Monday, May 28, 2007

"The Children of Gods" Act I

Here is this week's offering of a short story or essay. This short story is number 8 of 13 weekly essay or short story posts.

Entitled "The Children of Gods", this tale appears here on my blog for the first time anywhere as a 4 Act fairy tale. Act 1 will be posted today and each successive Act posted each successive week. Be sure to check back and follow the adventures of Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish of 100,000 Sorrows and Beauty.

The Children of Gods

(C) 2007 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author(s) and/or artist(s).


Act I of IV: The Birth of Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish of 100,000 Sorrows and Beauty

PROLOGUE: Wherein Xiao-tep is Born; Angered, Hapi Commands Lei-zi to Present to him Their Fish-Child Upon his Birth as a Meal; Xiao-tep Flees for his Life


Few know of the Celestial Garden; its red-lacquered gazebo with white filigree wood lattice; its brass bells tinkling when touched by the wind; the massive and ancient willows; continually blossoming apple and peach trees; the flaming tiger lilies and royal violet snapdragons surrounding it and all of this surrounded by a stream encircling the garden like a little moat flowing, river-like, counter-clockwise. It is a place of sanctuary and solitude for all the gods of all religions of all the universe. It connects the Heavens, the Vanir of Asgard, every river, time and the stars of all galaxies.

Some of the gods secretly know the Celestial Garden to be the hidden womb of all love.

It is here that Lei-zi, the goddess of thunder and wind and consort of the legendary Huang-di, would come to rest and meditate in peace. One day, while meditating, the river god Hapi entered the Celestial Garden and spied on her. His deep belly and sagging chest surged with passion for this new beauty he had never before seen.

Sensing him, Lei-Zi broke her meditation and looked up. She smiled courteously, yet was apprehensive. His head adorned with bedewed water weeds told of his holy status, but she did not recognize him.

He smiled at her, his mouth wide and full. Seeing her painted alabaster face and primmed silk coat, he bowed at the waist in the hopes of tapping into her tradition.

"Excuse me," his voice flowed effortlessly, timeless in tone and mystique.

Lei-zi stood, bowing deeply as one of equal or higher status deserved.

"May I join you?" he asked.

"It would be my honor," she smiled sweetly. They sat on a bench of green marble carved by the hands of the Cosmos, stone lions acting as the feet.

"If it is not so bold," Hapi spoke, "I have never seen a goddess so beautiful as you."

Lei-zi smiled, blushing and hot in the cheeks. "You are too kind."

"No," said Hapi. "The Cosmos were too kind when they led me to you this day."

They would meet time and again in the Celestial Garden. A splendid romance blossomed.

And so it came to pass that Lei-zi sat one day, waiting for her lover in the Celestial Garden. Her eyes jerked with every sound, every rustling bough. She smiled happily at the news she had for Hapi. She smiled at the small, swirling movement in her belly.

"My beloved," Hapi came through the dense thickets and beautiful brush to sit by his lover's side upon the bench where first they met. "I've good news."

"I, too, have news," Lei-zi responded.

"This year will be a good crop for my people. I will not flood them. They build for me a temple in my honor."

"I, too, grow a small temple in your honor," Lei-zi took Hapi's hand and placed it on her belly. He felt the small movement there. His eyes grew wide, then he squinted.

"It's not mine!"

"Of course it is! Who else-"

"You consort with men and gods alike. There are a million that could be the father!"


Hapi shook his head.

"You are the only one," she explained. "What grows in my belly has the form of a fish. Who else?"

Again, Hapi shook his head. "We cannot. No. We cannot."


"That thing that grows in your belly is the unholy abomination of two gods from different worlds. He cannot be allowed to come into being."

"But I feel him. He's yours. I feel his fins and tail and his swimming like a well-trained athlete. He is yours and mine and there can be nothing unholy of that."

Once more Hapi shook his head. "He cannot be allowed to live. Our meeting here would be looked down upon by all the gods, perhaps the Cosmos themselves. And the men. How could we rule them if they attained the knowledge of our mixed child?"

Lei-zi had never seen Hapi act so cruelly, so decisively. "But he's ours..." was all she could say.

He grabbed her and held her by the shoulders. His eyes peered deeply into her own and softened like gentle lapping waves as he spoke to her.

"Listen to me. Our child's life would be one of scorn. He would be an outcast, not of your world nor of mine. He would be something different completely and would belong to a world unmade. He would have no place. Not here, not with our kind, not within the hearts of men. His life would be moot and full of pain."

Understanding, Lei-zi said, "We'll hide him."

"For an eternity? Impossible!"

"Then what shall we do?"

Hapi's eyes grew stern. "Upon his birth you will send him to me. Only your most trusted servant must be sent with the child. No other. And he must be discreet. I will take the child."

Hapi stood to leave.

"And then what?"

Hapi looked down on his lover. "I will dress him in salt and spices and make of him my meal."


Part 2
For days and days Lei-zi cried, raged and did not sleep. Monsoons destroyed fishing villages, thunder and rain flooding the lands. The seas swelled and churned under her wrath.

The fisherman, Kanaka Nui, found his family starving because he could not go out upon the waters and bring home to them their staple meal. In one of Lei-zi's momentary silences, he snuck out in his canoe in the hopes of catching a mere few fish to help his family survive. But, once out on the waters, Lei-zi awoke and raged once again.

"Oh, heavens!" cried Kanaka Nui sitting in his rocking canoe, hanging on for dear life. "Why do you wage such an ambitious war? My people starve! I starve! We need to fish to live! Please, tell me, anything that you wish I will do to appease you."

Lei-zi heard his words and though she did not answer him immediately, though she did not cease her thunder instantly, the seeds of a scheme began to blossom and grow within her.

Kanaka Nui tried very hard, paddling with all his might, to reach the shore. He prayed he would make it home safely for, if he was taken by the waters, his family would surely all perish. As long as he was alive he could bring them hope.

Finally, Lei-zi ceased her sobbing. The skies cleared just a bit. Thunder and winds became distant as she appeared before Kanaka Nui as a cloud.

"Brave fisherman," she said to Kanaka Nui. "I should not be waging a war against you, for you are not my enemy. My enemy is my own lover, whose child I now carry within my belly. I am enraged by his hatred for our yet unborn child. But, if you lend to me your aid, my heartache will cease and you will be able to return to your family safely and with food."

"Anything," said Kanaka Nui. "Anything you ask, I will do! What is it you want, o Cloud Mistress?"

"I will temporarily cease my showers for three days. In that time, paddle your canoe north into the mouth of the river and catch for me a fish. A carp, preferably. If you turn over the very first fish you catch to me, I will cease my showers all together."

Kanaka Nui accepted the offer and immediately set out, paddling north towards the river.

For three days the skies were clear and the sun shining. For three days Kanaka Nui did sweat profusely under the glaring sun, searching for fish. Each day passed and hope slipped from him. Hunger waged another war within his stomach. He wanted to eat so badly. He feared his family all dead or, fearing that he may have been taken by the sea and facing starvation, may have taken their own lives. He sobbed as the sun began to dip westward on the third day.

Then, at dusk, his keen eyes caught the movement of a fish. He drew his canoe closer to it, paddling softly. He grabbed his net, flung it, and caught the biggest carp he had ever seen! He pulled it over the side of the canoe and unravelled it from the netting. It was longer than two men are tall and speckled. The flesh smelled of dense meat and the scales gleamed in the setting sun.

Kanaka Nui's stomach growled. "Surely," he spoke to himself. "If there is a fish such as this in these waters, I could easily catch another before sunset. Then I could keep this massive, beautiful carp all to myself and stay my hunger and feed my family. I could give the second fish to the Cloud Mistress."

Kanaka Nui's stomach growled. He pulled his knife from its sheath. He looked at the setting sun, then to the lone cloud floating high above him.

"No," he spoke. "If I eat this fish, I will be alive, but without much honor or dignity. Without such things, a life is valueless. I would rather die than go back on my word."

He put away his knife and lifted with great effort the grand carp high above his head, pointing it towards the lone cloud. The carp magically lifted from his hands, floating into the heavens.

As he watched it fade from sight, he heard a thunk on his canoe's bottom. Looking, he found tens upon hundreds of fish leaping from the waters into the canoe. He smiled and knew the Cloud Mistress was rewarding him for keeping his word.


Part 3
Little Xiao-tep, son of Lei-zi and Hapi, was born and in his place his mother sent with her most faithful servant the large ordinary carp to be eaten by the father. Hapi accepted the carp as his son and ate him and never again thought of the matter, nor did he further pursue his affections for Lei-zi.

But time passed and Hapi's longing for Lei-zi's gentle touch grew.

Xiao-tep was born a beautiful butterfly koi, grown fully to a size larger than even the carp that had been sent in his place. He was white and gold and orange in color with a bold ankh resting atop his forehead. His eyes were sparkling blue. His fins were long and flowing and white. Born with attributes from both parents, he could fly, swim, float across land and speak every language. His mother loved him immediately and named him Xiao-tep from the Chinese word 'little' and for the Egyptian sage Imhotep.

Lei-zi spent all her time with her child, teaching him the ways of men so that one day he could leave her side and exist alongside with mortals in peace and without the knowledge of the other gods, most especially Hapi.

On occasion, however, Xiao-tep would ask his mother about his father.

Years passed and Lei-zi one day brought Xiao-tep to the Celestial Garden. Xiao-tep played in the swirling stream, flew a kite and slept on the bench there.

"Mother," Xiao-tep asked. "What of my father? Who is he? Is he alive? Mortal? Maybe dead?"

Lei-zi's face grew forlorn. She grabbed a small willow branch and broke it off, dipping it in holy oils and allowing it to drip into the stream like tears.

"The willow is the keeper of sorrows," she told Xiao-tep. "Take this small branch and I will tell you of your father. Let the willow cry for you."

Confused, Xiao-tep took the branch.

"Your father is Hapi, the God of the River Nile. He is a heavy man, though handsome and gentle towards me. Our love blossomed here in this quiet garden. But when I became pregnant with you, he felt your existence may be an abomination upon the Cosmos. He... he..."

"Go on, mother."

"He feels it is best if he has nothing to do with you."

This made no sense to Xaio-tep. He shook his head, but before he could ask a single question, Hapi came bustling through the brush and into the garden.

"Lei-zi!" said Hapi. "It has been ten years and though we are gods and ten years mean nothing to us, my love for you has slowed time to a crawl. I yearn for you once more."

Lei-zi's eyes grew wide with terror. Xiao-tep looked at this stranger, his father.

Hapi looked at Xiao-tep and asked, "Who is this? Another consort? He is so young. He's barely ten years of age-"

A slow realization came to Hapi. "Insolent wench! How dare you defy my commands?"

Hapi raged. Xiao-tep and his mother grew fearful. Hapi ran at Xiao-tep, his hands outstretched to choke his fish-son.

"Hapi! No!" cried Lei-zi.

Xiao-tep heard the words. He looked at the stranger. "Father?"

Hapi attacked him, but Xiao-tep wiggled and wiggled through Hapi's clenching fingers until he was free.

"Get back here!" raged Hapi. "I'll eat you alive!"

"Xiao-tep! Flee! Save yourself!"

Frightened, hearing his mother's cries, Xiao-tep obeyed. He dived into the swirling stream.

"Xiao-tep, no! He can reach you in the waters!"

Hearing this, Xiao-tep leaped from the stream and flew, higher and higher, the willow branch in his possession and dripping fast after him. Hapi screamed after his son as Xiao-tep faded into the Heavens, the willow's tears scattering like stars.


Be sure to check back next Friday for Act II of "The Children of Gods"!

Also, be sure to check out J. Ho's Sketchblog where he has posted a drawing/visual rendition of his take on Xiao-tep! It's classic J. Ho!

Feel free to leave comments!

Book Burning to Protest the Lack of Book Loving?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Tom Wayne has amassed thousands of books in a warehouse during the 10 years he has run his used book store, Prospero's Books.

His collection ranges from best sellers, such as Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October" and Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities," to obscure titles, like a bound report from the Fourth Pan-American Conference held in Buenos Aires in 1910. But when he wanted to thin out the collection, he found he couldn't even give away books to libraries or thrift shops; they said they were full.

So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books in protest of what he sees as society's diminishing support for the printed word.

"This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today," Wayne told spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books.

The fire blazed for about 50 minutes before the Kansas City Fire Department put it out because Wayne didn't have a permit for burning.

Wayne said next time he will get a permit. He said he envisions monthly bonfires until his supply — estimated at 20,000 books — is exhausted.

"After slogging through the tens of thousands of books we've slogged through, and to accumulate that many and to have people turn you away when you take them somewhere, it's just kind of a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "And it's a good excuse for fun."

Wayne said he has seen fewer customers in recent years as people more often get their information from television or the Internet. He pointed to a 2002 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, that found that less than half of adult respondents reported reading for pleasure, down from almost 57 percent in 1982.

Kansas City has seen the number of used bookstores decline in recent years, and there are few independent bookstores left in town, said Will Leathem, a co-owner of Prospero's Books.

"There are segments of this city where you go to an estate sale and find five TVs and three books," Leathem said.

The idea of burning the books horrified Marcia Trayford, who paid $20 Sunday to carry away an armload of tomes on art, education and music.

"I've been trying to adopt as many books as I could," she said.

Dozens of other people took advantage of the book-burning, searching through the books waiting to go into the flames for last-minute bargains.

Mike Bechtel paid $10 for a stack of books, including an antique collection of children's literature, which he said he'd save for his 4-year-old son.

"I think, given the fact it is a protest of people not reading books, it's the best way to do it," Bechtel said. "(Wayne has) made the point that not reading a book is as good as burning it."


Yes, I do know

Go. Now. Visit. They need the money and it's cheap. The Quarter is near full recovery. It's clean and safe. I just came from there. Go. Don't you deserve a vacation? Why not help out while you're at it by pumping money into the local economy? That's what they need the most. That was the answer universally given when asked what the rest of teh country can do to help. Go. Enjoy. Relax. Eat and get fat. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Simple Simon"

Originally published in If - E - Zine(tm) in October of 2006, this short story is number 7 of 13 weekly essay or short story posts. Sorry that it was delayed a bit. Had some comp troubles for a brief moment. Enjoy.

"Simple Simon"
by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.

The moon glowed blue, bathing the landscape in dispirited monotones until every blade of dying autumnal grass arcing to and fro in evening breeze, every bough bowing to howling winds, every stone, every scurrying mouse and cricket seeking underground shelter, every fallen leaf, every bit of September life was dripping sweetly with twilight. The blue light of the moon danced in and out and around hills, trees, homes; shocks of shadows went flying skyward, having spent their day buried beyond the topsoil, while shocks of corn tied to porch posts in celebration of harvest season crinkled and cracked, crying softly, naturally in the whisking wind, whispers of the dying time.

Still other shadows danced with their moonlit partners, hand-in-hand and cheek-to-cheek, in an odd waltz set to the tune of oncoming winter storms, music unheard yet played within the bones of every living thing in the countryside.

While winds chanted shadows swirled forming ghostly shades moving to trick the eye, forming dark creatures dodging between trees. And there, there! Beyond rolling hills, on the highest and farthest hill sat a structure creaking and moaning, moving with nature’s rhythms despite being man-made. Whispering winds, breath of the dead, pierced the sides of the old barn and flowed over its broken wooden back and through its broken wooden teeth to give it a howling voice. The barn groaned under its own weight. Its coughs and shudders sickly as color drained from cheeks, its red paint chipping away under chiseling ghost gusts.

It was a grand, glorious old barn surrounded by a graveyard of headstones made up of the foundations of other buildings long ago fallen and forgotten. While other homes still stood in this country, none were near in age or location to the old, dying barn, dying from a broken heart. It served little use to anyone any more. Except… once a year…

On or soon after the first of October every year Mr. Mulahey would come out to visit the barn with family or friends or farm hands, taking ever deeper breaths, pulling vital air into themselves so they may take up hammer, take up nail, take up broom and breathe life anew into the exhausted barn in preparation for the annual Mulahey Halloween Barn Dance.

The Barn Dance had been an affair for the good people of this part of the country for more than sixty years.

Look now! Beyond the horizon! Just past that ridge! Between those trees! Do you see it? See it coming on at us? A light! You do see it! A small glow… distant, distant… glowing like the moon, glowing when the moon hides behind gypsy clouds… it grows nearer! It comes to us. Closer still! Like an orb, a ball… like a will-o-wisp, don’tcha think? And as we watch it weaving, weaving, growing, glowing, approaching, causing the land to light up white, it descends slowly, disappearing into the old barn.

* * * * *

“How long ya been doin’ this?”

“Over sixty years.”

“No. I meant how long you been doin’ this?”

“Oh,” Simon, dressed in a long-sleeve checked shirt and denim jeans and work boots, said, “Tha firs’ year was ’88. I guess this one here will make it nineteen years.”

“Thassa long time.”

“That’s a long time,” Simon echoed.

Milo Silas, the questioning young man, was of ordinary size and looks. He wore a plain white t-shirt turned gray with work and sweat, jeans and cowboy boots.

“Every year,” Simon said as the two headed across open fields towards the barn, “I think I’m never gonna make it out here ta have another dance again. But then every year, ‘bout the end of September, when the winds shift and the sun cools and the cats seem more riled up, when I breathe in that autumn air it brings into my lungs something a little different, a little more fun and a lot of tradition. I think we need our traditions, ya know? Rituals. Holidays. Fourth of July has long gone and the aftertaste of summer hot dogs has faded. Something happens to the earth and we have to mark it somehow. Do something to show we know.”

Milo silently nodded in agreement.

The noonday autumn sun made the men glow orange as if they had eaten a few too many pumpkin pies, the lands glowed golden brown and the winds swept off the final heat from the land. It was as if the whole world had sighed in its relief from the hot summer sun.

“And I can’t help but ta feel good when I see people smile as they come on inta my barn. People dress up cuz they can. They smile at themselves with painted goblin faces. And somewhere out in that barn between nightfall and home, between punch cups and pumpkin carvings, we secretly, maybe unknowingly, conjure up some kinda magic. We make voodoo. We have fun.

“Now I ain’t sayin’ I’m saving lives out here or nuthin’. But makin’ people smile can’t hurt no one.”

Milo again agreed silently.

Approaching the barn Milo felt he was making a pilgrimage to a holy sanctuary, a piece of the past left standing by the magic Simon fondly spoke of. A caern, an apothecary of candy smiles and a Stonehenge of country living. This old barn wasn’t just a piece of the Mulahey family history, it was a piece of everybody’s history that ever walked through here or danced here or was invited to celebrate here. It was grand and generous of the Mulahey’s. It was grand and generous. Milo smiled.

The two men entered the rickety barn and stopped, staring. Staring up. Staring beyond the two lofts, up into the rafters.

“By God,” Simon whispered. “How’d he get up there?”

Plump and purple from the rafters did hang by his neck a dusty old man in weather-torn clothes.

“Dear God,” Milo whispered. “Who is he?”

The old man’s head, noose about the neck, hung to one side oddly, crookedly. He was ugly and stained with death, dangling like an overripe berry from a vine.

“Who is he?” Simon repeated Milo’s question.

“Who was he?” Milo corrected Simon and himself.

“Get that ladder,” Simon instructed. “Then run along and get Doc Dearborne.”

* * * * *

A few people had made the trek to gather in the barn, Doc Dearborne and Sheriff Arker among them. Daisy, Simon’s wife, had also come when she heard from Milo some tragic thing had happened out at the old barn. Milo had refused to return.

“Who is he?” Simon asked.

“Some hobo named Dusty Jim,” Sheriff Arker answered. “No clue as to a family name. He’s been through this area before. He loved the hard whiskey. One of my deputies talked with him a little last time he was through here, oh, I’d say about early last summer. Lost his wife near on a decade ago to a younger man. She took the kids. He never saw them again. Lost his job soon after. He was a mechanic or worked in a machine shop or something like that. Told my deputy he was killing hisself with booze cuz he couldn’t work up the nerve to eat a bullet. I guess he finally got the nerve.”

“Why here?” Simon asked. “Why my barn?”

The sheriff shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe cuz it’s away from everything and everyone.”

Eyes watched as an ambulance crew tucked Dusty Jim’s body into the back of their vehicle. Eyes followed as the ambulance slowly made its way across the field. It was in no hurry. No lights were blinding them, no sirens blared.

“Yep,” the sheriff said. “Cuz it’s quiet out here. Far from everything. The rope was here. The rafters. Nice, quiet, safe.”

Doc Dearborne explained, “Looks like he climbed up in them rafters, tied the makeshift noose and then either jumper or fell. Snapped his neck completely.”

“Dear God,” Daisy gasped. “Simon, we can’t have the barn dance this year. Not now. Not after this.”

“Ma’am,” the sheriff spoke, “It ain’t my place but I say don’t let some train-hoppin’ hobo ruin your plans.”

“They’ve already been ruined,” she said. “No one will want to come out here now. No one will come.”

Simon shook his head. “In all my years, this barn has seen many things die. Coupla cows, chickens I remember. Lord only knows how many mice and bugs. Even had a goat die out here once when my granddaddy still used this barn. But I don’t remember ever hearin’ a man losin’ his life out here.”

“I best go,” said Doc Dearborne. Simon shook his hand and thanked him before he left. Then the Doc disappeared out across the field much like the ambulance had.

“I best go, too,” said the sheriff. “Happy Halloween.”

The barn emptied out. Only Simon remained with his wife.

“No one will come,” Daisy whispered.

* * * * *

Alex was a local farmer, much like Simon, but every year he planted a new patch of pumpkins for the Halloween season. Simon bought all his pumpkins from Alex. Like Simon, Alex had inherited his land and occupation from his family. He was tall and young and hard working. A few freckles still spotted his face while age lines hid deep below the skin, waiting to burst out. His red hair blazed and mixed in, fitting in, with the autumn sunsets.

Every October, Alex would load his pumpkins onto a flatbed trailer, pull them out to the side of the road that ran past his house, placed a coffee can with a hole cut in its plastic top and a sign taped onto it that read:




He never asked much for his pumpkins and he always sold a lot. Simon was his biggest buyer. So when Simon pulled his old pick-up alongside the pumpkin-laden trailer, Alex came out to meet him.

“Simon! How are you?”

The two exchanged handshakes and smiles.

“Good, good. And you?”

“Can’t complain.”

“How many you got for me this year?” Simon surveyed the landscape of pumpkins across the flatbed.

“Same as every year: As many as you want.” Alex smiled and smiled.

“I think I’ll take the usual thirty.” Simon lowered the tailgate of his truck and the two began picking and loading pumpkins.

“How’s Daisy?” Alex asked.

“Good, good. How’s Marlette?”

“She’s fine. Inside with the kids teaching them to bake pumpkin pies from scratch.”

“God, I love Marlette’s pumpkin pies!”

“Why ya think I married her?”

The two men shared a laugh.

Then Alex said, “I heard what happened out to your barn.”

Simon thumped a pumpkin and smiled at it. “Yeah.”

“It really happen?”

Simon lost his smile. “Yeah.”

“Sorry to hear it.”

“Me too,” Simon placed three fat pumpkins onto his truck to Alex’s one.

“You expectin’ the usual crowd?” Alex asked.

“Not so much, maybe. People get funny about things.”


The two worked on, loading plump gourds one after the other.

“How many you expectin’?” Alex asked.

Simon stopped. “I dunno really.”

Alex and Simon exchanged glances.

“Simon,” said Alex. “How long we been friends?”

“Well, I been buyin’ from you since you started growing these things when you was six. That’s what, nearly twenty years? It’s been mostly business between you and me but after twenty years I’d gotta say somewhere along the way we’d had ta have become friends.”

Alex smiled, and then frowned. He picked up another pumpkin and Simon began loading again. “Simon… I don’t think I’m gonna make it out this year.”

Simon kept quietly loading.

“It’s not you, or even the suicide,” Alex explained. “It’s just… my kids got wind of it and it might spook ‘em out right to be there. This year, least ways. But next year… next year you sure can bet I’ll be out that way! We all will!”

“I can understand that. Especially with young’uns.”

Simon loaded a huge, fat, round pumpkin onto his truck, patting it. “This one’s a beauty.”

It glowed fire-orange and had a golden stem with a clean face. It seemed about to burst into smiles without a carved face, smiling while waiting for a smile to be carved. Simon smiled back at the gorgeous gourd.

“Simon,” Alex broke the enchantment the pumpkin had been weaving. “I’ve talked to folks. I… I-I don’t think hardly nobody’s gonna go to the dance this year.”

Simon frowned, patting the pumpkin. His voice grew soft, serious. All the drywall housing that collects and protects a man fell away from Simon’s heart. “What do you suggest I do?”

Alex hung his head. They loaded on the last of the thirty pumpkins. Simon dropped some bills into the coffee can.

* * * * *

For the next three weeks Simon worked alone on the barn. He layered the dirt floor with fresh straw, set bales about for seating, got a big wash tub for apple bobbing, set up tables for food, secured a pulley and rope for a jack-o-lantern piñata; he did everything that needed to be done. And he did it alone.

“No one will come,” Daisy would tell him every morning. “No one will come,” she said every night.

“No one will come,” she said as he went out the front door of the house on All Hollow’s Eve. “No one will come!” she yelled after him as he drove off in the truck, headed for the barn.

* * * * *

Boris Pickett sang on the boom box. The fresh straw crackled under his feet. Oil and battery-powered lamps set the mood. The last few weeks were some of the loneliest Simon had ever spent. Now he stood in his family’s old barn. Alone.

Simon sat on a stool at one of the tables, pulled the big, beautiful pumpkin that smiled before having a smile close, dug in his pocket for his jack-knife and carved.

Early wintry winds howled outside the barn. An owl sounded his night sounds, a moaning, questioning voice carried on and stretched out by winds in ghost tones. Shadows grew into witches dancing, prancing upon a landscape going dead from the great Fall. The barn glowed from within, sending spears of light into the heart of darkness, bubbling blackness troubling the moon, chasing it to hide behind clouds.

And look! A sphere, a sphere, a will-o-wisp bobbing, exiting the barn. Turning, turning, glowing, growing smaller with distance until at last it disappears between trees, behind hills, beyond horizons.

© copyright 2006 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author(s) and artist(s).

Thursday, May 17, 2007

As I Went Walking That Ribbon of Highway...

Originally published on my website in November of 2004, this essay is number 6 of 13 weekly essay or short story posts. Enjoy.


As I Went Walking That Ribbon of Highway...


Everything I Ever Needed I Learned by First Turning Off the Television...

by Charles Shaver

from November, 2004

© copyright 2004-2005 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author(s) and artist(s).

This is simply a list of observations I've made as of late, with a few confessions thrown in.

I've learned fear will win you more votes than truth.

All forms of dental work is now viewed as a "luxury", despite the fact that my health is at considerable risk without receiving proper dental care. Funny, I guess my health and well-being is a luxury.

Bob Marley was not much smarter than the average man, though he was more observant and truthful.

Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Duke Ellington were the greatest composers and songwriters in American history because, while they wrote and performed largely for and from an American perspective, they were and are universal.

Tim Burton single-handedly inspired the launch of the Goth Topic... erm, I mean Hot Topic chain of stores where buying is apparently rebelling.

Lars Ulrich is a whiney little bitch.

KRS-One is a better speaker than he is a rapper, and he's a better rapper than most speakers are speakers.

John Ashcroft has resigned. Too bad the damage is already done.

Having been born in Flint, Michigan I grew up knowing Michael Moore was an idiot. While he may stand on the side of righteousness, or says so, he is often the centerpiece for his own works and therefore makes every piece of work about himself and less about the actual subject at hand. Also, anyone can present facts and say "2+2 =... well, audience? You can make up your own mind here." It's a standard tactic in propaganda. Just ask Hitler's S.S. While I, too, did not support the war in Iraq and often find myself, for lack of a better term, "on the same side of the fence" as Moore, I at least have some tact and rational judgment. His little speech at the Oscars only served to aggravate me. I understand that saying "Shame, shame!" to the president of the United States is meant to show that he needs to be treated like a child. But it speaks just as much in volumes about the speaker, Moore himself, and is rather childish, schoolyard name-calling bullshit. He does NOT represent my voice, and he represents by and large only his own.

I prefer Brian Eno over Digweed.

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, even in death, is still getting ripped off.

Tupac Shakur, even in death, is making more money than my ass.

Jesus seemed like a cool guy who would have a tough time living in America today. He would most likely be stabbed, beaten and raped to death for being a dropout-hippie-freak... and most likely in his own name.

I am not a Christian, nor will I ever be.

I know that some who may take offense to any of the 'more serious' comments I've made here will use the above admission to slander and discredit me.

Despite my hopes for the best for the people of this nation, I will never be called a Patriot.

I once read about a study where historians claimed that should the United States ever fall, it would most likely be at the hands of the Native Americans because they have the greatest justification.

I know I will most likely be investigated, or further investigated, for this post.

I have very few friends, but they have each proven to be more than I've ever needed.

I know that I am occasionally filled with hate. Some of it is childish bullshit. I'm working on that. Some of it is 100%, undeniably justifiable.

Hawaiian Homelands is a prettied-up way of saying "reservation". Especially since every parcel of land is Hawaiian Homelands.

I recently heard about a senator who traveled to Puerto Rico and told the people there that they should really consider joining the United States as the 51st state and gave as an example how the Hawaiian people supposedly "begged to be a part of the U.S." The Puerto Ricans weren't stupid. They knew the truth behind the occupation of Hawai'i (unlike this stupid, idiotic senator) and most likely told him to find out about The Rest of the Story:

Ignorance is the lack of knowledge. Stupidity is having the knowledge available and just not taking advantage of it (see above example).

Stupid is as stupid does is stupid. Tom Hanks has gone from funny guy with potential to boring, over-hyped hack.

L. Ron Hubbard was once quoted as saying, "If you want to make money, start a religion."

Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath was so titled (having taken the title from a lyric in the song "Battle Hymn of the Republic" that says "where the grapes of wrath are stored") in order to escape any possible persecution as being anti-Patriotic or communist. Today he would have to do the same to avoid being called anti-Patriotic or a terrorist.

I breed mice as a hobby.

I study war-gaming theory as a hobby.

I know that people are content to just being left alone, not getting involved, and staying out of just enough debt so as not to get into any trouble with anyone.

Bruce Lee was great. His films were action-packed, often suspenseful, and always intelligent. But what made the man great was not what he did, but what he could do. Not what he captured on film, but what he said on paper, from the heart.

I have met more people than I will ever remember.

N.W.A is alive and well and living in my CD player.

Love is not so complicated as The Bard would have us believe. It is not some mystical thing that has caused the ruination and so much pain for so many of us, most especially for our young women, in Western Civilization. It is as easy as looking into a loved one's eyes and having the willingness to do whatever it takes to make a happy life for the both of you. It really is just that simple. If anything else gets in the way of that, then you're not in love. You're in bullshit Drama.

Life is a temporary existence between non-existences.

Death is the great leveler, the great equalizer. Death is what makes life precious. As we trip through that fourth dimension of ours, we eventually come to our end. It is death, and our temporary stay here in a state of life, that makes us precious. Death isn't so fearsome after all.

Waking up to find my baby kitten curled up next to me in bed, seeking warmth and comfort, shows me that life truly is beautiful.

Waking up to find my sweetheart, the love of my life, curled up next to me in bed, seeking warmth and comfort, shows me that life truly is beautiful.

To learn anything, jump in head first.

Mick Foley is a great Storyteller, but not much of a Writer. He needs to stop trying to be The Writer and just tell good stories.

Television is good for nothing, except wrestling and the occasional football, futbol, and baseball game.

I am no more precious or worthless than anyone else. I am no smarter or ignorant than anyone else. I am just tripping through life like the rest of the world without a fuckin clue as to what's going on or where I'm going..

While Confucius was a smart man who worked towards many righteous ends, and I can respect that, I still prefer Taoism over Confucianism. perhaps it is due to my cynicism for humanity.

Cartoons and comics continue to be the single most real, honest form of mass media.

With the release of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy fans, friends, and scholars of Tolkien could finally cry out in victory that this man, this author, finally got the attention he deserved. Some cried that he was the most under-appreciated literary figure of the 20th century. While I will not argue his place in literary history, it is truly deserved, I will argue that he is not the most under appreciated. The single most under appreciated literary figure of the 20th and now the 21st century is Stan Lee. While he is finally, FINALLY getting some of the proper representation in pop culture through a larger audience and film-makers who love comic books, he is still seen as not much more than that guy that makes the funnies. Yet more people across this nation can associate with Spider-Man or The Fantastic Four or The Hulk or, for myself, Iron Man than we could with Perseus or Bilbo or Frodo or Achilles or Beowulf or most other literary figures. I love Tolkien, but he is far from the most under appreciated... especially now.

What idiot at Cartoon Network decided it was a good idea to air Ray Bradbury's classic Halloween Tree on the Friday before Halloween at noon when no kids are around to watch it? Wouldn't it have made more sense to air it at noon on Halloween Sunday? This movie should be seen by all kids and kids-at-heart who love Halloween.

"Gay marriage disparages the sanctity of holy unity and religion!" says the Christian. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a few little boys to molest."

Paper Mario 2: The Thousand Year Door is hands down the best RPG I've played this year. And that includes Gayble... erm, I mean Fable.

While a somewhat solid title (I experienced some clipping) Fable did NOT bring anything new to the RPG table that Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Dungeon Siege and KOTOR hadn't already done... in some cases years before Fable ever came into being. I had already waited two years for this game. I would have waited an extra year or two to get the game I was promised. Fable is only what FF: Mystic Quest SHOULD have been. IMHO, PM owes me money.

I will hail the Shaw Brothers as much as I will hail Akira Kurosawa.

Marcel Duchamp and Clement Greenburg were both intelligent men. Unfortunately, Greenburg opened the floodgates of mediocrity and Duchamp fucked up the art world for all of us.

Read Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky.

Jack Kerouac and Andy Warhol are dead.

Wearing black sweaters and drinking coffee does not a good artist make.

Pharaohs believed that they were placed into power by gods.

In Plato's classic The Republic, his vision for utopia (ideal, peaceful society), artists not working directly for the Republic were outlaws. He feared the power that artists had to give The People a voice or to use that power to undermine the Republic. An ancient philosopher recognized the power of art. Too bad too few artists today recognize it.

We are each filters of the world around us. But what the hell makes you think you're so goddammned important that I have to spend my own precious time, money and put forth an effort to see your artwork if all you're going to do is talk about yourself? If that's all you do, it is called mental masturbation. You are only concerned for your own pleasure and seek the approval of others. You are nothing to me unless you prove otherwise. you MUST bring it home to me. Until you do so, I do not approve of you and you are NOT an artist.

Wanda Sykes reminds me of a slightly taller, female version of Gary Coleman.

Usagi Yojimbo is my favorite comic book.

We are now living in the age of information, yet no one is saying anything. Including me?

Conflict is harmony, for in conflict things are being discussed, fought over and, perhaps, resolved. Complacency is chaos, for in complacency no one is thinking, no one is doing, no one is living. This does not mean that peaceful living is complacency, no more than conflict is intellectual striving. Peaceful living and educational benefits can exist with or without the two.

The irony is not lost on me that I am taking a muscle relaxer called Clarisoprodol... a generic form of a drug called Soma.

Read Gilgamesh.

Kids today will actually spend upwards of $20 to buy a chain specifically designed for them to "look cool". What ever happened to buying a real dog chain at the 99-cent store or, better yet, getting one in a junkyard for less or even for free from the junkyard dog to wear for the purpose of self-protection?

Whatever happened to The Crass and The Clash? We could use them now more than ever.

Bruce Springsteen is more rebellious than Green Day.

The Rolling Stones remain the greatest rock band in the history of rock, even over The Beatles who couldn't... stay together...

Bo Diddly is alive and well and playing in every juke joint that knows better.

Brook Benton, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Leadbelly mean as much to me as Fats Domino and Bo Diddly.

Basho was the greatest rapper of all time. ("Too long!" *chop*)

An ocean's water has healing properties for the human body... given that the water is actually clean.

I have known more than one person who have had good, steady jobs where they make $18 an hour, eat nothing but ramen and sandwiches, and yet they still have to have more than one roommate to split the rent and share expenses.

I should have a house of my own by the time I'm 24 and... oops. I'll be 28 this year. Damn, I suck.

Did everyone just up and forget about AIDS?

"At the end of 2003 an estimated 34-46 million people were living with HIV/AIDS – 31-43 million adults and between 2.1-2.9 million children below the age of 15 years. More than 65 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS (25-28.2 million) live in Sub-Saharan Africa; another 16 percent (4.6-8.2 million) live in South and Southeast Asia." [where the sex-slave trade goes unnoticed and unchecked] Source: Also check:

And here's some info close to my heart, no pun intended: "Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a virus. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is transmitted through infected blood. Hep C spreads easily when drug users share equipment. Over 80% of injection drug users have hepatitis C. Hep C can also spread through sexual activity. Hep C spreads more easily than HIV through contact with infected blood. In the US, about 4 times as many people have Hep C as have HIV. You could be infected with HCV and not know it. About 15% to 30% of people clear the Hep C virus from their bodies without treatment. The other 70% to 85% develop chronic infection, and the virus stays in their body unless it is successfully treated. Hep C might not cause any problems for about 10 years or even much longer, but it can cause serious liver damage leading to liver failure and death. Almost all cases of hepatitis C could be cured if treatment with interferon starts very soon after infection. Unfortunately, early signs of hepatitis can seem like the flu. Most cases are not diagnosed until years after infection." <~~ [from the above link] And before I have to be subjected to any of your fuckin snide-assed remarks, I contracted Hep C when I was 8-years-old during open-heart surgery and received some infected blood via transfusion. That was 20 years ago this last August.

High school has nothing to do with education.

College has nothing to do with education, but if you work at it, you just might get one.

If I sit at the computer for more than an hour, the brilliance of Asimov occurs to me.

I'm alive and doing my best to learn and teach. It's the cycle of life.

We are all human. Equality is built in to nature, but, unfortunately, not government or society.

Just before the U.S. went into Iraq, people all over the world organized and protested. It was the single largest (in number of people and expanse of geographic places) peaceful public demonstration to ever be held in the history of the world. In response, Bush said that he cannot base his decision upon a small minority who do not want the war.

I hope Leonard Peltier by now has learned to be more free than I have.

I will miss Wesley Willis.

People will hate me for the above statement.

I remember when Halloween came in October, Thanksgiving in November and Christmas in December. Now it's more like Halloween starts in September, ends the second week of October and Christmas starts soon after.

Each artist has to be the shaman.

If asked the proverbial question: "If you could meet one person in history, dead or alive, who would it be?" I would mostly likely answer Joseph Campbell. But I'm unsure how much I would actually speak with him. I would most likely just sit and listen.

I've noticed a lot of artists treat the director's cut of Blade Runner like an art-house flick, yet not many understand it. They just like the pretty and degenerate scenery and enjoy watching Rutger Hauer crying.

Euro-centrism is a disease.

When it comes right down to it, if a cop is unsure of your motives and has been filled with fear and lies and paranoia -- admittedly occassolly for good reason -- he/she won't give a damn about your Constitutional rights and will care more about getting home in one piece.

The U.S. Constitution. Though it seems most people don't do much more than wipe their ass with it today (most especially politicians who make it their job to wipe their ass without looking like their wiping their ass), the one thing most people don't do is read it. While it doesn't apply to a society filled with hate, racism, and sexism (since it states that "all men are created equal"), it actually has some pretty good stuff in it and is a very well written, intelligent document.

I can't change the world, but I can plant seeds in my own garden.

With Alberto Gonzales in, and Condoleezza Rice stepping up for Colin Powell, who will take her place? Probably some other wonderbread minority.

Girls: As much as I love Popeye, Olive Oyl is not sexy. Quit trying to look like her! Eat a burger, for crying out loud. They're not even expensive! Most places now have $1 value menus! Hell, if you go to some place like White Castle, you can get TONS of burgers for a few bucks!

"Whatevahs" is a philosophy.

None of this is profound.

I am a Very Small Animal.

This essay entitled "As I Went Walking That Ribbon of Highway" is © copyright 2004-2005 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author(s) and artist(s). Contact me at

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Chamber of the Sun"

It's week five of my essay or short story postings. This week I have yet another offering from If - E - Zine(tm) from Issue #1 originally published in August of 2003. Enjoy.


"Chamber of the Sun"

by Charles Shaver

This work was originally written and dated 9 October, 1994.
© 2003-2006 Charles Shaver


The gate slammed shut behind me with a thunderous clang that was sent echoing throughout the chamber. My hands were filled with pools of sweat that soaked through the sleeves of my jacket. The chamber was cold and dark and dank with moss and dew. I stumbled in the dark to find the little bench in one of the four corners. I laid there on the little bench until I was finally able to sleep.

I awoke some time later, but how much later I do not know. I struggled to sit up. Leaning against the seeping wall, I looked up to have my eyes meet with the first rays of sunlight entering the tiny window high above me. I wanted to see the beauty of the sun, so I stood to cross the chamber floor. As I did, a loud screech pierced the silence and wafted up into the space far above. The tiny rat scurried from under my foot squeaking in agony.

I laid myself against the wall and looked up once again to see the window. I wanted to reach up and touch the sunbeam and have its fingers caress my hand, but my hands and arms were bound. It was that damnable jacket. Why in God's name did I need to have it on, anyway? Why was I being tortured by these people? What had I done?

"Nothing!" I screamed. "Not one damn thing. And yet they still torture and rape my soul and penetrate my body with those instruments of death. I should kill them all! If only I had that freedom."

I could see that the rays of light had descended to rest upon the wall just above my head. I trembled with anticipation and delight at the thought. For the first time in what must have been several weeks I would be graced with the sunlight. This must be an act of God.

"Oh, please," I prayed, "Please bless my being with the warmth of your love from the sun's blast of rays." The light of the sun moved so slowly. Then it came. The slight cringe of metal on metal from the lock on the chamber's gateway.

"No!" I cried out. "Dear God, no!" I tried to jump to have my face splashed with the light, but fell instead into a tiny pond of mud and moss below my feet. Two men picked me up, checked the straps on my straight jacket, and carried me off to the darkness where I would continue to live in the shadows.

Friday, May 4, 2007


It's week four of my essay or short story postings. This week I have another offering from If - E - Zine(tm) from Issue #2 originally published in October of 2003. Enjoy.

by Charles Shaver
Inspired by Serrano and Brule Sioux legends.
© 2003-2005 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


Dana Redcloud screamed in pain. Blood flowed quickly and easily from her. Jason Redcloud held his wife close.

"It'll be alright," he whispered into her ear. She screamed again. Jason looked to the end of the bed where a doctor sat, intent on his task.

Jason looked back to his wife. Her eyes met his and frosted over with the chill of death. Jason held his wife closer still, unknowing of what to do. Jason felt something leave his wife's body. Her spirit lingered near her husband. And then, something departed from Jason. The doctor held Jason's newborn baby in his arms, clean the young one off.

* * * * *

In a small trailer, just inside the door, a small shrine had been built up around a photograph of Dana Redcloud. Each night, like tonight, Jason sat in front of the shrine and prayed.

"When the hell are you going to give that up?" Jason's mother scolded. She was a haggard woman whose face had been cut and scarred by the knife of time.

"I will honor the spirit of my dead wife." Jason replied.

"And what of your son? When will you honor him with your presence? Or are you going to wait until he's dead, too, to pay any attention to him?"

Jason breathed deeply, his eyes closed.

"I will honor the spirit of my dead wife," he repeated.

"It's been three years, Jason. Do you expect your sister to raise your child forever?"

Jason breathed deep once again, ignoring his mother. He began a ritual chant.

* * * * *

"Are you okay, Jason?" Stan Barris asked. He was a big, burly man. The perfect kind of man to be a police officer on a reservation.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I guess I was just day-dreaming." Jason replied.

"We can't have our dispatcher day-dreaming," Officer Barris said. He took a seat next to Jason's small desk. "I know what it is. How long's it been?"

Jason hesitated, contemplating playing dumb, then decided to answer Barris straight. "Three years today."

"Jason, you cannot go on like this. Have you gone to see Chance Crow Dog?"

"I haven't seen him since she died."

"Go see him again. Maybe he can give you some medine," Barris urged.

"Nah, I'll be okay. Besides I got work-"

"I'll call in Lewis. Get him to come and cover for you today. Come on, Jason. At least go home. You're no good to us here if all you're going to do is let your mind wander." Jason saw that Barris wasn't going to budge on the matter, but decided to stay at work despite the officer's stubborn and stern manner.

Officer Barris stood to leave. "Thoughts of the dead will drive a man crazy. Thoughts of the dead will conjure the dead." The officer left Jason alone at his desk.

* * * * *

Grandmother Redcloud gathered many of her neighbors. Together they hauled away all of Dana's things, including those of Jason's shrine, and took them to a nearby caern. There they collected brush around the pile of things and set it all aflame. Offerings were made and prayers chanted. The smoke of a deceased woman's belongings filled the air.

* * * * *

Jason Redcloud stepped into his house later that day. with one look he saw the emptiness, the sace of nothingness that was once his whole life.

"Where are my things?" he demanded immediately.

"Come, have dinner," urged Grandmother Redcloud. She lay two plates on the fragile little table.

"Where are my things?" he demanded again.

Grandmother Redcloud continued her task of setting the table as she spoke. "We put that poor wife of yours to rest, like you should have."

"What are you talking about?"

She stopped finally. She stared at Jason. "We laid her things to rest. We took them down and did the ritual. Now come and eat."

"I can't believe you did this! How dare you! You had no right!"

"We did it for you! You were making yourself ill. Thoughts of the dead conjure the dead." She said.

"Shut-up! Who cares! It's my wife!" Jason turned and left the little trailer home, slamming the thin door behind him.

* * * * *

Jason Redcloud knew where he had to go, but he took his time getting there. He wandered the outskirts of the reservation avoiding contact with others. he wandered and wondered what had happened within history for his people to have to live like this. He wandered and wondered what he had done to deserve the life he was given.

A couple of times Jason stopped to watch the other little Indian families in their nightly rituals. He watched children play in the mud near the well that provided them with most of their water. He watched elders sitting on crickety old porches as crickety as them, gossiping down the sun whose figure took on a shabby shape in the distanced horizon reflecting off the wavering shabbiness of the world around him. He watched men return home from what work the could get that day to their little shacks and mobile trailers filled with families. He watched as men who couldn't or wouldn't find work open up another bottle of hope.

All of it made him miss his wife and son. All of it made him want to get away from here like his sister now living in New York with his own son. She was lucky enough to have found a white man to marry. They didn't live the high life, but then they weren't living here, either. Thinking of his sister he thought again of his son. And Jason felt alone.

* * * * *

Hours passed. The sun had set and the moon was now hanging high in the sky. Jason stepped into the circular caern. A pile of black and white ash lay at its center. Jason knelt before the ashes. A small tear came to him. Everything he had of his wife was now gone.

The air grew quiet. Everything came to a moment of stillness. Jason hated nights without a wind. He found it comforting to hear the nature about him rustling, speaking softly. Nights like these also brought an air that was warm, sticky and uncomfortable. So when the winds picked up again, Jason was quite relieved. The cool night air brushed his skin and gave him some relief from the days' happenings.

When the ashes rustled before him, Jason opened his eyes. The ashes blew around in a small circle. Some of them whipped close by his face almost playfully. Then the winds picked up, becoming fierce. Strands of Jason's hair thrashed about his face and nurturing the whirling whirlwind. The ashen whirlwind before Jason grew and grew until he became almost overwhelmed by it. He staggered to his feet as it attempted to engulf him. The windswept ash became a creature of air. And then, from within the devilish swirling beast stepped out the one person Jason never guessed he'd have a chance to see again. From within the whirlwind stepped out his wife, his love, Dana Redcloud.

"Dana?" Jason asked in a whisper.

"Jason, my dear," she answered with a sweet smile.

"Oh, how I've missed you!" he fell to his knees and embraced his wife's waist.

"I've missed you, too, my dear," she said.

"You've come back to me," he said.

"Because you need me," she answered.

Jason smiled. "Come. Let's go back home. Everyone will be so happy to see you again."

"No," Dana said firmly. "I cannot go with you."


Dana shook her head, her eyes focusing distantly looking for an answer. "I cannot... cannot stay."

Jason's smile disappeared. He stood before his wife. "I can't go on living like this. First you are taken from me. Then you come back, but only as if to tease me because now you tell me you will not stay. If I can't be with you in life, the I will join you in death." Excitement grew in Jason's voice as he grasped his wife's wrists, "Let me go with you back to the World of the Dead!"

Dana's face grew bright with a smile. "That we can do. Follow me." She left the caern, Jason following close behind. The landscape was dark around with the inky blackness of night. Soon, though, Jason realized his surroundings were being splashed with an odd glow of red light. The horizon looked like a distant forest fire at night, bright red and dancing. The voice of nature quieted. Trees quickly shriveled and charred black as soon as they came into Jason's view. He grew more and more frightened. But then his wife, Dana, turned and gave him a soft smile. "Come," she said as she led him. "It's not too much further."

She lead him through thick brambles. Jason found it tough to get through field. Yet, he noticed, his wife glided smoothly through it all. Once to the other end of the field they came to some foothills at the base of a large mountain. A single, small path skirted along the cliffs of the mountain. Jason followed Dana as they slowly made their way up along the path. Loose gravel and stones fell off the path and down the mountain to their right every step of the way.

At one point Jason stopped. Up ahead, perched precariously above the path, was an enormous boulder rocking back and forth ever so slightly, ready to fall down upon any passerby. Dana noticed that Jason had stopped. She, too, stopped and looked over her shoulder. "What's wrong?" she called back.

"That boulder. I know what that boulder is. It is the Stone of Judgment, isn't it?"

"Yes," she replied. "So?"

"If I've lived a good life, I'll pass safely. If not... i-it will fall on me and crush me."

"Jason, my dear," Dana said soothingly, "Trust me. It will not fall."

Jason could not bear the idea of being crushed under the immense weight of the boulder, but when his wife gave him a gentle smile his resolve changed. If he was to die on this night, what did it matter how he was to die? He crept slowly forward. After some small steps, he passed safely under the boulder and rejoined his wife at their previous steady pace. Long was their journey to reach the other side of the mountain. When at last they made it, they found a deep valley that had been carved by a trickling river of blood. The river ran deep and wide.

"I don't think we can cross this river," Jason said.

"You cannot," Dana said. "No living being can and you are not yet dead. But I can carry you on my back."

"B-but, I am so much bigger than you," Jason replied.

"That does not matter. Things that make sense in the Realm of the Living do not hold truth here in the Realm of the Dead." She explained.

Dana had been correct about the Stone of Judgment, so Jason let himself trust what she was telling him now. Despite Jason being bigger and heavier, as he climbed upon his wife's back she held him firmly and carried him easily. She simply walked into the river of blood. The river at its deepest came up to her neck, but never did she stop or slow in pace or show any sign of fatigue. It was not long before they were both on the other side of the river with nothing more than a layer of blood caked upon their skin to show for it.

Before them lay a solitary path surrounded only by darkness, as if it were suspended in the black void of a starless space.

"We must walk down this path. Once we do, there shall be no returning for you. They'll know you're not one of them," Dana told Jason.

"What do you mean?" He asked.

"Just because you're in the World of the Dead does not mean you have to be dead. You're not dead. Not yet, anyway."

"Will this cause a problem?"

"Some will ignore you, others will want to eat you. Almost all will want to kill you," Dana explained.

"Eat me? Why?"

"To consume your lifeforce. Some of the dead seek power and the only power we know is the consumption of the dead for their lifeforce."

"Well, why will almost all want me dead?" Jason asked.

"Jason, my dear... In the World of the Living, how often did you see spirits?" Dana asked in return.

"None until you," he answered.

"And how did seeing me make you feel?"

"Happy, of course! And a bit sad because it served as a bitter reminder that you were still dead."

"And?" She urged Jason to explain more.

"And hopeful that maybe you'd returned to me," he replied.

"And?" She coaxed once again. Jason withheld from answering. "Jason, my dear, I already know. You're only keeping the truth from yourself."

"I-I was afraid," Jason knew he couldn't lie to his wife. "I'm ashamed to admit it."

"Do not be ashamed. It is natural. Spirits are everywhere in the World of the Living. They are in the rock, in the sand, in the tree. Our ancestors, too, are always present. They are in the air. Yet we do not always see them. They rarely reveal themselves. There is no reason for them to do so. They are just there, existing, and that is all that is needed of them.

"When they finally do reveal themselves it is always with good reason and they must take care to do so. Most people have so little contact with the spirits around them that when a spirit does step forward the living become quite frightened. This is a perfectly natural thing due to a lack of contact and understanding. Therefore the living often fear spirits.

"It is the same in the World of the Dead. Not many living creatures have wandered this far. The spirits in the World of the Dead have legends of visits from the living, but few can claim to have had experiences themselves. When the spirits see you they, too, will become frightened just as you became frightened of me. Some who have lived before might envy you. Whatever the reason, as I said, most will try to kill you. Not all, but most."

"If it is so dangerous for me to walk down this path that lays before us, then why did you bring me this far?" Jason asked.

"Because that is what you wanted me to do. Loved ones fulfill the wishes of those they love, no matter the potential cost." Dana explained. "If you wish to be dead, then join me and walk this path where they will take your life."

Jason hesitated. "What of our son?"

"Your sister has done well by him and will continue to do so," Dana paused. "Though she cannot truly do all that he will need. In some areas, it will be best if you would take care of him. You can do it, my dear." Dana stared at her husband. For the first time, Jason did not see her as his wife, but as the spirit of her wife. A misty memory.

"You would make a good father," Dana said. The she added, "Trust me."

Jason looked over his shoulder across the thickly flowing river of blood. He looked down the narrow and deadly path with the precariously dangling boulder. He thought of the razor-sharp field of brambles he had to walk through. He knew he could trust his wife. He turned back to her. She smiled and pulled him close. His eyes closed as they kissed.

* * * * *

Jason's eyes snapped open. He was once again sitting in front of the ashes in the middle of the caern. A slight breeze shuffled the ashes. Jason was covered with caked blood, scrapes, cuts and bruises. Jason looked to the ashes, then to the sky. His wife was somewhere in the air. He smiled.

Jason got up off his knees and walked home.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Fun with Meez