The False Boyhood; The Blank Page

The page lay open and plain-white like pressed t-shirts hanging on the line when his mother used to wash his clothes as a boy. Except that was thrilling, running through the sheets, the laundry, the wind. Innocence was always on his lips and turmoil at his back, the way he shaped the tall grass with his feet as he ran past.

But those days, those engorged and fattened memories, were gone.

Many of them never even existed; they were only figments of his imagination, taken out of context or expanded like a hot-air balloon from a line in a book, twisted like ribbon to fit the path he wished his life had taken. In hindsight, he always remembered his house as being small - like a cottage - with shutters and laundry hanging outside on the line. The stark, harsh reality was that he lived in a rundown, one-room shack with single-pane windows that leaked when it rained and, if his mother ever did the laundry, the shirts and things hung inside so that they wouldn't catch the scent of burning trash.

So he found himself in front of a white, blank page again. Except now, it was white like the lies he told himself so that he could sleep more easily, dream like men should, finding ways to comfort himself with little, twisted ribbons.

Except now, like always, those lies paid the rent and he was running shy on gasoline to go from the Painful truth to the Pleasurable little ribbon. So he began to type and, instead of lying, he found the truth a cold, sharp blade against his wrists that welcomed him home with open arms.

Skin Tapestry

The blind woman had hands rough and stone-hewn. They worked the loom, keeping it free of tangles and knots, her feet pressing the pedal in her own, natural rhythm. Her hands were calloused and bloodstained, but deft. Her face was perpetually turned to the paneless window, neither smile or grimace meeting the horizon. Day in and day out, she loomed, never pausing to eat or sleep, or rest.

As far back as Andrew could remember she was there, quietly looming away his own flesh. His skin peeled away from his musculature, always to her loom. The boy's memory did not go back so far that he could remember the details of his kidnapping, or even to a time that he could recall ever wearing clothes. He had always been in pain, naked and in the company of the Blind Loomer.

The tower had a single table, with a solitary lamp along its wall. The blind woman sat at the window while the tapestry continued its own construction behind her. Every year, it seemed the ceiling of the room stretched a little higher in order to accomodate the size of the giant mural. Andrew could make out no details of construction except, by some hidden magic, the tapestry needed no worker to continue; by a mind of its own, it threaded the ever-growing fabric into its own wall of substance.

Andrew's bed consisted of a blood-stained sheet, an old shoe that he used as a pillow, and a horse-blanket. Once a day, a slit at the foot of the door would reveal an outer wall; there, a hand would push in a jar of water and a green, earth-smelling pill. In the beginning - or what Andrew recalled as the beginning - he tried to communicate his emotion to the hand. He yelled at it, spit upon it, and once, without thinking, he stomped his entire weight upon it. Then, and only then, did the owner of the hand make any noise and with a terrible roar came these words from behind the door:

"You will pay for that, Skin-Reaper! Mark my words, you will pay!" Boots could be heard tramping down the stairs, echoing off the stone and mortar walls, echoing long after the man was out of the tower and across the muck-ridden water of the moat.

For the next three days, the slit at the foot of the wall did not open and, to Andrew's amazement, the skin that was being ripped from his body did not regrow as quickly as before. The pain began to nab at his mind. He found that he dared not walk around, lest a vibration sing up his spine and shake his insides. At noon of the second day, he noticed that he could push two fingers between his muscles and into his abdomonal cavity. By the dawn of the third day, he could plainly feel the bone of 4 ribs, make out the muscles and sinew of his side and, should he push hard enough, feel the expansion and compression of his lungs.

The pain was unbearable. He had no tears to cry, only blood to bleed. A sloppy, sticky puddle began to accumulate beneath him, eventually soaking the entire floor of the tower. When he got up to move, more skin would come loose, prying itself free of him, crackling and creaking like old paint.

During this time, the blind woman continued looming. Andrew's skin, the stuff that had caused a war only 2 decades before, continued from the boy's body to the loom in a never-ending thread. Where it pulled away from his frame, the blood would gleam bright red. As his skin entered the loom, the blind woman would turn it into thread and, as it worked its way out of the looming wheel, it fell into an ever-shrinking coil. It traveled next from coil to tapestry, each line of flesh finding its place in the grand mural.

By the time the slit opened at the foot of the door, Andrew could barely breathe. He ran a high fever; sweat beaded his brow and the skin being torn away from his back could now be heard inside his ears. His heart, finding trouble keeping up with the amount of blood loss, was resounding throughout his body, each beat pushing more blood onto the stone floor where it grew dry, sticky and iron-smelling.

For only the second time in his life, Andrew saw the door of his prison open. Through blurry eyes, he caught the soles of four black, polished boots stomping toward him. One man retched at the scent while the other kicked Andrew in his exposed ribs.

"I told you that you would pay for that one," the punting officer said.
"Indeed," Andrew said through grit teeth.

Turning him over, the officers forced the earthen pill in his mouth and down his throat. Next, they dumped a pail of water onto the floor, little good it did.

"Tomorrow," the retching officer said, "we'll get some hay up here to soak up the blood. In no time at all, you'll be good as new." Andrew fell into a dreamless sleep as the officers turned on their heels, leaving the way they came. The lonely tower door clanged behind them. The last thing Andrew heard were the keys turning the tumblers in the lock.

The next day, he awoke to the grunting of the retching officer clamoring up the stairs. Turning his key in the lock, the officer pushed open the door just long enough to toss in a bail of hay and wipe his brow.

"You can feel free to soak up that blood, boy," he said and clanged the door shut. Andrew, for all the pain he had endured over the last three days, was now good as new - or as good as he could be - the skin coming off his frame easily and without pain.

Over the course of the next year, Andrew came to a few stark realizations. First, he would never escape and, whatever end the tapestry was being created for, it would surely result in his death. Secondly, the only help he could ever hope for could only come from himself - the Blind Loomer, as much as he thought of her as a fellow prisoner -- could just as easily be a table lamp or another stone in the wall for all the notice she took of him.

That afternoon, while the Blind Loomer continued to turn his flesh into skin, the boy rushed against the loom, hoping to deal a crushing blow to the wheel and, by his own strength, destroy his destroyer. As hard and repeatedly as he tried to turn the device to cinders, it continued to turn and spin, threading his very body into cordage. Furiously, he paced the floor, his heels sticking to the long-dried blood. He could come up with no solution save one.

In his mind, he settled the matter once and for all.

The next day , the slit at the foot of the door slid open and both water and earthen-pill made their way onto his floor. Andrew bit into the pill, only consuming half of it but drinking all of the water. The rest of the day, his skin tore a little easier, a little more painfully, but still he continued on.

He did this for the next fortnight so that, by the 15th day, Andrew had amassed eight whole pills. Carefully now, he took each one, naming them all the names of the friends he wished he would have had as a child. After the seventh whole pill, he felt like he could tackle the world. His skin sizzled and cracked; his head felt two times too large; his heart pounded in his ears, not like when it could not keep up with his blood loss, but this time in exhilaration. He took the eighth pill and named it Andrew, just like him.

Then, breathing heavily in anticipation, he took up the remaining cordage in his hand, went to the windowsill, and jumped. As he raced to the ground below, he whooped and hollered, flying and feeling free. The descent was longer than he anticipated as he quickly ran out of roped skin and his own flesh unraveled against his musculature. Ever faster, the skin ripped from his legs, now his back and abdomen, now his arms, never slowing his fall. As his grotesque frame slammed into the earth below, Andrew realized that he was now but a flying, breathing skeleton.

And then he was no more.



Lord General Lee Osaka Damascus was ruthless. Hated by his contemporaries, he got all of the credit for ending the first war against the Canids and kept his nose well above the stench of other Lord Generals. He was also the only reason his race didn't suffer the same fate as the original inhabitants of Agri1. At the start of that conflict, the humans were on the brink of total extinction; the enemy were infiltrating the No Orbit Zone, had outmaneuvered humanity's best pilots and were reaching deeper into the Milky Way. But, like a savior, Damascus had shown up and thrown caution - and traditional tactics with it - to the wind. After 5 generations of peace, this man led humanity into war.

Early on, he captured a full squadron of beasties. He gleaned valuable information from them, breaking their minds in the process. They became known as Damascus's Dogs -- used against their own race, they were forced to fight for the Lord General's cause. Anti-propaganda, fear tactics, promises of power: they were all tools utilized to keep the DD in working order. However, Damascus had a secret weapon: when asked how he did it by the Planetary Magistrate, he noted, "Seize chips go a long way." The defense sector was stunned. More powerful than shock collars, the seizure-inducing chip could be implanted under the skin, unnoticed, and controlled remotely. It was rogue technology, black listed, illegal. Knowledge of the DD was kept to a bare minimal - the public remained in the dark. So, when Damascus killed his own men to make the Dogs look like they were working for their original cause, the public - as well as the enemy - were none the wiser. According to a report published by The Canid Ministry of Defense before they were absolved of power, "The 515th squadron has gone above and beyond all previous hopes. As a team, they are without equal. Each man utilizes the most extreme force and, without fail, comes back with more human deaths than we could have hoped. They are the terrors of human children. These men are the things of nightmares, with no eyes except for the war. Single-handedly, they are winning this conflict."

Within the next 6 months, the 515th squadron were being awarded medals for incalcuable valor. They dressed in their best, went to meet their Supreme Emporer and, as the Ace shook his hand, they murdered him in cold blood.

Damascus had kept his fleet out of reach, just beyond the largest moon. In the ensuing chaos, he moved in, took over the planet, and forced everyone into Packing Ships. He sent them -- all of them: men, women and children -- to the sun. Every living member of the race that humans came to know as the beasties died at the hand of Lord General Damascus.

Now, 30 years later, he stood at the bridge of "Light Destroyer," surveying the carnage as it played out on 12 holo screens before him; surveying his empire. 35 years of war had hardened his character; the terrors of deep space tempered his resolve. He looked on with a smile on his face. It was good to be king.

Of course, that wasn't his official title. He still answered to the Conglomerate of Corporations and Congress, but, without him, they would have all died a long time ago. Even as things currently stood, he might still kill them and take over. Chuckling to himself at the thought, he gripped the railing of the bridge until the tightened skin over his knuckles turned white. One day. One day.


In the middle of a corn field, there are no shadows. The boy crouched low, stalking his prey. He had been out here for over an hour, bent over low, countless scratches criss-crossing his arms and face. Sweat trickled down his brow and he let it slide down the slope of his nose, accumulate, and then drop to the floor below. In his left hand, he held a blade as long as his hand, its hilt weighted and wrapped so as to cut down on blisters. Only 11, he had it as long as he could remember. Somehow, over the course of his stay on Terra 1, he'd managed to keep the pigsticker a secret. If he were caught with it, he would lose layers of skin and be forced to work well past dark.

To his right, he heard his prey break cover and begin moving again. Centering himself and keeping his breath stable, the boy kept low and walked in the larger prints left before him, careful not to alert the ringbeast. He began gaining ground, occassionally sniffing the air for track or stopping to listen. The ringbeasts were intelligent, but the boy always found a way to keep his scent hidden, eventually ending upwind of them, circling them in, ending in a war of attrition.

He knew that part was coming soon - the war - and he reveled in it. These horned pig-like beasts - they had been the bane of his young existence, thrashing about in the corn fields, killing children, shrinking profit. And if there was any one thing his magisterate could not tolerate, it was a shrinking profit. He could always find more Warphans, the way the Lord Generals commanded the armies these days. Careful not to let his thoughts get the best of him, the boy continued circling, tighter and tigher, until he was nearly on top of the ringbeast. He caught sight of it then and became only slightly alarmed; it was larger than the rest of the beasts he had previously killed and its 6 horns were all blood bolted, dark and shining.

Slinging the blade overhead, he let it fly, end over end, slicing through the air until it found its mark. The boy's aim was true - the blade embedded itself deep into the gut of the beast and it howled and thrashed. Jumping out of the way and onto the back of the ringbeast, the boy took hold of the ringbeasts' horns like handlebars and, pulling his blade from its gorey side, he continued the assault, repeatedly stabbing it until the blood flowed and the beast fell snout forward, sliding on its front legs.


Making for the Shore

From the shore, the lake looked as large and far-reaching as the Pacific. The sun, past its zenith but no where near setting, cast a line of reflected light across the water that ended at the feet of Tyson. Untying his boots, he shucked them off like old skin, stretched his toes in the hot sand, lifted one and then the other, checking for blisters from the days' work and then, without a backward glance to the old truck, placed them in the cool water, right where the sun came to kiss his frame. He covered his toes, then his ankles. Before long, he was knee deep in the lake. He pulled his shirt over his head, threw it on the shoes and dove headfirst.

He thought his heart would stop, the temperature change was so violent. While the shallow water was cool enough not to gasp, the depths were anything but warm. Tyson came up for air as he swam farther from his life of work and toil and sweat, then dove below the surface again, kicking like a dolphin and clamping his eyes shut against the muck below. He continued to move North and the sunlight's pitter-pattered feet continued to mark his progess, it following him as he swam like a beacon in the darkness.

His arms began to throb, but still he swam. His lungs began to wheeze and whine, but still he moved onward, stroke for stroke, kick for kick. As a child, he competed in events for a club swim team and, as he now headed for the opposite shore, still invisible, the form of a natural-born swimmer returned to him, his muscles remembering to pull his arms tight to his ears, his kicks becoming less violent and more refined. His breathing improved, no longer taking great gasps, but only moving his head over to the side in line with his shoulders, taking small, controlled breaths so that he could keep up the 1 2 3 rhythm of the stroke.

An hour later, the pain in his side was so terrible that he considered quitting. The calm, controlled breathing felt labored; his legs hurt and occassionally, he'd find them dragging behind him until he forced them into propelling him forward, keeping him on course. At one point, he swam over a bed of lakeweed and his legs, tangling in the stuff, pulled him backward. Grunting, Tyson stopped his forward motion, grabbed at his ankles and unhitched himself from the underwater garden. He stopped, breathing heavily, egg-beatering to stay afloat.

He wiped his brow and took slow breaths, opening his eyes to see what lay before him.

The distant shore was no longer distant, but a mammoth of mesas and shoreline stretched out before him. The boy cried, silently, to himself. He continued on, kicking and paddling again, head down.

As the sun sank below the waters, the moon came up to greet him, marking his place in the lake like a pin on a map. It was high overhead when Tyson finally found the shallows and collapsed in a heap on the far shore, now his new home. Gasping and spitting, his fingers and toes long water-wrinkled, he hugged dry land and his chest heaved again and again. Chuckling, he kept his eyes open until they hurt, he ogling the rock-pocked shore of his new home.

He had done it. He swam to Sanctuary.


A late lesson

"This goddamn chair is goddamn uncomfortable."

"What did I tell you about taking the Lord's name in vain, Clinton?" Howard stood over the fire, warming his hands, while his 17 year old son sat on one of the tri-pod chairs they had brought. They were sold cheap and made cheaper, with very little material used for the buttocks and no back at all. They are goddamn uncomfortable, Howard thought. He looked at his boy, measuring him. Strong build and average height, but with a streak of mean in him that would sprout up unexpectedly. He's more like my father than I ever had a right to be, Howard reasoned.

They had gotten into the National Forest well after dark the night before. Howard practically had to drag the young man from the house, turning off the computer while Clinton was playing his favorite video game. The moon was high and full when they finally made camp, but at least they had some light to go by. While Clinton was raised working with his hands, he had never pitched a tent, cut firewood or made a fire. This will be his coming into manhood, Howard believed. This will give us something to talk about. Already though, they were trudging through great marshes of silence, with Clinton only speaking occasionally and only then to complain. Raising the boy, Howard and Clinton never saw eye to eye. Howard thought Clinton a mama's boy; Clinton thought his father an asshole. Finally beginning to put a picture of himself together as his son saw him, Howard looked at the boy again, eyeing the way his hands played over the divets in an oak branch.

"These goddamn seats are goddamn uncomfortable, though," he said aloud. The boy looked up, unsure what to make of his father. Howard gave a slight smile and pressed forward. "You ever wonder what God would say if he were to hit his thumb with a hammer. What if he has the hammer at the ready," Howard grabs a similar branch to Clinton's, bends over and pretends to nail, "and then BAM! He hits himself. You think he'd go 'Medamnit!'?" The older man chuckles and eyes his son.

"You're trying too hard, Pop."

"Ah, I see. Well, just trying to lighten the mood," says the elder. He tosses the wood into the fire and the embers float up with the smoke, dissipating in the the cover of the California black oak. "No harm, no foul, I suppose."

"I suppose not. Hey, can I ask you something,?"

"Of course."

"What makes these divets here, in the wood?" Clinton hands the branch to Howard, who turns it over in his hand, feeling the grooves left behind.

"You ever see the half-eaten leaves after a caterpillar gets done feeding? This is similar to that only, instead of a caterpillar doing the chomping, it's a bark beetle. These pesky things get into a forest and can kill 200 year old trees quicker than you'd think. Where a caterpillar eats until they're ready to cocoon, beetles just eat and eat and eat, destroying whole forests. Their grooves make pretty designs in walking sticks, though." Howard hands the branch back to Clinton, who takes it and looks again at the grooves, this time a little more thoughtfully.

"Thanks," he says.

"Yep." They sit in silence a little longer, both looking at the fire as it smolders.

"How'd you learn all this, anyway?"

Howard chuckles half to himself and says, "Well, I had this idea as a kid that a man should be able to track and hunt and know his way around a forest. I didn't realize that a man really needs to know how to work a job, play well with others and know his way around a city. Anyway, I bought lots of books as a kid and spent a lot of time behind your grandpa's house in the woods. Not to mention, I also watched a lot of National Geographic before it was cool to do so and even spent my summers in college hiking across the U.S. and Canada."

"Wait, what?"

"What what?"

"You spent your summers in college hiking across the U.S. and Canada?!"

"Well, yeah. That's how I managed to meet your mother in Oregon. I'm surprised she never told you."

"Come on, Pop, we're close, but we don't talk like that. That's awesome. So, you have a lot of knowledge of this kind of thing. What got you into hiking and how'd you decide to hike across the U.S.? And why Canada of all places? Why not some South American rainforest?"

"OK OK. Haha. For the second question, that's easy enough. I didn't go to the rainforests for two reasons. First: money. Second: language. I hiked Canada for the same reasons I didn't hike South America. And I don't know what got me into hiking. I think it was a combination of just who I was and the books I read, etc."

The silence crept in again and the men continued examining the fire, then their feet, then the soil.

"So," Clinton finally said, "can you teach me?"

"Teach you what?"

"You know. To be a man. Like you said. Will you teach me?"


The Exchange

The pain in his gut was so intense it made his head buzz. He lay on the cold concrete, his warm blood seeping beneath him and staining the ground, his clothes, his backside.

"And my mom said to always wear clean underwear," he thought. "Good use that's doing." He smiled to himself, thinking of his mother: her warm cocoa eyes, her smile to him when he was a child, the way her hands made soup for him when he was sick.

"Now don't worry, Joshie," she would say, "this is going to warm you up and put you good as new in no time. Just you watch." She would hand him the soup in an overgrown Papa Smurf mug, he laying bundled in blankets on the cinnamon-colored couch in the living room. She'd bend down to him, the back-side of her palm touching his forehead, then cheeks. A quick warning of the soup's heat and then she'd slip two ice cubes in like skinny dippers. He loved hearing the ice crack under the heat of the soup, the cold cubes touching his lip as he sipped, the warmth of the broth seeping down his throat, cascading into his adbomen. "You know," she said once, "I never can tell what your temperature is with my hands, especially after holding that chicken noodle," and she bent over and kissed his forehead.

"Definitely feverish," she said, "but definitely mine." She smiled down at him and he smiled back - feverish, sick and happy.

Now he lay dying in a pool of his own blood on the cold concrete ground outside the elementary school. Perkins said they should meet here and Josh brought the package, as demanded. They met just out of range of the streetlight, each man hiding his wickedness in the shadows. He gave Perkins the brown paper bag and, upon inspecting its contents, Perkins gave him 2 slugs from his .45 for his troubles.

"Thanks mate," the sluggish Aussie said. The streetlight showed the man's shadow lumber back to the Lincoln Towncar. The engine started and then receded into the night.

His breathing was beginning to come in gasps and he could taste the blood in the back of his throat. "Nothing like mom's chicken noodle," he mused. Closing his eyes, breathing through his nose, he thought of her and what she might think of him tonight, bleeding out in the chilly evening.


In the barn

Just a writing exercise to keep me writing...


We lay in the haystacks, breathing heavily. The deep shade from the barn loft hid the seawater of her eyes from me. Sweat began to glisten and stick below my t-shirt. I lay there, panting. In, a maelstrom of cool air into my nose. Out, a tornado of warmth out my mouth. She rolled onto her side, propping up her head with an arm, looking at me.

Not staring, just casually observing.

We lay like that a while. I, on my back, mostly staring at the roof of the barn, counting the spiderwebs and chips in the paint. She, on her side, observing me with a grin in her eyes until I could stand it no longer. I rolled to my side and matched her posture.

"May I help you?," I asked.

"Oh, you already have, darlin'. Though, I could always use a little MORE help."

Women are not supposed to talk this way, I figured. At least, I had never heard such. She grinned at me, her black hair falling into her eyes, she sweeping it away with her hand.


The Wolves

There was a raging in his heart, like an earthquake, and the waves of his emotions overran him. As a child, he didn't fit in; his father called him wild and his mother, vibrant. If he had an outlet as he grew, he reflected, he may not have ended up on a mountain, in the wilderness, alone.

That isn't true, he told himself. He always had a wolf inside him, and things could be no different.

He sat against a sugar pine, in the middle of the cold winter weather, a fire dug out of the earth, with warming stones in place for the long rest of the evening. He heard the wolves in the darkness, baying. Smiling to himself (for there was no one else to smile to), he whittled at the manzanita branch he found hiking earlier. His hands worked methodically to keep the cold away, scraping here, pruning there. From the raw branch, he began the work and turned it, slowly, into what would be a whistle. It had little shape now, but he saw it, deep down, the whistle in the wood. The potential. The shape within the shapeless.

He kept at it, the working, the whittling. It kept the cold, and the lonelisness, away. The pack he brought into the mountains was now much lighter than when he left the city - he was coming to the point when he would only be able to rely on his own arms and legs and heart for nourishment.

It has come to this, he thought. Soon, I will be a man.

Hours later, he let the fire sink down to embers and covered himself, looking through the pine needles to the expanse of stars above. We never saw these at home, he thought. The Milky Way had begun its sojourn across the night sky and he knew without knowing that it was past midnight. The wolves had gone quiet a while ago and the night animals were all away, tending to their own needs.

Sleeping would be the need most at hand, he reasoned. And yet, he could not sleep. The moon's light was too bright - the woodland was too quiet. His mind wandered too briskly. He called to mind his mother, his sister, his dad. He wondered where they were, what their beds were made of, who they kept for company in the night.

As for me, I have the wolves.