Mountain Barber

My hair looks too greasy today. Yesterday it was too dry. Ugh.
Maybe I should have gone to that new hairdresser run by that native indian dude.
While walking past it I thought, “Whoa, that is so culturally diverse.”
The entire place was a big teepee, big feather caps, and smoke signals coming out of it.
But then I was like, I am really ready to have get scalped by a tomahawk?
Like am I just appropirating this culture for kicks?
I mean, yeah its pretty ace, but for them it’s an artform.
Also the bloodlost concerns me… might give my skin a pale look.

Oh who cares, I am going to be months ahead everyone with this cut.

With that decisive last thought he donned a moth eaten jacket he had picked up from a thrift store.
“Yeaa, someone actually died in a fire while wearing it,” he told his friends.
In actual fact, his mum had bought it for him last christmas and he had burnt holes in it with a bic lighter.

puffin-ii

The Puffin (ii)

The sea came into view, but the climb down was even more precarious. If you were to slip you would be killed before your body came to a rolling stop. If you were killed down, it’s unlikely your body would be found before it became part of the land. The jagged outbreaks come from the ribs and broken elbows of careless passerby’s, moss-ridden and turned to stone before they can be found by mourning mothers. My older brother Jon is here among the shattered and doomed, I wasn’t even born when he was killed- so please save your sympathy. Save it for my Mother, who out of hunger has to send her youngest over the same precarious terrain which devoured her eldest. I don’t fear his end, my young feet are nimble and neither does the mule, he has risked his life over these rocks so many times that his fate must be written on a dusty forgotten scroll, fallen behind Death’s desk.

The fear was especially easy to subdue in the face of such a beautiful view. A world cut into thirds – land, sky, and sea. And for me, this division was more than just a view. Within the mountains, under mounds of dirt slept giants that my mother told me stories of before bed. And there the great blue sky, which my father swore was the very same one that Saint Michael descended from to trample Lucifer back into the dirt. I hope that in throwing Lucifer back down into hell that St Michael does not wake a giant – that would bring great trouble for everyone. For a giant rages like no other creature when awakening from its slumber. Who would find victory in that battle, would the angels find victory in one cruel swoop as an eagle snatches the life of a field mouse — or would the giants simply feel their spears as mosquito bite and swat them like a fly. Whoever the victor a clash between those two worlds would sink the world, bring us to the third part of this great view: the sea. You have heard the stories of the land and sky from my mother and father respectively, but the stories from the sea I reserve for myself.

An ice shelf extended from the shore. It was of the purest white that I struggled to search for the perfect fishing perch without squinting.
“Where should I begin?” I asked myself as my stomach rumbled hungrily. Up and down the coast little nooks and crannies looked inviting. But there was one magnificent spot that stood out like a sore toe – in fact it even looked like a sore toe. Here I would fish. I climbed up the outcropping of ice that looked like a giant’s foot that had slipped out from under his warm sod blanket during his sleep. He might appreciate my backside warming his big, so I took to climbing up it, and no sooner than I was up there I started to become drowsy. Something about the coast makes me feel entirely safe to sleep out in the open. Whereas down in the valley when I sleep I imagine the surrounding mountains closing as my eyes do, swallowing me into the ground while I snooze. Out on the coast, I am free and my dreams are also free to wander across the sea. This dream in particular was fuelled by my father’s tales of his adventures the prey of this new modern era: the bird-fish or as they were called in England, puffins.

Mostly I dream myself as lowly things. I’ve dreamt I was a worm, I’ve dreamt I was a dog. There are simply and secret comforts to the lives of beasts. But this dream was different, I dreamt I was with my father in search of the puffins which Europe craved. The reason behind the puffin’s sudden popularity and profitability is a result of Pope Urban III decision. He declared the small critter to be a fish which therefore could be eaten during Lent. Millions of Catholics sick of Fish Fridays rejoiced and a new puffin ventures popped up naturally. My father explained to me his job as the pilot as we walked the deck. “Leif, I am thrilled you are here at last.” I smiled nervously.
“We’ll show you the ropes my boy and you’ll have your hands on a great juicy puffin.” The crew nodded and I searched among them for the familiar smiles of my brothers but couldn’t find them. I was about to ask when a call was shouted from a lookout posted on the masthead, “There she soars!” My father jumped and dashed through the men like a banshee to take the helm. The crew came alive with him all bouncing and scrambling over each other. A great tangle of ropes was untangled from the middle of the deck and then hoisted up, at the end of them was a queer contraption that looked like a combination between a kite and a lobster cage. Inside the cages were fish heads and guts. These cages were promptly thrown off the side and caught on the breeze. I looked to my father who grinned as steered masterfully into the wind allowing the kited-cages to float up. The ship appeared to be a great Kraken with tentacles waving high above the ship- all in pursuit of a great flock of puffins on the horizon.

What a peculiar sight, even for a dream. These images are all sourced from my father’s tales which he swore on his word. And now in this dream, we are upon the puffins who have taken to the skies, safely above the ship away from any spear, net or harpoon, so they might think. Attracted to the fishheads they crawl into the kited-cages but it will be their last meal because they are unable to escape from the inside which is coated in birdlime. With glee these fishermen of the skies pulled them from their lofty prisons, squawking and cawing, I felt their terror and pain – ripping their own feathers from bloody plucked skin trying to free themselves. From behind my father cruelly laughed and I awoke.


 

 <-Part 2 of XX->

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The Puffin

Often a strange story begins with a strange awakening. My story begins with a nap. It was a nap that took me half way around the world, not within my dreams, I truly lived this adventure. I doubt that my imagination could even conjure up a dream as otherworldly as my adventures have been. My odyssey will be but a footnote in history, in fine print it will be written just after the death of Christ and before Ragnarok, on this day Leif Erikson fell asleep and changed the world! Aye, changed the world and all it took was a sickening amount of pain.
I regret nothing, it was a pleasant snooze.

I remember the warm afternoon well, warm for an Icelandic morning anyway. I woke up late and my mother scolded me for not doing my chores on time. The first of these was to kill a chicken for dinner, which I had left too late – the sun was already setting. By my villages tradition, we kill livestock in the morning, the idea being we send the animal’s spirit to rise with the early sun.
I approached my mother cautiously while she was washing clothes in a basin.
“Ah, so you did not die in your sleep as I thought.”
“No Mother, I’m alive and well.”
“Alive and well but hungry, you haven’t prepared a chicken.”
“I was thinking…” I said, “Perhaps I can still kill us a chicken.”
She continued washing, “You know the rules.”
“I was thinking I could kill one and then we invite his soul to stay the night, just till tomorrow morning.”
That made her laugh, “You’re a funny boy Leif.”
“Thank you, you do say that often.”
“It’s a shame you’re only funny when you’re trying to get out of work.”
“I’m sorry, you do say that often.”
She managed to keep a straight face, “Go grab your Father’s fishing rod and be back before dark.”
I gave in.

My father’s shed always felt ominous. As a small child, it felt like I was walking into the jaws of an iron monster, sharp and rusted farming tools jutted out of the walls like ruined teeth. At the very back was his harpoon, unused rusted as the rest of the farming equipment. He was still at sea at that time, hunting a very different beast to a whale. As I walked past it, I felt somehow ashamed by its disuse. I thought of me and my two brothers playing with our pretend harpoons, one would be the whale spurting water of our mouths while the others chased him down with sticks. None of are whalers now, least of all me I thought as I plucked my mighty weapon from its scabbard- a crooked fishing rod. Fishermen may lie about the size of fish they catch to their wives, but that is only because they are jealous of the whaling men who can scarcely measure the size of their catch with three arms lengths. If I could travel back to that moment I would have dropped the rod and ran away with the harpoon to find some wayward vessel and live out my dreams…of course instead I did what my mother told me.

“Take the mule,” my mother cried as she hung up clothes on the washing line. I whistled for for him and off we went. The mule trotted ahead, he knew the way well. He didn’t have a name, my father didn’t want us to get attached in case we had to eat him when times were bad. He was over thirty years old and still didn’t he have a name. We wandered through weed ridden farmland, that turned into rolling hills, which then became crueller in character until they were craggy mountains – where nothing grows but a healthy respect for mother nature. Up and up we climbed, out of the valley which our house sat in. The mule was fitter than me despite his age and wasn’t slowed by the terrain. Maybe he thought that if we didn’t catch any fish by nightfall that we would eat him. He looked back suspiciously as if reading my mind.
“Don’t worry I would never eat a dear a friend,” I reassured him, “Especially not one as old and chewy as you.” With a snort he trotted away. We reached the summit of our climb and I took a rest.

Though I had no idea at the time, those few moments I spent on the mountain top would be a final farewell to my childhood. Looking down to my house I could just barely see a human figure in our garden, my mother. She was surrounded by radiant white sheets that blew in the wind, they lit up her blonde hair which humbly danced with all the trees and bushes around despite outshining them all. What a beautiful scene, she could have been Venus herself in that moment.

I reminisced about the clothesline. That was the same clothesline I used to swing back and forth on, I used to love that. I remember many a summer day spent being pushed back and forth by my brothers. Too big and too old for that now. Funny, I guess one day I simply let go of that clothesline and never grabbed hold of it again. The exact moment of that final farewell is lost in a vague blur.

On the contrary, the final farewell with my mother is a very exact moment – it was that very moment on the mountain top. She finished hanging the washing, walked inside, and I would never see her again. I question whether on some level I knew this was goodbye because all the while I wanted to shout and wave like a child – but I resisted and remained silent. I will always be grateful to myself for this, it would have tarnished a comforting memory which I have replayed many times in the ceaseless theatre within my skull. If you were to pry open the red curtains that cover my brain, I doubt you could dissect this memory from me without tearing out the whole stage.

The mule whinnied to get a move on and with a yawn I passed over onto the other side.


Part 1 of XX->

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The Eagle

The ship’s deck was especially quiet, Old Captain Cohen watched the night sky. He studied the stars and made a note of their positions. No romantic notions entered his mind as he completed the task mechanically. What is special about them anyway? The stars have always been above, Cohen reasoned, and they always will be. They had guided his ship the Great Gnesher for many winters now, shipping their cargo from one side of the world to the other and for that Cohen was grateful. But, he mused, horoscopes were for fools and star-crossed lovers.

The first mate William Kidd was posted at the helm for the night.
“Keep your eyes open Kidd, don’t crash into another iceberg or I’ll leave you marooned on it this time.”

Kidd remained silent, keeping his eyes on his course. Captain Cohen, satisfied with the boy’s submission was turning to leave when Kidd made sudden eye contact with him. His black eyes absorbed the light around them, wide and utterly focused on him like an eagle’s on its prey. The Cohen’s ratlike soul, that hide underneath the bravado and cruelty, panicked as he scurried back to his quarters. I’ll find some trumped-up charge to punish him for tomorrow, Cohen decided.

Cohen undressed and nestled into bed. His sleep was restless and full of nightmares. When Cohen woke early the next morning and got out of bed, he immediately thought he was still dreaming as those predatory eyes emerged out of the darkness once again. It was Kidd.

Cohen demanded the meaning of the intrusion which Kidd happily explained.

“A mutiny?” Cohen asked with a squeak in his voice.

“Yes Cohen, the crew took a vote and you’re walking the plank.”

“You know what buddy, there is no mutiny, I quit!”

Kidd shook his head, “We already mutinied you can’t quit.”

“I just did.”

“Grab your heathen candle and get out,” said Kidd. As a warning, he sliced one of his long curls with the tip of his sword.

Cohen spat on the floor at his feet but cooperated and grabbed the menorah. “You know I don’t even want to be captain anymore, you can be the captain like I care!”

Kidd felt disgusted at his jovial nature – not everything is a joke – though it became clear from his jitters that it was the product of a complete nervous breakdown. They marched up to the deck while Cohen sniffed back tears. The crew jeered at him, though he managed to keep a grim face of dignity. Cohen kept his chin up, walked out on the plank and looked out towards the calm sea.

Unfortunately for Cohen he had the gravest weakness a sailor can possess: knowing how to swim. Desperately he prayed for a storm, a typhoon or even a shark. Anything to bring a quick death. He prayed to all the gods he had worshipped. The gods were silent – only the gruff voice of a stranger answered with a shout from behind, “Mozel tof, you bastard!”

A kick to his behind sent him flying through the air in a somersault that seemed to last an eternity until he hit the almighty ocean with a splash. Disorientated, Cohen struggled in the inky darkness before rising to the surface. The ship was already moving too fast for him to grab his aged hands onto. It sailed off into the distance. The smaller it grew on the horizon the smaller his hope became. “Maybe the crew will have a change of heart,” said Cohen to himself but could not help doubt creep into his voice. He pictured the men in his mind but could only imagine their bloody backs as he whipped them into discipline or the top of their heads as they looked to the ground, not one brave enough to meet his eyes – except for Kidd with his demon eyes glowed like hot coals and who’s fiery gaze could melt steel. Kidd wouldn’t have a change of heart -even if he managed to float on these gentle waves for an eternity, Cohen knew that with certainty.

“Perhaps a friend on board will let a lifeboat slip or even a crate to rest on,” Cohen said with newfound spirit. But once again, his imagination failed him, Cohen could picture the man sneaking across the deck to Cohen’s aid but not the face of his friend. Just one face Cohen demanded from himself, but he was simply incapable he could not form a single face that would plausibly help him or even one that he enjoyed looking at. Not just on board the ship either, but across the whole world he struggled to remember a single friend. He had pushed all of them away, betrayed them, or simply ignored them in his arrogance -blind to the kindness of strangers which he had rejected. And now no one was there help him. Cohen felt the guilt in his heart which he had carried for so long, it’s weight seemed unbearable to him now.
“Let this pain hold me beneath the sea!” he shouted but no merciful smiting was given.

The Great Gnesher was a pale dot on the horizon, barely recognisable. Cohen thrashed in despair, she passed over the horizon leaving only the afterglow of her white sails which faded soon after. It was hopeless. A watery grave waited for him. It would wait for him through all his screaming fits, tantrums, and sobs. Nothing would avail that cold mistress the sea from absorbing his floundering matter. Every trace of his existence would be cast irretrievably across the seven seas: his flesh stripped by the scale and claw – his bones whet to nothing and lost forever in the shifting sands.

A hot prickling sensation rolled down from his neck to the bottom of his spine, the sun was at its meridian and shone down harshly on his balding head.. Teeth clenched, he refused to give up. Cohen kept his eyes stuck fast to the exact point on the horizon where the ship had disappeared. Determined to the point of becoming entranced, his focus on maintaining a bearing became a paranoia. He tried to resist it – reassuring himself that he was self-correcting accurately to counteract being swayed by the waves – but the doubt lingered. Cohen was distraught, and he didn’t even know the purpose of keeping the bearing. An illusion of control, he concluded but could not bring himself to forget the idea. It continued to torment him. After all the landscape was entirely identical.

The bare ocean landscape had attracted him the sailing life in the first place. The lifestyle was clean and fresh, the sea air seemed to clean of all the hate and anger which had grown on him like craggy barnacles. Cohen could become anyone he wanted to. Throughout his life, he had been known as Artemis the Egyptian, Quivver the Frenchman, and lastly Cohen the Jew – though he had been born an Oliver in the port city of Liverpool, England. His mother had raised him alone and had told many a story about his father, he arrived on a ship from a far off land, spotted his mother from the wharf, and fallen in love in that instant – due to his sheer handsomeness she fainted and fell into the water, and she woke up cradled in his arms, he having rescued her… That much was consistent but his name, accent and nationality changed on every telling. Knowing not who he was or from whence he came, little Oliver fell victim to his mother’s tall tales and his identity became as fluid as the ocean he was now stranded in. How he wished he could be taken in his mother’s arms again. He was Cohen now, not Oliver, and he had no mother to yearn for.

“Oh come here Oliver, you silly boy,” his mother’s voice spoke clear as day. Cohen turned wildly but found no one.

“Who said that?” demanded Cohen, “A siren whore? You stinking sea witch present yourself!”

His rant was a weak attempt to distract him from the real fear that his mind, not a sweet siren, was playing tricks. Cohen realised suddenly his foolishness but it was too late – he had lost his bearing. The marker was gone, as was the mental stability it had brought. Spinning around in circles his eyes scurried from left to right, navigating his maze: a flat plain trapped between the endless bare sea and the eternal blue sky. In any case that couldn’t have been Mother, Cohen reasoned, she had never talked to him in such a loving manner before. The voice drew out memories. His childhood had been painted in bruises and blood, by various stepfathers. Their easel* was a belt, their brush an open hand, and the canvas his pale young cheeks and buttocks. His mother watched and simply let her various lovers take out their frustrations after a long day of work, an act that hurt Cohen more than the attacks ever could. He wept.

Wave crests whisper to him from below him, “Don’t cry, my love. You know the way out.” Cohen looked to the dark depths to see a nymph-like figure swimming below, she turned to face him and it was wife. Naked and twirling in the darkness below. She smiled at him and opened her mouth to speak. “Hannah…” he whispered in disbelief. Her words came in air bubbles, spluttering and choking though they retained a certain eloquence, as they breached the surface, “Join me. Join me, down here. I miss you so much, it was you who I needed all along.” Cohen’s first instinct was to spit at his wife, or the filthy adulterer as he called her among the other sailors of the Gnesher. The phantasm had yet again taken the image of a woman who had betrayed him. Cohen declined the invitation and shook his head with determination but still she flirtatious danced and caressed herself. “Down here you needn’t cry, you needn’t sob, you needn’t breathe another breath that would only lead you to more suffering. Come sleep.” Still, Cohen declined for a reason unknown to him. A hand reached out from the dark around her waist and pulled her into an embrace with a shadowy figure. It was William Kidd, his vacuousness eyes were unmistakable. Hannah beckoned him to rescue her with her soft brown eyes. Wrath and lust waltzed in nether. He told himself it was a sense of honour that kept him from diving below to take the easy way out. But really it was because it would have meant giving up hope that his real wife still loved him. He would never admit this to himself, hidden under layers of his mind it was a hidden rip that flowed beneath his consciousness. The spectral lovers morphed into a single monstrosity which grew scaled fins on its assortment of twisted limbs and disappeared back into the dark depths.

Cohen admitted to himself the siren had been tempting, a pleasurable escape from this hell, the ringed horizon he was stuck in may as well be on Neptune. He looked for any landmark which his gaze could grasp to and rest his attention upon. Instead, his attention wandered haphazardly. The brain is a device for solving problems and if it can’t find any, it will make some. And so Cohen’s boredom forced him to turn inward. Preemptively he braced for the gut punches his journey down this path would throw. So many lost opportunities, his family that he would never see again and who would be happy of the fact. The wife who he would never be able to apologise to for all the pain he caused. The lies he had spun around their relationship had been such a waste of time and eventually they both were strangled by them. His escape to the sea provided Cohen with a clean slate, where he could build himself up again the supreme liar he thought he was, he was not a miser with a failed marriage sailing the Great Gnesher but a Jewish captain of limitless charm and cruelty. But a lowly rat is a rat whether he sleeps with fleas or under silk, Cohen thought. He clutched his chest and felt the admittance tear a great hole in his heart: his greatest fault had always been pretending to be someone greater than he was. His life had been a tumble -crashing down one disastrous step at a time. Here he was sitting sorry at the very bottom of that pit.

The sun began to set. Golden streams of light hit Cohen’s teary eyes and he wondered if it would be the last time he felt the sun’s tender kiss on his brow. In desperation, he stretched his head as far as he could trying to drink in as much as he could of that last precious sip. Night fell with quiet melancholy. Never had he felt so hopeless and helpless, the sea would not part if he whispered lies to the white foam caps that floated by. No control could be wrestled from the tides, his life was at its nadir and could not sink any lower.

Cohen went limp, closed his eyes, and let his head descend back into the water. For so long he had been fighting, stealing, lying because he was scared – because he thought it was simply the way to survive. And now it was time to pay his dues and so he finally let go and simply laid on his back. Expecting to sink, Cohen instead found himself supported as if by an unseen hand supporting him, swaying him calmly. His mood began to change.

The benefit of hitting rock bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up. And Cohen felt lifted. There was no reason to pretend anymore, the ship was gone, the world was gone, and all the people with their judging eyes. It didn’t matter if he went by Cohen now, or Oliver as was known before, or any other name, he was just himself in that moment. This pure and fetterless joy was completely alien to him, Cohen felt he was in the presence of something infinitely gentle. The waves caressed him and he let his mind wander with the tides. His eyelids opened of their own accord, a thousand candles lit flickered in the dark.

“Oh, the stars, the stars,” Cohen smiled. They had always been consistent in his shifting world where his surroundings, his companions, and even his identity were in flux. Out here they danced in unobstructed glory, away from the sot fuming fires and smog of ship and city. The waves had subsided and the now flat sea acted as a mirror for the heavens above.The horizon melted away as sky and sea became one. His world was a satin tapestry pierced with glittering diamonds. The stars which had guided his Gnesher for so many years took on a new life. Flying among the constellations he saw his guides by his wing. Cygnus, the swan – her elegant neck stretched across the cosmos. Corvus, the crow – his watchful eye keeping vigil over the world. Cohen weaved past them. His guide was the king of all, a greater hunter than Orion, more beautiful than Andromeda: Aquila, the eagle. Aquila’s wings were of such enormity and grace that Cohen was drawn under their shadow, spinning and rolling like a tide pulling back out to sea.

Cohen laughed, “Why did I ever fear you? Never did you leave my side, always watching and waiting, I thought you were my hunter- little did I know that it was from love that you stared.”

Not only love, but love despite. Despite his lies, his flaws, everything wrong he had committed and all those he was yet to commit. Under the eagle’s gaze he was filled with courage- not the type of courage to dive once more into the breach, but the simple act of loving despite. Cohen loved music, loved stories, loved to dance, loved to fuck, but these were all very easy things to love. His challenge, which he met bravely, was to love all those who wronged him.

He found love for his family that had abandoned him, his unfaithful wife, and even for William Kidd. All at once a great burden slipped off his back. A great force gripped his chest, Cohen reasoned that Aquila had found him worthy and swooped down upon him from the heavens. Tucked under the eagle’s cradled wings – Cohen smiled, nestled under a starlight quilt, and slept.

dodo

The Dodo

“What does a dodo taste like?”

“Like nothing else on land or sea.”

“Do you think that excuses you?” growled the Captain, “Or that it will save you from the noose?”

“No, but it saves me from regret,” he said with a flick of his greasy tongue.

“It won’t save your soul, my son,” said the Father and placed a comforting hand on the condemned man’s back.

“That flesh tasted better than heaven, Father Tomás. I filled the void which is that all men’s hearts hold, Father, and I filled it with one juicy thigh,” his mouth frothed over in delight, the priest wiped the saliva from the corner of his mouth.

The condemned man continued, “The void that some men spend their whole lives trying to satisfy by guzzling rum, fucking whores, or praising God.”

“Or your case Father Tomás, with all three,” said the Captain.

“Guilty as charged,” chuckled Tomás who turned to the criminal “but not as guilty as you. May God have mercy on your soul”

With a snarl, he replied, “And may He have mercy on your empty stomach.”

The captain kicked the stool under his trembling legs and the accused’s obese body fell with a sickening crunch.

The crunch wasn’t his neck but the palm tree over head.

“And that was the last tree on the island, Captain Kidd! I am free!” the prisoner  sprawled on the ground.

Captain Kidd pressed his boot on the windpipe the pathetic creature whos laughter came to a wheezing halt. With a fluid motion the Captain produced his sword in an instant while a deadly silence took ahold, the Captain had practised his specialised method of killing on many other men who were far more formidable than the wide-eyed, quivering, blubbery fat sack-of-poor-diet-decisions that lay before the Captain.

The Father protested at the last moment, “Surely he is not worthy of your methods.”

The Captain hesitated for a moment and let the tip of the blade rest in the cold sand.

“Too fast and efficient for your Spanish methods? Then torture him in the gibbet.”

The condemned man misheard ‘gibbet’ as ‘in the butt’ and immediately began shouting, “Capt please, I am not that type of sailor!”

Father Tomás grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, “Come on boy, the gibbets aren’t so bad.”

His upper lip trembled as he fired out a series of questions,

“How long will it take? What is it going to be like Father? Who will else be there?”

Tomás grinned, “It will be long, dark and full of sea-men”

The man he fainted, his eyes rolled upwards towards the night sky.

The gibbet wasn’t much more comfortable than being on the receiving end of the Royal Navy’s favourite past time. It was a human shaped cage that would prevent the occupant from moving an inch. Many pirates and privateers had been executed in gibbets, left to die of thirst over many days as crows plucked out their eyes.

Luckily for this prisoner, his eyes were not at risk unless the native dodo population learnt to fly and gained an appetite for the yellow-tinged eyes of an obese alcoholic.

Captain Kidd walked the sandy shore of the island that had been his home for the past month. He stared wistfully over the dark ocean. That man was a fool but he was right about one thing: their empty bellies. The rations were dwindling more and more and the innocent dodo – which he had taken to protecting was looking tastier and tastier. Staring at the lantern in the distance shining from the ship – his ship. Or it had been before he had been betrayed by his first mate.

His brooding was interrupted by the guttural call of a nearby dodo. As a bird call it was rather vulgar and difficult on the ears, it sounded like a choking seagull. However it was a difficulty in describing the sound in itself, every call was inconsistent due to the Dodo’s incompetence. One was irritating enough, the whole pack was cacophonous.

As dumb as it was the Dodo that had started all this trouble. It had taken his ship from him and more than that – his closest friend.

His mutinous first mate was Washington Ursa but simply went by Wash. The Captain reminisced about their first meeting. It was long ago on the Black Sea when William Kidd himself had been first mate under the Old Captain Cohen. A Jewish pirate turned privateer, he had sailed them into the Black Sea far too late in the summer but his greed kept them from turning back. The winter winds would be dangerous to travel back through, but Cohen said the profits were more important. Typical of a jew you might think, or more likely ‘you god damn anti-semite’ when really it was Cohen himself who was the anti-semite. It was obvious to all that met him that he was clearly gentile.

He constantly perpetrated his jew disguise in an exaggerated tone, always shouting about profit margins and hot new bargains. Yahweh have mercy on you if you ever questioned his supposed heritage.

One poor sailor who actually was Jewish finally took issue with it.

“You have the nose of an Italian…” he muttered under his breath.

Rage and a touch of fear sprang from Old Captain Cohen’s eyes as he swung around.

“This nose! This one planted on my face! I didn’t choose it boy, just as I didn’t choose to wear this.”

He ripped his homemade yamaka off his head and shoved it in the boy’s face.

Cohen had taken a literal meaning of the term skullcap and had adorned it with the recognisable skull and crossbones.

“You schmuck! You mean to say that my grandfather and 200,000 of my people were expelled from Spain because they had Italian noses!”

“Listen, I know you think it’s important for a captain to have some sort of disfigurement, you know Captain Ahab has the peg leg, Hook has the- you get the idea. But Captain Cohen I think you need to just rethink your public image a little, we like you for who you ar-”

His reply was cut short by a fatal, effortless and very economical slit across the boy’s jugular vein, Cohen was a cheap ass even when it came to killing, using as little effort as possible.

The criticism had struck truth though the Jewish sailour was not able to elaborate on his theory due to the fountain of blood pouring down his trachea. Cohen choose his false identity and his religion due to his lack of manhood, which he saw as comparable to the ‘disfigurement’ that was common among male Jews. This hasidic hoax was performed, and truly believed by Cohen himself, to cover up his small dick that was in no way caused by a Rabbi’s blade.

But now his Jewish posing had gone too far and we were stuck in baltic waters with winter on our heels and a fierce autumn wind in our face.

As if our fate were not cruel enough, a thick fog took the ship by surprise. You could hardly tell day from night, this strange transitory timezone played tricks on the minds of the crew.

William Kidd saw these apparitions day in, day out. Paranoia set in, men saw indescribable monsters that flicked their tendrils out of the fog, as if beckoning them to become part of the fleshy mass that squeaked, flapped, and squirmed behind the curtain of fog.

Old Captain Cohen hid in his quarters and left Kidd in charge.

“Give me a shout if you see land, I am going below deck to count the gold.”

Cohen shouted as he took shelter below from the maddening haze.

“And don’t take your eyes off that horizon boy.”

Kidd never took his eyes off the horizon. Even as it began inflicted his eyes with unforgettable horrors which were burnt into his retinas, a visual tinnitus. _describe what he saw _ Even to this day, Captain Kidd can give off an unsettling stare when it suits him, unleashing small frightening slice of the insanity he endured at the wheel. He silently prayed for land, prayed for anything to happen to bring an end to this slow death. And it was only by his sheer mental fortitude and faith that the crew of Goldie made it out of that pit of decay.

Salvation came into view. Kidd didn’t believe what he saw, a glistening white mountain crept out of the fog, like a crystalline knife it cut through the fog. Dehydrated and starved he thought it was a mere mirage and steered the ship straight into it. In a mad laughter, he drove the ship forward towards the ice mass. As the ship rapidly approached Kidd saw in the distance a man standing on its icy shore, who was calmly waving. He realised that this was no mirage and swung the wheel. The ship turned to starboard but it was too late. The ship’s prow cut into the ice and beached itself on the frozen shore.

Kidd collapsed at the wheel and shouted, “Land ho!”

An equally exhausted man shouted from the crow’s nest, “Not land, guvnor, an iceberg.”

Old Captain Cohen emerged from his cabin at last, “Eisenberg? He owes me a chest dubloons!”

An iceberg it was, population one – the man who would become Captain Kidd’s first mate – Washington Ursa. At that moment Wash was standing on the icy shore and running his hand along the surface of the hull.


Part 1 of XX

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The Archaeopteryx

Journey past the eternal burning pits of the Karakorum desert, across the Caspian sea, deep within the Libyan countryside there lies the Lake Silene which is shadowed by a nameless mountain. On a high ridge of this mountain is the entrance to the largest subterranean cave network ever discovered. Coincidentally the cave is also where the first fossilised Archaeopteryx was found, considered the first evolved bird, a hybrid with both reptile and bird characteristics. The British discovers felt satisfied with their fantastic find, which would be a key piece of evidence in proving the theory of evolution, and decided they would head home the following day. However one of their party lingered in the cave overnight before leaving. Trained as linguist she was an expert in the local language that had been spoken by the medieval populous. Though she was fascinated with the archaeopteryx it disappointed her that no human remains or artefacts had been found, but now she found a new fascination. She lingered in the cave simply to listen.

In the cavernous depths, echoes ring out with such strength, clarity, and persistence that you can hear everything around you for miles away. This gave a peculiar experience that when the extinguished your lantern that the entire eighty square mile cave system to compress into one single point in space. The cave network effectively became an extension of the ear canal.

The linguist decided to venture further down into the cave, which twisted back and forth as it continued downward. The entire cave’ structure look remarkably like an inverted tree that forked in different directions. It came to no surprise to the linguist, as she studied her map, that a prehistoric bird had been found perched on this creviced stone tree. She was particularly interested in exploring a branch that had only briefing been looked over by the archaeologists. It was here that she had heard, if only for a brief moment, a whisper that sounded almost like an alien language. And now she searched for it in the same chamber that it had first sighed in her ear. Waiting for something to happen, the linguist reflected that she would have felt that days had passed if she hadn’t had a timepiece. Frustrated and increasingly becoming hopeless she leant absently minded against a stalagmite. Although the formation looks solid it was hollow within. The tip collapsed under her weight causing the linguist to slip and fall.

It caused no injury save for a bruised ego, she brushed herself free of debris and assessed her careless damage. Out of the broken tip of the stalagmite came a hissing sound of released pressure. The stalagmite now resembled a colourless trumpet grown out of the damp floor. She looked down into the orifice and felt a slight breeze. Perhaps I’ve opened a new passageway, she thought. The air smelled otherworldly but that was not the only long trapped remnant which was now going to be freed. Sounds that had been trapped in a perfect vacuum, resonating for centuries, now echoed out in fast succession into the cavern. The sound of thunder and rain at first and then cracking of stone and rock which must have first cried out millions of years ago. The startled linguist was now scrambling for her notebook and pens.

Streams of words poured out but they were said so rapidly spoken that she couldn’t decipher a word. Steadily the pressure of the untapped chamber let off and recognisable sounds could be deciphered. A clanging of metal on metal, the shouts and yaps of fighting men, and the squeals of women, the crackling of a fire, moans of agony and ecstasy mixed in an intoxicating cacophony that came to a stop with an inhuman screech. And then finally after a moment of silence, as the linguist’s pen shivered in anticipation in her shaking hand, a voice spoke. She recognised the dialect, just barely. It was rasping, unnatural, and simultaneously held the sincerity of an old man’s final words and an infant’s first.

And she wrote down all that she heard.
And she was mocked by her peers.
And this is what was spoken by the long dead voice:

Before you finish your task and are herald as a hero, I must speak.
Please let a villain have his last words…

Your hatred of me is unquestionable but it is also unjust.

What did taking a spare cow or sheep matter?
“That’s my sheep!’ the shepherd would shout.
You claim ownership over another living being and believe you have this right because it is logical, you are smarter and stronger than simple farm animals.
The beasts stay within their posts and graze the fields.
What you fail to understand is that I am your shepherd, I am smarter and stronger than you. And the posts that mark your field stretch the entire green earth, from pole to pole, which I ruled – until you came along, a knight in shining armour!

You say it was unjust that I ignored the many mothers who screamed at me, “Oh my children will starve!” But my belly is much larger than a little child’s and I have felt the pain of an aching stomach far longer any man.

Perhaps your great hatred of me is because I do not respect your law, the false law of man.
There is no law but the law of nature, your cattle lost their right to live fore they had no claws to fight and your sheep fore they had no wings to flee. And now I face the court of natural law… at the end of your sword. Fear not, I will have no qualms, unlike your people who incessantly begged for their lives at my feet and professed the unfairness of it all.
I am content that even as you slay me I will still win this argument. Natural law is king.
I was not beaten because of your pure heart or your noble god, but only because your sword has proven sharper than my tooth and claw.

Ah, I see your hand grips tighter at the sword, does it anger you when I mention your god?
Spare me the proclamations of your bravery or dedication to God, those will be heard down the centuries for millions to hear and will echo far longer than the forgotten screams
of women and children that met their end in these caves.

Yes, it’s true I’ve killed many, but many of what?
And don’t cry murder, for when a man kills a man it is murder.
I have no kin to commit murder. Please don’t get teary eyed that I am the last of my kind, I am one of a kind.

Though I was born in Eden I barely remember it. I can’t recall what I whispered in Eve’s ear. I do not comprehend sin, nor redemption. I do not seek redemption. I do not seek paradise. What I really seek, and what I have sought with every word of my last speech is another breath, another moment, another chance.

And with that said, the Dragon made one last desperate attack,
But St. George kill’d the Dragon, and run him thro’ and thro’
And all sang, honi soit qui mal y pense.

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The Sparrow

When I was a very small boy, I often dreamed that I could fly. Each dream I would have to relearn how to fly . It takes a certain concentration, like the flexing of a nonexistent muscle, to begin floating upwards. You can’t get too excited, the jitters would bring you back to earth – you must be as natural and carefree as a bird. Funny that such a dream probably formed within my pram when I could hardly walk, let alone fly. Out of all the birds, I was inspired most by the meek sparrow, whose swift flight always seemed to bring feverish excitement despite their tiny size. How fearful I became as I saw one weaving between traffic and disappearing into the impossibly small cracks in the concrete. I feared if his flight were one millimetre off his small body would collide against the bricks, and explode like a firecracker into the same white cotton fluff that filled my teddy bear.

Within the small cracks, the sparrow is king. He may as well be a mouse with wings when exposed to the great outdoors, but while gliding low within the gutter pipes, sewers, and shopping centres he is a lion. More than a lion, he is a heroic griffon, swooping down pouncing on the unnatural invertebrates. He preys on the pests on the land, crashing down on cockroaches, locust, and flies. He is a knight in his humble common brown cloak, his tiny claws are scythes to the insects that plague us. Even we humans, with our sophisticated eyes, observe that the sparrow is especially swift but imagine what a cockroach sees. Its antennas only sense a change of light, if a sparrow was to attack it would only sense a shadow flicker past. Scurrying away through cracks and crevices, up walls onto ceilings, the shadow follows and attacks unceasingly. The sad creature dies in absolute terror and incomprehension. To the pests of the world, the sparrow is not a hero but a demon. I describe this because I share my dreams with the cockroach as well as the sparrow.

In my dream I am flying over my hometown, weaving through the alleys, and laneways where I spent carefree childhood summers laughing and playing, I notice the Sun’s warmth and rise upwards the heat is addictive. I get carried away with this new sensation and lust after the luminescence. I am like Icarus with wings heldfast by candlewax or a moth heldfast by candlelight. You might predict that my wings are going to melt and I will plummet to Earth just in time for my alarm to blare, waking me up in a cold sweat – that would be a mercy compared to the terror which will occur.

In the climax of my greed, the sun suddenly disappears and with it the day and the ground is swallowed into darkness. The cool breeze disappears I feel that I am swimming in an endless pool though I have no desire for breath and even if I did I wouldn’t be able to find my way to the surface of this black abyss – all orientation has dissolved. Where is up? I do not know. My hand isn’t visible even as I wave it inches from my face. I am left in this void to ponder, boredom sets in – then paranoia – until finally a ripple in the water reaches me. Still, I can’t see anything but the ripples are stronger now. Out of the shadows see a flash of something impossibly quick. Its outline is rusted chrome which blends its darkness. It is as if the universe is bending towards me, some otherworldly being that is stretching through the fabric of space in my direction. My instincts command me to flee. A burnt out forest appears which I rush into and take refuge but the beast pursues me still.

It slashes at me and I scurry through the darkness away, again and again, it comes. I try to fight and throw punches but like a dream they simply fall off and through the creatures flesh, as if under a dentist’s anaesthetic my arms feel sluggish and numb. It pins me to the floor and claws me apart, I crumple and my limbs curl up, my glistening ebon blood spilling on the cinder and charcoal of a forgotten world, black on black. Barely conscious I am carried into its belly, strangely the lining of its gut feels as soft as a pillow. Suddenly I am regurgitated. Up and out of its maw I fall down into the mouths of the monster’s spawn. In hunger they scream in short bursts:
“Beep – Beep – Beep!”

And that is when I wake from the nightmare – to my blaring alarm clock with a cold sweat on my brow, a wet mess in my pants, and a healthy respect for the meek sparrow that to this day I still hold close to my heart.