Friday, May 30, 2008

Dear You VII

As my days in Chiang Mai are fast coming to the end I’ve started thinking that I should extend my stay here for at least two more weeks. I haven’t made up my mind yet though. The thing is that while here I have my life completely under control and can work without much trouble towards my goals; something I really can’t do back home.
I’ve just finished writing the first part of my new novel -which will count forty to fifty thousand words- and hopefully by tomorrow I’ll start with the second. The story keeps changing direction every now and then, the “tragic” touches are increasing by the page, but the end is well written into my mind and probably nothing will change it. The only thing I can say for the time being is that it’s not going to be a happy end.
As for my readings, well, nothing really changed since the last time I wrote to you, since Michael Connelly is still the writer who keeps me company. I’ve just finished with one of his “Harry Bosch” novels called “Lost Light” and started “Echo Park”.
Weather-wise it’s been brilliant for the last five days; all in all maybe we got maybe an hour’s worth of rain. However the low season is low as ever and only really tasteless places like Spicy and Hot Shots seem to get some serious business these days.
Ok, that wraps it up for today.
Have a nice day from the land of smiles and keep reading.

Chok Tee

p.s. As time goes by I seem to miss more and more my classic readings: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Kazantzakis and so on. Well, maybe I should to something about it when I get back to Cyprus

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Franz Kafka - The Hunger Artist

Franz Kafka is one of the most important writers that ever come out of Europe. His classic novels The Castle and The Trial, as well as his novella The Metamorphosis established his reputation as a cult writer. For you today i have one of his best short stories that goes by the title The Hunger Artist.
During these last decades the interest in professional fasting has markedly diminished. It used to pay very well to stage such great performances under one's own management, but today that is quite impossible. We live in a different world now. At one time the whole town took a lively interest in the hunger artist; from day to day of his fast the excitement mounted; everybody wanted to see him at least once a day; there were people who bought season tickets for the last few days and sat from morning till night in front of his small barred cage; even in the nighttime there were visiting hours, when the whole effect was heightened by torch flares; on fine days the cage was set out in the open air, and then it was the children's special treat to see the hunger artist; for their elders he was often just a joke that happened to be in fashion, but the children stood openmouthed, holding each other's hands for greater security, marveling at him as he sat there pallid in black tights, with his ribs sticking out so prominently, not even on a seat but down among straw on the ground, sometimes giving a courteous nod, answering questions with a constrained smile, or perhaps stretching an arm through the bars so that one might feel how thin it was, and then again withdrawing deep into himself, paying no attention to anyone or anything, not even to the all-important striking of the clock that was the only piece of furniture in his cage, but merely staring into vacancy with half-shut eyes, now and then taking a sip from a tiny glass of water to moisten his lips.Besides casual onlookers there were also relays of permanent watchers selected by the public, usually butchers, strangely enough, and it was their task to watch the hunger artist day and night, three of them at a time, in case he should have some secret recourse to nourishment. This was nothing but a formality, instigated to reassure the masses, for the initiates knew well enough that during his fast the artist would never in any circumstances, not even under forcible compulsion, swallow the smallest morsel of food; the honor of his profession forbade it. Not every watcher, of course, was capable of understanding this, there were often groups of night watchers who were very lax in carrying out their duties and deliberately huddled together in a retired corner to play cards with great absorption, obviously intending to give the hunger artist the chance of a little refreshment, which they supposed he would draw from some private hoard. Nothing annoyed the artist more than these watchers; they made him miserable; they made his fast seem unendurable; sometimes he mastered his feebleness sufficiently to sing during their watch for as long as he could keep going, to show them how unjust their suspicions were. But that was of little use; they only wondered at his cleverness in being able to fill his mouth even while singing. Much more to his taste were the watchers who sat close up to the bars, who were not content with the dim night lighting of the hall but focused him in the full glare of the electric pocket torch given them by the impresario. The harsh light did not trouble him at all, in any case he could never sleep properly, and he could always drowse a little, whatever the light, at any hour, even when the hall was thronged with noisy onlookers. He was quite happy at the prospect of spending a sleepless night with such watchers; he was ready to exchange jokes with them, to tell them stories out of his nomadic life, anything at all to keep them awake and demonstrate to them again that he had no eatables in his cage and that he was fasting as not one of them could fast. But his happiest moment was when the morning came and an enormous breakfast was brought for them, at his expense, on which they flung themselves with the keen appetite of healthy men after a weary night of wakefulness. Of course there were people who argued that this breakfast was an unfair attempt to bribe the watchers, but that was going rather too far, and when they were invited to take on a night’s vigil without a breakfast, merely for the sake of the cause, they made themselves scarce, although they stuck stubbornly to their suspicions.Such suspicions, anyhow, were a necessary accompaniment to the profession of fasting. No one could possibly watch the hunger artist continuously, day and night, and so no one could produce first-hand evidence that the fast had really been rigorous and continuous; only the artist himself could know that, he was therefore bound to be the sole completely satisfied spectator of his own fast. Yet for other reasons he was never satisfied; it was not perhaps mere fasting that had brought him to such skeleton thinness that many people had regretfully to keep away from his exhibitions, because the sight of him was too much for them, perhaps it was dissatisfaction with himself that had worn him down. For he alone knew, what no other initiate knew, how easy it was to fast. It was the easiest thing in the world. He made no secret of this, yet people did not believe him, at best they set him down as modest, most of them, however, thought he was out for publicity or else was some kind of cheat who found it easy to fast because he had discovered a way of making it easy, and then had the impudence to admit the fact, more or less. He had to put up with all that, and in the course of time had got used to it, but his inner dissatisfaction always rankled, and never yet, after any term of fasting - this must be granted to his credit - had he left the cage of his own free will. The longest period of fasting was fixed by his impresario at forty days, beyond that term he was not allowed to go, not even in great cities, and there was good reason for it, too. Experience had proven that for about forty days the interest of the public could be stimulated by a steadily increasing pressure of advertisement, but after that the town began to lose interest, sympathetic support began notably to fall off; there were of course local variations as between one town and another or one country and another, but as a general rule forty days marked the limit. So on the fortieth day the flower-bedecked cage was opened, enthusiastic spectators filled the hall, a military band played, two doctors entered the cage to measure the results of the fast, which were announced through a megaphone, and finally two young ladies appeared, blissful at having been selected for the honor, to help the hunger artist down the few steps leading to a small table on which was spread a carefully chosen invalid repast. And at this very moment the artist always turned stubborn. True, he would entrust his bony arms to the outstretched helping hands of the ladies bending over him, but stand up he would not. Why stop fasting at this particular moment, after forty days of it? He had held out for a long time, an illimitably long time, why stop now, when he was in his best fasting form, or rather, not yet quite in is bet fasting form? Why should he be cheated of the fame he would get for fasting longer, for being not only the record hunger artist of all time, which presumably he was already, but for beating his own record by a performance beyond human imagination, since he felt that there were no limits to his capacity for fasting? His public pretended to admire him so much, why should it have so little patience with him; if he could endure fasting longer, why shouldn’t the public endure it? Besides, he was tired, he was comfortable sitting in the straw, and now he was supposed to lift himself to his full height and go down to a meal the very thought of which gave him a nausea that only the presence of the ladies kept him from betraying, and even that with an effort. And he looked up into the eyes of the ladies who were apparently so friendly and in reality so cruel, and shook his head, which felt too heavy on its strengthless neck. But then there happened again what always happened. The impresario came forward, without a word - for the band made speech impossible - lifted his arms in the air above the artist, as if inviting Heaven to look down upon this creature here in the straw, this suffering martyr, which indeed he was, although in quite another sense; grasped him around the emaciated waist, with exaggerated caution, so that the frail condition he was in might be appreciated; and committed him to the care of the blenching ladies, not without secretly giving him a shaking so that his legs and body tottered and swayed. The artist now submitted completely; his head lolled on his breast as if it had landed there by chance; his body was hollowed out; his legs in a spasm of self-preservation clung close to each other at the knees, yet scraped on the ground as if it were not really solid ground, as if they were only trying to find solid ground; and the whole weight of his body, a featherweight after all, relapsed onto one of the ladies, who, looking around for help and panting a little - this post of honor was not at all what she had expected it to be - first stretched her neck as far as she could to keep her face at least free from contact with the artist, then finding this impossible, and her more fortunate companion not coming to her aid but merely holding extended in her own trembling hand the little bunch of knucklebones that was the artist’s, to the great delight of the spectators burst into tears and had to be replaced by an attendant who had long been stationed in readiness. Then came the food, a little of which the impresario managed to get between the artist’s lips, while he sat in a kind of half-fainting trance, to the accompaniment of cheerful patter designed to distract to public’s attention for the artist’s condition; after that, a toast was drunk to the public, supposedly prompted by a whisper from the artist in the impresario’s ear; the band confirmed it with a mighty flourish, the spectators melted away, and no one had any cause to be dissatisfied with the proceedings, no one except the hunger artist himself, he only, as always.So he lived for many years, with small regular intervals of recuperation, in visible glory, honored by the world, yet in spite of that, troubled in spirit, and all the more troubled because no-one would take his trouble seriously. What comfort could he possibly need? What more could he possibly wish for? And if some good-natured person, feeling sorry for him, tried to console him by pointing out that his melancholy was probably caused by fasting, it could happen, especially when he had been fasting for some time, that he reacted with an outburst of fury and to the general alarm began to shake the bars of his cage like a wild animal. Yet the impresario had a way of punishing these outbreaks which he rather enjoyed putting into operation. He would apologize publicly for the artist’s behaviour, which was only to be excused, he admitted, because of the irritability caused by fasting; a condition hardly to be understood by well-fed people; then by natural transition he went on to mention the artist’s equally incomprehensible boast that he could fast for much longer than he was doing; he praised the high ambition, the good will, the great self-denial undoubtedly implicit in such a statement; and then quite simply countered it by bringing out photographs, which were also on sale to the public, showing the artist on the fortieth day of a fast lying in bed almost dead from exhaustion. This perversion of the truth, familiar to the artist though it was, always unnerved him afresh and proved too much for him. What was a consequence of the premature ending of his fast was here presented as the cause of it! To fight against this lack of understanding, against a whole world of non-understanding, was impossible. Time and again in good faith he stood by the bars listening to the impresario, but as soon as the photographs appeared he always let go and sank with a groan back onto his straw, and the reassured public could once more come close and gaze at him.A few years later when the witnesses of such scenes called them to mind, they often failed to understand themselves at all. For meanwhile the aforementioned change in public interest had set in; it seemed to happen almost overnight; there may have been profound causes for it, but who was going to bother about that; at any rate the pampered hunger artist suddenly found himself deserted on fine day by the amusement-seekers, who went streaming past him to other more-favored attractions. For the last time the impresario hurried him over half Europe to discover whether the old interest might still survive here and there; all in vain; everywhere, as if by secret agreement, a positive revulsion from professional fasting was in evidence. Of course it could not really have sprung up so suddenly as all that, and many premonitory symptoms which had not been sufficiently remarked or suppressed during the rush and glitter of success now came retrospectively to mind, but it was now too late to take any countermeasures. Fasting would surely come into fashion again at some future date, yet that was no comfort for those living in the present. What, then, was the hunger artist to do? He had been applauded by thousands in his time and could hardly come down to showing himself in a street booth at village fairs, and as for adopting another profession, he was not only too old for that but too fanatically devoted to fasting. So he took leave of the impresario, his partner in an unparalleled career, and hired himself to a large circus; in order to spare his own feelings he avoided reading the conditions of his contract.A large circus with its enormous traffic in replacing and recruiting men, animals, and apparatus can always find a use for people at any time, even for a hunger artist, provided of course that he does not ask too much, and in this particular case anyhow it was not only the artist who was taken on but his famous and long-known name as well, indeed considering the peculiar nature of his performance, which was not impaired by advancing age, it could not be objected that here was an artist past his prime, no longer at the height of his professional skill, seeking a refuge in some quiet corner of a circus; on the contrary, the hunger artist averred that he could fast as well as ever, which was entirely credible, he even alleged that if he were allowed to fast as he liked, and this was at once promised him without more ado, he could astound the world by establishing a record never yet achieved, a statement that certainly provoked a smile among the other professionals, since it left out of account the change in public opinion, which the hunger artist in his zeal conveniently forgot.He had not, however, actually lost his sense of the real situation and took it as a matter of course that he and his cage should be stationed, not in the middle of the ring as a main attraction, but outside, near the animal cages, on a site that was after all easily accessible. Large and gaily painted placards made a frame for the cage and announced what was to be seen inside it. When the public came thronging out in the intervals to see the animals, they could hardly avoid passing the hunger artist’s cage and stopping there for a moment, perhaps they might even have stayed longer, had not those pressing behind them behind them in the narrow gangway, who did not understand why they should be held up on their way towards the excitements of the menagerie, made it impossible for anyone to stand gazing for any length of time. And that was the reason why the hunger artist, who had of course been looking forward to these visiting hours as the main achievement of his life, began instead to shrink from them. At first he could hardly wait for the intervals; it was exhilarating to watch the crowds come streaming his way, until only too soon - not even the most obstinate self-deception, clung to almost consciously, could hold out against the fact - the conviction was borne in upon him that these people, most of them, to judge from their actions, again and again, without exception, were all on their way to the menagerie. And the first sight of them from a distance remained the best. For when they reached his cage he was at once deafened by the storm of shouting and abuse that arose from the two contending factions, which renewed themselves continuously, of those who wanted to stop and stare at him - he soon began to dislike them more than the others - not out of real interest but only out of obstinate self-assertiveness, and those who wanted to go straight on to the animals. When the first great rush was past, the stragglers came along, and these, whom nothing could have prevented from stopping to look at him as long as they had breath, raced past with long strides, hardly even glancing at him, in their haste to get to the menagerie in time. And all too rarely did it happen that he had a stroke of luck, when some father of a family fetched up before him with his children, pointed a finger at the hunger artist, and explained at length what the phenomenon meant, telling stories of earlier years when he himself had watched similar but much more thrilling performances, and the children, still rather uncomprehending, since neither inside or outside school had they been sufficiently prepared for this lesson - what did they care about fasting? - yet showed by the brightness of their intent eyes that new and better times might be coming. Perhaps, said the hunger artist to himself, many a time, things would be a little better if his cage were set not quite so near the menagerie. That made it too easy for people to make their choice, to say nothing of what he suffered from the stench of the menagerie, the animals’ restlessness by night, the carrying past of raw lumps of flesh for the beasts of prey, the roaring at feeding times, depressed him continually. But he did not dare to lodge a complaint with the management; after all, he had the animals to thank for the troops of people who passed his cage, among whom there might always be one here and there to take an interest in him, and who could tell where they might seclude him if he called attention to his existence and thereby to the fact that, strictly speaking, he was only an impediment on the way to the menagerie.A small impediment, to be sure, one that grew steadily less. People grew familiar with the strange idea that they could be expected, in times like these, to take an interest in a hunger artist, and with this familiarity the verdict went out against him. He might fast as much as he could, and he did so; but nothing could save him now, people passed him by. Just try to explain to anyone the art of fasting! Anyone who has no feeling for it cannot be made to understand it. The fine placards grew dirty and illegible, they were torn down; the little notice board showing the number of fast days achieved, which at first was changed carefully every day, had long stayed at the same figure, for after the first few weeks even this small task seemed pointless to the staff; and so the artist simply fasted on and on, as he had once dreamed of doing, and it was no trouble to him, just as he had always foretold, but no one counted the days, no one, not even the artist himself, knew what records he was already breaking, and his heart became heavy. And when once in a while some leisurely passer-by stopped, made merry over the old figure on the board and spoke of swindling, that was in its way the stupidest lie ever invented by indifference and inborn malice, since it was not the hunger artist who was cheating, he was working honestly, but the world was cheating him of his reward.Many more days went by, however, and that too came to an end. An overseer’s eye fell on the cage one day and he asked the attendants why this perfectly good cage should be left standing there unused with dirty straw inside it; nobody knew, until one man, helped out by the notice board, remembered about the hunger artist. They poked into the straw with sticks and found him in it. “Are you still fasting?” asked the overseer, “when on earth do you mean to stop?” “Forgive me, everybody,” whispered the hunger artist; only the overseer, who had his ear to the bars, understood him. “Of course,” said the overseer, and tapped his forehead with a finger to let the attendants know what state the man was in, “we forgive you.” “I always wanted you to admire my fasting,” said the hunger artist. “We do admire it,” said the overseer, affably. “But you shouldn’t admire it,” said the hunger artist. “Well then we don’t admire it,” said the overseer, “but why shouldn’t we admire it?” “Because I have to fast, I can’t help it,” said the hunger artist. “What a fellow you are,” said the overseer, “and why can’t you help it?” “Because,” said the hunger artist, lifting his head a little and speaking, with his lips pursed, as if for a kiss, right into the overseer’s ear, so that no syllable might be lost, “because I couldn’t find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.” These were his last words, but in his dimming eyes remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was still continuing to fast.“Well, clear this out now!” said the overseer, and they buried the hunger artist, straw and all. Into the cage they put a young panther. Even the most insensitive felt it refreshing to see this wild creature leaping around the cage that had so long been dreary. The panther was all right. The food he liked was brought to him without hesitation by the attendants; he seemed not even to miss his freedom; his noble body, furnished almost to the bursting point with all that it needed, seemed to carry freedom around with it too; somewhere in his jaws it seemed to lurk; and the joy of life streamed with such ardent passion from his throat that for the onlookers it was not easy to stand the shock of it. But they braced themselves, crowded around the cage, and did not ever want to move away.
Source: The Stories Net
Bio: Wikipedia

Book Choice: The Trial

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Leo Tolstoy - The Empty Drum

It was about time i uploaded a story by the great russian. Leo Tolstoy, with books like Anna Karenina and War and Peace under his name, is considered and truly is one of the best writers ever. Here's for you a short story called The Empty Drum:


EMELYÁN WAS a labourer and worked for a master. Crossing the meadows one day on his way to work, he nearly trod on a frog that jumped right in front of him, but he just managed to avoid it. Suddenly he heard some one calling to him from behind.
Emelyán looked round and saw a lovely lassie, who said to him: 'Why don't you get married, Emelyán?'
'How can I marry, my lass?' said he. 'I have but the clothes I stand up in, nothing more, and no one would have me for a husband.'
'Take me for a wife,' said she.
Emelyán liked the maid. 'I should be glad to,' said he, 'but where and how could we live?'
'Why trouble about that?' said the girl. 'One only has to work more and sleep less, and one can clothe and feed oneself anywhere.'
'Very well then, let us marry,' said Emelyán. 'Where shall we go to?'
'Let us go to town.'
So Emelyán and the lass went to town, and she took him to a small hut on the very edge of the town, and they married and began housekeeping.
One day the King, driving through the town, passed by Emelyán's hut. Emelyán's wife came out to see the King. The King noticed her and was quite surprised.
'Where did such a beauty come from?' said he and stopping his carriage he called Emelyán's wife and asked her: 'Who are you?'
'The peasant Emelyán's wife,' said she.
'Why did you, who are such a beauty, marry a peasant?' said the King. 'You ought to be a queen!'
'Thank you for your kind words,' said she, 'but a peasant husband is good enough for me.'
The King talked to her awhile and then drove on. He returned to the palace, but could not get Emelyán's wife out of his head. All night he did not sleep, but kept thinking how to get her for himself. He could think of no way of doing it, so he called his servants and told them they must find a way.
The King's servants said: 'Command Emelyán to come to the palace to work, and we will work him so hard that he will die. His wife will be left a widow, and then you can take her for yourself.'
The King followed their advice. He sent an order that Emelyán should come to the palace as a workman and that he should live at the palace, and his wife with him.
The messengers came to Emelyán and gave him the King's message. His wife said, 'Go, Emelyán; work all day, but come back home at night.'
So Emelyán went, and when he got to the palace the King's steward asked him, 'Why have you come alone, without your wife?'
'Why should I drag her about?' said Emelyán. 'She has a house to live in.'
At the King's palace they gave Emelyán work enough for two. He began the job not hoping to finish it; but when evening came, lo and behold! it was all done. The steward saw that it was finished, and set him four times as much for next day.
Emelyán went home. Everything there was swept and tidy; the oven was heated, his supper was cooked and ready, and his wife sat by the table sewing and waiting for his return. She greeted him, laid the table, gave him to eat and drink, and then began to ask him about his work.
'Ah!' said he, 'it's a bad business: they give me tasks beyond my strength, and want to kill me with work.'
'Don't fret about the work,' said she, 'don't look either before or behind to see how much you have done or how much there is left to do; only keep on working and all will be right.'
So Emelyán lay down and slept. Next morning he went to work again and worked without once looking round. And, lo and behold! by the evening it was all done, and before dark he came home for the night.
Again and again they increased Emelyán's work, but he always got through it in good time and went back to his hut to sleep. A week passed, and the King's servants saw they could not crush him with rough work so they tried giving him work that required skill. But this, also, was of no avail. Carpentering, and masonry, and roofing, whatever they set him to do, Emelyán had it ready in time, and went home to his wife at night. So a second week passed.
Then the King called his servants and said: 'Am I to feed you for nothing? Two weeks have gone, and I don't see that you have done anything. You were going to tire Emelyán out with work, but I see from my windows how he goes home every evening -- singing cheerfully! Do you mean to make a fool of me?'
The King's servants began to excuse themselves. 'We tried our best to wear him out with rough work,' they said, 'but nothing was too hard for him; he cleared it all off as though he had swept it away with a broom. There was no tiring him out. Then we set him to tasks needing skill, which we did not think he was clever enough to do, but he managed them all. No matter what one sets him, he does it all, no one knows how. Either he or his wife must know some spell that helps them. We ourselves are sick of him, and wish to find a task he cannot master. We have now thought of setting him to build a cathedral in a single day. Send for Emelyán, and order him to build a cathedral in front of the palace in a single day. Then, if he does not do it, let his head be cut off for disobedience.'
The King sent for Emelyán. 'Listen to my command,' said he: 'build me a new cathedral on the square in front of my palace, and have it ready by to-morrow evening. If you have it ready I will reward you, but if not I will have your head cut off.'
When Emelyán heard the King's command he turned away and went home. 'My end is near,' thought he. And coming to his wife, he said: 'Get ready, wife we must fly from here, or I shall be lost by no fault of my own.'
'What has frightened you so?' said she, 'and why should we run away?'
'How can I help being frightened? The King has ordered me, to-morrow, in a single day, to build him a cathedral. If I fail he will cut my head off. There is only one thing to be done: we must fly while there is yet time.'
But his wife would not hear of it. 'The King has many soldiers,' said she. 'They would catch us anywhere. We cannot escape from him, but must obey him as long as strength holds out.'
'How can I obey him when the task is beyond my strength?'
'Eh, goodman, don't be downhearted. Eat your supper now, and go to sleep. Rise early in the morning and all will get done.'
So Emelyán lay down and slept. His wife roused him early next day. 'Go quickly,' said she, 'and finish the cathedral. Here are nails and a hammer; there is still enough work there for a day.'
Emelyán went into the town, reached the palace square, and there stood a large cathedral not quite finished. Emelyán set to work to do what was needed, and by the evening all was ready.
When the King awoke he looked out from his palace, and saw the cathedral, and Emelyán going about driving in nails here and there. And the King was not pleased to have the cathedral -- he was annoyed at not being able to condemn Emelyán and take his wife. Again he called his servants. 'Emelyán has done this task also,' said the King, 'and there is no excuse for putting him to death. Even this work was not too hard for him. You must find a more cunning plan, or I will cut off your heads as well as his.'
So his servants planned that Emelyán should be ordered to make a river round the palace, with ships sailing on it. And the King sent for Emelyán and set him this new task.
'If,' said he, 'you could build a cathedral in one night, you can also do this. To-morrow all must be ready. If not, I will have your head off.'
Emelyán was more downcast than before, and returned to his wife sad at heart.
'Why are you so sad?' said his wife. 'Has the King set you a fresh task?'
Emelyán told her about it. 'We must fly,' said he.
But his wife replied: 'There is no escaping the soldiers; they will catch us wherever we go. There is nothing for it but to obey.'
'How can I do it?' groaned Emelyán.
'Eh! eh! goodman,' said she, 'don't be downhearted. Eat your supper now, and go to sleep. Rise early, and all will get done in good time.'
So Emelyán lay down and slept. In the morning his wife woke him. 'Go,' said she 'to the palace -- all is ready. Only, near the wharf in front of the palace, there is a mound left; take a spade and level it.
When the King awoke he saw a river where there had not been one; ships were sailing up and down, and Emelyán was levelling a mound with a spade. The King wondered, but was pleased neither with the river nor with the ships, so vexed was he at not being able to condemn Emelyán. 'There is no task,' thought he, 'that he cannot manage. What is to be done?' And he called his servants and again asked their advice.
'Find some task,' said he, 'which Emelyán cannot compass. For whatever we plan he fulfils, and I cannot take his wife from him.'
The King's servants thought and thought, and at last devised a plan. They came to the King and said: 'Send for Emelyán and say to him: "Go to there, don't know where," and bring back "that, don't know what." Then he will not be able to escape you. No matter where he goes, you can say that he has not gone to the right place, and no matter what he brings, you can say it is not the right thing. Then you can have him beheaded and can take his wife.'
The King was pleased. 'That is well thought of,' said he. So the King sent for Emelyán and said to him: 'Go to "there, don't know where," and bring back "that, don't know what." If you fail to bring it, I will have you beheaded.'
Emelyán returned to his wife and told her what the King had said. His wife became thoughtful.
'Well,' said she, 'they have taught the King how to catch you. Now we must act warily.' So she sat and thought, and at last said to her husband: 'You must go far, to our Grandam -- the old peasant woman, the mother of soldiers -- and you must ask her aid. If she helps you to anything, go straight to the palace with it, I shall be there: I cannot escape them now. They will take me by force, but it will not be for long. If you do everything as Grandam directs, you will soon save me.'
So the wife got her husband ready for the journey. She gave him a wallet, and also a spindle. 'Give her this,' said she. 'By this token she will know that you are my husband.' And his wife showed him his road.
Emelyán set off. He left the town behind, and came to where some soldiers were being drilled. Emelyán stood and watched them. After drill the soldiers sat down to rest. Then Emelyán went up to them and asked: 'Do you know, brothers, the way to "there, don't know where?" and how I can get "that, don't know what?"'
The soldiers listened to him with surprise. 'Who sent you on this errand?' said they
'The King,' said he.
'We ourselves,' said they, 'from the day we became soldiers, go we "don't know where," and never yet have we got there; and we seek we "don't know what," and cannot find it. We cannot help you.'
Emelyán sat a while with the soldiers and then went on again. He trudged many a mile, and at last came to a wood. In the wood was a hut, and in the hut sat an old, old woman, the mother of peasant soldiers, spinning flax and weeping. And as she spun she did not put her fingers to her mouth to wet them with spittle, but to her eyes to wet them with tears. When the old woman saw Emelyán she cried out at him: 'Why have you come here?' Then Emelyán gave her the spindle, and said his wife had sent it.
The old woman softened at once, and began to question him. And Emelyán told her his whole life: how he married the lass; how they went to live in the town; how he had worked, and what he had done at the palace; how he built the cathedral, and made a river with ships on it, and how the King had now told him to go to 'there, don't know where, and bring back 'that, don't know what.'
The Grandam listened to the end, and ceased weeping. She muttered to herself: 'The time has surely come,' and said to him: 'All right, my lad. Sit down now, and I will give you something to eat.'
Emelyán ate, and then the Grandam told him what to do. 'Here,' said she, 'is a ball of thread; roll it before you, and follow where it goes. You must go far till you come right to the sea. When you get there you will see a great city. Enter the city and ask for a night's lodging at the furthest house. There look out for what you are seeking.'
'How shall I know it when I see it, Granny?' said he.
'When you see something men obey more than father or mother, that is it. Seize that, and take it to the King. When you bring it to the King, he will say it is not right, and you must answer: "If it is not the right thing it must be smashed," and you must beat it, and carry it to the river, break it in pieces, and throw it into the water. Then you will get your wife back and my tears will be dried.'
Emelyán bade farewell to the Grandam and began rolling his ball before him. It rolled and rolled until at last it reached the sea. By the sea stood a great city, and at the further end of the city was a big house. There Emelyán begged for a night's lodging, and was granted it. He lay down to sleep, and in the morning awoke and heard a father rousing his son to go and cut wood for the fire. But the son did not obey. 'It is too early,' said he, 'there is time enough.' Then Emelyán heard the mother say, 'Go, my son, your father's bones ache; would you have him go himself? It is time to be up!'
But the son only murmured some words and fell asleep again. Hardly was he asleep when something thundered and rattled in the street. Up jumped the son and quickly putting on his clothes ran out into the street. Up jumped Emelyán, too, and ran after him to see what it was that a son obeys more than father or mother. What he saw was a man walking along the street carrying, tied to his stomach, a thing which he beat with sticks, and that it was that rattled and thundered so, and that the son had obeyed. Emelyán ran up and had a look at it. He saw it was round, like a small tub, with a skin stretched over both ends, and he asked what it was called.
He was told, 'A drum.'
'And is it empty?'
'Yes, it is empty.'
Emelyán was surprised. He asked them to give the thing to him, but they would not. So Emelyán left off asking, and followed the drummer. All day he followed, and when the drummer at last lay down to sleep, Emelyán snatched the drum from him and ran away with it.
He ran and ran, till at last he got back to his own town. He went to see his wife, but she was not at home. The day after he went away, the King had taken her. So Emelyán went to the palace, and sent in a message to the King: 'He has returned who went to "there, don't know where," and he has brought with him "that, don't know what."'
They told the King, and the King said he was to come again next day.
But Emelyán said, 'Tell the King I am here to-day, and have brought what the King wanted. Let him come out to me, or I will go in to him!'
The King came out. 'Where have you been?' said he.
Emelyán told him.
'That's not the right place,' said the King. 'What have you brought?'
Emelyán pointed to the drum, but the King did not look at it.
'That is not it.'
'If it is not the right thing,' said Emelyán, 'it must be smashed, and may the devil take it!'
And Emelyán left the palace, carrying the drum and beating it. And as he beat it all the King's army ran out to follow Emelyán, and they saluted him and waited his commands.
The King, from his window, began to shout at his army telling them not to follow Emelyán. They did not listen to what he said, but all followed Emelyán.
When the King saw that, he gave orders that Emelyán's wife should be taken back to him, and he sent to ask Emelyán to give him the drum.
'It can't be done,' said Emelyán. 'I was told to smash it and to throw the splinters into the river.'
So Emelyán went down to the river carrying the drum, and the soldiers followed him. When he reached the river bank Emelyán smashed the drum to splinters, and threw the splinters into the stream. And then all the soldiers ran away.
Emelyán took his wife and went home with her. And after that the King ceased to trouble him; and so they lived happily ever after.
Source: OnLine Literature
Bio: Wikipedia

Book Choice: Leo Tolstoy: Spiritual Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters)

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Love Attack

Here's the first story of the week. This one i've written a long time ago. I hope you will enjoy The Love Attack:

Lucia! As she returns into my memories after all those years, I can still feel a cold shiver running through my bones. What a girl! What a woman! Back then she managed to turn our lives upside down, just by being there, just by being her. Oh, those were the days…

I used to live in a poor people’s neighborhood; you know, like the ones you see in the good old movies, where everyone knows everyone else, and they have nothing to be jealous of between them. Poverty, misery, and a frequent burst of laughter, that was our life. Yeah, we did have a good time back then, no matter what. Some food, some drink and a lot of flirting with the girls; that was our everyday routine.
I had four brothers and two sisters; a big family. And we were orphans; just like most of the kids in the neighborhood I guess, but I can’t really say that I had a hard time growing up. Being the elder of course I had to help my mother to bring up my brothers and sisters, but that wasn’t such a difficult thing to do. All it took was some brains, and I have to admit that I have always been a bright mind. Nothing would be too difficult for me, apart perhaps, from finding a girlfriend.
My family, for many generations belonged to that special species of beings that they call the wanderers. We’d learned to live in the streets, to survive under any circumstances, to pass through hard times dancing and laughing.
I used to have a lot of friends. At night time, when we were far too young, we would go out for our little innocent games, but as the time went by and we grew up, well, the hormones grew up with us, and before we even knew it we started thinking more and more about girls, and passion, and all that kind of stuff. In our big neighborhood there were scores of girls; beautiful girls and ugly girls, wild girls and good-mannered girls, devilish and angel-like girls. To have all these girls around you and not flirt; well, that’s a sin.
My best friend was Tom, the Green-eyes. That’s what we called him, and I guess you can understand why. Green-eyes was the big guy; the one. He could get any girl at anytime. None of them would ever say No to him. He was a charmer, all right. So, every time I went out with him I knew that in the worst of cases I would get a second hand girl for myself. He always kept the best ones for his personal joy. As for the rest, well, they’d sacrifice their selves to me, so they’d at least satisfy their bodily needs.
As every new year came and went we could sense life becoming all the more colorful, beautiful. We didn’t mind the poverty around us. We were young and strong; we wanted to play, to make love all the time, to try new things, to have fun without an end. We thought that nothing could ever shake the foundations of that beautiful and full of passion micro-world of ours. Until one day…

We saw her from a distance and quietly pushed each other with the shoulders. Oh, my god! Who was that chick? Where on earth a beauty like her has been hiding all this time? And what a devilish beauty she had! How can I describe her? Beautiful like a kid’s toy, smooth like silk, a vision of the forest… Damn, I’m not good with words; but that’s exactly how she looked in our eyes. Long straight yellow hair, a body to kill for, and as we found out a few days later, when we got a closer look at her, a pair of bright big blue eyes. “Can we possibly be dreaming?” I asked Tom. He scratched me; he pinched me, I mean, it hurt, so I was wide-awake.
For the next few days we devoted ourselves body and soul to the mission code-named: “Where there’s a ship, there is a sigh; where there’s a chick there is panic!” We just had to find out everything about the girl. We were desperate. Women like that didn’t come our way every day, so we’d do anything to find her and win her over. We’d ask friends and acquaintances with no success. Even the old ladies who had spent their entire lives in the hood couldn’t help us. Most of them simply didn’t know her, and those who have seen her like we did, had nothing to tell us about her.
As the story goes, her absence, her mystery, made our feelings for her grow stronger. We now wanted her with an unprecedented passion. In our inner eyes she looked just like a miracle; like one of those miracles that take place once in a thousand years; and in that miracle we wanted to put our own mark.
One day, just before reaching the black point of despair a clever and bright young fellow told us something that never really occurred to us: “You morons; there’s not a chance that girl is from our hood. There’s something classy about her. Probably she passed from here accidentally. If you really want to find her, you should go to the high society hood…”
He was so damned right! How come we never thought of that? So, we started of at that very moment, for the prohibited for us rich-man’s world. We’ve never been there before; we didn’t have a reason to. But, for that girl, we could reach to the end of the earth. We just hoped that that was not too far away.
Well, the place we came to was worlds apart from our hood. There was absolutely nothing to connect the two parts; big bright streets, new cars, beautiful ladies and cleanness. We lived in dirt and dust, and they in paradise. We were about to start one of our non-stopping social discussions, but thank god we remembered just in time, that that wasn’t the purpose of our visit there. We had, we just had, to find that doll of a girl.
Having no other choice, after asking for directions, we headed for the big hood square. We thought that no matter what, at some time or another, she would pass from there.
We waited for many and long hours, and it was almost dark when we suddenly saw her appearing from a side street. We both felt our hearts beating like crazy and cold sweat wetting our backbones. Tom came back to his senses almost at once and touched me on the shoulder. “Let’s follow her.” So we started after her, as I felt myself shivering with excitement. I was madly in love, but madly jealous too, since I knew that I had no real chance there; sooner or later she would be falling for that damned charming friend of mine. But, what could I do?
We followed her from a distance, as she left the dazzling bright hood in the direction of a nearby forest. After a while, we saw her enter a huge yard, heading for a big and grand white house. We put a comma to our mission then. We’d already accomplished too much for a single day’s work. The only thing that was left to do before we called it a day was find out her name. Even visions, even the dark objects of desire, need an identity. We found a kid playing in the mud close by, and we asked if he knew the angel’s name. “Oh, her!” he explained, and a naughty expression appeared on his face; “Her name is Lucia.” Lucia! What a name! Divine; like her.
When we went back to the hood, both Tom and I allowed ourselves to be drown into deep thinking. “This one is too much for us,” we thought. “Why would she ever even look at us, she who has everything?” “This is not going to be an easy trick,” Tom said, and I agreed. Besides, I’ve decided to give up the chase. She was far over my league. She was rich; and rich girls are very proud; and she would only look at me in contempt. Maybe Tom could do it; I don’t know.
I can tell that that was one of the weirdest nights of my life. Tom, who could never stand still for a single moment and was always on the chase for new targets, spend the whole time sitting there quietly; an unlikely angel. He’d just look at the stars and sigh deeply every now and then; and I could see a sense of longing form into his eyes.
The very next day, at dawn, even before the big star appeared in the sky, he came and woke me up. “Let us go to Lucia,” he said, and I without sparing a minute to think about it, decided to follow him. He kept quiet all the way to her house. Probably he was trying to figure out a way to approach her.
It was still dark when we arrived at our destination. We sat under a tree, waiting, hoping, that that vision of a girl would at some time show up.
The sun was way up in the sky when we finally saw her slowly emerge from the yard. I thought we were going to follow her, just like we did the day before, but Tom had some different plans in his mind. He jumped up on his feet and rushed to talk to her, while I sat there watching. At the beginning she simply seemed to ignore him, but after a while I saw her turning furious and start yelling. Tom, for the first time in his life beaten, rejected, came back to where I was. I could read his eyes clearly. He wasn’t going to give up. He would try again and again, and work hard, until one day she would be his. “She will be mine,” he whispered; “She will be mine.” I believed him; because whatever Tom set his mind to do he did.
Asking questions here and there, we came to know a lot of things about Lucia. And as strange as it may sound, some of the rich guys and girls knew Tom by fame. As it seems his playboy fame went far beyond the small borders of our hood.
“This game turns out to be very interesting,” he confided to me one night. “If she is the way they describe her, then my will and determination to conquer her heart, gets all the more stronger. I really like the girls that play hard to get, but when they find a brave big hug they just slip in there.” Quite a poet, huh?
He went and sat outside her home every day. And each and every day she looked at him in contempt. I walked with him there every now and then, just to keep him company, and follow the developments. As long as he was pursuing his goal, the rich girl, I was able to score quite a few times in the hood. Even some of the prettiest girls, who in the past would not even spare me a look, started flirting with me all the time. They needed love and I was more than happy to deliver. “We only live once,” that’s my motto.
Well, my friend’s holy struggle for a better country -oups, for a better woman I mean- lasted for too long and didn’t seem to lead him anywhere. But, as time went by instead of feeling disappointed he felt all the more determined to go on fighting. He was quite confident that things were moving in the right direction, glory! “She does want me; but she is too stubborn to admit it,” he said to me.
Friends and relatives, and everyone, tried to bring him back to his senses, to make him understand that he’d lost the game, but he would pay no attention to their words. He would only smile cunningly and roll over the edges of his moustache.
One day, after a long long time, I’ve decided to take some time off from my ladies and follow him to Lucia’s house. So, we went, and sat and wait. And there comes the bride; Lucia, I mean. And just when she sees Tom, a smile thiiiiiiiis big illustrates her face. That was quite a shock for me. “The bastard,” I thought, “he did it again!”
He got up to follow her, while I once again remained there, under the tree, waiting. They came back after a couple of hours; Lucia leading the way, and Tom following her, wearing a face like they’ve just given him a kingdom. “What’s up mate?” I asked. “She invited me to her home. I will go tonight…” he answered and there was a strange light in his eyes. “The dirty old bum is going to be rich,” I thought with a touch of envy in my soul.
Well, I’ve decided to accompany him to the house that night, to stand as a witness in his time of glory. I remained hidden outside as he tiptoed inside to go and find his beloved one. But, I couldn’t keep myself there still for too long and after a while I decided to have a look at what was going on. And there he was, the bastard, kissing her, caressing her, getting all ready to… Oh god, she looked so beautiful in that dim red light… Tom was getting ready to… but what was that sound? … he was now reaching… and just then the door burst open and the nightmare of a woman appeared. Tom was frozen by the shock. I started backing of the window because I couldn’t stand watching my friend getting killed. But before I took a few steps, I saw Tom rocketing out of the window like a bullet followed by a big vase, and heard the big fat lady screaming out loud: “Get out of here you filthy cat; I’m never going to let you screw with my little Lucia!”
Oh, well, so the fat lady thought. Lucia got pregnant during one of her many, hmm, walks. As for Tom, up to this day, he keeps saying that the kids he had with her were the most beautiful of all, despite the fact that hundreds of cats, from many different mothers, have seen the light of day, thanks to his devious seed.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ambrose Bierce - A Horseman in the Sky

For your essential Sunday reading here's another story by Mr Ambrose Bierce:

One sunny afternoon in the autumn of the year 1861 a soldier lay in clump of laurel by the side of a road in western Virginia. He lay at full length upon his stomach, his feet resting upon the toes, his head upon the left forearm. His extended right hand loosely grasped his rifle. But for the somewhat methodical disposition of his limbs and a slight rhythmic movement of the cartridge-box at the back of his belt, he might have been thought to be dead. He was asleep at his post of duty. But if detected he would be dead shortly afterward, death being the just and legal penalty of his crime. The clump of laurel in which the criminal lay was in the angle of a road which after ascending southward a steep acclivity to that point turned sharply to the west, running along the summit for perhaps one hundred yards. There it turned southward again and went zigzagging downward through the forest. At the salient of that second angle was a large flat rock, jutting out northward, overlooking the deep valley from which the road ascended. The rock capped a high cliff; a stone dropped from its outer edge would have fallen sheer downward one thousand feet to the tops of the pines. The angle where the soldier lay was on another spur of the same cliff. Had he been awake he would have commanded a view, not only of the short arm of the road and the jutting rock, but of the entire profile of the cliff below it. It might well have made him giddy to look.

The country was wooded everywhere except at the bottom of the valley to the northward, where there was a small natural meadow, through which flowed a stream scarcely visible from the valley's rim. This open ground looked hardly larger than an ordinary door-yard, but was really several acres in extent. Its green was more vivid than that of the enclosing forest. Away beyond it rose a line of giant cliffs similar to those upon which we are supposed to stand in our survey of the savage scene, and through which the road had somehow made its climb to the summit. The configuration of the valley, indeed, was such that from our point of observation it seemed entirely shut in, and one could but have wondered how the road which found a way out of it had found a way into it, and whence came and whither went the waters of the stream that parted the meadow more than a thousand feet below.
No country is so wild and difficult but men will make it a theatre of war; concealed in the forest at the bottom of that military rat-trap, in which half a hundred men in possession of the exits might have starved an army to submission, lay five regiments of Federal infantry. They had marched all the previous day and night and were resting. At nightfall they would take to the road again, climb to the place where their unfaithful sentinel now slept, and descending the other slope of the ridge fall upon a camp of the enemy at about midnight. Their hope was to surprise it, for the road led to the rear of it. In case of failure, their position would be perilous in the extreme; and fall they surely would should accident or vigilance apprise the enemy of the movement.

The sleeping sentinel in the clump of laurel was a young Virginian named Carter Druse. He was the son of wealthy parents, an only child, and had known such ease and cultivation and high living as wealth and taste were able to command in the mountain country of western Virginia. His home was but a few miles from where he now lay. One morning he had risen from the breakfast-table and said, quietly but gravely: 'Father, a Union regiment has arrived at Grafton. I am going to join it.'

The father lifted his leonine head, looked at the son a moment in silence, and replied: 'Go, Carter, and whatever may occur, do what you conceive to be your duty. Virginia, to which you are a traitor, must get on without you. Should we both live to the end of the war, we will speak further of the matter. Your mother, as the physician has informed you, is in a most critical condition; at the best she cannot be with us longer than a few weeks, but that time is precious. It would be better not to disturb her.'

So Carter Druse, bowing reverently to his father, who returned the salute with a stately courtesy that masked a breaking heart, left the home of his childhood to go soldiering. By conscience and courage, by deeds of devotion and daring, he soon commended himself to his fellows and his officers; and it was to these qualities and to some knowledge of the country that he owed his selection for his present perilous duty at the extreme outpost. Nevertheless, fatigue had been stronger than resolution and he had fallen asleep. What good or bad angel came in a dream to rouse him from his state of crime, who shall say? Without a movement, without a sound, in the profound silence and the languor of the late afternoon, some invisible messenger of fate touched with unsealing finger the eyes of his consciousness - whispered into the ear of his spirit the mysterious awakening word which no human lips ever have spoken, no human memory ever has recalled. He quietly raised his forehead from his arm and looked between the masking stems of the laurels, instinctively closing his right hand about the stock of his rifle.
His first feeling was a keen artistic delight. On a colossal pedestal, the cliff, motionless at the extreme edge of the capping rock and sharply outlined against the sky, was an equestrian statue of impressive dignity. The figure of the man sat the figure of the horse, straight and soldierly, but with the repose of a Grecian god carved in the marble which limits the suggestion of activity. The gray costume harmonized with its aerial background; the metal of accoutrement and caparison was softened and subdued by the shadow; the animal's skin had no points of high light. A carbine strikingly foreshortened lay across the pommel of the saddle, kept in place by the right hand grasping it at the 'grip;' the left hand, holding the bridle rein, was invisible. In silhouette against the sky the profile of the horse was cut with the sharpness of a cameo; it looked across the heights of air to the confronting cliffs beyond. The face of the rider, turned slightly away, showed only an outline of temple and beard; he was looking downward to the bottom of the valley. Magnified by its lift against the sky and by the soldier's testifying sense of the formidableness of a near enemy the group appeared of heroic, almost colossal, size.

For an instant Druse had a strange, half-defined feeling that he had slept to the end of the war and was looking upon a noble work of art reared upon that eminence to commemorate the deeds of an heroic past of which he had been an inglorious part. The feeling was dispelled by a slight movement of the group: the horse, without moving its feet, had drawn its body slightly backward from the verge; the man remained immobile as before. Broad awake and keenly alive to the significance of the situation, Druse now brought the butt of his rifle against his cheek by cautiously pushing the barrel forward through the bushes, cocked the piece, and glancing through the sights covered a vital spot of the horseman's breast. A touch upon the trigger and all would have been well with Carter Druse. At that instant the horseman turned his head and looked in the direction of his concealed foeman - seemed to look into his very face, into his eyes, into his brave, compassionate heart.
Is it then so terrible to kill an enemy in war - an enemy who has surprised a secret vital to the safety of one's self and comrades - an enemy more formidable for his knowledge than all his army for its numbers? Carter Druse grew pale; he shook in every limb, turned faint, and saw the statuesque group before him as black figures, rising, falling, moving unsteadily in arcs of circles in a fiery sky. His hand fell away from his weapon, his head slowly dropped until his face rested on the leaves in which he lay. This courageous gentleman and hardy soldier was near swooning from intensity of emotion.

It was not for long; in another moment his face was raised from earth, his hands resumed their places on the rifle, his forefinger sought the trigger; mind, heart, and eyes were clear, conscience and reason sound. He could not hope to capture that enemy; to alarm him would but send him dashing to his camp with his fatal news. The duty of the soldier was plain: the man must be shot dead from ambush - without warning, without a moment's spiritual preparation, with never so much as an unspoken prayer, he must be sent to his account. But no - there is a hope; he may have discovered nothing - perhaps he is but admiring the sublimity of the landscape. If permitted, he may turn and ride carelessly away in the direction whence he came. Surely it will be possible to judge at the instant of his withdrawing whether he knows. It may well be that his fixity of attention - Druse turned his head and looked through the deeps of air downward, as from the surface to the bottom of a translucent sea. He saw creeping across the green meadow a sinuous line of figures of men and horses - some foolish commander was permitting the soldiers of his escort to water their beasts in the open, in plain view from a dozen summits!

Druse withdrew his eyes from the valley and fixed them again upon the group of man and horse in the sky, and again it was through the sights of his rifle. But this time his aim was at the horse. In his memory, as if they were a divine mandate, rang the words of his father at their parting: 'Whatever may occur, do what you conceive to be your duty.' He was calm now. His teeth were firmly but not rigidly closed; his nerves were as tranquil as a sleeping babe's - not a tremor affected any muscle of his body; his breathing, until suspended in the act of taking aim, was regular and slow. Duty had conquered; the spirit had said to the body: 'Peace, be still.' He fired.
An officer of the Federal force, who in a spirit of adventure or in quest of knowledge had left the hidden bivouac in the valley, and with aimless feet had made his way to the lower edge of a small open space near the foot of the cliff, was considering what he had to gain by pushing his exploration further. At a distance of a quarter-mile before him, but apparently at a stone's throw, rose from its fringe of pines the gigantic face of rock, towering to so great a height above him that it made him giddy to look up to where its edge cut a sharp, rugged line against the sky. It presented a clean, vertical profile against a background of blue sky to a point half the way down, and of distant hills, hardly less blue, thence to the tops of the trees at its base. Lifting his eyes to the dizzy altitude of its summit the officer saw an astonishing sight - a man on horseback riding down into the valley through the air!

Straight upright sat the rider, in military fashion, with a firm seat in the saddle, a strong clutch upon the rein to hold his charger from too impetuous a plunge. From his bare head his long hair streamed upward, waving like a plume. His hands were concealed in the cloud of the horse's lifted mane. The animal's body was as level as if every hoof-stroke encountered the resistant earth. Its motions were those of a wild gallop, but even as the officer looked they ceased, with all the legs thrown sharply forward as in the act of alighting from a leap. But this was a flight! Filled with amazement and terror by this apparition of a horseman in the sky - half believing himself the chosen scribe of some new Apocalypse, the officer was overcome by the intensity of his emotions; his legs failed him and he fell. Almost at the same Instant he heard a crashing sound in the trees - a sound that died without an echo, and all was still.

The officer rose to his feet, trembling. The familiar sensation of an abraded shin recalled his dazed faculties. Pulling himself together he ran rapidly obliquely away from the cliff to a point distant from its foot; thereabout he expected to find his man; and thereabout he naturally failed. In the fleeting instant of his vision his imagination had been so wrought upon by the apparent grace and ease and intention of the marvelous performance that it did not occur to him that the line of march of aerial cavalry is directly downward, and that he could find the objects of his search at the very foot of the cliff. A half-hour later he returned to camp.
This officer was a wise man; he knew better than to tell an incredible truth. He said nothing of what he had seen. But when the commander asked him if in his scout he had learned anything of advantage to the expedition he answered: 'Yes, sir; there is no road leading down into this valley from the southward.' The commander, knowing better, smiled. After firing his shot, Private Carter Druse reloaded his rifle and resumed his watch. Ten minutes had hardly passed when a Federal sergeant crept cautiously to him on hands and knees. Druse neither turned his head nor looked at him, but lay without motion or sign of recognition.

'Did you fire?' the sergeant whispered.


'At what?'

'A horse. It was standing on yonder rock - pretty far out. You see it is no longer there. It went over the cliff.'

The man's face was white, but he showed no other sign of emotion. Having answered, he turned away his eyes and said no more. The sergeant did not understand.

'See here, Druse,' he said, after a moment's silence, 'it's no use making a mystery. I order you to report. Was there anybody on the horse?'



'My father.'

The sergeant rose to his feet and walked away. 'Good God!' he said.

Source: East of the Web

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Dear You VI

Greetings from Chiang Mai. We’ve finally had a few days without rain and that was… refreshing!
Since the last time I wrote to you I’ve been very busy reading, writing and reworking my short stories. The last books that I’ve read were “The Closers” and “City of Bones” by Michael Connelly, and I’ve just started with “Chasing the Dime” by the same author. Waiting on the list still are “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis, “Of Human Bondage” by Somerset Maugham and a couple of real crime books on serial killers. However, I’m afraid that these will have to wait until I get back to Cyprus.
As for my writing, I’ve been working on a new novel in Greek titled: “Two voices and a silence”, and so far so good. I’m writing at a pace of 1200 words a day, which is nor fast nor slow for me. The story is shaping a bit different than I expected, but there’s no real surprise there; it always does. I’ll just allow the flow of the text lead me where it will.
Thinking back I feel like my time in Chiang Mai has really flown by. In just 19 days I’ll be on my way home, but I’m not quite sure if I want to go yet. I just love the relaxed way of life and the serenity of people here so much, that I feel reluctant about returning to the west. Oh well, whatever will be, will be.
Have a nice weekend!

p.s. I’m listening to Nkosi Sikelel i Afrika at a cafeteria right here in Chiang Mai. Now, that’s something I’ll never forget; just like I’ll never forget listening to the Buena Vista Social Club at a restaurant in Luang Nam Tha, Laos.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Virginia Woolf: A Haunted House

Virginia Woolf is and will always be considered one of the true greats of english literature. Even though she became famous for her novels and the "novel-like" ending of her life, she also wrote a few nice short stories. And here's one of them:

WHATEVER HOUR you woke there was a door shutting. From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure ­a ghostly couple. "Here we left it," she said. And he added, "Oh, but here too!" "It's upstairs," she murmured. "And in the garden," he whispered. "Quietly," they said, "or we shall wake them." But it wasn't that you woke us. Oh, no. "They're looking for it; they're drawing the curtain," one might say, and so read on a page or two. "Now they've found it, " one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself, the house all empty, the doors standing open, only the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine sounding from the farm. "What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?" My hands were empty. "Perhaps it's upstairs then?" The apples were in the loft. And so down again, the garden still as ever, only the book had slipped into the grass. But they had found it in the drawing room. Not that one could ever see them. The window panes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass. If they moved in the drawing room, the apple only turned its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the ceiling ­what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet; from the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of sound. "Safe, safe, safe" the pulse of the house beat softly. "The treasure buried; the room . . ." the pulse stopped short. Oh, was that the buried treasure? A moment later the light had faded. Out in the garden then? But the trees spun darkness for a wandering beam of sun. So fine, so rare, coolly sunk beneath the surface the beam I sought always burnt behind the glass. Death was the glass; death was between us; coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago, leaving the house, sealing all the windows; the rooms were darkened. He left it, left her, went North, went East, saw the stars turned in the Southern sky; sought the house, found it dropped beneath the Downs. "Safe, safe, safe," the pulse of the house beat gladly. "The Treasure yours." The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain. But the beam of the lamp falls straight from the window. The candle burns stiff and still. Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy. "Here we slept," she says. And he adds, "Kisses without number." "Waking in the morning­" "Silver between the trees­" "Upstairs­" "In the garden­" "When summer came­" "In winter snowtime­" "The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart. Nearer they come, cease at the doorway. The wind falls, the rain slides silver down the glass. Our eyes darken, we hear no steps beside us; we see no lady spread her ghostly cloak. His hands shield the lantern. "Look," he breathes. "Sound asleep. Love upon their lips." Stooping, holding their silver lamp above us, long they look and deeply. Long they pause. The wind drives straightly; the flame stoops slightly. Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy. "Safe, safe, safe," the heart of the house beats proudly. "Long years­" he sighs. "Again you found me." "Here," she murmurs, "sleeping; in the garden reading; laughing, rolling apples in the loft. Here we left our treasure­" Stooping, their light lifts the lids upon my eyes. "Safe! safe! safe!" the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry "Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart."

Source: OnLine Literature
Bio: Wikipedia
Link: The Virginia Woolf Society

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Oscar Wilde - The Model Millionaire

It was just about time i've uploaded another story by the man of wit that goes by the name of Oscar Wilde. The King of Quotes here tells us all we need to know about The Model Millionaire:

Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic. It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating. These are the great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realised. Poor Hughie! Intellectually, we must admit, he was not of much importance. He never said a brilliant or even an ill-natured thing in his life. But then he was wonderfully good-looking, with his crisp brown hair, his clear-cut profile, and his grey eyes. He was as popular with men as he was with women, and he had every accomplishment except that of making money. His father had bequeathed him his cavalry sword, and a History of the Peninsular War in fifteen volumes. Hughie hung the first over his looking-glass, put the second on a shelf between Ruff's Guide and Bailey's Magazine, and lived on two hundred a year that an old aunt allowed him. He had tried everything. He had gone on the Stock Exchange for six months; but what was a butterfly to do among bulls and bears? He had been a tea-merchant for a little longer, but had soon tired of pekoe and souchong. Then he had tried selling dry sherry. That did not answer; the sherry was a little too dry. Ultimately he became nothing, a delightful, ineffectual young man with a perfect profile and no profession. To make matters worse, he was in love. The girl he loved was Laura Merton, the daughter of a retired Colonel who had lost his temper and his digestion in India, and had never found either of them again. Laura adored him, and he was ready to kiss her shoe-strings. They were the handsomest couple in London, and had not a penny-piece between them. The Colonel was very fond of Hughie, but would not hear of any engagement. 'Come to me, my boy, when you have got ten thousand pounds of your own, and we will see about it,' he used to say; and Hughie looked very glum on those days, and had to go to Laura for consolation. One morning, as he was on his way to Holland Park, where the Mertons lived, he dropped in to see a great friend of his, Alan Trevor. Trevor was a painter. Indeed, few people escape that nowadays. But he was also an artist, and artists are rather rare. Personally he was a strange rough fellow, with a freckled face and a red ragged beard. However, when he took up the brush he was a real master, and his pictures were eagerly sought after. He had been very much attracted by Hughie at first, it must be acknowledged, entirely on account of his personal charm. 'The only people a painter should know,' he used to say, 'are people who are bete and beautiful, people who are an artistic pleasure to look at and an intellectual repose to talk to. Men who are dandies and women who are darlings rule the world, at least they should do so.' However, after he got to know Hughie better, he liked him quite as much for his bright buoyant spirits and his generous reckless nature, and had given him the permanent entree to his studio.
When Hughie came in he found Trevor putting the finishing touches to a wonderful life-size picture of a beggar-man. The beggar himself was standing on a raised platform in a corner of the studio. He was a wizened old man, with a face like wrinkled parchment, and a most piteous expression. Over his shoulders was flung a coarse brown cloak, all tears and tatters; his thick boots were patched and cobbled, and with one hand he leant on a rough stick, while with the other he held out his battered hat for alms. 'What an amazing model!' whispered Hughie, as he shook hands with his friend. 'An amazing model?' shouted Trevor at the top of his voice; 'I should think so! Such beggars as he are not to be met with every day. A trouvaille, mort cher; a living Velasquez! My stars! what an etching Rembrandt would have made of him!' 'Poor old chap! said Hughie, 'how miserable he looks! But I suppose, to you painters, his face is his fortune?' 'Certainly,' replied Trevor, 'you don't want a beggar to look happy, do you?' 'How much does a model get for sitting?' asked Hughie, as he found himself a comfortable seat on a divan. 'A shilling an hour.' 'And how much do you get for your picture, Alan?' 'Oh, for this I get two thousand!' 'Pounds?' 'Guineas. Painters, poets, and physicians always get guineas.' 'Well, I think the model should have a percentage,' cried Hughie, laughing; 'they work quite as hard as you do.' 'Nonsense, nonsense! Why, look at the trouble of laying on the paint alone, and standing all day long at one's easel! It's all very well, Hughie, for you to talk, but I assure you that there are moments when Art almost attains to the dignity of manual labour. But you mustn't chatter; I'm very busy. Smoke a cigarette, and keep quiet.' After some time the servant came in, and told Trevor that the frame-maker wanted to speak to him. 'Don't run away, Hughie,' he said, as he went out, 'I will be back in a moment.' The old beggar-man took advantage of Trevor's absence to rest for a moment on a wooden bench that was behind him. He looked so forlorn and wretched that Hughie could not help pitying him, and felt in his pockets to see what money he had. All he could find was a sovereign and some coppers. 'Poor old fellow,' he thought to himself, 'he wants it more than I do, but it means no hansoms for a fortnight;' and he walked across the studio and slipped the sovereign into the beggar's hand.
The old man started, and a faint smile flitted across his withered lips. 'Thank you, sir,' he said, 'thank you.' Then Trevor arrived, and Hughie took his leave, blushing a little at what he had done. He spent the day with Laura, got a charming scolding for his extravagance, and had to walk home. That night he strolled into the Palette Club about eleven o'clock, and found Trevor sitting by himself in the smoking-room drinking hock and seltzer. 'Well, Alan, did you get the picture finished all right?' he said, as he lit his cigarette. 'Finished and framed, my boy!' answered Trevor; 'and, by-the-bye, you have made a conquest. That old model you saw is quite devoted to you. I had to tell him all about you - who you are, where you live, what your income is, what prospects you have--' 'My dear Alan,' cried Hughie, 'I shall probably find him waiting for me when I go home. But of course you are only joking. Poor old wretch! I wish I could do something for him. I think it is dreadful that any one should be so miserable. I have got heaps of old clothes at home - do you think he would care for any of them? Why, his rags were falling to bits.' 'But he looks splendid in them,' said Trevor. 'I wouldn't paint him in a frock-coat for anything. What you call rags I call romance. What seems poverty to you is picturesqueness to me. However, I'll tell him of your offer.' 'Alan,' said Hughie seriously, 'you painters are a heartless lot.' 'An artist's heart is his head,' replied Trevor; 'and besides, our business is to realise the world as we see it, not to reform it as we know it. a chacun son metier. And now tell me how Laura is. The old model was quite interested in her.' 'You don't mean to say you talked to him about her?' said Hughie. 'Certainly I did. He knows all about the relentless colonel, the lovely Laura, and the £10,000.' 'You told that old beggar all my private affairs?' cried Hughie, looking very red and angry. 'My dear boy,' said Trevor, smiling, 'that old beggar, as you call him, is one of the richest men in Europe. He could buy all London to-morrow without overdrawing his account. He has a house in every capital, dines off gold plate, and can prevent Russia going to war when he chooses.'
'What on earth do you mean?' exclaimed Hughie. 'What I say,' said Trevor. 'The old man you saw to-day in the studio was Baron Hausberg. He is a great friend of mine, buys all my pictures and that sort of thing, and gave me a commission a month ago to paint him as a beggar. Que voulez-vous? La fantaisie d'un millionnaire! And I must say he made a magnificent figure in his rags, or perhaps I should say in my rags; they are an old suit I got in Spain.' 'Baron Hausberg!' cried Hughie. 'Good heavens! I gave him a sovereign!' and he sank into an armchair the picture of dismay. 'Gave him a sovereign!' shouted Trevor, and he burst into a roar of laughter. 'My dear boy, you'll never see it again. Son affaire c'est l'argent des autres.' 'I think you might have told me, Alan,' said Hughie sulkily, 'and not have let me make such a fool of myself.' 'Well, to begin with, Hughie,' said Trevor, 'it never entered my mind that you went about distributing alms in that reckless way. I can understand your kissing a pretty model, but your giving a sovereign to an ugly one - by Jove, no! Besides, the fact is that I really was not at home to-day to any one; and when you came in I didn't know whether Hausberg would like his name mentioned. You know he wasn't in full dress.' 'What a duffer he must think me!' said Hughie. 'Not at all. He was in the highest spirits after you left; kept chuckling to himself and rubbing his old wrinkled hands together. I couldn't make out why he was so interested to know all about you; but I see it all now. He'll invest your sovereign for you, Hughie, pay you the interest every six months, and have a capital story to tell after dinner.' 'I am an unlucky devil,' growled Hughie. 'The best thing I can do is to go to bed; and, my dear Alan, you mustn't tell any one. I shouldn't dare show my face in the Row.' 'Nonsense! It reflects the highest credit on your philanthropic spirit, Hughie. And don't run away. Have another cigarette, and you can talk about Laura as much as you like.' However, Hughie wouldn't stop, but walked home, feeling very unhappy, and leaving Alan Trevor in fits of laughter.
The next morning, as he was at breakfast, the servant brought him up a card on which was written, 'Monsieur Gustave Naudin, de la part de M. le Baron Hausberg.' 'I suppose he has come for an apology,' said Hughie to himself; and he told the servant to show the visitor up. An old gentleman with gold spectacles and grey hair came into the room, and said, in a slight French accent, 'Have I the honour of addressing Monsieur Erskine?' Hughie bowed. 'I have come from Baron Hausberg,' he continued. 'The Baron--' 'I beg, sir, that you will offer him my sincerest apologies,' stammered Hughie. 'The Baron,' said the old gentleman, with a smile, 'has commissioned me to bring you this letter;' and he extended a sealed envelope. On the outside was written, 'A wedding present to Hugh Erskine and Laura Merton, from an old beggar,' and inside was a cheque for £10,000. When they were married Alan Trevor was the best-man, and the Baron made a speech at the wedding-breakfast. 'Millionaire models,' remarked Alan, 'are rare enough; but, by Jove, model millionaires are rarer still!'

Source: East of the Web

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Marina or The Sea

For this fine afternoon here's one of my own stories. It talks about a very special person that goes by the name of Marina.

-“Who are you?”
-“I don’t know!”
-“What are you afraid of?”
-“You are afraid of something you don’t know?”

That is just about how our acquaintance began on one of the many lonely nights at the mirc. “My name is Marina, but I’d rather if they called me the Sea,” she wrote a few minutes later. On my face emerged a smile a mile wide that she could not see. “Is it possible,” I thought, “that in this spider-like World Wide Web, where lie is the name of the game, to have finally met a true and tender soul?”
In the end that was what she truly was; a lonely and tender and pure soul; one of those very rare beings that can create magic; who stand out and above all the rest with the truth of their soul and not with their image.
After that first meeting we arranged many dates in the wide open but actually hermetically closed chat rooms of the Web, we exchanged a lot of e-mails, and we’ve spent countless hours on the phone. And when we finally met in person, in a foreign city, in an alien land, we felt like we knew each other from time eternal; it was like we were never divided by hundreds of miles of silence, by unbearable weights of personal pain. We’ve met at the limit of a real new world, which could not only look beautiful, but also be so.
Many years have passed since that day. Our communication because of the distance and the circumstances that keep us apart, is now very limited, but with the same warmth as ever; full of love for the days gone by, full of expectation and optimism for the ones to come. The close personal contact is missing, but there is always there what binds us together, that special something that adds colors to our yesterday, that makes it look perfect, memories.
I hold in my hands her old e-mail messages; and I take a plunge into the blue waters of her existence. I can feel the salt of the sea on my body, and an immense sweetness fills my soul. I steal joy from the moments, from the words that she once silently offered to me: “I want to become just a little bit like the sea, salty, and never the same again.”
She did become like the sea, and she travels far and away, caressing some distant shores, but every now and then she sends me some special messages that talk about her world of thoughts: “…You should be like water; humid, fluid, refreshing, transparent…” That’s exactly her words, as she wanted me to smile at the “never-ending blue of dreams.” She talks to me still, even from afar. She talks to me about the people, and how much she loves the poetry in them.

Some times I find myself wondering why; why did she have to become a sea wave and go away from me? And I speak to her in silence: “Didn’t you just love our long conversations? Haven’t we lived some very special moments together? Do you remember that full eclipse of the moon that took our breaths away on that cool and joyful night at the beach?” Pictures and more pictures give life to my thoughts; pictures unique of unique moments that still haunt me and memories too magical to be erased by the passage of time. You left! You followed the path to your own destiny, as you would say. And I stayed back here, wondering: Are you still jealous of the seagulls? Do you still love The Green Eyes by Margerit Duras? Do you still worship Pablo Neruda? You really loved his poetry; I still remember how you flooded your messages with his verses; how you could make me travel with his sea-wet screams. As a song goes, “The time moves on and never turns back;” but I really want it to do that; to turn back and fill me with the Sea, to make me a Shipwreck at the seashore of your being, as I used to say…”

I thought about her and talked to her just like that for many a night, because she was far from me and away, and still is. Even if I write this letter in the stars, even if I invade all the computers in the world with these very words, probably this message, this joyous mourning will never reach her hands, her eyes, her ears.
Her face; that’s the one thing that keeps coming up in my mind’s eye again and again; it looked so serene that it could make me furious! The second thing that comes to mind when I think of her is her questions. She always asked why, about everything; about the beauty and the ugliness, about the joy and the sadness of this world, but mostly about pain. She wanted to know it all, to live it all; and she insisted that even our meeting did not occur by chance; it was meant to be; it was written as a prophesy on skies that we could not see.
She dreamed a lot; dreams of the sea! And she lived every day like it was the last. She thought of every day as something unique and never to be repeated again. And when she talked about her big love, the sea, poetry simply poured out of her being: “When I see the magic waves of the sea I know I can breathe”; “I dream without dreaming, and that dream I share with the sea.” Marina was immense, infinite, how could I ever fit in her vastness?
Many times memories tend to turn into a knife and stub your heart stone cold. Mine, are not that kind of memories. They are sweet, like a gentle touch, like a reward. Memories that lovingly push me towards tomorrow; because through them I get to know myself, I get to learn how to be myself; just like she was herself; the true, the transparent; my confidante, my mother, my friend, my daughter and my sister; she, who wrote poetry and led a poetic life; who loved with passion all the people; even those that she didn’t need. “Did she really need anyone or anything but the sea?” one would ask. Of course she did. She needed badly the madness and the passion of the ones that were true at heart; since, in her opinion, most of the people thought that they were alive, but had no clue about what the meaning of life really is.
We had too many things in common, and just as many differences. Once upon a time we both, in different places and under different circumstances, wanted to die of happiness. We both loved taking photos, stealing moments from people’s lives and stopping time. And we were both in love with dreams; we said that we knew what they were made of; despite the fact that more than once we saw them bleed. I’ll never forget one of her aphorisms: “We look for our dreams in heaven, but what the hell are we going to do if they come true?”
When I come to think about the things we lived together, about the things we said and done, I can’t stop myself from believing that it was for the best that in the end we followed our separate ways. If we didn’t probably one day all we’ve been through, the whole of our beautiful yesterday would drift away. So, there are no regrets for our separation. Besides, who knows? Maybe we are climbing on the same mountain from different paths and one day we’ll meet again; or maybe not; but that’s not what matters; the most important thing is that she still lives inside of me, a salty flood that fills and warms my soul, that offers peace to my thoughts.
Now, every time I listen to Loreena Mackennitt or Enya, I think of her and I allow my thoughts freedom to travel to all the Celtic destinations that we’ve never reached; to the road of her dreams, the one that leads to Santiago de Compostela; to that cheese like full moon that we enjoyed a summer night in Athens; to my ridiculous car-accident that made us laugh so much; to our words and our silences on her favorite jetty; to all her poems that never had titles; to all those things she gave me before flying herself away to live in some new fairy-tales.
My adoration for her torments my soul and makes me a laughing stock of myself, but at the same time it reminds me that once I had met a truthful and real human being; someone who stole something from my life and offered it back more beautiful; someone who has become my most lively recollection and my most sweet hope of things to come.
I have no clue where she now is, which is the sea that carries her in its embrace. What I do know is that if she ever comes back, she will find a safe and hospitable harbor in my very own arms. Till then, I will keep her company from afar, by reading her life-flooding messages and looking at her pictures, by pulling out from the vibrating computer of my heart all the special moments of our sea-like coexistence.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Anton Chekhov - The Fish

Here's a story by the best -in my humble opinion- short storyteller ever; Mr Anton Chekhov. Read about The Fish:

A SUMMER morning. The air is still; there is no sound but the churring of a grasshopper on the river bank, and somewhere the timid cooing of a turtle-dove. Feathery clouds stand motionless in the sky, looking like snow scattered about. . . . Gerassim, the carpenter, a tall gaunt peasant, with a curly red head and a face overgrown with hair, is floundering about in the water under the green willow branches near an unfinished bathing shed. . . . He puffs and pants and, blinking furiously, is trying to get hold of something under the roots of the willows. His face is covered with perspiration. A couple of yards from him, Lubim, the carpenter, a young hunchback with a triangular face and narrow Chinese-looking eyes, is standing up to his neck in water. Both Gerassim and Lubim are in shirts and linen breeches. Both are blue with cold, for they have been more than an hour already in the water. "But why do you keep poking with your hand?" cries the hunchback Lubim, shivering as though in a fever. "You blockhead! Hold him, hold him, or else he'll get away, the anathema! Hold him, I tell you!" "He won't get away. . . . Where can he get to? He's under a root," says Gerassim in a hoarse, hollow bass, which seems to come not from his throat, but from the depths of his stomach. "He's slippery, the beggar, and there's nothing to catch hold of." "Get him by the gills, by the gills!" "There's no seeing his gills. . . . Stay, I've got hold of something. . . . I've got him by the lip. . . He's biting, the brute!" "Don't pull him out by the lip, don't -- or you'll let him go! Take him by the gills, take him by the gills. . . . You've begun poking with your hand again! You are a senseless man, the Queen of Heaven forgive me! Catch hold!" "Catch hold!" Gerassim mimics him. "You're a fine one to give orders. . . . You'd better come and catch hold of him yourself, you hunchback devil. . . . What are you standing there for?" "I would catch hold of him if it were possible. But can I stand by the bank, and me as short as I am? It's deep there." "It doesn't matter if it is deep. . . . You must swim." The hunchback waves his arms, swims up to Gerassim, and catches hold of the twigs. At the first attempt to stand up, he goes into the water over his head and begins blowing up bubbles. "I told you it was deep," he says, rolling his eyes angrily. "Am I to sit on your neck or what?" "Stand on a root . . . there are a lot of roots like a ladder." The hunchback gropes for a root with his heel, and tightly gripping several twigs, stands on it. . . . Having got his balance, and established himself in his new position, he bends down, and trying not to get the water into his mouth, begins fumbling with his right hand among the roots. Getting entangled among the weeds and slipping on the mossy roots he finds his hand in contact with the sharp pincers of a crayfish. "As though we wanted to see you, you demon!" says Lubim, and he angrily flings the crayfish on the bank. At last his hand feels Gerassim' s arm, and groping its way along it comes to something cold and slimy. "Here he is!" says Lubim with a grin. "A fine fellow! Move your fingers, I'll get him directly . . . by the gills. Stop, don't prod me with your elbow. . . . I'll have him in a minute, in a minute, only let me get hold of him. . . . The beggar has got a long way under the roots, there is nothing to get hold of. . . . One can't get to the head . . . one can only feel its belly . . . . kill that gnat on my neck -- it's stinging! I'll get him by the gills, directly. . . . Come to one side and give him a push! Poke him with your finger!" The hunchback puffs out his cheeks, holds his breath, opens his eyes wide, and apparently has already got his fingers in the gills, but at that moment the twigs to which he is holding on with his left hand break, and losing his balance he plops into the water! Eddies race away from the bank as though frightened, and little bubbles come up from the spot where he has fallen in. The hunchback swims out and, snorting, clutches at the twigs. "You'll be drowned next, you stupid, and I shall have to answer for you," wheezes Gerassim." Clamber out, the devil take you! I'll get him out myself." High words follow. . . . The sun is baking hot. The shadows begin to grow shorter and to draw in on themselves, like the horns of a snail. . . . The high grass warmed by the sun begins to give out a strong, heavy smell of honey. It will soon be midday, and Gerassim and Lubim are still floundering under the willow tree. The husky bass and the shrill, frozen tenor persistently disturb the stillness of the summer day. "Pull him out by the gills, pull him out! Stay, I'll push him out! Where are you shoving your great ugly fist? Poke him with your finger -- you pig's face! Get round by the side! get to the left, to the left, there's a big hole on the right! You'll be a supper for the water-devil! Pull it by the lip!" There is the sound of the flick of a whip. . . . A herd of cattle, driven by Yefim, the shepherd, saunter lazily down the sloping bank to drink. The shepherd, a decrepit old man, with one eye and a crooked mouth, walks with his head bowed, looking at his feet. The first to reach the water are the sheep, then come the horses, and last of all the cows. "Push him from below!" he hears Lubim's voice. "Stick your finger in! Are you deaf, fellow, or what? Tfoo!" "What are you after, lads?" shouts Yefim. "An eel-pout! We can't get him out! He's hidden under the roots. Get round to the side! To the side!" For a minute Yefim screws up his eye at the fishermen, then he takes off his bark shoes, throws his sack off his shoulders, and takes off his shirt. He has not the patience to take off his breeches, but, making the sign of the cross, he steps into the water, holding out his thin dark arms to balance himself. . . . For fifty paces he walks along the slimy bottom, then he takes to swimming. "Wait a minute, lads!" he shouts. "Wait! Don't be in a hurry to pull him out, you'll lose him. You must do it properly!" Yefim joins the carpenters and all three, shoving each other with their knees and their elbows, puffing and swearing at one another, bustle about the same spot. Lubim, the hunchback, gets a mouthful of water, and the air rings with his hard spasmodic coughing. "Where's the shepherd?" comes a shout from the bank. "Yefim! Shepherd! Where are you? The cattle are in the garden! Drive them out, drive them out of the garden! Where is he, the old brigand?" First men's voices are heard, then a woman's. The master himself, Andrey Andreitch, wearing a dressing-gown made of a Persian shawl and carrying a newspaper in his hand, appears from behind the garden fence. He looks inquiringly towards the shouts which come from the river, and then trips rapidly towards the bathing shed. "What's this? Who's shouting?" he asks sternly, seeing through the branches of the willow the three wet heads of the fishermen. "What are you so busy about there?" "Catching a fish," mutters Yefim, without raising his head. "I'll give it to you! The beasts are in the garden and he is fishing! . . . When will that bathing shed be done, you devils? You've been at work two days, and what is there to show for it?" "It . . . will soon be done," grunts Gerassim; summer is long, you'll have plenty of time to wash, your honour. . . . Pfrrr! . . . We can't manage this eel-pout here anyhow. . . . He's got under a root and sits there as if he were in a hole and won't budge one way or another . . . ." "An eel-pout?" says the master, and his eyes begin to glisten. "Get him out quickly then." "You'll give us half a rouble for it presently if we oblige you. . . . A huge eel-pout, as fat as a merchant's wife. . . . It's worth half a rouble, your honour, for the trouble. . . . Don't squeeze him, Lubim, don't squeeze him, you'll spoil him! Push him up from below! Pull the root upwards, my good man . . . what's your name? Upwards, not downwards, you brute! Don't swing your legs!" Five minutes pass, ten. . . . The master loses all patience. "Vassily!" he shouts, turning towards the garden. "Vaska! Call Vassily to me!" The coachman Vassily runs up. He is chewing something and breathing hard. "Go into the water," the master orders him. "Help them to pull out that eel-pout. They can't get him out." Vassily rapidly undresses and gets into the water. "In a minute. . . . I'll get him in a minute," he mutters. "Where's the eel-pout? We'll have him out in a trice! You'd better go, Yefim. An old man like you ought to be minding his own business instead of being here. Where's that eel-pout? I'll have him in a minute. . . . Here he is! Let go." "What's the good of saying that? We know all about that! You get it out!" But there is no getting it out like this! One must get hold of it by the head." "And the head is under the root! We know that, you fool!" "Now then, don't talk or you'll catch it! You dirty cur!" "Before the master to use such language," mutters Yefim. "You won't get him out, lads! He's fixed himself much too cleverly!" "Wait a minute, I'll come directly," says the master, and he begins hurriedly undressing. "Four fools, and can't get an eel-pout!" When he is undressed, Andrey Andreitch gives himself time to cool and gets into the water. But even his interference leads to nothing. "We must chop the root off," Lubim decides at last. "Gerassim, go and get an axe! Give me an axe!" "Don't chop your fingers off," says the master, when the blows of the axe on the root under water are heard. "Yefim, get out of this! Stay, I'll get the eel-pout. . . . You'll never do it." The root is hacked a little. They partly break it off, and Andrey Andreitch, to his immense satisfaction, feels his fingers under the gills of the fish. "I'm pulling him out, lads! Don't crowd round . . . stand still. . . . I am pulling him out!" The head of a big eel-pout, and behind it its long black body, nearly a yard long, appears on the surface of the water. The fish flaps its tail heavily and tries to tear itself away. "None of your nonsense, my boy! Fiddlesticks! I've got you! Aha!" A honied smile overspreads all the faces. A minute passes in silent contemplation. "A famous eel-pout," mutters Yefim, scratching under his shoulder-blades. "I'll be bound it weighs ten pounds." "Mm! . . . Yes," the master assents. "The liver is fairly swollen! It seems to stand out! A-ach!" The fish makes a sudden, unexpected upward movement with its tail and the fishermen hear a loud splash . . . they all put out their hands, but it is too late; they have seen the last of the eel-pout.

Source: OnLine Literature

p.s. I apologize for not uploading any photos but for the last couple of days the Blogger just doesn't let me do that