Fisherman

A man was night fishing at surf’s edge in the darkness of a new moon.

He felt a strong tug on his rod and the battle began with what he thought must be a hammerhead shark. But as he began to win the contest and reeled the creature to shore, he saw a tumble of arms and legs. These were so pale that they glowed with their own sort of moonlight. These human limbs were almost phosphorescent.

It was a boy, he figured a corpse, some luckless soul drowned at sea.

As he pulled the body onto dry sand, using his hands now, he heard a sputtering, and fish-like sounds came from the mouth. Though it appeared to be a boy with long jet black hair, webs and fins were all about the body. This “boy” had human legs. It was not a merman. The creature seemed stunned from having been pulled from its element.

“Speak!” the man commanded the creature.

But it could only gurgle in the air. Perhaps, he thought, it could speak only underwater.

So the fisherman took his club and beat it to death.

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When the fisherman served the flesh of the sea creature in a soup to his son, the boy was puzzled by the strange taste.

“What sort of fish is this?” he asked. A clear distaste was evident in his face, the twisting of his handsome features.

“Monkfish,” the father replied, without looking up from his own bowl.

They had only each other as family. The boy’s mother had died in childbirth. He had learned to trust his father. Though the young man did not like the taste of the strange “fish,” in fact despised it, he dutifully finished the meal.

Soon after that night, the fisherman’s son fell sick. He fell into a torpor and then a fever. He raved in his bed as he tossed and turned. He talked constantly of the sea. He told his father he would die if he were not placed in the sea.

A doctor was consulted but could do nothing. The father felt great shame for having fed his son the flesh of the creature. Oddly enough, he himself had not fallen ill, though he had eaten the same meal.

After more than a week of his son’s suffering and worsening of his condition, the father took his son to the sea. The moon was now restored, bright. He carried the boy to the surf’s edge. He laid him in the soothing, wet sand.

As soon as he began splashing some water on his son’s face, the boy seemed to improve a little. He said it helped.

“These clothes,” his son moaned. The father understood and helped him out of his sweat-drenched vestments. He was horrified to see the fins that had sprouted on his son’s arms, on his legs near his ankles, the webbing between his toes and around his neck.

The boy began to crawl towards the sea.

The father saw him struggling and helped him to reach a depth of water where he could float. He could feel his son growing stronger by the minute as they went further into the ocean.

His son smiled. Then he laughed.

“Thank you, father. Thank you thank you thank thank you….” he said as he swam away.

(This is my adaptation of a Japanese folktale of which countless versions exist.)

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Erasmus

The house is wrong. It is wrong that the house was even built. Call it a castle if you must. It might warrant it for size, but it would be a misnomer, as it is something else. It’s not a castle. Castles are things that humans make. It’s not really a house. Something so vast is not a house. It can’t be a house. Not if it has all those rooms, those dank warrens of chambers, where no one goes. To call it a home is not quite right either. Though three live there. Only the three cats. They have lived there longer than anyone but they themselves could possibly remember.

Call it a building. Call it a structure. Call it an edifice.

The cats wish it would be gone. For they are its servants and its guardians, pledged to watch over the structure and keep its magic safe. For the castle is powerful. In itself. It is energizing. They wish it would just vanish as the island upon which it sits vanished long ago. You cannot see the island in its channel. Isoltane needs no fog to hide it. It is invisible. You cannot see the stones of Isoltane. That is the name the witch gave the stones which hold the form of the house or castle or whatever it is.

Isoltane and the island upon which it sits are invisible until a human foot steps upon the island. Then all becomes clear. But men in boats or ships can only find the island, find Isoltane, by accident. They must accidentally land there. This has only happened twice. There are creatures in the water who fend off sea-goers who would be sea-comers. This is an additional finny protection. These creatures have ways of reducing the chances that any human will set foot upon the island. But sometimes they slip up. Twice they did fail to prevent landings. Both arrivals ended badly and the accidental guests never left the island. They are at the bottom of the island. Those men are at the bottom of Isoltane. Their boats are ashes at the bottom of the sea that sloshes coldly against jagged, green stones which gird the island over which Isoltane floats. Yes, Isoltane floats (ever so slightly) since a witch’s house must not rest upon the earth.

Isoltane is an aeolian dwelling. It is powered by wind, the strong winds of the channel. The uppermost floor of the castle (here I will give in and use that word) is open to the sky at either end. It is a channel for the winds that come off the water, off the waves. It is a tunnel to channel the winds that come off the water and its cold waves. The wind screams through that hall and there are machines which catch it, which harness its power. These machines turn other machines below and the power of the sky animates the strange house. The sea, then, manages the house. The house belongs to the sea in whose channel it sits. Nobody knows who built it. Probably someone enchanted by the witch whose house (not home) this once was. Witches do not have homes. They have houses. Or perhaps the stones were levitated into place by musicians whose instruments possessed the charms to accomplish this. This was a quite common form of home construction in the Ancient World. A magician who could ensorcel stones with his lyre would make a good contractor in those days.

The three cats occupy the three levels of Isoltane. Erasmus the Elder occupies the uppermost floor. He has patroled it for many human lifetimes. Merribelle the Huntress watches over the second level of Isoltane. And Dolor the Miserable patrols the lowest level of the castle.

The cats of Isoltane gather frequently to pool their information and fine-tune their strategy. Make no mistake: the guardianship of Istoltane is a military operation. You might think they lead sedentary existences, since they are cats and since humans so rarely arrive there. This is not so. Though humans rarely chance upon the island, the original owner of Isoltane makes frequent and vicious attempts to reclaim her former house. This is the witch Mgraga, the one who built Isoltane–or caused it to be built. Even the cats do not know which is correct. Isoltane was already standing when they were stolen from the Celtic priests they served so well and brought here against their will.

Merribelle was in the Green Serpent Chamber listening to the player piano which she had asked to play The Meribelle Concerto. This was one of her own symphonic compositions and she was still trying, after seventy years, to determine whether this composition was truly finished. She never knew for sure. Certainly, she had no problem with the eponymous and vainglorious title. That was fine. But the music That was a different story. The player violins had just reached the scherzo, which sounded like cats screaming and running all directions, and this portion of the composition pleased her still, pleased her mightily. At this moment of supreme self-satisfaction, Erasmus padded into the room and launched into a fusillade of criticisms. The charmed instruments stopped playing instantly.

Merribelle swung around as though her tail had made the decision on its own and faced her fellow feline-in-arms.

Erasmus was not criticizing her concerto. He was nothing but supportive when it came to Merribelle’s composing. It was rather her defense of Isoltane that he sometimes judged less than satisfactory. But then Merribelle considered him a worrywart and a fussbudget.

“And if Mgraga were to appear at this instant at the weakest point of defense on this floor, would Isoltane not fall back into her claws this very day?”

“Oh please! Do you think I would be enjoying these few moments of leisure if I had any doubts about my defenses?”

“Well, there was the Beltane Incident.”

“The Beltane Incident was due to the eclipse and you know that. Any cat would have had a breach on a night with a conjunction like that. And she was repelled.”

“I seem to recall Dolor repelled her. From your floor. Not his. Why should a watch-cat have to defend a floor other than his or her own?”

“In any case, Erasmus, I have checked my crystal points and everything is functioning smoothly. I even changed two quartzes today that were supposed to be good for another fortnight. Just to make assurance double-sure.”

“That’s good. You haven’t bought any more of those generic crystals online, I hope? I nearly jumped out of my fur when I saw those in the network. They’re made by trolls not gnomes, you know. Trolls produce…

“Trolls produce substandard defense crystals. Yes, if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times from you. And we’ve been through this as recently as last full moon. If you’d like to run a check on my floor’s network, just say so and let’s be done with it. Besides, if you watched WNN you’d know that Mgraga is vacationing in the Southern Ether with her sisters right now. She was featured on a program just yesterday.”

“I don’t watch WNN because I cannot stand the pro-witch propaganda, the outright proselytizing. And I think they sometimes give out misinformation to misdirect. In fact, I’m sure of it. How could you possibly trust witches to give you good news?”

“Well, I do find it entertaining sometimes and not all the news anchors are…”

“I’ll be upstairs,” Erasmus said, “doing my job.” It was worse than curt. It was rude. His tail was virtually in her whiskers before she had even reached the halfway point of her sentence.

Dear Nathanael

You have broken my heart. You were not at the agreed upon place where we were to meet. Am I using too many words in a sentence? I know that is a symptom of a larger problem. “Where we were to meet.” I am eating craisins from a small foil package to assuage my nervousness. Admittedly, this is not an attractive sight. But I cannot see myself externally, except in sentences. There is nothing here. A frozen lake….or pond. Whatever. And a telephone pole. Are you going to murder me? Should I run before you get here? Or will you never get here? I saw headlights but it was a mirage.

Dear Nathanael,

You have broken my liver.

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There is no way to talk about it without sounding like witches. Their toys are still found in the forest. Sometimes, you come upon a stuffed animal sitting under a tree, moss growing nearby but the plush pet unmolested by this green fur. The animal will look so fresh, seemingly set down only a moment before, untouched by the weather, the long time they have been there in the woods.  You might believe the child’s hand had just let go, it looks that warm. If things can look warm. You might believe that the child hides behind the trunk of the tree against which the furry pink elephant rests his back. For perhaps obvious reasons of mojo, of superstition, with an eye to good cess, the country folk talk about the children in a thinly-veiled code. For example, they drop off the first letters of their names. Bess becomes “Ess” and Tara becomes “Ara.” Sometimes, they merely use the children’s initials. Everyone remembers how the daughter buried the cat in the box. How the younger boy discovered this, returned with the cat in the box, put it on the dining room table in the house, an offering to his parents. She wept, was confessed. The cat became a religious symbol in their household. Feline martyr. The white cat glowed. Her siblings drew and painted it. Had it been the medieval period, there would have been a stained glass window in which the cat figured prominently, heroically. She forgave the little brother who condemned her. Who outed the witch in her.  And then she took him for a walk deep into the woods one day and he was never seen or held again. She wept. She “lost” him. He was never found. She was very clever. She could roll her spirit shut the way a pill bug rolls its body shut, the way it becomes a little armored pill. The young father (so young he looked more like her brother) saw when she went for the next boy; it was a close call with a snowstorm, a wicked game. A grandfather’s boat was involved. And then the father took her for a walk deep in the woods and “lost” her. He said it wasn’t as easy as all that. He came back with strange marks on him.  Later, he woke up with a tattoo on his body that he had never seen applied. Then the rest of the family disappeared and their house remains empty to this day. The forest remains empty. The trees are still hung, here and there, with little photographs in frames. That is her work. There is always a cool breeze, even in the warmer months. Even in the swamping heat of July. The forest keeps this cool space and its blue shadows. People blame it on a cave, but there is no cave exhaling this cool air. Children who come through know not to touch the little icons of the photographs. Not to touch the trees even. But you can see her entire family in the photographs. And other long-dead people who are mysteries. Which ones are hers? Who knows. The animals sit under the trees. Old stuffed animals with strange eyes of sorts you don’t see anymore on the animal dolls we give our children. Icon eyes. Terror and amusement at once in those old plastic eyes. Strange ecstasy.  Maybe it’s the way the eyes are when one sees a human circus. One knows the horror. A dark part of one might be titillated. She is close. She is listening to us. It cannot be otherwise, for that is what the story tells us. The trees feel compassionate and invite us in. There may be a child’s tea party, the tea laid and waiting for us. Plastic tea set aping porcelain. Teacups steaming. Miniature table. Tiny chairs where tiny witches sit. But they are not what we imagine. We know better. One child walking barefoot encountered a lobster in the middle of the woods. It was crawling along the forest floor, though the ocean is more than an hour’s drive away . Sometimes a cloud will descend on a clear blue day and fill the space between the trees. And some days there are elephants. They seem lost. They cry as they wander through the fog and a girl’s laugh curdles your listening. Some unwise children leave her notes. These she reads. And sometimes she responds. Sometimes she comes to “help.”

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I just can’t wait for you to never talk to me again in this life, so I can tell you what I think of you now for the rest of mine. You’ve got a lot of princess points in hell. You should check the catalog and see what you can trade them in for, what for you can trade them in and get.  I bet something real nice like a dollhouse the size of a real house and you can live there. Seriously, if I could have you any way I want for just one night, I would not even fall for the “Helen of Troy” trick all the boys know by now, but instead ask for the divine satisfaction of your explaining everything to me. Your entire life. No more mythology. Diagrams. I will know every ounce of every thought at the end of that night. Open up that unearthly termite mound. Is it true it was created only for temperature regulation and that inside it is never off by more than one or two degrees? I will forgo the sublime pleasure of your one and only earthly body, of that holy supper, for that divine ownership of actual facts. This is something your beauty always denied me. Your beauty which is the best beauty, because it is merely grammar. It is the homelessness of the world. And nothing more.

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Sometimes I forget to exist and am instead  like a nail driven into an expensive but antiquated stereo system by a vengeful, slightly older brother. Nevertheless nevertheless nevertheless. I follow myself home. Some days, I mean, I follow myself home. Everyone in this office feels the need to prove their sanity to everyone else. That’s not a good sign. Have you ever been to a track where the horses run around in an oval: I forget the name of this. Three of the horses win and the rest of the horses evaporate into mist. Fog. Something like that. Their parents buy very expensive, luxury coffee machines that are stainless steel and never mention disappointment again. When someone never mentions their disappointment to you again, you have truly lost.  That means the samurai moment has passed.

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For a day, I am both Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at once. They battle it out. It is like a thousand chandeliers falling. I walk through the rainy streets of this city, stepping over puddles, and they fly at one another. All of Mexico watches in silence. I stop in a cafe and sit in the corner window. I like to watch it rain. I eat a piece of pie. I think about how primitive a fork actually is. I mean, just look at a fork. This tells you what sort of animal. You can use the finest silver, ornament it with festoons and flowers. But it is a pronged thing. Used to spear hunks of dead beasts. And innocent things like pie.  When I go to bed, I put Frida and Diego away like playthings. They are done being wrong, being right. I hear only the rain at the end of the night. The way it hangs on the eaves of my house. Desperate.