Category Archives: Serial

The Gods of Wind and Air 4

“And your wife and child are starving as well?”

Pellan gave no answer.

Taipai went on, “Well, of course they are. If you take me to them, I will do what I can.”

Pellan shook his head. Taipai waited. The one leather of bitter melon could not have satisfied the man, but he did not ask for another, though he could easily have taken them all. Taipai considered his stance, his obvious emaciation, and the fact that he was almost shaking with fatigue. He said, “You don’t trust me?”

“In fact, I do. But not with the lives of my wife and child.”

“They need food. I have food and you could take it. Why don’t you?”

“You gave me food when I was hungry. I cannot rob you now.”

Taipai understood. He said, “Every man has a wall he will not crawl over. It is a puzzle you cannot solve, but I can.” He held out the sack again and said, “I give you all of it. Take it to your family.”

The priest turned his back on Pellan and his spear, and began picking his way up the frozen waterway. Pellan clutched the sack to his chest and watched him out of sight.

The way back to his hartwa was short enough, and made lighter by the food in his belly. He gave a leather to his wife to chew on, took up his axe, and went out for wood. It took some time, since he had long since harvested all the nearby down wood. He returned and built up a fire. His wife held out a piece of bitter melon and he took it. Even though he wanted to give it all to his wife and child, he had to keep up his own strength for the hunt.

This bag of food would have kept the priest fed for a day. It might keep Pellan and his family alive for a week, but it would not last until snow melt.

It was a reprieve, not salvation.

Pellan dozed by the fire, warm for the first time in days. His wife chewed the melon, softening it with the juices of her mouth, and pressed the result into the mouth of her child. He was too young for solid food, but until her milk returned, it was all she had to give him.

An hour passed. Pellan woke with a start, and began to gather up his axe and spear. His wife watched him, cradling the infant to her empty breasts. He said, “I must go out again to hunt. I will return.”

She smiled. That smile was always a wonder to him, and the treasure of his heart. She said, “Of course you will. We will wait for you.” If she harbored doubt behind her eyes, she hid it so well that he could not see it.     More Tuesday.

The Gods of Wind and Air 3

2.

When you meet a stranger on the road
       and he wants to call you friend,
look twice to see what blade he bears
       and what he might intend.

Hunger lives within in the bones
       in the valley of the menhir.

Pellan met the priest at the edge of the forest. He seemed to know his destination. He came out of the flat where a stream ran strong in the springtime, and turned up its icy valley.

There he stopped and stared. Pellan stood before him, wearing a cloak roughly sewn from the furs of many species. Some parts of it were old and threadbare; some seemed to be newly attached to replace furs which had rotted away.

The priest remembered an old story of a cloak that had served five generations, old furs falling off, new furs sewn in to replace them, until nothing remained of the original garment. It was told for humor. This cloak looked like the one in that story, but there was no humor in its wearer’s eyes.

Pellan’s face was skull tight. His eyes had retreated into twin caves. His mouth was drawn. He had an axe at his side, and a spear in both hands, pointing toward the priest.

The priest reached inside his cloak and withdrew a sack, extended it toward Pellan, and said, “You are starving. You must eat.”

To be strung out on hunger, and tuned to aggression, then to be met with open kindness was disconcerting. It was like walking down a familiar path in the darkness to find a pit beneath your feet. Pellan didn’t know how to react.

The priest rolled back the lip of the sack to show the food within, and gestured. Against his will, Pellan lowered his spear and reached out for a piece of dried bitter melon. Hot saliva flooded his mouth. The normally flavorless crust of melon tasted better than cakes.

The priest said, “My name is Taipai.”

He has fed me, and he has told me his name, Pellan thought, adding a silent obscenity. I can’t rob him now! And I certainly can’t kill him.

Pellan said, “You know what I am?”

“Of course. But I don’t know who you are.”

“Pellan.”

“And I am a priest of Hea Santala. She makes no differentiation between serfs and masters. Or runaway serfs starving in the hills.”

Pellan made no answer. Even if this Taipai were offering help, there was no help he could give. Taipai waited, then added, “I am responsible for many. Are you responsible for others beyond yourself?”

Pellan did not answer. Taipai pressed the issue. “Do you have a wife? Children?”

“I have a wife, and one child,” he said.      More next Monday.

The Gods of Wind and Air 2

Something moved, far off but heading toward him. Pellan’s eyes followed, hoping for a deer, but finding a man instead. It was not a peasant, in rags. It was not Lord Kafi or any of his followers. This one wore a long cloak of coarse weave, buff in color, warm but plain.

A priest from the menhir then, and of no interest to Pellan. He turned his attention to the edge of the forest, where deer were most likely to appear. Minutes passed, then tens of minutes. There were no deer, but the priest continued to inch his way across the snowy landscape, and he too was bound for the forest’s edge.

How hungry do you have to be for curiosity to die? Hungrier than Pellan, apparently. He grunted in disgust at himself, and moved back under the edge of the trees, then northeastward to intercept the priest.

Deer are meat. Red bears are meat, if you are strong enough to kill one. Squirrels are meat. Krytes, lovely in their purple and gray plumage, are meat. Worms are meat, if you are hungry enough.

Man is meat, for bears and wolves.

Pellan considered the priest, who was not of his caste, and whose gods he no longer worshiped. He would weigh about as much as a deer. If he left the skull and other bones in the woods, by spring it would seem as if the man had met with wolves. The meat he could cut into strips, and dry it over a fire. He could say it was from a deer and his wife would never know.

Hungry men think strange thoughts.

Pellan considered the priest as meat as he ghosted across the snowy land, just under the edge of the forest. Then he grunted, and shook his head. Death is just death. It comes to all. There are some things a man cannot do, just to postpone it.

However, a priest so well provided with a warm cloak would not have left his temple without a sack of food. Dried meat, perhaps. Dried fruits, perhaps. Certainly he would have dried leathers of bitter melon, that staple of winter travel.

Pellan wouldn’t even have to kill the priest, unless he resisted excessively. He could be back with his wife and child in an hour, with some of the afternoon remaining to gather fuel. He could warm the hartwa, give them food, then go out tomorrow to hunt, stronger than he was today.

“Please don’t resist,” Pellan thought, as his fingers brushed the axe that hung beneath his arm. More Thursday.

The Gods of Wind and Air 1

.  .  .  the Weathermistress was cooking up something unpleasant in her cauldron of clouds.
from Valley of the Menhir

When the pot is boiling on the fire
       and cold sits crouching
outside, underneath the trees
       like a hungry beast waiting.

When the howling in the smokehole
       echoes the snuffling at the door,
and the trembling of the walls
       is like the heartbeat of the storm.

Then the gods of wind and air
       demand their portion

1.

Pellan wrapped his furs around his shoulders and touched his wife upon her cheek. The hartwa was dark and cold. The fire was down to embers. The fuel was nearly gone, and it was too late to go for more. He was too weak from hunger, and if he did not hunt now, no amount of fuel would keep them all alive.

He had hunted three times in the last few days, with only a squirrel to show for it. He needed a deer. Nothing smaller would sustain them.

Pellan looked at his son as he lay sleeping next to his wife. The boy was terribly thin. His chest moved as he breathed, and his mouth moved as if suckling. His wife had no more milk for the boy, and would not have it again, not until there was food in her own belly.

He closed the hartwa door tightly behind him.

Outside the sky was gray and smoke-blue with clouds that brushed the treetops. The gods of wind and air had gobbled up the sun. Pellan started down the path to the creek, crossed its frozen surface, and entered the pathless woods beyond. An hour later he topped out on a bluff that overlooked the valley.

There was no sun, but there was a bright spot where the sun hid behind the clouds. There were words to say, gestures to make, that would make the sun appear. That was what the priests said. That was what the old women said. Pellan made no invocations. He had grown too bitter for belief.

He had an iron axe, stolen from his master when he went feral. He had a spear. He had desperation. It would have to be enough.

There were no deer in sight. He stood still, patient as the rocks. He had no energy to waste on wandering through empty woods. He watched. He waited. His belly growled and the valley below misted over, but it was not weather mist, it was in his eyes.

Hartwas, meat sheds, barns, rows of straight-line snowbanks where fences lay overtopped: this was the world he had lived in before hunger and rebellion drove him to the hills. Now he ate his fill in summer and starved in winter. The serfs who lived below never ate their fill. They nearly starved in summer and they nearly starved in winter. But nearly starved is better than truly starved.

He could have raided them, but they were his own people, or had been. He would die before he would steal from his own kind.

That was easy enough to decide — for himself. It was harder to make that same decision for his wife and child.     More Wednesday.

Running From President 11

This has been a tale from an alternate universe. In that world, Hillary did not win and Donald did not win.

Disaffected liberals distanced themselves from Hillary after the Wiki-leaked emails told what her people did to Bernie. Disaffected Christians stuck to their guns over Trump’s immorality. It was like our universe, with a single difference. Leap’s non-candidacy had caught fire and provided an alternative which vast numbers accepted..

Donald Trump denounced him. He said that if Leap claimed to be sixteen years old, that made him too young to be President. Hillary kept her mouth shut; it was one thing she could do better than Trump

Things got out of hand. On November eighth, after a massive write-in campaign by people who surely didn’t really expect to succeed, Leap Alan Hed was voted in as the forty-fifth president of the United States.

Oh, well. Could he be any worse? The people of his alternate universe may never know.

Leap read the election results at a news stand and his heart all but stopped. Then he ran.

It is said that anyone who wants to be President is automatically disqualified by reason of insanity. Maybe; if so Leap was the sanest man in America, because he really didn’t want it. He considered trying for asylum in another country. He thought about Switzerland, but he gets a nosebleed in an elevator. He thought about Russia, but the last thing he needed was to be caught up in that tug-of-war. He considered Great Britain, but he had once lived in California and the thought of all that rain dissuaded him.

He decided to just disappear, and he did. I don’t know where he went; he didn’t tell me. Geraldo claimed to know, but that turned out to be a bluff. Somebody said they saw him heading north, following a compass, but everybody knows you can’t walk to the North Pole now that the ice caps have melted. He was probably looking for a Fortress of Solitude, and you can’t blame him.

All those people who voted for Leap are now wringing their hands and wondering what is going to happen next. Every one of them thought they were the only one who would write him in. They never thought he would win. They certainly never thought he would run to Canada like a modern day draft dodger. Which, essentially, is what he is — drafted to be President, and scared out of his wits.

Hillary has been very quiet about it all. She hopes to win in the House if they can find Leap and get him to resign. But it’s problematical. There are only fourteen Democrats and eleven Republicans in the new Congressional class. Aside from a few Libs and Greenies, the rest are all newly elected Independents, sent by a disgusted America. Bernie is smiling about that.

Donald claims he will still win, and when he does, he plans to invade Canada to bring back that traitor Leap. I think he just might.

We’ll have to leave their alternate universe now, worried sick and talking to each other about the kind of changes one man can make — even if he doesn’t want to. We have to get back to our own universe. We have problems of our own.

finis

Running From President 10

It was late on November seventh. The sun had already set and with its passing, the chill of evening had set in hard. Leap Alan Hed — calling himself Joe and hoping that none of his homeless companions around the fire would recognize him — pulled his coat closer around his shoulders and stretched his hands out to the warmth.

It was a vain hope. The press had hounded him out of his home in Dannebrog, and hounded him half way across America and back again. His picture had been spread across the country in countless newspapers and television broadcasts.

One of his companions said, “Joe,” and his tone made it clear that he knew the real name behind the nom de flight, “tomorrow is the big day. What do you think will happen?”

Leap gave up the masquerade. He said, “I don’t know. They won’t vote for me. They aren’t that stupid, no matter how frustrated they have become. They will vote for Hillary and God knows what that will mean. Or they will vote for Donald, and everybody knows what that will mean.

“In a few days, or maybe a few weeks, I’ll be able to surface again and get back something like a life of my own. I just hope there’s a country for me to go back to.”

His companion shrugged and said, “I don’t have a life to go back to. I haven’t had anything like a life in years. I can’t vote for you, or anybody else. You have to have an address to register to vote and I haven’t had an address in in a long time. But I would vote for you.”

“Why, for God’s sake? Why?”

“Because you aren’t him and you aren’t her, and anybody else is better. Somebody has to do the job. At least you don’t want it, and that means something.”

Leap quoted, “If nominated, I won’t run. If elected, I won’t serve.”

“I don’t think so. I think you would come out of hiding and do your duty.”

Leap shook his head, and just said, “No.”

“Its going to be Donald or Hillary or you,” the other said.

Leap sighed. He said, “No good can come of this.” more tomorrow

Running From President 9

Leap Alan Hed was going to Tulsa, to have it out with Billy Joe Barker. It had been eight weeks since he left his home in Dannebrog, running from the media circus that Barker had set in motion by calling on Americans to write in Leap’s name for President. Barker had started it all; Leap figured Barker owed it to him to at least try to stop it.

It was hard for Leap to travel. He could go by bus, slumped down, face covered by the brim of his hat, and take his chances on being recognized. That was how he got to Hays, Kansas. There he picked up a ride with a friend of a friend from Dannebrog who took him as far as northern Oklahoma. He found himself stranded in Ochelata on a Sunday morning.

By now Leap was hungry for normalcy, and on Sunday morning, that meant church. He couldn’t go in, of course. If you are from the city, or the north, you may not know this, but when you go into a small town southern church as a visitor, everyone in the congregation will come up and shake your hand, ask you your name, welcome you to their fellowship, and half of them will invite you for Sunday dinner. Leap would have loved that, but since his face had been in every newspaper in America . . .

The Ochelata Baptist Church was a long, low green roofed building, built around a courtyard. There was a park on the east, so that was the direction Leap used for his approach. He walked in, as bold as if he belonged there, across the park to the blind back of the sanctuary where he settled down hidden by a few trash cans and sat for two hours listening to the service taking place on the other side of the wall. From time to time, his eyes were awash with the moisture of homesickness.

He slept the day out in a wooded ravine, and walked southward on Highway 75 during the night. Morning found him somewhere, but he didn’t know where, hungry, cold, and discouraged. He was in front of a convenience store, on the outskirts of a small town, so he pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt and went in. He kept his eyes floorward as he picked out a couple of donuts and a cup of coffee, and didn’t look up at the checkout where the surveillance cameras are clustered. Outside again, he found a bench at the edge of the light.

He was on his second donut when a pickup rolled to a stop. A man of fifty got out and exchanged a few parting words with his driver before she u-turned and disappeared. Everything about their casual friendliness said man and wife. He was carrying a brown paper bag that said “lunch”. He crossed to Leap’s bench and sat down.

He glanced at Leap, looked away, then his head snapped back again. He studied Leap for about five seconds, then turned his head back toward the road and didn’t look again.

Discovered! This man knew exactly who Leap was, but he made no acknowledgment. With eyes averted, the man talked as casually as if he hadn’t guessed Leap’s identity. Leap had seen that reaction several times in the farm country and small towns where he had been wandering these last weeks. People in rural America have a respect for privacy and a willingness to mind their own business which he found admirable

Leap’s bench mate said was waiting for a bus that would take him west to Sperry where he had a job as a school custodian. And, yes, there was another bus that went south to Tulsa. After twenty years as a skilled lathe operator in a small factory, the man had lost his job after 2008. He had been out of work, except for odd jobs, for seven years, and now he was pushing a broom at age fifty, and glad to get the work.

He had gone from Democrat, to Republican, then further with the rise of the Tea Party. He had no faith in government, no faith in politicians, but he still had faith in free enterprise. Where he had worked all his life, the owner had been just down the hall, working all day behind a second hand desk in a room with plywood walls. They had gone to the same church, and every decision the owner had made had included concern for his employees.

The factory made small parts, that went onto larger parts, that then went onto automobiles. In 2008, the system collapsed and the factory folded. Leap’s temporary friend blamed free trade and Hillary and Obama. He did not blame large corporations and their CEOs. His vision of free enterprise was a hard working owner in a dusty plywood room, with forty hard working employees out on the floor making things. Multi-national corporations were outside his experience and outside his imagination.

The bus rolled up with whoosh of air brakes. As the man got up, he added, shaking his head, “Donald Trump says he’s going to fix all that.”

“Do you believe him?”

“No, not really.”

“Are you going to vote for him?”

“I might. Maybe not, though. It’s hard to vote for a man that full of hate.”

After a pause, he added, “I might just throw my vote away on this guy called Leap. That way I won’t be responsible for what happens later.” more Monday

Running From President 8

From Leap Alan Hed, somewhere in America,
to Anne, a favorite cousin, location not given.

Dear Anne,

I’m still on the run from the news media and from those who would write me in as President.  I’ve been on the road now for about six weeks. I’ve lost weight and grown a beard, but anyone who looks closely could still recognize me, so I stay hidden most of the time. That was almost a blessing at first. The high Rockies were beautiful when I could stay there. It has been getting colder every day for a while now, and I have had to come down, so I am once again hiding too close to people.

I thought the desert would be open and empty enough for me to go unnoticed, but it isn’t. I stumbled onto a deserted shack and made myself comfortable last night. Then I had midnight visitors. Five Mexicans: two young men, one young woman, a child, and an old man. They must have been a family. You could tell they were just over the border and on their way north looking for work.

Donald would have crapped himself to be caught by a bunch of “rapists and murderers”, but, of course, they were just frightened people, looking for a little peace. And hungry. Both hungry in the long term sense that had sent them looking for work, and hungry in the immediate moment. I don’t speak enough Spanish to matter, but sometimes smiles and gestures are enough. I shared my food with them. I cooked up all I had, but it wasn’t enough. Tomorrow I’ll have to take a chance and find a place to buy more.

They left this morning before the sun came up. They were very quiet as they went, but the child’s voice woke me. The old man was last to leave. He is probably my age but he looks a hundred years old. He saw that I was awake, so I said, “VIa con Dios,” and he made a little wave as he slipped out the door. I wish them well, but I fear for them. I fear that they will be caught, or die in the desert as so many do. And I fear for what will happen to them after November.

Damn these people who chose Hillary and Donald, and now they hound me to run as a joke President. Or worse, a real one. I’ll bet they thought it was funny, when it all started. Well, very little of this seems funny to me now.

I’d better quit so I can mail this when I go looking to buy food. Anyway, if I get any angrier, I’ll set the paper on fire just touching it. Soon November will have come and gone, and I can come out of hiding, and see you and Ted again. Bake me an apple pie, say November 15th, and I’ll be there to eat it.

I wonder what will become of my new Mexican friends in November?

                  Love,
                  Leap

more tomorrow