Monday, August 18, 2014

Chapter Six of Gottesland

HE FELL TO THE LOFT FLOOR and lay still, listening; the wound in his shoulder open and bleeding onto the rough wood of the loft that was covered with grain, straw, and mouse droppings, tiny bones of the owl’s prey, and the chalk stream of pigeon dung.
In the barn below, fighting men, horse soldiers, were laughing and joking in a rough patois of Swiss German about one of the serving girls at the cantina that a sergeant fancied. These men were not Black Robes, he realized, as he listened and absorbed their language, learning yet another language through the aid of the demon’s gift; they were Totenkopf and any fight at the clearing with the Black Robes was over and these men had defeated them through sheer number rather than prowess.
Even though they sounded friendly with their jokes and laughter, a type of prejudicial bonhomie exuded from the interstices of their complex syntax, causing Stern to decide that trusting them would be a mistake; just as he had begun to harbor a suspicion of Birgit and Bleak. As quietly as possible, he crawled to the open loft doors and looked out on the clearing next to the cantina, searching for a way down and an avenue of escape. The horse soldiers had picketed about two hundred horses in two straight lines near the edge of the woods opposite the cantina and its outdoor tables. Twenty or so men worked there with the horses, spreading hay for them to eat and rubbing them down. Across the clearing, on the opposite side, underneath the wooden arbor with its lattice top, fifty or more soldiers gathered in smaller groups, resting and eating, as Carnes’ serving girls scurried in and out of the building, carrying food and drink to the men and simultaneously swatting away the rough hands that reached for their hips and legs. Akna was not among them. He was glad she was not there with the soldiers but he was also worried she was not present.
From the cantina, Birgit, wearing a white cotton shirt, open at the neck, gray jodhpurs, and high-top black cavalry boots emerged with a man he did not know. The man was not in uniform; instead, he wore riding boots, brown cotton pants, a gray shirt and a black short-waist jacket, like those worn by the gauchos in the south. They walked close together, casually bumping together in the intimate way lovers have when they stroll down the street on a Sunday afternoon, as they moved beneath the arbor and headed slowly in Stern’s direction. He pulled back from the edge of the loft, afraid that Birgit would see him, but they stopped at the edge of the arbor, still below the lattice work of the frame roof above the tables, and looked into each other’s eyes as if they about to kiss.
But before their lips touched, as they leaned toward one another, from the open barn door directly below him a tall man wearing a black sombrero and officer’s tunic called out to Birgit in Spanish. It was Bleak and she turned at the sound of his voice and shadowed her eyes with her left hand. She then called out in a sort of a shrill screech, like the warning cry of an ape, and started running toward the barn. Bleak walked away from the door of the barn toward the woman, surprised by her reaction, and noticing her glance toward the top of the barn, turned and looked up to see Stern. Their eyes met and there was some message conveyed; perhaps, a look of relief, thought Stern, or surprise. Then he called out to the men in the barn in German that there was a man in the loft; and, almost immediately, the ladder rattled, as the soldiers climbed into the loft with guns drawn. Stern raised his hands, surrendering to the Totenkopf that now surrounded him.
Bleak soon joined the men with Birgit right behind him. Placing his hands on his hips, he sighed, as Birgit pushed pass him and rushed to Asa’s side. “Gunshot to the shoulder,” she said, pulling him into a seated position. Probing his back firmly with her long fingers, she continued: “And it’s still there.”
Bleak moved closer and asked: “How serious is it?”
She moved toward the ladder and said, “I’m going to get everything ready. Please get him down without killing him.”
Bleak turned to the men and ordered: “You heard her; take him down below.”
Stern said, “If you help me to the ladder, I think I can get there on my own legs.”
Bleak frowned and said, “Heinrich, help him to the stairs.” Then he turned to the young soldier with blond hair, “Muller, climb down the ladder a ways and help him.”
With Heinrich’s and Muller’s help he reached the ground and then walked slowly out of the barn toward to a wooden tables under the lattice work that Birgit pointed to before she ran toward the cantina for her medical bag. Upon her return a few minutes later she spread a white sheet over a table and waited for him with her sleeves rolled up, a black leather apron on, and her surgical tools lined up before her. Next to her, Akna, who had somehow appeared without his noticing her and looking extremely worried, placed a porcelain bowl of hot water and a bar of soap near the end of the table. With a long white towel draped over her shoulder, she stood at the end of the table waiting for Birgit to tell her what to do. As he approached the table, Stern tried to engage her with his eyes but she refused to look at him and he wondered what had happened to her since he had disappeared into the dragon’s cage.
“Cut his tunic and shirt off,” said Birgit to a young man with dark skin, a thick mustache, and large brown eyes, who ran to Stern’s side and took his arm away from the soldier, Muller. As soon as Stern stumbled to the table, the man helped him sit and then instructed Muller and Heinrich to hold his arms away from his body. The young black man then took a pair of large scissors and began cutting away Stern’s tunic. Somewhat helpless and about to faint, Stern looked at Akna, whose eyes where wide with fright. When he finally gained her attention, she whispered, “I’m sorry,” in the Argyll language.
“I will be fine,” he assured her and then felt himself passing out.
Birgit called his name and then slapped him, startling him back to consciousness. “Drink this,” she ordered, and he took the vial of dragon skin she offered him and drained it completely. Immediately, he could feel the elixir warming his body and he remembered the dragon curled in the cave beneath the falls at the mere. He wanted to ask Birgit about the potion and tell her about the dragon; instead, he felt an injunction arise in his conscious mind, forbidding him from mentioning either the dragon or the demon. Secrets were accumulating exponentially and he felt a severe speech impediment foreclosing their discussion to Birgit and Bleak. Had the demon somehow placed a lock on his mind that would prevent him from disclosing their discourse or was his sub-conscious mind trying to protect him from people he did not truly know or trust.
With his clothes cut away, the two burly soldiers helped him lie on his back on the wooden table, as Birgit washed the wound and he black man moved aside to allow Birgit to see the damage .
Drying on her hands on the towel, after cleaning the wound, Akna moved away and Birgit leaned over him and said, “How do you feel?”
“Better, since you gave me the potion,” he answered.
She smiled and said, “You have had a rough go of it the last few months, haven’t you?”
He nodded and smiled wanly.
She reached into her black medical bag, which the black man placed near her, and drew out another vial of elixir; one containing a white milky substance.  “This is the milk of the poppy,” she said, handing him the vial. “It will put you to sleep.”
He drank the bitter concoction down in two gulps and instantly felt its deadening effect, as it entered his blood stream. Conscious, but just barely, he saw Birgit open the wound with her scalpel and then take forceps and dig out the mini-ball in his shoulder. He passed out for just a moment and then he awoke to Birgit sewing the wound together; he was thankful for the poppy because he could feel the tug of the needle through his skin, not the pain he would have felt without it.
“Are you back?” the woman asked, as she worked on the wound. “I’m trying to suture this in such a way that you have little or no scarring.”
Everyone but the black man was gone, who stood close to Birgit waiting for her instructions. Stern looked away from the two, trying to distract himself from the ravages to his flesh. A mosquito net had been hung over him to keep away the flies and through it he spied a large moth on the outside against the cheesecloth. Was it the demon’s messenger, watching the surgery?
“Why are they now trying to kill me?” he asked the woman.
“They think you are possessed by a demon,” she said softly. ‘Pandemonium has wreaked havoc on this realm since the last war: dragons from Okeanus, death from radiation and germ sickness unleashed in the far east, then the Argylls, your race, arriving from another galaxy seeking refuge, and finally complete collapse into barbarity throughout the civilized world. Only their belief in the Pope and his God has saved them from total destruction.”
She tugged on the suture and handed the scissors to the black man, saying “Marco, please clean and bandage the wound.”
As the assistant cleaned the wound, she sat on the bench and washed her hands in the porcelain basin.
“Why do you act as if you are not one of them?” he asked.
“What do you mean,” she said with a knowing look. He read it to mean she knew what he was asking but she wanted him to guess or to figure it out on his own.
He did not take the bait and remained silent. Finally, she crossed her legs and said, while drying her hands, “Marco, leave us.”
The black man tidied up the area and left. When he was gone she said, “Bleak, Harpo, and I are not one of them. We are members of the Category.” She paused and he did not say anything, trying to draw her out and talk about what was going on around them. Finally, she continued: “Bleak told you that the night he met you.”
“I don’t know what that is,” he said.
“Bleak was the first one of us selected by the Valkyries over seven hundred years ago.”
He heard what she said about Valkyries choosing a dead Bleak to serve but he didn’t know what to make of the statement. Was she really saying Bleak was over seven hundred years old, died in battle, and then was reborn to serve a god? The Valkyries served Wotan, he remembered from his early classes on mythology. He was about to say that was impossible but he thought about Kokabiel, who seemed very real to him. So, he reasoned, if demons exist, then perhaps so, too, do gods.
“Bleak died in Berlin in 1945 and was reborn. The Valkyries came for him and assigned him to track down Herr Wolf, the leader of Germany. He brought me into the Category in 1992 because of my husband, Jacques Oiseau, the man who discovered the dragons.” She paused and then explained. “He didn’t really discover them, they were already here. He didn’t know that but that’s another story, recorded elsewhere. Bleak needed a liaison with Oiseau so he brought me back from the dead to work with him.” She took a deep breath and looked over at him sheepishly. He smiled, as if to say, “I’m listening. Please continue.”
She nodded and said, “Wolf, after his escape, opened the first portal to Pandemonium with the stone, causing things to go awry on this plane.” She smiled as if she had made a joke of some sort but he was unable to follow it. Everything she said was new to him and he was unable to follow it. It was without context. It was like reading one of those interminably long fantasy trilogies in the wrong order. He cleared his throat and tried to lift his head but he was still weak; instead, he turned his head toward her and asked: “What do I have to do with any of this?”
She stood and handed him another vial of the dragon skin. “You are still very weak,” she said. “Rest and we will answer your questions tonight when the witch arrives.”
He drank the vial and closed his eyes. Suddenly he felt very tired and before he fell asleep, he thought: a witch.
He awoke at twilight. Lanterns sputtered and he could hear the men gathered at the tables, eating and drinking. Unlike before, he felt much stronger. The dragon skin had performed a miracle yet again.
He sat up and placed his bare feet on the ground now covered in fresh sawdust; they had cleaned up the blood and bandages. His mouth was dry and he possessed a great thirst and hunger.
One of two soldiers who helped him earlier sat under the arbor near him nursing drinks. He couldn’t remember their names. Others, not eating, watered horses or stretched out under the tall hardwoods at the edge of the clearing taking a siesta.
Night descended and cicadas rattled in the trees and a slight breeze blew across the flowing river. The remnants of the battle with the Black Robes had been cleansed and purged from the clearing and an idyllic peacefulness lay upon the camp. Gas lamps hanging from the arbor’s lattice roof sputtered. Neither Akna nor any of the serving girls were visible; instead, the patron and two of his sons hurried back and forth among the soldiers, filling steins, causing Stern to suspect the man was keeping the girls away from the soldiers now that night approached.
He rubbed his head and wrapped a sheet around his naked body. He did not feel strong enough to approach the tavern owner and ask for something to drink. He remained standing and surveyed the grounds, trying to remember what she had said. It was something important but now he could not remember it. Something was going to happen tonight, he remembered that much. Someone was coming to meet him. He licked his dried lips and took a step toward the tavern keeper. No one seemed to pay him any attention, which was just as well. If he could have marched out of the camp and back to the river he would. But naked and wounded he felt he should stay put. Besides, he thought, someone was coming to meet him. Someone important, she said. And he was very thirsty and the men were drinking beer.
Carne noticed him walking through the tables under the arbor, wrapped in the white sheet, like a ghoul, risen from its grave. He crossed himself and approached the man, thinking he should reach him before he fell. Stern saw Carne coming toward him and he muttered out a request for water. The man nodded and bowed his head and turned toward the cantina. He had a pitcher of beer in his hand and Stern licked his dry lips again, imagining the cold beer and wondering why he asked for water when the beer would have tasted so much better. He bumped against a wooden bench jutting from beneath one of the long tables, as he waited for the man to return with the water.
The soldiers now noticed him standing there and one of them with corporal stripes on his jacket hurried toward a large pavilion-like tent pitched beneath a wide willow tree across the clearing from the cantina and near the horses. He is running for Birgit, Stern thought.
Somewhere in the south thunder rumbled and he turned his attention away from the corporal and Birgit and, instead, peered through the thick foliage of the cantina’s arbor to the night sky above. Rain was coming and something else too, he thought, as he picked up the distant reverberations of a mechanical hum approaching from the north. And, then, he remembered what Birgit had said: a witch was coming to see him: one of the luna bruja from the stone citadel at the mouth of the Big Muddy, north, beyond the great Anglo wall.
He shuffled from beneath the arbor into the clearing and peered through the darkening haze toward the north to catch sight of the twinkling lights of a flying machine approaching at a very high speed. He had heard about the ornithopters the witches flew and even tracked down pictures of them in an ancient text in the library but he had never actually seen one. Now, even though he was tired and wounded, his curiosity was peeked and he desired to see one of the incredible machines.
Soon the machine appeared: its running lights shed enough illumination to reveal the shimmering feathers of its wings in the night sky. The craft was much smaller than he imagined; just large enough to seat two, the pilot and a passenger, that were visible through the transparent carapace of the insect-shaped machine.
With a sense of awe, he looked over his shoulder, back toward the tent, to see if anyone else had spied the tiny craft approaching the clearing. Birgit, along with Bleak and the other man, the one he had seen her walking with near the cantina, emerged and moved toward the center of the clearing, where the corporal met them, spoke a few words, and then raised his arm and pointed toward Stern, standing beneath the arbor. Birgit nodded and the waved at him; a feeble salute to acknowledge she saw him standing near the table where they had operated on his wound just hours before. Then the four of them moved toward him and he prepared himself. However, as they walked, he realized Birgit was watching both him and the approaching craft. As she moved her eyes from machine and then him, he could tell she was excited as well as nervous at the appearance of the witches. But that did not explain why she alternated her gaze between him and the little airship with the diaphanous wings. Somehow, she communicated a certain trepidation for him. Not many people had ever met a lunar bruja and lived to tell their story so he thought she was trying to gauge his reaction to the meeting. Or maybe she feared he would try to escape. After all, the witches had a fierce reputation for causing mayhem. Some rumors circulated they were vampires that murdered indiscriminately and from time to time turned human men into their slaves, their soldiers, or the pilots of their ornithopters.
As the craft, shaped like a giant grasshopper, circled the clearing several times, Stern could see two figures in the ship’s seats, scanning the clearing and the woods surrounding it. He imagined they were checking the area for the possibility of an ambush. But an attack by whom at night, he wondered. Where did the lunar brujas stand with the Black Robes or the Mexican army for that matter? They were creatures of the north and as far as he knew they had never crossed the great wall. All the stories he had heard linked the lunar brujas with the other monsters that existed north of the Rio Bravo or west of the Rio Concho.
Finally the craft’s engine slowed and the pilot brought it down in the very center of the clearing. From the way it landed softly on the thick grasses, Stern could tell the ship weighted almost nothing. Only the small engine and the materiality of the passengers seemed to possess substance; everything else seemed to be fragile and translucent, illuminated by some inner light and the sputtering gas lanterns around the clearing. From the ship's carapace, a thin, tall woman emerged. Barefooted, she gingerly stepped onto the rough grass and then ran her pale fingers through the thick mass of black hair that hung loosely to her narrow shoulders in a feeble attempt to bring it to order. At first, Stern thought she was nude but then he realized she wore a shear sleeveless silk burgundy dress with a deep V-neck that exposed her pale skin and hung loose from her narrow shoulders and then was cinched tight by a wide belt at her waist that secured a scabbard, supporting a long narrow sword. The dress’ material waned and winked, appeared and disappeared, shimmering as she walked: at one angle it resonated with a deep ruby red hue and then it shifted into a light rosy transparent sheen. Magically adorned, she walked away from the idling machine toward the pavilion tent but not too far; instead, she stopped and Stern thought she waited for the pilot to extinguish the motor, and with it, its running lights. To confirm his thoughts, the man climbed from the cockpit in one fluid, athletic move. He was tall, like her, with black hair cropped close to his head and clean-shaven cheeks. Wearing a semblance of a uniform, which was all black, with a silver dagger as the only weapon on his left hip, he took up a position of defense behind her, on the left. But Stern wondered who protected whom: she stood like a swordsman, with a loose stance, her feet somewhat apart and square on the grass. He imagined her pulling the sword from its scabbard in one fluid move and performing a riposte. They appeared an equal match to the blond Birgit and Bleak. Light and dark, he thought, opposed to one another on a cold night in eastern Mexico.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Will Full

the urge to speak
lures me
to the podium

and the darkness
of the hall
absorbs my voice

desire leaks
like treacle
into the void

and my fantasy
in repose
on a leather couch


I lust
for an ear
to hear

but fear
its reception

as a frustrated deception
of my inner conception

Friday, June 27, 2014


would you recognize
the wreck that writes
these feeble words
with goose quill

so gray and grim
worn and wracked
by time’s passing
like a stone
washed by wanton waves

I think not

turn away from this husk
and wait
for its coming ghost
to gift you with its bequest

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Chapter Five of Gottesland

FEET FIRST and unconscious, he sliced the water and sunk slowly into the depths of the mere that formed at the base of the range of hills in the northern region of Puebla.
The mere was deep; formed ages ago by the eruption of the now dormant volcano above it. Its bottom hollowed out from pitted volcanic rock added a dank darkness that enveloped him.
Touching the bottom, he burped a bubble of air, the last in his lungs, and then awoke. Panic filled his mind as he struggled for a way up. And then a tiny fish with large teeth bit his cheek and his panic evaporated, as the demon’s voice emerged from the fish’s toothy mouth. ‘No air, no sound,’ he thought but he understood the voice in his head anyway.
Do not swim to the surface. Death awaits you there,” said the fish. “Follow me if you want to live.”
The fish swam off toward the west and traversed the fall’s foam and bubbles to a hole in the wall of the mere and he followed, gasping for air but refusing to panic. The hole was the opening of a tunnel that led upward into a cave above the water line. He was saved.
He pulled himself out of the water and struggled onto a rugged shelf of volcanic stone. A opening thirty feet above his head allowed enough light to partially illuminate the cave’s surface.
Out of the water and now safe, he began to shiver from the cold. His whole body vibrated and his teeth clacked together. Shuddering and wracked with chill he stripped off his clothes and circled the floor, waving his arms and lifting his legs high to provide some warmth to his body.
As he moved he began to curse the demon, the Black Robes that shot him, Birgit, who abandoned him, and God, in particular.
“What the Hell am I doing here?” he shouted and then stopped and looked up at the opening in the stone. “Idiot,” he sputtered to himself, realizing they might hear him having his temper tantrum. “Am I the biggest fool, who ever lived?” he said, sitting down on a stone. Then, he felt the pain in his shoulder. In the shock of the fall and then cold water he had been numb to the pain but now he felt it and he shuddered anew. Touching the wound he examined the fresh blood on his fingers. “Jesus,” he almost cried, “I will bleed to death in this hole and no one will ever find me.”
Your father found himself in a similar predicament,” said a large white moth, emitting a white soft light, as it fluttered down from the hole above his head.
Stern sat on the rock and wrapped his arms around his chest and said, “I know little or nothing about my father.”
The moth fluttered and the demon spoke through him. “The citizens of Camaron sentenced him to death by starvation and exposure. They then threw him into an abandoned well and left him to die.”
Stern imagined he was hallucinating but he was curious about his father so he asked: “Did he die there?”
The moth landed on his knee and slowly waved its wings. Others descended into the room and a larger one came to rest on his hand and said, “He was saved by the god, Coyote. Do you know him?”
“The trickster god of the indios, right?” he sputtered.
The moth on his hand did not answer but another one lighting on his foot said, “That’s right; Coyote saved him with his own rope. He pulled him out of the well but that is only the beginning of the story.
Stern felt light-headed now and lay down on the stone.  “I will be dead soon,” he thought.
Another moth landed on his head and said, “Your father was wounded just as you are now and then he died. But the lunar bruja brought him back.”
He lifted his head enough to see the whole floor of the cave was covered with the white moths. He licked his lips and then crawled to the edge of the cavern’s floor and drank water from the mere.
“He died?” he said to the moths and they answered: “The lunar bruja brought him back and sent him to Okeanus.
He did not have the strength to crawl back to the rock; instead, he passed out where he lay; his long blue-black hair floating gently in the water with the sharp-teethed fish nibbling at the hairs, biting off the ends.
He dreamed of Coyote, who asked him if he knew the story of the Elk monster. “No,” he said, sitting cross-legged next to a feeble fire fueled by Oryx dung. “Oh, you will love this one,” Coyote said, rubbing his hands together, before he began the tale. “If you pay close attention you may find a way out of this cave,” he said with a wink. “I had just died and been re-born for perhaps the thousandth time when I awoke on the yellow stalk grass of the Dakota prairie, hungry and horny. ‘Where is Mole woman?’ I asked with a stretch and yawn.
As Coyote told the tale in the dream, he acted out the actions. Stern smiled, pleased with the trickster’s performance.
“I hallooed out through cupped hands, like this,” he said and then hallooed. “Mole woman come feed me and then hump me.” The Coyote laughed at this; he had tickled himself with his vulgar expression. But vulgarity was one of his major powers.
“I heard a rumbling and the prairie shook, as Mole Woman tunneled toward me. She was coming from the south, from the Commancheria, in a great hurry because she longed to see her mate, the god Coyote.
“Finally, she arrived and popped her head from her tunnel beneath the prairie. ‘Coyote, I am here,’ she whispered and I laughed in happiness to see Mole woman.
“She was quite small and I had to struggle to enter her tight entrance to the underground but I was hungry and a great lust was on me so I forced myself inside.”
“Mole woman was assiduous and her tunnel was smooth and clean. She fed me tortillas and beans and then we mated; our love-making was long and furious. Afterwards, we slept wrapped in each other’s arms in a snug burrow she had carved from the tunnel.
“Badger woke us days later with a tale of Elk monster rampaging hills north of us and I thought it fortuitous that he had come because I was ready for a good fight. I rubbed my hands together and told Mole woman to find Elk monster. She smiled and began digging.
“We tracked down Elk monster and found him fighting Grizzly Bear on the side of a mountain stream. Grizzly Bear had been fishing and Elk monster wanted to take away his fish.
“When we were beneath them I popped out of the tunnel and hallooed for the two to stop fighting. Shocked by my sudden appearance they did.
“Elk monster asked: ‘Coyote how did you get here?’
“I answered: ‘I walked across the prairie. Didn’t you see me? Have you grown so feeble and blind you didn’t see old Coyote walk up to you?’
“Elk monster was confused and Grizzly Bear used the diversion to escape into the woods.
“Mole woman appeared in the distance as I instructed her and I said, ‘Look yonder, people are gathering to attack us.
“Elk monster squinted and said, ‘let’s get them.’
“He swung his shield onto his back and picked up his bow and spear and we set off toward Badger woman.
“A little ways down the hill, Elk monster fell into a hold dug by Mole woman and he couldn’t climb out. I said, “Hand me your weapons and I will help you out.’
“Stupidly, he passed up his spear, his shield, and his bow. And, of course, I took his spear and stabbed him through his left eye and into his brain. We stripped him of all his possessions and Mole woman covered up the hole.”
Stern awoke from the dream, shocked by the sudden violence , and rolled over onto his stomach and crawled away from the edge of the water. He raised himself on his hands and knees and vomited, spewing the vile liquid across the floor, which caused thousands of moths to flutter upward.
His body was feverish and he shook from chills. He sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees, which he brought close to his chest. ‘Where had that dream come from?” he asked himself. “Was there any help contained in the story?’
The light from the opening far above his head dimmed and he realized that the day had almost passed.
His clothes were still damp but almost dry. He pulled them on, hoping they would provide some warmth. His wound no longer bled.
A moth said, “Remember Coyote.” Then all of the moths rose and flew through the opening in the cavern’s ceiling into the darkening night, leaving the cave pitch-black. He could no longer see his hand.
He sat in the darkness, shivering with fever and thinking about everything that happened to him since the attack in his room. Hours passed as he remembered every detail, wondering how he could have avoided this mayhem. Many times he simply shrugged his shoulders and accepted that he might be insane.
He fell asleep and then he awoke to a movement from the water. Above him, first light of dawn illuminated the mouth of the hole; just enough to allow him to see forms and shapes in the cave.
Water erupted and spray doused him, as a pregnant blue-back dragon rose from the water and climbed the rocks of the cave’s ledge.
Although weak, Stern jumped back and edged toward the far side of the cave. It became obvious to him through some unknown sense that although the dragon was aware of him, she did not intend attacking him. He knew this by the way the yellowish light emanating from her eyes softened. He relaxed and leaned against the wall of the cave and waited to see what she would do.
The pregnancy weighed the beast down and she had trouble moving on the rough stones, her stomach large and distended. Stern guessed she was about to birth her offspring and he did not want to be around when that happened.
The dragon waddled to the center of the cave and lay down, wrapped her body into a circle with her long barbed tail touching her nose and fell asleep. Stern, although hurt and weak, edged around the cave toward the water. He decided he should try to swim to the surface of the mere; a daunting feat for a man in his condition but better, he thought, than being roasted by dragon fire.
Almost to the water’s edge, he paused when he became aware the dragon was watching him. He took one more step and the dragon sprayed a line of liquid fire across the floor, blocking his way to the water. He moved back to his place against the wall and the dragon closed her eyes and fell back into sleep.
Something was definitely up, he thought. The dragon did not seem menacing but she also was not going to allow him to leave her lair.
A moth fluttered down from the hole above and landed on the floor near him. “Think,” the moth said. “What aligns you with the dragon?”
Supposedly, he thought, his father was on a mission for the Black Robes to discover the source of the dragons. But that was apocryphal or so he always believed. The woman, Birgit, had fed him an elixir called dragon skin but that, too, was certainly metaphorical. Or was it? Could the dragon believe he was one of her kind? When she sniffed him, did she smell dragon? Finally, it didn’t really matter what reason the dragon had for not eating him. He could not stay here much longer. Wounded and cold, he had to find help.
The moth lifted up and said, as it fluttered toward the hole in the roof, “Remember Coyote’s story.”
He scratched the stubble on his chin and thought about Coyote’s tale. Should he burrow his way out? Impossible, he laughed. Or should I find the entrance to yet another tunnel? And then he thought about his session in the library reading the Grimoire of Shadow and his entrance into the other realm.
He looked about him and found a small rough stone, which he used to open the wound on his shoulder. With the blood, he drew the magic diagram and closed his eyes as he remembered the letters and their place in the magical formula. When it was complete, he said the word, “Exigo,” and a timeless space, ein Bezirk, engulfed him.
He was in a cavern still but not the one under the falls. No dragon slept on the floor nor was the cave dark and dank; instead, torches illuminated the space and it was warm.  A tall, thin humanoid stood a few feet opposite him and he noted its strong aquiline features, its thin pale lips, its nose, shaped like a falcon’s beak, its eyes, almond-shaped and hazel in color and its pointed ears, very much like his own. The creature wore only a leather kilt with five or six golden bracelets on each arm and one on each ankle. Its bare skin was bone white.
Barefooted, it approached Stern; and, when it was only a foot or so away, it said, “I am Kokabiel and you are in a Bezirk of my making.”
“You are the voice in my head” said Stern, somewhat startled at seeing embodied the voice that had been helping him since he was twelve.
The demon bowed.
Stern walked about the room. There were neither walls nor windows. As far as he could tell it was as sealed container.
The demon waited patiently as he examined his surroundings and then said, when it seemed that Stern had exhausted his investigation, “I need your help, Asa.”
The boy turned to him and said, “What can I do for you?” he ran his hand nervously through his thick hair. “I am a helpless mess.”
The demon laughed and said with a smile, which revealed his pointed teeth and black tongue, “You are connected to the Grimoire of Shadow. In fact, on a magical level it is yours. Only you may handle it now.”
The boy was confused and said, “I don’t have it.” He paused before continuing. ‘I never had it. I read part of it but I left it in the library.”
Kokabiel nodded and said, “You didn’t read it in the library. You read it in a Bezirk, a magical space I created from a spell from the Grimoire of Thorns. I opened a space in a monastery library in a castle on an island in the world known as Okeanus and you opened it and read it there.”
Stern shook his head and confessed: “I didn’t understand a word you just said.”
The demon laughed dryly. “Magic is a combination of words and blood. Many times wizards, magicians, warlocks write spells down in books, known as grimoires, to protect the spells from disappearing. Demons never write things down but often we use magic that mortals concoct.” He waved his hand in front of him, palm down, and a chair appeared and the demon sat; he crossed his legs and said, “I am a great collector of magical books. However, from time to time one slips from my grasp. For instance, I once let a very valuable book escape me. I gave it to a mortal to achieve access to your world and now it is lost to me.”
“So what help do you want from me?” asked the boy, wishing that he, too, had a chair.
The demon read his thoughts and conjured up a chair for him.
“I want you to retrieve the Grimoire of Shadow and bring it to me in the Argantine,” he said.
“Why can’t you just go and pick it up?” asked the boy innocently.
The demon frowned and the room’s heat increased by a few degrees. The boy did not notice because everything about the encounter was so strange.
“I cannot enter a world without an invitation of an inhabitant of that world,” the demon said softly. “I am not here. I am projecting an image of myself into your space.”
The boy reached for the demon to test his statement and his hand passed through the image sitting on the chair in the center of the Bezirk.
“You see,” said the demon, “I am an image in your Bezirk.”
The boy thought for a few moments, playing the demon’s word in his mind. He had a sense the demon was telling him more than he was saying. His words were like a poem that needs him to perform an explication de texte to reveal its meaning. When he thought he found the points of obfuscation, he asked: “When you say it’s my space, what do you mean?”
The demon smiled, as if to support Stern’s request for clarification. “You created the space from your reading of the text of the Grimoire of Shadow and the application of your blood and your words; consequently, the power of the space is yours, not mine. In fact, I have no power here at all.”
“So how are you here?” said the boy, growing somewhat excited by the thought that he might be able to wield some sort of power.
“I have been privy to your mind since I gained access to this world through a promise I made to your father; a promise to keep you safe. Wherever you are, I can project an image or an ear to hear.”
“You have mentioned the promise before,” said the boy, wondering what circumstances caused his father to bargain with the demon. He was about to ask the question, when something told him not to ask. He did not know if the warning came from the demon himself or from some other force. All he knew was he felt strongly that if he tried to interrogate the demon, he would be truly sorry. So, instead, he said, “How do I use the power of the Bezirk to escape the dragon’s lair?”
“Remember the dream of Coyote and Mole Woman,” said the demon. “Use the space to create a tunnel between one known space and another.”
The boy thought for a moment and then asked: “Are you saying that I can create a passageway between where I am now and a place I have been?”
The demon nodded in the affirmative.
“How can I do that?”
The demon said, “Imagine a place where you have been and then force your will against the wall of this space and watch the space expand toward that remembered place.”
Asa had an excellent sense of direction: he always seemed to know the direction of true north so he pictured his current location and then imagined the barn where he met Akna. Once he had both places firmly in his mind he willed a passageway toward the barn and, a few minutes, stepped back in amazement, watching the wall of the Bezirk elongate and stretch itself forward into the semblance of a tunnel that inched inexorably toward the southwest; the direction he remembered the barn and the cantina.
As he watched the passageway that was neither in time nor space, he asked: “How do I exit the Bezirk?
The demon smiled and said, “You must mark the beginning and the end to establish the tunnel’s existence and then you will call for a gate to open on the command of your choice.” The demon paused. “All these things and more are contained in the Grimoire of Shadow.”
Stern realized that the demon was giving him a taste of power, hoping that it would cause him to seek out the book of magic. Very obvious, but very apt, he thought.
Principium written in blood at the beginning and exitus inscribed at the end will complete the passage. Choose whatever word you want to gain access or egress through a portal and write it on the wall in your blood.”
As they talked, the tunnel continued forward and he said, “How will I know when the passage is complete?”
“It will stop and a space identical to this will form,” answered the demon.
Asa opened the wound on his shoulder and wrote the word for beginning in lingua on the floor. As he worked at the letters, he decided to ask about the dragon.
“Why didn’t the dragon attack me?” he said.
“Ah,” responded the demon. “It is the dragon skin elixir in your body. She thought you were a dragon.”
“You know about the dragon skin?” he asked, finishing the word on the floor.
“Of course, it is in you so I must know it,” he said sharply.
His tone startled the boy so he asked: “What’s the matter? Why have you changed your tone?”
The demon modulated his voice, probably because he did not want the boy to know anything bothered him. “The one who fed you the dragon skin is a mortal enemy. She is a member of the Category.”
“I have heard that word before but I have no idea what it means.”
But before the demon responded to his statement about the Category, the passageway stopped with a shudder, and the demon said, “You have reached your goal. Be careful and come to me in the Argantine as quickly as you can.” His image then disappeared and Stern suspected he left because he had said too much and wanted to escape the boy’s incessant questions.
Stern started down the long stretch of tunnel. He advanced slowly through the passageway; the shoulder wound had opened again and he felt weak.
Hours passed and he had to stop several times to rest. Once he fell into a feverish sleep and dreamed of Coyote and Mole woman, making love on a vast prairie. It was a graphic dream and he awoke covered in sweat and very thirsty. The thought he might die in the Bezirk crossed his mind. What would happen to his body if he died in no space and no time?
A day passed within the tunnel. No time passed outside, when he had reached the end. He drew the word “Mara” on the wall and then he said,”Exitus.” A portal opened that shimmered and vibrated. On the other side he could see the wooden floor of the barn’s loft, the place he had hid with Akna. He stepped through and shivered from some sort of mild electrical charge as time and space reasserted their power over him.