Today, like a heavenly paintbrush, the wind, in our garden, had fun with the uncountable geometries of snow. Its hurried dance of snowflakes surprised us with ice flowers, and polar bears, and bushy tails of white foxes, and all the firs got heavy shawls of candyfloss. On this day of solstice, we sat on the windowsill among all the geraniums in bloom. You held me in your arms, our hearts two birds with wings entwined. How lovely winter sparkled, watched from the safety of your embrace. How beautiful your words of love, tickling my ear. How warm your laughter, on this cold day of winter solstice.
It’s been a weird year. My mind has always been… well, elsewhere.
I’ve been waiting for something that never seemed to materialise, and it’s no wonder it didn’t since it hasn’t even had a name or a face.
At some point, it was summer I was waiting for, but summer never really arrived and then it was already gone, and now a harsh winter is upon us. I’m not mentally prepared for the cold and the snow, and for the end of another year. I simply do not know when this one has gone away. I’ve somehow missed it. This doesn’t make much sense, does it?
Needless to say, I have done nothing for this year’s resolution, which was to start writing a novel. I’ve thought of it, I have most of it in my mind, but I only wrote a few words, and I mean a few. I am embarrassed but more than that, I’m worried.
The only thought that warms me is that, maybe, just maybe, the circumstances might excuse me, although I’m not seeking such an excuse. In fact, I came to loathe this excuse: no time. Always too busy, waking up at 5:30 am to go to a full time (high-tech) job, this insanely early only so that I can leave early to pick up my daughters, one from school, one from preschool, back home then in the avalanche of all the domestic, never-ending jobs (turning a poem in my mind, or a dialogue with my characters) kitchen-related or homework-related, or simply play with these two absolutely wonderful girls, until they go to bed, and then there’s the point of collapse, mind and body, beyond which there’s just another entirely similar day.
I deliberately kept the account of my typical day into one convoluted, grammatically incorrect phrase. It can only try to convey the extent of my daily busyness. On rare occasions, if I’m strong-willed enough, I can resist past this point of collapse and write a little, but that means that I’m much more tired the next day.
I’m thinking there must be some kind of respite available, before the respite of old age. I refuse to think in terms of doing this, that or the other when I retire or when the children are grown up. I cannot think like that because that would be similar to wishing for the time to go away, when in fact what I desire is for it to stand still.
I’m afraid to promise anything, even to myself, or even more so to myself. But I will continue trudging through this forest of perceived adversities, looking for the light of that illusory glade. I have to. I couldn’t be any other way.
As for you, my dear blogging friends, I thank you for your support and understanding. Maybe I haven’t been as present on your blogs or mine as I would’ve liked to be, but you were, are, always on my (writing) mind. I thank you for the treasure of your words, so generously shared over this electronic medium. I apologise for writing about sad things so many times.
A final thought, for now. We each have our own scale on which we measure our lives and our desires. I realise that compared to the much bigger problems that confront the world, my doubts and struggles are so petty, so insignificant. There are real issues out there, and tragedies, grave illnesses, wars, death, famine, all kinds of injustices, and all the people who go through them cannot allow themselves to be blue when they’re just trying to be.
Is there a map somewhere, he asked, a hydrographic wonder for all those rivers of tears that mothers have cried for their children’s fears, that wives have shed for husbands who never returned from this war or another, that sons have wept for lost loves, for fathers, and mothers? I would like to know to what ocean they flow, what unsated abyss buries all these rains of grief? This is what he asked. My heart, I answered, as I cried. This is the map, this is the hydrographic wonder, my heart, and his, this is the abyss.
“I have to show you something. I have to prepare you, in case…”
“Some reliable help you have…” I mumbled, half proud of getting his confidence, only hoping that the fresh crisp air would bring some clarity to my mind.
He told me to wait in the corridor and sneaked inside his apartment, with contortionist ability. He didn’t shut the door in my face, but it was obvious he didn’t want me to see the interior. However, through the slight opening of the door, I was able to catch a glimpse of a bare wall and floor, of a simple wooden table on which a pile of dirty dishes shared the space with a bizarre contraption. I could’ve pushed the door open. Instead I watched him as he put that weird thing onto a small trolley and rolled it to the entrance hall. I had to admire the swiftness with which he passed through the door and then closed it, without me seeing more than what I’d caught before. I let out a chuckle.
“Hiding something in there?”
It looked like a typewriter – I suspected he’d used parts of one to build it – badly combined with what could’ve been some cathode-ray tubes and other stuff taken from an old TV. And it had straps which made it look like a useless rucksack.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“A device I built… It misses one piece that a friend of mine is helping me find. Then, it will become a… mathematical harpoon.”
“We deal with equations, T. This is the domain of the highest of mathematics. We can’t use a gun or a club.”
“Coles wasn’t kidnapped by an equation!”
“Yeah, but I might be able to get him back with one.”
excerpt from "Shadow on Your Shoulder", a short story
Puzzled, I pressed my nose to the porthole. Without apparent reason, the water was clearer now, and brighter, as if sunshine penetrated the upper layers. There were immense algae around us – brown sargassum - their wide serpentine bodies undulating with the current. The corner of my eye caught a glimpse of a darker shadow. A fish, I thought, but had no time to ascertain this before it disappeared.
And then I saw them, a group of them, six or seven, passing right in front of the porthole, their coiled shells huge, striped in vivid ochres. A live diorama, I thought flabbergasted, for a second having the weird feeling I was at the museum. They swam backwards, their spotted mantles wavering with the small jets that propelled them. I saw their eyes, eyes of squids, inquisitive, and half-scaredly clutched the medallion at my neck. No Nautilus lived in sweet waters, and not in our lake; none was two feet big.
Short of breath, I turned to Uncle Jude, only to see him stare at me with an exuberant gaze, which seemed to be bursting with the question “So, what do you say?” or something like that. But my mind couldn’t form coherent words, not yet, only the buzz of excitement in a hollow of disbelief.
I pressed my nose to the glass again, but they were gone already, their tentacles disappearing swiftly at the edge of my field of vision.
OK, so this is how (I think) it was. A wind came first, out of nowhere, really, or out of the cave of indifference, carrying a hint of autumn- ignored or maybe just not recognised- a subtle chill, a whiff of ices, a rain, an unexpected frost one morning. The rain stayed, in guise of eyeglasses lending grey lenses to my weary eyes. Missing words, abandoned dreams, forgotten smiles were not sought, offered no shelter. Before I knew it, my soul had shed its fragile leaves. Love, sadness, pity, joy, even anger, even desire, lay withered at my feet. Hope lasted longest, such a tiny leaf, still green as I stomped on it on my way through the daily routine. Was it a sign that the sky dropped then fluffy tears? I don’t know. Do I care? The snow that covers now my feelings holds no promise of renewal. No spring music can (will) thaw my numb heart. Forever I am winter.
I extend my left arm through the slimy bars, to what purpose I’m not sure anymore. I am certain I’ve tried it already. To strike him maybe, or to strangle him to death. The man hits me with a stick, again, and the wound partly reopens. A deep gash hidden among the hard itchy scales that are growing on my skin. He snaps a single word at me, a guttural rebuke, its meaning obvious despite the unknown language.
I howl and retreat in the furthest corner of my cage, pulling the dirty burnous around me, hiding my head. He’ll hit me if I show myself. I think he plans to exhibit me in a fair, and everyone who wants to see me will have to pay. Let him do it. Who cares about the few pitiful coins to be extorted from the curiosity of these deplorable beggars? The pain in my injured arm is searing, in unison with the weird malaise holding me in its grip. I must have many broken bones, or at least that’s how it feels. Even my eyes hurt. The light is too harsh. For that, the shroud is most welcome. It somehow subdues my agony, apart from hiding my shame of being such a captive. I can indulge in imagining these people aren’t here. Away from them, that’s all I want, to be away from them. I’m growing a tail, for Goodness sake.
The heat stifles me, heavy with the stench of all these bodies bustling around with antlike tenacity in this unrecognizable souk where I found myself taken as I painfully regained consciousness. It reeks of goat, undressed hides, and blood. Of incense, and spices.
Hear me! I’m here! I am Josh Buckley from Massachusetts. I only shout the words in my head, as burning tears swell uncontrollably at the corners of my eyes. I’m afraid to try again, still humiliated by the effect of my last attempt, by the memory of my mouth as it contorted horribly, with no sound leaving my chafed lips but a disgusting gurgle. Oh, how cruelly they laughed at me, these people, and threw stones at me, entertained by my comic efforts. Hit by this mysterious illness, a monster, a freak, that’s what I’m becoming.
Nightfall comes slowly. Muezzin cries call the faithful to the mosque. Gently, I rock myself to sleep, strangely soothed by the monotone chants. In the sleep, I can dream. I allow myself to remember.
excerpt from "Crossing the Lion's Lake", a short story
From the lovely and very interesting Laughingwolf, at Paws and Reflect, I received this lemonade stand. Hmmm… what to do with it?
The rules (as taken from his blog) are as follows -
* Put the logo on your blog or post * Nominate at least 10 blogs that show great Attitude and/or Gratitude! * Be sure to link to your nominees within your post * Let them know they have received this award by commenting on their blog * Share the love and link to this post and to the person from whom you received your award
I must say I discarded right away that famous quote about what to do when life gives you lemonade.
I found others, more… juicy.
“For mad scientists who keep brains in jars, here's a tip: why not add a slice of lemon to each jar, for freshness?”
“If life deals you lemons, why not go kill someone with the lemons (maybe by shoving them down his throat).”
Both of the above are quotes of Jack Handy, American writer and cast member of Saturday Night Live from 1991-2003, famous for his Deep Thoughts comedy sketches.
Or these, by anonyms:
“50 lemons are a burden for 1 person, but they are treasures for 50 people”
“When life sucks and hands you lemons, I say beat the crap out of it and demand some Florida oranges as well.”
“If life gives you a bowl of lemons, go find an annoying guy with paper cuts”
“When life hands you lemons - break out the tequila and salt”
What I could do, is this: I could hypnotise you – at least those of you who have already been touched by the first nip of winter, for those who live in warmer place don’t need the suggestion – and transport you into a scorching summer day…
Like, for example, the one when I stepped among the ruins of Pompeii, at the feet of the Vesuvius.
End of July in Italy could be utterly demanding weather wise. That morning, before I entered the archaeological site, one thing stood out for me with utmost importance: the citrus stand where – for three euros, which was quite a lot – you could get a big glass of squeezed-before-your-eyes orange and lemon juice. They had lemons big as oranges and oranges big as cantaloupes. Suffice it to say that the thought of those exquisite citruses inspired and sustained my journey through lives lost to ashes and perfectly preserved by them – what an irony – on the hot stones of the past, under the omnipresent white sun. And when I finally had my glass, it was indeed perfect.
If I hypnotise you well, you too will crave an icy glass of lemonade…
This is what I dream (hope, would like) to offer to anybody who wants to stop by my lemonade stand… Please come, the lemonade is free and you are more than welcome!
And now, to pass it on, I choose all the people on my blogroll. Ha! If you’re there, you’re tagged! Because if I love to read your blogs, I would certainly love your lemonade…
His voice is distant, woven with static, a broken whisper, so close and too far from her ear. The phone is tiny, lost in her clumsy glove. She’s suddenly scared she’ll drop it. and then… and then…
The youth closes his hand over hers, helping her hold the cell to her ear, somewhere in her wet hair, his eyes beads of fear and compassion. She doesn’t want to see this stranger. Especially not now. Now it’s only for him.
“Where are you, baby?”
“In New York. I took an early flight. It’s snowing…”
A tiny bird chirps in her voice. Wide pale feathers descend floating in guise of cold crystals, linger on her brow only like furtive kisses. She allows them to sing on her eyelashes, blur the blinding city lights, whiten the night.
“I’m coming to get you. I can’t just sit here and wait for you.”
His voice carries the warmth she’s always seeked, always found in him.
my darling, my beautiful one
A flutter of panic wakens. Come and gone.
“No need… I’m in Times Square… I wanted to… I was going to the Central Station… I…”
warm and cold, warm and cold
“I can be there in an hour, baby. Go to Starbucks, wait for me there. Just stay warm.”
She wants to imagine herself being nestled next to him, watching him drive her home.
“Yes, you’ll come…”
“We could eat, we could do whatever you want… I won’t let you come home alone.”
i’m not coming home
His voice is fading, maybe on dying batteries.
“I can’t hear you so well. The cell…”
“You’re on a cell, sweetheart? You’ve never used a cell…”
“Borrowed it… They’ve coloured the Empire in red, and green, and white… Like when we first saw it… ”
The youth is crying, his hand shaking so badly it hurts her ear. The sky is a grey sieve, sifting a furious wet flour, but she still doesn’t close her eyes. not yet… not yet…
“Where are you, baby? What’s the clamour?”
He doesn’t know. How can she tell him.
my darling, my beloved
“Times Square… You know how busy… Even now… I so wish you were here…”
“I’m coming, baby. I’ll drive you home. I want to be with you.”
without you i couldn’t live, how can i die
Her lips are numb, the snowflakes too heavy. The sky turns, and turns, and turns. She has to rest, just for a little moment.
The teen’s voice rises, sobbing, sobbing. Louder than her whisper, closer than the voice of her beloved. He presses the cell to her head harder, painfully, uselessly. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I’m so sorry.
A wailing grows, from the earth, from the sky.
“What’s that, baby? An ambulance?”
She abandons herself to the snow, to the night, to the turning sky.
“Hello? Hello? Hello?”
“Sir, are you a relative?”
A man’s voice, neutrally authoritative. A stranger’s.
“What? Who’s there?”
The voice turning to unwanted, uncomprehensible compassion.
“Sir, I’m terribly sorry, there’s been an accident. Your wife… has been hit by a car… we couldn’t get here in time… a blockage… she wanted to speak to you… I’m sorry, Sir… Sir, can you come and…”
There is a skylight in my bedroom, a large one, right above the bed. It used to have a blind to cover it, but that was taken out when we did some renovations and hasn’t been replaced since. Which suits me perfectly, for I can lie in bed and watch the sky before I fall asleep.
I can see the stars, and the occasional airplane, and the grey woolly shapes of the clouds rolling by. A thunderstorm makes for a splendid show... And in the morning, squirrels pass over it, betrayed by the hurried patter of their little feet.
On Friday night, the Moon came in through the skylight, shedding its silvery light in the room, so strong that I needed not turn on the lamp on my nightstand to read. Instead, I read by the light of the Moon, which suited well the book I’m reading now, “Midnight” by Dean Koontz, which I picked up at the recommendation of William, at William's Ramblings.
Just one day past the Full Moon and its power was intact, its call relentless, its fascination upon me whole...
1. Started your own blog 2. Slept under the stars 3. Played in a band 4. Visited Hawaii 5. Watched a meteor shower 6. Given more than you can afford to charity (not sure what counts here) 7. Been to Disneyland/world 8. Climbed a mountain 9. Held a praying mantis 10. Sang a solo 11. Bungee jumped 12. Visited Paris 13. Watched a lightning storm at sea 14. Taught yourself an art from scratch 15. Adopted a child 16. Had food poisoning 17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty 18. Grown your own vegetables 19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France 20. Slept on an overnight train 21. Had a pillow fight 22. Hitch hiked 23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill 24. Built a snow fort 25. Held a lamb 26. Gone skinny dipping 27. Run a Marathon 28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice 29. Seen a total eclipse 30. Watched a sunrise or sunset 31. Hit a home run 32. Been on a cruise 33. Seen Niagara Falls in person 34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors 35. Seen an Amish community (I'm not counting seeing them downtown shopping) 36. Taught yourself a new language (do video courses count?) 37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied 38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person 39. Gone rock climbing 40. Seen Michelangelo’s David 41. Sung karaoke 42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt 43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant 44. Visited Africa 45. Walked on a beach by moonlight 46. Been transported in an ambulance 47. Had your portrait painted (sort of) 48. Gone deep sea fishing 49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person 50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris 51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling 52. Kissed in the rain 53. Played in the mud 54. Gone to a drive-in theater 55. Been in a movie 56. Visited the Great Wall of China 57. Started a business 58. Taken a martial arts class 59. Visited Russia 60. Served at a soup kitchen 61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies 62. Gone whale watching 63. Gotten flowers for no reason 64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma 65. Gone sky diving 66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp 67. Bounced a check 68. Flown in a helicopter 69. Saved a favorite childhood toy 70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial 71. Eaten Caviar 72. Pieced a quilt 73. Stood in Times Square 74. Toured the Everglades 75. Been fired from a job 76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London 77. Broken a bone (I'm not counting my nose) 78. Been on a speeding motorcycle 79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person 80. Published a book 81. Visited the Vatican 82. Bought a brand new car 83. Walked in Jerusalem 84. Had your picture in the newspaper 85. Read the entire Bible 86. Visited the White House 87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating 88. Had chickenpox 89. Saved someone’s life 90. Sat on a jury 91. Met someone famous 92. Joined a book club 93. Lost a loved one 94. Had a baby 95. Seen the Alamo in person 96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake 97. Been involved in a law suit 98. Owned a cell phone 99. Been stung by a bee
36 out of 99! Oh, my, still so much to do, and not necessarily from this list...
That new voice, a crystal’s song, he carried in his dreams. When had she arrived? He longed to return as much as he longed to prove himself, now even more.
A bet was a bet. Onward he trudged, his robe suddenly too long, every step a cliff overcome.
He stopped to draw air in, to peek back over his shoulder. They seemed far behind already and awfully tiny as seen at the bottom of that narrow flight of stone steps, and Tom wasn’t even halfway through the stairway. He looked up in the foaming darkness at which bony branches slashed to the rhythm of the unseen wind. The house stood darker than the night, its stones like tar, only its high windows inflamed with dancing shadows, as if huge fires licked the glass. He looked down again at his friends, twelve-year olds Ghost, Elf, and Death, standing with their jack-o’-lanterns and their bags for candy on the orange-lit pavement as if they were on a far-off stage and he was watching them from the gallery, right under the theatre’s roof. A Witch had joined them and Tom could’ve told who she was even from that distance, even if he hadn’t heard her voice calling him – she had a witch’s hair, no need for wigs, copper curls flowing to her waist.
He pulled at his costume, a silver skeleton painted on black velvet. The wind flapped the robe against his legs, furiously. His white mask felt too tight. There was no going back, especially now.
He turned and climbed again. Soon their shouts were eaten by the wind’s, their silhouettes erased by swaying branches.
He almost bumped into a black oak door, his nose one inch away from an iron gargoyle, perched on an iron ring. For a second, the gargoyle seemed to twitch its tiny nose, winked at him with evil glaring eyes. Just a reflection of the Moon’s, finding its way through the battered trees. Nothing else. Tom swallowed hard, then grabbed the gargoyle and knocked.
The door opened.
As if someone had been waiting for him right behind the door. That someone stood in front of him, but he couldn’t tell if it was a real person or just a trick of the shadows. He blinked at the cold sweat coating now his mask.
Behind him, the winds barked, mewed, moaned.
“Trick or treat?” he managed in a shaky voice, not his own at all.
A pale face, featureless, floated in the doorway, in a hypnotic pattern of afterimages.
“This is something for you to decide...”
He strained to see if it was the woman who sat in the fortune-teller’s booth when the carnival came to town; the boys said it was her, that she only left her house for that, that she didn’t follow the carnival, but the carnival returned to her, but how could she be, how could she be. The soothsayer was an ancient midget, a dried Incan mummy, so tiny that it could fit inside the small glass booth bathed in an orange light, and never spoke, only somehow made a note to appear with the answer to your question.
“I’ll show you...”
He was compelled to follow the invitation in the cold voice. He took a step.
Behind him, the trees weaved an ever unravelling canvas.
In front of him, a corridor receded towards a pale radiance. He followed a rustling, a darkness, a crackling, to a stone room, to a table.
In the heights of the towering vault, giant flames danced an angry saraband. He found himself seated, staring at a globe in which milky forms undulated. On the other side of it, a white skull mask, much like his own, as if he was looking at himself in a mirror.
“Do you have a wish?” the mask spoke.
The forms in the globe stirred, darkened, took the shape of the Witch, with her red hair, with her floating cape.
“Do you have a wish?” the skull spoke.
In the glass globe, the Witch swirled, waltzed, her eyes closed, her lips in a timid smile.
To see those cherub lips form the words, to hear her voice.
“Is it really going to happen?”
I love you, Tommy, I love you, Tommy
“Every wish fulfilled comes with a price. How much do you want it?”
He was sure now. He had never been so sure.
“I’d give anything to hear her say that,” he said boldly. He closed his eyes, dreaming. When he opened them, he saw the street lights, he saw the Elf, the Ghost, Death, he roared with laughter as he felt them throwing mock punches at him, as he heard them laughing, shouting.
“You did it, man!”
“What did you see?”
“What happened there?”
He felt drunk with a tingling happiness. Nora watched him, smiled to him.
They went to all the doorsteps, the four of them, till their bags of candy and their feet grew too heavy. It was time to go home.
What happened to my wish, seer?
He didn’t see the telltale headlights of the car taking the tight corner, didn’t hear the virulent spitting of the mad engine. Only the Witch, the Ghost, the Elf, and Death waving frantically, shouting, screaming. Only the wind howling its howl of rabid wolf.
“Tommy, watch out!”
“Watch out, Tommy!”
How beautiful the Witch was. How much he was in love with her. At what were they playing?
The hit threw him high in the air, made him tumble like an acrobat, like a bag of old clothes.
Harsh concrete came to meet him, offering a hard bed. He was tired. He had to rest. Somebody took off his mask. The wind kissed his face.
The sky had cleared, revealing a tapestry of stars.
In the general confusion, Nora held him, spoke to him. He longed to hear her, strained to hear her. At last he understood.
“I love you,” she was saying, rivulets of tears from her green eyes eroding her green make-up. “I love you, Tommy.”
Darling Witch... Yes, he would’ve given anything for that…
I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy
I took it with trembling hands, unwrapped it with reverence. I probably held my breath in awe as I opened it, although I ached to inspire its longed for, much aged aroma. I had no doubt it was the secret edition of the fourth volume, Der Fischbuch, The Book of Fish, of Konrad Gessner’s great zoological work “History of Animals.” Not the Latin folio that had appeared at Zürich between 1551 and 1558, nor the German translation of 1563. This had been printed at the same time as the Latin original and it had remained well hidden for many centuries, for the information it contained had been considered subversive by both the Catholic Church (Gessner had been a Protestant) and the scientific community of the time. I flicked through it almost irreverently to reach the last chapters more quickly. I was familiar with the Old German and the Gothic alphabet in which it was written. I was familiar with the grotesque images of the sea-monk, and the sea-maiden, and the sea-swine, and the hydra. But what I saw further was beyond my hopeful expectations. This is only what I could take in a frantic glimpse, before he snapped the book closed and reclaimed his possession of it. There were maps of the northern lands, of the cold seas that bathed the Scandinavian countries, all the way up to the frigid Arctic Circle. On these maps there were marks indicating spots in the seas. There were drawings of bulbous submarine towers, suspended spheres with myriad windows, foul beings floating among them. A glimpse I had – and nothing more.
“Please!” I gasped. “What is this?”
“You knew what to look for,” he said quietly.
“Gessner knew where they were… are…”
“Yes, they’ve been there for centuries, maybe millennia, the truth of their existence dismissed by mainstream science. A world parallel to our own…”
His eyes drifted into a distant dream. I waited.
“I’ve seen these cities in the sea,” he said, while his features seemed to loose consistency through the thick smoke. “I know in what chasms they hide, where they keep their servants, their sea-devils, their sea-men. We often navigate above them, oblivious to the swarming in the depths. Sometimes, they’re simply invisible, as if they had hidden onto another plane of reality. But they leave the boats alone. They let us take our fare from the sea…”
“Surely you could punish them easily,” I said, allowing for a moment resentment to overcome my scientific spirit.
“And what will happen then? The lives of these islanders are their boats and the fishing. If we harm them, they will turn against us, they will sink our boats, take away our livelihood. The kraken is with them, one with a horse’s head and a red mane.”
“This is sick,” I whispered.
"It is madness,” he echoed.
“Why don’t you leave?”
“I can’t,” he said. “Nobody can.”
What did he mean by that? Surely, something could be done for this tiny forlorn island. His strange heavy-lidded eyes on mine, he pulled down slightly his coat at the neck. Almost against my will, I looked. His skin was sagging, but where he pulled it with his fingers I noticed two boils. My heart stopped, my lungs collapsed in a maddening terror. I looked around me at those I didn’t dare to look before, discovered the deformed faces of the patrons. A tacit, unofficial quarantine, this is how the unexplainable isolation of the island was explained.
“You didn’t know,” he whispered, and I thought I could distinguish genuine compassion in his eyes. “Leprosy… Well, this is what it’s believed it is, although it’s hard to explain it in such a northern climate. I didn’t know either when I… we came here… Nobody leaves.”
I was shaking, trying to think of all the things I had touched unknowingly. There was no point.
“It comes from them?” I mumbled.
“Maybe… It’s been like that for centuries. From Gessner’s times… He mentioned it, though vaguely, but I was too eager, too impatient to ponder the hints. And now, you see, even if I could, I wouldn’t leave, my son is there, with them. I can’t leave him. I’m still too cowardly to join him, to plunge in the dark abyss, there where their cities are, but I will only leave him when I die. Soon… Not soon enough…”
My heart tightened.
“Your son… is among them?”
A distant memory brightened his face, if only for just a moment.
"We came here together, to find them… Christian was just like you, maybe a year or two older… He was daring… he… They took him.”
His voice faltered, broke miserably.
I wondered if or how many times he’d encountered his lost son, and if he’d tried to seize him from their clutches. I didn’t ask. We both knew there was no more to be said that evening.
He stood and left the tavern, walking slowly, the precious book under his arm. I followed him into the fog.
“Do you want to hear of what I’ve seen tonight, young one?” the man said, gazing at me with black octopus eyes. “I’ll tell you for a pint of whisky or whatever else your heart and your purse can agree upon ... What say you?”
I hesitated, sensing that wasn’t something he offered or asked for easily. Knowing that he wasn’t just an old drunk earning his booze with storytelling.
A clumsy elbow in my spine – without intention, no doubt - pushed me against him and, as I heard a muttering of excuses in my back, I cringed at the repulsive contact. The old man reeked of decomposing fish, of harsh tobacco and even cheaper alcohol. The smell of the sea – heavy and deep - was imprinted on him like his own, repugnant to me yet strangely enticing.
“Of what walks out there... in the mist,” he croaked.
He watched me with a mix of anticipation and wariness, a half smile wrinkling his parchment like cheeks.
I had nowhere else to go. And he was right. That’s what I was there for. That’s why I had cut my hair, and sold my books, and lied; why I’d left my studies, and robbed sweet Mrs. Cliff, and sailed this far north. There was no going back for me. Maybe only death awaited me in this savage place this close to the Arctic Circle but I had to find out. About what he’s seen in the mist.
My eyes slipped to what he was holding tucked tightly under his left arm. It was a package wrapped in dirty fabric and tied with hemp string. My heart fluttered frenziedly. A book, I hoped.
He must’ve noticed the hunger in my look for he smiled, a gap opening on his face in guise of a toothless smile, a black crevice rebounding of a dubious goodwill, of a perverse acknowledgement of our newly acquired familiarity.
“Konrad Gessner,” he croaked. “He knew about them, about all of them.”
“Is it the Historiae Animalium?” I stammered. “Is it? The true one?”
He silenced me with a sharp gesture, a passing spark of anger in his eyes.
What did he fear in here? No one would’ve known. This was a sailors’ tavern, the only place that was open on a fog night, crammed by those who had no place of their own, the outcast, the transient, the careless. All the good people, all the God-fearing men and women, huddled behind their doors and shutters, praying for the fog to go away. To take with it whatever it was bringing from the sea.
“You’re a stranger,” he said. “Moreover, a young girl disguised as boy. No one would have taken you willingly to this forgotten island, therefore you must’ve cheated your way here.”
I signalled to the barkeeper and ordered his best whisky for the two of us. I had never drunk whisky before but that seemed like a better time than most. The old man grabbed his glass with arthritic hands and took a careful gulp. I swallowed down half of mine, only by mistake. It descended with a fiery fist deep into my stomach.
“How did you know of me?”
I pursed my lips. I was feverish with curiosity, half-drunk already, and eager to drink more. Anything to remove the slimy chilliness the fog had left on my skin. The putridness that lingered in my nostrils. But that was not the only reason the room had acquired the peculiar smell of which I was sure it wasn’t only the mix of stale and fresh tobacco smoke. I was certain the fog insinuated its wispy fingers at the windows’ corners. Still I waited for him to talk.
“Ah, my brother…,” the man mumbled. “You were one of his students. One who listened. One who could grasp the true meaning behind his words. Too bad, I pity you my child.”
It was curious how despite his decrepit state he bore a deep resemblance with his brother, the elegant scholar, the pedantic cryptozoology professor, my doctoral advisor.
“He put all this in your head, young lady. People have gone mad for knowing this…”
“Have you seen them?” I begged. “Would you tell me?”
He had his glass refilled, then spoke.
“They’re all out there, all the ones described by Olaus Magnus, by Sebastian Münster, by the master, the great Konrad Gessner. In the past, everybody believed in them, not anymore… But they are real.”
“Have you seen them?”
“The fog brings them out of their watery lairs. I don’t know why. It is the air saturated with humidity, maybe, that allows them to breathe on land for a short while. I saw them coming out at the old fishermen’s dock not an hour ago, their bulky shorn heads bobbling on their deformed bodies.”
I shuddered. That was only one street away from where I’d taken a room in old Mrs. Krag’s boarding house. We could’ve crossed paths too easily, and then what? My firsthand experience would have also been the last.
“What are they?” My eagerness was too apparent, but I didn’t care. I had no time to waste. His white eyebrows formed a bushy V of resentment, maybe at the image he was conjuring in his mind.
“Sea monks!” he scoffed. “Sea bishops! A whole, obscene clergy of the deep! Surely just like the creature caught in the Øresund and brought to the court of King Christian of Denmark five centuries ago. They wear the black clothes of a monk, all tangled with seaweed, and torn scales, and rotten ship wood. Their skin is white, with a dark circle on top of the head, like a monk who’s been recently tonsured. But they have the mouth and the jaw of a fish.”
He stopped, looking fixedly at his drink, which I took as a sign to have it refilled. “The worst,” he continued with a heavier voice, “is when I recognise one of them. Tonight, tonight even, I saw, I think I saw Connor McAuley, the one we thought had drowned last Michaelmas…”
“They took him with them? And he’s not dead?”
The old man snorted, half contemptuously. The other half was a sigh of ugly sadness, which he quickly hid in his glass of whisky.
“By some ghastly miracle, he’s not, although I’m sure he wishes he were. He was much like them, very much… I could barely recognise him. His eyes, his eyes were still his, and that’s most of what was left of that brave handsome man.”
His voice faltered, as if the burden of his words was too heavy for his heart. “They take a few people every time, those who were unfortunate enough or foolish enough to cross their path in the fog.”
I felt a bitter indignation swell up in my throat.
“Human flesh is what they like the most…”
Without warning, nausea came to reinforce the indignation.
“Then, they need to reinforce their ranks…”
“Why are you hiding in here?” I said. “It seems they don’t harm you…”
He shook his head, then spat somewhere over his right shoulder, surely a gesture of disgust not of superstition.
“You might as well ask why I drink. I can’t take it anymore. They’ve harmed me enough. They have nothing else to take from me. My flesh they don’t want. I can walk at their shoulder, and curiosity will be their only intrusion upon me. But they want to touch me – God knows why - and their touch has become insufferable to my skin, their stench a gangrene to my soul…”
He stopped abruptly. The fear that he would not continue climbed into my heart.
I don’t know if one can call Indian summer the few perfect days we’ve just had, for to call it that we should’ve had ground frost first, which we didn’t, but whatever it was, it was glorious. The sweet balmy air and the gentle light, with just the right tinge of melancholy, were heartbreakingly perfect. Nature seemed to have a worry free quietude that could only come from a sentiment of eternity. Yet, inevitably, it’s farewell, until next year…
‘Tis the season to huddle close to the fire with a mug of hot red wine, with sugar and spices, and let our hearts sing with the lively crackle of the lugs, and quiver with the distant howling that could be the wind’s… And while we’re there we can spin a yarn or two, some fantastic tale stirred by a play of shadows under the ghostly moon, by a vague rustle of the leaves in the dead garden… We can indulge into a sweet fear that confers an eerie otherworldly quality to the cry of the owl or to that uncertain pattering on the window…
I often wish I could step, if only for a short while, into such a romantic moment. Descend into a time of permanent wonders and primitive fears, of magic and mystery. Would I do it if I didn’t know that I could return to a safe, “aseptic” world of technological comforts? Maybe… We have other fears, new ones, though sometimes surprisingly similar to the old ones… Human nature hasn’t changed…
The belief in shape-shifters, such as werewolves, goes back to the most remote times, probably even to the prehistoric hunters of Cro-Magnon. An early account is from the Greek mythology, where Lycaon, the mythical first king of Arcadia, was turned into a wolf by Zeus as punishment for having set before him a dish of human flesh (the king’s own son, or maybe Zeus’s). This is his metamorphosis as described by the Roman poet Ovid:
In vain he attempted to speak; from that very instant His jaws were bespluttered with foam, and only he thirsted For blood, as he raged among flocks and panted for slaughter. His vesture was changed into hair, his limbs became crooked; A wolf-he retains yet large trace of his ancient expression, Hoary he is afore, his countenance rabid, His eyes glitter savagely still, the picture of fury
The Bible recounts the story of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 BC) who imagined himself to be a werewolf for some years. And ancient Greek and Roman historians recorded many accounts of lycanthropy.
But I do not intend to repeat here what can be easily found even with a quick search on the net.
Instead, I have a true story of a werewolf. One my grandmother told me. She believed it was true, although she took it with a grain of salt, for my grandmother was a very smart woman. She told me this story when I was a child and I liked it so much I had her repeat it many times over the years.
It happened sometime at the end of the nineteenth century or the beginning of the twentieth. A woman and her husband, who lived in the same village as my grandmother, once set out to the fair in the nearby town. Because they had quite a long way to travel, they left home at night, in their carriage. The countryside was dark and quiet, the air chilly, and the road took them by a forest. Soon after they reached the forest, the man stopped the carriage, climbed down, and went among the trees to relieve himself. His wife waited for him. A few moments had passed, maybe, when a wolf came out of the forest and attacked the woman. She had no weapon to protect herself but a red wool blanket, which she had used to protect her legs against the chill of the night. With that blanket, she hit the wolf over its terrifying maw, over and over again, with a superhuman strength she could have drawn only from desperation, all the while calling to her husband to come to her rescue. He didn’t come and, as she fought for her life, she also feared that the wolf had killed him first. We don’t know by what miracle she escaped, or how long this terrible struggle lasted. Finally, the wolf gave up and ran back into the woods. A grey dawn broke. To the woman’s great surprise and immense relief, her husband appeared from the forest, unharmed. But when he opened his mouth to speak to her, she could see red strands of wool between his teeth…
On this first day of October, rather than acknowledging the gloomy sky that carries the promise of a cool afternoon rain and speaks of impending autumn, I choose to recall a Saturday, a week and a half ago, when we went apple-picking and had fun in a huge corn-and-sunflower maze.
It was still summer then, even officially so, and we relished the wonderful sunshine, and the greenery, and the round, steady feeling of nature’s bounty, which at this time of the year always pours forth in the orchards or in the farmers’ markets.
We crunched the fresh crispy apples picked directly from the tree and allowed ourselves to get lost for an hour or so in a green labyrinth, which this year – we were told – had a Peruvian theme. A bird’s-eye image would’ve been perfect to reveal which of the Nazca lines they reproduced.
Too heavy to follow the sun anymore…
Bravely through 9 feet tall corn…
Hmmm… what awaits just around that turn?...
If it were dark and if black helicopters were madly searching overhead, I would’ve thought even more of Mulder’s and Scully’s mad run through the corn field, from the “Fight the Future” movie…
A bow to Mother Nature…
Two thousand trees with crunchy apples…
The farm dog, an old girl, quiet and good, with whom we shared our roasted chicken (no bones for her, just juicy meat…)…
The stuff of my much beloved science fiction is coming to life. It’s been doing that continuously for a few years now, so much that, unfortunately, for many it has almost become trivial – just another title in the not-so-important news. (I remember 1997 when I was watching 3D-images of landscapes on Mars live on the Internet!)
Water on ancient Mars, talks of colonizing the Moon, close encounters with asteroids, the discovery of Earth-like planets around distant suns, NASA’s Gravity Probe B testing Einstein theory of General Relativity, etc., etc., etc.
I love all this! I almost cannot believe it is happening and I sometimes feel as if I’m living in a dream. I feel dizzy with pleasure only when I think about cosmology, astrophysics, particle physics, or space-time, to mention just a few.
So what is this all about?
It’s about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) being switched on yesterday at CERN (the European Centre for Nuclear Research) underneath the French-Swiss border near Geneva.
The LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. In it, guided by superconducting electromagnets, two beams of subatomic particles – protons or lead ions – called “hadrons”, will travel in opposite directions at 99.999% of the speed of light before colliding with one another. According to the CERN website, “The particles are so tiny that the task of making them collide is akin to firing needles from two positions 10 km apart with such precision that they meet halfway!”
The purpose? To replicate the conditions at the beginning of the Universe, a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. To further the study of the very fabric of the Universe; to reveal the nature of dark matter, an invisible hypothetical matter whose presence can be inferred from the gravitational effects on visible matter; to discover evidence of the hypothetical Higgs boson, popularised as “the God Particle”, the elementary particle that might give other particles their mass.
Obviously, there are voices that criticise the project and even battle it legally in courts of law. “It must be stopped,” they shout. Their fear is that a black hole will be formed in the process, and that this black hole could assume an orbit within Earth, consuming it in microscopic amounts until the whole planet is gone.
I don’t mind a good doomsday story but this is just not it. I am far more interested in this as an example of the heights the human minds are reaching and in the advancement of science. And although I generally believe that, most likely, we will never reach TRUE or ABSOLUTE knowledge, every little step towards it is a reason for hope and joy.
I’ll leave you with the video of Kate McAlpine, the 23-year-old Michigan State University graduate and science writer who raps about the LHC. I think it’s a great “science rap.”
A dear friend, a philosopher of sorts, came to me this morning and said, “Do you know? I’ve discovered the problem of humanity.”
I let out a guffaw.
“I was stuck in traffic today,” he continued, smiling at my half-puzzled half-amused look, “for more than an hour and, while I sat in my car and listened to my music, I had this revelation. It explains everything. I know now. The humankind’s problem is the …brain.”
I laughed again but only in profound approval. Not only it made a lot of sense to me but also it was something that I often think about although I’ve never considered my friend’s vast, planetary scope.
For me it’s long been a personal observation and a source of mild astonishment especially at moments of deep physical fatigue when, rather than stop and allow my poor body to rest, my brain would command it to go forward. Go forward in doing things that I liked, things that I wanted, things that first and above all – even though I didn’t recognise them as such - stimulated the pleasure centres (I don’t know if they’re called like that, but you know what I mean) of my brain. And the reverse, if you want, the sedentariness, the chocolate, the taxing hours spent in front of a screen or of a piece of paper – same purpose, different damaging effects on the body.
So, I sometimes feel like a walking (or sitting) brain. A ruthless, merciless, selfish brain, an undeclared worshipper of god Epicurus. Epicurus was not a god but a Greek philosopher who lived around 300 B.C. and who held that the highest good is pleasure or freedom from pain.
I think we are most of the time endorphin seekers, that we try to do as much as possible the things that we like, those that give us pleasure. It doesn’t matter under which form, physical or intellectual, good or bad, selfish of selfless, legal or illegal, or even if we realise we’re doing them. Some will endanger their lives for the sake of thrills that will release the much-coveted adrenaline. I haven’t done jogging in many years but I remember the so-called “runner’s high” and I miss it. Right now, I (or should I say my brain?) treasure writing and reading above most other things. I get from them a “high” to which I return despite the obstacles and the disappointments, over and over again.
This is my interpretation. My friend, in his droll way, was thinking, among other aspects, of stupidity, to which he has a very low tolerance indeed, or any kind of madness. The solution? No brain.
Ha! Ha! Ha! I wonder…
Funny how powerful this “soft convoluted mass of nervous tissue within the skull of vertebrates that is the controlling and coordinating centre of the nervous system and the seat of thought, memory and emotion” (according to the Collins Concise English Dictionary) is. Funny, scary, and absolutely fascinating.
Sometimes - despite my petty arrogance or my funny wailings - I get this absolute certitude that I am but a shadow on the sand. I fear the wind then, that caresses the smallest cloud, and a sunset, instead of filling me with beauty, absolutely terrifies me.
My older daughter’s enthusiasm for this event has seeped into me, while, together, we prepared her things, sharpened pencils, put labels on binders, went again through her list of school supplies to make sure we haven’t missed anything, and stuffed her backpack.
The youngest, sitting on my lap during the whole “operation”, helped too: I would write a label, then she would peel it off and hand it to her older sister, who would in turn stick it to the binder. That’s some teamwork!
In the schoolyard, each kid got a piece of a puzzle, which they had to match with a picture posted on the fence and thus find their classmates for this year. A bit bizarre and probably not necessary, but hey, why not… So, this is their mascot.
Yeah, I know, the beginning of the school year means - maybe more than anything else - that summer’s over. This is especially hard to accept in a year when there’s been no real summer, although these relatively warm August days make me hope for a nice Indian summer.
It also means that I’ll return to my early morning schedule and thus (hopefully) find a wee more time for blogging – reading and posting – and for writing.
Nobody is sleeping at Xcaret, except, maybe, for the odd baby overcome by the scorching heat or for the majestic jaguars resting in the shade of their homonymous island. There is too much to do and too much see before you have to leave at night to afford to waste even one minute...
Xcaret (ISH-KA-RET) is an eco-park on the Yucatan coast that blends natural and human built marvels in a most fascinating way. If it were only for the underground river – a half-mile long subterranean river with chilly water that one swims in a darkness interrupted only by the shimmering light coming through rare holes in the ceiling - and my imagination would be forever captivated by this place.
There is a re-created Mayan village there and a Mexican Cemetery. There are 365 tombs on a small terraced hill, one for each day of the year.
It seems the cemetery is a work of art and only that. No real people are asleep under those clever stones. I didn’t know that when I visited it. I’m glad I didn’t - though there was plenty of doubt in my mind at the time if only because of its disagreement with the place; not knowing allowed me to read the inscriptions and to feel the deep emotion that brought tears to my eyes. I admit, I am a bit disappointed now that I know, and somehow relieved.
So, why these tombs, no matter how artistic in look and purpose, among the vivid activities of busy vacation park? A colourful reminder that Death is upon us? Some sort of a Mexican Carpe Diem? Something like the ancient Romans used to have on the walls of their banquet halls – scenes of death to make them live more vigorously? Maybe... Maybe just a distinct approach to the concept of death – laughter as a diffuser of pain and lovely memories instead of sorrow...
They were everywhere. In the early morning, on the pristine sand of the beach, one could see their trails, the deeper narrow groove left by the tail and the fine filigree drawn by their claws.
An inhabitant of our hotel has come out of its dwelling at the base of an enormous concrete column to enjoy the morning sun, as part of its daily ritual. Good morning, sunshine!
Almost unbelievably all these are youngsters. I’ve just found out from Wikipedia that adult males can reach 1.5 meters in length. These black iguanas (Ctenosaura similis) are listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest lizards on Earth.
Sweet sad dinosaur…
A warrior pose – just before eating some of the white beads produced by a dwarf palm tree. Fruit or flowers?
An Indiana Jones setting… What secret door will you open or what deathly trap will you trigger if you lean onto this mysterious head?