Harry Potter and the Burning Times

 

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They have tried very hard to ban  Harry.  Time after time.  According to the American Library Association,  Harry Potter is the number one most often banned/ challenged book of the 21st century. Why all the hate?  Especially in a world where I personally have never met anyone who did not love Harry.

The banning craze that developed around Harry Potter books supposedly has its origin in the fear of witchcraft and sorcery. Apparently, many people are concerned that Harry is promoting the occult, and beliefs like Wicca and Paganism that have NO DAMN BUSINESS in the good old You Ess of A .  ( Call in the National Guard!!!!   Witches and Wizards and Students! OH MY! )

This hatred of witches, of course has its origins in the bible. ‘Thou Shalt not suffer a witch to live’. So says Exodus 22:18.

I read that in the original Aramaic language this passage should have been translated as ‘Thou shalt not suffer a ‘m’khashepah’  (translated as ‘evil doer’ connotation of murderer) to live’. No mention of the word ‘witch’.  The word ‘witch’ by the way, originally meant ‘wise ‘.)

But the good folks over at  Bible Translation Service, Inc. (also known as Puritans Rope ’em and Grope ’em  —  or  The Spanish Inquisition Burning Machine)  decided to throw in the word ‘witch’.  Just for fun.

 

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That one little mess up of a word caused the deaths of approximately 100,000 men and women throughout Europe and the Americas between the years 1450 -1700. Witch genocide still takes place in Africa and the Caribbean.

But back to Harry.  Is the fear of witches still so prevalent in the US that people go up in arms over a children’s book? Is America still that Puritanical?

Apparently, yes.

Personally I think there may be more to it. Harry’s story itself may be what upsets people.

Harry is a disenfranchised orphan who is left to the mercy of his evil relatives until he discovers his unique and special abilities at Hogwarts.  He happens to be taught by witches and wizards but that is not really the point. The point is empowerment.  Harry undergoes a fantastic transformation.  He becomes capable, powerful, whole.  And the idea of the disenfranchised becoming empowered is enough to scare the be-jesus out of the Powers That Be.

Harry is the every man, the working girl, the average Joe (or Jo) who somehow unleashes potential within him/herself.  And if Harry can do it, maybe we all can do it. This is the true gift of Harry and also the reason why they would ban him.

But in the end Harry wins! That is because you cannot keep the light down.   Go into any public library in the US and chances are you will see Harry. Go into any bookstore and you will find him, sitting on the bookshelf, peering through his little round glasses. Maybe even riding a broom in a game of Quiddich.  He says “Come with me. Do not be stifled by their small view of you!  Unlock your wizardly powers and be free!”

Yep. The most subversive stuff in America.

 

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Billy Goat and the Cubs

 

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My owner, a gentleman by the name of Mr. William Sianis, was a kind enough soul, albeit an opportunist. Never one to miss the spotlight, he was flamboyant and prone to anger. He valued me above all else, for I was a novelty, a curiosity and of course a money maker.

“A goat?” Mr. Sianis would say. “A goat gives milk. A goat gives cheese. A goat is a friend!  What is not to like in a goat?”

He was in fact so fond of me that he named his establishment after my species: The Billy Goat Tavern. It was quite a catchy name and drew in much business, especially since he often propped me upon a bar stool and fed me beer.

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In those days, you see, we had no such organizations as PETA nor the ASPCA. Animals were mere servants to humankind. If occasionally we rebelled, who could blame us?

My owner was obsessed with me to an unnatural degree. He had his beard trimmed in a goatee to match mine. He changed his name from William to ‘Billy Goat’ Sianis.  He took me with him on various sojourns around the town.  It was not unusual for me to be seen on my leash at the grocery store or the distillery. He took me upon cable cars and to the occasional social event.  And so I suppose he did not think it peculiar in the least when he chose to bring me to a baseball game.

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The city of Chicago was enmeshed with stockyards back then, the slaughterhouses of my dear sister cows and brethren pigs.  The stench of dead animals was commonplace. Though not desirable, all had grown somewhat accustomed to it.  And so, on that fateful day of October 6, 1945, when my owner saw fit to bring me to Wrigley Field for the World Series game, he had no inkling that his fellow attendees would complain about my smell.

Yet complain they did. We had barely entered the park and taken our seats at the bleachers when some spectator took it upon himself to shout:  “That goat smells baaa-aahhd! Take it out!”

Humankind, I suppose, are amused by their own crude puns.  As for myself I had no interest in being there.  I am hardly what one would call a ‘baseball fan’. The bleachers are most  uncomfortable seats for a fellow like me. I would vastly prefer a barn with some fresh bales of hay or tin cans to munch on.  And so when I was ordered to leave I would gladly have gone peaceably. If nothing else, it would end the ridiculous charade.

My owner, you see, was merely using me as a prop. I provided free advertizing for the Billy Goat Tavern.  (In later years the advertizing would go nation wide when a man named Belushi would immortalize the the tastiest meal on the menu: ‘Cheezeborger’.)

However, on that day, upon hearing the comment, Mr. Sianis became most offended. He had paid my way after all. I had a ticket just like any other customer.  William refused to remove me.  In fact he became so belligerent that the Field owner, one Mr. P.K. Wrigley, appeared in person to formally order us out.

Poor Mr. Sianis was highly insulted. So much so that he laid a curse upon the ball team. “The Cubs!” he shouted. “They ain’t never gonna win no World Series no more!”

And they never have. At least not yet.

Seventy one years has passed since that day. It has been chiefly for my own amusement that I have kept the curse active.  You may doubt my power, but I bid you not forget my long standing association with the ancient Dark Lord.

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It has been grand entertainment to observe  the past century, as this team  has periodically come so close to winning, only to be thwarted by some small mistake. My favorite stunt was in  1969 when I sent a black cat to cross their path  in the dugout.

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That year the Cubs lost the World Series pathetically to the New York Mets.

For many seasons the beloved but ever-losing Cubs have suffered defeat.  But now, in 2016 I am growing rather weary of this prank. If any debt was due me it certainly has been paid.

It occurs to me that my owner is long dead.  Mr. P.K. Wrigley is also long dead. Players have been changed and traded and interspersed so many times, the Cubs are scarcely the same team anymore. And so. From where I stand I believe I’d like to see the Northsiders finally take their long deserved win.

With all due apologies, I officially deem this curse lifted. It was only ever artificial  to begin with. There is but one remaining question:

Chicago Cubs, wouldst’ thou like to live deliciously?

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**NOTE**   Folks living outside of Chicago might not know that this story is actually true!  Read more here.

The late, great John Belushi created a hilarious skit on Saturday Night Live to spoof the real Billy Goat Tavern.

GO CUBBIES!!!!!!!

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Jack the Ripper

 

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Jack: They called it murder but I called it art.

I lurked in the shadows, waiting  for the perfect moment to pounce.  The bevy of beautiful women I selected as specimens were perhaps unsuspecting of my talents.  The good people of London were unsuspecting as well. Yet as that month of September, 1888 passed, after I had skillfully managed to dissect and disembowel four women, leaving their remains to decorate Whitechapel  like human canvasses, it occurred to me; the locals now had great expectations of my work.  I had become a skilled artist in the medium of human flesh.

Why did I do it? Ah, I am quite sure the gentleman at Scotland Yard would love to know the answer to that. Why indeed? I did it with purpose!  It was sublime and beautiful, this sight of torn flesh.  The rushing scarlet that trickled from their necks as I first pricked my knife. The red river that flowed across their clavicles.  Once the blood began to pour I was insatiable in my creation.  Like a painter’s brush I wielded my dagger, deeper and deeper until I hit solid bone. I could not stop till I’d sliced their torsos clean open.

None can say I was not appreciated! The women appreciated me. If you doubt my words merely consider their case:  They were tramps and trollops, living in the squalor of the east end, perpetually drunk on tuppence gin, ever fading into the obscurity of their tragic and unimportant lives.  Never before had they received so much attention as they did after I made human sculptures of them! Were it not for me, I daresay the five of them —  Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Kelly —  would have vanished into obscurity. The life of a penniless prostitute is seldom noticed.

But I, in my sacrifice, had elevated them to stardom! I had edified and glorified them. You doubt me?  Allow me to offer proof:  The newspaper staff came immediately to take photographs of the remains, did they not?  My art was therefore  preserved for all of posterity.  Once the flesh has wasted away what is left?  The image, of course! Forever kept within the confines of  halide and silver, undisputed evidence of my talents, for none could wield a blade as well as I.

 

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If you need further convincing, I beg you imagine: The lovely Annie Chapman. Oh, she was a vision as she lay there in the alley. It was I who took the trouble to skillfully place Annie’s intestines around her shoulders. She was naked, of course. Instead of the fine garments which she could never afford, our dear Annie departed from this earth with the natural adornments of her own bowels. It was quite breathtaking. A sight which precious few are ever privileged to see.

Imagine another. Catherine Eddows. A woman so lovely that I saw fit to remove her uterus. What say you?  I am sick and deranged?  Oh no dear reader, not I.  The uterus, you see, is the very source of life itself.  None can argue that.  There walks not a woman on the face of this planet who would not want her uterus displayed for all to admire! I know this is so, for I, unlike most men, am sensitive to the needs of the gentle sex.

To make things doubly interesting, the womb of Catherine Eddows was with child. A garden of fertility she was, the seed of fetus growing inside her. Therefore when I removed Catherine’s uterus, it was symbolic of life, although she herself had ceased to breathe. I had elevated her femininity to the highest pinnacle.

The fetus? Yes, yes, the fetus died. Of course the fetus died!  What else suppose you? It was a mere casualty of my artwork.

Now consider my last model. What’s that you say? My last victim? You may call her a ‘victim’ if you like, but I shall call her a model.

Mary Kelly knew exactly what she was doing. Of course she did.  The woman drew deliberate attention to herself  by singing out her bedroom window.  She was the nightingale of Whitechapel.  She may as well have cried out, “Notice me! Take heed of me, you inane and senseless world! For I am Mary Kelly, a force to be reckoned with!”

And so. It was when I saw lovely Mary approaching down the alleyway I stopped her. She inquired if I was in need of company for the evening.  A woman such as Mary, who made her living by the animal desire of men, knew full well that each of us was in need of ‘company’. This was the coy, infuriating act they all played!

Mary told me her price was sixpence.  That sixpence, I would of course never pay. Yet I would reward her famously.

 

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She brought me to her room in Miller’s Court. It took little time, for once I had envisioned my masterpiece, I began quickly. Mary removed her skirt and bodice.  Both were lice infested. It was a liberation for her to be free of them. It was my intention that every woman leave this earth as she came into it; birth naked.

Mary gave me a glance, displayed her privates as she no doubt expected me to partake of her favors. I told her I had no such interest. With that I removed my dagger from its scabbard.

The look on her face was one of pure beauty, a mixture of astonishment and fear.  I pulled her close and felt her heart race. “Mary Kelly,” I said. “Your singing will get you nowhere and neither will your peddling of flesh. But I!  I will now preserve you for posterity and all shall know the name of Mary Kelly forever more!”

She let out a scream, a stifled cry of ‘murder’, as women are wont to do. In the squalor of Whitechapel few take notice, for murder is a common occurrence.  This was to my advantage.

I pushed her to the table and pressed my knife to her throat. I thrust it through her neck, down her spine.  Mary was like a fine capon being carved up for Christmas dinner.  The blood poured like a crimson ocean. Finally her heart stopped. This was always my cue to leave.

I cleaned my dagger on her lice infested skirt and returned it to my pocket. I grabbed my cape, placed my top hat upon my head and exited the hovel.

 

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Mary Kelly: The Ripper?  Oh yes, old Jack.  Sit yourself down and  have a cup of steaming tea, for I’ve much to share about my dealings with Jack.

He thought himself quite smart. No one’s fool.  Consider the ridiculous letters he wrote to Scotland Yard.   Little did he know. I was savvy to his foul acts, what he had done to my friend Annie and the rest.  The man was dreadful, worse than a penny dreadful. I swore revenge before I even met him.

As for me, suffice it to say I needed sixpence for my rent. I bid you judge me not.  Some lived nine to a room, slop pails in the street, ragged children eating eels wrapped in newspaper.  Were conditions not of filth and poverty I’d never have engaged that rutting sod. Besides, I was no lamb in the woods.  I knew exactly what I’d gotten myself into. Each time was a risk but what else, besides thieving, would put coin in my coffer and bread on my table?

And so I took Jack to my hovel at Miller’s Court.  Though I’d undone my tatter of a skirt and displayed my bare cunny straight at him, he said he’d have none.   Oh, I knew  it then. He was no normal sort of man.  Yet I’d had his type before, they that requested only conversation. Harmless, the vast majority.  But not this one. Not old Jack.  It was in his eyes. Something diabolical, something sinister.  In that minute  I told myself “Take hold of yourself,  Mary Kelly lest you be done for.”

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I tried to fight him off but he pulled his dagger, gouging me in the throat.  A wound such as this is not so painful as one may imagine.   Fear ate away at my wounds and soon my skin, and all inside me went numb.  Then all I knew was the weak beating of my heart, fading, fading till I thought there’d be nothing left.

But not so! I am a fighter.

A ghost, sooner or later is  destined to leave its flesh body.  I’d not given this any thought up till that moment. I’d been too busy trying to forge a decent living for myself, although my living was never decent. However, in that moment, when  breath left my body, I took on the being of something else entirely.  Something powerful and strong.

I thought of Mister Scrooge’s ghosts. If I’d had my choice I’d be Christmas future, he that stood like a tall black specter, bony hand pointing fingers to a grave.  I’d scare the  daylights out of Jack, had he any daylight to him. As it happened  I nearly got my wish.

Somehow,  removed from my flesh body I  rose. Old Jack had donned his top hat by then and escaped out to the street. I slithered after him,  my vapor passing through walls.

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I was angry, carrying the wrath of the four others who had died before me.  My unbridled temper would see justice!  “You Ripper,” I shouted. “You’ll pay for all this slicing and dicing and mutilating of our wares! You are no man! You are no artist either.  You are but a cruel miscreant and I shall have my revenge upon you!”

Though I knew not how my spirit looked, I must have been terribly frightening, for even the great Ripper cowered at my words.

I chased him. My arms were long shadows that brought gusts of wind, my voice a huge echo that rung inside his ears. I’d have driven him to madness had he not already been so.

I followed him through the blackened streets, his feet clopping like horse hooves on the cobblestone. I pursued him all the way to the river.

There he stood on the bridge, teetering back as my ghostly presence pressed against him. He pulled his knife and attacked me but it was akin to slicing air.  He bellowed a scream but none heard, or if they did they were wise enough to ignore it.  I laughed a diabolical laugh as he trembled in terror beneath me. “Not so clever now are you, Ripping Jack?” I hissed

With the force of a hurricane my ghostly arms pushed.  He tumbled off the bridge to the icy water below.  I watched as his legs flailed, his top hat floating down the Thames.  I then flew, hovering above him as his body, still breathing, drifted to an estuary . The tide  then carried him off to sea.

There he bobbed like a cork in the waves till a swarm of blood thirsty sharks swam in, fins racing.   The big fishes closed in and with blade like teeth ripped Jack the Ripper to pieces. Yet he remained conscious and alive through it all, just as Annie was conscious when he disemboweled her. Just as Catherine was conscious when he cut out her uterus.

Some of his bits were swallowed like Jonah in the whale’s belly.  Some scattered and ran like  water colors, bleeding through the ocean.

The sharks, I am told, fancy themselves to be great artists.

Great White Shark Opening Mouth

Ryder and the Wolf

 

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As I stepped to the forest path the moon was platinum full, bathing its pale light over the changing leaves of October. The Native tribes called this moon Hunter, and sure as I gazed at it, I knew Diana’s strength embraced me.

In my basket I carried victuals, all manner of  which would aid my ailing Granny. There were sweet cakes spilling with honey. Wine pressed from dandelion and elderberry. Ginger root to be brewed in a strong tea and garlic bulbs to be steeped in milk. All of it was surely enough to cure any grippe or fever. My poor Granny suffered. Her health and well being were the most important things to me in all the world.

The night was gray, a thick fog rising, air soft as early autumn’s gauze.  There was a stillness to the wind, an eeriness like the calm before a storm.  This night was odd, I felt it in my bones. Strange things were portended, and if it weren’t for my ailing Granny I would scarce have left from my cottage.

Yet the Hunter moon beckoned.

Halfway through the lupine pass I spotted the wolf. A coat black as ebony and blue eyes that gleamed bright as sapphire.

 

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No doubt the animal had sniffed out my victuals, or even, I daresay, my own blood. I was not a-feared. Humankind surely has dominion over the beasts of this planet. Still, I knew I’d best keep my distance.  I made myself scarce among the heather and pine. I even scattered a few cake crumbs so as to throw the beast off my trail. I then proceeded in another direction entirely, forgoing the shortcut yet proceeding to Granny’s cottage all the same.

My dodging was to no avail, for some three leagues down the road I encountered the wolf again. This time the most wondrous of things happened, so much so that you gentle reader, may doubt my words. I assure you it all is true, sure as my name is Ryder Redd and I dwell in the forest of Galbraithe.

The wolf spoke to me, in a voice clear and stern as any man. “Ryder Redd,”  quothe he. “What brings thee to the forest?”   I was, of course, taken aback.  And yet, in the pale light of the moon, where all manner of wondrous things  happened, and in the still of the fog where metamorphosis morphed, a talking wolf seemed, in that instant, not so very strange at all.

“I bring remedies to my Granny, black wolf,” said I. “For she ails in fever and such victuals are sure to cure it.”

The wolf then sniffed, stuck his snout in the flannel napkin of my sack.  “Have you no meat, woman?” he asked, a rise of tension in his voice.

“Nay sir,” said I. “So sorry to disappoint, but it is medicine I bring. Honey cakes, ginger, strong wine, and garlic, noxious enough to clear any head.”

“Bah, what good are you?” said the wolf. With that he bounded up the path. I silently thanked Diana, for she had no doubt protected me. As the Huntress keeps her animals at bay, so humans are free to wander the earth.

By and by I came to Granny’s cottage. I knocked upon the door. No answer. The house was still as rock, no sign of stirring within.   Granny was, no doubt, in slumber.  I opened the door. The house was dark and I fumbled for some candles.  Having lit them I checked the bedroom, looked beneath the sheets, lifted the dust ruffle and even peeked under the bed. “Granny?”  I called. She was nowhere to be found.

Just then through the window I heard an earth shattering howl. Then more howls joined in unison. My heart quickened, for, confronted with one wolf I was able and competent, but this – a whole pack outside my Gran’s door? For this I was not equipped.

Still, curiosity got the better of me and I went to the window.  What I viewed, gentle reader, you will surely not believe. Yet I saw it with the eyes in my head, a steady gaze not tempered by imagination nor spirits. I even pinched myself to make sure it was so.

There, under the light of the moon I saw the pack of black wolves.  Nay wolves!  I say wolves – but not these! These were some strange form of animal, heads and bodies like wolves but with spans of feathered wings that fluttered from their backs.  They were like Pegasus, if such a creature existed.  Like Gryphon, were such a creature true!

 

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By my wits and my troth I should have been frightened. Frightened white as Diana’s moon. But no.  The winged wolves stared at me with eyes of interest. Something was so enticing, so inviting about them.  And so I opened the door, left the safety of the cottage and joined them in the field.

The one whom I had seen in the woods came forward. He  now had sprouted wings but when he spoke, the voice was exactly the same as I had heard it before. “Ryder Red,” quothe he, “we are pleased to see you.”

The wolves then swarmed in their circle. I moved closer.  And then! Such a hideous sight I have never before beheld.  Between them they shared a large carcass of meat, marbled  with gristle and tendon.  Upon closer look I recognized it as the torso of a human chest. The flesh was bloody, severed at the waist, spiky bones of a rib cage protruding. The air smelled of iron and meat.

I watched mesmerized as the gryphon-wolves, with dagger sharp teeth, ripped at their prey.  They growled and squabbled, slithered their tongues to lap up the pouring red blood. Finally one beast, the leader of the pack, dug his snout deep into the torso, gnawing until he pulled out a heart. Greedily  he chewed at it, a stew of scarlet veins, aorta bursting and even more blood that splattered on his fur like liquid roses.  The others consumed all  the leftover bits, licking remnants from the grass. I took a step back.

Pleased to see me? My ears burned.  Had the wolf  actually said ‘pleased to see you’?  And where o where was my Granny?

The wolf I’d made acquaintance with moved away for the circle and approached me.  He studied me and inasmuch as an animal can smile, he smiled at me.

“What name sir?” I asked nervously, for it seemed the beast must have a name and I should use that name to address him. “And what know you of my Granny?” I added. She was the most important!

“I am called Lycan,” he answered. “As for your Granny, she is changed. Never to be the same again.”

“Changed how?”

“She ails not.”

“Not how so?”

“She is well.”

“Well how so?”

“She is different.”

“Different how?”

“She is changed.”

“Aye sir!” I screeched. “Bring an end to this riddle! I am to tend to my Granny.”

“She needs not tending,” quothe he.

Then, with all the grace and ease of the moon and all the obscurity and blur of the fog, one magnificent gryphon-wolf flew forward. “I am she,” said the voice and I knew it was the voice of my Granny.

“To what form have they brought you?” I gasped. Yet as I watched her I was not frightened nor disgusted. Inasmuch as an animal can smile, she smiled at me.

 

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“My eyes child,” she said, “are all the better to see with. And my teeth all the better to eat with. My ears hear as never before. Sharp as an animal’s.”

In that moment I heard a scurry of feathers, the loud beating of wings.  A glitter of silver like so many falling stars scattered across the sky. All the gryphon-wolves, save for Lycan, disappeared quick as cats, vanishing into the fog.

“My Granny is no more?” I cried desperately.

“She is no more for you to see as such,” answered Lycan.

My heart fell although Lycan assured me it was for the best. He then guided me back to the cottage. Once inside, he bid me open my basket. “The honey cakes need not go to waste,” he insisted.

By then I had grown quite hungry, and so I devoured the cakes.  I had also grown quite thirsty and so I drank the wine. I felt my head go light. I became very sleepy and stupid, still unable to grasp what had happened. My world was a prism, a split of fog and moon, a mixture of fear and compassion. The fire blazed in its hearth, surreal in its ever changing facets.

 

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“Time for bed Ryder Redd,” said Lycan. With that he pressed his paws to my chest and unbuttoned the stays of my red cloak. Yet in that unbuttoning, his hands somehow changed. They were no longer the paws of a beast. The fingers that pulled at my stays were graceful fingers, with well manicured nails. The hands of a human and a wealthy one at that, the hands of fine breeding.

He pulled the cloak from my shoulders and pressed his face close to mine. It was not the face of a wolf, but a man with a mane of black hair, a face chiseled, cheekbones that glowed bronze and healthy.  His sapphire eyes glided over me. His touch was gentle upon my shoulder, gentle upon my waist.  He unlaced my camisole, slid my pantaloons off my buttocks and I, docile and sleepy with elderberry, complied to him.  I fell into the sheets of Granny’s bed and Lycan climbed beside me.

“You have not eaten, my lord,”  I said, for in that moment it occurred to me; I had been most inhospitable, gobbling all the tarts and chugging all the wine. “Of the honey cakes, I fear none are left,” I added sleepily.

“Ryder,” said he, “I am a carnivore, consuming only blood and meat.” His kiss was warm on my breast.

 

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Needless to say, he did not devour me, for if so I would not live to tell this tale. Yet suffice it to say he did not go hungry. That night, and every night thereafter I spent with my wolf- man.  He was an agreeable sort and a perfect gentleman toward me, save for once a month at Diana’s full moon when he transformed.

It was then that a pack of black wings fluttered over the forest. It was then that the gryphon-wolves feasted, the poor body of some disease-ridden human finally rescued from its illness. It was then that the flesh became silver stardust, spread across the sky like a flurry of crystalline diamonds.

The saved one would speak of new eyes, all the better to see with. And new ears, all the better to hear with. And of course, new teeth. All the better to bite with.

 

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Congratulations Bob Dylan!

 

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The question is not WHY did Bob Dylan win a Nobel Prize for Literature. The question is WHY has it taken this long?  The second bard, the traveling Wilbury, he who makes us look at that which we (do not always) want to see.

“He wants to scatter poems from airplanes across the landscape

He’s some kinda poetic nut Like he thinks he’s Dylan

Thomas and Bob Dylan rolled together 

 

He wants to lip-read everybody’s thoughts and feelings

and longings…”

— ‘The Love Nut’ by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Plus, he was the  original sign holder 🙂

Thanks Bob!

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