Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
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Last Cape

by David Baresch

Blades flash, samurai clash, blood drains, knives slash, the strong grow weak, the brave fall, and the grass runs red - a land ablaze.

A rush for power, the north bleeds, awash with war, endless gore, and Samurai Zarr, dripping with death, staggers away, fleeing insane, fleeing affray.

His thoughts a blur, his thoughts on fire, he cursed, he spat, he cut on briers, and battle’s cost is dignity lost and battle’s cost is guilt and wrath.

Blinded by blood, his senses gone, he drifted lost on moors unknown, and the blackest of paths lit his way, he knew not where but tasted sea air.

“Where is this place,” he screamed aloud, “this place of waste, this place so wild, who led me here, here to die, what name this place, here and why?”

The wind blew, it whispered on dunes, and was it the wind that spoke?

“The Cape of the North, lost samurai, the Cape of the North, to live or die.”

Zarr stilled, Zarr heard, “who’s there,” he shouted, “show yourself now, reveal you unto me, you who speak so eerily.”

“Takashima Cape is this is place, here fate awaits...”

Zarr twisted left, he twisted right, yet none were there, none came into sight.

“A place of dark, a place of light, here a place for life’s final fight.”

“Yea who spake, show your face, stop this game, state your name.”

“We are the Cape, Takashima Cape, a place of art, a place of craft, here some stray, here some flee, searching for mortality.”

The voice died in cries of tides crashing onto rocks below and the voice quietened, it spoke no more, none were heard but the ocean’s roar.

“Speak,” said Zarr, “speak again, speak to I who gave my all, speak to I who fought the cause, I, who bled in wars, I, who wait as short life draws.”

But the wind alone howled out loud, long and drawn, skirting seas, hissing through reeds.

“Speak again and tell me more, do not reject this plea, you who grew me here, you who chose my years, you who now turn your backs, you who shut your ears, alleviate, now, these dying fears.”

Was it a voice or just Zarr’s thoughts that gave a sharp retort, ‘who said to you of such fates, a teacher, a preacher, an imagined saint, or perhaps it is one who makes gain by dividing worlds with words of hate.”

His mind a blur, and all unsure, he no longer sensed right or wrong, and drunk with death, samurai Zarr, into the dark, surged on.

His strides awry, he wheeled to the sides, the straight and narrow now lost from sight when all at once he stepped on air and the world underfoot disappeared.

Down, down, Zarr fell too weary for fear too weary to care.

“Let night be short, let dawn ne’er come, give death’s respite to this bitten one, this his hope, this his prayer, this his final prayer, but...

Armour smacked, shielding split, bones exploded, meat ripped, and a body writhed twitching alive, trembling with shock on ocean-soaked rocks.

Here on a cliff on a narrow ledge, a dying man wished farewell, battered and beaten, limbs unmoving, eyes shut, his time-a-seeping.

“Onwards dear death, onwards.”

But waves struck in salt filled blasts, they torched, they choked, they blazed on cuts, and life regained, searing through veins, shocked with fire, and a man wailed.

And such a growl, it ripped the night, it tore through air as horrors awoke, and like an iron fist, terror clutched, it gripped, it squeezed on a human throat.

And on this shore, this desolate coast, a voice screamed out, “no more, no more! Where is death? Come, come now - take my breath, this unwanted breath!”

But air exhaled and heartbeats raced and Zarr cursed, he cursed the fates, and there he lay a body alive, a body prostrate.

And on a northern cape, stony and bleak with stars of ice freezing the sky a tortured soul clung onto life.

The tides drove, briny poured, and Zarr rolled and slowly rose, coughing and spitting, he got to his feet, his lungs afire and soaked in blood, he started to climb the cliff.

He stepped the rocks higher and higher, until he reached firm dry land, and there he slumped onto the ground, heaving and gasping, he took in air.

And there he screamed and there he yelled to no one here or no one there, “Angel of death, my time is up! Raise your scythe, do your worst, strike your blade, take this life, and into a pit let I be cast!”

But none heard, none were near, no one came to answer his prayer, and the moment passed, and Zarr fell quiet, he sat and he looked towards the coast, this his road, this his path, a path without hope.

But further along that crashing shore a small light shone in the night, “there a home, a house perhaps, and one so bold, so close to the edge, so close to death, will it give me help?”

He staggered forth towards the verge, ‘…a need to rest, a need to sleep…’

With thoughts of hope, he pushed his step, he staggered on and blood dripped, blood drained and blood trailed, giving away his doomed fate.

From out of the shadows vermin peeped, pestilence sniffed and pestilence twitched, they followed the meat, warm and fresh, they waited to feast, to bite, to lick, and for chunks so thick to stick between teeth.

And on seaweed Zarr slipped, and on briers Zarr tripped, his skin ripped, his skin blued, bruises split, but he reached the light, the candlelight, and a moment of hope shone into his eyes, here stood a place of respite, and such an abode like none he had ever before known.

Here a building made of iron and held fast with rivets and bolts, all neatly placed all round and domed, and set in straight lines, knitting and binding wide blank sheets of iron.

“Is this a home or is this a jail, all hammered and nailed, to keep one out, or to keep one in, a penal perhaps, for untold sins?”

And through a porthole, small and round, a flame burned upon white wax, it wavered not, it felt no draft, a flame so still in a room so sealed, and within the fire a figure danced.

“Is anybody there?” said Zarr knocking upon the star-hit door.

And a sound of chains rattled aloud, and heavy links stuck iron ground, dragging and screaming like a murder of crows and mingled with unearthly tones.

And tremors hit like seismic waves, Zarr stumbled back and staggered away, he grabbed for his knife, but his sheath was bare his blade long lost in acts of war.

And bolts were drawn, the door wrenched free, and a shard of light shot out from the gap, it split the black, it split the night, and, slowly, the door scraped wide.

Iron tore, scarring on stone, piercing through marrow, piercing through bone, it stung the ears, it cut like shears, and a manacled figure, there, appeared grinning wide like a little child and bleeding dreadful tears.

Clad in chains, it stooped with age, it wriggled, it rattled, it shook insane, its jaw fell, it hit its chest, and its teeth, like slugs, wormed around, and from within words spat out.

“You have come from fields of death, young man, you have come from the time of fire, your thoughts are plagued with guilt, young man, how many souls did you take today, and how many more did you maim?”

In shadow and light the woman smiled, 200-years old, or more, perhaps, she bowed low, her chains fell down, the links buckled upon the ground, they piled up, they piled high, and the woman gave out a wintery sigh.

She looked up, and then she laughed, a mighty screeching blast, it was such a sound and such a sight as Zarr had never known in his life.

And her skin, so old, centuries old, and a tonne of iron weighed her down, yet she moved so lithe, as if a child, as if all age undone.

“You know of my deeds,” said Zarr angrily, “you know of my trials, you know of a spy, who is it that spake to you in words so cruelly of me? Tell me his name and he I will slay.”

“Yes,” she rasped, “your trials,” she said, “they have not gone well today, and blood now seasons our fields of rice, and chunks of skin, they pepper our green, and here you flee, all a-rush, with death at your side, and here together you both abide.”

“The name, I said, give me his name.”

“Your soul is raped, your thoughts ablaze, and you are caught, you are snared, in a world of torture and slaughter.

"And here you stand, without a son, and here you stand, without a daughter, aye, good sir, your trials, good sir, they have not gone well this day upon these fields of our fair cape.”

“You who stand clad in chains, you know too much of I, and I doth wonder why, who is your tricky spy, his name, I said, tell me now, and I will split his head and I will eat what I find inside!”

“Your blood’s the spy, weary samurai, its scent told of your name, it courses sweet upon the winds, but its scent is mixed with those you’ve slain, those with sons, those with daughters and daughters and daughters.”

“You riddle with words and you talk of war, and yes, of course, there is always a need for war, war makes us work all the more, we advance fast, we progress on, we move from sloth and backward yore, yes, there is always a need for…”

A thundering wave pounded the cliff, it shook the land and Zarr spun round, he hit on rocks, he struck the ground, and in the distance someone laughed.

“Your strength has gone,” said the one in chains, “you weary much, yet you‘ve reached the cape and now there is no further to go, so come and rest, come and drink, sake will ease your pain.”

“Who do I address,” Zarr asked, “and from what world doth thy hail, tell me, you, who wriggle and wail?”

“Just like thy I come from stars so look to the sky, look there, see the light, greet the might, the stars are yours, the stars are mine, the stars made us, they made our time.”

“Your twisted tongue, it makes no sense, so I will ask you once again, your name, I said, tell me your name, and do not make me ask again.”

“And as for names, be wary of names, names can torture with sneer and laughs, some hide their names given at birth, a name can send a child insane.

"But my name you so kindly aske so tonight please call me… ‘Three,’ yes, tonight you may call me, ‘Three’ - come.”

The chained lady led the way into the home, made of iron, and onto a chair, made of iron, Zarr sat watching a fire.

Flames leap, shooting high, like youth’s desire, wild for life, but then they fall, they peter out, then they turn to grey ash, and there sleep, cold dust, within the lowly grate.

Three held a glass, it sparkled bright, reflecting light, it pained the sight, and a drink she poured, it ran like tar, and she filled the stein up to its brim, “here, good sir, drink.”

“What mix is this?” the samurai asked.

“A crystal brew in crystal glass, it be Shukutsu’s finest cut, dare to sup from the cup, this brilliant crystal cup.”

“I know not of such a dark brew from this old port of Otaru.”

“Dare, great samurai, dare once more, forget your mind, forget your knell, listen to me and listen again, drink, and drink well, release your pain, release yourself, be free from this day of hell.”

“Drink fools our thoughts,” came a weak retort, “for one night only it heals the heart, yet wounds still bleed, unaware, the bed’s still stained, beware, beware, then come the dawn, then come the light, and a world ablaze with fear and fright.”

Three smiled, she cupped the glass, she held it up towards his lips, its scent enticed, but Zarr paused, ‘what poison is this dear witch?’

And Three smiled, she nodded and coaxed, “Don’t be unsure, sup good sir, and sup again, more and more, kill those thoughts that feed and gnaw.”

And samurai Zarr quenched his thirst, the liquid ran smooth and cool, veins breathed, pains eased, when all at once a Damascus flash struck his sight and blinded his eyes.

Zarr stared at empty space, a new fear, a loss of sight, a new world of purest white, a new terror, a new plight.

But with time cracks appeared, the flash broke, it shattered like glass, his sight returned but the room had changed, and Zarr gazed at a diamond cage.

Four brilliant walls held his stare, he gasped, exhaled, “what trickery is this?” his voice now low, his speech slow, and there before him a figure stood, a woman so fair in every way.

Deep red lips smiled and pursed, they moved close, aromas burst, yet seas rose and waves stormed, they clutched Zarr, they dragged him down, they flung him high, they threw him far, and burning salt enflamed his scars.

And out at sea a torso wrenched, joints tore, bones bent, eyes shot wide, terror blazed, and hope broke as Zarr choked.

Battle’s armour pulled him down, and sights of war filled his mind, those he severed, cut in half, now limbless ghosts, screamed in his thoughts, and then he glimpsed the stars, the fading watery stars.

And nine months on, on wintry shores, a woman gave birth in a house of iron, the babes were three, daughters all, bred by craft, bred by war, bred by art and trickery.

Three for good or three for bad, three to help or three to fail, three to dance or three to wail, three for rich or three for poor, or three to do nothing at all?

Which path is thine, which path is mine, which path is lain for life’s migrate, and which path is it to take to find that promised distant cape?

And blades flash and samurai clash, and blood drains, and knives slash.

The strong grow weak, the brave fall, the grass runs red, a land ablaze.

The north reels awash with war and a fallen warrior tastes the mud, dripping with death he opens his eyes, raises his head, and there he sees insane, there is sees the beast of rage.

He looked to the east, he looked to the west, he saw the slain, he knew their pain, he hauled himself up, he stood on two feet, he asked himself, ‘should I stay, should I fight, or should I flee this blood-filled riot?’

A memory came of an unknown time, of a storming sea on the cruellest of nights, of a rush of blood and a loss of love, of a heart beating fast, and a breath - the last.

But that was then and this is now, this his time, his time to use, this his time, his time to lose, this his time to gain or abuse, and this a time for all to muse, this a time to take to choose.

And on that field of long lost yore, he raised his sword and let out a roar.

“Life gives today and I decide, and I'll take my way, I fight on ‘til deeds are done, I fight on ‘til time runs out, I fight on ‘til dreams are none, I’ll take this time, it’s time just begun!”

“Soldier on into the day, soldier on into the night, soldier on into the sun, soldier on into the ice, never halt on the way, always give it the best of fight!”

And a samurai advanced.


2018 David Baresch

Bio: My influences for ‘Last Cape’ come from living and teaching English and memory methods in Japan. Japan is a country of incredible geological diversity set within a smallish landmass. It is a country that can spark wild imagination. Take a flight a couple of hours north of Tokyo you'll arrive in the frozen north of sparse landscapes, ski slopes, wild roaming bears, and sizzling geothermal lakes and baths. Take a flight a few of hours south of Tokyo and you'll arrive in tropical zones of glorious beaches, azure skies, and old women plunging their bare hands into rock pools to grab at killer snakes to cook for that night’s dinner. And within in this peace-loving space of smiles, violent volcanoes threaten pyroclastic horrors, hovering typhoons slam weights of water that shift mountainsides onto towns below, tectonic plates leap and topple buildings, tsunamis rise and have the force to rip nuclear power plants apart, and, here, it can be thought of as an honour to jump in front of an express train if one has problems at work. It is perhaps the diverseness and unpredictability of Japan that inspired, ‘Last Cape’ while sat, gazing, at a rocky coastline from the top of Takashima Cape, Hokkaido, Japan. David Baresch Licenced Memory Instructor (Tony Buzan certified) Author of… ‘Tides of March’ Giving experience of an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. ‘Every Picture Tells…’ A children’s study aid teaching the abstract. ‘Hotel Robot’ Aphelion webzine. ‘Atomic Star’ Aphelion webzine. Writer of articles for ‘The Weekly Telegraph’ & ‘New Humanist’

Website: Claire Fitzpatrick

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