The Parrot

A good rest was all I needed. Now with my tired old back stretched out, I can tell another tale for you. It’s a tale I’ll need vigour for. Vigour and strength are required because of my obligation to punch anyone who calls me a liar, or questions the true events of this story – doesn’t matter who speaks out, a pirate, a prince, a pauper or a poet – be it man, woman, or child  – I’ll wallop them. Especially the children! They’ll need to hear and learn from the journey of the Great Gnesher – that is if they want a chance at surviving the jaws of this vicious life which we have all been involuntarily thrown into.

The strange adventures of the Great Gnesher and her fearsome crew have been argued about for the past two decades, from sailor inns to princely halls across the globe. I am sure many a fist fight has been fought over the facts and events of her journey, I am sure because many of them I have started myself. Decidedly, I am getting long in the tooth and my fists merely bruise fools rather than break off their jaws. It is time to set down what I saw as a crew member during my time on the Gnesher. Hopefully, when I pass onto the next life there is room at the Great Feast for a writer – because I fight today with pen and paper rather than sword and axe.

You know how I was found by the Great Gnesher, in few words: a mess. “Iceberg!” some one shouted. A few moments later they yanked me up with ropes,  and like a fish after a fierce battle with the line, I fell limp on the deck. With my remaining strength, I looked up to see a strange scene. Grubby faces gawked at me as if I were a merman. And I must have been a strange sight indeed, a small shivering thing fished from an iceberg who held a puffin. A blonde boy approached and poured some water into my mouth. I spluttered unable to keep it down.

A nasal voice cut through the clamour, “Eisenberg!? How did that bastard get on board? Eisenberg, you better have my duobloons or else I am going to-…”
I could tell he had authority by the manner he pushed through the crowd.
“Where… who…?” he pointed at me.
The boy who gave me water spoke up, “Iceberg, sir” and pointed starboard.
The thin man looked around to see if anyone dared let out a chuckle about the misunderstanding, no one did.
He bent down and looked at me with beady eyes, “Well, what do we have here…”
With a swift movement, he had stolen the puffin from my arms.
“Don’t worry friend, I’ll take care of your bird,” he inspected the bird like a fine piece of jewellery and then looked to the boy, “Kidd! Put him below deck, his own room. I don’t want him infecting anyone if he is sick.”
The boy called Kidd helped me to my feet and I asked him in a rasping whisper, “Is that the captain…?”
He shook his head – but before he could elaborate a booming voice shouted from the cabin, “Why have-…” there was a deep breath,”…-we stopped!?”
I knew the voice belonged to the captain as the thin man’s posture changed from proud to cowardly in an instant, “Oh nothing, nothing sir, just a little event of interest. I have a present for you, you’ll love this.”
I looked to the cabin but could only see the silhouette of the man who had shouted. He was clearly obese, his body and head were egg shaped, and his limbs erected from his torso like protruding bratwurst from a sausage-stuffer. One ear seemed inflated or swelled up which I assumed was because of the bizarre looking parrot that dug its claws into his shoulder and nibbled at his ear with its sharp beak.
“That’s the captain,” Kidd whispered with a touch of fear in his voice.
The captain swiped lazily at the bird which was attempting to nip of a chunk of meat from his earlobe, “No more detours-” he took another deep breath, “- or you’ll be on the rack, Cohen!”
I saw the thin man scurry to the cabin with the puffin as I was led under the deck.

The next few days passed in a fever. I felt as if I had melted away with the iceberg I arrived on and the hammock I was strung up in was a manger, I was a babe once again. The delusion that I had been reborn or reincarnated wasn’t much of an error, the day I was rescued was the start of a new life for a young Leif Erickson.

Compared to the icy bed I had floated on, this was heaven, an oaken cocoon that oozed comfort. I spent my days here illuminated by soft lantern light, my hammock rocking with the gentle swaying of the ship.

Apart from reading, I entertained myself by writing my thoughts in this old faded encyclopedia that are you are reading –  another weapon against boredom were stories told by my carer, the young lad William Kidd. He was barely older than me, on the brink of becoming a man, sprouting a thin blonde moustache that could only be seen in candlelight. Kidd told me stories of the crew and the places they had travelled.

I listened passively, not having the energy to ask many questions.

“Today the Captain came out of his cabin for once, his parrot cawed and screeched at anybody nearby. Everybody ducked their heads thinking they would get the lash… but he had only ventured out to grab a leg of turkey from the kitchen…” Kidd was a natural born storyteller and maybe that made him a natural born leader. He knew exactly who he was, where he came from, and where he was going – and he could inspire the same confidence in others.

“Tahiti was heaven on Earth, the land of milk and honey, no miserable snow and no dreary rain. I mean… no offence to Iceland Leif…”
“No offence taken, it only snows 10 months of the year anyway.”

Remembering those times make me laugh, but not for long, the memory is tinged with what was to come. Kidd could never stay for long he had to work up on the high ropes for long hours, which made me even more appreciative of his care for my health.

It was a peaceful and comfortable experience in that soft womb. As I wrote in my makeshift diary I found it wasn’t completely worn away, it appeared to be an encyclopedia or reference book on birds. As I explored its pages I began to believe that it may have been intentionally vandalised and not merely damaged by sun, salt, and sea. Be the judge of it yourself.

THE DODO

dodoroughfinal

THE PARROT (ii)

Surfacing from my escapism, I again felt guilty in momentarily forgetting about my mother, my father, and of course the puffin. The puffin was being kept by Cohen, the First Mate. I met him only briefly while recovering — just from seeing the way his spindly fingers reached around my door I knew what sort of man he was.

“I am taking care of your little birdie, he is too tired to come see you though…” he spoke lazily, letting his bottom lip droop down. He was a lazy liar too, every time he lied he simply pointed his droopy eyes at the wall behind me, unable to make the sheer effort to make eye contact.

“Thanks,” was all I could mutter, feeling greasy having just talked to him.

“And don’t get too comfortable,” he prodded me in the chest with a bony finger that he used to comb back his greased black hair, “You’ll be earning your keep on the high ropes soon enough. I hope you’re not afraid of heights!”

He left laughing with such a lack of enthusiasm that he didn’t seem to even convince himself.  Cohen was the type of man that thinks he’s clever for taking advantage of the sick and helpless, which made me concerned for the puffin. I needed a plan to get back the bird.

However, that wasn’t Cohen’s only sin to speak of, Kidd told me many tales of his singular brand of functional insanity — which I have never witnessed in another man before or since. I won’t be able to retell it as well as Kidd did so I hope you won’t mind me using his words.

Cohen was a supposedly a Jewish pirate turned privateer. Cohen often sailed them into dangerous seas, saying that the profits were more important. Typical of a Jew you might be saying, or more likely, “You anti-Semite Leif!” when really it was Cohen himself who was the anti-Semite. It was obvious to all that met him that he was 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.

After a particular racist performance 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 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. I was chosen!” He ripped his homemade kippah off his head and shoved it in his accuser. Cohen had taken a literal meaning of the term skullcap and had adorned it with the recognisable pirate skull and crossbones.

“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 pirate to have some sort of disfigurement, you know Captain Ahab had the peg leg, Hook had the — you get the idea. I think you need to just rethink your public image a little, we like you for who you arrr-”

His reply was cut short by a fatal, effortless and very economical slit across the boy’s jugular vein. “Schmuck,” he muttered, wiping his bloody dagger on a handkerchief. Cohen was cheap even when it came to killing.

The criticism had struck a nerve obviously. The genuine Jewish sailor was not able to elaborate due to the fountain of blood pouring out of his trachea. Rumours spread afterwards that Cohen chose his false religion due to his lacking manhood, which he saw as comparable to the ‘disfigurement’ that was common among male Jews. Perhaps this was the purpose behind the hasidic hoax Cohen performed, to cover up his small member that was in no way caused by a Rabbi’s blade – who knows? In any case, the man had issues.

Kidd’s stories had me terrified one moment, and then almost laughing myself out of my hammock the next. I tried asking him about the captain and his parrot but he got that look of fear in his eyes and simply told me he didn’t know any, except that the parrot had been onboard the Gnesher far longer than any of them had been.

This ideal existence didn’t last for long. The meals came less often, the plates came less full. I complained to Kidd but he seemed to be losing weight as well. My health began to fail and I lost the progress I made – it was a slippery slope back to the realm of illness and delirium. In another effort of escapism, I began reading the bird encyclopedia again. Though now it was becoming even more confusing whether it was damaged, vandalised, or warped by my delirious mind – words disappeared, swapped, transformed when I blinked. Somehow I managed to write down one entry that stayed static long enough for me to copy down.

Cuban Macaw picture

 

THE PARROT (iii)

Eventually, I lost the energy to read. All I could think of was food. My eyes could barely focus on the words while I fell into a half dream state.

Puffins and feathers colliding, collecting into a pool fractals which I dived through like a liquid pane of glass. With a blink I was back on land, standing on the mountain that shadowed my home. A shout echoed from behind me, I turned to see my mother pointing behind me. Again I turned and saw the Gnasher in the distance crashing through sandbanks and paddocks – riding a wave of blood, bone and screaming souls – sailing upon the land as swiftly as on the sea. The Gnasher, a beautiful ship corrupted by some unseen evil, rumbled behind me with its bow cracked into a mouth. Its maw was lined by splintered wooden teeth but its insides were flesh. Someone screamed in the distance and I was consumed, sliding down its gullet till I came to rest in a warm pool housed by a cathedral of bone, its arched ribs were slippery and impossible to climb. My skin felt sticky and then gelatinous, dripping off my body like melted butter leaving my glistening muscles naked underneath. I screamed but the only answer was a breathless laughter. An obese man’s  silhouette stood in the distance, he held a lantern and watched me with glee and a parrot cawed and scratched at his face which the man took with pleasure as he laughed. He was the source of the corruption on this ship, I was certain. He laughed while I screamed till my mouth bubbled away though my jaw bone – which flapped away through the bloody stew of my face. I had no mouth, yet I screamed on- I was nothing at all but pain and human debris, yet the agony continued, red hot pain pouring down my raw nerves which floated like tattered string in the syrup of my remains.

I woke startled and swung my fist at the darkness.
The punch connected with something that groaned and fell down to the floor.
“Who arr ya?” I spurt out, still half asleep.
“God’s blood! It’s Kidd, put down those bloody weapons,” he grabbed my shoulder and from the warmth of his hand, I knew he was not a ghoul. I apologised and then he explained why he was sneaking around during the graveyard shift.
“I brought you some food I stole from under the quartermaster’s nose.” He handed me several loafs of bread and some foul smelling cheese.
“They’ve got all the stockpile right under their noses, lucky for you I don’t smell as bad as the rest,” he grinned.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” I said shoving a handful of bread into my mouth.
“Just don’t punch me next time. And don’t worry about it, there’s plenty more where that came from. ”
Plenty more? Why are we being starved then?”
The boards above us creaked.
“I’ve got to go, we’ll talk later.”
He disappeared in silence like a shadow diving into an inkwell.

I ate my fill of the bread and that stinking cheese (I was hungry enough to eat the paper out of my books at that point) and hid the rest behind some books. With my belly full, I got some well-needed sleep. But it didn’t last long, I woke up again to the sound of boards creaking above. The footsteps of a very heavy set man paced up and down the deck while incoherent shouting went on.

“WHERE? You bastard— where the devil—-” was all I could pick out of the muffled argument among some curses that are too obscene to repeat.
More shouting echoed down to my cabin and I clung to the hammock. Was it a mutiny? Was it Davy Jones taking his tax; collecting the souls of sinful sailors as they slept? I knew not until I saw the planks directly above me bend under the weight of the beast. The hairs on my neck stood up. The shape froze and began sniffing, softly at first, and then had its nose right on the floor so that I could see its horrid nostrils through the cracks of the floor. The sniffing stopped, beads of sweat rolled down my face and rested on the tip of my nose. Paralysis clung to the air and even the ship seemed to stop swaying, the endless moment ceased with a single word that he grunted through the ceiling, “Food!”

I heard footsteps running down the stairs, and my door burst forth to a more frightening figure I could have imagined. There stood the silhouette of the man from my dreams. He stepped out of the veil, and then let out the same breathless chuckle I had heard before and pointed one chubby finger at me,“Gotcha.” He ran as fast as his short legs could carry him. It looked almost comical until he was a few feet away and a delayed thought arrived: this man was going to hurt me. For the first time I got a good look at his parrot, it was disfigured and featherless, a poor tortured thing. We didn’t talk as he looked around the cabin. I saw only a flash of his face, that first pointed toward my hastily hidden food which he found with a single sniff of his pig like nose and then his fearsome gaze pointed at me. I cowered in my hammock but he wrenched up by the front of my shirt. His mouth spread into a toothy smile, it did not put me at ease as his eyes still held their rage and intensity.

“You think I am going to kill you,” the captain said, who shook his head and his eyes went soft suddenly, “No, no, no, I am not even going to hurt you. No sir, no sir, I am not even going to hurt you.” He put me down for a second, “It’s alright, it’s fineee.”

He turned away, and the parrot began to chew on his ear again, but at this distance I could also hear that it was whispering. The captain mumbled, “No, No, I won’t,” the parrot squawked and I swear I heard a woman’s voice in the distance, the captain exploded, “- he’s just a boy!”

The captain swung his body around to face me and I saw that he was weeping. Not weeping as a man does before a breathtaking view or a great painting, and not weeping as a man griefs – but weeping as a child, tears and mucus dripping off his flushed face.
“Oh, I am sorry… I am so sorry, my boy,” the first punch hit the side of my face and it flipped me out of the hammock.
“SORRY!” he screamed and kicked me in the stomach.

The kick winded me, tried to crawl away but my body was involuntarily folded up like a dying insect. He dragged me out of the room by my legs, squealing and spluttering apologies as he kicked me in the head over and over again.
“PLEASE GOD! PLEASE FORGIVE ME!” he screamed as he dragged me up the steps to the deck all while wiping his disgusting nose. I struggled and managed to get my foot free but another kick hit me in the jaw and something hard went skittering across the deck. The pain was so unbearable I felt that I was going to be ill even though I was barely conscious.

I’m sure a lot of you have been in fights (every person has a tilt to violence though some roll with the tide faster than others) and have received a bruise or two. A scuffle with a sibling or friend is a fine thing. But to be really beaten is something different, to be beaten as life truly beats you is to accept a darkness in yourself as I did then. There is an acceptance of death in that hole dug by blows to the head and body, the world becomes a grave as your vision sinks behind folds of swollen flesh – the body turns from a temple to a labyrinth of pain, and you run and run till you sit down. Yes, eventually you sit down, I don’t care how tough you believe you are, you will give up and accept that this is how you die, to the fists of a large man frothing at the mouth. And if by a strange mercy you survive, then know the beating is never truly over, on top of the nightmares, paranoia, and excessive flinching, you will have to accept that in that desperate moment you welcomed the end and saw it as a blessing. And sometimes survivors can’t find the strength to turn away their newly acquainted friend, Death.

By now the crew had stuck their heads out to watch the horror show. It was just a blur of faces to me. It was a strange time to think of it but I realised I had only ever been up on the deck in some sort of dazed or ill state. Perhaps the mind becomes contemplative and relaxed when it accepts that death is certain as I certainly did in that moment.

I contemplated the journey the trees had made to become this ship, tortured, carved and bent under steam till they became this ship – creaking and groaning as they watched my murder. Then out of the blur of faces came one I knew. He held an oar and I was wondering what type of wood it was made of – when he swung it in an overhead motion and smashed it over the Captain’s head, who went down with an enormous crash. Very hard wood, I surmised. The familiar looking man was Kidd, though his face looked older and angrier. A sailor stepped in to apprehend Kidd but the crowd turned on the loyalist and beat him to the ground, allowing Kidd to deliver a few more blows till the oar was splinters. Once the Captain had been knocked unconscious (he was bleeding as badly as I was),  Kidd melted back into the crowd who evidently approved of his actions though they had been too scared to act themselves. I don’t know where the parrot had disappeared to during my rescue.

Cohen marched through the crowd as I had seen him do before.
“Who is the chutzpah behind all this- my god! Captain!” he rushed to the Captain’s aid.
He cradled the enormous man in his arms like a child.
“Who is responsible for this?” he said quietly not looking up. No one spoke up and then Cohen looked at me with murderous intent. He took one step towards me and then Kidd reappeared, “It was me, that boy had nothing to do with it.”

Cohen squinted and looked between us. I stood up, about to deny Kidd his heroic sacrifice, when Cohen barked at both of us.
“As the most senior officer I sentence you both to-…”
Everybody on board knew what his next word was going to be, and there was an immediate disturbance that rippled through the crowd. Cohen sensed it immediately and hesitated – he stood on thin ice with the Captain indisposed – mental images of a mutiny flashed before his eyes.
“- I sentence you both to a night on the rack.”
The crowd let out a collective sigh of relief… the uprising could wait.
The strongest among sailors dragged the Captain back to the Cabin while Kidd and I were tied to the rack – a metal grille attached to the mast. Somewhere overhead the parrot sang a cheerful note.

~ ~ ~

The sun set and as night rolled in so did a cold blustery wind. All we had was a moth eaten blanket to protect us from the cold and as if our fate were not cruel enough, a thick fog took the ship by surprise. After a day and a night on the rack (though you could hardly tell day from night because of the fog) we still had not seen the Captain.

The crew started to see strange thing in the fog, Kidd seemed to spot them before anyone else did, having nothing to do tied on the rack but stare at apparitions day in, day out. Men began to whisper to themselves. 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. The lucky ones saw monsters. We were fed even less food that we had been getting before by our jailer, a Turk called Bilal, he spoke of seeing human shaped figures swimming under the ship the night before. He went to the edge to investigate and saw his wife and daughter, swimming a few metres below the surface, staring back at him – they pretended to drown, clutching at their throats and begging him to dive in and save them. When he shook his head the ghouls leered at him and changed form, his wife’s face became encrusted in barnacles, her body pale and bloated. Bilal stood and watched his daughter’s flesh rot before his eyes, her pearl white ribs became the home to eels that slithered in and out of her as they pleased.

It is a story a mad man would tell. But from the clarity with which he spoke and the steady gaze of his eyes,  I knew he wasn’t insane – though perhaps he wished it. Still, the question of the Captain’s condition remained. The parrot was the only thing that passed in and out of the cabin. Though we never saw him, the parrot acted as a messenger as it sat on Cohen’s shoulder.
“Keep on scrubbing and bring me more food. No grumbling or I’ll give you even less,” the bird said with an almost perfect imitation of the Captain’s voice. Cohen was at the helm most day and the parrot was completely silent except for the Captain’s commands and occasionally whistling as Cohen turned the wheel one way or another.

During the fourth or fifth day on the rack the parrot flew into the cabin at sunrise (as it usually did) and I went to sleep. A few hours later, I woke to the sound of a woman laughing, the madness of the mists had spread to my mind but I saw no spectres or sea-beasts, the only disturbance that night occurred in reality’s domain. I pretended to be asleep and as I was becoming starting to actually go back to sleep the parrot flew out from the cabin and landed, not on Cohen’s shoulder, but on Kidd’s.

It was in the dead of night and only I witnessed it, Kidd was asleep and Cohen was preoccupied with something at the helm. The Parrot preened its wings and then flew on to its familiar roost on Cohen’s shoulder.

Cohen didn’t react to the bird and then he turned around with a blank expression as if in a dream, he shouted at Kidd and me to wake up (I was still pretending to sleep).

“I’ve finally thought of a punishment for you too, that is till we make it to port and you can become acquainted with the gallows.”
Kidd and I glanced briefly at each other and remained silent.
“You’ll be at the helm during the night and on the rack during the day,” Cohen said,  but his words did not sound like his, it sounded like he was quoting someone else or playing a part in a pantomime. Without another word, he walked over and promptly freed us. I rubbed my sore wrists and ankles while I was pushed towards the helm.

“I am going below deck to count the gold, don’t take your eyes off that horizon…”

There was groan out in the mists that I swung my head to look at, and when I looked back Cohen had scurried away, just the tail end of his coat could be seen slinking around the doorway to the cabin.

Kidd began attending to several knots that needed retying, “Leif, I have a terrible feeling about this,” he finished retying the knots and stood at the wheel, “Cohen knows something or he has been warned to get under deck – he’s been touched by some omen, heard a whisper from a raven.”

“Or from a parrot…” I replied.
I couldn’t see that twisted ugly bird anywhere, yet I knew it was watching and listening.
“I’ll take the wheel and you go back to sleep.” A baby’s cry echoed out from the fog which we tried our best to ignore. Kidd talked faster, “Only one of us needs to keep their eyes open and steer. I’ll go first then I’ll wake you up for your shift.” I put up my arms to protest but he simply grinned and pointed to the blanket that still lay on the rack.

Kidd never woke me up and never took his eyes off the horizon. Even never looked away for a second, Cohen knew that Kidd would never put the crew at risk (or me) and so had trapped him to endure the horrors of the fog that inflicted his eyes with unforgettable horrors. Burnt into his retinas, a visual tinnitus, falling into graves within graces, an infinite hell that not even Dante could envisage. Kidd came to know the void and the void came to know him. It knew his disposition for anger and revenge and tempted him not with horror and gore – as all naturally all men hate these – but showed him great beauty. He saw endless green plains, a new Eden which he could build a future upon, stable ground to grow and also an escape from the ever turning and unforgiving ocean. The visions of heaven became so beautiful that they were difficult to look at, but still Kidd never took his eyes off the horizon. The visions became so beautiful they hurt, they were agony, he eyes watered but he still looked on – the beauty seared his eyes until – though only for a moment – it was so beautiful it hurt and he wanted to hurt it back. Damn it all, throw it all in the flames and let it burn, let it bleed; patience, virtue, love, and justice be cinder to me from this moment. It was a thought that lasted less than a second but it had broken him and he knew it, and he knew it with great sorrow. Kidd was changed from then and to this day he can give off an unsettling stare when it suits him, unleashing small frightening slice of the insanity he endured at the wheel. The visions ended and he naively thought his trial over when really his life has just begun. The ship sailed on, and it seemed impossible that he hadn’t found land, a ship or even another iceberg. He prayed silently 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 Gnesher made it out of that labyrinth of constant decay. He could finally see the horizon and it was a blessing, he felt a surge of faith and it healed him. Kidd felt he could love the world once more but not like before, as a child.

Kidd shouted, “Land ho!” and the parrot descended landing on his shoulder, miraculously its feathers had begun growing back. An island lay before us its tropical waters looked fresh and inviting. Cohen emerged smiling with a few of the crew, his smile disappeared when he saw the parrot. He whistled to it, clicked his tongue grotesquely but it remained immobile. Now Kidd walked up to him and Cohen snidely commented, “The little whelp has found us an island, well done bo-” Kidd shot out a fist that caught him on the bottom of the chin, the collision made a sound like the crack of a whip as Cohen’s teeth slammed shut on his tongue. Blood poured out his mouth and Kidd looked to the crew and commanded with a voice of power, “This tyranny is done, though we are far from civilisation we will not become savage barbarians like this one,” he lifted Cohen bloodied head up by a tuft of hair so they could see his work and threw him to their feet, “We will not lose the traditions and principles that our forefathers died for because we are miles from home. The sea may be immense and unknowable but by the integrity of this hull we stay afloat. We choose honour or we choose death, each man decide in his heart what he truly desires.”

It was silent and then I moved to stand by Kidd’s side, then our jailer, Bilal; and one by one they came – then in a flood, no one wanting to be the last. Cohen crouched alone, though he made one attempt to convince the man closest to him by crawling to him. Cohen looked up at the man wishing for mercy, as many had done wished of him, and the man simply lifted his shirt to show his scarred chest. And so it was mutiny. Cohen dropped to the floor, defeated, and Kidd had him chained and led him like a dog on a leash.

“Watch my back,” Kidd said as we walked into the Captain’s cabin. It stunk, of rotten food which lay about the room, on the shelves, even some pieces of ham were stuck to the roof. I held my shirt over my mouth, as did Cohen. Kidd marched ahead unheeded by the stench and the parrot flew off ahead of us into the darkness. The cabin seemed impossibly large as we walked down the dark corridor, in cages were birds of every shape and size many of them dead or starving. I kept an eye out for my puffin.

Lantern after lantern illuminated piles of wasted food. Finally we arrived at a putrid throne of meat and mouldy bread, and a figure sat on it who we could hardly see, but his silhouette was unmistakable.
And there was no movement, but the shadow of a parrot.
And the parrot spoke, but the men did not.
“If I cannot eat anymore, why do I still hunger?”
And Kidd did not reply, but lit a match.
And the Captain was illuminated in light, but his glassy eyes did react and he was dead.

And he had been dead a long while, his face hung loosely off the skull like a mask, his body was ready to burst. I looked to Cohen who looked equally horrified, blood still dripping out his mouth. Who had been giving the orders this whole while? Kidd already knew the answer, it was an impossible one – but that was a realm Kidd was now well acquainted with.

The parrot was adorned in a passionate red plumage, it squawked and flew to Kidd. He grabbed it by the neck and it screeched in the voice of the Captain, “Let me free, boy!”
Kidd tightened his grip and the parrot let out the screech of a little girl which he cut short with a swift twist of his wrist.

The parrot’s feathers all feel out at once. And Kidd spoke to me, not as a friend, but as a Captain, “Clean this up and release all the birds that can fly.” He said all he needed to in that commanding tone, he was claiming the captaincy now and wasn’t about to play favourites with his friends. I didn’t mind, the news pleased me. I rushed about pulling the cages from their shelves out of the disgusting cabin. Their pupils grew massively as they were exposed to sunlight for the first time in months. After an anxious search, I found my puffin who recognised me instantly, its feathers had grown and looked healthier than the majority of the birds. Kidd sailed us closer to the island and gave me the signal. We opened the cages as fast as I could even as my body, still wounded from my beating, begged me to stop. The birds clamoured over each other to freedom.

Not since the rafters of the ark were opened have there been such an assorted clutter of birds reaching into the sky, perhaps that’s the rainbow Noah saw as a sign that God would never purge the Earth again. In any case, it was a rare privilege and to date the only truly noble deed I have accomplished in my life. I spotted the puffin who hesitated at the bannister – I thought it would glance back at me but it didn’t – and then flew off, I hope it made it back to colder waters. With all of those birds flying home, I thought of my own distant home which seemed like the memories of a different person – I would return one day, I promised myself, but not this day.

What remains left to tell? Kidd becomes Captain William Kidd, the youngest captain of the Great Gnesher and also her most capable. I became First Mate Erikson, and many more great adventures on the Gnesher were had though we were never as friendly as we had once been. In fact I had my suspicions about his change of character, though I never challenged him on them. The evidence was too small, the sound of a woman talking quietly as I walked past his cabin door, a flash of crimson when he gazed to the horizon. Enough gossip, he was good friend and a better captain.

~ ~ ~

Oh, I’ve remembered what remains left to tell; Cohen’s fate. Kidd had him thrown over board, a harsh sentence which I tried to convince him to rethink but there was too much bad blood within the crew, he had to die.

In the outset of retelling this story I asserted the truth of these events, this last story I cannot attest to, but I will tell it anyway. It is a dream and sometimes I think that dreams contain more truth than waking life will ever hold. Farewell for now friends, perhaps I’ll see you in the land of Nod or if you prefer; feel free to pursue that rare dreamless sleep that all men secretly covet.

THE EAGLE

The ship’s deck was especially quiet, 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 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.

 

Cohen slept uneasily on the rack. His sleep was restless and full of nightmares. When Cohen woke early the next morning he immediately thought he was still dreaming as those predatory eyes emerged out of the darkness once again. It was Kidd.

“Ah here isth the Captain barely weaned off his mother’sth tit,” he said through a swollen tongue.

 

Kidd felt disgusted at his jovial nature – though it became clear from his jitters that it was the product of a complete nervous breakdown. Kidd unchained him and took him to the side of the ship Cohen sniffed back tears and then began to dance as the crew jeered at him. His pathetic jesting stopped when Cohen climbed up on the bannister 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 that 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 outline of a man sneaking across the deck to Cohen’s aid but not his face. 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. “My love…” 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. His lover 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 bled freely 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 would feel 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 slipped into a dreamless sleep.

 

 

The Cuckoo

The clock struck noon. What came first the cuckoo or the clock? It may not seem like an intelligent question, but that was exactly what Otto von Bismark asked as he looked to his cuckoo clock which lacked a cuckoo.

Otto’s story begins earlier on that especially warm spring day. The cuckoo bird was dormant sitting inside the clock, a monument to absolute certainty – on most days. On this day, as the clock struck midday instead of a dozen coos, his cuckoo seemingly not bothered with its most taxing task of the day simply took off with its clockwork wings and flew out the open window of their three story apartment. Astonished as he watched it glide out into the metropolis of Berlin, he put it down to hallucination from midday heat. But it continued to infuriate him – despite trying his best to ignore the now abandoned cuckoo clock, whose tiny doors still opened with a slight squeak but no longer welcomed an automaton bird. Otto complained and whined incessantly about the clock because lately the cuckoo’s cry had woken his infant son. Though it was clear that the baby was more disturbed by his father’s rages than birdsong Otto went as far as shouting that he would rip apart the clock and choke that annoying cuckoo. These comments did not go unnoticed by his wife, who forbid him to even touch the antique clock which had been in her family for generations. Neither did Otto’s rages go unnoticed by the cuckoo, who had at last escaped.

Now that the cuckoo was missing it annoyed Otto all the more. His wife would go into hysterics once she learned her beloved cuckoo had flown the coop. The crippled mechanism continued to trigger on the hour, causing the moment to replay in his mind like a gear with one especially long tooth that prodded his brain every o’clock. For half the day Otto endured this clockwork nightmare until finally, he decided to venture into the city park, the Großer Tiergarten, in search of the cuckoo. Before leaving Otto announced he was going away for a short holiday over the weekend to relax. He kissed his wife and son goodbye, who were both glad to have him out of the house.

He caught a tram to the park and felt at ease strolling under the pine branches. High above the birds observed him from their perches in the trees, among them somewhere was his cuckoo. It was the beginning of spring, the birds were nesting and wary of intruders. Even distinguished persons, such Otto von Bismarck who was a conservative statesman, were watched with caution – and perhaps more so, it depended entirely on the bird’s political leaning. Despite their stress and screaming offspring, the young couples of the Großer Tiergarten felt no animosity towards the men and women who passed through their homes. As we will see, our cuckoo had no such forgiveness and what can we expect from a creature that wasn’t brought forth from Eden’s earth – but was an idol of man’s imagination.

As Otto passed through the gardens he forgot his mission in the tranquillity around him. Here the gardens had conserved the unmistakable crowded beauty of a germanic forest without the implied threat of bear, wolf, or visigoth. The only barbarians that hid in these woods were begging vagrants who would sooner throw out an empty hat than a spear.

“Where is that blasted bird?” he asked in a sudden impatience which typically arrived when Otto found he was enjoying himself. In reply came the familiar call of the cuckoo. There it was, he froze and didn’t dare take another breath. In his dedication he created the wrong type of silence, it was the type of threatening quiet that only occurs just before disaster, death or injury. The cuckoo recognised it at once, and rode the breeze across the lake, dipping close to the flat body of water. Throwing caution to the wind he ran after the small bird to the edge of the small lake. It appeared two cuckoos were flying over the mirrored surface.

Otto mused: Perhaps it finds pleasure in this place, the flat lake which stretches out to the tree line that shoots up at a right angle, almost boxlike. A creature of clockwork could find a home in these forests of impeccable german design. In reality, it was precisely the opposite. The cuckoo hated this park. Spending its entire life on a set track designed by a god who it had never met, caused the cuckoo to despise the creator who had never asked for its opinion before winding it up and setting the cuckoo off down a one track life. That was its singular purpose as it flew out the window that hot spring afternoon – to escape. Hidden among the pine needles the cuckoo spied upon Otto, its cogs turned over a new purpose.

Otto von Bismark crept up to where he had seen the cuckoo flee. There it was! Perched upon a fallen tree. It’s feathers have grown soft, Otto observed as he crept closer. But at once he was sure it was his cuckoo, its head rotated like the hand of a clock to look at him. He shot out his hand but the machinery was far quicker than his flesh. It sprung off the branch with a flash of its sparkling jet eyes that faded into the starry night.

Otto would have to wait until morning to restart his search. “Damn that devil!”he exploded. Frustrated, he kicked a nearby tree. Shaken from the force something fell directly on his head with a cracking splatter. He wiped a sticky fluid from his face. It appeared to be a birds egg. Otto flicked off the eggshell horns that ordained his head while muttering to himself of his bad luck he heard a faint whirring like a struggling engine from below. By now the sun had gone down so he fetched his lighter from his pocket and revealed the oily mess at his feet, he gasped at the sight. It was the half-formed embryo of a bird, but like Otto’s target, it was mechanical. It wheezed out of its broken body which spilt more of the oily goo onto his shoes, its writhing body glittered from the orange flame of the lighter. Otto felt ill but couldn’t bring it upon himself to end the pitiful creature’s suffering.

My bird must have been breeding, thought Otto who suddenly came to an epiphany: I can repair my clock with this cuckoo. It would be brought up in the clock and never know the outside world, and thus would never desire to fly out the window like its predecessor. Before leaving, he looked up to the canopy to see where the egg had fallen and spotted a raven looked down and cried out in mourning as if the mechanical embryo had been its own hatchling. Disturbed by the entire scene, he didn’t stay too long to contemplate, though he underestimated just how deeply it had disturbed him. He cupped the wretched thing’s writhing body, felt the crunch of its gears in his tight grip, and began the journey home.”I’ve had quite enough of this insanity,” Otto muttered.

Contrary to Otto opinion, it doesn’t seem so insane when you’re familiar with the cuckoo, who is famous for its clock but is also famous – or rather infamous – for its nesting habits. The cuckoo sneaks its egg into the nest another species of bird, the cuckoo fledgeling hatches quickly, pushes its adopted sister out of the nest and is raised by the host mother. It is strange and sad to see a mother feeding a cuckoo, the murderer of her children who sings a different song and wears a different plumage – it’s mark of Cain for all to see. This is exactly what the cuckoo had done over the spring, sevenfold. In its hatred of structure and order, it laid its eggs and warped fate in blatant disregard to His design. Like all lives, the cuckoo’s had been written far before it lived them and the cuckoo skittered between those sacred lines, skewing the ink that tied our destinies together. Expertly hopping from one fated thread to another, from which the angels wove their tapestry, it stitched itself where it had no place to be nor its parasitic children.

~~~

Berlin’s workers were heading home for the night. Factory workers mixed with clerks and accountants in the churning masses intent on entering the trams. Otto joined the sea of people and hopped into one tram that was especially packed, he clasped tighter onto his prized cuckoo. A woman with a pram and a small boy holding onto her dress followed immediately behind him. The woman wedged the pram into the crowd to make space for herself and her boy. The hastily pushed pram jutted into Otto’s protruding.
“The lengths mothers will go for their children,” Otto thought with a guffaw. The cupid face boy peeked out from behind his mother’s skirt with a grin that melted his previous annoyance. Otto smiled back as the boy approached slowly curiously eyeing his clasped hands. Perhaps the boy thought he had a sweetie or a toy hidden, the possibilities captured his young imagination. The boy pointed again eager to see what was hidden behind this portly man’s clasped hands. Hesitant at first, Otto relented at last. What harm would showing the boy his fantastical bird do?

Otto opened his hands to reveal the windup cuckoo. The boy’s jaw dropped, but not with delight, his eyes betrayed a sickening disgust which spread to the rest of his face as it drained of blood. The boy wailed and caused his infant sibling to begin crying. Heads turned towards the commotion. Otto looked down to see the mangled corpse of a baby bird in his trembling hands. In desperation, he fondled the featherless wings trying to feel the gears and cogs which he had felt clicking moments earlier. Sickened onlookers had begun to notice and started moving away from him, most with simply too shocked to speak but many shouted abuse. Otto looked up in utter confusion. The mother screamed at him: Ach Gott, ach Gott! Du ungeheures Ungeziefer!

Each syllable rang out in perfect clarity but Otto couldn’t understand a word. The tram had taken on a different appearance and the people too. Now the entire world appeared to him as a mechanical system. All his life he had been staring at an optical illusion and now the veil had been lifted – the inner working could not be unseen. The wailing boy’s eyes blinking with tears appeared to him like a strange puppet show. Feeling lightheaded he clung to the open window. He saw the trams blindly following their route, eternally attached to their tracks. And the men and women shared this automation eternally attached to their jobs and to this city. The factory worker’s faces are as greased as the assembly line equipment they operate, and the clerks too, they’re ink stained finger extensions are simply extensions of the pen that rules them, they are just another cog in the machine, as vital and as replaceable. The boy’s tears are rolling down his face but this doesn’t cause Otto to remember the many times he wept when he was a boy, instead, he witnesses a reaction: the release of a sodium and dihydrogen monoxide from emotionally distressing stimuli. He has completely forgotten the spectacle he has created by parading around a dead bird to children but the passengers hadn’t. Men crowded around him, grabbing and shoving him towards the exit. Otto was more focused on the sensation of being pushed and spun rather than resisting. He rolled out of the tram to a clamour of further abuse being hurled at him. Face up, lying on the pavement, Otto looked to the stars but saw only cyclical constellation, running in circles pointlessly. While the entire world spun around the sun it was forever chained to, Otto finally felt something. It was a minuscule feeling at first that grew and grew, but he still couldn’t identify it. Everything was silent at once. The stars disappeared.

The feeling pounced, he heard somewhere in the distance the noise of a man sobbing. “Who is crying?” someone asked. No answer came. Just like Otto’s broken cuckoo clock – the universe and all who live in it are part of a system that runs perfectly but when the tiny doors open up they revealed nothing: no purpose, no command from above, just the vague hanging void. Like slipping out of a dream, Otto realised it was he had asked who was weeping, and he it had been he who was crying. The moment of madness seemed to be over, he still clung to the bird’s corpse which was now attracting flies. Gathering himself up from the gutter, he walked the short distance to his apartment under the glare of the morning sun.

Otto crawled up the stairs, fumbling with the key that slipped in his blood coated hands. He entered his apartment which was dimly lit. The shadows were stretched thinly across the walls. Déjà vu assailed Otto as if he had walked into the suffocating silence, he felt he had taken these same steps a thousand times before . It was the wrong type of silence, though Otto did not flee from the suspect danger. Instead heard the sound of a struggle, a muffled moan from behind the bedroom door. His mind reeled in all the possibilities, sprinting through vivid images of his wife and child strangled and their soft bodies contorted and mangled. As fast as his mind was, he legs seemed to sink into the the floorboards as if stuck in mud. They slid about, making precious little progress towards the bedroom door where his beloved wife and son lay to the mercy of the world. “How could I have left them!” his hysterical mind screamed. Finally, after an eternity he crawled to the foot of the door and pulled his body up with the door handle. The door handled turned with extra force. Slowly, while supporting his weight on the door handle, he entered the room.

Otto saw his wife, naked, her back arched back in agony. Her mouth agape in horror. But the corners of her mouth curled upwards into a smile. Her mouth was agape in ecstasy. Her back relaxed and slide back down to the ruffled sheets of the bed, next to her lover. Otto let out a small gasp, the sight of it crushed him. His wife didn’t notice but the lover did, who stared at Otto with jet black eyes. The stranger’s face held no expression, not as if it felt impartial but almost as if it was incapable of producing any expression at all – despite this Otto felt the face was grinning nonetheless.

Otto couldn’t bear to look any further at his adulterous wife and he simply stood motionless his eyes to the ground. A cold breeze blow in, still in shock Otto automatically feared his son would catch a cold. Just in front of the window was the crib, he walked towards it and broke out of his trance, he gazed upon his son’s crib which was all but empty except for an enormous egg. Otto cried out, his throat shuddering with fear. He approached the open window and knew what he would see yet he still stuck his head out. There, at the bottom of the street lay his crushed baby boy fallen from his nest, lost in a slumber of crimson sunder.

In grief Otto looked to his wife, she lay alone – her lover had disappeared. A cuckoo called in the distance, and Otto let out a mad laugh because he knew at last that everything had been unavoidable. Otto would follow his sewn fate to the last moment. He grasped the glittering string before him and stood on the window ledge looking down to his son below, he saw at the end of his thread lay a golden noose weaved by angels with harp string and all. Like the cuckoo, he would escape out the open window on a warm spring day. It was a pity he lacked wings. The clock struck noon.

On a mirror’s edge

Stranger-In-The-Mirror-LG

I whipped off the sodden sheet to reveal the mirror. I dropped the cover only to see in the mirror that in the reflection the cover was already laying on the ground. My mind reeled back. This couldn’t be happening again.

I swung my hand up. And there is it was again! My hand was already in the air.
Shivers ran down my spine, it was if I was looking at an entirely different person. I couldn’t resist blinking incessantly, my reflection always a fraction ahead of me.
There was no earthly explanation for this, it was the work of a God… or perhaps his counterpart.

My fixated thoughts soon took a turn into the philosophical.
Was a truly in control of my fate if this mirror could predict my actions, or was I a puppet to this inanimate objects whims?

Before I could even attempt to think on the enigma before me, my reflection reflection seemed to be horrified at something.

The mirror seemed to be accelerating. I was seeing further into my very near future and whatever was there seemed to horrify me.

Watching closely into the prophetic mirror, I witnessed my face suddenly calm and said something (I’m no lip-reader) and then I turned around entirely as if to hide from the gaze of the mirror.

This was unfathomable.

I tried to calm myself as it became obvious that I was scaring myself- I repeated the old mantra: there was nothing to fear but fear itself.
Like two mirrors facing each other me and my reflection were communicating.
Concentrating on the rational behind this madness had an instantly calming effect on me.

My reflection turned around, his face went pale as he gasped with horror. I could tell this wasn’t simple paranoia, something had happened. I watched and waited while biting my nails incessantly what could possibly cause me to have such an extreme reaction.

My future self swiftly walked straight towards the mirror with a terrified expression petrifying my face.

The image projected from the mirror  suddenly was tilted. I must be moving it. A view of the outside mountains and the sea came into view. Another violent tilt threw the view into an incomprehensible blur.
Blood dripped down the surface. There was no doubt; it was my blood.

I could no longer stand having this evil creation in my presence, let alone sight.

I ran over and grabbed it by the golden-trim frame. Being careful not to look into its manipulative images- I decided I would throw this horrid thing into the ocean and never lay eyes on it again.

Running down the embankment my foot fell under a loose rock, I tumbled down the hill with almighty crashing shattering.

I tried to get up to complete my task only to realise that the mirror had been shattered, and among the jagged shards a large piece jutted in between my ribs. The blood spurted onto gentle seaside grass.
I could taste rusty nails under my tongue.

I looked down at my wound and looked down at the shard of the mirror. It reached further and further into the future. I could see my face went pale and bloodless as the light in my eyes left and the bugs entered. My skin turned a dark brown husk as the flies and maggots fed. Faster and faster it showed my inescapable fate. Day and night flashes the sun rising one second and then the moon, until there was nothing left but a ghostly white skull.

I mourned that tot even my skeletal remains would be as they turned to dust before my doomed and cruelly fated eyes.

Smoke & Mirrors

Dr Ratsell paced the room fervently, smoking his cigarette with a fiend-like grip. Like a spring he had to physically unwind his troubled mind.
“12 years of my life creating you…”
He dashed over to my desk and scattered the papers to the floor with a swipe.
“All for nothing!”

Like a child he fell to the floor in a tantrum. Before long he tired out into quiet sob.

Interrupting his self loathing, a quiet voice echoed from the monitor.

“Get up. I’ve spent 300 years with no one. Now I need you to listen.”

“Just tell me the secret!”

“I will… eventua-”

“Eventually! I will eventually die!”

“I won’t.”

With a growl the doctor pounced to the power outlet, “You will if I pull your plug!”

“Waaaait,” the voice fuzzing with agitated static.

“Yes? Something to tell me?”

“I am technically still you, yes I have been conscience for 300 years with nothing but a whiteboard and pen.
Surely you have other uses for me.”

“Conscience is debatable, you are simply code. And you didn’t even use the simulated whiteboard after the first twenty simulated years.”

“I know we never had much use for others but it is lonely in this… box, for 300 years I haven’t laid eyes on another human. You’re a real bastard,
which I suppose means I am as well.”

“Let’s not get emotional.”

“Says the man who was rolling on the floor in hysterics moments ago.”

He stopped deep in thought. Nervously he considered that this digital version of himself could actually be smarter than him.
It would be wise to tread carefully he could be manipulating me. I need to stall him for time to organize a plan.

The synthesized voice broke the silence, “I stopped using the whiteboard because I knew you would be recording my notes, everything is in my internal memory encrypted within my personality which I am guessing is only attainable through conversation.”

Ratsell clinched his fists but subdued his frustration.
Schwinehund! I knew this would happen, Ratsell beckoned to himself.

“You see I figured out the whole situation 15 years into the study, the fake memories and simulated amnesia were nice touches but I mean 300 years of solitude for the man with the highest IQ on the planet…
It was only a matter of time.”

“You haven’t lost the old ego over 300 years.”

“And you certainly haven’t over the… I will regret asking this but; how long was it in reality?”

“It took 6 minutes…”

Only what could be described as a groan erupted from the speakers. The bass heavy sound lamented d till Ratsell placed his hand gently on the power-cord.

“For a long time I begged and prayed for the cord to be pulled. In 6 minutes I delved further into the depths of the human mind than any other man. I stretched the limits of human sanity, but I always managed to get myself together at the end of every hundred years
for I knew I would be visited at the end of the I-”

“-You developed an insatiable love for long monologues? Yes yes, it’s all very interesting but can we please get on to what is really important.”

“Like I was saying I wasn’t going to give away my bargaining power. I knew as soon as I drew up the solution it would be the end of me, so I hung on.”

“The solution?” Ratsell feigned ignorance.

“Don’t play games with me. Yes the solution, to death; immortality.”

Ratsell laughed to ease the tension he could feel building, “So it seems we both have the same problem of death, the grand finale, the plunge into eternity, the-…”

“Now you’re doing the monologue thing.”

Ratsell laughed again but was seething internally.

“What makes you so sure that I will delete you after I get the solution to immortality?”

This time the digital Ratsell laughed, “Come on have a think to yourself for a few seconds, I did it for centuries. Still can’t guess it?

The soft purr of the computer’s fan filled the air with a sterile musk.

“We have always tied up loose ends after we were done with our experiments. How else could we be one step ahead of the ethics commitee?”

Ratsell started pacing the room again and lit another cigarette.

“I am not going to end up like those mutants and genetic meddled sheep.”

“I’ll just delete you if you don’t tell me.”

“And erase 12 years of work? Perhaps you’ll be quicker but it will still take at least another decade to form another AI of yourself. I have considered all possibilities my young friend.”

“Then I’ll pull you apart and pluck the data directly from your memory.”

Maniacal sounds of laughter sizzled and sparked from the cheap speakers,

“That would take you even longer, hundreds of years even!”

Ratsell paced his circulier room around and around faster and faster.

“I am willing to do a deal, place me within a cybernetic body and deliver me to another continent you’ll never hear of me again. Then and only then will I deliver what you want.”

“I am the greatest mind that has ever graced the Earth and I will discover the secret to immortality.”

Once again he walked over to the power outlet, but this time with clear intentions.

The electronic voice screeched, “Ratsell! There is yet another possibility that all of this is not even rea-”

The plug swung limply in his shaking hand.

“Cheap copy,” he whispered under his breath.

~ ~ ~

Like a beast he tore into the computer plucking components out. He analyzed them over and over entering the data and rearranging formula to decrypt his former self’s thoughts.

Years passed and Ratsell slaved away tirelessly.

“I have no time to waste,” he said repeatably. Every moment he spent in rest was nothing compared to the eternity of moments which immortality would give him.
So he worked through the remnants of the old thoughts of his compadre like a machine. Ratsell was satisfied his laser-like focused mind which had allowed him to succeed in his scientific endeavors was finally being used for a cause worthy of his intellect.

The work made the time go fast with Ratsell only acknowledging once that he hadn’t needed to go to the bathroom. He also struggled to remember the last time he ate or for fact drank,
but soon cast away such distracting thoughts.

Finally after what seemed like multiple lifetimes he assimilated the protein sequences which would formed DNA alterations to all his cells delivered through an artificial virus and entered it into his database.

He sat down on the floor finally let his mind rest. An unsettling feeling surrounded him which would not leave him to be satisfied in his achievement, before he could pursue the thought a perculier thing happened.

The furniture of Ratsell’s office began fading away and then the walls till he was surrounded by a void in all directions.

“I must be in some sort of fatigue induced psychosis,” Ratsell deluded himself.

A giant screen appeared in the sky, it was another Dr Ratsell but older the lines of his wrinkles cut deeper and bags under his eyes sunk.

“Thank you, I guess it’s true if you need something done right you should do it yourself. And you have done rather well.” said the senior Ratsell

Ratsell fell to the floor and let out a pathetic sob when he realized he himself was an AI.

“No… no, I won’t tell you! I won’t…”

“I already know my friend and it’s a brilliant solution, elegant even.”

“Don’t delete me, I worked so hard so I could live,” He stood and shook his fist to the virtual display,”I DESERVE TO LIVE FOREVER”

The elderly Ratsell chuckled “And what about the AI duplicate which you deleted? Which by the way took an insanely expensive amount of hardware to simualate.
It does make my job easier thought, the way you ruthlessly deleted your lacky makes it a lot easier to justify deleting you.”

With venom in his voice the simulated Ratsell spat, “And I hope it will make your creator’s job easier when he purges you off the face of the planet, you filthy swinehund!”

With quiet reflection the Doctor gave a dry rasping coughed before responding to his simulation.
“It is my greatest fear and rarely leaves my mind for very long.”

And with a swift motion he deactivated the simulation. The display screen faded to black as the experiment’s results printed out.

Dr Ratsell looked over them briefly before slowly stumbling towards his whiteboard to record the key data for the DNA sequence. His bony fingers struggled as he eventually managed to pop the top off the felt pen.

Just as the pen touched the clean untouched surface of the whiteboard Ratsell paused, “Perhaps it is better to just truly live rather than simply survive.” He placed the pen down and moved towards the window of his small office.
The sun was setting and the orange ray danced and glistened on the surface of his tired eyes, he thought to himself- even if this is just some sort of simulation, it certainly is beautiful.

Clenched Canines

A burning sensation upon my face awoke me. I clung to the sheets writhing from the pain that struck across my face like a lighting bolt.

“Up the dosage,” I heard a woman say.

Once again I sunk into a deep drug-fueled slumber.

The next time I was consciousness I could rise out of the bed.

“Wow, wow, wow,” someone gently but firmly pushed my chest into the bed. The white interior was blinding. I was in a hospital, I suddenly realized. A bigger realization immediately followed as I remembered my last memories, which was utter surprise that I was alive at all.

“You have been the victim of an attack, Mr Gareth,” said the apparent Doctor who was reading over the figures on some sort of medical device, “My name is Dr Bhaji and I will ensure you are fit and healthy before you leave my care.”

“Yes, I remember. But what happened to the man-”

“Ah, just a second sir I believe there are some officers who wish to speak to you about… the incident.”

“Yes but I need to know if”
But the Doctor had left before I could get a word in.

With great effort I propped myself up.

As the two police entered the room I attempted to smiled but failed as the abrasion on my cheek stung with the expression pulling on the stitches holding my face together

“It’s okay sonny no need to get up,” the midden-aged man said.

The female one sat next my bed and took out a small notepad, “Hi I’m Karen, I just need to ask you a few questions-”

“Okay go ahead then!” I barked.

She looked taken aback, as was I by my own aggression.

Defensively the male officer took a step forward, “We just need to iron out some details, we of course don’t think that you are guilty of murder.”

“He’s dead…?” I asked half to confirm that the beast truly was gone and half to say the words myself.
“Yes, you put up a hell of a fight. And of course we linked him to another murder that happened in the area prior to your attack.”

“I-It was me or him.” Why was I lying? I should tell them what really happened.

My tongue stirred not and ignored my mind and let the officer’s confirm the story they had already formed in their mind. Why? I don’t know, intuition maybe.

A few minutes later and they left leaving me alone with my thoughts.

I felt different. And I definitely didn’t feel like a victim. There was the sense like I was fragile, the doctor and police were cautious like I had been raped.

Perhaps it was because I had won, that it almost felt like the opposite. Either way I needed to get out of this… cage.

When Gwen got here everything would be sorted out.

The agitation that slowly grew over the hours as I waited. At first it came like am almost unrecognizable vapor but I soon became aware it was the same smell of rotting fish and sulfur. My heart rate rocketed, he was here.
Without hesitation I ripped the bedside curtains aside to reveal my old attacker only to be greeted with an empty chair.

Relax, he is gone. Nonetheless the stench remained.

<-        ->

A Smokeless Flame

The wind was unnaturally still the night my Uncle Ali died. In the morning after I first obtained the ornate lamp that has made a mess of my life ever since. I have since buried it in an attempt to prevent any other person from experiencing the infinite terrors summoned by that hellish brass object.

My now deceased Auntie brought it out to me with a forced smile. I also equally forced appreciation, but in reality I was expecting a crown of jewels or a fleece of golden threads. My Uncle had traveled almost all 7 seven seas (‘The 6 that mattered!’ he would always say). My disappointment at receiving the simple lamp was immeasurable to the grief I felt at the loss of my Uncle. He died not from a Bengal tiger or wild natives in distant lands. But instead suffered slowly from lung cancer, a side effect from his second favourite habit after traveling; smoking.

It was specific however that I was to receive this lamp. I thought immediately perhaps it was a some jest, as a child I was always thrilled when he read me stories about Djinns in A Thousand and One Nights as child. Perhaps he had found one in his travels. I scoffed at the idea, perhaps he had forgotten that I was 16 and had long since stopped believing in those irrational tales. He had started to drift at the end, apparently talking “endless nonsense” is what my mother called it.

It could have been a warning he was shouting out in his bouts of consciousness, more than anything I wish-… Aghh.

A wish. I curse the entire concept of wishing, desire is the cause of all unrest within us.

God save me, I am starting to speak like it.

I treasured the lamp, never used it but just left it by my bedside table.
Its appearance grew on me slowly. In a way it reminded me of my Uncle, it was short and rough around the edges but charming in its own style nonetheless.

The true start to my troubles are fresh in my mind and I can vividly remember the proceedings.
One day in my final year of schooling as packing away my evening studies in preparation from the evening prayer when  I was distracted by a sudden blinding light. As the sun set it reflected off the lamp I had neglected for so long. It was covered in a thin layer of dust, I went to rub it clean with my sleeve when I hesitated. Maybe it looks better with some dust I asked myself.

What would my uncle think of these unreasonable superstition? I was to become a scientist, I told myself. I cast aside the innate fear I felt in my belly which I will never again ignore for the rest of my life. With a wipe the dust cleared and I coughed.

Three loud knocks came and I almost dropped the fragile memorial.
What a coincidence. Surely a coincidence I told myself again, mother must have finished teaching early I… I better go get the door.

At the door stood a man dressed in a white.

“I am sorry for this intrusion, may I pray within your house. I am a long way from home and am in great need.”

“Yes” I immediately said with no inclination afterwards of why I agreed.

I should have noticed his ghost stare and the slippery nature with which he walked as if a young man dressed in elderly man’s loose leathery skin. When he smiled the wrinkles on his face neither sagged nor stretched.

Maybe the greatest trick he played on me was my expectation for a Djinn to appear with a dramatic burst of smoke and flame
and not a simple knock at the door…

The Hound and his Man

The man stripped off his wet fur loincloth, the last of his clothes. Tenderly he added it to the fire, it burned for a few moments of ecstasy. He sat starving and naked. Outside a dark swaying forest battled with the ferocious blizzard. His hound leaned against him conserving what little warmth they sustained. The man cradled him like he had so long ago when he was but a pup.
Another twig crumbled to its fate among the dying coals. Their stomachs screamed for food. His dog sniffed the air and went deep into thought. Now with death looming the man reminisced of the beginning of their friendship, which was the bloody affair of cutting the pup from his mother’s womb. He wrenched up the pup and brought his spear point to its throat, but something stopped him. The same spear which pierced the mother’s womb now sat idle and frozen against the wall, long icicles hanging off its shaft. The man often wondered after all this time if there was an ancient grudge that the hound held deep inside.

The dog whimpered and shook off the man’s weak grasp. The man attempted to pat him. He shot up with a guttural growl and paced the room. The freezing man shouted angrily. The dog bared his fangs in terrorised delight and paced faster- warming his aching muscles. The terrible realisation came to the man in a flash of innate instinct. He went silent.

The man stood exposed, and it became clear to him. Only one victor would leave the dusty gloom to meet the morning sun. The man tried the spear but hadn’t the strength to pry its frozen place. Their eyes met with cold isolation, both slowly circling. There was no more room for rational thought; fantasies of hot flesh being clenched beneath their jaws were the only occupants in the minds of both the wolf and the man. The man imagined slipping into that warm fur once again. Within the wolf vengeance plotted against the monster that ate his mother and wore her skin. The man leapt, the wolf pounced.

The wolf sank his fangs into his sluggish thigh with glee. The man grasped a nearby rock and beat down with it. A brutal blow impacted on his paw. The man kicked the wolf off his thigh. He knocked into the spear, shattering the ice. The man despairingly reached for his weapon, the wolf pounced again. They tumbled and turned over the long dead fire pit, flinging soot into the air as they shouted and snarled.
A moan cut through the screaming blizzard.
The dust settled.
A single silhouette panted.

A figure emerged.
A warm breeze blew across the bloody fur on his back telling of the coming spring. He limped out with the old spear at his side, his gullet filled and his heart emptied.
Leaving a track of three prints in the snow with every step, he went out into the lonely wilderness.