Flesh to bone and back again, death feeds
life and with every blemish on her face a new creature is born. We cannot
conquer, master, or tame such a beast. To overcome we must abandon our ways and
walk and play by nature’s rules. In this place no man has ever stood or cried
out of fear, here we are the first.
I do pray for sleep, like our path it
eludes us. My compass has been set upon my hired hand to which I heard he is the
best, for that I have become unsure. The mangey hill that overlooks the swampy
land beyond disappears as we venture forth, only to return at days end. I have
gone as far as to count my strides and leave rocky formations, all of which are
no longer present the following day. As if matters could not be more dire, my
companion has developed the oddest of nightly habits. He chatters you see. I
can hear his tongue and teeth clicking away an awful sound. At times I swear I
can hear him just outside my tent wandering the night chattering away. Like a
child, my hands grip blankets tight as the seconds tick away. Dawn was near.
“Morning.” Simon greeted, his mouth full of
morning stew that made his words come out wet.
I returned a nod of agreement. The sun rose
steady, its creamy glow laid a soft blanket of warmth giving comfort against
Simon’s beady eyes and dark stubble. Sunken, he rocked in his seat looking more
insect than man.
“Did you sleep well?” Simon asked, his
mouth now empty, voice sounding hoarse.
Hoarse indeed, perhaps my companion’s
throat has fallen victim to his own chatter. “Did you not hear the commotion?”
I asked, hoping to shed light on the situation.
Simon stirred his stew a bit, keeping his
eyes down. “Commotion? Can’t say I did. Slept right through the night I’m
afraid.” He broke eyes with his meal, “perhaps a dream?”
With the sun hanging low in the sky, we thought
best to pack camp while the day air still cool. Civilization according to the
map was seven miles due north through thick brush, this news would have been
welcomed if not for earlier failed attempts. Simon revealed that ‘we should
arrive at Ft. Jackson by midday. Long before the night falls’ but this, like
before, held little weight. The forest thick, pressed our shoulders like the
weight of the ocean, claustrophobic and exhausted we ventured forth. Only feet
away he would dart in and out of sight only to reappear to my left then again
to my right, he was all around me and yet nowhere to be found. Ancient trees
with their long branches tore holes and jagged scars in our clothes, their
wandering fingers felt purposeful as if to deter us from moving further, yet we
pressed forward, and I too pressed my question.
“Are you feeling well?” I could not see his
face, only his torn pants and shirt were visible.
“Well? I feel fine, why do you ask?” His shirt
rippled in the wind but there was hardly a breeze.
“Your throat this morning.”
Simon returned silence; his shirt continued
to dance in the breezeless forest air. Something lay hidden, almost visible
through the gashes in his shirt. Things with far too many legs and eyes crawled
on his skin I am sure of it. I could almost see them scurry in and out of his
torn flaps. There for a moment but gone before I could catch sight. His body
had become an upturned log, a hiding place for the forest floor. I feared his
presence, yet I needed him. Simon’s head bowed from side to side before craning
up towards the falling sun. His body creaked like old boards as his bones
became too big for his skin, it was a horrible sight. Then it began, his teeth
clicked away a dreadful tattoo that stirred the nature of the forest. A spider
spun strange geometry above my head as if to catch the very sounds radiating
from Simon’s mouth. Two birds fought mid flight as something large in the
distance called our attention with outreached hands. I felt faint, my eyes
rolled back, I staggered and clung to the nearest tree. Simon turned on his
heels, his eyes now colorful flowers blinking with every exhale of his sunken
I reached out a hand “Stop, please stop.”
Pointless my pleads became as Simon picked up pace in my direction, the pedals
on his face blinked rapidly. I fell to one knee with outreached hands, “No!” my
screams echoed as the pounding of feet in soft dirt closed in. I shielded my
eyes as darkness took hold.
I awoke in night; the day had passed
without me. Simon sat on a rock toying with small branches, his face sullen and
wandering. A dream is all, I took comfort here and simply fell asleep. “Simon?
Where are we?” my voice soft and confused.
He pointed to a path of moonlit darkness. I
squinted trying to shake my hazy mind. Just through the break in trees the hill
appeared. Its wide shoulders and deep crevices displayed a ghastly face with
We were back to where we started, there was
at this point no where left to run, another day walking in circles with no hope
of salvation. I gathered to my feet and dusted myself off, “Now what?” I feared
“We make camp.” Simon replied with an empty
tone. His now relaxed shirt brought no comfort.
The thought of another night in the shadow
of the hill brought gooseflesh and cold waves of anxiety. My mind, like Simon,
had begun to spin towards madness. The moon bloomed with howling dogs that
rattled my tent or were they cries of children? Night transformed simple things
into unfamiliar creatures. I peered at my companion’s tent, it flexed and
released like a lung echoing sounds of grinding teeth. His dreadful words were
incoherent, I either could not understand or choose not to.
I cried out “Simon!” The air became
electric, the hairs on my arms and neck stood tall. I turned my gaze to the sky
and cried out again, “Please God Simon!” My words lost on the moonlight
Large, serrated clouds pregnant with
lightning now loomed eerily atop the hill. The horrors I saw brought new fear
to this place. Twisted shadows caught starlight and gave shape, savages danced
on the ridge to the workings of Simon’s tongue and teeth. Man is the only
animal to hide its nudity, yet these beasts danced as bare as the moonlight on
their skin. I reverted my eyes to a flash of lightning that set the hill
ablaze. Flames roared. An orgy of hands reached the heavens. Golden hair gave
birth from flaming tips, its body now faces swallowing the hill and night sky. Tilted
they did, turned and fed on each other’s mouths in a long kiss.
Simon appeared at my side, his eyes
sparkled silver in the night, breath hot as he chattered in my ear. I tried to
pull away but like the clashing clouds and thunderous sky I drew near. He spoke
of the world as if it were sentient. “We come from it and not it from us,” his
hand pointed to the masquerade of creatures “we are no less natural than those
who dance in the shadows. Flesh to bone and back again, God will hold your soul
within the seed of life and from it a forest will grow.” Simon beckoned to the
hill “the fire will cleanse this land and bring us back to the beginning, and
so the cycle will continue.”
My jaw grew tense and tongue
Simon’s starry eyes washed over me and so my teeth began to chatter as his did
those dreadful days ago. My mind began to bend leading me to thoughts of a
great oasis and words never possible and so I spoke with ease in this strange
fashion “lead the way.”
Michael Stevens’s stories have
been published in Yellow Mama and Black
Petals. Suffering from chronic anxiety and night terrors, Michael has found
comfort in writing. It was through telling stories he was able to unburden
himself of the fears that plague his sleep. What had started as a sort of
therapeutic release has now been a 3-year journey of telling stories. With a nightmare
journal bursting at the seams, he sees no end in sight.
Henry Stanton's fiction, poetry
and paintings appear in 2River, The A3 Review, Avatar, The
Baltimore City Paper, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, High Shelf Press,
Kestrel, North of Oxford, Outlaw Poetry, PCC Inscape, Pindeldyboz,
Rusty Truck, Salt & Syntax, SmokeLong Quarterly, The William
and Mary Review, Word Riot, The Write Launch, and Yellow Mama,
among other publications.
His poetry was selected for the A3 Review Poetry Prize and
was shortlisted for the Eyewear 9th Fortnight Prize for
Poetry. His fiction received an Honorable Mention acceptance for the
Salt & Syntax Fiction Contest and was selected as a finalist for the Pen
2 Paper Annual Writing Contest.
A selection of Henry Stanton's paintings are currently on show at Atwater's
Catonsville and can be viewed at the following website www.brightportfal.com. A selection of Henry Stanton’s published fiction
and poetry can be located for reading in the library at www.brightportfal.com.
Henry Stanton is the Founding & Managing Editor of The Raw Art Review—www.therawartreview.com.