MW Cook

an ex-evangelical doing a year of living christianly

Category: flash-fiction

Ariel’s Story #6 – Return

     You cannot notice how foolish a smile looks when you first see it. But think, for a moment, and picture a smile in your mind’s eye. The lips are pulled tightly back and up, intruding on the cheeks. The eyes are wide. The teeth show forth in a manner not so dissimilar to a snarl. It is strange, when you dwell on it. Almost grotesque.
     But those are things you never notice. For when you see someone smile you find a similar smile is forced upon you. And with that smile comes those motions of joy that cry down your ever self-conscious reason and say “Hush now! I’ll not allow your base inhibitions and arbitrary judgements stand in the way of this joy I feel! You say I am silly? Foolish? Those words have no meaning to be now that I am in the throes of joy. So stand back while I pull tight these muscles in my face and show my teeth to the world. For I am happy and all is right.”
     And so at the feast I did not notice the sweaty, red-faced foolishness in the smiles of my peers. I did not notice the many chunks of food stuck in the mouths and beards of those who ate with me. For we were all happy. We rejoiced in the Bride and in her Husband and we felt, with a calm, violent certainty, that a new age of light and love was being ushered in. An age in which the fetid pool would be drained and done away with. An age in which all the buildings would be cleaned and opened for all to dwell together in peace and love and laughter. An age to end the ages. An age after which nothing could follow, for if things are ever truly and completely made right there can be nothing left in the cosmos to set them wrong.
     And so, with my head flung back in laughter at some happy jest I’ll never remember, I was pulled out from my dream and found myself alone and awake in bed.
     It hurt to be pulled from such a happy dream, I don’t mind telling you. And I tried, as we all do, to fall back asleep to pick up the dream where I left off. But that never works, as we all know. And so I rose and entered the grey world.

     It was many years before I slept again.

     I knew at once where I was. It was the air that gave it away. The air in that place is thinner than ours. But not thin in the same high altitudes are thin. More like the quality of being ethereal. But I cannot convey it rightly.
     I stood by the gate and nostalgia washed over me. There were the apartments. There was the road. There were the people walking to and fro, just as I recalled. Though, not quite as I recalled. There were many more people than before. Indeed, I was tempted to call the place a town, though the word seemed to die in my mind, as though it did not belong.
     But though I could not call it a town, it seemed to have grown many of the trappings that come with the success of urbanization. For one, there were police. Police are easy to spot no matter what culture you are in or what uniform they wear. It’s the way they look at the people around them. A look that searches. A look that tests to see where you are deviant and whether that deviancy is enough to make you delinquent.
     For another, there were ads pasted in every place ads could be pasted. Everywhere from large billboards up on the sides of the high-rises to the smaller posters pasted to the side of construction walls. And, wonder of wonders, each and every one of them was themed after that wonderful girl and amazing moment so long ago: Sume el Raj.
     I imagined that much more time had passed in Isht Drowl than it had in my world. This was not very surprising, really, because I had read many a fantasy novel and knew that sort of thing was to be expected. And since I had already adjusted to this idea I took as my next task the examination of what great blessings her crowning and ruling power had given to the town.
     I stopped a man working in the street. He greeted me with a smile so wild I thought it must be fake. But, of course, that was wrong of me. For this was the land of Sume, and there was no reason for me to doubt the sincerity of the good fellow.
     “Excuse me, sir,” I said, “but I’ve been away for a very long time and I am wondering where I could find Sume el Raj. And, perhaps, if he is still here, her husband.”
     “Both Sume and her beloved are still in town,” he said. “But you’ll need to meet the one before you can become part of the other. Do you know the fountain in the centre of the park?”
     “Fountain? No. I remember only a broken, fetid cistern there.”
     “Ah, but that was before the marriage, no? Today that cistern has been taken down and a glorious fountain has been erected in its place, kept pure for those who enter on Sume’s terms.”
     “A fountain?! How wonderful! Thank you, sir, I’ll go to it immediately. Will Sume be there?”
     “Aye, she’s there. But take care you enter by the right gate. The gate with the true symbol of Sume on it.”
     I paused. “What symbol is that?”
     “The bread, of course. Symbolic of the bread of life the beloved gave to Sume. And that she now gives to us. Godspeed to you!”
     And so I went.

I Stand Alone, I Stand Alone

I heard the tune as whispered on the wind. It was elusive, though familiar. Like the opening theme to a cartoon you watched as a child. It was there, somewhere, but I couldn’t quite hum it. I had to get closer.

I walked across a green plain in the direction I thought it came from. It grew louder as I went, as did the sense of familiarity. It was a tune from my childhood, familiar as water. Off in the distance I saw something grow out of the plain. A hill, wide and tall, the tip of which I could not clearly see. And the song grew louder still and I thought I could grasp a few of the words.

I quickened my pace and saw that the hill was not truly a hill, but a pile of objects. Books. Books of every shape and kind. Large and ancient hardcovered tomes along with magazines and tracts and paperbacks and novels and comics. I stood at the foot of the hill for a moment and peered toward the summit. The song was definitely coming from the top. And it was louder now, though not much clearer. The familiarity tickled and tormented me. I had to know the song.

And so I started to climb.

I caught sight of many of the titles as I went up. They intrigued me. Many of the books I had read and some I had enjoyed. Others I did not know and still others I had read and rejected. I took note of some titles. “In-crowd mentality” by I.M. Choosen. “Systematic Theology” by Goddat Wright. “Western Comforts” by W.B. Rich.

The song grew louder as the air grew thin and I grew lightheaded. I found I could not think clearly at this altitude. I tried to focus my thoughts by reading other titles. “Doing to Others Before they Do to You.” “Choosing Your Favorite -ism.” “Economic Justifications.” “The Individualistic Life.” “Hollywood Drama.” “Democracy” (I liked that one). “10 Days to Blind Confidence” (I think I had read that one). “How to Dismantle Anything.” There was a chart listing the top ten spiritual professions. I had memorized that at one point, I recalled. “North American Values and Their Enemies.” “Capitalism.” And scores and scores others.

My hands grew cold as I crawled through the clouds. Finally, as I reached the top, I found the source of the familiar tune. There stood a man, his eyes closed and his fists clentched in the posture of a child trying to wish something true. And the song came clearly:

The B-I-B-L-E
Yes, that’s the Book for me.
I stand alone on the Word of God.
I stand alone on the Word of God.
I stand alone on the Word of God.

“Oi, friend!” I called out with a shiver in my voice. “I think you’re standing in the wrong place for this song! For I have seen many books, some I like and others I like less, but I cannot help but think that none of them are the Word of God.”

The man stopped singing only for the time it took to open an eye, shoot a hostile look at me, and continue his chanting.

“I stand alone on the Word of God! I stand alone on the Word of God!”

And suddenly the mount we were on heaved and shook. I clutched tight and watched as a few books toppled down to the ground below. But I remained firm for the moment. The chanting man did not seem to notice. I realized that the foundation he and I were standing on was not stable.

“I say!” I called out. “I fear this is not an ideal place to stand. I’m heading down. Perhaps if we both descend together it will be less risky for the both of us.”

Again he did little but curl his lip at me and continue his chanting. I thought to stay with him, but another tremor from below made me certain that I was in a precarious place. And so I descended, slipping and bruising myself along the way.

I arrived at the bottom, still hearing his words in my head. In that moment they reminded me of similar words spoken by others in ages past. I recalled some chanting about The Temple of the Lord. Whatever happened to those people, I wondered.

I was half a mile off when I heard a horrible crash behind me. I turned and saw that mighty tower of books collapsing upon itself. And I wept.

The Bestest Newest Product on the Market!

If you’re like me you’ve had your special moments of frustration with that best of Books. Maybe you accidentally found yourself in James or one of the synoptic Gospels and you read something that did not in any easy way seem to mesh with good, old-fashioned Evangelical theology. If you were a good Christian you had an evangelical study Bible that tried to help neuter the offending passage, but deep down inside you could feel something was still off. Some voice inside told you that when you interpret something in a way that negates everything that was spoken, it’s bad somehow.

Well not to worry for I have found an answer that will save fundamental evangelicalism from its current state of decline! Forget having a study Bible to merely explain away the anti-evangelical things that some Apostles say! Say hello to the brand-new Theological Conformity Bible!

No longer will we be embarrassed about lines from the Apostles who hadn’t read the Pauline Epistles nearly enough. See how the TCB renders these verses:

Hebrews 6:1 – “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity in sounding and defining the depths of eschatology, unpacking deep Trinitarian doctrine and word studies about how ‘World’ doesn’t always mean ‘World’.”
1 Peter 1:17 – “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s doctrine, conduct yourselves with confidence during your time of exile, because your doctrine is probably right.”
James 2:24 – “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (Ha! Just kidding guys!)”

And, of course, it’s not just the Apostles, but Jesus himself has uttered some words that, at first glance, do not really line up with an evangelical way of thinking. But with a few innocent tweaks we can make it all fit nicely:

Luke 18:18-25 – “And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Pray this prayer with me: God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. However, I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe that His death and resurrection provided for my forgiveness. I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my personal Savior. Thank you Lord, for saving me and forgiving me! Amen!”

Matthew 7:12 -“So be sure to spend a lot of time reading your Bible and going to church and listening to sermons, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

John 14:28 – “If you had loved me you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is co-equal and co-eternal with me and the Holy Spirit.”

Matthew 22:36-50 – “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall get the doctrines of the Trinity, atonement, eternal state and end times right. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You will make sure your neighbour gets them right, too. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.'”

Matthew 25:31-46 – “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep form the goats. And the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For you accepted Jesus as your personal savior and said a prayer to that effect. You held the doctrine your preachers preached and maintained an unquestioningly evangelical outlook on life. You are orthodox in your views on hell, the end times and the Trinity.’ Then the righteous will say, ‘Hurray! We knew it would be like this!’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For your prayer of conversion did not mention substitutional atonement and you questioned aspects of evangelical theology. Your views on hell, the end times and the Trinity were a little off as well.’ Then they will also answer and say, ‘Nuts.'”

I anticipate this new Bible being a great hit. To order your own copy, please call 1-800-485-3787.

Jim’s Jinn – Part 2

“Where on earth are we?” Jim asked.
“Rajasthan.” Frank said as he pulled a pair of Rebook Pumps out of his cap. “It’s a neat little province on the western border of India. Lots of lovely folks live here, but the weather sucks if you ask me.”
“Oh, I get it!” Jim said. “So the smartest man in the world is like some scientist or something studying stuff out here, right?”
“No, but come on, they’re about to serve up some tea.” Jim turned around and saw a small group of buildings about a hundred meters off. Just simple little stick huts with a few goats and chickens running around. He followed Frank toward the village. Brightly dressed women walked around the buildings, attending to various daily chores. A few old men relaxed on straw mats on the ground, leisurely talking to each other. It seemed like a rather odd place to meet the most intelligent man on the planet. Frank approached one of the men and began talking in a language Jim didn’t understand. The men stood and welcomed Jim and his green companion into the largest hut of the village. They either didn’t notice or didn’t care that Frank was green and mostly naked. As they sat down on the floor a woman wearing every color imaginable scurried in with a tray of clay bowls filled with hot, creamy tea.
“This stuff is great.” Frank said to Jim. “Drink up.” Jim took a bowl and drank. It was indeed good, but he was wondering where this super-intelligent person was.
“She’s coming.” Said Frank, hearing Jim’s thoughts. “She’s killing a chicken at the moment and she’ll come in once that’s done.”
“She’s killing a chicken?”
“Would you rather eat a live one? Shut up and drink your tea.” Frank resumed his chatting with the bearded men. Jim couldn’t understand what was going on. What was the smartest person in the world killing a chicken for?
“For lunch, dumbass.” Frank said, interrupting Jim’s thoughts again.
“I don’t think I like you poking into my brain whenever you feel like it.” Jim said.
“I’m not poking, I have limited omniscience. I simply know all there is to know about all people. It’s impossible for me not to look at what’s going on in that puny brain of yours.”
Jim was trying to think of a witty comeback when a small, dirty woman in her early twenties appeared at the doorway. She was brightly dressed like all the other women of the village with five or six pounds of bracelets hugging her arms and a nose-ring the size of Texas hanging from her left nostril. She was wiping chicken remains from her hands. Frank stood immediately when she entered the room and said many flowery-sounding things to her. He placed his hand on her head and she smiled shyly.
“James,” Frank said, “I’d like you to come meet my friend, Ajoti, the most intelligent human being on the planet.”
Had Frank said that Ajoti was an alien from Jupiter doing reconnaissance work among the tribal people of Rajasthan, Jim would not have been more confused. He gave Frank the Jinn a sideways look. He tried to understand what Frank was saying.
“You mean, one day she will become the most intelligent person in the world?”
“No, she is already. There is no-one alive today that has a better brain than my little friend here.” Frank said, putting his arm around Ajoti.
“I’m quite confused.” Jim said with a not-so-bright look on his face.
“I know you are.” Said Frank. “And let me tell you why. You’re confused because you assumed that the most intelligent person alive would be some sort of doctor or mathematician or something. You can’t understand how this simple-looking girl at my side, who is at present picking her nose with chicken-soiled fingers, could possibly have an intellect greater than all those scientists you see on TV. In fact, she strikes you as rather dumb, doesn’t she?”
“Well, she is picking her nose.”
“I’ll tell you what makes Ajoti special. Ajoti has the finest working brain of any person alive today. In fact, it’s the best brain that’s come around for a few hundred years. She really is quite special. However, Ajoti will never become famous. She will never even learn how to write her own name. In fact she will never leave this little village or go to any school, even though if she did she would shock and amaze the world with her staggering intellect. If she studied mathematics, Pythagoras would be quickly forgotten. If she studied theology, she would be able to teach St. Paul a thing or two. If she played chess, Bobby Fisher wouldn’t stand a chance. As it is she studies cooking and cleaning, and I promise you that you have never had chicken like the chicken you’re gonna get in half an hour.” At this Frank said a few quick words to Ajoti and she left shyly.
“I still don’t get it. If she’s so smart why doesn’t she go to school or try to make this village better?”
“Do you remember what you learned in elementary school?”
“I remember I got beat up a lot.”
“But do you remember what the classes were about? Or even in high school, can you remember the facts and figures you learned?”
“Not really, but no one does, which is why I think it was a waste of time.”
“Ah, but it wasn’t actually a waste of time. You know, the brain is like a car. Everybody has a different kind of car for a brain. Ajoti was given a Lamborghini Diablo, your brain is more like a Volkswagen. The thing is that Ajoti’s Diablo has never had a tune up. It never went through the testing and tuning that you got with a basic education. As a result of that it doesn’t run as well as it could. It runs fine, to be sure. She’s quite bright on he own even without education, but it could run so much better. Your education wasn’t actually designed to make you remember facts; it was designed to give your brain a workout. And as a result of that workout in some areas you brain runs just as good as Ajoti’s Lamborghini.”
“Wow.” Said Jim after the minute of silence it took for him to understand. “I guess it’s pretty tragic that she’s stuck in this village.”
“Maybe. But she doesn’t think so. She’s quite happy here.”
Eventually food was served and indeed it exceeded Frank’s predictions. After eating, drinking, eating a little more and having one more cup of tea the two travelers were getting ready to depart. They bid farewell to Ajoti and the tribe and began to walk back into the desert.
“It really doesn’t seem right.” Jim said after they had walked a ways.
“I know. It’s far too hot here. But I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it.”
“I mean about that girl. It seems…evil to let her float along without reaching her full potential. The leaders of whatever country we’re in must be totally corrupt.”
Frank laughed. “First, tell me, what makes you think she hasn’t reached her full potential? She’s attained a level of happiness higher than most folks. Secondly, lemme tell you, if the most upright, ethical person in the world was running this country, this would not be much different. It’s not always morals that hinder governments from making good changes in their countries. Sometimes it’s just manpower. We’re out in the desert. There’s about five more little villages like that one within twenty miles of this place, how could you build a school here? It’s pretty tough.”
“I bet a good man could figure it out.”
“Dude, trust me, I know who the goodest man is, and he really couldn’t do much that’s not already being done.”
“Who is the goodest man? Could I meet him next?”
Frank paused for a moment. “What?” He said with what might have been interpreted as fear in his voice.
“Yeah, that would be pretty interesting.” Jim said. “Let’s go meet the most good person in the world next.”
Frank looked at Jim thoughtfully and took a cigarette out of his hat. He chewed it slowly and finally said, “No.”
“Hey man.” Jim said crossly, “I gave up my last pack of smokes and you promised me three wishes. You better deliver!”
Frank spat out his cigarette indignantly. “First,” he said, “I did not promise you any wishes. I only said that I could do a few things for you. Second, I have already taken you around the world to a place that no Canadian has even seen, I think that makes up for the half-pack of smokes you gave up. Third, I am a powerful Jinn from a higher plane and am accountable to no man, who are you gonna tell even if I did break some sort of deal? I will not take you to the best man alive. I can’t do it.”
“Why not? I thought you could do anything in regards to people and stuff.”
“It is within my ability to take you to him, but not within my will. I don’t want to do it, therefore I can’t.”
“But why not?”
Frank thought for a moment and said, “You wouldn’t like him much. You wouldn’t appreciate him. It would be a waste of time.”
Jim paused to take that in. Frank changed the subject before he could think about it too much. “Now, I could take you to the most evil man alive. I think you’d understand that guy a little better.”
“Why would I understand him better?”
“You’ll be able to relate better.”
Before Jim could object green smoke began pouring out of Frank’s shoes. It soon enveloped them completely and Jim noticed the temperature drastically change again as the smoke blinded him. The smoke faded and Jim’s ears were bombarded with a voice over a loudspeaker speaking what he thought was German. It later turned out to be French.
“Where are we now?” Jim asked, looking around for Frank, who seemed to have disappeared. Jim examined his surroundings and found himself in a desolate subway station. He wandered around a little, wondering if Frank had gotten lost on the way. He heard a train approaching. Above the sound of the train he could hear Frank’s voice approaching in the form of a gleeful scream. The train pulled into the station and Jim saw Frank hanging off the front with a wild grin on his face. He had added a white golf shirt to his wardrobe and was evidently enjoying himself. As the train slowed Frank leapt off like a jungle cat and strolled over to Jim as if he was walking out of a convenience store.
“Hey there.” He said, doing up the buttons around his collar.
“What are we doing in Germany?”
“Switzerland.” Frank corrected. “And we’re waiting for the most evil man in the world to step off the train.”
“He’s on that train?!”
“Not anymore.” The train door opened and scores of people poured out. Jim’s jinn took Jim by the hand and pulled him roughly toward the crowd. Frank must have pulled rather hard because Jim noticed his feet lifting off the ground. Soon he noticed that his feet couldn’t touch the ground at all. By the time Jim realized that he and Frank were shrinking they were perched on the right shoulder of a man in a business suit. Jim was about to scream in uncontrollable fear when Frank slapped him in the face with such a force as to throw him against their transportation’s neck.
“What did you do that for?!”
“I thought you were about to scream out in uncontrollable fear.”
“I was not.” Jim said, rubbing his cheek. “What’s going on? Where are we?”
“Well, I thought that this would be the best way to get to know the most evil man in the world. I personally don’t want to talk to the guy; from here he can’t hear or see us. We’ll just watch him for a while.”
And so they did. For hours they stayed in their invisible perch atop their host’s shoulder. They watched as he went to work. They watched as he ate his lunch. They watched as he talked with friends, clients and other people he bumped into. Jim was anxiously waiting for him to flip out in crazy evilness or something. But it never happened. Five hours from the time the jinn slapped his human companion Frank decided they had seen enough.
“What the crap was that?” Jim asked in the coffee shop they retired to after their long day of observations.
“No kidding.” The jinn said. “Can you believe the nerve of that guy? I’m surprised God lets that one walk around breathing!”
Jim was confused. “What? He didn’t do anything bad. He was just acting like a normal guy. What was so evil about him?”
“I keep forgetting that your brain is far too small to pick up the thoughts and attitudes of others.” Frank said this while gulping down a steaming mocha and chewing on the last of his cigarettes. “You should have heard what was going on in his head.”
“What?”
“Hate. Just pure hate. With everyone he talked to he was pulsating with hate. He actually longs for the pain and sorrow of pretty much everyone he meets.”
“How could that be? He was friendly with all those people.”
“Only because society dictates that he must be friendly. You need to realize that evil is not what you’ve thought it was. Evil starts in the heart. Sometimes it is allowed to grow and exert its power outside through the body. Hitler wasn’t the most evil man to ever live, but his hate was given a lot more freedom than most. I tell you the truth, if that man on whom we sat was ever given the same power that Hitler had there would be a conflict far bloodier than WWII. I feel dirty just having listened to his hate-rants for the last five hours. Evil, evil, evil.”
“But I saw him give money to the beggar.”
“Yet you didn’t hear what he was thinking at the time. He hated that beggar. He actually had imagined how it would feel to strangle him to death with his bare hands!”
“I don’t understand how he would be considered so evil if he didn’t do any evil.”
“He did do evil. The evil dwelling in his heart was enough to convict him. Evil, evil, evil.”
Jim computed this in silence over the next five minutes while Frank drank two more caffeinated drinks. Frank stood, took out a few gold coins from his Tupperware hat and tossed them on the table.
“Well, I’m outta here.” He said, pulling a motorcycle out of his hat.
“What? You’re leaving?”
“Yeah.” Frank pulled his hat at the corners. It elongated and formed a helmet of sorts. “I’m done. I have a few buddies I haven’t seen in a couple hundred years. Lots of catching up to do.”
“But I only got two wishes!”
“And that’s two more than you deserve. Don’t worry. I’ll drop you off at your home on my way.” Frank started up the bike. Green smoke poured out of the tailpipe. As the smoke blinded Jim he felt something like a fist plunging into his gut. He fell backward against a cold, dirt wall and slumped to the ground. He was back in the cave in which he started.
“Whoa.” Frank was nowhere to be seen. Jim picked himself up and walked out of the cave. The weather was unchanged from when he entered. He was mildly disappointed with his adventure and mused about that on the slow way home.
“Why are you disappointed?” Said a voice beside him.
Jim jumped and turned to see Frank, standing gloriously beside him wearing flowing silken robes and a great gold and red turban. “Holy crap!”
“Not at all. No crap is holy.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I finished catching up and I decided to grant one more wish.”
“How did you…”
“Shut up and listen.” Frank said gently. “You got something great and you shouldn’t feel bad if it turned out differently than you thought it would. You’ll find most things that turn out for the best are way outside our best laid plans. You’ve got to realize that the things you see and feel only represent a tiny percentage of what is reality. If you don’t grasp this you’ll never be happy, holy or wise. Unless you’re insanely brilliant you’ll never be able to judge things by their appearances. Remember these things because they are very important: The things you desire most in life will often kill you. The things that hurt you most are often the most helpful. Also remember that you and everyone else are very sinful. The difference between you and Adolf Hitler is negligible compared to the different between you and God. Lastly, only he can give you any amount of joy in this life. Find him and don’t let go. Trust me.” With his last two words he started to sink into the earth.
“Wait! Why did you tell me all this? What does that even mean?”
“I just granted your third wish.” The path was at his waist now.
“I didn’t even make it yet!”
“I granted the wish that you would have made forty years from now had I not talked to you. Bye bye!” He disappeared in the path, leaving a peach in the place he had stood. Jim picked up the peach. He looked up at the sky and back at the peach. He dusted it off, took a bite and started walking hope. Yep, he thought to himself, August is the best time for peaches.

Jim’s Jinn – Part 1

Southern Ontario’s Niagara Fruit Belt stretches from the mighty Niagara River in the east to the tip of Lake Ontario in the west. A visitor would be advised to travel there in August, as the peaches grown in late August are among the best on the planet. Because of the great beauty of this area’s woods and farmlands a few biblical scholars have suggested that the Niagara Fruit Belt is the location of the original Garden of Eden. Some further speculate that the fruit eaten that set the human race on its present course of sin and sufferings was, in fact, a peach. Most agree that if said peach had been eaten in late August, Adam and Eve made a wise choice. A large, wooded escarpment runs through the fruit belt, parallel to the shore of Lake Ontario; a favorite spot for people who like leisurely strolls while eating peaches.
Jim Marcy lived in a small red apartment building on Murray Street in the little town of Grimsby, just a ten-minute walk from the escarpment. One particular Saturday morning in late August Jim decided to enter the woods for a relaxing walk. He waved farewell to his cat, grabbed a delectable peach and bounced down the front steps, face set towards the bush. The trail that Jim usually followed on his walks was called the Bruce Trail, though Jim didn’t know that. The Bruce Trail began down near Jim’s house and ran west and north for hundreds of miles, one of longest trails in Ontario, but Jim didn’t know that either. He didn’t really care that he didn’t know. Why care about those things that you don’t know about anyway? If you don’t know about it, it must not be important.
Jim entered the forest and slowed his pace to breathe in the fresh, foresty air. He looked around at the trees and rocks with delight. On his left a small creek trickled in the bottom of a small ravine.
“What a lovely place, so untouched by human civilization,” he thought as he past a large steel garbage can filled with broken beer bottles. He skipped through the forest, examining the trees with an eye he assumed was trained. He glanced at a mighty oak off to the right of the trail.
“What a lovely maple,” he said to himself. A little further he eyed a birch.
“Hmm,” he thought, examining it, “no apples this time of year, I suppose.” Eventually he came to a part of his walk that he had come to many times before: the long stairway up the escarpment itself. On most days he took the stairway up and enjoyed a magnificent view of his entire town and Lake Ontario. Today he hesitated. He looked at the stairs climbing to his right, and then he looked at the creek in the ravine, trickling to his left.
“I wonder what lies down that way.” He had never strayed from the path before. All his life he had continued down the same road that everyone else had made. Of course, that meant he had never seen anything that a thousand people had not seen a thousand times before.
“Here is a chance for grand adventure!” he thought as he turned to the left and began tripping down the edge of the ravine. “Who knows what I’ll find! Maybe a rare animal, or some old bones, or something wonderful!” Unfortunately, Jim was thinking far too hard and getting far too excited at this point. His brain momentarily stopped communicating with his feet and he slipped and fell the rest of the way down, landing on his posterior in a cold pool of water at the edge of the creek. Jim was, of course, undaunted. This was merely adversity, and adversity was to be expected because he was a brave explorer searching out strange new lands. He picked himself off and headed off up the creek, wondering what oddities he might find. He past some things of minor interest. He found an old license plate that he was sure must have belonged to a crime lord of the past. There was a rusty shopping cart half buried in the creek, perhaps dropped from the plane that delivers shopping carts to the area. He even found an old doll covered in mud on the right shore of the creek. He left that alone, fearing it may be cursed or diseased. At one point the shore disappeared and was replaced by sheer walls of mud outlining the creek on both sides. Jim was forced to hop from rock to rock in order to continue his quest. And so he did, with great joy at first. He found that he was rather good at the rock jumping. He began to feel rather proud of himself for being so skilled. Very shortly thereafter he was reminded of what naturally follows pride.
He didn’t notice one rock covered with a green, slimy blanket. As soon as his foot touched it he found himself falling backwards into the creek. His head struck a rock and he was struck unconscious.
Three seconds later he awoke with a rather unpleasant headache.
“Look at the sky!” he thought. “It’s gotten so dark. Why, I must have been unconscious for hours, even days for all I know. What a grand adventure!” Jim sat in his place in the water for a moment, wondering what to do. Should continue his journey, or should he turn back and let the rescue teams know that he still lived? As he was contemplating this he noticed a strange-looking boulder sitting up against the wall of the creek on the left side. He couldn’t tell you why it looked strange, only that it did. He got up to investigate it. The boulder was leaning up against the wall in a very unnatural way. Upon a closer inspection he saw that it was actually covering a small hole.
“A cave!” Jim said aloud. “Who knows what would be inside?” He grasped the bolder with both hands and pulled with all his might. Gradually the bolder moved and fell into the creek with a loud noise and a small splash. Jim gazed into the newly-discovered portal with wonder. Having no fear of rats or snakes or any of the other horrid things that dwell in such holes he ducked in and looked around.
“How big might it be?” He asked himself. “It could go on for miles under the city. It might lead to the lake or to America even! What luck I found it!” Suddenly he walked into a wall. He took a step back and took his lighter out of his pocket. Lighting it he saw that the cave was disappointingly small. Perhaps five feet high and twenty feet square. He was almost depressed at this until he saw some writing on one of the walls.
“Perhaps there are some ancient hieroglyphics or cave paintings!” He got close and examined the writing on the wall.
Frank wuz here.
He read it again. And again. Disappointed, he sat on the ground with his back to the wall. As he sat he noticed cigarette butts strewn about the floor. Obviously this was no ancient cave. It was just a crummy hideout for kids to smoke without their parents finding out. What a stupid place! What a dumb quest! This certainly wasn’t what Jim had expected when he set out. He sat and stared into nothing for a while.
“Oh well,” he said, “I suppose I should get going home. I should let the police know they don’t have to look for me anymore.” As he stood to go he noticed something on the floor that had evaded his glance up to this point: a yellow plastic sandwich container. Odd that he didn’t see it earlier. He wondered what was in it. Perhaps a sandwich! That would make his failed quest a little less of a failure, now wouldn’t it? He crawled over to it and picked it up. It was heavier than it looked. That was a good sign. Something must be inside! He stood and began to lift the corner of the lid.
BANG!
There was a loud noise that startled Jim so much that he dropped the container and fell back to the floor by the wall. He looked at the upside-down lidless container on the ground. Nothing happened. He eyed it suspiciously and slowly made his way toward it, sad that whatever sandwich might be inside was now on the ground. Suddenly the container twitched a little. He heard a grunt and a trickle of green smoke began to flow from under the container.
“The sandwich is obviously older than I thought,” he said out loud. Green smoke continued to trickle until it covered the floor of the cave. Suddenly Jim heard a tired and cranky voice coming from the plastic box.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” it said. With disbelieving eyes Jim saw the container lift off the ground, pushed up by some green shape wreathed in green smoke. The box lifted up to the top of the cave, and there it stayed, the shape under it still clothed in smoke. Jim heard coughing coming from within the smoky pillar and the smoke began to fade away, out the small door. As the smoke cleared Jim saw that a man was standing in the center of the room, wearing the plastic container as a hat. He was short and a little chubby. His face was covered with the sort of stubble a man gets when he hasn’t shaved for a day and he was completely naked, except for his Tupperware hat. He was also green, though that didn’t seem too odd to Jim when he considered that he appeared out of a sandwich container. Jim stared at the green man in front of him, vainly trying to put logic on recent events. Meanwhile the green man began to pick his teeth and look around the cave.
“Ya got a smoke?” He gruffly asked Jim. Not knowing the rules of etiquette in a situation like this Jim simply nodded and tossed a pack of cigarettes at the green man.
“Thanks.” The green man took two out of the package and began to chew on them nonchalantly. The rest he returned to Jim. For a few moments nothing was said and nothing was done. The green man continued to chew on his cigarettes and Jim continued to stare in awe and disbelief. Eventually awe gave way to slight boredom.
“Um,” Jim began hesitantly, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what are you?”
The green man looked at him blankly for a moment. “Frank,” he said.
“Frank?”
“Yeah. Frank. That’s my name.”
“Well, my name is Jim,” Jim said as he stood. He held out his hand toward the green man Frank, mainly because he didn’t know what else to do.
“I know your name, Jim Marcy,” Frank said as he shook his hand. “How ya doing?”
“I’m okay,” he said, still trying to convince part of his brain that he was shaking hands with a naked green man who seemed to live inside a sandwich container. “What are you?” He asked.
“Me?” Frank said very casually. “I am a jinn, created by the Great Power millennia ago from the smokeless fires of Jannat. I have beheld with my eyes that which no man can see and live. I have contemplated truths that would drive the wisest of men to insanity. I have felt the undying bliss and the never ending sorrow of omniscience. I am jinn.” He yawned.
“Jinn? Like genie?”
“Same thing, pretty much.”
“So I get three wishes?” Jim asked, his astonishment giving way to excitement and greed.
“No.”
“What? Why not?”
“I think you’ve been reading the wrong genie legends. Most genies don’t actually give three wishes. Some are pretty bad-tempered, actually, and would kill a guy for opening their container without permission. You’re pretty lucky I’m easy going.”
“So I don’t get any wishes?”
“You might,” Frank said as he swallowed his chewed-up cigarettes.
“Might?”
“Yeah. I might do a few things for you if you give me the rest of your cigarettes.” Jim quickly handed his pack over. Frank took them out and stuffed all but one into his Tupperware cap. The other one he placed in his mouth and began to chew, smiling.
“So…” Jim said after a few seconds.
“So?”
“So do I get some wishes?”
“Sure,” the green jinn said. “What do ya want?”
“I wanna be the richest man in the world!” Jim said excitedly.
“Sorry. No can do,” Frank said shrugging.
“What do you mean? You said I could get some wishes!”
“Yeah, but there are some things I can’t do for you.”
“But it’s so easy; just give me a bunch of money. Do you need my bank account number or something?”
“It really doesn’t work that way. Listen, how much money do you want?”
“I dunno, just a few billion.”
“Okay, do you have any idea what a few billion dollars appearing out of nowhere would do to the economy? You’ve already got a nasty problem with inflation; injecting a billion dollars into circulation would just make it worse. On top of that, how would you explain such a massive bank account to the government? Do you think the income tax guys are gonna believe that a green genie just gave you the money? You’d probably be audited and you don’t want to know what sort of taxes you’d have to pay on a billion dollars. Trust me, kid, it’s not worth the hassle, you’d regret it later on.”
“Oh, I never thought about it that way.”
“Few people do.”
“Hmm.” Jim thought for a moment. “Okay, I got an idea. Why don’t you make me a super-famous actor or something? That way I can get the money myself and have a really easy job too!”
“I should probably tell you something right off the bat; genies are not nearly as powerful as your movies make us out to be. We all have our special talents, and if you get us all together you could probably get whatever you want, but every jinn is pretty specialized. There are only a few super-cool things we can do.”
“So what can you do for me? What kind of genie are you?”
“I’m what you might call an anthropological genie. I know pretty much all there is to know about every country, people group, culture, race and individual on the planet. I can tell you all about folks if you want.”
“That’s it?”
“Hey!” Frank said, looking defensive. “I think that having anthropological omniscience is pretty impressive, boy!”
“Sorry. I just thought I’d be able to get something out of this.” Jim wanted his cigarettes back.
“Dude, you can get something out of this. You know, I can introduce you to anyone on the planet. I can take you anywhere on the earth and you can visit the most unusual people there are. I think it’s a pretty good deal. Is there anyone you want to meet or see?” Frank swallowed his cigarette and pulled another one out of his hat. Jim thought for a moment. Maybe this wouldn’t be a total loss.
“Okay.” Jim said. “There is one person that I’ve always wanted to meet.”
“Who?”
“Uh, I can’t remember his name.” Jim snapped his fingers, as if that would help him to recall. “I don’t know his name, but he’s the smartest man in the world. He’s in a wheelchair and he can’t talk.”
“Oh. You mean that Steven Hawking guy?”
“That’s it! Steven Hawking. I’d love to meet him!”
“Sure thing.” Frank said, pulling a pair of red boxer shorts with yellow smiley faces out of his hat. “But are you sure you want to see him? He’s not really the smartest guy in the world.”
“He’s not?”
“Hell no. He’s not even in the top ten. I could take you to the real smartest person in the world.” Frank but his boxers on, much to Jim’s relief.
“Sure, yeah, take me to the smartest guy in the world. I’d love to meet him and talk to him.”
“Giddiup, on we go!” Frank said with a wicked smile. Smoke poured out from under his hat and in a minute the cave was full of smoke. Jim noticed the temperature suddenly rise. When the smoke began to clear he found himself standing in a sandy desert. Beside him Frank was hopping from foot to foot, cursing the hot sand.

TO BE CONTINUED

How to Eat

I was thin. We all were. No. Thin is the wrong word. Thin is what you call someone who is not overweight. I was worse than thin. I was stick-like. My bones seemed to be fighting to break free from my skin. I once held my belly so tight that I was pretty sure I felt my spine on the other side. We were not thin. Thin is a hundred pounds. We were something else. Something wrong. Something that would have made you stop if you passed us in the street. Stop and stare and point and retch.

It was the hunger, of course. I live in a land where there is no food. Not just a shortage of food, mind you. No food. None. Ziltch. Nada. We are born starving, live starving and eventually die of starvation. So when I heard about a restaurant opening up in my town, I was intrigued.

I didn’t tell my friends I was going. They would have laughed at me (have you ever heard a starving man laugh? It’s nothing you want to hear). None of us really believed that those places actually had any food. But the hunger was sharp that evening, so I went.

It took up the corner of an out-of-the-way intersection. The night was arid and dusty, like it always is. The dust made me think of rain – something I had never seen but heard of in the fantasy novels I read. It made me thirsty. The lights were on and there seemed to be friendly sounds coming from within. I quickly checked to see that no one I knew was watching, and I went inside.

You have never been truly hungry, so you will not be able to appreciate the sensation those first smells caused. The thick and heavy aroma of beef was in the air, twisting at my insides and fanning my desire so that the pain of hunger brought tears to my eyes. I almost collapsed. But there was hope in the pain. Hope of a meal.

A man in a black suit came up to me, trying to pull his sallow face into a grin.
“A new customer! Yes, how nice. Table for one? Of course. Yes, follow me!” He turned and led me to an empty booth and bade me sit. “Just a moment, sir, and I shall be back with your meal. Yes? Yes. Now you must be patient, of course. Good things come in time and in time you shall see that the time you timed paid off in the end, yes? Yes. But now stop your fidgeting and sit up straight, for this eating business is a serious business, yes? Yes. And try to wipe that spittle from your lip, yes that’s a good lad. You wouldn’t want to dishonor your meal by coming to it all sloppy and ravenous. That just wouldn’t do, would it? So, yes I shall go and bring everything you will need in order to enjoy your meal. But you must be patient, yes? Of course yes.”

And so he went. The smells were stronger this far into the restaurant. I could see other customers, talking with each other, but the walls of the booths were so high I could not really make out what it was they were dining on.

Time passed and I suppose the pangs had gotten worse because when the man returned he gave me a look and shook his head. “Tsk, tsk, dear sir. You mustn’t look so pained. That’s no way to approach a meal. But no matter, put on a cheerful and controlled face and all will be well soon, yes? Yes. Now I’ve brought you all the things you’ll need in so that you may enjoy your meal decently and in the correct order.”

Here he started taking things off his tray and placing them in front of me.

“First, of course, you have your dining clothes. The outfit you’ve come in with might have served while you were a pitiful starving wretch, but now that you are well fed you need to dress the part. It’s not the clothes that make the man, of course, but I could hardly call you a proper man with the clothes you have on. So chop chop and get dressed.”

I obeyed. As I dressed he continued to talk while piling my table full of things. Plates and utensils. Cups and saucers. Napkins and finger bowls. There was a book about the nutritional value of the meal. Another book about the journey the raw materials took from the farm to the plate. Another blank book was for me to record my thoughts of the meal. Higher and higher he piled the junk, so that it covered the table. And, as it creaked and wobbled higher than my head, I realized the sickening truth. There was no food to be had at this place.

I was about to ask, but he seemed to see the question in my eyes. With a glimmer he put down the tome he was about to heave atop the other objects and spoke. “Impatient, hmm? Don’t trust, eh? Tsk, tsk, dear brother. What shall we do with you? You think you can just demand the meal in the way you want it? Hmph! You must come on the meal’s terms. There are no others! But, no matter. May I present your dinner.”

Here he made a flourish and pulled a plate from the tray. The food steamed and drove me wild with its smell. What was it? I cannot remember. I only remember that deep, glorious sensation running through me. That inexpressible thought: I shall soon eat! He placed it on the table in front of me.

I drove at it, reaching with my hands, drooling at the mouth. The sallow man moved and intercepted my hands.

“Been here so long and yet learned nothing? Tsk, tsk,” he said. “Patience!”

“But I’m so hungry,” I croaked. I felt tears forming in my eyes.

“But to eat with your hands is so vulgar! And you still haven’t read the books I’ve given you about the meal! Read them, first. Learn to use a fork and knife. Then you’ll be worthy to take part in the feast, yes? Yes.”

I stared up at the books. At the utensils. At the daunting barrier this sallow fool had put up between me and my meal.

I pushed him aside, gripped the food in my hands and bit down hard. My teeth met plastic.

I gnawed on the chew toy for a while before fully realizing that it was fake. I looked down at the pathetic waiter and realized that he was as thin as I. Indeed, as I gazed about the restaurant, I saw that no one was eating – they talked about food, read about food, but ate nothing. No one was healthy. We were all starving to death like everyone else.

I left. The man cursed at me as I went. He called me a rouge, a delinquent. He said that I lacked the digestive strength to devote myself to my food when times were hard. But what was I to do? Why pretend to be full when I still starve?

I stumbled into the street, my hunger made more clear and sharp than ever before. And I fell to my knees and screamed at the sky, begging for food. There was, of course, no answer.

I started to walk home. But I kept walking after I arrived. I walked right past my door. I couldn’t get food out of my mind. Nor the sensations of the near-food I had encountered. I almost turned back to return to the restaurant. But that thought was sour in my mind. And so I walked and walked. I walked all over the world, searching for food. Searching for a people thick and healthy. Searching for a man who makes true food, and who only bids me eat. I searched a long time.

The stableboy and the farmgirl

One
    I first saw her on the path that snakes through Akk Forest. You know the place, I’m sure. You know of its dark foliage. Those mighty, spindly trees that yawn for the heavens, as if to snuff out their lights. And they do manage to snuff it out, it seems, as you walk down that path. The canopy covers overhead and you cannot tell whether the sky is grey or blue. The light you see by comes from nowhere, it seems. And you rarely can see more than a dozen metres ahead. When you delve into the deep paths of the forest, of course, you cannot see even that far. It is a maddening place. A place in which I would not have willingly walked. Though now, as I think on it, I cannot remember why I was there.
    I was nearing the midpoint, I think. I’m sure I was lost. It would be hard to say that anyone could have known where they were going if they found themselves in Akk Forest. The trail was not straight, but windy like a child had drawn it. I walked without thinking – I believe the most dangerous aura of the Forest is the manner in which it snuffs thought. I walked without seeing the trees and rocks. I walked without hearing the sounds of birds.
    I rounded a bend and saw her.
    As I place that word on the paper I shudder. Her is not a good word. Her is a word that can be attached to nearly anything feminine. But this particular her seemed to demand her own pronoun. It is was nearly like calling God he. True, I can think of no other pronoun for either, but there ought to be another.
    Even so, I saw her. And everything changed.
    She seemed to envelop the forest, though quite small and slight. She was robed in a many-coloured garment, the likes of which I had never seen before. Her face was open and radiant, though dark. Her large liquid eyes stared into my soul and drank it in an instant. She stood in the centre of the path and seemed to be a part of it. An earthy, natural wisdom shone out from her entire being as she stood there, completely confident of her place.
    And as she stood she brought the surroundings into focus, all the while drawing them to point at herself. I suddenly heard the birds singing in the foliage. I suddenly saw the trees as mighty and ancient, instead of weary and cruel. And I suddenly saw light trickle down from the heavens and fall upon her, bathing her.
    I fell to the ground. For the truth crashed in on me. She was no mere mortal. What was she? Nymph? Muse? Dryad? Benevolent tribal deity?
    You may laugh, of course, and rebuke me for idle fancy. But she was a nymph and I am willing to swear it. Her form and aura put her many places above humankind. Her perfect placing in the wood could not have been achieved by any mortal. She was a muse. A tribal goddess, who, though desperately kind-hearted, was too pure and glorious to look upon such a vulgar stablehand as myself. And so I give no apology for falling to my face. I am no craven, but I know when I have met one who is high above me. I fell on my face and waited.
    She stayed where she was, I sensed, though I did not look up at her again. And how I longed to look! The nubile goddess had planted enough reverence in me to turn away, but in drinking of my soul she had captured my idiot heart. I burned inside and longer to rise and take a blasphemous look. I entertained damned thoughts of her passing me by while deigning to allow the hem of her robe to touch me.
    And yet, she did not move. I felt her there. And I waited.

Two
    I ought never to have ventured so deep into the Akk Wold. My people have clung to the ancient stories of the dangerous magi and goblins that dwell there. A grown man would have had enough sense to avoid it, let alone a farm girl like myself. And yet I found myself there, tracing the winding path through the darkness.
    I was not at peace. The densely-packed trees seemed to reach out at me as I stole down the narrow path. From time to time they tore at my clothes, spoiling and tearing them. My hair was unkempt, tangled in the angry branches I passed. I should not have been there.
    The wood seemed alive. Of course, it was alive, but I mean something more than the simple life that flows through plants and trees. It was alive in the same way an angry dog is alive. It was malevolent. It was cruel and spiteful. It hungered. It hated. I was frightened.
    I tried to walk faster. A root seemed to jump out and catch me underfoot. I fell and bruised my shin and tore my skirt. I rose as quick as I could and continued on, fear and despair pricking me forward. I ran flailing and blind, tears filling my eyes and streaming down my cheeks. I could sense something behind me, breathing threats down my neck. The path narrowed, the trees reached in. I was undone.
    I turned a bend and stopped short, for I saw a man.
    No. Not a man. A Man.
    What was behind me? I had forgotten. Were the trees reaching to grasp me? I did not know. Was the forest alive with malevolence and violence? Probably not. For before me stood a Man such as I had never seen before.
    He was a mage, I was sure. I was sure of this even though I had never seen a mage before. Indeed, I would have staked my life on his being a high mage. One of the lofty sorcerers who possess the hidden knowledge of the air and heaven. His stature was great and his face shone with intellect and the signs of deep truths that only the high-born are permitted to possess. He was fearsome.
    And yet I sensed deep benevolence in his face, in his eyes. The kind of benevolence that would be willing to do anything to bring good to people – even if it meant hurting them. He stood in the path, a shining beacon that softened the harsh wood. Indeed, upon seeing him I no longer feared the wood. I feared the Man, of course, but the wood dared not draw near to me any longer. It softened and was alive in the manner of any other wood. I heard birds sing shrilly in the trees. I felt a cool breeze on my face. I received peace from Akk.
    But the mage terrified me, despite his obvious benevolence. Benevolent or no, he was a high mage and a farm girl like me possesses no right to gaze upon one such as he. And so I fell to my face.
    I could sense his mighty presence. He stayed in his place. I prayed hard that he would continue on his way and pass me by. And at the same time I prayed that he would tarry and, if all the gods in all the worlds were kind, touch my head as he went. It was a foolish prayer, of course. For how could I expect a high mage to corrupt his pure hand by allowing it to brush my tainted head?
    And so I waited.

One
    She did not move. The fact burned my soul. It tormented me. If only she would pass and let me live! If only she would burn me up in her holy fervor! If only she would do anything but remain where she was! My knees ached and my back was sore. I lay there, prostrate, for hours I think. The burning in my soul grew and I suddenly realized that I was planning to raise my eyes and gaze upon her again. I commanded them to go down, be humble! But they would not. And so I lifted my head, ever so slowly, and gazed. And gasped.

Two
    The mage stayed where he was. Did he desire to torment me? Was it his will to torture my soul? How fully did the Man consume me! I wanted him to leave. Yet, with all my heart, I wanted him to stay. If he left, I would at least have peace again. But at the price of the bit of soul I knew he would take with him. If he stayed…I did not know. What manner of witchcraft had he placed on me? My soul demanded another glance at the mage, though I knew it was not right. For hours, I think, I pushed the scandalous desire down. But it grew and grew, and my will was not strong. As slow as I could, I lifted my head and saw the mage again. And I gasped.

Three
    We stared at each other – bowing before one another. For nearly a quarter of an hour we stayed that way, each paying more homage to the other than we had paid to any created thing before. What did this mean?
    In unison we shifted. In unison we went from kneeling to sitting. We saw each other a little clearer. Each appeared glorious still in each other’s eyes. But a little dirty, too. A little smaller. A little more like ourself. From sitting we stood. And we drew near to each other and our smiles grew while our fears faded. In unison we put our hands together. And we walked, in a third way, down the path through the beautiful Akk. Each a superior equal to the other. Stable hand and farm girl. Mage and Nymph.

Welcome home, Ruth.

The Eyepatch

This is something I wrote in response to a writing exercise once.  It’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while.  I thought I’d share it with you. 
            The package came earlier than I had expected.  There was no return address, but the Eagle seal confirmed what it was.  I took it from the Deliverer and walked back into the den.  The Deliverer stayed in the open doorway, watching me, its video cameras sending my reaction to whoever was watching.  I tried to smile as I opened the package, though my hands trembled.
            A note lay inside, its Eagle crest gleaming and shining up at me, a beacon of a hope and a freedom defined by other men.  It read:
           
Valued citizen,
                       
            Our records show that your Media Inlet Device (MID) has been misplaced and/or destroyed.  This is your replacement.  You will be pleased to know that it is an upgraded version and has already been calibrated to your unique Citizen Code Number.  For your own safety, peace and protection, be sure to inform the Deliverer of your intention to wear the MID and, as soon as possible, follow through with that intention.  If you happen to lose your MID again we will authorize you for a Secure MID (SMID) which will be irremovable.
                                    Peace and Safety,
                        The Ministry of Homeland Security and Entertainment
            I looked up through the doorless entrance to my apartment and forced a smile at the Deliverer.  Its mechanical eyes focused on me, reading my expression and probably registering my stress levels and temperature and the like.
            “Oh good,” I said.  “It’s finally here.”  I looked down at the box again and pulled the packing insulation aside.  And there it lay.  That thing.  The fact that it looked just like an old pirate-style eye patch struck me as tragically ironic.  It conjured up images of swashbuckling adventurers, leaping from plank to plank in glorious freedom, willing to risk an eye for that that freedom.  But as the eye patch was a symbol of the price to be paid for freedom, so the MID, made in its image, was a symbol of the price to be paid for…for what?  Safety?  A type of peace?
            The Deliverer twitched, mimicking impatience.
            “I’m putting it on now.”  I told it, picking it up.  It had no strap and felt like cheap cloth.  Without daring to hesitate I placed it over my right eye and felt the familiar vacuum seal as it attached itself to my face.
            It was stupid, what I had done.  I realized that even as I did it.  Completely illogical, really.  But I think it had to be done anyway.  We’re not defined only by reason and logic like the Deliverers are.  It’s our ability to work contrary to and even above our reason that makes us truly human.  I think I’ve written about that in the past, before privately run publishing companies were banned.  So I had done the stupid thing.  I had thrown away my MID.  I could hardly sleep the night after I had done it.  I was so used to the damned programming that I couldn’t relax without it.  The very fact that I had depth perception again was almost nauseating.  A sign of the growing dependency on dependency, I suppose.
            The programming began almost immediately, after a brief flicker and a security check.  The MID sent the images directly into the retina of my right eye.  I saw The Man again, with his plastic grin.  I cried out, in spite of myself.
            “You missed me?”  The Man asked.
            “Yes,” I sniffed.
            “Be sure not to lose your MID again,” he warned.  “Some might think you did it on purpose, that perhaps you are not completely loyal to the cause of liberty.”
            “It won’t happen again,” I said.
            “I’m sure it won’t.  Now, how about some News?”
            “That would be nice.”
            The Man faded away, replaced by the government-appointed newscasters, telling me glorious things about the War on Terror, the economic boom and the utopian society we lived in.  Things were back to normal, I realized.  A very comfortable, safe and lifeless normal.
            The Deliverer rolled away.  I stood and watched it go down the hall.  It faded into the distance, rolling past open doorway after open doorway.  I sat down and wept.  The newscaster tried to cheer me up by telling me about the thousands of people killed that day who were somehow different from me.
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The Eyepatch

This is something I wrote in response to a writing exercise once.  It’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while.  I thought I’d share it with you. 
            The package came earlier than I had expected.  There was no return address, but the Eagle seal confirmed what it was.  I took it from the Deliverer and walked back into the den.  The Deliverer stayed in the open doorway, watching me, its video cameras sending my reaction to whoever was watching.  I tried to smile as I opened the package, though my hands trembled.
            A note lay inside, its Eagle crest gleaming and shining up at me, a beacon of a hope and a freedom defined by other men.  It read:
           
Valued citizen,
                       
            Our records show that your Media Inlet Device (MID) has been misplaced and/or destroyed.  This is your replacement.  You will be pleased to know that it is an upgraded version and has already been calibrated to your unique Citizen Code Number.  For your own safety, peace and protection, be sure to inform the Deliverer of your intention to wear the MID and, as soon as possible, follow through with that intention.  If you happen to lose your MID again we will authorize you for a Secure MID (SMID) which will be irremovable.
                                    Peace and Safety,
                        The Ministry of Homeland Security and Entertainment
            I looked up through the doorless entrance to my apartment and forced a smile at the Deliverer.  Its mechanical eyes focused on me, reading my expression and probably registering my stress levels and temperature and the like.
            “Oh good,” I said.  “It’s finally here.”  I looked down at the box again and pulled the packing insulation aside.  And there it lay.  That thing.  The fact that it looked just like an old pirate-style eye patch struck me as tragically ironic.  It conjured up images of swashbuckling adventurers, leaping from plank to plank in glorious freedom, willing to risk an eye for that that freedom.  But as the eye patch was a symbol of the price to be paid for freedom, so the MID, made in its image, was a symbol of the price to be paid for…for what?  Safety?  A type of peace?
            The Deliverer twitched, mimicking impatience.
            “I’m putting it on now.”  I told it, picking it up.  It had no strap and felt like cheap cloth.  Without daring to hesitate I placed it over my right eye and felt the familiar vacuum seal as it attached itself to my face.
            It was stupid, what I had done.  I realized that even as I did it.  Completely illogical, really.  But I think it had to be done anyway.  We’re not defined only by reason and logic like the Deliverers are.  It’s our ability to work contrary to and even above our reason that makes us truly human.  I think I’ve written about that in the past, before privately run publishing companies were banned.  So I had done the stupid thing.  I had thrown away my MID.  I could hardly sleep the night after I had done it.  I was so used to the damned programming that I couldn’t relax without it.  The very fact that I had depth perception again was almost nauseating.  A sign of the growing dependency on dependency, I suppose.
            The programming began almost immediately, after a brief flicker and a security check.  The MID sent the images directly into the retina of my right eye.  I saw The Man again, with his plastic grin.  I cried out, in spite of myself.
            “You missed me?”  The Man asked.
            “Yes,” I sniffed.
            “Be sure not to lose your MID again,” he warned.  “Some might think you did it on purpose, that perhaps you are not completely loyal to the cause of liberty.”
            “It won’t happen again,” I said.
            “I’m sure it won’t.  Now, how about some News?”
            “That would be nice.”
            The Man faded away, replaced by the government-appointed newscasters, telling me glorious things about the War on Terror, the economic boom and the utopian society we lived in.  Things were back to normal, I realized.  A very comfortable, safe and lifeless normal.
            The Deliverer rolled away.  I stood and watched it go down the hall.  It faded into the distance, rolling past open doorway after open doorway.  I sat down and wept.  The newscaster tried to cheer me up by telling me about the thousands of people killed that day who were somehow different from me.
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Ariel’s Story #5 – Seeping In

var addthis_pub=”4a0af351783743a8″;    Arrangements were made under the strictest security. Each sack of fine flour was thoroughly searched. The oil and honey was tasted. Even the gold and precious stones that made up Sume’s jewelry was tested, both for impurities and for anything of the Shadow. The Man spared no expense as he ensured that everything he lavished on his new bride was good.
    Sume el Raj stood in front of her building, no longer a vagrant. Her building stood firm and tall, full of tenants and overflowing with declarations of wealth. Not the gaudy golden-paint that Domos had favoured. But deep, vibrant colours; red and purple and blue. Colours that declared “Someone important lives here! Someone of consequence! Someone remarkable!”
    And as she stood there in front of all the people of the village she knew that it was true. There were none before her who would dare call her common. The week before they may have kicked at her and sent her away, but today they were all begging her to visit their buildings and huts. Encouraging her to come through their arch as she made her way to the cistern.
    Thick blankets were laid out on the lawn. Food was laid out. Not the decadent food of Domos and her daughters, for certain things were now forbidden to Sume. But rich food, nonetheless; honeycakes baked in oil and finest wine anyone had tasted. Everyone sat and ate. The village became Sume’s guests.
    Sume sat to eat with them, but she did not touch the wine. Though married for only a week, she could already feel the life growing within her. And the Man had warned about wine during pregnancy. He had given many warnings, actually.
    “Remember Domos, your sister,” the Man had said. “Remember what her sickness was. Her wealth did not corrupt her. It was her decadence. Beware prosperous ease. Share what you have. Be a friend to the nations and bless them.”
    “Yes, husband,” Sume had answered, gazing at the Man’s dark hair, lightly falling to his shoulders.
    “And take note of your older sister, Marasia,” he continued. “She plays the whore. And that is a dangerous game to play. The sickness can be horribly inflamed in that lifestyle.”
    “Yes, husband.” Sume was nearly lost in his voice, deep and smooth, playing off of the dancing rhythm of the fountain they sat beside.
    “And, Sume,” the Man took her chin gently in his large hand. “Stay away from the cistern.” His eyes seemed sad on this point. “Be vigilant and watch! Let nothing defile the food I give you. Be satisfied with my provision.”
    Sume laughed and embraced the Man. “Oh husband! Why would I ever go near that dirty cistern when you have given me this fountain? Why would I ever eat anything but the food from your hands? You have given me the moon in a jar! How cold I even imagine anything else?”
    The Man squeezed her tight. “Yes. How could you?” Sume did not see his eyes moisten.

    They were feasting. The Corpse perceived this, though it didn’t see or hear or smell. Neither could it touch or taste or think. But it perceived. It lay in the bushes just beyond the fence. It had tried to enter Sume’s property, but the Man’s guards were everywhere. The same ones that had destroyed Domos and her daughters.
    The Corpse lay still for hours, which should not have been too difficult for a corpse. But the lack of movement caused the borrowed body to decay quicker than expected. It had little movement left. But only a little was needed, when the time became right.
    And it would be right.

    In my dream I also received an invitation to the feast. In truth I was not looking forward to it. I had been in that village for a long time without a proper shower or change of clothes. And I still didn’t feel soiled enough to take a dip in the cistern. So I rubbed some pine leaves on myself and combed my hair with my fingers. I was actually thankful that there was no mirror available. The sight of myself might have been enough to stop me from going.
    “Don’t worry about how you look,” Digue said to me. He hadn’t bothered to even try grooming himself. “You wouldn’t have cared if you were meeting Sume a week ago.”
    “It’s different now,” I said.
    “How?”
    “She’s el Raj now. She’s special.”
    Digue shrugged. “In a way. In another way, though, she’s not special at all.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Her specialness lies outside of herself. Its root is in the Man.”
    “Ah,” I said. “But surely there must be something inherently special about her. Otherwise, why would the Man have chosen her at all.”
    “Nope,” Digue shook his head. “There was nothing special in her. The Man’s love found its way to her arbitrarily.”
    “That doesn’t seem fair, then. There are many orphans in this village. Why her, if not because there was something special about her?”
    “Certain types of love are always arbitrary.” Digue stood up. “But it doesn’t matter. Let’s get going. I can smell the food from here.”
    We walked together toward Sume’s building. Even before we could see the massive picnic we could here it, smell it. Excitement rose. I was so excited that I didn’t even notice, as we passed a large bush and walked through the gate, the little splash of dark, red liquid that was spat at my foot. I didn’t notice it come from the bushes we walked by. I didn’t notice the dead body there, perceiving.
    I went and joined the feast.
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