The Primal Flower, Chapter 2

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An excerpt:

All the twelves saw their mighty enemy for the first time under the light of day without the distance of the heights of mountains intervening. They were a host, truly, a horde. They were like flies, swarming, without sense or order, but they were a swarm, indefatigable, with one man upon another man. Each man of the son of the King of the Mountain Kingdom looked and saw that this horde was of men who could be his brothers. Their faces were painted with the dust of the plains, and their war-clothes were sewn from cloth of the plains, but pigments and threads were not distinct under the probing eye of the spear. When they saw this to be true, a kind of fear came over the twelves, and the commanders were sore pressed to maintain the twelves in their ranks.

The prince, the true son of a man, a savior of men, perceived this trouble, as perceiving a storm rising up just before battle, drew his sword, and pointed it at the sky. He took his station before his men, and said these few words: “These men are your brothers, your cousins, your very own flesh and blood, but war is upon them because we must take the secret paths in and out of our land. They themselves offer their swords to our daughters in our land, sneaking through the passes into and out again. My father, the king, once offered them tribute to leave us in peace. Now he has given me a command to recover his tribute from the belly of my brother, Il-neth-ta, his very own son, the son of treachery!”

The Primal Flower, Chapter 2

The Primal Flower, Chapter 1

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An excerpt:

Fear, I have discovered, lays a foundation for fear. The entire day had already been muted fear under bright sunshine. Now I was bound by command to encounter the dark father of Lily, the husband of the goddess-mother, a man of enormous reputation, being very dark—that swarthy foreigner, my father used to call him—with a powerful accent so that I could never understand what he was directing me to do when I was helping him at his business. He was convinced that I was an imbecile, I knew from the way he constantly repeated the incomprehensible phrases issuing from his mouth.

“Do you know nothing at all?” he once slowly articulated.

“That swarthy foreigner,” my father once exclaimed, “came here to steal the finest maiden of the village and the best manufacturing.” Mother was at the market at the time. “She was notorious for her beauty and honor,” he continued, “a woman who stopped the marketplace, both men and women together, to gaze at her. The men, of course, fought each other to gain her attention and the attention of her brothers and father (some even through her mother), but she would have none of us. I think, son, she was a mystery. She spoke with us, but without paying attention to us. We always felt free to converse with her, but never invited to pursue her. Oh! It was maddening. She, I mean, she was maddening this way! I worked my way into business in order to make my living as quickly as possible—your poor mother: to move next-door to the queen of the village. Ha! But never, son, have my eyes strayed. Only in my memory do I see this woman. She belongs to that swarthy foreigner, and she deserves such an authoritarian world in her home. Only in my memory, son. Only in my memory. Your mother is a spectacular woman, as you know, worthy of all the respect of a husband such as myself, and sons such as yourselves, but—only in my memory…”

And he trailed off, just like that.

After a few lengthy moments, he returned from wherever he was: “What’s the name of that daughter of hers? Lotus?”

“Lily,” I corrected rather quickly.

“Hmm, Lily, yes…” he said. “She is about to come to life isn’t she?”

“I hadn’t noticed,” I said, again, rather quickly.

“Neither have any of your worthless friends.”

Friends. Two years after that conversation, I was waiting outside the stone wall for that swarthy foreigner…

 

The Primal Flower, Chapter 1

Introducing Shur-qa-hil

One of the main characters of The Primal Flowers describes, in brief, a lengthy journey he took in behalf of his brother.

 

An excerpt:

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[…]

Bandits, highwaymen, and robbers are of a sort of man who is not terribly clever. The rare exception is not stationing himself and his crew in the empty parts of the world to rob the occasional wanderer, from whom he cannot prosper. Instead, the brutal and the lover of violence stations himself in these parts, setting a lookout in plain view. Whenever the lookout did manage to spot me first, birds and animals who do not exist suddenly began to call to each other, and the road-hardened traveler does his best not to buckle under the sheer comedy of the affair. Most of these were overgrown boys who had nothing better to do than prey on the stupid. Even the weak learn to travel in pairs or caravans. As for me, I had nothing better to do than play the idiot.

If I spotted the lookout or any obvious ambush before they spotted me, I generally wound my way back and up and around, using a landmark to guide myself through the wilderness until I was certain I had bypassed them. If they spotted me, I still wound my way back and up and around, looking for the more difficult terrain to pass by, in an effort to discourage these lazy numskulls. If they persisted, I sent a well-placed stone into the stupid maw of their lead scout before scurrying away into a hiding place. Fitness is its own advantage in this way.

The sun rose, burning away the night, giving me light by which to travel, then burning my skin, whereupon I sought meager shade among the scorched boulders and leafless brush, using my pack as a kind of tent, snoozing until the sun should make his way into the late afternoon, putting my shadow before me, whereupon I rose again to make tracks. When the sun set, I sat down and waited for the light of dawn, eating when I could, conserving water, refilling when I could. I tried to set aside one day a week to rest and worship God, but I kept losing count of the days. I did not trust myself to walk for six days before I rested for one, so I kept walking.

A caravan approached. I made the signs of peace, and when I was sure they would not kill me, I approached. Their ambassador came forward.

My bookie would lose his shirt giving odds on your survival.

In the first months, I was able to understand their language, though they came from east of the mountains. The Great Southern Route was not the thick edge of a net of roads, as in our lands, but it was a trunk, its branches reaching north into the flat plateaus of these people. They were bearing every sort of fine good: nuts, dried fruits, dried meats, spices, all exotic, their tapestries, their pottery, their armament surpluses. These last made for great conversation, and even an exchange of stories. They were innovating with copper and stone, just as we were, inlaying the copper into the stone, improving the strength of the copper and preserving the integrity of the stone, so that the weapon was more lethal more reliably. On occasion, if we were able to establish total trust, we held martial contests, which I lost consistently, causing them to laugh, punctuated by a variation of this joke: “My bookie would lose his shirt giving odds on your survival.” I laughed with them and winked at their wise men.

Just when I began to believe, as an article of faith, that the mountains would never end, I was ejected into a vast, steaming, sun-scorched swamp humming with biting flies. There I began to be unable to understand the language of the caravaners. There was no longer any exchange of information, no swapping of stories, and no conversation. The sound of their voices became mockery to my ears. I began to go mad.

My madness quickly dissipated into the stink of this country when the ululations of my adversary pierced my ears. His body was upon mine, and I was falling to the ground. He had leapt upon me from a rock in plain view. My head had been down, and my ears heard nothing but buzzing and the occasional slap of my hand upon my senseless neck. They heard plainly now the noise of the deep places, and my neck felt plainly now the grappling tentacles of death. His mates were rushing toward me, adding to the noise. Soon, they would strangle the life out of me.

It was easy enough to shake the boy off me: I pushed myself up and, with him entangled around me, rushed backwards against the rock from which he had leapt. Indeed, his arms came unloosed, and I was able to breathe, while his breath suddenly escaped in that wonderful guttural utterance: “Oof!” I wheeled on him, striking him on top of the head with the peen of my sword. When he reached for his head, I kicked him in the mouth. For an eye-blink I paused over him, searching eternity for whether I should spare his life. I thrust my sword through his throat, ending the debate and bringing me back into the actualities of the moment.

A renewed cry from his mates propelled me further. His hand let his dagger fall, which I quickly snatched. Wheeling again, I threw it at them. It was not lethal, but it was effective, slicing a piece of face off the one leading the way, so he fell to his knees, holding the blood close to his face with his hands. His mates paused. I pulled the sword out of the leaper’s throat, severing his carotid artery, which became a fountain of blood for several seconds, about two of which I witnessed. I ran.

I learned the first words of their language, which was quite musical. “We will find you.” They repeated it into the evening, making only half-hearted attempts at finding me. I relaxed, knowing they didn’t want to find me, for as stupid as they were, they wanted to live for another day of robbing and banditry. It was fun. When I closed my eyes, I heard him choke on my sword.

That night, I moved in the darkness, to get away from him, whose eyes opened even during those two seconds as a fountainhead.

“It is a place of great stench,” I was rehearsing my speech to Arret for when I finally set foot in his home, “but the people are of the cleanest kind. They wash constantly, and they know how to wash away the filth of their cities, individual by individual, pot by pot.” I passed through the city I had seen beneath my feet to the west when I passed by the King’s Spire. Most of it was gray, in ruins, its walls overthrown, its houses and palaces completely destroyed. Bits of mortar held together bricks and stones, but they were lying in the open, not even removed into piles for reuse. There was no inn, only the song of laments styled by wise men, whose words I understood clearly.

[…]

Introducing Shur-qa-hil

Salmon

Note: I wrote this as a companion piece to the one published by Jack Sprat Press in issue #2 (Gumroad, Indyplanet) The theme was “classic Crayola crayon colors.” Enjoy.  –DD

“Where is the kid who sells the hotdogs?” Jim asked. “I’m starving.” Every day he came to the home improvement center to buy himself a hotdog from the sweet-looking kid out front.

“One hotdog,” he would say.

“Relish and ketchup?” the kid would say.

“Yup, yup to ketchup.”

The kid would laugh, deliver over the hotdog, and say, “One dollar and seventy-five cents.”

“Here’s two dollars; keep the change,” Jim would say, and the ritual would be complete.

The fellow behind the food cart grinned at him. He was missing a molar. “I don’t have hotdogs,” he said. “I have salmon eggs.”

“Salmon eggs? Who eats salmon eggs?”

“Where I come from, salmon eggs are a delicacy,” the man replied. Jim noticed that the man had no legs.

“Where are you from?”

“Far away.”

“Well, I’m starving. How do you eat them?”

“Any way you like,” said the man. “I like them raw, like oysters.”

“That doesn’t sound good at all, but I’m in a terrible hurry to get rid of this rental car and pick up my new car.”

“Must be nice,” said the man. “Getting a new car.”

“Usually, yes,” said Jim. “But this time, no. My old car just got smashed in a head-on collision. Luckily, I only have a pretty bad concussion.”

“Lucky, yes,” said the man, handing him a clear plastic bag full of little pink balls flecked with fish-shaped black so that they looked like miniature monster eyes. They were lukewarm. “That’ll be one dollar and ninety-five cents.”

“Here’s two dollars; keep the change.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Oh yeah,” said Jim. “Here’s another dollar. See you later.” The exchange was complete.

The brand new car was everything a brand new car should be, complete with the requisite smell. Those monster eyes sat on the passenger seat, staring at him, jiggling, while his stomach growled.

“Man,” said Jim out loud. “I can’t eat these things raw. But I’m so hungry.” At a stoplight, he loosened the knot on the bag, reached into the roe, pinched a few eggs between his thumb and forefingers, and ate. Fishy, but not terrible, so he took a few more hits of monster eyes. He parked behind the house, stood up from sitting in the car, felt a wave of nausea, and threw up on the ground beneath the bedroom window.

“Well,” he said. “That was horrible.” And he went inside. A pleasant evening with his wife passed, and they retired to bed together for the night.

“You’re soaking wet with sweat,” said Steph, his wife.

He looked at her. “What time is it?” he asked.

“Three-thirty in the morning. Are you all right?”

“I feel horrible,” he said. “Food poisoning. I’ll be all right in the morning.”

The next morning, he called to Steph from outside. “Look, Steph, a spring! In our backyard!”

“There’s no spring,” said Steph, looking at the spot where Jim threw up.

“Yes,” said Jim. “It’s not all the way formed, yet, but those are sure signs of a spring.”

That night, Steph woke him again, saying, “You’re clammy and wet, Jim. Are you all right?”

“I feel horrible. Must be the after-effects of those salmon eggs.”

A spring indeed formed in their backyard. Jim whooped and hollered, running around with his arms over his head. “A spring!” he cried out. “A spring! A real spring!”

“Jim, turn off the hose,” said Steph. “You’re frightening me, and the neighbors aren’t happy with their flooded basements.”

The next day, the spring had grown larger still, and Jim had grown happier with its increase. The building code inspector arrived.

“Look, Mr. Brycoddle,” he said to Jim. “This is class one residential. You can’t have a spring or a pond in your backyard.”

“This is my home!” shouted Jim. “You can’t tell me what to do with my home!”

“You can ask for a variance, I suppose,” said the building code inspector. “But in the meantime, I have to write you a citation. Don’t worry; it’s just to get the ball rolling.”

At that, Jim pinned his arms to his side, fell flat upon the ground, and sprang into his spring, where he lay letting the water flow over him. He spluttered for breath.

Steph quickly turned off the hose, and she said, “Jim! Jim! You’re frightening us! Can’t you come out of your spring? I’ll turn the hose back on if you promise to see a doctor tomorrow.”

Water dripped from Jim while Steph and the building code inspector looked on. He said, “Okay.” The two of them helped Jim inside the house.

That night, Jim flopped around in bed without ceasing. “I feel like I’m going to suffocate. I can’t breathe. I’m going to suffocate.” For the third night, he was drenched in cold sweat, which made his skin slick to the touch.

“We’ll go to the doctor first thing,” said Steph. “First thing. Can you make it?”

“Okay,” said Jim.

First thing in the morning, Jim was in the new car, driving away. He shouted to Steph, who was running into the driveway, “I’m going for a pleasant swim in the lake!”

“It’s April,” she said. “What lake can you mean? You’ll freeze!”

After getting out of the car, Jim dove off the pier into Lake Ontario. The cold was numbing, invigorating. He swam as he’d never swam before. The greater the effort he put into swimming, the less he needed to come up for air. His legs melted away, and he remembered the man who sold him the salmon eggs. “My savior,” he thought. “My redeemer. He’s set me free.”

He dove further down after each time he surfaced, reaching new speeds and new depths. A thought strayed into his mind: perhaps he didn’t need to breathe air at all; perhaps he could breathe water.

Just as the Coast Guard cutter came near to him, he dove for the last time, his lungs filling with water. He heard Steph on the pier, weeping. He was happy, for now he could swim to wherever his daughter was, who had been sitting next to him just before the collision.

Salmon