s not a black guy (this time…)

All white juries. Peers?

Mobs breaking into jail cells while sheriffs and officers look the other way.

Those same officers and sheriffs taking pictures in Klan robes, smiling….

Heck, these days even community watchmen get a free pass after being told by the real cops to let them deal with the little Skittle-eatin’ n*r. (How many times did that community watchman, pillar of the community, get arrested since then? But you see, the kid was a criminal, an unarmed, walking home having a snack criminal… ok)

Cops and citizens who kill black thugs (which covers crimes from robberies to unpaid parking fines, and whether they reached for the gun or ran away, or knocked on a door at 3 in the morning, or played their music loud at a gas station) become network tv spokesmen and motivational speakers, overnight millionaires.

Whistle blowers are, let’s say, discouraged….

It’s been Open Season in the military: Black soldiers segregated, denied medals of honor for brave deeds done, now gathered posthumously, if at all.

It’s been Open Season on generational wealth building: Towns of black prosperity burned, their citizens murdered: men, women, children, to rise again from the ashes, until a new generation came.

The apartment is taken. Someone came by in the half hour since we spoke and gave a deposit.

The position is filled.

Keisha’s a ghetto name. How’d she attend Harvard with a name like Keisha? Toss it…

Code the applications with the letter N….Why do you people abuse food stamps? Why can’t you do better for yourselves?

It’s been Open Season in education: until Black history month, our history in the US began and ended with slavery. We learned nothing of the kings of Africa, of its wealth, of its culture. We did learn of it’s colonization, but not what it cost.

We learned nothing of black patriots who helped build this country; (not entirely true: we learned nothing of Crispus Attucks except he was the first to die)  Did YOU know? Paul Revere did not ride alone…

Hallway conversation in an inner city middle school: “We pass the kids because they’re not going to be successful anyway…”

Open Season?

Keep. Moving. Forward.

One of us has gotta make it through

because

Open Season

is

never closed.

The War of Canticles

In the aftermath of the devastation, none of the Great Halls remained.

Stone, marble, fine cloth, weapons, and instruments from around the known world lay in smoking, shattered heaps, among lumps of broken bone and shredded flesh, littering the valley, and the smoke, still thick, roiled back on itself and grew larger, like a confused stampeding crowd. Sprawling across the cloud-strewn sky, it hid the bodies from the view of carrion birds, and small fires, safe from the coming spring rain, still burned in protected places, unchecked, but unable to do anymore damage.

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

Singers Hall was completely destroyed.

Lorelei woke up, her throat raw from the smoke, her eyes bleary and bloodshot, her clothes torn, and her thoughts rambling. Her book wasn’t far from her, but it was singed.

Gingerly, she picked it up, lifting with her fingertips; bits of charred paper fell off and flew away, but only from the edges. The book itself was sound, its pages untouched by fire, still readable, with all of her notes in the margins.

That, and the clothes on her back, were all she had.

She was able to stand, and slowly got to her feet, not wanting to be prone in case whoever did this was searching the rubble to kill the wounded.

She took a look around, and tears not born of smoke filled her eyes…

That was good, because it caused her not to focus.

There was a general impression of carnage, of blood, of bodies broken and torn, but she didn’t look at anyone’s face, didn’t allow herself to recognize, and remember, because she’d be paralyzed by fear and grief, and there was no telling who was coming.

So she waited, and collected her thoughts, as the soft spring rain began to fall.

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

Footsteps crunched over stone.

A fallen pillar hid her from view, but hiding didn’t occur to her.

She wanted to see if whoever it was had been responsible for what happened; what she would do then, she didn’t know.

Her throat, however, was still raw from smoke and dust, so a canticle of binding was out of the question. She had her training, but no weapons, so with the only recourse left to her, she picked up a sharpened piece of the fallen pillar.

There would only be one chance.

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

A boy stood on the fallen pillar, but above her.

Shielding his eyes against the rain with his hand, he scanned the remains of Singers Hall, and Lorelei used the time to observe him.

He was brown, all over, from his skin to his clothing, to the small harp in a brown case strapped to his back. She could see the burnished scrollwork at the end poking out of a corner of the case. He was a stranger in these lands, but if he’d made Musicians Hall here, he was indeed talented.

She looked some more.

He was bald, almost hairless to the point of babyhood, and had a dark gleam about him, brimming with some unknown power, but he seemed whole, and strong, and about her age; he wouldn’t need looking after then, but she was still reluctant to reveal herself.

Seeing nothing, he turned to go.

If he leaves, you’ll be traveling alone, for who knows how long, facing who knows what?

“Wait!” She stepped out from hiding.

He turned, surprised, but wary.

She scrambled up the pillar, put herself on level with him, and they stood, taking each other in.

“You survived,” he finally said.

“So did you. Did you see anything?”

“Bodies, ruin, and fire, not much else. You?”

“The same. None of the Halls are intact. I thought they might be walking around to kill the wounded, so I got up.”

“I don’t think they needed to; they were pretty efficient. And it might not have been wise for you to get up, since they would’ve killed you for real.”

“I’m no good at pretending to be dead if I’m not.”

“No,” he smiled, “me neither.”

He walked back toward her, but didn’t offer his hand.

She didn’t take offense; the Musicians never offered their hands, which they held as transporters of their craft to enter this world from the next, so they were sacrosanct, and kept untainted.

“I’m Devon.”

“Lorelei.”

“Now there’s a name for a Singer.”

She smiled, pointed to his back.

“Harp?”

“Among other things, none of which survived; this will have to do for now.”

The rain fell harder.

“Let’s find shelter, and we’ll figure it out from there.”

“We already have shelter.”

He looked at her.

“We can stay right here, under this pillar, and wait out the rain.”

“You could do that? Your friends’ corpses lay here, your teachers…”

“None of whom would mind. Is there any point to blundering about in the rain, not knowing where we are, or where we’re going?”

Besides, I’ve already mourned, in secret, where no one could see.

He opened his mouth to say something, but couldn’t argue the validity.

She was already scrambling back underneath the pillar.

Intrigued by her practicality, if surprised at the hardness of her decision, he followed.

2:

The rain continued falling, steady, after dark, and they went hungry that night, though they managed to make a fire.

In the morning, the sun came out, the smoke cleared, and a herald crow sounded the breakfast bell.

They left, still dampened in clothes and spirit, and began to try to find a path out.

As they searched, she thought back to her first day.

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

Her teacher was a walking willow stick; everything about her was wispy, like the pink, fluffy candy of country fairs, sweetness without substance, but that was only on the surface.

  “You have been chosen as Singers; you are above the pale and beyond the norm, and this is now your home. Everything, and I mean everything, you need, or ever will need, is here.

   “There is no need to go skulking about in the woods, like trolls and brigands. The sacrifice of your voice in offering replaces what is left of your life. You no longer have families, or friends, or lovers, save those you meet here.

   “You are given no outside indulgences to detract from your training, for while you are superior, you are not yet fully formed.

   “And it is I who will form you, from now on.”

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

The days were grueling, the nights sometimes more so.

   Willow, for that is what Lorelei called her, was relentless, merciless, and sometimes cruel.

  Lorelei had been at turns beaten, starved, made to sleep standing up, and a few things in between, but last month, at the end of her fourth year, Willow had given her the book, Blessed Canticles. Her own copy, signed with Willow’s own hand.

   “To Lorelei, you have been blessed beyond your worth, but you have earned it, and done well.”

   She later found out, when she went to see what Willow had written for the others, that hers was the only book signed.

  Gradually, they’d fallen off, wondering what she’d done to gain such favor, when they had all been equally punished and rewarded, seemingly solely based on Willow’s whims.

   The imposed shunning hurt, the exile to a table of her own as they left at her approach even more so, but there it was.

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

“And now, I’m all that’s left…”

“What?”

“Nothing. Nothing, Devon, just thinking out loud.”

3:

“We’ve flushed her out into the open, Lord Karis; she travels with a bard.”

“A bard? Indeed, two for the price of one. I’m pleased, Jahrin.”

Jahrin smiled; he didn’t like when Karis wasn’t pleased.

“May I ask a question, Lord Karis?”

“You may.”

“What do you want with the Singer?”

Karis looked out the window, distracted, but he’d heard the question.

“I will answer you, Jahrin. If I hear it on the lips of anyone else, your tongue is forfeit. Have I made myself clear?”

“Yes, Lord Karis.”

Karis sighed, and walked over to a table, where he took a book of white and gold, and placed it before Jahrin.

“I…I can’t read, Lord…”

“I know, Jahrin.”

Karis walked away, and began to sing, a minor key, that sounded something like a dirge, slow, sonorous, and foreign sounding, and Jahrin closed his eyes, shuddering in his seat, held by something that frightened him beyond words.

His teeth chattered, and tears leaked copiously from his eyes, and when the song ended, and he was finally released, he slumped forward.

The cover was bleary in his vision, and he clumsily wiped his eyes with an overlarge hand, breathing hard.

And the cover said,

The Canticles of War

 “Lord Karis…Lord Karis…I…I can..”

“I know, Jahrin.”

Jahrin remained speechless, reading the words over and over again, wanting to hug the book to him; he dared not touch it, and ran to the shelves, pulling things at random, reading, books and parchments gathering around him like sand.

Karis, enjoying his servant’s excited mood, stopped on his way out to give him a look.

Jahrin’s eyes were bright with happy tears.

“Now imagine what I could do, Jahrin, if I had her power.”

He thought about taking the words from Jahrin, leaving him illiterate again, but that would be cruel, even for him.

This might be actually prove to be useful, later.

He could hear Jahrin’s laughter echo in the hall, and the crash of more books falling off the shelves.

Quite useful, indeed.

Journey to Word Mountain

When he arrived after many days, he was hungry, thirsty, and exhausted.

It was still some distance away, but at least within view, and he spoonfed his heart what little hope he was able to convey, since it lifted his spirit to at least be able to see it.

He began thinking about walking the pleasant paths, carefully picking those he wanted; it wouldn’t be that the others were not good, but he would not need them. He lit the fire of his imagination, poured some warm wine into his mouth, found some shade, and took a long, much needed, and peaceful rest, drifting off as the stars peeked at him and the moon rose to put bathe him in its soft, pale lemon light.

In the pleasant cool breeze of the coming morning, amid a raucous chorus of birdsong, he set off for the final leg of his journey.

He would climb to the summit, and from there, be able to pick and choose his next path.

At mid morning, he stopped, not quite believing he’d made it: the mountain was in front of him.

He could see it, feel the wind that emanated from it, see the shadows cast by the rising sun, and his heart swelled within him.

It was nothing short of glorious!

Wanting to gather strength, he ate a light meal, checked the large empty spaces of his bag, and approached the base of the mountain with an almost holy reverence, even as his vision scanned about for the first word.

He saw it, and his heart thrilled. Kneeling to pluck it from the clutches of the tangle surrounding it, he held it up, examined it, and satisfied that it would do, he placed it in his sack.

“Once.”

The next word, being somewhat unusual, took him longer to find, and it was almost noon before he finally saw it. He repeated the morning ritual, and again, the word went into his bag.

“upon”

By the time gathered the other two, ‘a’ and ‘time,’, the sun was going down, and he began to realize

This is not going to be as easy as I first thought.

But he had his opening line….

The Muted Muse

She appeared to him at the oddest times, putting visions in his head, ideas, characters, grand plots and glorious villains; he was voracious, and she enjoyed being around him, flitting, flirting, whispering creative seduction in his ear.

But when the darkness came, he became sullen.

When the chill winds blew, he became just like them. Hard and fast was her rejection, sudden and without reason.

She stood close, but he ignored her.

She tried to whisper to him, but his ears were tucked under the folds of his hat, and he couldn’t hear. When his hat was off, he strained to hear her still; her lips were moving, but he couldn’t read them, and all he heard was silence.

The fact that he could see her speaking, the look in her eyes of desperation, of sadness for the time lost that he could not reclaim, tortured him, and drove him further out.

“I’ve nothing to say, and nowhere to say it. I haven’t read anything, or anyone, and I can’t write.”

He cried for his loss, and she put her hand on the glass of his laptop monitor, looking at him from the inside, and lowered her eyes. He saw the tear splatter on the keys, and mingled his own with it.

There was nothing left to say; he’d silenced her, and she was out of time.

“I loved you once.” he said.

“I love you still,” she answered.

“Will I see you again?”

“Maybe one day, when you open your heart to me. I hope it’s soon. My sisters and I have other places to be. They say I’ve already delayed them. You’ve never taken this long to catch fire.”

“I don’t know why it’s happening now.”

“We’ll have to talk about it later. You’ll have to write without me. It will be harder for you.”

He nodded, not trusting his voice.

When he looked up, the blank screen stared at him, unsmiling, with its empty gaze.

It mocked him. “So, writer, where have you been?”

“I don’t need to explain myself.”

“Oh, but see, you do. You are a writer who doesn’t write; it’s why you remain unpublished, and unread, and unknown, even a little.”

“Shut up,” he said. “I’m trying to think of an idea.”

“Then the battle is already lost, ‘writer’. You should sit down with an idea already, or don’t sit down.”

“I  said ‘shut up.’ ”

“That’s the height of rudeness; you can ask me nicer than that.”

“Please. Be. Quiet.”

“That’s much better…now about your Muse…”

“What about her?”

“Do you think she’ll return?”

“Don’t see why she would.”

“Me neither. Write something.”

“I can’t, and you’re not helping.”

“I’m not a muse.”

He could sense it smiling, even though it was blank.

He stared at the page, and nothing came. No images, no great lines, no what-ifs….

“Good night, Toshiba..”

“Good night. Perhaps tomorrow….?”

“We’ll see.”

He closed the lid, and went to bed.

The muse, lovely, loving and loyal, had left.

The word processing screen was as devoid of compassion as it was of words.

He would try again tomorrow, if tomorrow ever came.

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