Amber Bridge Pre-order

Remember this old photo? It is my original half-done concept cover for Amber Bridge. Why, do you ask, am I talking about some silly looking photo that was created while half asleep and generally bored? It might be that Amber Bridge has a new cover, and it might be that this cover is the “official” cover. By “official” I mean it has a reason to have a cover, and that reason is that it is done! After writing and re-writing and squeezing it through multiple layering of editing, this little story is ready for consumption. True, it is no 5-course meal, but it also is no speck of sugar on your tongue. This little novelette is a snack to get you through those cravings. (Don’t ask me what cravings. This metaphor broke down a while ago.)

front-coverAmber bridge is set to officially release on July 7th. You can currently pre-order it on Smashwords and it will soon be available for pre-purchase on my local store. For more information about Amber Bridge, here is the official back-flap excerpt. “A man searches for the meaning of life: stuck in neutral between the green light of birth and final Red Light. Everyone has a choice: follow the amber lights along life’s bridge, or simply sit, watching them burn. What lies at the end of this bridges, that place where the amber lights meet? Where will the Amber Bridge take this man, his thoughts, and life?”

If you interested in any way, please don’t hesitate to pre-order this book for just $1, or you can hesitate, but only to wait for the book to be available at my local store. After that, hesitation is just mean. I have some little tags ready that say “I am a meanie” on them, and they will end up heading your way if you ignore my blatant self promotion!

(Edit: Amber Bridge now available for pre-purchase at my local store.)

PS: So, those tags I was telling you about. They really exist guys…

SAM_0186

Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

My Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG-13 (Coarse language and violence)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start again? To some, this may be paradise–leaving mistakes beneath dust clouds of the past, but to others this may be a sad thought. Everything you once knew has changed: family, friends, way of life. Enter the mind of Jedidiah Troyer, emigrating to the planet of New Pennsylvania where he will work shovel and trowel to build an Amish paradise for his and his own. The question is, how much does one Amish man lose by entering a world of electronics, the internet, and spaceships, and is such loss of “plain” comforts worth the price of starting over?

The Good:

Michael Bunker has a unique way of blending the slow paced Amish world with the magic of new worlds on a thrill ride of culture clash. He speckles nods to “plain” living like stars set to contrast the black night of space itself. Way up there, science fiction thrives, yet never does Bunker forget his roots–seemingly oxymoronical, yet relevant. Cultural blending through compare and contrast has been something that I have come to love about Bunker’s writing style, and Pennsylvania does not fail my expectations of such brilliance. He sets the pace, builds the world, and defines the characters like Adam in Eden: placed just so.

Not only does Bunker have a handle on setting up his universe of Pennsylvania, but such is used as a launching pad for the thrills that follow. The reader is neither thrown blindly into the action, nor are they held back from the ride too long. As the pages turn, what seems at first to be a simple trip to some other world turns out to be much more than meets the eye.

Bunker has collected 5 episodes into this single Omnibus edition. Each episode ends with cliff-hanger excellence, but this does more than keep the reader invested in the series. Many episodes end with a nod to the next, revealing minute mysterious clues that keep the reader’s mind turning while they are hanging onto the edge of their seat for the next page’s revelation.

Unlike W1ck (see my review of W1ck), Pennsylvania has a satisfactory ending. The conclusion still comes rather quickly, but not overly so because of Bunker’s unique writing style. The wrap-up is much more conclusive while leaving room for some expansion into further forays of Amish/sci-fi delight. In short, it satisfies.

The Bad:

There is some amount of tell instead of show when it comes to describing the culture of this new world that Jed has entered. Instead of fully fleshing out the cultural discrepancies, Bunker glosses over them making the world and Jedediah’s integration with it less believable, and equally loses reader satisfaction points.

Much like W1ck (though different in it’s own ways), the whole Omnibus collection feels like a prologue. Bunker clearly has a plan for future books within this universe, but Pennsylvania has a distinct “book zero” feel instead of a “book one.” There is a lot culture/tech explanation as well as character introductions, but very little plot. Bunker has a handle on crafting worlds with nonchalant flavour, but his plots are the furthest thing from complex or surprising.

Conclusion: All in all, if you are anything like me, you will fall in love with Bunker’s ability to shape worlds and craft cultures. These pros are what keep me coming back to books by this author, but the lack of plot complexity and endings that leave things hanging, as if Bunker simply ran out of words, leave me a little dissatisfied. This, however, by no means dissuades me from reading more excellent Amish Science Fiction, but it does not put Bunker on my oh-my-goodness-I-can’t-wait-til-the-next-book-comes-out list.

Where you can find it:
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

On Feeling Old

Note: Sometimes I feel older than I am and like to joke that I am an old man. This is a tribute to that feeling.
 

I am not old.
Not even close.
Yes, I enjoy 70s style diners and shelves lined with dust,
But better than dust
Books and a creaky rocking chair
Spelling out all my not so many years
Between front porch slats.
These whispers take me back to times
I never knew.
The antiques in my home remind me of all the years
I never had
But feel clinging to my scars like bookshelf dust.

I know about aching backs and popping knees
And that pain in my chest hides behind a cavity of bitter bones,
Skeletons too long in the closet:
Left to rot.
I know how everyone under 30 is irresponsible
And 50 is just waiting to dust off closet bones
Put colour in scars where it never belonged
beneath a coffin lid
Heaped with dust.

I grow out my hair and scuff my jeans,
Suicidal scrapes of falling down,
on my knees
Too often.
But there are decades between each lack of wrinkle
On my face.
Time says I am 23… or 24… 25?
Doesn’t matter.
It’s all a lie beneath 50 years of closet dust.

And so, I work my knee joints,
Forget the oil,
Cringe as my chest gives out
It’s message to the world
Just to say:
I’ve learned how to grumble with the best of them,
The rest of them,
And hope someone will find the colour
I lost beneath these scars
In my unwrinkled skin
To brush out this dust-greyed hair.

A Letter to My Unborn Child

Life starts in a womb room.
Walls block our way, but we do not think of them.
We push against the sides, not knowing what lay beyond,
Longing to find all the flavour and colour outside of this room that we do not think of.

Life passes us from one room to the next,
a mother not wanting her child.
Childhood holds us too long,
a small room we push against
hoping to crack its shell.
Adolescence is shorter still, yet feels even longer:
a smaller room with black walls of despair and empty promises.
But adulthood… adults, we wish to go back:
Not enough time to love our honeys, raise children—just make money,
And looking back, the rooms always seem larger than when there we were trapped.

Find a road, tunnel, river: whatever analogy you prefer.
See that little light shining at the end?
That is what we all work towards,
but desperately do not want to reach.
Lightposts, walls, tree branches clatter closer as we walk further,
and further, and further away from the first room of our conception
Until we are trapped between a rock and a hard place:
No amount of pushing against the walls makes either move,
and we have no conception of how we got there.
The road, tunnel, river gets smaller closer to that light.

You’re going to miss this,
these wide open spaces where you can stretch your arms
run back and forth, prolonging the trek forward.
The end is so short, so small, so darling
do not run into it.
It will not greet you like a schoolboy when you drop your books,
and when his hand touches yours you may feel the heat,
But that is just a light quickly expanding from heart to fingertips
because it has nowhere to go.
A tree with no more sky.
A child with no more room to run.
A stream finding the lake it has been drawn to all along
then finding out that the lake does not run with under-toes of adventure,
Merely sits.
Stagnant.
Dead.
Nowhere left to go.
Seemingly large and free,
but quite small in reality.

Darling, I do not know you yet.
This is maybe something that you will never get,
But I am afraid,
Afraid of the opportunity I will never forget,
And do not want to regret
never sharing this with you
Or forget.
So, darling, this is my message to you.

Stay in your room until it will hold you no more.
Yes, I do so long to hold you,
and in my dreams, you are already there, but please
The next room will wait.
Explore every corner.
Jump to the highest spaces that you can manage to reach
and if you need a step ladder, always ask.
Do not wait to grow longer legs
because in that next room where the legs wait…
the ceiling is lower. The world is smaller.

There will be times when room confinement feels like the worst punishment
When the world has grounded you, and you do not want to learn the lesson it wants to teach you, but please…
Darling, stay in your room until the door bursts from its hinges
so when you look back, it is not vacant,
empty: a white space filled with “if only”s.

Do you hear my words?
What language do they speak in that womb room, darling?
It has been so long.
I do not remember.
I hope that the day you understand my message to you—
That day when you can read this poem, and comprehend the language of my heartbeats—
the large rooms behind you are already full.
True, I could wait til then,
Maybe, til I know a bit more about you,
But then my message will arrive too late
Like a letter sunk with the ship,
and you have to find it tucked inside a coral reef
Long after empty rooms yawn taunting, empty mouths:
A toothless shark
Just grumbling snarls.

And when you finally do grow
and after we have met
and after, or before, or while you are still in the room where I left this letter to you:
Stay in your room.
So when I come up, you have not flown out the window,
So when I come to speak with you, you are there.
So when I ask what you have learned,
you will not grumble and give me no answer
But show me all the spots in the paint job that I missed
tell me of how the bedsheets crinkle just so when I sit,
and how the window whispers message to you
and contemplate the conception of the world itself.
Darling, this is not a punishment,
but a time to learn.
A time to never miss the little things:
The way the clock ticks in the hall… or doesn’t,
and why sometimes I wish it would just stop
so we could sit together in this perfect moment.
Forever.
So when I ask what you did when sent to your room,
and you come out to tell me,
you will say
“Everything, daddy. Everything.”

This is Breathing

Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/db-in-uk/3411989827

Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/db-in-uk/3411989827

Each day, a blessing.
Each breath, a shuttered gasp
wheezing through window slats
like a swimmer almost drowned:
salt and sand and air.
Life. Vitality. This is breathing.

On the shore, freshly spewed from Ocean’s mouth,
I know what it feels like to be drowning:
like clouds before they dump their fill with mighty gasps,
beavers with broken dam,
a sinner who isn’t Noah,
a fish out of water—
no, man out of air, life;
I have more water than I know what to do with.
My lungs reject it like a desert oasis that is just a mirage,
an empty vessel sinking,
a washed up failure—
washed out,
slapped about.
Pulled from the waves on fisherman’s hook:
a trout
on the shore.
This is breathing.

They say we do not think about breathing.
(In, out. In, out.)
So natural, automatic… vital.
I wonder, did they query the one who rasps in the dark:
lungs smaller than shadows on a sunny day,
sweat on clammy hands,
and even raisins seem to hold breath within their wrinkled folds.
An asthmatic sprinter without a puffer,
a cracked open clam shell on the beach… smashed.
This is breathing.

Infants take 40-60 breaths per minute.
20-30 breaths for young children.
15-20 for teenagers.
Adults, 12-15.
Age steals our breaths—
vitality—
And we do not think about it.
This is breathing.

(In. Out. In. Out.)
I need you like breathing.
A smile whispers from her lips.
Romance to wedding rings to children
to working long hours
to coming home late.
Tired.
Out of breath.
From 40 to 20 to 15 to 12.
Love. Automatic.
Don’t even think about it,
And it slowly dies:
age stealing it like mouldy bread forgotten on the counter.
A relationship dying
that you can’t even made croutons out of.
This is breathing.

If it’s not important to us, we won’t learn it, savour it,
or even care.
Lungs know breathing is vital,
learn it well in formative years…
then slowly forget.
We do not think about it.
(In. Out. In. Out.)
Less important—
Oxygen communicating with raisins,
or trying to.
But raisins cannot hear the wind.

Meanwhile, drowning men lay alive on the shore
shouting at the sky
with every luscious (In, out. In, out).
THIS! IS! BREATHING!

I need you like the sun needs a sky
like shadows need darkness
like oceans need water
like mountains need rock
like trees need wood
and the wind needs trees so that you can see it is
Breathing.

But sometimes I forget.
Breathing becomes no more than background noise.
Like a city boy first hearing the birds sing out his window…
then forgets.
Silence can be so loud,
until we stop listening to it.
And 40 becomes 20 becomes 15 becomes 12.
This is breathing.

Let my (In, out. In, out.) not grow stagnant:
bread not turn mouldy on the shelf,
Love for you become so natural, automatic,
that I forget.
That you could leave and I wouldn’t notice…
NO! I would notice!
You remind me with every word from the silence
Every story on the wind like dancing leaves.
Let me dance with those leaves like a care-free infant—
a child with more faith than sense—
40, 50, 60 breaths a minute.
No. A second.
And I cannot tell myself that I do not need you
because I need you like breathing,
and I know what drowning feels like.

This poem was originally written for a sermon that I preached about the vitality of God in our lives. You can find the audio of the original work and accompanying sermon at klbic.org

Mother Sun

Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/6965191653/

This poem is dedicated to my mother who I appreciate more and more as wisdom comes with age.

 

Life runs, but never tells us where it’s going.
Time swings from a rabbit’s pocket watch:
always late,
but what is that date it reaches for?
Once, we thought Mother Sun revolved around us,
but we grew out of that—
grew up—
Knowing we are just one planet chasing another around Mother Sun:
like children under-foot in the kitchen,
mice in a race for men
fearing that if we ever stop spinning
Mother Sun will not catch our fall.

Life stands in the distance, urging us on,
time cast in the shadows from Mother Sun.
Peering into those shadows we see the mysteries of history:
times before older boys had bigger toys,
when playgrounds were not made of concrete and cash
but of tree-branches walls;
butterflies held the wings with which we painted the sky,
and Jello was our favourite food group:
when Mother Sun still revolved around us.

Mother smiled at our mornings
shining food into growth on the breakfast table.
She taught us things we never wanted to learn:
“Make your bed!”
“Pick up your room!”
“Sweep the floor!”
She sparked our imagination like a match
no matter how much others rained on our parade.
She taught us how to paint the sky with ice-crystals on our breath,
but always made sure we wore a coat.
Showed that any ladder was safe to climb
if she closed her eyes, and squeezed dad’s arm
while he held the bottom.

Mother had the ability to speak softly when April showers glistened in her eyes,
but could lay on the heat when the ground needed a little scorching.
(A plant with just sun is shrivelled and will die alone.
A plant with only rain drops will drown:
too much freedom in a river, and not enough roots.)
Mother was salt and pepper, sun drops and rain kisses:
just the right amount of both.
She was the ever-present gardener,
and when we were sad—
falling apart with every Autumn leaf drop—
she reminded us of all the Summer beauty we had gone through to get here,
warned us that Winter was coming, and it would be hard,
but promised Spring:
new growth borne on the frosted wings of Winter’s butteries.

(“But when I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”
Jello musings beneath my feet.)
We forget about mom as we grow strong:
An aged Oak, no longer afraid of the wind storms,
and when Winter comes, we know that Spring is coming
because someone told us that once…
and she was right.

Now, as we wake up—
life pulling us by a rope,
time ticking in shadows—
we can still see Mother Sun smiling down on us.
She is always watching as we revolve around her
keeping us in order while letting us spin free.
That rain you hear dripping through your leafs?
those are her tears shared with you.
That wind whistling through field reeds and drifting on desert streams?
those are her songs for you.
The grass beneath your limbs are her arms catching your leafs when you fall.
And the sun still smiles, just as beautiful every morning.

W1ck

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG (action violence)

From the mind of Michael Bunker and the political excellence of Chris Awalt comes this nice piece of dystopian fiction. It is not often evident what an author is all about simply by reading their art, but Wick is a pleasant exception. Not only do you get to know the characters and world being build, but also are afforded a unique opportunity to enter the mind of the author(s). Science fiction with Amish and political leanings makes this a wonderful piece of art that is hard to compare with. If you are the type of reader that likes lots of action and little thought this may not be your thing, but if you like to think there is no better piece of art. Throughout Wick there is a wonderful amount of matter-of-fact life philosophising built into the prose which make for a delightful ride that feels dense. No, not dense because it is hard to get through, but like a pit of tar: once entered, it will suck your mind right in, and you may have trouble getting out. Because of this, the point of view taken feels reserved, almost making the narrator/author a character of their own, allowing for wonderfully crafted observatory world building.

Because of this feeling of separation between the narrator and the character, at times pacing issues are evident. It has been said that if do not enjoy slower books, this may not be your thing, but that is not the issue here (for if a book is meant to be slow, and does it in an engaging manner [i.e. W1ck] then it works). The biggest issues I had were with the “section” or “part” splits. This Omnibus was originally published in 4 different parts, three of which make sense on their own. The middle two parts should, realistically, have been one because of the way the story progresses. Also, at times, there are too many characters and it is difficult to follow.

The biggest issue, however, I had was with the ending. Much like the ending of the different “parts” of W1ck, the pages are just suddenly blank. No, I don’t mean that there is some kind of strange print error. Bunker just decided to call it a day, and that is that. I will admit that this format fits well with the reserved POV chosen, and if it were done any other way, the results would have been mind-jarringly worse. I suppose with this type of ending, it makes me want to read more to find out what happens next, but there is nothing that happens next. This Omnibus is the complete package. The “sequel” (if you will) happens 20 years later, being a world sequel and not a direct descendant.

All in all, W1ck is an enjoyable journey filled with great philosophical musings, and out-spoken activism that you can only not get in trouble for if it is folded inside the covers of a book labelled “fiction.” This, coupled with great storytelling and wonderful prose, makes Michael Bunker an author that I will definitely return to. His writing style is so gloriously fresh and interesting that I found it easier to ignore the pacing failures throughout and poor conclusion. Reading W1ck feels like watching a painting unfold before my eyes, colour splashed by the voice of God.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: R (Graphic visual descriptions and overt sexuality)

There is a world deep seated in history. This world is filled with the flavour of a simpler time, but no problem free society is found. Psychotic killers have a full-time job hunting out their next victims and keeping them under the influence of dark torture until finally releasing them to the Reaper’s scythe. Inspecteur’s are equally busy follow the clues dropped by Grimm and his acolytes: drying fast as blood. Mystery and murder weigh hearts and minds heavier than a judges gavel giving courtesan’s a full-time job relieving such stresses through their secret seductive arts. This world is historical France, and you may have to quit your full-time job so that you can spend as much time as desired reading Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey.

The Good:

Being not a historian myself, I cannot speak to the true accuracy of the facts, locations, and honourable mentions by Yves Fey, but I can say–as a reader–that it feels authentic enough. To me, art is about being drawn into a world and feeling like a character in the story as it unfolds. This, Fey does well. The book is quite character driven, and as a result, the reader is more invested with those involved in the plot than what is actually happening. This is not, however, to say that the plot is flat. By no means! It is, however, over-shadowed by the great characterisation.

Fey uses real French word and phrases speckled throughout to enhance that sense of immersion and add great flavour. This is not to say that one must know French to read the book. Most words are translated or explained through humorous pros with give the great sense of an American living in France (as one of the characters is said import) while appealing to the English speakers who will be reading Float the Dark Shadow.

Said import works as a painter. Normally this character setting would not be worth mentioning in a review, however, watching the story unfold through her eyes is imbued with great colourful flavours, giving a real sense that it is a painter’s eyes the reader is seeing this world through while, at the same time, adding intense pop to the description. Words and worlds come alive when the whole colour pallet it on the tip of your descriptive brush strokes.

The Bad:

I cannot say there is any one thing that bothered me with Yves Fey’s writing in this work. I have not rated it 5 stars because that spot it reserved for those books which leave me in tears, tie my stomach in knots, or make me laugh until it hurts (or all three). I believe such books should have a special place in the review process. Floats the Dark Shadow did none of these for me. Because of this, I say that it lacks a certain amount of emotional attachment between reader and character(s).

My only complaint is that the plot was less developed than it could have been. As has been said, this is a character driven book. The plot does not fall apart, but it simply did not draw me in as a reader. There were very few mysteries in this mystery-focus plot except “who done it,” leaving everything more like one big question mark instead of multiple tiny ones coming to a great exclamatory head at the end.

Conclusion:

Floats the Dark Shadow will draw you in; there is no doubt about that. The prose are flavourfully crafted and the characters are well balanced. Just watching them interact with each other and the world around them is a great treat. The plot is your standard “serial killer on the loose” motif. If you enjoy historical mysteries and like to be drawn into a book through some good word and crafting choices, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Thievery: A Lost Art

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wrigleywrld/3910060559

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wrigleywrld/3910060559

Plagiarism.
I was told before writing was even a hobby:
“Don’t take that. It’s not yours.”

Thievery.
I still remember that day when I stole that toy
from the kid across the street.
See, he had different Lego than me.
But then, I had it, stuffed in pants pocket,
Pieces clanking together with each step like skeleton keys on a jailor’s ring.
I hid the pieces behind my clothes in a dresser.
Didn’t take them out for two days.
I couldn’t even play with them.

Guilt.
What if the neighbour came over
and asked where I got them?
Or mom asked, or… (keys rattled in my mind).
Finally, I took them out, all wrapped in an old t-shirt,
and sent them back across the street, dropped on the front steps.
Never said a word.

Borrowing.
See, mother always said that if you want something, ask first.
There is no fear of someone finding out, if you ask first.
Now, people say, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”
But I know they’re wrong.
I know what self-guilt feels like.

Plagiarism.
It feels like borrowing.
It feels like, “you are smarter than me, so I will take your words, use them, then put them back in your mouth.”
They tell me the difference between borrowing words and stealing them
is not whether you can put them back,
or if you asked permission first,
But that you say where you got them from
so that as they rattle out your mouth like Lego pieces clinking,
And someone hears them
and asks you where you got them,
you can tell them without guilt eating out your heart.

Copying.
All our lives we learn how to copy—
Walking, talking, potty trained copiers—
But once we learn the basics, they say “Stop.
You are stealing!”
Like when Suzzie wanted to build a tree house
and I did, but not with her,
and she cried because I stole her idea.
“No, Suzzie, I know what stealing feels like
and this wasn’t that,”
But I never said that to her;
Just stood there, confused, later apologizing.
It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Inspiration.
Did the painter ask the sun for permission before casting it with oil on canvas?
Did the musician ask his girlfriend for permission to compare her to
the Spring showers that come to wet his desert heart?
Or should he ask the rain?
Or the clouds?
Or the sky?
Or God himself?
Does the poet ask the airwaves before pulling them in
and pushing them out with new words between the strands?
And when I am inspired to write because of someone else’s art,
Is my entire piece stolen, borrow, plagiarized…
If someone asked me where it came from, I could not tell them,
And I did not ask permission of the world before using it as my muse.

So, form hand-cuffs out of Lego bricks and
throw away the skeleton keys,
Because I will never stop being inspired,
Never stop copying other’s ideas.
Always steal words from the airwaves,
And never give them back.
And don’t tell me that it’s wrong
because I know what stealing feels like.

One Umbrella

Photo Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spyrospapaspyropoulos/11909724363/

Photo Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spyrospapaspyropoulos/11909724363/

For the lips of an adulteress drip honey
And smoother than oil is her speech;
But in the end she is bitter
as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death,
Her steps take hold of Sheol.

Proverbs 5:3-5


R

ain falls again, as if it never stopped. I hold but one umbrella, one flimsy shield between me and those storm clouds writhing in the sky. They roll like ocean waves, one enveloping the next, clutching like the fingers of a demon mob, fighting to reach me first. They are foreboding, those clouds above, a black blanket shaken by God, ripples travelling toward me.
And I hold but one umbrella.

I used to outrun those clouds, sprint in my younger days. It is not my legs that fail me now, not my heart screaming for release, not my lungs—dry throat choking on spittle. I’m old enough to have younger days, old enough to look back, but age holds not my end. The future is a blank slate, ready to be filled, but I know what it will hold. Darkness. Despair. Black clouds. Rain.

And I hold but one umbrella.

A rumble. A crash. Purple fire lights up the sky, a royal streak against the black. That blanket is finely woven, groaning as lightning shoots a hole in that once perfect fabric. Perfect for some, but not for me.

I hold but one umbrella.

The rain starts, a sad tune against my own black sheet, that flimsy shield above me. It begins soft—one peck there, another here. Like a lover, those lips are wet, kissing my one umbrella. She whispers in my ear, that taunting seductress: come play. But I am no longer a child: a man.

And I hold but one umbrella.

There were times that I played, listened to her calling. A child with rubber boots, splashing in the puddles. The mud discoloured my bright poncho, turned dull grey over the years. Free. Uncaring. Unknowing. Caught up by lust. Blind-sided. Naive. Innocent. Not like my poncho, long since warn holey, tattered, discarded with my youth. Now, I have less innocence: less protection.

Now, I hold but one umbrella.

Muddy water splashes up, my boot pressing into a puddle. I find no pleasure there, just memories from the past, such recollections that many avoid. I see them—polka-dotted coats and flower-pressed shields—hanging childhood on their shoulder, popping it in a spread above them, but dodging the puddles on the ground, dodging the memories of when life was perfect—innocent—when the world was better.

When there was more than one umbrella.

I tuck my arms in close, shivering with the chill. Those first tears of a rejected maiden roll down my one umbrella, drip from the flimsy posts like chin-fallen droplets. This moment is the worst, before the lady shows her face, as she taunts me with sorrow. I can deal with the monster behind those eyes, deal with the storm to come, but not this crying woman shaking like a child. I want to comfort her, but don’t know how. What can I give to calm those tears?

I hold but one umbrella.

The wind picks up her sorrowed tune, whispers more demanding. Come. Why won’t you play with me? The words are wet with her tears. My ears are wet with her seductive tongue. Breath spins floral kisses on the wind. She floats into the trees, laughs between their branches, then cries out. It’s fun to play with me. I set my feet; ignore her; walk on. Another puddle. Another splash. I do not care. I have a shield above my head, but my childhood poncho is no more.

I hold but one umbrella.

Now she shrieks, a school of bats descending on their prey. Those black wings flap with the wind, rush beneath my shield. The sky spews cracks of thunder between its teeth. The trees howl, knowing what is to come, itching for the storm.

And I hold but one umbrella.

Cold—skin tickled with seductive kisses, silent tears manipulating—but I prefer what comes. The blanket cracks, too much weight for that perfect weave. Water sinks into its pores, ripping through in droves, digs at my pores. Drenched, soaked with her sorrow. She ceases calling now, the beast revealed.

I fell not for her tricks, and now she has ceased the facade. I know her, that adulterous woman, but I stand firm against her cries, also knowing the beast beneath. Her kisses are sweet, poison soaked in honey. Sometimes, my lonely body wants her touch, longs to listen to her loving words, but to give in I would have to throw away my shield.

And I hold but one umbrella.

Other men on the road. They sit beneath tattered awnings, blankets wrapped up tight. I know the bite they feel, that bite of her poison. It pricks my skin with recollection, remembering when I was younger, innocent…

Without my one umbrella.

They shiver, those men, trying to hide from her face, trying not to hear her cries, lick the honeyed poison from her lips. Temptation sticks coat to arms, makes their blankets heavy. The woman pulls her mask off, beautiful skin flayed. Sun-kissed cheeks now red with lust, red with blood, red with her last victim. Those men curl up, close their eyes, a vain attempt to push her away.

They gave up their one umbrella.

I cannot help them, knowing what they do is wrong, yet still remaining soaked: trapped without hope.

I journey on, boots now water-logged. The sky flashes that smile again, this time no menace beneath the teeth. The beast is in those tears that fall: a sad dirge now. Her eyes have passed, the eyes of this storm. I felt the worst of her, despite that shield I hold. She sucked me in with life, with promise, but I fought back with what I have.

Fought with my one umbrella.

It stands between her and me. Small, an insignificant shield against her temptation, but my only protection. The vinyl-topped blanket shook as I passed through the eye, sweet tears of sorrow pulling at my heart strings. Sweet whispering lying to me, promising me all that I do not feel—cannot feel: love, respect, belonging. The maiden cares for me, but that poison beneath will kill. Those eyes are beautiful, but the beast beneath them is a mess of flayed skin and blood.

And I hold but one umbrella.

My shield took the assault, blocked me from those longing eyes. Now, it walks with me through the dirge, protects me from the falling drink. Children play in the puddles, unhindered by that lady’s calling, not hearing it through their rain-gear: the full protection of innocence. How I long for those days again, the days when I knew not love, knew not lust, but cared not for either. Those days were free, temptation just a shadow compared to this storm.

The days before my one umbrella.

I am especially wet today, more cold than from the storm before. My umbrella has leaked for years, and I lack the patches to hold it together. A tattered thread is flayed like skin, battered and whipped by the storm’s wind. The patches I have are soggy, water-logged with lust, adhesive long washed away.

And I hold but one umbrella.

I speak to her some days, try to work at the holes in her skin, holes in her heart, but my patches do not stick. They stay until the storm comes, until the seductress laughs, then my shield falls beneath her power. Hopeless holes appear again. I tell her I need thread and needle, need to poke her with tiny holes, affix the patches for good. She shivers at the thought, fights when I reach for her, thinking my aim is to hurt. A little pain, but a big help. Sadly, she will not give in, not let me patch her holes

So I hold my one umbrella.

Men sit in puddles, some deeper than others, umbrellas to one side. Their faces are aglow with passion, but hearts dead with lonely weight. Some of that cloth is more holes than umbrella. Some posts are snapped, broken heaps where protection once was. The men discarded them, water-logged patches sliding down faces. The water is warm where they are now, inviting in those puddles… until the rain comes again.

Now, they hold no umbrella.

I want to run to them, tell them it’s a lie, to show them the other men who sit shivering beneath their blankets, no longer warmed by that pool. I cannot reach them. They cannot hear me, ears filled with pleasant whispers. Her perfume is sweet, voice singing softly in spring trees. Her beauty shines beneath the sun’s radiance, as they walk with holey umbrellas. When the rain is stilled, those umbrellas do nothing but block her beauty. My umbrella does not even do such anymore, her holes too great, tattered skin too far gone.

But I hold my one umbrella close.

I know what it’s like to give in. I know what it’s like to give up, to throw my umbrella to one side like those men in pools at night. I know the feel of that beast’s stings, her maiden curls turning into dead strands, that pool filled with perfume’s delight fading into memory, skin raw, body shaking beneath a blanket.

My umbrella is full of holes, but is better than none. Today, I work at the patches, the sun giving me some chance to let the vinyl dry. My lady heaves sobs in my lap as I work needle and thread. Tears touch my face, drop from my chin, kiss my one umbrella. They slide down her face, over some new patches. No water falls between the cracks, no leaks where stitches hold. I smile at her, like a child in arms, knowing days will be better.

We have been through some rough times. Once I left her, discarded in the mud. Left to meet the rain, to feel her poisonous kisses, to warm myself with her body. Then, she left me for another, the maiden turning beast. I wandered the world with no umbrella, until I found my lady again. She was worse than when I left, but I picked her up. Sometimes she lets me patch her holes, sometimes it is too much when the rain comes, memories of what I did, where I went… that I left.

Memories of me without that umbrella.

Now, the sun shines. We cry. We work to fix those holes. Work for the storm to come. Life has its seasons, times of change. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes we falter. But I still hold her close, hold my one umbrella. I will not give her up again. With her, I still get wet. With her, I still hear the seductive whispers. With her I still feel alone and unloved at times. But without her… without her, I have nothing.

Not even my one umbrella.