Saturday, 1 October 2016

Repent, a fable

What follows here is the first chapter of a novel fable I've been working on for a few years. Repent is the tale of the transformation Jack, a lost and mildly degenerate artist. The story starts with him as a standard sort of ant-hero that is common in contemporary art film and literature. The sort of character we are told is 'believable'. His utter lack of greatness makes him good, or so the archetype goes.

In this story Jack will learn to expect more from himself, and those around him. He will be faced with a call to real greatness requiring him to leave his broken though familiar and comforting life behind.


Repent
a fable
by William Scott

 Chapter One


“Hello.”
“Jack?”
“Lori?”
“Mom’s gone”
“Where”
“She’s . . . Gone”

These are the first words we’ve shared in 3 years.  Lori and I do not talk for any better reason than we cannot talk.  We talked to mom and she talked between.  More interpretation than mediation.  Our oath-less conspiracy allowed our mother to create the family story to her liking.

“. . . She’s dead. “

“How?”

“Heart attack.  In the pool.” 

Oh God!  I meant to see her again.  I ever mean to see her again.   Lori lives in the same town as mom.  Just a few miles apart.  She managed  to keep her house, to keep her husband and to keep mom involved; off to church on Sundays,  too the pool on Fridays, and endless cups of tea,  Mom’s pot handle sticky with the syrupy melancholy of her evaluations.  I moved far away as soon as possible, but the tack was refreshed on my fingers every time I picked up her calls. 

“Jack!?”

“y-Yes” 

“Well?”

“When’s the burial?”

“The funeral is next.  A week Saturday.”

Open casket.  Family thing.  Facing the death in yourself, something.  My great grandmother, me only six picked up by dad to look in.  “Where’s Nana”, I said.  She looked like a wax clown, grandma too.  Thinned lips, sewn together I suppose to keep her from getting out one last word.  More make-up than she had ever owned, upon her face.  Eyelids sewn too it looked, stuffed behind the lids, with clumps of mascara that looked like they might drop off the lashes onto her powder pink cheek; the proud work of some artisan at the mortuary.  How do you train to paint doll’s faces on the dead?  Maybe they all have to do it in turn. 

Putty forehead, cool,
unyielding as I bent to kiss.
Once, a boy upon your knee,
through folds of severity,
in sparkled tear I caught a glimpse, 
of your maiden bliss.

The men are always cremated. 

“You going to make it?”

“‘Course”

“Need money?”

“Maybe to get home?”

Too soon for snide.  I want to mourn, to chasten my neglect, my cowardice of so many years, to miss her (I have always missed her), but not with Lori on the phone with only a satellite’s veil between.  All the fragments of my memories of home, all the unfinished intentions are beating at the backs of my eyes to be let out.  I want to tell mom what to tell Lori.  I want to hang up!

“Have you told your kids?”

“Joan won’t comprehend it much.  But we did not want to tell Jack or Jessica ‘till you knew.”

“Uh hmm.  Thanks.  How do you think they will take it?”

“As well as I do.”

Control and order. I am her shabby brother.  The longer I tread my ‘courageous’ road the more I crave the disposition to live like Greg and Lori.  What have I to show for all my heroic journeying?  A dry cough, dark circles, and --most like-- liver spots.  I am 15 women’s ex- boyfriend.  My progeny: an aborted zygote, an aborted fetus, and one solo art show.   They have what most everyone has, and yet they have so much.  More than I could bear. 

“You’re just not cut out for marriage, dear.  You’re an artist like your father”, every time we spoke, without fail (without conviction).  “But I still pray the good Lord will send you an angel to soften your heart.”  At some point I could have carried on my conversations with mom by myself, picking one of twenty or so aphorisms to answer any need more or less poorly.

“Was it quick?

“She drowned.”

“Jesus!      . . . sorry.”

“The lifeguard thought she was just diving to touch the bottom, she liked to do that.  That poor boy is a wreck; he emptied her lungs and administered CPR while the girl lifeguard ran to get the defibrillator.”

Sheepish, mom confided once -deep into the box of Chablis- she tucked pennies under the bottom edge of her swimsuit bellow her right hip.  Her father threw pennies into the pool at the Okanagan resort where they vacationed, the siblings struggling under water to bring up the most.  “It is silly and girlish I know, but I dare not ask anyone else, so I let them loose when no one is watching, and I dive down to gather them all up myself.”      

“He really worked very hard to bring her back, Jack.
ha huh, who’s the poet now?”

“I’m not a poet.”

“More than me.”

“Just mouthy sometimes, with rhymes, not publishable.”

“You were always too hard on yourself.  Mom still has that one you left on your wall, about dad, she still cries when she makes herself read it.  Says she’s sorry you had to learn all that, no matter how beautifully written.
You still painting?”

“I'm a print maker”

“Oh, yes.  Mom has that one you sent.”

“Really?”

“Yes, on the fridge.”
“Really!?   Ha. I guess that’s where it belongs.”

“I said I would get it framed for her, but she insisted you would pick out the frame next time you came out to see us.”

“I gave her the moulding manufacturer and profile number.”

“Jack, we don’t understand all that.  Maybe you could get it framed while you're here.”

“Too late now, I suppose.”

“I’d like it.  I think it’s beautiful.”

“Really?”

“Yes, of course Jack. You are very gifted. Or do you think I'm too low class to appreciate it?"
"No. I didn't mean . . .    " I might have.

"I don't have any fancy words as to why, may be that you made it, but it makes me happy.
When you come you should stay for a few weeks, if you can, the kids should get to know their uncle Jack better, and I’ll ask Greg if we can pay to get the picture framed.”

In the cardboard house
Holly Hobbie’s cups set neatly out.
he still-sad while she buzzed about;
Father placed freshly in the ground.
Paused when she beheld his frown,
wiped his tear as if her own;
humming soft ‘anon, anon’,
she kissed her father’s brow.

“God this is so awful”

“I know Jack”

“I really am flat too, but I have some money coming in a few weeks”

“It’s okay I’ll book your ticket online.”

“I can’t ask you to do that.”

“You have to come.
While you’re here you can give the kids some art classes, Lord knows I’m no hand at it, and private lessons are so much.” 

“You sure?, I’ll pay you back”


“Of course.  Don’t worry, we’ll be together soon.”

Saturday, 20 August 2016

London Plane

   
    The music is too loud, even for John.  The buzzing of something he’d been handed along with the alcohol was coalescing into a floating agitation.  He needs to move from the couch, to get outside, but is uncertain of his balance.  A girl stumbling is cute, but if he shows weakness he might get shoved into the wall. Sitting next to Gwendolyn still, somehow.  He had given her a ride, kind of by chance, not really a date—she had popped by and mentioned the party—he didn’t expect she’d spend the whole evening with him.  She was around a bit, quite a bit lately, but just seemed friendly; too friendly for anything else. Thinks he might just being used for rides, but doesn’t mind. 
   
        After a few false starts at conversation over the din of inebriated trance beats, he sits quiet, trying to determine the cause of the one imperfection in the carpet before of him, snapping intermittent glances at the downy hair on Gwen’s right forearm; her fingers now running light over a small white scar just above her bare knee.  She has turned to talk with a friend.  Three jocks, one female, and a couple of bored androgynous aesthetes complete a circle around them. Small towns. Everyone has to keep hanging out like it's high school still, two years out. All were shouting over the pounding sound.  Shouting about simple enough stuff, but John can’t find a way to improve it with yet more words. He has taken up snorting when he feels it will provide concurrence appropriately.  He can’t be heard, but hopes Gwen at least notices his affirming movements at her interjections.

         The music suddenly drops down into a low dreamy trance.  Turning to look at Gwen’s cheek, she turns smiling, “Why so serious?” 

        “I have to go.”
                
        “Eww John, TMI.” How come she’s talking like that?  
        “No. I need to leave.” 
        “Oh”, she is disappointed, “Why?  Things are just getting going.   We haven’t even started dancing yet.”

        “You can stay.”  He says awkwardly, wondering how many ways that could be interpreted, wrongly.  “I just need to go outside for a bit.  What was that we took?”
                
        “I don’t know, I didn’t take it.”
                
        “I saw him put it in your mouth.”
                
        She whispers her confidence into his ear, “Yeah, but I didn’t swallow it.  I don’t trust that guy.  Kinda creepy.  But it’s safer not to make a scene.” John gets goosebumps; her breath warm and voice wise and gentle. 
                
        John feels worse, pulling himself to the edge of the couch, if he had only known earlier that deception is sometimes the most ethical course of action.  Looking back, “Do you think I am creepy?” 

        “What?”

        John, louder, “Do you think I’m creepy?”  The music drops and everyone looks. 
        "Now that you mention it Johnny." The voice of one of the jocks, John can't remember his name.

        Gwen laughs pushing his shoulder lightly.  Uncertain what this means John finds his way to his feet, red faced.  His legs ache; he wants to reach down and touch his toes but resists the spectacle, walking instead through the kitchen toward the front door. 
                
        “Hey Johnny Boy.”  Ken, a monstrous piece of work, blocked the only way through at the far end of the kitchen, leaning against the door jamb.  “How’s Einstein today?” 
                
        “I’m no Einstein.”
               
        Pause.
                
       “See you’re here with Gwen.  Not bad big brains”, Ken pulling at his crotch.  A small posy of betas chortle and smirk sycophantically.  

        “You bin workin’ out lad?”  Ken lifts John’s arm and squeezes his bicep hard until he flexes to resist. It hurts, but John does not flinch.
                
        “A bit.” 
                
        “Hey not bad little man.  You were such a pussy in middle school.  Remember when I kicked your ass.”
                
        “How could I forget?”
                
        “Yeah, but you were being a dick.  What were you doing?”
                
        “Don’t remember.”
               
        “Really? Me neither.  Must have been a dick or I wouldn’t have kicked your ass.”
                
        Actually John had bested Ken in English class, and foolishly took the opportunity to gloat.  In the afternoon, Ken turned to the only recourse he had, his fists. He was actually easy on John.  Kind of hard, even for Ken, to destroy a guy who could barely manage a defensive posture. Still, the weeks of that black eye were the most shameful of John's life.  He has been working out ever since.    
                
        “Love to talk Ken but I left my coat at the front door.”
                
        “What’s the hurry Johnny, we’re just catching up.” 
                
        John doesn’t know how to respond.  He always feels Ken is one syntactical misunderstanding away from swinging.  He stands woozily, wondering if he should just strike first and pay back that black eye form grade 8.  He wonders for a minute if he is strong enough to take Ken.  But how could that matter anymore?  Ken is getting a bit fat. Sloppy even. He won’t finish well.  His old man is a loud mouthed lard ass; no doubt living off his inertia from youth. Ken still seemed to have more confidence than John.  Perhaps Ken just had nothing else to think about.
                
        “You don’t look so good Johnny; you didn’t take the white pill did you?”
                
        “Naw.”
                
        “You sure.”  Ken begins moving his face in and out from John’s, thumbs in his ears and fingers up like wriggling antlers, “Ooo scary.  Scary.  What was that show?  Oh yeah,  Oooo scared myself.” 
                
        The charade has its affect; John wants to spew, or lie on the floor. 
                
        “Well if you are leaving I guess I’ll just have to go sit next to Gwen.  Oh, too late.  Looks like Brad already moved in.”
                
        He had.  John turns to see Gwen gesturing animatedly in conversation with Brad.  Her soft white forearms rotating her hands, elbows perched on her knees.  Why did he get up?  Why couldn’t he get her talking like that?  Under the influence his heart both rose and sunk. He stared at her straight brown hair pulled back over her ear, a few stray strands.  She was beautiful in a plain way.  Left to her physicality, she would be average looking.  But there was a deep grace in her; some mystical sweetness that made her irresistible, and somehow unattainable.  As he watched John fell further, hating Bradley Barns. 'The guy’s a vacuous dandy.' John could take him no problem brain or brawn. But that was no way to win Gwen. Or maybe?
                
        “You just gunna look at her all night Johnny Boy?”   Ken breaks John’s reverie; pushing him back into the living room.  Gwen looks up as he stumbles in.  She is quizzical, shoulders shrugged—palms up.  John reads her lips, “I thought you were going?” 
                
        “Couldn’t get through the kitchen.”  Smiling lamely and mimicking her pose.  She cups her hand to her ear shaking her head.  He wants nothing more than to replace Brad on the couch.  If only he had the balls to wedge his way between them and stake his claim.  But how do you follow-up a move like that.  He notices a sliding glass door at the side of the little sunroom they are gathered in. 
                
        “I’m going to go this way.”  Hoping she will follow. 
                
        “What?  I can’t hear.” he reads.
                
        John points pecking his finger like a chicken toward the door, then pretends to open it and walks across the air with his fingers. 
                
        “Oh.” She is smiling (is it uncertain?) and returns to talk to Brad, who is staring uncomprehendingly between Gwen and John his mouth slightly agape.
                
        John has to walk through the circle of jocks to get to the door.  It slides smoothly on the track.  The air, cool and fresh, mixed with a hint of marijuana, welcomes him outside.  A small circle of kids are passing a joint, boasting about other times they got more wasted. 
                
        “Hey man, want some?”  One asks, straining smoke between his teeth, holding the doobie outside the group toward John. Why does every pot head sound like a 45 year old burnout?
                
        “No thanks man, I’m more than good.”  John continues past toward a large tree in the middle of the back yard. He stands before it quiet for a minute, examining its form, the will of its becoming. He looks up into its large but youthful branches. Lying down on his back—head toward the trunk. The grass is wet and begins soaking through his sweater and shirt.  He does not flinch, but resigns himself to gravity’s draw.  It's a London Plane.  The leaves are new, pale green and hopeful.  A large patch of space is visible through a cloud break, John notices the Big Dipper.  Following the line projected by the two lead stars on the cup he looks for the North Star, but clouds obscure.  He fixes his eye were it should be and waits for an approaching clear patch of sky to reveal it.   
                
        Why did he want her so badly and why was he so useless at getting her.  She hung around. She didn’t seem desperate, just universally nice.  Too nice?  Maybe he was too much a shit. The girl can provide the sweetness still, can’t she? He would feel like such an idiot if he tried something and was wrong, or offended her.  The thought of forming the words, “I like you, Gwen”, made him tense on the ground.  What a gay pussy.  ‘Do you like me like that?’ He derides himself.  ‘Really? What time are you from Johnny Boy?’  Then out loud, “I couldn’t bear if she said, ‘No.’” Looking up he notices the circle of the weed had gone back inside.  Her ‘No’ would ruin everything.  He wouldn’t see her the same.  She couldn’t be his source of hopefulness again, only the dull meaningless mediocrity of being ‘just friends’.  It all seemed silly.  People don’t talk about falling in love in college anymore, not like for forever.  It was all just about getting laid; falling in love is too costly and dull, doesn’t last.  Or so the brave new convention has it.  He wanted to protect her and be loved and cared for in return. John felt a tinge of shame for wanting her in this way.  (He is certain this is an illegal social arrangement in some European countries.) 

   The North Star visible, briefly, through a small break in the cloud. 

   “Well things can’t stay like this forever.  Someone else will grab her if you don’t take the chance”  The idea of someone else filled him with hatred.  He should give her something.  One of the leaves?  It will be silly.  But it will prove her good humour.  Rising to his feet slowly and plucking a fresh leaf from a low branch, John turns toward the house and sees Gwen squinting with her hand for a visor at her forehead, bathed in porch light.  Her other arm is clutching at her sweater. 

“John, Are you out here?”  Shout-whispering.

“Yes.”

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”  She begins to take careful steps across the patio.  

“Just needed some quiet.”

“You coming back inside?”  She implores gently. `Ken is sitting next to me talking about his truck. I think it has titanium cup holders?” 

“Sure.  But you should come here first.”  John surprised at his own words.

“It’s cold.  The grass is wet, and I left my shoes inside.”

“I’ll carry you over.”  John pulls off his sweater and folds it into a bundle with the dry side up.  You should see this tree.”  Walking over the grass, he meets Gwen at the edge of the patio. 

“I can see it from here.”

“But it’s different from under.”  He smiles and she returns.  “Hop on.” John turns his back to her crouching. 

“You’re a goof.”

“The goofiest. Come on you don’t want to miss out.”

“Miss out?”

“Yeah, on a piggy back ride to my tree tree island.”

“This is behaviour unbecoming a modern woman.”

“Well, get your feet wet then if you prefer.”

“Are you sure you are strong enough?” 

“I’m sure.”

Gwen jumps up on John’s back and he hooks his arms under her knees.  The wooziness of earlier has settled.  The cold air and the wetness of his back have forced sobriety.  Gwen is perched lightly, leaning on her folded arms, hands gripping his lats. 

“You’re wet.  This better be worth it.” 

“It will be.” John promises, without really knowing what he’s going to do.  “When I lower you, land on my sweater.  It will keep your feet dry.” 

Gwen slides off John’s back onto the sweater.  He turns, looking intently at her under the cover of the tree—the light striking her face from over his left shoulder.  Gwen's pool-blue eyes staring back.

“Well, John.” 

“Beautiful here isn’t it?” 

“Yes.  Yes it is”, she says looking up into the branches.    I love trees, they always seem so. . . wise.” 

“Wise?”

“Yeah Like they know just how to be what they are.  And don’t have to go anywhere to be it.”

John looks down and sees the leaf.  Reaching up he plucks a fresh one, holding it out.  “This is for you.”  She receives it like treasure, beaming.  John Descends on one knee.  “Gwendolyn, will you . . .  will you be my girl?”


“I thought I already was.” Picking up the sweater Gwen takes John’s hand and leads him over the wet grass toward the house.  Looking down he sees his runners, tame against the wild beauty of her white feet collecting dew and grass blades.  Closer to the house the glass of the sliding door is elastic at the pounding beat from within.  She clenches his hand, “Wanna dance?”  

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Offering

(Warning: Sensible graphic violence)

I made it to the edge of the stream. Squatting, heart pounding deep inside driving blood up to my head—a staccato pulse in my ears; the hairs in my ears scratching against each other to the rhythm of my heartbeat. My lungs ravenous for air. I place my hands into the chill flow transfixed by the red swirl expanding from my fingers. Did I need to?

Does it matter? 

Two weeks, (do we still measure time in weeks?) fourteen days?  A fortnight? (These have been gone a long while.) 14 . . . suns?  Or was it only twelve? Every day its own epoch.  I told her we would have to leave in hours not days when it finally came down.  We were allowed to refuse entry—all three of us were selected, without fee—but we were only permitted to go to one of the villages if we refused. The camp is not by choice. Their last exercise of control I suppose. (There were theories.) So we fled to the woods.

She trusted me, I think.  I only half trust me.  Should I have let him go? Why didn’t we just go ‘inside’? Abner. God I miss him. Wish he were here even to share this with me. 

The blood has dried quite quickly to my hands; maybe I sat for a while praying to one of my gods. The one for whom this was not sin. The one who guided my hand. 


That goddamned ‘flue’. Giselle still inside Audree.  I was too lax.  He got it early so I thought it was just regular flue.  It and nothing else has been regular since. I miss him.  Like my own childhood I miss him.  He was as tenacious and daring and curious as any boy should be.  He would have broken the world in two just to see what was inside.  Snuffed hope.  Quick and purposeless. 

But so many purposelessly gone now.  The stench of the burning.  The grief never indulged because of usurping terror.  At least we buried our boy and stood by and wept.  In the days when loss could still be felt; death just beginning to smash against perceived solidity.  Dropped to my knees by the deep hole, unbuttoning Audree`s coat stuffed my head under her dress, burying my face in her belly weeping my obligation to the babe, “I will never be careless with your life”.  God how I miss him. 

It is under my nails.

If I peak under my arm they might not notice my gaze. How will Audree receive me? Good they are turned away. They are a wonder.  Audree and Giselle sit singing happily so soon after; “The Days Are Coming When” They are more mine than ever.  And I am theirs. I know nothing else.  Without Giselle we probably would have stayed with the rest in the village or had been shipped off to the camps—grey and hopeless—a final contrition to the old order.  She is the ember of our hope, and the tickle of our folly, out here in the wild—ourselves to bear into the mystery of future ages.

The popular tale was that the villages would provide the energy and materials needed to finish building the AllWorld bellow. I favoured the one where they needed a stock of unmodified DNA to draw from as they became decayed in their subterranean Utopia. 
I cross myself. And think of Angus . . . Scrubbing my hands, more on my tunic, “Oh Christ, what have I done?”, a good deal more.

As he faltered down the slope toward our camp my heart hardened against him. 

“Hello. Hello there friends.  Wow such luck to find you; you have a lovely set up here. Mind if I join you. I am quite lost out here. I should have just gone to the village, stupid not to, but I can’t go now the light from my chip went out. Oh. Don’t worry I am perfectly safe, It automatically deactivates one kilo length from the village. Not a criminal, just would like to make your company.” his hands up, feet simpering down the slope.

I stood and crossed my arms.

“Oh, oh excuse my stupidity; I have lost my manners for want of social discourse. You mind if I join you for a minute?  Haven’t seen anyone in days, well since I left four days ago. Rough sleeping out here alone.  Keep hoping I'll run into an Inn like in those old stories we used to read before they were banned. My backpack is full of meal bars, I can share them. I have enough for a month or so.”

“No thanks, we left all that behind.”

“Sure. You can join us.” Audree, before I could finish rejecting him. 
We had just sat down to a hard won meal, rabbit stew; actual meat.  A little bit of rice and a plantain and dandelion salad with salal berries. I hated him. I'm short on trust, though I know some day we will need to again.  Yet he was untrustworthy in manner; danger in his nervousness, dishonesty in the eyes. 

“Am I lucky to find you.”, as he sat on the log next to Audree. “Have not eaten a real meal since I left, and look what you have.  Looks like something in a magazine.” 
He assumed we would feed him. Like we’re neighbours—one big happy brotherhood of man.  Must have been an Egal Scout. There was likely enough food, four good-sized rabbits, but I intended to gorge myself—a deep intuition to fatten up.  And how long would this lout stay if he could get a free meal from us.  

        Audree got up to put something in a bowl for him; he looked at her frame as she moved.  She took the opportunity to move Giselle to the other side of me, sitting between. 

“We can spare one meal, but you will have to move on after you’ve eaten.” I think I said this clearly.

“Oh. Well that’s understandable, these are strange times.  I got locked out y’ know.  This is not my thing out here.  You three seem to be doing quite well though.” He eyed the meal, Audree, and the babe. Glancing only once at my glare. “Wow there’s a lot I could learn from you folks.”

“We’re doing okay.” I felt the urgent need to cut the meeting short. He could not be allowed to become comfortable. He would never leave. 

        “I hate to be sudden, but you must take your food and go straightaway.  We cannot support another mouth, and we have no time to make friends.” 

        “Certainly. Of course, but can I stay for the meal first? Then I will go”

“I doubt that’s true.”

“Wow friend . . . what is your name?”  I didn’t reply. He was so false—the embodiment of the fatuous greed that brought our people to an end.  He must have sold things for a living, or worked in the Council. I knew now that I was right: he was too desperate to leave on his own. What did he follow with?

“Well that is a hasty condemnation. I have always been honest in my dealings. If I could just stay seated here and eat it would mean so much to me. Reminds me of home.”

“This is not your home.”

“Your lovely wife invited me in. are you not going to honour her invitation? Ma’am can you please ask your husband to honour your invitation.”

“You do not speak to her. If you want the meal at all I suggest you take it and leave, or you leave without. ”

“Please good sir, I have startled you, I see that, but I will leave of my own accord I assure you when I am finished. I am certain you want your bowl returned. I am surprised. I thought people would be more receptive out here. Had quite an idealized view I suppose.”

He was absurd. Incapable of grasping the danger of his new situation. There are no neighbours out here, no State to mediate between citizens. No conventions. He practically insisted on a Right of Hospitality.

“That’s a lie. You will only leave when made to, I am certain of it. Not now, not when you’re finished eating and not in 6 months. You will ever find reason to stay.”

“But we just met sir, how can you know this?”

“Tell me it isn’t true.   No don’t bother.  See.  You are drawing me in already.”

“We will have to learn to trust you know.  We cannot survive on our own.”

“You can’t I’m sure, but we . . . see you intend to plead . . .”

“Perhaps you will find others”, Audree cut me off, but I was glad to know she was with me. 

“I can be quite useful; I did all my own repairs in my dom.  I just don’t know anything about getting food out here, how to make shelter, what plants won’t kill me, or how to catch a rabbit. When these meal bars run out, I'm done. My, this looks delicious.”  He begins to devour his portion lustfully. 

“I don’t think we need the toilet fixed, and we got the rabbits more or less by luck.”  This was nearly true. At the perimeter of the suburban corridor there are more than a few rabbits; lazy from lack of predators, but it is risky going near the villages.

“Ha.  No, suppose not. But I’ve been quite desperate. Seeing your happy family is the first hope I’ve had in . . .”

“Why are you on your own; you have no family or friends?” I probed for weakness.

“Well, like I told you, I got shut out when they closed down. I wanted . . . I want to be inside, not out here.”

“Sounds like bad luck, or worse.”

“No! There was no trouble. I was cleared to go in. But they shut us out, and then I got mad and behaved foolishly. I walked away from the village, like a child in a tantrum. I was so stupid; what was I thinking? I would gladly go back and beg to be let in, even just into a village, but I would certainly be sent to the camp for deserting.

“Instead you are here begging to be let into my camp.”

As if I cared, and as if I hadn’t spoken, he carried on. “Well things got crazy at the port where we were scheduled to enter. Some Rejected were protesting, disrupting entry. Some of them pushed down the fence. When things got out of hand they simply shut the port. When the crowd cleared by evening there were more than 100 of us left waiting, each with the chip in our hand.”

He showed us his, pushing at it under his skin.

“More like a pill. We knocked and pounded on the door, running our chipped hands past anything that looked like a sensor, but nothing.  I couldn’t believe it. We waited and shouted and banged for more than a day but no sign from inside. How could they just shut us out like that?  We had paid, we had promised. We believed.”

“We never did.”

Better wash out my tunic. I cannot greet the women like this. The blood billows in great clouds into the current.

Why didn’t he just leave? Did he really think he would win me over being desperate and demanding at once? Such despicable characteristics in a man.

“Well, many got in, my consort and her son went earlier. I had some family to say goodbye too. Dear god they must be worried about me.  Why would they shut us out?  All that talk about needing to stick together, building a better future; the ultimate happiness, safety and unending life. It does sound so wonderful, doesn’t it?”

“Sounded like hell to me, we have chosen the Savage life.” Then I surmised, “They probably knew how many they needed. You rest were only for crowd control.  Keep people focused on something while they secured the perimeter. The first went in long before the virus spread. Thought they were trying to kill us all off. Must have been a culling, or a means to confuse resistance. Probably wiped out those with some weakness.”

I wonder what weakness those blind leaders of the blinder could have seen in Abnerthol, maybe they were trying to break me?

“You should feel better to know they will likely all be dead soon.” I did not really know this, only wanted to torture him a bit. To see just how despicable he was.

My tunic will not come clean. Dull red remains like an island on a map. Turning I see Audree looking at me; sorrowful. Noticing I’m naked she covers her eyes and, smiling, looks me up and down through her fingers. I turn to face the water.

“Dead?!  Why?  You are bleak.” He still put his faith in it—as if he spoke nicely they might come and find him and bring him back.

“I am only here now, me and mine in these woods; I do not have any thoughts about the old world.  It’s time you moved on. It is obvious you are not meant for this place. Go back and beg, maybe they will forgive you.” What outcome did he expect? That I would change my mind? “I think you would fare better in the camp, and they might not keep you there long.”

“Dear god where is your humanity. You know they don’t forgive. It’s all smiles and good feeling unless you fall outside. And I have fallen. Such a stupid little thing. But then I found you, I knew my prayers were answered. I had never prayed in my whole life. Then I just started this morning, asking to find someone to help me, to show me mercy, to set me free ”

“Well maybe we will, but not in the way you expected. Take whatever hope we’ve granted and go. I will not use words to make my point indefinitely.”

“I’ll die out here.  Can’t I stay with you for a while? This is awful, you are my answer to prayer how can you . . .” looking at Audree's amulet, “You are a devout woman, you must have some kindness in you still, please ask him for me.”

Audree stared at the fire. The stranger placed himself in front of her. 

“Please miss . . . ma’am, please.” Why should he think I would want such an ignoble lout in my company?

“That’s far enough guy, you must move on.”

“Please, I will be useful, I will learn.”

“We owe you nothing.  I didn’t trust you when you first walked in here and you have done nothing to change my mind.  Now get along.  You are way past your welcome.”

“But where to?  There is no place.”

“Not my problem.  There will be others, maybe more trusting than me.”

“Please.  I am desperate, I have no one, nothing, and you have so much.”

“Leave your plate and go. NOW!” Pointing the direction he came in.  But as the command emerged I realized he couldn’t go.  He would be a perpetual threat; hanging around our perimeter, hoping to be let in, stealing, or attacking.  And he couldn’t stay.  That meant one thing. Dear God, how could I do it?  Would it be wrong?  Is there law or Christ out here?  He was dangerous in his worthlessness.  But could I really; with my own hands.

The stream is flowing steadily I find blood on my feet as I reach for my sandals. I am thoroughly unclean.

The stranger placed his hands on Audree’s knees.  “Please I am as desperate as this child.  Where is your kindness?”

“Get your sinful hands off my wife you fucking maggot.”

“Lugh!” Audree stomped hard on my foot. “We promised we would never teach our children to curse.”

“Ouch! I am sorry, very sorry, but do you know how grave this situation is dear?”

“You promised.”

“Yes, but I don’t think this is the time . . .”

“Is the child not here? We said no matter how angry, how scared, our mouths were built for truth and consolation, not profanity. We might as well have stayed behind in that filthy village with that pornography spitting from your mouth.”

She was right. Not always, but this time she was. What worth are principles if you throw them away at duress. 

In the distraction of our spat the stranger managed to grab Giselle stepping hard on Audree’s foot in a childish mimic. Lunging, I fell over an unseen rock and hit the ground, allowing him to get ahead; running up the bank away from the camp.  Before standing I picked up two four-finger stones from the perimeter of the fire ring. ‘Focus; you are in chaos.’ Three deep breaths, cross myself, and pursue at a deliberate pace, “Stop! Stop there, or you’re dead.”

Halfway up he stopped and turned holding his hand round Giselle’s throat.  “Promise to let me stay and I won’t hurt her.”

You won’t either way. The time for words is through. Put her down safely now and you can leave with your miserable life.”  I didn’t mean this.

“Please, I don’t want to hurt . . .” Thud.

Surprisingly the first stone hit him hard and clear in the nose and forehead. He dropped to the ground, releasing Giselle onto the thick bed of leaves I hoped would catch her fall. Audree ran wordless to retrieve the babe crying in terror. As I approached, the vermin began to stir. He had blood in his teeth making his obsequious smile comical.

“What are you going to do with him now?”  Audree asks, intuiting the inevitable.

“Show him mercy. Set him free.”

“Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

“This is not a time for womanly generosity.”

“You are doing this in my name too.”

“Not your decision, Love, you are guiltless. Head back to the pit and turn the child away.”

She paused. And the intruder took the opportunity to feebly scrabble up the slope.

“Now.”

“Tie him maybe.”

“Not your decision. Go!”

She made her way down tacking through the leaves.

I catch up quickly kicking him onto his back.

“Sorry friend.” The stranger was looking up at me still very drunken from the blow. “I guess I better be going, now.  Sorry for the trouble. Maybe they will forgive.”

The stream is deep a little way in. Pick my way in finding sandy places to put my feet between the stones. I am nearly up to my thighs.

How did I manage it? He was hopeless there on the ground, only two-thirds my size, but mortally dangerous if let go. He was untrustworthy, and worthless. There were no cops to call. I had to. Couldn’t take the chance. Too many chances already.

I jumped on him, flipping him over, I pulled his arms around, pining his hands with my knee high up his back.

“Ouch.  I’m sorry. L-Lug is it? That’s an interesting name. From the world before? I am an idiot.  Desperate.  Please.  I’ll go. I promise.  Won’t be any more trouble.”

“What’s your name sir?”

“Wha? Why?”

I didn't answer.

“Mike.”

“Well Mike it’s your time. better make good in your soul.”

“Wha? No!”

I put the remaining stone in my right hand and brought it down hard on the back of his head, partly as a mercy, partly to ensure my success. Couldn’t risk gun noise; pulling my knife from its sheath I put the blade to his throat and pulled hard.  His pleading gargled; he writhed horrifically under my weight.  I pushed his face into the leaves hoping to spare Audree the horror.

“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound. . .”

Audree was singing, an odd choice—perhaps fit—it is such an ancient hymn 300 . . . 400 . . . didn’t know she remembered it.

Seemed to take forever.  I suppose if we had been facing downhill he would’ve drained faster. Switching the blade to my left hand I repeated on the other side.  He continues to writhe for some time and I think of plunging the knife into his ear to end this. 

Then it slowed.  One last murmur—I smelled shit—he was still.

At the place where the sand drops down dark and deep I look back at the women and drop in. The water is chastening cold. I wash my body and watch the clouds of blood slip slowly away downstream.

At the camp Audree is standing rocking the babe slowly, close to her chest, peering toward me. She needs me. I will have to face her. With handfuls of sand I scour my flesh till the skin on my belly weeps blood. Pick back through the stones looking down. At the shore I tie my tunic around my waste turning the bloody part inside. Walking up I search her eyes for intent.

“I don’t envy your lot Lugh Taggart.” She walks toward me, holding Geez, asleep in her basket, “Thank you.” Her arms are consolation her body warm against my chilled flesh.  We are holding each other as she weeps softly humming the hymn again. My belly smarts, but I do not flinch.

Suddenly some sprite possesses. Audree pulls off my tunic and begins whipping me with it playfully, trotting to the water’s edge she places the babe on the shore, strips, and begins wading through the stones. She has pulled her braid around the front to unravel it revealing her white and lithe form. Her shoulders slope softly from her neck. Her back true as a tower, her rump lusciously undulating atop her the gracious gate of her legs, feet searching comfortable purchase in the stream. I follow, picking up the basket and carrying it toward the pool.

“There is a place to swim a little way up.”

“I know. I saw you.”

Placing the basket on a large dry flat rock at the edge of the pool we step in together.

“Woo. It is cold.” Audree expels.

“You will warm soon.” Lammas' late evening sun is still full on the pool. The water stings my raw belly. We keep afloat opposite each other by moving our arms back and forth mechanically. I look in her green eyes for redemption.

“What did you do with him?”

“I cut . . .”

“No! . . . With his body?”

“Covered with leaves. I think. I will have to carry him away and burry him in the morning. Too close to our camp.”

“Did you pray over him?”

“Yes.”

“He was quite hopeless. I'm sorry I invited him in.”

“Don’t think it would have made a difference, he was desperate and determinedcrazed.”

“Sad though, he had no place out here, better to have gone by the plague.”

“Why was he spared the plague and not our Abnerthol?”

“I don’t know, I cannot make sense of such things. I bear his spirit impossible in my chest every moment. But we still have Giselle, and each other, and whoever may yet be given to us.”

She takes a deep breath and turns up toward the sky on her back, floating; brown hair spreading out like an alluvial plain, breasts rising out of the water like treeless hills with a single sentinel at watch atop of each, her smooth belly below the surface and her legs sinking into the darkness. I sink down below the surface emptying my lungs till I reach the bottom. Rising slowly, I catch my breath silently so as not to disturb her ecstasy, treading water quietly honouring her beauty for some time.

“Sure beats the common pool in the village.” Audree resplendent.

I grab her toe. She treads facing again.

“Were you watching on me Mr. Taggart?”

“Perhaps.”

“Well, you just going to look Savage man?”

I pull her toward the shallow and draw her close kissing softly. She pulls away, placing her hands on my face, looks in my eye, “I feel as though all our lives flowed toward just this moment.” Then gesturing to all about, “This is our world. This is why we came here; to be naked against raw nature; Angus and his Bride.”

I pull her to me and know her standing in the shallow water, praying for a son.