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  1. #61
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    What happens to me is that the subject doesn´t appeal to me as well as the other ones you usually write about. Maybe because I live In South America and in a city where drugs consum is a very concret urban problem without any glam about it.
    Recently the current major issued a main operation against the quarter where the drugs are openly sold.The addicted, who usually are homeless too and live in precaurious conditions near the drugs selling tents swarmed in despair around the place and settled in another place near by.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  2. #62
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    That's one of the problems with the internet. A decent author usually know the audience his story is intended for, or at least, has one in mind. Not here, and as far as I know, no way to tell. Since I write in all sorts! of genres, and all over the board, I found out early, you can't appeal to everyone. You could take their temperature if they would reply, I loved it! It stank! Whatever. But no one is willing to put the thermometer in their mouth in public. On the other hand, I'm not convinced I made it seem glamorous.

    The last line in Road of Death isn't about glamour. Getting busted, and watching your world crumble by default( because you're under the influence) isn't glamorous and doing time isn't either.

    But, as you say, it isn't your cup of tea. Maybe greener tea will do, something from the East. So, viola, here you have:

    Palace of Precious Stones



    He was up to his knees when he spotted it, ‬only the size of a pea. ‬But it was red. ‬Red. ‬He couldn’t believe his luck. ‬Reaching down he fished it ‬out and placed it in his mouth. ‬Now he could go ‬back and sun himself on a rock.

    Withdrawing his feet from the stream he spread his toes wide and swished his feet back and forth forcing water between them to wash out the yellow mud. ‬He sunk back on a rock to relax. ‬His work for the day was done.

    The rock felt smooth and warm on his back. ‬He popped open his cowboy shirt to catch the last rays of afternoon sunlight slanting between the leaves of a giant fig tree whose trunk was as ‬naked and pale as any woman’s. ‬He basked in the sunlight that escaped the grasp of her leaves with permission. ‬ Starry-bright reflections danced on the water as he watched a water strider thread its way between bubbles and eddies constantly changing their pathways. ‬A kingfisher darted just over the surface then away like a shot.

    He considered the thing in his mouth. ‬He took it out and gave it a good look. ‬It was red, ‬not a hint of purple, ‬that was good. ‬It was ‬irregular, ‬less to cut, ‬that was bad. ‬The stone was big enough to pay for what he needed but not what he wanted.

    “Damn, ‬it’s always this way with me. ‬The rubies here are never big enough.”

    Michael was all about the money, ‬or so he thought. ‬ If you asked him,

    “‬Mike, ‬what the hell is an American G.I. ‬doing in the highlands of Burma looking for rubies?”

    He’d simply say, “‬This is where the money ran out.”

    Complex men always come up with simple answers. ‬It wasn’t that Mike’s answers were lies exactly, ‬only than in his efforts to simplify them he’d stripped them naked ‬of the truth.

    He watched the sun dip lower until the hills took on a bluish cast, ‬and the ones beyond a purple hue. ‬White puffs of cumulus turned grey against the setting sun tinging their edges silver and when it dipped even lower, ‬gold. ‬Mountain shadows lengthened and in the distance he heard a peahen crying for her mate, ‬insisting he return to their nest for the night. ‬It was only too obvious ‬she didn’t like sleeping alone. ‬With darkness the forest grew quiet and the sounds of the day animals were replaced by the noises ‬of crickets and creatures of the night. ‬The gentle murmur of the river never stopped and would not vary its tune until ‬the miracle of the ‬monsoon came. ‬ All Burma lie ‬hushed and ‬waiting. ‬Some things never change.

    ‬So Mike really wasn’t there because that’s where the money had run out. ‬He was there because the mountain forest had seduced him like a lovely woman and now he’d fallen in love with her exotic beauty, ‬her consistency, ‬and the rhythms of her life.

    If only he knew it.

    The next morning he was sitting on a stump drinking coffee and spitting out the grounds that he hadn’t quite strained out. Tired of trying to filter it with his teeth, he ‬gave up, ‬and poured the rest on a wandering stink beetle that didn’t seem to mind.

    “‬Insects are tough,” ‬he reasoned, “‬but then again so am I.” ‬Then he walked off to work ‬down river.

    He liked being his own boss and enjoyed working in the small streams that fed into the Mogok river in the Valley of the Rubies. ‬The door to the Mogok had cracked open in nineteen sixty-six and he squeezed in smartly just under the radar. ‬Now he had his own hut not far from a local tribe of Shans who’d been in the trade for years. ‬They ignored him, ‬all except for the children, ‬thinking him eccentric as hell.*‬He didn’t mind and agreed he probably was. ‬He was a loner ‬by trade, a loser by profession, ‬always hoping for a big strike... ‬never getting it. ‬That was his life.

    He knew that just beyond the bend that Shan women were bathing and always, ‬or nearly always, ‬when he walked by on his way to find rubies, ‬made it a point to stay on his side of the river. ‬He knew enough to give temptation a wide birth and usually pretended to ignore them

    But this time was different.

    Sitting on a rock removed from the rest was a girl quite singular and alone. ‬She glanced up at him with uncurious eyes.

    “Mingalaba,” ‬he called out in Burmese.

    “Krishnagopal Kodoth," she answered in Shan. ‬By the way she pronounced it, ‬it sounded more like Bangkok Thai. ‬The girl had been around.

    A sudden smile hovered on her lips and she let herself into the water without a sound. ‬Swimming away, ‬her hair trailed behind her like so many thin curves of black coal. ‬Their undulating design entranced him. ‬She disappeared among the rocks like a shadow from a passing cloud leaving him wonder if he’d ever really seen her at all. ‬It was like seeing a nymph or a creature of the forest that shouldn’t be seen. ‬He had a curious feeling he’d seen an apparition, ‬and it left him unsettled the rest of the day.

    When he took off his cowboy shirt with the snaps they pulled lose of the rotten shirt leaving holes. “‬It’s the climate,” ‬he said, ‬looking at his rotting tennies “‬It rots everything.* ‬It’s time I went down river to see Nigel.

    Three real men were going downriver in a small canoe with an outboard motor. He waved them ashore and passed cigarettes around.

    “Going downriver?” ‬It was only too obvious they were as their canoe was full of skins. ‬They were hunters.

    Ancient Enfield jungle carbines were stacked in the narrow wood prow. ‬Their vehicle had once been a single living thing… ‬a tree…now it was a dead and a good canoe. ‬Natives know how to recycle and had probably used it for years. ‬You see, ‬it rains rough in the tropics, ‬the trees try to be tough and learn how not to rot. ‬A tall man sitting in prow smiled with irregular teeth stained with betel nut and offered him a ride,

    “‬As far as your cigarettes hold out.”

    Michael pushed them off the mud.

    The river that day was flat. ‬Yellow mud was on most of the banks, ‬darker around the rocks. ‬Lots of leaves and debris spotted the surface everywhere you looked. ‬Tall green reeds with golden corn-silk cattails trailed bubbles downstream patterned like silver shimmering scimitars slicing the cool blue water. ‬The outboard carved the river up behind, ‬spreading outward like a rabbit-ear TV antennae. ‬It was cooler over the water as the wind blew back over your face. ‬Six white herons searching for food to your right, ‬squadrons of green turtles sunning themselves on grey rocks on your left. ‬They felt just like he did…totally fine. ‬Nobody had to paddle.

    By ‬Late afternoon they reached the trading post on a bend in the river near the outskirts of town. ‬The front of the post was on one end of the street but the back faced the river from the east. ‬Its back porch was a good place to view the sunset, ‬which is what Nigel usually did. ‬He was punctual and dreamy about it, ‬and his four pipe a day opium habit probably didn’t hurt.

    The hunters tied up on the dock near the back and then walked around to the front. ‬Nigel came out to greet them. ‬He was tall, ‬grey at the temples but well built and had an imperial voice marred only by a cockney accent. ‬The accent was popular with the Burmese ladies thereabouts and everywhere else for that matter. ‬To the locals cockney equaled exotic.

    He finished his business with the hunters straightaway, ‬then saw Michael standing in the doorway.

    “‬Hello, ‬what’s this? ‬Something wicked this way comes?” ‬Despite what he said he beamed Michael a smile as big as the tropical sun, pretty damn big when you come to think of it.

    “‬I’ve come to do business.”


    “Come through to the back and we’ll watch the sunset. ‬The business can wait Old Boy, ‬but the sun has got plans of his own and can’t.”

    “Sure enough, ‬let’s go.

    ‬He always got a thrill when Nigel called him old boy. ‬He was only thirty-two.

    They walked through the rooms of the post to the back and noticed a sickly sweet smell.

    “That’s why I met them outside,” ‬Nigel said, “‬the others. ‬They don’t need to get into this.”

    “And you do?”

    “It’s my habit it is, ‬that and watching the sunset”

    They sat in rattan chairs and gazed at the ‬water so smooth, ‬so perfect, ‬so indescribably blue. ‬It’s hard to sort out who enjoyed it more, ‬straight Michael or opium-bent Nigel. ‬The sky and clouds reflected in the water and fishermen in small boats became mere silhouettes against the glare. ‬It was marvelous.

    After some time they came inside and Michael lit the oil lamps while Nigel shuttered the teak shutters and secured the door, ‬pulling down its shade.

    “‬What have you got for me Old Boy?”

    “Three rubies,”

    He tossed down a green velvet cloth snatched from the top of a butterfly case. ‬Nigel spread it out. ‬ Then the rubies.

    “‬These two, ‬old boy, ‬are not good. ‬That’s not good, ‬not no good, ‬righto? ‬They’re ‬worth something. ‬But this one’‬s pigeon’s blood. ‬ It’s worth its weight it is.”

    “Enough for a month of supplies?”

    “More than enough for a month I’d say.”‬

    That was it, ‬not even a handshake.

    Two days in town was enough and he was on the river threading his way back. ‬It was sunny and warm and the banks on both sides were planted in bright showy palms that reached out over the water. ‬The land thereabouts was incredibly fertile. ‬In a quiet spot where the current slowed he saw a red deer drinking at water’s edge. ‬By that night he was home.

    He didn’t search for the girl, ‬anymore than you or I would search for a figment of our ‬own ‬imagination. ‬But he did happen upon her again. ‬It was at the same place ‬near the pool. ‬She was sitting on a rock reading something he couldn’t quite see, propping it on her knees.

    “‬Hello,” ‬he offered.She looked up and smiled, and the book or whatever it was, disappeared.

    “‬Reading?”

    “Well, ‬I ‬was bathing, ‬but now I’m through.”

    It was unusual. ‬Most Shan women bathed together or in family groups, ‬laughing and joyous, ‬splashing about in the shallows. ‬He wondered what strangeness in her made her bathe away from the others.

    “‬Most of the girls bathe down there,” ‬he said pointing, “‬not you?”

    “Sometimes I just want to be alone, ‬that’s all” ‬She hesitated then said, “‬You’re the American I take it?”

    “That’s right, ‬I’m Michael.”

    “I’m HKaw-Seng.”

    She got up to leave and wrung out her hair. ‬Her wet clothes clinging to her body revealed her delicate feminine form. ‬After she wandered away he saw she’d left a paperback book behind on the rock face-down. ‬He picked it up and looked at the cover. ‬It was Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. ‬On the open page he read,

    “Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast.


    “Hmm,” ‬was all he said and placed it in his cargo pocket and buttoned it shut for safe-keeping. ‬She was a Caution all right. ‬Shan girls reading Hesse. ‬What would they think of next?

    Then it was back to work as usual. ‬He didn’t mind working the small streams, ‬it was cool there during the heat of the day, ‬and the Shans stayed closer to the river itself. ‬He always seemed to find small rubies, ‬but never enough. ‬He dreamed that one day he’d find a large one, ‬one large enough to allow him to return to the States in triumph, ‬buy a big house and a car and plenty of milk-fed big-breasted women. ‬Michael was about the money and the money was about the very American dream that had been stuck in his head for years.

    It wasn’t as if he’d forgotten about the girl. ‬He hadn’t. ‬How could he when she appeared and reappeared in his consciousness like a will-o-the-wisp?‬ He awoke just after dawn, ‬and while sitting on his breakfast stump drinking his morning cup of Java, ‬saw a figure, ‬just a silhouette really, ‬outlined against the rising sun. ‬The figure walked with privilege, ‬even though there was laundry piled on its head. ‬It drew closer, ever closer, ‬like a sensuous moving contradiction.

    ‬It was her.

    to be continued...

    ©Steven Hunley 2010
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 06-14-2017 at 08:59 PM.

  3. #63
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    You left me wondering at the end what would happen next which was good.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  4. #64
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    The apparition had taken human form once again. ‬It ‬was flesh and flesh has a voice so,

    “Good morning Michael. Getting ready for work? Me too.”

    She put down the laundry that was her work.

    He was stunned that she remembered his name ‬and answered,

    “I’m going to work the small stream down half a click. The stones I find have been getting small.”

    It was most peculiar ‬as if they were continuing a conversation that had started years ago between good friends.

    “And they’ll be small there too, if that’s where you look. Try way up in the eddies, where the gravel is about the size of your thumbnail. You might have better luck.”

    “There’s some coffee left...if you drink coffee,” ‬he countered, ‬and put on his pack, “‬help yourself.”

    “Good luck?‬”

    “I won’t need it.”

    He strode ‬away ‬his back to her, ‬but then he turned around to give her a glance ‬to see if she’d disappeared like some sort of phantasm.

    The phantasm had his cup to her lips, ‬and was taking a sip of warm coffee into her sweet inviting mouth ‬She gazed down at the pile of laundry at her feet. ‬Then she went down on her knees and started to scrub. ‬For a ghost she had a remarkably pretty nose. ‬Maybe she was for real. ‬He’d forgotten to mention that he’d found her book now safely secured in his cargo pants ‬Watching a fantastically pretty phantasm doing laundry in a mountain stream made it completely slip his mind.

    She was no phantasm or ghost ‬The proof of her was in his pocket.

    An hour later he was at the small stream and found the spot where the current eddied around some smooth white rocks.. ‬The sand wasn’t sand here it was gravel. ‬He waded in and began to look. ‬A branch overhung here and there with purple-painted orchids. ‬Where the trees were taller,. ‬a flying fox jumped from one branch of teak to another, ‬avoiding a viper out for a meal. ‬Still he waded. ‬The stream was itself in the spilling. ‬The day drifted by like a barely heard song, ‬not quite recognized, ‬like music from another room.

    Then he saw the red gleam below him. ‬There it was. ‬She’d been right. ‬This was the place to look. ‬He fished it out and examined it. ‬Not so good, ‬but larger than most, ‬almost the size of his fingernail. ‬The ends of his mouth curled upward. ‬How had she known?‬ And ‬when he returned home later that afternoon, ‬she was still there. ‬The day was an incredible day. ‬The night that followed would be the same…incredible. ‬Nature left nothing to chance.

    “If you let me use your kitchen, I’ll make you something to eat.”

    “She must be hungry,” he thought, “so why not?”

    “There’s a can of baked beans on the shelf,” he directed, “help yourself.”

    He sat down by the river to watch the setting sun and the silhouettes of a flock of birds passed by constantly changing the patterns of their formations. She brought him some coffee.

    “Relax, this will take some time.” She leaned over and handed it to him. Her hair was down and brushed against his cheek. It was scented and as dark as a raven’s wing.

    “Some time? For a can of beans? Maybe she doesn’t know how to cook.”

    But sitting watching the fading rays of the sun was pleasant enough, so he’d wait.

    Time slipped by unnoticed as it usually does.

    She came out with his food on a plate.

    “What’s this?”

    “That’s river fish cooked in coconut milk, that’s rice obviously, and the green stuff is bokchoi.”

    His mouth fell open, which is probably a good thing, as he was about to stuff it anyway. Miracle of miracles, wonder of wonders, the woman had cooked for the man.

    “How’d you get the stove to work? It always gives me trouble. It smokes terribly.”

    “I opened the flue, that helped.”

    “And how is it you speak English so good?”

    “So well. I learned how in school where else?”

    When they finished it was still not quite dark. The shadows of the trees were long and shown all the way to their side of the river. Noting that the coast was clear a troop of squirrel monkeys came down for a drink in the cool of the evening. Seeing the monkeys made the girl feel like playing.

    “How about dessert? I always save it for last.”

    She reached into her bundle and pulled out a single plum.

    “Here.”

    ‘There’s only one,” he remarked, “and two of us.”

    “Then slice it in half.”

    A unfolded his pocket knife and did just that. The skin was black and the flesh was dark red. It was plump and ripe. When he cut it crimson juice ran all over his fingers. He tried to hand it to her but she refused.

    “I’m not getting that mess on me. Put it in my mouth for me.”

    He did, but then he did something he’d never done before. His fingers were so close to her mouth that drops of it’s juice ran over her lips, staining them red. And before he knew it, he was touching her lips with his thumb, not being able to stop, not even hesitating, running it over her lips from corner to corner. When he pulled his hand away he realized what he’d just done and wanting to pass it off as just play he said,

    “Where I come from the women wear lipstick. They put it on just like that.”

    “And then they blot it don’t they? And when they kiss their men, it leaves a mark doesn’t it? I‘ve seen it in movies.

    “Yes,” he said, thinking he’d got away with touching her, “ I believe it does.”

    “Then here.”

    She got up and grabbed her bundle of things. Then suddenly she stepped closer, placed a hand on his shoulder, and stretching up on her toes, gave him a kiss on his cheek. She ran off into the shadows and then faded from view, just like a proper phantasm should. He had two proofs of her now, the book in his pocket and the plum stain on his cheek. The whole thing seemed highly unusual. Highly unusual or terribly romantic, he couldn't decide which.

    One sultry afternoon the three hunters came by with a bottle of Arak which they were willing to share. He hadn’t seen her for two weeks, was morose, and decided the best thing to do was get drunk. It was a mistake.

    The three hunters turns out, were cousins, and besides the fact they made money together by combining their skills as hunters, didn’t care much for each other, and were upset over the conduct of their common wife. You could hardly blame her, she was torn between three lovers. Each blamed the others for faults the woman had and how she treated them with disrespect, how she showed her hand of hatred in so many ways. They bad mouthed women in general and were too drunk to care. That’s how they were when they drank. One had a gold ring with a ruby the size of a nickel, not pigeon’s blood but lots of mercury in it. Michael looked down at his finger and saw nothing. They were successful at what they did. He wasn’t.

    It disturbed him so he drank along with the rest of them. The Arak was not deadening the pain of longing that lingered in his heart. Drinking made it no better. He felt useless and gave up. No one he’d ever know made him feel that way before. He went to bed after they left but couldn’t sleep. The crickets chirping didn’t help, neither did the sound of the wind between the branches above his hut.

    She appeared from the darkness, her frame silhouetted at the door, for women with such figures deserve to be silhouetted, by the fire outside. It made a flickering light but hid her in shadow. He could see nothing of her face, and hear only her voice. There was nothing like it. He was startled. They talked nervously, back and forth, excited, talked of nothing, yet said so many empty meaningless words. Still nervous in anticipation, she finally asked what she really wanted to know and whispered,

    ”Michael, what is it you want?

    He looked out into the darkness beyond the fire.

    A fish jumped upriver, and when it fell back, left a ever widening circle of water radiating outward, growing bigger and bigger, the ends of it lost in oblivion. It made no difference.

    Michael’s head was lost and hung up, still hung up on the money.

    “I want to make the biggest score on the river for all to see! I wanna be big, real big!”

    He extended his arms ultra-wide.

    “Then I can return to the states with a BMW all shiny and new and live in a mansion in Beverly Hills right next door to the Beverly Hillbillies! I’m nobody’s fool! I’m civilized ! And I know what I want."

    He was drunk. He was idiotic. Same thing.

    She’d never seen him like this and thought at first he was ill. Then she smelled his breath and the bottle. The story it told her. She helped him to bed and tucked him right in. Then she went outside and sat on the porch step and tasted a tear that rolled down her cheek, holding onto the bannister for some kind of support. They’d started off remote and now they were there again. What a waste. Nothing could be done but wait and talk later when he felt like talking, when it was over. So she’d wait.

    In the morning he knew from the feeling his head had that he’d been drunk. That’s how it felt. She was asleep on a chair on the porch. He fixed some coffee and tip-toed around like a fool intent on letting her asleep. Then he sat on the steps and watched her a while. She was light for a Burmese girl, and her cheeks were flushed in contrast. Her features were regular and fine, and had a certain symmetry. And there was more than that to her. Her hair, as she slept there in the morning light, was as blue-black as a raven’s wing, and fell over her shoulders in shiny-black cascades. Her Shan shawl lay in a pile on the porch like her, exquisite. It was gold leaf hammered out and cut into threads to work into the blue, purple, and crimson yarns in skilled design, a valuable beautiful thing laying on a splintered surface made of rough-hewn wood. It was her, lying hidden in the forest.

    It suited her, she was more than a woman, she was some sort of feminine phenomena, sleeping on his porch. It shook his ideas of Greek beauty just to look at her. She shook his soul to its core. Having your soul soundly shook and a hangover at the same time was a hell of a way to start the day you have to admit.

    But when she woke up it was no good. She tried to talk to him but he was distant, not sure of what he’d said the night before, becoming reticent, then not speaking, then not even looking into her eyes. He was embarrassed because of his behavior. He didn’t know how to face her. She seemed so perfect, he, so imperfect, a scoundrel, a drunkard. It was an exaggerated image he’d concocted of himself, exaggerated and foolish. He was good at being foolish. She gave up, and said she had other things to do, giving him time to recover and compose himself. She knew him better than he knew himself. Sometimes that’s just how things are, that a woman knows a man better than he knows himself. Women enjoy that privilege, that certain perspective, and it helps them deal with their men.

    “I have to go back now, my father will be worried.”

    She walked away, and grew smaller and smaller until she disappeared, leaving him standing there alone. He didn’t see her for some time, but during that period, found out more about her from the most unlikely of sources. On another trip down river when it happened. When he arrived at Nigel’s and walked up, the trader was stacking cages outside, moving them from the sun to shade.

    He didn’t even say hello, he said,

    “Give me a hand here Old Boy. These little guys can’t stay in the sun forever.”

    They were cages of pigmy marmosettes. Marmosettes! Running around like crazy, ten to a cage.

    “You’ll trade anything won’t you!”

    “Anything that’s got a profit to it my darling boy! Get a grip will ya?”

    “That’s Old Boy to you, here, give this one a shove!”

    They stacked the three cages out of the sun round the back. Now they were sweating and needed a drink. Nigel offered,

    “Have a Dewar’s?”

    “Black label?”

    “Thank you, yes!”

    Ten minutes later they were relaxing inside as if nothing had happened. The drink revived them both and led to conversation. Nigel grew thoughtful and asked with concern,

    “You don’t speak the lingo do you Old Boy? That must make it hard on you. It’s lonely up there, did you say about half a click past the rapids?”

    “Yes, that’s where. And I was until just recently, lonely that is. Hardly spoke a word in a month.”

    “Sticky wicket that.”

    “Yes.”

    They paused just a moment while each took a sip. The Dewars tasted like smoke.

    Michael brightened, “But it’s been better lately, there’s a girl lives there, a wonderful beautiful girl...” and he broke off and drifted.

    A peacock was heard outside. It’s call was plaintive and pleading.

    “Pretty girl is she?”

    “Yes.”

    “Speaks English, does she?”

    ‘Now you’re beginning to sound like Yoda from Star Wars, but yes, she speaks it quite well.”

    “Then that would be Precious.”

    “No, I’ve got you this time Old Fossil, her name is HKaw Seng.”

    “That’s Shan dialect, it means Palace of Precious Stones. I just call her Precious.”

    Michael slammed down the glass.

    “You know her?”

    “Since she was a baby Old Boy. Her father is an old school ruby miner up north. She’s filled out nicely.”

    “She told me she learned English at a school.”

    “Not just “a” school Old Boy, at “the” school. It was at Cambridge, back home. That’s where she got her degree. In gemology I think. By George, that girl knows her stones alright!"

    Michael was taken aback, astounded, ripped in two and pasted together.

    “Then what is she doing, if you don’t mind me asking, back here living the hard life?”

    “Her family is here. Her father anyway, her mother passed away before she left. I asked her the same thing.”

    “My family is important to me,” she told me one day, “I’ve got my priorities straight that’s all.”

    Michael said nothing. The sunset was approaching quickly as it does in the tropics, and Nigel intended not to miss it.

    “Want a bowl? It’s on the house.”

    “Thank you, no. But I’ll watch the sunset with you if you like.”

    “I like.”

    Michael sat on the veranda looking out over the river. He noticed the bulge in his pocket when he sat down. It made him uncomfortable so he took it out and opened it up and looked down.

    “When someone is seeking it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goa
    l.”

    Michael couldn’t decide exactly between what he’d found or what he’d been seeking. Things seemed messed up. His mind was a jumble.

    Nigel wandered out, found his chair, and faced it west. The two men watched the river. It ran by endlessly, its blues and golds and silvers reflected by a low sun hanging on a ragged green horizon. Clouds wandered over casting angled shadows on its surface. There was no end to it and no beginning. It was calm and moving at the same time, a cycle unto itself. After dark they walked inside having missed nothing, felt no regrets, then lit the oil lamps and later in the cool of the evening...slept.


    to be continued...
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 06-17-2017 at 07:33 PM.

  5. #65
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 06-17-2017 at 07:32 PM.

  6. #66
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    Nice continuation of the story of Michael and HKaw Seng. I was surprised he didn't know about opening the flue on the stove.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  7. #67
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    I finished reading a collection of fantasy microfiction that I thought was pretty good. It is by Isabel Caves and called "Ephemeral". It is only 2,200 words long but contains 12 stories. It's free on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/716567

    I liked the way every sentence counted in each story.
    Last edited by YesNo; 06-18-2017 at 07:39 PM.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  8. #68
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I liked it too. Most of your stories would give a good script, one can "see" the scenes for example the silhouetted woman would look fine on a screen. You also have a facility in creating dialogues and suspense.

    Espectant of the sequel.
    Last edited by Danik 2016; 06-18-2017 at 08:11 PM.
    "You can always find something better than death."
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  9. #69
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by YesNo View Post
    I finished reading a collection of fantasy microfiction that I thought was pretty good. It is by Isabel Caves and called "Ephemeral". It is only 2,200 words long but contains 12 stories. It's free on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/716567

    I liked the way every sentence counted in each story.
    Thanks, Yes/No. I had a look, but I´ll read more of it.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  10. #70
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    If you find similar types of writing, I would be interested. I picked up "Favorite Folktales from around the World" edited by Jane Yolen today at the library. I am not sure what I'm looking for in all this. Perhaps just ideas on what to write myself.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  11. #71
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Found this link that might interest you (if you haven´t registered already) and other people. There are some stories too.

    http://nanofiction.org
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  12. #72
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    That does look like an interesting site. I think I've heard of it before, but I did not explore it. Thanks, Danik. It looks like there are also audio versions: https://soundcloud.com/nanofiction Sometimes I need to hear something to understand it.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  13. #73
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    I agree with your comments on Steven Hunley's story, Danik.
    Last edited by YesNo; 06-19-2017 at 06:57 AM.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  14. #74
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by YesNo View Post
    That does look like an interesting site. I think I've heard of it before, but I did not explore it. Thanks, Danik. It looks like there are also audio versions: https://soundcloud.com/nanofiction Sometimes I need to hear something to understand it.
    Maybe a stimulus to writing. I sometimes have ideas that seem good but that fall flat once put on paper, Practising with micro stories might be a good beginning.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  15. #75
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Micro-stories or any really short forms are difficult for me. There are so many choices of what to develop, plot, character, suspense, etc. As you mentioned though, practicing with micro-stories may be a good stimulus for writing.

    Here's the rest of my story:

    Precious held the box in her hands. There wasn’t much in it. She’d had it for years. It was square and made of bamboo, and had a shell design in black on the top. The whole thing was lacquered.

    In it were two of her baby teeth, a pair of silver earrings that had belonged to her mother, a broken chain from her rosary, nothing of value mind you, except the thing in the corner which took up most of the room. It was in a velvet bag that closed with a draw-string and smelled like perfume. She held it up to her nose when she took it out.

    In the bag was a stone, a pigeon’s blood ruby her father gave her, her dowry in fact. It was heart-shaped and the size of her father’s thumb. Incalculable beyond value, that’s what it was.

    “This,” he said, “you can only give to the man who will marry you. But be careful, any man will lie to get this stone, even a Shan.”

    She held it up to the light, then her nose, then to the light again. Its fragrance was her mother’s perfume that she doused the bag with, still there after all these years. She knew what she wanted to do.

    The next morning she went off to do laundry, even though truth be told there wasn’t much to be done. She placed it where white smooth stones created an eddy beneath the branches of a giant fig tree. She calculated all the angles and the position of the sun in an hour or so. There was no way he could miss it. She gave it a kiss, then carefully placed in on the bottom, so carefully in fact the tiny minnows that lived there weren’t even disturbed. Then she went to do laundry where she’d see him in person and up close for the last time.

    He was happy to see her on his way to work the streams, and couldn’t believe his good fortune.

    She looked up.

    “Hello! How’s the hunting been going?” Her hair was down, glistening in the sunlight. It excited him no end to see her.

    “It’s been better, with your advice.”

    He was smiling and that was how she liked him. His smile had melted her heart long ago. She was his for the asking.

    “Good enough for your car and for you to go home?”

    “Not yet, but I’m working on it.”

    “When you work the river you have to look for stones in places where the gravel is the same size as the stones that you want. Similar size stones always end up in the same place. They arrange themselves so to speak. It’s a natural process.”

    “So that’s it!”

    “Yes, if I were you, I’d search over there, under the fig tree, by the eddy, you may have some luck.”

    She saw that his cargo pocket was flat. Siddhartha wasn’t there.

    “Did I leave a book on a rock the other day, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse?”

    “Why yes, I found it. I’ve been reading it. It’s pretty tough going at times.”

    “Life, Michael, is pretty tough going at times too. Do you have it?”

    “Not on me, it’s back at the house.”

    “Could you get it?”

    “Of course, it’s yours isn’t it? I’ll be right back.”

    He turned and left. It only took him a few minutes before he was back but she was gone. He couldn’t figure it. He was prepared to walk to his usual place but decided to give her location a try instead. It was closer, and if it didn’t work out he could always move on. Maybe she’d be there waiting.

    He found the giant fig, and the rocks and the eddy, but no Precious. Maybe she’d show up later. To show her he’d followed her advice he waded in. There was nothing for the first few moments just gravel and sand. The sun glistened off the surface making it hard to see. Suddenly he stopped. A spitting cobra had come to the water’s edge to drink and stopped to considered him. He froze. One bite was instant death, one spit... blindness. What a choice. He waited, glued to the spot. Even though he was knee-deep in water he sweat. Rivers of perspiration running down his face collected on his chin and fell into the pool at his knees.

    The cobra turned back into the bush and was gone.

    “****,” he whispered to himself, “I’m getting out of here."

    He avoided the place the snake returned to and took several steps to the side. That’s when he saw the red gleam at his feet. It was indistinct at first, then a cloud shadow passed and revealed it’s splendor. He reached down, grasped it and pulled his hand from the water.

    The size of it, the shape of it, both made him gasp. It was incredible. It’s redness! It’s sheen! Right there in his hand. The incredible thing was his. He’d found his ticket home, the car, the house, all of it. He felt giddy and laughed aloud. His first thought was to tell her. He would tell her, of course!

    He looked at both banks and saw no one. The bush was thick, the trees all tangled on both sides. What he didn’t see was her almond eyes watching him. She was there, but remained hidden, not wanting a good-bye scene, not wanting to cry. She saw that he had it, and that was enough. The act she’d performed became bitter-sweet in its perfection, sweet because now he had his dream and bitter when she tasted the tear drop that ran down her cheek and onto her delicate finger. She would never be the same and she knew it.

    Michael walked back and a small raindrop fell on his cheek. Before he’d walked fifteen steps a torrent erupted. Only three more and he was soaked to the skin. The monsoon hit with savage fury.

    He ran to his his hut with the corrugated iron roof. What a clatter it made. It was as if nature had been saving it up for months before letting go like a lover who’d been separated from a lover and they’d finally met. The clouds and the rain were mating with the earth at last. And it was wet, terribly wet. Clouds burst open and moaned, were loud about it, warning everyone within hundreds of miles to keep away. They asked no quarter. It was a marvelously dangerous thing to behold. That was always the way of it. Men who knew what was good for them took cover.

    There would be no trip down river for months.

    He stripped off his clothes and made a fire in the stove, the first time it had been used since she cooked for him. Thinking of her started him pacing. He couldn’t rest. Back and forth back and forth. Her book was on the table face down. Just touching it gave no comfort so he started to read.

    “How well you can kiss Kamala!” Siddhartha stammered.

    “Yes, I kiss well, and therefore I am not lacking in clothes,shoes, bracelets,or any other beautiful things.”


    He remembered her kiss on his cheek. Precious could have had everything but chose to have her family instead. He remembered when Nigel said her words,

    “My family is important to me. I’ve got my priorities straight.That’s all.”

    Money wasn’t important to her. To a courtesan like Kamala it was. What did that mean to him? Would she consider the riches the stone would bring and leave with him? Could he ask her? What would she say if he asked her? The rain continued to beat. The wind tore through the fragile leaves of the banana tree and left it in tatters. His head was beginning to feel the same way, torn up.

    Instead of celebrating he just sighed. How important was money if she wasn’t in his life? How empty would it seem? It was useless. Endless rain poured down with a vengeance on his iron roof. Dark clouds thundered warnings. Night stole in like a leopard stalking a deer, but the rain? Not the rain. It never gave up.

    He looked outside at the river. Whatever he did he would have to do it quick. His river of escape was rising fast. Within a few hours would be impassible and deadly near the rapids. One way or another a decision had to be made.

    XXX

    The monsoon was relentless in Burma that year and made river travel between the Shan village and the town almost impossible. Over land was no better, swampy and filled with fever, snakes and insects. Not until after the monsoon would things change.

    Months later something new was on the river. A large flat-bottomed steamer appeared chugging its way upriver in the center of the deep channel. Now the sun shown, now the land was drying itself off. The dripping had stopped.

    Cargo crowded its deck as did farmers and their families, traders and trappers. Hunters of all sorts were there too. One stood apart on the prow near the rail, searching the shores both left and right. Blond, handsome, his hair shown in the sunlight gleaming gold. His boots were new and laced up. His hat was a slouch hat, worn Indiana Jones style, or in that fashion. He looked at home yet not at home. He couldn’t be figured.

    Inside were gamblers, three at the corner table playing poker. One was a Chinaman, the other a Malay, the third had a Cockney accent. He might have been English. The chips were piled on the table, but carelessly like so much spilled rice. They were drinking of course. The Chinese his Shaojiu, the Malay his Tuak and the English his Dewar’s black label.

    On the deck was stacked cargo, all sorts, so much the steamer sunk low in the water. There was lumber, stacks of lumber,and corrugated iron for roofing.

    “Enough to build a temple,” said one deck hand.

    “Or a palace,” said another.

    There were pens with pigs in them and crates full of chickens too. Two goats, one male one female, were tethered to a beam. The deck was a Burmese circus.

    The rapids were passed with no problem. Blond man in slouched hat stood in the prow and watched the shore where a poor farmer in a shredded coolie hat tended his water buffaloes, drinking the cool water. It was hot and hats were essential, no matter their style or condition. The sun played no favorites.

    Inside the gamblers continued to gamble. Even out of the sun it was hot. Men wiped the sweat from their faces. It was hard to say what was worse, the heat or the tension. By this time the table was stacked high with chips, so many they’d run out. Then the Malay in order to raise the stakes placed a large gold nugget on the pile. A crowd formed around them like fleas on a dog. The Chinese studied his cards then reached in his pocket. Feeling sure of himself he said,

    “OK tough guy, I see that and raise you this.”

    He pulled out a packet of rubies and tossed it on top.

    The English looked at his cards and studied their faces with care, not his cards mind you, the other men’s mugs were his only concern. He took his time.

    The steamer continued up the river, chug chugging against the current. Black smoke poured from her smoke stacks, leaving dark twin trails in the still air. The man in the prow was restless and started to pace, searching the shoreline for something or someone familiar. It was maddening to watch him.

    Inside the Brit was ready to make his play. He took out his money and counted it.

    “I don’t have enough cash to cover the bet.”

    The Malay and Chinese were relieved and relaxed at once.

    He took a sip of his Dewar’s.

    “But I’ve got this.”

    They heard a clunk on the table, and suddenly laying before them, was the largest ruby they’d ever seen, and shaped just like a heart! It would only be fair to mention that he knew what it was worth. He’d appraised it years ago when the girl’s father first found it and recognized it when Michael placed it on the green velvet cloth. Who wouldn’t?

    “And this,” he continued, and laid down his cards. It was a royal flush.

    The game ended in a SNAP. Just like that.

    After he cashed in his chips and collected the rest the Brit took a stroll on the deck and met the young man on the prow and smiled,

    “Thank you for teaching me poker Old Boy.”

    “Don’t mention it. It was something to do while we were stranded.”

    “Oh, and here.”

    He placed the red stone in his hand.

    “Thanks for the loan.”

    The Brit lounged back in a deck chair while the young man continued to look. A speck, just a speck,now drew his attention. A single form was near the shore, on a rock with some clothes nearby in a heap. It could have been anyone. His hand went up to provide shade to his narrowing eyes. Could it be?

    “Tell the pilot to get closer to shore Nigel.”

    “How’s that Old Boy?”

    “Tell the pilot to get closer to shore!”

    Nigel flew out of the chair and sprang to the wheelhouse. Michael untied his boots, took off his hat and unsnapped his new cowboy shirt. They just couldn’t get there soon enough for him. Suddenly the whistle sounded. Nigel pulled on the rope. The figure on shore looked up. The boat turned toward shore quickly but not quick enough. He dived headlong over the side.

    From the wheelhouse Nigel had an excellent view. The girl on the shoreline took off her hat and her hair fell down over her shoulders. She waded out just up to her knees. Michael’s feet touched bottom and he reached her without effort, stood up, water dripping from his hair and his nose and his arms. She was shocked and confused.

    “I thought...”

    “Don’t think.”

    “That you’d left and...”

    “Never. And leave you behind? Never.”

    He pressed her lips tight with his finger tips and said,

    “I was wrong. I was foolish. I was mistaken. I...”

    She would not allow him to grovel. She would have none of it. She pressed his lips shut in the same way. Then she smiled that incredible smile.

    He fumbled in his pocket then,
    “Here,” he presented her with the stone, “it’s yours.”

    They embraced and then kissed. The kiss had everything in it they needed to say, and everything they ever wanted to know. Tender and pure, lasting an eternity or just for a second, it just didn’t matter.

    The wandering was over, he was home,and he’d found what he’d been looking for all along, his Palace of Precious Stones.


    ©Steven Hunley 2010
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 06-21-2017 at 05:32 PM.

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