The Adventurer

When he left the city, he thought it would be loyal.

So he set off across the plains, over the mountains, and tumbled through the treacherous seas.

He thought the city would wait for him – that the people would keep celebrating his memory, that the dusty streets and buildings would stay as they were, pointed in the same direction, casting a familiar shadow.

He thought the old hill that led to the places of his great fears and torment, and place from which his story began, would stay the same.

And he treasured the city in his mind, for its loyalty and faith.  In his mind, the city never changed, it was always the same, with the same cast of characters, the same friends, and shopkeeps, and little children playing in the streets.

In his memory, it was home.

When he returned across the plains, the mountains, and the treacherous seas, he found that the city had completely changed.  He found no familiar faces, and new contraptions filled the streets.

A city doesn’t wait.

In confusion he walked to where the old hill had been, which was covered completely in large buildings of terrifying height, formidable now in strangeness, and asked a kid where his old home had been.  He described it as he remembered it.

The kid shrugged and ran away, smiling.  An old woman tottering by looked at him, squinting.

There was a building that you speak of, she said.  It stood where you now stand.

It was strange, the feeling he now felt.  Untethered, like he no longer had a home.

The Retired Warrior

He is sitting in the park.

The memories of shells and mortar explosions, firefights in the mud, blown-off fingers, ugly faces of abject terror in the face of the angels of death – these are all gone now.

He liked taking walks in this park, looking up at the gently undulating buildings, looking at their mix of easy, geometric shapes.

Nothing flew in the air.  He liked it that way.  The sky was always the same color of blue.

He liked it that way.

He spent hours following the outlines of the buildings, which were spaced apart at predictable intervals, and there were no alleyways or long shadows where assassins might be hiding.  The park burst with colors.  He liked it here.  On sunny days, it gave him hope.

They called it sterile.  And he liked that.

But, sometimes, just sometimes, he would get an itch.  Just once, he thought, he’d like to go berserk again, to be dropped in that frenzy of primary fear and violence, the attenuated consciousness of just his breath and pounding heart the only thing he could sense as he unleashed on those around him.

No, he told himself, no.  I like this.  I like this park, he told himself.

Fog

The deepest fog enraptured the land, where there was no sun.

Not meaning that it wasn’t bright, just meaning that there was no concept of a sun, with clearly delineated borders, distinct in the sky.  The only thing they could tell of it was that the fog’s color alternated between bright white and dark grey, thick mist.

They had numerous names for the fog, but usually they just called it fog.  Visitors who made it out of the town remarked on the low, almost whispered language used by the people of the town.

It was a very intimate language, a language you would use with everyone if you were perpetually in the dark and could not see them.  It had no barriers, no false cheer.  Instead it was a whispered thing, a language almost of lovers.

The fog itself was not poisonous.  A lot of stories circulated amongst the visitors about the nature of this fog.  Was it poisonous?  Was it some kind of omen or curse?  In reality, it was very simple.

The fog was just that: fog.  It was moisture.  But through some quirk in topology and moisture, the fog hung perpetually over the town.

Because of the fog, it meant that they could easily overlook things.  Responsibilities.  Because they could not see more than 10 feet in front of them, and sometimes not even that, they lived in isolation, and things beyond that distance had no meaning.  They were easily forgotten, relegated to memories and vaguely unpleasant, but distant.

All impressions were, if not forgotten, then lost in the same thick morasses of memory resembling the very thing that surrounded them.  Nothing was vivid, everything was experienced in a blur.

Even when things were happening now, it was as if it was happening in the past, in the same just-darkness as everything else.  There were no past or future tenses in the language, nor markers of time.

Some who lived in the town followed a routine.  Every morning they walked for ten steps in a certain direction, guided only by their memories, until they came to a familiar signpost or patch of intuition, and they turned left or right, often closing their eyes until they came to their destination.

But these people were in the minority, and even among them, the routine lasted only several months or a year at most.  Inevitably things would change.  Inevitably they would make one wrong turn, or too many steps, miscarried by the clouds of their memories and the thick, thick fog.  Other people and other objects would appear before the once-familiar paths, presenting a new signpost or distraction.  The new person would start conversation, and as new memories became formed, the old ones were lost.

Most lived in a state of perpetually shifting priorities.  It was too easy to stumble on a new house, a strange house, and take lodging there, maybe stay there a few more nights, and help tend the farm and raise the nameless, soundless breed of cattle that thrives only in the fog.  It was too easy to walk away from one another during intense arguments, walk into a stranger’s bed, and never see either again.

Sometimes parents lost their children.  And sometimes they took other children in.  It was part of the code of the town.  Hospitality, affability, and a spirit of renewal, exploration.

When they grew tired of one another, they walked into the fog, sometimes for days on end.  There was no right or wrong in that fog.  It was deep, it was thick, and it buried everything.

The gaze you saw in the people’s eyes was not the kind of gaze you saw in the eyes of people who lived by the sea, a faraway gaze.  It was a more intense gaze, a deeper one that was perpetually trying to make out motion and shape and texture in that fog.

The fog absorbed sounds, and it clouded everything.  There was no right or wrong.  And everyone who visited, ended up staying forever.

Young in LA (Part I)

Paradise

I was young in LA once.  I lived by the beach and lived a lifestyle that was as close to stereotypes as stereotypes go.  It was a paradise by any other measure.

There was an easy grace, a rhythm, to my life then.  I woke up to the sound of waves crashing the beach, and salted mist coming in through the windows.  I loved 10 am, which was when the full heat of the day hadn’t started yet; it was just warmth at first, and the breeze was delightfully mixed with both the coolness that had penetrated the earth during the night, and warm air, just beginning to rise from the asphalt.  It felt of the earth.

Gentle breezes blew through the window, making the drapes flit lightly, and the smell of the restaurant below – waffles, omelettes, burgers, and pancakes – was heaven.  The smell of barbecues came in every weekend, and neighbours would invite us over for extra burgers or mojitos.  We lived without shoes, and walked down to the beach to play volleyball or surf.

The homes along the beach rest on narrow plots of land overlooking the sea, and flashed their popsicle painted colours, periwinkle to lavender, as we rode our bikes by them.  We swerved next to skateboarders and frisbees and people walking their dogs.  Everyone had mild drawls and burnished skin.

I would lay with her when the moon was mellow and the water was high, and we would wake up to the sound of idle gulls outside and leaves brushing each other, like the sound of our skin. 

But at times, all of it – the sand and sun and our young love – filled me with nostalgia for a place that I felt like I would never know.  Every day the world was bright.  I was young and it should have made me happy with hope, but I had a creeping feeling I was being blinded.

To me, it felt like a land of waiting, a land you reach at the end of a journey, facing the water and its foaming, dark secrets.  The sea stretched on forever in one direction.  Was there something on the other side?

Surfing, I would paddle out past the line and look back at the homes.  From out on the water, they looked narrow and huddled against something.  Then at night, the crash of the surf began to sound like it was reiterating something, a hypnotic message.

I felt like a fugitive.  A feeling that there was something left undone, like I had left a light on somewhere and fled.  I was hoping the sea would help me forget, but it was never silent, and the town itself had a finality about it, like it was the end of the world. 

And I felt like if I stayed, I would have grown complacent and old and in my young mind, that was equivalent to death.  This was not my place.  At least, not yet. 

 

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The Prince

Siem Reap

The waters had just receded to the sound of the lakes exhaling, and the earth crawled with sprouts and sinews.

He woke suddenly, because in his mind’s eye he had seen a vision so clear and tremendous it paralyzed him.  It was not of him, the way it had descended so quickly and expanded to fill his chamber.

He saw cathedrals rising on the backs of elephants, fueled by lotuses that drew in energy from the muck around them, crystallizing sharply into spires that filled themselves in against the darkness and rooted themselves deep beneath the earth.  He saw towering mountains rise from sandstone, scoured from the base of the pedestals supporting the celestial thrones along the whole breadth of the universe.  He saw the million prayers of his million subjects rise in a granite column to the skies, bringing down a shower of radiance and searing vigor on the forests, which uprooted themselves in gnarled tumult and wrought heavy serpentine trunks around the galleries.  He saw the million backs and arms of his strongest warriors forge a lineage unifying the heavens and the earth, and saw the very matter of the skies collect day by day in cerulean pools that trapped the brilliance of stars and captured the beating heart of the moon.  He saw the nymphs alight and step into the city he had built, and the Protector himself occupy the lintels and pilasters.

He saw time churn its infinite, depthless configurations.  He saw the Destroyer, in command of his enemies, visit annihilation on the empire, and his subjects crumble before them. He saw reawakening and peace, and a northern prophet sanctify the kingdom so that smiles forever creased the stones.  He saw bloodshed and sorrow, and heard the last voice speak his language, and saw the dowagers perish and their children leave the land.

The stones subsumed the souls of a hundred generations. All time would pass despite them, but every morning took an eternity to rise.  Time, a continuous tapestry woven into the immortal mind, a colossal mind that contained the million forms of god.  The imperial city vanished into a single dot in the consciousness of the divine, this eternal mind, a mind whose cardinal points delimited the boundaries of the universe.  It was a mind that now filled him so tremendously he woke with the thought that it might kill him but he had not a choice to make.  He did not know whether it was this mind or his own that heard the rooster crow.

He woke to the chirping of the crickets, and summoned his minister.  Bring me the shells of the turtles that support the mighty stand of the earth.  Bring me the stones from the kilns at the beginning of the world.  Flatten the mountains and bring me their substance, bring me the ocean in buckets, and every hue and mineral contained in all the galleries of the universe.  Wake the armies and the priests, the slaves, the farmers, and the merchants, and have them build me moats and ramparts filled with the shapes of all creation, and bear them, and where there is a voice summon it to cry, and where there is life awaken it to build our city.

Today we are convening the deities for all eternity, and setting before them an expression of the universe, for today we are performing the intention of god.

 

 

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