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Explore the concept of Infinity in a Poem
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse

Beyond my view

Dusk’s silence amplifies my choice to walk it,

this gravel path with its given end.

My followers, if any, must leap the boulders

I so carelessly dislodge.

‘If only’ sounds so bitter sad.

What party are we invited to on this horrid hill,

this incline without a pleasant bend?

So keen for a view, if any, of a down-hill slope

I so naively ask for.

Mountains may dwarf this hill.

---------------------------------------

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017

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Explore the concept of Infinity in a Poem
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse
Beyond my view
Dusk’s silence amplifies my choice to walk it,
this gravel path with its given end.
My followers, if any, must leap the boulders
I so carelessly dislodge.

‘If only’ sounds so bitter sad.

What party are we invited to on this horrid hill,
this incline without a pleasant bend?
So keen for a view, if any, of a down-hill slope
I so naively ask for.

Mountains may dwarf this hill.


---------------------------------------
(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017


10
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Write an R-rated short story.
Written by casteleijn in portal Fiction

Re-reborn

“Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The letter

He shivers while sweat dries on his naked back. He puts his pen down. He stares at his trembling hands, while red blinking light hides them in the darkening night, only to expose them again as blood stained instruments. A dog jumps up when the man gets up with a grunt from behind the desk to get a shirt and close the window.

His pack leader, master and friend is alright, satisfied he lays down again with a sigh. Why not go for a walk? The thought makes his tail wag, but when master sits down to stare on a piece of paper, there is nothing to do but to turn around and close his eyes.

The dog’s sigh breaks the silence, then a desk-light clicks on, replacing the red blinking light with a bright spot on the paper. His nightmare in words, seconds after, now as if a lifetime ago. Fragments of thoughts float away as wisps on every breath, but framed in virgin white jump at him the words in deep, deep black:

“I am under the surface under the crust of the earth. Above there are people walking, people living. Above there are people eating, working, fucking, sweating, killing, dreaming, stacking one day on top of the other. They do not know that I am here. They do not know that I try to save them. Ungrateful they crawl over my back while they do what they do without reason. It is hot. It is very warm here. Strong arms are working here, and also I. Occasionally I utter a command, but mostly work silent. It is very noisy here; there is a lot of noise. The surface is not strong. Above me there are people walking, people living. Big steel beams are supporting the surface, but sometimes they fall. It is very gray here and sometimes fire shoots past me. The beams fall sometimes, we work, I work. We repair, we take care that the surface does not fall; we know that otherwise the whole planet will fold and disappear. The walking people do not realize, the living people do not realize. I am tired, but more beams are falling. We are with too few, even though more join in. We may be too late, even though time stretches forward. Beams are always falling, always small parts collapse, but it happens more and more; it happens more often. It gets warmer here, we are working harder. More beams are falling and take more beams down in their fall. I look down and see the infinite structure underneath me, while beams take our beams in their fall. More deeper, more deeper than life it feels.

Fire shoots past me. I command more, more beams are falling. Fire flares and burns those besides me, while commands are thrown at me, like flicks of a whip. Blood does drip from my head. People above do not realize. I am moving in all directions and everywhere beams are falling. The pressure from the top is increasing and more beams fall and fall, ‘we cannot hold it anymore,’ someone screams. He is supporting beams with his back. Steel on flesh, blood in-between. More people have to support. More beams fall. People who walk, and people who work sink sometimes. People who live do not know, and pray. Do they pray to us? More beams fall around me and I want to catch them and to support them. It does not work! Slowly around me the structure crumbles, it collapses. People who walk and live do not understand and panic. Beams are all around me, ‘we can not hold it anymore,’ so much yelling, screaming, pain, ‘we can not hold it anymore.’ Everything caves in, we fall; darkness crushes my final light.”

The man pushes the paper away and his chair back. There it is: the words to the illusive dream impossible to grasp the first three times around. He shakes his head. From these words he does not get the same urge to act as when he woke up. A flick of the wrist, a habit practiced numerous times a day, presents his watch. Ten minutes after 2. ‘In the fucking morning.’ The man informs his dog. The dog gets up. The poor thing thinks is walky-walky-time. It is not. It is time for a leak. In the bathroom mirror a grey face stares back at him. ‘Come on, fucker, snap out of it,’ he mumbles at his reflection, which just seems to grin back at him. What does he know that he himself does not?

Not enough sleep shows on his face the next morning. It shows while shaving, it shows while brushing his teeth, it shows in the shop windows on the morning walk. The worn out, pounding headache replaces the feeling of well-being. The smell of fresh bakery-bread is hidden by the smell of rotting vegetables from the restaurant’s dumpsters. The feeling of an unsteady pavement gives the feeling of a soft rubber fun-house floor. It brings out images of the dream.

‘Hé watch out dumbass!’ A blur hits master in the shoulder, the master-dog-leash disconnects. The dog waits while his master gets up. The walk is great! Such nice smells, such great weather. But master is not well, so it seems. Better give a lick for support…

Later at work, blares of radio-sounds shelter the music so well hidden. A daze of tasks hides the words equally well. ‘Wow Anderson, did you get no sleep last night? What was her name?’ Boss Palmer is snickering. Anderson can muster a smile. Some normality fills the day. ‘Didn’t catch her first name, but I am sure her last name was Palmer,’ and grins while the wrench hits the wall behind him. A siren. Break time. Coffee and a smoke. Fresh air and concentration, it all pushes away the itch, the scratch, and the evil that lurks. But the light wanes, the lurker is patient and walks in shadows. The day passes fast, it is filled with things to do. The empty space in Anderson’s brain, the place where no thought passes is a fortress, strong and lined with curtains showing skulls and bones to scare the evil from the outside world. White noise. Anderson whistles while he works, a tune not unlike the call of the banshee, but he does not know it. Co-workers shiver when Anderson walks by, the creepy tune and dull stare supported by dark circles invades their space and pushes away the normal, the comfort.

‘What has happened to him? A few weeks ago I talked to him and everything seemed fine.’ Whispers in the corridor.

‘Did you see he is wearing the same pants now for 2 weeks? No really that stain behind his knee was there for at least two weeks. Just pay attention to it from now on.‘ Rumors at the lunch table.

‘I have heard he lost his wife recently.’ Lies while fetching coffee.

Anderson is oblivious to whispers, rumors and lies. It is the final siren that signals the end of something and the start of something else. Most co-workers smile and are happy to leave to go home. Family, their cats, a contrast to work in the factory, but Anderson stands at his bench, until Palmer shunts him out with kind words that repel Anderson from his location, as water on wax paper.

‘Come dear fellow, it is time to go home. I know you had some trouble sleeping lately.’ Palmer scribbles something on a crumbled piece of paper, ‘here the number of my physician, he did wonders for my wife when she had insomnia. Visit him, it’s an order. I cannot have accidents here due to zombie brains.’

The good intent sends shivers of revulsion up Anderson’s spine. “Thanks boss, I will make an appointment as soon as possible. See ya tomorrow.’

Outside the light fades, soft pinks and reds grill the clouds and a melancholy enters Anderson while he watches this event. He puts up his hood and hands in his pocket, and walks to the train station. People avoid him instinctively as if he is wearing a leper’s bell, but Anderson’s brain does not think of charity or a rotting disease. His mind is on the white noise space, when he spots a face across the street. To Anderson the universe is quickly dipped in molasses, to the universe Anderson just stopped dead in his tracks. Other occupants of Anderson’s universe flow around Anderson as a leash of deer around a rock. Across the street a man mimics Anderson’s moves, his face grey with dull eyes. Then Anderson recognizes him, the “steel on flesh, blood in-between” guy from his dream. Is it possible? How is it possible? Anderson slowly raises his hand, slow motion in slow motion that crashes down in an instant like a glass pane shattering on the concrete sidewalk. One small step, a horn, a loud thud, screeching tires, screams of people, Anderson with his hand raised, a streak of blood and more on tarmacadam, the smell of burning rubber from the city bus. Everybody halts while time has its normality.

Anderson’s falls to one knee. The absurdity of the situation is filled with the rational response: a vile mixture of vomit finds the gutter. His head spins. He needs to leave, get out. The dog needs a walk. ‘I… I need to go.’ The rock moves away from the “food-plot” through the stagnant leash of deer. All staring at the headlights of death displayed before them. Unable to move. Anderson boards a train, finds his apartment, and closes the door. The vault shuts out the noise. A happy dog puts his wet nose in his hand. Is this home? On the desk under a spotlight lies the letter from his brain. How does evil sprout?

#

“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight.” - Marcus Aurelius

The field

The dog looks up, a sudden sound and he gets up. It is master who woke himself up again. He tilts his head to see how master walks in. The vacant look in master’s eyes says enough and after a few circles the dog lies down. Master should get some sleep. It is dark.

A sound, a sharp inhale. Anderson sits up fast, it is his spring-loaded back drenched in sweat. Anderson woke himself up again. He gets out of bed quickly and even dog knows, it is late and time to sleep. Anderson cannot sleep, again the dream. So many nights the same dream. Anderson clicks on the spotlight to see the piece of paper. He sits and reads the text over and over again. There he is. ‘please please, do not forget him.’ Anderson is whispering. Even the dog does not care, and the outside city life’s mocking sounds are faint efforts this night. Anderson taps on the paper, ‘there he is! I remember him. He stepped…” Anderson does not finish his sentence. He had gone missing, always he had stood there: the hero with the beam on his back, steel on flesh, blood buffering the pain, but not this night. Not for many a night the bloody tarmacadam-smear, once man, once his friend under the surface was not there. He is not there. Again in his dream he is not there. Anderson moves sluggish into the bathroom. A splash of water on his unshaven face, a grimace reflection knows more than he does. Anderson swats a fly away from his face, and annoyed with the buzzing sound he gets a large towel. With a yawn the towel becomes a new under sheet, for the remaining hours a new sponge.

Morning. The city greets them warm, jolly the dog is walking next to master, fresh smells in the air, other dogs to sniff, wet dew on the grass, bright morning sun and warm weather, a bounce in his step. Life cannot be more wonderful. Come master, do you hear that! And did you see that! Wow did you smell that?

Anderson’s eyes are on the pavement, the warm heat already this early in the morning annoys him, the city reeks of decay and the three-day strike of city workers does not help. ‘Who should do their job already and clean the goddamn streets, I get paid for something I do not like to do.’ Anderson talks to his dog or random people on the street. Anderson sees no faces of people, and people do not want to see Anderson’s face or smell his smelly smells, then a tap on his shoulder.

Anderson looks up. They are under a bridge along the river, not his normal route, although familiar. Anderson sees a man. His groggy mind is full with painkillers. Through blinking teary eyes against the bright sun all he sees is a dark coat.

‘Get the fuck away from me, creep.’ Anderson is a delight in conversation these days. The man shakes his head. His raspy voice sounds familiar. Images of flames shooting past him come to mind.

‘No, no, I am not a skulk, it is you. You do not belong here, come down, we do need you; the struggle is not over. Your solution will not work. I cannot be here, but you need to be warned!’

Anderson pinches the top of his nose with one hand while his squeezes his eyes tight. Dog is barking at something. A damn squirrel? That guy! Anderson looks up. Phantoms, snippets of light, shadows in which to walk. Where is that damn shadow walker? ‘Who the fuck is HERE!’ Anderson squads down, dog nuzzles up. Some homeless people ignore him, they know better. Anderson’s headache is back and pounding his skull jack-hammer style. Time to go home. The day is a blur.

The dog looks up, a sudden sound and he is up. The hairs in the neck are up. A stranger enters the room. Who is that man, where is master? Come! Come master! Danger, danger!

Anderson enters the room sluggishly. Dog is out of his fucking mind. He stares at his dog, a snap of teeth, loud barks. Ready for the attack. ‘Quiet stupid dog, it is me. I swear the whole fucking world is going fucking insane. Quiet!’ He kneels down and then dog calms down, there is contact. They know each other and all is well. Anderson is up for the night.

He clicks on the spotlight to look at the piece of paper. He sits and reads the text over and over again. More small things are changing, voices, angles of the beams, the dream-faces around him are ever more sharp, while faces in the street more and more blurry. His cliché-move into the bathroom, his face wet now. Swatting away flies. Morning. Day. Night.

A sound, a sharp inhale. Anderson is standing in a vacant lot drenched in sweat. Left, in front, and right are blind walls. A building ripped out of the city with force, amputated. It is dark, behind him noises of the city, a far away siren. A barking dog. Cats going at it. He woke himself up, again. ‘Where the fuck am I?’ He kneels down in the mulled sand. Streetlights kiss his hands, his red blood stained hands. His mind’s eye sees himself at his desk, the first night, red blinking light. Now he sits alone, drizzle covering his skin.

It takes hours to drag his body out of that field and his head out of the fog. Anderson finds a muddy puddle and washes his arms and hands. In a fury he rips of his shirt and rips it to pieces. His singlet tie-died with dark red stains. Anderson takes it off and flings it away. Blood on his pants. ‘Fuck.’ Anderson’s feels the earth move under his feet. Is het sinking? ‘Or I’m fucking losing it.’ He rubs mud over his jeans to mask the blood. Shirtless, wet, covered in mud he is more invisible than a legless beggar at the train station. It takes a few blocks before he recognizes where he is. Only blocks away from his apartment, but he is more on the wrong side of the tracks. Even badass gang members do not see him, hidden from sight, walking in the shadows. A walker of shadows to indicate where light is. The contrasting color of happiness.

‘Ssss,’ a hissing noise travels with Anderson who halts. ‘Now what,’ talking to himself give him more breathing space and less of a crowd. A man stands over him, then he speaks. That guy! ‘Motherfu…’ Anderson is cut off.

‘Ssss, listen,’ the dark coat darker than the shadows, the contrasting color of shadows is even darker, ‘you must listen, come with me. You took his place. Your dog knows what you know. Come with me now.’

Anderson halts, frozen. Is this really happening? Adrenaline pumping, sounds dim, the focus is on escape. Anderson blinks only to dash off an instant later. His panic fueled sprint is terrifying to the side-walkers in the bright city lights. “Why can the meth addicts not stay hidden in the shadows where they can die away from our happiness?” The door, keys on the floor, his growling dog, more comforting words, and the long man-dog hug hides away the world, the deep feeling of truth that feeds panic to the heart. Roots take hold in blood filled sand.

#

“Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.”

- Sigmund Freud

The nightmare

Anderson wakes up and to his surprise it is morning. Cold air flows into the apartment through the open window. It flows over his exposed legs while he cannot remember if he had the dream last night or not. Somewhere from very far a super annoying sound, it drills deeper and deeper in his head, into his brain, while it grows louder and more intense. ‘Fuck, my phone.’ He gets up groggily, enters the living room, and digs around under some pizza boxes to find a pile of clothes, a couch and under all that, his phone.

‘Yeah ‘allo. Who is this on the most ungodly hour?’

‘Anderson? Is that you? Are you ok? You have not been at work for over a week.’ Palmer’s voice sounds genuine and sincere.

Anderson tastes vomit in his mouth. This compassion is killing him. In the background factory noises and voices, sounds like break-time. Anderson walks to the kitchen in the hope to find some food.

‘Yeah listen, eh, boss, I got this horrible infection... Eh… you know it is to embarrassing to talk about it over the phone. I meant to send a doctor’s note, but … walking is hard so… You know I got to go really, I got to put some cream on it, ok?’

Anderson holds his phone away from his head as if this call is giving him brain cancer on the spot and while Palmer whispers from afar: ‘get well, I will call you in a few days…’, he dunks his phone in a pan filled with water and some week old spaghetti something. 

‘Fucking dick, calling me like that.’

Night. The darkness is a blanket that itches and hides. Anderson, spade in hand, looks to the left. ‘What the…’ A dog, it comes out of nowhere. Its hair is up, its teeth exposed through its visible breath. A low growl, head down, it is ready for the attack. Anderson is invading its space. The tension is mounting. A standoff is as likely as the universe ignoring entropy. Swirls of steam come of Anderson’s body, hot, sticky and sweaty. “A great, I even have time to observe this bullshit.” It leaps teeth first. Anderson steps back and swings. A dull plunk is followed by a whimper. Anderson moves fast, he is over it now, and it will suffer, this asshole dog will be turned insight out slowly and suffer. He shifts the spade and drives its blunt tip into the skull of the dog. A sickening crack, a last loud whine, and its high pitched sound echoes between the three walls around him.

The field, Anderson finds himself in the field and can just barely muster the willpower to pull out the spade. Dark blood slowly pools out of the caved head while the dog falls back on the mud. Anderson kneels down and cradles his puppy, his dog, his companion, while tears streak his dirty face. The body is still warm, the memories fresh.

Infinity bestowed, a timeless hug is interrupted by that small shift. The earth moved. A small sinking feeling in the stomach wakes him up. He looks around him, still darkness, but far off grays, desperately longing to be purple, red and gold, knock on night’s door. Move on! Time for a new age. he drops his dog in disbelieve, again he finds himself in this field covered in blood, but with proof this time of its origin. He crawls away and vomits. Vile deeds evoke vileness. Anderson stumbles to his feet, barely remembers to cover himself in dirt and finds himself in front of his apartment door. Silence with the rhythmic buzz of TL-tubes surrounds him. Mud tracks up to here, and a key in hand; Anderson waits a while before he goes through the door.

A sound, a sharp inhale. Anderson sits up fast, it is his spring-loaded back, again drenched in sweat. Nothing changes and everything changes always. Static flux gives pounding headaches. He gets up, groggy as always and does his signature move to the bathroom, a move so imprinted in the memory of the universe it has become a constant: the ‘Anderson constant’. ‘Where is that filthy dog.’ He mumbles his way in to the living room. TV is on, static, ‘some fucker cut the cable.’ Garbage, pizza boxes, used coffee filters, clothes, and a clean desk. Spotlight on a piece of paper: the highlight of the room. He opens the door to the bathroom, loads of flies, a grey unshaven face, and cheeks sunken in. A version of Anderson is staring at Anderson. “What the fuck is that smell”, Anderson is Anderson, clear and sharp. The putrid smell of a rotting rat and Anderson is back. He slides back the shower curtain, and instantly vomits all over himself. There the proof of the smell: another person. No, it is the memory of person, or maybe almost a homeopathic memory of a person. A bodily imprint on the space around Anderson, but mutilated, gory and the breeding ground of flies. Anderson vomits again and backs away from the horror. He hits his head on the sink, and claws his way out of his bathroom into the filth of the living room. A mouse runs of, the city outside alive and noisy, and the fresh air a reminder of everyday things. He almost makes it to the desk before he passes out.

Anderson wakes up on his stomach, under his face is a damp piece of cardboard. He is not in his room. Cold air flows over him and he shivers. His grand view a dumpster against a brick wall. The smell is horrible. He wipes some drool of his face, out of his beard and gets up. He stumbles, his knees are weak. That smell. Images of his dog, his dead dog’s crushed skull, that body in the bathtub, his dream, that damn dream flash by. They are there with him in the shadows, when he blinks, when his eyes are closed. That putrid smell again. With a chill around his heart Anderson approaches the dumpster, the chill chokes his heart when he opens it, then bile almost chokes him while the smell gets into his brain. His disrespectful way of saying “fuck, I am sorry”. He stares at the pile of garbage and in it is the handy-work of Anderson. He knows it now; it was his doing. Anderson’s heart skips beats and races as he stares at another mutilated body, then at his hands and he falls to the floor. His knees buckle, his chin bounces of the edge of the container, and splits open his lip. Blood in the alley-of-filth, blood on his hands. Again he finds himself on his knees staring at his blood stained hand. ‘Jesus…fucking…Christ, that hurts…’ Anderson holds his chin and breaks down. His wails and loud crying adds to the picturesque feeling of the grime, filth filled alley, complement by the smells of garbage and a rotting body. Self-pity washes over Anderson. Of all the places he ended up “why here”? The forgiving alley approves in silence. The outside world of the outer-alley-city mocks them both.

No mud to cover up here, no water to wash the hands in innocence. Guilty as charged. The burning sun peaks slowly into the alley to judge Anderson’s evil soul. He crawls towards it to accept its judgment and bumps into a pile of old newspapers, still bound, tossed aside by a paperboy’s fraudulent “delivery” to his loving customers. It is through teary eyes that Anderson stares back at himself, that smug face from the mirror, now sneering at him from the front page: “Who has seen W.Q. Anderson, a.k.a. the Westside torture killer”. The hammer falls, the burning sun on him, the spotlight is on him. He stumbles to his feet and scuffles out of the alley, into the light of the sidewalk. The space where people avoid him ever since the letter came. He looks back at the dark alleyway. Was that the man in the black coat, did he hide into the shadows again? Anderson blinks his eyes into the sun. People avoid the skinny, filthy moving thing that hinders their important movements. Anderson’s foamy mumblings from his cracked lips does not help either.

‘People walking, people living. People are eating, working, fucking, sweating, killing, dreaming, stacking one day on top of the other. I am here. I am here. Don’t you see I am trying to save you! It is so hot in the sun. See me, I am here. The world will end I am telling you. You ungrateful bitches. People are walking, living. You walking people do not know. I am so tired. More beams are falling. It is too late. It will be too late. We are so deep, so much deeper.’

People move around him, do not recognize him, do not listen, do not want to see him, and the people they do not care. Then he spots a face across the street. Déjà vu, Anderson’s universe is dipped in molasses, to the universe Anderson just stopped dead in his tracks. The people that do not know, the people that do not care flow around him. Across the street a man mimics Anderson’s moves, another grey face with dull eyes. Anderson slowly raises his hand, slow motion in slow motion that ends in an instant when Anderson steps in front of a speeding delivery truck. It is evil’s flower that makes us fruit.

#

END

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2014 - 2017

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Written by casteleijn in portal Fiction
Re-reborn
“Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The letter

He shivers while sweat dries on his naked back. He puts his pen down. He stares at his trembling hands, while red blinking light hides them in the darkening night, only to expose them again as blood stained instruments. A dog jumps up when the man gets up with a grunt from behind the desk to get a shirt and close the window.
His pack leader, master and friend is alright, satisfied he lays down again with a sigh. Why not go for a walk? The thought makes his tail wag, but when master sits down to stare on a piece of paper, there is nothing to do but to turn around and close his eyes.
The dog’s sigh breaks the silence, then a desk-light clicks on, replacing the red blinking light with a bright spot on the paper. His nightmare in words, seconds after, now as if a lifetime ago. Fragments of thoughts float away as wisps on every breath, but framed in virgin white jump at him the words in deep, deep black:

“I am under the surface under the crust of the earth. Above there are people walking, people living. Above there are people eating, working, fucking, sweating, killing, dreaming, stacking one day on top of the other. They do not know that I am here. They do not know that I try to save them. Ungrateful they crawl over my back while they do what they do without reason. It is hot. It is very warm here. Strong arms are working here, and also I. Occasionally I utter a command, but mostly work silent. It is very noisy here; there is a lot of noise. The surface is not strong. Above me there are people walking, people living. Big steel beams are supporting the surface, but sometimes they fall. It is very gray here and sometimes fire shoots past me. The beams fall sometimes, we work, I work. We repair, we take care that the surface does not fall; we know that otherwise the whole planet will fold and disappear. The walking people do not realize, the living people do not realize. I am tired, but more beams are falling. We are with too few, even though more join in. We may be too late, even though time stretches forward. Beams are always falling, always small parts collapse, but it happens more and more; it happens more often. It gets warmer here, we are working harder. More beams are falling and take more beams down in their fall. I look down and see the infinite structure underneath me, while beams take our beams in their fall. More deeper, more deeper than life it feels.

Fire shoots past me. I command more, more beams are falling. Fire flares and burns those besides me, while commands are thrown at me, like flicks of a whip. Blood does drip from my head. People above do not realize. I am moving in all directions and everywhere beams are falling. The pressure from the top is increasing and more beams fall and fall, ‘we cannot hold it anymore,’ someone screams. He is supporting beams with his back. Steel on flesh, blood in-between. More people have to support. More beams fall. People who walk, and people who work sink sometimes. People who live do not know, and pray. Do they pray to us? More beams fall around me and I want to catch them and to support them. It does not work! Slowly around me the structure crumbles, it collapses. People who walk and live do not understand and panic. Beams are all around me, ‘we can not hold it anymore,’ so much yelling, screaming, pain, ‘we can not hold it anymore.’ Everything caves in, we fall; darkness crushes my final light.”

The man pushes the paper away and his chair back. There it is: the words to the illusive dream impossible to grasp the first three times around. He shakes his head. From these words he does not get the same urge to act as when he woke up. A flick of the wrist, a habit practiced numerous times a day, presents his watch. Ten minutes after 2. ‘In the fucking morning.’ The man informs his dog. The dog gets up. The poor thing thinks is walky-walky-time. It is not. It is time for a leak. In the bathroom mirror a grey face stares back at him. ‘Come on, fucker, snap out of it,’ he mumbles at his reflection, which just seems to grin back at him. What does he know that he himself does not?

Not enough sleep shows on his face the next morning. It shows while shaving, it shows while brushing his teeth, it shows in the shop windows on the morning walk. The worn out, pounding headache replaces the feeling of well-being. The smell of fresh bakery-bread is hidden by the smell of rotting vegetables from the restaurant’s dumpsters. The feeling of an unsteady pavement gives the feeling of a soft rubber fun-house floor. It brings out images of the dream.

‘Hé watch out dumbass!’ A blur hits master in the shoulder, the master-dog-leash disconnects. The dog waits while his master gets up. The walk is great! Such nice smells, such great weather. But master is not well, so it seems. Better give a lick for support…

Later at work, blares of radio-sounds shelter the music so well hidden. A daze of tasks hides the words equally well. ‘Wow Anderson, did you get no sleep last night? What was her name?’ Boss Palmer is snickering. Anderson can muster a smile. Some normality fills the day. ‘Didn’t catch her first name, but I am sure her last name was Palmer,’ and grins while the wrench hits the wall behind him. A siren. Break time. Coffee and a smoke. Fresh air and concentration, it all pushes away the itch, the scratch, and the evil that lurks. But the light wanes, the lurker is patient and walks in shadows. The day passes fast, it is filled with things to do. The empty space in Anderson’s brain, the place where no thought passes is a fortress, strong and lined with curtains showing skulls and bones to scare the evil from the outside world. White noise. Anderson whistles while he works, a tune not unlike the call of the banshee, but he does not know it. Co-workers shiver when Anderson walks by, the creepy tune and dull stare supported by dark circles invades their space and pushes away the normal, the comfort.

‘What has happened to him? A few weeks ago I talked to him and everything seemed fine.’ Whispers in the corridor.

‘Did you see he is wearing the same pants now for 2 weeks? No really that stain behind his knee was there for at least two weeks. Just pay attention to it from now on.‘ Rumors at the lunch table.

‘I have heard he lost his wife recently.’ Lies while fetching coffee.

Anderson is oblivious to whispers, rumors and lies. It is the final siren that signals the end of something and the start of something else. Most co-workers smile and are happy to leave to go home. Family, their cats, a contrast to work in the factory, but Anderson stands at his bench, until Palmer shunts him out with kind words that repel Anderson from his location, as water on wax paper.

‘Come dear fellow, it is time to go home. I know you had some trouble sleeping lately.’ Palmer scribbles something on a crumbled piece of paper, ‘here the number of my physician, he did wonders for my wife when she had insomnia. Visit him, it’s an order. I cannot have accidents here due to zombie brains.’

The good intent sends shivers of revulsion up Anderson’s spine. “Thanks boss, I will make an appointment as soon as possible. See ya tomorrow.’

Outside the light fades, soft pinks and reds grill the clouds and a melancholy enters Anderson while he watches this event. He puts up his hood and hands in his pocket, and walks to the train station. People avoid him instinctively as if he is wearing a leper’s bell, but Anderson’s brain does not think of charity or a rotting disease. His mind is on the white noise space, when he spots a face across the street. To Anderson the universe is quickly dipped in molasses, to the universe Anderson just stopped dead in his tracks. Other occupants of Anderson’s universe flow around Anderson as a leash of deer around a rock. Across the street a man mimics Anderson’s moves, his face grey with dull eyes. Then Anderson recognizes him, the “steel on flesh, blood in-between” guy from his dream. Is it possible? How is it possible? Anderson slowly raises his hand, slow motion in slow motion that crashes down in an instant like a glass pane shattering on the concrete sidewalk. One small step, a horn, a loud thud, screeching tires, screams of people, Anderson with his hand raised, a streak of blood and more on tarmacadam, the smell of burning rubber from the city bus. Everybody halts while time has its normality.

Anderson’s falls to one knee. The absurdity of the situation is filled with the rational response: a vile mixture of vomit finds the gutter. His head spins. He needs to leave, get out. The dog needs a walk. ‘I… I need to go.’ The rock moves away from the “food-plot” through the stagnant leash of deer. All staring at the headlights of death displayed before them. Unable to move. Anderson boards a train, finds his apartment, and closes the door. The vault shuts out the noise. A happy dog puts his wet nose in his hand. Is this home? On the desk under a spotlight lies the letter from his brain. How does evil sprout?

#

“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight.” - Marcus Aurelius

The field

The dog looks up, a sudden sound and he gets up. It is master who woke himself up again. He tilts his head to see how master walks in. The vacant look in master’s eyes says enough and after a few circles the dog lies down. Master should get some sleep. It is dark.
A sound, a sharp inhale. Anderson sits up fast, it is his spring-loaded back drenched in sweat. Anderson woke himself up again. He gets out of bed quickly and even dog knows, it is late and time to sleep. Anderson cannot sleep, again the dream. So many nights the same dream. Anderson clicks on the spotlight to see the piece of paper. He sits and reads the text over and over again. There he is. ‘please please, do not forget him.’ Anderson is whispering. Even the dog does not care, and the outside city life’s mocking sounds are faint efforts this night. Anderson taps on the paper, ‘there he is! I remember him. He stepped…” Anderson does not finish his sentence. He had gone missing, always he had stood there: the hero with the beam on his back, steel on flesh, blood buffering the pain, but not this night. Not for many a night the bloody tarmacadam-smear, once man, once his friend under the surface was not there. He is not there. Again in his dream he is not there. Anderson moves sluggish into the bathroom. A splash of water on his unshaven face, a grimace reflection knows more than he does. Anderson swats a fly away from his face, and annoyed with the buzzing sound he gets a large towel. With a yawn the towel becomes a new under sheet, for the remaining hours a new sponge.

Morning. The city greets them warm, jolly the dog is walking next to master, fresh smells in the air, other dogs to sniff, wet dew on the grass, bright morning sun and warm weather, a bounce in his step. Life cannot be more wonderful. Come master, do you hear that! And did you see that! Wow did you smell that?

Anderson’s eyes are on the pavement, the warm heat already this early in the morning annoys him, the city reeks of decay and the three-day strike of city workers does not help. ‘Who should do their job already and clean the goddamn streets, I get paid for something I do not like to do.’ Anderson talks to his dog or random people on the street. Anderson sees no faces of people, and people do not want to see Anderson’s face or smell his smelly smells, then a tap on his shoulder.

Anderson looks up. They are under a bridge along the river, not his normal route, although familiar. Anderson sees a man. His groggy mind is full with painkillers. Through blinking teary eyes against the bright sun all he sees is a dark coat.

‘Get the fuck away from me, creep.’ Anderson is a delight in conversation these days. The man shakes his head. His raspy voice sounds familiar. Images of flames shooting past him come to mind.

‘No, no, I am not a skulk, it is you. You do not belong here, come down, we do need you; the struggle is not over. Your solution will not work. I cannot be here, but you need to be warned!’

Anderson pinches the top of his nose with one hand while his squeezes his eyes tight. Dog is barking at something. A damn squirrel? That guy! Anderson looks up. Phantoms, snippets of light, shadows in which to walk. Where is that damn shadow walker? ‘Who the fuck is HERE!’ Anderson squads down, dog nuzzles up. Some homeless people ignore him, they know better. Anderson’s headache is back and pounding his skull jack-hammer style. Time to go home. The day is a blur.

The dog looks up, a sudden sound and he is up. The hairs in the neck are up. A stranger enters the room. Who is that man, where is master? Come! Come master! Danger, danger!
Anderson enters the room sluggishly. Dog is out of his fucking mind. He stares at his dog, a snap of teeth, loud barks. Ready for the attack. ‘Quiet stupid dog, it is me. I swear the whole fucking world is going fucking insane. Quiet!’ He kneels down and then dog calms down, there is contact. They know each other and all is well. Anderson is up for the night.
He clicks on the spotlight to look at the piece of paper. He sits and reads the text over and over again. More small things are changing, voices, angles of the beams, the dream-faces around him are ever more sharp, while faces in the street more and more blurry. His cliché-move into the bathroom, his face wet now. Swatting away flies. Morning. Day. Night.

A sound, a sharp inhale. Anderson is standing in a vacant lot drenched in sweat. Left, in front, and right are blind walls. A building ripped out of the city with force, amputated. It is dark, behind him noises of the city, a far away siren. A barking dog. Cats going at it. He woke himself up, again. ‘Where the fuck am I?’ He kneels down in the mulled sand. Streetlights kiss his hands, his red blood stained hands. His mind’s eye sees himself at his desk, the first night, red blinking light. Now he sits alone, drizzle covering his skin.

It takes hours to drag his body out of that field and his head out of the fog. Anderson finds a muddy puddle and washes his arms and hands. In a fury he rips of his shirt and rips it to pieces. His singlet tie-died with dark red stains. Anderson takes it off and flings it away. Blood on his pants. ‘Fuck.’ Anderson’s feels the earth move under his feet. Is het sinking? ‘Or I’m fucking losing it.’ He rubs mud over his jeans to mask the blood. Shirtless, wet, covered in mud he is more invisible than a legless beggar at the train station. It takes a few blocks before he recognizes where he is. Only blocks away from his apartment, but he is more on the wrong side of the tracks. Even badass gang members do not see him, hidden from sight, walking in the shadows. A walker of shadows to indicate where light is. The contrasting color of happiness.

‘Ssss,’ a hissing noise travels with Anderson who halts. ‘Now what,’ talking to himself give him more breathing space and less of a crowd. A man stands over him, then he speaks. That guy! ‘Motherfu…’ Anderson is cut off.

‘Ssss, listen,’ the dark coat darker than the shadows, the contrasting color of shadows is even darker, ‘you must listen, come with me. You took his place. Your dog knows what you know. Come with me now.’

Anderson halts, frozen. Is this really happening? Adrenaline pumping, sounds dim, the focus is on escape. Anderson blinks only to dash off an instant later. His panic fueled sprint is terrifying to the side-walkers in the bright city lights. “Why can the meth addicts not stay hidden in the shadows where they can die away from our happiness?” The door, keys on the floor, his growling dog, more comforting words, and the long man-dog hug hides away the world, the deep feeling of truth that feeds panic to the heart. Roots take hold in blood filled sand.

#

“Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.”
- Sigmund Freud

The nightmare

Anderson wakes up and to his surprise it is morning. Cold air flows into the apartment through the open window. It flows over his exposed legs while he cannot remember if he had the dream last night or not. Somewhere from very far a super annoying sound, it drills deeper and deeper in his head, into his brain, while it grows louder and more intense. ‘Fuck, my phone.’ He gets up groggily, enters the living room, and digs around under some pizza boxes to find a pile of clothes, a couch and under all that, his phone.

‘Yeah ‘allo. Who is this on the most ungodly hour?’

‘Anderson? Is that you? Are you ok? You have not been at work for over a week.’ Palmer’s voice sounds genuine and sincere.

Anderson tastes vomit in his mouth. This compassion is killing him. In the background factory noises and voices, sounds like break-time. Anderson walks to the kitchen in the hope to find some food.

‘Yeah listen, eh, boss, I got this horrible infection... Eh… you know it is to embarrassing to talk about it over the phone. I meant to send a doctor’s note, but … walking is hard so… You know I got to go really, I got to put some cream on it, ok?’

Anderson holds his phone away from his head as if this call is giving him brain cancer on the spot and while Palmer whispers from afar: ‘get well, I will call you in a few days…’, he dunks his phone in a pan filled with water and some week old spaghetti something. 

‘Fucking dick, calling me like that.’

Night. The darkness is a blanket that itches and hides. Anderson, spade in hand, looks to the left. ‘What the…’ A dog, it comes out of nowhere. Its hair is up, its teeth exposed through its visible breath. A low growl, head down, it is ready for the attack. Anderson is invading its space. The tension is mounting. A standoff is as likely as the universe ignoring entropy. Swirls of steam come of Anderson’s body, hot, sticky and sweaty. “A great, I even have time to observe this bullshit.” It leaps teeth first. Anderson steps back and swings. A dull plunk is followed by a whimper. Anderson moves fast, he is over it now, and it will suffer, this asshole dog will be turned insight out slowly and suffer. He shifts the spade and drives its blunt tip into the skull of the dog. A sickening crack, a last loud whine, and its high pitched sound echoes between the three walls around him.

The field, Anderson finds himself in the field and can just barely muster the willpower to pull out the spade. Dark blood slowly pools out of the caved head while the dog falls back on the mud. Anderson kneels down and cradles his puppy, his dog, his companion, while tears streak his dirty face. The body is still warm, the memories fresh.

Infinity bestowed, a timeless hug is interrupted by that small shift. The earth moved. A small sinking feeling in the stomach wakes him up. He looks around him, still darkness, but far off grays, desperately longing to be purple, red and gold, knock on night’s door. Move on! Time for a new age. he drops his dog in disbelieve, again he finds himself in this field covered in blood, but with proof this time of its origin. He crawls away and vomits. Vile deeds evoke vileness. Anderson stumbles to his feet, barely remembers to cover himself in dirt and finds himself in front of his apartment door. Silence with the rhythmic buzz of TL-tubes surrounds him. Mud tracks up to here, and a key in hand; Anderson waits a while before he goes through the door.

A sound, a sharp inhale. Anderson sits up fast, it is his spring-loaded back, again drenched in sweat. Nothing changes and everything changes always. Static flux gives pounding headaches. He gets up, groggy as always and does his signature move to the bathroom, a move so imprinted in the memory of the universe it has become a constant: the ‘Anderson constant’. ‘Where is that filthy dog.’ He mumbles his way in to the living room. TV is on, static, ‘some fucker cut the cable.’ Garbage, pizza boxes, used coffee filters, clothes, and a clean desk. Spotlight on a piece of paper: the highlight of the room. He opens the door to the bathroom, loads of flies, a grey unshaven face, and cheeks sunken in. A version of Anderson is staring at Anderson. “What the fuck is that smell”, Anderson is Anderson, clear and sharp. The putrid smell of a rotting rat and Anderson is back. He slides back the shower curtain, and instantly vomits all over himself. There the proof of the smell: another person. No, it is the memory of person, or maybe almost a homeopathic memory of a person. A bodily imprint on the space around Anderson, but mutilated, gory and the breeding ground of flies. Anderson vomits again and backs away from the horror. He hits his head on the sink, and claws his way out of his bathroom into the filth of the living room. A mouse runs of, the city outside alive and noisy, and the fresh air a reminder of everyday things. He almost makes it to the desk before he passes out.

Anderson wakes up on his stomach, under his face is a damp piece of cardboard. He is not in his room. Cold air flows over him and he shivers. His grand view a dumpster against a brick wall. The smell is horrible. He wipes some drool of his face, out of his beard and gets up. He stumbles, his knees are weak. That smell. Images of his dog, his dead dog’s crushed skull, that body in the bathtub, his dream, that damn dream flash by. They are there with him in the shadows, when he blinks, when his eyes are closed. That putrid smell again. With a chill around his heart Anderson approaches the dumpster, the chill chokes his heart when he opens it, then bile almost chokes him while the smell gets into his brain. His disrespectful way of saying “fuck, I am sorry”. He stares at the pile of garbage and in it is the handy-work of Anderson. He knows it now; it was his doing. Anderson’s heart skips beats and races as he stares at another mutilated body, then at his hands and he falls to the floor. His knees buckle, his chin bounces of the edge of the container, and splits open his lip. Blood in the alley-of-filth, blood on his hands. Again he finds himself on his knees staring at his blood stained hand. ‘Jesus…fucking…Christ, that hurts…’ Anderson holds his chin and breaks down. His wails and loud crying adds to the picturesque feeling of the grime, filth filled alley, complement by the smells of garbage and a rotting body. Self-pity washes over Anderson. Of all the places he ended up “why here”? The forgiving alley approves in silence. The outside world of the outer-alley-city mocks them both.

No mud to cover up here, no water to wash the hands in innocence. Guilty as charged. The burning sun peaks slowly into the alley to judge Anderson’s evil soul. He crawls towards it to accept its judgment and bumps into a pile of old newspapers, still bound, tossed aside by a paperboy’s fraudulent “delivery” to his loving customers. It is through teary eyes that Anderson stares back at himself, that smug face from the mirror, now sneering at him from the front page: “Who has seen W.Q. Anderson, a.k.a. the Westside torture killer”. The hammer falls, the burning sun on him, the spotlight is on him. He stumbles to his feet and scuffles out of the alley, into the light of the sidewalk. The space where people avoid him ever since the letter came. He looks back at the dark alleyway. Was that the man in the black coat, did he hide into the shadows again? Anderson blinks his eyes into the sun. People avoid the skinny, filthy moving thing that hinders their important movements. Anderson’s foamy mumblings from his cracked lips does not help either.

‘People walking, people living. People are eating, working, fucking, sweating, killing, dreaming, stacking one day on top of the other. I am here. I am here. Don’t you see I am trying to save you! It is so hot in the sun. See me, I am here. The world will end I am telling you. You ungrateful bitches. People are walking, living. You walking people do not know. I am so tired. More beams are falling. It is too late. It will be too late. We are so deep, so much deeper.’

People move around him, do not recognize him, do not listen, do not want to see him, and the people they do not care. Then he spots a face across the street. Déjà vu, Anderson’s universe is dipped in molasses, to the universe Anderson just stopped dead in his tracks. The people that do not know, the people that do not care flow around him. Across the street a man mimics Anderson’s moves, another grey face with dull eyes. Anderson slowly raises his hand, slow motion in slow motion that ends in an instant when Anderson steps in front of a speeding delivery truck. It is evil’s flower that makes us fruit.

#

END

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2014 - 2017

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Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse

Little sinister plots

I cry little cider blocks

It is a most sinister plot

Divine, void of heaven

Tufts of plastic grass

And legless worms, yellow

Mindless trees shedding

Their hides, spilling

Their skinless seeds

A wanderer like me

Does not need to understand

I bend, roll and magistrate

Fold, slide and registrate

Sprinkling newness like dust

Snowflakes sink like rust

Winter-wander-whatever-wonderland

In this heat of summer,

Tick baring reeds, golden crisps,

All subverses of this so evil plan

Before I lie and bleed foliage

I must, I need, I simply can

I cry little cellophane rocks

© Casteleijn MG. 2017

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Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse
Little sinister plots
I cry little cider blocks
It is a most sinister plot
Divine, void of heaven
Tufts of plastic grass
And legless worms, yellow
Mindless trees shedding
Their hides, spilling
Their skinless seeds

A wanderer like me
Does not need to understand

I bend, roll and magistrate
Fold, slide and registrate
Sprinkling newness like dust
Snowflakes sink like rust
Winter-wander-whatever-wonderland
In this heat of summer,
Tick baring reeds, golden crisps,
All subverses of this so evil plan

Before I lie and bleed foliage
I must, I need, I simply can
I cry little cellophane rocks

© Casteleijn MG. 2017

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Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse

Dawness

The new dawn upon us

Periodically glimmering, hammering.

Its plastic light through our

dust golden blinds.

Hell-bound traffic, low airplane’s static,

shaking cups in the sink. Damp, wet air

sticking in the trees. All waiting for the day

and the answer: delivered, good to go!

But now no whispers, but a sawing snore,

a lazy fly hunted by a lazy cat. The clouds

heavy with sunlight, bellowing shapes.

Hovering.

Towering.

Expecting with…

… promises of the newest dawn.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017 (words and picture)

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Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse
Dawness
The new dawn upon us
Periodically glimmering, hammering.
Its plastic light through our
dust golden blinds.

Hell-bound traffic, low airplane’s static,
shaking cups in the sink. Damp, wet air
sticking in the trees. All waiting for the day
and the answer: delivered, good to go!

But now no whispers, but a sawing snore,
a lazy fly hunted by a lazy cat. The clouds
heavy with sunlight, bellowing shapes.
Hovering.
Towering.
Expecting with…

… promises of the newest dawn.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017 (words and picture)
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Famous First Words: Write a great opening line to a novel.
Written by casteleijn

Pool of Tears

If he had known on the most cursed morning, that most eventful morning, it would be the last morning he would see his daughter, he would have held her until the day was over. So those interesting times would never happen. But it did happen.

(c) Casteleijn MG 2015-2017

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Famous First Words: Write a great opening line to a novel.
Written by casteleijn
Pool of Tears
If he had known on the most cursed morning, that most eventful morning, it would be the last morning he would see his daughter, he would have held her until the day was over. So those interesting times would never happen. But it did happen.

(c) Casteleijn MG 2015-2017
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Who's ready for another 15-worder?! Here it is: Say something about yourself from the perspective of an inanimate object. Compliments and insults are equally encouraged.
Written by casteleijn in portal Comedy

Staring competition...

His face illuminated by my Grandiose Radiance. Why is he staring at me, so creepy.

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Who's ready for another 15-worder?! Here it is: Say something about yourself from the perspective of an inanimate object. Compliments and insults are equally encouraged.
Written by casteleijn in portal Comedy
Staring competition...
His face illuminated by my Grandiose Radiance. Why is he staring at me, so creepy.
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Written by casteleijn

On the kindling of gems

My silent stare rudely interrupted.

My out-of-focus hide-a-way disrupted.

A movement, a vibration in the greenness

so vividly splayed over its shadows.

One leaf recovers the assault.

Tap-tap-tap! Left, Up, Another One!

Gently a slow symphony of green-light

and green-movements. Promises of

impending sounds. Focused now

I interpret this flora-aqua-dialogue,

carelessly skipping verb-punctuations

Ratta-tap-tappa-tap-tap an overwhelmed

green-crowd protests the Soaking a

cataclysmic event hidden under a grey

concealing sheet pooling water eddies

slurping sounds the cooling air shivering

Residing-waiting-emerging

Tap-tap. Tap. The firmament-free droplets

overdue, now yield to their weight and

reflect their splashes onto my bare skin.

Traces of time, of music, of a conversation.

I look closer and find pearls beading.

The sky cracks and breaks, warmth

and light flood in, so welcome.

This quiet intermezzo trickles on

while pearls turn into jewels,

while I lose focus in my silent stare.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017

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Written by casteleijn
On the kindling of gems
My silent stare rudely interrupted.
My out-of-focus hide-a-way disrupted.
A movement, a vibration in the greenness
so vividly splayed over its shadows.
One leaf recovers the assault.

Tap-tap-tap! Left, Up, Another One!
Gently a slow symphony of green-light
and green-movements. Promises of
impending sounds. Focused now
I interpret this flora-aqua-dialogue,
carelessly skipping verb-punctuations

Ratta-tap-tappa-tap-tap an overwhelmed
green-crowd protests the Soaking a
cataclysmic event hidden under a grey
concealing sheet pooling water eddies
slurping sounds the cooling air shivering

Residing-waiting-emerging

Tap-tap. Tap. The firmament-free droplets
overdue, now yield to their weight and
reflect their splashes onto my bare skin.
Traces of time, of music, of a conversation.
I look closer and find pearls beading.

The sky cracks and breaks, warmth
and light flood in, so welcome.
This quiet intermezzo trickles on
while pearls turn into jewels,
while I lose focus in my silent stare.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017



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Explore the concept of Time in a poem
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse

Who can bear so much reality?

A sequence of events, linear,

smeared all over my face.

A kite hanging in the storm.

Platonian void, but this one

the Beholder took as its own.

Let them stare, gawk, trip

with elation over moments

not yet born. Hidden features

will fall away while leveling.

A heat is hiding in the morning chill.

Yet the apathic release of energy

only leads to a standstill. Where

now do we hide from the storm?

So gentle is the darkening night.

Later I will neatly fold my silent

                                                   Goodbye.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017 

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Explore the concept of Time in a poem
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse
Who can bear so much reality?
A sequence of events, linear,
smeared all over my face.
A kite hanging in the storm.
Platonian void, but this one
the Beholder took as its own.

Let them stare, gawk, trip
with elation over moments
not yet born. Hidden features
will fall away while leveling.

A heat is hiding in the morning chill.
Yet the apathic release of energy
only leads to a standstill. Where
now do we hide from the storm?
So gentle is the darkening night.

Later I will neatly fold my silent
                                                   Goodbye.


(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017 
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Trident Media Group is the leading U.S. literary agency and we are looking to discover and represent the next bestsellers. Share a sample of your work. If it shows promise, we will be in touch with you.
Written by casteleijn in portal Trident Media Group

The magic city

Chapter 3 of "The Death of an Emperor", a set of vignettes unraveling the mystery.

The bright sun washes out the colors, even the trees look bleached through Curro’s squinting eyes. It is one of those mornings. One of those mornings that everything starts late. Power interruptions, both alarm clocks failing, milk gone sour. Interrupted communications error, some network down, no way to let the office know. One of those mornings playing catch-up. Scramble, hurry, and stub a toe. No power also means no steam cleaning this morning, “Why did I not get an apartment with an old fashioned water shower”, Curro’s close mouthed curses are hidden sounds; the city outside came to life hours ago.

Moments later Curro is on the sidewalk dusting of his clothes after he missed a couple of steps on the way down the stairs. In Curro’s hands the sad remains of his sunglasses, so to get some placebo relieve of the heat and blazing sun he crosses the street. He looks back to his apartment building free from the grip of the palm tree-shadows. The faintest memory of its original color is hinting at a pink hue, the raised letters barely read MACONA with some unreadable symbols underneath it. Curro starts reliving his inane quest to retell the story behind the name. It was his curiosity and his love of telling stories that led him to become a reporter, and young as he was he thought it would make a nice story. Quickly he found out that storytelling by the Xīnwén Network of Imperial Glory, or simply the Network, is a political game. Political games he tried to escape when he left Havana. It was shot down, especially after they found out he already spend some money on the investigations.

Curro shakes his head. He is late, and there is no way he can make it to the XNIG corporate ferry in time. So he jogs slowly down sw 6th street, towards the glitter of water between the abandoned buildings that still stand along the 6th courtyard on his left. He hopes to find some illegal water taxi at 5th and 4th to take him down the river to Swire Key to go around the isle to the B-park. He is lucky. One older man, a Haitian to hear from his accent has just sold all his patties and frescos, and is willing for a steep rate to bring Curro to work. Curro curses under his breath, he really does not need this right now. The last thing he needs is to call father again for more money. Water and bread the rest of the week it seems. The boat trip is apart from the humming of the engine, peaceful. Left desolate buildings stand in the water until they hit the river proper and the increased speed bring a bit of cooling on this hot day. After rounding the point the Haitian cuts in front of the isle, more that 4 feet of water is standing over the old bridge now, more than enough for the small flat boat to approach the park from the west. Most of the tall Brickell buildings are gone now, recycled for its steel, mainly to elevate I95. Still the aorta for the city. If the flow stops, the magic dies.

Sweat is dripping down his back when Curro pays the man and finds his way to the checkpoint. Swire Key is Imperial territory from the day of occupancy, and the Key was owned by Chinese corporate head-figures long before then. Curro chooses this checkpoint over the Brickell-Point since only Imperial Card Holders are allowed to enter via B-park. His choice is right, not many people are entering at this time through the gate, although he does see the large silhouette of his boss at the front of the line. Quickly he ducks down to tighten his shoe lace and avoids being seen. His name will be on the list of late entries anyway, but it is a psychological thing. Curro curses the power outage in his building. Curses from Swire Key are dangerous spells. When the scanner notices the biodegradable implant under his wrist the screen turns green: “Franciso López Fernández, ICH, Havana”. The guards let him in, and Curro sighs as he counts the 49 steps up to the main entrance of the XNIG headquarters in the Americas. Every day these steps, these cogwheels of a corporate lucky charm take the fun out of reporting.

First things first: coffee. A strong brew and then messages: none. “Mmm is that good or bad”, he mumbles. Others ignore his mumbling habits. He did miss a meeting though. The spirits lift a bit after the coffee and being engulfed in airco-air. So he calls, again to the power company. Who direct him to his landlord, who directs him to the block curator. The dick.

“Twenty-eight-minutes. Twenty-eight. Oh, oh, oh, wait for it! Click. Twenty-nine-minutes. On hold.” The science of Muzak calms no-one, especially after twenty-nine-minutes of sweaty intimate moments with a mobile phone. Curro sighs, hate is a weak word for the feeling inside. It is more an explosive, infinite annoyance of supernova quality. From his neck protrudes his nervous tick. His tick is an obviously trained public speaker. With Shakespearean acting skills it draws the people in, to deliver the punch lines in the most prominent way. Just to make sure his co-workers get the proper translation Curro hits his hand flat on the desk, a sign of loss. A loss of control, of time and nerve. A look from another booth gets his answer: “why can these companies just pick up the phone or call me back... yeah hallo, hallo, fu...” and a grunt.

Curro is about the fling his phone through his standard issue “Interactive Holographic Active Matrix Organic Droplet”-screen”. Of course the nebulizer may get it, most likely another phone will be added to his expense sheet.

Sure enough. Curro’s IHAMOD comes to life as if to protest its earlier promise of an assault. It shows a picture of the large round face his boss, under it scrolls the message:

“[INSERT NAME] is requested to come to the office of the executive producer who is waiting for you. Bless the Emperor. May his heart full of light guide you through this day.”

Another harmless phone is saved. For now. Curro’s hand over the console pauses the image. Insert name? Curro is still fuming, but a silent heat-like boiling anger takes over so he slips his phone into his drink to silently protest all injustice done to him today, then he gets up to see why he is summoned. Either because he was late or those damn expense sheets. Insert name? Curro’s manicurial habit saves his palms from some bloody wounds. Then the ominous door of the executive producer swings open, while Curro tight fists slowly open like a fern unfurling in sweet morning rain. But Curro’s rain is black, thick and a toxic acid this morning. The silhouette blocks the streams of real-light that wants to intrude in TL-tube land. Some people blink. Time to go. He hopes it because he is late. If he gets chided again for his excessive expense sheets he needs to find another job. Curro has all the receipts somewhere, and an excuse for all of them. Now more people look out of their cubicles. Curiosity is a scared animal. He stands up slowly, gives a last look at his sad phone floating in his drink and with a light tread tries to calm himself after not talking to the block curator to not get his electrical problems fixed. Now he hopes he will not not keep his job. A day of everything starting late progresses nicely into a day of getting nothing done.

Curro comes face to face with the executive producer. The mountain they call him, for obvious reasons, but also because he is an extension of the Emperor: a symbol of stability and of the Earth itself. The mountain grins, “please come in and take a seat”. The moment Curro steps over the threshold, his spidey senses tingle. Curro feels it. Sometimes, he compares himself to a spider, a made-up hero from a long forgotten past. Nobody gets Curro’s jokes. He sits, the mountain stands in front of his desk. The roles are clear. So he waits for the mountain turns to volcano, yet a smile graces the face of his boss. Panic strikes Curro now. This is way worse than he could ever imagine.

He has read the reports from the illegal Spanish newspapers sold next door. The language is banned for decades now, a decree of the prior Emperor still strongly enforced. In little Havana many still speak it daily though and in Cuba news and newspapers are more openly defiant. Last week a headline in the Havana Post: “Federico López Famosa proposes changes in the trade agreements” and last month: “Strict regulations from our Glorious Leader dim the economy”. Something is brewing and it is clear that his father is a big part of it. Curro is not stupid. He understands that father only indulged in his son’s career choice because it puts his son on Swire Key, using Curro as a Cuban flag on Empirical grounds. But he thought he could make a difference; that he could show them. His disapproving family in Havana, and his friends who still call him stupid for not standing safely in his father’s shadow. So being here in the Mountain’s office without being scolded, without a hurricane trying to rip the flag off its post, is raising some red flags.

“Curro, I need you to travel to Havana to report on the parade of the Emperor. I know it is short notice, but see this as an opportunity. I had to pull Eddie out of Havana, the food I guess did not sit good with him”,

Curro knows when to be silent and when to speak. His father’s hard hand taught him that much, but all the hairs in his back are up. He feels like he wants to run and hide in the bushes until the scary monsters pass him by. It does not make any sense to feel this way. This is the break he is waiting for. To go and cover a story. To prove himself, to show Mountain and his father that he can do this. That he can cut it as a reporter. Yes, Havana makes sense, he is from there. Curro wonders if his father influenced this decision or does he not know about it? Curro looks up at Mountain. It does not matter if he is angry or sad or happy, his boss is always a closed book. But Curro doesn't need to read the Mountain's face to know that something is wrong. So, so wrong.

Curro shrugs. “Sure, cool, whatever”, he needs to recuperate from this strategic loss. Regroup his man, send out the scouts. Call the air force. Whatever it takes. “I mean thanks boss, this is a real big opportunity and I am honored... I meant to say, I will not let you down boss.” If he only could figure out what his strategic loss is. Why he is in the valley stuck in the swamp with footmen, pikes, and horses, and why the Mountain is overcrowding the hillsides with archers, sun in the back. Bows drawn, ready for the kill.

Moments later Curro is back at his desk. The corner of his screen jumps to action. All cubicles are silent. Curro never understood that. He tried once with a colleague: “do you not think it is a very unnerving setting for a office that is producing news”, a blank stare was his response. The office is indifferent to his opinion. Humming of the TL-tubes is a given. He waves his hand at the message, which inadvertently unlocks his screen. In the video a bot is explaining to him his travel arrangements and more boring details. When Curro hears the name of the hotel he supposes to stay at some of his earlier anger and anxiety comes back. The bot blabs on and he feels a slight vibration in his wrist. The ticket is uploaded to his bio-chip, but not his ID chip in his neck, it is to be a corporate trip after all.

Time to go to the cloakroom. Located in the damp basement is a small, overly protected warehouse where the correspondents can fetch their predestined needs for any trip. So Curro switches off his screen, decides to not retrieve his useless phone, and shimmies downstairs. There he presents his bio-chip and clicks and clacks behind the triple steel door tell him that the bots are doing their job. Curro is not too sure about the trip and he tries to recall all the words Mountain carefully laid out. He doesn’t buy the story about Eddie, but surely Eddie is not the to-go-guy for information on this. When home he must try get a hold of his father, but first he is forced to focus on the task at hand. A red flashy light tries to scare off an even more annoying siren. A relic robotic voice, probably never replaced for budget reasons or fitting a well-researched psychological pattern to scare people, barks at Curro: “step back behind the yellow line or we will engage”. Curro knows better than to reply, but he thinks: “engage? Engage in what?” He knows now is not the time to experiment, so he steps back behind the yellow line. The door swings open and via an ancient track a flat trolley stops just shy of the door opening. On its surface a back-pack that slides off while the surface inclines. The flashy red lights and the sound of the electro motors make this feel like he is in an old science fiction movie or something, but then the door closes, the lights stop and Curro is alone with that what he needs. He never understood why they call this the cloakroom.

Since his flight is in a few hours there is not time to check the content now, so he fetches the bag and hurries out the building. At B-park a corporate speedboat is waiting, with on its stern a proud display of the Imperial flag. Curro would be in trouble if he would not salute, so he half-heartedly pays his respects. The capitain nods and speeds of. The ride is short and brings him relatively close to his house since they took the shallow route through 3th sw street. Some poor deconstruction guys and steel-trippers still live here and floating pontoons with ladders to the 3rd floor line the houses. Some who did not get a job via the lottery this morning hang out the windows smoking cheap cigarettes staring at the boat and its flag. They do not salute.

The captain directs the plans: “Go fetch some stuff from your apartment, you leave in 30 minutes.”

The boat does not wait for him and when he turns the block into his street he understands why: a botcar is waiting for him. The power is not restored in his block yet and this means no shower, and no phone call to his father. He hopes that he got clearance for a mobile phone connector to his wrist implant, but when he shakes out the content of the bag it is clear that he has to try to call at the airport. The feeling of the morning is growing back. He is late and it feels like he is chasing an elusive shortcut in time. But unlike this morning he is rushed. This morning he rushed himself. Curro stares at the content on the bed. “Think Curro Think”.

Power problems are a constant in Little Havana. Water is a second constant in the dynamic formula of the city. So when Curro opens the blinds for some light to shave he finds that the water comes from the tap as it should. Thank God for that. He smiles as he opens the Bethania shaving cream. On the back a picture of a far relative who opened a macrobiotic store in Havana. The rest is history. Who would have thought that the expansion into natural and organic beauty products would bring his family so much fortune? Father loves mother, Curro does not question that, but if his mother Adelaida had not been the heir to the Bethania empire, he may have settled for someone else. Someone else to pay for his political career. Curro followed the steps carefully as his grandfather had taught him. He wets his face and the brush’s bristles with hot water; he dips the center of the brush in the tin jar of cream. The classical scent of vetiver fills the room as he lathers up the cream. Only a straight razor will do. With trained hands he turns his two-day beard into a smooth surface. The whole ceremony takes 10 precious minutes, but it calms Curro’s mind in the same way as a four-hour meditation session of a Buddhist monk.

He spreads out all items from the bag and tries to deduce some meaning from it. A book with a big red label on it: “Prohibited by the Emperor, special use only. Abuse will be punishable by death”. Barely readable due to sticker size: “English to Spanish to English dictionary”. Curro sighs. A map of Havana of at least 10 years before the Liberation Wars started, and a thick folder with background information about the parade, personal history of the current Emperor (mostly propaganda), and pants and a sweater. Curro is most intrigued by the clothing, but cannot figure it out. Curros packs some clothes, his electronic writing pad, two old fashioned books and his foldable IHAMOD cube for watching some movies or reading books for the long wait to get on the plane. Curro repacks his corporate bag and gets in the botcar.

“Welcome mister Francisco López, I will bring you to Tamiami Airport today. The roads are clear and we will be there in no time.”

The optimistic tone of the bot is not shared with Curro. He looks at the newly build ramp from 3rd avenue onto the Dixie highway. Curro knows better but tries a conversation anyway.

“Why are you bringing me to Tamiami? I thought all traffic to Cuba is conducted by the Suzong International Airport.”

The bot replied with a chipper voice: “Each year on average 200 flights are conducted from Tamiami to Havana which constitutes 2 percent of all flights to Havana”.

Curro grunts and sees they are already following the remains of the old tracks. The demand of steel did slow down the use of trains. He is getting a bit nervous now, they are getting close.

“Do not worry sir”, the bot chippers on, “I can almost see the dikes that shield the airport now”.

It is just that proximity to the airport that feeds Curro’s worries. He rubs his hand over his smooth chin to subconsciously calm himself. To no avail. It is like some of Mountains archers already fired while Curro is staring at the sun and spots of light dance like moths around a light-bulb.

Half an hour later the air-taxi to Havana takes off. The 22 minutes it takes will not give him much time to call his father. The small plane is half full. Luckily corporate seats come with a phone. He calls his father’s office.

“Yeah hallo”, Curro decides to speak English, most likely this call will end up on a RE-FRAM stick on Mountains desk. At least on his desk. It is good not to piss off the wrong people by speaking an official language.

“Hello, yes this is Franciso López Fernández, son of Federico López Famosa, could you get him on the phone?”

“Mmm, aha, yes this is his son and this is urgent. Tell him I am on an air-taxi to Havana right now, yes right now. Ok, yes... I will hold”, Curro squeezes the phone in his hand as if it is a stress ball. Old stale Cubatón Muzak fills his ears and some of the earlier stress of the day is coming back.

“Ola, yes hello father”, it is a miracle. Only 8 minutes on hold. It also means not much time left. “Yes father, you got that right. I am on my way to Havana right now. I will land in 10..12 minutes. Mountain himself send me to report on the Parade”. Curro wishes he could feel more proud of his breakthrough assignment, but strangely enough he does not. Father is silent for a moment. Then instructions follow. Curro listens intently.

“Alright I will do just that. No hotel and I will see you first, yes I know what you mean. Yes, father I understand. No father, under no circumstance. Yes, yes, I will see you soon”.

Curro puts down the phone and a sigh escapes his body. The air-taxi starts its vertical descent. Curro stares out the window with the skyscrapers of Havana in the background. The instructions of father are clear: do not go to the hotel; seek out a trusted face and only get with him in the car to his father’s office when the time is there; do not trust anyone else. Curro was right. Mountain was up to something. Father must know something, why else all these precautions? A few moments later the air-taxi merges with the ground. The noise stops, the movements stop. Cuba. To Curro its been many things, but for now it is a safe place. Home, against all odds.

Curro steps into the airport and the military presence, the green uniforms stand out. He was in the occupied territories long enough to feel awkward in their direct ubiety. Also Spanish is drowning him. It startles a renaissance in Curro, awakes a new identity of an expat returning home. The familiar filtered with new eyes. An old world, a new Cuba. He fetches his bag, and due to the latest in Individual Person Tracking technology Curro can walk out of the airport without problems, while all his movements are documented for the state archives. No chips needed in Cuba.

“IPT is here for you! No more implants, no hassle, we take care of you!”

The billboards are clear. The newest of technologies invented by the Chinese to monitor and control their subjects is a miracle for your personal freedom. Most people are not convinced. Curro wishes he had less chips in his body.

All the flashy billboards distract Curro. He almost misses the familiar face. Curro smiles as he sees Ernesto, a servant of Father from the early days. He missed him in his latest visits. They hug and avoid the string of Asian tourists who are allowed to travel to the Chinese speaking areas of the Centro who houses most of the Barrio Chino, and the English speaking Vieja. The Revolution Square is off limits now due to the preparations of the parade that would take place in only two days.

“How have you been?”, Curro starts and Ernesto smiles while he puts an arm around him, with the other he takes Curro’s bag.

“Havana has missed you, son of the Revolution”, Ernesto always pulls a dramatic feather from his sleeve. “Come I bring you where you will dine and sleep tonight, where we lay your bag to rest, and we will take something a little wet at La Rosa so you can fill me in on what a dump you live in. You cannot believe some of the technology the Chinese are bringing in the last few years you were gone.”

“Father is ok with that?”

Ernesto shrugs his shoulders. He is older that Curro, halfway between him and his father’s age. To Curro he was an older brother, but now he was wondering if Ernesto had felt the same.

“Your father has done great things for Cuba, but I feel he needs to remember sometimes who gave all that to him. Anyway, we can talk shop later, after the parade. I cannot believe that Currocico is now to report on the great Parade. You know this is the first parade of the Emperor outside of China for 3 generations? Well of course you do! If you did your homework.”

Outside Ernesto mouths “taxi” while standing on the curb and seconds later a cab pulls up, “you gotta love that IPT”. Curro blinks and looks back at the airport and the ease of it all. Again his senses tell him not to follow, not to step into the taxi. Ernesto sticks his head out the door, “are you coming or what?” The sun hits Curro in the eyes and almost he hears the battlefield, almost he can smell the sweat, the horses, the iron smell of blood, mud, and trampled grass. A horn wakes him up; the next taxi wants the spot. Curro gets in.

Hotel, a fine meal of yuca con mojo, and mojitos follow that Ernesto had promised. Then they head to La Rosa, a tavern where Curro spend many nights trying to avoid the responsibilities his father though his son needed to have. Many nights it was Ernesto who brought him home, if Curro did not find the temporary love of his life. La Rosa. At the moment Curro opens the door if floods back in. The colors, the smells, and the fine feminine Cuban asses, for sure this is destiny. A divine plan. In true renaissance style Curro finds old habits in a new era of insight and wisdom. The front line pulls back, the stale smell of fear in the air is gone. In his mind he envisions a pavilion tent and a treaty is to be signed between Curro and the Mountain. The parade is far, far away. Plenty of time to report on it after he will meet his father tomorrow. Ernesto laid out all the plans. Curro gets piss-drunk in no time.

##

Curro wakes up on his stomach, under his face a damaged concrete floor and its broken pieces. He blinks to see that he is not in his room. Air flows over him, Curro is shivering, despite the warmth that drips in through the hole in the wall. Dry rot clings on to the last pieces of the windowsill. The smell is horrible. Curro rolls over and wipes some vomit off his face, of his sleeve and gets up. Curro stumbles, his knees are weak. His stomach turns and from deep comes some horrid bile. The bitter, green slime as it splatters on the floor is almost too much for his stomach to bare, but he can hold the rest in. Curro steps blinking into the sunlight towards the open window for some air. He trips over something and lands with his chin on the windowsill, which snaps off. The taste of blood fills his mouth, though nauseating, it is an improvement of the bile taste.

Curro touches his chin. “Fuck that hurts”, his hand is full of blood. His chin is split. Next to him his corporate bag, minus the clothes that he got from the cloakroom. He is wearing them. “What the ...”. Then it dawns on Curro. He is not in Miami, he is in Havana, and he is having the worst hangover. Ever. In the history of hangovers. His head is pounding and he needs to know where he is. So he gets up slowly. Sounds from outside are dripping in. Curro is getting his senses back and when he holds his hand over his eyes he is stumped. From his location he could see the Tulipan. He is not facing the Avenida Revolucionaria, but he can see it. He can hear it. The Parade. Curro shakes his head as a cow flinging off flies that never leave. Before him is the parade. “Two days, I lost two days?, Curro’s mind is dull, his chin is pounding and still dripping blood. His clothes are filthy. No shower in 4 days, vomit, bile, and mold. The morning sun plays in his eyes. Visions of the battlefield come back. There never was a treaty, it was an ambush. Foul play. The Mountain never ordered his men to leave the higher grounds. Next to archers Curro now finds cannons. Outnumbered 20 to 1, just a handful of friends next to him.

Then the shots come. Sharp like lightning directly overhead. First one, followed by 2. Seconds later a final one. Due to his unique vantage point Curro oversees the death of the Emperor as the Great Leader drives by, now slumping over in his Empirical Wagon. Screams in the street. People run by away from the scene. Military green, red on the shoulders. Imperial guards run up as well. No! It can’t be. Spidey sense is going crazy and before Curro can fathom anything, but just enough to want to get the hell out of here, just then it is over. The door is kicked in. Chinese Imperial guards, local police and Ernesto in Cuban uniform form half a circle. Guns are on him. The last man standing on the mud fields of Mountain’s battlefield is already dead. Curro puts his hands up.

Ernesto points at him, “Yes, that is him. López’s own son. I would not belief it if I did not see it with my own eyes. He did it, he killed him!”

Curro’s knees fail to work and he falls to the ground. He never did get away from his father’s shadow after all.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2014-2017

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Written by casteleijn in portal Trident Media Group
The magic city
Chapter 3 of "The Death of an Emperor", a set of vignettes unraveling the mystery.

The bright sun washes out the colors, even the trees look bleached through Curro’s squinting eyes. It is one of those mornings. One of those mornings that everything starts late. Power interruptions, both alarm clocks failing, milk gone sour. Interrupted communications error, some network down, no way to let the office know. One of those mornings playing catch-up. Scramble, hurry, and stub a toe. No power also means no steam cleaning this morning, “Why did I not get an apartment with an old fashioned water shower”, Curro’s close mouthed curses are hidden sounds; the city outside came to life hours ago.

Moments later Curro is on the sidewalk dusting of his clothes after he missed a couple of steps on the way down the stairs. In Curro’s hands the sad remains of his sunglasses, so to get some placebo relieve of the heat and blazing sun he crosses the street. He looks back to his apartment building free from the grip of the palm tree-shadows. The faintest memory of its original color is hinting at a pink hue, the raised letters barely read MACONA with some unreadable symbols underneath it. Curro starts reliving his inane quest to retell the story behind the name. It was his curiosity and his love of telling stories that led him to become a reporter, and young as he was he thought it would make a nice story. Quickly he found out that storytelling by the Xīnwén Network of Imperial Glory, or simply the Network, is a political game. Political games he tried to escape when he left Havana. It was shot down, especially after they found out he already spend some money on the investigations.

Curro shakes his head. He is late, and there is no way he can make it to the XNIG corporate ferry in time. So he jogs slowly down sw 6th street, towards the glitter of water between the abandoned buildings that still stand along the 6th courtyard on his left. He hopes to find some illegal water taxi at 5th and 4th to take him down the river to Swire Key to go around the isle to the B-park. He is lucky. One older man, a Haitian to hear from his accent has just sold all his patties and frescos, and is willing for a steep rate to bring Curro to work. Curro curses under his breath, he really does not need this right now. The last thing he needs is to call father again for more money. Water and bread the rest of the week it seems. The boat trip is apart from the humming of the engine, peaceful. Left desolate buildings stand in the water until they hit the river proper and the increased speed bring a bit of cooling on this hot day. After rounding the point the Haitian cuts in front of the isle, more that 4 feet of water is standing over the old bridge now, more than enough for the small flat boat to approach the park from the west. Most of the tall Brickell buildings are gone now, recycled for its steel, mainly to elevate I95. Still the aorta for the city. If the flow stops, the magic dies.

Sweat is dripping down his back when Curro pays the man and finds his way to the checkpoint. Swire Key is Imperial territory from the day of occupancy, and the Key was owned by Chinese corporate head-figures long before then. Curro chooses this checkpoint over the Brickell-Point since only Imperial Card Holders are allowed to enter via B-park. His choice is right, not many people are entering at this time through the gate, although he does see the large silhouette of his boss at the front of the line. Quickly he ducks down to tighten his shoe lace and avoids being seen. His name will be on the list of late entries anyway, but it is a psychological thing. Curro curses the power outage in his building. Curses from Swire Key are dangerous spells. When the scanner notices the biodegradable implant under his wrist the screen turns green: “Franciso López Fernández, ICH, Havana”. The guards let him in, and Curro sighs as he counts the 49 steps up to the main entrance of the XNIG headquarters in the Americas. Every day these steps, these cogwheels of a corporate lucky charm take the fun out of reporting.

First things first: coffee. A strong brew and then messages: none. “Mmm is that good or bad”, he mumbles. Others ignore his mumbling habits. He did miss a meeting though. The spirits lift a bit after the coffee and being engulfed in airco-air. So he calls, again to the power company. Who direct him to his landlord, who directs him to the block curator. The dick.

“Twenty-eight-minutes. Twenty-eight. Oh, oh, oh, wait for it! Click. Twenty-nine-minutes. On hold.” The science of Muzak calms no-one, especially after twenty-nine-minutes of sweaty intimate moments with a mobile phone. Curro sighs, hate is a weak word for the feeling inside. It is more an explosive, infinite annoyance of supernova quality. From his neck protrudes his nervous tick. His tick is an obviously trained public speaker. With Shakespearean acting skills it draws the people in, to deliver the punch lines in the most prominent way. Just to make sure his co-workers get the proper translation Curro hits his hand flat on the desk, a sign of loss. A loss of control, of time and nerve. A look from another booth gets his answer: “why can these companies just pick up the phone or call me back... yeah hallo, hallo, fu...” and a grunt.

Curro is about the fling his phone through his standard issue “Interactive Holographic Active Matrix Organic Droplet”-screen”. Of course the nebulizer may get it, most likely another phone will be added to his expense sheet.

Sure enough. Curro’s IHAMOD comes to life as if to protest its earlier promise of an assault. It shows a picture of the large round face his boss, under it scrolls the message:

“[INSERT NAME] is requested to come to the office of the executive producer who is waiting for you. Bless the Emperor. May his heart full of light guide you through this day.”

Another harmless phone is saved. For now. Curro’s hand over the console pauses the image. Insert name? Curro is still fuming, but a silent heat-like boiling anger takes over so he slips his phone into his drink to silently protest all injustice done to him today, then he gets up to see why he is summoned. Either because he was late or those damn expense sheets. Insert name? Curro’s manicurial habit saves his palms from some bloody wounds. Then the ominous door of the executive producer swings open, while Curro tight fists slowly open like a fern unfurling in sweet morning rain. But Curro’s rain is black, thick and a toxic acid this morning. The silhouette blocks the streams of real-light that wants to intrude in TL-tube land. Some people blink. Time to go. He hopes it because he is late. If he gets chided again for his excessive expense sheets he needs to find another job. Curro has all the receipts somewhere, and an excuse for all of them. Now more people look out of their cubicles. Curiosity is a scared animal. He stands up slowly, gives a last look at his sad phone floating in his drink and with a light tread tries to calm himself after not talking to the block curator to not get his electrical problems fixed. Now he hopes he will not not keep his job. A day of everything starting late progresses nicely into a day of getting nothing done.

Curro comes face to face with the executive producer. The mountain they call him, for obvious reasons, but also because he is an extension of the Emperor: a symbol of stability and of the Earth itself. The mountain grins, “please come in and take a seat”. The moment Curro steps over the threshold, his spidey senses tingle. Curro feels it. Sometimes, he compares himself to a spider, a made-up hero from a long forgotten past. Nobody gets Curro’s jokes. He sits, the mountain stands in front of his desk. The roles are clear. So he waits for the mountain turns to volcano, yet a smile graces the face of his boss. Panic strikes Curro now. This is way worse than he could ever imagine.

He has read the reports from the illegal Spanish newspapers sold next door. The language is banned for decades now, a decree of the prior Emperor still strongly enforced. In little Havana many still speak it daily though and in Cuba news and newspapers are more openly defiant. Last week a headline in the Havana Post: “Federico López Famosa proposes changes in the trade agreements” and last month: “Strict regulations from our Glorious Leader dim the economy”. Something is brewing and it is clear that his father is a big part of it. Curro is not stupid. He understands that father only indulged in his son’s career choice because it puts his son on Swire Key, using Curro as a Cuban flag on Empirical grounds. But he thought he could make a difference; that he could show them. His disapproving family in Havana, and his friends who still call him stupid for not standing safely in his father’s shadow. So being here in the Mountain’s office without being scolded, without a hurricane trying to rip the flag off its post, is raising some red flags.

“Curro, I need you to travel to Havana to report on the parade of the Emperor. I know it is short notice, but see this as an opportunity. I had to pull Eddie out of Havana, the food I guess did not sit good with him”,

Curro knows when to be silent and when to speak. His father’s hard hand taught him that much, but all the hairs in his back are up. He feels like he wants to run and hide in the bushes until the scary monsters pass him by. It does not make any sense to feel this way. This is the break he is waiting for. To go and cover a story. To prove himself, to show Mountain and his father that he can do this. That he can cut it as a reporter. Yes, Havana makes sense, he is from there. Curro wonders if his father influenced this decision or does he not know about it? Curro looks up at Mountain. It does not matter if he is angry or sad or happy, his boss is always a closed book. But Curro doesn't need to read the Mountain's face to know that something is wrong. So, so wrong.

Curro shrugs. “Sure, cool, whatever”, he needs to recuperate from this strategic loss. Regroup his man, send out the scouts. Call the air force. Whatever it takes. “I mean thanks boss, this is a real big opportunity and I am honored... I meant to say, I will not let you down boss.” If he only could figure out what his strategic loss is. Why he is in the valley stuck in the swamp with footmen, pikes, and horses, and why the Mountain is overcrowding the hillsides with archers, sun in the back. Bows drawn, ready for the kill.

Moments later Curro is back at his desk. The corner of his screen jumps to action. All cubicles are silent. Curro never understood that. He tried once with a colleague: “do you not think it is a very unnerving setting for a office that is producing news”, a blank stare was his response. The office is indifferent to his opinion. Humming of the TL-tubes is a given. He waves his hand at the message, which inadvertently unlocks his screen. In the video a bot is explaining to him his travel arrangements and more boring details. When Curro hears the name of the hotel he supposes to stay at some of his earlier anger and anxiety comes back. The bot blabs on and he feels a slight vibration in his wrist. The ticket is uploaded to his bio-chip, but not his ID chip in his neck, it is to be a corporate trip after all.

Time to go to the cloakroom. Located in the damp basement is a small, overly protected warehouse where the correspondents can fetch their predestined needs for any trip. So Curro switches off his screen, decides to not retrieve his useless phone, and shimmies downstairs. There he presents his bio-chip and clicks and clacks behind the triple steel door tell him that the bots are doing their job. Curro is not too sure about the trip and he tries to recall all the words Mountain carefully laid out. He doesn’t buy the story about Eddie, but surely Eddie is not the to-go-guy for information on this. When home he must try get a hold of his father, but first he is forced to focus on the task at hand. A red flashy light tries to scare off an even more annoying siren. A relic robotic voice, probably never replaced for budget reasons or fitting a well-researched psychological pattern to scare people, barks at Curro: “step back behind the yellow line or we will engage”. Curro knows better than to reply, but he thinks: “engage? Engage in what?” He knows now is not the time to experiment, so he steps back behind the yellow line. The door swings open and via an ancient track a flat trolley stops just shy of the door opening. On its surface a back-pack that slides off while the surface inclines. The flashy red lights and the sound of the electro motors make this feel like he is in an old science fiction movie or something, but then the door closes, the lights stop and Curro is alone with that what he needs. He never understood why they call this the cloakroom.

Since his flight is in a few hours there is not time to check the content now, so he fetches the bag and hurries out the building. At B-park a corporate speedboat is waiting, with on its stern a proud display of the Imperial flag. Curro would be in trouble if he would not salute, so he half-heartedly pays his respects. The capitain nods and speeds of. The ride is short and brings him relatively close to his house since they took the shallow route through 3th sw street. Some poor deconstruction guys and steel-trippers still live here and floating pontoons with ladders to the 3rd floor line the houses. Some who did not get a job via the lottery this morning hang out the windows smoking cheap cigarettes staring at the boat and its flag. They do not salute.

The captain directs the plans: “Go fetch some stuff from your apartment, you leave in 30 minutes.”

The boat does not wait for him and when he turns the block into his street he understands why: a botcar is waiting for him. The power is not restored in his block yet and this means no shower, and no phone call to his father. He hopes that he got clearance for a mobile phone connector to his wrist implant, but when he shakes out the content of the bag it is clear that he has to try to call at the airport. The feeling of the morning is growing back. He is late and it feels like he is chasing an elusive shortcut in time. But unlike this morning he is rushed. This morning he rushed himself. Curro stares at the content on the bed. “Think Curro Think”.

Power problems are a constant in Little Havana. Water is a second constant in the dynamic formula of the city. So when Curro opens the blinds for some light to shave he finds that the water comes from the tap as it should. Thank God for that. He smiles as he opens the Bethania shaving cream. On the back a picture of a far relative who opened a macrobiotic store in Havana. The rest is history. Who would have thought that the expansion into natural and organic beauty products would bring his family so much fortune? Father loves mother, Curro does not question that, but if his mother Adelaida had not been the heir to the Bethania empire, he may have settled for someone else. Someone else to pay for his political career. Curro followed the steps carefully as his grandfather had taught him. He wets his face and the brush’s bristles with hot water; he dips the center of the brush in the tin jar of cream. The classical scent of vetiver fills the room as he lathers up the cream. Only a straight razor will do. With trained hands he turns his two-day beard into a smooth surface. The whole ceremony takes 10 precious minutes, but it calms Curro’s mind in the same way as a four-hour meditation session of a Buddhist monk.

He spreads out all items from the bag and tries to deduce some meaning from it. A book with a big red label on it: “Prohibited by the Emperor, special use only. Abuse will be punishable by death”. Barely readable due to sticker size: “English to Spanish to English dictionary”. Curro sighs. A map of Havana of at least 10 years before the Liberation Wars started, and a thick folder with background information about the parade, personal history of the current Emperor (mostly propaganda), and pants and a sweater. Curro is most intrigued by the clothing, but cannot figure it out. Curros packs some clothes, his electronic writing pad, two old fashioned books and his foldable IHAMOD cube for watching some movies or reading books for the long wait to get on the plane. Curro repacks his corporate bag and gets in the botcar.

“Welcome mister Francisco López, I will bring you to Tamiami Airport today. The roads are clear and we will be there in no time.”

The optimistic tone of the bot is not shared with Curro. He looks at the newly build ramp from 3rd avenue onto the Dixie highway. Curro knows better but tries a conversation anyway.

“Why are you bringing me to Tamiami? I thought all traffic to Cuba is conducted by the Suzong International Airport.”

The bot replied with a chipper voice: “Each year on average 200 flights are conducted from Tamiami to Havana which constitutes 2 percent of all flights to Havana”.

Curro grunts and sees they are already following the remains of the old tracks. The demand of steel did slow down the use of trains. He is getting a bit nervous now, they are getting close.

“Do not worry sir”, the bot chippers on, “I can almost see the dikes that shield the airport now”.

It is just that proximity to the airport that feeds Curro’s worries. He rubs his hand over his smooth chin to subconsciously calm himself. To no avail. It is like some of Mountains archers already fired while Curro is staring at the sun and spots of light dance like moths around a light-bulb.

Half an hour later the air-taxi to Havana takes off. The 22 minutes it takes will not give him much time to call his father. The small plane is half full. Luckily corporate seats come with a phone. He calls his father’s office.

“Yeah hallo”, Curro decides to speak English, most likely this call will end up on a RE-FRAM stick on Mountains desk. At least on his desk. It is good not to piss off the wrong people by speaking an official language.

“Hello, yes this is Franciso López Fernández, son of Federico López Famosa, could you get him on the phone?”

“Mmm, aha, yes this is his son and this is urgent. Tell him I am on an air-taxi to Havana right now, yes right now. Ok, yes... I will hold”, Curro squeezes the phone in his hand as if it is a stress ball. Old stale Cubatón Muzak fills his ears and some of the earlier stress of the day is coming back.

“Ola, yes hello father”, it is a miracle. Only 8 minutes on hold. It also means not much time left. “Yes father, you got that right. I am on my way to Havana right now. I will land in 10..12 minutes. Mountain himself send me to report on the Parade”. Curro wishes he could feel more proud of his breakthrough assignment, but strangely enough he does not. Father is silent for a moment. Then instructions follow. Curro listens intently.

“Alright I will do just that. No hotel and I will see you first, yes I know what you mean. Yes, father I understand. No father, under no circumstance. Yes, yes, I will see you soon”.

Curro puts down the phone and a sigh escapes his body. The air-taxi starts its vertical descent. Curro stares out the window with the skyscrapers of Havana in the background. The instructions of father are clear: do not go to the hotel; seek out a trusted face and only get with him in the car to his father’s office when the time is there; do not trust anyone else. Curro was right. Mountain was up to something. Father must know something, why else all these precautions? A few moments later the air-taxi merges with the ground. The noise stops, the movements stop. Cuba. To Curro its been many things, but for now it is a safe place. Home, against all odds.

Curro steps into the airport and the military presence, the green uniforms stand out. He was in the occupied territories long enough to feel awkward in their direct ubiety. Also Spanish is drowning him. It startles a renaissance in Curro, awakes a new identity of an expat returning home. The familiar filtered with new eyes. An old world, a new Cuba. He fetches his bag, and due to the latest in Individual Person Tracking technology Curro can walk out of the airport without problems, while all his movements are documented for the state archives. No chips needed in Cuba.

“IPT is here for you! No more implants, no hassle, we take care of you!”

The billboards are clear. The newest of technologies invented by the Chinese to monitor and control their subjects is a miracle for your personal freedom. Most people are not convinced. Curro wishes he had less chips in his body.

All the flashy billboards distract Curro. He almost misses the familiar face. Curro smiles as he sees Ernesto, a servant of Father from the early days. He missed him in his latest visits. They hug and avoid the string of Asian tourists who are allowed to travel to the Chinese speaking areas of the Centro who houses most of the Barrio Chino, and the English speaking Vieja. The Revolution Square is off limits now due to the preparations of the parade that would take place in only two days.

“How have you been?”, Curro starts and Ernesto smiles while he puts an arm around him, with the other he takes Curro’s bag.

“Havana has missed you, son of the Revolution”, Ernesto always pulls a dramatic feather from his sleeve. “Come I bring you where you will dine and sleep tonight, where we lay your bag to rest, and we will take something a little wet at La Rosa so you can fill me in on what a dump you live in. You cannot believe some of the technology the Chinese are bringing in the last few years you were gone.”

“Father is ok with that?”

Ernesto shrugs his shoulders. He is older that Curro, halfway between him and his father’s age. To Curro he was an older brother, but now he was wondering if Ernesto had felt the same.

“Your father has done great things for Cuba, but I feel he needs to remember sometimes who gave all that to him. Anyway, we can talk shop later, after the parade. I cannot believe that Currocico is now to report on the great Parade. You know this is the first parade of the Emperor outside of China for 3 generations? Well of course you do! If you did your homework.”

Outside Ernesto mouths “taxi” while standing on the curb and seconds later a cab pulls up, “you gotta love that IPT”. Curro blinks and looks back at the airport and the ease of it all. Again his senses tell him not to follow, not to step into the taxi. Ernesto sticks his head out the door, “are you coming or what?” The sun hits Curro in the eyes and almost he hears the battlefield, almost he can smell the sweat, the horses, the iron smell of blood, mud, and trampled grass. A horn wakes him up; the next taxi wants the spot. Curro gets in.

Hotel, a fine meal of yuca con mojo, and mojitos follow that Ernesto had promised. Then they head to La Rosa, a tavern where Curro spend many nights trying to avoid the responsibilities his father though his son needed to have. Many nights it was Ernesto who brought him home, if Curro did not find the temporary love of his life. La Rosa. At the moment Curro opens the door if floods back in. The colors, the smells, and the fine feminine Cuban asses, for sure this is destiny. A divine plan. In true renaissance style Curro finds old habits in a new era of insight and wisdom. The front line pulls back, the stale smell of fear in the air is gone. In his mind he envisions a pavilion tent and a treaty is to be signed between Curro and the Mountain. The parade is far, far away. Plenty of time to report on it after he will meet his father tomorrow. Ernesto laid out all the plans. Curro gets piss-drunk in no time.

##

Curro wakes up on his stomach, under his face a damaged concrete floor and its broken pieces. He blinks to see that he is not in his room. Air flows over him, Curro is shivering, despite the warmth that drips in through the hole in the wall. Dry rot clings on to the last pieces of the windowsill. The smell is horrible. Curro rolls over and wipes some vomit off his face, of his sleeve and gets up. Curro stumbles, his knees are weak. His stomach turns and from deep comes some horrid bile. The bitter, green slime as it splatters on the floor is almost too much for his stomach to bare, but he can hold the rest in. Curro steps blinking into the sunlight towards the open window for some air. He trips over something and lands with his chin on the windowsill, which snaps off. The taste of blood fills his mouth, though nauseating, it is an improvement of the bile taste.

Curro touches his chin. “Fuck that hurts”, his hand is full of blood. His chin is split. Next to him his corporate bag, minus the clothes that he got from the cloakroom. He is wearing them. “What the ...”. Then it dawns on Curro. He is not in Miami, he is in Havana, and he is having the worst hangover. Ever. In the history of hangovers. His head is pounding and he needs to know where he is. So he gets up slowly. Sounds from outside are dripping in. Curro is getting his senses back and when he holds his hand over his eyes he is stumped. From his location he could see the Tulipan. He is not facing the Avenida Revolucionaria, but he can see it. He can hear it. The Parade. Curro shakes his head as a cow flinging off flies that never leave. Before him is the parade. “Two days, I lost two days?, Curro’s mind is dull, his chin is pounding and still dripping blood. His clothes are filthy. No shower in 4 days, vomit, bile, and mold. The morning sun plays in his eyes. Visions of the battlefield come back. There never was a treaty, it was an ambush. Foul play. The Mountain never ordered his men to leave the higher grounds. Next to archers Curro now finds cannons. Outnumbered 20 to 1, just a handful of friends next to him.

Then the shots come. Sharp like lightning directly overhead. First one, followed by 2. Seconds later a final one. Due to his unique vantage point Curro oversees the death of the Emperor as the Great Leader drives by, now slumping over in his Empirical Wagon. Screams in the street. People run by away from the scene. Military green, red on the shoulders. Imperial guards run up as well. No! It can’t be. Spidey sense is going crazy and before Curro can fathom anything, but just enough to want to get the hell out of here, just then it is over. The door is kicked in. Chinese Imperial guards, local police and Ernesto in Cuban uniform form half a circle. Guns are on him. The last man standing on the mud fields of Mountain’s battlefield is already dead. Curro puts his hands up.

Ernesto points at him, “Yes, that is him. López’s own son. I would not belief it if I did not see it with my own eyes. He did it, he killed him!”

Curro’s knees fail to work and he falls to the ground. He never did get away from his father’s shadow after all.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2014-2017




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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
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