From Black Ship to Ferry and Never Home Again

[A Short Story]

I unravel from my winding sheet for that is what it is, this flesh which harbors my soul in the same way my soul embraced the flesh in its wanderings like Ulysses aboard his black ships.

As I do, I spy my body at a slowly retreating distance, see its supine figure like a sculpture by Rodin, no, strike that, more like a painting by Caravaggio, the one of Paul struck down on his way to Damascus, every strained muscle in his body and lineament of his face expressing brute confrontation with Truth.

Yes, I capitalized it, or Him, Truth, a living Being, the source and embodiment of the absolute by virtue of His aseity and omnipotence, against whom I thought I could compete with my own truth, small case, t-r-u-t-h, to my own demise when I took up arms against any who would tell me not to heed the siren’s call, or the call of that master rhetorician Ulysses, alive in every age, in every town, in every social circle, school, temple or townhall, the sly, polished poet, a borrower or thief with pockets full of gold who says, “Let’s see what’s out there, so much to see, so much to experience, and oh, the things we’ll learn as we range unanchored to any known shore, pushing that thin envelope of body and spirit to the limit!”

He offered what we all yearn for, knowledge of the world, a wisdom that ordinary people (how we despise them!) in their ordinary little lives could never hope to find, when there’s a world of pure epicurean adventure led by your captain, my captain, let’s call him Ulysses.

I was twenty-nine, hardly naïve, yet naïve as a voter with a politician spinning promises, and so I left my home and went with him, my Ulysses, as ready as he with wit to parley at every Areopagus, eager to hear or spin every newfangled tale ever told, see every exotic sight to behold, by plane, by train, oh, the places to go, to experience every esoteric fad and sensation, and everywhere the dawn rose to the rooster’s call of Carpe diem and the night fell on the cries to transgress, transgress, every boundary, every limit, until my soul gave way from its moorings at the realization that I had gained nothing but lost everything.

Soon I’ll leave for Charon’s Ferry and I wish now – too late — for just one more voyage: a voyage I’ll never know.


Denise's Six Sentence Story Word Prompt is "range" so naturally my thoughts flew to that free-ranging (anti-)hero Ulysses and his place in Canto 26 of Dante's Inferno, Commedia. 

Canto 26 is one of my favorite cantos in the Inferno, so much being said here by Dante, revealing how much he too is tempted by the same passion as Ulysses whose supple philosophical genius and rhetorical skills are used to deceive the Trojans and ultimately lead to the doom of his own men as he leaves Ithaca, his home. They sail beyond the gates of Hercules where he and his men spy Mount Purgatory before “a whirlwind rose and hammered” at their ships sending them plunging beneath the ocean waves.

Continue reading “From Black Ship to Ferry and Never Home Again”

A Cynic’s Prayer

Image credit; Pavel Danilyuk@ Pexels

I don’t believe in you, don’t freak out,
god(s), or demi-gods, or goddess,
lol, you’re just words to me, like
psy
cho
lo
gy, (read it, it’s in a book)
of wanting things I can’t have,
help when I need it
a step up, a step down
a shout out, a call down,
but I’m too smart for you
I’ve
got
all
I
need
in
me, don’t fool yourself
that I’m praying when I’m posing
and rit-
ual-
izing,

Continue reading “A Cynic’s Prayer”

Come Hell or High Water (A Very Short Story)

Written for Sadje’s WDYS #157 photo prompt and Sammi’s Day 5 prompt of 13 Days of Samhain. Thanks to both for their inspiration to write this short story. Do check out Sammi Cox’s amusing serial mystery featuring Damon, the caretaker of a graveyard full of undead inhabitants. Click here for part 1. You won’t be disappointed.

She grew up looking at the world sideways, knowing if she saw it head-on she’d only see the mask, not the face outlined behind it. Better the warm, blemished skin than the plastic over it.

Never took anyone too seriously, neither. Not worth the trouble and trouble was all that ever brought. Better to know they’d break their word than be surprised when they did.

People wondered why she was always so placid. Why? Because she was never disappointed. And however bad folks were, they could be worse. However good they were today, it really didn’t pay to think they’d be the same tomorrow.

When the Imp came along, she adjusted. She was stuck with it. One day she opened her eyes and there it sat, twisting every nerve and joint in her body till it brought tears to her eyes.

She asked God about it. She said she felt like Job. And then she ended up covering her mouth like Job did when she realized there were things she didn’t need to know as long as God did.

The Imp turned the screws on her off and on. “I solemnly swear I’m up to no good,” it would say, as her footsteps got slower and slower. Then she’d get better. Then she’d get worse.

But she stopped looking at people sideways. “I solemnly swear I’m up to no good,” they’d tease, and bring her a pumpkin-face latte when she couldn’t get up in the morning.

The Imp kept up its mischief. They kept up their love. She kept thanking God for setting her straight, come hell or high water.


1 Corinthians 13:3-7, 12-13 (NIV)
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. …
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


Image credit: Valeriia @ Pexels

The Structure of Things

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Feeling a little ambitious today with three prompts for the price of one: Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneer’s photo prompt (100-word story), Sammi’s 13 Days of Samhain (“The Cheek of the Devil”) and Thursday’s Six Sentence Story (“Structure”). Enjoy!

Word/Sentence Count: 100 words/6 sentences; Genre: Fiction

The Structure of Things

“Mom, that lady was rude and you just let her walk without telling her off!!”

Ruth considers her outraged child.

She picks up the broken glass structure at her feet, says quietly, “I’ve always taught you to turn the other cheek, haven’t I? Someone’s got to be the first to take the hate, stop it from spreading, and I can, because Christ gives me that power.”

“But Mom, if you keep turning the other cheek, it just keeps getting bloodied!”

“Like our Master’s on the cross, and whose cheek would you rather have, Christ’s or the cheek of the Devil?”


Matthew 5:38-45:
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good,
and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

The (Other) Girl Next Door

I hear Dante pass, still fresh with the horror of the infernal pit he had risen from to see the stars once more. My breath catches again.

Does he see me? Now? Ever?

I’m no Beatrice. My face proves not salvific.

I had lived too long. She, too short a time.

Would you say to her, death is quite romantic? Or, death will immortalize you in terza rima? You would not say that of me, the one overlooked in search of another.

Here in purgatorio, my envious eyes are sewn shut. My mouth is not. Yet the voices in my ears speak generosity.

So I say, as he passes, The pain that twisted me to bitter envy I unloose to blessing. May it guide you to Beatrice. Nay, may it guide you to the God of love.

And the wires loosen from my eyes.


As a young boy, the poet Dante lived next door to Beatrice who, though he never spoke to her, he loved from afar, and to whom, through his love for her, he credits his spiritual and poetic journey. I have imagined in this piece of fiction, “the other girl next door” who never caught his attention but had fallen in love with him to no avail and to her own self-destruction.

Continue reading “The (Other) Girl Next Door”

The Light-Catcher’s Quest

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Rochelle asks that we use the photo prompt (© Roger Bultot)
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photo prompt © Roger Bultot

Genre: Fiction
Word Count: 99

The Light-Catcher’s Quest

Maisie gazes up at the light-catcher’s abode. She had tracked him down to this narrow street months ago, carefully observing his habits.

She still wonders why he’s here, when the comfortable far-palaces of Glinoraram are his for the asking, this youngest son of the king.

She was sent to bring him back, by force if necessary. Instead she finds herself discreetly helping him as Abaddon’s1 darkness grows heavier.

The dwellers on this dismal street need every light-scrap the light-catcher can find to give.

Emerging from his eyrie, his keen eyes meet hers knowingly. Did he know she loved him?


1The Hebrew term Abaddon (Hebrew: אֲבַדּוֹן‎ Avaddon, meaning “destruction”, “doom”), and its Greek equivalent Apollyon (Koinē Greek: Ἀπολλύων, Apollúōn meaning “Destroyer”) appear in the Bible as both a place of destruction and an archangel of the abyss. In the Hebrew Bible, abaddon is used with reference to a bottomless pit, often appearing alongside the place Sheol (שְׁאוֹל Šəʾōl), meaning the realm of the dead.

In the Book of Revelation of the New Testament, an angel called Abaddon is described as the king of an army of locusts; his name is first transcribed in Koine Greek (Revelation 9:11—”whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon,”) as Ἀβαδδών, and then translated Ἀπολλύων, Apollyon. The Vulgate and the Douay–Rheims Bible have additional notes not present in the Greek text, “in Latin Exterminans”, exterminans being the Latin word for “destroyer”.

Tales from the Beyond: Woodbury Piles No. 13

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Genre: Horror
Word Count: 100

Tales from the Beyond: Woodbury Piles No. 13

M.R. of Woodbury is “E-tonic” to Oxbridge friends. He retires nightly with a tonic, his Eton tie, and an e-book of M.R. James, his namesake, until McQuin, his uncommonly phlegmatic valet, comes to softly extinguish the lights. McQuin says he has “the mind of a nice child.”

Tonight he reads, “saw someone crawling towards him on all fours with his eye hanging out on his cheek,” when he does. See someone. Like that.

“McQuin, when you’ve husbanded the modicum of blood left in you . . . ” he says.

Just before McQuin slips its thin arms round his neck.


Today’s tale brought to you by the inspiration of that master of horror, M.R. James, whose story, “The Mezzotint,” is happily alluded to.

Judgment Day

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photo prompt © Ted Strutz

Genre: Realism
Word Count: 100

Narrator: dorahak Background: Arctic White Noise and Wind (link)

Judgment Day

Cur Deus homo.* Why? Blindly, we sail past the pinnacle of what we could be.

The cruise ship Earth is all fun and games. Whether the fun intended causes others misery or not isn’t part of the equation. The equation only includes playing gods, every individual for himself, the rich richer, the poor poorer because they were losers. Losers become slaves because that’s how the game is played.

Like the pharaohs of old, we will take the living into hell with us.

Out across the ice, I see Frankenstein chasing his monster. And the worm turns.

Judgment Day.


*Cur Deus Homo (Latin for “Why a God Human?”), usually translated Why God Became a Man, is a book written by Anselm of Canterbury in the period of 1094–1098. In this work he proposes the satisfaction view of the atonement.

In its preface, Anselm gives his reason for writing the book:

I have been often and most earnestly requested by many, both personally and by letter, that I would hand down in writing the proofs of a certain doctrine of our faith, which I am accustomed to give to inquirers; for they say that these proofs gratify them, and are considered sufficient. This they ask, not for the sake of attaining to faith by means of reason, but that they may be gladdened by understanding and meditating on those things which they believe; and that, as far as possible, they may be always ready to convince any one who demands of them a reason of that hope which is in us.

Preface to Cur Deus Homo, transl. Sidney Dean in St. Anselm
The beginning of the Cur Homo‘s prologue, from a 12th-century manuscript held at Lambeth Palace

Weathervane

photo prompt © Dale Rogerson
Genre: Realism 
Word count: 100
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Weathervane

She prays all night. The church doors had been surprisingly unlocked. Its interior, its peculiarly aged scent of wood, recalls her standing between her parents, singing in her clear soprano voice, afterwards accepting praise from teary-eyed elders.

How long since she’d sung a hymn? Her music had taken her a long way from the church’s doors.

At last she rises. Outside, she looks back at the steeple lit by the dawn, a rooster weathervane atop the cross.

Bending her head, she weeps to remember that even Peter1 had denied his Lord three times before the rooster crowed. And been forgiven.


1Mark 14:27-31, 66-72 (NIV)
“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:
‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’[Zech. 13:7]
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today–yes, tonight–before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. …
[After Jesus’ arrest] While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by.
When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.
But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.
When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.”
Again he denied it.
After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”
He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”
Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.
Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.”
And he broke down and wept.

Trade-off

PHOTO PROMPT© Liz Young
Genre: Realism; Word count: 100
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Trade-off

— It looks fabulous!
— What does?
— Isn’t that heaven?
— Those are elevators.
— Can I go on one?
— No. You have to take the stairs. You don’t have a golden pass.
— Why not?
— You can’t afford it.
— But I have money!
— It’s not just money. It’s talking a certain way, shopping at the approved stores, socializing with the proper sort, voting for the prescribed party.
— Well, I’ll do all those things then.
— Okay. But first I have to tape your mouth shut, blindfold you, tie up your legs and lobotomize you.
— And then I’ll get to take the golden elevators?
— Yes.
— Okay.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

photo prompt © Krista Strutz

Knowing Me, Knowing You

I watched him.

Rather queer really, how his eyes held the same question as my nestlings when they dared to look over the edge of their eyrie.

Here was a grown man suddenly struck by the mystery of being: “I see the eagle. The eagle sees me. We see each other. Why?”

This man meant nothing to me yet I pitied him as he drifted past on his piece of wood.

I raised my pinions, taking flight on the warm current of wind. There was only one mystery that mattered: how to know the One who freely gave us life.

Genre: Realism; Word count: 100
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Rivers

PHOTO PROMPT © Penny Gadd
Genre: Realism; Word count: 100
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Rivers

The first murder set it into motion, the river of death running red with blood, black with vengeance and lust. This rivulet was one of many winding their way past graveyards. At this bend, she kissed him goodbye for the last time. Just twenty and off to war.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of death
Thou art with me . . . .”¹

Once she had thought that death had the run of the land. Now sitting on the bank, praying with her daughter before beginning her home school lessons, she knew there was also a river of life.


1Psalm 23 [A Psalm of David.] (KJV)

The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Waiting for Michaux-Perreaux

photo prompt: Brenda Cox

Read more about the Michaux-Perreaux here, a French bicycle company that later invented the steam velocipede, one of three precursors to the modern motorcycle. I chose Michaux-Perraux for its rhyming allusion to Godot in this semi-allegory.

Genre: allegory; Word count: 100
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Waiting For Michaux-Perreaux

Every day, after work, the old cleaning woman sat on the bench staring at the Michaux-Perraux half in, half out of the building’s side. She was as much an oddity as the bicycle. Sometimes she was seen wiping tears away. Usually she sat poised expectantly. Nothing ever happened. Then, bowing her head, she would walk slowly away.

One day, an earthquake shook the town. The building was evacuated. As everyone watched, debris began falling, the wall with the bicycle cracked, and people screamed and ran.

All except the old woman.

The bicycle fell loose. Smiling, she rode it home.

Tomato Soup for You

Heavenly Father,

I’ve always stood out. Indian child. Small town. No friends really. A lonely thing with a big moon that followed her. I thought about you a lot. Didn’t know you thought about me too. You know the story. You loved me even when I didn’t.  I wanted to DO something. Never did. I trained with pretty great chefs, one from Paris. They agreed all I did right was making tomato soup. What could I do? I opened a stand-out “All-Things-Tomato” take-out. Some can pay. Some can’t. I do it for You, Lord. May it be to Your glory.

Photo © Dale Rogerson. Click her name for more on the photo.
For Rochelle Wisoff-Field's Friday Fictioneers where we write in any genre in 100 words or less. Click on the frog and join in!
 

The Mole People

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields very kindly invites us to join the Friday Fictioneers in their weekly creative quests of a hundred words or less prompted by a photo. Click here and join in! Photo prompt © Anne Higa  

The Mole People

In the underground caves we lived the squalor that passed for life
Each of us coveting the other’s baubles, driven by transient desires
One took another’s wife, someone her neighbor’s pearl of contentment
Deceived and deceiving we lived as opulent moles in a darkness unrelenting.

We were aware of an abundant life above ground, one richer in life and meaning
We yearned to quench ourselves in the unfathomable joy of its Light pouring
Through the dim recesses of our shadowed being, but mechanically going to and fro
We multiplied our labors seeking promised pleasure in glinting mirrors of craving eyes.


Dear reader: A little background to the above poem. In reading the 20th-century philosopher René Girard, one can’t help but be struck by how the last of the Ten Commandments focuses exclusively on covetous desire, something that the second tablet of the law enumerates to a certain extent. Thou shalt not covet. Girard finds the breaking of this law to be the root of violence in every culture. Here’s how he explains his theory of mimetic desire:

In reading the tenth commandment one has the impression of being present at the intellectual process of its elaboration. To prevent people from fighting, the lawgiver seeks at first to forbid all the objects about which they ceaselessly fight, and he decides to make a list of these. However, he quickly perceives that the objects are too numerous: he cannot enumerate all of them. So he interrupts himself in the process, gives up focusing on the objects that keep changing anyway, and he turns to what never changes. Or rather, he turns to that one who is always present, the neighbor. One always desires whatever belongs to that one, the neighbor. Since the objects we should not desire and nevertheless do desire always belong to the neighbor, it is clearly the neighbor who renders them desirable. In the formulation of the prohibition, the neighbor must take the place of the objects, and indeed he does take their place in the last phrase of the sentence that prohibits no longer objects enumerated one by one but “anything that belongs to him [the neighbor].” What the tenth commandment sketches, without defining it explicitly, is a fundamental revolution in the understanding of desire. We assume that desire is objective or subjective, but in reality it rests on a third party who gives value to the objects. This third party is usually the one who is closest, the neighbor. To maintain peace between human beings, it is essential to define prohibitions in light of this extremely significant fact: our neighbor is the model for our desires. This is what I call mimetic desire.

René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, pp. 9-10. (Click on the title for more of this excerpt.)

Humble Singh and the Giddy Widow: A Good Friday Story

It was Good Friday morning and Humble Singh was watching the clock.

He had done this every Good Friday for as long as he could remember, even while his wife, Millie, was still alive and before he had sold his business and moved to live with his son and his family.

It was a quarter to nine. Soon Jesus would arrive, cross-laden, at Golgotha. His face is beaten to a pulp, Jewish and Gentile spit mingles with his blood, and he is struggling with exhaustion and pain as long strips of deeply scored flesh lie open on his back from the scourging, and every nerve in his body screams in anticipation of the crucifixion. The soldiers hurry him along. They conscript a bystander to carry the horizontal beam on his back.

Ten till. Humble sat in his sitting room at the back of the house. Suddenly he leapt up and went into the back garden. Red tulips. Purple hyacinths. Large burgundy magnolia buds like the bruises that covered Christ’s body. The Roman soldiers had mocked him with a purple robe and a crown of thorns while beating him repeatedly. The Jewish priests and their hitting, spitting and slapping needed their scorn driven home. But it was their hour of shame. “His blood be on us and on our children!” the crowd had cried. The mob must have its victim. Even if that victim was pure, blameless. The Lamb of God.

A minute till nine. They lie him down, stripped, arms held down on the cross beam. Humble looks up at a movement in the shrubbery. A bunny had scurried through the open garden gate. Humble hurries to close it.  Piercing nails. Blood running free. Writhing agony. Joints stretching in excruciating torture. The crowd gathers round. Women sob. Many watch in satisfaction.

“Humble! Yoo hoo, Humble!” a woman’s voice sings out. It was Prithi, known in the predominantly Asian neighborhood as the “Giddy Widow.” She approaches him with a broad smile and with nowhere to run, unlike the bunny, Humble returns her greeting. She comes into the garden, her heels clicking on the pavement, bangles bouncing on attractively plump arms and her rouged face a pantomime of coquetry.

They wander around the garden, Prithi chatty, Humble surreptitiously checking his watch. It was a large garden, professionally tended, an arbor here, a fish pond there, a large oak in the middle of the grounds, shady trees of cherry, plum, and maple. No olive trees. Unlike that garden where Christ sweated huge drops of blood at what he would be enduring today. “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

Continue reading “Humble Singh and the Giddy Widow: A Good Friday Story”

The Burlap Bag

One wintry Thursday morning, under a queer blurry sky, an old woman trekked down a bustling city street with an unsightly burlap bag hanging from her shoulder. The people that passed her noted her appearance which seemed awfully ordinary except for the bag, of course, which couldn’t possibly be a handbag.

Every once in a while she would stop and ask a passerby something, then shake her head and keep walking. This happened from early morning to evening so that the people who passed her while on their way to the office or store would pass her again on their way back. The ones she had already stopped and spoken with would give her a wide berth more often than not. She really did seem strange, but in a familiar sort of way.

Continue reading “The Burlap Bag”