Languages we don’t understand

I dream of a man chained to an engine block. Another man approaches cautiously. Not daring to come very close. He has a dish of food. The feral growls and lunges. Snapping and foaming at the mouth. The caregiver pushes the food within reach using a stick. Insanity comes from many sources. Blood lines. Bad decisions. A betrayal by a brother, a mother, a cousin. Insanity is tenacious.

I dream of you, splayed out before me. Waiting to be penetrated. Waiting to be eaten. Waiting to join me in the shadows of existence.

There is a line of tanks across the side of the mountain. Pointing towards the city filled with graffiti that says “fuck the oppressors” and similar things. The city is filled with buildings cemented together with mortar that contains the dust of the bones of the ancestors of the tribe that lives there. There are no walls high enough to keep out the bad things that live in our hearts. These monsters that come in the night. Demons are an invention we use to excuse the monsters that we are.

His name is Adolph, or Joseph, or Reinhard. Her name is Elizabeth, or Griselda, or Lizzie. We don’t forget what they did. The ghosts of the infamous haunt shadows we try not to walk in. And for some reason, I have always gone into the dark and looked at the shadows. Whispered back to them. The man chained to the engine block is lunging at his caretaker. If he could he would kill the one who brings him food in the dark.

I want to fly and soar. Instead I am running. A rocket is spiraling through the sky over my head. Not the glorious kind that will arc upwards out of the atmosphere and into cold space. This rocket is not designed to explore dreams. This rocket is the short, ugly kind that explodes among the date trees where I live now. An unwelcome package that contains between 40 and 110 pounds of high explosive. The delivery boy who is a few miles away hopes this rocket will end the story of me. I am an invader who walked into this world with a mind full of ideas that are unwelcome in this place.

I am not of this tribe. Not of this land. I am malleable, transitional, a roamer.

We clean up our office. Throw out the detritus of the administration of war. Most of it is written in a language I do not understand. The letters flow from right to left. This is backwards to my mind. Alien. Incomprehensibly foreign and of little value. I do not understand. I do not want to understand. This tribe’s different god who is not my god. My own tribe and their god is alien enough already. No room in my head for these scribbles. The next day my tribe tells me that we have offended our host tribe. The papers we threw out were holy. Honor has been slighted. They want to kill us now.

Yesterday they were friends. Today they will cut our throats. I am numb, anesthetized.

I see him amongst the rest of the warriors. Armored up, armed up, ready to kill. But he is different. He is not shuffling, spitting, watching with veiled eyes and stoic face. He is calm. In another world. Inside a book, a story, a place that keeps him anchored to something that is not a bomb, a bullet, an explosion of violence that could at any moment bring the final black down upon him. I take note. Learn the lesson he is teaching. Escape comes easily. In many forms.

I sleep on a bed of bones in a valley under the stars. War is coming. The oldest whisper. The water of this place will turn to blood. We are hungry for more. It is the oldest cycle.

Do I want your wife, your land, your dreams? What would I steal from you my brother? None of that. I want to be alone with my demons.  The ones who make me tell stories.

I wake up sweating. Missing you. Who is my little fire. I want to mold the very fabric of existence into something that feels like home. But home for me is a city drifting in a dream above the clouds. Home for me is a place that exists only in the pages of a story that is not written yet. On a planet far away where war is only a memory and we are all one tribe. Evolution has more work to do before I can stop being a monster. Before I understand conflict, peace, resolution.

Fire burns and keeps us alive in the cold. Sometimes the light keeps the monsters away at night. The heat is welcome. It provides contrast and context. My hands are such marvelous things. I stare into the fire for a while. Look down at these instruments of mine that can flow out words or wrap themselves around a neck in the night to choke. I wonder what kind of story I will be. In time, the fire turns to coals and I fall asleep thinking of heroes and villains. How they are often one in the same.

I wake up in a different place. At a different time. It has always been so.

The fire is now a conflagration. A diesel truck is burning a few hundred yards away. The cab contains bodies. Badly burned. Souls fled. Charred human remains riddled with metal bits. We drive by and I am the one who is at the wheel. Inside an armored shell. Hoping that fire will be held at bay by the artifices of the engineers who designed this rolling ship I pilot. Miles and kilometers fade into the past and I am still alive. Gathering stories of what it means to be human. Wrestling always with the forces inside that try to hide meaning. That want me to be a lunatic chained to an engine block in the dark. Snarling at the moon and at my brothers and sisters because the world tried to eat me. I was unlucky enough not to lay down and die. I have never been graceful about the prospect of being chewed up.

I am water. I am blood. I am a trickle of life giving sanity in a desert.

Toss and turn. Sometimes scream. Sweating profusely I remain troublesome. To my tribe and yours.

Hello. My name is pen. I don’t fit into anything comfortable. I’m too sharp for that. I leak too much ink. I won’t stop dreaming.

Please come hold me in the dark. Tell me a story of transcendence. I know you drift too. Let’s keep looking for a home. When I’m tired and must sleep I hope you’ll feed my brother lunatic. He’s over there chained to an engine block. His mind is broken but I know that soon you and I will learn how to repair the damage. We’re healers with hard edges. Our scalpels are stories written in languages we sometimes don’t understand.

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The author

Pen has been writing in a professional capacity for two decades. He started his career as a combat correspondent in the U.S. Marines.

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