MW Cook

An illiterate scribe

Category: flash-fiction

Lord Greer Builds His Own Tomb

The expedition had taken its toll. Lord Greer delved deep into the far reaches of his kingdom, painstakingly setting his eyes upon every desert, every mountain peak. He had hardly noticed the pains, then. His eyes had been filled with sugar-coated dreams of grandiose map rooms. He dreamt of walls covered with maps of cities, provinces. One grand map of the Nine Provinces, woven together as one. He sent the Cook, recently elected mayor of Lower Celestrome, to Eastwatch with an edict to subdue, pillage, and map those realms. Lord Greer himself looked toward the north.

Perhaps he had been hasty. Perhaps he should have waited for a better horse.Zet5nji

The first horse bred for Lord Greer had been a midnight charger, valiant in speed and smirk. It died in a tragically avoidable creeper mishap. His second horse was a dappled mare that suited well for a time, though it was not as fast as the charger. It died somewhere in the City of Celestrome, and was never spoken of again. The last of the tamed horses was hardly worth his Greer’s Lordship. Slow and of ill health it was. Posthumously named Le Miserable.

For three days did Lord Greer drive his Miserable through hostile wilderness, filling his delicate maps with the joyous sweetness of information. Nights were no danger, Lord Greer thought as his hunger grew unnoticed. He kept moving all night long and his enemies had but time to turn their heads as he trotted by. Vast mountains and arid deserts and fruitful swamps were all claimed under the ever-reaching banner of Celestrome. Until he came at last to Lear’s Forest.

Night had fallen. Oak and birch grew cheek by jowl. Lord Greer began to notice his hunger. It threatened to sap his admittedly prodigious strength. But his maps were nearly full, and beyond this forest, he knew, was the northern wall of the City. Home and a hearth. Food and empty crates waiting to be filled by the goodies crammed into his saddlebag. He only had to get through the woods. He pushed Le Miserable as hard as it would go. His head was perpetually stuck in tree branches. He could have gone faster had he been on foot, if he had had the strength to run.

Then he heard it. The familiar tapping of bone on bone. The pained growl of the undead. He was not alone in the dark woods.

He tried to force Le Miserable into a gallop. Then his head struck a block of foliage. He was ignobly thrown to the ground in the passive voice. Getting to his feet, he saw Le Miserable rearing in fear and panic. The green men and the walking bones drew close for the kill. Lord Greer pulled his shining sword from his sheath. With a fearsome, “Ho!” and “For the glory of the radiant kingdom!” he attacked the undead.

Gentle came the reply, whispered on winds of malicious intent: “Shhhhhh.”

studiokagato.deviantart.com

The forest exploded in a flash of light and pain. Le Miserable’s sufferings were put to a merciful end, and the undead were disoriented. But, oh, the blood which flowed from Lord Greer.

He crawled away from the battlefield, but where was he to go? The forest was vast and the night, full of terrors. Each way he turned the voices sang their dirge from behind the trees. An arrow struck the oak behind the great king, and his bowels loosened in terror. He turned to run, and a green man mauled him with a rotting fist. He fell back, and was forced against a tree. Too weak to fight so many foes, the inventive king prepared to build.

He threw cobblestone around his feet, above his head. It bought him time. Arrows embedded in the walls. Green men reached in vain. His roof blocked out the moonlight. In the dark, he looked out the last window and paused for a final moment to look at the stars. In that instant, a bone man loosed an arrow. Sent from a fel bow, yet did it fly true. It struck the Lord Greer. And the dark death swept over his eyes.

No one ever found the body of the king, though many did look in both rain and sun. There was no one to bury him. But no burial was needed. Lord Greer had built his own tomb.

Serial Mondays: Siddarta’s Ashram

     The bell rang. The universe shifted. Like a raging lake that grows calm as the sun sets.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The mantra was breathed out. This was not the austere chant of the films. Nor yet the flippant hurried prayer of the youngsters. It was the finger that touches the pool in the perfect place so as to still the ripples.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The monk sat in the lotus pose. His shoulders were relaxed. His chin high. His eyes half-closed. He had no incense to mask the stench that covered the city. He had no fellow devotees chanting to hide the primal noises that drifted over the walls. And he needed neither.
     Om mani padme hum.
     He was mindful. Each breath was intentional. Each heartbeat. His powerful mind took note of every sensation, kissed them, and bid them farewell as he fell deeper into his meditation. The anxieties of life were dismissed without judgement or regret and his consciousness faded into the great universal mass.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The energy of the universe crept up into his body from the earth he sat upon. Blue and electric, it climbed through his legs and up his spine and flashed in his brain. He took note, then passed beyond. Beyond notions and appearances. Beyond concepts and metaphors. His selfness drained into the infinite sea and time’s talons released him.
     The bell rang. He pulled out. He opened his eyes.
     The sun had been hidden when he started, but now it was above the horizon, bringing its humid heat with it. Sensations flooded over him, made all the more sharp for the mindfulness wrought through his meditation. They were not pleasant, and it was a struggle to touch them without fear.
     He unwrapped his legs from their lotus pose and stood, his bare feet kissing the stone floor, still cool from the night. He adjusted his orange robes and looked out the open door to the ashram.
     When he had first come to the ashram, so many years ago, it was a desolate place. The fields were unkempt and covered in angry thorn bushes. There was a pack of feral dogs, so full of mange that Siddharta had been surprised they were still living. The walls were crumbling and broken whiskey bottles littered the area, left there by rebellious teenagers who used the site to indulge in vices away from the prying eyes of their elders.
     Siddharta had worked hard with the Guru to turn the wild, clinging place into the ashram it had become. Within a year the dogs had moved on and the fields were cleaned and planted. A simple yet beautiful shrine was erected and the Guru began calling his disciples to live with him. A sangha grew. And it was not just Indians who came. There were Asians of the zen tradition who lived among them. Seekers from the West, American and Europe. Even those from other religions—Hindus and Christians and even Muslims and Atheists all sought for the peace and renunciation the Guru offered. It was a place of simplicity, smiles and devotion.
     Now, looking over the fields and the walls, Siddharta had to frown. The Guru was dead. Nearly all the seekers had fled while the outbreak was still in its infancy. The fields were full of weeds and no walls could keep out the sounds and smells of horror on the outside.
     It is good I am not a Christian, Siddharta thought. Then I’d have to ask why God had allowed this.
     The only two living people who shared the ashram with him now were Christians. At least, he assumed they were Christians. They were white, from Canada. Their Hindi was much better than Siddharta’s English, but that was not saying much. They could communicate basic needs to each other, but no more. Not enough to ask them what they thought of God now, or to help them hold onto the spirit of compassion and peace that the Guru had taught on. Not enough connection to keep the sangha alive.
     The day was quickly turning hot and Siddharta was sweating through his robes. He wanted to do his prayers for the city before the Christians woke up. He slipped on his sandals and walked down the well-worn path to the high wall that separated the ashram from the teeming city. How many times had he smiled at the children who pulled themselves up to look in at the monks and devotees? How many times had he wagged a finger, pretending to rebuke them?
     He climbed the wooden boxes he had placed there and pull himself up to look over the city of the dead.
     The street outside was full. It had been an important road in the small city. It was the intersection where the vegetable market and the religious market met. There were always people there, buying tomatoes and okra and images of the Buddha or Krishna. There were no people on the street anymore. But it was full, nonetheless.
     Siddharta had never seen a horror movie, so he had no ready word for the creatures that walked the streets of his city. His mind had touched on many of the creatures his mother had frightened him with during her bedside stories. Vetala. Bhoot. Dien. None of them fit.
     He had never heard the word zombie before.

The Solace of the Solstice

     The Night looked upon the world and laughed. For he was winning.

     He descended and walked through the streets of a tiny village, clothed in darkness and a sharp chill. The sun had long been buried beneath the earth and the stars could not shine through the clouds. The moon was hidden and the only lights were the tiny rebellious lamps in windows. And even those stood lonely and weak.

     It is obvious now, the Night thought. The battle is over. I have overrun the Day. She cannot recover from this depth of darkness. It’s only a matter of time before the sun refuses to rise in the morning.

     A noise arose from the centre of town, just as the darkness gathered to its deepest. The Night smiled and walked toward it. He found the townspeople, marching down the market street. They were cheering.

     At the head of the train were men and women on horses, blowing trumpets and carrying banners displaying a blazing sun. Behind them marched drummers, dressed gayly and pounding out a cheerful rhythm. Behind them the entire town marched. Men and women, girls and boys, all dressed in finery and dancing through the streets. Some carried lanterns on long poles. Some shook bells and tambourines. Some carried massive puppets of sprites and woodland creatures, so large that they needed three men to manipulate. Behind it all was carried a massive wooden figure – a hand, thirty feet tall, clutching a heart. The hand was encircled with dancers who swung fire on torches and ropes.

     The Night frowned. He followed the parade in the shadows and scowled at their merriment. The crowd marched through every street in the town, gaining followers as townspeople left their homes and closed their shops.

     They came to the green in the centre of town and placed their giant wooden idol upon the yellowed grass. And they set up shops and booths and put on mummer’s plays and sold warm ale and cider and meat pies. And fools in motley sang ballads about the victory of the Day while bards and minstrels sang songs of like theme.

     And the fire dancers wove a dervish around the idol and all the people gathered to sing and dance and clap and watch. And, in sickening unison, the dancers bowed low to the idol and set it ablaze. And the people rejoiced as it was consumed.

     “No!” the Night called out. The townspeople stopped their merriment and turned to see him step out from the shadows.

     “What is the meaning of this?” the Night demanded. “I have won! Why do you make merry? This is the longest night there has ever been! It is my zenith! The height of my power! How can you find strength to rejoice on this, darkest of nights? Tell me!”

     The crowd stood silent before him, for he was fearsome to behold. A child pushed her way through the crowd and stood before the Night. She curtsied and addressed him.

     “Sir Night,” she said, “We rejoice because this is the darkest night.”

     “Why would you rejoice over that?”

     “Because, sir Night, there are no nights darker than this. Tomorrow will be brighter. And the next day will be brighter yet. This is the night of your greatest strength. And we have lived. So there is nothing but hope for us.”

     “Hope?!” the Night screamed. “You hope? I’ll show you that I have not yet begun to wane! I will blanket this pitiful town with ice and snow and darkness. And you will regret wasting your fuel on this dance and fire!”

     So the Night retreated to his ethereal domains and opened his storehouse. He took his vials of snow and ice and frost and poured them out upon the earth. And the next day the village was buried. The lake froze and all the grass on the green was covered. The townspeople retreated indoors and burnt wood to keep warm.

     But the night was a little shorter.

     The next day the Night poured sleet and icy rain upon the village. Houses were damaged and an old man died of chill.

     But the night was a little shorter.

     Day after day, the Night devised new ways to torment the village with his icy powers. Livestock perished, food ran scarce, and men and women began to die.

     But the nights grew shorter.

     Until one day, the Night went to his stores, and saw that they had all perished. His vials of ice and snow had melted. His jars of sleet and frozen rain had evaporated. He looked down on the village and saw, to his horror, that the power of his rival, the Day, equalled his own. And the people in the town were holding another festival.

     The green was, once again, green. The trees were alive with blossom. Men and women and girls and boys danced outside without coats and gloves.

     And he saw the truth in the words of the little girl. His reign had ended on the night of his greatest triumph.

     In similar manner, on the darkest night, a Boy was born. And then he died. And the world grew cold and raged against the light of his love. And genocides and wars and hatreds abounded. But his birth was the great Solstice – the Solstice of Solace. And his kingdom shall come.

A Letter I Got This Weekend

My consciousness received a letter this weekend. I figured I’d share it.

Dear Matt,
Hi there. Remember me? You’ve been shutting me out for a while now. And I see you’ve been busy while I’ve been gone. Think you got a lot done, eh? Think you’ve made progress, eh? Well, I just wanted to drop you a line to remind you that you’re not actually getting anywhere. In fact, everything that you’ve been doing is a colossal waste of time. You’re not good enough. You’re not smart enough. You don’t have ‘it’. I’d prove it to you, but you already know it, deep down. You’ll never achieve anything worthwhile in your life. You’re too old. You’re too dumb. That’s just the way it is. So you might as well delete that laughable WIP with all of its shallow characters and glaring plot holes. Because people are going to laugh at it. The same way people laugh at you behind your back when you tell them you’re a writer. Quit trying. You’re no good.
Sincerely,
The Imp on your Shoulder

I sat around thinking about the letter for most of the weekend. Finally drafted a response last night:

Dear Imp on my Shoulder,
Sod off.

I could stop there. I could leave this with a simple dismissal and get on with my day, but I feel like I ought to give you a bit more so that you’ll think again before writing me with your ‘advice.’

It’s true that my WIP is ugly and a bit malformed right now. I’m the first to admit it. It’s like a fetus. Kinda creepy looking and not meant to be exposed quite yet. Can’t stand on its own legs legs.

But I am good enough, smart enough, diligent enough to make it walk. No, I can make it fly!

I can prove it, too. I’ve done stuff, you see. I’ve written a book. I’ve travelled the world. I’ve learned another language. I’ve produced children. I’ve spread joy and love. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!

What have you done, oh imp on my shoulder?

Nothing.

You’ve sat there for twenty-nine years bitching and whining. You’ve never helped me achieve any of my goals. You’ve never cheered for any of my successes. You’ve never been a meaningful part of anything good that I’ve ever accomplished. I’m not the waste. You are. And I won’t let you consume me. The very fact that I’m clever enough to push you away makes me clever enough to realize my dreams.

So sod off, imp. Precedent says you’re wrong. And even if it didn’t, I’d rather die with a thousand failed attempts than listen to you and try nothing.

Oh-so-very Sincerely,
Matt

Ariel’s Story #10 – Attack

     The army proved easy to acquire.
     The first to join me was a young man with a fire in his eyes. He called himself Barnaby and told me he had often wondered about the Man pushing the Bride down.
     “But whenever I thought to bring it up,” he told me, “the elders and teachers would push me down.”
     “Why would they do that?” I asked.
     “They didn’t believe me. They said I was being rebellious to even suggest such a thing.”
     “But did you not point to the Man? Could they not, even from shore, see clearly that the Bride is being abused and the Man is not who they think he is?”
     Barnaby shook his head. “They said that perhaps the Man was disciplining the Bride for some sin. And they would allow no further conversation on the point. They brought it to an end and have since watched me with dark eyes.”
     And those dark eyes began to rest upon me as well as I tried spreading my suspicions that the Bride had been taken by someone who was not the Husband. More than once I was taken aside and rebuked by one of the elders. Gently at first, but firmly. After a time I was forced to carry on my recruiting under cover of darkness.
     The atmosphere seemed ripe, though. For I encountered many who had wondered about the Man as I had. I even took a chance and stole into other sections of the cistern to recruit brothers who lived beyond the other gates. We began meeting with one another at night and in any gate that seemed empty at the time. Emotions ran high as our numbers swelled. Each new addition brought stories similar to the one Barnaby told. We were united despite our different backgrounds. We grew into a formidable force. We became ready.
     We planned to attack at midday. Each of us from the section we associated with would, in unison, stride into the cistern and lay hold of the Man by force. And, by force, we would tear him from the Bride and drag him from the cistern and cast him without. And, should he not be cast, we would drown him in the end.
     The day was bright and hot. The sky was cloudless and dry. It was the perfect day for the attack. We rose early, said our prayers, and took to the water.
     It was a glorious sight, I think. All of us from our different traditions and following the Bride under different signs. United in the goal to bring down the Man and his oppression. Those who stayed behind got to their feet to watch, looks of uncertainty upon their faces.
     “Ho there!” called an elder from my group. I did not turn back.
     “Wait!” called a leader from another.
     “Where in the bloody hell do you think you’re going?”
     The voices grew agitated and angry as we approached the Man with murder in our eyes. They were spiced with fear and anger.
     We arrived.
     The Bride was as I had seen her last. Eyes mostly closed. Barely breathing. In a pathetic state of near-death.
     The Man looked at us, bored.
     “You are not the first,” he whispered. His voice was like velvet, dark and soft.
     “You will leave this place,” I said, setting myself up as the leader of the army.
     “No,” he said.
     “We will make you leave.” Shouts of agreement rose around me.
     “You will not.”
     We attacked.
     As I lay hands upon him I could feel my strength ebb. It was like grasping an icy rock, so cold that it saps your power as it digs deep into your bones. From the looks on the faces of my army it seemed they felt something similar.
     But no matter! I thought. We are many and he is but one. “Together!” I cried out. And they yelled a battle call. And we pulled on the Man. We tugged at his arm and we tugged at his head. Some beat upon his face and some tried diving under the water to trip up his feet.
     It was like pulling on granite. Icy, rigid granite.
     “Your friends are coming,” the Man whispered to me as I tried to gouge out his eyes.
     I turned and my heart died within me. My brothers were coming. As were the faithful of every section of the cistern. They wore masks of anger, but their fury was not directed at the Man, evil and powerful. They were directed at us.
     They fell upon us with sticks and books and flesh. The Man shook and we fell from him. And, thus, we were driven out of the cistern. And they pursued us through the park and down the roads. Into the buildings and out of the gates. Up into trees and down into ditches. And we were scattered and alone.
     I found a place beside a dumpster behind one of the high-rises. I was alone. I was weakened. I wept.

Three Farmers


     Three farmers, hard and thorough and in love with their land. They lived close to each other, surrounding a crystal pond where fish splashed and frogs grunted. Theirs were the largest and most fruitful fields in the region, it was said. Farmer Bob grew all manner of vegetables. His carrots were as large as a man’s arm. His tomatoes nearly burst with juicy tenderness. And his potatoes were so perfect as to be meals in themselves. No one could ever complain about his vegetables.
     Farmer Joe, living in the field next door, grew grapes. And what grapes! Massive purple grapes that quivered with juice, so heavy on the vine that they nearly brought the fences down each year. Brilliant green grapes without a drop of sour. Shiny red grapes that made a man despair of eating any grapes but these. And the wine that was produced from all these grapes was responsible for most of the best parties in the region.
     Farmer Tom was the last farmer surrounding that crystal pond. His fields were full to the bursting with the most beautiful, yellow grain. The heads of his grain were massive and weighed the whole stalks down by the time harvest would come around. Every health-conscious mother in the region would only buy bread made from his grain and every serious-minded drinker would only buy beer made from his barley.
     Farmer Bob, of course, counted his own crops as the proper crops befitting a farmer. For without vegetables who could live in any kind of health? Farmer Joe, of course, counted his grapes as the most fitting crops for a true farmer to grow. Because without the sweetness of fruit and wine, what reason can there be to live? And, of course, Farmer Tom decided that grains were the kind of crop a farmer ought to cultivate. For bread and beer go together to make a circle of well-being. Being neighbours, they would often consult each other on these topics and visit each other to try and win the other to their side. They would go to Bob’s house to feast on his vegetables, which they all had to admit, were very fine. They would sup at Joe’s house and enjoy his merry-making wines. And they would eat at Tom’s house, having full measure of bread and beers. And so they continued, disagreeing, feasting and benefitting the village.
     In the course of time, things changed, as things are wont to do. And one of the farmers, I cannot remember which, realized a startling truth. Each farm drew, as the life-source of all its crops, from the crystal pond. The crystal pond that each farm touched. And a devilish thought crept in that first farmer’s head: “I have need only to reach out my hand and hinder the flow of water and their crops would begin to suffer! And then the ignorant townsfolk would see how frail the crops of my neighbour are and, in contrast, how hardy my own are!” And, walking with that thought, he hindered the flow into his neighbour’s field. And so the crop suffered.
     On the very same day another of the three farmers was walking through town and saw the townspeople buying wares. A rather large family was buying a great deal of a crop that was not grown in his field. He frowned and said unto himself, “If only they were not so ignorant as I, then they would see how very inferior the things they are buying truly are.” With that thought in his head he found for himself an empty box of soap and, standing upon it, raised his voice and, in language unbecoming of an honest farmer, began to deride and insult the crops of his neighbour. Thus his neighbour’s sales fell sharply.
     The third farmer, on that very same day, was out spraying for bugs along his crop. He looked over the fence to his neighbours yard and thought thus unto himself: “This chemical I spray is fine and good for my crop, but I imagine it would be lethal to these inferior plants of my neighbours. Here, if I were to simply cross the fence and spray a bit here and there, I would severely harm his growth.” And, with that violent thought, he did just so. And many of his neighbour’s plants died.
     A field lay without water. Another steeped in poison. Another becoming a byword in the village. Disagreement in horticultural procedures turned into malice. And not longer were there vegetable feasts at Bob’s house. No more wine was drunk in Joe’s house. No more bread and beer were consumed at Tom’s house. And the farms suffered, as the farmers only spoke to each other in derision. And the crops suffered from the constant attacks of the other tenders of crop. And the village suffered, for they were swayed this way and that. And the vegetables grew small and runty. The wine turned sour and stale. The bread and beer became common and base. And, lo, the fields turned fallow and the music left the town. For the good honest farmers, each toiling under the same sun, sought to tear their neighbour’s efforts down rather than build up their own.

Ariel’s Story #9 – Fisticuffs

     I was dumbfounded. Have you ever considered the depth of that word? Dumb and confounded. That was me. Fully. I stood there in the increasingly cold, nasty water and stared. Something fell apart in my mind, but I could not think of what it was. It was like my entire understanding of how everything good worked turned out to be broken. For here was the Husband and here was the Bride. Combined they were the foundation of everything right and good and happy. And something was horribly wrong.
     I could not hold her mouth above water for long, and the Man’s strength overcame me and she sunk back into the water. Her eyelids began to sink again, like the look of a girl fighting sleep. Sleep won and she closed them. The Man looked at me without turning his head. Just barely a glance. As if only to let me know he saw me there, but was still choosing to ignore me.
     “Ho, there, Man,” I said. “What is the meaning of all this?”
     He did not look at me.
     “I say, what means all this? Why are you treating your bride so? I had heard you freed her, but now it seems she is your captive!”
     He spared me not a glance. I realized speaking with him was useless. It almost seemed that there was no life in him at all. And an ill realization took hold on me.
     This is not the husband of Sume el Raj. An impostor. A kidnapper.
     My heart sank into a hasty sort of anger. The anger felt pure. And maybe it was. I balled my hands into fists and set myself to fight against the man.
     I lunged forward and struck him in the jaw. My fist crumpled against him and I heard a crack as one of the bones in my hand broke. I yelled and fell to my knees in the pain, getting dirty up to my neck.
     I was so angry. Burning, red and black anger. So angry at this false husband of a man and the pain he had inflicted on me and Sume that I hardly noticed him place another hand on my head and push me lower into the water. I struggled and sputtered against him as the water entered my mouth and nose. I was able to get out, but not before swallowing more than a few mouthfuls of the grime.
     I stood a few paces off, wary of the insidious man who had so fully captured Sume and nearly me with her. I looked into his eyes and saw nothing. I looked into Sume’s eyes and saw that sleepy pleading. But I was not the one to save her.
     I came back to the shore, covered in grime. And there was, of course, no water to wash it off. My brethren were waking and doing their morning ablutions. It suddenly sickened me to watch them bath and drink that filth, though I myself was covered in it. I took my place among them, and starting following them in the morning wash, for it was the tradition of our group to do it. But something was wrong in the back of my head. Something that wondered why I was doing these things, while Sume was stuck out there in the dirt.
     Something must be done.
     But the man was so strong. So very, very strong. I looked down at my hand. It was purple and swelling. Throbbing in that way the cartoon cat’s hand throbs when the mouse whacks it with a mallet. But it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny at all.
     Can’t do it alone. I’d need help. I’d need …
     I looked at the people around me. Blessed lovers of the bride and husband. Blessed brothers and sisters who had devoted themselves to truth, yet washing themselves in lies.
     … an army.

The Greatest Writer in the World!!!!1

     She was the best writer in the world. Susan Less. Sue, to her friends. Never heard of her? That’s a shame. Because she was the best. Like, mind-bogglingly greater than any writer you’ve ever read. She would have made Stephen King look like Dr. Suess. She would have made Dr. Suess look like Spongebob. She would have made Spongebob look like … well, I guess it’s not hard to make Spongebob seem trite.
     You like Dickens? Austen? Twain? Their plots and characters would have looked as shallow as Dan Brown’s compared to Sue’s. And you want deep and hidden meanings? Yann Martel would have seemed preachy and infantile next to the gems Sue would have laid out for you. In fact, after reading one of Sue’s books, you would instantly be morphed into a newer, better person. Your eyes would be opened. Reading one of her books would, I imagine, be like beholding the face of God, watching him smile and say to you ‘Finally, my favorite child has come home.’ Yep. That good.
     What, you’re skeptical? You don’t believe me? You’re checking her out on the Internet now and can’t seem to find were bibliography? Let me prove her worth to you.
     They say the average person has a vocabulary of 4000 words. Shakespeare have something like 29,000. Slick, eh? Well Sue Less blows them out of the water. She knows at least 100,000 words! That’s right, there are English words out there that only she knows! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
     And they say the best writers are prolific readers. So Sue rises again to the top. I can say with 100% certainty and no fear of hyperbole that she has read more books than every English-speaker put together! Boom!
     And as to the writing craft itself, she listens to every podcast, reads every blog and attend every single writing conference. The money she has spent on conferences, writing workshops and books numbers in the hundreds of thousands. No one has spend more resources on the craft than Sue.
     So there you go! I think I’ve made my point. It’s obvious that she is the best out there. Who else has such a deep, intricate knowledge of language and stories and style? No one. That’s who.
     I can’t wait until she finally writes something. Surely once she does, the world will be changed forever. Surely peace will come. Surely we shall all be forever changed and our hearts will turn to gold.
     Surely.

Ariel’s Story #8 – Captive

     I did not understand him at first. And once I understood, I refused to believe. But his words forced me to look closer and I saw that it was no small object the man held in the water. It was a head. I strained my eyes and could see that Sume (yes, I recognized her) was submerged in the fetid pool up to her nostrils. Her eyes were barely open, seeming to collapse on themselves with fatigue.
     “What the fu-”
     “Would you like to be a part of her?” the man was asking. “Would you like to join with the Husband and be a part of the blessed Bride, lovely and free? I can show you how.”
     “Show me how? But, she’s trapped, can’t you see?”
     “Whatever do you mean?”
     “Why, I mean that man there. He’s holding her head under the water!”
     The man smiled. It was a smile without mirth and as full of condescension as the pool was full of filth. “I suppose to your eyes it may seem that way. But that is how the Husband shows his love to Sume. What do you think it would be like if the Bride just ran about, galavanting around like some harlot? He controls and restrains her because of the love he has for her.”
     “But why does he need to do that? I thought … I mean. I was at the dinner. I saw her cleaned!”
     “Indeed, she is clean. Would you like to join her?”
     I looked out over the filthy pool. Sorrow pierced me. For Sume was far from clean. Only the crown of her head was unsullied from the water. I was sad because I had once seen her so clean and happy. I was sad because I had once seen her so free. I was sad because I had never thought the Husband would restrain her in such an unnatural way. I was sad because the pool was a dirty as ever. I was sad, finally, because it looked as though Sume offered nothing new. Just the same filth that this pool had always offered.
     I knelt, at the bidding of the man with me, as he led me in a prayer tethering myself to the Husband out there in the water. I could not think of anything else to do.

     I did not sleep that night. The moon was bright and high in the sky. It illumined everything but cast no reflection on the pool, as it was too dirty to relfect anything. All it did was consume, it seemed. It consumed the light from the moon and turned it into filth.
     I gazed out from my place by the water. I stared at the Man and his Wife. I think I wept a little. There he stood, staring at nothing, it seemed, holding that beautiful woman under the water. Why? What had she done? I felt a burning urge inside of me. I had to know.
     As silently as I could, I slipped into the water. It’s oily coldness made me shiver and a few of my companions stirred. I slowly strode out toward the center of the pool, the water reaching up to my waist. I was afraid that the ripples I was making would alert the Man of my approach (I did not wish to talk to him) but he paid me no mind. As I came close I found myself wondering if he were blind or deaf, as he never shifted his gaze.
     I was close enough to touch, now. I bent down and spoke to Sume.
     “Ho, can you hear me?”
     Her eyes flitted open and she turned them on me. Those blessed green eyes. I remembered seeing them so full of love and wildness and passion. Now they were nearly asleep.
     “What happened to you?” I asked her. She struggled. I thought she was trying to say something. I placed my hand on the hand that was holding her in the water. It was ice cold and strong. I tried to lift it. It was like moving a rock. But together I was able to give her another inch and her mouth, filthy as it was, rose above the surface. She was able to utter two words before the Man’s strength pushed her back into the pool.
     “Save me.”

Ariel’s Story #7 – The Pool

     I came to the park. I was surprised to see how much had changed. And doubly surprised to feel how much had remained the same.
     The grass around the pool was cleaner by far. There were uniformed men and women with bags going around and collecting the garbage. Other uniformed men and women carried sticks, which they used to encourage the homeless to move along and not make trouble (or a mess). Because of their efforts the area had a crisp, clean look to it. The people were well dressed, if a little subdued. It made it more comfortable, truth be told. It’s hard to engage in meaningful spiritual duties while unfortunates are distracting you with their temporal problems.
     But while the park had certainly changed, the pool itself, at first look, seemed the same. The gates still surrounded the stairs down to the water. Though above the archways, new symbols had been carved in. I found the one of bread and descended.
     I was not alone. The gate of bread seemed to be the entrance for many devotees. As I went down and saw the pool clearly I became confused. The water, for one, seemed just as dirty as it had the last time I was there. The smell, even, was nearly the same. And in the centre of the pool stood a man, holding something in the water with his right hand. He moved and shook the water with his left, and it seemed he sent different types of ripples to each section of shore.
     I drew close to the water. It was the water that was important for me. I touched it and, alas, it was the exact same oily, useless stuff of before. I looked out to the man holding that thing in the water and wondered.
     I tried cleaning my hand off, on the ground and walked back up the stairs to the park. I found a tree and sat beneath it.
     A man passed by who had the look of a fellow with wisdom.
     “Sir,” I called out to him, “please, where is the fountain?”
     “Why, it’s right here my son.” He pointed back to the cistern.
     “But I was just there, and the water is as foul as it has ever been.” I held up my hand to show him the oil stain. “I was told that Sume and her husband had done away with its filth and built a clean fountain. Why is it still here? But even that is not the most important thing in my mind in this moment. I only want to see Sume. And, if at all possible, her husband. Can you help me?”
     He cocked his head to the side. “Dear son. You can most certainly meet the bride and husband. But you must be part of one before you can meet the other. The fountain is fresh and clear, in truth. But you must approach it from the right direction.”
     “All this I was told by a man in town. And I entered the way he bid. The way of bread.”
     He had a look of utmost sorrow and pity. “My son, I fear that man was a deceiver sent by the enemy. That is not the right gate. Enter with me by the way of the Fish. The fish, you see, is the oldest symbol of the bride and her husband. From that direction the water will be clear and crystal to you. And you shall clearly see both the bride and husband.”
     I was about to object at this point, for it made no sense that approaching a place from the south rather than the west would have any impact on the nature of the place itself. But then I recalled that this dream was very much like an allegorical fantasy story. And in fanstasy stories strange things may happen. So I took his outstretched (oily) hand and walked with him to the fish gate.
     For a moment, as we descended, the sun reflected on the surface of the water in a way that made it seem clear. But it was only a moment. And the stench washed over me again and the pool was as dirty as ever. The man who held my hand did not seem to notice this. And he smiled as if showing me something difference from what I had seen through the Bread gate.
     “Not only is the water clear and holy,” he said, “but also you can clearly see the bride and husband there in the centre of it all.” He pointed to the man, still stirring the pool and holding something in the water with his right hand.
     “That man there is the husband?”
     “Of course.”
     “But I see only him. Where is Sume? Where is the bride?”
     His eyes judged me as I asked. I thought he wouldn’t answer. But he did, eventually. “Can you not see her? He lovingly holds her in his right hand.”