What’s up?

Where else would you find Catholicism, Veganism and neo-Monasticism (yes that’s a thing now) thrown together in one blog? Welcome to my world. This blog is about my 2014 journey in faith, recognizing my body for the gift it is and striving to be worthy of that gift. It’s in the nature of man to seek out community and I’m no different, so please feel free to interact with my via comments or email. An important component to any successful change is a strong support network, and while I feel like I have that (for the most part) in my religious life, beginning a new dietary regime is quite a change for me. I’ve come to this decision for several ethical and spiritual reasons that I’ll hopefully explore in upcoming posts.

Let the documentation begin!


Faust Reversed… (or: Prometheus Rebounding)

'Dreamer', Caspar David Friedrich

‘Your funeral arrangements are underway, expenses to be borne by the community; the whole village will be there.’

They were conducting a vigil beneath his window at this very moment. Everyone knew Percy wouldn’t survive the night. He had performed ‘miracles’ in curing everybody else; but he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – save himself. The villagers prayed – though they believed he was some sort of miracle-worker, they were not praying for his life – a saint was more powerful dead. Snatches of hymns drifted up to his window, some were praying to him as though he were already in heaven, capable of the impossible. He was their very own martyr, having contracted the disease through contact with all those he had helped. Yet, he harboured no regrets, still less any grudges.

As far as the priest could see, Percy’s life had been faultless – ‘You have nothing to fear; there are already proposals for your beatification.’

‘Let me die first.’

‘Of course; however, I thought you’d like to know – the general agreement is that you probably are a saint. Those people below are praying to you, as well as for you.’

‘I wish I could do more for them… Perhaps I can do one last thing.’

‘Oh you will do even more than that, from your saintly seat in heaven, looking down upon us from on high.’

Percy shook his head ruefully. ‘Perhaps some day they’ll understand…’

The priest lifted the cross. ‘I shall give you the last sacrament…’

‘I don’t want it.’

The priest froze for a moment in shock; the shadow of the cross falling across the bed. Then he relaxed. ‘I know I am not worthy to give you the last rites; it was presumptuous of me, I’m sorry. You’re already at peace with God.’

‘You misunderstood me – I refuse the last rites. Just as I reject my Baptism.’

‘Why?’ the priest let the cross slip out of his grasp; ‘You have done God’s work all your life… You have put other people before yourself, you have consistently devoted your life to good. But though everyone, including myself, thinks you’re already a saint, you shouldn’t assume it without humility.’

‘It’s not a question of pride; or perhaps it is. I am nobody’s saint.’

‘You have earned Heaven, my son.’

‘That is irrelevant; or rather – necessary.’

‘Will you intercede for me, when you’re in heaven?’

‘Have you heard nothing I’ve just said?’ Percy’s voice was feeble. His strength was failing him. And he expected more visits that night – intruding between himself and his appointment with death.

The priest left without the blessing he so desired from the one whom all believed to be a saint.

Percy waited.

A flutter announced the arrival of the Nightingale. The Nightingale took over the Lark’s offices at night; it called to Percy, its gently oscillating waves of song cradling him, soothing him, calling him to faraway unbounded regions of eternal drifts.

Percy steeled himself against the siren’s call.

NIGHTINGALE: Percy, Percy, the pearly gates have been thrown wide open for your entry; the chariot’s waiting…

PERCY: I’m not coming.

NIGHTINGALE: You can’t resist the end.

PERCY: I don’t intend to.

NIGHTINGALE: Plans are in place for a miracle of dazzling rarity; the chariot will appear in the sky as a fiery star, soaring in splendour. You may look down upon your people, and bless them; they will know they can rely upon your heavenly glory to intercede for them.

PERCY: What’s with all the pomp? There are precious few signs of God’s existence given to the people in every other respect; why should I alone be cause for any such singular event?

NIGHTINGALE: Do not question the designs of God. God moves in mysterious ways..

The Nightingale looked rapt. Its song fled into the night.

PERCY: And cliché further mystifies.

The Nightingale was a lot of things – infinitely. But here, its patience almost dried up. A dangerously angry tremor entered its voice.

NIGHTINGALE: Beware the wrath of God! Beware.

PERCY: Let him do his worst.

The Nightingale reappraised the situation, shifting its metaphysical point of view to see Percy in a favourable light. It decided Percy exceeded measure in one virtue.

NIGHTINGALE: Excessive humility may be cast off, now that you are hearing it from me: Heaven confers its graces on you.

A hop and a curse at the window signalled a further visitor.

CROW: Am I too late?

NIGHTINGALE: You have no business being here. There’s nothing for you here.

CROW: I think annoying you is reason enough; don’t you? Besides, it’s always been our tradition.

The angelic altercation carried on for a few minutes, independently of Percy; who finally cut in – ‘You are welcome too; never let it be said I turned anyone away from my door – or window.’ He sounded tired.

NIGHTINGALE: I don’t see why the pest should always turn up at the most sacred of moments, it’s inappropriately farcical.

Percy turned to face the Nightingale. ‘I didn’t invite you.’

The Nightingale looked stunned. A stutter entered its song. It bravely persevered in its now haltingly-haunting tune.

NIGHTINGALE: You believe in God, don’t you?

Percy admitted, ‘Perhaps. Avian angels sort of tip the balance.’

NIGHTINGALE: Your faith has been rewarded with proof, finally.

PERCY: I never asked for proof.

NIGHTINGALE: And that is why God has favoured you with it.

PERCY: That doesn’t make much sense.

CROW: Ooh, I like a good riddle.

PERCY: Even acknowledging the possibility that there is a god doesn’t alter my resolve.

Here, he addressed the Crow: So, what have you come to offer me? More years of life?

CROW: Um… No, I’m afraid your lease of life is done.

NIGHTINGALE: See, not much bargaining power at this stage; begone, pest!

CROW: Wait! Wait… Um. I can offer you… let me see; exquisite torments for all eternity, beautiful fiery pits with flames that… leap and lick your hair; buzzards that long only to get intimate, feeding on your entrails; lively flails that whip your flesh up into a dynamic large red boil; you’ve seen the pictures…

NIGHTINGALE: He’s not interested.

CROW: Well, kudos on your triumph, smarmy-beak. I’ll be hopping off then.

The Crow took a deep draught of the brandy set by the bed.

‘I’ll take it.’ Percy’s frail voice was barely distinguishable. The Crow toppled over into the glass, and emerged hiccupping. ‘Wh*hiccup*at?’

The Nightingale simply failed to take in the situation.

‘I’ll come with you.’

The Crow’s glee was all the greater for the unexpectedness of the triumph. It drunkenly strutted along the table, and then was tipped over the edge by one particularly mighty hiccup. Its elation vanished as soon as it hit the ground. ‘But – but *hic* you can’t; *hic* we have no power over you.’

‘Why are you here then?’ Percy’s patience, like the Nightingale’s, was potentially infinite; but his time was running out, and this frustrated him.

‘To torment the songbird, mostly,’ the Crow explained. ‘And it’s tradition – though he tries to lose me, he’s always been too simpleminded to evade my ruses. I simply turn up wherever he does. That’s what we do.’

The Nightingale muttered ‘This is blasphemy’ at Percy, in tones that suggested song-gone-sour.

‘Not really,’ Percy reasoned, ‘I’m exercising my right of free will – something that is allowed by you. No more than that. I have abided by virtue all my life, now I merely ask that I retain that right to choose freely.’

The Nightingale tried to argue. It didn’t make much sense to subject a man who had never been anything but good to eternal punishment. God was a just and merciful God, and could never countenance it.

Percy however, pointed out that, as far as he knew – which wasn’t much – God didn’t have a countenance. And that God’s ‘sense’ was common to none, by definition – ultimately inscrutable.

Percy spent his last hour arguing theology with a Crow and a Nightingale, ending in an impasse. The debates carried on after his death; for that time, his soul was bound to earth – a wispy melmothic wanderer. His spirit, in despite of insubstantiality, rendered warmth and comfort where it was needed, and gave imperceptible guidance to those who were lost.

The priest who had been at his bedside the night of Percy’s death had left the Church, to dedicate himself more wholly to humanity. The people who prayed to Percy found their prayers never went unanswered. For many years, he continued to look out for the community, as he had done in life. At the end of that term, another offer was made. Percy still refused salvation, a source of some regret to God and Nightingales; so – unredeemed – he was cast into the fiery pits of hell.

Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

the Story of Glass

She lay down in the midnight garden, a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She closed her eyes and tried not to think of the cold. A sound, slithering in the leaves, entered through her dreaming and when she awoke she was pregnant. Her body glowed from the life within.

The king did not question this. He allowed his wife into the palace, had her washed and perfumed after her night alone in the midnight garden. Dressed in silk and brocade, the queen ascended her throne and was waited upon by the beautiful children of the land. They kissed her fingers, they caressed her swollen belly, they tied fanciful knots in her long auburn hair. The palace resumed its stillness and the world spun around, only rarely intruding with tribute of gold and wine and spices from far off places.

It was not long before the queen began to scream. In that tower that rises like a needle through blue damask, in the columned theatre of the royal bedchamber, her voice rose up and threw itself upon the unresponsive mercy of Heaven. The bed was placed in the centre of the centre of the palace, a mirrored panopticon where aristocrats in starched shirts and court doctors in black dominos anticipated the delivery of future generations.

The queen was scrutinised in the indignities of childbirth. Then the midwives raised their hands in sudden horror, mouths slack like empty sacks. Coated in membrane fluid, still pushing through her mother’s outstretched legs, the baby was wrapped from head to toe in the cunning coils of a serpent. The baby girl cooed serenely and her tiny hand touched the serpent’s slick dark head.

Destroy that creature, cried the king. Destroy that creature, cried the queen. Destroy it, destroy it, came the chorus of a hundred courtiers and men-at-arms.

It hissed, wriggled, then moved away. Down the bed chamber dais, through the colonnade, upon the toes of massive atlantes and their caryatids, skimming in crystal fonts and across empty quads. It slithered back to the midnight garden and was gone. It did not harm anyone.

The girl was named Glass. She grew in beauty and grace, the glory of her lineage made more striking by her virtue. When she turned ten she found herself alone in the midnight garden. Some sleep not altogether natural overcame her nannies and guardians, even the great grey hound whose life it was to watch her. Alone in the darkness and cold, she sat beneath the largest tree and there she found a threadbare shawl which she wrapped around her shoulders.

She waited for a long time before a large dark snake lowered itself out of the branches. Somehow they were able to converse, whether it was in her language or the language of snakes or some other process where thoughts were carried in the air from one mind to the other.

I am your twin brother and my name is Bel, said the snake. If you obey my every word you shall find happiness in this life, but if you are disobedient you shall suffer more than all the people who have every lived – more than the one who was raised up on the tree – more than the sorrow of war and death. Now bring me two pitchers, one of milk and one of rose water.

Glass promised her brother Bel that she would follow his instructions. The girl returned with the pitchers and laid them at the foot of the tree. The serpent coiled itself around a hanging branch and flicked its tongue upon the contents. Satisfied that all was as it should be, Bel continued.

Wash your hands in the rose water, her brother said.

And when she had done so, large and wonderful rose petals fell from her palms. She dried her hands on the shawl and the petals ceased to fall.

Drink the milk down to the last drop, her brother said.

And when she had done so her voice raised itself in song. For a moment the midnight garden was quasar bright, for a moment her eyes could see beneath the veil of change that wraps the earth in doubt and misery. The song ended and the garden returned to darkness.

In the fullness of time, these gifts attracted many suitors. The plains of granite surrounding the palace flourished with pavilions, tents in every colour and canopies embroidered with stars. Emperors, princes, dukes and knights in burnished iron awaited the king’s decision. Finally, Glass’ father agreed to a marriage between his daughter and the Thorn Knight, best loved of all his servants and most handsome.

Their wedding was a wondrous affair and all suitors who had failed to win her hand were invited and attended without rancour. The gifts they provided were so plentiful and so generous there was not enough room in the palace treasury to keep it all, and so the common people were given some of the excess. Feasting and resounding joy enlivened the palace for three days.

After the wedding night, easily evading the sleeping guards (their lips still wet with liquor), Glass descended the stairs of her bridal chamber and took the strange path deep within the palace that leads to the midnight garden. She called on Bel, but the snake did not come. Fearing she must have disobeyed her brother in some way and grieving for the loss of him, Glass was downcast when she entered her sedan that morning. She was carried aloft before her young husband, attended by squires and maids-in-waiting, on the journey to her new home.

However, greater suffering was yet in store for the daughter of the king. When they had arrived at the Thorn Knight’s residence, a manse behind the hills to the north of their vast country, Glass was at once received with unnatural affection by the Thorn Knight’s father. The man’s eyes gobbled her up with an unnerving look, his fingers clawing at her skirts when he reached out to kiss her in welcome. The old man would not leave her a moment’s peace and when her husband was called away, to fight in the battles of the kingdom and bring honour to the family name, the old man seized his chance.

In a little black room, in a moldy old cot, he revealed his true nature. When the act had been accomplished and Glass lay beneath him, dazed from the ordeal, the old man’s wicked heart turned upon itself in fear and self-loathing. He drew a dagger from his belt and cut out her tongue, that she should not speak and betray him. He cut off her hands that she should not write out his name and finally he gouged out her eyes and cast her, blind and disfigured, into the woodlands.

Glass cried in bitter distress, begging Bel’s help, but her brother made no sign. Stumbling and afraid in the ancient tree roots, Glass was at last discovered by a man there. Taken into his hovel in the depth of the wood she was nursed and restored to some semblance of her former health.

They lived together in chaste simplicity for many months, until at last the man spoke.

Would you care to wash yourself in the waters of this wood?

Glass nodded, and was led out of the hovel to a rose scented pool. The instant her head submerged beneath the perfumed water, her hands and eyes were restored.

Would you care for a drink of fresh milk?

Glass nodded, and lifted a wooden bowl to her lips. Instantly her tongue returned and she sang that same song that had illuminated the midnight garden. She saw beneath the veil of this world’s despair and knew the man, who had come to her aid, to be none other than Bel her brother. They embraced and wept for a long time.

Forgive me for leaving you, she said and he forgave her.

I am no longer a serpent because you now understand the suffering I once knew, detested by our mother and father. Forgive me also, he said and she forgave him.

That very night the siblings returned to the manse behind the hills where the Thorn Knight, newly returned from his crusade, was desolate at the loss of his bride. His father’s story, that she had fled with another man in the dark of night, weighed heavily upon him and he had thoughts of ending his own life.

Glass and Bel were greeted as traveling entertainers. Glass wore a mask upon her face to better hide her true identity. Seated before a large fireplace in the manse hall, Glass began to sing her life’s story as a minstrel’s song. So honest and pure was the lyric and so delicate the melody, the whole world was moved to tears. The Thorn Knight wept for love and his father wept for shame.

When the song was done Bel stepped forward and said, What punishment would you visit upon that cruel brute, who violated his own son’s bride and cast her out into the world?

Into the furnace, said the Thorn Knight’s father, into the furnace to die.

Glass removed her mask and the light in her eyes was the light of final judgement. You have condemned yourself, she said, but she took no pleasure in saying it.

And so the old man was cast into the furnace of that place, and Glass was reunited with her love the Thorn Knight. The darkness that had crowded the manse was lifted and replaced by merriment and hope. Bel returned to the kingdom of his father, where he was greeted as royal heir and all grievances were resolved or forgotten. Both brother and sister continued their lives in true virtue and they all lived happily ever after.

The End.

La Pastorella; Ir-Ragħajessa; The Shepherdess

Image: Daniel Vella

A brief note: Here’s a flash fiction for Schlock Magazine’s fairy tale themed week, and I wanted to try something a little different. Same flash, three languages…or is it the same flash? I was more concerned with how I would go about writing the same story in three different languages rather than literal translation. I’d love to know what some of you think about one, or two, or all three pieces. Thanks – Lara


La Pastorella

“Forse uno di questi giorni potremmo amare e morire contenti” disse l’corvo sbalordito. Poi una voce nasci, tenera e goiosa, e disse l’cavallo morto: “Ma la vita è bella, è troppo bella per morire.” E cosi visse la Pastorella, spazzolata tra l’erba screpolata del campo, tra un corvo spennacchiato e un cavallo già morto.

Le pecore non si vedevano da giorni interni e nemmeno le capre, ma sulla collinetta erbosa si trovava la forca. Quella la vedevano tutti. Le spose ed i mariti – i bambini ed i loro cani – si accontentassero sempre di sentirsi più o meno infelici. Non era un impegno e neanche una croce: per loro era solo il ritmo del diurno. Ma per la Pastorella, a cui la tristezza non valeva certamente la pena della morte, era diventata, sempre di più, un impresa vulgare ed insensibile. Al nord poteva traccare le colline ma nient’ altro, ed in tutte le altre direzioni solo una linea continua e meno elaborata d’un filetto di cotone. Ed in fine, cosi i giorni – sempre cosi – senza fiato per manchanza della manchanza di fiato.

In inverno anche la linea in torn’ al campo scomparì, e le colline giocavano sempre all’ bu-bu-settete. Per via della nebbia non si poteva vedere niente tranne ‘l confine del campo – ma era un confine senza tracce ne bordure concrete. Ogni tanto, in fatti, sembrava ‘l caso che non ci fossero limitazioni per la nostra Pastorella, meno ancora per quei membri del villagio che in generale (o forse per principio) non ci davano mai caso alle bordure innebbiate.

Alla serietà della Pastorella ’l corvo si mettò a strillare: “Ma non pensare cosi tanto! Io prima scherzavo, era solo uno scherzo! Non era un invito alla vita vera o qualche schemenza del genere, ma dai!” Lui continuò così ma la Pastorella non ci dava nemmeno caso. Ne al corvo, e ne al cavallo, che adesso si lamentava sulla schiena e come anche lui non pensava mai al pensare o al pensiere.

Con il suo grande occhio giallo e più grande d’un uovo, l’equino riguardò la nostra ragazza, e si rese conto che i suoi lobi si erano già racchiusi sull’apertura delle sue orecchie. Per una parola saggia era troppo tardi ormai. Sputò allora sull’ infiammazione domestica-spirituale del corvo, e l’altro tacì senza nemmeno una protesta – invece, lascò andare al vento solo una piuma. Ma a cose così, cose come le piume nel vento, la Pastorella ci dava ancora caso, perché guardava sempre e sempre di più verso l’orizzonte, alla bianchezza della schena davanti a lei e a quelle bordure innebbiate.

“La torre dell’orologio fa “tick-tock” e l’ mulino fa girare l’acqua, ma per tutto questo, qualcosa cambia?” mormorì la Pastorella. C’erano dei pianti che venivano da in basso, dall’villago, e si rese conto che era morto qualcuno, qualcuno vecchio e di rispetto. Anche l’corvo e l’cavallo sembravano invecchiati da un momento all’altro. E adesso le piume dell’uccello si staccavano dal suo corpo senza tregua. Si staccavano e si mettevano a svolazzare sul vento.

La Pastorella non poteva liberare ne trattenere l’fiato. Non voleva tuffarsi nei soliti inganni: forse non era niente, forse non stava succedendo niente al di fuori del solito. Guardò verso l’ cielo per l’utima volta, e le pareva di vedere un’ orizzonte nero, ma cosi sottilmente più nero di quello che vedeva ogni giorno che non poteva essere certa della differenza.



“Forsi xi ġurnata minn dawn jirnexxielna ngħelbu din il-ferħa bla temma” qalet iċ-ċawla mifxula. U f’daqqa waħda rxuxtat ukoll il-vuċi pjuttost ratba taż-żiemel nofsu mejjet: “Imma din il-ħajja sabiħa wisq, lanqas itik li tmut issa stess.” U hekk kienet tqatta’ jumha dika li kienet magħrufa bħala “r-Ragħajessa”, maqbuda bejn il-ħaxix imxemmex ta’ l-għelieqi, xi ċawla mnittfa u żiemel li għad imut.

In-nagħaġ u l-mogħoż kienu ilhom ma jitfaċċaw għal ġranet sħaħ. Iżda, fuq dik il-biċċa art mgħollija mil-bqija u mimlija ħaxix aħdar jgħajjat, xi ħaġa stajt tara. Dak, għall-inqas, kien id-dritt ta’ kulħadd, għaliex hemmekk kienet tinstab is-sit tal-forka. L-għarajjes – saħinsitra t-tfal u l-klieb – b’dan setgħu jehdew. Jew aħjar, jehdew b’dak ir-ritmu monotonu ta’ kuljum li kien sar familjari biżżejjed biex ma jibqax salib. Imma r-Ragħajessa tagħna din il-biċċa xogħol tant familjari riedet tiffrankaha. Kull wieħed u waħda ma kien jistħoqqilhom xejn minn dan: la l-piena kapitali, u lanqas dak ir-ritmu “blumb-di-blumb” bħal dik il-mewġa ta’ kuljum.

Kultant, fit-tramuntana, r-Ragħajessa setgħet tilmah il-ponta ta’ xi għolja, imma xejn iżjed minn hekk. F’kull direzzjoni oħra l-bordura kienet biss tevapora f’linja dritta, f’diżinn mingħajr stil. U hekk kienu jgħaddu l-ġranet: mix-xemx għall-qamar u nibqgħu għaddejjin hekk, bħallikieku ma kien hemm xejn ta’ barra minn hawn ladarba ma jinbidlux is-smewwiet. U għalhekk stess, il-ħarsa tagħha kienet ta’ sikwit iddur lejn is-sema.

“Qwa! Qwa! Naħsbu wisq aħna…dak li għandna!” għajtet iċ-ċawla, u qajmet rixha sakemm ma nqalgħet waħda mar-riħ. Ma’ dan telqet in-nefħa li kellha u f’nifs wieħed ndunat kemm kienet xjaħet tassew. Iż-żiemel ukoll ma laħaqx tefa’ l-arja l-barra minn imnieħru qabel ma ntebaħ li għalih ukoll kien tard wisq – tard wisq għal bidla, għal ħsieb u għal kliem wkoll. “Lanqas ħaqq tinkedd!” qal hu b’għajn daqs bajda u safra bħal dawk tal-pikles, “jien qatt ma’ qadt ninkedd bħalek…dejjem tħares il-barra…aħjar tħares ġewwa l-bieb tad-dar l-ewwel nett!” Bi żball laqat ġebla li kienet tinstab ħdejn saqajh u stennieha tinżel l-isfel: klak…klak…klakk. Ħadd m’ għamel ħoss. Imma r-Ragħajessa ħarset il-fuq lejn ix-xefaq.

Xtaqet li xi ħaġa tinbidel, u li din il-bidla setgħet telgħeb fl-aħħar dik il-kantaliena tal-qniepen tal-kappella u dak il-brix ta’ l-ixkupi ma’ l-art. Il-ħsejjes ta’ kuljum baqaw

jinstemgħu warajha u l-krib li kien ġej mill-villaġġ qalilha li xi ħadd kien miet. “Issa kieku jmutu l-antiki kollha?” qalet hi, “kieku…forsi nkunu nistgħu nibdew mill-bidu.”

Iċ-ċawla m’għoġobha xejn dan il-kumment, u sa dan it-tant, iż-żiemel, b’ras daqsiex imdendla l-isfel, lanqas kien jimpurtah iżjed. Lejn ix-xefaq ir-Ragħajessa rat hafna rix iswed jiżfen – iċ-ċawla ma’ setgħetx twaqqfu milli jaqa’ u jinxtered. Imma issa dehret li fis-sema stess kienet qed tiċċaqqlaq xi ħaġ’ oħra wkoll, imma jekk xi ħaġa kien hemm tassew, għalissa r-Ragħajessa bil-kemm setgħet taraha.


The Shepherdess

“Are we free to live and love and die with all gladness earned?” asked Confucius Crow. Just then a new voice whizzed up nice and joyful-like, and so said Dead Horse: “But this life is so pretty that you must go on trying!” And so lived the Shepherdess, spun amidst the wheat fields. Between a flea-bitten crow and a horse just as dead.

The sheep hadn’t been spied in days, nor had the mountain goats, but one could always rely on the vision of the gallows right ahead. It stood atop the grassy knoll and every window framed it prettily from one angle or another. Sets of newly-weds, dull children and their dogs, had tried the sight till pity no longer stained their hearts – or their bed sheets.

But to this daily fact our Shepherdess could not submit, for, she felt, pity and sadness were not worth the length of the life line along her palm. Everyday she threw her weight upon her wooden staff and walked towards the edge of the village. There the north would offer up the sight of the hilltops on a clear day, but the rest was nothing but horizon and everything was stunted. The spirit of the wintertime was not any less deceptive than the sunny rest-of-the-year; the borderlines would become clouded and one might be inclined to think that there was no such thing as an invisible rope around one’s waist to pull you back from that whiteness.

“I think, I think, you think too much!” cawed Confucius Crow, and he mustered up the strength to flap up to the crook of her staff. But all that the Shepherdess took note of was the comical expulsion of another feather from his body. The pathetic black thing floated on a draft and travelled straight ahead with the occasional twirl. Dead Horse seemed to contemplate the landscape. “Ah! To be able to think again!” said he, rolling one large egg-like eye at the Shepherdess. Then he promptly dampened his enthusiasm with “No, no…on second thought I do not care for it at all, I am too old.”

The Shepherdess barely inhaled and barely exhaled, for she was waiting for nothing to happen. She could leave, but she had rather that something would come, that something would start ticking besides the mill and the clock. The faint lamenting coming from the village told her that someone had passed away – someone old. Little black figures climbed up the side path towards the village cemetery. Confucius Crow had almost slipped off his perch, losing a few more feathers to the rising wind; he was no longer what he used to be. Dead Horse accidentally tossed a small stone off the edge of the land and this was heard to bounce thrice against the rock side.

Our girl looked forward again, clinging fast to her staff. The feathers were still floating away in a little storm of their own, and a thin black line appeared to be mounting on the horizon – but she couldn’t be sure, so she didn’t inhale or exhale. It was barely perceptible.

Enter the Crypt!

Welcome one and all to Schlock’s first cryptic crossword on Sunday! Enjoy this modest puzzle, set in honour of Schlock Troupe’s upcoming sketch on board the Burlesque Monster Cruise – featuring demented scientists, mail-order brides, sexy squid and a spot of zombie ballet. Book now and we’ll see you all at the show!

Tickets available from dazzlent@gmail.com or by phone/sms to 79911200.


Schlock Crypt no. 30411


5 6
7 8
9 10
1. Hidden pathogen reveals class (5)
4. Faded star demands moron changed (5, 7)
5. Galleon’s Swarthy Elle ends harvest backwards (5, 5)
7. Lust technique for weird Cosmicist (9)
11. Macabre wordsmith’s rhyme finally abandoned (3)
12. “Fish times transform”, said Fry (7)
13. Agitate a patriarch in conversation (5)
1. Verbally ape a revolutionary militant (7)
2. Aural episode is covering characters (7)
3. Oriental mover’s affecting call, “Be Nerdy!” (5, 7)
6. Mediterranean jewel master surrounds standstill, topless (5)
8. Sucker’s wrath follows femme fatale (7)
9. A quick tale from flourished cinders (5)
10. Tom shoved inside Oedipus, sympathetically (5)


“Late as usual,” she thought, “and later than usual in a minute.”

Tightening her grip on a bag full of books and burying one hand in her coat she trundled down the gravel path, followed by the jangle of loose change at each begrudging footstep. The prospect of a double lecture (something about rhizomes and rootstacks) had soured what already promised to be a dour morning.

Fenced in by windowless buildings and nondescript walls, raked with gravel in thoroughly un-Zen like swirls, the Quad was entirely empty. At odd intervals a bird shrieked and somewhere distant the sound of early morning traffic began a monotonous hum.

The fastest route to class was across an overhead bridge but late as she was and fully aware that another reprimand awaited her, she took a meandering path through the middle of the square. A  large round pond dotted the Quad’s gravely greyness, welcome respite from the boxed-in boredom.

She came to the pond and perched on the stone edge. Fishing for a cigarette in an overstuffed pocket and finding one she rolled last night, she spent several moments trying to light it.

“I should’ve bought that zippo,” she mumbled (the lighter, silver framed in egg-blue enamel chased around the edges with diaphanous curlicues, that her ex-boyfriend offered to buy her moments before the decision to break up with him became more obvious and necessary than anything she had ever done), “it was such an ugly thing.”

A splash in the water disturbed her and the cigarette dangled unlit in her hand. Looking down past the lily pads where the water was less agitated, shadowy movements swam in and out of focus. Large bubbles burst and were replaced. Then the shapes beneath became clearer, pushing out of the water into sudden view.

All fish, mouths soft and wide and gaping with tender pink insides, all flesh. The open mouths looked somehow wetter than their dark heads and they smacked rubbery lips with a sound like popping bubble gum. Did they expect food? She lowered her hand and waved as if to somehow excuse herself for not providing bread-crumbs.

But just as she waved, one fish leapt out in a fantastical arc and latched onto her pinkie. It thrust and tugged, drawn down by the sudden vacuum. The fish’s slick black body suddenly exposed to the air suckled all the way to the knuckle. Something sharp snagged her skin.

She screamed like the exclamation in a technicolour comic, EEK!, and in reply the fish dove back into the water. The morning cold was broken through by sunlit warmth and the smell of pond weed, damp and fermenting, became stronger. She stood by the edge of the water staring at her wounded finger. It was coated in a transparent gloop flecked here and there with blood. Without thinking she brought her finger to her mouth, sucked, then leaned over the pond and spat.

The taste of something musty, the feeling of warmth and softness. The soundless gaping of their wide hunger. The fact her lecturer scolded her for a full five minutes (and spitefully refused to accept an essay she had spent the better part of a week rewriting) seemed less important than the tiny wound on her finger and the uncomfortable feeling in her stomach. On the journey back to her room that afternoon, she returned to the pond.

An Emperor’s Resolve

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