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    Friday
    Jun022017

    The Milkmen, Part One: Blood

    This is the first part of a two-part short story I’m working on called The Milkmen. It’s loosely based on the true yet almost unbelievably absurd history of blood transfusion. When European doctors first tired to transfuse blood in the 17th century, they experimented with animals - transfusing blood from one dog to another, for instance. Then, in human transfusions, French and British doctors did not transfuse humans with human blood, but replaced human blood with the blood animals like goats and cows (animal to human blood transfusion serves as the plot for Part One of The Milkmen, titled Blood.) Later, in the 19th century, Canadian and U.S. doctors adopted transfusion practices, but took it to another level of insanity. Instead of transfusing animal blood into humans, for a period of time doctors were actually pumping cow and goat milk into the blood systems of people. The second part of The Milkmen (which I’m writing now and is going to be titled Milk) will deal with with this odd period of medical history.

     

    The Milkmen

     

    It was at this time that a brief, yet fascinating, chapter in the history of transfusion was recorded. Frustrated and discouraged with blood as a transfusion product, effective substitutes were sought, and for a short time, milk seemed to be the panacea. Whereas transfusion of blood in the 19th century was most actively practiced in Europe, especially in England, transfusion of milk achieved its greatest popularity in North America.

                                                            -Early History of Blood Substitutes: Transfusion of Milk, H. A. Oberman

     

    Part One: Blood

    Montpellier, France, 1695

    Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys was sitting in a chair in his office at the Faculté de Médecine at the Université de Montpellier.  He sat with his back to his desk and library, his legs propped up on the window sill, and gazed out the glass at a sunlit pasture as the bedlam cries of his patient could be heard echoing from the bottom of the hospital.  There was a cow standing on a knoll in the pasture and cropping the grass.   Chief nurse Le Pen walked into his office.  She was carrying a silver tray with a glass of milk on it and she set the glass of milk on his desk.

    “Merde,” said the doctor.

    “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” asked the nurse.

    “Qu’est-ce que c’est?  He won’t stop screaming, that’s what’s qu’est-ce que c’est.”

    “Perhaps you should remove the leeches from Monsieur Chirac?”

    The doctor removed his feet from the window sill and turned his chair toward his desk.  “Non, the leeches are there to cleanse his blood.  Chirac is a sick man, a madman”

    “But the they are driving him to scream.”

    “Nonsense.  He is screaming because his blood is bad.”

    “And the leeches will fix this?”

    “But of course,” said the doctor, taking a sip of milk.  “Look, I drew a picture.”

    The doctor consolidated some papers on his desk and tapped his index finger on a rudimentary drawing which depicted a human stick figure lying on a two-dimensional elevated plane, presumably the surface of a bed, with little black ovals dispersed arbitrarily across the wiry arms, legs, and empty head of the figure.  Some of the black ovals were circled and the lines drawn from these circles led to the word ‘leeches.’  A vertical line separated this drawing from the drawing on the right side of the paper which presented a magnified view of one of the leeches, inaccurately drawn for it had elongated snail eyes.  The second drawing showed a large leech superficial to the skin, and there were several arrows originating from the dermis and drawn upwards in a fierce motion toward the mouth of the leech.  The lines of the arrows going up from the dermis toward the leech were labeled ‘bad blood.’

    “You see,” the doctor said smiling, “The leeches are sucking up all the bad blood.”

    “Alores,” said the nurse incredulously, “But what replaces the bad blood?”

    The doctor had not considered this.  “Quelle?” he said, sitting up in his chair.

    “What replaces the bad blood that the leeches are sucking out of Monsieur Chirac?”  The nurse pointed to the drawing.

    “Well… what do you mean?  Good blood replaces the bad blood,” he said with uncertainty, raising his arms as though that were obvious, yet scrutinizing his drawing and realizing to his chagrin that he didn’t know where the good blood was supposed be originating from.

    “Oh, I see,” said the nurse, wrapping up the conversation. 

    Dr. Denys kept his face down toward his drawing yet his eyes followed the nurse as she turned around and left the study.  After she closed the door the doctor’s eyes flickered back to his drawing.  “Merde,” he said to himself.

    The doctor picked up his quill and dipped it into his ink well.  On the right side of the paper above the leech he wrote the words ‘good blood’ followed by a question mark.  He circled these words and drew arrows from the circle down into the skin. 

    “Where’s the good blood supposed to come from?” the doctor asked himself.  He dried the quill off, placed it in his breast pocket, and then swiveled his chair toward the window again.  He looked toward the sunlit pasture and wondered aloud, “Good blood…” his eyes moved toward the cow which was standing still on the knoll.

    Fifteen minutes later Dr. Denys was walking up the knoll of the pasture with the Monsieur Sarkozy, the dairy farmer who owned the cow and the farmland adjacent to the university and hospital.  The cow had turned around to face and cautiously watch the two men whom were walking toward her, but was otherwise clam.

    “Well,” said farmer Sarkozy, answering a question the doctor had posed, “If I were to slaughter her I would be able to sell her meat for five francs, so if you wanted to take her I would say that you should pay me five francs.”

    “And you’re absolutely sure she has had no pathological problems?”

    “She has lived a very healthy life and was a hard working cow, that is why she should be allowed to enjoy a month of solitude before her death.   She is still in good shape for her age I suppose, but is too old to lactate.  Other than that I cannot think of any problems.”

    “And how about her blood?”

    “Her blood?”

    “Yes, how is her blood?”

    “I’m sorry, doctor, I did not intend to see her blood for another month.” 

    Dr. Denys walked around the cow conducting a visual inspection, bending down to look at its chest floor and fore udder, but not quite sure what he was looking for.   Both the cow and farmer watched him suspiciously.

    “Alright, Monsieur Sarkozy,” said the doctor, “I will take her.  Please bring her to the university at noon and I will give you your five francs.”

    There on the knoll the two men shook hands and the cow mooed.

    The doctor returned to the university and hurried back to his study.  In the hallway he again heard the haunting cries of Monsieur Chirac emanating from the psychiatric ward in the lower level of the hospital.  In the hallway Dr. Denys passed the chief nurse.  “Remove the leeches from Monsieur Chirac!” he said.

    “Quelle?” she said?

    “Remove the leeches,” repeated the doctor, “We’re going to give that crazy son of a bitch some good blood for once!” he cheered, skipping and punching his fist into the air.

    Nurse Le Pen watched the doctor as he rushed down the hall and ran into his study, slamming the door.  Dr. Denys returned to his desk and put quill and ink to paper, sketching in a frenzy his newfound machination to aid in the purification of Monsieur Chirac’s blood.  After an hour of vigorous sketching and notetaking Dr. Denys got up from his desk and marched out his study with a piece of paper that contained the final draft of his diagram.  He walked down the corridor to the kitchen of the university.  He pushed open the wooden door and found the man he was looking for.

    “Chef Macron,” said the doctor, “Bonjour.”

    “Bonjour to you doctor,” replied the chef who was stirring a massive cast iron vat of stew.

    “Have you one of these?” asked Dr. Denys, holding up the paper in his hand.

    Chef Macron stepped toward the doctor and took a closer look at the diagram.  “A funnel?”

    “Precisely!” exclaimed the doctor, “I couldn’t think of the word, but yes, do you have you a funnel?”

    “But of course, I am a chef, of course I have a funnel.”

    “Can I have one?”

    “Well I don’t see why not,” said the chef, lifting a metal funnel from the kitchen beam and handing it to the doctor.

    “Great!” said doctor Denys, excited to see the exact object he sketched now in his hands.  “Come meet me in the front yard at noon.  We’re going to buy a cow and take it down to the psych ward where I’ll bleed it out and then transfer its blood into a crazy man.  You can have the cow afterwards.  It’s five francs.”

    “What?” said the chef, convinced that he had heard something incorrectly.

    “It’s five francs,” said the doctor who was grinning at the funnel in his hands while leaving the kitchen. “We’ll meet at noon, you can have the cow after.  Make sure to bring the money.”

    The doctor exited the kitchen and chef Macron stood confused above the steaming stew, which he knew could always use a little more meat. 

    At noon the chef met the doctor outside the university entrance as the farmer arrived with the cow.  Farmer Sarkozy was relieved to see chef Macron at the entrance, for he was concerned that the cow was going to be used in some sort of deranged medical experiment conjured up by Dr. Denys.  Chef Macron paid the farmer five francs and the farmer went on his way, leaving the cow in the care of the doctor and chef.

    “Usually when I pay five francs for a cow the cow is dead and has been chopped up into convenient pieces,” said Chef Macron, holding the rope attached to the cow’s neck and resigning himself to the fact that the stew would see no additional meat today.

    “I am sorry Monsieur Chirac, but there are more pressing matters to attend to.   You will be permitted to slaughter the cow after today’s experiment.”

    The doctor took the rope from the chef.

    “Doctor Denys, what exactly do you intend to do with the cow?  I think I misheard you in the kitchen.”

    “Do you hear that incessant screaming coming from the hospital insane asylum?” asked the doctor, making his way toward the stairs of university.

    “Actually, I believe it’s stopped now,” said the chef as he watched the doctor start up the stairs with the cow. “Are you going to bring the cow through the hallways like that?” he asked.

    “Well,” said the doctor tugging at the rope, “We’re going to put an end to that screaming and cure my patient once and for all!” He began leading the cow up the stairs to the university foyer, where chief nurse Le Pen was standing with her arms crossed.

    “And how do you plan to cure him?” asked the nurse.

    “Quelle?” said the doctor, struggling to pull the cow up the first set of stairs.  That the nurse had been standing there did not register with him, for he was too focused on the cow.  Chef Macron only now noticed the nurse and realized that she had observed the entire transaction that had just transpired between them and the farmer and cow.

    “How do you plan to cure Monsieur Chirac?”

    The doctor paused on the steps and caught his breath, he reached into his satchel and pulled out a funnel.  “With this!” he declared to the chef below him.  “Have you ever seen on of these?”

    “Yes.  I gave that to you.”

    “I invented it,” said the doctor, who then inverted it and placed it on his head.

    “A funnel?” asked the nurse, finally catching the doctor’s attention. 

    Surprised to see nurse Le Pen standing several steps above him, Dr. Denys let out a yelp. 

    “Dr. Denys, you’re weren’t planning on bringing that filthy cow through the hospital hallways where there are numerous patients recovering from injuries and suffering from illnesses, were you?”

    Dr. Denys looked to the nurse, he then looked to the chef, then to the cow, then back to nurse Le Pen. “No, no I was not,” answered the doctor.  “We were just turning the cow around so as to… Well, so as to turn the cow around and walk it to the back entrance of the hospital.”

    “I see, and then where exactly are you planning to bring the cow?” asked the nurse.

    “Well,” Doctor Denys smiled, “You’ll be happy to know that I’ve figured out where I will get the good blood from in order to cure Monsieur Chirac’s madness.”

    “Oh?” said the nurse.

    “Oui,” replied the doctor, leaning an elbow into the back side of the cow and slapping its rump with his hand, “It’s coming from right here.”

    “From the cow’s behind?” asked the nurse.

    “Precisely,” said the doctor, “from the cow’s behind… I mean, no, simply from the cow itself, from her veins.”

    “Wait a second,” said Chef Macron, “Are you meaning to say you’re going to give that crazy man blood from the cow?”

    “Yes, what’s the big deal?  He’s nuts!  What the hell’s everyone’s problem?  I’m the doctor around here.” said Dr. Denys, the funnel on his head tipping slightly to the side.

    “Is that ethical?” asked the chef.

    “Ethical?  Well I suppose that depends on if it works.”

    Dr. Denys walked down the steps and tugged at the rope. “Now Monsieur Macron, if you would be so kind as to help me get this stupid cow around to the back entrance of the hospital and down to the psychiatric ward, we can begin this experiment before this cow keels over and dies.”

    The chief nurse shook her head and watched as the doctor and the chef walked the cow away from the hospital steps and turned the corner toward the back of the hospital.  The chef and doctor arrived at a wooden door which served as thee back entrance of the hospital.  The doctor lifted the brass ring and pulled open the door and the cow mooed.

    “Alright,” said the doctor, “Now all’s we got to do is get this cow down to lower level.”

    “Jesus,” said the chef, “That’s going to be a tight squeeze.” 

    “It’ll be fine.”

    The doorway was slightly larger than the cow and led into a dim stone hallway.  The doctor entered the doorway, pulling the cow by the rope, and the chef followed behind them.  They stopped at a dark spiral stairwell and the doctor went down to light the candles in the nooks of the stone walls.  He came back up and said, “This is going to be tight squeeze.”

    “Wouldn’t it be easier if we just took the cow’s blood out up here, and then brought the blood downstairs instead of the whole cow?”

    The doctor thought for a moment.  He wanted the cow to be present when its blood was transferred to his patient because he wanted the blood to be fresh.  For some reason he had imagined that this would require that the cow be in the room during the transfusion.  He had not considered the option of simply bloodletting the living cow and then transporting its blood down to Monsieur Chirac.

    “Let’s just see if the cow will fit down the stairwell, and if it doesn’t then I have an idea: we will extract the blood of the cow and then bring it down in some sort of vessel, leaving the cow up here.

    The chef shook his head and said, “Fine.”

    The doctor pulled the rope and the cow began to follow him down the stairs, at first without any compliant, but when the stairwell began to curve left the cow’s body scraped the walls she halted and mooed.  The doctor tugged harder and the cow began to move once more, shuffling its hooves upon the uneven stone steps, but the size and angle of the spiral stairwell proved too tight a squeeze for the cow so she stopped again.  She was breathing hard and each time she exhaled her ribcage would expand and her body would touch the walls of the stairwell.

    “Merde,” said Dr. Denys. “The cow is too fat.”

    “The cow?” said the chef, “The cow is not the problem, for a cow is not meant to walk down a stairwell.”

    “Come on,” said the doctor to the cow, “You don’t want us send you off to the butchery now do you?”  The doctor tugged on the rope again and the cow took another step down and mooed.  It was now pressed up against both sides of the stairwell.  The doctor gave the rope another tug and said, “Push!”  Chef Macron leaned his shoulder into the rump of the cow but the cow didn’t budge.

    “Shit,” said the doctor, “This is not going to work.  Let’s back her up.”

    The chef took a couple steps back up the stairs and the doctor began to push the cow’s head, trying to force her to reverse, but she didn’t move back.  “Back her up,” repeated the doctor.

    “How?” asked the chef.

    “Pull!”

    “Pull what?”

    “Her tail, you idiot!”

    Chef Macron grabbed the cow’s tail and tugged and the cow mooed loudly.  Dr. Denys shoved her head and neck hard but to no avail, the cow was stuck in the stairwell.

    “She’s not going to walk backwards up the stairs, doctor.”

    The doctor was breathing hard.  Separated by the cow, he looked to the chef in exasperation.  “If she were just a little thinner she could make it down, we’re half way there.”

    “I have an idea,” said the chef, “I’ll be right back.”

    The chef turned and went up the stairs, leaving the doctor and the cow alone in candlelit the stairwell.  The cow was looking at the doctor who was trying to avoid making eye contact with her.  After a few minutes the doctor heard the footsteps of the chef who was walking rapidly down the hallway and returned to the stairwell.  Chef Macron was grinning and holding two large blocks of butter.

    “Here!” said the chef, tossing one block over the back of cow to Dr. Denys who inspected it.  He was holding it in front of the cow’s face and she started to lick the butter.

    “Why are we feeding the cow?” asked the doctor, presenting the block of butter to the cow who continued to lick it.

    “No, no, don’t feed her, rub it all over her,” said chef Macron, whom proceed to do just that.

    “Oh, I see…” said the doctor, pulling the butter away from the cow’s face.

    Dr. Denys rubbed the cow’s neck and throat with butter, also trying to get as much as the shoulders as he could.  Chef Macron worked the rear flanks of the cow, also greasing the sides of her udder, the very udder which formerly helped produce some of the milk churned to make the butter that she was now being rubbed with.

    “Get the walls, too,” said the chef. 

    The cow closed her eyes and relaxed, for she was rather enjoying the butter massage, and she would have fallen asleep had the men not given her another tug and push in effort to force her down the stairs. Still, she was unable to move due to the friction of her large body pressed up against the sides of the ungreased walls which could not be accessed by the men and their butter.

    “Shit,” yelled Dr. Denys, “We’ll never get this cow down the stairs!”  He had yelled this so loudly that his patient, Monsieur Chirac, who was strapped down to a bed in his cell below, woke from his nap wondering if he had heard the doctor’s remark correctly.

    “We need to butter her sides somehow,” said the chef, sweating and catching his breath.  He looked at the doctor and said, “Give me the funnel, give me the funnel.”  Extending his arms over the back of the cow, the chef was grinning and had a crazed look in his eyes as he reached out toward the doctor who was taken aback.

    “What’s a funnel?” asked the doctor.

    “You’re wearing it,” said the chef, “It’s on your head.  Give it to me.”

    “Oh yeah,” said the doctor, handing the funnel to the chef. 

    The chef took the remainder of his butter and placed it into the funnel. He then took a candle from the wall and held it against the side of the funnel, heating the metal.   Melted butter began to drip down the neck of the funnel which Chef Macron then inserted between the body of the cow and the wall, buttering one side then the other.  After the butter in funnel had melted they tried again to move the cow.  She mooed as they pushed and pulled, and finally she slid and took a step forward.

    “Yes!” cheered the doctor, “That’s what’s huh!”

    “Come on,” yelled the chef, “Butter the walls, keep going, you fool!”  The remarks and mooing echoed down to Monsieur Chirac, who was now wide awake and extremely disconcerted as he listened to everything coming down the stairs.

    Step by step the cow walked down the slippery spiral stairwell.   They reached the bottom and with a final push, pull, and moo, the cow emerged from the stairwell dripping in butter as though it just passed through some medieval stone birth canal.  The doctor and the chef cheered and gave each other high fives as the cow took deep breaths and licked the butter off its hind legs.  The chef slapped the cow on its rump and said, “Well, I suppose she’s already marinating.  Let me know when I can come get her.”   Dr. Denys thanked Chef Macron for his help and the chef turned around to go back upstairs and attend to his stew.

    The doctor walked to the iron gate of the cell where his patient lay terrified, his eyes flickering between the doctor and the cow.  “Good morning, Monsieur Chirac,” said the doctor as he opened the gate.

    Monsieur Chirac further lifted his head up from the bed on which he was tied down with leather straps and said, “Hello doctor.  What’s with the cow?”

    Dr. Denys stood above his patient, whose face and arms were covered in slimy red lesions from the leeches that had been removed from his skin and were now contained in a small pot on a table in the room, which was more like a dungeon. “The cow is here to help,” said Dr. Denys.

    “Oh?  Like with milk?”

    “No,” said the doctor, adjusting and tightening the straps on Monsieur Chirac’s arm so as to expose his forearm, “Like with blood.”

    “Blood?”

    “Yes.  After exhausting deliberation I’ve determine that the leeches just won’t do the trick to cure your illness, and that the corrupted blood which the reason for you incessant screaming must be replaced.”

    “Replaced?  No, doctor, I was screaming because of the leeches, but nurse Le Pen removed them, so I stopped screaming.  I even took a nap.”

    “Well that’s quite the observation,” said the doctor who was too preoccupied with palpating and clearing the dirt off Monsieur Chirac’s biceps to listen to what he was saying.  Once he was satisfied that Monsieur Chirac’s arm was positioned so that he could incise his skin, access his vein, and insert the blood, Dr. Denys left the cell to fetch the cow, which had wandered off slightly to explore the psychiatric ward.  The doctor walked the cow back to the cell and tied the rope to the iron bars of the gate outside.  He pet the cow on the head and said, “So calm, so peaceful.”  He then produced a large knife from his satchel and began feeling the cow’s neck for a good place to cut and bleed it, holding the knife at different angles against the cow’s throat, saying, “Merde, where’s the jugular?”

    Watching from his bed, the insanity of the impending dangerous situation had dawned on Monsieur Chirac who was horrified by what Dr. Denys was prepared to attempt, and he yelled “Attendez, Attendez!  Wait, what are you doing!”

    “We’re going to fix that yelling problem of yours,” said that doctor.

    “Non!”

    “Oui!”

    “Non!”

    “Oui, oui, oui, I say!” yelled the doctor, waving the knife at Monsieur Chirac like a madman.  “Now fuck the calm the down!  You don’t want us to send you off to the sanatorium now do you?  You won’t like what they’ll do to you there.  They’ll snip off your little wienerschnitzel and amputate your head with a guillotine!”

    Monsieur Chirac dropped his head back onto the bed and said, “Jesus Christ…”

    Turning his attention back to the cow, the doctor found the jugular vein, pressed the blade of knife against it, and slit.  The cow mooed but surprisingly did not move, for the cut was not too deep or painful, but even so, a small stream of blood flowed out from the cut and then morphed into a thin fountain of blood arching from its neck down to the floor.   “Shit,” said the doctor, realizing that he not prepared for nor fully thought out any of the steps which were to supposed to follow.  He did not, for instance, know where the funnel was, for the first thing he did after cutting the cow was to reach for it on his head to discover it was missing.  Even then, he didn’t have a vessel to in which to collect the blood.  Furthermore, the minute mechanical details of the whole transfusion process were obscure: How was he supposed to pump the blood into the patient’s veins?  Did some sort pumping device exist?   If so, he certainly was not aware of it, let alone possess it.   Additionally, Dr. Denys began to question himself about whether the physiological aspects of the blood transfusion would actually work.  “Why am I starting with a cow,” he thought, “why not a human?  After all, a cow is much different than a human, perhaps their much blood is different, too?”  Despite contending with this mental avalanche of challenging questions, the doctor doubled down and concluded that this was not the time for second guessing and that he would improvise to ensure the procedure move forward as planned.

    He first needed a receptacle to collect the blood that was squirting out from the cow’s neck and splashing onto the floor.  The doctor looked around and his eyes fell to the pot on the table in the cell.  “Perfect,” he said.  He walked over to the pot and opened the lid.  Inside were the two dozen leeches that nurse Le Pen had earlier removed from Monsieur Chirac.  He reached into the pot, scooped most of out the leeches, and placed them then on the table. “Yuck,” he said.  Upon seeing the leeches again Monsieur Chirac began to scream, the sounds of which once again reverberated upstairs.

    “You don’t have to do this, doctor!  I’ll stop yelling!”

    “You’re yelling right now,” said the doctor, walking back to the cow and stepping into the puddle of blood which had pooled up on the floor.

    “You going to put cow blood into me!”

    “Oh don’t be such a big baby.”  The doctor ran the pot under the fountain of blood that was gushing out of the cow’s neck.  When the pot was almost full he went back into the cell and placed it on the table.  He then walked over to Monsieur Chirac, pulled out his knife, and pointed the tip of the blade at a vein in his arm.  “Ya’ll ready for this?” said the doctor.

    Having resigned himself to the futility of his misfortune and the psychopathic experiment that would imminently befall him, Monsieur Chirac shut eyes, turned his head, and was uttering prayers and curses simultaneously.  When Dr. Denys pricked his patient’s skin and dug the knife into his vein, Monsieur Chirac let out an excruciating howl, which set the cow off mooing.  Blood was pumping out the incision in his patient’s arm, and Dr. Denys reached for the hollow quill in his pocket and cut off both the tip and the feathered end, thus creating a sort of stent.  He spent about a minute figuring this out and said, “I should have made this before I cut him.”  The doctor then inserted the quill into the incision and vein.  At this point Monsieur Chirac glanced down at his arm and at the quill sticking out of it and began to holler.  He was losing blood rapidly and feeling faint.  The doctor whipped around toward the table and grabbed the pot of cow blood, but here he faced his most difficult roadblock: how to get the blood into the quill?  In a desperate move Dr. Denys tipped the pot of blood over onto the quill, hoping that some of it would make it into the hollow channel.  It did not, but instead spilled all over his wrist and hand and Monsieur Chirac’s arm.  “Merde!” exclaimed the doctor, who at this point looked up to see nurse Le Pen standing next to the cow outside of the cell.

    “Dr. Denys!” roared the chief nurse, infuriated at the preposterous spectacle taking place before her.

    “Nurse Le Pen!” said the doctor, whose embarrassment transformed into elation upon seeing that in her hand she held the funnel, which had fallen in the stairwell and she had picked up on her way down. “You brought the funnel!” he cheered. 

    From the bed, Monsieur Chirac also looked up to nurse Le Pen, and said, “Oh thank God.”  He had lost a substantial amount of blood and was slipping out of consciousness. 

    “Why is there a cow in the psych ward, bleeding on the floor, and what in the world are you doing!” demanded the nurse.

    “Bring me the funnel!” exclaimed the doctor, “We’re losing precious time!”

    The nurse stepped over the pool of blood and into the cell.  The doctor had set the pot down and with one hand held the quill while the other was extending out toward the funnel.  “Give me the funnel, give me the funnel!” said the doctor, wide eyed and grinning crazily, grasping toward to nurse.  

    Reluctantly, nurse Le Pen handed him the funnel. The doctor instantly placed the funnel over the quill and learned that the neck of the funnel was too wide to fit the tip of the quill.  “Shit,” he said.  He squeezed his palm over the neck of the funnel and the quill, closing the gap.  Dr. Denys used his free arm to pick up the pot of blood.  He took a deep breath to steady himself and then slowly tipped the pot over and poured the blood into the funnel.  That the pot still contained a leech or two, and that the funnel was coated in residual butter did not concern the doctor.   He watched the cow blood filling up in the funnel and the air bubbles slowly popping in the thick red soup.  Blood was leaking out between his fingers and he gripped the neck of the funnel and quill harder, forming a more airtight connection.  To his delight, the blood filled the hollow quill and seemed to travel down into the arm of Monsieur Chirac, who was completely passed out by now.  Although much of the blood was simply reaching the end of the quill and dispersing across the Monsieur Chirac’s arm, some was indeed entering his vein.  “Yes, yes!” said the doctor, “It’s working!”

    Nurse Le Pen was appalled and stood aghast as she watched the doctor transfuse around half a pint of cow into Monsieur Chirac.

    When the pot was empty aside from a couple leeches squirming around in the film of blood, Dr. Denys held the pot out to her and said, “Give me some more cow blood.”

    “No!” said Nurse Le Pen.

    “Okay fine, let’s close the wound.” 

    With the help of nurse Le Pen, Dr. Denys tied strips of cloth around the incision site, applying pressure so as to ensure that the cow blood would not backflow out of his arm.  Nurse Le Pen did her best to clean the wound and the doctor, covered in both cow and human blood, wiped the sticky substances all over his pants and shirt, making a further mess of himself.  He looked to Monsieur Chirac, confirming he saw signs of breathing, and then exited the cell.  He stood beside the placid cow, who was no longer bleeding vigorously, and pet it on the head.

    “Well, nurse Le Pen, I think we can consider this case a successful achievement.”

    The nurse looked to the doctor in disbelief and held her arm toward Monsieur Chirac and said, “He’s barely alive!”

    “Yes, but he’s not dead, is he?  Nor is yelling, if you haven’t notice.  I’m going to clean up and take this news straight to the Sorbonne.  I can’t wait to see the look on the faces of those arrogant Parisians once they find out what I’ve done here.”  The doctor realized that the forgot the funnel in the cell and retrieved it.  “Almost forgot this,” he said, “Good thing I’m wearing my thinking cap today.”  He then left the nurse to tend to Monsieur Chirac and walked up the stairwell to go take a bath.

    The nurse did what she could to clean the up the mess that Dr. Denys had made of the arm and cell, and placed a pillow under Monsieur Chirac’s head before she left the cell.  She closed the gate and looked at the cow, shaking her head and then leaving.

    After bathing, packing his bags, and forgetting to tell the chef that he could now have the cow, the doctor climbed into a horse-drawn carriage with the funnel and pulled out his ink well, a stack of blank paper, and a quill.  He began writing his report to submit to his medical peers at the University of Paris.  He had a long journey ahead him and gazed out the carriage at the haystacks in the pastures that surrounded the hospital.  In the late afternoon sunlight, a solitaire cow stood on a knoll in the shade of an oak tree and was cropping the grass.  Dr. Denys looked to the cow and smiled.

    Back in the hospital cell, Monsieur Chirac was afflicted by a fever dream in which a haunting, phantasmagorical montage of cows and leeches weaved through his searing mind.  He awoke form this hellish, bovine nightmare and immediately looked up from his bed.  The cow still there, roped to the gate, looking at him.  Horrified, Monsieur Chirac let out a scream so loud that even Dr. Denys, in a carriage a kilometer away, looked up from his notes in curiosity, for he vaguely thought he heard the sound of a man yelling.  After a few seconds Dr. Denys went back to his notes and continued writing his report.  

    Monday
    May232016

    Poems X

    (There has been some confusion about some of my poems, so to clarify: most of my poems are simply jokes and, like everything in this Fiction section, should not be taken seriously.)

    Last year I vowed to write-off writing poems because of a weird experience I had reading some at a public venue.  Due to printer problems and lack of preparation, my reading attempt crashed and burned in an embarrassing travesty after which I promised myself that I would never write another stupid poem again.   However, I did write one while in Belize last month that I dedicate to the wonderful people and animals of that country.  The Belize poem is followed by a few more that I found in the files.

     

    Mayan girls with cacao eyes
    White sand beaches and coconut trees
    Rivers and jungles teeming with life
    These are the things that you’ll find in Belize

    Cities of stone buried by time
    Hammocks swaying in the breeze
    Death begets life and life is fine
    When you’re swaying on hammocks in Belize

    Beneath the moon and the stars lie sacred seas
    An aquatic universe of coral galaxies
    The plankton are stars on which whale sharks feed
    As they ferry their souls through worlds of reef

    Howler monkey howl in mahogany trees
    In turquoise channels swim manatees
    Like the turtles and dolphins they are truly free
    To live their beautiful lives in simplicity

    As humanity descends into World War Three
    And we destroy the planet to extents unseen
    I wonder if this is the last century
    That people will live in Belize

    If the human species were to go extinct
    Yet life for all others were to proceed
    Animals would flourish in anarchy
    And empty hammocks would sway in Belize

     

    I'm afraid we will find out soon
    That this whole human species is doomed
    Due to the resources we take
    From this planet we've raped
    We'll all have to move to the moon

     

    Here in the city
    Life is quite shitty
    Between the concrete, the traffic, and cars

    They’ve cut down the trees
    Polluted the seas
    And drowned out the moon and the stars

    I look to escape
    Beyond the walls of this maze
    But I keep getting trapped in the bars

    Smell the shit on the streets
    The burnt gasoline
    The cigarette smoke and hot tar 

    External construction
    Internal destruction
    The growth of this city leaves scars

    In our minds and on Earth
    To machines we give birth
    Like robots with high-tech stretch marks

    We consume endlessly
    Are addicted to screens
    And tear the natural world apart 

    We take more than we need
    And still are not pleased
    Becuase we don't know who we are

    So when we lie down to die
    We remain hungry inside
    For the nature of which we are starved

    Yeah, here in the city
    Life is quite shitty
    But at least it’s not Livermore.

     

    Friday
    Sep252015

    Aaron’s Drawing III - The Dry Seabed and In the Ashes of the Sun excerpt 

          Here's a scan of a pen and ink drawing (on 11’’ x 14’’ paper) I recently completed.  In my head I’ve always called it The Dry Seabed, and it was partially inspired by a scene from a novel I attempted to write but put down years ago.  Thank God this thing is done.  Now it’s onto the next one.  (Click here to view the image in full).


    The excerpt from the absurd and unfinished novel (and sadly probably to never be finished), In the Ashes of the Sun, written by a quixotic and equally absurd and unfinished younger version of myself: 

          The plane passed above a long pier rooted in the damp, vaporous shore and stray ships and destroyers roped to the pier’s mooring bollards lay tilted and lopsided on the flat sand like toys slackly noosed to gallows.  A distant lighthouse shrunk in isolation on the edge of a succulent headland slope burying into sick mangrove forests, the blend of rocks and plants weaved into the glossy sand in a quilted tessellation.  The shadow of the plane traced through a withering kelp labyrinth sprawled across the wet floor of the missing sea and the long algae stalks spread over the sand and bleached coral reef like witch braids strewn about her bone white skull.  Birds feasting on scampering crustaceans lived in bliss and pecked apart gasping fish, exposing clattering ribcages and raw meat for swarming gnats and flies to devour and nest their larva brood within.  Through the aquatic necropolis shoreside natives stepped, crushing fish bones like eggshells, hauling catch in full dragnets, and exploring the turquoise remnants of sunken ferries and doomed armadas drown centuries ago in the age of the middle passage.

          Sewage pipe effluence spilled into a growing cesspool of human waste merging with mounds of plastic in a slow current across the sand of the evaporating abyss toward extinction.  The flowing discharge overcame an expanse of glimmering jellyfish that burned a trail of gold into the manacled sun tortured on the hem of the Earth.  Wayward sea turtles crawled toward the horizon in search for water while stranded sharks and whales inhaled and exhaled gently their last breaths.  On the seafloor a helicopter landed by a submarine to rescue sailors marooned by the universal riptide. 

           Further out, a gigantic pit held surviving remnants of the ocean, and the water of the monstrous tide pool rippled bloodred.  Trapped in the volume of this doomsday soup, lashing seabeasts swam mad with fear and claustrophobia and they ripped each other to shreds.  The wailing creatures breathed in blood and there was carnage and the stench of the pit reeked like rotting reptiles.  A whale breached desperately and sprayed crimson from its blowhole and then drifted down in a melody of death.  Slipping up through a film of floating entrails and fins, a colossal tentacle whipped across the surface of the loch, snatching a panicking dolphin and dragging it crying into the frenzy below.  A starfish the size of a tank shuffled out from the edge of the pit and escaped under a bed of wet seaweed. 

          The plane flew over other saltwater lakes that broiled metallic orange like fallen pieces of the burning sky and neared an archipelago off the peninsula where little islands resembled tropical boulders in a desert of sand and reef.  Hundreds of natives had abandoned the rocks and were moving inland in a long human chain that snaked across a sandy seafloor channel between the islands.  They walked in wonder past walls of coral and men carried spears and women held their children with perpetual love and the children were not afraid.  A parched and meek nation of seafaring orphans, the column of dark refugees prowled across the trenches of a star-crossed Earth.  They the miserable vagabonds banished from their homeland, they the exile sons of Saturn. 

     

    Monday
    Dec082014

    Leif and Thorvald

    I dedicate this story to the wonderful people and puffins of Iceland.

     

    From the island of the North, of ice and snow,
    Of blossoming valleys and blue mountains,
    Of the midnight sun and the dreamy mists,
    The home of the goddess of northern lights.

    -Icelandic verse inscribed on the shield of the Thorfinn Karlsefni statue, sculpted by Einar Jónsson.

     

    Or, if you prefer:

    We come from the land of the ice and snow,
    From the midnight sun where the
    hot springs flow.
    The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
    To fight the horde, singing and crying:
    Valhalla, I am coming.

    -Immigrant Song, Led Zeppelin

     

     

     

    Iceland, 1005 A.D.

     

    The two had been walking all day.  In the light of the midday sun Leif carried an iron axe, and his sidekick Thorvald carried a satchel containing their paltry foodstuff.  Thick carpets of moss covered the vast expanse of volcanic rock that they walked across toward a smoldering mountain range on the horizon.     

    “By God,” said Leif, “There’s not a single tree in sight.”

    “Yes,” replied Thorvald, “It’s certainly treeless, save for the occasional birch, which is a very small kind of tree.” 

    “Þingvöllr must lie within a day’s journey.  By my estimation we’ve trekked fifty kilometers inland.”  Leif looked to the sky, “I haven’t seen a puffin since the wreck.”

    “Well, sir, they are birds.”

    Leif stopped walking, assessed the wondrous terrain, and then shook his head toward Thorvald.  “’They are birds…’” quoted Leif, “What is that supposed to mean?” 

    “Well, –” began Thorvald.

    “Of course they’re birds!” yelled Leif, “They’re puffins!  Have you ever seen a puffin that wasn’t a bird?”

    “No, not in this place.”

    “Oh?  Then in another place perhaps?”

    “Yes.”

    “Where?” demanded Leif.                                                                                                      

    “Oh, you know, it was just a place.”

    “Thorvald,” asked Leif, “have you ever been to place that wasn’t a place?”

    “Yes.”

    White clouds raced through the sky in wild, enigmatic formations, distant geysers erupted sporadically, sending towers of water into the air, and the steam from sulphur vents drifted along the base of olive green mountains.  Leaning on the knob of his axe, Leif gazed upon the surreal dreamscape encompassing them.  “Look at this place, it’s like a green moon,” he said.

    Thorvald looked around and said, “What place?”

    Leif shook his head. “I’m glad you’ve finally lost your mind.  It’s about lunchtime wouldn’t you say?”

    “I would say,” said Thorvald, opening the satchel, “It’s about lunchtime.”  

    “I could eat a whale.”

    Thorvald removed a dried herring from the satchel and moved the fish through the air as though it were swimming.  “This is like a small whale.”

    Leif watched Thorvald playing around with the dried fish.

    Thorvald continued, “It’s like a very small kind of whale.” 

    Leif’s stomach growled.

    “Is your stomach auto-cannibalizing?” asked Thorvald as he placed the fish on a rock.

    Leif sighed, “Damn you for conjuring up such a bloodthirsty image.”

    “Your stomach?” 

    “Cannibalization,” said Leif, “You shouldn’t mention such a dreadful thing in a bind like this.”
    “Oh,” said Thorvald, poking his finger into Leif’s stomach, “touchy subject?”

    Leif swiped Thorvald’s hand away and said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, it is.”

    “You’re going to eat me aren’t you?”

    “If you don’t slice up that fish I may.”

    “Have you ever eaten anyone?”

    “Regretfully…yes.”

    “What?” exclaimed Thorvald, “I was only kidding, that’s crazy!  You never told me about that.”

    “I was starving, and it was in defense.”

    “In defense?”

    “In Vinland.”

    “Defense is a place in Vinland?”

    “No, it’s not a place –”

    “Is it a place that’s not a place, is it a place that’s not a place?!”

    “No,” yelled Leif, “I was defending my settlement in Greenland!”  He stared at the clouds that mutated into the shapes of his memories as they churned above the mountains. “I ate the natives who attacked us.”

    “That is insane,” Thorvald said, “How did they taste?” 

    “I don’t remember actually.  I was hallucinating heavily on amanita muscaria and reindeer piss at the time.” 

    Thorvald handed Leif several slices of fish and said, “Here you go, don’t eat me, you big oaf.”  But before Leif took a bite Thorvald interrupted, “Wait, not so fast.”

    Leif paused with the herring in his mouth.

    Thorvald said, “It’s 1005 A.D., and we’re in Iceland.”

    “So?”

    “Sooo, Iceland’s converted to a Christian land since we last visited Þingvöllr five years ago.  The General Assembly adopted Christianity during that big ceremony at Law Rock.  Remember?”

    “No.”

    “You were drunk, yelling at the goðar during the vote.  Then afterward you stood on that waterfall and helped Þorgeir the Lögsögumaður toss statues of the gods into the Skjálfandafljót.”

    “Oh yeah,” Leif smiled,  “I forgot about that.” 

    “Well, in Christendom we should give thanks to God before eating,” said Thorvald. 

    “But what has he done for us?”

    “I don’t know, but I think that we should at least pretend like we subscribe to the religious decrees of the Parliament.  We don’t a want to show up looking like bunch of heathens, do we?”

    “But we are!” said Leif, “And who’s going to see us anyway? We might as well be in the Ginnungagap.  We’re like two amoebas in a floating through a giant petri dish, there’s no one’s here but us Vikings.”

    “I don’t know what a petri dish is, but the Christian God is supposedly omnipresent.”

    “Like an elf?”

    “No, elves are just invisible,” said Thorvald.  “The point is that if we go to the Alþingi beseeching the assembly for food and scarce wood to repair our ship, then we’d better pretend that we’re not the primitive barbarians that we are and act like we’re on board with the teachings of the Bible and all.”

    “What in thunder is the Bible?”

    “This is the Bible,” said Thorvald, pulling out a large, leather-bound book from the satchel.

    Leif looked into the now empty satchel which contained no more dried fish.  “Thorvald, you brought a book instead of food?”

    “Well, yes,” replied Thorvald, now feeling a little silly. “What did you bring, an axe?”

    “I always bring an axe!”

    “Well then, I always bring a bible!”

    “Oh, okay, I don’t suppose it’s made of out of fish, is it?” Leif joked.

    “Actually it is.”

    “Really?”

     “No, but I have an idea,” said Thorvald, flipping through the bible.  “If we pray, we may be able to turn the fish we have here into more fish.”

    “You’re kidding, right?”

    “Here it is.”  Thorvald read aloud, “‘Jesus told the crowd to sit down on the grass. Then he took two fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples. And they that had eaten were about five four thousand men.’”

    Leif was thoroughly confused.

    “So,” said Thorvald, taking back Leif’s fish, “All we have to do is give thanks and then these fish will multiply into enough fish to fit into in the Eldhrímnir of Andhrímnir like Sæhrímnir to feed all the Einherjar in Valhalla!” 

    “Yeah, that’s not going to work,” said Leif. 

    “Get down on one knee like this.”

    Leif looked around for anyone and then he began to kneel.  “My left knee or right knee?”

    “Your left…No wait, your right.”

    Leif knelt down on his right knee.

    “Close your eyes.”

    “This is absolutely ludicrous,” said Leif, closing his eyes.

    Thorvald said a grace:  “Dearest Christian God, thank you for this little fish and for crashing our longship, and thank you for illustrating the value of a solid Viking crew by having ours be swept away to drown in freezing arctic seas.  Thank you for bringing Leif back to us after his journey to Vinland, from where we thought he would never return and where he ate people for some reason…”

    Leif was shaking his head.

    Thorvald continued, “As you can see, we’re in somewhat of a sticky situation here.  We’re headed to the Þingvöllr to attend the Alþingi, which declared Iceland a Christian land in your honor on our last visit five years ago, but instead of delicious fish I decided to fill our satchel with the bible, which is a great read but it is very large and also inedible.  So, we’re taking a page out of the good book itself and are asking your highness to do us this one little favor of multiplying this single fish before us into many fish, just like you did for Jesus at that fish party, or simply to bestow upon us a plate of cooked horseflesh, although we would accept it even if it were raw, or maybe an ice bear instead, or perhaps a narwhal, or a maybe just a tiny minke whale, Leif said could eat a whale, or maybe –”

    “Thorvald!” Leif yelled.

    “Thank you, God, for listening to our prayer.  I guess we’ll just wait right here until something different happens.”

    Thorvald and Leif knelt in the moss beside the rock which held their meager fish.  For a minute nothing happened, and then it started to rain.  They opened their eyes and saw the fish getting rained on.

    “Goddamnit,” said Leif.

    “Hmm,” said Thorvald, “maybe you should switch knees and we should try this again.”

    Leif stood up and sighed.  “Fuck it,” he said, “let’s keep going.”

    “Would you like to chew on this book cover?” asked Thorvald, holding up the Bible.  “It’s made of leather.”

    “Let me see that.”  Leif took the Bible from Thorvald, took several steps back, and then threw it with all his might.

    “Oh,” said Thorvald, watching the Bible soar through the air.

    Leif turned and began walking away.

    “Hey, you don’t want to eat your fish?”  

    “No.”

    “Suit yourself,” said Thorvald, who ate both shares of the soggy fish. 

    Through the rain they walked in silence, Leif with his axe, Thorvald with his now empty satchel, heading inland toward a chain of volcanic hills.  As the hours passed the rain stopped.  Rainbows beamed in the troposphere and then faded away as the clouds dispersed.  Like a pendulous orb the sun swept low across the magenta sky in an inverted arch and kissed the horizon.  The sun was going down when Thorvald spoke up.

    “Leif?”

    “What?”

    “Are you mad at me?”

    “Mad at you?  Why would you say that?”

    “Well, you threw the Bible pretty far.”

    Leif stopped walking, caught his breath, and then turned toward Thorvald.  “At first I was mad at you, and then I realized that in our circumstances dwelling on the past is unhelpful.  And it could always be worse.”

    “But it could always be better, too.”

    “Thorvald, do you remember when we were teenagers and we razed York?” 

    “York?  York…was that in France?”

    “No, England.”

    “Oh yes.  Drab scenery, mundane architecture, horrible food, funny looking people who couldn’t hold their drink.  They didn’t put up much of a fight, did they?”

    “Well, can you blame them?  They had nothing to fight for.”

    “I suppose not,” said Thorvald.  “Come to think it, they should have thanked us for burning their homes to the ground.”

    “Do you remember why we left?  We were so bored with the porridge and the inferior women that we hastily took sail at night, but I read the star chart upside down and we ended up in Africa!” Leif chuckled. 

    Thorvald nodded and smiled, “Yes, I do remember that now.”  He laughed, “We almost died of dehydration.”

    “And when we finally made landfall the Maghreb, the Berber pirates tried to enslave us, so I had to open up a can of whoop ass on them?”

    “Ha ha ha,” laughed Thorvald, “I don’t know what a can is, but, yes, I remember!  Didn’t you make some remark to the Arab patriarch about him having intercourse with a camel?”

    “Yes, I did, I did say that!”

    They both rolled in laughter.

    “Oh, good times, good times,” said Thorvald, wiping the tears from his eyes.

    Leif placed his hand on Thorvald’s shoulder. “Thorvald, you are my greatest companion and without you I would not be here.  From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for being my friend.”

    “And I thank you, Leif.”  Thorvald looked up at Leif and then down at Leif’s hand on his shoulder.  They looked at each other for a moment and then Thorvald said, “Umm, you’re not going to kiss me are you?”

    Leif quickly removed his hand, “No, of course not.  Jesus, why, what the…?  Do you want me to kiss you?”

    Thorvald thought and said, “Well, this may be a bit awkward, but perhaps just a little peck would be nice.”

    Leif said flatly, “You’re fucking kidding me, right?”

    Thorvald directed his eyes elsewhere and shrugged in an “I don’t know but yes” kind of way, he then shut his eyes. 

    Leif rubbed his hand against his face and said, “Alright.  Fine.”  He scanned the wasteland to confirm that no one else was there, and then he closed his eyes and leaned in to kiss Thorvald.

    “Whoa!” said Thorvald, backing away.

    “What?”

    “Jesus, I didn’t think you were actually going to do it!”

    “But you asked me to!”

    “Yeah, but it was a joke!”

    “Goddamn you, Thorvald!”

    Thorvald tossed his head in laughter.  “Holy shit!” he said, backing away some more.

    Leif turned red and raised his axe instinctively.  “You fucking bastard!  If you ever tell anyone about this I’ll smash in your head in!”

    Thorvald crouched on the moss in a ball of laughter.  He raised his arm and said, “Okay, okay, I’m sorry...I swear to Odin I will never tell anyone about this.  I promise you, Leif, I promise.  You are a good friend.  You are my best friend.”

    “Fucking-A,” said Leif, lowering his axe and shaking his head.  “I should just kill you.”

    Thorvald extended his arm for Leif to grab and Leif helped him up.

    “I’m sorry,” said Thorvald, still grinning.

    “You’re lucky you’re my friend, you piece of shit.”

    They continued on to Þingvöllr.  They trekked across the chartreuse earth toward the base of great hill.  The sky grew darker, yet never dark, and in the crepuscular light of the midnight sun moths began to stir.  Leif and Thorvald trudged up the ashen slope of the hill and they were very tired.

    In the front and breathing hard, Leif said, “By my estimate, Þingvöllr should be visible just beyond this ridge.  We shall be merrymaking  and soliciting the assembly before you can say Eyjafjallajökull!”

    From behind, Thorvald said, “Okay, but what if it’s not?”  He was chewing on a moth.  “What if it’s a place...”

    They ascended the ridge and Leif’s heart sank when he saw what lay before them: an endless and unforgiving terrain of heathland plains, sulphuric slopes and primordial mountains, a vast and verdant hell of acidic mudpits, boiling geysers, and toxic gas vents, hot steam and whirling clouds that screamed across the crimson sky.

    “Shit!” yelled Leif, “Where is Þingvöllr?! Where is the sea?!  Are we not in Iceland?  Have we entered Helheim?!”

    Thorvald gulped the moth and assessed the desolate highland, “Oh wow,” he said, “we are way off.”

    Leif erupted into a profane rampage and began smashing rocks with his axe.  In his tirade he hollered, “Goddamn...Þingvöllr...stupid...fucking...hippies!”

    Thorvald sat down on a mound of volcanic sand.  He gazed upon the ever-changing landscape and then turned toward Leif and watched him smash rocks.  Leif struck a pile of rocks and when they toppled over a peculiar, creamy-white object rolled out.  Leif paused with his axe raised and watched the oval object roll to a halt beside Thorvald who picked it up.  It was warm. 

    “What the hell is that?” ask Leif, walking toward Thorvald.

    Thorvald held it up and turned it.  “It’s a puffin egg.”

    “How can that be?  There’s no sea in sight, nor a bird of any kind.”

    “Well, this technically isn’t a bird.  It’s a puffin egg, which makes it a puffin that isn’t a bird.”

    “Let’s eat it!” said Leif.

    “Hold on, let’s think about this.”

    “Think about what?  We’re starving!  We’re going to die out here without sustenance.”

    “Go eat a moth.”

    “No!”

    “We’re not going to eat this little egg.”

    “Why not!?”

    “Because it’s not right.  Had we not come along and disturbed it it would have hatched just fine.”

    “And then what?  It will die if it hatches in this hellhole.”

    “Maybe.  But we came along and can now help him.”

    “Him?  You’re not thinking straight, Thorvald.  Give me the egg.”  Leif held out his hand.

    “Look at it this way,”  Thorvald said, “We’re lost in a place that seems like a very bad place.  There’s nothing of promise out here.  Yet in all this chaos we find a beautiful egg that can flourish if we take care of it.”

    “You have until the count of three to give me the egg.  Or else I will be forced to hurt you and will take the egg all the same.”

    “Leif, this egg is a survivor, it’s like you and me.”

    “One...” said Leif.

    “What are the chances of happening upon such a rare and elusive thing out here? It’s like Þingvöllr!”

    “Two...”

    Thorvald was afraid for the egg and held it close to him.  The sun was rising and Lief appeared as a silhouette, his hilltop shadow stretching far across the world below in the bloodred dawn.

    “This egg is like the Earth itself, Leif.  It’s a miracle.”

    “Three!”  Leif dropped his axe and then lunged at Thorvald.  Holding the egg to his chest, Thorvald rolled out of the way and leapt to his feet.  Leif had landed on the ground. 

    Backing away and attempting to expostulate with Leif, Thorvald said, “We’re best friends, remember?!  Didn’t we just talk about that?”

    Leif stood up and roared, “Give me the egg!” 

    Thorvald started to run away but Leif dived and wrapped his his arms around Thorvald’s waist and rode him down.  The egg was still cupped in Thorvald’s outstretched hands which slammed into the earth as they hit the ground.  Thorvald uncupped his hands and saw that the egg had cracked.  There was a little black beak protruding out through the shell and it was moving.

    “Leif, it’s hatching!” 

    Leif rolled over on Thorvald’s back and looked at the egg.  Furry feathers were emerging and the puffin began chirping.  The newborn bird pushed apart the top of the shell and popped it’s head out.  The tiny, dark-grey puffin looked at Thorvald and Leif and chirped. 

    “Oh my goodness,” said Leif, “Look how cute he is.”

    “He’s hungry,” said Thorvald.

    “Well then, don’t just lay there, go get him some food!”

    “Well then get off of me!” yelled Thorvald. 

    Leif moved and sat cross-legged holding the bird that Thorvlad had handed him.  Thorvald ran off and when he returned in a minute Leif was talking gibberish to the chirping puffin.  Thorvald dropped to his knees, put his lips to the puffin’s beak, and then transferred a chewed-up moth to the mouth of the puffin.

    “That’s disgusting,” said Leif.

    After the puffin finished eating the moth it began chirping again.  Thorvald ran off, found another moth to chew on and regurgitate, and then fed the puffin once more.  This process was repeated three more times after which the puffin was so stuffed that it fell asleep in Leif’s hands. 

    Leif smiled, “Poor little porker, he stuffed himself full.”

    “What should we name him?” asked Thorvald.

    Leif thought for a moment and then said, “How about Muffin?”

    “Muffin the puffin?”

    “Yes.”

    “Okay.”

    The morning light washed across the valleys and illuminated the hills encompassing the smoldering land to the east.  Above a distant plain on the horizon, wiry tendrils of black smoke could be seen rising faintly into the clouds.

    “Leif, look,” said Thorvald. 

    Leif saw the smoke and squinted.  He stood up to study the smoke and said, “Þingvöllr... Thorvald, it’s Þingvöllr!”

    The motion and yelling woke the puffin up and it began to chirp.

    “Can we bring Muffin?” asked Thorvald.

    Leif considered the bird.  “Þingvöllr is no place for a baby puffin.  A puffin needs fresh fish to eat and sea cliffs to dwell in for protection.  We cannot bring Muffin go to Þingvöllr.”

    “But we can’t leave him here.  He’ll die if we don’t take him with us.”

    “What if one of us went to Þingvöllr and the other one goes back to the ship with Muffin?”

    “Who will do which?”

    “Well, since you don’t seem to mind eating soggy fish and insects and feeding Muffin with your mouth, you take him to the coast and wait for me.  I’ll go to Þingvöllr to petition for wood and help.” 

    Leif kissed the puffin on the head and then handed it to Thorvald who place it in his satchel.

    “Take care of our baby boy,” said Leif. “You will make a good mother.”  He extended his arm and shook hands with Thorvald.  The puffin was chirping in the satchel as Leif swung is axe over his shoulder and prepared to walk away.

    “Leif,” asked Thorvald, “what if this plan doesn’t work and one of us gets lost or dies?”

    “In that case, my friend, may we reunite in Valhalla.”

    “Valhalla?  Does that even exist?”

    “It’s a place that’s not a place.”

    Leif thought that his last remark was incredibly clever and hilarious and he roared in laughter.   He turned around and walked down the hill, laughing the entire way.

     

    http://puffinpalooza.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/puffin-skip.jpg
    Image from:  http://www.puffinpalooza.com/

    Friday
    Aug082014

    Poems IX

    Dark poems for dark days

    Every human generation has its own illusions with regard to civilization; some believe that they are taking part in its upsurge, others that they are witnesses of its extinction.  In fact, it always both flames up and smoulders and is extinguished, according to the place and the angle of view.

    -Ivo Adnric, The Bridge on the Drina

     

    There once was a world
    Filled with beautiful girls
    Old castles and marvelous things

    Like bridges and songs
    Blue skies and white swans
    Rivers and mountains and seas

    There were churches and bells
    Heavens and Hells
    Men who would die to be free

    Yet these men were slain
    And the world did sway
    Away from a beautiful peace

    And just like before
    The demons of war
    Emerged like a fatal disease

    So the bridges and songs
    Were forgotten and bombed
    And Hell on Earth did man see

     

    Upon dark shores they stood in wait
    Men of Hell and wreckage
    When Heaven fell, the horsemen reigned
    And sealed the Earth in carnage

    image.jpeg

     

    Little by little
    While Death plays the fiddle
    Humanity sinks into the tomb

    Men stand aghast
    Before their hideous past
    Their screams are melodious tunes 

    They are buried alive
    The earth muffles their cries
    And the world begins anew

    Civilizations arise
    Civilizations despise
    And fiddle in hand Death doth loom

     

    I have seen the future in Pompeii
    Where bodies lie in casts

    The eruption of Vesuvius
    Has turned
    Pompeii to ash

    So too the last of men shall perish
    And weep in desperate mourning
    For the civilization that he burned
    For the planet he is burning

    He will beg for bygone eras
    He will gasp for air to breathe
    In the night of a nuclear winter
    He will pray for a day of spring

    Yet nonetheless the ash will fall
    The ash will fall like snow
    Like he who gazed into Medusa’s eyes
    His world shall turn to stone


    The Last Day of Pompeii, Karl Brullov