Not in the mood to read? Here’s an “Audio-Visual” story I’m working on. Images are “placeholders”, but the story, voiceover, and effects are mine.
She preferred fantasy to reality. The modern world bored her to tears. Marguerite was a Parisian girl at heart. Growing up in a run down midwestern town, she had always gravitated to all things French. She’d spent hours and hours at the local library, devouring French culture, history and fashion. At thirteen, she began styling her hair like a coquette, and sewing her own clothes. Her Grandma’s basement was a treasure trove full of all sorts of fabrics, buttons, and best of all, old photos. She didn’t know much about Grandma Ceci, because she had died days before Marguerite was born. The story went that she had grown up just outside of Paris, and had studied to be a couturier at the most prestigious design school in the “City of Lights”. At 18, she left her studies to marry an American military man, and relocated to this tiny midwestern city, where she quickly acclimated to American life, and focused on raising a small family. No matter how much Marguerite pressed her mother, she really couldn’t find out more about her Grandma. From the old photos and items found in dusty boxes, she pieced together a life imagined.
These days, Marguerite lives in New Orleans. She fell in love with the city on a weekend visit, and never went back to her small town. She lives in an apartment close to the French Quarter, and designs dresses that she sells on Etsy. She’s been studying French for a while now and uses it as often as possible. Her entire apartment is filled with antiques found at thrift shops around town. An antique record player spins french ballads. She had her mother send all of the old photographs from her Grandma Ceci’s basement, which decorate the hallway entry. At night, she dreams of being in Paris with a dark-haired man. He wears a suit, pocket watch and felted hat. He takes her hand, pulls her close, and whispers to her to stay with him in forever. Her heart hurts as she watches him disappear behind a wall of thick icy fog lifting off of the Atlantic. The blast of a steamship’s horn wakes her abruptly, her damp cheek pressed into a pillow drenched with tears.
You might call this entry a “Fantasy”, but I like to call it a “Feel Good” story. Either way, it’s a mini escape, and perhaps a bit of “food for thought”. Enjoy, xxoo.
They had always had access; access was easy. It had been a not-so-secret secret for decades. The tunnels were intricate, yet direct. Once under the main source, it was a vertical climb up to the White House kitchen, where stealth moves were required to sneak beneath tables, alongside blazing hot stoves, towards the massive mother-load. The pantry was easy to raid. Entire loaves of bread could go missing, without anyone noticing. They were careful to avoid leaving a crumb trail, and the growing rat family stayed healthy and happy.
Every few years there was a turnover, and the food staples would change. The rats were overjoyed that the prior host was finally gone, as there had been a severe shortage of starches and junk food for far too long. Eight years to be exact. The new tenants were a welcome supplier of white bread, processed crackers, and yellow cheese. To top it all off, there was a delightful supply of fast food to be pilfered from trash bins. Fries, burger buns, and the fried chicken were absolutely irresistible. The rats gained weight, and within a year, a few had become too fat to get through the tunnels. This was when a disaster occurred. Two of the rats got jammed inside the mainline to the kitchen, causing a major back up. They needed help, and they knew just who to call. Sure, they’d risk losing the two fat buddies, but collateral damage was a burden they’d simply have to shoulder. The boa constrictors resided in the sewers of the surrounding city. Long ago, an escapee from the zoo had mated with a female who was let loose by a lousy pet owner. They had bred, and now the family of snakes had countless cousins, all living within the under water system of Washington D.C..
As the oversized elderly rat informed the snake boss of their “clog” problem, the big boa gathered his extended family around. Eagerly, they slipped away into underground tunnels with ease, until they reached the trapped rats. After devouring the “blockage”, the boas swiftly continued along route towards the jackpot. Upon arriving in the kitchen, they glided in silence behind the walls towards the pantry. By now, it was late, and there were workers busy stocking shelves, so they decided to bypass the kitchen and check out the second floor. Silently, they headed up a narrow opening behind an ancient dumb waiter, and emerged onto a dim upper hallway. In the stagnant air, the snakes detected a strong scent of chicken. Slithering along dark red Persian carpets, they felt their way against plastic gilded moldings. It was well past midnight, when the lead snake paused, startled by an electronic pinging sound. He slowly headed towards the noise, which was coming from behind a door. A weak stream of light seeped through. The smell of chicken filled his nostrils. He waited there for his partners to catch up. They gathered by the base at the door, contemplating how to flatten enough to slide beneath it. Aligning themselves, the five snakes pressed together as one.
Silently, they burst through, and into the bathroom where they saw a large fat man in a white hotel robe, hunched over on a gold toilet. His eyes were closed, as he ate KFC from a box on the shelf. While chewing loudly, he hummed in a monotonous tone, gripping a phone in his free hand. He was too busy to notice the snakes heading towards him. Suddenly, one gripped each of his legs, and wrapped tightly around the limbs, as the other three slid up behind the toilet, winding effortlessly around his thick neck. In unison they began to squeeze. The giant lurched forward, and tried to yell, but no sound came out, other than a loud belch. A half- eaten chicken leg dropped to the gold tiled floor, followed by his cell phone, which shattered into pieces. His heavy head flopped down, a stringy yellowed hairpiece flapping forward over a distorted face. Large dirty dentures clattered to the floor. The man’s stomach bulged, and he let out a long fart. The snakes untethered themselves, and snatched the remaining fried chicken. With that, they seamlessly slipped under the door. Making their way down the halls, they passed a few of the rats along the way, and shared a swift knowing glance. With a low hiss, they headed towards the exit tunnel, disappearing back into the underworld of D.C.
Her mother tugged harder than ever, smoothing back Chevon’s deep brunette hair with a fine toothed metal comb, into a high elegant chignon. The small child squirmed in the hard chair, impatient after more than 2 hours of primping. “Stay still”, boomed her mother’s voice over her head, echoing off the grey marble flooring of the large bathroom. “Don’t you want to be pretty? Beauty is pain! You will suffer for beauty, but it’s all worth it. Money you can’t always get with brains. You do what I tell you, and you will be thanking me, and taking care of me when I am an old grandma living in your house.” She leaned her head down to press her cheek against the tiny face, and smiled at their reflection.
Tears welled up in the young girl’s eyes. At 6, she had endured this fussing for 4 years already. Since she turned 2, her mother had dressed her up like a tiny doll. The more serious makeup and hair styling had started around 3. By now, she had been in countless competitions, and won multiple trophies as the cutest, sassiest, prettiest girl in the world. “World Doll”, “Adorable Baby” “PerfectionZ”. You name the competition, Chevon had won it. First place all the way.
Her mother set up the instagram a few months ago. Hairowin was built to feature her daughter, and profit from her fame via affiliate sales. Sheila had been a hair-stylist, long before she became a stage mom. Salon work had gotten too difficult for her, with standing for those long hours. Her weight had ballooned from chronic stress, and was now considered a health hazard. However, she could still do hair like a wizard, designing elaborate up-dos, and a multitude of glamorous styles. Working at home, she could spend time with her daughter, sit down and rest as needed and save money on babysitting expenses.
That’s when Sheila had the brilliant idea to feature her daughter as a model on instagram. Chevon had a long head of luxurious shiny deep brunette hair, which her mother embellished with extensions, and featured in posts on a daily basis. The followers swooped in. No matter that more than half were most likely pedophiles. Sheila knew it was a numbers game, and the higher the following, the more opportunities she would have to turn a profit. Winning pagaents was all well and good, but creating a passive stream of income was even better. Her bank account grew daily, and so did her greed.
Chevon struggled in the chair again. Tears welled in her sparkling blue eyes. “Mommy? I have to go pee. Can I get up please?” Sheila tugged extra hard, swirling her glossy locks into a corkscrew bun and fastening it with a crystal clip. She roughly pushed her daugher and told her to hurry up. They needed to post within the next 2 hours for optimal exposure. As Chevon shuffled to the toilet, Sheila headed to the kitchen, grabbed a slab of cold pizza from the fridge and inhaled it, wiping crumbs on her sleeve.
Back in the master bathroom, her child obediently sat on the chair at the vanity, patiently waiting, while her mother swirled, pinned, combed, and teased her hair into an ultra vixenesque style. Sort of a cross between Marie Antoinette and an 80’s glam rock star. She grabbed the makeup bag, and launched into a whirlwind application, adding glitter and gloss for a finishing touch. She laughed with delight seeing the bright blue eyes glisten under long mascara coated lashes. An awkward smile appeared on her child’s face. “Gorgeous! This is a winner!” Sheila ran to the bedroom, and returned holding a hot pink and red chiffon dress encrusted with swarofsky crystals across a corsetted bodice. “Let’s get you into this dress, and start taking pics! I smell money honey!”
She roughly tugged off Chevon’s flannel pjs, throwing them in the corner. Unzipping the gown, she tossed the fluffy tulle over her head like a fishing net, careful to avoid the hair and face, yanked and zipped it tight. Custom made by her aunt, it fit like a glove. She picked up her child like a doll, and plopped her down onto the large velvet divan. Then she posed her, rearranging her arms, legs, and tilting her head a few times until she sat there, in the perfect temptress position.
“Smile!, Now, Pout! …no, not like that! Look at mommy, like this. See how sexy mommy looks?… Sheila demonstrated, pouting with a slight grimace. Her daughter dutifully obeyed and posed like a mini doll, doing her best to please her mother.
This went on for about half an hour. Satisfied, Sheila told her she could take a break and watch tv, while she uploaded the photos onto social media. Sitting in front of the computer with her phone at her side, Sheila smiled, laughed, and texted, while mouthing responses to the comments as they poured in. She was too excited to bother with any negative remarks, just deleting those as they appeared. Her daughter was a star and she was gonna be rich!
Finally, she headed to the living room to find her daughter fast asleep with the tv on. A program about serial killers blared in the background. She picked up the small child, shaking her gently. “Bedtime princess. Someone’s gotta get that beauty sleep. You did so good today, doll, You did so, so good, 5,000 likes so far and counting….we’re gonna be so rich. I love you. Tomorrow I’m gonna do a sleek long style, and I have a silver sequin gown for you to wear! It’s going to be topped off with one of your pageant tiaras.”
She carried the small child, a bundle of chiffon and hair, into her pink princess room. She laid her down on the canopy bed, surrounded by twinkling strands of tiny white and pink lights. Chevon looked like an angel. Sheila began arranging and spreading her silken hair on the pink satin pillow. The child’s eyes fluttered, and closed again as she fell into a deep sleep.
Sheila pulled out her phone and snapped away. A few more photos, the hair on the pillow, so perfect. Ultimate in glam. This would be a sellout image. She titled it “The Real Sleeping Beauty.” Uploaded, and boom….instant likes and comments. “Living doll” “OMG” “beautiful” Adorable “Sexy” well, who cared where it came from, she was getting lots of likes and action….meaning money. Money. Money. Money.
Her husband still worked nights for the city morgue, and he was doing a lot of overtime these days. He really had no idea about social media, and had always stayed away from all that “girly stuff”. When he got home that night after 11, Sheila was dressed in her favorite long black slip, with a slit up the front thigh. Her large silicone breasts overflowed, and her thick body bulged out in quite a few directions. He smiled. She offered him a beer, and they went to their room. She was in the mood, and they stayed up late into the night doing things they had never done, and many more than once.
Sheila slept well that night. So well that she didn’t hear her alarm. Today was the day she was going to do the long luxury ponytail look on Chevon. She rubbed her eyes, looking at the alarm clock. Grabbing her phone off of the side table, she quickly logged into the instagram. Her eyes cleared and she saw the thousands of likes on the last post. Sleeping Beauty was a giant hit! She had DMs for buisness proposals, and a multitude of opportunities coming her way. Today was gonna be a good day. Finally all of her hard work was paying off. The baby beauty pagaents, the styling, the sacrifices she had made. All paying off big time.
She texted her husband. Dan texted back “last night was hot, babe. Let’s do that more often.xoxo” She smiled. “definitely babe. I love you” she responded, smiling as she glanced into the bedroom mirror admiring her afterglow. Sure she had gained weight, but it made her feel powerful and her husband was enjoying her extra curves and fleshy hips and thighs.
Grabbing her silky robe and putting on her favorite sheepskin slippers, Sheila shuffled towards her daughters bedroom, humming as she thought about the next “look”. The little angel was still asleep. Her hair splayed out in tendrils. She touched the shimmering bronzed forehead, realizing she hadn’t removed the makeup. She headed into the bathroom, and brought back some makeup wipes. Sheila began gently removing the makeup from Chevon’s delicate tiny face, with a tenderness she hadn’t felt for some time. Her little girl still looked like a baby in the morning light.
Sheila pushed the hair back gently off of her tiny forehead. As she pushed the hair, it moved further back. She pressed a bit harder, and she saw pale scalp showing through. To her shock, as she took hold of a tendril, lightly lifting it, effortlessly, the hair lifted completely from her daughers head. She moved her hand through the hair, and felt it detaching from the scalp with ease. In fact, all of Chevons hair seemed to have become loose overnight and was now just falling off, leaving bald sections. Sheila was horrified, as she took sections of the long tresses in her hand, watching them slip through her fingertips onto the bed and floor. Her daughter stirred. “Was anyone in your room last night?” Sheila whispered loudly.
Chevon cracked her eyes open and squinted, “No mommy!” Nobody came in here. Why? What’s wrong. Mommy! What’s wrong?” Alarmed at seeing the expression on her mother’s face. “Mommy?!” Chevon reached up to her head and felt the bare skin. She touched a loose lock of hair that had fallen over her face. Holding it between her forefinger and thumb, she slowly took it from her head and held it up in front of her own eyes. “Mommy! What happened to my hair?” Mommy!” She started to get hysterical. Sheila grabbed her, hugging her close. “What are we gonna do now? Your hair was our life!!! We need to figure this out. Get up right now!”
Carefully pushing antique wire framed eyeglasses up the narrow bridge of his nose, Leonard scoured the online estate sale listings. Selecting only the most upscale of neighborhoods, he perused photos of items until he found gold. Not just any gold, but liquid gold. Vintage liquor cabinets, bar carts, or wine cellars. Any of these would do. Making notes in a well-worn leather binder, he beamed with excitement at the possibilities that lay before him.
It was a peculiarly cool weekend in April that brought, to his delight, the advent of two simultaneous sales. Conveniently, they were happening within a mile from one another, and both offered magnificent potential.
He took his time as he dressed in his lucky shirt. A burgundy silk button down with small gold buttons. It had been a well-received gift years ago from an older wealthy woman in Vegas, with whom he’d had a sordid affair. That was a lifetime ago, but he still associated the shirt with good fortune. Looking into the mirror, he combed back his silver hair with a bit of Brylcreem. He smiled with pride, admiring his pompadour. At least he still had a full head of hair, unlike most men of his age. He had taken good care of himself, considering the set backs life had thrown his way.
The walk-up apartment was small, but tidy, and dimly lit. Leonard prefered low lighting, as it camouflaged the ever evolving lines on his face. He had been quite a handsome man in his prime. He liked to believe that his striking good looks had only gotten more “intense” with time. He picked up a bottle of his best French cologne, and dabbed a bit along his neck and wrists. Inhaling the rich fragrance, Leonard sighed with delight. The scent always took him back to his days in Paris. Picking up the leather binder, along with his keys, he headed out. Locking the door with a deep breath, he turned on his pointy leather boots, and quickly walked down the stairs. Along the avenue, a crisp breeze lifted his already tall pompadour to new heights. He liked the attention it attracted from the ladies passing by. He moved swiftly towards his destination, filled with sweet anticipation.
2799 Willow Avenue was the first stop. It was a delapidated old mansion. Apparently, the family had lived there for generations. However, a sudden tragedy had forced them to give up the property. Leonard entered the foyer, barely acknowledging the woman who greeted him. Making a beeline for the dining room, he headed straight for the majestic bar against the far wall. Dark mahogany carved wooden shelves stood fully stocked with various bottles and glassware. Leonard rudely pushed past a few fellow shoppers who were admiring a set of club chairs. He rushed behind the bar, with a cardboard box in hand, laid it on the bar counter, and started filling it with bottles. He did so methodically, shelf by shelf. When the box was full, he shouted out to whoever was listening, “box, box I need another box!” A couple of boxes were tossed in his direction, and he rapidly filled them with all of the remaining bottles on the shelves. Leaving it barren, only glassware and a few sundry items remained. At checkout he tried his best to be charming, and after some bargaining, got it all for a steal. Since he wanted to go on to the next sale, he asked if he could store the purchased items there until his return. The saleswoman noticeably rolled her eyes, mumbling, “of course Leonard, of course.” He smirked with satisfaction.
56 Hummingbird Drive turned out to be a much smaller home, but still very fine, and just waiting for his entrance. Again, Leonard rushed in, took a hard right, and went straight to the small bar by the fireplace. Not as grand as the first location, he still found about 14 bottles of alcohol, ranging from gin to a fine cognac, albeit slightly cloudy looking. He boxed these up, and took them to the check out. Again, he sweet talked the ladies, and paid a nominal price for the stash. He took the goods out the door, and headed back to the first location. At this point it was far too much to carry, so he called a cab, and waited outside with the 3 boxes of bottles.
Finally home, he lugged the boxes one by one up the stairs, and dragged them into his humble abode. Taking out the bottles, Leonard lined them up one by one, on the narrow kitchen counter, organizing them by types of liquor. He smiled with delight as he examined some of the rarer items he had scored. When he was finished, he picked up an old fashioned rotary phone and dialed. His hand trembled as he stuttered into the mouthpiece, “Hello, hello, Lucia? It’s me, Leonard. I’ve got a haul for you.” He paused, listening intently to the voice on the other end of the line. He ran his fingers thru his thick silver hair, smiling and closing his eyes. “Yes, yes, I got the white chartreuse you’ve been searching for.” He held is breath for her reaction, which was better than he had anticipated. He laughed out loud with excitement. “Yes, I’ll bring it downtown, along with the gins, some good ones, I think, as well as a fine bourbon. I did you proud, ma’am. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.” He hung up the phone and started whistling aloud as he sorted through the bottles, selecting 7 particular, and after a pause, adding an 8th. He placed them carefully into one of the smaller boxes, and headed out once again. Leonard rode in the cab down towards the avenues, the box of bottles next to him, secured by the seatbelt. It was getting dark by now, and the rain had started to fall. The streets shone black and slick ahead. As they reached the run down warehouse district, he yelled at the cabby to pull over in front of a dimly lit façade. On the dark wall, a tiny window appeared, lit with a soft red light. He paid the driver, got out, and carried the box up a few steps. At the window a woman’s face peered at him. She told him to come in, and suddenly a door opened.
As he entered, it was so dark, he could barely see. Soft music drifted from afar. As his vision adjusted, he saw the woman motion to him to follow her down a long corridor. They entered into a lounge with a long bar, lined with empty stools. A tall thin woman with a platinum bob, wearing a shimmering white velvet gown approached Leonard. As she got nearer, it was clear that she was much older than he had first thought. She reached out a well-manicured hand, “I’m Lucia. Finally we meet face to face. Let’s see what you’ve brought for me.” She peered into the box, and motioned him over to the bar. Reaching inside, she carefully unpacked the various bottles, and lined them up along the spotless counter. They sat side by side on the black leather barstools, and he waited patiently, as Lucia examined each bottle with a keen eye. As she traced a long fingenail over labels, it was evident that she was pleased. She gasped at the last bottle, the coveted white chartreuse. He smiled, “I told you, didn’t I?” “Yes, you did well, my friend. You will be compensated generously, and I will await your next delivery with eager anticipation.”
With that, she reached down into a small purse slung low around her slender hips, and pulled out a roll of cash. She discreetly counted out two thousand dollars, in hundred’s twice, then once again for good measure. She placed the rolled up bills in his outreached hand. He curled his fingers around the warm money, and tried to remain cool and collected, even though he was trembling with excitement. She took his arm and offered him a drink. “Perhaps a glass of champagne to celebrate the occasion?” Why not, he thought. After a pause, her eyes lit up as she caressed the rare liquor sitting in front of them, “perhaps we should share a thimble of the white chartreuse instead!” He agreed, and she called over to the barmaid to bring her a shot glass. She cautiously opened the beautiful vintage bottle and gingerly poured a minuscule amount of the pale yellow liquor. She lifted the glass towards Leonard’s lips, and he took a tiny sip, savoring the heady herbal flavors. She followed his lead, closing her eyes as she took a delicate taste, her full pink lips barely touching the glass. Suddenly, Leonard’s breath got caught in his throat, and she too began to gasp for air. Her eyes grew large with fright, and he stared back at her unable to speak.. Simultaneously, he slumped forward onto the bar face first, and Lucia slid elegantly down to the floor, a pile of velvet surrounding her body. The barmaid and another girl ran over, but it was too late. Both of the bodies lay there motionless and pale in the dim light. The barmaid picked up the bottle of white chartreuse, took a calculated whiff from the opening and gasped. A toxic fume caused her to choke. Apparently, it had been refilled with poison. In fact, shortly after this tragic happening, there was a report that the Willow Avenue estate owner had indeed poisoned his wife, shortly before killing himself. Although the source of the poison was never determined, it was strongly suspected that he had given her a toxic cocktail, moments before her sudden death.
Joey had been living his life as a kept man, and a gigolo on the side. It’s not something he planned on. It just sort of happened. Well, it happened the day he met Delores. She was a bawdy customer at the bar where he worked the closing shift. One night, like so many others, Delores had had one too many martinis, and, while pressing her sweating breasts over the edge of the wooden bar, she beckoned Joey over with a long red laquered talon. “Hey hon, ya think you wanna give me a ride tonite?” Joey, being the consummate professional, assumed she meant that she was too drunk to drive home the few blocks across the flat industrial town. He asked her to wait 10 minutes until the end of his shift.
Exiting the buiding, she held his strong arm, teetering on her stilettos through the parking lot. She pressed a car key into his hand, and he opened the door to her dilapidtated Cadillac. The scent of stale perfume and cigarettes permeated the interior. She told him to get into the drivers seat and take her home. As he fastened his seatbelt, she reached over and grabbed at his crotch. Joey was only 23, and Delores, well, she was definitely older than his mom, and perhaps even his gran.
The first time it happened in that Cadi, they just leant the seats back. Her excitement, triggered his ego, and he was addicted immediately. The scent of well-worn whole grain leather, White Diamonds, Benson & Hedges and Aquanet intoxicated him. This moment would remain with him for life.
Joey continued seeing Delores, initially in exchange for food, and meager trinkets. Later on he was given a watch, numerous shirts, socks, underwear, and once, an incredible pair of alligator boots. She lavished him with attention and occasionally, he would find a 100 dollar bill tucked into his wallet. He had a key to her house, and he came and went as he pleased. Delores was always available, except for Wednesday nights, for those were her “service” nights. He started to notice odd items around her home. There was an alter at the entryway, filled with embers and small metallic bones. In addition, she had a few strands of ancient looking beads, and unusual amulets strewn about on doorways, and hanging in corners. Now and then, she would burn something, which left a sour note lingering in the air.
One night, as they shared the giant bathtub, full of bubbles and red rose petals, she closed her eyes, leaned her head back. Slowly she opened her eyes to meet his. Staring for a few moments, she said “ It’s time.”…”Time for what?” Joey was confused. “You’re ready. “ Delores mesmerized him with her stare, as she caressed his strong arms. He really didn’t think much of it, because he always went along with her whims. She told him to keep next Wednesday open, and have an all black outfit ready. In fact, she said, she would get him something to wear.
A few days later, he got to her house to find a pair of black pants and black button down silk shirt laid out on the bed, along with shoes to match. He dressed in the outfit, and walked downstairs to the living room where Delores sat in an extravagant black velvet gown. She smiled with approval. “Come here, come baby.” He sat next to her, inhaling the scent of her potent fragrance. She stubbed out her cigarette in the overflowing ashtray. After offering him a drink, she took his hand in hers. Delores had beautiful hands. Long fingers, decorated with cocktail rings, which sparkled in the low light. She looked him in the eyes, “listen baby, this means everything to me, and I want you to know I’m doing it for you.” He smiled a weak smile, not sure what to make of her cryptic message.
The clock in the hallway struck 7 pm, and Delores startled. “Let’s go!” she told him. “We need to be there by 7:30.” He dutifully followed, feeling a bit numb from the drink she had given him.
Somehow they arrived at the service, and shuffled in behind a line of people all dressed in black. Upon closer observation, he realized that all of the people were women! He turned to ask Delores why, but she only stared straight ahead, expressionless. He thought he heard music playing. Either it was muffled, or he was drunk. As they reached the alter, he saw a cloaked priest or priestess, holding up a flask containing a deep red liquid. Further in the distance, he noticed a platform, with a sort of ditch around it, in which there appeared to be dark water flowing. Delores pressed him forward as his body resisted. He felt all eyes on him, and the humming began ever so subtly…a soft hum which gradually became an unbearable crecendo…hands were now touching his body, and massaging his arms and back, he was being pushed forward to the alter. The women swarmed and pressed inward….
The seasons were all cold, with one far colder than all the rest. Just as the ice finally turned to water, there was only a short period of time before it began to freeze over once more. It was a cruel cycle, but the people had acclimated. They relocated here following the last attack. The pain of losing loved ones through battle and separation was unspeakable. Each new settlement became a place to heal, regroup, and rebuild. Seasons brought cycles, and cycles brought children. The circle of life continued. Occasionally, something, or someone extraordinary happened.
It was during a particularly brutal winter, that a very special boy was born. A beautiful baby, whose dark brown eyes glittered from within. He was extremely alert, with a stare so intense, that anyone who met him felt the presence of something greater. He had been here before. They called him Achak, meaning “spirit”. As soon as he was able to walk, he began to run. Swift and stealth, it was said that he could reach destinations before any messages sent on smoke, or sound. He was only 8 years old when the elders called on him to become a messenger.
Achak had the innate ability to effortlessly navigate all sorts of terrain. He began by taking simple short treks to give messages to relatives and loved ones. Nobody this young had ever been entrusted with such a responsibility, but Achak was extraordinarily lithe, and wise beyond his years. Even at such a young age, he was given respect typically reserved for those many years his senior. Achak loved his people, and felt honored to be their protector. He would return to the camp exhausted, but after a good meal and rest, he always awoke invigorated and eager for whatever duty was requested of him next. It wasn’t long before he was sent on more serious journeys to warn of pending attacks.
By the time he was 10, he had done countless treks, traversed many hundreds of miles, and knew details of the lands that not many could claim to understand. Achak could meld with nature, blend into the forest, glide through the underbrush, and slip through streams and rivers undetected.
During the very coldest of months, he was sent out less frequently, as threats were fewer during the frigid chills. However, there arrived from the east, an urgent warning, and Achak was summoned to carry this message to the next encampment. This time, he had to prepare for the journey with extra layers of warmth. The women prepared food in small parcels, which was tied close to his waist so that it wouldn’t interfere with his movement and speed. The snow would provide his drinking water. As he fastened the fur hood snugly over his head, his mother came over to him. Although he was growing quickly, Achak was still a boy, slender and sinewy. She held him by his shoulders in front of her. Staring into his eyes, she said nothing, while saying everything. A tear made it’s way through her thick lashes, and rolled slowly down her soft cheek. She pulled him close, hugging him tight to her. He could feel her tremble as she tried not to cry.
It was early morning, but he needed to move fast in order to arrive before sundown. He knelt down, adjusting the snowshoe straps over his thick suede and fur boots. Standing and closing his eyes for a moment, he inhaled. As he pushed aside the heavy leather tarp, a blast of arctic air assaulted is face. He pulled up the thick buckskin collar, covering his mouth and nose. His mother watched in silence through the opening, as he headed out, a figure silhouetted against the blinding snowscape. She watched through a tiny gap, as he got smaller and smaller, finally becoming a speck in the distance. Sighing aloud, her breath leaked a stream of condensation into the frigid air outside. Stepping back, she disappeared behind the resealed tarp.
Gliding effortlessly across the top layer of the sparkling blanket of snow, Achak used economy of motion to conserve energy. Lean and limber, he raced in the direction of the encampment. There was no time to waste. As he moved across the vast plain, the sun rose higher and higher. The moment when it shone the brightest was the optimal time to take a short rest. Pausing near a riverbed, he heard running water beneath the ice. It had to be fast, because removing a glove would expose his hand to the arctic air. He quickly unfastened a small leather bag from his waist belt, carefully unfolding it. From inside, he took a couple of pieces of jerky, putting them in his mouth. Leaning down to reach a crack in the ice, he gathered a bit of water and snow with the small sac. Carefully taking small sips of the icy water, he chewed slowly, savoring the salty meat. This would give him the strength necessary to reach his destination. Putting the glove back on, Achak fastened the leather pouch around his waist once more. Just then, he paused, hearing a sound. It was distant. Or, was it near? Across the stream, thick brush obscured his vision. He heard another sound from the darkest place in that wooded area. Pinpointing the noise, he focused his vision, and saw the faint outline of a group of men. He breathed. Should he pretend not to see them, confront them, or simply run. Instinctively, he ran. The snowshoes moved his body, a whooshing sound with the impact of each step so loud, but his heartbeat even louder. Just as he had momentum going, a huge sound obliterated everything else, and the pain that came with it knocked Achak off of his feet. He felt the cold snow rise to meet his face, but the rest of his body felt warm, his back drenched with sweat. He couldn’t move, and the light turned to dark.
Hours passed. Achak was woken by something relentlessly pushing on the back of his neck. Groaning, he opened one eye. His face was numb, and he realized he was lying on his side in the snow. It was nighttime now, and the waning moon hid behind a cloud. Hearing a low growl right behind him, his heart began to race again. It was the deep slow growl of a wolf. Terrified at the sound, he realized that it was the wolf nudging his neck. At that moment, he could feel the heat of the animal’s hot breath against his collar. The pungent scent of the beast hung in the air around him.
Laying still, he listened to his own heart beating so fast, feeling as though it would spring out of his chest. He felt the sensation of the animal literally breathing down his neck. As his eyes adjusted to the dark night, Achak rolled his body over, ever so slowly to see the outline of a massive grey wolf standing next to him, staring intently with amber eyes. He gasped with alarm. The majestic creature had snow crystals encrusted along its dark grey and black fur, and its breath came out in white puffs against the darkness. At this moment, just when Achak thought his life was over, something unexpected happened. The giant grey wolf knelt down next to him, with a soft whimper. Instinctively, the boy slowly reached out a shaky gloved hand to touch the majestic creature’s soft grey mane of fur. Brushing away some of the small pieces of crusty snow, the wolf closed its eyes, and moved closer to Achak, leaning it’s body onto his. The weight was heavy, as the wolf was huge. He was bigger than Achek and easily weighed over 150 pounds, nearly double the boy’s weight.
The wolf nudged him some more, but as Achek tried to get up, a searing pain radiated across his back and down his leg. He cried out in agony, piercing the silence of the desolate night. The wolf nudged him again and leaned closer. Achak realized the wolf was offering him to climb onto its back. He reached up with both arms and grasped the dense fur collar, hoisting his weak body upwards. As the wolf rose up, it maneuvered so that the boy’s body was lifted, and it slowly stood up on all fours. Achek wrapped his arms tightly around the thick fur collar, and positioned his legs so that he wouldn’t fall off. His snowshoes still on, he let his legs hang on each side of the enormous wolf. Leaning his head down, he felt himself sinking into the dense, warm coat. He buried his face in the fur, relishing the musky odor and damp warmth rising from beneath. Just at the moment he was securely attached, the wolf began to run. He ran with a grace, unfamiliar to Achak. The motion was steady and powerful, yet safe and secure. Too exhausted and pained to wonder, Achak entrusted the wolf to take him wherever he was going. His eyes had adjusted to the night and as he lifted his head to look around, he saw the glowing plain stretching out in all directions. In the far distance he noticed a tiny glowing light. Too exhausted to keep his head up, Achak buried his head in the fur once again, and prayed that they would be safe. The motion of the wolf’s gait lulled him into a trance, and he forgot the pain, and even the very reason for his very being. Time passed, the heat of the body beneath him, radiated to thaw his aching limbs. The rhythmic breathing of the wolf kept time with the pace, and Achak felt one with all of nature. Time passed and he strained to lift his head once more. This time there were more lights, and he could make out the settlement outline under the starry sky. A blanket of fresh snow surrounded the encampment, and the pristine white was untouched by even a footprint. He smelled the scent of pine and burning wood. As they got closer, he heard faint voices carried on the wind. The pace of the wolf slowed, his panting louder now. Gradually they came to a gentle walk, and finally halted outside of the entryway. The wolf stood at attention and slowly sat, allowing Achak to slide down his back onto the soft snowy ground. He turned his majestic head to look at Achak with the glowing golden eyes. The boy reached his hand to touch the wolf’s nose and thick mane once more. The wolf closed its eyes. The boy slowly stood, although in great pain. As he walked toward the entry of the encampment, he called out to announce himself in a low voice. There was a rustle, and a tarp was pulled back. A tall man dressed in many layers of leathers and fur, stepped outside onto the snow. He stared at Achak and a smile crossed his lips. Achak turned around and the wolf was gone. The footprints in the pristine snow trailed away into the invisible distance. The man came forward and put his arm around the boy, ushering him inside. The warmth of the home enveloped the child. He was seated and given food and water. Women came in and tended to his wounds. They gave him fresh warm layers to wear, and made him lie down by the fire. He soon realized he was at his destination. He shared the warning message with the people. They thanked him for being so fast. There was plenty of time for them to relocate before the footmen arrived. They gave him a gift of a protective feather amulet, signifying flight and swiftness. The cluster of feathers, wrapped in suede strips, was strung with intricately detailed clay beads. He told them that the amulet really belonged to the wolf that had rescued him and carried him to the camp. They listened to his tale in disbelief, thinking he might just be delirious or exhausted. They told him to get rest before heading back at dawn. He insisted that his story was true, and he got up, heading to the doorway, asking them to come outside to see the tracks of the wolf as proof. When he pulled back the heavy leather drape, they looked out and saw nothing but a velvety coating of fresh snow. No wolf in sight. Achak felt deflated. Maybe he really did imagine the entire thing. Exhausted, he lay down on the soft bedding and fell into a dreamless sleep.
The scent of cooking woke him. He heard the elders talking in low voices. As he approached them, they stood up to thank him once more for his bravery. He was offered a meal, and given another layer of warmth to wear on the journey back. He adjusted the snowshoes, and wrapped the coating closely around his body. Stepping outside, a glaring sun met his eyes. Blinded by the snowscape, Achak set out to make his way back home. He searched again for footprints, but the night storm had erased any evidence of the previous evening. He began to move as fast as he could, but his injuries made it difficult to maintain his speed. He managed to get a good head start, but needed to pause and rest more frequently than usual. As he sat for a moment, taking a bite of the food, he heard the sound of footsteps. Turning around swiftly, he saw the beautiful grey wolf approaching across the plain. As it got closer, it slowed its steps, and sat next to Achak. They sat in silence together for a few moments. Then the wolf leaned down and Achak climbed onto the grey wolf’s back once more. Achak was home before dusk. The wolf instinctively left him off at the edge of the camp. Achak wrapped his arms around the heavy fur collar, inhaling the scent. With eyes squeezed tight in concentration, he spoke of his appreciation. Standing up once again, he walked towards the entrance to his home. Pausing, he turned around for a moment, only to see the trace of a powdery snow cloud drifting into the black sky. Tears formed in his eyes, as he called out signaling his arrival. His mother peeked out from behind the leather tarp, beaming as she saw her son. Opening the doorway, she reached out to brush snow and fur off of his coat as she welcomed him home.