Poetry-Thing Thursday: Ain’t Life Grand?

Electric light.
Supersonic flight.
Pitch-black night.
Heart-attack fright.

Let ink flow.
Be in-the-know.
Take it fast or slow.
Leave room to grow.

Waste time on the mundane.
Be less the sane.
Walk with a gilded cane.
Make love, naked in rain.

Forget the present.
Live in the moment.
The past’s atonement,
assures future proponent.

Usher in good things.
Ensure your inner-darkness rings.
Learn what freedom brings,
Often spread your wings.

Pick your poison,
with some poise, son.
Turn the noise on,
and be the loud one.

Whatever you choose–
play to win or lose,
or to beat the blues,
just keep an eye off the news.

This world is ours.
We are its powers.
Making waves so history sours,
with our faces carved in marble towers–

Above the land.
Atop the sand.
Together we stand.
Ain’t life grand?

Bonus Poem: We and the Feeble

Mountains crumble beneath our feet,
we march on the morrow,
what an a-mazing feat.
That we and the feeble,
have managed to beat,
the collective ensemble,
into hasty retreat.

The world of war,
that’s broken with sorrow,
above it we soar,
we and the feeble,
well-known to more,
than those we resemble,
as the masters that from it tore
peace and serenity,
for the brazen and poor.

The seas that run red,
twist and turn, borrow,
the bodies of dead,
from we and the feeble,
whom left them instead,
of stayed to assemble,
as the vigilant fled,
after their sanity,
as away their feet sped,
away from the battle,
with arms shielding head.

We stand in victory,
once more certain that ‘morrow,
will rise as we see,
that we and the feeble,
know nothing but to be free,
from that horrid ensemble,
that we ever let flee,
with hearts gripped by vanity,
them unlike us, to be
beneath death and its terrifying rattle,
That was our plea,
to ensure that the able and feeble alike,
no longer for them, took knee.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: But a Whisper.

It Begins,
as always,
with a whisper.
Then like tendrils,
unfurling in the Earth,
the whisper echoes.

It becomes,
a ripple,
in a lake–
emanates outward in waves,
to flow along rivers,
that meet an ocean downstream.

There those waves,
become a tsunami,
that across a sea of time,
floods land with the strength,
of a billion new whispers.

Only after,
can the waters recede.
Evaporate.
To fall once more,
into the ocean,
and ripple all over again.

So here I stand,
across time,
with a whisper,
perched on my lips.

If I spoke,
the water would ripple,
and you across time,
would feel my strength.
Devotion of spirit.
And certainty of mind–

That it takes but a whisper,
to conquer,
the oceans, the rivers, and time.

Bonus Short Story: The Wound Thus Healed

A great sickness ravaged a group of tribals in the middle of an angry winter. Each day that the men rose to hunt game, they returned later, most often in fewer numbers. The women would leave to gather what few nuts and berries still grew in the freezing temperatures. At least one or two would not return, their bounties lost with them. The few that managed to survive both parties, would end up confined to a pair of huts, the fires in their centers stoked by the tribe’s Shaman.

He wore a garb of animal furs, white tattoos across his face and body, and carried a walking stick to aide his hobbled gait. Each morning and night he would stand beside the beds of the ill and dying, chanting his healing magics with mantras from the back of his throat. His two apprentices would remain beside him, eyes cast downward in prayer as the guttural sounds billowed robustly over distant screams from the wind. Even so, his power was not great enough, and none of his sparse humors or poultices seemed to help.

He was forced to make a trek in search of aid, leave his apprentices to observe the rituals. Through the driving winds and snow, he planted each step with unshakable faith, determination. First, to the North, to seek the spirit of the mountain and plead with it for guidance and mercy. The mountain was high, had taken the lives of many men and women in his lifetime alone. Like his people, he knew it had a wrath and beauty that entwined in one another, was as unshakable as his own determination to find a cure.

He stood at the foot of the mountain, prayed in silence for the Great Mountain Spirit to hear him. It did not reply. Such was the nature of it that many times the mountain was spiteful toward man. The Shaman could do little more than turn away after a day’s prayers, ready to weep at the losses his people suffered. He collected what few herbs and roots were to be found at the Mountain’s feet, grateful for what little the blessing the spirit had bestowed in the lateness of the season.

He turned next for the East, trekked through the forests filled with deer, rabbits, and the occasional wolf. In the distance, each of their heads rose at him in time. The deer’s eyes were frightful. The rabbit’s spine was cowardly. The wolf licked its lips with a sniff of the air. Still not one of them found him of interest, not even enough to run from. So rotten were the stenches of sickness and death on him that even the wolf turned its eyes away in respect. The Shaman was grateful that the forest had let him pass unhindered, unharmed. His people needed him, would not survive without their Shaman’s eventual return.

The Shaman then reached the hills, where even in the gray of winter the highest peaks graced the sky with a serene bliss. Upon the highest hill, he planted his staff and knelt to pray once more. This time, he pled with the sky to repeal its harsh proclamation of winter to lessen the people’s suffering, prevent the rest of the hunters and gatherers from contracting the sickness in the cold. Again there was no reply– and this time neither herbs nor roots. Still, he thanked the sky for its past blessings, and left.

He trekked back Westward, through the forests. The animals were nowhere to be found. He found no solace in the fact, but still thanked forest for allowing him to pass unharmed once more. Beyond it, he continued West, for a river that ran even in the harshness of the winter. He followed its winding pathways to a clearing where stones were laid out for tribal meetings. In their center, her sat to face the river, and prayed that the Great River Spirit once more nourish his people with life-giving water. In it, he asked for there to be something which might heal the sick, dying. He drank of the river only to sense that his prayers had once more gone unanswered.

He wept at the river’s edge.

All of the Great Spirits had abandoned them, unwilling to aid them through the harshest winter they cast upon the tribe. Though the Shaman’s people revered him as a great healer, and master of the white-magics, he knew it to be merely the concoctions created from the blessings of these great spirits. His only magic was that which allowed him to keep the secret confined to himself and his apprentices.

When he rose from the river’s edge, he trekked back eastward only to stop where his three sets of tracks led from the mountain, the forest and hills, and the running river. There was but one pathway left to him; the South, past his own people and toward those with whom they had so often warred. Were he not in such dire need, he might have never considered it. After all, they were usually hostile, and with good reason. Were he to fall at seeking respite, with him might go any hope his tribe had. He could not bear to think of the ills that would be suffered without him. But neither could he bare to watch his people die knowing he had not done all he could.

He walked South, skirted the tribe’s edge so that they might not have the moment of false-hopes his supposed return would bring. His path continued away from his village toward his rivals’. At its edge were no guards. Even in the season it was unusual. The Shaman’s tribe had no guards posted either, but only as a result of the sickness that ravaged it. He continued into the village’s interior and found their people, like his, scattered in states of sickness. The ill, dying, and dead told a similar story to that of the Shaman’s village. The sickness was here too.

He entered the hut of the black-tattooed tribal Shaman that had, for so long, been his rival. Like himself, the other man had healed the wounds of more than a few of the injured in their fighting. He was as competent as the white-tattooed Shaman himself.

He found the black-tattooed Shaman tending to his people as he had, waited beside the fire for the guttural chants and mantras to end. Then, with a swivel, the black-tattooed Shaman met the other’s eyes over the dance of a fire between them.

“It is here as well,” the first Shaman said. The second gave a nod. The first spoke again, “I have just been to ask the Great Spirits for aid. The Mountain, Sky, and River do not reply.”

The second Shaman responded, “I too have spoken with them, been refused replies as you.”

“They are angry then,” the first Shaman surmised. Again the second nodded.

Then, with a small gesture, the second Shaman drew the first to his side, then lowered his head to pray. Unsure of his intentions, the first also prayed– if only to show his own, peaceful intentions. The dual guttural sounds synchronized in harmony over the pain of the afflicted. For many hours they chanted their prayers and mantras, neither Shaman certain of why the other kept their peaceful bent.

It was late in the evening, after the sun had sunk and the stars rose, that the first man rose from his death-bed. The black-tattooed Shaman’s-apprentices made sounds of surprise, shock, leapt back with a start. The first Shaman opened his eyes, though he would not stop his chants, to see something miraculous: The man lived. He had been near death, drawing his last breaths when the white-tattooed Shaman entered the hut. It was miraculous the man had lived this long. That he now stood beside the bed to thank the Shamans and weep, was unbelievable. Still the Shamans prayed, chanted, heads bowed and eyes once more closed.

In time, each of the afflicted once more re-took their feet, no longer ill and now reinvigorated. When the Black-tattooed Shaman’s village was cured, he followed the other back to his village. As before, they took a place in the hut where the worst of the sick and dying were held. It was not long after, that they too, were all healed. Both men thanked one another after the last of the sick once more returned to their families. The white-tattooed Shaman then asked of the second what he believed had changed the Spirits’ minds.

The black-tattooed Shaman put a hand to his shoulder, his eyes and voice level, “The Great Spirits were angry… with us. For all the pain that our peoples have caused one another.”

The white-tattooed Shaman understood, “And it was our penance to seek brotherhood in one another if we wished to heal our sick and dying.”

The second Shaman gave a nod, “We are stronger together, the Spirits know–” he put a closed fist over his heart. “Brother.”

The first Shaman bowed his head, clenched a fist over his heart in turn. The Great Spirits did not wish to spite either tribe, but rather bring them together the only way they could: through their medicine men. In healing the sick, they too healed the wounds that had separated brother from brother, sister from sister, family and friend alike. The wound thus healed, a new era of peace and cooperation could begin.

Bonus Story: Stronger Without Them

Cold wind whipped snow and ice in drifts across a plain of white mounds and frozen boot-prints. The mounds were the size of a man tall, five or six men wide, and spotted the horizon for countless miles. The man was clad in furred leathers, well-insulated from the cold with only thick, wild hair and beard to shield his face. He planted each step with a stone’s determination. It made his resolve immovable. His head was kept upward, eyes small, squinted against the snow that pelted and plastered his face and furs, coated him with a fine layer.

His people had a legend, one that made the trek all the more unavoidable: if a man were to seek to rectify the past, he must first risk his future, his life, in the mounded flats. Only once he made it through, could he hope to seek out recompense for the slaughter of his wife and children. He made the journey alone, as a man should, was certain he would die before he found refuge in the Gods’ embrace. He refused to listen to reason from those in his tribe; the invaders, they said, were the ones to blame.

But he blamed the Gods. For millennia, their tribe had lived the way of the righteous, their gratitude and sacrifices never late nor without due praise or ritual. They had given to the Gods all that had been requested, earned nothing but their contempt in the process. He’d had enough. He was man, and no God– gracious or not– would keep him from seeking his bounty. The righteousness that compelled him forward was just as it had always been; with conviction of spirit, character.

The Gods had let the invaders come. In any case, had not prevented it. In the harsh of Winter, when their ardor was already dampened, his tribe had been half-slaughtered by the invaders clad in their fierce battle armor. With sword and musket alike, they pillaged, plundered, raped and conquered all they’d seen. It was only after their leader, in his bear skins and helm, was killed that the tribe had finally withdrawn.

The snows of the village were stained crimson like the hands of the Gods that had neither prevented nor appeared during the massacre to stop it. The seasonal perma-frost had been breached by the pyres of a dozen men, their women and children. What few did not die by the sword wished they had. Only the fear of reprisal in the after-life kept them from turning their weapons upon themselves. The echoes of men and their families wrenched billowed cries for absolution through the blizzard that came after the battle.

But he would no longer stand for it. They had done all the Gods had asked of them, more even, in the promise that the Gods would watch after them, protect them. They had failed. He would not. Once he found them, he would paint the hallowed grounds of their hidden refuge with their blood. He would bury his sword in their bellies for every life lost and given in vain. Then, satisfied with the carnage, he would turn the sword on himself to die alone, the Gods vanquished and his work done.

He had fought the cold and the snows for five days to cross the flats. Like others of his tribe, he’d taken to resting only to conserve his strength, eat stored morsels and drink from a water-skin. He was no fool, knew not to take the journey lightly. If he did, there would be no one left to avenge the fallen, seek retribution for the sacrificed.

By the sixth day, he stood before a clearing in the mounds where the storm that raged seemed not to exist. In that emptiness, the ground was stone, clear of snow. The mounds around its perimeter formed a wide circle open before him. A furious huff of hot breath blasted from above his white-covered beard, fogged the air with the fire of his heart and ready wrath. His last steps were even firmer than the thousands that had brought him here.

He stopped in the center of the clearing, in his tribal tongue, demanded an audience with his Gods. It was answered with an intense, blue glow of light that deposited three, elongated figures with bulbous heads and black-eyes before him.

“You seek an audience, primitive?” The center God asked.

He spat at their feet, then in his tribal tongue, barked, “You have forsaken us! Broken the bonds that bound us to your servitude. Your treachery must be answered for!”

“You speak of the battle passed,” the left-most God said.

“Yet there is little that can be done for the dead,” the right God said.

“No!” He shouted in defiance. “There is one thing that can repay us for their loss.”

“Blood.” The three chimed in unison.

Your blood!”

He drew a thick blade from his side with a sound of metal that rang through the open air.

“You mean to stand against your Gods?” The middle God asked.

“I mean to seek vengeance for all the blood spilled in your name, both in sacrifice and in the battles past– those you failed to protect, as was your promise to our people.”

The three Gods fell silent, as if to speak mentally. Then the middle one spoke with a bargaining air about him, “We cannot resurrect the dead. What is is what what must be. But we can offer something for the sacrifice your people have given this winter, both from the battle and when we did not think to aid you.”

He was unconvinced, his mind unchanged. He demanded they speak, “And what is that?”

“Bountiful harvests,” the middle God said.

“Warmth and fertility,” the left God added.

“And strength and protection in the battles to come,” the right God finished.

He growled from his throat. In a quick charge, he launched himself at the middle God, kicked him backward to rebound at the gut of the left God. The blade slice deep at its belly to ooze green. The curiously-colored blood did not faze him– blood was blood and it was to be spilled. With an outward spin, he moved for the God at the right, buried the blade in its belly as he’d planned. More green spilled out, leaked from the God’s mouth. He twisted the blade, heard the crunch of soft bones, then pulled it back. The second God fell dead.

His blade dripped a trail toward the God that still lay dazed on the stone ground. He dropped a heavy knee to its chest as it eeked out a few, last words.

“We would have… given you anything, made you the most powerful tribe,” it said, barely drawing breath.

“Your cowardice and bargaining only weaken us.” He grit his teeth, “We will be stronger without you.”

Then, the blade plunged into the belly of black-eyed God. The bulbous head gave a shudder with a last, rattling breath. Its eyes shut. The smallest bit of green oozed from the God’s mouth as the tribal rose to his feet, readied to bury the sword in his own gut and finally end things. Instead, something compelled him to look at the carnage around him, his three Gods slain about it. His own words resonated deeper than he’d first realized.

He lifted the blade to examine it, “No.” He sheathed it, spat at them once more, “Enough has been lost to you. I will lead my people now. Protect them as you should have. I will show them they are strong– stronger even without you. Then no man, woman, nor child will ever think to play servant to your kind again.”

With a steadfast resolve, he turned away from the green-stained ground, and left the mysterious clearing to show his people the way.

Short Story: A Hero

If he knew nothing else in the whole world, at least he knew that today was a fine day to die. Alexander Ortiz was hardly the picture of genius or perfection, but even he knew of the nobility of self-sacrifice. As a matter of fact, that was the only thing that had compelled him forward, into the fire.

He’d kicked in a couple doors with year-old sneakers, was pretty sure at least a couple toes were broken. It hadn’t mattered then, and mattered even less now, half a decade later. He’d rushed through the small, two-bedroom apartment, heard the young girl’s frantic whimpers from a side bedroom. He made it to her with a vault over a couch, used the momentum to land, spring through an open doorway behind it.

She wasn’t more than twelve at the time her mother and father had been fighting out in the hallway of the apartment building. She’d moused out to see the commotion when her father barked something lewd at her. Her mother huffed as she skittered back inside. Alex made it to his front-door, sensed from the sound of the distant, unaided slam that she’d bolted back inside and into hiding.

In a way, he had always sympathized with her. Alex’s own parents had been the same, short-sighted type to marry out of lust. When that fiery passion flickered, it found new breath in the exhalation of rage and fury. Even so, it wasn’t what compelled him to scoop her up in his arms that day. That feat was achieved from adrenaline and what was right alone. She didn’t deserve to die, least of all so tragically.

She was a whimpering, sobbing mess of terror and smoke-induced hacking coughs when he carried her from the building. The firetrucks had just rolled up, but even he was certain it would have been too late for her by then. He dropped the tailgate of a truck, helped her to sit on it as she gasped for air through smoke-tarred lungs and tearful mucus.

Alex didn’t leave her side the whole time the fire truck fought the blaze and the paramedics ran their tests. He wasn’t sure she’d have let him had he tried: She was clearly terrified of everything– probably her own shadow too. Having her own personal hero beside her was the only way she contended with the IVs and oxygen mask that day.

Alex never felt like a hero, but that’s the funny thing about heroes; the real ones never feel that way. Even now, as he lay dying in the street from yet another “heroic” act, he didn’t feel like one. He’d once more done what was right, protected that young girl who’d now aged enough to be considered a teenager.

Alex had watched Amy blossom from a slim, pretty blonde girl to a full-grown young woman. Presently, her face hovered just above his, her blonde hair framing an angelic face of subtle angles and still-forming curves. She was still too shocked to cry, but her brown eyes glistened with water all the same. Her mouth moved in that same, almost caricatured way it did when she sang choral warm-ups.

Amy’s mouth had always opened a hair larger than normal, as if it needed the extra room to echo the depths within. It was an instantly endearing quality. Most of the younger girls would’ve called her a big mouth, but never had time for the timid loner that she turned out to be. Or at least, as she had been when Alex had first, formally met her and her mother.

It was a banquet-style dinner, with a ceremony from the mayor’s office to award Alex’s heroism. He figured most people would have been humbled, felt as if nobility, but the experience was too surreal for him. He merely ate dinner with the young girl and her mother, Sara, the location just a little more lavish than the burnt-out husk of their apartments, or the identical dingy hotel rooms they’d been assigned by the insurance company.

Alex took the stage with Amy and Sara in tow, was given the opportunity to say something. He began with a thank you, then cleared his throat to attempt formality. He deepened his voice for the podium microphone, managed a few words, “I-uh… was just in the right time and place, and did what I expect anyone would do.”

That was it. That was his speech. He ended with another thank you, re-took his seat to enjoy the dessert course with the two ladies that had accompanied him, and shook hands with a few civic leaders afterward.

Two things came of that day, tangentially related but equally as pointless as he lay in the hot street with pain in his guts and fading vision. The first was a series of job offers from every, local tech company in the region. The comp-sci grad suspected most of the companies just wanted “the Hero” on their payroll, regardless of his skill. It seemed all the more apt after the offers doubled from an interview released by the Associated Press that detailed most of his life’s story, and therefore his qualifications.

He eventually took a job in the metro-area to stay close to Amy and her mother. Despite the obvious age-gap, and what on-lookers would call perversion at a glance, the two grew to become close friends. Sara allowed it, if only for that fact that it seemed to keep her ex-husband, Grant, away. The custody battle that took place nearly immediately following the fire was tumultuous at best. Were it not for Alex, Sara eventually asserted, Amy would have likely gone through worse than she already had.

As it was, Amy rode out the next couple of years with ease. Thanks to the aid of her hero, and her mother’s growing attraction to him. It seemed inevitable the two would be forever inseparable. Apart from his obvious affection for Sara, Alex agreed with the assessment. He’d have liked nothing more than to protect Amy, watch her grow old, independent, confident. As it was, all good things had to end, Alex’s life included.

In his final moments, he was never quite sure what had happened save that his last act was surely of selflessness. In truth, Sara’s ex had never worked through the divorce’s effects. Where Grant’s ex-wife and daughter were moving on, living their lives, he wallowed in self-pity and the bottom of the every bottle on-hand. He’d attempted to force himself into their lives time and again, was finally stopped for good by a pair of restraining orders. The court kept his drunken abuse out of Amy and Sara’s lives, but steeped his rage in the frothing pity-party.

It was almost without warning that he’d appeared in front of the trio’s new home, ready to ruin their lives once more. Sara was already at the front-door of the house when Grant pulled up, stumbled drunkenly from the door of his junker. He raged and shouted, compelled Sara in to call the police while Alex hoped to defuse the situation. Amy followed, as much unwilling to leave her hero alone as she was to be without him.

Grant’s slurred anger manifested in a one-sided screaming match before it climaxed. Amy, in her way, quipped back with her learned, quick wits. It only further infuriated her would-be father. Alex’s even-toned request that Amy go inside sparked that spewing temper that raged within Grant. In a swift motion, he pulled a thirty-eight on his daughter.

A shot rang out through the day-light. The next moments were a series of flashes before Amy found herself hovering over Alex as he lay on the ground. Blood soaked her hands, hot beneath the pressure she instinctively applied to his gut. In the background, sirens screamed toward them over the sprint-stumble of her father’s drunken fleeing.

Alex managed a few, confused words before his head fell back against the pavement, the life drained from his eyes. In his final breath, he’d managed to piece together what had happened, but all the same, the breath left his lungs and the life left his eyes.

The eulogy given by the young woman was short, punctuated by the constant stream of silent tears that made their way down her face. “He always said he wasn’t a hero, that he had never been one. But he saved my life twice, and… and gave me a reason to live in between… everyday. He showed me love I’d been denied, simply because he knew what it felt like. Alex wasn’t a hero because he saved my life. He was a hero because he lived the way hero’s do; by being what they want to see in the world. By making it as it should be, and not accepting how it is. He was my hero most of all, but in a small way, he was a hero to all of us. He made the world that much more special, and safe, and loving than it was.”

Beneath the dates of birth and death, two lines are etched forever into stone, “Alexander Ortiz, A Hero.”