Chapter One: A Much Needed Death
The galaxy was in her eyes.
Rabid, celestial beings synthesize one hundred realities as she marvels the black and white shadows warring within her mind. Decrepit and crotchety, she had an astral candor that had less to do with pandemonium than an apathetic nature, and ingrained was a superlative madness which inundated her psyche with the faceless intruders she became.
She was known to have dwelled within haunted ruins and echoes of trailing laughter and broken, hymnal chanting of the ancient dust and trapped souls of Petra. Weakening sunlight striped an Acacia grove, alluding to secrets and signs that only nature, itself, perceives, ever-shifting patterns of metaphor, once again sensing, a much needed death was nearing.
As always, she pulled a wooden child’s wagon, wearing a jewel-toned sequin blouse. Flashing like some gaudy party decoration, she swept her gray banshee hair from her forehead and cawed loudly to the diving gulls. Glints of white and red caught her eye hundreds of yards left, coming toward her across the sand. She shadowed her eyes, lumbered forward, muttering, “Following me again, are they? Maybe spies or officers or agents.” She sniffed loudly, scratching the side of her nose. “Yep, probably agents this time,” she looked back at the wagon, winked, then sighed heavily. “Here they come, we’d better go.”
In the distant rising heat of late day, the caravan meandered achingly through the rippling sea of sand toward the jagged shores of Petra. Three people hauling tattered bags and wooden beams, were racing toward her, shouting. A man was rummaging through his pack. “Are you hurt?” he called, ‘What is your name?”
She sat up quickly, squinted and pointed at him. “Oh, no, no. Not playing that one again.”
He paused. “My name is Netzer Avital. This is my wife, Samera, and my daughter, Ephren. We are salt gatherers heading toward the marketplace in Petra. We have come from Masada. We will not harm you.” He rummaged through his pack and handed her bread.
She was smiling suspiciously as she approached them. “They sent you, didn’t they?” She looked back with her tongue in the corner of her mouth, nodding quickly. “We were all supposed to pray together seeing as my brother was just murdered.” She began to eat. “Tuesday, actually, right after he gave me some lilies because he’s got the president watching me everywhere I go, but I just fixed the flat,” she kicked the front tire of the wagon, “so I’m not under the radar no more. I shook ‘em off.” She jerked her shoulder back as if a spider was on it, “shook ‘em, shook ‘em off, the smarmy, crooked bastards,” she cackled like a pirate, slapping her leg hard.
Netzer stole a look from his wife then glanced at the old woman with a pitying expression. “We are Bedouins. We do not work for or with the government. If you would like a place to stay for the night, we are staying with our family. After she declined a final time, he nodded slowly then motioned to his family to move along.
The woman called after them, reminding them to wash their hands.
“What is wrong with her?” Ephren asked her mother.
Samera quickly glanced at her husband.
He paused before answering. “She may be, what is sometimes referred to as, one of the vanishing souls. It is not for certain, only speculation. It has been said that some people in our country have been taken away if they are suspected of knowing confidential information, or speaking out against the government.”
“Where do they take them?”
“No one knows.”
“But her mind is not there, what information could she possibly provide?”
“More than likely, her mind was there when she was taken.”
“Maybe she is a wanderer like us, a gypsy, only slightly mad.”
“I would tend to think that as well, but for how she continues to speak of the government. It is common that when those who are taken are finally released, they are forever paranoid and preoccupied with their captors. It is as if their captors vanished their minds before setting them loose.”
“More than likely, torture.”
Samera was laying the quilts on the ground, glancing at the darkening skies. “We cannot be long.”
Netzer sank the wooden poles into the ground then tied off heavy fabric to wall blasting winds. Hand-carved spoons were passed around, and clay bottles of turmeric, cinnamon, and cloves were laid out. Samera set a pot of water and leaves upon the fire and after a few moments, the water was boiling. She served them tea and dates while her husband smoked.
Netzer eyed the livestock and the horizon where vultures screeched and circled above a lone magpie scavenging carrion in an Acacia grove. Bandits were rampant in Petra so he would be meeting his contacts while there were still traces of sunlight. He hoped that the violent storm conditions and unbearable heat of the past season promised higher profits.
After their rest, the family located roads leading to the marketplace. Eccentrics shook tambourines at the feet of street vendors while illusionists unbottled metaphysics and stars to the gathering crowd. Shamans died between worlds piecing the last remaining agonies of the soul, their sacrificial hands burning with baptism and blood. What was happening twenty paces up, however, caught their attention amidst the bustle.
There were several men wearing thick, yellow gloves spinning long, metal rods straight in front of them. It wasn’t until the crowd gasped and Ephren managed to get a full view of the scene that she realized that at the ends of the rods were molten orange crystalline glowing orbs changing their form by the sudden swooping motions the men made when they swung the poles at their sides.
Still twisting the bar, one of the men grasped a shorter post and began deeply prodding and shaping the fiery orb for several minutes. He then brought the end of it to his mouth and blew air through it, causing the orb to stretch cylindrically. He took a scissors-like tool from a bench and snipped away at it. The glob oozed onto the floor, pale blue. Another man hurried over, took the tool away and handed the first man a blow torch. He ran the bluish-white flames over the length of his creation, and then spun it until it, too, faded to pale blue.
Some of the other men walked over to a large black oven where they placed the white-hot sphere within the chamber. They all worked so dangerously close together, spinning and molding, swinging and prodding, that it was thrilling to observe.
She hadn’t noticed through all of the chaos, that her father had taken the salt vats to a man waiting in an alleyway. She turned back to the street theater, the jugglers balancing on chained tigers and men with flutes luring cobras from tattered cloths. Magicians sparked an overture to the legendary, ever-sought-after fifth element.
Even in these moments Ephren spent between worlds, something ancient, like a tragic intuition fell over her. Her father and mother were approaching her, their hands behind their backs being led by police officers. One of then grabbed Ephren by the arm and led them all to a car. Speeding away down side streets, it wasn’t until they passed the police station that Netzer asked where they were going. The officer said nothing but looked in the rear-view mirror briefly, and continued speeding away from the city.
Chapter Two: Set the Dust on Fire
The Avital family ancestry was about to be exhumed from the ruins under the command of King Quastan Alawi al-Fayed of Jordan. He claimed the preservation of his legacy alone rested on this family’s lineage. This buried treasure was going to coincide quite nicely with the event he could, never in a million years, have anticipated.
The table was set with lavish arrangements of exotic flowers, gold plates, crystal glasses, bottles of red and white wines, and endless plates. A palatial glass chandelier lit with candles graced the room with soft golden light. King Quastan, his wife and son were already seated at the giant round table, waiting patiently for their guests. One of the male servants entered the dining room and announced their arrival. A very formal introduction was followed by each family taking their seats. No one moved for a few moments. King Quastan who was a large man with large facial features laughed warmly and said, “No need to be nervous, help yourselves to dinner, please.”
“So tell me,” he looked at Netzer while the wine was being poured, “about you and your family.”
Netzer was unsure of how to answer, so he looked at his wife. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were on her wine glass. “We are Bedouins.” She squeezed the napkin in her hand.
“It must be a difficult way to live.”
Asherah looked up and smiled. “Sometimes. But I imagine life could be difficult at times no matter where you live.”
Quastan nodded with a mouth full of wine. “Very true.”
Netzer said politely, “That is why we try to live a simple life, and can get by on very little.”
“How long have you and your family lived in the desert?”
“Our whole lives. This is how I met my wife. Our girls know very little of life beyond the Judean Hills except for when we have to go to the market in Masada every few weeks.”
Quastan looked at the girls and asked, “And how in the world do two young girls survive such harsh conditions?” He laughed and patted his son’s shoulder and said, “I doubt whether Nazra, who is almost a full grown man, could last a night!”
Nazra turned slightly red and only smiled and shook his head slightly.
Ephren answered, “It is all we have ever known. I would not change anything about my life and family.”
Quastan downed the rest of his wine, pushed his chair back from the table and leaned back slightly. “Yes, yes, of course.” He folded his hands and rested them on his large stomach. “I suppose I should tell you all why I have invited you to my home. You see, I have been looking for all of you for quite some time; years, in fact. I had a hero when I was a child, like most boys do, a hero who was
strong and brave, and who conquered all he laid his gaze upon. This hero was in the stories my mother would read to me at night. I was brought up within these very walls. My father was King for a good number of years before he was killed. I always wondered why someone would kill him; he was such a brave and noble man, just like my hero in the stories. But I was only a child, too young to know the truth. It wasn’t until I reached adolescence that the fog lifted upon the true reason my father was murdered—he and his entire staff were leaders in a corrupt plan to torture and kill the innocent family members of his rivals. They learned of his plan before he could carry it out, and so they killed him first. I didn’t want to believe it but I could not deny all of the facts, and besides my own mother said it was true. This corruption,” he sneered slightly, “was in my blood. I went from feeling privileged and untouchable to wanting to cut my own throat and rid myself of this impurity running through my veins. My father was a fraud, a murderer. And yet, I had another hero, that brave man in my childhood stories. His name was Saladin. Why would this figment of my imagination come to me at the moment I found out the truth of my fallen hero? For years, I didn’t know. I came into power when I was twenty,” he looked at Nazra with pride, “the very same age as my only son. Funny sometimes how fate places things in front of you. I had just taken the throne when I overheard a group of my panel discussing that an archeologists had recently found some artifacts belonging to the warrior, Saladin. I interrupted them and demanded to know more. I asked them again and again if Saladin was a real person, and they assured me that he was and they could procure much proof if I wished. I told them I didn’t wish, I demand that they retrieve the documents.” He laughed softly. “For weeks, I read the books, saw the maps, even held the ancient artifacts in my own hands. My hero was a real man with a real name—Salah-din yusuf y Ayyub—with a real, untarnished legacy. Nothing could’ve made me happier. I was obsessed with this knowledge for years and yet sickly reminded of my own family history. I didn’t know how to redeem my family name until I had my son. He was one half of the answer.
“I pulled top researchers to abandon what they were doing and lead them to the archives. They had one mission: to find the last living relatives of my childhood hero. They had complete access to highly confidential information. They worked for almost a year until they found it.” He tipped his chair back and called into the room behind him.
An old man wearing priest’s robes entered the room carrying a basket full of doves and a stack of papers.
“Yes, yes, come in,” Quastan said to the old man. “May I introduce to you all, my trusted advisor and priest, Father Micah Jones.” The priest smiled and bowed. It looked like his eyes were closed.
Quastan saw Ephren straining to see the birds and said, “Yes he is blind, but don’t think much gets past him.”
Quastan pushed the stack of papers across the table to the Avital family and said heavily, “Which brings us to this.” They stared at the papers. “Quastan nodded and said, “Go ahead, look.”
After several minutes the whole table was horribly silent.
Asherah looked up at the king and his family with a pained expression. “What does all this mean?”
“Do you not understand what is written?”
She shook her head slowly. “I never knew.”
“You couldn’t have known. This dates centuries back. I employed a group of experts for nearly a year to make this discovery.”
Netzer stopped shuffling through the papers and looked puzzled. “So what this means is that my wife is somehow related to Saladin?”
“She and her kin, whom I failed to locate.”
“That’s because they’re all dead,” Asherah said flatly.
She glanced at her husband then back to Quastan and said slowly, “So…this is why we were invited? So that you could meet us?”
“Yes I did want to see you in person but that is not the reason for all of this,” he indicated the dinner.
Quastan this time leaned forward on the table, almost whispering. “What better news could I have received than knowing the descendants of my hero have survived? Only one thing—that they had a daughter who is within four years of my son, and even more—that they are both of age to marry.”
Asherah said, “But we don’t believe in arranged marriages.”
“What do you believe in, if I may ask?”
“That Ephren and Samah are free to choose the men they wish to marry.”
“Quite a…progressive way of life,” he said innocently.
“Not really,” said Ephren sarcastically, “love has actually been around for quite some time now.”
“Marrying for love occurs less frequently in the world than you may think,” Quastan answered. I am not looking for an answer right now. I want you to think about it, talk about it, and really see over the next few days what you stand to gain if you should choose so.”
Netzer turned his head and his eyes narrowed slightly. “Stand to gain?”
“Yes. If your daughter marries my son every aspect of my wealth will also become yours. If you and your wife choose not to live here at the palace, you have your pick of any property I own anywhere around the world. No one in your family will ever have to work again. The both of you, your daughters and future grandchildren will have the best education, the best care—the best of everything.”
Netzer seem entranced and Asherah was gazing at the wall speechless. Quastan smiled and stood up and said lightheartedly, “Just think it over. My wife and son and I are off to Paris to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We’ll be back in three days. I’ve left instructions to my servants that you all will be taking our place. Anything you want or need any time of the day or night is yours.”
After the royal family left, Ephren asked,“So when are we leaving?”
“Let’s…just…all go to our rooms and rest for the night,” said Netzer tiredly.
“But we were supposed to leave after dinner,” said Ephren angrily.
He put his hand up and closed his eyes weakly. “Please don’t yell.”
“There is nothing to think about, and there is definitely nothing to talk about. I want to go home!” A lump was forming in her throat.
Asherah put her hand on Ephren gently.
“Too dangerous during the night.”
The truth was that she was desperate to see what was in the bottle that the old woman gave her.
As soon as she was alone and sure that the others were asleep, she pulled the spice bottle from her pocket, examining it in the moonlight. It was very plain, much like her mother’s spice jars. She muffled the pop of the cork with her sleeve and tipped the bottle on its side. A small piece of gold paper fell into her hand but it was more delicate than paper; it was like the gold leafing that is sometimes used to decorate fancy jars and plates. There was a message on the paper written in strange black lettering. She held it closer to her eyes to see it clearly.
Like the thousand eyes that you sense from beyond
are not only of enemies,
the one who sees with one thousand year eyes
is not who he seems to be.
(Set the dust on fire.)
After reading it several times, she turned it over to see if there was a name. As she turned it back over again, she saw a golden residue sparkling on the fingers that held the message. Set the dust on fire… She pinched and swirled the slip in her fingertips. All that remained was golden dust.
She scurried around and found some matches. Like sand in an hourglass, Ephren released the golden dust onto the marble sill, struck a flame and dropped it upon the pile. It popped and sparkled yet emitted very little smoke. There was a sudden gust of wind that instantly vanished the ash, leaving behind terrifying, unanswerable questions.
Chapter Three: Arliay
Several miles from Jordan, a burly old peddler walked with a limp that may have recently occurred or just been the instance of an old injury. It was hard to tell. In any matter, he was a reject of society, a vagabond unable to hold a job, unconcerned with climbing the wobbling hierarchy of social status. Most people didn’t notice him and those who did shook their heads contemptuously. He balanced on a walking stick taller than himself while his other hand clenched a burlap knapsack thrown over his left shoulder. Wiry brown hair hung in his face as he hobbled down a brick street lined with old fashioned sweet shops and food carts. Mandolin players and trinket sellers brazenly approached passersby as the peddler reached a group gathered around a glass shop.
Taking a rag from his pocket, the old peddler dabbed beads of sweat gathering on his forehead and made his way to the marketplace. He noticed that the local authorities were becoming much stricter as an officer reprimanded a small boy for plucking a grape from its cluster. The peddler called the boy over after the officer moved on. The boy apprehensively walked over. The man untied his knapsack and the boy gasped.
The old man placed two handfuls of money into the boy’s hands, crouched and whispered, “Now go find that officer and tell him you want two carts of groceries for you and your family.”
“But, sir, I-“
What the peddler didn’t realize was that the boy had seen his mysterious eyes from which ages and ages seemed to transpire.
The man smiled and showed the boy over twenty smaller sacks of coins he was holding in his shoulder pack. “See, I have plenty.”
The boy laughed and ran away with the money.
The peddler continued to walk. He knew it was a perilous journey, but reminded himself that only good things would come of this. There were still several hours to go before he reached his destination. Telling himself that each step was another step closer, he stopped contemplating the distance and focused only on walking.
Ephren didn’t remember falling asleep and it confused her as to what day it was, if it was dawn or dusk, but these things didn’t matter at the moment. She was awakened because she heard movement in her room.
She lay still, pretending to be asleep and listened where the noise came from. There were clicks by the balcony doors. Panicking, she felt around in the dimness for something to strike with and found a heavy glass vase filled with lilies. She dumped the bouquet and the water onto the floor, crept to the doors and waited behind pulled curtains. The person on her balcony was attempting to pick the lock. She peeked into the thin opening between the shades and only saw the shadow of a very large figure. She swallowed hard. Her mouth was dry. Suddenly there was a loud snap, the door handle turned and the door creaked slowly open.
As soon as their foot touched the floor within, Ephren swung the vase wildly making contact with the intruder’s elbow and shoulder as they tried to shield their head. It was a man who was pleading for her to stop, insisting he was not there to hurt her, he was sent to help. Breathlessly, he told her he was the one who the clue was about.
She abruptly stopped. “What clue?” she asked suspiciously.
“Please let me catch my breath,” he said weakly. “We need some light.”
Still holding the vase to him threateningly, she lit the lamp.
It was an old man in heavy robes sitting on the chest at the foot of her bed, doubled over, massaging his arm, wincing.
“If you do not tell me who you are and why you have broken into my room, I will yell for help,” she demanded.
He sat up very slowly and looked at her. His eyes were void of color, yet a spectrum of color, like sparkling crystal. She lowered the vase.
A hint of a smile formed. “You were given a clue yesterday from a stranger.”
“Yes,” she said distantly.
“I know what it said.”
She waited, saying nothing.
“It was referring to me.”
“You’ve told me nothing.”
“Then I will tell you everything, but please sit down.”
“You will understand why I am not inclined to take orders from someone who has just broken into my room.”
He put his hand up and nodded slightly. “I understand.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Legarthus.”
She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
He sat up straighter and she saw a burlap knapsack on his lap. He brushed his long hair off his face. “I have come to help you out of your situation.”
Defiantly she asked, “What situation?”
He smiled. “I understand your mistrust but I have to warn you that if you really want to make it out safely, you need to believe what I am telling you. I know of the arranged marriage. I also know what awaits you and your family should you not accept.”
“So you work for Quastan, do you?”
“In a manner of speaking, though not as you expect.”
“Then why would my marriage to his son be of any importance to you?”
“To see that it does not happen,”
She shrugged impatiently. “But why?”
“You will find that out soon enough. We have to deal with the dilemma at hand, which is, of course, this rather perverse arrangement, while also ensuring the safety of your family.”
“It is me they want.”
“Your family will be used as leverage, even if you are cleared of all charges.”
“All of you entered Jordan illegally. Quastan knows this and planned it as such. He, alone has the power to imprison all of you, should you refuse the proposal, or exonerate you, should you agree.”
Ephren’s throat and chest tightened. “How did we enter illegally?”
“You crossed the border without proper documentation and identification.”
“But we didn’t know, we are Bedouins, our ways are different.”
“It matters not. You are citizens of Israel. You must follow the same legal procedures as the rest of your countrymen, or you will face the same punishments. I am very sorry I couldn’t reach you before they did.”
“How long has this been planned?”
“Since Quastan discovered your identities some time ago. It has been a childhood dream of his.”
She nodded. “But how do you know all of this information?”
He paused. “We have people working for us within these walls.”
She squinted. “What do you mean, ‘working for us’?”
Because of possible surveillance, I cannot give you details. All I can say is that with any growth of evolving power, there lies forces that seek to counteract that intention. So though I cannot tell you, I can give you this.”
He reached out his hand to hers. It was another golden slip of paper with the same type of writing as the clue the old woman had given her. Legarthus told her not to read it aloud. It was quite a bit longer than the first.
Deep within the forest
is a place called Arliay
where wisdom, truth and fantasy,
like three rings all interplay.
These three rings originate
where creativity unwinds
open the power of your senses
with the magic of your mind,
Spirits from beyond
the crystal view of reality
venture to Arliay
to seek out the land of the free.
All dreams within your spirit
will be alive to run and play,
following your true path
will always lead you to Arliay.
After reading it over a few times, she sat down. “So…this place called Arliay is where I have to go?”
He took a hesitant breath. “It is a place you must find. And it is pronounced ARE-LEE-AY, not AR-LIE-AY.”
“And my family will be safe?”
“For the time being.”
“Once I get there, what will I have to do?”
“I don’t have any information about that leg of the journey. I was simply sent to tell you the plan as of right now.”
“What is the plan?”
“That you will go downstairs to dinner after I leave and tell your family that you accept the marriage proposal.”
Desperately, she said, “But I can’t marry a person I don’t even know!”
He quickly turned to her and answered severely, “You have to accept the proposal, Ephren. You must tell them that you wish to be married on November first. This gives you a week to play the excited new bride-to-be. This is crucial that others believe you want to do this because they will undoubtedly be suspicious of your new willingness to comply. Select the largest wedding dress you can find so that you can fully arm yourself. Above all else, you must not attempt to escape until your wedding ceremony.”
Incredulously, she said, “My wedding ceremony? But there will probably be at least one hundred people there!”
“Correct. There will be at least one hundred unarmed people there. Weapons are banned from holy places in this country.”
“When I try to escape, where do I go, what do I do?”
“Another messenger should appear on November the first with another clue. Until then, play your part well. Do not speak of it to anyone. Do not try to figure out who is a messenger and who is not. In fact, you will be met with different messengers from Arliay at different points of the journey. Be careful, though because there will also be imposters and spies from Quastan’s camp and elsewhere. They will be hunting you and your disobedience will surely result in death.”
“But what about my family?” she asked tearfully. “What will they do to my family?”
“As long as your family remains unaware, I do not foresee too much trouble. Only by taking this path, can you save your family in the end.”
They both froze at the sound of someone walking up the stairs.
He stood up quickly and whispered, “You have to do as I said. If not, you are all in a great deal of danger.” He walked over to the glass doors. “Accept the proposal.”
Ephren watched him squeeze through to the balcony and out into the twilight. She went to the sink and splashed water onto her face, wondering if she had gone mad or imagined the whole incident or not.
A heaviness loomed within her like never before as she descended the staircase. They had eaten their meal in silence. Ephren took a sip of wine through the lump forming in her throat. She announced her wishes to be married, the opportunities it would bring to them all, and how she wanted her parents to live the rest of their days not having to work so hard. It was all for the best, she reiterated to their skeptical faces.
“It is true that we would live easier lives,” said Samera heavily, “but what about what you want?”
“Nothing would make me happier,”Ephren managed, “than inviting a life of privilege to the ones I love most, as well as the future generations of our family.”
“But just yesterday, you refused even after what you knew what we stood to gain.”
“I thought about it more today and I changed my mind,” she said impatiently, trying to end the conversation.
Netzer shifted in his seat. “Samera, the decision is hers to make. Why try to talk her out of it? Ephren is intelligent and mature for her age. She has come to a wise decision that will benefit us all.”
Samera responded defensively, “I am not trying to talk her out of it. I want her to understand the magnitude of this decision.” She eyed her husband suspiciously.
Ephren felt emotion rising and wanted to tell them everything, to ask for their help but simply could not take the risk of putting them in danger.
Forcing a smile, she stood up. “There is nothing left to argue about. Tell the king’s advisor to call Paris tonight and tell them I want to be married in a week—yes one week,” she said to their shocked faces. She left the room quickly so they would not hear the quiet sobs forming gasps in her chest. She ran out into the cool darkness to ask the moon and stars to come and go as quickly as possible for the next seven nights.
Chapter Four: A Rain Without Thunder
Come the day, when the winds gash slivers of oracular gold into the fire-sewn gouges that were once his eyes.
King Quastan Alawi al-Fayed was waiting at the threshold of his mad childhood dream on November the first. He wanted the wedding to be a spectacle that would be passed down in legend among the people he ruled for decades to come, and so he took control of the entire event.
The ceremony was to be led by Father Micah Jones who would marry the bride and groom in a small chapel almost a mile from the palace. Quastan insisted the wedding party walk the entire length through the town so the townspeople cold cast flowers and blessings upon them and witness a height of grandiloquence they could never dare ascend.
First in line was Father Micah followed by Quastan and his family, then the invited guests, The Avitals, and last was Ephren. At eleven ‘o’ clock the march began through the dusty streets where people were already lining both sides, when a sense of the mystical and enchanting suddenly overtook the priest.
Drenched in sound holiness, Father Micah Jones knelt in the middle of the windblown dusty road among the streetcars and fruit stands, among the pseudo-seers, and two-cent carnival entertainers on a sunless, infernal afternoon as the townspeople froze knowing within their midst was an occurring miracle. As incoherently as he spoke, the people cried out raising their hands to the heavens; some fainted, some Halleleuiahed with tears in their closed eyes, and others stood quite still trying to hear the words overtaken by the flapping of wings.
It seemed the trance had consumed Father Micah Jones so completely that it sent his encircling doves that guided the blind priest into an entangled tornadic frenzy, as if a holy light apparition charged or shocked the energy field surrounding the knelt man. Stuttering and spitting, grunting and growling, Father abruptly stopped, rose from the brown powdering road and approached a filth old leper by a lamp post, his body rocking so violently that his unkempt tangled head kept slamming into the black steel. With every step Father Micah bridged between he and the old man, all the more sporadic and quickly the doves swirled. The stillness within the crowd was almost tangible while mothers wrapped in scarves held their babies up to the miracle-in-process ebbing its way like a billowing delirium some call faith, into their newly formed souls.
Sudden gasps and screams dotted the crowd as all of Father Micah’s birds dropped like lead raindrops two or so feet from the priest and the leper. Whispering questions stole within the crowd of how Father would find his way, of what had happened to the doves, were they dead, could they be brought back to life? The shiny gray flesh that, long ago, was his eyes glistened beneath the emerging sun pushing its way out from behind smoky clouds.
Offering his hand to the rocking man, Father took two cautious steps, knelt, and as gently as a feather, cupped the leper’s knee which caused the rocking to slow, and gradually cease. The priest then began to feel over the ground, searching until he stopped upon one of the lifeless doves. Scooping it up, he cradled the limp-necked creature to his heart and then lifted it to the leper’s messy hung head. Father Micah muttered a few indistinguishable phrases and then, as if struck by lightning, he shot to his feet shouting madly, “Lord, fill this man with your light! Purge him of disease and sickness, heal him with your love and light!”
And nothing happened, and no sound befell anyone for several minutes and the impatient sun went back behind its cloud, and mothers lowered their babies to their breast, and even Father Micah Jones had gotten to his feet and turned away from the leper but the old leper sat very still, uttering words that only the priest could hear and these words stopped him dead in his tracks. The leper raised his penetrating stare to Father Micah and said the words again, a bit louder. Father Micah slowly turned to the leper who was saying, “Have you no faith?”
Father Micah replied placidly, “Of course I have faith, sir.”
“But I thought that Paradise is encountered in death, and a white light effusion accompanies the soul to eternity. I have dreamed of the rain, so as not be ossified by the drought. Tell me, Father does it rain in Paradise?”
As if it were his finest hour, Father Micah stood somehow taller than before, his face blazing with wisdom and rage. Perhaps his maddening countenance frightening everyone, for, the women wrapped in scarves once again held their babies up, while others seemed possessed, dropping to their knees, arms raised, sobbing about the light of god, or uttering gibbering spats of gratitude for something vague and miraculous.
Father Micah smiled sadly. “We are the same, old friend. You are a wanderer and, yet, it is I who seeks an invisible realm. I am a man in search of a world beyond this desert also.”
He turned and walked into the magnificently still crowd, silent tears brimming and streaming from their eyes as his dead doves lay scattered, the wind blowing dust over their grayish-beige feathers.
Father Micah’s strength seemed to be gathering as he spoke. “Upon the parched surface of the desert, our search for rain unites us.”
The sun glowed blurrily in the sky, brighter than before.
“Among the constellations, stars burn out and fall upon the night.”
The sky suddenly became alight as all clouds and haze opened to reveal a white-hot burning sphere among the blue.
And as if this were the sole intention of God himself the entire time, wanting to perform a magic trick so profound for the already mesmerized townpeople, a rain without thunder crashed down from the clear blue shining sky, sadistically pounding the dusty ground.
Father Micah Jones smiled as if he knew this would happen and said in an eerily calm voice, “There’s the rain.”
Mothers wept openly while most of the crowd gaped in awe at the downpour that appeared to be falling from the sun. Those who dramatically fell to their knees, cautiously rose, unable to comprehend this reality, unaware of the dust now becoming mud that was running down their shins. And so, if this anomaly wasn’t phenomenally suffice, what happened next made the townspeople true believers in all which is transcendent and unnamably holy.
The dirty old leper rose from the wet curb as Father Micah stretched out his arms, almost feeling the air for guidance. Soaked from the luminous rain, the leper grasped the lapels of his tattered coat and looked as if he wanted to say something, without warning, seven doves burst from, and blew open his coat, converging on Father Micah Jones, swirling and spinning even faster than the doves before that were still lifeless, muddy lumps on the ground.
Ephren was at the top of the palace waiting for the rain to pass through. She could not see what was going on in front of her, but heard a great deal of commotion. She thought the rain falling from the blue sky was odd, yet fitting.
One of the servants opened and held a large umbrella over Ephren’s head and said nervously, “I think we should try to keep up, ma’am.”
Ephren nodded and carefully pulled her long skirt off the ground and headed out.
All morning while she was primping she watched and waited for some hint of one of the messengers Legarthus said would come for her today. To every flash of gold in sight, she would turn away so quickly in the direction that many touch ups and re-pinnings consumed most of the servant’s time who were beginning to lose their patience and attribute her jumpiness to a bad case of wedding day nerves. Now, walking through the wet road leading to the chapel with absolutely no word of how to escape, maniacal panic screamed like sirens in her chest. Maybe it was just another manipulative ploy of the deranged King Quastan after all.
Distantly, Ephren gazed into the faces of the townspeople who seemed to be lost in space and time. She heard broken fragments like, ‘so beautiful,’ and ‘image of the goddess herself.’ She searched for a connection in their eyes, a nod of acknowledgement , someone who would tell her what to do next, but they all only stood in a quiet spell revering the stunning young woman who would, one day, be their queen.
The rain was finally letting up and the chapel could be seen through the crisp air. Flower petals were being thrown at her feet and music could be faintly heard. People seemed moved by the tears in her eyes. Reality felt like a dream. She caught sight of her mother looking back at her concerned but it was too late. She fell for the trick and now would pay the price for her complete trust in a total stranger.
The music was too beautiful for what was happening. It was as if a symphony played to a desperate animal attempting to claw a hole through its cage. Father Micah was at the front waiting with the Quastan clan, and had she truly wanted to marry Nazra, she might have thought him quite handsome that day, even though he appeared to be just as nervous, albeit, for different reasons.
The aisle seemed to carry her forward. Father Micah’s basket of doves rested in the crook of his arms purring chirpily. Once both families encircled the bride and groom, the priest smiled and spoke warmly. “What a miraculous day the Lord has in store for us. The unity of this young man and woman has brought the presence of the Holy Spirit to bless us all. Before we proceed, let us all close our eyes and bow our head to give thanks to His magnificent presence.”
Everyone in the entire chapel except for Ephren lowered their heads as Father Micah began to say a prayer. In one last frantic attempt, she wildly turned around searching as if she were begging for someone, somewhere who was on her side. She was slightly startled by a nudge on her hip. Whipping around, she looked down and saw Father Micah, still praying loudly, push his basket of doves into her stomach. She caught herself from gasping loudly when she saw a golden slip of paper slightly tucked beneath one of the doves. She pushed in the little creature;s breast and carefully tugged on the golden slip , reading it as fast as she could.
Turn, right now, and run away
down the aisle and through the streets,
do not stop for anything
or anyone you meet.
A helicopter awaits you
near the banks of Dead Sea,
now is the time to run away,
if you ever hope to be free.
Ephren first looked up at Father Micah who was smiling and still droning in prayer and then over to Nazra who was leaning over her, eyes open, reading the clue in her hand with a mix of shock and anger on his face. Without even hesitating, she lifted her skirt, reached down and extracted the dagger that was tucked in her garter. A fleeing ghost of guilt laughed somewhere in the back of her mind right before she sliced once over Nazra’s forearm. He yelled in pain, cutting in on the prayer and shaking the congregation out of their reverent dream. Muttering and confusion peppered the building, and the music screeched, oddly fading, though not quite ending.
Ephren ran because the clue told her to, because she had to, because she refused to be cornered into someone else’s version of bliss. Bolting toward the church doors, dodging grabbing hands, Ephren felt around in one of the folds of her dress, ripping the ties of the revolver she was now firing into the chapel ceiling. Everyone ducked and screamed, shielding themselves and their children from the raining plaster. The guards instinctively reached to their belts for their own empty gun cases, staring blankly at the King for orders. King Quastan watched Ephren with his mouth slightly open beneath the chaotic white plaster hurricane. His face contorted in rage and he bellowed at the guards to go and get her.
Once out into the open air, she ran hard into the wind, wishing her wedding dress hadn’t been so heavy. Still clutching the bouquet in her left hand, she looked back and saw a very large crowd led by King Quastan’s guards firing shots at her. She shot back with her free hand right above the crowd of lunatic gaining on her. All she wanted was to escape without anyone getting hurt. Her legs were losing strength as she barreled through the sand and onto the muddy streets. She kept glancing over her shoulder until she crashed into a group of gypsies dressed in purple robes who whooped strangely and cast curses from their splayed shaking hands and huge black eyes. She achingly got to her feet and took off again wanting terribly to duck into one of the shops but there was no time. At the same time her pursuers were shouting at the townspeople to stop the escaped prisoner in the wedding dress, Ephren finally saw the road that led to the shore of the Dead Sea, along with the vague silhouette of the helicopter that the clue had foreseen. Gunshots were being heard more frequently from all directions and the shouting crowd was louder than before. Out of her peripheral vision, she saw the green-blue water and the memory of she and her parents making tea flashed in her mind. She sensed the presence of her family, hearing laughter and smelling rice, feeling the comfort of them all together in their home. Ephren began to sob. She was doing this for them but that excuse didn’t make it easier to leave them behind. She saw the pilot waving her over desperately, as she breathlessly made it into the helicopter, crashing onto the floor, hearing pings dot the presumed bulletproof aircraft. Lifting off the sandy hell, Ephren peered out and saw the angry mob below. Hardly believing she escaped, she weakly stood up laughing and crying and tossed her bouquet to the crowd below. Several people pointed and shouted, and one of the guards even took a potshot at it but missed. It was to her extreme elation in the end, however, that the one who caught her wedding bouquet was none other than the very disgruntled and defeated looking King Quastan Alawi al-Fayed of Jordan. She laughed and cried and faded off into the blue.
Chapter Five: A Twenty-One Year Silence
Thick, sweltering air saturated moist skin while supple lips reflected dewy reddish-gold midnight haze constrained by a peeling and chipped pastel building adorning arched windows that gleamed golden light upon cobblestone streets. Voluptuous women smoldered beneath a faint orange glow in darkened doorways their brown eyes and hair leaving little to the eye and everything else to fantasy while tobacco smoke ruminated in shadowed corners where gasping silhouettes fell and rose like the fluidity of absolute motion.
Horse hooves clucked the rhythm of urgency as celebratory riots broke out in the streets of Old Havana once its residents were told their tyrannical dictator who kept his country in shambles for over two decades had died in his sleep. He was chained to a cement block along with his blood money and lowered somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. It was coded in the very essence, a celebration of death a rising smoke vengeance that may have even reached the shores of Panama into Columbia.
There was a raunchy smell pervading the travesty of a car tottering its way up the bumpy road and from the backseat, a weary Father Micah Jones patted around to his left. Nestled in a shiny, wine colored wicker basket, seven or eight doves dozed, purring chirpily beside him. When the car came to a halt, the driver replied dryly, “Here we are, I think.”
As the driver carried the luggage into a seemingly ancient building, Father Micah stood up shakily with his basket in tow. Once out into the muggy night, the doves shot upward, manically encircling and leading him within the ruins.
There were candles lit and a record playing gently. A deep voice said, “Micah Jones, we meet again.”
The doves steered him to a table, and once he was seated, they dropped upon the crumbled cement floor pecking it for edible remnants. The wistful manner in which the priest caroused most people evaporated in the uncomfortable, fidgety way he answered the man, “You say that as if we’re old friends.”
“You have shown a loyalty to me that my nearest and dearest friends could not fathom.”
“Because I kept my mouth shut.”
“In so many words, yes. Twenty years it was?
“Even after what we did to your eyes…”
“And at the end of your life, you will be judged accordingly by a power that, I am gratified to say, has ways of making you suffer in ways I could never imagine.” He relished the man’s silence then went on briskly, “But I am not here to bask in your eternal suffering.”
“You have come to collect the debt I promised when I visited the convent five years ago.”
“Yes. There are only two things I ask of you. First, after you have fulfilled my other demand, that you never come near or contact me, or anyone I know, ever again.”
“As you wish. What is the other demand?”
Father Micah then went into detail about the Avital family, the wedding proposition, and Ephren’s escape.
The man sighed deeply. “I will make the arrangements. If by chance, she would attempt to flee again, what measures may we employ?”
“Ones meant to make her never attempt it again.”
Without shaking the man’s hand or thanking him, Father Micah stood up to end the meeting. Faithfully surrounding upon his ascension, the cocoon-like tangle of wings led him out the door, into the crowded streets where he and his precious doves were about to prove to the Cuban people that the death of a tyrant would not be the only miracle that would witness that night.
Chapter Six: Dia De Muertos
It was told that those who disappeared in Mazatlán made their way across the Sierra Madres in the Mexico Basin where their pirate souls were restored by the salty sea of the Gulf.
Where food and basic human decency were scarce, violent men and beautiful, broken women got rich off the dark weaknesses of upstanding citizens and tourists on the islands. From Puerto Rico to St. Croix, Dominica to Barbados, archangels chased the excesses of the West Indies to the confluence of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic.
Shipwrecks could be seen from tattered motels in Fort de France. The authorities were a part of if not altogether responsible for the corruption as long as they were compensated in ways that were difficult to prove. It was whispered that muffled screaming could be heard from the women whimpering all throughout the halls. Most were stolen from their homelands and brought here to be sold to men with an especially sadistic streak. Even the authorities who did not participate stood watch to guard to protect the women. The local mental institution was the largest residence on the island.
shaman Telepathy clue: It is always in paradise where waves sound like Elysian Fields, where the worst of humanity drowns in aquamarine and pirate’s gold, so long as the myth is created from pathos, so as it remains a mystery, so long as the sane the artistic, the healers, the shamans, the eccentrics are tortured, are exiled, are strange and ill, so long as the free are enslaved, can there be what is called paradise; the mask of an unspeakable, a hidden, an unforgivable violence just below the surface there, within each person, the potential, it exists, there exist infinite excuses to qualify malice. Human beings will trench their very last heuristic to prove it and only in our blindest anger, sparkling like a satellite, we falter, a repulsive continuum, a mutilated ecstasy. The armies have overtaken the capital. Paradise; a requiem.
day of the dead:
festival in Oaxaca
monarch butterfly migration
next stop:Lanao del sur phillipines waterfalls. old man poem
waterfall the one who walks through the forest without a sound. he is levitating over the rushing water
Kamchatka peninsula: military
micah jones will come from the village of sawa Syria; the monestary
Robert Rauschenberg, Kickback, 1959.
an illuminated hourglass.
held down and red,
a rape reversed,
Riders on the Storm
playing in the background.
I tighten my
black leather strap-on-
all I need is love, bitch.
the slave you never split
rip the wings off your
Day of the Dead
like a tangled knot,
making you beg to choke,
heads or tails,
on my rubber barrel.
Tell me you want this
running down your legs,
my ritualistic hands
around your neck,
this one last
burnt offering for
(Robert Rauschenberg, For Ferraro)
Sometime around 10am,
I was writing a story
for the paper,
tech weapons and
against the unarmed
It was an attempt to
sound barrier to
My memories and
audio fade of
to the melodic harps of
dying beings submerged within
the womb of consciousness
at first light.
and your medieval obsession
what is, long since,
(Hieronymus Bosch, 1450- 1516)
Part of the program
was to trigger and split
those wounded by rape
It is almost impossible to
not be affected by
such twisted symbolism.
The murder one of it is
that you will not want it
until you want it.
You will adjust
to not feel
this much pain.
Your mind does all it can
to protect you,
through each downpour
and over every bridge,
the soul cannot be destroyed
you cannot ever lose who
you truly are.
You will never be those who are
trying to control and enslave you.
Strength and peace can be found within
the sanctity of growth symbolism
which helps to resist
and fade alters.
You will surface.
I felt sick today,
headachy and exhausted,
I managed to avoid
the cops’ and the puppets’
ventilation burn and
I watched my son play
with a transparent purple bat
in the garage.
I worked in the dark
trying to deconstruct the war.
I thought about calling you
but have no idea
who you really are.