Ukiyo-e 浮世絵 – Pictures of the Floating World

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The Girl and the Bear…the Final Part

The Girl and the Bear

Final Part

Sooner or later, the girl woke too. She first felt the funny pain of cold, then a terrible stiff aching when she tried to move a little. She could hear the noises of birds and morning and she thought to open her eyes. But it was hard, like they were closed for so long that they had settled, couldn’t be opened. Like a window painted shut. However, she persevered, and soon was blinking slowly, forced. Time passed like this and each part of her body began to wake little by little. First the eyelids, then the eyes, then her toes, and then her fingers and nose, until she could contemplate moving her torso, sitting up so to speak. Her stomach felt the kind of sweat that brings together the hot and cold, her belly shivered though she had been lying skin to skin for several hours. And her bones cracked apart as she moved. But soon enough the girl was able to kneel up, to turn herself away from the tree she had slept upon, to roll over on her bottom and sit legs in front, bent. As she did so she could see her legs were grey and purple with black scratches up and down, dirty brown scratches, black where the blood had coagulated. And terribly white and grey because of the cold cold snow. Her arms too were marked, though less so than her legs. And her fingertips were brown and grimy, nails clogged with black dried blood. She assessed her body.

The girl looked up from where she sat and saw the sky. It was white once again, still high. And she saw the land around. It seemed to her to be bigger, wider, lighter and less untidy than it had the weeks previous. Clearer. Here she sat and looked out for a little while. Until her mind told her that now would be a good point to get up, what with her having been in the snow all night. She thought wise to bathe herself and attend to her cuts, to light a fire and become warmer, to prevent her heart from giving out to the cold. Wait, she thought to her heart. Something made her think to her heart, as if it was important, as if something had happened about her heart. She couldn’t remember. And when she looked down at her chest it was just as it always was, white skin, unmarked, not even marked by the bears’ arrows. No, nothing. So the girl took the strength from her guts and rose up one step at a time, steady as she went. And she began to walk back to her tree.

It was a longer journey this time. Of course, because now she wasn’t running, and she wasn’t on fire. She was just tired. But she came to her home and she bathed in warm water, then once again in nearly scalding water, for she was still cold in the bones. Then she lit a fire and sat some more. And she cleaned her cuts which were red and pink now. And she sat for some hours, warming. She was thinking, and then she was sleeping. And she was dreaming of the bear.

Later on the girl awoke and she was warm and calmer. She looked out of her tree and saw that it was becoming dark. And she thought she saw creatures in the shadow light, but they couldn’t confuse her for she was calmer now. She thought to the confusion and pain, and she looked at it. as she was looking at it she pitied it. any pain that had been inside of her could no longer make her bite she thought. That’s not to say that the pain disappeared, but the girl realised that the love of the two arrows that had stabbed her in the heart was somewhat of a combatant against this pain. In spite of the blood loss they resulted in, the arrows were very dear to her. And she would sit with them a while, no need to be overwhelmed, no need to cry at the confusion. Rather, just sit a while. For one day it was sure that things would be different.

The truth about bears is that they are not such fierce creatures as they might a first appear. Bears can be very kindly and beautiful, as the girl knew from her own experience. The reason for their ferocity is their ancestry. A very great bear many years ago was terribly hurt by a man. The story is that the man came to find the bear in the forest, for he had heard of its great beauty and majesty. The bear was well known you see. Known for his wonderful chestnut coat that glistened gold in the sunlight, and was so soft as to heal the skin it touched, and known too for his strength, for the power he held in his hands. This bear was the king of bears. He was very kind, and showed excellence in catching fish, fighting and running. The fastest creature in the land, no one could outrun him. And his teeth were so sharp and white, his eyes so blue. The clearest blue you’ve ever seen. He was the king. Yet one day, the bear was found in the forest by a man. The man had searched him out, he caught him unawares and shot him in the leg. Though the bear was strong, he was left prone and unable to move, by the gun wound. And as he roared in pain and anger, the man tied him down so as to prevent the king from struggling or lashing out. The man took out a knife and considered the beautiful creature before him, then stroking the fur with the knife edge, and at last slicing the bear’s side, he took a piece of the golden coat. He did not listen to the terrible cries that the animal made, but instead flung the fur into his bag, and took now a pair of pliers with which he plucked one by one, each of the sharp, strong white teeth from the dark pink and bloodying gums. He put these too in the bag with the fur, before wiping his knife and tools on the suffering bear’s leg, and turning, leaving the forest with his goods. The story of this king of bears was told to every new bear since, and for this, the bears now are imbued with a fear and terror which arms them to fight, to growl and to protect.

It is worth remembering this history when you might meet a bear. And of course the girl knew this when she came to love the brown bear and the black bear, though she saw only beauty and kindness.

The End.

Bear

The Girl and the Bear

The Girl and the Bear

First Part

There is a place in the mountains just far from here. This is the most beautiful and exquisite place you might ever see. It has much green grass and plenty of water and strong green trees. In the morning the sun rises up over the mountains. It creeps high into the sky, bright and yellow. Warm and powerful. It comes every morning, save for those especially clouded, grey, white days, and heats up the soil below. It melts the ice crystals that blanket the land so that round shining water droplets collect upon the leaves and grass. Then it warms them more and more until they evaporate and the ground is hard and dry, sandy with mud, but mostly green with grass. Well this place is very beautiful. The trees give fruits, nuts and berries, great red berries. And forest flowers grow upon the floor during the summer months. The nuts are varied and scatter upon the ground. They are sweet and nutritious. The place is very vast, it covers many miles and very few people live there. A lumberjack every now and then. There are areas where trees run for hundreds of miles, and here live sparrows and jackdaws and robins and grey tits and spiders and mice and fat caterpillars and woodlice. Then there are clearer areas where trickling water splashes down through the rocks and ledges. The water is clear and cool. Maybe it derives from a spring somewhere up in those mountains. The animals can drink.

Quite high up, perhaps into the higher of the mountains, is a place where the snow threatens, but never quite reaches to submerge. Here there is a reasonably sized clearing surrounded by forested land. As one ascends, there is one particular area of forest on the right hand side of this clearing, an area very vast and dark once one delves into its heart. In this part, among the insects and animals, the birds and the tall evergreens, lives a girl. She is a girl who lives here. Her home is a hollowed out tree, and her work is in the forest. The girl lives alone; though she is not lonesome, save for on occasion. For she has her work and her thoughts to occupy her time and mind. She cares for the animals when they are unwell, she mixes potions from the plants and flowers and fruits around her, and when she is done, she climbs the trees to look out across the mountains, or makes talismans and mascots from the forest detritus. She can make such like from the empty skulls of long dead creatures, from the husks and shells of the fruit that the land has consumed, from the seeds and pines that the forest sheds. And she can paint them with the blood and juice of animals and fruits. Her own home, inside a very large and tall tree, is decorated too with such objects as these. Red, brown, dead and immortal, hanging from the entrance to her home.

This tree that she calls her own is of quite large circumference with a hole in its side just a metre or so from the ground. Though the girl has covered the hole with a fabric so as not to allow the moths in each night or the bright light in each dawn, one can see that beneath the thin curtain, there is a room furnished inconspicuously and providing residence to a one individual. This is where she lives.

Sometimes the girl is cold. But that hasn’t been for quite a while now, and these days she sees more light. She can see the sunlight and feel it on her skin, and she can see the clean, white moonlight, and the hot, kind light of the night’s stars. She has friends in the forest, but mostly she is contented to live alone, to speak for herself. Some friends are raccoons, chipmunks, a few woodcutting folks, and of course the fish and the trees and the insects around her. And she also knows a bear.

Second part coming soon!

The Devil’s Horse

Second part…

Many dark years passed by up in the mountains and Percepção became accustomed to the ways of the Devil’s Horse. Thus, Percepção, though at first she tried to continue with her own life, learned to forego her own wishes in order that she might attend to those of the Devil’s Horse, which were fairly extensive and time-consuming. So she no longer walked along the hot white beach to and from school, she no longer studied, and she no longer saw her friends. It was too dark and tiring for any of that you see. Instead, she spent the days obeying the Devil’s Horse, which was extremely exhausting it must be said, and took up nearly all of the space in her mind. So much space in fact, that even if she had desired to go to school or study or see her friends, she would never have been able to.

Tired

After around one year had passed far up in the mountains, Percepção experienced something a little out of the ordinary. She had a strange dream, not quite a nightmare, but still, a dream that set her thinking. The dream, as Percepção can remember it ensued as follows: she was laying down in the forest, which was very noisy: raucous and boisterous. Animals were screeching and screaming, chanting and chattering, and the sounds of flames could also be heard. Percepção could see bright orange all around her, burning into her eyelids. The forest was on fire, giving a warm, encouraging and terrifying glow. In the dream, Percepção remained calm and uninhibited by the lively, forbidding noise and fire all around her. She was not distracted.

Fire

She then took in her hands a large pair of silvery scissors, the blades of which glinted beautifully in the light of the dancing flames. With these wonderfully sharp scissors, Percepção cut out of her chest her heart. She sliced the skin and then ripped out the grim and offensive organ that was inside. With her chest cavity open, she took the ugly heart in her warm bloody hands, stamped down upon it in the dirt, and waited for the fire to reach it. She then carefully sewed up her chest with a needle and thread, and wiped the blood off her hands on the forest foliage nearby.

Heart

When she awoke from this strange dream, Percepção came across a few thoughts in her mind, a few memories so to speak. These memories had quite an effect upon her for they made her realise just how very unhappy she had become. All the time she was serving the Devil’s Horse, though she did want to serve him, she was slowly allowing herself to die. She lost her body.

Body

Her skin that had once been so soft and brown like a berry became transluscent and dry. Scabs and cuts became much more frequent upon the surface of her figure and her cheeks remained white due to the lack of sunlight, nutrition and sleep.  Her curly hair became like twigs and her eyes gathered dark circles of sadness, fear and fatigue beneath them. Her eyes were dead save for the occasional glint of the demons inside and her organs became weak and ugly. Her liver shriveled like a raisin whilst her heart lost its grace and her eyes were blinded so she was unable to see clearly. Her tear ducts dried up like the hot sands of the desert so that no emotion might penetrate through. She was dragging the beast around wherever she went, which was most often where the horse himself wanted to go, and it was such a heavy burden. She could no longer dance with that old thing deadening her shoulders, and yet neither could she mourn the fact that she could not dance. There really was nothing she could do except obey. That old Devil’s Horse really was a nasty piece of work. Like a parasite it was clinging onto her and refusing to let go, and it needed her so much that she was resigned to her duty as its bearer.

Organ

Yes, though Percepção had now succeeded in identifying the source of her unhappiness as the Devil’s Horse, she simply could not shed its great weight. The only resolution she could harvest from her brain was to fight. She would continue to look after this dreadful creature, but she would become a fighter, for she feared that otherwise, if she carried on submissively beneath the beast, she would only destroy herself. Thus was how Percepção came to spend the next several years. She was always close to breaking but by learning to fight, she very fortunately did not. Rather, she gave in to the demands of the Devil’s Horse, but she would not give up fighting. For the horse it seemed a fine and sustainable relationship, but what he was unaware of was, that because for Percepção the relationship was entirely miserable, she was gradually but steadily gaining strength.

Fight

Every morning before the horse awoke, Percepção disciplined herself to wake early and practice fighting. She made a small clearing in front of the cave where the horse could not see her and every morning she saluted Mars, the powerful god who was to help her to fight. She would then proceed to train her body and mind to attain stamina, strength, calm and resilience: to learn to fight. Though waking even earlier than the beast that held her meant that she slept even less than she might, she found that the skills and practice of fighting sustained her perhaps even more so than sleep could have. For sleeping only led to nightmares after all, whereas fighting very slowly led to strength. And so for hundreds and hundreds of days Percepção practiced and practiced, at first grasping only the most basic of defense traditions, but progressively learning to master the most deadly of them all. Arts from all over the world that could serve her well in any a fight she might face. She became an expert at the Russian Sambo, used in the past to eliminate attacks from the Mongols, the Huns, the French and the Germans. She became a skilled authority in Muay Thai, the ancient art of eight limbs, and she became a wizard in the lightening quick Malaysian practice of Silat. Not to mention her proficiency in Filipino Eskrima technique and Israeli Krav Maga. Learning to fight provided her with just a small interlude between long times of hell of caring for the Devil’s Horse, and soon she began to feel that she really was becoming stronger, a fighter. Oh but that old horse still weighed her down, he never gave up. Rather, the stronger he saw Percepção become, the closer he held her, crushing down on her bones and damaging her internal organs. Her liver shrank and crumpled, her kidneys started to bleed and her stomach came to disintegrate bit by bit. Fortunately, Percepção continued to fight and the beast could tighten the grip on her, but not entirely destroy her.

This went on and it seemed that fighting was the only remedy that might defeat the poison that radiated from the Devil’s Horse. A cure of sorts, a neutralizing force that caused somewhat of an impasse between parties.  A stalemate situation. But stalemate is better than being in the losing position, wouldn’t you agree? So Percepção continued on and on, in spite of the seeming futility of her actions and efforts. Several years passed and she came to be used to the situation. She was more familiar with the pain, although it did not cease to hurt her just as it had at the very start, like a stiletto stabbing down on her weakening heart. Just like that. Spring arrived every year and Percepção had to suppress the resentment she felt as she saw the new flowers and buds so cheerfully peeping through the forest floor.

Spring

This was followed closely by summer, when it was hot and humid, and the strength to care for the horse was so hard to find, and Percepção could feel her veins throbbing on her hot body.  Then came autumn, when she had to suppress once more her emotions, this time sorrow, as those very same plants she had observed growing withered and died. Yet winter was the worst time of year, and winter always came around. During this time of year it was most difficult to care for the horse as Percepção was sapped of energy and left freezing and malnourished, like a husk. Nevertheless, she continued and after many spring times, summers, autumns and winter seasons had passed by, something a little peculiar and unexpected began to happen.

Winter

Around the month of February, Percepção found that she had noticed a change in the physical appearance of the Devils Horse. This change must have been occurring for quite some weeks, very gradually, but it was at this point that Percepção noticed the difference. It was strange; the beast seemed to have shrunk in size, or maybe just in stature. Anyhow, Percepção could look at the beast in the eye when she stood, rather than having to look up to see his face. His black coat became more matted and sticky in places, and in areas hair had just fallen, leaving small but worrying bald patches, and revealing pale milk skin. The Devil’s Horse looked less like a stallion and more like a mule. Though his muscles bulged, he did not embody a bestial specimen of strength and power, rather more, a sinewy creature filled with spite and longing. The changes continued into March and soon Percepção saw that the grinning demon that had always lived within the horse’s burning eyes, grinned just a little less, and grimaced just a little more. During this time of uncertainty and change, Percepção continued to care for the horse, and still she carried on fighting as well. But as she fought, she realised that she experienced a new feeling along with the hatred and resentment towards the horse that she had learned to live with. It was quite an odd feeling, as it seemed to contradict entirely the disgust she felt, and yet, this new sentiment would simply not extinguish that disgust. She understood this feeling to be pity. And though she had always pitied such a deplorable beast, now the pity was becoming increasingly prevalent. Percepção came to realise that she was watching the creature die.

Dying

And the last part soon!

The Devil’s Horse

First part…

The Devil’s Horse

One time, in a country quite far from here, there was a particular town called Cautela. It is in fact still a town today, and has a reasonable number of inhabitants. You have heard of it perhaps. Nowadays it sits upon the shore of the south coast of the country, curving a little around a cove that is nestled behind a peninsula. It rests there, just like a furled up leaf with the softest, hottest, whitest sand deposited in the crescent of the bay. It is a very lovely beach it must be said. To the other side of the spit is a port of sorts. A kind of harbour that is home to many a vessel emerging from the oily green blue water. At the time in question, the nature of the harbour was such that all of the resident boats sat adorned with various maritime decorations and littoral accouterments; bells and buoys and sun-bleached sails. The rust coloured red, and royal blue bodies of the boats were faded to hot peaches and cool azures where thick layers of salt had built up upon the surface. And in the sunlight the saline crystals sparkled and flaked like the crispy crust upon a barbequed trout. Accompanying whitish stripes of collected sediment were numerous other crustaceans, from whelks, winkles, cockles and clams, to the occasional horseshoe crab. This was the harbour, as it existed just a little while ago. At the time of this particular story in fact.

Beach

The people of the town were mainly seafaring folk, and those who weren’t certainly had acquaintances that were. For you see, this town was a primary contributor to the country’s quite well established fish canning industry. Wherever you went you could be sure to see some indicator of the prolific manufacture, shipment and sale of tinned fish and the like. However it must be said that though they prove very interesting, the nature of Cautela harbour and its bountiful fish canning industry remain nonetheless entirely background information. All that one might require in order to understand this particular story is that Cautela sat snuggly on the shore and was inhabited by people whose lives were oriented largely around angling, trading, gutting, filleting and squishing fish into cans. And you can be sure that the sweet odour of marine entrails and smoky salted fish pervaded the town completely.

Well in this town a little while ago, one particular resident chose to make a trip. She was a young girl, well almost a woman you might say, and she had lived as a child in Cautela. She was named Percepção. She had gone to school, made many a friend, and grown up in the fish engrossed community much the same as her peers. It was a little dreary perhaps; not the most exciting place to grow up, yet the town had provided her with two entirely indispensible things during her childhood. Firstly, a white, hot and glowing beach on which to lay and wonder, sleep or soak up the sun: perfectly essential. And secondly, the unquestionably helpful skill of marine biological identification. Percepção was somewhat of an expert at recognizing a slippery fishy friend, a scaly ocean dweller. She knew not only a salmon from a stingray, stickleback or sturgeon by sight, but also a turbot, from a trout, from a tuna. And she could easily distinguish between an Australian herring, a Banjo catfish, a Canary Rockfish, and a Zebra Turkeyfish, not to mention her unbeatable skills in identifying a catfish from a dogfish, a horsefish from a ponyfish, a cowfish from a pigfish, and the ever-elusive noodlefish from the far more parochial nibblefish.

Zebra

The unfortunate thing for Percepção was that, in spite of her extensive fish-based knowledge and all of the great opportunities that this had opened up for her, she was not entirely content. In fact she was a little unhappy. Not as unhappy as she had been, and yet still not entirely content, for she did not wish to work in the fish canning industry, and while she loved her town and many of the people were very good, she had other things on her mind. Other preoccupations buzzing around her brain. She did have a small idea of what she wanted. She had aspirations you understand, and yet for rather a long time Percepção had been unable to think of canning fish, even less her true ideas and desires. Other things on her mind. And other things to attend to. The greatest and most all consuming of which was surely the Devil’s Horse.

The Devil’s Horse was a terribly dreadful thing. A kind of curse, you might say. Percepção had encountered it some years ago when she was still a child really. Yet, though it was several years prior, she remembered very well this noteworthy encounter.

She had been walking home from school one day along the promenade, the stench of the sea dwellers in her nostrils and the cacophony of clattering cans in her ears. She walked home everyday from school, first along the hot pavement and then along the coast, upon the sandy white beach, which was usually not too burning hot due to the tide having recently washed over the surface. Once she had traversed the length of the beach and made her way from the north to the south side of the cove, Percepção walked along a dirty track to her home, which was just a little way inland.  This was usually quite a shady segment of the journey. On the particular day in question Percepção had very nearly reached her home and was ready to get to work on the mathematics that she had been set at school. It was multivariable calculus, which she found quite difficult, and she had really been working to get her head around. Her mind was whirring, tick, tick, tocking away. Just as she was to turn towards her home, she thought she saw something a little distance away, just beyond the stretch of shaded dirt track over which a winding and well-established canopy of trees hung. Just beyond the dark, cool, calm shade into the burning blinding sunlit track. Curious in nature, Percepção paused very briefly, and then made the decision to approach what it was that she saw. This was when she first became acquainted with the Devil’s Horse.

Horse

A hot heap of flesh under a dark skin; a skin whose pores were glistening with sweat and grime, the creature was breathing heavily. Stink and heat were emanating from the prone body as Percepção walked closer and knelt down beside it. The beast was looking out with almost black eyes as it lay under the sun’s beating drum. They glinted as they stared and Percepção could not distinguish between the pain and the pleasure that they were speaking. The horse’s eyes spoke so much, with the character of a grinning demon who was torturing and being tortured all at once. Percepção had never before seen this creature but here, under the hot, hot sun she was seeing very clearly the Devil’s Horse. It looked as though it was dying. There, on the ground. And this was why Percepção knew that she had to take the horse and look after it. She was not feeling resentful at this time; more very, terribly sad, but the resentment soon came. Just as soon as the horse knew that he had her heart the resentment came. But by that point, Percepção could do nothing to cease her resentment or to escape the grips of the animal that held her.

Horse

It began at this point, and before she knew, her life was given to the animal. Quite quickly after her life had changed course, Percepção realised that it would be far easier to obey the horse if she had not the distractions of tinned fish production and the other residents of the town. For the Devil’s Horse was a full time job. Thus, on the suggestion of the horse, she decided to relocate to the south west of the country, a little further inland, up in the mountains and the caves. Here it was much quieter, less distracting, and therefore much less tempting than in the town; much easier to obey and look after the Devil’s Horse.

Mountains

For it was a very demanding creature, and once it had seen the kindness in Percepção it would not let go. She learned to attend to it very well and became adept at crushing her own desires or wishes, for this was easiest. Soon, the Devil’s Horse gained much strength. If you were to see it you might very well be afraid. It had very dark skin, which was warm to touch, nearly hot. But the coat was so black. It was matted and without shine or gloss so that neither the light of the moon nor that of the sun could ever be seen in the beast. Such a large beast, it blocked out the light too, and it was quite difficult to remember that light existed when it was around, which in Percepção’s case, was always. And with the darkness came a certain dreadful tiredness that seemed never to cease; a terrible mountain fatigue that no victim could possibly evade. This was the life of Percepção and the Devil’s Horse for quite some time.

Second part to follow soon…