Child of Heaven, King of the Mountain

By Andria Chkuaseli

It was raining. As it would during any thunderstorm. The Wind howled into the night sky, as an endless sea of salted rain grazed the ground of hardened mud and soil. The sky was hidden behind a thick curtain woven from dark clouds. The great tall trees, their barks the color of shaded earth and pines prickly and sharp, whipped at the will of the mountain. Rivers ran wild, overflowing at turns, dampening the dirt and shining the grass. Great grey chunks of rock, their skin smooth and edges refined by both wind and water, mindlessly hunkered, bodies unaffected by the raging storm. The creatures of the land had long since gone, either spiriting themselves away or hiding in their nests, waiting for the storm to pass. Yet their prayers remained unheard, as the storm grew instead of fade. The wind turned colder, his once wolf like howls now louder, resembling a rabid bear. The clouds started to swirl together, mixing together their pigment until a smooth darkness painted the sky. The sea of rain became an ocean. The Mountain was angry.

It was lukewarm. Autumn roamed the world, her dwindling shine painting everything in rays of colors only she could conjure. But her strength was waning, slipping through her grasp like sap and honey. The embers of Summer dwindled by each passing day, their bright orange gleam turning ashen white. She could dress trees in colors of red and yellow, could make the rivers flow with fresh water warmed from ice and snow, and make the sun glow in a way none of her sisters ever could. But for all her wonders, she failed in one. To grow and preserve, she could not. The embers which gave her strength, she could not repay. To rekindle, that was something only Spring could achieve. So instead, she tried to keep what was left, but even in that she failed. Winter drew closer, and the two were never fond of each other. As her sister slowly came, the sound of a singing crow became clearer. Soon, she would succumb to Death, reaped by his scyth, as the leaves, crusted brown, fell with her. For now, she would enjoy the warmth she had left.

It was crooked. His body was unlike other beings of nature. Where some had soft pink flesh and hardened sticks, bones they called it, he had nothing but stone. Coarse and sharp, painful to touch. The rivers and rains had tried to smoothen his skin for as long as he could remember, but to no avail. Even their greatest attempts had left nothing but watered salt dripping down his twisted spires to the soft lush grass growing at his base. Colder than midnight snow and harder than the thickest of ice, his stone was as unbreaking as he was unyielding. So dark and cold was he that even Hodr could not withstand him, though he had not seen that deity for some time. He could not remember when he had seen any of the old ones, even those who were born in this realm. The gold haired huntress no longer roamed the wilds, and her horned creatures no longer frolicked through the fields. The lowlanders hunted them without mercy or restraint. Only the wolves ran wild, their muzzles unbound. The sound of bells only stoked the fire of his anger. 

The wind blew, the storm raged, and the earth trembled as the mountain roared in silent fury. So wroth was he that the clouds spewed lightning down upon his body in droves. And as thunder boomed in a night illuminated by a floured star, an angel was struck down from the sky.

Their body was racked by fire. Skin charred, tender and black. Eyes stung with tears as they gasped, lungs filling with life they did not know the need of. The stench of brimstone tained the air like a hung carcass, making them gag as their nostrils burned from the horrid smell. Their head felt like a cracked red Easter egg. The burns and the rain, the heat and the cold. The feeling of being… vulnerable. They hurled both bile and blood, neither of which he had ever known to possess. The taste was just revolting enough to make them gag but not faint. Their ears kept ringing from the singing storm, until a new melody caught their attention. The kind that preceded peril. The fear that came with mortality had yet to reach them, and so foolishly, they raised their head towards the singing crow. And the fear that had oh so slowly been seeping its way from the bowels of their mind suddenly broke the dam that was their arrogant pride and rushed inside, as black pupils floating in a sea of amber stared back at them, blight hunger glinting in the light.

The beast stared down at them with a famished gaze, fangs bared and wet with spit. Even as the wild autumn wind danced around in the thunderstorm, they could still hear the deep low growl echoing within its mouth. Its fur looked coarse and dampened by the rain. Its back was coal black and its belly and cheeks were colored ivory. But what frightened them the most were the flecks of maroon dotting its jaw and snout. At the edge of their sight, they could spot nothing but tall trees basked in the midnight light. They did not know whether to weep with joy or cry in despair. Better to face a wolf alone, but a lone wolf had a danger of its own. Those orbs held the wisdom of a seasoned hunter, and its fangs resembled sabers more than they did teeth. As shameful as it was, they beckoned their wings. When they felt nothing, they tried to slowly flex them. Confused, they slowly broke their stare with the beast and gazed back. The wings were wet with blood. If wolves could smell fear, the one facing them would be drowning.

How many times had they seen blood before? They could count with their fingers. Rarely did they ever venture into the middle kingdom. It always fascinated them, how an open wound would sprout crimson. It felt soothing to touch, but the smell and taste was always a major disappointment. But as they gazed with shock at the lifeless wings, all they felt was madness. Lightning struck close, making their ears ring with noise. Only too late did they hear the faint sound of howling, as the beast pierced skin and dug its teeth into the flesh of his shoulder. They bellowed in pain as the animal gnashed its buried teeth. Without thinking, flinging their arms around the beast, they dug nails into its hide. Angered, the beast bit down harder, so much so that its upper and lower fangs grazed each other. In a last act of desperation, they dug their thumbs into its eyes. The wolf howled in pain, releasing from its jaws. Pressing harder, the animal now whimpered. It thrashed, then it squirmed. When it moved no longer, they knew it was over. 

They wandered on unsteady legs, dragging the wings behind them. Eyes searched like a lost child, until finding what they were looking for. They fell to their knees, ready to drink, until something struck them in the back of the head. Eyes went dim, and they plunged into the river.

The sound of birds chirping stirred them awake. For a moment, They felt weightless. They relished those moments, until their body awoke and they felt pain flare in every corner of every crevice both inside and out. The gleaming sun glared at their back, roasting them like a hog. At least the wings didn’t hurt. their eyes suddenly grew to the size of plates. they tried to hoist themselves off the ground, only to realize that their legs were submerged in a stream. With what little strength they had left, they crawled onto moist land. Shaking, they turned their head, hoping that it was just a horrid dream, and that they would see life in those precious limbs. They bit back a sob when eyes caught the mangled shoulder, and nearly choked when they saw them, battered and bloody, hanging lazily from their back. They looked away, unable to bear the sight any longer. Turning their gaze forward, they found themselves in a valley of green. For the first time in existence, they felt fear. But when eyes caught smoke in the sky, they wept with joy.

They walked along the narrow stream, wings dragging behind as the earth painted them with gravel and mud, blending in with the blood. They now resembled those of their elder brothers after their little spat. it wouldn’t have been noticed, if not for the annoyance they were now. The grazing of their shoulder blades was the only reminder left that there was anything back there at all. They trekked on, ignoring the searing pain in their feet. It felt as if they had been stung by barbed arrow tips. The skin on their legs felt wrinkly and their bones felt like rusted springs waiting to snap. The tips of their fingers felt full, a blackened hue tainting them. The shoulder looked mangled, the slow but ceaseless stream of darkened crimson adding to the spectacle. Staring at the grass as they moved, they avoided the rocks laid along the rushing water. Their tongue tasted bitter, throat burning as they tried swallowing whatever water they could. Suddenly, They heard a gasp. When their eyes gazed up, those of a boy stared back.

Of all the places They had to stumble upon, it had to be a village of heathens. Whatever blood was left in their veins boiled as they walked by the statues of false idols, their shadows casting over as if to spit on their wounded and beaten pride. Their sight was tinted red, and a small part of them worried that perhaps the eyes had begun to bleed as well. They were close to falling upon and ripping piece by piece the next shrine they saw, until coming across something that made them feel as if they were set aflame from within. Men dressed in black robes, crosses dangling from their necks, conversing with the scum. But instead of sword and fire, they had with them food and water. Their faces adorned with smiles as they spoke to these mongrels. Without any semblance of thought, They fell upon the missionaries, barking like a rabid dog. The raving brought them into the limelight, as the pagans gazed with curiosity. The men with dangling crosses looked at them with astonishment. But when they saw the wings, they paled.

Beast, they called. Something broke then. Perhaps it was the eyes, for now they truly saw nothing but red. They pounced, but the strength in them was gone. Screaming as they chanted. False and Fallen. They bled what blood there was left. When nothing remained, they collapsed.

A large part of them wondered if this is what hell feels like. The numbing pain biting away like a hungry rat. Wounds festering in bandages soaked with boiled nectar as the rest of the body froze and shivered in the winter wind. A small part of them kept whispering that it was their own retribution. The ephialtes only added to the struggle. The wolf roamed their mind, more hellish than recalled, but it was not its howl which they heard whenever they succumbed to reality and were drowned back into torment. Whatever plagued them in their fevered dreams was archaic. Unyielding and unforgiving, all seeing in the same regard as they. The rage it carried was not lost either. Wrath was a poison they drunk far too much and savored far too deeply. They felt death close, could even recall hearing the crow sing for a few moments whenever the nightmares broke. A surprising force jerked their head upwards, eyes unveiling to see a shadowy figure. The smell of warm broth filled the room, as a shadow of a smile graced their lips. 

The spring air licked at their washed skin as the man bandaged their wounds. Blood had ceased to stream, but their skin still refused to mend. It wasn’t as pale as it used to be, a pink hue encasing it as life flowed through them like it never had before. Gazing out the window, staring confused towards the endless sky, they listened to the hunter tell his tales. For a man who had spent his whole life in this sordid village, he had much to share, though he never strayed close to the topic of his demons. The few words he spoke were enough for them to realize he had gone and committed an affront to one of them. A harlot with gold hair that stretched longer than men could ever hope to be. The furs he owned were withered, and the bow he had propped up in the corner next to the door was covered in dust. Whatever his past crime, it had cost him his title. Nevertheless, They still referred to him as the hunter. Whether out of gratitude for the help or to spite the whore, they couldn’t decide. He never spoke his name, but they didn’t care to know.

Seconds turned to minutes as minutes turned to hours, hours to days and days to weeks. The silence continued, unwavering and unashamed. No caring voice of wisdom to seek guidance from, no malevolent crone cackling as she burned. Just the distant sound of flowers blooming in the sunlight. But if they listened closely, they could still hear the priests chanting. Beast they called, but beast they were not. They would be judged by the old man, and no one else. If only he would answer their calls. They had broken enough bowls to garner the hunter’s attention at least. A godless man he might have been, but his experience with demons granted him clemency to counsel them. A place of worship he suggested, but a single glare was all it took for him to realize the utter stupidity of it. The humiliation, to stand among lowly swine as they bent themselves to the lifeless paintings and fleeting candles. How the annals would sing with mockery. No, they were a harbinger on a crusade, even if their wings were bent, they would not.

They cried as a thought dawned upon them. This was a test, one they would accomplish. To conquer was to take every stone underneath their heel, and how could they do that if they did not walk. They would scale the mountain, bleed and weep upon it, and rejoice in its humiliation.

They had decided, after stumbling over the fifth tree root, that roaming the forest was not something they enjoyed. Yet, they noticed it held some strange beauty to it. They had never flown close to the earth before, always preferring to soar through the clouds. The only forest they had ever seen up close was one burned and claimed by the red rider. But as they trudged on, clad in furs and leather boots, they would grudgingly admit that the aroma was rather nice. The hunter had begged them to reconsider, but his words fell on ears filled with wax. This was all a trial, a simple  demonstration of superiority. Any angel could fly anywhere they wished, as was their right. But this mountain had to be taken in full. The ground started to slant, as they felt the weight of the sky become greater. The wind started to howl as it did on that fateful night, and for a brief moment, they thought they felt something on their back, but it passed as quickly as it came. They gripped the stone wall, burying their fingers into the cracks, and started to climb.

Where dreary grey rock met the midnight black sky, they could dimly gaze at the edge. Their fingers were frosted red. Most of the furs were torn as they scraped and grinded against the mountain, and they did little to shield him against the pouring rain. If their legs had mouths of their own, they would be wailing in agony. None of it mattered. This pain, this torture and frustration, it would all be for something greater, something they were moments away from grasping. They cried, but the tears were warm, as if stoked by a hearth. Blood may have poured from their wounds, but excitement flowed through their veins, fueling them onwards. Spotting the next crack in which to bury their hands, they pushed up. But to their shock, they could not reach it. The world turned quiet, and for a moment they thought they had finally gone deaf. The sound of a crow rang through the sky, singing with delight. They did not need to look, for they knew what they would find. As old as life she was, but unlike her twin, Death never changed.

“Now what would you be doing here?” she asked. The world around them was being torn apart. Lightning spewed from the heavens above, as the clouds swirled in a never ending battle against one another, bleeding torrents of water that flowed down the mountain. But all they could hear was Death and the cold, smooth and sharp scythe that was her voice. Beautiful. The Hellenes were right to imagine her as something akin to they, but only the old man knows why they thought her a man. Remembering the question, they answered what they had been honored to accomplish. Of all the things they expected, her laughter wasn’t one of them. “You can’t scale the mountain. Your wings are covered in dirt, and the wind keeps pushing down on them. If you wish, I can cut them off!” she said gleefully. They looked at her as if she had just offered to rip their heart out. How could they be an angel without wings, they asked. Her eyes changed, no longer bright. “Is that all being an Angel is, having wings? I thought it meant something more”

Like the scythe they described it to be, her words left their mind in a death like state. The rock started to crack, but they kept staring gazing at her. Closing their eyes, they fell just as before. Yet as they neared their farewell, the screams of the world enveloped them once more.

Having a bow smacked across your face is no way for anyone to wake up, be it angel or man. Yet as they came alive underneath a colorless sun, their fatigued mind came to the conclusion that the hunter wasn’t willing to treat them with guest rights after their stupidity. And yet he had saved them all the same. How they had managed to survive was another matter. If only they had fallen into a river the first time something like this had happened, perhaps it would have been for the better. It would have saved them the pain. But the old man decided otherwise, and a small part of them wondered whether something else had as well. Another swing to the head snapped them back to reality. They glared at the hunter, who proceeded to throw the newly crafted bow he had carved for them. If the world allowed them to survive such a fall, then he would help them reach the highest peak. But first, they needed to learn how to survive alone. And there was much they could learn from a hunter, especially one familiar with the divine.

As the fletching left their hand, the arrow soared through the wind faster than any bird they had ever seen. A bemusing thought entered their mind. How swords ever managed to eclipse these things were a mystery to him, one which only the old man and his brother knew. Humans and their decisions always bewildered him, how they always chose the less appealing option. Give it a few centuries, and the bow would outpace the sword, if not it then its descendant, whatever that may be. But now something else had caught their unwavering attention. They had been warned by the hunter to avoid anything suspicious, but when their eyes found a goat with horns made of gold, they strived to have it. The animal simply stood there, dims eyes and all staring at them, the arrow they had loosed buried in its leg. They knocked another, aiming for its head. Before it could be pierced, the goat ducked its head, letting the arrow bounce against its horns. They watched in shock as it slowly flew back towards them.

Dead by their own arrow. No wonder Death had allowed them to live through their fall. She always enjoyed something befitting of a circus act. Oh how his fallen brothers would laugh at him when he would enter their damned sanctuary down below. Time seemed to slow, and they waited for the small piece of metal to dig into them. Instead, they felt something smash into their side, throwing them to the ground. They heard a faint gurgling noise, quickly followed by something falling to the ground just as they. The goat had run away, and they were bewildered to see something golden weaving through the trees. But their eyes soon landed on something much worse. They looked to where they kept hearing the faint sound of choking, and a gasp left their mouth. As if possessed, they threw themselves over to where the hunter laid, drowning in his own blood. They grasped his head with their hands, staring helplessly at the blood flowing from his mouth. How do you comfort someone who was dying? An Angel was supposed to know.

Beneath a tree, an Angel stood on their knees. Tears flowed down their face. Rain started to drip down from the clouds. To anyone else, it was rain. But those few brighter knew the truth. Beneath a tree, an Angel and a Mountain wept. One for their friend, the other for their child.

They had buried him, as any man would have wanted. It took some time, but they had found a nice tree, still blooming. It had taken them a while, and their fingers were caked with mud, but they finally laid their friend to rest. Wasn’t he their friend? They never called him as such when he was alive, and a part of them hated themselves for it. They considered carving a cross, but that only made to strengthen the taste of bile on their tongue. They would leave the earth as it was. Let the tree be the mark which remains of him in this kingdom which they once considered hollow. They gripped his bow, their own left behind. Looking down upon it, they found it scratched. So much time woven into the wood, and yet it would be little compared to how long it would have to endure them. Their friend had given his life to help them. They would climb this mountain, but not with fire in their heart and steel in their hands. They would do it as he wanted them to. Perhaps they would die here, but they had gotten used to that thought.

And so they wandered up the mountain, their pace slower than a snails. They wished to learn, wanted to see what made this place so unyielding, so unlike the lowlands. They tried to keep track of time, but that slowly slips from their grasps as well, but they find it doesn’t bother them. Blood flowed through them, but they weren’t human, even if they had come to appreciate life just a little more than before. Along the way, they stumbled across many. A village here, a warrior there. They had even come across a shaman. It was an interesting experience, to say the very least. Not one they would want to endure again. The bow, his bow, had managed to not break apart, even though the wood looked as grey as the rock beneath their feet. At long last, they managed to come to the end of their journey. The last village elder they had spoken to had said that this road led to the highest peak. They could feel it in their veins, as they did long ago. They turned the final corner. They didn’t know what to expect, but finding a church was not it.

Jaw hanging down, their eyes bore into what looked like a young church. They must have looked like an idiot, for the sound of someone dying from laughter soon filled their eyes. They turned their head to find Death sitting on the edge of a cliff, feet dangling in the sky as she looked back at them. “What took you so long? The men who built that little thing made it up here over a few centuries ago!” she exclaimed. They looked at her, and back again at the church. A smile dawned on their face, and for the first time since they could remember, they laughed. Real, unhampered laughter. They laughed so hard they clutched their belly in tears. “Hacked around, I guess” they responded, gazing at Death once more. She smiled at them, annoyance and mirth in her eyes. That smile turned to a smirk, as she slowly raised herself off the ground. She walked in front of them, and bowed with mocking elegance. “Welcome to your humble palace, King of the Mountain. May your new found wisdom and humility guide you well” she said, flying away.

On top of the Mountain, an Angel with dead wings stood. Men would say an Angel without wings is no Angel at all, yet this one had flown higher than any with wings had ever done. No longer white, but the color of the world as they knew it. Now, they flew with grace.

Joyeux Noël

by Andria Chkuaseli

It was quiet. Deafeningly quiet. Birds did not chirp in the sky, nor did any rivers flow through the ground, their soothing sounds lost to memory. Even the sound of breathing couldn’t be heard. No one dared to break the silence. They feared the unknown, and this silence was not known to any. It was as if time had slowed to a halt, as the world waited for what would come, but nothing did. The ground did not shake or crumble, nor did the wind blow as tides spewed from the sky and down below. The land was like a frozen corpse, stripped of everything it once held. No lush green trees stood tall and proud. The ground was shaved of grass as it was scorched with fire and drowned in mud. The sky no longer bloomed in blue, it’s color drained as dark grey clouds slowly draped it. The sun still hung in the sky, but it’s shine was gone, as was it’s yellow glow. No longer did it look like a bright star, instead it resembled a hole from which white light seeped into a dark empty box. 

 It was dark. When the sun set, the darkness came. There was no twilight, and the almost mythical dusk could only be glimpsed for a few moments. The moon was different from the sun. it had not lost its glimmering sheen, but that sparkling light did not reach the dirt of the ground. Like a painting, it was beautiful but not real, not anymore. Fires did not burn during the night, for any light that was too unnatural was treated like a wound, unneeded and unwanted. Back home, nights had never been this dark and quiet. There was always a sound or a sight that would brighten the air, but this was no one’s home. One would be forgiven for thinking that such a night would be wondrous for sleep, but life was not so comforting. Sleep was restless here, bringing more harm than help. Those that found it were riddled with nightmares fueled by fevers, and those that didn’t spent their nights weathered and anxious, their eyes dark and lost. The only joy that came with the dark was the comforting feeling that you were all alone.

 It was cold. Summer had passed so long ago, her warm embers dwindled and unkindled. Ash now blew in the wind, a sad reminder of the world that once was. Autumn had held for as long as it was allowed, but her grasp had slipped on the world at last. The brown and crusted leaves, once green and red and yellow, were the only reminder of the hardened trees that once stood. The mud hardened, covering the chapped skin of the world. Snow fell from the sky, grey as the clouds from which it fell. The air tasted cold and stale like frozen steel. A few wrapped themselves in thin blankets, while others tightened their coats and hugged themselves, their knees tucked in and head bent down. Some men just sat, having given up, the blood flowing through their veins the only thing keeping them warm. Not alive, just warm. Whatever this was, it was not life. Death had marked this place for a grave, and it had lived up to its purpose. You could find plenty of men here, doing plenty of things. But not one of them would be living.

The night was like every other in recent memory. The quiet wind howled as the darkness drained the color of life from the world. The cold bit and tore at the living. And as the pale glass moon glowed in its fake light, the sound of singing filled the night sky. 

How long had it been since it started? It had only been a few minutes ago, when the world was silent and many had begun to question whether they had become deaf. But this sound felt as if it had always been here, belonging to the dim stars above. The haunting silence that prowled in the dark had been blown away, Men quietly clamored, asking one another whether the sound was real or if the cold was starting to get to them. Everyone clambered up the wooden walls, wishing to see where the music flowed from. They nearly fell back from shock, when they saw bright lights gleaming in the distance. The wall of darkness that separated them from the other side beyond had been punctured at the bottom. Orange light shined brightly, resembling a row of hearths, as it burned away the surrounding darkness. But unlike a warm hearth, which brought warmth and inspired hope, the lights which shone in the men’s faces revealed the fear their eyes held. The light was unknown, and the unknown was a threat.

It happened quickly. All along the narrow line, shield walls were formed as the men huddled together. Blankets were tossed to the ground as they leaned against the wall, peeking their heads just high enough to see the orange light. There was no warmth in the air, but the surge of blood that went through them had turned the cold from a merciless threat to an annoying thorn. They glared at the strange light, even as their eyes started to water. How long had it been since they had seen a light as bright and as colorful as this? Their thoughts returned to a distant place called home, a memory they had all buried deep within the bowels of their mind, because of the pain it brought their already fragile hearts. A few minutes passed. Soon, an hour. The flesh made wall was starting to break, as the bricks which formed it started to become restless. The fear that had engulfed their hearts was starting to evaporate, replaced with anger and disdain. They had almost broken and charged, until the sound of music filled their ears once more.

There was a foreign beauty to it. The music sounded both familiar, and yet not of this land. Like something out of a fairy tale. Oddly enough, it was reminiscent of a christmas melody. Despite where they were, the men had not forgotten the beloved holiday. How could they, when it reminded them of a broken promise. They should have been home by now. Instead, they stood in a place worse than hell, hungry and bitter, as they froze themselves into an icy coffin. The music had the profound ability to make them feel happiness, sadness and anger all together. Suddenly, as if provoked by an unspoken challenge, some of the men started to sing. It was an old song, ironically befitting. One by one, others joined. Soon, the long narrow line was alight with music. The volume of the foreign song grew, and as it did, so did the men raise their own. Like a battle, each side strived to beat the other. But as it raged on, both started to hear something harmonic. The songs, so strange to each other in the beginning, now resembled twin Brothers.

The night went on, the music continued. No longer a battle, but a dance. Songs which had been strangers soon wove into one so beautiful that it shook some to tears. And as they all sang along, the sun began to rise, shining brighter than it ever did, whisking away the silent night.

As far as the eye could see, there was snow. Glistening white, like a polished pearl. It blanketed the ground, covering the scorched earth below. It hid the scars of the barren land. Untouched and without any stains, the snow looked purer than white silk. It was so white, it nearly blinded the men who looked upon it. Despite being the final week of december, the weather was curiously warm. The sun had regained its colorful glow, and with it came its light. Shining warmth down upon the winter wonderland. It truly was a wondrous land. Only a day ago, it resembled a graveyard under a dead sun. By night, it looked like a place which even the most dreaded of demons feared to visit. And now, it resembles… What did it resemble? Heaven? Or perhaps the fields of asphodel? There were no fields of wheat, but it was as close as it could be. Maybe the cold had finally killed them, and this was to be their resting place. Everyone continued to stare at the snow, until they noticed the man making his way towards them.

How it happened, no one knew. No one remembers who went first, or who shook hands on the agreement. But peace had, somehow, been achieved. Months ago, they were marching to a place they had heard of but never visited. Weeks ago, they were trudging through mud and filth, with bruises on their faces and rips in their clothes. Days ago, they all laid in a narrow line, dug into the earth and filled with rain, trying to retain any sense of happiness they had left. Now, they stood on ground which was white like milk and as soft as wool. But the fallen could still be seen. Green and brown were their uniforms, just like the ones that had yet to enter the sleep without end. Places of rest were dug and prayers were held. Many let the tears fall, but they did not cry out. This was life, as painful as it was, and they had adjusted to it after so long. The hard words of respect were spoken, and now they all stood together. Brown and green mixed with one another, as each stared at the other with curiosity. Oddly enough, they all looked alike.

How men manage to go from strangers to friends in such a short period of time will remain a mystery, as it always has, till the end of time. They hadn’t known each other for the better part of an afternoon, and yet already they treated each other like lost brothers. Food, cigars, drinks. They indulged and traded it in droves. They talked to each other, made jokes with each other, and looked at each other with confusion when they would hear something that would not match what their superiors had told them. They began to play. Where in God’s name someone had managed to find a ball, I’ll never know. They wrestled and kicked each other, slipping and sliding in the snow, joyful at being able to move after spending so much time cooped up in the narrow line. Time flowed onwards, and the men had all but forgotten the sorrow they had been through. The pain was still there, but dulled and withered, no longer reality, but a memory. The snow had washed away their grievances, and had left them as gleeful as children.

When the night came, they stood together, praying for the lost souls, for those back home, and for themselves in what was to come. Then, they caroled their beautiful and ironic song. The moon glowed in ethereal light, shining down on the not so silent night.

June 2, 2020

The Hunchback Affair’s

by Ivan Bunin

The Hunchback received an anonymous love letter, an invitation to a rendezvous:

Come to the public garden on Cathedral Square on Saturday, April sth, at seven in the evening. I am young, well off, and unencumbered, and-why hide it-I have long known and loved you; your melancholy, proud expression; your intelligent and noble features; your loneliness. I would like to hope that in me you will find a soul kindred to your own.

I will be wearing a grey English suit; in my left hand I will carry a silk lavender umbrella; in my right a bouquet of violets.

How amazing he was! How he waited for the day! The first love letter of his life! On Saturday he went to the barber, bought a pair of lilac colored gloves and a grey tie with a dash of red to match his suit. At home he dressed before a mirror, endlessly reknotting that tie while his long, delicate fingers tremble and turned cold. An attractive flush had begun to spread across his cheeks, and his handsome eyes seemed to grow darker, Then he sat down in an armchair, and like an impeccably dressed guest – like a stranger in his own house – he waited for the fateful hour. At last the dining room clock ominously chimed 6:30. He shuddered, then rose with composure, calmly put on his spring hat in the hallway, picked up his walking stick, slowly left the house. Once outside he could no longer restrain himself, however, and although his steps retained the proud solemnity that misshapen backs invariably produce, he moved his long, delicate legs more quickly than usual, seized by that blissful fear with which we all anticipate happiness. Hurrying into the garden by the cathedral, he suddenly froze: a woman was coming toward him in the pink light of the spring sunset. She walked with a certain stateliness, taking long, measured strides. She wore a grey suit and an attractive hat that slightly resembled a man’s. She carried an um brella in her left hand in her right a bouquet of violets. And she too was a hunchback

Someone has no mercy for man!

1930

Untitled (I couldn’t think of a fitting one) 

From the perspective of the female hunchback in Ivan Bunin’s “The Hunchback’s Affair”

by Andria Chkuaseli

Her hand gripped the pen tightly, hovering over the letter. There was a beauty to her writing, she noted, as wisps of smoke slowly drifted from the paper, a reminder to how swiftly she wrote. Around her, the torn and crumpled pieces lay around, littering the floor and desk, a harsh reminder to how she had so desperately struggled to find the words which would paint her in a light she knew her form could never achieve. Her sharp eyes gazed and glided, searching for a mistake. She stared so intensely that she started to wonder whether the act of finding one would sadden her or bring her joy. She pondered the thought of spending the rest of her time, writing letters which would never be sent. Her heart ached at the pain, yet she smiled. She was used to pain, perhaps she grew to enjoy it after so long. 

She took one more longing look at the letter. Her eyes searched for mistakes which she knew weren’t there. She had spent so long perfecting it that she was ashamed. At herself or something else, she was not certain. Her back was a part of her, her curse to bear, and yet it felt like a stranger to her, poking a silver knife into her exposed flesh. A parasite which took nothing, except for her humanity, in the eyes of others and sometimes herself. She had long since forgone a mirror. It made life difficult, but a hunchback isn’t used to a comfortable living. Finally, her long slender fingers gently grab the paper. Folding it, she placed it into a parcel, and went out to put it in the post box. Her hands were shaking, but she willed them forward, slowly pushing the letter inside. She waited for a soft thud to reach her ears, but it never did. 

She stood in the square, dressed in the grey suit she said she would be in, as her left hand gently held on to an umbrella. How much longer did she have to wait. The anxiousness in her heart worried her. She had forgotten to bring a watch, and was afraid of leaving. She did not trust her legs to bring her back if she left. A chill had frosted her spine, despite the warm spring breeze in the air. Her eyes kept darting, like a hare in a field, until she found him. A grey tie dashed with red, and lilac-colored gloves adorning his hands. To anyone else, he was just a mere hunchback, but to her, he was temptation incarnate. She went down the rabbit hole, and strode towards him. He had yet to see her, and her mind wandered to what they would say, what they would do together. And as quickly as she had found her wonderland, she was brisked away, for the storm that was his eyes had washed her away. He had found her, and his eyes held nothing but shock, the familiar repulsion slowly setting in, as it always had, whenever someone gazed at her.

And as his eyes delved into sadness, she smiled, as colorless tears started to stream down her face. A hunchback, disgusted by a hunchback. She bit back a laugh. There was no monster crueler than life.

May 18, 2020

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