Tall Mountain

Some days it feels like the whole world is falling apart. Rife with hate, anger, violence, destruction–it can be hard to find the good. Emotional fatigue sets in. Apathy. Depression. So I take breaks from social media and the news, stare out the window, watch the birds, go for a walk, eat ice cream, pet the dog. Anything to allow my mind to take a deep breath.

I’ve always found religion interesting. As a non-religious person, watching from the sidelines, it can be confusing, scary, exciting, amusing, and enriching.

But sometimes it is entirely frustrating.

One evening my social anxiety and contempt for religious dogma collided and as I grappled with insomnia, this popped into my mind:

 

I climb the Tall Mountain 

Camera in hand 

To photograph god(s) in all its/their/her/his 

Glory. 

 

It takes a lifetime to summit 

Decades of devotion 

Moments of damnation 

Struggle 

Exhaustion 

 

When I reach the plateau 

It’s not what I expected 

But still I set up my camera 

To show the world what I’ve witnessed. 

 

The cudgel came down first 

Bludgeoned my senses 

I’d managed one picture

One click of the shutter.  

 

Blood pools around me 

I fumble in darkness

The memory card is all that I need.  

 

In my mouth I place it

I give up my last breath

To swallow the card 

My only testament. 

 

My body is disposed of 

Sent back to man.  

Carrying my gift 

From the Tall Mountain. 

 

I hope the whole world sees it

My one picture

And comes to know it

And realize: 

 

How in all its/their/her/his glory 

How bloody and violent god(s) can be.  

 

Flying with Najsha

The Hound & The Mare

While working on my synopsis I noticed I started to write occasional sentence pairs in verse. This was not good– a synopsis should not be a narrative poem, as far as I am aware.  Probably an annoyance for literary agents right up there with alliteration.    

Then I caught myself starting to read everything with a rhythm.  All right, time to get it out of my system.  

An intriguing dream steeped heavily in Celtic Mythology involving jealous princesses, a demonic boar, a hound, a mare, and a forlorn prince gave me the inspiration– I thought about turning it into a short story but have enough of those on the back burner, so a narrative poem became the dream’s destiny.

I’ve never written a narrative poem before and am certain there are rules that I am breaking.  Regardless I hope you will enjoy the story found within, and bear with me.  

epona

 

In the kingdom of Ingomar, the woods are wild and free.

Filled with secrets and monsters, and groves and ruins,

The foolhardy will enter and never return while the thoughtful can sometimes request,

A blessing fulfilled, a wish endowed by ancient, powerful, goddesses.

 

Now the ruler of this land lived in a grand castle perched up high on great limestone cliffs.

Each day he walked out, in somber silence, and looked at the foggy sea.

No one knows why he did it, no one dared to ask, but rumor holds merit that a love was once lost.

One day the beloved king of Ingomar, walked out to the edge of the cliff.

He didn’t look back, he took no second glance, then stepped out into the sky.

No heirs to inherit, the kingdom mourned their loss, will their next king be as loving as the last?

 

A stalwart, young prince, journeyed across the lands to reach fair Ingomar.

When he arrived, he declared to honor the king and win the hearts of his people

“There will be seven days of song and food, and jousting and merrymaking.”

At the end of it all, he will host a great dance, and choose from among them, a sweet young lass.

She will be his bride, a princess for a prince and a queen for a kingdom.

 

Town criers announce in every village, that every young lady should attend.

In one distant village, the crier attracts the attention of two sisters.

 

Fair Lura is a skilled huntress.

Nimble and silent, mysterious and wild, many have sought her hand.

With milky white skin, long, pale blond hair and deep, sparkling blue eyes, she knows she must try to make it in time for a chance to enchant the prince.

Beautiful Eloa is perfectly domestic, a master of hearth and home.

When her soft touch graces, any flower or creature, she soothes both heart and soul.

Her golden skin shimmers, her dark brown hair flows, and her deep, green eyes trap distant gazes.

She knows if she makes it to the great dance in time, she will win the prince’s favor.

 

The only obstacle, each sister foresees is that from the other.

Quietly they steal into the twilight to seek out the guidance of mothers.

 

Lura moves deep into the darkening forest to a grove sacred to her mother,

Beautiful Flidais, goddess of the hunt and all woodland creatures.

Eloa travels a forgotten path to an even more forgotten place.

Between the rubble of ruins, she enters what was once a magnificent temple.

There she prays to Epona, her mother, goddess of fertility and horses.

 

Under the twisted boughs of a hawthorn tree, Lura drifts into slumber,

Lulled by the gentle incantations of wind and the conversation of flowers.

“My dearest, Lura, I send to you a gift of my terrain.

The prince revels in the thrill of the hunt and the reward of the game.

This sovereign hound will course and scent and pursue with infinite endurance.

She will strike true and fell stag and boar with hardly any effort.

But be forewarned, her collar removed, and you will take her place.”

 

Eloa finds her bed on a mound with a pillow of supple green grass.

She enters a trance as leaves begin to dance on branches overhead.

“My tender, Eloa, to become the queen, you’ll need a charger of noble bearing.

I send to you a roan from my herd.  This mare will carry you over vast distance, wherever you wish to go.

She will never stumble, frighten or kick and you will never grow sore.

But be forewarned, her bridle removed, and you shall take her form.”

 

When Lura opened her eyes in the morn, a tall, slender hound stood before her.

With smooth and silky, silvery fur and eyes like the midnight sky.

Ears held erect, pointed like a dagger and a long, bushy tail that slopped down from her spine.

The golden collar graced the hound’s elegant neck, decorated with the dara knot, inspiring reverence.

Despite its beauty, the collar cast dread into the heart of Lura.

She shook off the feeling and stood in a rush, the hound gracefully moved to her side.

It was time to get going, time to make haste, time to hurry to the hunt.

 

Eloa slumbered until a soft sound awoke her,

A gentle nicker followed by a rush of hot air.

She jolted upright in exalted delight and stared at the magnificent mare.

Adorned by a beautiful coat of red and white, and a long, thick mane and tail.

Bold eyes as deep as emerald pools stared at her, ready to go.

Eloa jumped up and climbed on the mare’s back, holding the gilded rope of the bridle.

No saddle, no bit, no spurs, no whip, the horse only abided by gentle request.

They moved at a quick pace, no time could be lost for the dance was only a few days off.

 

By the tireless gait of her Otherworld mount, Eloa reached the castle ahead of her sister.

The prince took immediate notice of her because of the red speckled mare.

It was easy to see, by all in attendance, that the farmer’s daughter soon became his favorite.

But on the eve of the dance,

Lura reached the castle, with hound at her side and a boar’s head on a platter.

By the size of the head and the ivory tusks, the boar had once been a monster.

Such a feat to imagine, quickly garnered attention.

The prince fawned over Lura and took her hand in his then led her into the Great Hall.

He announced her bravery and commended her deed and while many did cheer, one jealous sister conspired.

 

When all inhabitants slumbered soundly,

Eloa tiptoed to her sister’s bedside.

She crouched down and examined the hound resting beside her and knew the collar was like her mare’s gilded bridle.

With no more than a moment of cold consideration

And nary a hesitant thought,

She slipped off the collar and ran with it in her vindictive, merciless grasp.

 

The knock on her door echoed in her ears and when Lura opened her eyes,

She realized her hands had become silver paws and her fingernails powerful claws.

She sprang to her feet and tangled her legs then fell to her face on the floor.

How dreadful it was for her to witness the prince open the door.

She couldn’t utter a word, cursed only to yelp and longingly howl instead.

He petted her head to subdue her sorrow and pensively asked where her mistress had gone.

Lura jumped on her hind legs, placing her paws on his chest,

She desperately tried to tell him.

But he stepped away and left her to be his princess trapped inside a dog.

 

She was taken to the stables and placed with the canines to be used for the day’s royal hunt.

The prince was eager to see what she could bring him and the entire pack set out.

Lura struggled to run with them,

Struggled to keep up,

The prince and his retinue rode far away.

Left on her own, she wandered and waded through forest, meadow, and brook.

Into a glen she staggered, where glowing red eyes revealed her terrible mistake.

A boar ten times bigger than the one she had slaughtered emerged with a rumbling bellow.

It plowed through the trees and ripped up the earth all in pursuit of her hide.

She tried to evade it but its fierce tusks scraped her against the side of a tree.

Bloody and broken, Lura possessed no more strength and accepted her dreadful fate.

She knew she would die,

Far away and alone,

Deep within the woods of Ingomar.

Unaware of the pack that had come to her aid, the boar thundered off,

And the prince scooped her up then swung into saddle and held her in his arms in a tender embrace.

 

Back at the castle, he rested her softly on a blanket beside the fire.

But Eloa saw her and feigned utter dread at the sight of such grisly wounds.

She begged him to dispose of her while callously declaring the dog better off dead.

The prince knew in his heart that the hound stood little chance but could not dispatch her so willingly.

He carried her to the stables and relinquished her instead to the knowledgeable hound-master.

 

Over the months that followed, the master cared for her and mended her broken bones.

His rough hands always gentle, his soft songs supplied comfort and her strength began to regrow.

In that time, the kingdom celebrated the wedding of the prince and Eloa.

The prince became king and Eloa, the queen

While Lura remained a hound.

 

One day several months later, Eloa emerged in the stables to check her most prized possession,

The beautiful roan, the gift from her mother that always wore its gilded bridle.

From her shadowy corner, on her bed of straw, Lura watched with keen interest.

Then her pregnant sister took notice of her and scowled in her direction.

“I thought you were dead, you wretched thing.

Perhaps instead of stealing your collar,

I should have buried the fang of your dagger deep inside your breastbone.”

Lura understood what had happened to her, it was her sister all along,

The one who had transformed her into a dog and taken her life as her own.

While she cursed herself for not seeing the truth, it now seemed so obvious.

The horse’s bridle was like her collar, a symbol of a powerful goddess.

And from that moment on, Lura obsessed, with a strong desire for revenge.

The hunter’s shrewd mind set to work a plan of rightful vengeance.

 

That night when the stables emptied of men,

Lura pulled at her tether until a link gave in.

She crept into the shadows and entered the pen of Eloa’s slumbering mare.

Daintily she balanced on her long hind legs,

Grasped the bridle in her mouth and pulled it away.

With the gilded bridle between her jaws, she darted back to the shadows

Then proceeded to chew and to tear and destroy every last gilded fiber.

 

The next morning, the mare woke with a terrible neigh,

She kicked and she reared uncharacteristically.

The kingdom erupted with the same frightened fervor at the loss of their queen, the soon to be mother.

For days, search parties scoured the woods, but not even a trace of Eloa was found.

The king commenced with a mournful cry and his subjects woefully reciprocated.

 

Lura was not done, her plan had not yet come entirely into fruition.

There was still the matter of the pain she endured, the overcoming of trepidation.

Finally, the day arrived when the king decided to go out on his own for a ride.

The hound and the mare were all that were left of his two lovely ladies.  So he took them with him, to accompany him, on his lonely ride through the fog.

What he didn’t know was that the mare saw red as soon as she saw her sister.

She seethed to trample and stamp on the hound for she knew she’d destroyed the bridle.

Lura knew this would happen and played this to her favor,

Leading the mare on a reckless and wild endeavor,

That took her into forest and glade, through thicket, meadow and brook.

As she had hoped, the massive boar awoke

And his angry red eyes reappeared,

In the glen where she’d wandered so haplessly so many months ago.

 

The beast roared as he trampled trees and shrubs, setting his sights on the mare,

Which slid to a stop with the king still astride, clinging to her neck and mane.

She spun around on her haunches and took to a gallop, breaking through branches and ferns.

She raced through the valley, tore through the streambeds trying to stay ahead.

Her hot breath plumed, her heart pounded her chest, as the king urged her to run.

Faster and faster, but the boar was gaining, his stampeding scarred the land.

 

Eloa flew down a craggy hillside, her hooves clashed upon the rock,

The sound of the sea could be heard up ahead.  She didn’t know where else to go.

The mare valiantly broke through the trees and took a magnificent leap from a cliff.

The king leaned forward and for but a moment they sored without wings through the air.

The boar hit the treeline, splintering boughs and leapt right after the mare.

Eloa landed, her hooves covered with sand, she stumbled and fell and the poor king dismounted, thrown into the rising tide.

 

On the shore with the roaring sea behind her, Eloa turned and faced the boar.

It charged and slammed right into her, driving its tusks into her.

It spun and it jabbed, mangling her flesh,

Leaving her bloodied and broken.

When the mare collapsed onto the cold sand, the boar turned its sights on the king.

 

Lura scrambled down the rocky cliff in time to witness the horror,

As her poor sister stood absolutely no chance in defeating the monster.

Her heart swelled and burst with grief at what she had done to her sister.

Now the innocent king stood his ground, ready to face their demon.

 

He held out his sword and the boar did charge but Lura intervened.

She ran underneath its matted wet belly to save the life of the king.

The hound leapt and snapped her jaws tightly on the flesh of the wild beast’s neck.

The boar screamed and flailed as she held even tighter, driving her fangs even deeper.

 

The beast wouldn’t go down and slammed her against the ground.

Each strike broke a bone in her body.

The thrashing didn’t stop until the king drove his blade into the heart of the boar.

When it fell to its side, Lura dropped to the sand but her legs crumpled underneath her.

She pulled her beaten body to the bloody remains of her sister lying out on the shore.

 

The hound rested beside her, dropped down beside her and placed her face next to hers.

Both drew their final breaths and with their deaths, their true forms were restored.

 

The king couldn’t believe it and dropped to his knees then crawled out across the shore.

He knelt there beside them, lamenting and pining, for each maiden had half of his heart.

His retinue found him with the girls in his arms and forced him to let them go.

The tide rose around them and carried the sisters out into the grey sea.

 

The king never fully recovered.

Each day he walked out on the cliffs near his castle and gazed longingly at the sea.

He couldn’t find it within him to love yet another, to have a new queen at his side.

His only child died with her, Eloa.  His lineage died on the shore.

It seemed the kingdom of Ingomar would suffer the same as before.

The king grew more despondent each year, spending his time on the cliffs.

He began to contemplate how it would feel to fall through the air to his death.

 

One morning he walked from his castle, intending to take the final step

When a stunning red fox stood between him and the beckoning limestone cliffs.

He stared deep into its golden eyes then noticed a strangeness about it.

The fox had an emblem upon its head, the ancient symbol of a woodland goddess.

It sprinted into the forest and he took to a run after it.

Three mythical birds cawed above him, flying with him as he ran.

 

A narrow path twisted between ancient trees, leading him to a glade.

At the base of a giant hawthorn tree sat ruins covered in green.

On the steps leading up to an earthen mound, rested the fox so tranquilly.

It looked to a place bathed in sunlight, a place where a temple once stood.

The king approached cautiously, not knowing where he was.

When he stood on the grass of the earthen mound, he noticed a second symbol,

The triquetra of Epona, Otherworld goddess and queen of the horses.

 

The mythical birds landed before him and began tearing at the earth with their beaks,

Then he heard a sound that came from below, like the knocking on a casket.

Confused and alarmed the king dropped down on his knees and began digging at the earth with his hands.

When a colt leapt from the hole he had dug, the king stared in astonishment and his mouth fell open.

It was a beautiful colt with a red piebald coat and it pranced with an elegant step.

The patterns along the edge of its markings were the symbols he’d seen before, on the fox and the ground, on the collar and bridle of the hound and the mare.

 

Then he noticed a familiar glint in the mottled sunlight,

The colt wore a bridle of his own.

Apprehensive at first, about what he saw, the king held out trembling hands.

When he grasped the bridle and slipped it away, the colt became a boy.

His hair was red, his skin was fair and each eye was a different color.

One sparkling blue and one emerald green, like the eyes of his mothers.  

ingomar-shore-ii

 

Spiderling

To keep myself sane while dabbling in the art of the query letter, synopsis, pitch and the overall heartache of trying to get a literary agent, I write short stories when not editing my novel and its series (in addition to reading, participating in webinars, studying blogs, and hanging out on writer’s forums).

I came up with an idea a while back that would allow a black widow spider to be the heroine of a story. And spiders in general.

I would consider it fantasy / magical realism.  At 2:00 in the morning, I was lying in bed battling insomnia and the opening popped into my head.  Insomnia is sometimes productive.  It’s a decent opening.  Definitely something to work with 🙂

Twinkle, twinkle, little spider. Perhaps if the lyricist knew what she was looking at then the lyrics would be different.  But all she got was a glimmer, a reflection of moonlight off the back of the industrious spider, maintaining her magnificent web up above the world so high.  

She is a servant to the Master of Dreams.  One of many.  A spider with a special web constructed to fabricate dreams and snare nightmares and occasionally prevent a rogue filament of dreamspace from falling to earth.  She makes her web from starlight and clouds, and sometimes ice and twilight which is why she and her sisters are so difficult to see.  That is dreamspace and it exists in plain sight but is invisible to all but those who know where to look.  And usually those who know where to look, only ever catch a glimpse in their entire lifespan.  

While she cleaned her web and repaired holes, a rogue filament came into existence.  When she first saw it, it appeared to be nothing more than gossamer and stardust.  But gradually it took form.  The spider knew she should catch it and wrap it in her web and end it there.  It became a girl, a human girl and sat naked on her web.  Then it spoke.  

“I have purpose,” the girl said.  

The spider knew purpose was the very first principle of existence.  The rest, she didn’t know.  She did know that humans needed clothes in the human world and quickly created garments for the girl.  

“I need a name,” the girl said.  

“I don’t create human  names,” the spider replied.  “A human will have to name you.”

“Then give me a spider name,” the girl said.  

And the spider did.  Then she created a sail for the girl and let her go.  The spider knew that she had done wrong and that the Master of Dreams would be furious but the girl already had purpose. 

star-clusters-74052_1920

 

Jerusalem Syndrome Part VI: conclusion of a short fantasy story

Heather stared blankly at her computer screen in the darkness of her bedroom.  She couldn’t focus on her work; she hadn’t done anything with it in days.  Her cell phone rang.  She recognized the ringtone and answered immediately.  It was her husband calling to tell her that the police had turned up nothing about her brother’s disappearance.  There was nothing to give them any direction except from where he vanished, the front of the hospital.  Security cameras showed that Bradley had walked out the front door then everything went black.  There was no trace of him.  Why the equipment failed to raise alarm when he disconnected himself was still a mystery.

There was a long period of silence until her phone rang again, it was Taher.  He called to tell her that her brother had been found.

The old Mitsubishi Montero bounced and rattled as it traversed the desert footpath used mainly by ungulates.  Sheep and goats moved out of the way and camels grunted.  The dust settled as the vehicle came to a stop at the Bedouin camp.  Taher threw open the door and stepped out.  A wave of children ran to him, young boys shouting in such frenzy he couldn’t understand what they were saying.  A few men followed, telling him to come retrieve the man with the infernal mark.

Taher trailed them to the center of their camp and resting on a makeshift table was Bradley, bruised, scraped, scabbed and sunburned.  The men told Taher to get him out of the camp.  To get him far away.  Then the sheikh emerged from his tent and the men, his sons, grew quiet.

The sheikh explained to Taher that since they found Bradley, he had seen three markings appear on the red-haired man’s body.  The infernal mark had been over the heart but faded.  A second mark replaced it but also faded and a third mark emerged across the entire chest and has stayed.  The sheikh said that he could not say what it meant but the heart beats and when they found Bradley there was a great feather over his body so unlike his sons, he was not afraid.  The sheikh continued to explain that the nearest hospital was too great a distance by camel or horse for the red-haired man to endure.  And that his wives and daughters had kept Bradley alive.  It was best that the red-haired man be taken by car to the hospital right away.

The Montero sped across the desert, Taher sat in the back, holding Bradley while one of the Bedouin guides he had hired for the striped hyena expedition drove.  It was because of those guides that he even learned about Bradley’s miraculous discovery which was what led to his recovery.

 

Heather entered Bradley’s room at a hospital in Be’er Sheva.  The heart rate monitor was a familiar sound and again he was hooked up to an IV but this time he looked at her and smiled his usual half-smile.  She burst into tears and her husband wrapped an arm around her, kissed her on top of the head then walked with her to his bedside.

“How are you feeling?” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

“Like I was in an oven,” he answered in a hoarse voice.

A small laugh broke through then after a brief moment of silence, she asked, “How did you get to the middle of the Negev from Jerusalem?”

“I’m still trying to work that out,” he answered bleakly.

“Do you remember any of it?”

“Anything in particular?”

She shrugged, not really wanting to speak of what she witnessed.  She was just happy to see him awake, smiling and talking.

“Did you get any new pictures of Apollo and Delphi?” he asked.

Heather burst out into tears again and turned to her husband.  Bradley knew that he was obviously the cause of her crying and regretted this.  Uncertain as to how he could mend the crime of making his sister cry, he looked away.  His gaze landed on a sandy colored dog sitting right outside the doorway to his room.  He briefly wondered how it had gotten into the hospital but then it stood up on its long, slender legs and elegantly trotted away.  It had looked like a small saluki but with pointy ears.

“Apollo” and “Delphi” Striped Hyena photos by the amazing Photographer and Conservationist Ezra Hadad Ezra Hadad Facebook Page 

Jerusalem Syndrome Part V: a short fantasy story

Bradley felt a presence.  Someone stared at him.  Slowly his eyes flickered open.  He didn’t take much time to notice where he was as the first thing that caught his attention was the dog from the Old City.  It sat on the hospital bed he was in, its dark eyes focused on him.

“You—” he said hoarsely.

“My name is Ankah, I am a daughter of Simourv, the benevolent, friend to mankind,” the dog said softly, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Oh,” Bradley muttered.

“I am here to help you.”

He looked around the hospital room, his sister slept on a chair with a blanket over her.  There was a lot of equipment surrounding him and he noticed the IV catheter in his arm.

“Nothing here can help you,” Ankah said.

“What is wrong with me?”

“You feel strange, don’t you?  Like there is another being that exists within you.  You cannot tell the difference from when you are sleeping to when you are awake?  You’ve lost control over yourself and what truly is.”

Conversing with a dog wasn’t reinforcing his sanity at all but he still nodded because she was right.

“Some would call it a demon, others a jinni but it is an ancient curse, a powerful dybbuk that has tortured many.  It has your soul in its grips and wills you to do its bidding.  It will not leave you until it has completed its task and the task is most sinister.  The dybbuk will destroy you, it will destroy many.”

“You can help me though?”

“I will take you to the desert.  I will take you to a place where Bahamut can hear me and bring Kujata to rid the dybbuk from your soul.  Kujata can send it to the void.  If you are strong enough to survive this then you are strong enough to reclaim your existence.”

“This is the only way?” Bradley asked, glancing at his sister, not wanting to leave her.

“Yes,” Ankah answered.  “You must come with me now.  We must travel quickly before the dybbuk wakes.  If you do not come with me willingly then I cannot help you and if the dybbuk wakes then you will not come willingly.”

“Can I say goodbye?”

“There is no time and even if you wanted to, you wouldn’t be able to wake her.”

“What about all this?” Bradley asked, holding up his arms, one with the catheter, the other with electrodes.  “Won’t I be caught trying to leave?  And how did you get in here anyway?”

“None of it matters.  All you have to do is follow me.”

Ankah leapt off the bed and trotted to the door.  She looked over her shoulder and waited for him.  Bradley took a deep breath then stood.  Everything fell away from him, the catheter, the electrodes and he stood barefoot in his hospital gown.  The heart rate monitor continued to beep, no alarms sounded, nothing disturbed Heather in her slumber.  Worried he would bleed from the catheter site, he looked to his arm.  There was nothing even there to indicate a catheter had ever been placed.

“Goodbye, Heather,” he whispered as he passed by his sister.

Bradley followed Ankah as she trotted elegantly in front of him, the flowing, silky strands of fur from her tail and legs rustled gently from her movement.  The hallways and lobbies were mostly dark, only some lights were on.  There were hardly any people, a few nurses at their stations, but they were going over charts and didn’t even look up as he went by.  Bradley stopped being afraid after they passed the third nurses’ station and tried not to think about how this was happening…

He and the dog exited the hospital.  It was windy but he didn’t feel cold, he simply felt it pass through him.  Suddenly all the lights went out, bulbs exploded into shards of glass the size of grains of sand.  He crouched down and threw his arms over his face as the shards sprinkled over him.

“Come,” he heard in Ankah’s voice.  “Step forward.”

He did as told, rising and stepping into the blackness.  She stood before him, transformed.  The face and front legs of the creature he marveled at were hers and so was part of the body but the sandy colored fur became golden and then all shades of green and blue.  Her tail had become long feathers of equal beauty and sprouting from her shoulders were large wings, all shades of green and blue with golden edges.  Her hindquarters were now adorned with feathers and back legs featured scales and talons instead of fur and claws.  She stood as tall as a large horse and possessed a magnificence he could have never known without staring directly at it.

“Climb onto my back and hold onto my fur,” she said.

Bradley stepped forward and she bowed down to allow him onto her back.  He did as she said.  With one tremendous leap and downbeat of her great wings, they were ascending the night sky.  He gripped the fur of her neck and held tightly.  Wind rushed over him but he still felt no cold as they glided across the starry night, passing in front of the full moon.  Bradley watched the landscape change beneath them, from forested hills to long stretches of crops and finally to desert.

Where Ankah landed the sand was white and powdery.  The winds had grown tumultuous, swirling in columns, carrying sand high into the air.  Bradley slid off her back and landed on his feet but immediately fell to his knees, unable to withstand the force of the winds.  He could hardly keep his eyes open and watched as Ankah threw out her wings and let the winds grab her, carrying her far and fast, leaving him on his own.  Then the winds died down and he was able to stand.

It was just him and the long stretches of white sand and the stars.  Not even the moon was present here.  He began to feel dizzy but soon realized it wasn’t him.  The stars had begun to move.  They moved away from an area and in the darkness there was movement.  It moved like a wave, rising and falling and was difficult to follow.  Then something began to emerge from that darkness and the winds roared into existence again pushing Bradley back and obscuring his vision.  Something was approaching from the emptiness in the night sky and it looked like a charging bull.

The white sand rose up in sandstorms and met Kujata as he stepped out of the sky.  The ground quaked with each step he took, his legs concealed by the swirling winds.  When he inhaled the winds moved in one direction and when he exhaled they moved in another.  His eyes were the color of starlight and his body the color of nebulae.  Kujata advanced swiftly upon Bradley from the horizon, not because he moved fast but because he was a colossus and with each step he covered a distance Bradley couldn’t fathom.

In front of Bradley the sand fell away and a black, swirling hole remained in its place.  He stood on the edge but at least he could stand as the hole seemed to consume the winds.  He knew the colossal bull was over him though he couldn’t make out any features because of Kujata’s vast size.  But when the bull lowered its head and focused its gaze on him, his knees became weak.  His entire body began to shake.  The bull exhaled first, sending Bradley rolling across the desert.  Then the bull inhaled.

Bradley tried to focus on his surroundings but everything was moving too fast, he tried to reach out and grab something to stop his tumbling but there was only sand and it slipped through his fingers.  He could feel something being pulled from him, out from underneath his skin.  It felt like his bones were peeling.  The sensation was cold at first but soon every part of his body erupted in fiery pain.  All he could do was grimace and cry out in agony.  The bull exhaled and inhaled again, sending him back and forth across the desert, faster than he could comprehend.  The pain was growing in intensity and he began to not care what happened to him, he just wanted the pain to end.

He was pulled to the edge of the black hole and was able to grab onto something hard to keep from falling into its gaping maw.  A primeval fear of the void prevented him from letting go, a fear that was greater than the pain.  Just as he managed to climb over the ledge, the bull exhaled then inhaled.

Again he caught himself and again he climbed over the ledge.  Kujata breathed and he was tormented.  His strength faded and eventually he could only hang from the ledge above the void, no longer able to pull himself over.  One arm gave out, now entirely numb.  One hand supported his entire weight as he dangled over the voracious black winds.  He looked up with a grimace and found Kujata staring at him from afar.  Bradley’s fingers began to slip and he knew he was going to fall.  Before his last ounce of strength gave way, he felt a release of all the pain.  The swirling black winds of the void illuminated briefly in a blue hue and he saw bones turn to dust.  Then he let go.

Kujata

by Deathrimental http://deathrimental.deviantart.com/

The Realm of Shadow

It happened again.  A poem type thing was born in my mind.  It happened in the twilight of a dream, in that strangeness that I love.  

The dream itself was quite unique and a great precursor to a story.  A synopsis will go on my list and perhaps I will sit down and pen it one day.  But for now, here is the poem.  An opening to the fledgling tale, for you to enjoy.  

 

This guy and his gal escaped their homes.

They ran down a hill in the night.

They ran to jump off a dock and swim,

A place that brought them delight.

 

The waters were often as warm as a bath.

So still and calm it reflected like glass.

They swam in the blackness sending ripples across,

They swam through mottled starlight.

 

But when they reached the dock on this particular night

The waters were covered by fog, though the sky was clear up above.

“Come on, it will be fun,” he sang in a song.

So they jumped to swim in such a place,

Unaware of what happened below.

 

The water was gone.

The earth was dry.

It was very difficult to see,

As they fell and tumbled straight through the fog

To a land concealed way beneath.

 

I watched them tumble, I watched them fall

for the same had happened to me.

But I wasn’t there to guide them, oh no.

I wasn’t there as a friend.

 

They would come to know me in time.

It would be an inevitable reality.

For those who enter the realm of the shadow

Always come to know me.

 

(The challenge will be, can they beat the odds,

Can they survive the tricks and the grim?

It’s not any different from life, really.

They already know how to swim.

 

The challenge will be, can they stick together,

To help the other succeed?

If they do then there is a chance they’ll return

And think this but nothing more than a dream,

a dream of peril and dread.)

 

Dock of Dreams

Dock by VexingArt / http://vexingart.deviantart.com/

 

 

Jerusalem Syndrome Part IV: a short fantasy story

Bradley walked the city as though it were his own.  He knew everything about it now.  So much had changed in 24 hours.  When he walked through the Shuk he found his path easily, stopping to observe the commotion, to pay close attention to the people creating it.  Everyone moved around him, he was not a salmon lost in the current but a stone creating the flow.

With purpose he walked through the Old City, he chose his route, making sure he reached every corner of all four quarters.  He prayed in the churches, the mosques and the synagogues, it was all familiar.  He avoided the heavy traffic of tourists, knowing the secret routes and hidden alleys.  With his sister seeing to her work, there was nothing to detract him from his agenda, except for the dog.

As soon as he’d entered the Old City, there it was.  It followed him at a distance.  When he stopped, it sat and watched and waited.  When he walked, he could hear the click of the nails as it trailed behind him.  No one else seemed to notice it.  He tried screaming at it and lunging.  The dog would dart away and leave him alone momentarily but it always came back.

Bradley walked from sunrise to sunset with the stray dog, stubborn as a shadow.  He was finally rid of the thing when night fell and he left the Old City.

Ankah II enlight

Heather returned home close to midnight.  She had seen to her cameras but worried about her brother all day.  She was glad to see him sleeping when she arrived.  With a smile she closed the door to his bedroom.  After a hot shower and some soup, she crawled into bed and was fast asleep.

 

Bradley woke before sunrise.  He threw off his shirt and pants then ripped the white sheets off his bed, flinging pillows across the room.  After fashioning a toga from one of the sheets, he ran out of the room, out of the apartment and out of the building.  Into the cool morning air he sprinted, his bare feet slapping the stones.  He didn’t tire despite the constant uphill to the Old City.  He didn’t feel any pain when his feet began to bleed.

Heather shivered in her bed.  It was enough to wake her.  Immediately she knew something was amiss.  Throwing back the comforter, she flew from her bed and bolted out of her room.  She saw the door wide open then pivoted and stared into his room.  The bed was disrobed, his clothes were on the floor and he was gone.  Horrified, she scrambled back to her room to throw on some clothes then took off after him.

When she reached the Old City, sucking air and sweating profusely, her look of desperation transcended all language barriers.  She followed the gestures of witnesses along a wake of bewilderment that could only belong to her brother.

She reached the Western Wall Plaza and heard yelling and recognized it as Bradley’s voice.  Her brother stood, dressed in his bed-sheet toga, shouting in a language she didn’t immediately recognize.  Tourists stood at a wary distance, taking pictures or recording him on cameras and cell phones as he delivered his speech.

Heather noticed a group of Israeli Defense Force soldiers approaching and she raced them to her brother, shouting, “Ach-ee!  Ach-ee!”

“This is your brother?” one of the soldiers said.

She nearly doubled over in front of him, her face red and her lungs screaming for air.

“He is speaking Aramaic and Arabic,” the soldier said.

“And Latin,” another added.

“How is that possible?” she asked, her voice raw.  “He doesn’t know any of those languages, he’s never been outside of the United States before.  He’s not religious.  This isn’t possible.”

There was a crowd drawing closer, a mixture of tourists and locals, old and young, Muslims, Jews and Christians.  At the front of the crowd stood a wizened Hasidic, his peyos long and silver as was his beard.  He concentrated on Bradley, whispering softly.

“He needs to go to a hospital,” the soldier said.

“What’s happened to him?” Heather asked, on the verge of tears.

Bradley started shouting the same phrase in Aramaic over and over, spittle flying from his mouth.  He stomped toward the old Hasidic man.  The crowd collectively stepped back but the old man did not.  He closed his eyes and continued moving his lips.

Neither Heather nor the soldiers could hear what the old man was saying but stared as he held a hand out toward Bradley.

As though Bradley were fighting some great force trying to prevent him from doing so, he reached a shaky hand out toward the Hasid.  But he also continued shouting in Aramaic, Arabic and Latin, speaking faster and faster.  Veins bulged and pulsed on his forehead and neck.  His skin was red, covered in sweat and now not just his hand shook but his entire body.  The old man lightly touched Bradley’s palm with only his fingertips and this seemed to induce great trauma.  Bradley threw back his head, jaw clenched, muscles taught.  Then he opened his mouth, released a visceral cry and crumpled to the ground.

 

Heather sat in the hospital room, the beep of the heart rate monitor her constant companion.  Her eyelids were red and swollen from the crying and tears fell in silence.  She stared through blurry eyes to the screen of her cell phone, watching the minutes change.  Her husband was on his way from Los Angeles, though on a nonstop flight, he wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow.

Bradley rested tranquilly beside her.  He hadn’t woken up or stirred since he’d collapsed.  The lab tests came back fine except for mild dehydration and low blood pressure, so he was on an IV drip for now.  He was scheduled for an MRI in the morning, so long as all his vitals remained stable.

A doctor had spoken to her about a condition called Jerusalem Syndrome, a rare form of psychosis that some people experienced when visiting the ancient city.  There were even cases on people that weren’t religious being afflicted.  Based on the medical history she was able to provide, the doctor suspect Bradley was a Type III case.  Everything did add up, her brother’s behavior change, his obsession, the bed sheet-toga, his sudden procession to the Wailing Wall and the sermon he zealously delivered…  However, according to the doctor, most, and quite possibly, none of the other documented cases contained patients that suddenly and coherently understood three ancient languages.  A nurse assured her though that if Bradley was only affected by Jerusalem Syndrome and he truly was a Type III case, as extraordinary as everything was that had happened, he should be fine once he recovered and departed the city.  All this Heather considered as she sat in the hospital room, staring at her cell phone.

“Excuse me,” a soft voice called from the doorway.

Heather looked up and found a young woman attired in black.

“I would like to speak with you but dare not enter.”

She stood from her chair and approached the stranger.  As soon as she’d stepped out of the hospital room, the girl took her hands in hers.

“My grandfather is a rebbe, he saw your brother this morning at the Kotel.  He wanted me to tell you that your brother is very sick and may never wake up.”

Heather stared in disbelief but a knot tightened in her stomach when the girl started crying.

“And he said that if he does, he won’t be your brother anymore— I’m so sorry.”

She didn’t really know what to say but the young woman appeared to be waiting for some sort or acknowledgement.

“Thank you for telling me this.  And please thank your grandfather,” Heather said softly.

The young woman turned and began to walk away quickly.  Heather could only stand and stare and took a while to move even after the young woman had left her sight completely.

Jerusalem Syndrome Part III: A short fantasy story

Bradley walked along the pitted grey-stone road of the Armenian Quarter, down some steps and into the bazaar.  It was a colorful place decorated with everything a tourist could possibly want, from bags and scarves to t-shirts and toys.  Earrings, necklaces and rings holding Roman Glass sat proudly displayed alongside silver and gold lions, replicas of the city, candle holders, picture frames and jewelry.  Showy raqs sharqi outfits with their bright and decorated fabrics hung next to rugs and shawls.  Shofars made from ram horns sat in baskets while those made from horns of the Greater Kudu hung from up high on the walls or were kept in cases alongside menorahs, hanukiahs and crucifixes.

He stopped to examine a camel carved from olive wood as though he had never seen such a thing before.  But he felt like he was being watched.  In a crowd of people it wouldn’t be strange to be the subject of someone’s wayward glance yet this was different.  He looked up to see if it was the manager of the shop but he was busy selling an American kid a hookah.  After looking around, he found no one in particular staring at him.  Then he looked down and nearly recoiled as though he’d seen a snake.  A sandy colored dog stared up at him with large dark eyes.  The ears were tall and slender, pricked and held upright and the face was longer than the ears with a muzzle just as pointy.  After a moment of staring at one another, the dog opened its mouth, as though in a happy smile then trotted under the table displaying the olive wood camels.  The last thing to vanish was the long tail with its silky strands of fur.  Bradley crouched down and looked under the table but the dog was already gone.  He jumped up and flicked his gaze in every direction but found no sign of the dog.

The manager of the shop noticed the erratic behavior and approached him, “May I help you, my friend?” he said with a thick accent.

“Do you have a dog?” Bradley asked, still glancing around.

“Dog?  What you mean?  In the olive wood?”

“No,” Bradley said with a scowl.  “An actual dog, I just saw it.”

“No dog, my friend.  Not here.”

Bradley continued walking, heading deeper into the Armenian Quarter, following the endless rows of shops, turning corner after corner while inconspicuously looking for the dog.

 

Taher opened one of his journals and showed Heather some of the sketches he’d done of the striped hyenas he’d studied throughout his career.

“This one,” he tapped the page, “I saw her recently in the Negev.  I have seen her several times and feel confident that we will be able to radio-collar her.”

“I’m so excited, my first excursion,” Heather said with a grin.

“The Bedouin guides I’ve hired know many of the populations and where to find them.”

“Wonderful,” Heather whispered, staring at the drawing of the female striped hyena from the Negev.

As though he’d appeared out of thin air, Bradley suddenly emerged and sat down in a chair at the small table.  Heather and Taher both looked to him.  His expression was concentrated as though he was lost in worried thought.

“Are you all right?” Heather asked, closing the journal.

“I saw a dog,” he said.

“People have pet dogs here,” she said.  “It’s fairly common.”

“No, not a pet.  It showed up then was gone.  No collar, no leash.  No one else saw it…”

“Are you sure you don’t want to go to a doctor?” she asked.

“I’m fine.  It’s not my head.  It looked like a… it’s a breed… starts with an s…”

“Samoyed?  Shiba Inu?  Schnauzer?” Taher questioned.

Bradley shook his head rapidly.

“Shih Tzu, Sheltie, Schipperke?” Heather asked.

“No, please be quiet, let me think,” he said, agitated.

Taher and Heather stopped talking.

“Saluki!” he said.  “Like a small saluki but the ears were up and pointy.”

“Not a saluki then,” Taher commented.

“I said like a saluki,” Bradley emphasized, somewhat annoyed.

“Right, well, I’d better be going,” Taher said, standing from the table and collecting all his journals, binders and maps.

Heather stood beside him and helped him put his belongings in his pack.  “Sorry,” she muttered.  “I think it’s the jetlag.”

“No worries,” he replied.  “I have to get going anyway, want to make it to Ashdod before it’s too late.  My girlfriend’s been yammering on about me being gone on our anniversary again so I need to do something tonight to make her feel special.”

“You’d better treat her nice,” Heather said, sympathizing with his girlfriend.

“I always treat her nice,” Taher said with a grin.  “Bradley, it was good to finally meet you, I’ll see you in a couple days, right?”

Bradley didn’t reply.  He wore the same concentrated scowl as before so Taher said goodbye to Heather and left for the Zion Gate.

“There are a couple synagogues we can pass by on our way out of the Old City, if you would like?” she offered her brother after watching her friend leave.

Bradley didn’t say anything.  He just abruptly stood from the table and began following after her in sullen silence.  She didn’t really understand why he was upset about seeing a dog.  As far as she knew, he loved dogs.  He had a dog back home.  But he wasn’t acting right at all and she began to contemplate forcing him to see a doctor.

He stayed up late that night, examining books he found in the apartment, books about Jerusalem.  Some were guide books, others were historical.  He felt connected to the names and places and knew he needed to go back to the Old City.

Heather found Bradley still sitting at the table amongst the books when she woke in the early morning.

“Did you even sleep?” she asked from the kitchen while putting a kettle on the stove to boil water.

“I did,” he said, distracted.  “A few hours.”

She walked out of the kitchen and leaned against the wall.  “I’m going to go check a few censor cameras in the Judean Mountains, see if I caught any pictures of Apollo and Delphi.”

“Apollo and Delphi?” he asked, looking up.

“The striped hyena pair I’ve been tracking for a few years now, I’ve talked to you about them many times before.  You don’t remember?”

“Must be the jetlag,” he muttered, looking back to the books.

“Okay,” she scoffed.  “Are you coming with me?”

“I don’t think so.  I will go back to the Old City and walk around.  I want to revisit some of the places we saw yesterday.  I want to stay a while and watch more.  We were in such a hurry yesterday.”

Heather stared at him.  He was acting so strange.  This was not the brother she remembered.

“I’ll be fine on my own,” he said.

The kettle whistled and Heather stepped away to make her tea.  While she poured the boiling water over mint leaves, she heard the click of the door.  Nearly dropping the kettle, she darted out of the kitchen and found her brother gone.  He had already left.

Jerusalem Syndrome Part II: A short fantasy story

Bradley opened his eyes to see a frantic Heather staring at him.  The ground was cold and it was fairly dark.  His head throbbed and he smelled blood.

“Are you all right?  What the hell were you doing?  We shouldn’t be down here,” she snapped.

“What?” he questioned hoarsely.

“Do you know where you are?”

“Jerusalem,” he answered.  “The Roman corridor…”

“Can you get up?”

She grabbed his arm as he rose from the ground, grit and small rocks fell from him as though he had been down there long enough to accumulate a layer.  Bradley brushed himself off before climbing up the ladder with his sister right behind him.

A group of Chinese tourists watched them as they climbed over the barricade.  Their expressions were quizzical but none of them questioned why they were down in the archaeological dig-site.  The tourists soon moved on, leaving the pair alone.

“Are you hurt?” Heather asked, still on edge.  “Can you sit down?”

“I just got up,” he said.

“Sit down,” she barked.

He did as his older sister ordered.

“You’re bleeding from your nose,” she said.

While Heather rooted around in her satchel, he instinctively touched the blood and looked at it.  “I must have fallen from the ladder.”

“But why did you go down there?”

He thought for a moment then looked up at her.  “I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure?” she rebuked.

“Something… something must have caught my eye.”

“But you don’t recall what that something was?”

“I don’t,” he agreed.  “But you know what’s funny?” he asked as a large group of tourists grew near, a strange smile spreading across his face.

“What could possibly be funny?” she asked mirthlessly, handing him a crumpled napkin from the bottom of her bag.

“How,” he said with a low chuckle. “How everyone is here, looking at art and trinkets like they’re in a mall or something or a museum but a river of blood once flowed here.  A river of blood, severed torsos, hacked off limbs, decapitated heads all bobbing along.  Think about it, Heather, a river of human blood.”

She stared at him, abhorred.  Disturbed comments drifted from the group of tourists now surrounding them and unlike her brother, who laughed, Heather could not be more bothered.

“What’s the matter with you?” she whispered abrasively, pulling him to his feet.

“Why it’s only history, dear sister.”

She tightened her grip on his arm and pulled him after her.  She wanted to get him out of the enclosed area, up into fresh air and maybe to a doctor to have his head examined if he kept with the strange comments.  He’d never spoken like that before.  He’d never referred to her as “dear sister.”

By the time they climbed the stairs from the Cardo Maximus to the street, Bradley insisted he was fine.  He apologized for frightening her and when she asked about the river of blood comment he explained that maybe it came from a memory of a documentary.  A documentary he watched about the crusades.  It was horrendously violent.  Once she forgave him, he expressed a desire to see more of the Old City, how he wanted to go to as many churches, synagogues and mosques as possible.  She didn’t feel like she had too much time to spare before meeting Taher but since they were already near the Damascus Gate, agreed to take him by as many holy sites as she could think of on their way back to the Jewish Quarter.  She didn’t think of him as a man interested in any religion, he didn’t even seem that keen on visiting Jerusalem when she’d first invited him to Israel.

They saw the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the al-Khanqah al-Salahiyya Mosque, the Mosque of Omar, Church of St. John the Baptist, ruins of the Nissan Beck Shul and Tzuf Dvash Synagogue before coming to a vantage point where they could stop and admire the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock and Mount of Olives.  Heather was also appreciative of a chance to rest while Bradley seemed like he could have cared less.  His feet must have not bothered him the way hers were.

“Now that you have seen Jerusalem, what do you think?”

“More,” he said softly.

“What?”

“I would like to see more.  I would like to know more.”

She looked at him dubiously.  He seemed oblivious to her stare.

“Well…” she said.  “There are a couple more synagogues we can pass by after I meet with Taher.”

“I might walk around for a bit while you’re talking with him.”

She didn’t know what to say but shook her head with an astonished smirk.  “I don’t know how you’re still standing, with the jetlag and all.  I’m acclimated and I’m exhausted.”

He relinquished a wry smile and said, “It’s a peculiar feeling, being here.  I had no idea it would affect me so strongly.”

Strangely, she thought.  That it would affect him so strangely…

 

“Taher, this is my brother,” Heather said in an effort to introduce them.  “Bradley, this is Taher, the man who can find striped hyenas anywhere.”

The tall Afghani man stood from the small table in the courtyard adjacent many eateries including the falafel place Heather had praised.  He offered Bradley a handshake but the young man was distracted.

“He’s a bit overwhelmed,” Heather explained, slightly embarrassed.

“First time in Jerusalem can be a shock,” Taher said with a shrug before sitting back down.

He took a bite of a pita stuffed with falafel, Israeli salad, chips, hummus and tahini.  Heather’s stomach growled.

“I’m going to go get one too then we can go over schematics.”

Taher gave her a thumbs-up as he chewed.  She looked to her brother who was now busy petting a Jerusalem cat but the cat didn’t seem interested in affection and hissed then ran away.

“Bradley, you want some falafel or shawarma?”

“No thank you,” he said.

“You’re not hungry?”

“I’m going to go look around.”

“Okay…” she said as he walked away.  “Don’t get lost!”

He headed off like he knew what he was doing and where he was going.

Jerusalem Syndrome Part I: A short fantasy story

He leaned on a railing and stared out over the city as the sun surmounted the horizon in golden splendor.  His eye wandered to a large building that he had only recently learned was the Knesset, the house of the Israeli parliament.  It sat like a fortress amidst a cluster of pine trees and though he had never seen it before, it felt oddly familiar.  Or maybe it was just the jetlag messing with his head.  Earlier, he had woken up at four o’clock in the morning craving a hamburger so it didn’t come as a surprise when the cheerios with which he tried to appease his appetite just didn’t cut it.

The sliding glass door opened and his sister, Heather, joined him on the balcony of the apartment they were staying at.  It belonged to her husband’s grandparents but they were back in the United States for the fall and winter seasons.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“Jetlag sucks,” he grumbled.

“Yeah, it does— But what do you think about Jerusalem?”

“Haven’t seen much of it yet.”

“True,” she said with a slight nod.

“Anywhere around here we can grab a burger or a taco?”

She laughed softly, knowing the effects of traversing time-zones all too well.  “This early, no.  Come with me to the Shuk.  The aroma of fresh pastries and Jerusalem bagels should pique even the most stubborn appetite.”

“Yeah?”

“Then we’ll head to the Old City.  I’m meeting my partner, Taher, at a really good Bukhari falafel place in the Jewish Quarter.”

“Falafel huh?”

“And shawarma, closest thing you’ll probably find to a taco in the Old City.”

He gave a wry smile.

“Don’t be so glum, it’s good, I promise.  Let’s go, it is a bit of a walk.  I hope you brought good shoes ‘cause I don’t drive here.”

They walked.  It felt like they were constantly heading uphill.  Jerusalem was in the Judean Mountains, which were forested hills with grassy meadows and rocky slopes.  This came as a slight shock.  He thought the city would be surrounded by desert; he expected sand.  He expected unforgiving heat and though the sun did loom overhead with no threat from clouds, the winds were strong and on more than one occasion swept his breath away.

He easily understood why his sister wouldn’t drive.  The roads were narrow, their origins found in pilgrimage routes, shepherd’s paths and now he traversed them, sharing in their legacy that spanned time.

The open marketplace, or the Shuk, was an intense place.  It could rival the outcry of the old stock exchange floors of New York.  Words were shouted in languages he did not understand.  Small moments of English broke through the torrents of dialect.  People hustled and bustled and he was constantly in the way, like a floundering salmon that hadn’t figured out how to move against the current.  He lost his sister in the crowd.  She was small and could slip nimbly between people.

“Bradley!”

He pivoted toward his name and found his sister holding a bag over her head in triumph.

“I’ve got the bagels!”

As he awkwardly made his way over to her, he smiled to himself.  She was right about the aroma, it was something else.  All the fresh pastries and breads stimulated his appetite.  They passed rows of fruits, bags of nuts and legumes, cheeses, halva, more pastries, more bread.  His mouth was nearly watering by the time they reached the end.

They found a place to sit and the only intrusion came from a tabby cat keenly interested in the fresh bread.  They each tore off a chunk of their bagels and threw it to the cat, which snatched the morsels up in its mouth and darted away.

“You think he has a home?” Bradley asked.

“Jerusalem,” his sister answered. “This place is his home.”

They continued on their way to the Old City.  He followed his sister in silence, she wasn’t a very good tour guide but he wasn’t a very good tourist.  He preferred to speculate, to wonder.  If he really wanted to know something, he would ask and she might have an answer.

The stones of the street and buildings were anywhere from grey to sandy or white, worn smooth from the decades, in some areas uniform, in others just the opposite.  A city built upon itself for millennia, the stones recycled from the past.  He ran a hand over the stones as he passed; they felt like a hard wax under his fingertips.

She led him along iron window shutters and doors, often brightly colored by shades of teal, green or red.  They walked in front of gates that led to hidden courtyards.  Overhead, purple flowers hung from heaps of leafy green, coming down the walls like waterfalls over outcroppings, having grown too unruly for their window box planters.  An old man sat under an archway on an old chair playing a violin, there to entertain no one but himself.  Cats crisscrossed their way and occasionally black clad Hasidic men walked by.  It would be impossible to admire it all.

The juxtaposition of a medieval looking building beside trendy boutiques and galleries made him stop and grin to himself.  He stared up at a statue of who he could only guess was the Virgin Mary in a recess over the door.  He found it funny.  Why he found it funny, he wasn’t sure.  It just was.  Maybe it was the jetlag messing with his head again.

“Bradley!” his sister called.

He jogged along the promenade to catch up to her.

“Just up these stairs,” she said.  “There will be Jaffa Gate, the Tower of David and the Old City Wall.  We’ll go to the Jewish Quarter since I need to meet Taher and come back through the Armenian Quarter, that’s a good place to buy gifts if you’d like.  Never pay full price, always haggle.  If they act offended because you refuse to pay full price, walk away.”

As he came up over the stairs the winds died down, allowing him his first view of the Old City— it took his breath away.  He stared at the magnificent ruins in awe.  The wall and towers made him think of crusader’s sagas and chivalry, a period of great struggle but it was a history he didn’t know.  His sister motioned for him to follow and he did, stepping through the gate and into the Old City.

It was crowded, not as crowded as the Shuk but still filled with people, people of every nationality it seemed.  He felt like he could walk there a hundred times and not see every detail as he would have liked but that was part of the novelty in experiencing such a place.

They walked the Cardo Maximus, the thoroughfare from the time of the Romans where pillars and ruins stood next to galleries and shops.  The covered areas were ribbed and vaulted in gothic style with modern lanterns hanging down, shedding soft light on the passengers.

While his sister examined a painting by a local artist, he wandered over to a barricaded area.  It appeared to be an archeological discovery in the making.  In great contrast to the neatness and museum-like places he had observed so far, this one looked raw.  It was gritty.  It was just being discovered.  There was no light over the site itself and he had to use what little there was from the lantern behind him.  He could make out shards of pottery, a few handles, and stones far too ancient to recycle into the city.  After staring long enough he thought he saw pieces of a skeleton amongst the rubble.  But once he blinked the bones vanished.  He glanced over his shoulder and found his sister involved in the art of haggling so he leaned on a piece of wood and looked over the site again.  He noticed a faint blue glow emanating from what might have once been a wall thousands of years ago.

The spectral glow possessed him.  It made him aware of the ladder.  It compelled him to climb over the barricade and descend.  When he disembarked the ladder and stepped onto the dry, rocky earth, he felt cold.  The light of the lantern seemed far away and the noises from the Cardo Maximus dimmed.  His breath hung in the air.  The glow came from the farthest corner and as he approached, it pulsed.  He stepped carefully, not wanting to disturb anything but the dust.  From what he could tell, the glow came from the stones themselves.  Then the light collected in one great flash, it was too bright and he closed his eyes.  A frigid sensation enveloped him, he couldn’t breathe and he felt his heart stop.