Πέμπτη, 26 Απριλίου 2012

The King's March (Whiskey Bar)

Tap, tap, tap, tap…

Went the soles of his shoes as he kept walking, always walking.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
He’d crossed a whole continent, shore to shore, his heels clicking on dirt, worked stone, and later on, asphalt.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
He’d worn his first pair of shoes down to just leather strips, when he first considered stopping. He’d come across a little village, where the people spoke a language and held a faith that were like no other. They told him they thought that there was one God, like they’d heard the white shamans preach. But that God was, based on their beliefs, evil. That he had made a world that was full of suffering and toil only because the first world that he had made, a veritable paradise, bored him. They told him that their sole purpose was to hide from God, to avoid attracting attention to themselves at all costs. Only then would they truly be safe.
He heard them closely and admired their faith. He spoke to the men, who were hardy but intelligent. 

He flirted with the women, who were radiant and resourceful. He thought he should stay; become one of them, enjoy this life far from the malevolent God’s grasp. 
But then the cobbler handed him his shoes and he knew he had to go, as he always had.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
In a nearby town, he ran across a missionary caravan. There, he spoke with the priests and told them of this village and of their faith. Fascinated but also horrified by this, the priests took it upon themselves to teach the true word of God to that village.
 Tap, tap, tap, tap…
Six months later, the village was attacked by slavers. Its men were killed, its women enslaved. Its shaman was burned alive, with his own holy scripture used as kindling.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
The second time his shoes had worn out, he was trapped in the middle of a snowstorm. He was pinned and helpless and if there was any sort of justice in the world, he would freeze and remain there forever. Then again, the universe has not been known for its kindness.
He was found by a group of hunters who were returning to their town, their sleighs packed with freshly-caught seals. Their dogs bayed and snarled at him, but the men paid them no mind. Man frequently fails to heed a wiser species’ warning.
He was taken to the village and nursed there. He was shown into their great lodge and spoke to the people of the tribe. The villagers took care of him and traded stories with him. They told him of Crow, the trickster who stole the sun from the gods. They told him the tale of the war between the seasons, how Old Man Winter ousted Summer and Spring to the edges of the world and made Fall his wife by force.
All the while, the man listened closely. His lips moved in synch with those of the story teller. He took in every word, he noted every detail, mimicked every gesture. By the time the storm had died down and the Sun rose up again from the rim of the world, he had learned every story by heart. He thanked the people of the village and bought from them a pair of sealskin boots, then left.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
The next winter, the villagers gathered in the lodge and waited for the story teller to speak, to help them weather Old Man Winter’s reign. To his horror, the story teller suddenly realized that the words would not come. Terrified, he tried to summon up the images and verses taught to him from the day of his birth, but could not, for the life of him, recall them. He merely stood in the middle of the crowd, mubbling and murmuring like a fool, the history of his tribe forgotten. 
 Tap, tap, tap, tap…
He was halfway through crossing the great rice paddies, when his shoes failed him for the fourth time. As if some great veil had been lifted, the scent and sights of war suddenly struck him. As he pricked his ears, he heard the great roar of a hundred men dying. On his skin, he felt the gentle caress of a summer breeze, a touch of blood mixed with flowery scents.
There was a woman hidden in the paddies. She wore tattered robes, and her face was haggard and withered. A silent exchange took place between them, as they stared at each other, huddled inside a dark hole in the middle of the war. He reached out his hand and she took it. She smelled like flowers blossoming on the battlefield. He smelled like old laudanum. 
They stayed there, hidden in the rice paddy until the sounds of war died away. When the victors were done burning the dead, the woman led him out of their hiding place and to her house. It was a small cottage on a nearby hill. No plants grew around it and no trees cast a shadow over it. He felt right at home there.
For days, they stayed in her house and shared the same bed. When she was hungry, he’d go to the woods and call some small animal, a rabbit or a badger and kill it, bringing it for her to eat. When she was done eating, they would talk and trade their stories.
She was a witch; like her mother before her, had learned the secret language of unclean things and used them as her servitors. In the eyes of Buddhist monks, she was unclean. In the scriptures of Shinto, she was named anathema. But to the lords and rulers of this land, she was a valuable tool. She had placed hexes and killed from a distance many times in their name. But now, she had grown tired of the slaughter. She vowed never to marry, or bear a child. She vowed never to pass her dark secrets on to another being. Her art would die with her.
When she was done talking, he simply leaned in and kissed her deeply. She asked him his name, for the first time since they met. He said:
“They called me Mara, who wove misery into the pattern of history.”
 As they were making love, with her laying on her back, she saw the flicker of a forked tongue, the sign of a spirit beast. She gasped and tried to push him off, feeling suddenly very much afraid. He said: 
“They said that I was the one that drugged Brahma before he was done shaping the universe; that I was the one who lulled him to sleep before he could eliminate suffering.”
As he held onto her, the fear suddenly gave way to a wholly different feeling. She felt some sort of strange heat rising up from inside her belly, rushing down her loins. As she writhed in pleasure on the floorboards, he said:
“They say that I was the one who spat my black bile into the first man’s heart. And from my bile, there sprang out jealousy and pettiness and envy.”
She was swept with wave after wave of pleasure, unaware of him placing his seed inside her, when he said:
 “They say I was the one who invented lies and whispered them in his ear. And the lies were so sweet, so enticing, that he ended up always preferring them to the truth.” 
She was panting on the floor, spent and suddenly very, very tired. From somewhere far away, she heard him say:
“I only reap the seeds that man sows. And when I am done, I salt the ground where wickedness has taken root.”
From the corner of her eyes, she saw the glint of silvery scales. She noticed his features suddenly distorted, as if his face had grown longer, his nostrils growing long like slits. She saw the flash of green eyes and the outline of inhumanly long teeth. And as if she were in some fever dream, she saw a long, rubbery tail, whipping at the air behind him.
He had not given her his name, so she opted to give him one herself. From her chest of wonders she took a silver belt buckle, which had been given to her as payment from a neighboring lord’s cheating wife. In the next few days, when he was out hunting, she would take her hammer and chisel and carefully, with painstaking attention, etch its surface. Once she was done, she presented it to him. His badge of office. His name and sign for evermore. He accepted this gift with a smile and wore it before her. They slept together that night for the last time. She felt him get up and go out, in the middle of the night, but didn’t bother to say goodbye. She knew his name now. She could summon him to her side anytime she wished.
Tap, tap, tap, tap…
Four months later, she was heavy with child. Desperate and alone, she summoned him, but he did not appear. Afraid, she tried to swallow herbs and potions that would make her miscarry and free her from the burden of the child, but none worked. 
So she asked a favor of a passing lord and begged him for help. Intrigued by the prospect of having a witch in his debt, he took care of her and saw that her child was delivered by his finest midwife. It was a success. The witch survived the labor and the child was brought into the world.
But the child was a monstrous thing, covered in silvery scales with a long, whipping tail and a forked tongue that flicked in and out of its mouth. The witch would not stop screaming at the sight of it, until the lord took it from her sight and killed it with his own hands.
Tap, tap, crunch, crunch…
He walked a long time, across the face of the earth. He walked through gleaming cities, down great boulevards and climbed his way on the face of great buildings that defied heaven.
He crossed deserts and saw them slowly turn to green and verdant fields.
He walked among the multitudes of man and where he stopped, he would inflict some terrible disaster, but it was not enough to break them. Instead, they adapted. They changed into something he was increasingly less effective against. He saw their numbers dwindle, then rise again. He saw them change before his very eyes and he saw them become less and less like the frail, gullible things he had preyed on.
He watched them build great sky-ships. He watched them board them en masse and leave their homeworld behind, seeking their fortune among the great orbiting rocks that swam in the night sky. He imagined their gleaming, wondrous mass orbit the distant stars, their home forgotten and spent.
His shoes failed for the final time as he climbed up a great pile of refuse, left behind during their exodus. Feeling the weight of millennia weighing down on him for the first time in his long life, he decided he needed to rest. So he sat on top of the pile, the sole lord and master of filth and looked down on the expanses of the dead planet.
He pondered on its dark, lifeless seas and marveled at its mountains of garbage. He gazed longingly at the great fires that burned across the world, where the sun had ignited the products of their civilization. He was done walking. He lay down and closed his eyes, letting his tongue flick out of his mouth for one last time, tasting the myriad flavors of disaster around him.



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