Memory Lane ( Amy Dowdey )

Posted by Barabal on Saturday, April 25. 2020 in Holiday Adventures

 
Since I am not much of a writer my plan was to tell a story with pictures. In rummaging through travel pictures I ended up just taking a trip down memory lane. So I have put together some photos from my time in London. Which is maybe the best five years of life! It was home base for many many trips to all over. They are in no particular order and in less particular order than when I started due to the wonders of modern technology : )

 

https://onedrive.live.com/?authkey=%21AOJoY71nmZ903r4&cid=9D16E4A652A32D06&id=9D16E4A652A32D06%2116114&parId=9D16E4A652A32D06%2115428&o=OneUp

 

 

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Off the Beaten Track ( Ruben Aszkenasy )

Posted by Barabal on Wednesday, April 22. 2020 in Holiday Adventures

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Spring Thing ( Zoran Krušvar )

Posted by Barabal on Wednesday, April 22. 2020 in Holiday Adventures

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SPRING THING

We have this thing we do each spring. It bonds our family together; it would be wrong to neglect it.

Every year, on first day of spring, mother wakes us early, before dawn. We drink hot brew, made with herbs from the forest. My two older sisters, Diana, and Luna, know herbs very well. Our mother taught them while she was healthier, in better mood and less shaky. Now she is in no condition to pass the knowledge to me, so Diana promised she will do it. Mother doesn't do much these days, but every year, on first day of Spring, she wakes up, gets dressed, boils the drink and wakes her three little girls to a home filled with scents and anticipation.

We eat sweet bread and hardboiled eggs. There is an old, handmade basket full of them, they are coloured with onion skins, beets, and cabbage. We like things to be natural here, the balance with nature is important to us. While we are munching in silence, mother takes out her big, sharp, carving knife. She is not going to use it right now, but on the first day of spring she likes to keep it by her side.

When we are all packed and ready, I put my backpack on, grab the basket and wait for the rest of them in the car. I never go to the basement with them, because ever since I was very little girl, I was afraid of the monster living in the darkness and I never outgrew this unease. My family respects it, so they let me stay in the car while they climb down into the bowels of our old little house and emerge back, like Orpheus from the Hades, dragging the monster with them. Although mother is getting old and ailing, sisters are stronger each year and it is a simple fact that the monster gets smaller and lighter with time. At some point, I know, it will disappear entirely. I can hardly wait, because that's one thing that freaks me out. That, and those awful shoeboxes under the backyard lawn, but they seem to be freaking everyone out, so I guess that's normal.

Our car was made a long time ago, it was designed for rugged men, construction workers or maybe farmers. It doesn't go very fast, but it is very spacious. It has a huge trunk and a lot of room for all the passengers. The inside is rough but sturdy, the seats smell funny and the machine makes noises like a bear that ate something very bad. Maybe we are the rotten substance that makes our car sick? Or maybe it's the monster riding with us, tightly packed in the trunk with other luggage.

Our car is scratched, bent, burnt, most of the original functions are not working. Honestly, it looks like it has died, and it shouldn't be moving at all. But it moves. It's like a zombie, really. Undead pile of machinery from hell. It moves slow with strong chances of losing couple of parts along the way. We are bumping through early morning, our heads bobbing, our backbones trembling with excitement. The road leads to the forest, and the forest is a beautiful, sacred place.

But to reach the forest, we need to leave our town. And on the exit, on the very spot where the tattered asphalt crosses the town limit, there is a police car blocking our way. Two men in blue uniforms, with surgical masks and gloves, are standing next to their car. The guns on their hips look like nasty, black swellings filled with deadly plague, and their wielders smell like sanitizer. One of them is approaching our driver's window, as we are slowly stopping in front of their blockade.

"Good day", he speaks through his mask. We don't wear masks. We fear men, not viruses. We rarely get sick, and when we do, we use herbs. Well, except mother… her health might be beyond any help now, though 20th of March always seems to be one of the better days.

"Good day", Diana replies. She is our driver. We all repeat "Good day" after her, all except our mother.  

Her fingers are clutching her purse, knuckles turned white. We all know there is a big, hungry knife inside, far too big to be allowed.

But the officer doesn't know, he wants to see our ID's. That's fine, there is nothing wrong about us in their computer, there are no shoeboxes there. Even if the police were to run a full investigation on them, what could they possibly find? That the mother was raped on this very day, 20th of March, 22 years ago? That Diana was born on 11th of December? That, strangely, Luna was born four years later, on 10th of December, while I was born two years after Luna, on 5th of December. Does this look like a strange coincidence?

Maybe the policemen might ask our mother has she ever met her rapist again? It's very unlikely they would get any reply from her, but maybe, if they are really good, maybe they could link Diana's DNA to a man who vanished without a trace on this very date, 20th of March, 18 years ago, when his daughter Diana was only four. Now, if they were to check Luna's and my DNA, they might find that all three of us share both same parents.

Would they find this weird, or would it slip past their attention?

The policeman speaks:

"Ok… do you have permits?"

"What… no, but we are only going to the…" Diana stutters, and the policemen shakes his head.

"No one can leave town without a permit! We are in quarantine, lady! Don't you know it?"

"But we are not ill…"

His eyes are rolling, he had this conversation too many times. We are not ill is probably the stupidest excuse ever. You can't even know if you are infected or not, and even if you could, by some miracle, know for a fact that you weren't ill, the police still couldn't let you pass without the permit. Diana is talking nonsense to him, swarming him with empty words. Her left hand is on the steering wheel, but her right is crawling towards the passenger seat. Towards the mother's lap. Towards the mother's purse, now unzipped. Diana always was the most violent of us, but the idea of slaughtering policeman through the car window with a carving knife seems to me a bit too radical even for our fucked-up family, so I lower my window and smile as wide as I can:

"Please, officers. We are going to visit our granny; she lives just outside the town. Look, we are carrying some eggs and bread…" and I show him the basket. The scene is, in fact, hilarious. I am for all practical purposes impersonating Red Riding Hood, with basket and everything. But while the policeman is staring at me, I am reading his name from the badge on his chest.

"Easter eggs?" he asks, and I try very hard to charm him with my smile and keep the eye contact, while my fingers grab the cheap clip from my hair. "Oestra", Luna corrects him, but he doesn't seem to notice. With my other hand I pick an egg from the basket and I hope I picked one of the reds.

"Yes sir", I smile like an idiot. My white teeth gleam in the morning sun and I even wink, pretending it's because of the sunlight. "You see, I painted it myself", I hand him the egg, delighted to see it's pink like young girl's flesh. My mother, the one that says nothing, the one that sits and stares most of her days, turns her disapproving face towards me. Yes, we might get arrested or who knows what, but goddess forbid if I take her credit for painting the eggs. "You see", I keep lying to the policeman as he carefully takes the egg, "there are some very interesting shades, that appeared completely naturally… you see? Oh, wait, give that back to me, I'll show you the blue one…" he returns the egg, clearly annoyed by our conversation:

"It's very nice, but it's not Easter yet…"

"It's not, but our granny is very old, and she can't tell the dates anymore. As soon as she sees the flowers blooming through her window, she thinks it's Easter and she wants her eggs. She gets very sad and disappointed if we don't bring them. And she is so alone now, during the quarantine…" I babble, I bat my eyelashes, I puke sugar and rainbows, but at the same time, without looking, I use the clip to scratch his name into the coloured eggshell.

"It's very nice, but please now… turn around, go home, and come back with permits. If you need to take care after your grandmother outside the town, there shouldn't be a problem with getting one. You can't just go around like this… and there is absolutely no need for all of you to go! Coronavirus is especially dangerous for elders!" he is very agitated. This is a very demanding time for him, too. I understand, but we need to be on our way, and we also need to get away from the police because we don't want them to start poking around our car. So, I say:

"But these eggs are very good, we MUST get them to granny", and I tap the shell against the window, the pieces are falling in my lap, making a mess, but our car is already a mess so why should I care?

"Look, I can't let you go…" he is firm. But the pink shell that he held in his hand, the one with his name on it, is already broken. I smile, this time sincerely. Then I softly press the egg against my lips and I kiss it before I push it inside and take a big bite. He blinks at me while I chew the egg, trying to do it as cute as I can. He says nothing while I swallow. My sisters look at me, I can feel the smiles starting to blossom on their faces. Even our mother smiles proudly.

"Please officer", I whisper with the kindest of voices "would you be so kind to let us through? Just this time?"

He nods, and steps away. His shell is broken. He is swallowed. We are free to go.

We are a rolling avalanche of laughter as we drive out of the town and into the forest. Diana nearly screams:

"WOW! I mean, WOW, Libera! You clever little… have you seen this Luna? Mom?"

Mother nods and smiles. I think there might be a teardrop in her eye. Luna hugs me with all her strength:

"My little sister bewitched a policeman! With a coloured egg!"

"You, girl" Diana says to me, lifting her index finger in the air as if she was giving some sort of prophecy, "You, Libera, you are going to be quite something! Mark my words!"

Mother turns around and holds my knee with her trembling hand, and I feel great, just as everybody should feel, celebrating spring with my whole family.

Soon we reach the forest. It's especially nice now, when there are no people. We stop our car and get out. Mother, Diana and Luna pull the monster from the trunk, they unfold his wheelchair and they secure him in it. Mother will push the wheelchair alone, as she always does. Diana walks by her side, holding the knife. This is the only moment when someone else holds the knife, though it's not really important because nobody is going to use it now. We walk to our special meadow, we set the stones. We clean them with water and bless them. We arrange the eggs and the bread, the flowers and the berries, the symbols of spring.

Then we say the words, drink the brew, take our clothes off and dance. We are naked, skyclad, we move to the rhythm of tectonic plates clashing, our hands wave to the solar flares. We can see distant stars, peek through all the black holes. Nothing stands between us and the nature.

Nothing, except for the knife in mother's hand.

The monster sits still in his wheelchair, looking at us. There isn't much else he could do, really. He is tied and drugged, and even if he weren't, most of his muscles are severely damaged now. His legs are practically gone.

Later today we will have our very special lunch, because this is the only day in the year when our family eats meat. We will wait for the drugs to wear off, because mother wants everyone to be very present. Then she will use the knife and cut three nice pieces of meat from the monster's still living body. Monster will try to scream, but his vocal cords were cut some 18 years ago, when mother finally found him. He didn't recognize her, even when she lured him to bed, this time voluntarily. She used him, and then drugged him with herbs and locked him in the basement. She cut him carefully, and then tended his wounds with greatest care. She made sure he couldn't scream or run, but she also made sure he feels every cut.

On 20th of March every year, she made a meal of his flesh, for her and their daughters. On the same day, she uses a very special mixture of herbs, making him erected against his will. She rapes him, just the same as he once raped her.

Occasionally, the act results with conception. Mother never visits any doctors, she handles everything alone, with the help of her daughters. How the hell did four years old Diana help her when she gave birth to Luna, I will never understand. But three of us survived. Not everyone had such luck. Mother wanted only girls; boys ended in shoeboxes under the backyard lawn.

Luckily, mother is getting older, so all of us hope there will be no more shoeboxes to bury. And the monster's meat is getting scarce, so any new cut could be his last. If you ask me, that's also good. Damn thing still freaks me out.

We have this thing we do each spring. It bonds our family together; it would be wrong to neglect it.

You should join us sometime.

. . . .

By Zoran Krušvar

22th of April 2020.

 
 

 

 

 

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Lucky Charm ( Mike Bennett )

Posted by Barabal on Tuesday, April 21. 2020 in Holiday Adventures

Lucky Charm

On a visit to South Africa 15 years ago, we visited the town of Dundee, where we decided to visit the local museum. Unfortunately for us - as soon as we set foot inside the place they had a power cut.  We saw a few things of interest in the grounds but missed most of the exhibits.  We then set off for Ladysmith for a cup of coffee and a look round.  On our drive south towards Durban we went on some amazingly straight roads that weren't busy at all.  We even tried a scenic route called the road of 1000 hills.  We got back on to the main road which again was quiet - until we hit Durban around rush hour and the road took on the look of the M25.  Part car park and part lane-swapping high-speed nightmare.  We got safely around the city without a cross word - well, not from me anyway!  

We had booked in to a lovely B&B in a posh suburb outside Durban.  It had a pool and its own private access to the beach.  That night we went out for a curry where we could order whatever heat we wanted.  From mild to very hot.  I thought it best to stick to medium.  Even this was at my limit.  I knew we were in for a 'bottom burner'.  We could even order the heat setting for our Aloo gobi ( spinach and potato ) which back home is completely without heat.  They did have Cobra beer, so I was very happy especially as Jane was going to be the nominated driver that night.  The next day we popped into Durban to check out the sea front and piers.

That night we had our only problem with accommodation.  The owner of the B&B was away and had left her staff to take care of us.  Unfortunately they had no record of our booking - and said that there was no room at the Inn.  We felt like Mary and Joseph.  All we could do was leave and find something else nearby, which we did in about 2-3 minutes.  It was typical, in that every other place I had taken copies of e.mails with me to cover this possibly happening.  For this place I had forgotten, even though I don't think I would have got too far.  Written confirmation of a booking wouldn't beat a no-room-at-the-inn situation.  The new place we found was green.  I think the owner had had a visit from the painter or decorator, who only had one colour chart - and it was green.  There were various shades, but they were all a horrible variation of green.

On our way up North the next day we visited the Hluhluwe Imfolozi National Park ( easy for you to say ) and saw elephants ( or hefelumps as the lovely Janey calls them ), right near us, so that you could hear them munching.  It was awesome.   The loo's in the park were nice and clean but they had the thinnest loo-paper in the world.  It tore in front of your eyes.  You didn't need perforations.  I was left sitting there, looking at a handful of shredded paper and wondering what to do.  I was about to call for Janey, when I managed to obtain about 5 ft of paper and kept on doubling it up, until I couldn't possibly put my finger through it ( hold that thought ).  We went right through the park and out the other side onto a road that changed from tarmac to dirt and back again without any warning.   We were doing 50-60 miles an hour when it changed and I expected Jane to put away her map and take out her course notes and say things like, "over crest, 50 left to 80 right", or whatever it is rally drivers get told, just before the next obstacle.  It was a bit hairy but good fun.  Wooo-Hooo!

That night we stayed at a B&B owned and run by a lady from Paris.  It was very quiet and peaceful.  The day after we had 450km's to cover on our way to Krugar Natiional Park, so we set off early.  The roads were quiet and we passed through some beautiful rolling hills. We stopped for lunch at a pub and I popped into the loo, to be confronted with the largest number of those smelly things in a urinal I have ever seen.  The problem ( there is ALWAYS a problem ) occurred when I flushed it and the water had nowhere to go.  It sloshed over the top and onto my sandals. Oh deep joy.  Jane went into giggling mode when I told her and I had to wash my feet and sandals before we set off again.

We arrived at our hotel about 4pm and because I had been emailing all the accommodation using Jane's nickname of lucky Jane, they were quite often inquisitive as to why Jane was called 'lucky'.  This hotel was the same.  The benefit was we got the best room in the hotel normally reserved for the owner.  It had a sitting room and a huge corner balcony. I told you she was lucky.

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Beyond the Lighthouse ( Costi Gurgu )

Posted by Barabal on Tuesday, April 21. 2020 in Holiday Adventures

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BEYOND THE LIGHTHOUSE AT THE WORLD’S END

Costi Gurgu

 

As the Blood Ship slid silently through the viscous fog, Alexander Vromihene tried to keep himself upright on the swaying deck next to the commander. Behind them, the still ranks of soldiers waited, uniformed head to toe in black, the reality lenses already pulled over their eyes. The murmur of the autistics that piloted the boat drifted up from the ship’s hold below his feet. Beyond hung a heavy silence, as if the sea itself were nothing more than an impression. 

The commander watched the dream-compass. Its wheels and hands had started rotating frantically above its screen. “We’re close,” he whispered.

Somewhere in the mist, a bell tolled. The pus-yellow beam of a lighthouse swept feebly through the threads of fog. A cold hand caught Alexander by his arm. He turned, saw that one of the autistics, a thin child, had climbed up on deck. The child raised white eyes toward him, his hand still on Alexander’s arm as he rocked gently from one foot to the other.

“Prepare yourself for landing,” Alexander translated, voicing the child’s words that formed directly in his brain. “Now!”

Shuddering, the Blood Ship seemed to drop suddenly, the bow melting under their feet as the boat plowed onto the gravel shore. A profound hiss, like a sigh, broke the silence, and the ship withdrew from under their feet, back into the sea. Its hull solidified again. Alexander and the mercenaries stood on the beach at the World’s End, the waves licking their calves.

Alexander glimpsed a stone wall a few steps to their right. A dying sun bled over the clouds’ underbellies. Noiselessly, the mercenaries feel in along the wall. They heard again the lighthouse bell ringing through the fog, and its sickly light swept along the crest of the bluff, high above their heads. Next to him, the commander consulted the dream-compass; its hands showed a maximum dream concentration, somewhere in front of them. The commander moved his men in that direction.

Alexander perceived a heavy breath that surely did not belong to any of the warriors. A blast of wind scattered the fog and he noticed that they were advancing through a canyon, trudging uphill between two steep rock walls. 

Near the left wall, a child sat on a rock, weaving a flower crown. The mercenaries moved past him, picking their way carefully to avoid detection. 

“Do you see that child to your left?” Alexander asked the commander.

“There’s nothing there. Keep close.”

The child waved and called to Alexander, who approached him, glancing over his shoulder to see what his companions were doing. The warriors had stopped behind a tall outcropping near the wall, waiting while the commander sent one of his men forward to scout the area ahead. The commander looked toward Alexander, and ticked his wrist to show him that action time is near. Then, he turned back to his men. 

Alexander observed the child, who did not look as small as he had from farther away. He had the body of a ten-year-old boy, but his head, trembling on his neck like a dandelion in the wind, was two, maybe three times larger than his body. Alexander was amazed that he had not been able to notice this difference from afar. A knotty crutch supported his chin and kept his gigantic head upright on his shoulders. His eyes had black irises. 

The creature smiled. “Welcome to the World’s End!”

It was getting darker; the moment for which they had come to the World’s End was drawing closer.

“Your friends are anxious,” the boy said, still smiling. “Tell them not to wait. They do not need you anymore.”

He was scratching at the skin on his left shoulder with a sharp and bluish nail. Pushing his nail under his skin, he pulled slowly and carefully, peeling a bloody strip of skin free. This he wove into his crown, composed of dried flowers and thistles. Swirling fog rose from the creature’s bloodied flesh.

Alexander’s smile faded as he realized he couldn’t ignore the creature and leave it behind them. He signalled the commander to leave without him. 

“What brings you to the World’s End?” the boy asked in a shrill voice.

Alexander swallowed. “Who are you?” 

“My name is Kakmoxes,” he said with a sigh.

“Do you live on the island, Kakmoxes?”

“Yes, you could say that.”

The mercenaries resumed their stealthy walk. Darkness should find them in the Field beyond the Farm; before night’s end they had to be back on the beach with the loot. That was the understanding they’d reached with the Blood Ship’s pilots.

Alexander looked from the soldiers to Kakmoxes. “How come they do not see you?”

“They see me. Only their minds have decided not to think of me as real.”

“You’re only a dream!” Alexander retreated. He pulled out the reality lenses and placed them over his eyes. 

The child started laughing. “Oh, I’m much more than a dream.”

The lenses showed the little boy in the same place, still clutching the crown in his blunt little fingers, their skin grey, wrinkled, and ulcerous. His eyes were the color of swamp water. His laugh revealed two rows of yellow fangs, spotted with grey.

“So, what brings you so far from your world?” he asked Alexander Vromihene again.

There was no turning back now. He might as well play Kakmoxes’ game, whoever the creature was. “I am an imagus. I have been hired as interpreter in Lord Bureba’s expedition to the World’s End.”

“An imagus earns too much in his trade in the Tuve citadels to risk his skin as a simple interpreter on a looting expedition to other worlds,” Kakmoxes countered, still grinning.

“And you know too much for a child living on an island isolated from the rest of the worlds.”

“What Tuva are you from?” Kakmoxes asked.

“I came from Zegetuva, from the Ion World. If I tell you what I’m looking for here, will you tell me what you are and what you’re doing here?”

“That’s a good deal,” agreed Kakmoxes.

The foggy mist had dispersed, revealing a barren, rocky hill at the end of the canyon. Beyond the hill he could see the Farm building, dark and somber, silent and lifeless. The Dream Reapers didn’t work in the Field until midnight. The mercenaries picked up the pace. They too had seen the Farm and they knew that behind it lay the target of their expedition—the Dream Fields.

“I don’t understand why you don’t alert your fellows,” Alexander said.

“The Dream thieves are the Guardians’ business. If the thieves succeed in stealing anything and getting away, then the Guardians didn’t do their job and they would pay with their blood. It’s a simple world.” Kakmoxes skinned himself again and started twining another strip throughout the thistles. Now it became even clearer to Alexander that his journey couldn’t go around the creature. It could really help him or leave him at the mercy of the Guardians.

“In truth I wouldn’t have had a reason to accept this job,” said Alexander. “But more than a year and a half ago I started having strange dreams. The first time I met the most ravishing woman I have ever seen. Beauty has many faces, but she was the embodiment of beauty. She was, I realized later, the love of my life. It’s not a reason thing, it’s something from inside me. It was burning me and I was helpless.”

Alexander smiled sadly. His refined features looked tired. He lifted long-fingered, manicured hands to remove his reality lenses and looked at the child. Without the lenses, Kakmoxes’ skin again appeared pink and smooth.

“I don’t know where her world is, although I looked for its location in all the libraries of Zegetuva. I don’t know who the beautiful stranger is, although her name was written in my blood a long time ago.”

“The blood memory is the language of truth,” the child whispered.

“After many such nights, I dreamt that I would have to come to the Lighthouse at the World’s End to meet her… to meet Isabel—her name, revealed in one of my latest dreams. She’s a Vorba, a word sorceress, as I understood, and it’s strange how two people with such complementary skills should meet in dreams!” He licked his dry lips, then continued: “I know that it’s a foolish thing to do, chasing a dream with no real foundation. I won’t be surprised to find out that she doesn’t really exist. But, I fear, I’m the victim of a dreamplot. I cannot fight it! Did I have a choice? Yes, I could’ve ask a dream shaman to exorcise my demons, yet I chose not to… Eventually, I left for the adventure of my life. Only I am from the Ion World, an endless world. So, I hired myself out as an interpreter for Lord Bureba, to guide his mercenaries through Petrator. There we bought a map of the Sorrow Ocean from St. Peter himself, so we could cross the Petrator world and reach its end, here. I couldn’t have reached this shore alone.”

“Why did you use the autistics?”

“Traveling in Petrator is impossible without the autistics! Their blood is the only fuel that works in that world.”

“That’s only if you go by St. Peter’s rule. There are other more civilized ways.”

“Perhaps there are. It’s your turn now.”

The mercenaries had disappeared beyond the rocky hill. A light appeared in one of the Farm’s windows. Kakmoxes finished weaving the flowers and the thistles. He spat in one of his palms and rubbed the phlegm over the open ends of the crown, creating a grey paste with which to stick them together. Then, smiling, he turned his eyes to Alexander:

“I am of the Zalm. I am the God of Dreams and Mists. I was that even before St. Peter laid the foundation stones of Petrator. I traffic dreams in the entire cluster of the Median Worlds.”

“You are the Dreams Master?” Alexander whispered. His blood ran cold.

“Some call me that. But do not be afraid. I told you that the Guardians take care of the Dream thieves, not me. And you are not a thief. You are my guest here. You came for different reasons to the World’s End.”

“Could I look for Isabel on your island?”

“It is a pity that you came too late.”

“I don’t understand!”

“I have met Isabel. She came here too, and not surprisingly, she was looking for you.”

Alexander kept quiet, still confused.

“You arrived three centuries too late,” the child finished in a quivering voice.

Alexander Vromihene felt the world whirling around him, losing its substance. He swallowed dryly. He did not know . . . 

From beyond the hill came the first screams. The mercenaries had probably met the Guardians. The screams went on for a long time.

“I have a solution for you,” said Kakmoxes.

The imagus was trembling. From the steamy blackness he heard the wailing voices of the Dream thieves, filled with suffering and desperation.

“Ignore them. From the sound of it, they have met the Mother of Dreams. That means they did not come here only to steal Dreams, but to venture directly to their source.” He slowly shook his giant head. “The arrogance and ignorance of humans. That is what has always fascinated me about you.”

Suddenly singing of angels fell from the skies. The screams faded and eventually ended in groans and gurgles. The voices intertwined with the wailing, the song of the macabre choir swirling in the steamy darkness, licking downhill, toward the sands and the sea.

“Ah, the Reapers are waking.” Kakmoxes sighed with visible pleasure.

At the sound of the angelic voices, tears streamed involuntarily down Alexander’s cheeks. The child-god gathered a few strands of his curly hair and stuffed them into the man’s ears. Alexander breathed deeply and fell trembling to his knees.

“Isabel came here more than three hundred years ago,” said Kakmoxes. “She crossed the Dream Fields and went farther than the World’s End, into the Beyond. It was the only way to meet you. I will teach you how to cross the Fields and pass into Beyond. There you will find her, waiting for you.”

“She’s been waiting for centuries?”

“There is no time in Beyond.”

“It could be you, who trapped me with a dreamplot!” said Alexander with a hint of anger in his voice.

“It could be”, Kakmoxes agreed.

“I should go back right now!”

“Yes, you should, and then where’s the higher purpose?”

“What is my higher purpose?”

“How do you know is not Isabel your purpose? There is only one way to find out—continue your journey and discover what awaits you at its end.” 

Alexander watched him, full of doubt. “To cross into the World’s Beyond, one must die first.”

“Do not be afraid of death. It does not exist.”

“You, Zalm’s gods, were deities of beginnings, forces of creation. That is, until God replaced you all.”

“What you just said makes no sense. God did not replace anybody. No, we were near to you until God forbade creation to others, reserving the privilege only for himself. Then death gained consistency and context. We have remained gods of creation despite the new order, but our worlds have now become the ephemeral stuff of dreams.”

“If death has gained consistency, that means it exists, doesn’t it? How can you tell me to cross into the World Beyond for there is no death, when even you admit that now it has gained consistency and context?”

Kakmoxes produced another crutch and leaned his forehead upon it. He regarded Alexander with sadness. “It is a matter of faith. You had the faith to come all the way to the World’s End to find your soul mate, and yet now there is no faith left in you to cross beyond the World’s End for your love.”

“I believe in my love and my destiny, and I also believe there is a higher purpose in my travelling, but Beyond . . . ”

“Then take this crown and wear it when you cross the Fields of Dreams. It will protect you from the Reapers, should you meet them—but not from the Mother of Dreams, or the Guardians.”

Alexander rose from where he crouched on the sand. He put the reality lenses back over his eyes. Then he took the little crown Kakmoxes held out and placed it on his head. It melted straight into his hair. 

Kakmoxes pulled two fangs from his putrid gums and thrust them into Alexander’s forehead. “These will defend you against the Guardians. The only advice I still have is to avoid the Mother, and resist temptations. The Dreams in the Field are not for you.”

As soon as they touched his forehead, the god’s fangs grew into a pair of pointed horns. Alexander felt other bones growing in his shoulders, on his arms, in his elbows, from his shoulder blades. They produced smaller horns, like sharp teeth.

The first moon was high in the sky. The second moon rose in its turn, spreading a greenish reflection over the sea’s waters that mingled with the silvery strip cast by the first one.

 

Alexander clambered over the hill at the end of the canyon and saw the Farm ahead, all its windows lit. He remembered the desperate screams of the mercenaries and shuddered, a knot of fear tightening in his plexus. To the left, on the stony bluffs, the lighthouse tower rose. He chose the winding road passing by the lighthouse’s crumbling white stone, eaten by salt and humidity. Swirls of steam clung in its cracks like cotton snagged on dry skin. At the base of the tower, the Field with Dreams began. A white mist covered it like a fallen sky. He could hear the sea breaking on the rocks at the base of the bluffs. Full dark had fallen, but there still was almost an hour to midnight, the Reapers’ hour.

He breathed deeply, swallowing his fear, and started running across the Field. The crop was heavy, and he heard the thick and tangled growth tearing as he advanced, the soft, cold substance giving like rotten cloth. He ran in a constant rhythm, trying to maintain his direction by keeping the Farm at his back. 

Despite the god’s hair in his ears, he heard a strange noise, like insects buzzing; like a giant cloud of mosquitoes. He tried to ignore it, tried to maintain the same rhythm in his running but already felt his side cramping. His soft, glamorous life was showing its effects. Too much drinking, too many wasted nights . . . 

A line of small, shuddering lights appeared on the horizon. He stopped and stared, breathing with difficulty. He looked back, but couldn’t see the Farm anymore. Only the lighthouse’s arc, like a blunt blade slicing the steam rising from the ground. The first moon was at its apex. He pressed his palm over the painful area in his side and inhaled deeply, trying to regulate his breathing. The buzzing grew louder as the line of little lights approached.

If he went back now, he would bump into the Reapers. They were probably already on the Field. If he continued on, he would meet the lights, what must surely be the Guardians. And over all these dangers hung his physical weakness.

Oh, Kakmoxes, god of futility! he thought, panicking. What use could these little teeth growing from my skin have now! 

What choice did he have but to run toward the Guardians. Getting closer, he began seeing details. Their bodies were vaguely human, their skin spotted and dirty. Their mouths were mere slits in wide faces, bisecting half their heads. Needle-thin fangs protruded from under thick, bluish lips. Thousands of pairs of small, translucent insect wings sprang from their backs and arms, whirring rapidly to keep their bloated bodies airborne and moving forward with great speed. The small wings emitted a reddish light, traces of which remained in the air behind them. 

Alexander stopped. In a few seconds the Guardians would meet him. He forgot the pain in his side, forgot to breathe. He threw himself to the ground, under the white fog of the Dreams, and tried to become part of the soil. The buzz of thousands of wings grew louder. Squeezing his eyes shut, he thrust his fingers into the churned soil. The noise passed overhead, then faded. When he was sure that the monsters were far enough away, he remembered to breathe. He inhaled greedily, then sputtered, fearfully spitting dream seeds and dirt from his mouth. “Resist temptation!” Kakmoxes had warned him. 

He had avoided the Guardians! He rose to his knees, still spitting frantically and laughing. As he shut his mouth, his teeth cracked a seed he had not felt. He started choking, feeling warmth in his body as a sweet taste spread over his tongue. The night began to brighten around him, washed in soft colours. With a last effort of will before surrendering to the Dream he spat again, sending the troublesome seed into the carpeting fog. I only cracked it, not broken it completely! Normal darkness returned and with it, a faint whirring. 

A few steps away, one of the Guardians detached itself from the darkness. Several blurred beats of its wings, and the distance between them melted away. The monster’s mouth opened, exposing the needle-sharp teeth that rapidly grew to resemble long sickles as it got closer.

Panic overwhelmed Alexander and with it, fury at his powerlessness. In response, the divine teeth planted under his skin burst out and turned into huge stakes and blades. The Guardian attacked. He heard its fangs clang on his horns, then groaned and with the last of his strength, swung desperately with his thorny arms.

He stopped when he realized he was hitting only the air—his enemy lay somewhere under the blanketing fog. Drops of black blood hung suspended on the fog’s surface. The horns had withdrawn under his skin. He breathed raggedly. He was alone. It was quiet. And dark in every direction. He did not know where he had come from or where was he going.

Trying to contain his nausea, he watched the surroundings for a long time. The landscape was again barren and dark. Gradually he perceived, vaguely, the vibration of the Guardians’ wings. His heart thumping violently in his chest, Alexander looked around. He could not see them yet. He shut his eyes and concentrated. After a few seconds he opened them, turned his head to the left, and discerned a line of small reddish dots.

He started running in the opposite direction, hoping his lungs wouldn’t burn anymore, his side wouldn’t cramp. How far could the World’s End be? He ran without thinking, trying to keep a constant rhythm to his footsteps and his breathing. He ran for what seemed a whole night, but the whirring continued to grow inexorably louder—closer. They would catch him if he didn’t reach his destination soon. Don’t think about it. Just breath and run until you reach the end. He ached in his back, his loins, his shoulders, but his legs still pumped, pushing him forward.

He tripped and fell like a tree trunk, clearing a path through the Dreams. He pushed back to his feet and heard the whirring—very close. From the corner of his eye he saw the reddish light of the Guardians’ wings and he flung himself onto his belly under the fog blanket.

After several long seconds, he realized that the buzzing was constant; it was not going away. He raised his head above the fog and looked over his shoulder. The Guardians were aligned in a row two steps behind him. They watched him expressionlessly, their huge mouths working, gnashing their teeth. The frenzy of thousands of wings spread fiery light through the air.

He rose, shuddering and panting, groaning with pain, and watched them, amazed. What were they waiting for? He was theirs. He didn’t have the strength to defend himself anymore. 

Something struck his back, unbalancing him; he took an involuntary step forward. He stopped a palm’s length away from the Guardians, so close he could smell their sickly sweet odour, like rotten flesh. A blast of cold air froze his cheeks. The jaws of the closest monster snapped ineffectually toward him. 

Hearing a noise behind him, he jumped aside, but couldn’t avoid a second blow. He saw nobody as he rolled, but felt the air moving as something passed. It felt like a ghost was hitting him with a shovel. A few steps farther away from the Guardians, he rose. Behind him, the invisible shovel hit the ground twice; he heard the sharp edge slicing into the dirt. He tore the reality lenses from his eyes and saw a dishevelled gravedigger pulling a shovel back toward him. 

He looked around and screamed in despair. He had left behind the Field of Dreams, escaped the Guardians’ wrath, and entered the Wild Plane, the expanse at the World’s End where wild dreams grew under no god’s control.

#

After an eternity of fighting, Alexander fell to his knees.

He’d been surrounded by all the nightmares ever experienced by every human on every world in every universe. Panic had activated the teeth Kakmoxes had planted under his skin, and his body had become a killing machine. He had run, walked, then crawled all night and the following day, through mist and foul steam. Under a feeble sun suffocated by clouds, through rain and thistles, past the screams and groans of the dying, through the black blood and the thorny flesh of the wild Dreams he’d come—

To the World’s End, hovering on the lip of emptiness, an earthen rise covered by brambles that stretched from one end of the horizon to the other. The fog wouldn’t cross it; it wavered on the periphery, licking at the nothingness. 

He knelt there for a long time. Just breathing and existing. “Don’t be afraid of death. There is no death,” Kakmoxes had told him.

“I don’t know what to believe anymore, Kakmoxes!” he cried hoarsely.

It surely was a one-way trip beyond the end. Kakmoxes’ childlike voice played over and over again in his mind: “Do not be afraid of death . . . ” 

Alexander rose. He looked around in the evening gloom, at the thistles, the hill of dirt, the darkness beyond the World’s End. He drew a deep breath and took the last step over the lip of the world.

#

He was floating somewhere he could not see, or fell, or hear. He tried to shout, but the empty space around him absorbed the sound. He was in the World Beyond, which in fact did not exist. He was in nothingness. He had defied reason, abandoned his faith in his God and life after death, to find Isabel, to be together with her in Beyond. And now he was alone and nothing existed around him. He had lost everything! He abandoned himself to despair.

In nothingness there was no time, so Kakmoxes said. But his internal clock marked the passing of time even without any external stimuli. I am the only thing to exist in nothingness! he realized, and the idea terrified him. He fell into an even deeper despair.

At an indeterminate point he realized he was hungry. He started to cry, exasperated to find the tears would not stream normally down his cheeks, but floated in the air around his face. He imagined they were raindrops, fat and heavy, part of a late autumn rain that pattered around him. He loved autumn. He especially liked it in the big cities, where the rain wet the stones and the bricks, in that orangey-grey light of a rainy evening. 

He opened his eyes and noticed with stupefaction that it was raining—fat, heavy drops fell from the darkness above. The space around him had begun to brighten, the light reddish-grey like an autumn dusk. He started to laugh—of course! He was an imagus. He created images, visual realities for others’ needs. Why not for himself?

He imagined a street with rain-wet cobblestones, lined with the brick facades of houses with tall, shining windows and shingled roofs. Lamps lit the street every five steps. And at the end of the road . . . 

He sighed heavily. At the end of the road should have been Isabel. He shut his eyes and remembered the images from his dreams—the tanned skin, the red hair falling in heavy curls over her naked shoulders, her large, wide green eyes, her high and prominent cheekbones painted with freckles, her full red lips. Isabel was an angel. His feelings could not be implanted in his brain.

He opened his eyes, feeling that no matter what he might create in the World Beyond, he would never be able to fill the emptiness left by the absence of his love . . . 

Who stood at the end of the street, looking around in confusion. She had grey wings of fog grown on her back. 

“You’re here!” she whispered.

You’re here!” he replied overwhelmed.

“I’ve waited three centuries for you.” Her eyes were dark and staring. He froze.

“No. How would you?”

“Sometimes I lost faith, but deep inside I knew you wouldn’t abandon me.”

They hugged fiercely. Her wings were warm and had no substance, yet they kept their form consistent. She flapped them once then folded them around her body. He realized that was raining no more. He inhaled her scent greedily—then stopped. Her hair smelled stale, like something kept too long in a drawer. He looked into her eyes. It was her, as beautiful as she’d been in his first dream, yet changed. She had not aged a single day, but she no longer possessed the freshness and the cheerfulness he remembered from his dreams. She seemed harsh and sad. Somehow, hidden inside the flesh, only the memory of her surfacing.

Her fingers traced the contour of his face, then his head jerked as her palm struck his left cheek. He did not know how to react. A strange light shone in her eyes. The wings flapped splashing fog around. A second blow, lightning fast, burned his right cheek. He retreated, his heart beating fast.

“Do you know how long three centuries is?”

He looked around, alarmed. She was what was left of Isabel after centuries of nothingness.

“I stayed here in darkness, in silence, for three hundred years—three thousand six hundred months, one hundred and eight thousand days, two million five hundred and ninety-two thousand hours . . . ”

“I now know with certainty that it was Kakmoxes who put the dreamplot on us. He deceived us. I was born more than two centuries after you,” Alexander tried to reason with her. He caught her hands in a tender gesture, partly to show her he had arrived, that he was here with her now, partly to prevent her from hitting him.

“Nobody told me I have to wait three hundred years. In darkness.” 

“There is no time in the World Beyond!” he tried. “He told me…”

“In silence!

Alexander hoped to see tears moistening her eyes. He could deal with tears. But her eyes were dry. They shone strangely. 

In despair!” Her shout filled the street and splattered his face with saliva. She kicked him in the leg.

Gritting his teeth against the pain, Alexander released her hands and limped a few steps back. He understood. 

She was staring down the street. Her eyes emptied. Her red hair, he noticed now, had faded; it was now a dusty, dull brown. And her skin was a translucent white, crisscrossed by veins and spotted with freckles. She was still beautiful, but in a way that froze the blood in your veins. Her wings enveloped her protectively in a cocoon of fog. 

“I made this street for us!” he tried.

“That’s the street where I live,” he continued and his voice trembled.

“Street…” she finally whispered and in that moment he felt the street existing beyond his will, gaining a material reality.

Kakmoxes. A god of the Zalm, with no right to create worlds. Alexander understood now—this was his revenge upon the God. Kakmoxes had smuggled an Imagus and a Vorba, into the World Beyond, a nonexistent world beyond the End of God’s World — two people with the talent and the power to create a world outside God’s jurisdiction. A last act of rebellion by the old gods.

Alexander took Isabel in his arms. He only hoped he had not lost her completely, that somewhere in her scrambled mind there was still the sweet, kind Isabel of three centuries past. “Hush now,” he whispered. “I’ll take care of you.”

They walked to the end of the street and stopped in front of the darkness. The imagus imagined a field with flowers and trees, and in the middle of it a wooded hill. “Clearing,” he whispered in her ear.

“Clearing,” she repeated, and the landscape started to live.

He imagined a big house on top of the hill, with paned windows and white walls. He surrounded it with a tall and strong fence. He opened the gate and they entered the clearing. Under their feet appeared a gravel path. It ended in a stone stair at the hill’s foot. “Home,” he whispered.

“Home,” she repeated with dry eyes.

Yes, they were finally home. And he had to make sure that this Eva of the Beyond couldn’t wander into the darkness and get lost, while he was away building their world.

END

 
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A Night to Remember ( Lizzie )

Posted by Barabal on Tuesday, April 21. 2020 in Holiday Adventures

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A Night to Remember 

The doors of the backpackers' hostel in Varkala by the Arabian Sea were all facing inwards to one central, communal gathering space. This focal point contained a fire pit where folks would hangout to eat, drink and relax. I was due to fly out from India at 5 a.m. the following morning at Trivandrum Airport. Down at the tuk-tuk rank I arranged for a driver to collect me at 3 a.m. I mentioned to him it’s really important to be on time so I could catch my flight. “Yes, yes, I will be there, I won’t forget. Ok, no problem!” he said. I went back to the hostel where lines of crows on telegraph poles greeted me with their shrieks and squawks. Come three o’clock in the morning, there was no driver, no tuk-tuk, and it was eerily quiet. Not a sound was stirring. Even the crows were asleep. What to do? There was nobody about. Luckily the hostel owner lived on site, and I went to his room. At first I knocked quietly on his door. Nothing happened. So getting stressed, I knocked harder. Eventually, he came to the door half asleep in his striped pyjamas. He was a man of 55 to 60 years of age, kind looking and inoffensive in appearance. Sleepily he rubbed his eyes, bringing his vision into focus, and saw me standing frantically in his doorway. “I’m sorry” said I and explained to him what had happened. Very calmly and serenely, as if this were an everyday occurrence, he offered to take me on his motorbike to the main road where a taxi or tuk-tuk could be easily obtained. “Oh!” I said dumbfounded as I followed him slowly to his motorbike. “The only thing there’s a problem,” he said. “There are no lights on my motorbike, they don’t work,” he warned me. “Oh! How will it work then for you to take me to the main road,” I replied. “If you trust me, we will get there, the stars will provide some light, and I know the terrain very well”, he proudly said. “I will negotiate the tracks slowly, and you must hold on tight to me,” he advised. I had no choice, so I mounted the bike with this kind old Indian man, my hand-luggage wedged behind me, and held onto his pyjama top loosely. He started the engine and off we went. Then he said, “get closer to me, so that there is no gap between us, and lean with the tilt of the bike”. He said that we must be as one to manoeuvre across the uneven tracks. So I moved closer and put my arms around his generous midriff. I wasn’t afraid; it felt warm and comforting. He was taking care of me, going out of his way in the middle of the night. I felt an overwhelming thankfulness towards this kind old man. Eventually we got to the main road, where our eyes adjusted to the light. There in front of us stood the tuk-tuks lined up waiting for customers. I hugged and thanked the old man; he had humbled me with his kindness. I watched him as he rode off into the night in his striped pyjamas. Thanks to him, I caught my plane on time. I have never forgotten this experience or what he did for me.

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Neighbourhood Listen ( Tom Williams )

Posted by Barabal on Saturday, April 18. 2020 in Holiday Adventures

 

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Neighbourhood Listen

We’re in Buenos Aires, where we’ve rented an apartment in the old district of San Telmo.

“Please don’t have any parties,” the owner said. “There are families with children in the block.”

We can see what he means. There are, indeed, children in the building. The house has probably been around well over a hundred years and pre-dates any ideas of sound insulation between floors. Plus our apartment, like many in these parts, is built around its own courtyard, a boon on hot days but an arrangement that means that the happy sound of children’s laughter carries into our new home easily enough to confirm that what our landlord says is true.

It’s all very South American. In a country where children seem to be seen as a blessing rather than an irritating interruption to career progression, it’s all to be expected and really quite charming.

What we didn’t expect was the clear evidence that, in a city where adults enjoy a famously enthusiastic nightlife, the children, too, never seem to sleep.

The cheery trill of children’s voices seems as likely to be heard at 1.00 am as any other time. And what are they doing up there, immediately above our bed? Hammering is just hammering, I suppose, and if you took a siesta during European notions of a sensible time to hammer, then you might want to catch up with DIY in the middle of the night. But wouldn’t it be easier to rearrange the furniture by daylight?

Some of the sounds defy interpretation. That scratch-scratch-scratch, that had me wonder if there were rodents hiding in the walls may, I suppose, be someone laying carpets – but it does seem unlikely, though with the furniture moving, it might be possible. But why the formation marching? How many people are there up there? Not just the children, of course, for adults come in for animated conversations at random hours through the night and, from the tone of voice, these are not the angry chidings of parents desperate for sleep, but adults calmly discussing the sort of family matters that absolutely, positively, must be discussed at 3.00 am.

If they are aware of the sounds downstairs (and I suppose they can’t fail to be), they probably have similar questions about our tango based lifestyle. Why are there never any signs of life in the morning? And why do they hear us falling into bed anytime between midnight and 5.00 am? But the only reason they can ask these questions is because they are awake to notice. At 5.00 I hear feet by the bed upstairs (the pattern of the footsteps has given me a fair idea of the geography of the room above ours). Is our mysterious neighbour, like us, just settling down for the night, or are they waking to make a start on one of their many jobs? (People often need to hold down several jobs just to survive in the nightmare that is the Argentine economy.) I fall asleep myself before the footsteps gives me a clue as to the answer.

In London the absence of any notion of privacy, at least as far as audible intrusions go, would drive me mad. Here, though, I find it all strangely soothing. I lie, barely awake, as some sort of family conference starts overhead. Perhaps they are arguing about where to put the armchair. I hear it set off scraping across the floor and then, already, I am asleep.

 

 
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