This old face, it is devoid of love. No line drawn across its wrinkly skin speaks the merest whisper of affection. A pair of eyes burn through the young man, and he feels so alone. Alexandre is angry; the last of the venison is gone, and he, Anatoly, caught nothing when out hunting. A fire crackles softly on the stone hearth as the wind howls outside of their cabin. It will be a harsh night tonite, foolish for anyone to step outside.

“You little idiot!” A hiss that feels like a hot needle makes Anatoly flinch. Alexandre cracks his thick knuckles, he wants to break something, maybe he will break Anatoly. “Why do I let you stay? Tell me why!” A fist the size of a dog’s head slams over the table, sending two empty dishes crashing and breaking down on the floor.

Anatoly’s tongue feels thick, a dead lump that won’t move. It takes the better part of a minute for Anatoly to whimper out a few words. “I hunt…you cut wood.” A large stack of cut logs stands at Alexandre’s feet, his haul will provide warmth for the cold, and some may even be sold for a few coins down at the village, but not if the storm blocks the roads with snow.

His eyes narrow like a wolf’s before it’s about to jump down someone’s throat. “Precisely. I cut wood, you hunt. That’s the deal.” Picking up a particularly thick-looking log with one hand, Alexandre sizes it up, then looks back at Anatoly who has taken a step back as he takes one forward. “And you can’t even do that right!” With a roar like a black bear, Alexandre flings the log in Anatoly’s direction. The young man barely manages to sidestep the projectile as the log hits the wall with a loud thud and clatters on to the floor, rolling close to where he was standing a second ago.

“Alexandre, wait, please!” His voice is shrill, he needs more time, but the older man hits him with the back of his hand, Anatoly screams and topples over the floor. Reeling from pain, his head is spinning, he has to get up. Rough hands yank him to his feet from the scruff of his shirt. Something flashes and Alexandre howls in agony, stepping back from the young man. A dark spot begins to form on the left side of his brown coat.

“You…stabbed me!” Each word is filled with hatred, Alexandre’s eyes seem to have lost some of their focus, but now they appear to be of a wild animal.

Anatoly’s holding his hunting knife with both trembling hands, the tip dipped in blood. His mouth hangs open, he can barely believe what he did. “God forgive me…Alexandre, it was an accident, I didn’t mean…!”

Roaring in fury, Alexandre jumped at his throat, bloodlust filled his eyes. Before the young man could even react, he was pinned down to the ground by the neck with one hand, while another smacked the knife away from it. He could feel Alexandre’s vice-grip, like a snare from which he caught rabbits. Anatoly couldn’t breathe and though at first he was panicking, kicking and flailing trying to escape, he soon moved less, and less, until he did not move anymore.

Alexandre was in a daze, not really knowing how he was still standing, but soon he found himself eating meat again. Juicy and tender, and there was no more of Anatoly’s womanly mewling. He had to get rid of the corpse. Cutting up the meat that would keep him alive until the snow cleared for him to go down to the village, he took the bones outside. The wind howled everywhere like a wailing mother, darkness fell heavy around the cabin, Alexandre could not see more than a few feet ahead of him, but it didn’t matter. He’d survive harsh winters before, he would do it again. It was all the more surprising to him when he found himself falling to his knees, they simply stopped supporting him. The snow chilled him to the bone, but he was feeling rather sleepy now. Damned Anatoly, his cut had been deeper than he thought. A howl brought Alexandre back to the storm raging around him. Something was moving ahead, but he couldn’t quite make it out, his vision was getting darker by the second.

They swere already circling him, five of them, they’ve had no morsel to eat for a few days now and were ravenous. Now prey lay there weak, blood drew them to it. Their fangs were begging for tender flesh. Their pack leader cautiously paced close to the mound of furs lying still on the snow. It had moved a moment ago, they did not want to risk a fight. With a tentative nip at the furst, the leader saw the figure did not stir. It howled out long into the storm. Tonite, they would not starve.

Snow In Shibuya

The cup warmed Christobella’s hands as she took a sip, her favorite brand of green tea comforted her. It had snowed yesterday, but the streets of Shibuya were already cleared up to let traffic flow at its regular pace. The lights of a nearby building advertised a new video game. A young Japanese woman, probably in her late teens, was dancing, dressed in a school uniform -skirt above the knee, no less-, brandishing what appeared to be a pink AK-47. “Happy lucky adventure, yes, yes!” The young woman’s voice was chipper and high-pitched, a cute doll wrapped in plastic. Decades of living here and she could still be surprised, or at least amused. Japan, never a dull moment. She smiled at the young woman, now fighting what appeared to be a three-headed dragon. Another sip from her tea. Was the woman Hanzo slept with a school girl? She did look rather young when he saw them walking out of the love hotel one evening she was returning from her academy. She set down the cup, having lost her appetite.

Her father had also chased after some young skirt back in Rome, while her mother feigned ignorance. Vittoria, you fool. Something tightened inside Chris’s chest as soon as she thought of her mother. The telltale prickling sensation behind her eyes made her reach to rub them, but it was too late: she blinked and down rolled a fat tear over soft olive skin.

They had phoned her all the way from Italy, she had no idea how they got her home number. Her mother had died suddenly, just two days ago, from a heart attack. She was 73. Twenty more years of life than her bastard father. She still pondered, out of boredom nowadays, really, how different things would have been if signore Yoshimura had been her father instead. Not only did the older gentleman, back then in his early 60s, taught her how to play the violin, but filled her head with wondrous stories about his country to the point that she dreamed of going to Japan. He had died three years after she left for Japan, it was the only time she had considered returning to Italy. She would make the time to pay her respects at his shrine on his old home back in Rome.

“Chris?” Hanzo had walked into the living room entrance and was standing there, shifting slightly from left to right. His voice was soft, almost tender. Of course he knew about her mother. She had several flights to catch tomorrow to Italy, to attend the funeral -her relatives could hold it off for a day, two tops, but their divorce papers still had to be signed. “Do you need anything for tomorrow? I can have Satsune drive you to the airport.” He was not quite looking her way.

It had been her who filed for a divorce. Chris made no excuses for her father when mother told her about his infidelity, two years after his death; she would not make them for Hanzo. That was that. They had settled terms quickly: she would receive a very generous alimony payment each month, he would keep the apartment. He could afford it, seeing how he practically owned half of Shibuya’s buildings already. “Don’t bother. I’ll call a cab.” The man who had been her husband for the past fifteen years nodded, standing there like an actor who just forgot his lines, then simply left without another word. Good, she needed to start packing. It would be a very long day tomorrow.

And Then, There Were None.

“The Lord giveth…”, the words, they were not right. They were lies. Lies, and yet Roland had repeated them over and over, for all of his life -he knew them by heart, they were his shield. The corpse of a young woman, the miller’s daughter, was still warm, his blade had pierced her flesh as easy as when he tore his bread when he broke fast each morning. She looked so small, crumpled there on the earthen floor of the hut, eyes closed. A red stain spread under her body, soiling her simple cotton dress. Roland’s tongue felt heavy, thick, with the Devil’s nonsense. Gripping the hilt of his sword, Roland slowly staggered towards the door, like a man heavy in his cups. Fresh air.

“The Lord also taketh away. Over and over and over. What a capricious fellow, wouldn’t you agree, Roland?” It was the smallest of whispers, probably one that no one would have heard, and yet each word reached the knight’s ears clearly.

Roland stopped, feeling the air escape his lungs. A taste of copper on his mouth made him realized he was biting his lip rather vigorously. The knight took a step forward, as if unsure if the ground could hold his weight.

“Ah, ah…one should take the time to admire their handiwork. Gives us pause for…reflection.” The whisper tittered.

He had killed her, and now regret showed its head all too late. “Forgive me, Father.” A sob shook Roland. The sword leaned dangerously forward, trying to hold on to his master’s weight. From the corner of his eye, barely at the edge of his vision, he saw someone…tall, dressed in red, smiling. He could not tell if they were man or woman. The knight had faced death countless times in his life. A soldier of God, he was used to it, but this…”Get behind me, Satan!” With a growl, Roland straightened up, holding his sword in both hands.

More tittering. The hut started to feel cold, as if the snows of early Autumn were just falling out on the countryside, draping everything in white. “Brave knight, gallant knight. Serving God and country; no sin is too big for thee.”

With a roar, Roland swung his sword around, slashing at air, only to find himself staring at the young woman’s corpse looking back at him from the floor. Where did they go? Was he losing his mind?

“Just your soul.” The whisper breathed softly on the nape of Roland’s neck, a chill pierced it. Then darkness.

A Short, Bloody Affair

A hundred Yakuza surround her, a hundred gun barrels and swords point in her direction. Death’s finger on every last one of these sons of bitches. She is tired and bloodied. A score of their own lie dead or dying all around them. A chorus of moans to carry them into Hell thickens the air. They can tell the Devil she’ll get there on her own sweet time. A sword, barely held by her slender fingers, is dipped in red. Her own gun ran empty ten corpses ago. “A man dies, the World mourns all over. A woman dies…and she dies alone.” A sigh dances over her lips and stretches into a grin. “The World can burn and grieve a hundred times more then.” Raising her sword, she prepares to dance one more time.

Coming and Going

We were out on the porch enjoying the Summer twilight, under its pink horizon. The air was a bit muggy, but we kept ourselves cool with some cold Heinekens, listening to crickets serenade us. Out of the blue, Masdall gave out a long sigh while staring at the sky. He sounded like a balloon being deflated. “What’s wrong, Mas?” 
“Well…”, he bit his lower lip like he did whenever he was feeling nervous or just a bit too shy around people, “…y’know how I love getting hugs from you? I mean a good squeeze.” 
“Love you too, babe, but I’m too comfy on my chair right now to get up.” I reached out from my chair and tousled those grey locks of his. He didn’t move, but kept looking at the horizon as it slowly turned dark.
“Ah, forget about it. Just being silly.” He took a long sip from his can without turning to look at me. Guess he was being serious.
I grabbed his hand and looked at him, “Can’t. Got an elephant’s memory, or so my mom used to tell me.”
This time he turned to look at me, giving out a small timid smile, like he was asking not to be put on the spotlight. “Ah shit, Cass…I grab a Heine or two and just get all nostalgic. I’m just talking out of my ass. Making too much hoo-ha out of nothing!”He started to scratch the back of his head, looking at his feet. Whatever it was, Masdall was having a hard time getting it out there. 
I gave him a look that pretty much said I wasn’t dropping it. Masdall swallowed twice, running fingers across that gray mane of his. It really needed a haircut. “Ok, ok. Fine, geez! Don’t have to give me such a dirty look…” He gave a low whistle. “Well, I just remembered how I didn’t get much affection back when I was livin’ with my folks. At all, to be honest.”

Childhood talk wasn’t taboo between us, but it rarely came up. This took me by surprise: Masdall was never really eager to talk about his family. “I think you mentioned it once, long ago, but…I didn’t want to force that talk.”
“S’alright. I know I can be a bit of a clam and keep shut all day. Yeah, I didn’t get much in the way of affection until I met you.” He squeezed my hand.
“Aw, I’m sure someone gave you some lovin’ before I came along.”
Masdall shrugged, “Not from my parents. Nor anyone that stayed with me for long. You really changed things.”
“Hopefully for the better. I’d hate to be the gal that turned you into an old bitter lemon.”

He bent forward laughing a bit. “It’s not too late for that! But all kidding aside…I wasn’t good with showing affection. You helped me overcome that. One hug at a time, and the rest followed.”
“You’re welcome, hon.”
“Though…”, there was the slightest crack in his voice, “…I sometimes feel…my heart aching some when you hug me. But only sometimes. Makes me think of them years back with the folks and how I never…”, and like that he dropped his voice.
I squeezed his hand softly in silence. The stars were already twinkling on the dark horizon. Somewhere in the distance, a truck passed by. A song was playing loudly on its radio. I thought I could recognize it, but then it was gone into the night.

War is Peace

It fell, it fell. From the sky came the great scream. Rage. It brought it in spades.
Voludro saw the clouds split asunder by the hand of uncaring gods. The atom splitter would soon kill them all.
“This is the way we die, neh?” Sharalla wasn’t bitter, for once. Her eyes were pools of melancholia. Voludro could see the parting skies reflected in them.
“No.” Only seconds before the end. “This is the way peace is made.”
He smiled, a final gift to her.