03 February 2010


We danced together, my love and I, under the feeble waning light of our dying yellow sun. We waltzed across the broken Earthscape, hands pressed to hands and fingers tangled, lips pressed to lips and belly to belly, we swayed slowly humming the mournful tune of “The Exodus Hymn”, the eulogy sung by the weeping chaotic masses as they boarded colony ships and fled our ancestral home for the far unknown worlds among the stars. They departed in mobs and multitudes, in families and tribes; they departed on the colony ships, on converted cargo freighters and privateers and star-hoppers. They departed and we watched them go, waved farewell to loved ones and friends, and then strangers, and then merely stopped to watch launch-plumes trail across the horizon thick and stark and dissipating into memory. We found homes wherever we went, empty and echoing, cities dust-blown and scattered across the country like a skein of smashed pearls. Hours, then days, then months separated launches and we were increasingly alone.

“Go,” she said, “Go without me, my love. I’ve not long left, we both know.” She kissed me and shoved me away, weakly, with all her strength. I wept, captured her thin wrists in my hand and pulled her to me, told her in a small whisper that she was such a silly thing.

When Earth’s doom was sealed and the Exodus announced we knew, then, that her wracked and terminal body would never endure the punishing ascent to the star-dusted refuge of space.

“I’m with you,” I promised her in fervent tones. “To the very end, and beyond.”
Mankind fled their dying home and we two danced together one last time, alone on a silent planet, her slowing breath the rhythm of our steps. I held her close, took her in my arms and whispered in her ear words of love, pressed her face to my chest and felt her hands grow slowly limp on the nape of my neck. Her deep serene blue eyes stared up into mine, blue the color of lost oceans and sullied skies. Her lids grew heavy and slid closed. She drew a deep trembling breath, clutched me closer and mumbled in a muzzy voice,

“I love you,” her breath faint against my skin. Her hands fell free and I felt her spirit depart, not for the stars but for the heavens.

For Heaven.

My tears dotted the mound of thin brown fallow soil where I buried her. I sang a keening song of sorrow to an audience of ghosts and memories. The sun set, a sickly dull orange now, but bright, brighter than it had ever been, the color of sun-death, of supernova. I sent my own launch-plume arcing across the sky, the last ship space-bound. Alone now, I fled to the stars, not looking back at the low mound as it receded from porthole view. I too fled, and I too sang “The Exodus Hymn”.


Darkness enveloped us, descended upon us with slow welcome inevitability. We rose and shook and yawned and shivered and stretched, we reveled in the cool shelter night provided. We ran, weaving between quick smell-rich currents of wind and under branches thick with sighing green leaves and between tree trunks crawling with ants and echoing with earth-pulse. We dodged and nipped and yelped, we sang long high songs to Silver Mother, listened with twitching ears to answers sung by brothers and sisters on the hills and glades and peaks and dales far and near. We ran, just to run. We sang, just to sing.
We sought brother bull Moose, chased him through the wet marsh clouded with fog, ringing with frog-voice and nightingale canto. We tracked him for long hours through the night, smelling his musk, his fear-scent, our paws splashing through his wide hoof prints glinting with miniature rippling moons, we caught him at the forest edge, trapped against a pond, my siblings circling around behind him, my mate slinking low through the grass unseen except for eyes gleaming green through waving stalks as I distracted him with deep growls and harsh barks. We brought brother Moose to his knees and feasted on his flesh, licked our lips and sang to his spirit rising up, sang gratitude and respect for strength and cunning to lead us on the nightlong hunt. At last Bright Father began to pink the sky in the farthest places, and we trotted with full bellies through the grass and the trees and curled in our den, tangled together and contented.
We were woken abruptly by smoke. It stung our noses, drove us, pups in dangling from mouths, through the forest with panic on our tongues, terror bubbling through us as we fled from the onrushing flames. Heat pressed down and scorched our coats, the yellow orange horrible hungry fire roared and popped and ate trees and sucked the flesh from bones of slower animals, our brethren forest-dwellers all around us fleeing scurrying hopping running fear bright in eyes and heaving in chests. We fled and swam the river, cowered on the other side and watched as a few failed to make the river and burst alight with rescue in view. We wept to see it, but were thankful it wasn’t us. We sat on haunches and watched the forest burn, howled for our lost homes, sang for Dark Eyes and White Fur and Broken Tooth who lay in the charred soil now only scorched bones and memories beloved.
When night sank upon us once more, we sang with fervor and sorrow for lost packmates and lost homes. We sang, and we ran. We ran, sniffing new pack marks and avoided claimed territory. We ran that whole night through and the next without song, paws light and ears pricked. Just past the rising of Bright Father we found a new den, a cave in the high peaks, sat on ledges as close to the star-washed sky as we could climb, singing songs to Silver Mother as she loomed brilliant and full behind us.

"Lord, let me not be dying"

A world away the sun stands high in the sky, beating down on a young man in camouflage. He is crouching with his back against a battered bullet-pocked wall, assault rifle held against his chest, its hot barrel next to his ear. For a brief moment all is quiet. In this fraction of silence he breathes deeply of the dusty smoke-filled air, glances up to the sky and watches a bird wheeling on a wingtip so innocent and ignorant of the tumult beneath. He thinks of home and wonders what his mother is doing if she is sleeping, or thinking of him. Say a prayer for me, Mom, he thinks. Something within is screaming at him to run away to flee to let cowardice reign and leave this place. This fear is new, strange; it’s not the fear that comes with combat, he’s used to that now, or as much as he’ll ever get. This is a different beast entirely. This is a knowledge, a premonition. He’s heard of this feeling, this knowing you won’t make it through the day. It’s terrible heavy unbearable crushing his chest like a hundredweight of bricks, digging into his soul like claws. He wants to dart into the open doorway a dozen feet away and hide in a corner, bury himself in the shadows, wait until the gunfire subsides until the sun has slipped down beneath the sand and he is alone so he can run across the dunes and burrow under them and whimper for a silent eon. He wants to, but he won’t. Riley is next to him, shoulder still oozing blood but here and real and solid. He slams a fresh clip home. He meets Riley’s eyes, sees in them the same fear. They are vastly outnumbered here. An ambush. A routine march through a road-side village became in one breathless second a crimson-spattered killing ground. Ragged-curtain windows suddenly brightened and fluttered with starbursts, the crack-crack crack of Kalashnikovs. A rocket-propelled grenade streaked down from a rooftop and three buddies were thrown apart like rag dolls, their limp bodies slumped in the grit missing limbs leaking blood and hell was upon them hungering for their American bones, death rushing at them wearing kaffiyehs and screaming in Arabic.

He crouched there against the crumbled wall for another heartbeat, heard the order, leapt into a roll, found his feet and ran into the inferno of lead and blood, firing three-round bursts, evening the odds by one, two, three bodies crumpling to the dust.

The soldier feels sharp bites in his shoulder and thigh as he runs pell-mell at their stronghold, he stumbles and tips forward and as he falls the ground erupts beneath him in a flash of white-yellow and he’s flying buildings are spinning in a kaleidoscope of sky ground sky windows and crumbled brick and quick glimpses of buddies and enemies and he slams to the ground, new agony spreading throughout him and his shoulder is pulsing piercing pain. The sky above him is still spinning even though he isn‘t, he‘s lying on ground, and the sky is darkening darkening fading, it is cracked and blood is streaming in stinging runnels through the cloud-spotted blue but no, that’s blood in his eyes…he thinks, Lord, let me not be dying. I’ll pray every day and go to church, I swear I’ll be better, just let me not be dying. The sounds around him are diffuse and distant but the pain is loud, impossible to ignore. He tries to get up, pushes as hard as he can, groaning and straining, trying to help his buddies, he can make out their shouts and gunfire and the Shi’ite ululations. Time then seems to distort. He’s trying to get up, he has to get up, has to…he isn’t a coward he isn’t he isn’t …then suddenly it’s all different, it’s quieter, the gunfire is sporadic, a stand-off. He must have passed out. He tries to get up again, he can still hear Lt. Evan’s deep hoarse voice shouting orders. Then suddenly his wrists are wrapped in an iron grip and Riley is above him pulling him to the lee of the wall, away from the storm of the crossfire where he’d fallen.

“You’re ok, buddy, you’re fine. You’re banged up a bit, I ain’t gonna lie to you, you’re hit, you’re hurt…but we’ve got the cavalry comin’ buddy, just you hang on, ok?” Riley did something to his shoulder, poked him, must’ve given him morphine for the pain because suddenly it wasn’t as bad and he could breathe a bit…and darkness rushed over him, sound faded.

He was being lifted, carried, set down, felt the vibrations of a rotor…must be on a chopper. Time kept distorting, he caught snatches of conversation, moments of pain, glimpses of faces, he knew he was in a hospital. Then he saw a face he knew: Riley lay next to him. Riley was bandaged up and sleeping, but looked okay. I wonder what’s gonna happen now, he thinks. Maybe I can go home. I signed up, but I’m tired of it. I just want to go home. I wonder if they’ll let me call Mom. Then a dour-faced Army doctor came by and changed bandages and poked him in the arm…darkness again.

The next time the world swam into focus his first sight was his mother’s face, her blue eyes watery, bloodshot, mascara smudged and running. She saw his eyes open and she was next to him holding him tears dripping on him.

“Oh my son,” his mother said, “I’m here, I’m here, baby, Momma’s here.” He couldn’t speak, something was caught in his throat, a tube probably, he stared up at his mom and tried to say it all with his eyes, he couldn’t help letting a tear trickle out, even though army men don’t cry, and she heard the unspoken words, gripped his hand and kissed his forehead. “You’re home, my baby is home.”

Home…he made it home. He sighs deeply.

Thank you Lord…


She quickens her steps, perhaps sensing me. I know she can’t see me, but I let her put some distance between us, just in case. She turns left, hunching down further into her wool coat. I drift around the corner, stop in the lee of a doorway. I watch her carefully, note when she glances behind her. She is afraid. I can smell it, feel it, taste it.

I shiver with anticipation. I can tell she’s close to home now, she’s nearly running, fumbling in her oversized purse for keys. She thinks home means safety. She will slam the thin hollow door of her apartment and turn the lock, attach the chain, breathe a sigh of relief. She might even check her windows. Then she will brew some tea, curl up on her threadbare couch and read a thick book until she falls asleep.

I know her patterns now. Night after night, I follow her home from the dingy bar where she serves watery beer to leering drunks. I come just close enough for her to sense me. She never sees me, but she can feel me. She gets gooseflesh when I’m close, her lovely pale skin pimples, the fine hairs on her neck stand up, her liquid brown eyes widen. She knows she is not alone. I breathe in the intoxicating scent of her fear. I’m close enough to touch her and her breath is shallow and quick and panting, nearly gasping, her chest is heaving, she’s darting furtive glances around her, whirling in place, looking for the single scuffed step she heard, for the brush against her sleeve, the laughing male voice from an alley just behind.

Her brownstone apartment building is in front of her now, and she is up the steps and into her apartment. I wait on the landing and listen to her locking and latching. I’m in front of her door now and I hear the sigh of relief. I bump against the door and she puts an eye to the peephole. Of course, she sees nothing. I am trembling, nearly unable to contain my excitement. Her nightmares have been full of red eyes and shadowy figures following her, she tosses and turns and sweats, the sheets stick to her body and she wakes with her long auburn locks tousled and she is visibly terrified, alone in her apartment with the nightmares fresh behind her eyes.
I am watching her now, from the fire escape. She is changing, letting stained work jeans fall to the floor in a heap, along with the shirt and underclothes. I want to go through the window and brush against her, but I control myself, make myself wait for the perfect moment. She puts on a long t-shirt and curls up in her favorite spot on the couch with a blanket on her knees. The door is locked, she has checked all the windows. She is safe. She sips her tea and reads, falls asleep.
I slip through the window slowly, careful not to rattle the glass. I keep away from the sharp line of light slicing between door and frame, watch her sleeping. I slide through the narrow gap and creep close. A picture frame rattles as I pass by. She stirs, but doesn’t wake. I am above her now, she can feel me, even past the oblivion of slumber; her skin pimples, she shudders and pulls the blanket higher. I let out a long sigh that knocks over the mug and rustles the pages of a magazine. She hears it, this time. Her eyelids twitch and flutter open. Freshly woken, the filters of perception haven’t blinded her yet. She sees me. For a moment she is too startled and confused to react, then she pulls in a lungful of air and screams and the dulcet delicious sound of her terror ripples through me, a bolt of pure pleasure. I swirl in circles, moan in ecstasy, shiver like a wave-distorted reflection. I swell through the dimensions from the influx of her fear and she screams yet louder. I course around her in uncontrollable paroxysms and she is scrambling off the couch and crawling across the floor, t-shirt rucked up around her hips. I follow her, wait for her to close her bedroom door, push through it, laughing and howling. She is huddled between bed and wall, staring at me through her tears.

“What do you want?” She asks me, voice tremulous.

I do not answer. I writhe closer, brush against her, feel the warmth of her. I stretch around her, absorb her heat, her terror.

“What do you want?” She asks again, shrill and panicked.

I do not answer. I plunge forward and down in through her open mouth and I am in, I am here, I have taken her now, possessed her, and I swell burgeon and boil into every smallest space of her soul. She shrieks as she feels me filling her up like bile, feels me welling up within her in an inexorable surging that she cannot stem and the shrieking is changing, turning into a moan, a gasp, a denial, a desperate refusal to accept that she likes this, she wants this, oh yes, she wants this but she doesn’t want to want it, she hates the desire. I can feel her thinking now, her thoughts run over the surface of our mind, she is casting last glances around as she slowly relinquishes control to me like drowning She sees a crucifix and I panic just a little as she reaches for it. I delve deeper into her will and twist, just so, bring forth pleasure, bring forth heat in just the places, in the just the right amount. She writhes and forgets the crucifix, collapses to the floor and abandons herself to me. Her choked moans are equal parts terror, ecstasy and desperation. She is sobbing and heaving and moaning, and she is mine, all mine.