Sunday, March 27, 2011

Issue Ten, Vloume One

From the editor's desk,
       Hello all. I would to thank all of our readers. Thank you for helping this magazine to be better and better. I would also like to extend my apologies for a mistake I made this on the past issue. I (rather dumbly) did not post the last issue on time. So Issue Nine can be found here and will be re-posted at a later date, May 8th.
       The theme of this issue of Larks magical realism. Places that seem real but with just a hint of the sublime. Good reading!
Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

Dubious Gifts from the Magic Shop
By—William J. White

Petey stood by the front door, looking out the screen as his Uncle Sulley squeezed his kind-of-round body out from under the steering wheel of his vintage ‘clunker’.  Sully was assisted in that endeavor, no doubt, by the use of some words seldom heard in Petey’s household.  As his Uncle waddled his way toward Petey, the boy checked the lock “Hello,

“Uncle Sully,” he said, wishing he could have gone along with his mother to the store. But as Sully reached for the door knob, Petey really wished that he had gone with his mother.

“Hey, Petey,” his uncle remarked, trying to twist the knob with his stubby hand, “Ain’t you gonna let me come in?”  His wide grin showed an uneven row of tobacco-stained teeth, causing Petey to shiver nervously.

“Can’t do it, Uncle Sully.  Mom’s orders…”

“So she’s still mad, huh?” He wiped the sweat drops from his balding forehead, with an equally sweaty, and hairy forearm.  “Boy, ‘neph’, for a widow raising a nine-year old kid, it must be the ‘rancid pits’, but… well, she just doesn’t know how to forgive.  And I don’t know why.”

“Well, for gracious me, Uncle Sully,” Petey remarked, attempting to hide his sarcasm.  “You don’t  think it might have been the fountain-pen from your Magic Shop that you gave her; that shot black ink all over her new white rug…nah, couldn’t be.  Maybe because you couldn’t stop laughing…”

“My sis-in-law,” he said, shaking his head slowly, “ just doesn’t have a sense of humor.”

“You know, Uncle Sully…I think you might be right.  When you gave her that stick of gum that made her mouth turn green for two weeks, she didn’t like that a bit. From the Magic Shop?”

Uncle Sully and his yellow teeth grinned down at Petey.  “One of our best sellers.”  He wiped his head with a nasty-looking handkerchief, and said:  “Sure is hot today, Petey. I guess since you won’t let me in to cool off, I’ll just have to take my Magic Shop’s gift to you back home and put it in some water.”  He wrapped his fat fingers around the ‘kerchief’ and squeezing out the sweat, replaced it back into his hip pocket.  “They need lots of water,” he said, turning to leave.

Petey waited until his uncle was near his car, than shouted:  “Uncle Sully… What kind of gift?”  The boy opened the door, leaving it to slam shut while he ran to his uncle’s car.  “Can I see it?”

Sully reaching through the open car window, retrieved a shoe box which he held toward Petey.  With a wide smile on his face, he pulled it back, opened a corner, and peeked in.  Turning to his nephew, he said, “It looks thirsty, Petey.  Why don’t you go fetch that wash-tub hanging against the house, get the hose, and fill it up…”

 “Can I see it?”

Placing his sweaty hand on the back of his nephew’s head; tousling his hair, he said, “Not only can you see it, but when you’ve filled that tub, I’ll let you hold it.”

Petey was away in a flash, with his uncle waddling behind him.

While filling the tub, Petey looked up at his Uncle Sully. “It isn’t a snake, is it?  Mom would never let me keep a snake…”

Peeking into the box, Sully replied: “Not a snake…”

“She might let me keep a goldfish, Uncle Sully.  I’ve never had a goldfish before.”

“Petey, I think you have enough water, it’s about to run over…No, kid, it’s not a Goldfish. Come over here and take it out of the box.”

Rubbing his hands on his pants, Petey reached for the lid, hesitating for a moment to ask Sully:  “It won’t bite, will it?”

Smiling down at his nephew, he replied: “Oh no, kid.  He won’t bite…He might lick you with his tongue, though.”  With that said, a few chuckles burst from his wide mouth.  “Go on now, nephew. Reach in and grab him.  When you have him tight in your hand, bring him out and put him in the tub, and hold him against the bottom.”

Reaching into the box, Petey felt something moving against his hand; something that kept trying to evade his  searching fingers.  “Gotcha!” Petey shouted, removing it from the box.

“Oh, it’s a bullfrog, Uncle Sully… Oh, I’ve never had a bullfrog before… thank you oh, so much…!”

“Hurry, nephew!”  Sully said harshly, pushing the boy against the tub.  “Get him under the water… Keep him there until I get to my car… I don’t want to scare him.”

While holding the frog--which seemed to be getting bigger…and stronger--Petey turned to watch his uncle scurrying to his car.

Over his shoulder, Sully shouted out some final instructions:  “No matter what kid don’t let go of him.”

Even before Sully was able to manage himself between the car seat and the steering wheel, Petey’s hands were beginning to lose their hold.  His pet was indeed growing at an enormous rate.  By the time Petey’s hands were no longer able to encircle its body, its head was protruding above the tub; water was being sloshed all over his clothes.

In desperation, Petey grabbed his pet around its fat neck. In an instant, he was dragged off his feet, and finally losing his hold, fell backwards onto the ground, from where he could see large dark eyes blinking at him. Before he could move, the huge flat mouth opened wide, and he was snatched up by long pink tongue so sticky he was unable to unwrap himself.  He only had time to scream, before he was whipped into darkness.

While good ‘ol Uncle Sully was speeding away, he was laughing so hard, the tears were spraying from his eyes.  “Okay, Sis,” he said aloud, “I bet you’re gonna love that gift from my “Magic Shop!”

The End.

About the author:
William J. White is retired after working for twenty-seven years for the city of Cincinnati in Ohio. He and his wife of fifty-eight years built their home adjacent to Lake Cumberland in Kentucky.  He has been writing since February of 2010 and intends to do so until his fingers drop off.

The Gator and the Ibis
By—Lewis J. Beilman III
Back then I used to escape to the Everglades.  On my way to the old Aerojet road on the outskirts of Homestead, I’d stop at the Robert Is Here fruit stand, buy a mango shake and beef jerky, get back in my car and dust past the corrections facility.  It was the same routine every time.  Since the Aerojet road was gated to prevent people from driving in and looting the deserted rocket factory, I would park outside the gate and walk the road alongside the canal until I came to a narrow clearing a few hundred yards in.  It didn’t matter whether the air wobbled with humidity, mosquitoes darted at my extremities, or a swift winter breeze kicked at me from across Florida Bay—I was there any time of the year, whenever I felt the need to leave the concrete towers and gated neighborhoods of South Florida behind.

Jack—at least that’s how I knew him—seemed to sense when I was coming and would greet me immediately.  As soon as he saw me move through the clearing and cut down the bank, I’d hear a crackle in the sawgrass across the canal, see the sawgrass part, and catch him tumbling snout-first into the water.  Sunlight glistened on his back, and his rows of white teeth contrasted with his black eyes and gray scales as he swam toward me.

Once he had crossed the canal, he’d use his stubby front legs to work his twelve-foot body up the bank and then, splaying his front legs out, adjust them one after the other to turn his thick body around and sidle up beside me.  He loved to tell variations on human jokes, and the first one I remember him telling me was a bad rip-off of a peanut joke. 
“What happened to the flayed piece of beef when it wandered away from the cow?” he said.  I shrugged my shoulders.  “It got a-salt-ed,” he continued, laughing.  “Get it.  Like a piece of beef jerky.”

That’s how I got the idea to bring him beef jerky whenever I came to visit.  I’d break them into two-inch pieces and drop them in his mouth.  His jaw would snap shut around the meat, and, with the upper row of his teeth exposed, he’d nod his head up and down, open his mouth again, and wait for the next piece.  Then, after I was through feeding him, he’d tell a story.  It was nothing too exciting usually. Mostly a recounting of his day.  About how he wrestled with an upstart bull, bellowed at a female gator that swam by, or crushed a soft-shell turtle in his vise-like maw. 

I didn’t say much.  I knew he liked to get stuff off his belly, and his voice, which sounded oddly like Jimmy Durante’s, delighted me.  Plus, not wanting to dwell on my quotidian struggles, I had little to say about my day.  If I were to contribute anything, I would bring a book along and read aloud to Jack.  Over the year or so we spent together, I learned that he enjoyed the classics and felt an especial affinity for Shakespeare and lyric poetry.

At some point last spring, however, Jack’s stories began to change.  Instead of his normal tales of alligator bravado, he told darker, more introspective lays about things like a tree island piled with alligator bones, a bull who devoured his young, and the many doomed lovers of the animal kingdom.  It was the latter subject that got my attention.  Otherwise, I would have thought Jack was maturing and perhaps just worrying about the long-term effects of the recent regional drought on his habitat.  But there was something else there. 

At first I thought that a particularly ravishing alligator may have spurned his advances, but the way he talked about love and hopelessness made me think that there was more to it.  Then, one day in May, he asked me if I wanted to see the woman he loved.  I told him sure and began to follow him. 

He splashed into the water, and I stepped ankle-deep into the shallows of the canal shelf.  As I slogged along, he slid his tail back and forth beneath the water’s surface to propel himself forward and to stay close to the bank.  He led the way south for about one hundred yards until he reached an area across from a patch of mangroves and stopped.
Jack pulled his head up and pointed his snout toward the opposite bank of the canal.  “You see her over there?” he said.

I looked at the water in that direction, but didn’t see anything.  “No, not yet,” I said.  “Is she under the water?”

“No.  Look higher.”

I scanned the sawgrass on the bank.  Squinting, I struggled to detect a snout and black eyes peeking from between the stiff blades.  “Maybe I’m missing something,” I said, “but I don’t see anything over there other than that Anhinga drying its wings.
“Getting warmer,” he said.  “Keep looking…but higher.”

Puzzled, I peered up into the mangrove branches.  What gator can climb a tree? I wondered.  I became suddenly afraid, thinking that there might be swarms of gators less friendly than Jack lingering in treetops ready to pounce on unexpected wanderers.  Still, I saw nothing other than a white ibis watching us from one of the mangroves. 

“Jack, I don’t see anything other than the ibis there,” I said.  “Am I missing something?”

Jack looked at me forlornly, or as close to forlornly as an alligator can look.  “You see her then,” he said.  “Isn’t she beautiful?”

I sat down on the bank, my feet dangling in the water.  Screwing up my eyes, I said, “Are we talking about the same thing?  Or are you pulling my leg?”

“I wouldn’t pull your leg about something like this,” he said.  “She’s the bird of my dreams.”

With that, Jack turned toward the opposite bank, pushed off with his hind legs, and shimmied to the other side.  He crested the bank and moved to the base of the mangrove in which the ibis rested.  When she saw him come, she fluttered her wings and descended to the ground.  She approached him and nudged her curved red beak against his snout.  Although from across the canal I couldn’t hear what was said, Jack and the Ibis appeared to colloquy. 

On occasion, Jack nodded his head and gestured toward me with his snout.  The ibis would steal a furtive glance and look away from me quickly.  After a few minutes of this, Jack turned, dove back into the canal, and swam over to me.  The ibis remained on the opposite bank watching me.

“She’s scared of humans,” Jack said.  “I told her you were OK, but she’s a little nervous.”

“Humans?” I said incredulously.  “But alligators she’s all right with?”

“Go figure,” Jack said, shrugging his shoulders.  “She loves me, though.  Do I have your blessing?”

“Of course,” I said, “but you shouldn’t have to ask.  If it works for you . . .”

“It’s just that I’m getting some flak from the other gators,” Jack said.  “And her parents definitely aren’t happy about the arrangement.  It’s kind of like the Montagues and Capulets.”

“What’s her name?” I asked.

“It’s a little hard to pronounce,” Jack said.  “It sounds like ‘Urnk’ followed by a series of nasal squawks.  I call her Juliet to make it easy.”

I nodded my head.  “Juliet it is, then,” I said.

Over the next few months, Jack vacillated between the heights of happiness and the depths of despair.  At times, he would meet me with his toothy grin and tell me how Juliet had rested on his back as he floated down the canal into Florida Bay, the seemingly endless River of Grass drifting by them along the way.  He would tell me how at peace he felt with her when the breeze passed over his back and through her feathers on those languorous journeys. 

Other times, he would meet me with vacant eyes and tell me how he went to see Juliet only to find her parents near their mangrove meeting place.  Juliet’s parents would tell him that he should be ashamed of himself, lusting after something as lovely and white as a pearl.  “Stick to your own,” they’d say, and, in the distance behind them, he’d hear the sad, nasal honk of Juliet’s sobs.  Thwarted, he’d cast off to a tree island, scoop a hole out with his jaw, and bury himself in the muck until the morning.

“Oh that this too, too sullied flesh would melt . . .” Jack exclaimed once after recounting one of these somber run-ins with Juliet’s parents.  I knew how he felt, having experienced something similar years ago, but all I could do to comfort him was to rub his snout gently and encourage him that things would get better, although I did not necessarily believe my own advice.  Then, the tears flowed…and, if it is true that crocodiles shed tears to beguile relenting passengers, then alligators shed tears without ulterior motives, but instead with genuine sorrow.

The confrontations didn’t end with Juliet’s parents either.  According to Jack, the torments came from other alligators too.  Jack said one bull started in with him as Jack was sunning himself on the west bank of the canal.  “What’s with you, Jack?” the bull said.  “Alligators aren’t good enough for you?  Next thing you know you’ll want to soar through the clouds instead of swim towards the sea.  Don’t go chasing the feathers, buddy, if you know what’s good for you.”

“And I thought he was one of my friends,” Jack said.  “We grew up together.”

Things got worse after that.  The taunting from the other alligators increased, and Juliet’s parents prevented her from seeing him almost at all.  Occasionally, she would steal away, and they would meet stealthily in a nearby road culvert, but those liaisons were few and far between.  Then, Juliet disappeared.  I’d ask Jack if he’d seen her, but he’d clam up.  He’d lift his eyes in the direction of the bay, shake his head slightly, and sigh.  “She had to go away,” he’d say, “but I don’t want to talk about it.”  Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get anything else out of him.

Soon after, Jack lost weight, and his Falstaffian penchant for humor dissipated.  He also stopped eating the beef jerky I brought for him.  He still came to see me when I visited, but his heart wasn’t into it.  At that point, his heart didn’t seem into anything.  He would alternate between pining for Juliet and making bitter remarks about the futility of life and love. 

One afternoon, as I settled down with him by the canal bank, I read to him from a book of Tennyson.  Unfortunately, I went from The Charge of the Light Brigade into In Memoriam.  When I got to the lines, “’Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all,” he looked at me and shook his head. 

“Are you kidding me?” he said, screwing up his eyes and arcing back his head.  “Did that guy really write that drivel?  If so, he hasn’t loved, much less lost.  If he were here right now, I’d take a chomp out of his lily-white behind.  In fact, he’s lucky he’s dead—or else I’d teach him a thing or two.” 

To keep Jack from getting too worked up, I grabbed a book of Coleridge and started reading Kubla Khan, which I rightfully figured was safe, and Jack calmed down, numbed by the opium-inspired words: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure dome decree. . .”  I left shortly thereafter.

I stayed away for a couple of weeks, which was the longest time I had gone without seeing Jack since we had met.  When I came back, he moped toward me from the far bank of the canal and stepped into the water.  He took a while crossing and, at times, got swept off course by the slow current.  When he reached the bank near me, I noticed that his normally dark gray scales looked ashen and his black eyes cloudy.  He looked up at me, his mouth slack. 

“So you came back,” he said, his voice trembling.  “What for?  To snatch me out of the jaws of death?”  I didn’t know what to say and stood there silently.  “Don’t worry about it,” he added and forced a smile.  “Anyway, I’ve been working on something since the last time I saw you and I want you to hear it.” 

Not knowing what to expect, I sat beside him on a shelf of exposed limestone and patted him on his scales.  He cleared his throat, tapped his right front foot, and began.  His tremulous tone grew stronger and rang through the crisp, dry-season air as he recited the following:

 “’Why would you leave me, feathered friend?’
The gator asked the ibis.
‘I thought we’d watch this river wend
As life rolled slowly by us.’
The ibis craned her head away;
She could not face his stare.
She looked out over Florida Bay
And saw her life’s path there.

The gator sensed that she would leave
And shed a gator tear—
The gator had begun to grieve
His life without her near.

‘But ibis, dear,’ he croaked, ‘with whom
Will I wake early now
To watch the sun rise through the gloom
And light the morning clouds?

With whom will I share fish for lunch
Or lie out in the sun?
And when the thunder cracks its punch,
To whose side will I run?’

The gator dragged his stubby limbs
Up from the shallow glades
And pressed against one who—for him—
Had brightened life’s dark days.

The ibis nudged the gator’s brow
And shed an ibis tear.
She wailed and moaned and wondered how
She’d live without him near.

‘Will you please stay?’ the gator cried.
‘I know we’re different.
But we should not toss love aside
Before it has been spent.’

Her tears slid down her crescent beak
And rained upon his snout.
She mumbled as she tried to speak,
But still the words came out:

‘I love you, gator dear.  My heart
Is yours and yours alone.
But I must leave, and we must part,
Although it pains me so.

You have rough, dark-gray, scaly skin
And I have feathers fine.
And—though it hurts—I must begin
To live life with my kind.’

With those words her wings cleaved the air
And she hurled toward blue skies;
And left the gator standing there
With tears welled in his eyes.”

“Well, what do you think?” Jack asked.  “I call it The Gator and the Ibis.  The title’s a no-brainer."

My cheeks were wet and I pressed my body to his.  “It’s beautiful,” I said, and I asked him if he could read it to me again so I could write it down.  I transcribed the verse on the back cover of a copy of Hamilton’s Mythology.

“Let’s take a walk,” Jack said, and we trudged through the brush beside the canal.  “I want you to know that I’m going away.”

I asked him where.

“To the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns,” he said.

“But you have so much to live for,” I said.  “Look how you turned your sadness into a work of art.  You could use it to create something good.”

“Listen,” Jack said.  “I know you mean well.  You’re my best friend, and you don’t want to lose me.  But I have to live with this every day…and I’m tired.  Now come on. . . Let’s rub noses and be done with this.”

Our eyes had tears in them as I bent down to rub his nose.  Afterwards, he turned away and plunked himself into the canal.  His last words to me were “Adios, pal.  Parting is such sweet sorrow.”  With that, his tail propelled him out of sight, and I turned toward the old Aerojet road and didn’t look back. 

I returned to the spot a few weeks later on the off chance that Jack had had second thoughts, but he was nowhere to be found.  I called his name. . . No answer.  I called once more. . . Still no answer.  Once again. . . Still nothing.  I knelt down, bowed my head, and left a dozen white roses on the side of the canal bank.  I made a cross out of two pieces of beef jerky and set it down next to the flowers.  Jack was gone.


Back in Miami I learned to live with the traffic, concrete, and bluster.  I settled into my studio apartment with its view of the downtown skyline and never returned to the old Aerojet road.  Instead of walks along the canal bank, I walked along Brickell Bay Drive and let the salt breezes clear my thoughts.  I was back in the world, as they say.  I went about my daily life, until, one day, I ran into a friend who worked as an editor for a small literary magazine.  I saw him at one of the readings at the Miami Book Fair and told him I had a poem I wanted him to see.  He agreed to meet me for a beer later that week.
We met at an Irish pub in Brickell, where I don’t think a single Irishman lives—but that’s beside the point.  I read him Jack’s poem, and he said he liked it.  “It shows promise,” he said.  “A little archaic, but I think I could do something with it.  What else you got?”

“That’s it,” I said.

“You mean that’s your first and only poem?” he said.

“No, it’s not mine.  It’s a friend’s.”

“What’s his name?  He may have a future.”

I told him that the poet’s name was Jack Gator, and that he had no future anymore, that he was dead.  But my friend just laughed. 

“Are you telling me the guy who wrote a poem called The Gator and the Ibis is named Jack Gator?” he said.  “That’s a hoot.”

“It gets better,” I said.  “Jack Gator was an alligator.”

My friend spit out his Guinness and slapped his knee.  “Jack Gator—a real live gator and poet.  That is a hoot.  And I thought you were too serious to make up something like that.  A real, scale-and-blood, lyric-writing gator.  Now that’s a story.”

“I guess it is,” I said.  I finished off my beer.  My friend paid the tab.

“I just might use that poem,” he said as we rose to leave.  “And I’ll even attribute it to Jack Gator, if you’d like.  In the meantime, show me some more of your stuff if you’re still writing.”

I nodded, and we walked out and stood beside one of the towers that had sprouted up on South Miami Avenue.  My friend shook my hand and took his leave.  I lingered for a moment on the sidewalk.  I looked up at the sky, cloudy on a moonless night.  It was black, like an alligator’s eye.

The End

About the author:
Lewis J. Beilman III lives in Salem, Massachusetts, with his two cats, Elvis and Rico. When he is not working at his day job, he writes short stories and poetry.  In 2009, his sonnet, "When They Leave," won first prize in the Fred R. Shaw Poetry Contest.

Thank you for reading and we here at Larks Fiction hope to see you all back here on April 10th for female writers of fantasy and science fiction.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Issue Nine, Volume One

From the Editor's Desk
       Hello and welcome to another installment of Larks Fiction Magazine. In this issue we are featuring two up and coming writers and their supernatural tales.
       In news, by the next issue we will start compiling a list of the authors who have been in Larks along with their bios on to a separate page. This way you can follow your favorite Larks writer and see where else they have published.
       Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the issue.

Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

Divine Scream
By--Ron Koppelberger

       The trooper followed the fugitive into the warehouse; a quality of resonant power jolted the calm eddies of dust in the dark void of the empty warehouse. The trooper paused breathing in the sullied odor of rotting vegetables and lilac. 
       The fugitive stood in silent phantom shadow between the sliver of candent daylight surrounding the trooper in silhouette and the dusty trail leading to the sanctity of his extraction point. The trooper whispered, “Don’t move.” An exhausted tongue of solstice surrounded the trooper as the spring hinged door swung shut behind him.
       The fugitive tilted his head backward, opened his mouth and screamed shattering the silent commune. Legends of ancestral continuum filled the moment with the passage of a few seconds, a few moments of tinctured, piercing sound as the fugitive continued to scream.
       The trooper squinted in frozen fear as a brilliant fire surrounded the fugitive. Like the roar of a dragon he thought. The aluminum walls of the warehouse shook and the fugitive levitated to a horizontal position between the ceiling and the dirt floor.
       His scream echoed shrill and infinite. The trooper watched as the firelight vacillated and rolled in flame. A moment later it was finished, the fugitive spun in rhythm to the pulsing fire screaming, then silence. He vanished near the corrugated metal roof and the gentle rush of a gasping breeze shook the building. 
       The trooper sighed and shook his head in disbelief. His thoughts in secret labor as he forced himself to forget the vision of fire.
 The End
About the author:
       Ron Koppelberger has been published in The Storyteller, Ceremony, Write On, Freshly Baked Fiction and Necrology Shorts. He recently won the People’s Choice Award for poetry In The Storyteller for a poem titled Secret Sash. His works have been featured from England to Australia, Canada, Thailand and India. He aspires to establish himself as a writer and poet.


By Wes Prussing
      You don't know me. I've no credentials, no track record, no references. So I really wouldn't blame you if you don't believe what I'm about to tell you. I suppose I could show you proof. I've got the data right here--believe me. But to tell the truth, that's not my style. I'm much too subtle for that. Ask anyone who knows me--they'll tell you. Besides, that's more or less what got me into so much trouble in the first place. Tell you what. Let me introduce you to Eddie. Don't worry, it's not like you'll formally meet. No uncomfortable chitchat. A fly on the wall I believe is the expression. We'll be visiting what you know of as the past. It may seem like the present, like it's happening this very moment, but don't be fooled. Hey, I can do this. I don't make a habit out of it but as you'll see Eddie is very special to me.
      Relax. So are you.    
      Right now Eddie is in denial. He's not stupid, but--and it pains me to say this--he is so stubborn--thick, as I say. Eddie's got Aplastic Anemia. Ever heard of it? Well take my word for it you don't ever want to. Eddie's dying. Dying imminently according to the test results and what the doctors say. Sad part is he almost beat it, this disease. But the bone marrow transplant didn't take. See, it's an all or nothing deal. I won't go into all the medical terms but it has to do with a lot of blood stuff--red and white counts, cells, platelets. The only way out is a bone marrow transplant. If the transplant doesn't work, you die. Quickly. That's how it works. Eddie knew this going in, but like everyone he had to take a shot. He rolled the dice and it came up snake eyes.    
       No one knows anything about his condition; not his friends, not the people he works with, not even his ex-wife and kids. He did tell his lawyer and his lawyer told him what a real shame it was, you know, given his age and otherwise good health. He suggested Eddie tell someone, some family member, a friend. But he didn't. For one thing his ex still hates him and would probably throw a party if she found out. And his kids? The two boys are in the service; one in Germany the other somewhere out west, last he heard. His youngest, a daughter, he hasn't seen since she was twelve--more then ten years ago. He's not even sure where she's living, or if she's living for that matter. I won't go into Eddie's whole history or anything except to say that isn't it always the case that in the end you usually hurt ones you love the most, the worst. At least this is what I've observed.    
       Look, here's Eddie now. Poor schmuck ….
       The doctor has come and gone. Eddie nods off a little but cannot fall asleep. Doctors have this effect on him. They always leave him nervous, edgy and drained. Outside, the day is drawing to a close and goes from light to dark with silent, graceful urgency. A thin crease of light that comes from the doorway divides his narrow room. For some reason the door itself is never completely closed and he wonders if this is by design. His mind is feverish and cloudy and wanders desultorily. In truth, he is consumed with dread. He can taste the despair that lingers after each visit of white-clad attendant.
      Across the room in a vinyl-padded chair someone sits watching. Eddie, eyeing the shadowy shape, croaks, “Who's there?” He sees movement, a slight shifting of form.
He calls out, “Look, I don't remember inviting anyone in, so if your dispensing anything like hope, salvation or firmer abs in five days, do us both a favor and beat it.”     
      The chair slides forward and stops at the foot of his bed. Something moves again and he hears a far-away sound like the rustling of wind-bent treetops.    
       A voice: “I'm so sorry, I thought you were sleeping.”   
       “Who the hell can sleep,” he snaps back. “They're either jabbing you with something or making you to pee in a jar.” He swallows, and adds, “Who the hell are you, anyway? Who let you in here?”   
      “That's not a very nice greeting Eddie, not very nice at all. You haven't forgotten your manners, have you?”   
      He squints, trying to focus his aching eyes. “I can barely see you. Turn on the light, will ya--the one over by the bathroom door. This one here hurts my eyes.”    
      A dim light is switched on and the chair scratches along the floor as it is drawn up close to the bed.
       “There, is that better?” It is a girl's voice, high and pleasantly dulcet.    
       “I still can't see you.”
      The girl leans in close so that her face is caught in the yellow light. A beige veil covers her head. Beneath the broadly stitched seams are thick back curls that look damp and appear pasted flat against her forehead. She might be thirty or thirteen, it's hard to tell. There's not a line in her face, not even around her mouth or at the corners of her eyes. Her features are all smooth and elliptical like an ice sculpture that's beginning to melt. Her eyes, peeking out beneath the veil, are pale gray, wide set, and soft beyond words.   
       The steady drip of Stadol plays with Eddie's head. He wonders if he's hallucinating or maybe dreaming. He thinks of his ex-wife and his kids. He tries to picture his daughter, at least the way he remembers her. The drugs make even this difficult. He thinks he sees something, some resemblance, around the mouth maybe or the small nose.   
       “Is this better, Eddie?”     
      “Yeah,” he answers. “My eyes haven't been right since the transplant. The marrow I got from the donor pool--guy must have been nearsighted or something.”     
      “Should I move in closer?”    
      “No. No, you're fine.” He presses on the oxygen tube stretched across his upper lip. “I was just thinking. You remind me of someone.” The girl shifts self-consciously in the chair. He juts his chin in her direction. “What's with the veil?”    
      Smiling she let's it fall to her shoulders then reaches behind her neck and fluffs her curls. “Better?”    
      He nods. “Do I know you?” 
       “You don't recognize me, Eddie?”  
       “I don't know. Should I?”    
       “Perhaps not. I'm told I have one of those faces, you know, that look that is so familiar you look like everyone--and no one.”   
       “I didn't mean it that way. You look… beautiful.”   
       “Thank you Eddie, I can see beauty too--in you. The way you're fighting this. In your faith.”    
      “I don't know. I don't have much fight left. I sure can't see any beauty in being sick. I just see ugliness.”    
      She notices him wincing and allows some time to pass. “Tell me about the pain,” she says.    
      He rolls his head. “I'm okay, I've got enough drugs in me to drop a rhino.”   
       “And do they work, these drug?”    
      “I guess. They take the edge off.”    
      “But your pain is still great. You suffer terribly, don't you?”   
       “Yeah, you could say that.”  
       “But you have not surrendered. You haven't given up. I can tell.”    
        “It's getting worse--much worse. It's wearing me down.”    
       “You must not let that happen, Eddie. Not yet. Not while there is still time.”    
       “Time,” he mumbles, looking past her. “You still didn't say who you are.”    
       She ponders this question for a moment and says, “Who do you think I am?”
      He hesitates. He's afraid to say. He's afraid that what he suspects may be true. He hears himself blurt out: “June. You're June, right?”
      “June...” She lets the word slide off her tongue.     
      “You look so… Ah, I don't know. It's been what? Ten years…more? You should be what by now? Twenty-three?  Jeezzzz, this is awkward.”    
      Her face brightens but she doesn't speak.   
       “Hey look,” he continues with a limp wave of his hand. “It's no big deal, I know what a horrible father I've been. We don't have to pretend.”
      She says nothing.     
      “I'm dying,” he continues in a half-whisper, tucking the edge of the pillow under his cheek. “I'm dying, baby. I'll never leave this bed. You're here to say goodbye to me, aren't you? Say goodbye to your old man.”
      He waits for her to confirm his suspicion but girl remains silent. He tries a different tact: “Did Leo tell you I was here? He came by last week to go over some legal stuff and I specifically asked him not to notify--.”  
      “No one notified me, Eddie. I wanted to see you and here I am.”     
      “Sure. You just wanted to see me.”  
      “Yes. You don't believe me?”  
      “I don't want to argue,” he says, curtly.  
      “Eddie,” she says, settling back in the chair “Why don't we just talk. You and me--just talk.” 
      “You want to talk? Why? You want to analyze me. Help me work though my problems?”  
      “I just thought--.”  
      “Hey, I know, let's get Jerry Springer in here. Then, we can really go--.”    
      He stops. Her lips are moving and her eyes are fixed on a point just above his head. He glances up but sees nothing.  
      “Wha'cha doing? Wha'cha looking at?”    
      No response.   
      She lowers her gaze. “I'm sorry Eddie.”     
      “Sorry? Look, I'm the one pumped full of drugs here. What was that all about? You in some sort of trance or something?”    
      “Of course not. Tell me Eddie, do you know of Julian …of Norwich or thereabouts--no one's really sure. I wish you could spend some time with her. Let me think … I remember one of her earlier showings. It addresses precisely the dilemma you find yourself-- .”    
      “The what? What the hell are you talking about?”    
      “I didn't mean to upset you. If only I could …I …oh, Eddie, I am upsetting your aren't I? I'm not sure I should have come here.”      
      “No, please stay…” He is suddenly afraid she might decide to leave. “Stay here with me, okay. Just for a while, wait with me.”    
      She watches his chest rise and fall in a strange, disjointed tempo that mirrors his breathing. She places her hand on his. “It's all right, it's all right. I'm not leaving. Everything is okay.”    
      His breathing slows. She watches his eyes, which are darting about the room. She waits for him to speak but his mouth is locked in a kind of half-yawn.     
       “What's the matter, Eddie?” she asks. “Do you see something?”    
      He shakes his head.    
      “What are you looking for Eddie?  Is there someone else here?”    
      No answer.    
      “Eddie, tell me. Is he here?”    
      “I can't.”    
      “Yes you can.” She tries following his eyes but they are jumping about too rapidly.    
      “Forget it,” he says letting his head sink back into the pillow. “There's no one here.”     
      She keeps prodding. “But you are waiting for someone?”    
      “I thought you said no one is supposed to know you're here.”     
      “You found me, didn't you?”         
      He runs his fingers though his hair. He never bothers to comb it anymore and it sticks out from his scalp like wet feathers. “To tell you the truth I don't really know what I'm doing. I guess I'm just waiting to die.” He manages a throaty cackle. “We won't have long to wait, will we?”     
      “I don't know, Eddie. Who's to say?”    
      “Yeah,” he sighs, “who's to say.”  He waits for her to continue but there's only an awkward silence. “Look, if I tell you something, you won't think I'm crazy? I mean it's going to sound insane. I've never told anyone about this before, but maybe it's time.”        
      “Then tell me.”   
      “I don't know, maybe I really am crazy.”    
      “Tell me, Eddie.”    
      “I don't know.”      
      “Tell me.”    
      So he tells her.      
      When I was a kid my brother Joey and I took a short-cut through our neighbor's yard. I couldn't have been more then eight or nine. Joey was a year older. Anyway there were these two holes in the ground right next to each other. They were each about six feet wide and separated by a thin patch of ground about as wide as a doormat. Turns out they were actually septic tanks that were being pumped out and repaired. Only we didn't know it, they just looked like big holes some unknown entity had dug for fun.
       Joey gets this idea to walk between the holes so he spreads his arms wide and--no sweat--makes it easy. Right away he dares me to do it, knowing how uncoordinated I am. Guess what. Yeah, I fell right in. I must have dropped about twenty feet. As soon as I hit bottom I knew it was no ordinary hole. I knew it was what we all called a cesspool. So there I was floating in this pool of filth--shit, piss, probably even blood. At first I tried not to move too much--you know, like it was quicksand or something. I went under a couple of times anyway, swallowing mouthfuls of crud. I began to panic. I started screaming for Joey to get some help. I remember looking up and seeing this silver-dollar piece of sky, this wobbly blue disk high above me. Then I noticed all these tree roots sticking out of the wall like hundreds of crooked fingers pointing down at me. I lost it. I began to scream even louder, swallowing even more filth and crud. Then, the craziest thing happens--all of a sudden, the fingers are moving. But it's not just the roots themselves. I see real fingers and they're right above my head. I reached up to grab hold and all this slime goes sliding down my arm into my eyes. I wiped it away and looked up again. That's when I see this man. He's hanging upside down. I can't see his face because he's got this hat on--a derby. His fingertips keep touching mine but I can't quite grab hold of his hand. Finally I take a deep breath and go under. My foot touches something solid and I give one final push, my arms stretched to the limit. He catches hold of one of my wrists and then the other and I am being pulled up.    
       Next thing I know I'm kneeling in the grass puking my guts out. Someone's got a garden hose and is spraying me down. I see my mother running toward me with Joey beside her. She's half hysterical. She practically falls right on top of me. She keeps asking me if I'm all right but the whole time I'm looking around for the man with the hat. Only he's gone. Disappeared. Later I try to tell my mother what happened, how this upside-down man pulled me out of the hole. She just smiled the whole time and said that sometimes, under great stress, we're likely to imagine things. She says that from the way she's seen me climb that old elm in the back yard it's little wonder I was able to climb up all those roots.    
      He feels a sudden fullness in his chest. His throat is very dry. He cannot produce any saliva. He tries to moisten his lips but his tongue feels like 20-grit sandpaper. He pauses and says, “That was the first time.”     
      “First time?”    
      “Yeah. Crazy, huh? There's been more. Sometimes years would go by and I wouldn't think about it. Gradually I'd forget about the whole thing. Then: Wham!  Something would happen and it'd be even crazier then the time before.”    
      “Did you ever find the man?”    
      He shakes his head. “I'm not even certain there was a man.”    
            “But you said--.”
      “You haven't been listening, have you?” He peers out the window. “I can't be sure. I've never been sure. I only know I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I swear I must be losing my mind.”     
      “No you're not Eddie. You may be seeing things clearly now, maybe for the first time, like the world can be seen, should be seen.” She touches his hand. “Things are not always what they seem, Eddie. Look at me. What color is my hair?”
  Still gazing out the window he says, “You hair? Ah, a quiz, huh? Ok, your hair is blac--.”    
      He rolls his head and sees a sudden wash of strange hues. Her hair is a fiery copper --the color of new pennies. It flows down her shoulders in enormous waves and ends just inches from her waist.
      “Black?” she finishes for him.    
      “This is bullshit! Who are you?”    
      “Think you're loosing your mind? Let me ask you, Eddie. Ever heard of the Peter Principal? How people tend to rise to the level of their own incompetence?”      
      “The Peter Principal,” he groans. “You wanna talk about the Peter Principal? You're crazier then I am!” Using his elbows he raises his upper torso off the mattress. “Who are you!”
      She looks up at the monitor above his head. It is beeping erratically, the violet LED readout changes from moment to moment. Pulse rate, blood pressure, blood/ox; the numbers blink wildly and digitally rearrange themselves.   
       “Oh, Eddie, I'm so sorry,” she whispers.      
      The wave of pain seems to crest and slowly recede. “It's okay,” he gasps. “Just give me a second.” Suddenly his body goes rigid and his face twists in agony. A light next to his bed begins to flash and the rhythmic slapping of rubber-soled shoes can be heard in the hallway.    
      She touches his leg and fells it trembling. “Rest Eddie. Don't talk.”    
      A nurse enters the room. She goes to him and checks his pulse. She pulls his chart from the foot of the bed, scribbles something and shakes her head woefully. She loads a syringe and pushes it into his arm, then resets the monitor.     
      “There,” she says gathering up the equipment from his blanket. “You're tachycardia. The arrhythmia is growing more pronounced. This will help you relax. I'll ask the doctor to see you as soon as soon as he returns. Please try to rest.”  She glances back at him as she leaves and almost says something.     
      Just as before, they are alone.    
      Eddie looks at the girl who is again staring at a point somewhere above his head.    
      “You are so beautiful,” he tells her, his mind swimming in disjointed thoughts. “Just like your mother.”    
      She lowers her gaze. He looks so small and helpless. She leans over and blots some beads of sweat from his forehead with the side of her hand. Her touch is cool and dry.    
      “Eddie, would you like me to help you pray?”    
      “Pray?” he says tonelessly.    
      “Yes, you used to pray all the time. You were an altar boy--remember all those prayers? All that Latin you had to learn? You where how old? Eleven? Twelve? I can help pray now, you if you want. I can help you talk to God.”    
      His eyes begin to dart around the room again. “He's here!” he shouts. “I can sense it. I'm sure of it. He's here.”    
      She says softly, “Why Eddie, God is always here with--.”    
      “No, not God!”    
      “Who then? Is who here?”    
      He reaches for the control attached to the narcotic drip--his thumb twitches on the button. His mind is racing. He wants to drain the bag, all of it. He wants to feel that blessed relief flow through his body. Then …just sleep.    
      He lets the device slip from his fingers. Time, he knows, is short.     
      “See this?” he says, and hooks a finger behind his left ear. There is a blue cord of tissue that forms a crescent just below the hairline. “Know where I got this?” He doesn't wait for a reply. “I got this in Vietnam.” He waits for his breathing slow down. “That was the last time.”    
      “Last time?”
     “The last time he came. It stopped after that. I thought maybe I'd been saved for some reason, some purpose.” He laughs and a riff of shrill bleeps sounds from the monitor again. “Some purpose--huh? Look at me. Alive because of a bunch of tubes and drugs with names I can't even pronounce. For how long?”    
      “Listen to me, Eddie.”    
      “No, you don't know. I should have died in the jungle. I know that. There my death made some sense. This makes no sense.”    
      She sees that his eyes are a curious pink, owing to the tangle of blood-red veins that have erupted around his pupils like cracks on a vase. She goes to touch the ear but his head jerks sideways and he turns his face down into the damp pillow. Her hair, had he glanced back at that moment, is fanning out as if electrically charged. It is now the color of bleached bones.    
      “Tell me about him, Eddie. Tell me about the jungle.”      
      “I can't,” he sobs, refusing to look up at her.    
      “All right, Eddie. Think it then, just the way it happened.”    
      He nods and closing his eyes, tries to concentrate.
      Together, this is what they see:    
      The jungle. Nine men are walking through a broad valley. Knee- high grass ripples in the moist breeze. Eddie is behind a corporal who is tapping a knuckle against a metal cartridge on his belt. He's humming a song and Eddie is listening. The corporal stops and bends down. When he straightens up, he's holding a basket. In the basket are bottles of dark, red wine. The corporal lifts a bottle and begins to speak.
      In a heartbeat, he is gone.    
      There is smoke and bits of burning cloth floating just above the grass. All around him Eddie hears the report of small arms. He crawls into a ditch and begins to blindly fire his rifle. He hears men cry out. He hears: “I'm hit, goddamn it. Medic! I need a medic!” He hears wild screams and curses.     
      As the gunfire abates he tries calling out to his friends. No one responds. He hears movement all around him. Minutes creep by, then hours. He hears the enemy, the Viet Cong. He knows some words and phrases. They are saying something like: “Marbles--look, many marbles…how many? Three? Four? Look, all pink. Ha!”    
      Then more voices: "Marlboros, Lucky's … six. You very Lucky. Ha!”    
      He begins to retch. All the Vietnamese slang laced with the mocking euphemisms suddenly makes sense. They are not referring to marbles at all. They are talking about human testicles. They are trading them.    
       An explosion that comes from nowhere rains down grass, dirt and rock. Eddie's eyes burn and he cannot find his rifle. He sees something in the oily smoke: a soldier, a Viet Cong officer. He can see that the man's face and arms are badly burned. He can smell burning hair. The man's appearance is all wrong, though; wrong because his uniform is immaculately clean and looks freshly pressed. Even the insignias above his breast pockets are bright and spotless. As the officer approaches Eddie can see that he is holding a pistol. Hanging across his chest is a necklace that rattles like poker chips as he trudges closer. The necklace, Eddie sees, is made of dried ears.
      Eddie is shaking violently. He's afraid his bowels will let lose and he will die in his own waste. The man lowers the pistol. There is a flash of silver as a knife glides past his eyes. The man is so close Eddie can taste burnt flesh. He is speaking but Eddie hears nothing. He feels something cold, then hot. He feels great pain. Then he feels nothing.    
      He awakes in an army hospital in Saigon. A captain comes to see him. The captain tells him how he was found by an American patrol, very near death. There were no other survivors. All of the men in his squad had been brutally mutilated. He asks Eddie if he remembers loosing his ear. He tells Eddie that the Viet Cong must have seen the wound, assumed he was sufficiently butchered and left him for dead. He tells Eddie he was fortunate that they only removed an ear. He also tells Eddie that the ear was found in his shirt pocket, wrapped in gauze. The wound, he adds, had been expertly cleaned and cauterized, He asks Eddie to explain all this. Eddie cannot.    
      He opens his eyes and looks up at the girl. He sees her face swimming in the light. He thinks for a moment that this is a perfect face, the most perfect face he has ever seen.    
      “You are June, aren't you?”    
      “No, Eddie. I'm so sorry. I'm not.”    
      “Then who are you!”
      “Eddie, I can't.  I--. ”    
      “Please.” His lungs are so heavy with fluid it hurts to speak above a whisper. “Please tell me.”    
      “All right then.” She stands and all around her the air roils up like heat from a furnace. “You know me, Eddie.” She looks down at him. Her face is flushed and glistening. “Veronica. My name is Veronica.”    
      Deliberately she removes the veil that is draped across her shoulders. It is an ancient and holy garment. On it is a faint image, a specter only, with dark red blemishes along the edges. She lifts it by two corners and quickly lets go. It hangs high above the bed for a moment then floats down like an oak leaf. Eddie's eyes catch sight of the cloth. His pupils dilate then contract to the size of grape seeds. Heat rushes to the surface of his body. His lips tremble and the death rattle begins. Inside, deep in his gut, he is terribly cold. The cold expands. His lips turn blue, but continue to move. Syllables first, then words spill out.
      The girl kneels beside the bed and takes Eddie's hand. She joins him in the pray that he is struggling to remember. The cadence is that of a language learned phonetically, at a very young age.    
      “Confeedeor Dio... omni potenta....”

      I know what you're thinking: So what happened to Eddie? Right?
      I don't really have to spell it out for you, do I? He is where he needs to be--let's leave it at that. Not exactly where you might think but hey, it's not a lineal process anyway. I could explain it
I suppose--I'm actually quite good at that sort of thing. I didn't get where I got on my good looks. I'm an idea man. A mover. A shaker. A piece of advice, try--what's the expression?--thinking outside of the box.     
      Please understand. You cannot possibly imagine what awaits you: boundless joy, unimaginable happiness. Infinite love. These words are all sadly inadequate. You--and by you I mean all of you, everyone since time began--see through the glass darkly. It's true. It cannot be helped.   
      Not so with Eddie. What happened to him was an anomaly, a miracle you might say. It would definitely qualify--what with Eddie, you know, not being metaphysically dead at that particular moment. Can't you see? For a brief instance, for a split second in eternity, Eddie glimpsed The Essence of Absolute Goodness, Complete and Boundless Love. Total Truth. The perfect face of God.
      A gift, yes. But also a curse. The ensuing all-consuming yearning, you see, is more then anyone can bear. For a time it must be Eddie's cross.
      And mine.    
      Did you think this story is about Eddie?  Ha! Oh, I am good, I am so good. What's the expression? I could sell ice cubes to Eskimos.     
      Don't get me wrong. This is no ego trip. I do love the man. I was there with him from the beginning, from the very moment of sacred intervention--that singular point of nascent life. I'd give anything to help him. I'd give him my right arm, if I had a right arm. But I can't, of course.
      A philosopher once observed that reality is composed of only atoms and the void. Hummp ….  A prescient notion, perhaps. But alas, incorrect. Between atoms and the void, between the positive and the negative, between the weak and the strong force, there exists me--or rather us.    
      I've seen all your holy books. Michael. Uriel. Gabriel. Raphael. Sure, they get all the attention, all the press. I'm not complaining here but want to guess how many of us there are? Got a calculator handy? Don't bother. It won't help. There is no number in existence that can properly express our multitudes.      
      Forget what you've heard. Forget it all. Forget wings and halos and long, flowing white robes. I have to tell you, these images have always amused me. We have no mass, no weight, no gender. Vanities, all of it--nothing more.    
      A body?  Please. What is that? A crude and venal carapace. You, yourself will discard it with the same insouciance that you once removed a pair of earrings or a tie pin. You'll see. It'll be a relief.     
      Hold on. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: Why is he (you'll pardon the pronoun, here--what else can I use?) telling me all this?     
      It's simple, really. What this is about is sin.     
      No, not Eddie's sin.
      You see for a long, long time I had this really cushy job. A really great job. It had everything: excitement, violence, drama, pageantry. Everything! And the wonderful thing about it was it was all came so easy to me. I was made for the job--literally.     
      And what happens? How do I explain this? Okay … for lack of a better word, call it restructuring. Not a promotion, not a demotion--a lateral move. I've seen the classifications you've assigned to us. Not bad, actually. It's just that you've got the hierarchy a bit skewed. It's not important but I want to keep the record straight.    
      So there I was, new job, new responsibilities. Right away I decide to be the best I can be. I do all the research. I burn the midnight oil. I put in the overtime. I speak to the experts. I start with the prophets: Abraham, Moses, Elijah. Next I move on to the stoics: Heraclitus, Zeno, Seneca. Then the great early teachers of the church: Augustine, Aquinas (naturally), Boethius, the Venerable Bede …the list goes on.    
      Obviously I was prepared. I was no tyro. I knew the ropes. And what happens? Eddie happens, is what. Look, I tried everything; the hard sell, the soft sell. I got desperate. I departed from the playbook. In the end, I got sloppy.      
      All that stuff with Eddie? Pure desperation. His daughter, June? The woman--the saint--Veronica? I couldn't help myself. I improvised. I really hate to loose. The very thought of it sickens me. I'm naturally a very upbeat type--sanguine to a fault. So I went a little overboard. What's the harm, you might ask?   
      I say again: sin.
      Man, you see, tends to think of sin mostly in terms of corporal gratification: lust, gluttony, sloth, drunkenness, that sort of thing.    
      Kid's stuff.
      There is really only one truly fatal sin which is, coincidentally, the root of all sin and it is Pride. And it does indeed goeth before the fall. Count on it.     
      Now Aquinas (the show-off) said that I--we--are incapable of sin. It is simply not in our nature. Well I won't argue the point. Maybe it's not. But that does little to assuage my fears. Take a look at Lucifer and then tell me we cannot sin. And it doesn't help that deep down I know what an incredible creep I can sometimes be.
      But look, I want to make things right. I yearn to atone. I just hope that what I have to say does not come off like your typical company chest-pounding. It's not. See? No notes, no Teleprompter. Straight from the heart….    
      May I have your attention.    
      Through countless epochs I directed mighty armies of righteousness and vanquished great evil. I raised princes to kingly stations. I spread the Holy Glory of God to every corner of the cosmos. I fulfilled the Most Holy of Orders. I did all this and more. Yet nothing could prepare me for what I was to do next.     
      Eddie; this solitary soul. How can I explain the utter grandeur, the indefinable uniqueness of this one man? A lifetime of joy and sadness, selfishness and sacrifice. It was dizzying. It's funny sometimes how you can loose sight of your purpose. Deny your very nature. What can I say? I am as I was created; a messenger; a servant. I can be nothing more.     
      But enough about me. What is it Mother Julian says?  “All will be well … all will be well.” Let's talk about you for a moment. Why, you ask? Isn't it obvious … I mean, you must have suspected. Think hard. That time, remember, you were young, yes, but not too young to understand. Think. You were alone, frightened. Darkness everywhere. A hopelessness that ate at your soul. A moment of complete despair. A falling away… away from--.
      And yet…and yet….deep down you felt….
      Never mind, better you don't dwell on it. I am getting better though--learning to take things a little easier. Discovering ways to conquer my competitive impulses, calm my combative nature.
      Look… I've gotta run. One last thing, if I may. A simple piece of advice--a gift, actually.     
      Please listen.
      Put away your radio-telescopes, your super computers. Call back your peripatetic probes, your nomadic rockets and satellites. You search the vast eternities of space hoping to find others like you. You gaze up with wonder at far-flung galaxies, at nebulae blooming like coral in the coal-black depths of forever. You look and you wonder: Who else is out there?       
      Frustrated you turn inward to the microscopic. You study the atomic and subatomic; incredibly thin strings of dancing, osculating filaments, not seen but imagined. You are beguiled by the exquisite beauty of each new discovery. You seek the key to a unifying theme, a grand theory--a glimpse at the immortal. You think to yourself: Such Wonders! Such absolute perfection of function and design! Surely this has happened elsewhere. Surely there must be others like us out there somewhere in this vast, seamless universe. There must be!    
      But you are mistaken.     
      There is not.     
      Try this: imagine infinite branches on infinite tress in an infinite forest. Please understand: you are its singular fruit. Step back for a moment. See reality as if you were standing on the highest mountaintop gazing down into a valley more broad and limitless then any ocean. Now consider first the fruit; the branch which supports it is everything that has ever been in what you know if as your universe; the tree that supports the branch is all that has ever existed outside of your time and space, your reality--endless other universes more in number then bubbles of foam in all of your oceans; the forest that surrounds the tree is all of us who were created before you. Now, consider the light that nourishes all. This light has no beginning and no end. Its source extends beyond eternity. This light is God's love for you and what you see of it is but a pinpoint of His Complete Love. It is only a glimpse of what is to come. And it is all for you. Everything. For you.    
      If you only knew.      
      You cannot see this now ... I know.     
      But, you will.       
      We were created, you and I, to the same end.    
      First there was us. Then there was you.      
            Soon ...  soon, there will be only One.                                                   

About the author:
     Wes Prussing is a transplanted New Yorker, living in South Florida. He is married and has two wonderful daughters. He worked in the construction industry for the past 25 years primarily as a sales and marketing manager and holds bachelor degrees in liberal arts and business. His work has appeared in a number of small literary magazines and e-zines: Ken-Again, The Fairfield Review, Wild Violets and The Legendary to name a few.