Different Floors of the House

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Guiseppe's Crossing--Final Installment

Installment Two is Here
Installment One is Here
Part eight—Nails

The floor shook so violently it echoed in the dying man’s ear and woke him instantly. Something was happening. Repetitive throbs of pain pulsated on the back of his skull. Someone was screaming—not the dying man. Successive blows landed on his face now. One, hard, sharp blow fell on his forehead, then another to his neck and another crushing blow to his cheekbone. The blurred vision of awakening faded into the black of dreamless sleep.

We he woke again he pushed himself quickly against the wall and grasped the sill of the window, trying to pull himself up. There was a hooded, cloaked figure squatting at the portal. In one hand, this man held a hammer, in the other, a long, curved knife.

“Do it!” The intruder yelled. “Pull yourself out that little window and fall to your death. Do it! I want to see you try it!”

The dying man’s hand slipped from the window and slumped down onto his lap.

“Bastard.” The hooded man stood up and slowly approached the dying man, bent over like a warped shadow. “You should have done it. I will even help you.” The dying man tried to pull his arm away but the hooded figure swung the hammer quick and pinned the hand to the wall. The wall creaked. The dying man moaned in pain. The knife whirred and sparkled as it came to his throat.

“Let me tell you something.” The hooded man put his spitting face against the ear of the dying man. “I don’t like you. I don’t want to give you anything, murderer.”

The hot, wet breath of the hooded figure reeked of animosity. “That is what you are, is it not? Murderer?” The blade stung and the cold steel of the hammer crushed the bones of his hand against the wall.
“Why should I?”

The hooded man removed the hammer from the dying man’s hand and pressed it into his temple. The dying man felt the vein in his temple throbbing against the pressure of the hammerhead.
“Why should I help you?”

The dying man was crying. He tried to speak through spit.

“What are you saying to me, swine?”

The dying man again tried to force out words but only began to cry louder.

“That’s right, cry. Cry you little swine bastard!” The hooded figure raised the hammer to strike.

“Poor me!” The words came out as the dying man slumped over into the dark corner of his little wooden tree house.

“Poor you! Poor you?” The hooded man dropped the hammer and grabbed the dying man by the chin, yanking his head up. The dying man saw his face, his angry, burning face. He was the one. This hooded man was the one that yelled out “Murderer!” when he was hanging on the tree.

“Poor me.” The dying man repeated in a defeated whisper. The hooded man loosened his grip on him and dropped his head. He sat there shaking his head, whispering the words to himself: poor me, poor me, poor me.

“Yes.” He said. “Yes.”

He let go the dying man, gathered up his hammer and walked over to the portal in the floorboards. He stopped for a moment before leaving and stared blinkingly at the dying man.

“Poor you.” He said, then he descended the rope.

The dying man heard yelling outside. He pulled himself up the wall and brought his eyes above the window sill. The hooded man was yelling. He was yelling into the desert and kicking sand. He was not forming words, he was just yelling and rampaging. The hooded man dropped to his knees and began pounding the sand with his hands. Sand flew into the wind. The yelling continued but eventually became just gasps and squeals.

Finally, the dying man saw the hooded man crawl over to the lean-to the young Bedouin had slept in the night before. For some time the hooded man lie there, piling sand onto his body with his hands. The dying man himself began to cry, even louder than before and the hooded man looked up to the window and saw his eyes peering out. The hooded man jumped up, grabbed something out of one of his bags and ran toward the rope. The dying man squirmed his body back into the dark corner, crying and hiding his head with his arms. The rope made the house creak and shake as the hooded man ascended it.

The hooded man did not enter the tree house. He stuck his head above the entry.

“I made this for you.” He said sharply. He threw something across the room at the dying man. The dying man flinched and hid his head. Something hit the floor with a clank then slid until hit the wall under the window.

The house creaked and rocked again as the rope swayed underneath it. The dying man pulled his heavy body over to the window again and picked up the object. It was a leather string, bound in a circle like a necklace, and there, at the end of it, it was wrapped around two nails. The dying man peaked up and out the window again. The hooded man was lying there under the lean-to. The dying man slid his body down and sat up against the wall. There he caressed the jagged nails. He felt the imperfections in the mold of them that had caused him so much agony. He ran his fingers over the nails again and again while looking out the other window onto the deep blue waves of the sea. And then he closed his eyes and slipped the necklace around his neck.

Part nine—The fare well

Days and days passed and with each day came a new guardian at the base of the tree. They brought water and food and clothing for the dying man, and every now and again they brought a game to play with the dying man or they brought furnishings for his tiny home. Soon his house had chairs and lamps of oil and even a small cot, which was much preferable to the straw matte the dying man had been sleeping on. They strengthened the bindings of the house and coated the roof with tar and sand—which helped to keep out the wind, the rain (if ever it came) and the insects.

Like the house of the dying man, the tree itself gained benefit from the water the Bedouin people brought. Soon the tree was sprouting many, many buds and after some time, leaves. Near the end of the season, the tree even bore some small, strange fruit, but it was inedible due to its infancy. “Next year,” they said, “next year it will flourish and we will eat its fruit.”

And like the tree, the dying man himself began to grow in strength and regain the use of his hands and legs, for everything was provided to him so that he might recuperate and live. And live he did. And although he never regained the full strength of his voice, he could still force out a word now and again if he needed to, and in this, he was content. He was not required to do anything, save stay in that little house atop the tree.

One day, the young Bedouin who had befriended the dying man months before came to stand guard.

Together they played backgammon all the day and laughed and ate fresh fish from the sea. But when the day was ending the young man placed his hand on the shoulder of the dying man and sadness overcame him.

“We are leaving.” He said softly. “Our time in this place is done. We will head toward the rivers to the east and stay there at length.”

The dying man pulled his shoulder away from the young Bedouin, stood up and began pacing in his confined space.

“Don’t you understand?” The young Bedouin rose and tried to put himself in the dying man’s view. “This means you are free. There will be no one here to guard this tree.”

The dying man shook his head and looked away from the young man.

“You could just go!” The Bedouin tried to convince the dying man. “You could just walk out of here and go free!”

But the dying man plopped himself down on his cot and hid his eyes in his hands.

“I want to know your name before I go.” Said the Bedouin. “It is possible for you to tell me your name?”

Without hesitating, the dying man looked up to the roof and tried very, very hard to say his name.

“Juh…” He stammered, “Jah…Jah…Jah”


The dying man shook his head and continued trying.

“Sehpay!” He yelled out. “Sehpay!”


The dying man nodded. “Guiseppe.” He said.

“Guiseppe, my name is Karim.”

Guiseppe nodded then looked out the window into the night.
“I am sorry, Guiseppe.” Said Karim before slowly retreating down the rope to his station. Guiseppe huddled himself in his cot and lay there for hours, unable to sleep.

The young Bedouin woke up in the middle of the night to a clanking, scratching sound. He looked toward the tree and saw the dying man standing in the shadows. The dying man held a sword above his head, the Bedouin’s sword with both hands on the hilt, the blade pointed straight down, with its tip at the belly of the dying man.

“Guiseppe don’t!” Cried Karim.

With great force Guiseppe thrust the sword downward, but he missed his torso and the blade struck the hard clay at the base of the tree. Then he raised the blade again. The Bedouin closed his eyes and turned his head away. Again, the sound of the blade striking earth rang out. The young man rose to his feet to investigate. Guiseppe lifted the sword again, and again he struck into the dirt. He was digging.

He blows to the earth fell harder and faster, sand and clay flew. The dying man had penetrated less than a meter into the ground.

“Why are you digging there?” Asked the Bedouin man.

Guiseppe did not attempt to reply, he simply kept heaving the sword up and down.
“You’re not supposed to be off the tree.”

Guiseppe stopped digging and pointed to his feet with the sword. He was standing on a large root of the tree. The Bedouin laughed.

“Well, what are we digging for?” He asked.

“Yes.” Gasped Guiseppe, panting.



Now it was Karim who was speechless. He stood there for a moment, watching Guiseppe stab at the hole. Then he frantically tapped his digging friend on the shoulder trying to get him to stop digging.

“Look!” He stuttered as he yelled. He pointed and waved his finger at Guiseppe’s feet. “Look there in the hole!”

In a crack of the hole there emerged a small purple glow, no bigger than a grain of rice. It scurried around in the hole blinking bright violet. Then another scurried out of the crack, and another. Soon the hole was filled with an electric purple swarm. The swarm buzzed in a low, harmonic tone and amassed along the rim of the Guiseppe’s pit. More and more came out and they filled up the hole until they overflowed and seeped out onto the desert floor. The Bedouin stepped backward as the swarm came close to his sandaled feet. Guiseppe stepped up higher on the root and grasped on to the trunk of the tree. Then the swarm gathered and exited the hole and floated like a cloud into the dark of the desert, illuminating the sand under their path. And then they were gone.

The two men shook their heads and raised their shoulders. But almost immediately something magnificent happened. The cracks of the hole gave way and out of the hole gushed a powerful jet of water. The water sprang into the air, making rain.

"Well!” Yelled Karim and he grabbed the hands of the dying man and they danced around the fountain at the base of the tree.

“Well!” Said Guiseppe, laughing.

They danced in the rain.

Soon though, the fountain lost pressure until it was a small, but constant bubbling of water.

After they danced and rolled around in the mud laughing, the two men covered the waterspout with rocks. The Bedouin said he would travel to the caravan the next morning and request to stay and help build a well at the spring.

And he did. And they said yes. In fact, the entire caravan came to see the well the next morning. They too laughed and danced in the water when the rocks were removed. Children ran and jumped in the water and played almost all day.

At the end of the day, when it was time to say farewell to the caravan, a certain number of them had decided to stay at the spring to help build the water well.
And so, after weeks of digging and damning and forging, they built a well. And this was the beginning of stationary life for these people, for when the well was done, they were able to water the trains of other travelers for a small fare.
And the tree grew and made fruit and then they sold that fruit as well. And they planted seeds and grew more trees. And soon, in the middle of the desert, miles from the sea, an oasis was awakened. And they called it Guiseppe’s Crossing.

Part ten—The unspoken “S”

Within months of the discovery of the well, roads had been worn down in the sand around Guiseppe’s Crossing. Buildings were erected for living in and doing business in. Pens for herds and coops for flocks were constructed. In the center of the oasis, the earth had been excavated and a pond of fresh water was maintained and constantly replenished.

All the inhabitants worked, even Guiseppe. And although Guiseppe was not paid for his labor, his house was maintained and he was allowed to keep some of the fruit from his tree for his own edification. At times Guiseppe wished he could have a house and a family and leave the tree, but Karim, his young Bedouin friend who had by now become the magistrate of this oasis, insisted the command of Sul al Val not be breached, for he feared the ruler although he had never seen neither him nor his army.

For three years, the oasis flourished and gave hospitality and trade to the travelers along the coast. The oasis grew to a small city and its inhabitants sought new ways to increase their fortunes. They burned sand into glass and dug mines for the shiny things of the earth. It didn’t take long for the news to spread to distant lands of the value in Guiseppe’s Crossing, but there were some who hastened its popularity.

Bal Ramin was one of these people. He was the man who made the necklace with Guiseppe’s nails. Bal Ramin wanted, of all things, Guiseppe’s house in the great tree. And every time Bal Ramin saw Guiseppe climbing out on a branch to collect fruit or leaves (for these held value as well), he would throw rocks at Guiseppe, trying to cause him to fall. When confronted about this by Karim and the others, Bal Ramin insisted he was only having fun with Guiseppe and meant him no harm.
One morning, before anyone else had risen for the day, Bal Ramin climbed the tree and began knocking off every fruit and leave he could reach with a sharp stick. He was as quiet as he could be about it, but the falling fruit woke some of the people in the oasis. When they apprehended Bal Ramin, they summoned Karim to deal with the vandal.

“Why are you doing this, Bal Ramin?” Ask Karim with sad eyes. “Why do you wish to destroy this tree?”

“It is not the tree I despise!” Screamed Bal Ramin, looking up at the window of the treehouse. Guiseppe was watching out the window but retreated into the house upon hearing this.

“Why do you hate Guiseppe, then?” Karim grabbed Bal Ramin’s face and turned it away from the tree house. “What has Guiseppe ever done to you?”

“You don’t know anything!” Bal Ramin fought free from the men that were holding him and ran out of the oasis into the desert. Some men chased after him, but came back without him some time later.

Worry and concern crept into the oasis but it was soon forgotten as the days went by and Bal Ramin did not return.

Guiseppe grew disheartened though, because his tree had been ransacked and the only fruit that remained was too high or to far out to harvest. The townsfolk consoled him by bringing him other tasks to do. He sewed. He fixed things. He counted beans. He spent most of his spare time staring out his window across the desert, the direct the purple swarm—and Bal Ramin had gone.

The people of Guiseppe’s Crossing designated a day of festival to forget their troubles and to celebrate their good fortune in the desert. A great tent was constructed and entertainers came from hundreds of miles away to participate. Peddlers came to sell their wares and the great culinary masters of the east came and created a great feast.

It was on this day that Guiseppe was allowed, for the first time, to leave the tree of his confinement. They needed someone to corral the livestock and tend to the teams and flock. Guiseppe was just happy to be let out.

The music played deep into the night. Drunk men stumbled out of the tent with a woman on each arm. Some people got too rowdy and had to be sent home. But, for the most part, the celebration was full of joy and merriment. Until the raiders came.

While harnessing a camel to a rail, Guiseppe spotted something at the top of the sand dune to the south. A light. A torch. Then more torches joined that one and soon there were twenty or more torches. They came galloping down the sand like a ball of fire in the night. They screamed and yelled and rode through the oasis knocking people over with their feet and running them over with their horses. Guiseppe ran to the tent and tried to yell but no words came out of his mouth. He ran toward the center of the tent, waving his arms and pointing in all directions. Some people stood up and told him to get out. Karim, who was dancing with his young wife, saw this and ran toward Guiseppe. The minstrels stopped playing and everyone in the tent heard the commotion outside.

The bandits rode through the town throwing torches on buildings. They ran into some buildings and exited minutes later, their arms full of whatever they could carry. Karim and Guiseppe came out of the tent just as a young boy was snatched up in the arms of a raider and carried away. “Bal Ramin!” Cried the young boy before he and the raider that bore him disappeared into the darkness of the night.

Buildings burned. Dead bodies slumped over in the pond of the oasis. Women cried. Angry men shook their fists. Some of the men said it was the bodyguard of Sul el Val, come to wreck them for letting Guiseppe off the tree. They called it a curse and pointed their fingers at Guiseppe and Karim. Karim told them that it was Bal Ramin, that the boy had yelled his name before being whisked off, but they were reluctant to believe this because they had grown up with Bal Ramin and didn’t believe him capable of murder and kidnapping.

A counsel was held and after much deliberation, the elected representatives of the oasis people decided that a watch needed to be set and that patrols should be maintained at all hours. They would place guards at the four corners of the village and on the dunetops. And they would place a guard, twenty-four hours a day on Guiseppe’s rooftop, for that was the greatest vantage point in the oasis.

They did all these things, but the raiders returned. And having the superior advantage of weaponry and horses, they inflicted great harm upon the village.

A new counsel was called and the elected officials decided that they needed to build a forge for weapons and shield and that they had to build a wall around the oasis to help protect it. And so they did. It took months, but Guiseppe watched them build the wall from the foundation in the sand to the parapets that reached the height of his house. He watched out his window as the warrior merchant from across the sea trained men how to fight, how to thrust a weapon and how to kill. They made Guiseppe construct fletching and bowery in his house, and he did it well. They made him sharpen sword and spears, and he did. Then they placed trained soldiers on the walls and throughout the city, so that no matter where Guiseppe looked, there would be a soldier and his spear. But even after these things were done, the bandits, lead by Bal Ramin, returned.

Silver spears glistened as they flew through the night sky. Arrows of fire took flight and rained down on Guiseppe’s tree and on his house. The clash of sword on shield, the crack of steel on iron brought chaos and the screams of defeat. Women and children suffered, the elderly were slain on their knees. Horsemen were thrown from their mounts onto beds of waiting blades. The dust of war and smoke of fire clouded the air and the lavender moon turned red. This was the end.

Guiseppe slipped down the burning rope and grabbed the sword of a dead man. He charged, yelling an inaudible warcry, toward two horsemen at the gate. But they did not meet him in battle. They ran. They reared their horses and rode back up the dune. There they were joined with a handful of other raiders. Then they left. The oasis was theirs for the taking—but they rode off.

Guiseppe searched all the bodies at the wall. None were alive. He went to the main street, it was littered with dead men, women and children. He heard a faint cry from the direction of his tree. He saw there an armored man lying at the trunk of his tree, writhing in pain. Guiseppe ran to the man and removed his helmet. It was the warrior merchant, his face bloodied and burned so bad he was hardly recognizable. He looked at Guiseppe before he died. Guiseppe got up and yelled out: “Karim! Karim!”

“Sul al Val!” Came a reply. Someone was running up the street yelling. “Sul El Val is coming! He is minutes away!”

It was the peregrine monk who had given medicine and cleansed the wounds of Guiseppe on the tree. He ran up to Guiseppe, stumbling, panting.

“Sul al Val is coming, he’ll be here soon. You must run!”

It was then that Guiseppe noticed the monk was wounded and bleeding badly.

“You must go.” Panted the monk.

Guiseppe turned and looked in all directions.

“To the sea.” The monk cried. “You must go to the sea and hide in the mist.”

Guiseppe helped the monk lean against the tree when he started to fall down.

“Wait though,” said the injured monk “help me with this.” And then he grabbed hold of the nails that hung from Guiseppe’s neck and yanked the necklace off. He leaned against the tree with one arm and put his other hand under the arm pit of the warrior merchant. “Help me! There isn’t much time!”

Guiseppe helped the monk lift up the warrior monk and strip him of his armor and clothing—down to his loincloth. The hoisted his dead body up the tree and pinned his wrists to the lowest branches of the trunk with the palms of their hands. They pounded and pounded the nails in, flesh on metal, over and over until they bled and the nails sunk in.

“Give me fire,” said the monk, crying, “quickly now, get me fire.”

Guiseppe retrieved a burning arrow and brought it back to the monk. The low rumble shook the earth. It increased in magnitude quickly.

“That is him.” Said the peregrine monk in a wimper, “that is Sul El Val’s army coming to destroy this already destroyed place.” He put his hand on Guiseppe’s chest and pushed him away. “Now go! To the sea!” And with that he stuck the arrow of fire in his eye with a great thrust and lunged forward to cling onto the warrior merchant as he burned.

Guiseppe lingered there momentarily, gazing at the tree. It was charred with smoke and smoldering with fire. It was as barren as they day they had hung him on it. He looked at the burning house he lived it on top of that tree and the burning monk and warrior that hung from it now. Guiseppe dropped his eyes to the ground and saw the glimmering sword of the warrior merchant.

Guiseppe took up the sword of the warrior merchant and the bag of the peregrine monk and ran away from the smoldering tree toward the sea. As he crossed over the last slope of sand before the water he saw two distant figures scurrying along the beach. They saw him running and they waved.

He ran down the sand toward the two waving men, kicking up sand and looking over his shoulder as he flew. One of the figures, an old man holding a black satchel and having a scholars crest on his robe, took the dying man under his arm. Together the three of them scuffled down the beach a ways in the mist. After traveling with the two for a while, Guiseppe, the dying man, stopped. He bid the travelers goodbye and turned around. Then he walked away as the two travelers stood and watched him disappear. There he traveled forward in time, for there was nothing left for him in that place.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Guiseppe's Crossing--Second Installment

Installment One is Here
Installment Three is Here

Part Four—Consensus and utterances

The fourth day brought heat like none of the prior. Even very early in the morning, the blistering, exposed skin of the dying man became irritated and made him nautious. But the pain was not altogether excruciating. Whatever medicine the peregrine monk had applied to him the day before had helped numb his sense of pain. Certainly, he was very uncomfortable and his wrists were sore beyond the cure of any drug, but the completeness of his agony had been subdued and opiated.

There was something else that aided the dying man on this day as well. He noticed a small bud on the branch to which his right arm was nailed. It was a mere tiny, green spurt of growth, glistening in the sun. He bent his head as far forward as he could toward the ground and pondered the dried blood on the roots of the great tree. A slight smile came about his face—but that was fleeting. Anger filled his eyes after that. And after that he tried not to sweat—which was, of course, an endeavor of futility and impossibility.

It was on this day, the day of the budding, that the Bedouin sent a delegation out to the tree of the dying man. They came, about fifteen of them. They kept their distance from the dying man because they were told about the diseases of foreigners. They talked at the dying man for hours into the day, but he said nothing in return. Then finally, a young man and his two brothers approached the tree. The two brothers boosted the other up into the mangled branches of the tree. The first thing this young man noticed was the small green budding on the branch. He smiled at the dying man and said:

“We’ve come to get you down from this inhumane torture.” He continued to smile. “But we need to make certain that you pose no threat to our children.” The dying man still said nothing, he didn’t even grunt. It seemed to the young Bedouin that the dying man was staring past him, at the burgeoning growth at the end of the branch. The young man looked down to his brothers for counsel, but they both shrugged and shook their heads.

“Do you speak my language?” Asked the young nomad.

The dying man nodded.

“He nods!” The young man yelled out to the delegation. The crowd murmured and mumbled.

“I will bring our physician up here to unbind you?”

The dying man shook his head. And then he seemed to nod his head, but he did it frantically, as if pointing downward with his chin.

“Is there something down there?”

The dying man nodded but then tried to utter a word but no sound formed in his voice.

“There is something!” Said one of the brothers standing near the bloody base of the tree. “There, in his loincloth!”

The young Bedouin shimmied down the trunk a bit and retrieve a blood-stained parchment from the only piece of clothing the dying man had been afforded.

He opened it up slowly, so as not to destroy it.

“What does it say?” Asked the contingent. “Read it to us!” They demanded.

“It says,” started the young man, “By decree of the high lord and most exalted master, Sul al Val, ruler of these lands and the people therein, the following: This man, being subject to the laws of these lands, is sentenced to bear out the rest of his days on the tree of Malachi in the desert of Zoab. Let it be known that any person or person’s happening upon this living criminal shall not take part in letting him down from this tree. For this is his punishment until he is dead.”

A bevy of responses ensued. Some said “that is that” and wanted to leave immediately. Others asked who this Sul al Val was because no one there had ever heard of this ruler or his power over any man. Some others demanded they let the man down and bring him to the caravan. But there was no consensus.

The young Bedouin, seeing the discord among his peers, turned to the dying man and asked him if he could try to talk, for it would help them decide what to do.

“Tell me what crime you commited.” He said softly into the dying man’s ear. “Tell me so that we can decide what to do.”

Then he leaned his ear near the mouth of the dying man because it seemed he might say something.

And he did.

“He speaks!”

More murmering and mumbling.

“What did he say?” Asked one onlooker.

But the young man looked confused and shook his head.

“Was it profane?” Inquired another.

“Was it decipherable?”

“Was it didactic?”

“Did he curse you?”

“How many words?”

“Tell us!” They yelled.

“Two words,” the young man informed them, “he spoke only two words.”

“Well, what were they?”

They all grew quiet awaiting the answer. The young man stood there silent for a few seconds before saying anything.

“Meep oar.” He said calmly. “He said: “Meep oar.”

“Meep oar? That doesn’t mean anything at all!” They yelled.

“This is child speak!”

“Barbaric utterance!”

“What language is this?”

No one was certain. These traveled men, who had been introduced to nearly all the languages of the world, found it hard to unravel the meaning of these words. But after some time, one member of the group thought he might recognize one of the words.

“There is a language from way beyond our world in which an oar is a stick that rows a boat!” Said one after some thought.

“Yes!” Replied another, “maybe he was on a boat called the ‘Meep’.”

“That sounds possible,” said another, “maybe he killed the captain of his boat with an oar!”

“He’s a murderer!” Said two or three onlookers at the same time. Then others joined in, whispering the word “murderer” to each other.

So finally a consensus was reached. They would leave the dying man on the tree to his fate—for fate is how they viewed it. Only the three brothers and a few others were unimpressed by the delegation’s decision. But, they were in the minority, and had to succumb to the wishes of the group.

“I will see what I can do.” Said the young man to the dying man. “We will bring wisdom to these unengaged vagabonds. Do not die.”

Then the three brothers left the dying man and followed after the rest of the group. They consoled each other and patted each other on the back as they disappeared from the dying man’s sight.

Part Five—Happiness is a construction

Days passed in the desert. The sun, a whipping flame warden, crept and increased the day’s length. The moon flew by, an orb of chill mockery. The birds, cruel harbingers, cawed the song they caw on death’s eve. As the days passed, hunger waxed and with it grew the pain and sorrow and anger of the dying man. Through all this however, the fledgling bud grew and a toddling hope piqued.

Do not die.

And he did not.

They are coming back for you.

And they did.

True to his word, the young Bedouin returned with his brothers on the third day since they had left. On their shoulders they harnessed sticks from which dangled bags of food, water and other bundled supplies. The dying man, ever distraught by his hunger and pain, managed to smile at them as they approached his tree and climbed up with food and water.

He drank and ate and took medicine. The effects were immediate. Strength returned to him. The three brothers then unwrapped long boards that they had carried on their backs. Then they unsheathed hammers and brought out small pouches full of nails. They then produced a saw and another saw of very sharp steel. This initially brought fear into the eyes of the dying man. He wondered if he had just received his last meal. But this was not the case.

Through the hot day, the brothers climbed the tree to the thickest of the very high branches above the dying man. And through the day they hammered and sawed and sawed and hammered. The dying man could not see what they were doing, but above him a shade was growing and his tortured skin was relieved, at least in part, from the stinging brand of the sun.

With their work completed near the end of the hottest part of the day, the three brothers climbed down to the dying man. Using harnesses they had created, they surrounded the dying man.

“This is going to hurt, my friend.” Said the young Bedouin. And with that, the other brothers clasped their hands around the nails that bound him to the tree. The dying man fainted before they even began pulling.

When the nails were dislodged, the brothers set to work cutting the barbed wire from around the dying man’s body and plucking the barbs from his body, one by one. The dying man awoke as they were hoisting him upward toward the tree house they had built for him that day. Great twinges of pain filled the dying man’s body, and as he ascended the tree his blood began to seep out of the holes left by his puncture wounds.

After pulling the dying man into the tree house they medicated and bandaged his wounds, gave him some hash powder to help him sleep and set down some straw for him to sleep on. Becoming very drowsy, the dying man motioned for the young Bedouin to come close to him.

“Thank Ew.” He whispered in the young man’s ear.

“Are you satisfied, then?” Asked the Bedouin.

“Happy.” He said. Then he slept.

Part Six—A far, better place

The dying man awoke the next morning on his back. This pleased him and he laughed out loud—which hurt very much, so he laughed a little softer. Around him were four wooden walls, a wooden roof and a wooden floor with a wooden hatch with a wooden handle that could be lifted for coming in and going out. The room that had been constructed for him was approximately eight feet from south to north and near twelve feet from east to west. It was not a lot of space in this little wooden cell, but it seemed like a castle in the sky to the dying man. There were two square windows cut into the southerly and northerly walls so that he could see over the dune to the south and out to the sea to the north.

From the hatch in the floor a rope dangled. The rope was laced with intermittent knots up and down it, presumably for climbing. The dying man pulled himself up to the south window when he saw a wisp of smoke pass by it.

Down there, at the base of the sand dune was a small campfire burning. Huddled over it was the young Bedouin man. There was a lean-to, a makeshift shelter nestled into the slant of the dune.

“Hello?” Said the dying man in a weakly voice. The young Bedouin turned his head toward the window and waved and smiled.

“Good morning! Good morning! How are your injuries? Do you need medicine?” The young man got up and slung a leather bag over his shoulder.


The young man briskly climbed the rope and entered the dying man’s treetop house. He laid the dying man back down on the straw and began changing bandages and applying ointment all over his body. He had brought a robe for the dying man, but he declined it due to the pain it would cause. After tending to the wounds of the dying man, he fetched a broth he had been brewing and slowing fed it to the dying man with some olives and bread.

“We were able to sway the people toward a new opinion.” He said softly as he lifted a spoonful of broth to the dying man’s lips. “We’ve reached an agreement of sorts. I persuaded them to realize that the decree of the ruler who put you here was to do exactly that—keep you here…on this tree.”

The dying man raised his eyebrows and nodded.

“Yes. You see, you are meant to be kept on this tree, that is what is written, but the manner of your incarceration was not defined.”

“I see.” Said the dying man.

“So, we decided to build for you this house and to take up your care. It is the right and moral thing to do, we think.”

“I see.”

“We were also able to form a consensus on how were going to help you.” The young Bedouin continued. “We have agreed to all chip in a little bit to help you recover. All of my people are giving a little bit to this cause, for we think it is right.”

The dying man looked for a moment at the face of the young benevolent Bedouin, the dropped his eyes toward the floor.
“Thank you.” He whispered.

“Not necessary to thank me. This is the right thing to do.” The Bedouin caressed the wounds on the dying man’s neck and forehead. “I see you’re regaining your voice.”

“Words…come hard.”

“I know.” The Bedouin’s voice was soothing and consoling. “I know they do.”

There they sat silent for a few minutes, gazing out at the white sands to the south or the hazy sea to the north. The young Bedouin continued to help the dying man eat and drink until he was content.

“There is one stipulation to our aiding you, however.” He placed the bowl of soup on the floor and bent down to look the dying man in the eyes. “You must stay on this tree. This is the commandment of your sentence, and we don’t wish to incur the wrath of the local magistrate or whoever it was that handed this fate to you.”

The dying man continued to stare at the wooden planks of his new house. He gave no response.

The Bedouin man grabbed the dying man by the hair and lifted his head sharply. “You must do this.” He said in a warning tone. “You must abide by this rule or we will not help you.” He let go his grasp and placed a gentle hand on the dying man’s shoulder. “This is for the greater good—for your own good.”

The dying man turned over and sat himself up against the thin wall. The Bedouin took a white robe from his bag and placed it on the dying man’s lap.

“Besides,” said the young man, laughing, “where will you go? The sea to the north is treacherous and all other ways lead to sand. Endless sand.”

He viewed the dying man with squinting eyes and reached out to wipe the sweat of his captive’s brow with a small piece of cloth. The dying man recoiled initially, but after a second stuck out his head and allowed the Bedouin to cleanse his brow.

Then they sat together in the tree house, saying little, until the sun fell. When the dying man had finally fallen asleep under his new roof, the young Bedouin made his way down the rope and lay down next to the hill of sand. He took from his belongings a long sheathed scimitar, placed it on his chest under a blanket, and lay in the sand watching as the violet blanket of night covered all the land. And then he slept.

Part Seven—Res Lumen

What do you know? The purple sparks dance and skitter across the desert floor like dusty sand in a summer gust. Alight in the darkness of the night. And no one is awake enough to see them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Guiseppe's Crossing--First Installment

Guiseppe’s Crossing

C.T. Lostaglia

©Liber Review, 2009

Comments to Lostaglia@msn.com or ctl@pdx.edu.

Part One--Borne into ruin

The frayed and dusty robes of the three executioners whipped in the wind as they passed over the shifting sands into the vapors of the desert. New sprinkles of windswept sands spilled over the trail of blood they left behind. The blood trail, already drying in the swelling heat, proved the purpose of the now distant trio of death bringers. The red trail ran back down the small sand hill, across a small patch of arid, sandless ground, and up the gnarled, leafless tree that suspended the dying man. Blood trickled out through his wrists, covering the nails that pierced him. Barbed chords strapped his limbs to the prickled, black trunk. He was not dead. But he could not move.

It was hot. The dying man’s skin blistered in the high heat. A slight wind caressed him with a thousand frozen teeth.

The dying man opened his mouth and screamed with wide eyes. His voice faded into a gasp.

He could only straighten one leg in his effort to break free—and that was an irreversible action. The barbs dug into the flesh around his knee and now new tributaries of cold blood shot out of him, ran down his burning skin and met the other cascading streams. He wriggled his heavy head about. His mouth was full. Pain breeds sickness.

The dying man scream out vomit and felt everything.

The pungent scent of blood and emetic bile clogged his nostrils and covered his cracking lips. Weakness enveloped his body. His strength had passed long before they hoisted his body up on this cross. But now, in fragments, he played out the scene of his beating in his mind. The straps of pain they covered him with and the celestial pricks of light that penetrated the sackcloth hood.

The killing three had removed that black hood from him before they left. They had carried it and all the blood it contained with them up the dune hill. They had cursed the dying man before they left. They cursed him to live. “Live.” They said. “Suffer.” They said. “Live long and suffer hard.” This is what the black-eyed assassins said through those vile, broken teeth.

And now, being bitten by the wind and tormented by open wounds filled with sand, the dying man wanted it to end.

But this man, this captive of life, could not die.

For all the bruises and gashes in his flesh, he was not dead. For all the blood lost, for all the will broken, he was still breathing. Heart pounding. Lungs pumping. Veins flowing. He was not dead.

He wasn’t dead yet even if the birds were coming. He shifted his eyes this way and that when he heard one of them in the distance.

“Die.” He whispered the word, but there was command in it. He would will himself to die.

“Die.” Again in a soft, angered voice.

“Die!” He screamed and spewed a sanguine spray of spit into the wind.

But that was all he could muster. His eyes closed. His head fell. He slept through the pains of the day and bitter naked of the night.

Part Two--Traveling ahead while staying behind

The sun was bright, but the day was not yet hot. The dying man lifted his eyes toward the ridge that hid the desert from his view. On the dune two figures seemed to be coming toward the tree. The dying man nudged his head up a little bit, he grimaced but managed to lift his head high enough to let it fall back on the trunk from which he hung. There were two people coming. One figure was much larger than the other and as the two approached, the dying man made him out to be a scholar of some sort. The black satchel, the learner’s crest…he was a teacher. The other traveler, no more than a boy, must be his disciple.

They came to the tree, stopped a few meters away from the dying man and uniformly tilted their heads, inspecting the situation in their scholarly way. The dying man grunted, an apparent attempt at speech. The elder scholar ruffled through his satchel and pulled out a book. The younger just stood there, tilting his head to the left, pondering, then to the right, pondering further.

“Well, we should help this man, I think.” Said the elder to the younger after

consulting his book for some minutes. The younger continued his examination of the dying man, the tree, and the dried blood.

“I think he is up there for a reason, sir.” The younger said.

“Why, yes. The reason he is up there is those chords that bind him so. And they seem quite capable of holding him there for weeks, if not months.” The dying man grunted again.

“I mean to say…it must be a punishment for some heinous crime.”

“Heinous, you say?”

“He must be a dastardly fellow, or why else would he linger there this way?”

“Disciple, are you suggesting that he could get down if he were motivated to it?”

“I am not certain. To get down would mean to dislodge himself from his piercing bonds. The pain might not be worth it to him.”

“That is reasonable thinking. You truly are my greatest student.”

“You jest. But really, I was talking about the cause for him being there, up on that hideous, dilapidated tree.”

“Ah! The cause, is it?”

“What do you know?”

“I know that, being men of reason, we simply cannot travel back in time to undo the cause of his situation.”

“Reasonable. Time travel is an impossibility.”

“Not necessarily.”


“Time travel is possible—is this a lesson you’ve learned by my teachings?”

“I have no recollection. Certainly I would remember such a profound lesson.”

“Well let me teach you then: As matter of fact, one can travel ahead in time. It is the traveling back that is impossible.”

“Will you teach me, master?”

“Indubitably. Watch this.”

The elder scholar lifted his head to the darkening violet sky and froze his body in place. There he stood, an akimbo statue against the purple panes of the universe. The younger scholar and the dying man (being intrigued by the prospect of traveling in any direction through time) watched intently.

A minute passed. Nothing was happening. The elder man was still standing there, hands on hips, smiling into the outer reaches of space. Another minute came and went. Then another. Nothing.


The elder removed his hands from his hips and laughed.

“See? I told you I could do it.”

The younger scholar shook his head, indicating he did not understand. The dying man grunted and coughed a dry cough.

“Ho ho! My young apprentice! You do not realize that when I began traveling in time the sun was just there above that naked bough. And now, a good five minutes has elapsed and here I am! I, my nimble-minded fellow, have traveled ahead in time.”

Amazed and enlightened, the young man rejoiced in the celestial prowess of his mentor. He fell to his knees and kissed the robe of the elder.

“Verily, you are a powerful man, Master!”

“Indeed, my boy. And one day I shall teach you how these things are done, but not today. Today, we have to help this man and go about our tasks of endeavor.”

The younger scholar rose and straightened his robes.

“Yes, master, but how should we help him if we are not capable of altering the cause of his situation?”

“Simple. We give him water and bread.”

“Yes! That is what we should do! Water!”

“And bread.”


The young apprentice took his wineskin and some bread up to the dying man and, after wrestling his way up the tree, slowly fed him the food and water. It was a difficult job, the dying man’s mouth was dry and swallowing was a painful task. The young scholar climbed down the tree when the water was nearly gone and rejoined his teacher.

“Let’s be off then.” Said the old man.

“Let’s do.”

“Master?” The young apprentice, pleased with their accomplishment and the master’s display of arcane power, had one more question. “Master, can you travel far into the future? Like, say, ten years or so?”

“Why yes, my lad, I can. But it would take a decade to get there.”

They walked briskly around the tree and continued their long travel toward the lush valley beyond the hills of the desert, for this is where they lived.

And this is how the dying man lived his first day, a day of agony, yet a day sustained, on his arboreal grave. It is true that he still wanted to die. But he wanted to die a little less than he did the day before.

Part three--Opiates of denial

The next day brought great pain to the dying man. He grimaced and flinched with every thought of moving an arm or a leg. His injuries did not simply sting like they had the days before. Now he could feel the nails and barbs inside him. The exterior pain gave way to inner pain—a more throbbing, excruciating, pulsating sensation. Especially painful were his wrists and the bones in his arms. The nails felt as if they might rip through his arms if he moved too much, so his every thought was on flexing the muscles in his forearms to prevent the rending of flesh. And this was a horrible task. His shoulders creaked with intensity, his muscles had to be relaxed every now and again or else they would quiver and he would lose the battle altogether. A careful balance between flexing the muscles and relaxing them had to be maintained, and when he slept—when he was able to put off the agony enough to sleep—he could only hope he would wake up before the nails proved stronger than his bones and flesh.

The one thing that helped him in this regard—ironically—was the barbed chord. The chord entwined his arms in such a way that, if he were careful, he could shift his weight, so very carefully, to alleviate both the pressure and the pain. This chord with its spiky teeth was wrapped around his torso and legs as well. He realized it was helping him survive. And staying alive became more feasible the longer he did it. Certainly he still had many, many moments throughout the day when he would throw his screams to the sky, or maybe he would cry softly into his shoulder, wishing either the heat of the day or the light in his eyes would just end.

On this third day of his crossing, at the height of the greatest wave of heat, another traveler happened by the tree of the dying man.

Curiously, the dying man spotted a hunched over figure on the dune-top. This silhouetted figure seemed to be brushing aside sand with his hands as if he were looking for something. At times the figure would disappear over the hill only to reappear a little later in the same hunched over state, still investigating the sand.

The dying man tried yelling at the hunching figure, but his voice was still powerless. Only raspy whimpers came out of his mouth. This, coupled with the anguish of his physical state, angered the dying man very much. His breath became erratic and his veins bulged, causing the bleeding to start again at the nails in his wrists and over certain parts of his body where the barbs had sunk in deep. He passed out.

The dying man awoke to a cold chill across his face. Water. Cold water. As soon as the brightness of the sun faded, the dying man saw a hunchback man hanging above him by his legs from a large branch. In one hand he held a small parchment and in the other, a wet cloth rag that was soiled with blood, dirt and sand. He smiled at the dying man and continued cleansing him. He was reading from the paper and chanting, all the while hanging like a monkey upside down. This new stranger wore the minimalist garb of a monk, the peregrine monks from across fertile plains beyond the desert. He began chanting in a strange language, maybe Latin, maybe Romanian—it was familiar, but not wholly recognizable to the dying man. The peregrine monk cleaned and bandaged the dying man’s wounds without unlatching one barb or pulling one nail. He then applied a medicinal ointment to the man’s entire body and gave him an oral anesthetic. All the time he was singing and laughing, talking in a deep voice (in a foreign language that was neither Latin nor Romanian) and making strange clicking sounds with his mouth. And then, his countenance fell.

The monk placed the soiled rag on the dying man’s head and gave water and bread to him, who took it apprehensively.

“Would you like me to hear your confession now?” Said the suspended traveler after the water was nearly gone.

No answer came.

The dying man blinked and then stared into the sun.

“Was it a crime of anger?”

No answer.

“Can you speak to me?”

No answer.

“Do wish for redemption? For reconciliation?”

Then the monk asked a series of questions and to each he received no reply—not even a nod from the dying man.

“A crime of passion? A crime of thievery? Thievery, was it? You stole to eat? Was it a crime of poverty or of greed? Did you make bread on Sunday and eat it on Tuesday? Are you a debtor? A chop man? Did you catch a fish for sport? Did you laugh at court? Perhaps you failed to pay taxes or you associated with rebellious entities. You are an enemy of your lord? Is that what it was? You conspired to assassinate the Sultan? You are not from here? Did you count the stars or build a levy? Did you accuse a man? Was it a walking offense? Malice? Scorn? Impertinence? Incontinence? Rape? Was it incest? Skullduggery? Did you protest within five paces of the Gate? Did you test a fault? Did you fail a test? You were a spy in a foreign court? Were you the bearer of ill news?”

Having no questions answered, the monk let slip the soiled cloth into the air and watched it fly through the winds of the desert.

“I cannot help you if you do not help me help you.”

No answer.

He shrugged and spryly descended the massive tree in a series of fluid bounds.

“There is a caravan near here.” He said while gathering up his peregrine’s gear. "They are Bedouin. I will tell them of your plight."

The dying man looked further away from the monk.

“Beware the purple lights. The hunchback monk motioned across the sands with his hands. “The lights are my quest. If you see them, take heed from whence they come. I’ll be back again.”

And with that, he left the dying man to his own free will, and hunched off over the desert, across the sea to the mountains beyond the fertile plains of a distant land, for that is where he resided.

And this is how the dying man lived the third day in the desert. He was grateful to the monk although he did not show it. He was, after all, still nailed to a tree, in great pain. But that pain was not why he cried for hours and hours that night. He sobbed and wept until all the dry desert air was filled with his lament of moans and the lavender moon disappeared in the lilting sky.

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