The Stranger

we must treasure the dream whatever the terror

N.K. Sandars, The Epic of Gilgamesh
Image Source: Pinterest

Miley sat on the edge of the brick planter outside the ice cream shop and indulged in her caramel macchiato sundae. It was a reward for living in denial. She denied herself enough food, rest, love, companionship, and gentle thoughts of doing nothing. Life was about goals and achievement, being heard and seen. She denied herself solitude, fearing silence was not golden but a terrible curse that she couldn’t escape. Some day she would have what she most wanted in life, and when Miley knew what that was, she could set her goals and devour the time to get there.

A man walked by and stopped in front of Miley, facing her left as if looking down the street. She almost asked him if he was looking for something. She stopped, berating herself for opening up for pointless conversation and the fight to get rid of him. She kept her eyes on her cup of sinful decadence and pretended to study where her spoon should dig next. 

The stranger was dressed all in black. It matched his long raven hair. This mysterious fellow obscured Miley’s view with the side of his hip – well muscled. His legs were strong, his shoulders broad. Just what she didn’t need; another muscle man jackass to rip her insides out and leave her alone with her pain and regret. 

“Miley,” his voice assaulted her awareness like the slow rumble of distant thunder.

Miley shuddered. How could he know her name?

“May I sit down with you,” he asked.

“It’s a public place. Set where you like,” she replied. Her voice seemed foreign and full of rude subtleness. She watched as he blotted out the sun and descended to the brick border of the planter. He sat a respectful distance away and leaned forward, his face in his hands, thinking about something – Miley had no clue. “How did he know my name?” The thought haunted her with unease and made her ice cream seem cloying and sticky in her mouth. A memory of her subversion by another man’s passion slid across her mind’s eye and she felt nauseous. She scooted over, just a few more inches. 

The man didn’t look up or move. He didn’t acknowledge her. The black-clad figure sat with his face in his hands, tortured by something she couldn’t imagine and didn’t want to know. 

“Don’t do it, Miley,” her inner voice scolded.

“Who are you? How did you know who I am?” She asked with a timid voice full of dread. 

“I warned you girl,” The voice in her head fumed at her weakness for curiosity. 

He lifted himself up and looked into her face. He was calm and expressionless. Miley tried to read him. Her heart raced with the fear a woman has when she falls under the gaze of a stone-hearted predator.

His gaze held her frozen, not knowing what would come next. Miley’s mind urged her to run away. The interloper’s posture held her captive, like the squirrel waiting for the hawk to leave. He looked down at Miley’s trembling fingers. She pushed them into her lap and abandoned her ice cream. Those eyes. They looked through her. They were like black obsidian gemstones fixed into twin settings; the eyes of Horus, she thought. It spoke and Miley felt the voice resonate in her chest.

“I am everything you fear and everything you need and nothing you want. I am the thing you look upon with disdain and give thanks you are not me. I am the beggar you taunted and the wealthy gentleman whose confidence you stole, thinking he had plenty of money left to carry him away in more luxury than you could afford. I am the love you never had and the pain you suffer to deny. I am the opposite of you, Miley. I am love in the darkness and I am only seen by you.”

His words came to her like a reading of some ancient manuscript that revealed some astonishing secret about her only she had known. It was the poem of Gilgamesh, the Poetic Asatru Edda. As she fell unwittingly into listening, into captivation, into mute silence, his voice shifted and she felt the words and saw them in her mind. His story showed her in the embrace of Krishna stretched out on a tiger’s pelt in a park where the trees were in the full bloom of spring. The air was sweet and fragrant and they practiced the enlightenment of pleasure according to the Kama Sutra.

“I am the boy you admired along the Danube river as our Tribe pushed west across Europe to Scandinavia to escape the Hordes from the Steppes of Asia as they swept everything aside like the floods of angry storms. I am the boy turned to the man who left you at the shore of Bergen Norway as our longboat sailed from the Fjord to Britain in search of glory and wealth.”

His story unfolded in epic vistas of history. She did not know when he had come closer and lifted her hand buried between her tightly held thighs. The hand that drew her into a spell swallowed her fingers with a touch soft and warm. Miley was afraid to look at what they were doing in this strange park where trees cast flower petals like snow. She felt no fear, only longing; the longing she had worked so hard to flush from her life. Now it was back stronger than ever.

The captivated tribal girl tilted her head down and listened as he neared her ear and whispered things; lovely things she didn’t want to hear, and could not resist, nor look away.

“I am the kiss, the bite, the intensity of striking your skin and spontaneous sounds unbidden.” 

Miley felt his tongue barely touching the peach fuzz on her skin. He drew mandalas on her with fingers that burned. She felt the licks and bite, the rhythm of men in their frenzy of lovemaking. “What the hell is going on?” She thought, but it was too late. 

“And who am I in your fantastic story,” she asked.

“You are the innocent girl across the river, the virgin mistress in the park adorned in the silk and spun cotton of your Lord and Master. You are the betrothed whose man has abandoned you for the glory of war, the dutiful wife, the mistress, the madame, the woman divorced from her divine nature.”

The obsidian eyes paused and waited. Miley read hunger in the reflection of her face in glossy pupils blown out to the edges of equally black irises. Did she pick up the faintest scent of his clothes; patchouli? Sandalwood, evergreen forest, wet stones, forest moss, and something sweet like masala chai wafted across her as a breeze from a passing car stirred the air. 

“Would you like to come with me to my place? I want to hear more about us, about you,” Miley asked.

“Not yet, he said. When your heart is full and you have found that the love inside you is the greatest gift you possess, I will come back to you, and this time, I’ll take you with me.”

Miley’s eyes stung from the rejection. She was ashamed for stepping out of her guarded nature to risk her heart with a stranger. Worst of all, Miley had no idea why she asked this goth-looking asshole to stay with her. She could not look at him. She would not show him how he won her over with his charming story and when she gave in, he rebuked her. 

Miley’s breath came in a shudder and she grew angry she might cry. She looked up to confront this cruel trick, but the man was gone and all she could see or hear was the people busy with each other, the sounds of commerce, and the songs of insects in the air. Her damned ice cream melted too.

Tribal-014

Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there anymore.

Robin Hobb, Fool’s Fate.
Image Source: Jef Cablog, Stream Dweller

Tribal

Chapter 14

Roads Go Ever On 
BY J.R.R. Tolkien
 
Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen,
And horror in the halls of stone.
Look at last on meadows green,
And trees and hills they long have known.

Difficulties 𝍔 & On The Verge 𝍓

Wet earth and decaying foliage could not hide the odor of smoldering death. Zara moved up from the gentle slope of the stream to an old trail used for many years. She examined the tracks along the path running in both directions and determined the marks were old. Only one human track was recent. It was a man as large as Sgt Holmes; only the imprint was from a foot clad in leather made from the python’s skin. A tribal man.

Zara followed the scent of death that beckoned her toward the opening of a large cave. A vibration in her tracking watch halted her search. Zara scanned the jungle around her as she felt three long pulses, code for where-are-you. She pressed the upper right button that sent her grid coordinates back to Sgt. Holmes, so he could get a fix on her location and move the squad up to where Zara was. She darted up the embankment to the cleft in the wall of stone and eased in. Steely eyes adjusted to the dark as Zara sniffed the hell welling out of the ground from an opening in the sandy floor.

Lying on her stomach, Zara peered into the hole, then pulled her laser baton, put it on low power with wide dispersal, and illuminated the narrow gap. Far below was water filled with skeletons of people and animals. It was an underground cave cut out from eons of rainwater flowing from the rock of the mountain above. She took off her tracking watch and threw it in the pit. She kicked the sand and made claw marks at the edge of the hole to make it look like a struggle took place. She saw the cave formed where the stone split open, and another stone fell and lodged overhead. She jumped up with the grace of the leopard, caught the ledge formed at the top and hand over hand, she traversed the cave, swung out on the left face of the exit, leaped to the right, and began to climb up the steep grade to the forest above.

I am free, she thought. I am free. Tears streamed down her face as her taut muscles strained in the climb until she could stand. Before her was the falls and the verdant valley she was told of by her mother. Zara paused to catch her breath and hurried into the jungle treeline to hide among the leopards, pythons, and giant lizards that hunted everything that moved. Holmes would not look for her if he fell for her ruse.

❂❂❂

The team stood dumbfounded around the hole where Zara must have fallen in. Somewhere trapped under all those bones and rotted clothing, hide and hair, Sgt Holmes’ dreams of settling down and raising a family evaporated into a vision of Zara’s last breath. He hid his emotions in a hardness that his men could not penetrate. The men bowed their heads with the shock of losing one of their own to this damned jungle doing a shit mission for a scared Colonel. “Let’s go, men. We have a job to do.”

“Do you want me to call it in, sarge?” One of the men asked.

“No, not yet. Let’s just keep going. Zara got us to the gorge; we’ll do the rest for her,” Holmes replied. He reached down to his radio transceiver and turned off the signal from Zara’s tracking watch.

The squad moved in silence along the river up the gorge toward the falls. Their anger and loss smelled bitter from the sweat that soaked their uniforms and gear. Murder filled their eyes that held only dispassionate boredom before.

❂❂❂

Ezra climbed out of the cockpit and looked at his finger. The drop of blood the health scanner had extracted would bring the giant lizards. He wiped his finger on a small stone and threw it on the other side of the river to distract the scaly beasts.

Rae hugged Ezra and thanked him for helping her. He smiled. For Tala Rae, he would do whatever her life demanded of him. Eggman, however, grated his nerves a little. This invisible demon must be a demigod, one of mischief. Ezra could see that Rae trusted and adored this enigma; he decided not to trouble himself with Ralph’s presence. When Rae released him from her embrace, Ezra walked downstream with the softness of Rae’s voice lingering in his mind.  He must do his duty to watch for predators and place his desire for Rae’s love in a safe place for later.

“Rae, you have to hear this. Get back into the seat and put the headphones on,” Ralph called out from the speakers in the cockpit.

“Why, What did you find?” Rae asked.

“Please hurry your bootie up,” Ralph pleaded.

“Ralph!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Captain. This damn spell checker AI for my text to speech converter is on the fritz again.”

“Can’t you turn that damn thing off and just go naked,” Rae scolded.

“By your command, I am naked as a newborn baby,” Ralph replied in his best obedient voice.

“That’s more like it, wait, what? Nevermind, what did the scan say?”

“Rae, Ezra is as healthy as they come. His biological age is about 22, but his chronological age is 34. He is one super-duper-uber dude, Rae.”

“That’s good to know,” Rae said, her voice trailing off into thoughts of Ezra in anticipation of something more disturbing coming next.

“His DNA is 99.8 percent the same as yours. He is Eosian, and genetic markers make him the son of Dr. Ramos, the explorer. His maternal record is indigenous Eosian origins.”

After a long silence, Rae strained under her breath. “Dr. Ramos disappeared 40 years ago on a mission just like ours.”

“And was never found,” Ralph added.

“That means Ezra has family back on Eos, Rae said. If we get rescued, I have to convince him to come back with us.”

“If we get rescued?” Ralph asked. His question hammered Rae. How would she break this to Ezra? Will he understand what this means?

Rae watched Ezra’s stoic face as her mind raced over what to do. She concluded as he walked up to check on her, she would not leave him, no matter what came their way.