The Betrayal of Itemiel

Moonslight glinted off the copper-laid ribcage of the great drake that encased the city and all was peaceful. Eius, Viridi, and Ancora, knew no such luxury. In the dead of night the wives of Itemiel met in the baths while their children slept soundly.

They sat up into the small hours conferring. Ancora was pregnant with Itemiel’s twelfth son (his third by her). She knew in her heart that this son would be the one to kill their husband. A vision had come to her of her son, a bleeding star on the horizon of her mind’s eye, riding the skies from the southwest and driving a blade into Itemiel’s belly. 

Her son would grow tall and dark as his father and wear his palms painted in gold. Across his brow would hang the moons Itemiel had named for his very wives– a crown prince. The twelfth and final son given to the god who could not keep the sea would play the assassin.

Continue reading “The Betrayal of Itemiel”

Advertisements

Freedom

A hundred candles burned on the altar to the Conqueror. Across the room a fire raged, blistering hot. In the dead of winter the gladiatorial Oratory was hotter than the far deserts. The droning hum of High Polity filled the arches of the colosseum led by the sonorous intonations of the red-robed Kulav. He was an old man, bent with a century of study. Before him knelt a young man who had earned his freedom in the most worthy way, in blood, and was reentering the world under another, purer yoke than that of slavery: service to Ból.

Continue reading “Freedom”

Queen of the Geese

My best friend Jenna became Queen of the Geese in college.

This was not a nickname either kind or cruel or arbitrarily granted. This was and is her title which she won in single-dance-combat with the King of the Geese one balmy night at Gazebo Isle on the shores of Radio Springs.

This sounds absurd but I assure you every word I’m about to say is the truth. I know because I was there.

It was the middle of spring. The best time to be in northern Missouri when the nights are just starting to get warm and muggy but not too buggy and magnolias blooming with flowers the size of your face and honeysuckle bushes full of bees from sunup to sunset when, if you were lucky, you might catch a lightning bug or three if the weather was warm enough.

Right at sunset, when the sun was low over the corn and highway, if you watched closely enough you could see spiders making their webs in the tops of the hedges. Spiders with bellies bigger than grapes floating through the air. They would never quite touch the founder of our college; a hundred-twenty years dead and she still did her rounds in the evenings making sure we weren’t out and about up to no good in the twilight. Half-corporeal she was fond of long skirts and stationary — more than once I woke up in short shorts with scratches down my legs from fingernails headed the wrong direction from my hands, had sticky notes come flying at my head from across the room if I put off homework too long.

Our founder minded us well. Taught us the important lessons. The spiders wouldn’t touch her.

Jenna and I didn’t go out right after sunset. Rather, we waited, wished for red wine where we had none, courted nervous breakdowns chasing the promise of final exams. That liminal week before commencement where the halls smelled of cardboard and lilacs, girl sweat and the bitter tang of packing ourselves into the basement for another summer at home. We were, succinctly, a hot mess.

We walked in flip flops and short cotton pajamas down to the lake in the close dark talking about our mothers. They were alike as Jenna and I were alike. Women who did not know how to love themselves and could not fathom why their daughters did not fill the void in their chests for them. Jenna and I grew a little crooked. Complementary. Strong. Strange. The crickets sang and in the dark up the hills bracketing the road leading ever downward toward the lake the deer hummed their quiet music to accompany our conversation. It was always a little like that late at night. None of the wildlife had the sense to sound atonal.

One o’clock in the morning saw us sitting on the low wall that marked the edge of Gazebo Island. Lit orange by a lonely street lamp, grass bridging toward cold with dew that shouldn’t have settled until dawn.

Jenna and I talked about lovers, and the geese began to gather. To listen. We talked about girls and boys. How they betrayed us, how we missed them anyway, how our hearts were eldritch things we did not quite understand but oh how there was so much we could give from them.

I don’t know when it got quiet. When the night insects ceased their music and the deer wandered off to sweeter grass. But I know when we decided it was too late to stay awake any longer, too late to justify the cost of the night spent out of bed at the expense of daylight hours in classes, socializing with those daywalking friends of ours– when we decided that, a goose sat between us and our only route of exit.

He was big. The size of my torso and worth slow roasting for Christmas dinner if you had to have a goose for Christmas dinner. We approached. He stood, feathers puffed in indignation, and gave a single warning flap.

I glanced to my left. Jenna had a look in her eye I couldn’t quite place– it wasn’t befuddlement, it wasn’t discomfort– it was intense and it worried me. She took half a step back.

“Do you want me to scare it off?” The goose was big but, I reasoned, running toward it shouting with my arms outstretched would be sufficient to frighten it off.

Jenna broke eye contact with the goose for just a moment. Shook her head. Declared in the most solemn tone: “Nah, I got this.”

Her posture shifted in a way that I can neither describe nor mimic bodily except to say that it was positively avian. The goose followed suit, bobbing his head in insult, summoning from the water hissing, feathered minions. We were outnumbered. Jenna had no patience for this– she doubled down, returning the insult with gusto, and advanced on the King of Geese.

With undulating, articulated steps in time to a wardrum only she could hear Jenna walked forth and with a mighty honk sent the King of Geese and all his court fleeing across the lake.

We stared after them in silence for no less than half a minute then burst into laughter.

“Does this mean you’re their queen now?”

“Of course!”

We were troubled by geese no more on our nighttime adventures to the lake or anywhere else in town. In the act of crowning herself Jenna became known as the Queen of the Geese throughout the county. Geese on campus will nod and bow their respects when she passes to this very day.

community health projects

Between the stitches of pavement something resembling a city grows up around us, timeless and with time less to take stock of us. No moloch yet but you snapped another pen for the sake of feeling something and got ink all over your fingers, the cheap kind of Bic black that looks like pigeon feathers, iridescent greyvioletgreen bleeding your cuticles and spiderwebbed palms. Good luck reading the future in that mess. The city doesn’t have time for those jagged plastic bones, all twenty-seven of them exquisitely formed. There’s municipal planning to take care of– music in the parks, bus routes. Priorities.

rlb 4.2.17

confirmation

His arrival is foretold in the borders of ancient murals, graffiti on bluecollar bar bathroom tiles, beer left out on his brother’s back porch, blood and chalk on the pavement. Food for a stray. The sky printed on the underside of the King’s road is a poor timepiece for a laughing dog better suited to the open air. He turns up when he’s needed. No, not when you’re bleeding, when he’s really needed. That’s how he sleeps at night. His eyes are gold but that tongue is quicksilver and wouldn’t you do anything for the privilege of its poison, city girl? Be careful. No one alive could eat that much sin and kissing it won’t do him much good, either.

rlb 4.30.17