The Risk You Run
The clown was on fire. Not sure if it was a joke, and afraid of becoming the butt, we let him burn.
The Castle of Fear
The Castle of Fear is heavily fortified (what did you expect?) every floor and stair carpeted where soldiers tread softly to avoid startling when they move at all but with everyone typically hiding the castle seems deserted until danger threatens (say a cheek muscle twitches, nostrils flare on a neighbor monarch’s face) then all is fleet and ready and watch, sentries sprint back and forth along the rampart lest they miss scanning a bush or hollow where hostiles might hide and the king trembles in his bedroom while his wives and daughters and sons guard the passages then he looks at his arms and armor dustdull and rusted because to clean them is to contemplate danger oh someday he will lift the sword and sally forth alone and naked but tonight it’s too late the risk is past and everyone and he returns to bed and brittle sleep.
The ship arrived from a city called Sin, and it was going back. I’d never experienced surge or spray or new scenery, so I signed up.
They put me in charge of flogging the rowers. Difficult at first, but I soon smothered my squeamishness and developed my arm muscles. After a while, I started taking pride in my technique.
A sense of isolation, preferably cultivated from preschool. (Threadbare, ill-fitting clothes help. So does that awareness of being different in kind that only a narrow religion can provide. If all your schoolmates are going to burn in hell, and you alone aren’t, how can you be on the same footing? How can you let yourself like them, knowing their fate?) Paranoia, that feeling of always being watched, always being judged, is a must. (Threadbare, ill-fitting clothes help. So does a narrow religion, one that teaches — what are those words? — “There’s an all-seing eye that watches you, everything you say, everything you do.” OK, I lied when I said, “what are those words?” I’ve never been able to forget them. Forgive me, Lord.) And now you don’t believe. Now, judged by your childhood self, your prim adolescence, your father’s ghost, you are a monster.
(Angsty, ain’t it? I haven’t had my coffee yet.)
The 21st century is no place for a soul with taste. Remember those medieval years, when we were the center and purpose of the cosmos? We meant something then. Life, short and painful, was a thin film over unspeakable joys and unbearable terrors. We shared our world with now-extinct demons, angels, ghosts, fairies, a host of pseudo-humans, and they were obsessed with us. We need those incommensurable equals; we need monsters and ministers. We listen for them among the stars, but they live only in the middle of things. We looked too hard, and every center disappeared.
Midway upon life’s journey I found myself in a dark parking lot, having lost my Toyota. A guard offered to help me look. We kept the wall to our left and followed it down, circle after circle. When I found my car, I drove a long and winding way to the top, where I met Betty. We chatted, then I came home and wrote a book about it. That’s why I’m late today.