Write On!

“They are unknown but they lie now in the rough basement,

For who else built the stubborn structure of language,

And rose against a silent melancholy and a dumb despair?”

— Peter Ackroyd

In the Archive

Write on 2012


Grey Tower

by Phil Innes

The same guy was sitting on his plastic chair to the right of the main doors as he had done for 15 years. It cost him 35% to beg there, and all due to the dude in the big tower. It was worth it, since people going in and out didn’t nickel and dime, they dropped fives, sometimes fifties.

He saw some characters going in, Indians, he thought, one older guy in a so-so suit and the other in native dress, blue jeans, sneakers but beaded around the neck with couple tattoos too. He didn’t press the alert button.

Inside the guilt foyer this pair showed their papers and were directed to a guarded elevator where one other person waited — he in a suit, grey-to-white, and wearing a cotton tie also in shades of cream and grey, with prismatic tinges.

It took a moment, since this elevator was the big one, and went straight to the top, and they got in showing their passes to the attendant wearing sun-glasses indoors, and with hardly a jolt hurtled up into the Manhattan skyline.

The older Indian then said to his ‘minder’ in Arapahoe, ”remember, we are not subservient, we are independent, same as him — but we admire his greater lands and power. This is the careful attitude you will take with your body — do not speak.”

The minder then regarded the other person in the elevator and moved to challenge grey-suit and his stare. “Stay!” Said the older man, “it is he who sees”.

The two quit the elevator at floor 57 and walked down a long carpeted corridor toward a desk-consol where a secretary sat, with security looking over her shoulder.

There was a brief sound behind them, and the minder turned to see the grey man there, bowing to their backs. He motioned to his older colleague, the chief, who did not turn, but asked what the minder was thinking? Looking back he saw the corridor now empty and the security folks unengaged.

They passed by security with even glossier passes, and proceeded to a waiting room along another corridor where prints were hung, including one of a great timber wolf.

Castle Dor

Here is a very unusual back cover of a novel with commentary by Daphne du Maurier.

“I was nineteen when we first came to live in Fowey and the great man of the district, indeed the whole of Cornwall, was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (“Q”), the famous novelist and essayist and professor of literature at Cambridge University. It was a great day for me when after some preliminary gestures of friendship on the part of his daughter, Foy, I was invited to Sunday supper.”

“His daughter told me in confidence that her father was working on a novel. I have a clear recollection of rowing with my father to Lantyan on the afternoon he made the discovery of Mark’s Gate inscribed on Mr. Santo’s map, she said years later. From that time on the fascination of uniting the legend of Tristan and Iseult with the Fowey River took its hold. But my father was a man who, though his ways feigned leisure, knew not what leisure was. There were the terms to be met at Cambridge when such romaticism had to be left aside…”

“The war came and in 1944, at the age of 81, Sir Arthur died. The novel CASTLE DOR, was still unfinished and no author’s notes to tell how the tale would continue. In the summer of 1959, “Q”’s daughter asked me, with charming diffidence, whether I would care to take on the novel where her father had left off, just as “Q” had done himself when he completed R. L. Stevenson’s St. Ives.”

Castle Dore is an Iron Age hill fort (ringfort) near Fowey in Cornwall, United Kingdom located at grid reference SX103548. It was probably occupied from the 5th or 4th centuries BC until the 1st century BC. It consists of two ditches surrounding a circular area 79 metres (259 ft) in diameter. Excavated in the 1930s, it was one of the most intensively investigated Iron Age hillforts in Cornwall.

Of historical note of the Fowey [pronounced “Foy”] estuary are:—

Tristan and Iseult is a tale made popular during the 12th century through French medieval poetry, inspired by Celtic legend. It has become an influential romance and tragedy, retold in numerous sources with many variations. The tragic story is of the adulterous love between the Cornish knight Tristan (Tristram) and the Irish princess Iseult (Isolde, Yseult, etc.). The narrative predates and most likely influenced the Arthurian romance of Lancelot and Guinevere, and has had a substantial impact on Western art, the idea of romantic love, and literature since it first appeared in the 12th century. While the details of the story differ from one author to another, the overall plot structure remains much the same.

There are two main traditions of the Tristan legend. The early tradition comprised the French romances of two poets from the second half of the twelfth century, Thomas of Britain and Béroul. Their sources could be traced back to the original, archetypal Celtic romance. Later traditions come from the Prose Tristan (c. 1240), which was markedly different from the earlier tales written by Thomas and Béroul. The Prose Tristan became the common medieval tale of Tristan and Iseult that would provide the background for the writings of Sir Thomas Malory, the English author, who wrote Le Morte d'Arthur (c. 1469).

Known as The Tristan Stone, or The Longstone (Cornish: Menhir, meaning long stone), is a 2.7 m tall granite pillar near Fowey in Cornwall. The stone has a mid 6th century AD two line inscription which has been interpreted as reading DRVSTANVS HIC IACIT CVNOWORI FILIVS (‘Drustan lies here, the son of Cunomorus’). A now missing third line was described by the 16th century antiquarian John Leland as reading CVM DOMINA OUSILLA (‘with the lady Ousilla’). Ousilla is a Latinisation of the Cornish female name Eselt, otherwise known as Isolde. The disappearance of this third line may be as a result of the stone being moved several times over the past three centuries.

The Saints' Way (Cornish: Forth an Syns) is a long-distance footpath in mid Cornwall, England, UK.

History and description

The footpath runs from Padstow parish church in the north via Luxulyan to Fowey parish church in the south, a distance of 28.5 miles (45.6 km); if the route via Lanlivery is followed the distance is 29 miles (46.6 km). The path is well marked and guide books are available. There are two main branches in the way. One starts at Fowey, runs west to Tywardreath, then north through St Blazey, and Luxulyan. The other runs north from Fowey to Golant and Lanlivery. The branches meet close to Helman Tor.

The Saints' Way follows the probable route of early Christian travellers making their way from Ireland to the Continent. Rather than risk the difficult passage around Land's End they would disembark their ships on the North Cornish coast and progress to ports such as Fowey on foot.

Between 55 - 50AD a Roman trading centre was constructed at Nanstallon (near Bodmin) and it is thought its purpose was to serve the main communication and trade route linking the north Cornish coast at the River Camel and the southern coast at the River Fowey, the 'transpeninsular route'. However the centre was abandoned after only 20-25 years and it was never used again. It is thought that the trading route served the Celtic peoples of Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany as Nanstallon was built close to major mineral bearing areas.

The establishment of the way followed the discovery of a section of abandoned pathway surfaced with cobbles and featuring a series of granite stiles near the village of Luxulyan by two villagers in 1984. The way was created as part of the Cooperative Retail Services Community Programme and opened in 1986.

Women of the mounds

by Charles Monette

Let me tell you of the “women of the mounds”, the ghost women of Irish mythology

In Old Irish, they were known as ban side… in the Modern bean si

They are the banshees of Irish folklore. Female spirits in Irish mythology, whose shrieking, or keening cry heralded the death of a member of one of the prominent Gaelic families 

The O’Gradys, the O’Neills, the O’Longs, the McCnaimhins, the O’Briens, the O Conchobhairs, the Caomhanachs and the Kavanaughs

Banshees are ‘women of the mounds’ connected to the mythological tumuli,

the hillocks, or ancient burial mounds that dot the Irish countryside

Gaelic lore describes a banshee as wearing red, or green … an ugly, frightful old hag disheveled with long stringy gray hair, rotten teeth, and fiery red eyes If she spies you looking at her, she’ll disappear in a cloud of mist

Disappear with a fluttering sound like a bird’s wings flapping that will whisk her out of sight leaving you wondering, questioning … I saw her, did I not?

I heard the cry, a wail so morbid and frightening portending who would die

such a woman may appear in an unnerving variety of forms … just as readily, she might become visible with long red hair and pale skin,  a white young lady with great beauty

In Ireland, and parts of Scotland, the keening woman is known to mourn …

to weep a lament …tradition says she might be the ghost of murdered woman, or one who had died in childbirth

Having foresight, banshees wail a lament when a family member dies,

even if the dying were far away, and news of the death had not yet come

Wail banshee, wail a warning to a household of an imminent death

Come ye banshees appear at once for the dead is great or holy

Shriek fairy woman, screech to pierce and shatter glass …stand my hair on end … wash the battle armor in a river of blood

Daniel Berrigan

by Charles Monette

“The day after I’m embalmed; that’s when I’ll give up.”

an impish boy born with weak ankles

duly compensated with bravery, love of learning… integrity embraced holy orders, loved Jesus, believed in mankind’s decency

Daniel Berrigan found the rhythm, the rhyme in priest and peace

preaching protest with passion, his call to action fired unrest

his hands behind him handcuffed arrest

debunking mythologies, the morass of moral necessity

this Jesuit poet read Jeremiah, the prophet… found solidarity

both knew no one would listen for all their soul searing years

how does one reconcile belief in God

midst the violence, the chaos, the hatred of the Vietnam war?

practice ultra resistance, waken to conscious the American horde

a Catonsville raid would surely expose the charade

he and brother Philip conspired to burn a nation’s desire

opening the draft to homemade napalm, setting cards on fire

prayer fueled convictions for destroying government property

two Catholics sentenced… federal prison, 3 years in Danbury

to avoid serving time, they escaped to an underground priory

soon Time’s cover fame turned to the FBI’s most wanted list

uncovering Block Island’s anarchists, Christ’s holy terrorists were

brought to justice they sat in prison, traitorous terms raising hell

Father Berrigan’s firebrand burned too hot for Dorothy Day

too feverish for the Trappist intellectualism of Merton

his battle was in the streets beyond the breath of meditation

finding belief in God fraught with difficulty when observing man’s

racism, poverty, militarism, capitalist greed, unjust society

he knew no one listens still, our establishment silent with shrill

In 1980, Daniel Berrigan joined Plowshares in civil disobedience

climbing atop a GE missile, he fearlessly pummeled a warhead

“to hammer out danger, to hammer out warning, to hammer out

   love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land”

Father Berrigan, prolific, wrote a book a year… 50 in all

and 15 volumes of poetry pondering the scheme of things

a teacher, a Jesuit, a rabble rouser… rebel with a cause

well Simon’s “radical priest” just won his release

no longer standing like fathers, “like fences of abandoned farms”

Berrigan brothers stood for something… may they rest in peace

I guess sweet Daniel has “given up” the flesh…

now filled with spirit sings beside Phillip and the Holy Ghost

along with Prince and Merle and Bowie, one helluva eclectic band!

** the hammer quotes, song,  If I had a hammer by Pete Seger

** “radical priest”,  song Me and Julio down by the schoolyard

Paul Simon

** all other quotes: Daniel Berrigan

Fairy tale origins thousands of years old, researchers say

Fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast can be traced back thousands of years, according to researchers at universities in Durham and Lisbon. Using techniques normally employed by biologists, academics studied links between stories from around the world and found some had prehistoric roots.

They found some tales were older than the earliest literary records, with one dating back to the Bronze Age.

The stories had been thought to date back to the 16th and 17th Centuries.

In the 19th Century, authors the Brothers Grimm believed many of the fairy tales they popularised were rooted in a shared cultural history dating back to the birth of the Indo-European language family. Later thinkers challenged that view, saying some stories were much younger and had been passed into oral tradition having first been written down by writers from the 16th and 17th Centuries. Durham University anthropologist Dr Jamie Tehrani, who worked with folklorist Sara Graca Da Silva, from the New University of Lisbon, said: "We can come firmly down on the side of Wilhelm Grimm. "Some of these stories go back much further than the earliest literary record and indeed further back than Classical mythology - some versions of these stories appear in Latin and Greek texts - but our findings suggest they are much older than that."

The study, which was published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, employed phylogenetic analysis, which was developed to investigate evolutionary relationships between species. It also used a tree of Indo-European languages to trace the descent of shared tales to see how far they could be demonstrated to go back in time.

Dr Tehrani said Jack And The Beanstalk was rooted in a group of stories classified as The Boy Who Stole Ogre's Treasure, and could be traced back to when Eastern and Western Indo-European languages split more than 5,000 years ago.

Analysis showed Beauty And The Beast and Rumpelstiltskin to be about 4,000 years old.

And a folk tale called The Smith And The Devil, about a blacksmith selling his soul in a pact with the Devil in order to gain supernatural abilities, was estimated to go back 6,000 years to the Bronze Age. Dr Tehrani said: "We find it pretty remarkable these stories have survived without being written.

"They have been told since before even English, French and Italian existed.

"They were probably told in an extinct Indo-European language."


Andrea Powell

The thoughts I don't want my mother to know:

I don't want my mother to know I would rather freeze her out of a conversation than face her selfish judgement.

I don't want my mother to know I cannot hold a candle to her personally exercised beliefs regarding relationships, and her rules of discounting herself within them.

I don't want my mother to know I can't meet her surmised expectations.

I don't want my mother to know I have failed to meet her eye to eye, that her fear is unaccountable by the nature of man without sacrificing her own will.

I don't want her to know this because I need her approval, and have seen her weep.

I don't  want her to know I need her approval because this may hurt her sense of purpose, and if she is weakened by her own beliefs she may not be strong enough to defy them herself, nor be of help. It is a sad existence to deny ones own freedom in knowing only she can free her own past disentangled from her children ...yet maybe this is my own fantasy to possibly not be able to do the same for my own.

To live sometimes means not sharing ones disappointment; the aching need to revel in release from bondage of someone else's making can be strong, defying it may also result in living with eyes wide open but...blindfolded to live.

Castle Freeman, Jr. 

The Devil in the Valley.

Overlook Duckworth, 2015.

A review by Laura C. Stevenson

In the late middle of his life, Langdon Taft sits on the peeling porch of his Vermont house and reflects with dissatisfaction that he is a backpacker in the Dark Wood. An "ex-gentleman, ex-teacher, ex-scholar, ex-householder, ex-abstainer," he has money enough, friends – but he needs material, content, plot. A guide.

He gets one. Not Virgil (right location, wrong plot) but Dangerfield, a nattily dressed, twenty-first century Mephistopheles who offers him a contract: seven months of anything his heart desires, in return for his soul.  It's a good contract, Dangerfield adds suavely. Lasts through Columbus day -- "you won't have to miss the foliage." And it's for real: asked for proof that he can deliver on his offer, Dangerfield gives Taft what he asks for – four new tires on his truck so it can pass inspection. So begins the Faustian bargain, proceeding in chapters that alternate tales of Taft's use of his unlimited power with the shrewd, incisively humorous commentary of his friend Eli and the nonagenarian Calpurnia Lincoln, who is ending her life in the hospice rooms of the local clinic.

The dust jacket of this wonderful book says it is a tale of "temptation and greed" set in "dark, moody rural Vermont."  Don't judge this book by its front flap; there's nothing dark or moody about it.  Temptation and greed appear, but in the context of wry humor. It is, for example, suggested that Taft is a second-generation Faust; either that, or his father's acquisition of all the real estate along the Route 91 corridor years before the highway's construction was a matter of amazing good luck. No, intricately woven into a landscape where everybody is related to everybody else and "if your tractor's paid off, you're rich," The Devil in the Valley changes Dante's Dark Wood into Thoreau's woods and turns the tragedy of Faustian over-reaching into a tale of Wants and Needs. Its humor is an unending delight; its dialogue, structure and characters open out with deceptive simplicity; and its conclusion (don't skip to the end!) is a piece of artistic mastery.

* Castle Freeman is the author of three other novels –  Judgment Hill (1995); Go With Me (2008 -- soon to be a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Julia Stiles); and All That I Have (2009). A fourth novel, the luminous My Life and Adventures (2003), doubles as a local history of Ambrose [aka, Newfane]. He has also published two collections of short stories: Bride of Ambrose (1987), and Round Mountain (2011).

Singing with Bobby Fischer

Patti Smith

…Yet I did stay on in Iceland, as a thoroughly robust Icelandic Grandmaster surprised me by asking me to preside in his stead over a highly anticipated local chess match….In exchange I was promised three nights in the Hotel Borg and permission to  photograph the table used in the 1972 chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, currently languishing in the basement of a local government facility.

….When I returned I received a call from a man identifying himself as Bobby Fischer’s bodyguard. He had been charged with arranging a midnight meeting between Mr. Fischer and myself in the closed dining room of the Hotel Borg. I was to bring my bodyguard, and would not be permitted to bring up the subject of chess. I consented to the meeting and then crossed the square to the Club NASA where I recruited their head technician, a trustworthy fellow called Skills, to stand as my so-called bodyguard.

     Bobby Fischer arrived at midnight in a dark hooded parka. Skills also wore a hooded parka. Bobby’s bodyguard towered over us all. He waited with Skills outside the dining room. Bobby chose a corner table and we sat face-to-face. He began testing me immediately by issuing a string of obscene and racially repellent references that morphed into paranoid conspiracy rants.

——Look, you’re wasting your time, I said. I can be just as repellent as you, only about different subjects.

       He sat staring at me in silence, when finally he dropped his hood.

——Do you know any Buddy Holly songs? he asked.

       For the next few hours we sat there singing songs. Sometimes separately, often together, remembering about half the lyrics. At one point he attempted a chorus of “Big Girls Don’t Cry” in a falsetto and his bodyguard burst in excitedly.

——Is everything all right, sir?

——Yes, Bobby said.

——I thought I heard something strange.

——I was singing.


——Yes, singing.

From M Train by Patti Smith

Take the Plunge

Rev. Roy Reynolds

He says, “Take the plunge! Enter life boldly and fully.

That’s the way of Natural Communion.”

But I stop and wonder, and realize something worth pondering.

Plunge is but one view of what it takes to enter the flow.

I should know.

I’ve been resisting that dive for decades.

Free-fall, that is,…

Free-fall from all illusion of control.

Fear is what drives that hesitation; my fear. Of that I’m sure.

The fact is, well, I’m still resisting; even after diving many times.

I scamper back every time to the comforts of what I think I know.

It feels so good being closeted here in my head

With all of that familiar furniture surrounding me.

I can lounge on the couch of logic over there.

I can sit at this desk and reread favorite authors.

I can stand apart with the best.

This “balcony of about” feels good, powerful, and right;

This accumulated knowing that we can count on (I think, we think).

Basking,…ever in that illusion.

Then -- Thank goodness! -- I read a poem. It awakens my soul,

It evokes memories and feelings moistened by tears.

It calls me back to something forgotten, and something so precious.

Then I take a morning walk in silence,

Open to a Larger Life that is being offered to me.

Mother Nature, so generous.

She never withholds Her wonders.

That mindful walk soothes my senses.

It draws me to a Truth that surrounds and abounds.

I feel held.

And later (back home) I look up at that beautiful print on the wall --

A Cezanne painting of Mont Sainte-Victoire across the Arc River Valley.

I am reminded, yet again, that we are “each in the other.”

And not just we people.

I mean all of life’s animated presences here in dialogue.

We just need to notice.

Those presences want us in dialogue.

They are companions; there everywhere.

They are here with me, and with you, if we just notice.

And I include myself in that “if.”

It is so tempting -- the satisfying assurances of dwelling in knowing -- and

that guarded feeling of rightness.

Oh, but it is not “being right” that matters;

It is being present.

I’ve learned that the hard way: through decades-long tugs of

resisting the bold plunge.

But what, in God’s name, is that all about?

That “being present”?

Maybe now I am getting some place, just maybe.

Am I nearing an insight, an opening?

Could it be that “plunge” is not what’s actually needed?

Why would I – my grasping, knowing self – dive so willingly into a gaping

Abyss of the unknown?

Why would anyone?

Isn’t there another way?

Maybe yes, like Mother Nature’s snakes.

Consider the shedding of skin as the path of wisdom.

Maybe it’s about death and rebirth:

Giving up what I know and cling to for support.

Let go. Just let go. That itself brings an opening.

What might the snakes offer in their example?

Shedding skin allows them to attain renewed vitality and growth.

Press Release

Liar from Vermont

Laura C. Stevenson

Voyage Announces the Release of

Liar from Vermont by Laura C. Stevenson:

Liar from Vermont is available nationwide as of July 1, 2015

ST. JOHNSBURY, Vermont – Voyage, an imprint of Brigantine Media, announces the release of Liar from Vermont by Laura C. Stevenson. Liar from Vermont (ISBN: 978-1-9384064-2-3, trade paper, 185 pages, $14.95) will be available nationwide July 1, 2015.

Peggy Hamilton is the third daughter in a Midwestern academic family that summers in Vermont. But in Peggy’s imagination, she is from Vermont—from the hill farm across the way, with its rhythms of milking, haying, and working horses. The ten interlocking stories of Liar from Vermont follow Peggy’s quest for belonging: to a family, to a time, and to a place. Set in the mid-1950s-’60s, she witnesses the irrevocable change in her beloved state whose mountains are becoming ski areas and whose farms are giving way to villages of second homes. Liar from Vermont is a poignant portrait of a girl who sees the truth she embellishes all too clearly, and who learns that no amount of skill can make her stories of the people she loves turn out the way she wants.

Laura C. Stevenson is the award-winning author of four novels for young adults and one for adults, a book on Elizabethan literature and society, several articles on the golden age of children’s literature, and three essays on deafness. She was trained as an historian at the University of Michigan Honors College and Yale University, and she taught Writing and Humanities at Marlboro College from 1986 to 2013. She lives in her family’s old summer house in Vermont.

The first story, “Liar from Vermont,” appeared in The Mind’s Eye: The Liberal Arts Journal of Massachusetts College of the Liberal Arts in 2011.

For more information about Liar from Vermont, contact Janis Raye at or at 802-751-8802.

Guess who squeezed a grapefruit and didn’t buy it?

Charles Monette

Aunt May was doing her usual shopping down at the COOP

Seniors day… 10% off, a lot of grays gimping about

She recognized him immediately from the news

White tufts of hair, tall, toothy grin, glasses

Aunt May dared not speak to him,

Nor even let him catch her looking at him

Sleuth-like, she put on her own glasses and followed him

From the cookie aisle, to the tomato sauce, then over to dairy

He’d stop.  She’d stop, feigning interest in some frozen peas

Now he was on to produce, “wow that asparagus costs a fortune”

Aunt May nodded in agreement for just a moment

Then made a bee-line to the alfalfa sprouts

Our stranger cruised over to the fruit stand… bagged some plums

Then he squeezed a grapefruit, hawed and hemmed, let it go

Bernie smiled to everybody as he made his way to the checkout

Whistling faraway, Aunt May used stealth to zero in on her prize

Snatching the grapefruit Bernie had squeezed, she held it close

Up to her breast, swaying side to side as if shushing a baby

She couldn’t wait to get back home to the ladies of Grace Cottage

And say, “Guess who squeezed a grapefruit and didn’t buy it?”


Charles Monette

Barbara and I had been eloping for 3 days when we pulled into a gas station in Oklahoma City.  We had a quarter tank of gas, no money and needed to get to Aurora, Colorado to continue with our plan.

We had met on a summery afternoon in the Bayville Inn in Bayville, Long Island.  Barbara was tending bar and playing guitar.  I was her sole customer and fell instantly in love.  Two weeks later, we left all behind heading for a visit with her brother in San Diego… and to get married.

My 1963 cherry red VW bug was a sweet car and its tires were new.  I had a lame brained idea to sell my spare tire to make enough money to fill the tank and get us to Colorado where the last of my paychecks were being forwarded.

On that lazy Saturday morning, the gas station attendant answered my query with a slow drawl, “I hate to take a man’s spare tire.”  He slowly added, “there might be some work up the road… they’re pouring a foundation… could try there.”  He gave us $5 bucks for the tire, and we headed up the road.

It was about 8 a.m.  The sun was up warm when we came to this large field with workers milling about getting ready for a pour.  I spotted a gentleman who seemed to be the foreman and explained our situation.  I said that I’d work hard for as long as he needed to make some money to fuel our elopement (not phrasing it that way) to my aunt’s home in Aurora.

Richard said, “okay”.  Barbara went back into town to see if she could find some work.  She said she’d come back at lunchtime.

I was 23 years young and a hard worker from New York.  Soon cement trucks were chuteing their aggregate muck over the rebar and our hustling boots.  I was feverishly raking and shoveling to stay ahead and to smooth and to level the playing field of a huge slab concrete floor that would soon ground a warehouse.

Around ten o’clock, we broke for coffee and the foreman tall, somber and preacher-like called me over.  Richard liked me, my hustle, and he counted off 15 one-dollar bills.  He told me that he had read in the New York Times that Oklahoma City was one of the up and coming cities in America… adding that a young man could make a good start here.  Richard was born again, and he went into a Christian talk of persuasion and opportunity.  He mentioned that his wife had one of those, “new-fangled, whaddya call them, crackpots”?  I quickly corrected, “crock pot.”  “Yeah that’s it, why don’t you and your gal come have dinner with us this evening?”

I thanked Richard for the offer, but explained that we really needed to get to Colorado, and then on to California.  Barbara only had two weeks vacation and we’d hoped to spend a week with her brother. 

The pour was over by late morning.  Barbara returned with hamburgers and shakes from the local Jack-in-the-Box.  She had rolled up her sleeves as well… agreeing to wash the windows of the joint in exchange for food.

We bid our heartfelt thank you to Richard, then went back to the gas station, grabbed our tire, filled the tank with petrol, and bought a six pack of beer.   We were on the road again!

Years later, 25 to be exact, I was teaching a course I had created titled, Film, Culture and Identity at Landmark College in Putney, Vermont.    One day, I was retelling one of my ‘Can’t Elope’ adventures (the Oklahoma city caper) and a student in my class, Emily, said that her father used to do things like that—help people out.  I think I said, “That’s cool”, and proceeded to show Buster Keaton’s, Sherlocke Jr.  a great silent short with arguably the best car chase on film.

About 5 weeks later, it was parent’s weekend.   When Emily and her parents arrived at my office door, Richard and I looked at one another and cried spontaneous, genuine tears of recognition.  He humbly and simply said, “I helped you once, and now you’re helping my daughter.”  Just that.

I joined the family for lunch at the parent’s day banquet.  Richard was now a successful businessman, a builder of 25 years experience, and he had parlayed his skill and acumen into a million dollar enterprise.  He didn’t come out and say that, but I could tell that he had.  We shared a delicious meal of appreciation and full circling.

What are the odds of that?, I pondered for days later and even now.  It is a tale of providence, of hard work, of opportunity… possibility and happenstance… of spirit I guess.  What if I had taken him up on his ‘cracked pot’ idea?  Ventured to share a meal, to talk of Jesus, and to consider one of the up-and-coming cities in America to launch my career?  It’s one of the favorite stories of my life!

The Month of Kislev

Nanci Bern

The air of autumn that held the lingering scent of verdant earth is now the still air of winter, crisp with the quiet. Darkness comes sooner and the light does not last long enough. It is the going inside time.

This is Kislev, month of the unseen, the unconscious. Like the earth that feels barren to our boot laden feet, while deep beneath us is the stirring of new growth; at the end of this month the days will begin to lengthen, and like the spring, Chanukah will stir us to vision.

The high holidays are over (or are they?), and last month, Cheshvan, the month of rebirth where we plumbed the abyss of our souls to be reborn is past. The time was still light, and the light of Cheshvan was piercing and intense.

But the light of Kislev is diffuse. It expands and contracts, touching all in its path with a deceptively gentle touch that goes deep. The light glistens as it expands and reaches toward the infinite, and then contracts and reaches inside of us. This rhythm of the lights is the action that describes and illustrates the spiritual meaning of the month.

Kislev is about finding the trust that you will be supported and nourished while becoming strong in yourself as you experience and learn to reconcile the polarities of life even though there will be times that this seems too hard to bear. This is a month of quiet and dynamic action at the same time. But how do you do this?

One way is to look at what the word Kislev illustrates. Kis means pocket and lev means heart. Always have your heart in close reach, but don’t hold it so tight so that you cannot take your hand out of your pocket to reach out. And make sure your pockets don’t have any holes in them or you will lose and abuse your heart when you don’t even know. In other words, emotional boundaries are important for you and the other people and activities in your life.

Another way is through grace. A word associated with Chanuka is Chen(grace). This word is comprised of the first 2 letters of the word Chanukah. Grace denotes balance, as one who is graceful is not likely to be clumsy and drop the light-metaphorically or otherwise. Grace also denotes favor and protection, such as when one is shown favor by a higher force. For instance, a prayer is answered, the elevator you were going to take but did not because you saw a friend at the other side of the lobby you wanted to greet, breaks down in between floors.

The connection of Kislev to the High Holidays, in a nutshell, is that during the Hellenistic period, there was no Sukkot celebration due to the harsh times. Practice was severely limited. When the Temple was taken back, Chanukah was instituted in and for itself, but also to have the 8 days of Sukkot back. Hence the energies of these two holidays became linked. Therefore, tshuvah is still possible and welcomed. ‘The Mitzvah Candle’ by the Maharal is about this and the history and practice of Chanukah as well. It is a great winter read.

Swirlin’ shadows of the moon

Charles Monette

Swirling white serrated cirrus clouds circled, forming a phalanx that shone light bright before shadows of the half full moon.  Lying on a bed in an unfinished room gazing in wonder at this night sky, I felt be twitched… a lone star peeking through in the southwest corner of the windowpane.  Twinkling at me.  Lonely cold apple trees stood their ground hardly moving in the wind still quiet now just 30 yards away.

I was about to go naked metaphysically, you know, reconciliation, spinning out, reunion with spirit.  I took off my resurrection boots, followed my Yang thread, and began letting go of my beliefs in dreamtime.  This big night sky was magnificent, subtly changing hues amid darkness trying to envelop it.

Hoping to receive my new spiritual vision, I sensed upheaval behind the starry night.  Ghost was at my side, eyes pleading for another duck fillet, at least a mid sized dog biscuit.  Ghost didn’t care if it was gluten free.  We walked, he barked once or twice, and I thought of making something manifest in the physical world. 

I thought of Paul Tillich and the Resurrection, connecting with earth, opening my heart to compassion a la Thich Nhat Hanh.  Flush, go naked… reboot!  But was that all?  I thought of the sorrows of Mary for the first time… it was about time… thought of travel along the continuum of past present future, often referred to as now.  Now what Einstein?

I thought of costumed ladies of eleven days ago.  Besmirching their lipstick before smooching their dogs as they sat round  bonfires watching a restless man throw in a stick or two.  They began free association rituals, chanting guttural, Tibetan bowls singing in fractured disharmony around medicine wheels.  Why?

To collect strong winds?...  To lure good fortune?...  To take my chances?

The wolves, the wolverines, yes even the trolls and other evil spirits were afraid to be out this night.  Pinewoods, lowland valleys held good hiding places, as a light rain became more of a drizzle.  I thought, ‘Geez, what did all this have to do with a labyrinth on a cathedral floor?  Chartes?’ Not a thing… not a freakin thing!

Suddenly shadows dipped and flickered in movements reminiscent of a crane dance over on the next hill.  Overhead, a shooting star speed- streaked, vanished… nary a blink.  272 stones were counted, counted more than once, counted three times to be sure.  Why?  Was it all a gestation ritual fertilized in my imagination?  When I crested the hill, low-crawling on hands and knees to avoid detection, I came upon a Christian allegory anchored midst thorny theological theories…. in other words, a mystery (to be continued)

Words For Translation Into Any Language

Mac Gander

I walk to the door and open it—dark November sky, thick clouds broken and mottled by a full moon. The dog barks at my feet as we walk. He wants to chase something in the denser woods where I won’t go, tugs at the leash. I don’t let him. The woods are very dark, almost no light. He looks at me in anger. We suffer together.

Nothing ever is silent, small creatures call in the woods, a few birds still left from the ravening edge of winter, the long slow thrum of trucks on the highway just north of here. I can hear my breath, see it float like smoke on the cold air. The night is filled with absence.

All I have in my hands are the lines of poems I know by heart, the old lines I have spoken so often. My body is on fire with the cold of the night, frost glitters on the windows. I turn my back. Ariel was glad he had written his poems. My body is thicker than Caliban’s and my own voice is cluttered—I know how to curse. I have learned how to curse.

In the moment that the clouds shift overhead, grey blue and lapidary blue, and let the moon be a shadow behind them so the bare tree limbs glisten, I consider that fate has our number—think of Brodsky, my favorite line: I said life plays a game without a score / And who needs fish when you have caviar.

All that I learned to do is mimicry, like the catbirds that have fled winter, leaving me behind with a harsh blue jay voice and the small pleas the chickadees make, hunting for seeds in the wrack and ruin of summer. Absence, I think, the heart grows tense/ like a harpoon sparring for a kill. I wonder if I have the words right. This is the house of the mentally ill.

One seeks a blessing in the sky, a reflection, one’s name coming back with flowers in her hair and a kindness in her eyes, the touch of a hand against one’s face, the soft low voice that says Nothing, my Lord. Speak better child, I say, and she says Nothing…I cannot heave my heart into my voice…

And he says that nothing will come of nothing. It is always true.

The muse I pray to is so distant now—O love, if there is anywhere farther from me, I pray you do not go. My tears are small drops of snow on my cheeks and the dog is anxious—he wonders why we have stopped here. He looks at me, sweet dog face, alien eyes, panting so his breath drifts against my thighs.

The muse I have always loved with all my heart is the absence in my heart, the void, the dark, her cool voice calling me and it was always so, that when I came to where she had been, she was gone. Rain was falling. The concrete glittered in the streetlamps like the spectrum of desire.

One wishes to have made something true, and also beautiful. Inside the woods, far deep inside the woods where this indifferent moonlight cannot penetrate, there is a small book, waiting to be read. It sits on an altar made from the rotting stump of a pine tree. Inside the book there are words that anyone could learn to speak in any language, but we are forbidden to go there—the woods are too dark.

I hope that I have never made any poem in praise of darkness. I may have done. I don’t know. I say this aloud, looking down at my sweet dog, trembling and curious—what new strange thing has this night brought to him? I have never made any poem in praise of darkness.

There was a time I thought that I might throw myself away. Tonight the dull clouds—it is the dull, mottled clouds, not the silver moon behind them—tonight the dull clouds anchor me, and I kneel, not in prayer, but to pat the head of my little dog, my young one, and say, hey buddy, hey boy, it’s ok, let’s go back inside.

Pablo and the Chief

Charles Monette

I was about 35 miles west of Cubero, New Mexico, hitchhiking from San Diego.  Late afternoon, sun high in early February. I was wearing an Italian smoking jacket and a poncho liner over blue jeans. 

Barbara had flown back to JFK from San Diego two days earlier.  I was looking for our 1963 VW bug that we had abandoned after it broke down in the desert 75 miles north of Yuma, Arizona bout ten days previously.  I never found it.  This was February 1973.  We’d left it and hopped in a white van that was headed to where we were going, San Diego, Barb’s brother’s place.

Back home in Bayville, a few friends-in-the-know had said that we were crazy for heading off to get married after just meeting two weeks before.  Her best friend said, “You can’t elope!”  Well, we did, and that’s why I was hitchhiking home when Barb was already back at work at Jack La Lanes in Hicksville. 

There wasn’t much traffic on the highway, and it was a wide expanse… hills, scrub bushes, tumbleweeds hot and dry.  I was eating an apple my last ride had given me.  It was tart and juicy. 

A 1950’s vintage black Ford pickup passed, then slowed to the breakdown lane after noticing my thumb.  I ran to catch up as it rolled to a stop and Pablo said, “hop in back.”  I tossed my Swiss Army backpack in with the cargo and hopped in.  There was a bale of hay situated in the center just behind the cab.  There was a sliding glass window that Pablo slid open to talk as he motioned me to sit.

“Where ya headin?” said the old Spanish cowboy.

“Cubero”, said I.

“What in the hell for?” was his chuckled reply.

“I’m Pablo, this is the Chief”, he introduced me to his silent, two hands on the steering wheel overweight Tonto-looking accomplice.

“My name’s Charles”

“Want a swig Charles”? said he as he went to hand me the fifth of Jack Daniels that he’d been cradling.

“No thanks.”

The Chief took him up on it. 

Pablo had a six gun in a holster slung round his waist.  After passing the bottle to the Chief, he pulled out the revolver, spun the cylinder and chambered a round.  He said that he and the Chief were registered debt collectors from Sante Fe and that they were going to collect a debt.

“Oh” thought I as I scoured the passing landscape for a high tail route in case I had to high tail it out of there.  I made a point of telling them that I was a combat wounded grunt who’d spent 345 days in the jungle of Vietnam, then was hit by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade while assaulting an NVA bunker complex in June of 1971.  The Chief was non-plussed, but Pablo duly noted it.  I wasn’t afraid, but I was vigilant in the presence of these two legal vigilantes.  Didn’t even have a pocketknife.

They passed a joint and I took a toke in camaraderie.  The smoke blew back at 57 miles an hour on exhale according to the speedometer. 

Then the Chief finally spoke up to Pablo, “maybe we should take him with us.” 

I took another toke and passed it to the Chief who shoulder shrugged ‘No’ at my peace offering.  Pablo was happy to receive it and took a deep drag as he contemplated the Chief’s suggestion.

I interrupted, pre-empting their thought patterns, with a “That’s okay fellas, just drop me off at the next exit ramp.  I’m cool.”  Pablo spit a chew out the window decidedly and declared, “Alright”  “There’s a little bar and sandwich place just off the exit, we’ll drop you there.” He pulled one last tad of Skoal off his yellow front tooth.

“Thanks”, said I.  And they did.  The Chief circled a U-ey and Pablo flashed a grin and a six-gun as they sped back on the highway.

I ducked into the cool afternoon air-conditioned saloon with a jukebox playing country Waylon and a blonde tending bar.  She smiled and asked clichely, “What’ll ya have?” 

I didn’t mull hard.  Just said, “How about a Bud and a ham sandwich with mustard?”

She answered again on script, “Comin right up!”

So I sat at a table, pulled out my Alan Watts’, Cloud Hidden Whereabouts Unknown, drank my beer and ate my sandwich.

It was a relief to be out of the sun and out of the pickup.

After relaxing into my second beer, Pablo came in and pulled two sick packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon pints from the cooler and dropped them quickly wet-beaded on the counter.  I’d seen him notice me, and smiled a nod of recognition when he turned back round asking, “Didja hear the shots?”

“No”, said I.  “Didn’t hear a thing!”  And I hadn’t.

The blonde put the beer in the bag and Pablo walked out with an over the shoulder, “Well, you’ll hear em now!”

Shots rang out as the Black Ford pick-up 1950-something with Pablo and the Chief spun the gravel on their way back to Sante Fe.  I guess they collected the debt.


Martha M Moravec

Three years ago, Hurricane Irene surprised Vermonters – we who have grown complacent over our temperate, mostly gentle environment – with eleven quick inches of rain that led to the worst flooding the state had seen in eighty-four years. The rising waters forced evacuations, knocked out bridges, tore up roads, destroyed houses, left thousands of people stranded and in one case, took out an entire town, or most of it, and fiendishly wrecked the state’s emergency operations center. Three years later, people are still telling stories about the damage and in some cases, still rebuilding.

The story that sticks with me concerns the added injury suffered by Rochester, Vermont, where, according to one newspaper account, “a gentle brook swelled into a torrent and ripped through Woodlawn Cemetery, unearthing about twenty five caskets and strewing their remains throughout downtown.”

They now say that fifty graves were rooted out. I’ve no doubt that my imagination (and yours) can conjure up images far more gruesome than what actually surfaced that day. Even so, because aid and rescue teams were busy assisting the living in dozens of distressed towns (Rochester being one of the most distressed), an open casket with its remains plainly visible lay in the middle of the main thoroughfare for an indecent amount of time.

Eventually, volunteers ventured forth to try to identify the resurrected. Led by a former state trooper who just happened to have reinvented himself as a funeral home director, they marked and covered the muddy disarray of cracked vaults, overturned coffins, body parts, bones and tatters of clothing with blue tarp and little red flags.

Sad. But what a story. What a great writing prompt. A cop turned mortician. Consider the possibilities, the history, the secrets revealed and the multilayered plots set in motion by this mass eruption of graves. Think how this one event could veer off into a dozen different directions to tell a hundred different tales, the most poignant of which would concern the remains, mostly ashes, that are still missing and the state medical examiner’s philosophical observation that, driven by the implacable fury of nature, they had washed downstream into the White River and dissolved as though they had never been.

Several weeks before this happened, my friend Michele and I sat at the West River Marina staring at the placid blue water, waiting for lunch and wondering how we could make the magic quick buck that frees people to live life on their own terms. I was unemployed. She was underemployed. I wanted to write full time forever. She wanted to increase her capacities as a yoga teacher and massage therapist and make a good living as such.

So. How to make the quick buck.

We focused on products instead of services. We agreed that we ought to exploit the allure of things Made in Vermont. What could we grow or design, cook or invent and sell? Teddy bears? Ice cream? Well – no. Hardwood bowls? Handcrafted ales? Hand-dipped chocolates, hand-blown glass? Peace quilts, wood stoves. Custom-crafted furniture? Dated and signed, of course, made in an old Vermont barn one piece at a time, using hardwoods harvested from sustainable growth forests.

Michele started wondering about collectibles and what sort of people collected them; I contemplated the bizarre success of pet rocks and beanie babies. Our lunch arrived (hamburger for me, veggie burger for Michele), at which point I digressed into a writer’s lament over the reading public’s morally questionable fascination with vampires, werewolves, faeries and fallen angels, demons, zombies and ghosts.

Michele got us back on track by thinking of things Made in Vermont. Beeswax balm. Maple oat nut granola. High-energy snacks with organic seeds and natural sweeteners. Old hippies. I stressed the need for fixing on something trendy – like zombies.

And that was it. There they were. Vermont Hippie Zombies. Action figures, seven of them, each one with a name, a fully developed character and a riveting backstory. It would be easy to find a local struggling artist to design them – with detachable, interchangeable body parts, since zombies always seem to be dropping theirs – maybe a bit more difficult getting them manufactured. We needed seed money. Hell, why not a book? There was a name I had wanted to use for some time – Annie Quest, who is an actual person– and now I had a place to put her, a story with Vermont Hippie Zombies, for whom the action figures would already exist!

I lost interest, however, and my appetite, when I went home and Googled zombies and discovered what loathsome creatures they are. I couldn’t even bear to listen to the sound effects in the embedded movie clips of zombies slurping up human brains. I understand the germaneness of violence to our world and to every human story but I have zero tolerance for visual gore, especially when it’s excessive or gratuitous. I understand the depravity of which humans are capable but I have no interest in characters or stories in want of a moral compass. I had to make our zombies redeemable in order to continue with our project but as far as I could see, since they were already dead, they were incorrigible and doomed.

I let it go.

But when I heard the story a month later about the nightmare at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Rochester, I could not help picturing hippie zombies crawling out of those spilled coffins. I started playing with the idea again and tackled the first question: what would make them Vermont, hippie zombies?

This was a no-brainer. (Pardon the pun.) They would be agents of social change. Our zombies rise up not to annihilate humankind, but to save it. While moldering away in the good loamy earth, they had grown increasingly concerned about climate change and the perils we humans pose to the planet.

So here’s the pitch: When a flash flood rips through a cemetery, unearthing caskets and strewing remains throughout a small Vermont town, Annie Quest – high school student and renowned paranormal investigator – finds herself faced with a contingent of deeply concerned zombies who have returned from the grave to ponder climate change, conservation, waste and consumption, land management, pollution, resource depletion, intensive farming, alternative energy and other pressing environmental issues.

This is why I live in Vermont. It’s the zombie apocalypse in reverse. The Vermont Hippie Zombie possesses not only consciousness, but a conscience. Even in their dreadful state of decay, these guys will tolerate no sugar added, no fracking and no genetically modified organisms. They are certified, organic, gluten free, all natural, cob and maple wood-smoked zombies who come to us in peace, with goat soap and pickled garlic in hand and a balanced, sustainable plan for ensuring the long term survival of humans and zombies alike.

hardly chanced upon in books

Phil Innes

'Even in the penance

Planning sins anew’

Says a verse of St Kilda

And to add a few words

We were silenced

Not subdued.

I gave thee love when thou wast but a child

Love that shall not wane till I go beneath the earth

[from a song; St Kilda lilt]

Ciod e am bas a fhuair t’arthair?

Chaidh e leis

(How did your father die?

Over the cliff, is the reply)

So might we prefer they say of ourselves, we who live yet, and work for other god than we had chanced afore

All this in the clear light hardly chanced upon in books.

Murder in the woods

Matti Salminen

Twenty-two years ago, two boys whom I could hardly call friends, ventured deep into the woods.  They went to find a spot suitable for a fort, for camping, and for adventurous ends. Randy and Steven were the names of this pair of boys.  Both were outsiders, somewhat disadvantaged, of all who I grew up with there were no tougher that I could find.

This story, I will tell you, is not about ten year olds building a fort.  On their outing, Randy and Steven happened to stumble into adventures of a tragic sort. Far back in that forest there was a cabin all alone.  Inside, there was a person dead…nothing but bone.  On this skeleton, however, and this is where the story really starts, the boys found a beautiful ring.

Randy and Steven, being brave and tough, decided to take this ring and hide it under a rock.

Time went on, and with it, that ruby ring was all but forgotten.  Randy and Steven would have been better off had their fates intertwined with the story of the ring. 

For this was a story of men utterly rotten.

Randy, in his way, was a handsomish brute.  He found love and romance in a red-head that played the flute.  Her name was Rebecca.  Her family was well off.  One day, early in their romance, Rebecca invited Randy for dinner at her parent’s house. That night, an image caught the young boys’ eye.  An image so earth shattering Randy could almost have died.

The ring he had found in that old cabin was there in a picture on the hand of a woman.  Randy looked twice to make sure his eyes didn’t deceive him… he even knocked on wood. Rebecca’s dad noticed, with Randy, something was about.  He asked the boy, “please, won’t you tell me what’s the matter.”  Randy said nothing, and quickly stepped out. Randy went to tell Steven the following morning exactly what he saw…to give him fair warning.  Steven knew right away that something was wrong.  Before Randy could speak he was frightened and alarmed.

Once the boys talked it over they decided what to do.  They’d take the ring to Rebecca’s dad, and apologize, this was what was best, and that’s all they knew.

Rebecca’s dad’s name was Daryl, but the boys called him Sir.  When he saw what Randy and Steven brought him it caused something inside him to stir. “Where did you find this?” Daryl asked them; Randy and Steven replied, “We found it in a cabin in the woods.”  Soon the boys sat down with Daryl to figure things out.  The boys told him the story of how they happened upon the cabin. They told him about the body with the ring.  They told him that they were sorry.  Daryl wasn’t angry, instead he asked them, “can you show me tomorrow?”

The very next day, the boys went out to the cabin with Daryl.  When they got there they were greeted by an ugly pair. Two men who looked like they hadn’t eaten for days, or showered in months, were in the shack.  One of the two men pounced on Daryl…weapon in hand.

Daryl was quickly beaten, knife slash to his throat.  Randy and Steven were shot running away.  The pair of killers were found years later living in a boat.

The Strange Tale of Sam Whitlock

dale r. botten

Samuel B. Whitlock guessed the temperature to be pushing forty below zero. Khee-ah- tu, the North Wind, was quiet now. For two days he had not swept his fury across the vast timberland that covered this portion of North America. For two days and nights the skies had been clear, devoid of even a single cloud, a sign that would indicate surcease of the merciless cold spell which had blanketed the area. For two days also, Whitlock's stomach periodically informed him, he had tasted nothing but a handful of dried beef, some edible bark and snow... lots and lots of snow, to provide some relief from the hunger pangs caused by a shrinking stomach. Still, he trudged on through the deep, inhibiting snow that covered the ground like a white shroud. It was slow, arduous going...AND GOD ALMIGHTY, WAS IT COLD!

This was the third morning...alone...since the accident. Sam felt bad about his partner's untimely death, when the thin ice yielded under the weight of the sled. Yet, somehow it seemed almost poetic justice. In his mind, Sam could still hear the hideous yelps and cries of terror as the dogs were dragged, two by two, like links of parallel chains, into the icy cold water that meant certain death. Sam's partner, Jake, had been riding the sled and his feet became entangled with the dogs' traces. Sam jumped clear of the hole, landing on his belly at the edge. His hands shot out to grasp the harness of the lead dog, Matu. The frightened yelps of the dogs and Jake's plea for help resonated through the crisp morning air. Clutching the front of Matu's harness, Sam tried to dig the toes of his boots into the snow-covered ice, in a futile attempt to slow the sled's descent into the deadly water, at least long enough to retrieve his knife and cut the leather straps. Each time his toe hit the thin ice, Sam heard a sickening "crack" and knew that soon he too would join Jake and the dogs in an icy grave. Matu stopped his cries and looked straight into Sam's eyes. He knew. Matu knew he was going to die...and there was nothing he or Sam could do about it. For that brief eternity between life and death, the soul of the man and the spirit of the dog became as one.

Jake may have been his partner, but Matu was Sam's friend. Jake Malenkovich beat his dogs often. "To keep 'em honest," he'd say, soiling the pristine snow with a wad of tobacco juice. Matu was Jake's favorite target and sometimes the dog's white fur would be streaked with red. Finally one day, Sam could take it no more. Seizing the whip, Sam beat Jake to within an inch of his life, telling Jake in no uncertain terms that death awaited him, if he ever touched those dogs again. After that, Jake ceased his torture of the dogs.

From that day on, the spirits of the man and the dogs were inexorably bound. They trusted Sam and Sam trusted them. Not infrequently, Sam would stop short of the top or bottom of a nearby snow ridge and ponder the safest way to proceed. Avalanches and thin ice are dangerous threats to a musher. Snow and ice are so deceptive. Sometimes the peril is obvious, the snow hanging precipitously over the edge of a ridge like the blade of a guillotine, ready to dispense death by the hand of God...or the stupidity of man. Other times, Death lay silently in wait, beneath a thin bridge of snow and ice that covered a deep fissure or a phantom ridge that really didn't exist. These were the times Sam would halt the dogs and kneel down beside Matu, at the front of the team.

"Which way, boy?" Sam would ask the dog, stroking his fur and pointing to the two most likely routes. "Which way's life and which way's death, old boy? Got to get it right the first time." Matu would stare in the directions Sam indicated, then lick the man in the face and start barking. He knew. He always knew. That's why Sam, Jake and the other dogs were still alive...Matu knew. Occasionally, Sam would just pick a route and force the dogs to follow it, but this was rarely...and then only under the most urgent circumstances.

That's the way it happened on the day they died. With Sam and Jake both on the sled, along with gold and some furs, the men had been forced to pack lightly for their trek to the settlement. They needed to make up time and shorten their route considerably. Sam stopped at the edge of the lake and weighed the chances he was willing to take.

"Just cut across the damn thing!" Jake barked. "We ain't got time to go around!"

Quickly, without counsel from the dogs, Sam turned the team toward the center of the lake and into the frozen hell in which he now found himself.

A thousand thoughts like this flashed through Sam's mind at the speed of lightning. And yet, they were not blurred or vague images; he felt, he heard, he saw and he smelled each one of them, as he stared at Matu and spoke with him in the silent language of animals and babies, communicated only through their eyes.

"Let go," Matu said. "Let go."
"No!" Sam answered. "No! I will not! I will not watch my friend die!"
"Let go," insisted Matu. "It is time, now. There's nothing you can do. Let go."
Sam cried, "NO!" over and over again and again and again, even as his grip on Matu's

harness began to slip, whether by cold, slickness of the leather...or by surrender to the inevitable and the natural order of things here in this primordial frozen wasteland.

"Goodbye, my friend," Matu's eyes told Sam, as the dog slipped silently beneath the icy water.

CRACK! No time to mourn now, the splitting ice told Sam. Quickly, he began to roll away from the deadly hole, keeping his weight distributed over as wide an area as possible. To try and run would be suicide, because that would put his whole one hundred seventy pounds on only one point at a time. This is one of the things Sam had learned from Jake, during the two years they had been partners. Jake was wise in the ways of the wilderness...if only he hadn't been so damn mean. Sam wondered what kind of cruelty had turned Jake from the innocent, loving infant we all start out as, into a cruel and sometimes sadistic loner in a hard, unyielding wilderness. Sam wondered about himself. What will he be like, if he stays here in this savage land as long as Jake had? Would he even live long enough to find out?

Sam stopped rolling and listened carefully for any telltale cracking sounds. Nothing. Was it safe to stand now? Sam looked over toward the shore. Fifty yards, or so. Dare he try to stand and walk upright? Sam slowly rose to his knees and then to his feet, keeping a close ear out for any signs of cracking. None. Cautiously, he tested every step he took toward the safety of the snow-covered shore. One gingerly-placed foot in front of the other. Just a couple more now...CRACK! Sam's heart leaped as high as his legs did. One leap, two, three...WATER! Sam looked down at his left boot, covered with all of five inches of water. He began to howl in nervous laughter, as he trudged onto the refuge of the shore. Sitting on a rock, he gazed back over the route of his escape from Hell, his laughter mutating into uncontrollable sobs.

When his guts were gone and there was no more left, Sam realized the day was slipping away and he had to find shelter and warmth. He took stock of what he had left. A few matches, a knife, a hatchet and a handful of dried meat. That was it. That had to get him to the settlement. Quickly and silently, Sam began collecting firewood. Needed that first. Luckily, there was dry, downed timber all over. He assembled a massive amount of wood for a fire. Then, thanking God for the hatchet he had almost absentmindedly shoved under his belt, he cut branches and pine boughs for a makeshift lean-to. That night, the cold snap hit and Sam sat so close to the fire that his boots and clothes sometimes ignited from the intense heat. Each time, he would slap out the flames and shift his position, so a new portion of his body got most of the heat. Dry. He must stay dry or die. In the morning, he would start again for the settlement. He knew he couldn't stay where he was, for if the cold didn't claim him, hunger surely would.

The incidents of the past three days repeated themselves in Whitlock's mind as he laboriously made his way through the deep snow. The sun reflecting off the icy crust made it look like a carpet of billions of diamonds. The glare hurt his eyes terribly. How he wished he'd saved his snow glasses. Sam stopped halfway up a hill. He stopped and listened. What was it? He looked around, not really expecting to see anything, for Sam knew that sound in such weather carried a great distance farther than it normally would; besides, Sam's vision was becoming very poor...he was slowly going snow-blind. Sam stood there, motionless for a full minute...just listening, straining his keen ears to discover the source of the sound. Had he really heard something? Perhaps it was just his imagination. Were his ears playing games with him? Or, perhaps the nervous strain and lack of sleep during the past few days were having their effects upon him. He listened.

Suddenly, the still, icy air fairly shook with a high-pitched maniacal scream. Sam's heart seemed to stop and a chill that wasn't caused by the cold ran up and down his spine. Toma, the cat! Toma, the killer! The puma must be ravenous with hunger. Even a mountain lion has sense enough to stay out of weather like this...that is, unless he hasn't eaten in a long time, and game in that area was all but non-existent. Sam hadn't seen so much as a field mouse since the cold-snap hit. Famine had apparently driven Toma out of the comparative warmth of his lair in search of food. Sam knew he'd not yet been discovered...for Toma would never have voiced his indignation to the world, had he expected any game to be in the area. For a moment, the man seemed stunned; then he regained his senses. He could stop and build a fire, but as famished as the cat was, it would not be stopped by a few flames; or it would wait until the nearby supply of wood was depleted and forced the man to venture from the safety of the fire. Then, Toma would make his move. The man could envision the size of the beast; the yellow canines, glaring out of cavernous jaws, capable of separating a man's arm from his body with one shake of his monstrous head. He envisioned, too, the ensuing battle between the cunning of man and the brute force of beast. As pitifully armed as he was, Sam Whitlock knew well what the outcome would be...and he shuddered. He figured his best bet was to put as much ground as possible between himself and the cat, and hope his trail wouldn't be discovered for a while. He was glad now that there was no wind and that it was so cold, for the man's scent would be more difficult to locate and follow. He prayed for a snowfall, to cover his tracks.

Sam resumed his trek at a steady, if somewhat faster pace. He dare not attempt running, for in this cold it would be only a matter of time until his lungs frosted and brought a very painful death. Again the cat cried out. Sam hurried a little faster. For an hour he made his way through the deep snow, down a pine-covered embankment, across a small river and up the other side. It was a very steep hill and difficult to scale. At the summit, there was a slight overhang. With one hand gripping a bush that protruded from the snow, Sam was about to hoist himself up. He stopped. He felt them. The eyes...those burning, piercing eyes scorched the back of his neck. He wheeled around. There, not thirty feet away stood one of the largest pumas Sam had ever seen. Although thinned from hunger, the cat was powerfully built, sinewy muscles rippling beneath his tan hide. Again, with a toss of his head, Toma voiced his contempt for the puny, terrified man. Toma stood there a moment, trying no doubt to evaluate his opponent's weakness and deciding upon the best method by which to press the attack. An attack there certainly would be, there was absolutely no doubt of this in either mind. There was no avenue of escape for the man and the gnawing, painful hunger that had plagued the cat for too long, must be appeased. The man, too, had not eaten for three days. The flesh of the cat, as tough and indigestible as it might be, would allow him to await a break in the cold spell and return safely to the settlement.

To the combatants, everything...existence itself, depended upon the next few moments. But, the eyes of the forest saw nothing new in the scene being enacted. It was a commonplace thing here in this untamed wilderness. Death is life; that one might live, the other must die. Sam Whitlock slowly released his grip on the bush and reached for his small hatchet. Fingers numb with cold curled around the slippery handle. Ever so slowly, his other hand withdrew his knife from its sheath. If Sam were destined to die here in this forest wilderness, he would at least give a good accounting of himself. Their eyes met.

With a scream, the cat charged and with all his strength, Sam swung the small hatchet, aiming for the center of the bounding mass. Was it snow on the handle? Could it have been Sam's stiff hand, frozen with cold...or fear...or both? The reason didn't matter. Sam watched the projectile sail smoothly, silently, harmlessly over the puma's head and into the blazing sun. Toma was upon him. One of the cat's huge paws pinned Sam's arm into the snow...the arm that held the knife, while the cat's back claws sought to spill the man's guts onto the virgin snow and huge jaws sought the vein-of-life in his neck. Sam jerked his head to the side. He smelled the stench of the puma's hot breath and felt saliva dripping onto his face. He felt the razor-sharp fangs sink deep into his shoulder and heard the crunch of bones being separated. This was death.

Soon, the cat's second strike would find the man's jugular vein and Sam's life would pour out from his body.

Sam's eyes involuntarily shut for an instant. Quickly, he opened them again. White. Everything was white. Above him, the white Angel of Death flashed across the sun. Sam shut his eyes again and prepared for eternity. Suddenly, the weight on his body was lifted. He felt free again and the vice that held his shoulder released. Death had been quick. Sam was afraid to open his eyes again. He could still hear the growls of the cat, but now they were mixed with another sound...and animal sound, not like the cat's. Sam cautiously opened his eyes, expecting as a dead man, to see his tattered body being torn apart by the two ravenous animals. The sun? He squinted at the sun, burning down into his eyes. In his left ear, he could hear the screams and growls of a mighty battle. Slowly, painfully he forced his head to the left. Pain? Death brought no pain...at least, so he'd been given to understand. Then why did his neck and shoulder and arm hurt so much?

Sam's head completed its painful rotation. He blinked. Incredulous, he blinked again. Was he dreaming? Was he dead? Or did he really see a dog...a large, white dog with his fangs sunk deep into Toma's throat? The dog shook his head violently from side to side, ripping the cat's throat apart, blood shooting in spurts from the severed jugular vein. The cat tried to scream, but only blood came out now. Then, Toma shuddered...and was still.

Matu? Was that his friend standing over the lifeless body of the huge cat? The dog, facing away from the man, turned its head to look at him. MATU! It was. But, how? Sam had seen the dog dragged under the water by the heavy sled. He thought a moment. The last thing Sam could remember was pulling hard on the dog's harness, as it slipped beneath the waves. Surely, Sam reasoned, he must have pulled so hard on the harness that it stretched enough for Matu to wriggle his head out first and then his body. Perhaps the dog was able to find another hole in the ice...perhaps.

PAIN! Sam winced free of his speculations, as his mangled shoulder and arm began to throb with each beat of his heart. At least HIS heart was still beating, which was more than he could say for the cat's. The man knew he had to move. He had to get up, tend to his wounds and prepare for darkness. His wounds were puncture wounds, deep but straight...no ripping and no exposed bones. He was bleeding, but not badly. Besides, there was no way he could apply a tourniquet to a shoulder. He could bandage what he must, build a fire and roast some of the dead cat's flesh. That should sustain him for a day or two...hopefully, long enough to reach the settlement or an outlying cabin.

Sam struggled to his feet, using his left hand to hold his right arm and shoulder as still as possible. Even so, it hurt like hell. Matu had climbed to the top of the ridge and was watching him...just watching him.

"Hey there, Matu," Sam called. "What are you doing up there? Come down here and see your old friend." The dog watched Sam for a minute, then turned and bounded away. Not a bark, not a whimper...just disappeared into the forest. "What's gotten into him?" Sam wondered aloud, as he turned to the body of the cat. Sam knew he had to cut his former foe's body quickly, before the sub-zero cold turned it into a gory icicle. First, he cut two or three strips of the hide about four inches wide and the length of Toma's torso. These he temporarily laid aside. Next, he cut several very thin strips. These were tough and stringy. He laid them with the others. Thirdly, he set about carving up Toma's flesh for roasting; not more than he could roast that day or carry with him. Finally, Sam turned to searching for his errant hatchet. He found it some thirty feet away, buried in a snow bank. Pulling it out, he cursed it, as if it were the hatchet's fault it had missed the cat. Chuckling at himself, Sam replaced the hatchet under his belt and set about making camp for the night.

He found a large rock outcrop, with a bare overhang that would keep him relatively safe from any more predators...at least from one direction. Next, he collected more than enough firewood to sustain him through the night. Sam wasn't sure if it were skill or luck that had allowed him to start his fires with relative ease, but again his tinder, birch bark and kindling sparked right up and soon became a blazing haven of warmth for him. Taking green forked branches, he fashioned a crude spit and began roasting the cat's flesh. He looked at the sky. It was dusk now and he could see wisps of clouds on the horizon. Perhaps the ungodly cold would break soon. But, that often brought snow. One curse to another, he thought.

Sam took the wide strips of Toma's hide and measured them around his neck and shoulder into a crude sling, with which he could support his soon-to-be-useless arm; for he knew it would get worse. He knew, also, if he didn't find help soon, he would die of cold, starvation, infection or in the jaws of a predator...it was just a matter of which one got him first. Sam tied the wide strips, which were already beginning to stiffen, with the stringy ones. Once fitted so that one held his arm up and one held it close to his body, he took the makeshift sling off and laid it away from the fire, in roughly the same shape in which it would hang around his neck tomorrow. There, still being moist with the cat's fat, fluid and blood, it would freeze stiff as a board.

Finally, as dusk descended into the terror of night, Sam cut some nearby pine boughs for his mattress. No time for the luxury of a leant-to. The meat, which he had periodically turned and tested throughout the evening, was ready for banquet. Sitting down on his bed, he leaned up against a rock and prepared to feast. But first, Sam did something he hadn't done before a meal since he was a lad in knee pants. He thanked God for his deliverance, his deliverer and his food. Then, from somewhere deep in Sam's primeval ancestry, there began a guttural scream that escaped his gaping lips, the likes of which Sam had only heard from the beasts of the wild, before they feasted on their fallen prey. Sam reckoned they were paying homage to the life that was sacrificed for their own and figured he owed Toma the same respect. The cat would have done the same for him, were it not for Matu.

As he ravenously consumed the tough meat, Sam reflected again on his savior-dog. A number of things could have happened. Matu could have found an air pocket by a rock or a hole caused by the current of a river that fed into or flowed out of the lake. He'd heard of those things happening. Whatever the cause, he thanked God again for the dog's deliverance. Sam reasoned that Matu had taken off for the settlement, to bring back help. The dog was well known there and, when the merchants Sam and Jake regularly visited found only the dog and not the men, they'd suspect that something was amiss. As long as he kept moving toward the settlement, Sam figured they'd meet in between. Leaning forward, he reached for another piece of the most delicious meat he'd ever tasted. Whoa! Nearly half gone. Sam forced himself to stop. Must save some for the rest of the trek.

Sam was sure he wasn't the only creature in the wilderness who thought the roasting meat smelled delicious. Heaping more wood on the fire, he pulled some close to him, so he wouldn't have to venture away from its safety to replenish the flames. Taking out his knife, he used it to roughen the handle of the hatchet enough so that, were he to need it as a weapon again, he could grip it more easily. Keeping the hatchet tightly in one hand, Sam leaned back to rest, afraid to sleep...and afraid not to. Sam knew he'd be vulnerable when the flames died down into glowing embers, but he knew he'd need strength in the morning when he started for the settlement. With faith in God and trust in the loyalty of his dog, Sam slept.

AIEEEOWWW! The scream of a banshee! Sam struck with his hatchet. His eyes! He couldn't open his eyes to fight the demon banshee that had come to claim his soul! Again he struck out at thin air.

"AAGH!" Sam cried, as unbelievable, burning pain in his now-swollen shoulder ripped his eyelids open. The man looked around for the demon, in the deathly shadows that lingered between the fear of night and the promise of dawn. Nothing. There was only the dying gasp of embers in what used to be his fire, his protection. It was nearly light. Sam tried to make out any movement among the ominous shapes beyond his little sanctuary. Still nothing. Wait! Wait. Yes, there was something moving just slightly in the shadows. Sam quickly grabbed some nearby kindling and began stoking life into his dying fire...all the while, never losing sight of the threatening figure in the shadows. His fire began springing back to life and soon he heard the reassuring crackle and felt the comforting heat, as it flowered to full bloom. Still, the shadowy figure didn't move. Sam couldn't see the iridescence in the animal's eyes. Probably too far away. Hopefully, the fire would keep it that way.

Again the banshee screamed. AIEEEOWWW! Only this time, Sam was awake and able to discern its direction, approximate distance and origin. Not a banshee...wolves! Better the banshee, Sam thought. That, he could scoff at and reason away. The wolves were real. But, the figure in the shadows did not seem to be one of them...at least, not that Sam could tell. Looked more like a big dog. Matu? If it were his old friend, why was he not beside Sam, getting his ears scratched and gnawing on a piece of the cat HE had killed? Sam cut off a chunk of the roasted puma and, using the awkwardness of his good left arm, hurled it as close to the figure as he could.

"AAGH!" Sam cried again. His right shoulder told him that was a really stupid thing to do. During the imperceptible change of light from darkness to daybreak, Sam could see that the figure was indeed Matu. "Matu! Matu!" Sam tried to get his friend's attention. For the third time, the wolves screamed their warnings. Matu turned toward the hideous sound. He took a few steps toward it and then began trotting an arc around Sam's campsite, much like a soldier would walk his post. Periodically, the dog would stop and look back at Sam, as if telling him to hurry up. Sam did.

With great difficulty, he donned his makeshift sling. Sam was surprised. It actually worked pretty well. The frozen hide, with the fur side in, held his arm and shoulder fairly stiff. Stuffing what was left of the meat into his shirt, Sam was about to set off toward the settlement. But, before he left, he stoked the fire once again and threw scraps of animal fat and meat into it, hoping the aroma would attract the wolves long enough for Sam and Matu to escape...that is, if Matu followed him this time. He began to set out in a southwesterly direction. Matu did not follow. In fact, for the first time since his battle with the puma, Matu made a sound. It was something akin to a bark, but more like a grunt. The cat must have injured the poor dog's throat. That's probably why Matu wouldn't eat the meat Sam had thrown to him. Now, Matu was running back and forth in a different direction. Sam knew this meant he wanted the man to follow him. Well, the dog had never let him down before. Matu knew. He always knew.

"All right, old friend," Sam said softly, almost to himself. "You know better than I...you always have." With that, Sam set off behind the dog, who always kept several paces in front of the man. The clouds had arrived, bringing relief from the cold spell...and the beginning of a snowstorm. By what Sam calculated as noon (having lost his timepiece), the snow was falling... lightly at first and then hard enough to be a hindrance. By what seemed early afternoon, Sam had another problem to worry about. His throbbing shoulder was becoming infected and he was beginning to run a fever. He knew he would soon pass out, death being next. Sam was lagging farther behind Matu with each faltering step.

In a small depression, crossing a frozen creek, Sam heard them again. The wolves! Only this time, they were practically on top of him. He looked up. There they stood. Were there six, eight, ten...a hundred? Sam couldn't know. His eyes would not focus. Matu stopped and turned toward the pack. He stared at their snarling jowls and burning eyes. Matu bared his fangs and uttered a sound that could only have originated in the deepest bowels of Hell. The wolves stopped their ominous threats. They stopped and just stood there, as if frozen themselves with fear. Matu turned and trotted back to Sam, then turned around again. Sam knew the dog wanted him to take hold. He stooped as low as his spinning head would allow and grabbed hold of Matu's tail. They trudged slowly through the deepening snow, as at the pace of a funeral procession. One...stop...two...stop...three...stop...four...stop...ad infinitum, it seemed to Sam, who clutched Matu's tail as if it were life itself. Finally, Sam could lift a foot no more. Falling forward, he slammed his head into a piece of wood...a board that was part of the trapper's cabin door.

The trapper and his native wife heard the noise. At first, they thought it might be a branch Khee-ah-tu had carried on his wings. Then it came again...more faintly...sounding almost desperate. Tap...tap...tap, tap...tap. Then, silence. Trapper Dan, a big, burly man of about forty and not afraid of much, slowly opened the door. Beams of light from the dim lamp and waves of warmth from a blazing fire, eager to be free from the confines of their tiny wooden world, escaped through the open door and into the jaws of the carnivorous night. In their place, an army of tiny white lemmings blew in through the doorway, flying wildly about the cabin until the warm air sapped away their life and they fell to earth in a fine mist. Trapper Dan looked down at the half-frozen figure lying at his door. The man was barely moving, making a sound that could be a word, a moan...or, a gasp. It sounded like, "Ma-oo" to the trapper.

Reaching down with his huge hands, Trapper Dan seized the man's collar and began lifting him up. He stared for an instant at the makeshift sling on the man's arm and, being careful to avoid that side, grabbed the man's other arm to drag him inside. The trapper's wife, a large, comfortable-looking woman whose name in native tongue meant, Morning Song, stared out into the ethereal darkness a moment, to see if any other unfortunate souls might be seeking sanctuary from the raging storm. Satisfied she could detect none, she put her weight behind closing the door and latched it tightly.

The trapper and his wife stared at their new ward for just a moment, much in awe that such a being could still be alive. Then they silently set about tending to his salvation. Once the man's sling, boots and most of his clothing had been removed, Trapper Dan cut away that portion of his woolen long underwear that covered his right shoulder and arm. He stared a moment. It was difficult to tell if the redness around the multiple puncture wounds was due to infection or the cold, but he knew it was serious. Gently taking the man's upper arm and shoulder, he carefully rotated them just a bit and listened carefully. Pop. Grind. He felt them more than heard them, but knew there were broken bones involved. Calling to his wife, who was busy stoking the fire and boiling water, they gently picked the man up and laid him on the bed. Going to a steamer trunk his mother had carried from Germany and which now served as functional furniture, Trapper Dan began to concoct a poultice from dried herbs, bread and tobacco...but he needed cobwebs.

"I'll get some," his wife volunteered, donning her heavy skin boots and parka. "We need to check on the livestock, anyway." Quickly, she lit a small lantern and headed out through the blinding blizzard to the small barn, where one horse, a cow and a few chickens were stabled. It was built less than twenty yards from the house on purpose, just to better cope with days and nights like this one. Latching the cabin door behind her, she fought her way to the barn door, which was not much bigger than the cabin's, and entered. Looking around, she was satisfied about the livestock's welfare. They had plenty of hay and straw, along with a good supply of oats and corn...and the water was not yet frozen. The barn, although or perhaps because of being small, was fairly wind-resistant and warm, by animal standards.

In the corners, she found some webs. She gathered them up and, wrapping them in a small cloth, put them in her parka pocket. Latching the door on the outside, she turned toward the cabin...and froze. In the glare of the lantern, not ten feet away, stood a white wolf...or a dog...it was hard to tell which, in the light of the dim lantern. Her heart stopped beating. She willed it to start again. The animal didn't make a sound or a move or even curl a lip. It just stood there, staring at her with wide, lifeless eyes that burned a hole straight through her soul. Fear that she had never known before put a vice on her senses and held them fast. She moved, never taking her eyes off the animal, ever so slowly toward the cabin door. The beast watched her...just watched her, then turned and bounded into oblivion.

Gaining the safety of the cabin, she slammed the door shut and bolted it tightly. She took just a moment to collect the shattered pieces of her nerves. Then, removing the cloth from her pocket, she handed it to her husband. "What's the matter with you?" he asked, noting her pallid countenance. "You look like you just seen a ghost."

"No," she answered. "A wolf...I think...a large one." She paused. "Livestock is safe." "Where was it?" The man queried.
"Near...too near."
"Best we start takin' a rifle with us, when we go out."

Trapper Dan finished his poultice and applied it, heated with hot water, to the front and back of Sam's shoulder. Morning Song had seen it countless times. The poultice, applied warm, would suck the poison from the wounds. Some of the white settlers wondered how it worked so well. The natives just accepted that it did.

"We need bandages," he said. She, his wife of some ten years, for whom he had traded four horses, three knives and a rifle as a dowry, didn't hesitate. Taking some petticoats out of a trunk drawer, she began tearing them into strips. He at first made a move to stop her, but then abandoned that thought. She was doing more than tearing up her petticoats; she was rending her bonds to the white world that had never accepted her. She had only worn them and the dresses out of love for her husband, to try and fit into his world. But the women of the settlement had never really accepted her. Oh, they were polite and kind enough, but she wasn't one of them. Never had been; never could be. Once Trapper Dan realized this, which she had always known, he and Morning Song just lived their own simple life together. They still lived as friends with the white settlers in town but, not as part of them.

Together, Trapper Dan and Morning Song bandaged the man's wounds and covered him up with a soft quilt, filled with goose down. For the next three days, they took turns sitting beside the unknown stranger, who was fighting for his life, and bathed his fevered brow with cool water. Morning Song would help change his bandages and, if necessary, his bedding, wash them in boiling water and dry them for the next time. At the beginning of the third day, they tried forcing the man to accept liquids...bullion, water, anything that would keep him from dehydration. During those three days, the man became increasingly delirious, crying out for somebody named, "Jake" and repeating the sounds he had first grunted in the doorway, "Ma- hoo" or "Ma-thoo" or something like it.

The morning of the fourth day dawned bright and warmer, both outside the cabin and inside. The blizzard had tapered off to a gentle snow and then given way to a brilliant late winter day. Inside, the stranger's fever had finally broken. The redness and ugly draining of his wounds had diminished to a light rose' and a trickle. On the fourth day, also, the man was able to take nourishment and speak coherently. His name was Sam Whitlock. He was a trapper and prospector, who had lost is partner, Jake, his sled and all but one dog of his entire team to a patch of thin ice on a lake, some three-day's trek away. That he made it at all was a miracle. The way he claimed to have been saved bordered on the bizarre. There was no doubt the man had been attacked by a mountain lion...a big one. But, he told Trapper Dan that the lead dog, Matu, had somehow escaped out of his harness, found a hole in the ice and found Sam just in time to save him from the cat. That was some tough gristle for Trapper Dan to chew, but he wasn't about to call the man a liar. Perhaps Sam Whitlock's delirious fever imbedded a dream so deep into his mind that it could not be distinguished from reality. Or, perhaps it all really did happen. This frozen wilderness was full of haunting mysteries that Trapper Dan would prefer never too discover.

For his part, Sam thanked God for his three saviors...the dog, the trapper and his wife. But, he worried about his friend, Matu. Where was he? Was he safe? Sam always suspected Matu was at least part wolf. Perhaps seeing his kinfolk stirred up more primal instinct in Matu than he could successfully fight and, relenting to his heritage, he joined the pack. Perhaps. Sam hoped that, wherever his friend might be, he was safe and happy. After all, Sam owed his life to the dog. Perhaps Sam and his old friend would again cross paths somewhere in this primitive land.

But for now, Sam had made two new friends. He owed his life to them, also; and Sam was not one to shirk his duty to repay them for their kindness...if he could...which he could. Sam's and Jake's sled had carried not only furs, but gold also, the fruits of a Summer's panning. It wasn't a fortune, but it was enough to split evenly with Trapper Dan and his wife. It was enough so they would not lack supplies or comforts for a long while.

Over the next few months, while he recovered from his wounds and the perils of Winter receded into time, Sam planned with Trapper Dan to trek to the lake and salvage the sled and its treasures. They would take the horse, a block-and-tackle set, as much rope as they could accumulate, axes to cut logs for a raft, a grappling hook and shovels...the last, to bury the bodies of Jake Malenkovich and the dogs. Morning Song would stay behind to take care of the cow and chickens. Upon hearing this, Morning Song unleashed a string of wails, war-hoops and persuasive womanly ways on her husband, the likes of which frightened bachelor Sam. There was no way she was going to be left behind. After some weeks of alternately pouting, pandering and persuading, Trapper Dan finally relented and allowed Morning Song to accompany them. He would get a neighbor friend to keep an eye on the cabin and livestock while they were gone.

The Spring was new when they were ready to begin, but most of the ice had broken up and rejoined the local lakes in their never-ending cycles of life. The lake-of-death for which they searched would probably be no different. The supplies were loaded onto a travois that was harnessed to the horse and they all set off. The trip being mostly uneventful, the trio arrived on the afternoon of the third day at the shores of the lake where Sam had cheated Death. The next three days were spent cutting logs for a crude raft, calculating the most probable location of the sled at the bottom of the lake and finding an adequate anchor tree, to which the block-and-tackle would be secured. Finally, on the morning of the seventh day, they were ready to start dragging the bottom with the grappling hook. Sam poled out to the approximate spot he thought the sled had crashed through the ice. Taking the grappling hook, he threw it several times without success. Finally, he hooked something in the frigid water. His heart beat fast and his breathing became heavy in the chilly Spring air, as he kept the rope on the grappling hook taut and poled with one hand back to the shore.

Morning Song kept pressure on the rope, while Sam and Trapper Dan threaded the rope through the block-and-tackle they had fastened high in a nearby tree. They kept the device up high so the runners of the sled, being hauled backwards, would be lifted up enough to pass over rocks and sunken debris. This done, they attached it to the horse's harness and they all pulled with every ounce of strength they had. Their greatest fear was that the rope would snap or that portion of the sled they had hooked, which they thought to be the handle, would give way. Neither happened and the sled's inertia was slowly overcome. Twice, they had to keep pressure on the rope while the end was retied to the horse's harness. Slowly, slowly, with enormous effort the heavy sled began to emerge from the icy water, dragging the human and canine corpses behind it.

First came the sled, with supplies and treasures intact, the furs being preserved well in the frigid water. The tangled body that had been Jake Malenkovich came next. Sam and Trapper Dan carefully cut the prospector's corpse free and laid it aside, covering it with chunks of floating ice and a piece of canvass. Then came the dogs Sam had loved so well. Those trusted, loyal friends that had never let him down. They suffered horribly under Jake, but never once had they turned on him. That's why Sam had to put a stop to Jake's cruelty. Slowly, the dogs emerged from their icy grave; two, four, six, eight, ten...eleven. Eleven? No. There had been ten dogs in the team, plus the lead dog, Matu. Sam looked. A scream of incredible intensity vomited out Sam's mouth and echoed in the still morning air. NO! NO! That cannot be! That cannot be the bloated, lifeless body of his friend, Matu! NO! It can't! Sam sunk to his knees and stretched his weary arms toward a mysterious God he just didn't understand.

"God in Heaven!" Sam cried. "How can this be?" Sam wailed some more. Indeed, how could it be? Sam had seen the heavy sled drag all the dogs into that frozen hell. And yet, just as surely, he had seen Matu dispatch the mountain lion and lead the man to safety. Sam had clung desperately to the dog's tail. He touched it. It was not his imagination. Sam buried his head in his hands and began to sob again, just as he had when he reached the safety of that shore so many weeks ago.

Trapper Dan examined more closely the bodies of the dogs. There were eleven. The lead dog was very large and white. Morning Song stood motionless. She knew. She knew that was the beast she had seen the night Sam Whitlock arrived at their cabin door. She knew, but she could not tell, for fear the spirit of the beast would return and punish her betrayal. When Sam had cried himself into exhaustion, Trapper Dan approached him with a flask of strong, burning rum, to help Sam calm his frayed nerves. It worked. Sam sat beneath the tree, while Trapper Dan and Morning Song cut the dogs out of their harnesses and carried them to a small clearing, where they would be buried. They had carried all but Matu. "No!" cried Sam. "No. I have to bury him myself. Nobody touch him." With that, he arose, went over to the body of his dear friend and, lifting it with loving arms that still ached from his wounds, he carried it to the head of the dog team, which was laid out as it would have been in their traces. That's where Matu belonged...at the head of the team. God, Sam loved that dog. Trapper Dan and Morning Song set to digging graves for the dogs. Sam dug Matu's himself. As for Jake, they decided to take his body back to the settlement, wrapped in canvass and packed in ice, which they would glean on their way back. There, he would receive a proper Christian burial. Besides, Sam told the trapper, Jake didn't deserve to be buried with these dogs.

By the end of the next day, the furs and gold had been transferred onto the travois and the trio was ready to set out for the settlement at daybreak. That night, Sam sat next to the fire and tried in vain to make some sense of all that had happened. Try as he might, he couldn't understand. With the aid of the remainder of Trapper Dan's bottle of rum, Sam fell into a fitful sleep.

The next morning was no less disturbing for Sam Whitlock. He was sullen and surly, angry at being cheated out of his friend, Matu and angrier still because he couldn't explain the presence of Matu's body still attached to the sled, when he knew it was Matu who saved his life. The travois was packed, bowed heavily with gold, furs and enough supplies to last them to the cabin. Trapper Dan and Morning Song had cached the block-and-tackle, the rope and the sled, which was repairable. They'd come back for it later. Sam stood staring out onto the lake in the crisp, early Spring air, going over every possible explanation in his mind again...and again...and again. He sensed more than heard the presence of Morning Song, as she came to stand beside him. "I saw him," she said quietly, reasoning that, since Sam had seen Matu also, she wasn't betraying the dog's spirit. "The night you came to the cabin. He was there...outside. He was there to make sure you were safe. He loved you."

Sam turned and looked into her soft, brown eyes. They were real; she was telling the truth. But, it wouldn't make any difference. She was a native. Her culture was replete with fantasy and legends in which the whites could not or would not believe. "They won't believe you, either," he told her.

"I don't want them to know," she said. "To our people, the spirit of such an animal must be protected. It is a good spirit, but it can become very bad, if it is angered. That's why I will not speak of him to anyone but you." With that, she turned and silently walked back to where Trapper Dan was waiting.

Could it be, Sam wondered? Could Sam have been saved by the spirit of a dead dog? But, it was no apparition that sunk its teeth into Toma's throat and spilled his blood into the snow. Sam had eaten the cat's flesh. That was surely no ghost. Sam took in a deep breath and sighed, the vapor from his warm breath billowing in the cold morning air. He stopped. Breath? Breath! That was it! That's what was so different about the dog that had saved Sam's life! Breathing. Something all living things do so naturally and automatically that we hardly ever notice it...sometimes, even its absence.

Sam flashed the whole ordeal through his mind, trying to picture every time he had seen the dog, after the accident. Fighting the cat; guarding Sam's campsite; facing down the wolves; and leading Sam to the cabin. The man couldn't recollect one time he noticed hot breath coming out of the dog's mouth! Zombies, the living dead, do not breathe! That's why Matu was able to dispatch the huge puma so readily; that's why he kept his distance from Sam's fire; that's why he didn't eat the piece of meat Sam had thrown to him; and that's why the wolves were afraid to attack the two lone travelers...they knew the dog was a spirit to be feared. The dog's devotion to Sam had endured even into death. Sam began to tremble. He wished he still had some of Trapper Dan's rum left. Buttoning his coat, Sam wheeled about, into the rising sun and followed his two companions.

Sam never went back to his life as a trapper and prospector. Somehow, he could never bring himself to revisit the sites of the greatest adventure of his life. Thanking Trapper Dan and Morning Song for their kindness, Sam moved into the settlement for a year, taking odd jobs to stay alive. After that, he abandoned his dreams of riches in gold and furs, returning to his home and what was left of his family. His dad had gone to join his mother in eternity and his sister had married well...to, of all people, a supervisor in a fur-trading company. Even with the comparative wealth she and Trapper Dan enjoyed at the settlement, Morning Song was still never fully accepted by the white culture. But, that was all right. Wealth can't buy happiness, but it can make misery a lot easier to live with.

Unfortunately, Sam Whitlock fared not so well. Haunted by dreams and spirits of things best left untold, Sam succumbed to the ravages of demon rum and prowled the pubs in search of answers that can never be found. Many times, he would be asked about his time in the desolate north woods, but he always refused to discuss his ordeal. That is, unless he were drunk. For enough rum or whiskey or even, if the inquisitor were wealthy, brandy, Sam would relate his tale of gold, furs, dogs, wolves and the walking dead. And do it in such a way that the listener would come away trembling like a leaf and unable to soundly sleep for a fortnight or more.

That's how I learned about his amazing adventure, not long before Sam died...alone and penniless. But, before we parted, I promised Sam that I would not let his story fade quietly into oblivion. And so, here it is...for Sam. Was he crazy, as many of his detractors portrayed? Did it all really happen? I don't know...surely. I believed him. But even now, years later, there exists in that small section of primordial frozen wilderness, the legend of a white dog or wolf...the accounts vary, that roams the forests in search of those in peril. Once in a great while...every few years or so, a traveler will return from that remote area with a tale of a hunter who followed a white dog around a frozen lake, instead of cutting across it; or of a prospector who was coaxed around a gully in the Winter, instead of going through it...only to find out later that a wall of deadly snow had collapsed into it and would have killed him. Yes, I believed Sam Whitlock...but you needn't. The facts, as they were told to me, are here presented. The decision is yours.

The End


Offie C. Wortham

A scream shatters the air, followed by the breaking of glass and gun shots.

A baby cries, for parents or guardians preoccupied elsewhere,

entertaining drunken and drugged friends.

Foul-mouthed and forgotten children play in the streets darting between fire trucks racing to false alarms.

Police cars have gone insane racing through red and yellow lights.

Loud, deafening, earsplitting boom boxes, car radios, TV's, DVD’s and CD's flow through your walls, floor, and ceiling,

Like a cyclone or hurricane through chicken wire.

You close your eyes and try to relax and sleep.

You pray for one moment of peace, silence, or quiet.

Meanwhile ………………..

30 miles out in the suburbs, a person says to their companion,

Come on Dear, let's go inside.

The noise from these frogs and crickets is driving me crazy!

Teaching the Prose Poem at the 100th Anniversary of the Great War

Mac Gander

In a prose poem the lyricism of the line is lost in the way that love is lost from the lyric when the rhyme is dull or when a marriage turns toward the work of marriage or our age proceeds into the business of what it means to age. Children are lyric poets because they make amazing shapes in the snow or mud with their hands and then wear the feeling of the moment like a cloak until a wind comes up and they clutch the cloak closer and tighter as the wind increases, steadily but slowly enough that none of us notice how the cloak eventually becomes our skin, so then we need a new cloak, this one made of the blood of animals and the screams of small children who have been sacrificed to a machine made out of our good intentions and the great capitalist enterprise that has brought lust into a very clear spot—a spotlight really, where everyone can see us, dead drunk and naked as we are, holding bibles and a credit card.

Calm down she said, calm down,  please, this is enough, doucement, mahal, and I want to, but then there is another sound, outside the window, the dog starts barking—a car has stopped at the front of the driveway, the red lights glare in the window and of course—who knew?—the newspaper comes at this hour with its new glad tidings, a new chance to count the deaths, and it is any day you want it to be darling, but just make sure it is not this day, because we already have something planned for you, and we are sure you will like it, horrifying as that may seem to you.

Well, that’s easy to say, but is it true? Of course not. The first time I understood this, I was walking down a dark side street in a place that almost looked like a city, except the houses were very small, like the kind of houses rats or weasels would have if vermin had houses instead of grand towers, and someone whispered to me from a doorway—she was shrouded in darkness—and she hissed my name, close she said, come close, I need to touch you before you are destroyed, and the street was filled with broken glass, the sharp edges glistening so beautifully in the starlight, the mist that had fallen making colors that would be memorable even after a dream stopped—if only this were a dream, like something from which one might wake—and I let her touch me, her cold hand so pale in the darkness touched my face and she said, come closer, I need to taste you, and this was when I became terrified, I was clutched by a moment from which I could not extract myself, like a dream but this was real, so I had to give in, and felt then how my skin flaked away as her sharp teeth cut against me, you are lovely, she said, eat these lilacs, fast, before they start to melt and pressed something cold and dark against my mouth.

Several years passed, and then centuries. I had written all the books of the world, every word perfectly inscribed in a sort of crabbed manuscript that no one else could read, but I knew then that I had become God. Nothing could prevent me from inventing the world that I entered, and the dimensions of it were so perfected that I could live there forever, except for this nagging feeling that I had forgotten something—a sort of void at the center of it, so that even though even all the people, the buildings, the tall towers and humble huts, the rivers and mountains, the low meadows and rolling hills, the new flowers in the windrows and the creatures that crept across the velvet, seemed almost real, I knew they were not.

I was in the doctor’s office again. He told me I would die, not today or tomorrow, or anytime soon for that matter, but someday—that it was inevitable. Everything that lives dies, he says. It is hard in my profession, to see so much death. Even you will die, perfect and beautiful as you are. I kissed him. I forgave him for his sorrow. I gave him an envelope with a letter in it, and told him it held the secret of endless life, but if he opened it he would die. He laughed, we both shared a good laugh then, in fact, then broke out the brandy and cigars and sat before a roaring fire in a country house in Britain. It was 1913.

Not a word

Phil Innes

The dream or reverie:—

I imagined I was at the coop taking photos of the kitchen for a project, but found myself in the conference room with Alex the general manager, and Sabine who had set up the photo shoot, and several other people I did not know.

Across the table from me was a woman, perhaps my age, accused of shop-lifting. There was a police officer present taking notes.

The woman, very well dressed, was accused of stealing some facial cream worth sixteen dollars. She had no attitude about her of denying the charge and had apparently put it in her pocket and walked out of the store.,

I listened to myself speaking in my daydream like some consulting Dr. Jung. I was speaking looking directly to her eyes but conscious of also addressing everyone in the room, saying  that I thought it was fascinating that she had stolen the cream when she could have bought the entire contents of the aisle. And saying that the stealing was significant as if by applying the cream she would then appear to be 28 years old instead of 60, stealing the years between. You stole the cream I emphasized, merely buying and applying it would not be enough.

Fearlessly I continued: you wish to be valued as a woman as you appear now, and the last values you remembered being appreciated for were from some 30 years ago, so you acted to ‘steal’ your youth. But what you really want is to be appreciated as a woman of 6o — as you and I know this is very little appreciated in our society and this act of stealing was a conscious ploy on your part to both take what society offered, but also to generate a frisson at this cusp where a deeper value can be assessed about your true 60 year old self. A deeper value for you and for us.

Amazingly no one else spoke after these prognostications and this deeper accusation I had spoken hung in the air as though it was not the woman who seemed accused now but the rest of us. I had to say something about that, the crime was not hers alone, but society’s crime too, since it did not happily admit the value of 60 year old women’s expressions, and there was a complicity to her action which involved the coop, myself, the police officer, and the other unknown people in the room.

Still no one spoke as if I were speaking so true there was no need.

Taking the little can of face-cream I pushed it back to her and said that she should go back into the store and pay for it, or she should put it back on the shelf, as if some exercise had been completed for all us to engage and the cream itself was no longer necessary, or should steal it again.

No one in the room, not the coop management nor the police officer nor the unknown others objected to my suggestion even as the woman got up taking the cream with her, and paused at the door looking back, “not a word!” I said.

“You are like some actor here, perhaps an angelic one, but we must each of us decide what to make of the scene in our hearts and minds, not decide what must be done about others, for we who do not honor women of an age this is an exercise for our souls.”

She then disappeared and no one saw where nor spoke.

Note to a Young Vietnamese Woman

Toni OrtneR

© Toni Ortner, 2013

Six cousins dead

your mother a whore for an American general in Saigon

who mistook your father for a spy and had him shot.

Than Lee, your husband, twenty years old,

forced to join the Vietcong.

The birth of Chan Lee, a healthy child two months old,

a miracle

black eyes beginning to focus on the world.

Someday the war will end. The sky will be still and blue.

Than Lee and I will build a mud hut with a thatched roof

own chickens   work a rice paddy under the hot sun_______

the last thought you had as you nursed Chan Lee

on a bed of straw in the underground bunker

before seven American soldiers machine gunned the trap door

shot you through the back of your head

tossed a gallon of gasoline over Chan Lee

struck a match and laughing lit him like a fire cracker.

Sister Camilla/Watts/May 22, 1974

Toni OrtneR

© Toni Ortner, 2013


Sister Camilla killed by gunshot wounds in the head

an ammunition belt around her waist

as if that was an excuse for one hundred and thirty police to surround the house.


What did she think when she saw lines of men in blue uniforms

billy clubs    grenades    automatic rifles.


When she was a girl she loved to watch the police parade down Main Street on Memorial Day

firecracker flowers floating in air

horses high stepping.

“Sister Camilla artist/poet

worked with poor people in Duluth, Minnesota

walked streets after dark to counsel unwed mothers

who needed money to put bread on the table. She wanted to make a difference.

Her death was confirmed about 40 hours after police removed the bodies.

Investigators methodically sifted the ashes through the long holiday weekend

collected a veritable arsenal of weapons.”

What is one supposed to believe?

This is Watts in l974 where color makes a difference.

This is a woman in a country that will not listen.


“Sister Camilla lies under a collapsed portion of the front porch of a rundown tenement outside of Watts

next to the charred remains of an animal believed to be her cat. She had shaggy blond hair and a bright


The quotations in this poem are taken from newspaper clippings.

Dear Mary Cassatt,

Toni OrtneR

© Toni Ortner, 2013

Dear Mary Cassatt,

I walk past your paintings of women holding babies, feeding them, bathing them, women knitting, crocheting, thumbing through pages of books, placing bowls of polished apples on mahogany tables, serving tea and biscuits on silver trays, arranging bouquets of flowers.

“How trite,” says a fat man puffing on a big cigar. “Why can’t women think of anything more interesting to paint other than such quaint scenes?”

.                                                                     You painted what you saw.

Your family bundled you off to Europe thinking you were queer because you wanted to study art

Degas said, “The only thing wrong in this painting of the mother and child is that the infant boy looks like Jesus, but the woman standing next to him looks like his English nursemaid.”

After fifteen years when you returned, you got a one liner in the local paper that said, “The daughter of Mr. Cassatt, President of a steel company, has returned from a voyage abroad with a miniature poodle, the smallest the town has ever seen.”

                                                                          You continued to paint.

Degas said, “I refuse to admit any woman can draw like that” when he saw an Aquatint that you had engraved of a naked woman standing in a hotel room drawing water for her bath pouring it into a blue and white porcelain vase gazing at her reflection as she bent over the mirror.

                                                      You continued to paint. You painted what you saw.

Women sipping lemonade in the summer in formal gardens wearing wide straw bonnets to keep their skin from getting burnt.

                                                                They are women waiting.

You painted a portrait of your mother a stern matriarch with blazing blue eyes. The blue of her eyes echoes the blue of the porcelain dishes and the blue bruises on her knuckles; her hands are folded neatly on her lap.


A note beneath the painting declares for years you refused to draw with a pencil wanting so to improve the accuracy of your lines that you drew only on metal knowing when the design was finished every mistake would be visible. Would Degas do that?

                   You kept on painting women in every kind of attitude and position.

When you developed cataracts in both eyes and were going blind, you drew pastels of women holding children to raise money for the Suffrage Movement.

As I walk through the rooms, your colors change to truer harsher shades blood red canvases streaked with purple knotted with pain tangled in veins dark rims beneath sleepless eyes heat and silent cries.

                                                         Critics called you a minor painter.

                                                         What can women do to be seen?                        

Midnight and shadow

Toni OrtneR

© Toni Ortner, 2013

Dear Friends,

I have no intention of keeping you in the dark although I sit at this desk night after night. This is to formally announce that My Previous Open Door Policy to which you have been long accustomed has ended. If you knock at my door unexpected, you will notice the new lock. It is not you who is being excluded; no one has a duplicate key. I know how free and easy I have always been. Now I am different. All of us change minute by minute. I understand this news arrives unwelcome as well as unexpected but please do not under any circumstance (however grave) calling the cell or land phone or texting me messages while I am writing. My time is my own. I am sick of serving like your maid and cleaning up your mess. I am sick of buying expensive bottles of wine and watching you gulp in down like slavering cows until the whole bottle is gone.  My refrigerator is no longer your personal vault stocked with delicacies like black caviar.  No calves’ heads here. Not a single bagel. Just an entire loaf of whole wheat bread frozen that I defrost for dinner when I pat on some peanut butter and jam. This is the new me. Who I am.  Sorry to say. your pretty pony has stopped dancing and all the complaints in the world won’t whip it back into action. I have removed the worn halter and reins. I won’t be taken for a ride anymore by a guest that stretches an hour to two weeks. The guest room that contained that comfortable queen sized bed is reduced to desk, chair, printer and a glass of water at regular intervals.  I am certain you consider me weird and queer. I know this will occasion names that are most despicable. Face it friends, we all need to accept what is, forget the past, learn to live in the present. Think of this not as a rejection but as a rare opportunity. Remember that when one door closes, another will open. There are always women around who are willing to be your suckers.

Open the cash box and they will come on the run baaing like little lambs. You will become the Good Shepherd. You could have a flock. 

No fence or gate for me. I gallop across these black and white keys all hours of the day and night shades drawn down and turn Pandora loud. I write when I want and sleep on special occasions. Don’t expect me to laugh at your jokes. I have heard them for years and am simply bored to tears. I stopped having Botox injected and will not answer any snail mail requests to donate to your charities. I barely have Enough time to write much less hours to march for the homeless or donate limbs to the amputated; However, I will still run for the girls. I wasted years being a wonderful hostess with once a month fetes & artificial flowers pasted on all the wooden decks along with cakes of ice at Xmas shaped like leaping deer. Your always available empathetic listener has stuffed her ears, turned into the White Rabbit and run down the Hole. I will not come out even if you shout. I cannot care less what you think… being talk of the town stinks. I don’t read the New Yorker. I would rather be mute than cute.

Do not accuse me of losing my mind. Take a good look around. How about the terrorists who chopped off Daniel Pearl’s head and let it roll around on the ground like a rotten cabbage? Masked gunmen stormed into a fancy mall in Nairobi, shot 39 people dead, mostly women and children, then wounded more than l50/ and is anyone taking the blame/ yes police officers did sweep right in after the gunmen fired/ a witness who watched the masked men said, “Believe me, these guys were good shooters. You could tell how well they were trained” / dead bodies mixed with the injured along with plastic mannequins of designer clothing stores, expensive cups of frozen yogurt and plates filled with fresh sushi while here (Land of the Brave and Free) housewives in supermarkets lean on carts as if they were  canes using calculators as they scan the shelves for anything cheap. This is fact. Not Fiction. You say I am a big fat dope. The word dope is used for those who shoot up heroin; indeed, in parts of this town you see them lined up nodding by the methadone clinic. I am sorry to hear that you feel rejected by this letter; however, I am no longer reluctant to speak .What pops out of my mouth is not planned in advance. Forget Polite. I have had little sleep for one week. The friend from Rome who walked in last week expecting a hug or kiss got a fast kick in the ass and was promptly booted out. Alas, I am not the generous benevolent woman you believe me to be.  I have not the slightest intention of rescinding these words. The word Gracious is the equivalent of Stupid. I have had more than enough. Clean up your own dirty dishes. If the floors are dirty, grab a broom. You have two hands. My fingers are numb from typing.

If circumstances should alter in the future, I will in due course, send word by pigeon.

Yours Truly,

The Writer


Toni OrtneR

© Toni Ortner, 2013

It was December first, a Thursday night. Claus had been driving from one shopping mall to the next all day in his beat up dented gray 1979 Chrysler; he was exhausted. The damn windshield wipers were not working properly. He should have replaced those months ago, but he never had time in December to take care of personal business. December was the month of 19 hour days when he daydreamed of sitting in his armchair, watching ER, sipping a nice cold glass of Bud  and munching on cottage fried potato chips. No such luck. He usually got to bed by midnight seven days a week; if he were lucky, he grabbed a Big Mac and fries at the nearest McDonald’s. Now he was stuck in downtown traffic in Stanford, Connecticut, and he hadn’t even finished his tour of Connecticut and reached New York State.

Of all the jobs a person could possibly have, this was a dilly. He had no choice of a career like normal persons. His career was set from the day of his birth since he was the third child in the family and a boy. His father, nearing sixty was overjoyed at finally having a boy to train for the position. Claus had been trained since he learned how to talk. He remembered the first Christmas. Everyone else got to be a kid, ask for gifts, decorate a tree with lights, string popcorn and open presents. In Claus’s home there was no time for anything other than reading lists. Hundreds of lists arrived in the mail each day. The post office used five mailmen to deliver mail to their house, and the letters arrived on some days as many as three times an hour. Just sorting through the letters and arranging them according to states, then cities in alphabetical order required the participation of the whole family: Claus, his father, mother, aunt and uncle, six cousins, and four older sisters. Claus who was forced to read each request. From the beginning the task was interminable. Request after request after request.  Every single child wanted something. How was he, Claus, supposed to evaluate whether the child had been good or bad. How much time did his father think Claus had for these evaluations.

  “He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you are bad or good, so be good for goodness sake,” was playing everywhere on every street corner from loud speakers in every mall. The song was his personal nightmare. How had his father managed to alphabetize the requests according to state and city, evaluate each and decide an appropriate gift?

These days toys were made of plastic and little girls did not receive china bisque dolls with hand-sewn dresses. A handful of people bothered to exchange homemade gifts like jam or cookies or pumpkin or chocolate chip banana bread but that was mainly in Vermont. Twenty years ago letters began to arrive from adults, but the Claus household was not willing to sort through them since adults do not believe in Santa Claus. Christmas in America was made for merchants who sold to children and children were influenced by ads on TV. These days it was mainly video games or torture and violence with policemen shooting each other, blood dripping down or firing at space missiles and hostile aliens. The manufacturers were fiercely competitive. What had happened, Claus often asked himself, to the spirit of Christmas. One thing that always cheered him up on these long drives scouting through toys offered at the malls was the sight of Christmas lights. Here in Stamford the windows were outlined with white bulbs that flashed on and off. The bare branches of the trees at the Ridgeway Shopping Center were covered with red, yellow, blue and green twinkling lights. On some of the side streets, neighbors competed with each other to see who had the most fantastic display of lights.

Down one side street, he just passed; a stone cottage had four wire deer outlined with tiny white lights on the lawn and an entire sleigh of multicolored lights on the roof. The adjoining home had six prancing deer on their lawn outlined the same white lights and on top of their roof a gigantic star with large silver dove.

Claus hated darkness and winter and looked forward to his trip to Miami on December 26 when the job was done. At this point Claus was thirty-eight so retirement was nowhere in sight. People who worked for the government received enormous pensions after twenty or twenty-five years of work. Claus had a friend who worked for the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration who was going to retire with an income of sixty thousand a year plus total health benefits for himself and his kids.

Claus was not married. His job was not listed. No one knew who he was, where he lived, or how hard he worked. He was not even eligible for Cobra benefits because he never had a regular job from which he was fired from. He would not get unemployment. Tonight he felt depressed and unrecognized. What woman would want to share a life like his, every December and most of November driving from mall to mall staring in store windows, evaluations requests in millions of letters. He had one more mall to hit tonight, the Danbury Mall. It was already 10 P.M. Rush hour was long since over so he could scoot up there if he took 95 North, got on Route 7 towards Danbury.  He had forgotten to check Map quest that morning, but the mall would be lit up like a firecracker. He did the best he could. It was a job.

Under the Rainbow

Jeri Rose

            Brian Dee, street artist who paints garish tempera colors on cardboard that speak of a happy simplicity to bright visual life, was sitting leaning against the street side wall of the Cafe Chameleon in Santa Cruz.  He was leaning back in his chair, so his shoulder-length dirty-blonde hair which got quite blonde at the ends kind of wafted a bit behind his head.  One hand was on the white tabletop, the other lay in his lap.  The night was cool and he had on his beige three-quarter coat.  Sitting on the other side of the table with his hunched over back to the wall was a dark-haired fellow whose dark, three-day beard gave his face, dark tanned, with dark brown eyes, a truly dirty look.  He wore a veteran's cap and more than one coat; the bulk covering his legs suggested more than one pair of pants under the outer ski pants of navy blue material.  Brian introduced him as White Fox.  I joined them aware that White Fox looked not like a street person, nor like a houseless, what is commonly called homeless , but like a traveler, like one who is rugged and ready.  He appeared to know, to truly and deeply apprehend human and natural reality in a kind of balance which left him, not appearing like a woodsman nor hunter, rather like a soldier who has fought society's battles for society's reasons out in the woods, and who has returned knowing the real reason for those battles.  That reason included what he learned in the woods.  Once the various darknesses of his face had sorted themselves out to my eyes, I could see he was not dirty, not even his hair was oily.  Despite all the capability, strength and awareness projected by his solid presence, his hunched posture seemed to hint of a deep trouble, something weighing upon him from the world which touched , no, lodged deep inside him.  The humor in his eyes was not diminished, but his face had a hunted, haunted quality of a man with a problem that called into doubt the foundation of his spiritual existence.

            He started to tell me what was on his mind, a dark twisted story of a wife born to wealth, slated to marry a senator's son.  Somehow they had met in Rainbow, one of the gatherings the Hippies still hold attesting to the ongoing power of their vision. She, who was called Yellow Bird (the Rainbow tribe takes on names reminiscent of Native American names intended to suggest some reflection of the person’s spirit), had been a magical lady.  But the story ran in a lot of confusion as she apparently disappeared with an old gray-bearded hippie who later showed up without her and without his beard.  The tale took turns through several “Theys” and mysterious messages received from bus drivers as he boarded buses looking for her, knowing that they were following him, preventing him, her parents' wealth creating false leads which brought him to places they expected him, waited for him, and turned him around and around until, like a kid blindfolded, he tottered off to pin a tail only on his own ass.  Truly he became a jackass in his own eyes.

            As the story tumbled out, I gathered that Yellow Bird had been deemed insane by her family.  Her family had found shrinks to concur and to incarcerate in posh prisons of psychiatric power.  He had broken her out twice, and her family had turned her out among the dregs of the drug-hazed pimp-controlled world of prostitution.  White Fox could not understand why a woman's family had done this obscenity to her.  Then, as we spoke, the background of her inheritance waiting for her was brought out. Then, White Fox asked in a boyish, plaintive, broken voice, "why would they care, they who had millions, about her few hundreds of thousands if she returned to claim them?  What need had they of that when they had so much?"  I felt the Truth of Spirit come upon me, and I knew I was the oracle to the great question plaguing his being; although I still did not know how deep it went nor why it had skewered his guts except as manifested through the loss of his wife. 

            So as he asked me again how her parents could have done this to their daughter and why, when they had so much, I looked him in the eyes and smiled, and said, "don't you know yet... they never have enough" and then I yelled it, holding his jacket lapels so his face was closer to mine attempting to inject the enormity of the meaning "They Never have Enough."  I let him go, and we sat there laughing at the great truth of Mammon and its manifestations in the omnipresent city of Babylon.  Then we sat in the cold black night air as though we were guru and student on the mountain top when the student attains enlightenment and the guru is guru no more.  Then both share the vision equally, glad of the freedom to be beyond those roles of student and teacher, yet sad that vision doesn't provide real wings to fly from the eternal flaws of this world to the place we know by contrast as Paradise.  So we were transformed even as we sat in front of a coffeehouse with shiny speeding cars a few feet from us;  the night air seemed crisper and colder and more part of where we were than the buildings, cars, sidewalk because it was natural and not a product of Mammon.

            However the story was not yet over, for now that White Fox understood Them, he needed to confess why he was in their clutches in order for the Gordian knot in his guts to unravel.  I did not know that, but I was guided to guide him and noticed the necklace he wore which was a twisted confused chain on his neck.  There were four cobalt blue beads on it and a green jade mala bead and more.  I asked if I might hold it, promising not to defile it nor smear any of my karma on it; we laughed at this New Age joke.  I commented on each treasure while he told me its significance.  I came to a dried paw looking like a thin and grasping hand it was in the fist a little larger than a quarter coin.  The wrist and part of the forearm were still attached and were two inches in length.   The fingers were clenched and had long nails.  I was curious what kind of animal it came from, but he had found it after spending a losing day at the racetrack.  I said it was a fitting symbol of greed, a rapacious thin grasping hand.  White Fox gasped; he told me that he had often won money at the track as much as three thousand dollars, but that when he and Yellow Bird had been down on their finances, they had gone with their last money and lost it at the track.  After that she had gone home to claim her inheritance, had gone back to Babylon and been swallowed up in the great maw of Mammon. 

            The need for money and the desire for money are close emotions.  The greed that characterized Yellow Bird's family was the same as the greed rampant at the track.  The belief in poverty is the other side of the two-headed coin employed by those who never have enough so they cheat, lie, bribe, and generally engage in the political and underworld dealings which are now making our great nation a dirty, grimy, money-grubbing place. 

            Why Yellow Bird chose as her partner one who would not fully free her from her past but would re-inoculate her with that energy, is not known.  Why White Fox needed this painful lesson is not for me to say.  However, I find that Rainbows being privy to a greater truth are held to a higher standard by the forces of the overweening reality.  So beware ye children of the light that ye sully not your birthright for it goes harder on you and yours than on those plodding with society's blinders through the fog of society's making.

            This story is true and embedded in a nation that has gone from a place where the wealthy ten percent owned forty percent to a nation where due to money maneuvering, land acquisitions through the Savings and Loan debacle, pension robbing with company take overs, incessant wars, restraint of trade on the American farmer with a prohibition on the use of hemp for fuel that would broaden the base of the economy and restore the ecology of the world by reversing the greenhouse effect caused by the use of fossil fuels, to a now where a mere one percent owns forty percent of all the wealth in the nation. People walk about stunned to find themselves having difficulty keeping the essentials overhead and on the table. The people who have garnered this position for themselves will kill their young, and that is the tale of John F. Kennedy and Yellow Bird. They talk about the rest of us as Useless Eaters. They see us needing, for example, cars and the creation of cars for us as using up the resources of the earth. They are invested in having the resources stretched to their use for ages on a planet that will be pristine and allow them all the comforts of jets and limos. With us being only ten percent of who we are now, we will be their chauffeurs, their maids, their doctors, and even the scientists who will perfect cloning so that they can afford to perpetuate themselves with renewed organs.

            All of this is a tribute to a club that does not value diversity of people and would preserve the variety of species by pandering to their own interests. Are they correct? Are you willing to become sterile eating the GMOs that poison you because organic food is too expensive and you are too busy to plant a garden? The government charges a farmer to be licensed as organic, but supports and gives all manner of financial and legal status to Monsanto and those companies that produce GMO foods that purport to be able to feed more people while the actual production is so low that in India farmers commit suicide when their crops fail because after years of supporting themselves, they find themselves bankrupt and losing their small family farms.

            The handwriting of this policy is in laws written as tomes nobody can read or understand without legal knowledge and perseverance to do the work that is at the heart of what politicians are voted in to do to preserve our freedom and provide for our welfare. At the core, we need to become incorruptible because we know when we have enough, and sadly we need to make a judgment about those who have so much that it impoverishes sixty percent of the nation. Those who have bought the laws have engaged in an illegal act. They must not be permitted to continue to enjoy the fruits of their theft.