Hair Down

Long ago, they say, there once was a fair maiden, whose shining black hair flowed from atop her crown past her soles below. Long it spread, far and wide, covering all the land; trees and rivers, mountains and valleys, every hovel of every village, every square of every city. Even their capital lay under its silk-smooth cover. Men, women, children and beasts were tangled in its supple touch. One by one they drifted into that sweet oblivion that is sleep. A scent of fresh flowers filled the air. Bliss, o bliss! Soon, the land was quiet under the endless mane. Now, she stands alone, amid a sea as black as a starless night; she combs it gently, slowly. A lover’s caress every night. Dreaming, yearning, of growing her hair just a little bit more. Just a bit more. A bit more. More. More. More.

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Hunter/Woodcutter

A pair of eyes burn through Anatoly. Alexandre is angry; the last of the venison is gone, and he, Anatoly, caught nothing on his last outing. The old man’s face is devoid of love. No line drawn across his wrinkly skin whispers the merest token of kindness. A great black beard over it resembles a black forest one enters, but never leaves. The fire crackles softly in the stone hearth, barely disguising the banshees wailing outside outside of their cabin. Tonight the storm kills anyone foolish enough to step outside, but Anatoly does not hear its cries of misery; his eyes lock to Alexandre’s fiery black coals. The young man feels so alone.

“You little idiot!”, Alexander hisses and takes half a step forward. Calloused hands rolled into balls, taut and shaking. “Why do I let you stay?” A fist the size of a dog’s head slams over a rickety wooden table, sending splinters and two empty clay plates crashing down on the floor below. “Tell me why!” Alexander’s voice rises above the night’s maelstrom caging them.

Anatoly’s gaunt frame flinches, covering his face with thin, delicate hands. He can hear Alexander grinding his teeth, reminding him of the grain mill from the village down the mountain. I am the wheat, dear God. Trembling from head to to toe he rallies whatever is swimming at the pit of his stomach, pushing past the bile rising from his throat. “I…hunt…you cut wood.”, he finally manages to say in a whimper.

“Precisely.”, Alexander snarls, spittle falling down his black beard. “I cut wood. You hunt food. And you can’t even do that right!”

“But, but…surely God will provide a miracle. We must hold faith!” Anatoly tries to sound optimistic, even courageous, until a log in the fire behind him cracks, making him jump.

“God?” Alexander’s face darkens, “God will not listen. This storm makes Him deaf. This storm that is trapping us. This storm…”, the old man picks up a particularly thick-looking log with one hand. Alexandre roars like like a black bear, flinging the log at Anatoly, “…will swallow us!”

“Wait!” Anatoly yelps, barely sidestepping the log, which hits the wall behind him and clatters on the floor, rolling past where he was standing a second ago. “Please Alexandre, wait! For the love of God!” His voice rises to a shriek. “Give me one more day! I can…I can…” He can’t finish, the wailing outside is eating his voice away.

Alexandre takes two long steps and strikes him with the back of his hand, knocking Anatoly over. The young man screams and falls to the floor. “The season of storms is here, idiot!” Looking down at the simpering figure, Alexandre’s mind is pierced by a thought he’s tried to hold back all evening: they are dead men. “God is not here. We are alone, and we will die.” In an instant, rough hands yank Anatoly to his feet from the scruff of his shirt. “I’ll kill you before that.”

Something flashes in the dim of the cabin and Alexander howls in agony, feeling the sharp bite of steel in his gut. His grip loosens and Anatoly falls to the floor again. A dark spot begins to form on the left side of Alexander’s brown coat. “You stabbed me!” Alexandre’s voice is no more than a whisper, his eyes seem to have lost some of their focus.

Anatoly holds a large hunting knife with trembling hands, he tightens his grip as hard as he can until it hurts. The tip is dipped in blood. “God forgive me…” His mouth hangs open, he can barely believe what he did. “Alexandre, it was an accident, I didn’t mean…!”

With a bellow, Alexandre jumps at Anatoly, before the young man can even react, he is pinned down to the ground by the neck with one hand, while another smacks the knife away. He can feel Alexandre’s grip, unyielding, like one of Anatoly’s snares for catching rabbits. Anatoly can’t breathe, he panics, at first kicking and flailing trying not to escape, but to breathe. Soon he starts to move less, and less. Then he stops moving altogether.

Alexandre is in a daze. Somehow, his hands are holding meat again that his teeth tear greedily, raw, letting the warm blood kiss his lips and wet his cheeks. Anatoly’s knife carves it with ease. So juicy and tender; there is no more of Anatoly’s womanly mewling. Once he’s had his fill, Alexandre cuts up and parcels the meat from his companion’s body, hoping it will be enough to keep him alive until the storms pass. Afterwards he will go down to the village, buy more food, find someone else to hunt. After all, he only cuts wood. Only wood. As soon as he opens the door outside the storm’s whip of sleet and snow hits him on the face. Covering it with one hand, while with another he carries a soiled bundle of bloody bones and soiled clothes, Alexandre steps out into the darkness.

Hide the body, hide it. Any hole he digs will be good, but he needs to be fast. He can barely see more than a few feet ahead of him, but the snow has already piled high to his knees. Each step is a feat, feeling heavier the more he walks. Just a little more, around the cabin. Alexandre considered burning the remains, but the thought of Anatoly’s stench, fresh or roasted, at least at that moment seemed…unbearable. It did not matter now; he will bury the remains, he will survive. Much harsher storms have come and go, and Alexandre was left standing. He just realized he’s stopped walking, but is on his knees, with the snow almost to his mid-stomach. How odd, Alexandre thinks, realizing how tired he really is. Despite the freeing cold wrapping him, he feels an odd warmth spread across his body, making him sleepy, so sleepy. Alexandre’s eyes feel too heavy to keep open any longer. If he could just rest for a bit, then he will take care of things, yes he will. He just needs to rest. Just for a bit…

From the blackness of the storm they came, desperate and hungry. Saliva freezes and melts on their elongated snouts, tongues lolling to the side as clouds of hot breath are blown away by the storm. They were stumbling when a light appeared far ahead. They followed it and now prey lies on the snow before them. The leader, twice as large as any of them -almost as big as the body lying in the snow- paces slowly towards it. Black fur ripples with white from sleet as it edges closer to the unmoving mound, mostly covered by the snow now. A tentative nip is given with fangs that crave the warmth moisture of flesh. The mound does not stir. The leader gives out a victorious howl that the endless cries of the storm drowns, but the others join nonetheless. Tonight, at least, they will not starve.

Snow In Shibuya

The cup warmed Christobella’s hands as she took a sip, letting the tea comfort her; it was her favorite brand of green tea. It had snowed yesterday, but the streets of Shibuya were already cleared up to let traffic flow at its regular frantic pace. “Shibuya is always lively, so many places to see that your head will spin!” Signore Yoshimura had told her long ago.

The lights of a nearby electronic billboard were advertising a new video game. A young Japanese woman, probably in her late teens, danced enthusiastically. She was 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. Years of living here and Christobella could still be surprised, or at least amused. Japan, never a dull moment. She smiled at the young woman made from a million tiny lights, now fighting what appeared to be a three-headed dragon.

Was the woman Satsune slept with a school girl? Christobella mused, taking another sip of tea. She did look rather young. Or maybe that was because Satsune looked old at her side. His arm around her waist. Christobella had seen them walking out of the love hotel one evening she was returning to their apartment from the supermarket. The tea started to feel a bit too bitter, Christobella set down the cup and pushed it away. Glancing outside the window, she saw the image of a smiling geisha on another billboard, she bowed while holding a vacuum cleaner that looked more like a spaceship.

Japan had been a land of contrasts from the moment she arrived. High-rise buildings of glass and steel sat side by side with small wood and stone temples. On her first day there, Christobella remembered a pair of geishas walking demurely on their wooden getas among the throngs of office black-and-white suits and skirts; a drop of color amid the monochrome. Both had smiled at Christobella with their snow-white faces. There had been less electronic billboards back then.

Satsune had been one of those contrasts that had seduced her. A man of quiet gestures and distant gaze, yet he would always have a compliment for Christobella that did not feel forced nor trite. Though a a serious business man, there had been something lyrical about him. As with Japan, it had been love at first sight. They tied the knot and made their perfect home for fifteen years. Until one day she took a left turn, instead of a right. The coincidence had been too perfect, she remembered thinking absentmindedly when she saw Satsune walking side by side with his lover. She would have laughed, but she didn’t. Not then, not now; it made her think of her parents. Another unhappy thought.

Her father had also chased after some young skirt back in Rome when she lived in her native Italy. Her mother, Vittoria, feigned ignorance instead of confronting him about it. After his death from a fatal car accident, she confessed to Christobella about her father’s infidelity, but only after she had switched back to her maiden name. Christobella was twice hurt. A father who went behind her daughter and wife’s backs; a mother who covered his lies for the sake of comfort.

Of course Christobella confided to signore Yoshimura. The older gentleman simply nodded once in silence, his brown eyes looking at her, holding some of the sorrow she did not, could not, feel. Back then, there had only been a deep feeling of being betrayed. How different things would have been if signore Yoshimura had been her father. Not only did her violin instructor, back then in his early 60s, teach her how to play, filling her head with wondrous stories about his country. He also spared the time to listen to Christobella; her fears, her dreams, her desire to visit Japan one day. Signore Yoshimura had died three years after she left, it was the only time she had considered returning to Italy. She would make the time to pay her respects at his shrine in his old home back in Rome.

Vittoria, you fool, she thought, alone in the apartment’s living room. Something tightened inside her chest. 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, already wrinkles adorning the edges of her eyes. They had phoned her all the way from Italy, some distant relative whose name she had already forgotten after she hung up. Her mother had died suddenly two days ago. Massive heart attack. She was 73. Twenty more years of life than her bastard father.

“Christobella?” Satsune had walked in the living room and was standing there, shifting from left to right. His voice was soft, almost tender. Of course he knew about her mother. “Do you need anything for tomorrow? I can have the chauffeur drive you to the airport.” He was not quite looking her way. Their divorce papers still had to be signed.

Christobella made no excuses for her father’s betrayal; she would not make them for Satsune’s. It had been her who filed the papers; that was that. They had settled terms quickly: she would receive a very generous alimony payment each month. He could afford it, seeing how he practically owned half of Shibuya’s buildings already. Satsune got to keep the apartment. She did not want it. Christobella had several planes to catch back to Italy to attend the funeral —her relatives could hold it off for a day, two tops. “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.