On the Third Day, Boulder (barrier)

VI.ii. Squirming Coils

— ‘(OO-oo.)’

Commutator Rails

They let his fleshy-like exteriors drape down from the rafters suspended on wires pressed into flaccid arms, head and waist like a candle wick ready to dip into hot wax, sentimental layer after composite layer of informational materiel of perceived experience and relational taxonomic data structures. Accretion is King, said Lucretius, the man with a stone in his skull. Don’t step out of the hot spot, that’s where the action is. Smile, You’re on Mind Candied Camera! { Too soon. } — { Right? I can almost recall the tune. }

Photo by Goashape on Unsplash

And lo, the jester was flailed with his own rake by a polo teams worth of mad, stammering midget golems sprouting tulip seedlings, dressed in smooth harlequin jazz, egged on by a carousel of clutch pearls left on fainting couches: Thwap! Thwack! Seven billion dead and dying, operator dials zero but can’t get out. The line is frayed, the line has been sabotaged, the Central Nervous Intelligence Agency has put some routine embeds in suicide cells to refresh the cavity.

The Void twinkles with activity just about to happen.

The Void is a potential energy bomb about to erupt.

The Void collapses under the weight of its own implosion.

Crisis Averted. Everyone sighs and all the children cry, and mush-mouth cabn’t find’ub’a way, to’ba get-to-the-other side-buh. { He wants to muscle his way into the image, but he’s coming from it at the wrong angle… }

Smile! You’re on Security Camera! And you’re trespassing, sir. May I see some identification?

Have you been back there yet?

— No. I don’t think so. I can’t have been. No.

Is that your final answer?

— No.

Top five answers are on the board. Survey says…

— NO!

The music kicks in at half temNpo, drawling, crawling, oozing out, all the instruments jello and underwater, as thOe spot light refocuses down along the crepe paper streamer of h!is existence. A puff of steam blows his cocoa sheet in celebratory ripples.

A brush with nostalgia, a brush with fame, a brush with monarchy, a brush with spirituality so profound you can’t prove you actually existed the moment before. But the brush was just paint, independent strata of wafers, each of which can chip and peel, layers of new drapery consistently renovated and deconstructed so quickly the eye could not follow because the light never made it there in back in time. So the photon(s) that found your small metabolic handshake never knew the crime no less its commission. There was no opium for there was no Sherlock for there was no Moriarity for there was no paper for there were no trees for there were no seeds of ideas that you wish you could vomit as ink into the sea of humanity, tales of systems of tales of tales of systems of tales of systems of music systems of music crumbling off the gargoyle lips of fugal centripuntal force, and here we go again, until the cold water is drowned in airless cannisters under the all-seeing eye of a Mordered God who theorized about Atomic and Ivy smashing face -to-face in his hyper-commuter.

‘( Pick up your wires and carry them this way, the new batch is about to hatch, we’ve only got a few minutes to clean the staging area! )’

Stuck to wood and wire, Wiemi’s deflated skin rack was drug by pulleys around the galley gallery gallery toward a lattice of menacing spinning blades. Even in panic, his body garb was unresponsive, set out on the line to dry and forgotten in a sudden storm.

I won’t tell you about the awful shredding any more than I appreciated that avant-garde “art” electronic music piece that claimed to a piece about human suffering in the digital age, and the screams they used were blood-curdling enough to remark on, and I’m really kind of impressed, assume it’s a secondary track of vocal tricks by the soprano whose got this incredible range of emotions, but then the composer (German, of course) comes out with the fact that the screams were authentic audio taken from a serial killer who’d taped himself murdering his victims, and these were the real screams of a woman raped and tortured to fucking death. Right in front of my ears. And there’s nothing I could do about, I didn’t even realize it was happening. I just keep thinking, fuck that composer for doing that to us in Darmstadt. Disgusting.

And all that remains traveling along the conveyor belt are fallen clusters of dangling ribbons of wire, severed and dancing sparks into the cool atmosphere.

{ Take that, Humpty! } — { Survey says… } — { You take the high road, } —

Strawberry Fields’ Winding Road — or —(Statory Public)

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

{ And I’ll take the low. } One is full of snakes, the other is full of birds. We crinkle and vibrate down here, at such low frequencies you almost think you’re alive.

Attention! Focus! Here! Keep alert during this part of the ride. This is the best part of the trip. This is the trip. The best part. I really like.

Wiemi felt his consciousness slipping further backwards, intact, but distending outside his sense of self. Not physically, but psychically. As though his sense of self-identity were liquidly mixing into another person’s identity, and his sense of self inclusively doubling to include the specimen of his semen’s first unitary Y-chromosomal composition.

King Mandlenkosi sired Wiemi at a very early age, just a few seasons past puberty with his bride, ’Nulani. She was his first chosen queen. He loved her lantern-colored eyes and the supple, confident way her hips moved when she took the circle for her performance. She dazzled him with her hypnotizing finger cymbals and increasing sheaths of veils of the finest silk, shifting images and patterns shuffled it would not take great imagination to consider a tar-black panther pounding over a reedy savanna in pursuit of a hairy, tusked boar, or in another refrain of the dance, a peacock strutting back and forth on a grassy meadow, a pelican scooping up fish and eating them, a campfire flickering and showing three men seated in a line on a bench roasting game. He had come to this place with his eldest boy to speak one last time with his own father, who had become too weary under the weight of the crown that he retired to the outer reach of the developing village.

Before his father would entertain conversation, he insisted they cook the furnished royal meats. The king had servants provide makeshift skewers, whittled in the clearing with sharp stone tools, already stuck with carved meats. Gaiety evening was set to arrive everywhere but at this crackling fire, where sober and somber heads reigned.

Mandlenkosi becomes quickly and noticeably impatient, and his rule is not one that generally displaces his anticipation of experiencing his preferred time line. He makes amusement of remembering the numerous times he has watched men be semi-flayed for consuming his time with inane antics or premeditated mistruths as self-distraction. { You thought you might elicit my amusement and favor with your purported grievance with your neighbor, but instead you will amuse me thus! Call for Bugati! } He had tracked back many episodes of such punishments before his father pulled his fillet from the fire and ripped a piece off to taste its wellness.

“So, little man, you are the princeling who would be king!” The man-who-once-was-king broke the silence, addressing the young grandson he’d never met. “What a troublesome creature you are, dangling your one trunk under your seat.” The old man tore a small piece of fat from the game and tossed it to the boy, who snatched the victual in midair and popped it into his lean mouth in one motion and one hand. The old man couldn’t take his eyes off the boy ravaging his steak with his teeth.

“Once-Father, I have something important and unpleasant to ask of you.” Mandlenkosi began, but his father interrupted with a greasy finger and reached for his water.

“First. Have you any news?” He placed down his water gourd farther from the fire than it had been.

“My wife… my new wife has given birth to a son. A healthy boy, strong as an ox, who howls at the moon when he’s hungry.” Both older men shared a laugh, young Wiemi was inspecting a beetle that cannot seem to negotiate a small rock.

“Rumors have strange ways of becoming facts,” the old man muttered to himself.

“What was that?” Mandlenkosi’s voice was raised and clearly annoyed.

“I said I’ll do it.” The old man shot back.

Mandlenkosi threw his stick with the searing untouched meat into the coals. “But I’ve asked you nothing yet! You might not agree so readily if you knew the nature of my request, being a proven coward.” His index finger wagged at the tip of his once-father’s nose.

Unimpassioned, the old man turned to him to ask, “Do you consider me a coward and a fool? You arrive here with a deformed boy, a legacy to uphold, the announcement of a healthy heir, and only two plates for the three of us to consume, and you suggest I don’t know why you’ve commanded my presence?” By which point he was standing up on his failing bowlegs and retrieving the second cut from perilous toughness to stack upon the bench with the other.

Mandlenkosi was speechless and dropped down to the bench again, slightly hollow inside. His coward father had unmanned him by seeing immediately his vulnerabilities and weaknesses he had successfully shielded from everyone else, but this one awful simpering wretch could blow a perfect dart through the one pinhole in his exterior…

“Once it is done, you could come live out your days in regal luxury, no one in the village need know…”

“I have my reasons for staying here. And once this deed is done, I wish you to never set foot here again. My old and decrepit bones will come looking for you when I die.”

The old man silently watched his eldest son mount his steed, so broad-backed and unbending, muscular and limber, capable of anything, capable of almost anything on the first try. He was born a man and born a king, it was clear from the crumple in his tiny, dissatisfied face, and nothing would stand in the way of his rise to that station. Snapping at the reins, his horse pranced away beside an unridden ass, led by a coterie of military men, followed after by an entourage of servants on foot and on hand. The King’s regal profile flickering by torchlight reminded the old man of his queen’s father, Kosi.

The colored blue and white inks of consciousnesses smeared and besmirched and returned redoubles as wisps of red smatter and patter and chatter in, twisting, streaking, stretching, fractal, feelings, emotions, qualia, quantia, swirling, congregating, commingling, coalescing, cohering, congealing, concerning, consterning, contorting, consorting, conrorting, conqorting, conporting, con

King Mandla sired Mandlenkosi later in life, long after he’d been coronated as leader of the village. The previous ruler, King Gazimbi, was a gentle, thoughtful and compassionate leader to those who shared his ideals, vision and principles, and a stern, sometimes deadly viper to perceived enemies. Under his rule, the village had magnificent prosperity, which afforded the populace its idle luxury to cavort with their mental whims in the mornings and physical fancies in the evenings, The Power Braids had been brought to the village, or more precisely the village had been brought to the braids, by his mythical greatest-great-great-great-great grandfather, Ōöüřš. Time’s oral traditions played loose havoc with history, resulting in over-emphasization, the most reverent transformation, of vaguely forgotten syllables. While the village had no formalized written technologies, the ur-father was represented in artwork and glyphs as a brave mountain that stood resilient against the encroachment of the sea: ▀▄

King Gazimbi had been surprised when he encountered Mandla’s modest thatch hut recessed on a tor overlooking the main fishing beach on a scouting party for grasslands that might serve as grass pens for growing reserve of livestock. Mandla had heard the approach of mule hooves and retreated to his sleeping chamber begging in old prayers to be kept safe. Two tall eunuchs entered the room with weapons raised, making demands to which Mandla couldn’t comply, as they spoke in a dialect he couldn’t understand. They grabbed him roughly by reluctant armpits, Mandla sagging in rebellion with his complete, but meager, weight, howling for godly intervention. The scouts brought Mandla before King Gazimbi, forcing him, despite his foreign protestations, by the shoulders onto his knees before the king presiding on muleback.

Gazimbi raised the two-fingered peace sign, which Mandla understood, followed by a question as to the young man’s origins, which Mandla did not.

“Peace, yes! We are brothers connected. I give peace to my own brother, I beg peace of him. Peace!” Mandla repeatedly pressed his peace symbol into the space between them to indicate his deep desire for pacific relations.

The king’s preferred vizier, in long crimson drape and an ornamental totemic headdress that spoke of the lineage of kings, laid a hand on the king’s forearm, settling on a tattoo of a grasshopper and tapping twice.

“My King Gazimbi, this pattern of speech, while alien, shares some similarity with a remote tongue my great-grandmother would use with her kin as a secret code. She had been traded to this village as a bride moons past, and we believed it to be her native speech, though she denied it vociferously.”

“What is the pertinence of your grandmother’s rejections?”

“None, my King Gazimbi,” spoke the vizier’s deferential head. “I meant only that I might be capable of translation.”

“Hm.” King Gazimbi looked over the poor frightened wretch crumpled in a loin, pleading desperately with a tight, quivering mouth “Ask him how he has come to this land.” Gazimbi never unstuck his gaze from the stranger’s face, most of his attention tied to his lips, moist and cowering as they were, while the vizier questioned Mandla.

“I believe he is saying that he has always been here,” the vizier read from recognizable words in Mandla’s speech, ”…born here, here always. Yes, he cannot remember a time not living here.”

“Does he know of the village?”

The ensuing back and forth seemed confused and troublesome with much consternated head shaking accompanying a consistent utterance that must have meant “no.”

“He’s not understanding, I’ve asked about our village, our people, our men, he’s not comprehending and he’s not making any sense.”

King Gazimbi motioned to one of the scouts close by. “Bind his hands and place him on the beast behind me.”

The scouting troop was asked to carry on while the king’s attendants returned with him and Mandla to the village. Along the ride, Mandla had fallen silent, fully submitted to his situation. He pressed his worried cheek against the spine of the king’s bare back; Gazimbi was about to have him forcibly struck, but he realized that it was just the perfect amount of pressure to encourage his spine to straighten up, allowing him to feel his chest stretch pleasingly with every breath. He began to chart the movements of the young man’s feature by sense of touch. Occasionally, he would feel a warm, wet tingle that could have been a deliciously deferential kiss. The imagination of Mandla’s moist lips caressing his back tormented Gazimbi’s libido, which crawled along the mule’s hide until he was fully engorged. He nonchalantly pressed his pulsing cock hard against the backbone of the beast with his wrist as if he were merely stabilizing his balance. His royal linens already obscured the object of his erotic pride, and he languished in a prolonged dreamy orgasmic state, denying himself ejaculation. The physical connection between the two men mutually intensified, the king rocked Mandla’s face in the crib of his shoulder blades, and Mandla, close-eyed and blissful, would sensually rake the tip of his tongue along the king’s spine knuckles. Both men bemoaned the journey’s end even as they approached the king’s chambers along his private way at the anterior of the forest.

Before they parted, King Gazimbi commanded his vizier to teach the young man the tongue and customs of the village.

Mandla had many vivid memories of his time spent in education, but no recollection of his previous life before the arrival of the king’s sentries beyond the confines of his hut, which he did not build, but had always been there, provided for him. When asked, he would tell the king of his invisible friend, Milo, who would speak with the benefactor who brought him fruits, cooked meats and staples to the threshold of the small home, and disappear before Mandla could get even lay a glance. One time, after Mandla had fought with Milo who cautioned against spying, he held vigil in the recesses of the hut with a small hole cut in the thatch to peer out at the raked path leading to the open doorway, but, as if they’d already known or somehow been informed. But if he would fall asleep or paused his mission of entrapment, the visitor would take such opportunity to return and leave his gifts.

Mandla was a smart and apt student, so the vizier’s pedantry in language and culture was well-served. It didn’t take him long to become versatile in his acquired tongue with poetry and philosophy. He was never forced, but refused to leave the king’s compartments — he had no interest in the denizens of the village, and wanted only to manage under the protective roof reciting and refining new ideas, and upon the royal bunk where he shared them, along with both of his sexes with King Gazimbi.

Because of his memory loss and the fact that the king only saw his lover in the evening, Mandla became affectionately known around the king and his servant circles as ‘The Ghost.’

“I hope I am a ghost,” Mandla would hiss lustily from behind the rigid polearm of his lover, “for then I shall float above the clouds to live my end of days in the mandala of the gods.” And devour the sensual great Gazimbi into the slobber of his mouth.

He remembered, as viscous ink penetrated the solemnity of his elected enislement, the night that King Kosi arrived, the night his beloved died.

Every important juncture in Mandla’s life was bushwhacked by others who wielded the defining sickle of Fate. At the end of his existence, he had settled on only three actions that he felt were of his own architecting: the return to the hut of his youth to live out his days in peace; his choice to spare Wiemi and mentor im, in lieu of murder; and the final accursed message he sent to his only “son.”

An incident arose in the far fields in the direction of sunset. Competing hunting parties had been in pursuit of the same game and in the ensuing confusion one of the foreigners had been wounded and died in the wood before he could get proper treatment to stop his bleeding. The distant neighbors were known, but they had recently installed a new king, and it was King Gazimbi’s customary obligation to receive them under such inauspicious circumstances and make every effort at a compensatory peace offering, often a gifted virgin bride free of dowry who may bring new life to the injured community.

The evening began with a reposed feast, revelry initiated with the entrance of King Kosi. From the first silhouette it was evident that he was a warrior-king. Towering above his military compatriots, half again as broad, he batted away the hanging drape-rolls intruding on his person. A fierce grimace held fast to his features. He was decked in curious costume, embroidered golden raisin pantaloons that blew wide around his thighs, tamped down with orange rope at the start of his shin. He was bare-chested but for a large bib of ringed armor of stitched nautilus shells. His raven-black skin was impenetrable; Mandla, sprawled and elongated next to his master and lover, couldn’t tell where sinew might start and end, but his body exuded a walloping sense of taut tension and power.

King Kosi sat down cross-legged in one motion across from Gazimbi, a wicker sculpture holding papayas and citrus between them. Kink Kosi’s assistant carried his crown in customary deference to the host territorial dominion, but stood inert behind him, holding it stationary just inches above his knotty trimmed afro, a reminder that none should make the error for even an instant of diminishing his station. Gruff, suspicious stares met Mandla every time he tried to scan King Kosi’s face.

King Kosi frustrated even the simplest of pleasantries to awkwardness. There was no indication that he was going to be an engaged and willing partner in any negotiations. As Gazimbi lost control of the conversation, Mandla was inserted to wean the stolid recalcitrance from their visitor.

“We have been out of contact with your village for too long, King Kosi, last we met with King Batimbi and his sons, we were not introduced. How did you come to be king? You are clearly a magnificent vision of leadership and strength.”

“I killed Batimbi.”

“My Gods! A battle feud between families? We’ve not experienced such a feud here for generations!”

“No feud.”

Mandla had no one to hand the conversation to, but paused himself before resuming, realizing too late how deep into a sore subject he’d ambled, concerned his mien had contorted unwillingly. “Has your village… has your kingdom made progress in rainwater storage? We recently have found a pitch that…”

“Don’t know.”

“If you could use some, I’m sure Gazi — good King Gazimbi would gladly spare…”

“Yes, of course, my Mandla is correct. Who will now follow me to take the air. The first course of libations has swiftly come for reckoning.” The two rose and Mandla held back the curtain for Gazimbi.

“I go too.” No remonstrance could forthcome, so Mandla courteously held the curtain for King Kosi as well.

The three men stepped out into a cool evening brisk enough to pimple the flesh, not uncommon this time of year. Gazimbi shook his arms out to reset his temperature tolerance. He extended a handshake to King Kosi that was left refused.

“I can see that your grief is hot in your heart. Was this hunter accomplished? Had he come from your family stock? Was he also part of your royal hunting party?”

“I don’t know the idiot.”

“Let us make negotiations, as we make water,” joked Gazimbi, as he set towards the edge of a patio cleared of brush to relieve himself. The two and a half men stood nearly shoulder to shoulder, aiming into the wild.

“I sense you are not like other rulers. I appreciate your forthrightness, and I’ll return the sentiment. I want there to be good relations between our people. I would offer you the hand of my daughter and only heir.”

King Kosi nodded his scar-stricken chin. “You will offer me her and there shall be peaceful relations. And you will give me someone’s blood for the hunter who died.” King Kosi reached into the open crotch seam and removed his penis, wiggling the ebony horn to start his stream.

“Blood? No, we can have blood between us. No more souls require sacrifice to cause peace.” Gazimbi dodged his jungle snail back into his garment.

“Someone, “King Kosi turned determinedly and slowly towards a stunned and aghast Gazimbi whose formal garb was brazenly doused in urine. “…will satisfy my thirst.”

“You…” Gazimbi fought with his tongue, but only just then realized his own mortality was in danger, and instead called for his guards.

The curtains opened by force of the bowled bloody heads of his elite guards. A spear found its way to King Kosi’s hand as Gazimbi fearfully backed into the awaiting arms of enemies.

Mandla, who had squat down to micturate was prepared to plead for his life, projecting piety and obsequiousness in his vulnerable stance. King Kosi approached him when he was through, looked him up and down, his hand under Mandla’s jaw during inspection.

“Stand up. Bend over.” Mandla obediently straddled a nearby standing stone when the murdered king’s daughter was dragged out by King Kosi’s men, loosely gowned and shouting obstinately for release until she saw the gored and crumpled mass of her dead father to which she fell to silent appal.

King Kosi savagely tore off her gossamer gown, and rattled his cock around in her mouth until it blossomed enough to suffocate her gasping, a slobbering gush as she gagged on flesh. He withdrew, his fingers clamped around the base of his penis, cackling and shaking it violently in the crisp air. He order for her beheading as he wobbled over to Mandla’s moonkissed backside, prick in hand.

From there, the memory devolves into discomfort, pain, and fear. It seemed like it could have been hours of internal ripping and tearing or perhaps only a moment before King Kosi ejaculated into his anus. But the recollection of the experience becomes clear again as he lay there over the bench, too terrified to move even after King Kosi had moved back into the bed chambers to discuss plans with his people. Mandla listened inside for footsteps or news of his own future, but the last thing he heard was “burn the bodies” as shapes carrying torches gathered at the curtain. Mandla looked away and went perfectly still.

“Put them together. Don’t kick them, ass, pick one up and put it on top of the other. Make a pile.” Heavy feet shuffled on dirt, and the same voice spoke again. “Take your torch and hold it there.” Flesh slapped flesh beside the crackling of fire. “No, not until I say so.” As the smell of burning hair rippled over Mandla, he couldn’t stop himself from crying, but tried desperately to stifle his whimpers. He considered it was likely now useless, if not actively detrimental, to maintain the charade of possum, but he honestly could think of nothing else he could possibly do, and he’s certain his ligaments would refuse his commands had he. No one had told him to move, and so rooted he remained as the two funeral agents approached.

“What do you have to say for yourself, boy-faggot? Shall we burn you, too?”

“I…” Mandla slowly raised his helpless hands, stammering into quiet.

“No weapons clearly.” Said a second voice of warm fingers that grabbed Mandla’s ass and pulled apart his cheeks. “Not here, either.” He then toddled the tense, small shea butternut head of his sex half-organ. “Anywhere.” The fingers disappeared and feet shuffled. “Burn it.”

Panic was met with a searing, bleaching and stripping pain as a torch flame was thrust against his buttock. His mouth shot wide as if he were going to scream, but no sound escaped. He reflexively jerked his knees and tumbled over the side of the bench, gasping for air, arm outstretched to defensively push away any more arriving harm. Further harm came only in the forms of jeers and snorts as the two guards were doubled over in paroxysms of laughter, pointing at him thus upturned, all paws in the air trapped like a turtle on his back, pants about his ankles his pseudo-sex dinting in the light of an ad hoc crematorium, smoke rising from his rear to the smell of roasting flesh. He resignedly rolled slowly over and curled into a ball.

His next memory is of the following early morning, the Sun God barely had time to shake off from his wild radiant mane the cobwebs of the previous night’s dreams. Nor could Mandla. He was in a daze, stiff, rigid, and quiet, dressed in finery of kings and trotted through the village introduced by herald as the eldest son of the late King Gazimbi, now engaged to the most beautiful daughter of King Kosi, Mbalenhle, may they rein in peace. He was tugged close by thin women who exhorted desperately with him not to kill their boy or husband or themselves. He was led back to the kingly hut and set down on a leather stool. He was asked if he understood that King Kosi’s daughter would be coming within weeks. He nodded, certain he didn’t understand any of it. Did he understand that he was to give her a healthy son. He nodded. Did he understand that he would make himself fully available to King Kosi personally any time he arranged a visit. He nodded. The instructions became thinner and more bizarre, and his brain was fuzzing over, there was too much information to process in one heated sequence; the air may have been nippy that wintry season, but his face was molten and flushed red as chestnuts when his memory faints.

{ I know that one way leads to shame, but to the other lies regret. I refuse to actively participate in so torturous a folly. Let’ it wash over me, until it finally stumbles upon the courtesy to end me. } — { I would sooner devour a boulder and claim under oath I’d eaten my children. } — { I would sooner let the fate wash over me, until it finally stumbles upon the courtesy to end me, for I know that one path leads to regret and the other to shame. I refuse to participate in so tortuous a folly, where all games are rigged, especially the game of life, and behind every door lies a choose your own adventure whose pages haven’t been completed yet. And I’m phasing in and out with the undulating rhythms of the experimental biology world frame, one temporal tick at a time, so that tock knows when to start, and tick knows when to start, and tock knows how to start, and tick knows how to start, … }

King Mandla had borne no children of any sex to the beautiful and virtuous Mbalenhle, but not for lack of engaging, he appealed to King Kosi on one of his visits comprising rambunctious penetrative encounters.

“My King, you know my allegiance, and you also know intimately the tragedy of my sex. I fear my seed is warped or flawed from my condition.”

King Kosi sat thinking upon the bed stool, greatly aggravated that his intentions were not being manifest. In anger, he rose and grabbed Mandla by the hips, pinning him face down into the dirt mats searing his fury into Mandla’s rectum. Mandla lay with his cheek against the bamboo strips and sang to himself the song of the monarch butterflies. The episodes rarely lasted past

But this time, he hadn’t even gotten past the first verse before King Kosi unplugged.

“Turn over!” He ordered. “And hold out your hands.” And white milk ushered from the swollen penis head he was beating with wroth. What Mandla couldn’t capture with his cupped palms, he let fall on his naked belly. King Kosi rumbled as he squeezed out the last curdle he wiped on Mandla’s wrist.

“Cover your small prick in manly seed. Then go stick it in and give me a healthy son.” Mandla was waved off carrying his transport of magic fertility elixir, some of which he was already one-handedly smoothing on his meager manhood.

The next time King Kosi returned to the village, he was deeply satisfied to see his daughter Mbalenhle’s belly had proofed with child, swollen bigger than coconut. He remembered being joyful when clasped to King Kosi’s breast for the very first time, for any reason, when he arrived to meet his recently-born grandson named after his lineages, Prince Mandlenkosi.

“You have done well, Mandla. He is a beautiful boy.”

“He is strong as an ox, like you are, King Kosi.”

“Yes, that is true.” He smiled down on the baby boy, a cocoa-colored jerky jumble of limbs against white linens, but he saw the boy’s broad chest.

“He is swift as a panther, like you are, King Kosi.”

“Yes, his legs are already darting!” He placed the base of his palms against the newborn’s spasmodic kicks.

“He is also a man of… sizable heft like his grandfather.”

King Kosi laughed, “Yes, his manhood is clear and intact. But he seems to also have your stamina.” King Kosi points as the little prince body yawns stretching complete every tiny muscle then taking its non-dominant thumb in its mouth and retreating backstage, dressing its consciousness for another go under the lights. He turned severely to Mandla jabbing him hard in the sternum.

“That boy will be king. Before his voice hardens. Or I will make sure of it.”

Mandla, now known around the village as the ‘Ghost King,’ rarely met the people of the village, relying on the queen’s innate charm and ample guile to manage the political and cultural affairs of the village. He took little interest in his only child’s education or upbringing, preferring instead to practice his poems and unravel his thoughts.

It was as early as Mandlenkosi’s adolescence that Mandla clearly saw powerful ambitions boiling in his child’s eyes; he would catch glances from the edge of his vision of Mandlenkosi staring at him and growling like a crazed wolf. If Mandla spun around and shouted, “Stop looking at me like that!” the boy’s mother would rush to his aid, and shoo Mandla back to his private study.

He remembers not needing to feel regicidal knives launching for him around every dark shadow to enjoy solitude. He cannot explain why something so simple should have compelled to make his first meaningful decision since he begged for his life while sobbing meekly into the back of a just and compassionate king. Perhaps it is just the salt crystals of age forming in joints erosing slowly to powder. But he spoke to no one, just quietly packed what mattered to him inside a gnu-leather sack and set off into the dark one night past the sentinel’s Great Bonfire watch, returning to the hut on the tor he’d left as a child to live out his life as he saw fit, or until his people sought out their ‘Ghost King’ to purge their own demons of guilt or shame. Fate herself must choose now, for here, in this niche of spacetime, sandboxed from society, he need choose neither shame nor regret, he has found suspension from the fluid sepsis of time. Untouched, uncategorized, he might exist no more or no less than poor Milo and his talking Donkey, delivering meat and cheese to wayward vagrants who might as well have been returning war heroes in disguise. You can’t sniff adventure off someone, only confidence that they’re lying. You can’t interrupt a manuscript you didn’t write. You can’t remember what you haven’t experienced. You can’t remember why you would mention your invisible friend when you were a child, nursed by the hut, raised by the hut, that hut way over yonder, where no one but the crazy folk go. Naw, dawg, if’n, if’n, if I went and tell ya once, ya damn’ll better listen. Fu-u-u-uck. This shit’s whack. C’mere you little fuck! Don’t you dare go in there. I said stay out of that place, that fucking hut over by the cliff, Milo. Stay here. Milo, baby. Like your father said, it’s not safe, don’t go in there. Milo, stop! Don’t go i —

What the fuck you lookin’ at, nigga?

King Kosi sired Mandlenkosi in the prime season of his masculinity, in which he fathered six children, all boys, all of them unknown to him, even Mandlenkosi, for as close and connected he felt to the boy, he truly never supposed anyone but Mandla as the father, his own daughter confessing openly to her fidelity.

While Kosi rarely thought on it, he presumed that Mandla had borne no other children because at heart he was a lazy man who was disinclined to do anything he wasn’t required to do. His daughter Mbalenhle ruminated on it, and believed that Mandla’s cowardice taught him to confuse action with jeopardy. Perhaps these were both true, but the most likely influencer, as his son Mandlenkosi knew, was that another, more powerful man, had not commanded him to do so.

His deep and abiding affinity for this one grandson was tremendous, awing even Kosi himself, and not reflected elsewhere in his life. He kept no wife beyond their ability to bear him a son, and had conquered other nearby tribal villages to which he made seasonal rounds. He rarely remembered the names of his advisers in these many realms, no less the husbands of her daughters who all, apart from Mandla, melted together in his head. They were all play actors born to royalty who had already amassed an arsenal of tactics to impress and sway others. They would bow ludicrously low before him at every encounter. Their praise would be effusive, and they would tout their accomplishments and how much the natives of the village adored their ‘One True Distant King.’ Sycophantic displays of male plumage for the discerning patrician. For this one’s art was war, and failure meant death. His injunction to each was the same: The first boychild will be throned by maturity.

Behind his back, the backs of his guards, and the backs of his advisers, he knew they would grouse and simper, but Kosi didn’t concern himself with trying to interfere in such petty machinations. When one would harbor earnest fantasies of outwitting him, he would know immediately detect it with one penetrating glare and a few curt, direct sentences and have him beheaded before departure.

{ Somewhere is the taste I yearn for of coffee with cream, the taste and invigoration of standing alone, the only one facing the wrong direction, receiving crucification as judgment for holding your unique, raw, true beliefs naked in all their forms in front of the entirety of humanity, past, present, and arriving. } — { They told me to write, and then they saw what I had to say, and they asked me politely, but consequentially, to stop. } — { And so we did. }

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