romance, short fiction, Uncategorized, wildness, women

Burial Rites Episode 4.

Burial Rites

Previous episodes are here, here and here.

 

John awoke Kelly by bringing her a cup of tea and leaving it on the bedside table. The smell of awoke her with care and she smiled at the gesture. John was cooking a venison steak when she walked through to the kitchen.

 

John gestured towards the pan but she shook her head. She knew they were going to be going back to the wreckage. She had decided she would do it on an empty stomach. The tea was good, strong and reviving as she sat down.

 

He put two of them on a plate and brought it over with a small portion of spinach and some cubed sweet potatoes, dusted with cinnamon as he sat down. He ate with a quiet economy, looking up at her with a concerned look in her eyes.

 

‘Are you sure you want to come?’ he said.

 

She nodded and picked up her cup of tea, held it between her hands and looked away.

 

‘Yes, but I can’t eat before I go out. Not with what we’re going to do.’ she said.

 

John picked up his coffee and took a sip as he looked at her.

 

‘We’ll bury your friend and cover the plane. What do you want to do with the briefcase, if it’s there?’ he said.

 

Kelly’s head hurt at the thought of it. She shook her head.

 

‘We’ll see when we get out there. Can I have a cigarette when you’re done?’ she said.

 

He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out his pouch and tossed it across the table before pulling his lighter from the pocket of his jeans and putting it next to the pouch.  

 

‘Help yourself.’ he said.

 

She rolled a loose, clumsy cigarette and lit it. The nicotine soothed her nerves, but the smoke tickled the back of her throat. Some part of her wanted to burn for what had happened.

 

John finished his food and rolled a cigarette himself. They smoked and finished their drinks before John stood up and gave a short nod.

 

‘Let’s go.’ he said.

 

He found Kelly a moss green smock which she pulled on over her head, thick gloves, waterproof trousers and a pair of boots with three pairs of socks. He smiled when she was done as he put on his jacket and zipped up. Kelly looked at him with concern but he smiled at her. He had a rucksack with a roll of tarpaulin lashed to one side. He had a black tomahawk in a stitched leather sheath on his right hip.

 

‘I don’t feel the cold too much.’  he said.

 

She nodded, in lieu of further questions, and they left the cabin together.

 

2.

 

Despite the thaw, it was still bitter outside. Kelly was grateful for John’s brisk pace because it kept her warm. He took care to see she was keeping up, and he did not have to ask her where the largest portion of the wreckage was.

 

‘Can you smell them?’ she said.

 

He glanced at her over his shoulder.

 

‘Yes.’ he said.

 

Kelly swallowed and looked around her. The trees were close here, and branches snapped beneath her feet as she walked. The walk was longer than she remembered, and realised she had ignored her surroundings for the blind grasping towards survival. John walked with an ease she envied, smooth and questing at the same time.

 

He knows this place on a level you can’t imagine, Kelly thought as she watched him.

 

The thought chilled and excited her at the same time.

 

He raised his hand without looking at her.

 

‘We’re here.’ he said.

 

Kelly stopped as John slipped his backpack off, dropping to a crouch as he raised his nose and inhaled.

 

Kelly took a breath and it was coated with the tang of faded smoke and burnt oils. She coughed and put her hand over her mouth as she stood there. Through the trees, she saw the jagged outline of the fuselage and walked towards it. John waited so he was walking alongside her.

 

He was looking at the fuselage, wrinkling his nose with distaste as he untied the roll of tarpaulin from the side of the rucksack.

 

‘What is it?’ Kelly said.

 

Her heart thumped against her ribs as she watched him tilt his head to one side.

 

‘There’s a strange smell here.’ he said.

 

Jenny grimaced and reached out for John.

 

‘Is it the bodies? I thought the cold would have kept them from, you know -‘ she said.

 

She did not want to say rotting and John shook his head to spare her from having to acknowledge what had happened.

 

He took a deep breath and shrugged his shoulders.

 

‘I don’t think so, but we need to go in and look.’ he said.

 

They stepped over the trees felled by the plane’s descent and John passed Kelly the roll of oilcloth whilst he pulled the tomahawk off his hip to cut away where the foliage blocked their path

Kelly looked at the fuselage and fought a primordial shudder at the sight of it. John put his hand on her shoulder and asked her if she was okay. She looked up, took a deep breath and gave a quick nod.

 

‘Yeah, I mean no, this is completely fucked but yeah, I’m ok.’ she said.

 

John raised an eyebrow and moved ahead of her as he put the tomahawk back in the sheath on his hip and took the oilcloth back from her.

 

‘Let’s get this over with.’ he said.

 

They found Tony first, still in two pieces but something had gnawed at the ropes of intestines and the soil was soaked with his blood. Kelly saw his face, carved into a final expression of agonised disbelief, with his eyes staring out at nothing, dark and cold as pebbles. John sucked in a deep breath and moved over to him and squatted down to push him onto his back. He spread out a large piece of oilcloth and moved the upper half of Tony’s body onto it, before he walked over and dragged Tony’s lower half by the legs and moved it on top. He picked up the chunks of intestine on the ground and tossed them onto the oilcloth.

 

‘I get why you didn’t eat.’ he said.

 

Kelly turned away. She did not want to think about Tony as some piece of meat to be handled and John carried out his work in silence. He moved up to where Mo was strapped into his seat and undid his safety belt, catching him as he fell forwards. John grunted underneath the load as he brought Mo’s body back and placed it atop Tony’s remains. He ran lengths of cord through the small holes and lashed it together. He had an expression of grim concentration as he worked. Kelly could look at him, but she averted her gaze from Tony or Mo where they were laid.

 

‘What about Connor and Van Sciver?’ she said.

John looked up and frowned.

 

‘I’ll get them later, Kelly. I want to make sure your friend is put to rest first.’ he said.

 

Kelly blinked away tears and told herself it was the wind in her eyes as she nodded and thanked him.

 

He finished lashing the oilcloth together and dragged it away from the fuselage. Kelly watched the muscles in his arms and shoulders flexing as he pulled away, looking over his shoulder as he disappeared into the trees. Kelly glanced around her.

 

The briefcase was wedged under Mo’s seat and walked over, bent down and pulled it towards her. She stood up, surprised at how heavy it was and she dragged it along, straining at the weight. John came back through the trees, his face red with effort as his nostrils flared. He had put his rucksack back on his shoulders but his hands were clenched into fists.

 

‘Kelly, put it down.’ he said.

 

Kelly stopped and let go of the handle. She stepped backwards, looking at John’s face. His lips were drawn back over his teeth as he walked towards the case.

 

‘It smells wrong.’ he said.

 

His voice had lowered and grown rough. It came from the pit of his stomach as he stopped in front of the case. His eyes were dark with emotion as he knelt down in front of it. He looked up at her.

 

‘Kelly, we can’t leave this here. I won’t have it in the cabin, but I have somewhere we can open it safely.’ he said.

 

Kelly frowned and thought about the shed behind the cabin. John smiled and shook his head.

 

‘I’ll show you when we get back.’ he said.

 

He picked up his briefcase and his upper lip drew back over his teeth. He hissed through his teeth.

‘Can you describe it?’ she said.

 

‘Ammoniac. But there’s something else there, just on the edge of my senses, but it’s different.’ he said.

 

Kelly swallowed and nodded. His reaction made her nervous and she stepped back, unsure of whether she was concerned by his reaction or what was in the briefcase.

 

‘I’ll come back and deal with the rest later.’ he said.

 

Kelly looked around her, then back at John.

 

‘Are you sure, I mean, I haven’t helped at all, John, and this is sort of my mess, you know?’ she said.

 

He shook his head.

 

‘You didn’t crash the plane, so let’s say it’s our mess. Come on, we need to look at what’s in here.’ he said.

 

His gruff authority made her relax as they made their way back to the cabin. John kept a brisk pace and Kelly tried to keep up, but she turned her left ankle, crying out as she fell forwards.

 

He was at her side, his arm wedged under her armpit as he held her up. She caught the warm musk of his skin as she put her arm around him. He looked into her eyes with a gentle concern as he asked her if she was okay. She nodded tightly, embarrassed at having fallen over in front of him but he did not mention it. She tested her left foot, and despite the tenderness, she could walk on it.

 

‘Thank you, I’m okay.’ she said.

 

They walked along in silence before Kelly asked him where he had put Mo and Tony.

 

‘I’ve covered them in foliage and the oil cloth should keep anything getting to them. I’ll take care of them later but I couldn’t leave them out for anyone to come across.’ he said.

 

Kelly nodded her agreement as she wondered whether their failure to arrive had triggered a reaction at all.

 

She was torn between the blessed ignorance of the present moment versus a bleak set of circumstances, neither of which could be counted upon to guarantee her safety. The sun had come out, but Kelly shivered like a shadow had fallen upon her.

 

She hoped it was possible to walk out from underneath its reach.

 

3.

 

John walked past the cabin and the shed. He stopped and dropped to his knees, reached into the soil and lifted a hatch up, sending a fine spray of dirt into the air before he turned and looked at her over his shoulder.

 

‘Are enclosed spaces a problem for you?’ he said.

 

He had a serious expression and Kelly shrugged her shoulders.

 

‘I was okay on a plane. Why, do you have an underground lair?’ she said.

 

She said it in a sing-song voice, grateful for the moment of levity between them. It was better than thinking about Tony and the debt they had incurred through a cruel act of fate. John raised an eyebrow as the corners of his mouth turned up in a small smile.

 

‘Something like that.’ he said.

 

He heaved the hatch back and walked down the small set of stairs into the ground. Kelly looked around her, took a deep breath and followed him underground.

 

4.

 

There was no black box to lead Jasper to the plane’s last location, on account of the weight involved. The flight plan was simple enough, taking them from the airfield outside Washington straight to LAX but Jasper had paid for access to a news gathering service and found no evidence of a crashed plane at all. He sat in his room and pulled up a map of the route, overlaying it with the scheduled flight.

 

Something had forced the plane off course, and he scrolled back through the weather reports to see a fat, ugly belt of precipitation which had made itself known at around the same time the plane would have been in the air.

 

‘Maybe they took a detour, he muttered to himself.

 

Either way, he had men waiting to go and look, so he split the eight guys into two teams of four. One of them would fly out to Washington and follow the route from that end, whilst the second team would head from Los Angeles.

 

Jasper had signed for two devices from his employer. They were ovoid, cool and smooth to the touch which activated a top down view and a stream of binary numbers before it set up a location. It had been stressed to him how important the recovery of the briefcase was, and Jasper listened to the electronic voice as it authorised an additional line of credit for transport and stressed an additional caveat to the previous instructions.

 

No survivors.

 

Jasper did not even blink. He had been a good thief, because he knew how things could turn on a dime and planned contingencies along those lines for his entire career. He told the team leaders this information and told them to report back when they were on the road. One phone call and they were on the move, instruments of his will who would return with the briefcase and he would deliver it to his employer then disappear. He couriered the devices to each location and dialled the escort service whilst staring at the wall, thinking of nothing beyond the present moment.

 

Demons whispered to him in electronic voices as his eyelids grew heavy and he thought about the future.

 

Standard
poetry, wildness, women

A forest fire

I’m a forest fire
Dead wood burning.
Away and swimming skywards
Each leaf
Each branch sings
Memento Mori
My lungs packed
With the tar of my
Sins
Until visions bloom
And I see my animal
Coalesce from smoke
Flame. On hind legs
It roars and crackles,
It tells me to breathe
Deep and keep moving.
Nutrients return to the soil
There is growth and
I hope I’ve not lost everything.
But the air is cool
And your attention
Is balm itself

Standard
beauty, short fiction, wildness, women

The Wild Man In The Water

Once upon a time, Paul, brother of King Samuel and chancellor, sat on the throne, listening to the complaints and petitions of the people. He listened with care, asked questions to show his investment in the pain and passion of his people. Paul and Sam viewed nobility as a privilege, not a right.

In his youth, Paul had led the charge for his brother with the zeal of a born warrior. A wildness of spirit had burned within him until a battle on the Eastern Shore sent an arrow smeared with shit into his right thigh. The infection robbed him of substance, but not character. He had not healed but his mind and senses had gained a terrible acuity as his heart gained a newfound empathy for the people.

There was more white than black in his beard but Paul woke each day feeling reborn. The faith of his senses had saved him, and he put it to his brother’s use.

She walked forward, coarse brown hair hung in her face as she gave an awkward curtsey. Paul waved her off and invited her to speak.

‘My Lucas is missing in the woods, my lord.’ she said.

A pang of horror jolted him upright. There had been hunters lost in the woods. Paul had taken an interest in the incidents.

He let her speak her pain and her fear. He reassured her. He instructed a scribe write a script for three sovereigns to see her through the next few months. She flushed and curtseyed again before she left.

Paul turned to Arthur, his steward and told him to send for his man.

Ernest. The hunter who walked the kingdom at Paul’s behest, and not all his prey was animal. Before noon, he was out with Gunther, his mastiff, studying the map Paul had worked on and a note in his small, neat handwriting.

Such an area without a sighting bodes a look. Bring back something interesting.

Gunther went ahead, muzzle low to the earth as he snuffled and padded ahead. Ernest caught it a moment later.

The moisture hung in the air. A body of water unmarked on the map. He strode forwards, heard a yelp just ahead and the splash of water. Ernest moved through the trees.

He watched the surface of the pond ripple then grow still.

‘Well, this must be the place.’ he said.

Ernest could not swim and he bolted from the forest until he found men in the fields. He came back with four men and five buckets, told them to empty the pond.

They stared at one another, faces shining and red from the heat of the day. A stout man with a neat line of beard and a soft belly which fell to his sides like sackcloth pointed his finger at the water.

‘Are you mad?’ he said

Ernest knelt before the pond and pushed his bucket into the water. He looked up and scowled.

‘My dog’s down there.’ he said.

One man joined him. The stout man held onto his bucket, shifted with unease.

‘He’s drowned. Dogs can’t breathe underwater.’ he said.

Ernest huffed, shook his head and tossed the water over his shoulder.

‘He’s a smart dog.’ he said.

Bucketing was hard work. Their leaden limbs and aching backs cried for release but as a shape became visible, they worked harder, motivated by a curiosity Paul would have encouraged.

A giant laid in the mud, thick muscles slathered with mud. Gunther got up and panted, shook his head and sprayed the gathered men with mud. Ernest laughed and told the men to get him rope.

‘How much?’ a man said.

Ernest ruffled Gunther behind the ears.

‘All of it.’ he said.

The giant slept. As they dragged him back to the castle, the mud came off him in thick wet scabs revealing hair the colour of dark copper which covered him from head to toe. Nothing roused him from sleep even as they heaved him into the iron cage set in the courtyard.

His eyes opened when the key turned in the lock.

Paul handed the key to Samuel who turned it over in his hands.

‘It is my queen’s birthday. I think I shall give her this as a birthday present.’ he said.

Paul sighed and gestured towards the giant in the cage.

‘We found this somewhere low and dark, it should be inside.’ he said.

Samuel shook his head and slipped the key into his pocket.

The giant sat up on his haunches and the gathered onlookers held their breath.

‘There is nourishment in the low and dark places.’ the giant said.

His voice resonated. Women felt it in their bellies. Men felt it in their hearts and loins.

Paul grinned and leaned forward.

‘What are you?’ he said.

The giant smiled with his big white teeth, looked over them with his deep, brown eyes and curled his fingers through the bars of his cage.

‘I am the wild man.’ he said.

He sat back on his haunches and scratched his chest.

‘He did not speak again. Paul watched him until Arthur came and told him supper was ready. The wild man watched him leave. The wild man closed his eyes.

He waited.

 

 

 

Standard
beauty, fiction, masculinity, wildness, women

The Primitive Approach

blowin_in_the_wind_by_uberfischer

(http://uberfischer.deviantart.com/art/Blowin-in-the-Wind-158828976

Barry checked his reflection in the scarred perspex that protected the advertisement on the side of the bus shelter. The model, with his sculptured abdominals and thick, defined pectorals was hairless aside from a manicured beard and his hair was in that style that Barry associated with photos of his grandfather during the war. Barry could not see a single pore or curly hair, nothing to compare or identify with anymore.

 

He had that disassociation happen with a lot of things lately.

 

His fingers curled around the business card in his pocket, and he ran his fingertips over the thick, smooth card. They were meeting in St George’s Park and then would head up to the beach. The sun had melted into a flushed orange goo that stained the rooftops like nicotine. The park was empty, all the stained, scabbed drunks and drug users had found somewhere else to be that evening, apparently. Barry noticed it because it was so seldom. He spent more time afraid than he cared to admit to anyone, most of all himself and coming here took more out of him than he thought it would.

 

There were four men stood by the war memorial. One of them was in his sixties, with a face that had the texture of crumpled newspaper left in the sun too long and he stood next to a young man with thin, underfed features and a vape pen held between his teeth like a baby’s dummy. A larger man stood to their right, head shaved to stubble, a goatee and a wary light in his eyes as he spoke to the fourth man, the only one of the four that he had met before tonight.

 

Nate.

 

Barry had met him at the Out There festival where performers and artists came from all over Europe to perform before an audience of seagulls and disbelieving locals on mobility scooters. They had been in the park watching a trapeze act throw themselves through the air to one another. Barry had come as part of his attempt to crack the cocoon of his grieving process, not so much for his marriage but for the fact that Caroline was already posting pictures of her scan on Facebook and the dates adding up to a stark moment of knowing that he had done everything right and still lost. Greg, the new father to be looked like someone had let a gorilla loose in a men’s clothing shop and he wore gristly, vaguely wet looking cheap gold jewellery plus Barry had thought he always smelled vaguely of chip fat.

 

He was torturing himself in imagining the two of them together, wondering when they had conceived the baby but still staring at the trapeze artists, wondering how he would feel if one of them fell, snapped something important and laid there, gasping and crying.

 

He would trade places with them in a heartbeat, he had decided.

 

‘Hell of a way to live, isn’t it?’

 

Barry looked to his right, then up. Nate watched the act with an appreciative grin on his wide, tanned face as he applauded. Barry gave a timid nod as nervous perspiration gathered at the small of his back and beneath his arms.

 

Nate sniffed and looked at Barry.

 

‘They’re free up there. They train and work towards that point where they can risk everything for a moment of glory most people could never dream of.’

 

Barry swallowed to relieve the tightness in his throat.

 

‘Yeah.’

 

They stood there in a tentative silence whilst Barry looked around for an opportunity to escape. He decided that he would pretend he had seen someone. He would have loved that to have been true.

 

‘Have you ever felt like that?’

 

Nate’s voice had softened and Barry looked into his fierce, blue eyes and did not see mockery there.

 

A wave of intense vulnerability pulled from deep within his bones. His eyes stung with the beginning of tears.

 

‘I thought I did, once.’

 

Nate smiled and took out a business card from his jacket pocket.

 

NATE ALLAN
PRIMITIVE APPROACH

 

A telephone number and an email address. Barry respected how thick and smooth the card was, the kind that you had to commission. Barry had worked in a stationery shop for a couple of years after high school. They didn’t really exist anymore, absorbed into chains of shops that had a lot of things to offer but nothing you really needed. Barry started to give the card back.

 

‘I don’t know.’

 

Nate shook his head.

 

‘Tomorrow night, here. Eight o’clock. Loose, warm clothing. No phones or wallets.’

 

Barry frowned and started to pull away.

 

‘Erm, I’m not sure.’

 

Nate lowered his eyes.

 

‘That’s probably been your life motto but if you want to change that, be here tomorrow night at eight.’

 

Nate turned and walked away.

 

That night, he had exhausted himself trying to find a reason not to go. He had spent too many nights on stale sheets that carried the sad musk of his defeat. He had done that before and if nothing else, it might be a good laugh.

 

He remembered that he never had such worries when he was a boy. He would leap into the world without gauging the depths, and it was that memory which made his decision for him.

 

2.

 

Terry was the eldest. Carl was the youngest man. Eddie had been in the Royal Marines and had not been able to find a job since leaving. He volunteered in a local charity shop and fixed bicycles in his spare time.

 

He had a lot of trouble sleeping.

 

All of them nodded at that.

 

Nate clapped his hands together.

 

‘You’ve all started to see things about yourselves.’

 

Barry waited for the cheap inflated optimism of so much self-help material but it never came.

 

Nate suggested they walk to the beach.

 

They walked slowly, Terry’s knee played up, but he did his best not to slow anyone down.

 

Nate sniffed the air.

 

‘We all carry wounds, don’t we?’

 

Everyone nodded except Carl who grimaced and took a deep pull on his vape pen.

 

‘It doesn’t make a difference, though, does it? No one gives a fuck about us.’

 

Nate accepted Carl’s words with a slow blink.

 

‘No they don’t. If I wanted to sell you something, I would say that it does make a difference but I don’t want anyone’s money.’

 

Carl’s upper lip trembled and he sucked on the pen again.

 

‘This isn’t religion, is it? I can’t stand that shit neither.’

 

Nate shook his head and smiled.

 

‘God doesn’t come into this. I’m not selling anything here.’

 

Carl stuck his vape pen back into his pocket and exhaled a gaudily large plume of smoke. Barry sighed with disdain. He almost preferred tobacco smokers, who managed to conduct their habit with a sense of furtiveness about it.

 

‘Then what are we here for? What is a Primitive Approach?’

 

Nate pointed towards the beach.

 

‘We start there.’

 

The others all looked at one another.

 

Barry stared at Nate.

 

‘What’s going on here? I was kind of expecting something like Crossfit but I don’t think Terry could manage that.’

 

Terry barked out a surprised laugh.

 

‘Weren’t for my knee, I could manage my foot up your arse, you cheeky prick.’

 

They walked beneath a streetlight and Barry thought that Nate’s mouth looked fuller somehow.

 

Barry remembered coming to Yarmouth beach as a boy, happy to be amiably hoodwinked into spending time with a particularly English lower-case version of Christianity. He liked playing beach cricket and the sandwiches, but he would mouth the hymns rather than sing them.

 

Barry decided to go along with this in the same spirit.

 

They walked onto the beach, slowing down so that Terry could keep up. The sand had a way of shifting without moving but they kept moving. The wind had started to pick up, but Barry was exhilarated rather than cold.

 

Nate’s face looked different, fuller and more angular but Barry wondered if it was just the shadows. Barry could hold onto a delusion better than anyone else he knew. Marriage had taught him how.

 

When Nate asked them to hold hands, his voice sounded thicker but Barry barely caught it over the awkward laughter they all gave. When they did though, it felt good. Barry had not realised how starved he had been of simple contact. The warm joy of sensation began to change into something more intense and Nate looked up. His eyes had changed to a tawny, bright yellow.

 

‘This is my gift to you.’ he said.

 

Everything went white.

 

Barry awoke in the sand dunes, on his back and naked. He took in a deep breath and inhaled deeply. Every salt molecule in the air, the oil on the feathers of the seagulls above him were known to him. He tasted blood when he swallowed but it was not his own. It was sweet and his tongue probed a shred of meat between his teeth which he dislodged and swallowed without thinking.

 

He sat up, every muscle aching with a deep, stretched out warmth and blinked against the sunrise.

 

Sensations and memories stirred. He could not make sense of them, but he accepted them with a detached clarity and appreciation.

 

Nate had been right to ask them not to bring their phones or wallets. Barry could not find his trainers or socks but his jogging bottoms and t-shirt were close by. He dressed quickly and started to walk up the beach.

 

He remembered the shift of the sand beneath his feet.

 

Then his paws.

 

He stopped and rubbed his eyes. There was someone running up the beach towards him, arms pumping as his flabby white chest heaved with a bold effort. The grin on his face was lustful and rejuvenating.

 

Terry.

 

Barry smiled and began to run to meet him.

 

Standard
beauty, fiction, love, mother, short fiction, wildness, women

Happy Flowers

running_on_empty__wab1131__by_waynebenedet-dayhalk

(http://waynebenedet.deviantart.com/art/Running-On-Empty-WAB1131-662575592)

Sonya had parked outside Happy Flowers Retirement Village with the air conditioning on full. The dimensions of the hire car had been designed to knock and bash her at every mile of the trip. Her knees and lower back throbbed with discomfort. In her head, she wrestled with the frustrations of duty, manifesting as a nervous, constant litany of tasks and accusations, all turned inwards.

Niamh had the kids. John-Paul had gone for a third stint in rehab. It was down to loyal, industrious Sonya to draw the short straw of the perpetually rigged game of ‘Who Sees Mom’. Their individual obligations did not deter their enthusiasm towards the last, pressing question left to their family.

Sonya checked that the paperwork was all there, notarized and prepared by Niamh’s brother-in-law. Through a series of emails, late night phone calls and listless conversations interrupted by children, they had agreed that this was a smart move, a matter of pragmatism and realism. A clear application of the values instilled into them by their parents.

Dad would understand, they all said. He was no longer around to confirm or deny it, but they appropriated his memory in ways that Sonya did not recognise as being authentic. They attributed homespun wisdom lifted wholesale from television and fiction. She would not correct either of them, but would nod and wait for them to ask when she was going to go see her.

She collected herself, took a deep breath of the chilled air and stepped out of the car into the brutal heat of Orlando. She had parked as close as possible and dashed inside to the reception area.

Happy Flowers was arranged in layers, the pristine reception area being the outermost. It was decorated in soft pastel colours and solemn minor key melodies piped in as soft as a whisper. Sonya had been here enough to know that it was all bullshit.

The Happy Flowers here were plastic and hollow, like the promises made in the brochure. Sonya was still constrained enough by a need to be liked to force a shallow smile at the receptionist and gave her mother’s name.

The receptionist, a plump, coiffured paragon of efficiency swallowed at the mention of her name. She picked up the phone without breaking eye contact with Sonya.

‘Mr Hayes? Mrs Stewart’s daughter is here to see her.’

No one here asked which one. Mom would have filled them all in on who we were and how ungrateful we were.

The receptionist put the phone down and slipped her a smile like she had brought it out from a drawer.

‘Please take a seat. Mr Hayes will be out.’

Sonya struggled to hold onto the rising, twisting panic that had flared into life, symptoms of an old disease. She slammed her palms against the desk.

‘Where the fuck is my mom?’

The receptionist scowled and pointed a finger at her.

‘Hey, I’ve got a can of pepper spray right here, lady.’

The door opened and Mr Hayes stepped through. Sonya believed that if it had been something serious, then they would have called her, but she lost service plenty of times along the drive and should she check her phone? Right now?

‘Miss Stewart?’

Sonya looked up and smiled.

‘Just tell me where my mom is. Please.’

He wore a white shirt, rolled up to the elbows. There was a small wet mark on his tie, presumably from the lunch that had been interrupted by her arrival. It rewarded her with a small twist of pleasure that she had been something of an imposition to this man.

They should have called her.

Normally, she would have engaged in the listless pillow fight that coming here always became, but she was hot, tired and she couldn’t find her mom.

He sighed and asked the receptionist to pass him the flyer.

‘What does this mean?’

He grimaced before he told her. She had left of her own free will. Sonya imagined her chained up in a basement somewhere, eating from a dog’s bowl whilst kneeling on packed dirt floors. She looked at the flier, the man featured on it.

‘Isn’t that -?’

Mr Hayes gave an embarrassed chuckle and nodded.

‘Yes. they have their address on the back. One of them was working here, and they got talking.’

Sonya chuckled and shook her head. Her relief broke like the sunset after a hard day.

‘Wow. No wonder she’s gone. She took me to see those last two movies he did.’

Sonya remembered her manners, thanked him and strode out to the car.

Everything runs in a circle, she thought. Here I am, going to retrieve my wayward mother, the same way she had. Except she hadn’t, not really.

She got back into the car and pulled out, programming the address into the satellite navigation system.

2.

The abandoned truck sat atop bald, deflated tyres that had sunk into the ground. Its sheen had been transformed into the same consistency as the dirt. It sat there like a broken guard dog, looking out through cracked, rheumy eyes as she stood by the car.

She looked down at her heels and wished she had worn sneakers or something with better support. She took out her phone and dialled the number from the flier.

‘Hello.’

A soft, happy voice. It reminded her of her brother and she winced at the depth of it. He could barely look after himself but it would have been something.

‘I would like to speak to Donna Stewart please. This is her daughter.’

A soft chuckle.

‘Erm, yeah sure.’

Sonya looked down the path, to where the house stood.

‘In fact, I’m stood by the rusted truck at the front, if I could come up and see her.’

Another chuckle.

‘Cool, ain’t it? Came with the house.’

Sonya ran her tongue over her teeth and closed her eyes, trying to stay calm. She could call the police, but that would make things worse. Police. Cults. Her and Mom in the middle of it.

‘Well?’

Sonya opened her eyes.

‘Well, what?’

A long sigh and a smack of the lips.

‘Are you coming up or what?’

The call disconnected and Sonya saw the front door pushed open. She pulled her blouse from where it had stuck to her back and bristled for confrontation.

The most shocking thing about her mother was her expression.

Joy.

She had combed out her white hair and wore a purple cotton dress that fell to her calves. Her feet were bare and as she came closer, Sonya saw the intricate patterns of henna snaking down her lean arms. Mom had always been beautiful to her, but she was seeing an entirely different woman here. She glowed with a vitality that Sonya envied.

Donna pulled her into a deep, enthusiastic embrace. She pulled back and planted a warm kiss on her cheek that made Sonya gasp with surprise.

‘It’s so good to see you.’

Sonya peered at her, trying to see if her pupils were dilated. She was effervescent to a degree that made her someone new to her own daughter.

‘Mom, Happy Flowers said you left.’

Donna laughed and nodded.

‘No, I got free, darling. You need to see this for yourself.’

Sonya had visions of a softer Jonestown, naked toddlers and root mash for every meal. Donna took her hands and Sonya remembered the paperwork she needed her to sign.

A surge of mischief arose in her, and she decided to follow where it was pulling her as much as her mother.

Everything inside was painted purple. It had faded to a pink blush where the sun hit the walls but Sonya laughed out loud at the ridiculous, glorious mess of it.

‘It’s so you know you’re entering into another reality.’

There were another three houses and a set of stables converted into beds and living spaces. It was all done in purple. The smell of pot and animal dung hung in the air, pleasant in a simple, primal way. Mom took her hand.

‘You have to meet him.’

Sonya looked around her, still coltish with concern.

‘Mom, this is like a cult or something. You can’t be in a cult.’

Donna shook her head, smiling with a benign forgiveness.

‘No, sweetie, I was in a cult. I spent decades training for something that I didn’t really want to be.’

Sonya let go of her hand.

‘You mean us?’

Donna came forward and put her hands on her shoulders.

‘You were the reason I stayed so long. But Sonya, I didn’t need to be put away after your father died, I needed to be set free.’

Sonya lowered her chin to her chest.

‘Mom – ‘

3.

‘Hello.’

His voice was low and rich, it strolled across the air to her ears and made her look up from her pained recollection. He was bare chested, showing off his taut abdominals and broad shoulders, the curls of dark hair that collected on his pectoral muscles. His hair was long, thick and dark as a raven’s wing, held back from his face by a twist of rawhide. He wore faded blue jeans that slung low on his hips.

‘Hi.’ Sonya said.

‘I’m pleased to see you. Donna has told me a lot about you.’

His career had been, not as the leading man, but the vain, arrogant jock who would get his comeuppance through his own dumb masculinity and his inability to relate to women. It had been one role played across a number of films. She had heard that he had done theatre once, had driven all night to see him but her car had broken down.

This, though, was either his greatest role or how he had always been.

‘Oh god, should I apologise now?’ Sonya said.

He laughed and showed his teeth. He had a slight overbite but his lips were thick and full. She had imagined kissing them, and the memory returned to her with a force as insistent as gravity.

He shook his head and reached out, touched her upper arm and tilted his head to one side.

‘I will leave you two alone. Will you stay for dinner?’

Sonya thought about the root mash and the naked toddlers. She hadn’t seen any of the latter, but this would make for a good story and allow her a chance to figure out what was going on with her mom. With herself, too.

Sonya nodded with enthusiasm.

He walked on, reached out and grasped Donna’s hand before grinning at her and carried on.

Donna took in a deep breath and took hold of her daughter’s hands again.

‘So, let’s do this.’

4.

They sat in front of a fire. Donna had sat with her at dinner. A massive salad, heaped bowls of fragrant rice and curries of vibrant colours and odours. Everyone helped themselves, and Sonya glanced around, looking at everyone with an increasing sense of yearning. Later after everything had been cleared away, he had built a fire and people had brought out musical instruments. The singing and playing were ragged at first, but with enthusiasm came courage and soon Sonya was sat there, swathed in joyful noise as she watched her mom dance in front of the fire.

Sonya had asked if she could throw some trash on it, and no one had objected. She had rushed back to the car and got everything, tossing it in ragged handfuls, watching it feed the fire until the tongues of flame were fat and hungry.

The hand on her shoulder did not make her flinch. She had been hoping for it.

He passed her a joint and she took it between her shaking fingers. She inhaled, managed not to cough and exhaled it slowly as he sat next to her.

He leaned forward and she moved to meet him.

 

 

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love, poetry, wildness, women

Hunting

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It is not

Hunters

With rifles precision sighted for accuracy

That kill the great wild beasts

Of the primal woods

It is circumstance

Comfort

Routine

Wielded by beautiful assassins

Who weep as they kill

Even then they do not die

They lumber into the deep

Woods where the

Silence is so thick

It absorbs their cries

Their wounds turn

Red then pink

Then white

But they never truly heal

But they breathe

Despite the pain

Would you call  them back

If you knew what hurts they carried?

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beauty, love, lust, masculinity, poetry, wildness, women

Invitations of the Flesh

Invite me

Across

The threshold

My strong, skilled

fingers tear

The clothes from your body

Make fists of your hair

How I would ravish you

Others see you as 

Delicate

A thing to comfort

To placate

But I know how

You seek passion

Someone who knows

that you want to be

Held explored

As flesh not porcelain

Made to feel 

Rather than think

You do not fear

The implication of bruises

Fading like the day behind us

I am the divine masculine

Possessed of self knowledge

Purpose

Acceptance

with the clarity

Of suffering

Fur

Fury

Engorged flesh

My gentle caramel eyes

How real am I 

To you now? 

I see the divine feminine 

Within you

No matter how you deny it

Would you survive

The grand storm

The burning star

Of my desire?

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