Tuccia

Rome, 31 A.D.

Tuccia pulled her veil firmly around her head. She didn’t want to attract any more attention than necessary. She prayed for the respect of the citizens as she descended the steep steps of the Atrium Vestiae.
At the edge of the square she strained to see through the crowd of onlookers. Their attention was focused on the column of condemned, meaning for the moment she stayed unnoticed. The parade of tragic souls moved slowly past, harassed and beaten by the ruthless Praetorian Guards. One by one Tuccia studied the manacled prisoners, hoping beyond hope her information was wrong.
She gasped when she saw that it was not. In the middle of the thirty men, she recognised Gallius, her childhood friend. It was obvious he had been treated as poorly as the others, his blonde curls and body caked in blood. The crowd remained eerily silent. None wanted to incur the displeasure of the guards. Established by Augustus, they once symbolised the strength and mercy of the emperor. But under the rule of Tiberius, they had become much feared. Led by the cruel Sejanus, the guards had become manipulators of the city, the state, and therefore the empire itself. A network of spies and informants fuelled their zealous drive. Few were safe from their growing dark reach. On their authority alone, without trial or even discussion, nearly anyone could be marched away to their death. While Tiberius led a life of debauchery in Capri, he grew steadily more ignorant of their activities.
The prisoners were minutes away from the end of their lives. Sweet Gallius, the only pure hearted man she had ever met, was going to die. For nothing. The time had come for Tuccia to act. She wormed her way through the crowd.
A gap presented itself when two guards focused their attention on a stumbling man. Within earshot, Tuccia called her friends name.
Gallius reacted to her familiar voice, but did not look at her. Brave, noble Gallius. Despite her position, despite his fate, he would not risk endangering her. He only had to look upon her to be free.
He would not.
She had no choice. Rushing forward, she threw her arms around him.
“No Tuccia!” he pleaded.
A blow from the hilt of a sword knocked her to the ground. As she fell her cloak parted enough for the guard to see the red and white bands of the goddess. Shamefaced, he ushered her to her feet. The line of condemned men halted as other guards came to the scene.
Regaining her composure, she addressed the forlorn soldier who had struck her.
“I have touched this man. He is pardoned.”
He, and the other guards who had gathered, bowed their heads in respect. This law was beyond all statutes and arguments. Her order predated the Praetorian Guard by seven centuries.
Gallius held his place, his shock visible. The nearest guard produced a ring of keys, stepping forward to free the man.
“Wait!” came a booming command from the rear of the column.
Tuccia felt a cool shiver as she recognised the voice.
The voice of Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Personally responsible for twelve thousand elite soldiers. The man whose power exceeded even the emperor himself. Why was he here today?
His troops parted like obedient children as he strode toward her. His deep bronze shield, breastplate and helmet contrasted with his cold pale complexion. In his hand, a silver lance with an intricately decorated grip. He fixed her in his proud amber gaze.
She stank of the goddess.
“Who are you, bitch?” he demanded.
“My lord,” began the guard who had knocked her down.
Like a striking snake, Sejanus spun the deadly lance in an arc. As he did, the tapering end flared into a narrow blade. Tuccia saw this clearly although it moved at such incredible speed. With a whoosh it was back at the side of Sejanus. The soldier’s severed head slid noiselessly down the angle of the cut. Like an overripe tomato it splotched to the ground.
“I was talking to her” he continued, casually kicking the severed head into the throng.
Tuccia stepped next to Gallius. She loosened her veil to reveal more of her face.
“I am a Virgin of Vestia” she announced boldly but not loudly. “And by my touch I free this man of all false charges against him.”
Sejanus looked over her with obvious contempt.
“The only falsehood before me is that of your chastity” he sneered.
Her mouth fell open in disbelief.
“The pontifex maximus will confirm it” she stammered.
He spat on the ground at her feet. He strode to her, tearing away her veil to reveal her shorn hair. Then her cloak, uncovering the palla pinned over her left shoulder. Roughly he tore away this shawl of dignity, leaving her bare breasted in the centre of all. The red and white ribbons of Vestia fluttered around her. She made no effort to cover herself.
“I see the Virgin!” shouted one of the prisoners. Like wild fire, the cry spread amongst the condemned. They all knew that even the sight of a maiden from the temple, while en route to execution, meant their freedom. Their voices grew in number and volume along the line.
“Silence!” bellowed Sejanus. “I see only a whore. For who but a fornicator would throw themselves upon this pig.”
He turned with malice to the shocked Tuccia.
“I offer you the chance to prove yourself. A challenge. For is it not true that your goddess empowers you?” Her knees trembled, threatening to give way, but she held her ground and his terrible gaze.
“My goddess walks with me always” she said bravely.
“Good” He took a metal pot from the kit of one of his men. “Then this will be simple for you. You will take this to the Tiber. Fill it with water and return it to me. If it is still full when you get here, I will release every prisoner. If it is not, you will take loaf and wine to Campus Scelerus. Do you agree?”
“I agree” replied a defiant Tucci quickly. The prefect of the city had given her an easy task, apparently upon realising the impropriety of his actions. She was proud to have stood firm against this arrogant bully. The threat of Campus Scelerus, the evil field, was empty. She would not be joining the skeletons in the underground chamber of death. The food and drink were traditionally provided so that the victim was not killed, which was sacrilege, but rather died “by their own choice.”
He stood, holding it aloft so all could see. He turned slowly, scanning the sea of faces for the real target of his actions. She was here somewhere. He smelled her.
“The Virgin of Vestia has agreed to the challenge. Her word is binding. If she fails in this task, she is deemed unsuitable to maintain the flame. She will end her days in Scelerus.”
Sejanus dropped to his haunches. He pulled a jewelled dagger from his belt. Aggressively, he punctured the inverted pot with numerous holes, turning it into a sieve.
He threw it to her. She was too stunned to catch it and it clattered noisily to the ground.
“I will wait on the steps of your temple” he laughed. He walked away, resheathing his knife.
“Wait!” she called to him. Sejanus spun on his heels.
“You have changed the conditions of the trial. I demand the same right.”
His chest heaved in anger and his hand instinctively went to his sword. Still she would not cower beneath his cruel eyes, as so many had before. He cursed the obvious influence of the goddess.
Tuccia had pulled her garments around her and held the battered pot in one hand.
“I will bring you your water, but surely the Tiber is too far away. On such a warm day, you must be very thirsty. The fountain of our temple is just over there. You can watch me, to ensure there is no trickery. For surely water is water my lord. And this business can be ended much sooner.”
His fingers played eagerly upon the hilt of his lance. How easy it would be. But the hundreds gathered round would not tolerate the murder of a Vestal Virgin under any condition. His gold eyes flittered amongst them. Where are you?
He bowed with exaggerated grace to accept her condition. He still held the upper hand.
Tuccia turned to the people. This time she held the pot aloft. She raised her proud voice to the masses.
“The Prefect of Rome has given his word. It is as binding as my own.”
Sejanus bristled at her mockery.
The crowd parted to form a corridor from the steps to the fountain. She walked purposefully over and knelt before it.
She was no fool. The task was impossible. Her training had given her courage and conviction. But not the ability to perform miracles.
Trembling, Tuccia dipped the bowl beneath the surface, reluctant to raise it.
Her genuine devotion to Vestia had brought out her brave demand to draw water from the temple fountain. She had known nothing else since the age of eight.
Now, twenty years on, she would have her faith tested at the risk of forfeiting her life. She prayed it would be enough.
Her goddess answered.
On the temple steps, Sejanus tensed as he felt the influence of his sister.
Tuccia felt another pair of hands cup her own, giving her strength.
She raised the pot, trickles of water dripping off the outside. She watched the surface, for surely it must drop.
It did not. None escaped from the holes Sejanus had made.
She carefully got to her feet and carried it back to him.
He did not look in the least surprised.
Tuccia gently dropped to one knee and offered him the pot.
He smashed it away with the back of his hand.
He stepped past her, calling his troops to follow.
The prisoners were left, dazed in the middle of the square. Families and friends rushed to their loved ones, weeping with joy.
Some remained around the figure of Tuccia. She had fallen onto the steps and lay without movement. They longed to help her but none could touch one such as her. Several called to the temple for help. Finally two other maidens of Vestia came down to aid their fallen sister.

Within days, Sejanus’ reign of terror had ended. Statues of him were torn down. Any mention of him removed from public records. His broken body was left, ironically on steps. The Germoin Stairs. He had been strangled. A crowd descended upon the body, tearing it to pieces.
In their rage, few noticed the fierce amber of his eyes gone. In their place, the kind blue ones he was born with.
As though his spirit had flown, leaving only the shell of his battered corpse.

from the novel “Last Goddess”

Advertisements

Kintsukuroi (Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with seams of precious metal-thus creating “imperfect perfection”)

Together
We chase the fruit of the sun
To the end of the world
A numinous and talon torn sky
Shredded strips of red rag
Sadistically smashed jaffa and gems
Which clot and cloy in floured glue
Elongated curds
Fallen ladders

A stubborn actor that
Pompous
Ungotten
Sullen
Parts the stage unhurried

The carob cordial horizon
Already
Dark and drunk with light
Finds a stoner’s appetite
To swallow an exhausted sun

The old king bows
Losing his crown as always
Leaving distant diamonds on wave caps
Glittering in the open carpetbag of dying day

Free and curious
And beautiful as her soul

The sea waits
Pregnant
Patient
For the last guests to leave

Sinews and snorts of cappuccino foam spat
Across the blurred and broken kaleidoscope
Of tortoiseshell shallows
Here a stegosaurus grazes just below the surface
His rocky plates curl out to the point
In the black and bold of ancient shadow

We are older now
The rocks far apart
But in my mind I jump them with ease
Even with her on my back

We land on the shore
Leaving cookie cutter footfalls
On brittle broken candy
Our adventure soon
Crumbs swept under the tongue of the moon

Memories caressed by the husky cinnamon breath of dusk
Brash and bluesy
Words unsaid bite bitter on the breeze
Salt stuck to my lips

Ironic gulls suspended on wires
Hang in regal vermillion
Their barbed and sulphur calls mock my silence

Punk plants murmur behind us
Mohawks shake in doubt and empathy
Atop lumbering, slumbering
Sleep talking dunes
Whose flesh we puncture
To warm our thin toes

She looks up at me
Emerald silk satin eyes
As always and ever my heart skips
It cannot be her
But it must be
For here I am
Everything I ever wanted to be

Wet
Dark
Chocolate hair
In chaos cascades
Kintsukuroi
Over peach brandy shoulders

The beauty within
Always escaping her
Spilling out
Mango and musk

Ambrosia
Under the sticky sweet and sour sky
In this
Our lonely, only freedom

She offers her hand
Our fingers don’t quite fit
They never have
Our knuckles knobble and knurl
And disagree
In ironic almost

But our hearts hold and hammer
In bonds beyond touch
Seams of gold poured through the cracks and frailty
Humbling and hungry its glow
Sealing the share of our dreams
Binding the strings of our souls
Holding back our snakes and spiders

I pat the blanket down around her feet
She wriggles her toes under the sand
And smiles as they pop out
The lines at her eyes
Remind me how many times she has
She laughs at the noise I make
The growl
That is really a sigh

There is a whisper not wind
The breeze drops to dapple
The ocean dulls
It is time
As always and ever
My heart sinks with the drowning day

I softly slip my arm from behind her
Immediately
Urgently
It pleads to return
The feeling brand new
And forever
But the bulb begins to blink and blacken
Time sends the hounds
And beats the bushes

Our lonely
Only
Waning light
Illumination yet

As always and ever
I kiss her hand
Those fingers that do not fit
Humble me
An ache
No one else can understand

I lift her from the sand
Feather light we fall
Tumbleweed to the shore
Silverfish of seventeen and seventy
Breathless and brave
Brilliant
Laughing aloud at the universe
At everyone but us

We run
Timeless
In rags and riches
Horrible and beautiful
In honest love beyond the scope of measure
Nothing more
Nothing less
Than us

On weary and wind peppered legs we fly
Away from what might have beens
And should have dones

Towards hell yeahs and everywhere
As always
Ever

Towards the never setting sun

For Kerrie

Leaf Raker

Liam didn’t like offices so he raked leaves at St. Magdalene. He did other things as well; mowing, clipping, watering. But raking seemed to occupy most of his time during his school holiday job, tending to the shedding of indifferent elms. He nodded over his rake to the stoic locals, and the steady visitors who included the historic church in their itinerary of Nottinghamshire. They trickled past throughout the day, in ones, in twos, in lines and in groups.
Liam swept the last pile together next to the open sackcloth bale. The public had gone now, and he dropped to his haunches behind an elm for a quick cigarette. He’d returned to St. Magdalene to avoid his father’s generous offer to join him for five weeks at his city accountancy firm. Both parents had frowned when he declined once again, apparently clinging to the hope that Liam would become the third generation of McAllisters at the firm. Why, it would be such a sad waste of his school results if he didn’t plunge headlong into accountancy, crunching numbers and filing tax returns until he was a hundred and thirty.
Liam lit up a Marlboro, drawing slowly before sending a plume of silver smoke over the neat grass towards Nottingham. There his father; an overweight caricature and mother; a flittering socialite, ran their daily schemes and schedules. Oblivious both of course, to their troubled son’s love of only two things; his guitar and Geraldine Harker. Neither of whom seemed to love him back quite as much. Liam was in a holding pattern, neither content nor not. He teetered on the edge of introversion and he knew it. His job here is not just in opposition to his parent’s wishes. It’s almost like hiding out. He sent another trail of smoke crawling away into the setting sun, stubbing the cigarette into the soil. The wispy tendrils snaked and intertwined before breaking apart again, like the promise of a revelation snatched away. These are the best years of your life, people told him enviously. Liam seriously wondered if he would look back on them that way. The scourge of acne seemed a mountain in itself, let alone his dissatisfaction with his music or shyness around Geraldine. He bunched some grass in his fist, angry at the gods of adolescence and frustrated in that ongoing, yet unexplainable way of the young.
Liam sighed, stood up to bale the last of the leaves, and noticed him.
A man came down the long path towards him with a quiet gliding walk. Through a narrow gap in the tree Liam took in his strange appearance; a flamboyant felt hat pulled low in the front: a plume of feather crowning the purple brim. Out of place atop a long brown and ragged overcoat. A homeless prince.
The man stopped where thousands do, at a carved black stone book set in the lawn. Liam had looked at it a hundred times and still couldn’t remember exactly what it said besides the name and years. In fact, he only knew one quote from the poet by heart.
The man glanced up at the tree, catching Liam off guard. Not knowing if he could be seen or not from the other side, he simply remained still as the man looked away again. That choice now hastily made, Liam froze and waited for the man to move on.
A tall woman was now following the same path. Her laced boots clicked softly on the stones, under a full, deep green skirt. Her long hair, dark cocoa locks spilling over a white blouse buttoned at neck and sleeves. Illuminated by the low gold of the sun, Liam could see the dull powdered pallor of her face and bright painted lips. She clicked to a stop next to the man, peering as well at the marble pages.
“But I have lived, and not lived in vain;
My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire,
And my frame perish even in conquering pain,”
her voice is steady and sincere.

Liam recognises the words from the memorial as the man recites:
“But there is that within me which shall tire,
Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire.”
The man’s tone is quiet and flat.

It is a ritual, to mumble the verse on the black book while standing there.

The felt hat tips toward the woman. The man’s voice is a little louder, more genuine.
“Her glossy hair was clustered oe’r a brow
Bright with intelligence and fair, and smooth.”

“Thank you sir, that was lovely. I see you too are an admirer of the great Lord Byron.”
“Not at all.”
“Really? Yet you stand at his stone and quote from Don Juan?”
“Many know his words” replied the man coldly, “Not all fall at his feet.”
The woman frowned, lightly shaking her head.
“He was a brilliant man. Unique.”

“He was a spoilt pretender. A fake.”

“Though every scribe, in some slight of diction,
Will hint allusions never meant
Ne’er doubt This when I speak,
I don’t hint but speak out.”

She looked at the man as though pitying him.
“Doesn’t sound like pretence to me. He expressed himself freely and openly. Provoked thought and debate. He was no fake!”

“Self important and full of wind then.”

“I may stand alone
But would not change my free thoughts for a throne.”

She shook her head at the man in the coat beside her.
“I cannot agree with you sir. He fought for the freedom of Greece. The home of democracy.”

“No. He was bled dry by the Greeks in exchange for their worship. It was a futile quest.”

“At his funeral, the coffin was followed by forty seven black carriages representing the great houses of Britain.”
“The carriages were empty” the man snarled. “They showed their appreciation and disgust at the same time. Women left parties because of him. Men refused to speak to him. He was an animal. The passage of time does not change that.”

“But he was always going to be different. Handsome, but handicapped. Philandering deviant father. Wealthy and titled at ten? Sexually abused. I forgive him plenty.
Joy’s recollection is no longer joy,
While Sorrow’s memory is Sorrow still.”

“Do you have to keep quoting him?”
The woman turned away, her blush kept safe under the matte of her makeup.

“You speak of him as a forward thinker, but he didn’t move with progress. He wasn’t a forward thinker. He sought to encapsulate the moment, oblivious to, or at the expense of all around him. His only legitimate child was taken from him as a baby. Her mother feared his influence on the girl would be nothing but detrimental.”

“She wasn’t even allowed to see a picture of him until she was twenty years old” said the woman quietly.

The felt hat turned sharply from her countenance just as she looked over at him. Liam saw her troubled face, as though she’d been denied as much as the poet’s daughter. The woman’s long hair dropped just as the man glanced over again, this time his voice held the discomfort.
“Ada was force fed mathematics. Discouraged from literature, particularly poetry. Especially his poetry. Her imagination curbed, she still somehow managed to foresee the future of the modern computer. Her work with Charles Babbage pioneered the way the whole world now communicates. In the eighteen forties! She was ahead of her time. A century ahead.”

“And look at where computers have got us. What they have made us:
Society is now one polished horde,
Form’d of the two mighty tribes, the Bores and Bored.”

“Those tribes have always existed” admonished the man. “Byron was speaking of himself as well no doubt.”

The woman sighed.
“Now, by my foul, tis most delight
To view each other panting, dying.
In love’s extatic posture lying
Grateful to feeling, as to sight.
He was fourteen when he wrote that. Not many fourteen year olds speak with that kind of passion. Neither bored or a bore.”

“Perhaps not many fourteen year olds know that kind of passion.”

“Oh, I’m sure plenty do. But the writing is the thing. The bold cadence of the words. The rawness.”

“The raving of the insane.”

“Did you come here just to mock him at my shoulder?”

“I come to pay my respect to none of the Lord Byrons buried here. I’m only here because of Ada.”
“His daughter is in the family vault beneath the church” the woman said as if to direct him there.
The man looked over at the pretty church, clad in late afternoon shadow. “I don’t feel that welcome in churches.” He turned his head a little to look at her profile.
“Ada used logic. Incredible reasoning and foresight.”
“But the analytical engine they devised was never built. Her program never tested.”
“It was built. But it took another hundred years. Even then they only built what Babbage foresaw; a super calculator, not the vision of Ada. She predicted uses far beyond maths and simple problem solving. Ada envisaged computers fed more than numbers, machines analysing and creating music. No one else thought that way. Spared the impurities of her father, she changed the world!”
“But she wrote algorithms, the poetry of mathematics. She dreamt and doubted. Preened and struggled. Ripped and tore at her life. Tried to elope at sixteen. Confessed adultery to her husband on her death bed. Perhaps her father had more influence on her than he ever realised.”
“Maybe he didn’t want to influence her. Not in that way. He didn’t fight for her you know, no matter what his heart may have told him.”
“If he thought her life would be better without him, then doesn’t that make his decision quite noble?”
“None of his decisions were for others.”

Again she defended Byron.
“I am the very slave of circumstance
And impulse-borne away with every breath.”

“Yes, the impulses of a pig.”

“Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes
Sin is a pleasure.”

This time a thin smile played upon her lips.

“You don’t have to keep quoting him.” He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets. “I know them all.”

“Of course you do.”

They looked at each other, actually face to face for the first time. The woman reached out, tilting back the felt hat. She traced a finger over his cheek. Across the nose so like hers. Like a baby daughter might, on her troubled father’s face.”
“So you knew it was me all along Ada?”

“Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure;
Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.

God dad, look at that hat!”
Liam could see the glistening of her eyes. “Why, after all these years do you still hate yourself so much?

“To fold thee in a faint embrace,
Uphold thy drooping head;
And show that love, however vain,
Nor thou nor I can feel again.”

He smiled weakly at her. He covered her hand with his own.
Liam caught the chill of the moment. The cold certainty of confession and all its consequences. Like a statue, like part of the tree itself he was drawn to the pair at the black book. The sun had sunk to the horizon. The woman seemed so fragile in the last dying rays.
“I’ve only ever sought one thing. The approval of my father. This day I finally have it.” Her voice broke a little, the crystal chipping. “To know you think so much of my work means everything to me.”
The man swallows hard. Not as if he’d never given a compliment, but as though he’d waited so long to give this one.
“You are amazing Ada.”
“Thank you” she whispers as though the words hurt her throat.
Liam thinks they will embrace. They both flinch as if they will. But the man holds back so she does too.
“I seek a single thing as well. In this life or any other.” And now his eyes are wet. “The forgiveness of my daughter.”
She shakes her head softly. As daughters do to silly things their fathers say. She opens her arms and he fills them, weeping like a child. The ugly felt hat falls away. She strokes his wavy hair as he sobs and sobs.
“Then both of us have had our wish fulfilled.”

Liam is crying as well. Weeping at something he has seen in the light and overheard from the shadows. Knowing against all the things he does, that these two are no actors. No fans. That their performance is genuine. Their feelings raw and tears cathartic and oh too real. Liam has never believed in ghosts. He’s still not convinced even now. But what he’s witnessed cannot be explained. Neither can the feeling inside him, as though he’d been laid bare in the twilight and forever changed. He recalls the only lines of Byron he knows by heart. And as seems to be the way, it fits just right.
“Tis strange but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction.”

The two continue to hold each other, meshing into one. And Liam sees the most amazing sight he will see until he holds his own daughter in his arms five years later at Geraldine’s bedside.
The ragged coat turned to moths. Grey and brown and white they take flight, magical in the last rays of the sun. The brown hair, the white blouse, the green skirt explode as though a giant Christmas cracker has been pulled. They erupt into thousands of butterflies, intertwining with the moths. The flying creatures form a spiral, drawing the leaves from the open bale next to Liam. They join the fluttering wings, dancing on the air as they follow them towards the moon.
Liam laughs after them. He will never rake leaves again. Those or any others. Warmth washes across him. The swirling breeze of words and numbers and magic assaults him. It mixes with the honesty and simplicity of his love for Geraldine. He shuts his eyes as the music fills him. An orchestra of madness and emotion in a wave of simple beauty. He rocks back, nearly falling. It is beyond wonderful.

Under the confetti moon the leaves fall like snow.

This revelation doesn’t dissolve like cigarette smoke. It soaks him. Shakes him. Fills him.

He picks up the rake, humming the tune as he carries it back to the shed.
Then he’ll ride home to get his guitar.

He’s going to see Geraldine, the girl he knows he’ll marry. Who he’ll share everything with. He’ll show her first.

After all the song is about her.

(from the short story collection “nine”)

EPILOGUE

History provides great literary characters; it’s the angle that is the key, the fire to the coals. Sometimes the premise for a story reaches out and slaps your face, demanding you take action, as this one did for me.
The figure we know simply as “Lord Byron” was in fact the sixth Baron Byron, George. His father Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron, squandered his mother’s family inheritance, then acquired enough debt to force him to leave England. Byron saw little of his father, who died in France aged just thirty six. Coincidentally, Byron died at the same age. And remarkably, so did Ada.
I knew Ada, famed for her mathematical contribution to computer programming, was Byron’s daughter. But that’s all.
I knew nothing of her, or even her father’s life, really. I was pretty sure Byron was the poet who wrote Don Juan (but didn’t know a word of it) and that he was a controversial figure in his time. Oh, and one other dinner table snippet of trivia: that Byron and some house guests once spent a stormy weekend swapping ghost stories. From that gathering came John Poldini’s inspiration for the novel Vampyre, and Mary Shelly’s for Frankenstein.
It interested me that father and daughter excelled in such different areas. I decided to do some research.
The incidents mentioned in my story are all reportedly true, both about Byron and his daughter. The poetry Ada quotes is of course all his. Byron was born with a club foot, an infirmity he apparently hid with the “gliding” stride he walked with. He became Lord Byron at the age of ten upon the death of his great uncle, inheriting a title and a rundown estate. Not quite the spoilt rich kid I’d imagined. His first published volume of poetry was recalled and censored. Some of his work was considered immoral, especially considering he was fourteen when he wrote them. In “The Leaf Raker”, Ada quotes from “To Mary”, one of the poems omitted at the time. Byron came to real prominence due to his use of satire, firstly targeted at not only critics, but other poets.
As his literary successes escalated, so did his excessive lifestyle. Byron accumulated a reputation with a debt to match. He was the prototype of the modern celebrity, revered and despised simultaneously. His sexual misadventures created the most scandal. Openly bisexual, adulterous, possibly incestuous, his passionate affairs consumed and inspired him. He spoke dramatically in parliament, kept a mind boggling cornucopia of animals and sailed warships at the powerful Ottoman Empire. People went to extraordinary lengths just to catch a glimpse of him. Upper class women would bribe and dress as hotel chambermaids to get close. His wife Annabella coined the term “Byronmania” to refer to the public’s fascination with him.
She also took her infant daughter Augusta Ada, and of course herself, away from him in fear of his self destructive lifestyle. Annabella, gifted in mathematics, kept “Ada” as separate from her father’s influence as possible, not even allowing her to look at his portrait. From this far removed household Ada followed a career in numbers instead of words, in time becoming one of the most famous mathematicians in history. Her revolutionary work with algorithms superseded the machines which would use them by a century. When she too died at thirty-six, it’s interesting that her body was placed next to her father’s in the Byron family vault. It seems Annabella could only trust him with her in death.
Having daughters of my own, I couldn’t imagine a lifetime of separation from them. How much did this affect Byron and Ada? How much genetic influence did he have upon her, for her private life too held a shadow of impropriety? Did they secretly communicate without Annabella’s knowledge? Presuming dangerously that history is giving us the truth here, and that their lives never intersected, father and daughter could only meet in the afterlife.
Unencumbered, they could talk freely. Argue, laugh, apologise, console. Because for all the scandal and stories, the fact that Byron and his daughter never spoke together has the most impact on me. And what magic would come from their meeting?
That’s the face slap. And that’s where “The Leaf Raker” comes from.

The inscription on the “black book” is from Canto IV of Childe Harolde. He quotes Don Juan to her. Byron’s work that Ada quotes to him from are in order: Don Juan, Don Juan, Marino Faliero, Don Juan, To Mary, Sardanapalus, Don Juan, Don Juan. When Ada asks Byron why he still hates himself, he quotes from And Thou Art Dead As Young As Fair. The line Liam remembers is from Don Juan.

And yes, Byron did keep a tame bear at school.

Y Rite?

Not what it reads but how it tells
Whether warmth holds us close
Or shiver snatches at our hand
Leering and murderous from cloying dark

None sacred but all

Eggshell and bulb glass under your feet
The mirror calling you to take a step
Those shells, that glass
Are they just petals and feathers on snowfall?
To be certain we must fall among them
Dragging a dreamer behind
(Or shoving them in the back)

A comic, cosmic truth?
Or hornet’s tail to mock the hive itself

A beast set free to pillage and plunder and challenge
A youthful careless monster
Who seeks no more
Than a dry roof for a night or three

And by lamplight’s release
Its secrets spilt
Soul laid bare, lashed raw before the hagtooth crow
Your voice beseeching pocked and pitted stars

The loudest cry within

That cry
That scream
That whisper

The purple whisper of midnight

The smell of a baby

Watermelon’s crunch

The ocean’s call

The voice in your head when she smiles

Laughs
Touches your arm

The voice you will your pen to use
But never it can

That scream, that whisper

That’s why.

(from the book “nine”-available on Amazon)

Bubblegum

The sparkling white Rolls Royce eased gently to a halt in the driveway of twenty five Brown Street, a non-descript two up-two down in suburban Whitfield. A chauffeur alighted, zipping efficiently to the back door. He opened it, bowing so low his breath cleared the dust from a small patch of concrete.
“Thank you Jenkins.”
The long and luscious legs of Consuela Quest, CEO of Raven Chemicals, emerged. She stood, shaking her luxurious dark hair and smoothing the front of her knitted Givenchy sheath dress.
“Hello Hades” she whispered, stepping gracefully over an upturned skateboard. She glided up two low steps onto the front porch of the house. A blank, fair haired woman held the front door open for her.
“It’s expecting you” announced the glassy eyed blonde.
“Thank you Mrs. Thorne” replied Consuela, drawing a long breath before tackling the sharp stairs to the upper floor.

Turning into the street trundled a small but powerful Chinese runner in purple, towing an elaborate black lacquered rickshaw embellished with gold detail. The puller eased the handles to a stop, positioning the rickshaw at the kerb near the lopsided mailbox. From its opulent padded seat, a rotund, bald Asian man stretched a satin slipper cautiously to the sidewalk. Gathering his vast black silk robes around his considerable girth, restaurateur Min Fa shuffled through the gateway and took the same path as Consuela.
He stopped at the overturned skateboard, shaking his head in disappointment. Bending more fluently than his body shape should allow, he flipped the skateboard back onto its wheels. Stroking the battered deck with his hand, Min sighed before proceeding to the house. Mrs. Thorne, holding a tray of razor blades and wearing a glassy smile, stepped back to allow him room to squeeze past.

Min Fa had just manoeuvred himself inside when a fire red Hummer roared up Brown Street, making no attempt to stop in time to avoid hitting the black rickshaw. It disintegrated into kindling, the Hummer coming to rest with one tyre pinning the crushed Asian man. With a piercing metal creak, the red door swung open. Colonel William Ares Richardson almost stepped over the fallen rickshaw puller, but managed to step on one of the man’s hands. The small fingers crunched like popcorn under Richardson’s heavy boot. He hitched his khaki service pants up under his outrageously hot pink t-shirt. Richardson briskly vaulted the low front fence, despite the open gate. Striding across the patchy front lawn, he ignored the blonde woman at the entrance and took the stairs two at a time.
Rapping sharply on the purple door with his clipboard, he barged past the posters of Sheldon Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch without waiting for a reply.

In a hanging wicker chair suspended by macramé rope, perched their host. Dea sat cross-legged, sixteen year old sweet in Nirvana t-shirt and frayed jeans. Lightweight headphones crowned her straight blonde hair. She was blowing dry the fresh pink polish on her toenails and didn’t look up as Richardson entered the cramped bedroom.
The Colonel snapped his combat boots together loudly. Dea glanced at him briefly, then reached for a skull shaped bong and a dime bag of marijuana. Richardson, muscular and buzz cut, surveyed the remainder of the small room. He bowed his head politely at a sunflower coloured beanbag, ignoring the silk clad Min standing at the window. His gaze travelled past the screen and game console, Guide dog puppy calendar and Mickey Mouse alarm clock.
Consuela sat on the end of an unmade bed, one long leg over the other. Colonel Richardson smiled leeringly at them, his eyes not bothering to go as high as her face.
“You make my skin crawl.”
“Why don’t you admit you want me inside you Connie?”
“The only way you would get inside me is if I ate you, which I assure you I am more than capable of. However, since no doubt you would taste like you behave, you would be completely unpalatable.”
Richardson grunted, turning his attention to Min Fa.
“Not much you’d find unpalatable, you fat fuck.”
Min continued to look out of the narrow window. “Perhaps your parking skills William. Perhaps you could manoeuvre an automobile in a non-destructive, and perhaps, less lethal way.
“Perhaps you could take a shit in your best hat.”

Mrs. Thorne crept into the room, trembling and covered in a cold sweat. She offered a bowl of drawing pins around, her shaking hands causing a few to bounce out of the bowl. Once all four of them had ignored her, she withdrew silently, her pupils tiny spots in wide white eyes.

“It’s all right Fa Min, I’ll give you a lift home” said Consuela.
“Most gracious of you to offer Miss Quest” bowed Min.
“Moost gracious of you to offer” mimicked Richardson. “Fucking fat cocksucker” he added. “Maybe you’ll get a fat dose of pestilence riding in that mouldy Rolls.”
“Don’t you dare call me pestilence! It sounds like a bug spray” snapped Consuela, sitting forward suddenly.
“Well that’s what everyone knows you as. And if the stiletto fits…”
“By name but certainly not by nature” chipped in Min diplomatically.
A cloud of dope smoke unfurled from the wicker chair, crawling lazily across the room. Consuela’s burning umber eyes penetrated the haze, glaring with loathing at Richardson and Min.
“I am the Conqueror” she spat. “You, Mister Richardson are a mere imitation of me, and a poor one at that. What you struggle to achieve with individuals, I bring to nations and continents. On a grand scale.”
“Grand scale? What have you brought on a grand scale lately? Not much since the Great Plague.”
“What about two world wars in a century? Pol Pot? Idi Amin?”
“No way can you claim those two! They were both projects of mine!”
“Well what of Cancer? Ebola? AIDS?”
“See? Pestilence! You admit it yourself. And by the way princess, they’ve cured a kid from AIDS. Maybe it is time for another plague! Grand scale? The only thing happening on a grand scale around here is this sack of crap here.”
Min still looked down at the roadside, oblivious to the insult. “Hoi was such an accomplished puller” he sighed. “An area you no doubt excel in as well William.”
“Still no famine at your place Min Fat?” sneered Richardson.
“As always, the cultured debate; the stirring riposte, the sparkling repartee…”
“If I throw you food would you shut the fuck up?”
Min clapped his silky sleeves together, giggling. “Oh my. Shakespeare? Oscar Wilde? It’s hard to tell.” He faced Richardson for the first time. “All your type looks the same to me.”
“You forty acre smart ass” snapped Richardson. “Why don’t you report first Min Fat, since you’re so clever and ar-fucking-tic-u-fucking-late?”
Another waft of dope smoke breezed through from Dea’s wicker nest. She offered the bong to Consuela who politely declined.
“Very well” announced Min Fa. “Africa continues to be our shining light. Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya are performing well. North Korea is reporting cannibalism as a reaction to food shortages. I’m still hoping for a relapse in Russia and China, though it may be wishful unless we can find another Mao. On a brighter note, most east and central African countries have no hope of effective aid distribution with their current regimes.” Min smiled broadly, Africa having been the jewel in his crown for a century.
“What’s the mortality rate?” posed Consuela.
“It is difficult to attribute percentages specifically to death by hunger with other contributing causes” answered Min carefully. “Our preferred method is to use the child deaths by starvation per second scale. Currently it sits at one every three. Our aim is to reduce this to two every one.”
“One child death every two seconds?” asked Consuela, unimpressed.
“No no no. Two every one second. One every half-second.”
“Lovely” declared Consuela. “I look forward to the day. You can do it Min Fa, I know you can.” The pudgy Min blushed a little at the mini pep talk.
“We do have competition of course. As corrupt as most are, aid agencies are getting some supplies through. The use of growth hormones, drought resistant crops and genetically altered foods continue to threaten us. However, the areas of unsustainable land are widening. In short, as long as they keep copulating, the scales tip my way ever more.”
At the use of the word “copulating”, Richardson fixed hungry eyes on Consuela.
“Do endeavour to keep it in the khakis.”
“So your plan is same as last time Min? You eat. They don’t. Impressive strategy.”
“It’s so much more than that Will..”
“Gentlemen!” interrupted Consuela. “Well then Colonel Richardson. What of your efforts this year? You’re surely not trying to pass off those school shootings as acts of war I hope? They are little different to last year’s meeting when you had us on that paintball range. Small scale and messy.”
“Yeah well who wears white to paintball?”
Consuela shuddered at the thought of those colourful splotches on her Valentino suit.
“I did try to protect you Connie.”
“Protect me? You spent the whole time blasting Min Fa!”
“Well ya gotta admit there’s plenty to aim for. And, there’s no point trying to shoot something that can’t be hit.” He cocked his head towards Dea, who was innocently unwrapping a cube of bubblegum.
“Anyway, what about the meeting you hosted the year before that? On your yacht?”
“Yes, quite. My apologies again Colonel. I’d forgotten how severe your phobia of water is.”
“It’s not a phobia! I’m just not comfortable at sea, that’s all. You have known that since the beginning of time by the way!”
“Ah” stated Consuela, raising a finger as though just remembering. “I have, haven’t I.” Min Fa failed to suppress a giggle behind a voluminous black sleeve.
“Fuck you. Your hostings are nothing more than glorified pig outs. Except I can never get a steak unless it’s dripping with soy sauce or some shit.”
“I wonder Colonel, whether you could actually make your report. Or is this room the only place you’re capable of starting war?” Richardson offered a short arctic stare in reply, interrupted by the sound of Mrs. Thorne banging into the other side of the door. They heard her burst into tears and run back down the stairs. Dea blew a large pink bubble with her gum.
“Very well” began Richardson, “We continue to pursue our successful policies. Instigating civil war. Destabilising governments and economies. Spreading distrust and promoting anarchy.”
“Then of course the Americans show up” added Min.
“God bless us” agreed Richardson. “We hate them, they hate us. Doubles up on the paranoia, doubles up on the carnage. Then while we’re playing schoolyard bully, we effectively fan the flames of terrorism and…” He stopped as Consuela and Min both rolled their eyes. “What?”
“Terrorism? Seriously William. That’s just not producing the numbers.”
“Have you come up with anyone more imaginative than Bin Laden?”
Richardson paused, determining that they were both finished for the moment.
“You’re missing the point. It’s the environment created by it. People living on a knife edge. Making the world more trigger happy every minute.”
“Oh the clichés! You’ve been saying that for a long time now William” stated Min calmly.
“Neck a dick, dim sim.”
“Oh Mark Twain lives on. Do you really think your references to my origins and appearance upset me? Would it offend you if I called you hot dog?”
“Would it offend you if I got mine out?”
“It would offend me” admitted Consuela.
“Or astound you.”
“Are you referring to the amount of time it would take you to locate it?” she smirked.
Another bubble popped.

“I don’t know why we bother with these meetings anymore” added Consuela. “We have little respect for ourselves, let alone each other.”
“I too doubt the value of our gatherings” agreed Min.
“We’re bored” concluded Richardson. “It feels like we aren’t getting anywhere. The sum total of our efforts all end up on her scorecard anyhow.”
Dea smiled sweetly at the flustered Colonel. A pink bubble burst on her face and she retrieved the spattered gum with her lips and teeth.

“We’re never going to get them all. As Min said, they’re fucking machines. What’s that thing they say? Breed like rabbits? And even if we did wipe ‘em all out, then what? What do we do after that? Retirement home? Rocking chairs and comfy slippers? None of it makes sense. The whole deal is horse shit!”
“You forget our true purpose William.”
“Which is what exactly Lord Dumpling?”
“Do you really not know our purpose? The apocalypse? Remember, we were released from the seals to await the coming of the great dark? Conquest emerged first, with crown and sword etcetera etcetera.”
“Nope.” Richardson clunked his knuckles just above the temple. “Metal plate. Korea. Fifty four. Got too close to a grenade. Blanked out everything further back than Alexander.”
“Serious?”
“Sure am Connie. What do you know about this stuff?”
Consuela wriggled her shapely buttocks. “Um. Well. It has been a while.” Richardson enjoyed the rare discomfort. “I’m sure there’s a bit on it in the bible” she diverted.
“O.K. Let’s take a look. Who’s got a stinkin’ bible?” The three looked at each other, then all turned to the hanging wicker chair. A raised “As if!” eyebrow answered them.
“Right. No bible. Can you remember it, Jabba the Chong?”
Min, also embarrassed, realised he knew little more than the others. “I think we lead an army of the dead..”
“I honestly don’t remember that part.”
“How do we lead an army of dead bastards?”
“I think they rise up as we sweep past dramatically on our horses.”
“Really? Who the hell writes this stuff? Tarantino?”
“And I seem to recall something about warning signs. Plagues of locusts, that sort of thing.”
“Locusts? They have plagues of locusts all the time. There was one the other day somewhere. Morocco or some fucking place.”
“We should get a bible and check up on the reading” suggested Consuela.
“Why?”
“You know why William, to clarify…”
“Clarify bullshit. Are you telling me we use the bible as our playbook?”
“I merely thought..”
“Look at who we are Connie. Do we really have to wait for instructions from that damn book? Do we have to wait for any type of signal? There’s been locusts. Lots of locusts. Army rising from the dead? Sounds sweet to me. Surely this shindig starts as soon as we decide to mount up.”
“I guess it would” admitted Min.
“Are you suggesting…?” asked Consuela.
“I’m suggesting we get this party started.”
Min Fa considered this bold declaration. He also pondered an eternity of Fat jokes, racist jibes, bean bags and paintball.
“I have no argument with William’s suggestion” he concluded.
Consuela surveyed the two men, who seemed serious enough. It was not for her to decide. It was not for any of them to decide. Only one could call them to their steeds. Still. The thought of occupying Richardson’s mind with something besides her body was tempting. She could agree in principle, since there was no way it was going to happen anyway.
“Very well” she finally muttered.
With The Three in agreement, they turned to The One.
Dea lifted one earphone, irritated. “What?”
“We were wondering whether we might um.., well, instigate the apocalypse. You know, get the show on the road?”
Dea screwed her delicately freckled face in annoyance. “I’m listening to Lego House.” She dropped the headphones back in place. Using her foot, she spun the chair so her back was to them. The Three sat quietly, not having a clue what “Lego House” was, while Ed Sheran finished. A couple of minutes later the chair swung back to face them. Dea unclipped the headphones and tossed them on the floor. She stretched her legs, getting circulation back into her pink painted toes.
“Apocolypse? Yeah.” She arched, catlike while yawning.
“Whatever.”

Consuela’s mouth fell open like a dying fish.

Dea pushed herself up to her feet. Sliding open a narrow closet, she rummaged for a moment before pulling out a lacrosse stick.
“Nope.”
“Another rummage. An ice hockey stick.
“Damn. Third time lucky?” She withdrew a thin black scythe, its hellish blade rusted with ancient blood.
“Gotcha!”
She turned to them, smiling. Not the cute Dea smile.
The other one.
“Ready.”

Dea lead the way downstairs, where Mrs. Thorne was frantically tipping paper clips
into a fish bowl half full of vodka. She looked up at Dea, tongue out, hair stuck flat on her perspiring forehead.
“Are you going out somewhere?” She reached for a blister pack of tablets, popping out and swallowing four of them without liquid. She scuttled outside after them, carrying the fish bowl as the girl she’d known as her daughter quietly spoke the four hails.

The white Rolls Royce began imploding, grotesquely folding in on itself. Jenkins managed a short scream before he was assimilated into the swirling, bubbling mess. Within a few seconds the blob had reformed, reshaped as a startling marbled Arabian mare.
At the same time, the flattened rickshaw and its puller began to twist into a single merging of darkness, reassembling as a tall black stallion. It shrugged the Hummer off, itself transforming into a giant angry chestnut, snapping at the neck of the stallion as it was pushed aside.
Dea’s battered skateboard shimmered for a moment. Shuddered for another. Then grew, stretching and distorting into hideous shapes. Human faces, screaming silently, protruded from the mass. Agonised and molten, it steadily changed, forming the final steed. A flighty palomino. Its pelt the sickly sallow of decaying flesh. Dappled in patches of vomit green. The blackened gums were pulled back, exposing double rows of razor-like teeth. Hades, the only horse of the four to have a name.

“What time will you be back sweetie?” asked a trembling Mrs. Thorne.
The palomino sniffed excitedly at the air, its head turning quickly to her. An instant later the fishbowl and its contents disintegrated on the concrete path, the woman’s throat torn out. Hades continued to eat from her fallen body as Dea sprung effortlessly up on to its back. She blew another pink bubble.
The hell horse tore another strip of flesh from the dead woman as Dea turned its head towards the gate.

The bubblegum popped.

“Don’t wait up mom.”

(from the short story collection “nine”-available on Amazon)

Emma

London, October 2004

“Emma! What the hell is this?”
Martin Windsor held the photograph in front of her face, his fingers as red and bloated as his round, jowly head. She looked at her boss over the top of her glasses, not at the picture. She didn’t have to or want to. Emma was the one who had put it on his desk after having it enlarged as much as the office copier could.
The photo showed a set of rusty iron manacles, set into a rendered stone wall. The edges of the cuffs were cruelly burred to deter attempts to slip out of them. Caked dry blood showed someone had tried anyway.
Cally Frost had tried. Ten year old Cally.
She had bled to death trying to free herself. What he was doing to her was worse than severing her own hands to escape.
She took the picture and turned it back to face him.
“The rust Marty. The rust. Those cuffs had been there a long time. Probably used before” said Emma.
“But no evidence was found of other victims” argued Martin.
“He altered them by hand. Customised them. Liked them. Liked how they worked. The cuffs were the only constant.”
She wanted to slap Marty’s smug face.
“The guy is smart” she said exasperatedly. “What about the drugs he used? Those doses had to be incredibly accurate to achieve what he wanted. And he used plastic. Acids. Bleaches.”
“O.K. Emma, keep your voice down. You did your job. The court did theirs. You know how it is. On to the next one.”
She shook her head wistfully. “Martin, I interviewed him over a four day period. Thirteen hours in all. He was a textbook case. Broken, low income home. Promiscuous mother. Violent stepfather. Began harming animals, other children. Textbook. He poured his heart out to me and I could barely keep my composure at the incredible sadness in him.”
“It would certainly help explain how he turned out the way he did” reasoned Martin. He rubbed his hand over his oil slicked hair.
“You don’t listen very well for someone in our line of work do you? Textbook Marty. He made it up. He was acting.”
Martin seemed offended by this.
“Well your case notes helped win him an insanity verdict Emma. He’s in the best of care now.”
“No Marty your testimony won him that verdict. I was kept off the stand because of my age and sex. You presented my notes, but not my summary. You and that defence lawyer twisted it. That’s what saved him from a life sentence. He’ll do five years at Wellingsgate. They’ll review his progress. He’ll act his way through the whole process. There’ll be remorse, remarkable improvement. The doctors at the ‘Gate will be still slapping each other on the back when he finds the next one. He’ll be back raping and torturing little girls about the same time your Lucy is turning ten. The same age as Cally Frost.”
The photo of Martin’s freckle faced five year old beamed at them from its proud place in his office. The use of her name in Emma’s argument was boiling his blood.
“How dare you!”
Emma ignored him. “On his way out of court he winked at me Marty. He knew exactly how it would play out. I got a P.I. to check out the details of his story, and a few other things as well. He got a few smacks as a kid, sure, but he was never beaten. He added countless embellishments to his saga. His poor mum worked her butt off to provide for him. Only the parts about his own cruelty were true.”
“This man is not mentally ill, at least not by the definition which spared him from prison. He’s smart. Very, very smart. He didn’t do it because he was sick. He did it because it was fun.”
A single line of perspiration ran down Martin’s temple.
Her boss went to the door and closed it.
“Emma..” he began.
“We have to go to the courts and resubmit Marty. Admit our part in this miscarriage of justice.”
“Listen to yourself Emma! That would make a mockery of this firm’s reputation. More than half our work is legal. Think of what it would do to us!”
“Are you telling me that’s more important than another Cally Frost turning up?”
He hesitated a moment too long.
“To the senior partners, yes”
“It could be Lucy next time!”
He leant towards her.
“You’re one of our best and brightest Emma Stone. You let this go right now. Keep your mouth shut and the sky’s the limit for you.” He withdrew to the plush chair, stroking a stray hair back into the fold.
Emma looked across at the man who until recently, she had admired greatly.
“Sadly, I knew you’d say that Marty. That’s why I’ve written a revision of the case study, highlighting the real relevance in it. Included with it are statements from private investigators and family services. There is a summary of faults and omissions from the trial, the biased defence questioning and our firms’ ties to that of the lawyers.”
Martin Windsor’s eyes widened as much as his fleshy cheeks would allow.
“Emma, where is this document?” He sounded like a schoolboy who’d lost his lunch money.
“In the hands of the Frosts’ lawyer. Along with a cheque for fifteen thousand pounds to fund the preparation for a mistrial.”
“Oh sweet Jesus, what have you done?”
“You really don’t listen that well at all do you? I just told you exactly what I’ve done.”
Emma began gathering personal belongings from her desk as Marty sat like a bullfrog in shock.
“It’s the designer defence. We are constantly building back stories for criminals. Pitying them because of their poor mistreated pasts. Their crimes are forgotten as the catalogue of woe is poured out. Our opinions are taken like the word of God in a courtroom. Think of the horrors we have helped excuse in the name of mental illness.”
She slammed her hand down on the photograph.
“Enough!” she yelled in his face.
She tossed the last of her things in her bag and stood.
Martin opened his mouth, his eyes suddenly menacing.
“Don’t bother threatening me Marty. You’ll never work in this town again. See you in court. Cement boots. Or any other crap you’re contemplating. You can’t scare me.”
She took off her jacket and began pulling up her blouse to expose her side.
“Not everyone who’s had it tough becomes a serial killer.”
From her hip to her collar bone, a litany of horrific scars covered her. The marks continued down her thigh and around her chest and back. She ran her finger over them, listing the implements that had been used on her.
“Belt buckle. Poker. Cigarettes.”
She touched her oddly angled upper arm, which had been broken and not set properly.
“Hammer”
She pulled down her blouse and reached for her jacket.
“I was thirteen before I found out not all daddies showed they love their daughters this way.”
Emma picked up her bag and opened the office door.

“No one can scare me anymore.”

(from the novel “Last Goddess”)

Nephthys

14 B.C. The Sea of Galilee.

I have been discovered. Without the ability to take to the air, I run, stumbling from the assassins working for my brother. They are so close behind I hear the exertion of their breathing, the thunder of their chasing feet. Through dusty alleyways I run, looking for a way to shake them off. Finding none.
But wait. Of course there is a way out. Where the likes of these brutes could not follow. I turn east.
In the moment it took to decide this, I had paused long enough for a rough hand to rip at my shoulder, spinning me off balance. The tendons in my ankle strain to breaking point and only barely hold.
I scramble over a low wall, landing on rocks. The man who had just slid past now vaults the wall, inches behind.
“There is no way I can make it” I think. Not like this anyway. The body I inhabit is now so weak I barely have any coordination. I back away as he closes in, both our chests heaving. His eyes full of hatred. A string of curses pour from him as he threatens a multitude of cruel fates for me. More men appear behind him. The same threat in their eyes.
Across the rocks I edge. The men are not bothered of course. For at my back lays a great expanse. I am almost completely out of energy. The flight is at an end.
This will have to do.

Strong hands reach out for me as my eyes roll back in their sockets. With my mind I reach out far beyond this time and place. To a kindly old man in a beautiful garden. I call for my grandfather to aid me.
“Ra take me”

And all the assassin felt was the dampness on his outstretched fingers.

As liquid I run between the rocks and stones, dispersing and reforming. Before trickling into the soothing welcome of Lake Galilee.
The water comforts me though I struggle to keep my spiritual form intact. I drift in body and mind across the broad lake.
Is this to be the end of me? It surely cannot be. For I know there is much to be done. But my purpose is diluting and dissolving.
My thoughts reach out. Seeking my sister. My friends. Nothing returns to me. It was futile to try anyhow. My sister is lost to me. Friends long gone.
I am so, so tired.
I am alone.

On the rocky shore, the man who had nearly caught her stands in shock. His comrades search in vain for a trace of the woman. What will the pale man do to them if they come back empty handed? They shake the stunned man, who doesn’t react.
He is looking at the shapes of the clouds. The blue of the sky. The shimmer of light across the lake. He sees it as a blind man cured. It is marvellous and new. His broad knife clatters to the rocks at his feet. Nicoli is going home to Chorazin. To see his wife and son. It has been three years.

For an indeterminate time I drift in the silken lustre of the lake.

Lightly, the stroke of a downy feather, I am aware of an attraction at work. I am gently being pulled back toward the western shore. Something waits for me there.

There is an old saying “Left in the lap of the gods.”

For better or worse, I am truly there.


(from the novel “Last Goddess”-available on amazon)

Petrov

Serpukhav-15 Bunker, Russia September 26th 1983.

Shortly after midnight the unthinkable happened. The button that must never light up flashed red. The alarm that must never be heard cried out loud and shrill as a screaming child.
Lieutenant Colonel Stanislov Petrov stared non-believing at the blinking light. The room burst into a cacophony of voices.
“They’ve launched! The Americans have launched” “Call Moscow!” “ We must counter attack” “American pigs!”” My family!”” My wife! My children!”
Petrov tried to focus among the crescendo of panic and anger. Surely they would not release a single missile. It made no sense. Why would they risk a retaliatory strike? Perhaps there was a glitch in the system.
“Sir, our orders are clear!” A phone was thrust towards him
Trust your instincts.
Despite the pandemonium around him, Petrov heard the voice clearly. A woman’s voice, little more than a cool whisper.
Trust your instincts.
“We will wait” he announced calmly.
The soldier next to him lowered the offered phone in shock.
“But sir!”
“What does the computer analysis say?” asked Petrov.
The piercing alarm was silenced at last.
“Not static sir. The evaluation is…” The last of the panicked voices dwindled away to hear the answer.
“Well? The evaluation is what?”
“That it’s a real launch.”
Stay calm Stanislov, she cooed. He glanced around the busy room.
Was his conscience female?
Stay calm.
“Sir, we must report this!”
“For the moment we shall wait, is that understood?”
No one answered. Petrov scratched the scalp through his short hair. On a double shift he didn’t want, he felt twice his forty four years. As commander of the facility, it was his call as to what action to take, though the other men were adamant that there was only one course of response. Report immediately. Launch the counter attack.
But just one missile?
Petrov dropped into his chair. The red glow of the button taunting him from the display panel. But only one.
No.
Not only one.

A second satellite report triggered another button to flash red.
Then another.
And another.
And another.

Five.

“Sir. Computer analysis predicts the launch of five minute man missiles.”
Only five, said the woman.
True, thought Petrov. They would not send five when they could send a hundred and five. A thousand and five.
It is a mistake. There are no missiles.
“Sir, the phone.”
“I didn’t ask for the phone.”
“It’s Moscow sir. They have been automatically notified of a multiple launch. The phone was extended towards him until he reluctantly accepted it.
“Petrov. Are you there?” The voice sounded metallic and distant.
“This is Petrov.”
“Do we have inbound warheads Lieutenant Colonel? Are we being launched upon?”
Be brave. Tell him what you think, said the cool whisper.
“I doubt it sir” answered Petrov. “I believe the system is compromised. It is a mistake.”
“You believe? What does the equipment tell you?” rattled the distant voice.
“The equipment is indicating five incoming missiles.”
“But you don’t think so?”
“No sir, I doubt it very much.”
“Lieutenant Colonel, you realise that we have very little time to launch a counter strike. Your judgement as a soldier, and a scientist, must be correct.”
“Yes sir.”
“Then your recommendation is what exactly?”
Nothing.
“My recommendation is that we do nothing.”
Silence filled the phone line. Then Petrov heard muffled voices. His name mentioned. The murmur of discussion. The metallic voice returned.
“Nothing?”
Trust your instincts.
Only five missiles?
“Nothing” Petrov heard himself say.

At that point the world had less than two minutes to find out whether his instincts were right. If he was wrong, five cities would soon be reduced to ashes.
There was no greater agony than watching the seconds tick by. One man placed a hand on his shoulder. The only silent support he received. One slumped to the floor. One went to the lavatory to cry. One went to vomit. Others stared transfixed at the display screen forecasting their impending destruction or on phones talking to loved ones.
A minute passed.
Petrov gripped the arms of the chair, tapping a finger for each second. Prickling beads of sweat gathered on his high forehead.
Two minutes.
At three minutes he allowed his grip to relax. He wiped his brow.
Four minutes.
They were safe.
He was right.
Wherever she was, whoever she was, he silently thanked the calm voiced woman.
Further analysis showed the satellite had picked up a group of reflections on the cloud tops. Petrov never heard her voice again.
But they had averted nuclear war.

They were right.

(from the novel “Last Goddess”)

Paris

Paris

The elegant pale man wiped his mouth with a napkin and calmly pushed his chair back.
Sitting opposite him, the girl wondered where he was going. They’d just started their meal.
“Is everything O.K?” she asked.
Lindy hoped it was. Up until now, it had been like a dream. The way he picked her out of the crowd at the nightclub, with his intense eyes. How he’d flattered and wooed her. But respected her. They hadn’t even made love yet. A romance novel hero, with her the leading lady. A chance meeting she knew would change everything about her life. Give her a future. And erase her terrible past.
The way he listened to her, and looked at her without the obvious lust that all other men couldn’t conceal. He saw beyond the pretty face that had been more of a burden than a blessing.
But he wasn’t listening now. He was distracted. Perhaps a business matter. Lindy had no idea what he did, but money was not in short supply. She fingered the gold chain around her neck, one of several expensive gifts he’d given her. The dress she was wearing had cost more than the last car she owned. It was the beautiful salmon pink gown of a princess. The look on the waiter’s face told her it was something special.
“I need to take care of something” he said simply as he stood. “I’ll be gone for a couple of days.”
Lindy tried not to look worried, but she had no idea what she would do while he was gone. She had put herself totally in his hands. She had no money of her own and nowhere to stay in Paris. But her guardian angel put his hand in his pocket and extracted some reassurance.
On the table he placed a room key to the hotel they were dining at, and a thick roll of money.
“Stay out of trouble” he smiled, kissing her gently on her hand. Lindy was aching for his return before he had even left the table. She had the nice feeling, the warm feeling. They were going to have so much sex when he got back.
She placed the key and the money inside the designer hand bag he had also brought for her. A quick flick of the roll made her gasp. He had left her with over a hundred thousand Euros.
Lindy returned to her entrée. She would take her time over dinner, even though he was gone. The other people in the restaurant would look at her in her beautiful dress, with her beautiful things. They would admire her. Envy her. She would go up to her room-their room, and bathe in a rose petal strewn bath. And she would drink champagne looking at the lights of the city of love. Princess Lindy.
She sneaked a peek around. They were already looking at her. Staring.
But they didn’t look with envy. Their faces had strange expressions.
She suddenly felt itchy all over. She looked down and saw something surreal. Impossible.
She wasn’t wearing the beautiful pink dress.
Her outfit was brown sack cloth.
She couldn’t feel the gold chain against her skin.
Her hand reached for her sequinned purse.
Her fingers crinkled the brown paper bag that had replaced it.
She tore it open, fighting her rising hysteria.
It contained no key. No money.
It contained cockroaches.

from the novel “Last Goddess”

Then she burns

He loves the smell of burning meat. It fills his lungs alongside the choking smoke. The fire races through the building, climbing and consuming. As it reaches the top floor the screaming intensifies.
A little girl, no more than five or six, appears at a window. She yells down to him to help. He sips from his wine goblet. One by one the other voices fall silent beneath the crackling flames. The girl pleads. Then she begs.
Then she burns. She is the last one.
She jumps from the window in desperation, breaking a leg and an ankle on the cobblestones. Her nightdress is aflame. Her hair is quickly gone. Her skin bubbles and blisters as she screams in an agony beyond comprehension.
He finishes his wine. It is a nice accompaniment to the meat.
The wonderful burning meat.

He is considering eating some of the girl when he notices he is not the only onlooker. A tall, incredibly attractive woman is looking at the burnt girl from beneath a stair. Her hair is a similar colour to his. Her face is serene. She had enjoyed it as well.
Smoke among smoke he appeared at her side. She did not respond. Which he feared and liked. She had some power to her, but not like his. A demi-god. Offspring of one who is mortal and one who is not. There were many of them, the sexual appetites of some of his family were formidable.
She stared until the blackened girl smouldered.
Then she turned to him. Her beauty is such that any mortal would be putty in her hands.
“Who are you, who would do such a thing to a village?”
“I am Chaos” he replied with a smile. “And who are you that watches with such interest, and does nothing to save any of them?”
“I am Hell” she says in a honeyed whisper.
“I like that name”
She flashes a grin, revealing her yellowed teeth. They are filed to points.
Chaos and Hell.
A match made in heaven.

They leave together. There is no sport left here. She has a criticism that amuses him.
“They died too quickly”

They won’t next time.

(from the novel “Last Goddess”)