Friday, February 21, 2014

The Servatori and the Ragamuffin


Sobyiet the watchman heard the cry and made toward the sound.  Two of his brethren, Miyaki and Brumbow, joined him from other streets.  Rounding the corner, they found a crowd on the verge of becoming a mob, nervous, frightened but unhurt, hemming in a raggedy, hapless member of the town’s homeless community carrying a sack and an ugly looking club.  Sobyiet, being senior, took the lead.  “Good evening, PaLau*.  How may I be of assistance?”

“He’s a leper!”  “Look, he’s carrying a dead body!”  “Plague!”  “Murder!”  “Leprosy”  “Grave robber!”

“One at time, please!  You, what did you see?”

“Little but enough.  You can see he’s…very sick,” here the citizen pointed at the homeless man, bandaged and bedraggled, “and I think the bundle he carries does have a corpse inside.”

“Oh, come now, it’s late and the sandman fills the dark with fantastic dreams.  He’s obviously a peddler of rags and sundries.  Why do you say it’s a corpse he carries?”

“See for yourself.”  The man looked as if he had seen… well, a dead man.  Twitchy and on edge, there was little to be learned from the witnesses.  The watchman asked them to come to the Warden’s Court in the morning where they could make their statements; then he dismissed them.  Some would come, some wouldn’t.  By then, it probably wouldn’t matter; meanwhile, now they were out of harm’s way and more importantly, out of his.  They dispersed and the servitors were alone with the peddler.

“Certainly looks like a grave robber with a broken shovel,” Brumbow said.

“And a corpse carrying a corpse,” Miyaki added.

“We’ll know soon enough,” the watchman addressed the homeless man, “Well then, ragamuffin, let down your sack and show me your wares.”  The hooded man did not move.  To his brothers, “mind that club,” and to the homeless man, “Come sir, lets us see you and speak as men.  Do not be afraid.”  Slowly, a slender, long fingered hand reached up and pulled back the hood.

“Yah save us!  What is that?” Miyaki cried.

“Well, that explains the muteness.  I didn’t know leprosy did that!” Brumbow said.

“Nor did I,” Sobyiet said, “What are you carrying, cousin?”  The leper carefully set his bundle behind him.  Then opened a bag on its hip.  “What’s this then?  A book?  You want me to take it?”  Vigorously the Leper slashed the air with the club hand.  “Whoa!  Fine!  Keep it!”  Sobyiet jumped back and the three watchmen went into defensive stances.  Their lanterns now became flails.  The Leper advanced and tried to offer the book again. 

“Insistent chap, isn’t he?” Sobyiet said.

“Deranged is more like it,” Brumbow answered.  “I don’t like it.  I say we put him down for his own good.”

“His good or our good?” Sobyiet asked.

“Same difference.”

“You want me to take the book?”  Again he slashed with the club.  Miyaki’s flail shot down and Sobyiet grabbed the book.  As soon as he had, the Leper jumped back into a defensive stance, spines extended from either end of the club to make a wicked, two-pronged spear.

“How much you want to bet he can throw that like a javelin?” Brumbow said.

“Enough of this, we need to take him down,” Miyaki argued.


“No,” Sobyiet commanded.  “We need to take him to the palace.”

“What?”  “Are you deranged?”

Sobyiet ignored his brothers but addressed the Leper, “cousin, may I see what you have in your sack?”  He pointed at the bundle behind the Leper’s feet.  He set his flail aside.

“What are you doing?  Stay away from him!”

“Just.  Keep.  Calm.”  Sobyiet slowly walked over to the bag, the Leper didn’t move but watched Miyaki and Brumbow.  Sobyiet knelt and parted the coverings.  “We need to take him to the palace, to see the Viceroy.  We need to tell the Viceroy, we’ve found his son.”

*PaLau – literally, “children of my paternal ancestors”, sometimes used for cousins or siblings.  Here used to denote solidarity with fellow citizens of a shared heritage.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


The vulture circled and circled as if it had all the time in the world.  The advantages of being a scavenger, an eater of the already dead is one’s prey isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Slowly it spiraled downward until at last, it gingerly set its feet upon the hot sand.  Even then it hesitated, eyeing the dunes in all directions, instinctually aware that the line between eater and eaten, quick and dead is often tenuous at best.  In the air it was a prince, riding unseen currents with motionless ease.  On the ground it was a refugee, handicapped and hamstrung and only nominally more at ease than a carp would have been.

Assured of its solitude, it hopped over to the shroud-covered corpse and began to look for an opening.  Before it found one, a hand shot out of the sand below and snapped its neck.  Ignoring its death throws, the Harvester-which-had-no-kin, pierced its feathers and drank deeply…

As if it had all the time in the world.

Disoriented, adrift, life cut off from a reason for living.  Cut off from the collective.  Cut off from the kin.  Any kin finding it now would kill it as the kin by the pool had tried and almost succeeded.  Cut off from its purpose, its reason for existing.  What was a Harvester with no reason to harvest?  If it knew how, the Harvester-which-had-no-kin would have cursed the day it had felt the fire in its mind.  Cursed the moment it had chosen not to harvest this meat.  Cursed the enflamed hunger which had overpowered its function; caused it to betray its kind for a meat animal; to exchange the known for the unknowable.  If it could, it would have wished it had died by the pool.  How it had survived, it knew not.  It had awakened in the pool and the kin were gone.  Perhaps believing it to be dead, perhaps not caring either way.  Much the way the Harvester-without-purpose felt now, not caring if it lived or died.

Save the bundle, the shroud-covered corpse of the meat animal must be returned to its kin.  This was the only purpose the Harvester-without-purpose had.  This is why it continued to feed on lizards, rodents and birds, whatever the desert provided.  Why it raised itself with each falling dusk and walked until the rising sun shown in its remaining shuttered eye.  Night after night it walked, suspecting any meat animal which found it would kill it too, it skirted the outposts of the animals and the city on the water, sticking to the open sand as long as it could.  Too soon however, the Sea ended and the lands of the meat animals began.

Food was all around, yet the Harvester-without-purpose continued to fast, to cling to the shadows, to hide from the day, finding some park or trash heap to bury itself and its burden.  Here there were less birds but more rodents, it would not starve but the night was no longer dark; it was lit from a thousand points.  There were meat animals at night now too though less than by day and it took to covering itself from head to toe in case it was seen, much the way some of the meat animals did.  It did not go unnoticed, but none seemed inclined to challenge its presence.  Some, covering their faces, even made wide berth around it, giving way as if afraid to be touched but not crying out as they would if afraid to be drank.  This puzzled the Harvester-without-purpose and it spent many a night pondering the strange behavior of meat.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Last Gift

Ch’Voga heard the Monotooth return.  He opened his eyes and its skullish face hovered above his own.  He wanted to laugh at the irony that his last companion should look so much like his people’s mythological representations of Death itself.  He was near giddy; whether from his joy or dehydration he could not say.  “There you are,” he whispered between cracked lips and a swollen tongue.  “Been gone a long time.  You seem to have had a rough…a rough go.”  The creature’s normally scarred and nightmarish face with its gaping maw was even more wounded than before.  One eye-orb was smashed, the forehead looked cracked and something black and faintly blood-like was oozing out and caking on its ashen skin.  “I-I… when I saw you were gone, I prayed for you.”

“Quite remarkable really.  Such… clarity I’ve had since you’ve been gone.  How so many of my prayers have really been about...about me.  My mission.  My service.  My fame.  My glory.  My safety.  But I prayed for you, dear friend!  I knew not your peril, and in… indeed, you seem to have had some.  A sign.  A sign that what I saw… was from Him.  Yah…Yahweh led me to pray for your safety.  I e-even prayed for your soul.”  He reached up and carefully touched the monster’s face.  “I didn’t even think you had a soul?  Are you man or machine?  I do not know, Yah knows.  I prayed you would be… reborn.  Made… new.”

The Monotooth slid away from him then.  “No,” he wheezed.  It was getting harder to talk.  He had so much to say!  “Please, please, last, best friend, come here, come close!”  The creature hopped almost in place.  “Closer.”  An increment more.  “Closer.”  Another inch and Ch’Voga, with all the strength he had left, grabbed its bony arm and dragged it the rest of the way.  “Friend, I call you friend no longer!  Three gifts I have for you!”  He whispered his instructions to the creature, forcing the hapless monster to chop that it understood all he had told it.  Then he shoved his bag with its precious copy of the Holy Scriptures into its fingers along with his second gift and a great sigh of relief.

“Now, now the final gift.  The last gift I have to give.”  He told the Monotooth and it recoiled, slashing the air and if it could,  Ch'Voga thought it would have screamed.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


It left before the sun went down.  The meat animal was sleeping or unconscious.  The Need was not.  It was a roaring which demanded to be fed.  Even now, with many strides between them, the meat animal in the cave was searing the Harvester-which-chose-not-to-harvest’s senses.  There was a wadi, if it moved quickly, unhindered, it could just make it.  Pain came with every step against the pull to go and feed.

When the Harvester-which-chose-not-to-harvest was still some way off from the wadi and the moon was rising it became aware of the presence of kin.  Other harvesters rising from the cooling sand where they had slept the heat of the day away and continuing their own journeys to the wadi and water.  It was a natural gathering spot.  With the last predatory meat animal’s nest destroyed they would be returning to the collective with the spoil in their crops bulging with blood, bile, marrow and gore.  Any one of them could share with the Harvester-which-chose-not-to-harvest.  A new plan sprung fully formed into its mind and it adjusted its route to intercept the nearest kin traveling alone.

While the Harvester-which-chose-not-to-harvest was still a long way off however, the kin it was pursuing altered its own course.  No longer moving directly for the wadi, it was edging toward other kin and away from the Harvester-which-chose-not-to-harvest.  It was running away!

The Harvester-which-chose-not-to-harvest nearly came to a stop.  What reason would the kin have to avoid it?  Unless…

It changed plans and course again, continued on to the wadi.  It was going for water now.  It was no threat.  There would be plenty for all the kin.  It would gather what it needed as quickly as possible and leave.  The new, awakened part of its mind recognized this plan as “hope.”  It noticed the way the kin to either side were clustering together.  It sensed a clot of its kin already at the wadi waiting.  The hope dwindled. 

It crested the rise and there was the muddy pool below.  A few plants clinging to life around the water’s rim and six kin harvesters spread out between it and the pool’s edge.  They appeared anxious.  The longer it hesitated the more kin would arrive.  Even now four more appeared on the far side of the wadi.  The Harvester-which-chose-not-to-harvest cast, THIRST, and made for the pool.  The kin did not move but let it pass.  It waded directly into the pool up to it’s waist and slowly lowered its head to drink.

The first blow came from behind, the second from the side and the third blended right into the fourth and the fifth and the sixth so it knew not whence they came.  It crumpled below the water with the Kin-which-were-no-longer-kin’s cast ringing in its head.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014


They walked all night yet the sun was already high and hot when they came to another cave, not much more than a scoop out of a rock in the sand.  By the time they reached it Ch’Voga could barely stand, much less walk.  He groaned deeply when he found it was just another hidey-hole and again there was no water. 
“I am…sorry dear friend.  I know I am slowing you down.  Too many… days on a boat have …have not been good…preparation for a forced march…I’m afraid,” Ch’Voga gasped between phrases.  Talking much like he traveled.  The Monotooth, hardly even listened to the words.  It was twitchy and distracted and crawled into a tight ball as far from him as the hole would allow.
“Do we move again…later?”
“Will there be water in …this new place?”
“Then, I will rest …in hope.”
The Monotooth uncoiled a bit at those words.  It grabbed his jaw and waggled it.
“You want me to …speak?” Ch’Voga croaked.
“Oh.  About resting?”
“No?  Damn.  I had hoped…”
“What?  Hoped?  Hope?  Alright.  Hope.  Unfortunately the only verse that comes to mind is, “Whoever is joined to all the living has hope. After all, even a live dog is better than a dead lion!”  Ch’Voga wheezed a laugh.  “Sorry.  I guess imminent death dampens my memory and my normally sunny disposition.  Let me see if I can find you a more ‘hopeful’ verse.”  He pulled his copy of the Scriptures from his bag.
The Monotooth became very excited.  It leapt forward and nearly snatched the precious book from his paws.  It bent back the pages so it could see the words on them.
“Please Friend!  You may have it when I’m gone but for now, treat it with care!  It is life to me!  Nearly broke the spine, devil’s…Life to me.  Oh, Psalm 119!  You have jostled it loose!”  Ch’Voga turned to the appropriate page and read, 
““And do not snatch the word of truth utterly from my mouth,” (“or my hands,” he winked at the Monotooth.)

”For I hope in your ordinances.

So I will heed your law continually,

forever and ever.

And I will go about freely,

for I have sought your precepts.

And I will speak of your testimonies before kings, (I’ve done that you know!  Poor child.)

and will not be ashamed.

And I will take delight in your commands,

which I love.

And I will lift up my hands to your commands, which I love,

and I will meditate on your statutes.
Remember your word to your servant,

upon which you have caused me to hope.

This is my comfort in my misery:

that your word preserves my life.”
My comfort in my misery…Never have I wished so hard that I could drink in the Word.”  He was shaken awake by the Monotooth, “What?  Had I fallen asleep?”  The creature grabbed his jaw again and worked it.  “Ow!  I shall not be able to speak if you dislocate my jaw!  I’m sorry.  That’s twice I’ve lost my temper with you.  I do not mean to get angry, friend but I’m very tired and my head is throbbing.  You ask for words of hope from one who has lost much of the store he had.  I came to this desert because of hope.  To carry the hope of the Gospel to new lands, to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the captive and sight to the blind.  To speak the Truth to anyone who would listen.  And I have found the only two who would listen were an overwhelmed child and an undead, predatory, cyborg, vampire, devil who for some reason or another has not killed me yet.  The only prisoner I freed, died of fever and now instead, I’m a prisoner, though without chains, thank you.  I’m afraid however my hopes, like my patience and my charity are waxing low just now.”  He tried to stuff the book back in his bag and it wouldn’t go.  “What the..?  Why won’t it…?  Damn and damn and damn again!  What the devil is in here?!”  He turned the bag over and two, bruised and battered fruit fell out.
“Oh.  Oh my.  Dear Lord forgive me!  In my anger you still provide!  I put these in there so long ago I’d quite forgotten them!  Here, friend, one for each of us.  We should try and con-”  The Monotooth extended its tooth, a long, needle-like fang protruding from a powerful tongue and punched it through the skin of the fruit.  With a deep pull the gourd drained down to a wrinkled knuckle a quarter of its former size.  “-serve them.  I hope you won’t mind my saying so, but I do not want to get used to that; it’s uncanny!”  The Monotooth looked at him with its large, globular, shuttered eyes.  Without thinking, he reached out and gently touched the face of the creature.  “What was done to you, child?”

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A new spark

The Harvester was surprised to find it was now the host of two warring Needs.  Long it had only ever served the one.  Find food for itself and for the kin.  Here, helpless and bound, was food.  Meat for the drinking.  Its imperative clear.  Take food back to the others.  Take food for itself, for its own survival.  The wind was rising.  It was some time since it had drank the youngling and sipped from the meat animal.  Scanty meals at best.  Water was good but water did not feed the craving entirely.  It must feed.

But growing alongside the hunger and thirst were a new hunger, a new thirst: a thirst for answers.  A thirst for more sparks in its memory.  More flames in its mind.  Flames and sparks which only came from the words this meat animal made.  In order for it to keep making the noises which sparked the words which lit the ideas in the Harvester’s mind, the firestarter animal had to live.  Which meant the Harvester must not harvest.

Unmet need meant pain.  And now there were two pains growing.  Neither need was being satisfied.

The meat animal was getting answers to the meat animal’s questions but the Harvester had no way of asking its own.  The communication was entirely one sided.  The Harvester’s attempts to cast had met no response.  The meat animal must not be able to cast as the kin did.  Its attempts to communicate through dance had more impact but were frequently misinterpreted.  It quaked in the frustration dance.

“Are you alright?” the meat animal bleated.  The Harvester stopped, searched its mind for sparks, a task increasingly difficult over the rising roar of the Need to feed.  Nothing.  No spark of any kind.  Anger dance!  Frustration!  Confusion!  The smell of the meat animal, its living heat wafted over it, making the Need roar louder and with more purpose.  The tooth slid from its sheathe almost on its own. 

No!  The Harvester bounded as far from the meat animal as it could in the tiny cave.  It crawled high into a crevice and wedged itself in the cool darkness.  No.  It must not feed.  It must keep the firestarter animal alive.  But if it did not feed, the Harvester would die.  So it must feed.  The meat animal must die.  But if the meat animal died, the sparks would die.  In seasons of seasons the Harvester had never felt the warm flame of just a few words from the firestarter animal.  Even the word ‘word’ had come back because of the firestarter animal!

So what!  Words brought a new unmet Need!  Unmet Need brought pain.  In seasons of seasons the Harvester had never been this confused, never doubted its purpose, never not known its place or its mission.  It was a Harvester.  It gathered food for the kin.  What was a Harvester if it refused to harvest? 

A soon to be dead Harvester is what it was.

It rose and went to the meat animal.  The tooth extending.  There was no fear response from the animal.  It was unaware.  The meat had fallen asleep.  No fear.  Death came and the animal had no fear. 

No fear.  A spark, not from the noises of the animal now but from the fire already burning in the Harvester’s mind.  “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,” the meat animal had said at the well, “But whoever drinks of this water which I will give to him will never be thirsty for eternity, but the water which I will give to him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

The tooth retracted.  The roaring Need dulled down to a hissing, quieted not by drinking from the animal but by … something else.  The Harvester who chose not to harvest untied the firestarter animal.  The animal awoke.

“Aaaah!  Oh Yah, thank you, never have I been so glad to hurt so!  It’s like water in my veins so cold it burns!  Sweet relief!  But friend…Why?”  The Harvester who chose not to harvest listened to the sounds.  The animal wanted a reason for being released.  The Harvester who chose not to harvest gave no answer.  It had no way to communicate the new spark, the remembered word which not only lit fires but quenched them.


Monday, February 3, 2014


“You know?” Ch’Voga said to the Monotooth, “I do not have any experience or knowledge of your kind aside from legend and rumor but I’m beginning to suspect you are an uncommon example of your people.”  It was hopping about in front of him and thrashing the sand, throwing it on its head, the shutters on its eyes clicking together as they almost rhythmically fluttered; not entirely un-like castanets.  “I don’t know whether to be more scared or less.”  It stopped.  Just stopped.  Then it slashed the air and resumed the display.

“You didn't kill me initially.  You’ve kept me alive,  dragging me all around this desert, even giving me water, thank you by the way.”  Every time he spoke, the Monotooth stopped and adopted an intense listening posture.  It would hold still even long after he was done speaking.  “You’ve killed your own kind before they killed me.  Again, thank you, I think.  Why are you doing this?”  The Monotooth held still in a squat before him, its skull-like head extended forward as if straining to catch every sound he made.  “Can you even understand me?”  Its hand twitched a chopping motion.  “You want me to be quiet?”  It slashed at him with its hand.  A violent motion, but then, all its motions were violent.  It sat still, staring intently at him.  The silence stretched out between them.  Then it climbed nearly into his lap (it was amazingly light) and took his mouth in its spidery fingers (it was frighteningly strong!).  He tried to pull away but he was still tied and laying against a rock face of the cave.  There was nowhere to go.  He kept expecting the tooth to extend but it didn’t.  Instead the creature worked his jaw, open and shut, open and shut.

“Ah yew heckin’ fuh caffitieth?”  The Monotooth jumped back to a more respectful distance and did its listening squat.  “Thank you, but my usual dentist is a bit more gentle.  Wait.  Not teeth!  Talking! do..want me to talk?”  Again the chopping motion with the hand.  “Does that mean, “yes,” then?”  The same chopping motion!  “Oh, my sweet Lord!   Dear friend!  We have just communicated!  This is momentous!  This is…Has anyone ever spoken with your kind before?  I mean, of course, and lived to speak of it.”  The hand slashed the air in the opposite direction.  “Does that mean, “no”?”

The former chopping gesture.

“O Yahweh be praised!  We have two words between us!  Chop-Yes and Slash-No.  Binary communication.  Amazing!  And now my mind can conjure only “why” questions.  Typical.  Yes or no, Ch’Voga, yes or no…mm.  Well, the pressing question would be: have you kept me alive for a purpose?”


“To eat me later?”  The Monotooth stopped.  It had been hopping in a slightly circular pattern.  Now its bony shoulders slouched and its eyeslits almost closed and it seemed very, very small.  “Not yes but not no.  You don’t know why you are keeping me, do you, friend?”  The body did not move.  The soulless, mechanical eyes alone opened a hair wider and stared at him.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Short, Unhappy Life of Anathema Macomber

Anathema Macomber staggered out of the mess tent and into the dusty open area.  The camp looked empty but there were noises here and there.  Signs of life.  Something was still moving out there.  She took a long pull from the bottle in her hand and wiped her chin with the back of her glove.  She sat down in the dirt.

“Well, Daddy,” she said, “what do you think now?”  She surveyed the smoking remains and wind tossed debris of the camp.  “Pretty frickin’ great, huh?  Pretty..frickin’..great.  Daddy’s little soldier has really made a name for her self.  Done the old family legacy proud.  Betcher proud!”  She took another long pull from the bottle.

“I see you,” she said to a shadow under one of the trailers.  “I.  See.  You!  You little… why don’t you come out?  What’re you scared of?  C’mon!  Come see what Nathy’s got for you.  We all gotta go sometime.  What d’ya say?  You n’ me.  Nah?  Okay, sit in the dark and skulk.  See if I care.”  More bottle.  The door on the command trailer bent back at one corner.  She watched with mild curiosity as a Monotooth crawled out and then turned and dragged out something behind it.

“Preacher man!  Holy shit!” she slapped her knee and startled the Monotooth.  “You’re still alive!  Fer now.  What a hoot!  We thought you were a raisin!  Why ain’t you a raisin?”  The Monotooth, she thought, actually appeared nervous.  It looked around, noted its kin in the vicinity, shouldered the hapless Ch’Voga and slinked away.  That seemed odd.  Pretty damn peculiar behavior actually for a monotooth.  “Well, bye Preacher man.  Sorry!  Sorry yer gonna get sucked.”

“I’m sorry you’re all gonna get sucked!” she bellowed at any of her people still alive in the camp.  If they were smart, they got out, “only save ‘em for a day or two though.  Look at all you bastards.”  They had come out from under the trailers now.  A lot of them.  “One…two … geez!  What’re there, ten of ya?  Just fer little ol’ me?  C’mon then.  Come and get some.  Who wants first bite?”  A young one ran in and she smashed the bottle over its head.  She kicked at the next one and it grabbed her boot, then they were upon her, tearing at the pieces of armor to get at the flesh underneath.  She didn’t let them.  With one last, “sorry, daddy,” she triggered the antipersonnel mine on her chest.