Reclaimed

by John Grey

Firs and hemlocks reclaim this land for forest. 

An old rusted train track doesn’t deter them. 

The last echo of a whistle died eighty years ago. 

Same with the buzzing of the saws. 

 

Logged out, replanted, throw in a few 

alders, cedars, many years worth of rain,  

and the woods rejuvenate in dampened splendor, 

a trove of mushrooms, maidenhair, slugs, caterpillars, 

 

a feast of insects for the passerines. 

And, to think, nature did all this from memory, 

deep and shared, or maybe it had access   

to the picture-book laid on the floor before me, 

 

a world before loggers, sweat and shouts,  

thick and dark enough for fairy-stories. 

This is an unlikely victory for the wild. 

No less a triumph for my picture-book.

 

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Sin Fronteras, Dalhousie Review and Qwerty with work upcoming in Plainsongs, Willard and Maple and Connecticut River Review.

Fides Quae Creditur: Chapter Two

Previous chapter

Grinning skulls greeted Harrow upon his return from the promontory’s edge. Hunter’s trophies. He observed the grim, sunfaded relics and smiled at them and laughed. His isolated mirth far-echoing across the high ambit. When he had satisfied himself he turned from the cranial statuary and beheld Hunter standing before his shack, furs girding his shoulders, a dark leather hood shading his eyes. Harrow paused, surprised by the sudden appearance and tipped his threadbare hat to the man but recieved no reply and stood a moment, perplexed. At length, Hunter spoke, gravely and deliberately.

“Hase says you’re fixin on heading down to The Spine.”

Harrow nodded matter-of-factly.

“I suggest putting that notion out your head, if you wanna keep it.”

Harrow, unsure whether Hunter’s words were warning or threat, said nothing. The sky cracked and rain poured fat and fast, turning the soft clay ground into a transient mire. Hunter seemed unconcerned and stood looking critical and disturbed at the would-be itinerant. Harrow raised an arm over his head and, vexed at the man much as the weather, passed beyond the promontory margin and followed the thin, twisting cobblestone path that let out to a irregular plain where lay the borough proper. He made his way back to his cramped and windblown house and found his bow, carving knife and rucksack and made for the door once the rain had passed. The townsfolk peered at him from behind shutters, whispering with suspicion and sorrow and disdain and disbelief.

Harrow pulled his hat low over his head and flipped up his collar against the chill wind and quickened his pace, turning to the left and descending the wending path that let down the cliff. When he reached the bottom of the eroded sedimental exposure he found a stick from a decaying tree along the plain; he withdrew his knife from the sheath at his belt and carved it as he walked until it was slender, smooth and even to the touch and sharply pointed at one end.

Come nightfall, he bivouaked in a cave among the hillands which rolled out like great xanthous whales from the base of the bluff. He awoke at the break of dawn and caught a rabbit for breakfast, roasting it over a small fire with the stick he sharpened. When he had finished his meal he cleaned the lightly charred stick best he was able and continued toward the vast, stygian partition that slit the sky; a brand of esurient providence.

He traversed the hills to the north and emerged into a patchy and blasted heath were a faint trail was visible through rootrotted frass. At midday the wayfarer spied the form of a packhorse and a man atop it, moving steadily and slowly along the road. They stopped beside a large and withered tree where swarmed innumerable beetles, humming thick and black and cloying. The old plant bent towards the distant wall, as if drawn towards it by some eldritch compunction. About the trunks and the poor, course soil into which they slithered, lay the skulls of various animals and a curious totem.

Harrow hailed the man on the packhorse and the man waved and pulled the wide-eyed beast to a stop, dust hissing bout its hooves.

“Morning.”

“Morning,” The man on the packhorse said. He was stout, with a frazzled bread and a starchy hat, titled jauntily upon his head.

“Strange land.” Harrow declared, starring at the obsidian totem that appeared as a synthesis between centipede and serpent.

“Yes, sir. Dieback every which. Ground’s full-up with parasites. Ya haven’t drunk water hereabouts?”

“No, sir.”

“Recommend you abstain from doing so.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You headed to town?”

“Didn’t know there was no town up here. I’m headed north.”

“Towns along the way. Haven’t seen another soul in weeks. Not opposed to some company.”

Harrow considered the proposition and then nodded pleasantly. “Alright. What’s your name?”

“Walter Hoskins, and this here is Marybelle,” the man patted the neck of the horse, which whinnied and flicked its head. “And you, sir?”

“Ebner Harrow. Pleased to meet you.” He walked up to the horse which leaned down towards him, sniffing curiously, expectant of food. “And you too.”

The two men struck out together on the heath-bound road as morning passed to midday. The few trees which were visible upon the infertile plain were stag-headed as the former specimen, surrounded by droning hordes of tunneling beetles who seemed dedicated to unmake the world in their ravenous image.

After an hour and a half, the clouds coagulated and the wind blew in, as from an astral horn, harbingers of a hailstorm which grew so intense the itinerants bolted from the path to a ruined shrine to the north-west and there shut up against the savagery of the sky. Their skin stinging from the impact of the hailstones. The shrine was large and composed of cracked and sun-leeched stone that had sunk unevenly into the ground such that the left half was lower than the right. Around it were large stone lanterns, where fire had long since absented. As the storm raged, Harrow searched the inner sanctum of the shrine and discovered another totem, identical to the one by the tree he had previously passed. He brought the small statue from the sanctum to the outer veranda where Walter stood, starring out into the ice battered plain. The hiss of hail and the irregular clacking of the horse the only sounds.

“What’s that?”

“Dunno. Some kind of… idol. Found it inside. Seen another one along the road.”

“Thinkin its religious?”

Harrow shrugged.

“Could be. Was in the sanctum.”

Walter extended his hand for the thing and turned it round, studying the dark object. Then he grimaced and handed the statue back to Harrow.

“I don’t like the look of it.”

Harrow gazed down at the artifact and smiled slightly.

“I think its fascinating.”

Fides Quae Creditur: Chapter One

The sun beat down the crumbling, moss-covered stone against which the two men leaned, looking off into a great recess. They stared idly from the outskirts of the docile, decaying hamlet of Kraevn at the misted distance of the declining wilds, and as they did, a chill wind swept in from the south, jostling their tattered, patchy clothes and carrying with it a fulsome insectal drone, which swallowed up the village’s juvenescent melody, as if appetent of joy’s consumption.

“What’s beyond The Spine?” The young man inquired, gesturing to the great stone bulwark which jutted from the horizon like a monstrous, antediluvian carcass.

“Ain’t nothing there.” The old man declared firmly, his raspy voice half-lost to the zephyr’s rising hum.

“There must be something.”

“How’d you know? You aint never been beyond The Spine. No one has. Ain’t nothing there.”

“No such thing as nothing.”

“How’s that?”

“Nothing is something we don’t have other words for.”

The old man turned and spat and looked towards his younger companion with sympathy and disapproval mingling in the frosted gray of his fading eyes.

“Fool notions rattling round that head a’yours, Harrow.”

“Maybe. But consider this: You can’t make a fool of a plant.”

The old man shook his hoary head and shambled haggard back to town. Harrow remained; gazing out across the skyline’s sanguine sprawl. His gestures pregnant with rising ambition.

Rain began to fall and somewhere the deathrattle of an animal sounded as dead thickets thrummed into the chasm beyond the low stone fence; as smokestack clouds roiled and cracked above the scene of slow calamity. The abyssal castanets tore the man from his obdurate perch and sent him trudging back toward the bluff-born borough’s paltry warmth.

To Harrow, the ether’s fomentations were as a malediction.

A black mark upon his soul.

Pihoqahiak

A loquacious waltz droned phantasmically throughout the spacious foyer of Partridge Manor. Charles Jauther found the music simultaneously entrancing and unnerving. He paused beside the U-shaped double stairway which let up to the second floor landing and loosened his tie, eyes roaming aimlessly over peculiar marble statues and framed monochrome illustrations, and ornate synth-spun tapestries, looking for an exit from the oppressive opalescence.

“What is it, Charlie?”

Charles turned to his elegantly garbed wife and forced a smile.

“Nothing, nothing. Just nervous is all. I’ve never been to a showing this ritzy.”

“Whats there to worry about?”

The couple were met at the base of the left foyer staircase by a pale, middle-aged woman dressed all in black. Charles found her outfit curiously antiquated and her lynxish gaze disturbing.

“Mr. and Mrs. Jauther. So pleased you could both make it. I’m Ariadne Campbell.”

“Oh yes, we spoke briefly on the phone,” Catherine Jauther replied with a warm smile, “You’re Mr. Partridge’s secretary, right?”

“Yes. He speaks highly of your husband’s work. I’m sure he’s keen to meet him. This way.”

The couple followed the woman up the left stairway and then left again down a long corridor, lined with simply framed photographs of various people and places. Always there would be a portrait and a construct, a building, a painting, a line of code, directly across from it.

Charles gestured to the photographs.

“Who are all these people?”

Ariadne replied without turning or pausing.

“Mr. Partridge’s students—and their work.”

“There’s… so many… he must be quiet a busy man.”

“Industriousness is one of the few qualities you and he share.”

He felt that the words were meant as a subtle insult and wondered if it was the quality of his work she took issue with, or the philosophy that motivated it, or both. He decided against addressing the issue for the sake of his wife and continued following the icy hostess.

The hall of portraits let out into a massive ballroom where the bulk of the host of the stately manse had gathered. The buzzing throng huddled around a singular figure, pale and elegant, garbed in long white coat, tipped at the collar with similarly albescent fur, appearing more as one of the marble statues that lined the manor’s halls than a man.

Ariadne stopped before the pristine figure and turned towards the two new arrivals.

“Mr. and Ms. Jauther, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Partridge.”

The albescent man turned to greet the couple, revealing a sharp, bloodless face and keen, azure eyes.

“Salutations. So pleased you could make it.”

Catherine smiled and curtsied as Charles extended his hand and shook Lynder’s black-gloved own.

“We appreciated the invitation.”

Lynder nodded and then beckoned a young servant, who approached bearing a platter filled with drinks.

“Wine?”

“Oh yes, sounds lovely. Thank you.”

“What kind is it,” Catherine inquired.

“Scharzhof riesling,” Lydner replied as he gingerly removed two glasses from the servants silver plate and handed them to his guests.

“That’s quite expensive, isn’t it?” Catherine cooed as she eagerly, but cordially, took a glass.

Lynder nodded, “Indeed, but, as the saying goes, one gets what one pays for.”

“Fraid I don’t know much about wine.” Charles declared flatly as he stared down at his glass indecisively.

Lynder raised his vessel to the light, gently swirling the topaz liquid within.

“The drink of choice of the ancient Mediterraneans.”

“Didn’t know they had Scharzhof riesling back then.”

Lynder turned to Charles with a faint smile gracing his bloodless face and then gestured for the man to follow him.

“I hear you’re planning a trip to Nunavut to record the wildlife.”

“Yes. I’ve recorded damn near every land-animal on the continent, but never a polar bear. Besides my wife has always wanted to see the north. So its a win-win.”

“Taking anyone else along?”

“Wasn’t planning to. Why do you ask?”

“Its dangerous up there.”

“Its dangerous everywhere.”

“Yes, but, on my island, for example, you stand little chance of being vivisected by a polar bear.”

“Equipment is sensitive. Won’t be getting too close; that is, if I’m even able to find any.”

“You will at least take a gun with you?”

“Don’t own any. Wouldn’t take one even if I did. Cat hates guns.”

“So do polar bears. Did you know that a man was eaten by one last year. On Sentry Island, up by Nunavut.”

“I know of the place, but I hadn’t heard. What happened?”

“Man named Ridley Garrick had taken his children – a son and daughter, both very young – up for a fishing trip. The isle is a popular fishing spot. While Garrick was distracted, a bear attacked the children-”

“Oh god…”

“However, Garrick was able to intervene before it could reach them and fought it – unfortunately, for him, he was unarmed, and thus, swiftly killed.”

“Did the kids get away?”

“Yes. RCMP was notified and found the bear eating Mr. Garrick’s remains. They shot it in the face – twice – and that was the end of it.”

“What an unfortunate affair.”

“One which could have been easily avoided through the addition of a lightly armed detachment.”

“Do you write for the gun lobby or something?”

Partridge smiled with amusement and took a sip of wine before replying.

“If I were a lobbyist, you’d have long ago returned to your wife out of boredom.”

“Ha, well, its just… you seem like you don’t like animals.”

“We are animals, Mr. Jauther. I’m speaking specifically about the bears. It is not a question of liking or disliking them, but of understanding their nature.”

“Its only because of our disruption that they attack.”

“I’ll not insult your intelligence by suggesting you truly believe that.”

“Condescend all you like, but we press into their territory. Disturb the natural balance.”

“The ‘natural balance?'”

“Yes. Natural harmony.”

“Mr. Jauther, there is no harmony.”

“Butterflies and pollination – that isn’t harmonious?”

Lynder downed the last of his wine and turned the sanguine dregs in the light.

“Even butterflies drink blood.”

 


 

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