Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Hunt

It was on the way down, moving down into that black gulch, that I saw the stag in the dappled light sifting through the aspen foliage. How the light faded! From the sunlit ridge, up, above the shadow of the surrounding hills, to the bone-white stripes of the gloomy wood, I was nearly surprised I could see anything at all. The scattered beams of sunlight penetrating the forest canopy had the effect of camouflaging everything beneath its gaze. And yet there it was. Standing, perfectly still, doomed as I did not then know, a ten-point buck.

Were my doctor more agreeable to my condition, and were my left arm not so numb (much to the good doctor's ignorance, thank god), I would have certainly brought my rifle along; a steady if brutish Marlin 30-30 with a kick almost as ferocious as that of its intended target. Unable to leave the house entirely unarmed, I brought a pair of binoculars and a pen and pad of paper. This close to the Dark Valley, that old aphorism about the pen and the sword really loses it's feeble obsolescence.

So too, as I walked down into the black gulch, did the sights around me seem more invigorating and enchanting than they used to be. In my mind their descriptors simply appeared in flowery language, and for that, dear reader, if you are indeed reading this, I sincerely apologize. I am no artist, or never have been before, that is, but I have always had an untapped gift with words. But I fear I would risk the dishonesty of downplaying the divine, were I to pretend the sights around me, and my own experience of them, here, on the cusp of light and darkness, were not so desperately fantastic. Desperate is not quite the right word, but no other adverb will do.

The stag was patient in its movement; I had the sense that it was quietly aware of me long before I noticed the handsome brown creature, so steady was his offset gaze. After a few moments of mutual awareness, he dropped his head back down to the small patch of grass in which the animal stood. Everything about it seemed graceful--believe me, reader, when I say that ordinarily such descriptions irritate me and strike me as spiritualist muck, grey in every way, but most especially in its put-on profundity. But here it seemed so true; the deer's muscles and shape, perfectly etched in tawny fur that looked, to the touch of my eyeballs, for all the world as the texture of silk feels under the fingertips.

Such was my bliss in that moment that everything was already over before my consciousness and credulity could catch up. A flash of movement in the brush behind the stag; the faint thud of impact as a mass of blonde fur collided with the deer; the ensuing entanglement; the kicking of the deer. I, as desperate for the deer's survival as the deer's flailing legs.

Somehow, the deer managed to right itself, but the mountain lion--as I now saw that flurry of death had been--still hung about its' neck. The mortally wounded creature, stepped, staggered, then spread its legs and stood, trying to remain upright. I could practically feel the life ebb out of the princely beast, from a hole somewhere in my chest. Its head hung down, and the mountain lion hung, quite still, about its' shoulders. It was nearly sunset, and the deer had mere minutes, perhaps seconds, before death would finally claw out its' throat in that black gulch.

In the most peculiar fashion, I found my sympathy (the source of which I still can't justify, except to say I felt a desperate necessity to sympathize with something), shift from the soon-to-be-deceased to its murderer. The great cat was, in fact, anything but great. It's sides were lean enough to see the individual ribs outlined beneath the blonde fur. There were the scars of healed gashes in it's tawny side. Perhaps the wounds of a lost fight, perhaps a brush with a bear, or perhaps the death throes of a recent victim. Or, more likely, the reminder of the successful defense of an elk or caribou, still roaming the forest somewhere.

Perhaps it too was near death, more knowingly, when it collided with that ill-fated dear in the black gulch, beneath the ridge-top I was now descending.

The various possibilities of the situation were unavoidable to me, and they charged into my head like a desperate blonde ball of death. Were the deer to have escaped, I noticed, the death of the feline would have been assured. Is that too murder? And starvation, what an atrocious, helpless death too! Were I armed, both the deer and the cougar, by indirect extension, would be doomed. Or perhaps the deer, by jaws, and then the mountain lion, by Marlin. And then I realized I had forgotten an important possibility: were the deer to have escaped, the desperate cat would have another last-resort option for survival, descending like a fated fool into that black gulch.

The source of my agony--watching death descend like a twilight shadow upon everything in the gulch--was not apparent to me in the moment, as the folly of my motives had not been apparent to me in all of my previous trips up to the ridge. There I came armed with death, and the life around me felt peripheral, uninteresting. It could wait, would wait for another day for my attention. And here I was, on that other day, looking with the insanity of a poet for life. And with the justice of a poet, nature has denied it to me.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Aaron Peleides, the Bully

I never thought I'd punch him.

I never thought I was even capable of punching anyone, in fact, let alone sending John Baker Jr., the tall kid with blonde hair and a vicious laugh, to the hospital with a broken jaw and a fractured cheek. I'm not really a violent person, though I do have my moments of quiet anger. I sort of thought we all do. But here I am, sitting at Camp Clarity for Social Rehabilitation in the wilderness of Montana, being told to journal about my feelings. Most people don't end up in Montana like this. Most people aren't bullies, and I'm a bully, so they say. I guess maybe I do experience it a bit more than most people.

When I'm angry, I can't think straight. All the ideas I'd have about what I was going to say if John teased me about some bruise on my arm, or about the comic book I was carrying, all those pre-planned, witty comments I had would simply vanish. I'd draw a blank if I tried to remember them, but usually I'd forget to try. And his comments always seemed controlled, calculated to maximize the humiliation, but to minimize the appearance of any effort on his part. They were so intentionally casual, so wickedly offhand, that any response I made felt--and would certainly appear--to be an emotional overreaction. Usually his comments, if written down and taken out of context, would even sound kind. But if I didn't respond, it would look like a tacit submission and acceptance of his dominance, of my submission.

Any parent or teacher would hardly recognize John's laughter as vicious, or even recognize his comments as the eroding droplets of water on the face of a chinese water-torture patient. There was no "hey faggot!," or "you smell like shit!," or anything so obvious. It was always something much more casual. "Hey, what'dya got for lunch for me today?" "Hey, you're not gonna come hang out with us?" No, of course I'm not going to come hang out with you, and you know I wouldn't want to, which means I know why you're asking. "Hey man, really, I got nothing against gays; I can help you find a good boyfriend if you want." Such an evil, sympathetic-sounding voice, Of course the girl I liked most would never spend time with a doormat like me, and John knew it too. He'd seen me watching her at lunch, and commented on it at the time.

But of course, no teacher would ever put the whole picture together; they simply weren't around enough to hear him contradict what he'd said to me a mere two days ago, and by itself, it all sounded inclusive. Kind. Sympathetic. John was a good person to them. Popular, good at sports, reasonable grades, and involved in community service projects (where he mainly just goofed off with his friends). If I ever did respond from my heart, I'm sure whatever might have passed my lips would have sounded as unjustified, vicious, and bullying as John's comments actually were.

That was the diabolical beauty of his bullying. He kept his head and his wit, while draining away mine. He was an absolute vampire.

I'd dream sometimes about beating the living shit out of him. In fact, I was almost ashamed, even as I was having them, of how brutal I could be in the world of sleep. I fantasized about punching him in the stomach until he doubled over, then punching him in the kidneys and face until he fell down. I imagined, with horrible glee, pulling out a knife and kneeling on his arms, pinning him face up under me. The knife moved towards his face and I would slowly, deliberately press the edge to his lips. Only in a dream-world could I cut off his lips while he thrashed and screamed. Without any emotion on my face, I cut out his tongue. And with a final feeling of triumph, I stuffed his tongue in his right ear, and his lips in the left. I felt like a cop handing out a speeding ticket, such was my feeling of the pettiness of the justice being dispensed. Such was my feeling of justice. Such was my ruinous rage.

I challenge you, Ms. Robinson, if they photocopy this and send it to you, to tell me you've never dreamed of something this brutal yourself. Tell it to my face, so I can see your eyes as you tell me I'm abnormal for thinking these thoughts. I'll bet you can't do it. You'll say "but I never punched someone," as if that answers the question. As if all of our shared dreams, our subconscious understanding of the injustice of everything, of how we protect the bullies and the sociopaths and then rain down condemnation, ridicule, and hatred on those of us who don't have the social savvy to twist your stupid rules back on themselves and make balloon figurines out of them.

That's what makes me the bully from all of this. Where John was wise in the ways of navigating the ins and outs of cliques, etiquette, etc, I had the social dexterity of a blind elephant. Where John could lie with the grace of an angel, I had no poker face. Nothing but the truth could sound plausible from my lips, and even that was sometimes tricky. I hated liars, and I was proud of my disability.

My advantage would have been in the realm of honor and virtue, since John had none to speak of, and it's far more difficult to fake. But honor has long since been replaced by rules, laws, and policies. That's what my dad used to say anyways, and I believe him. There was no rule that someone like John could not flip and use for his own purpose. No policy to oppose bullying that he could not use as a shield for his own behavior. His words flew in below the radar, below the threshold of what we defined as bullying. Redefine it, and he'd simply ratchet back a bit. They could have made all speech against the rules, but no law could stifle the evil in his heart and his ability to communicate it, someway or another.

That's why, Ms. Robinson, you'll never understand that when John asked how my day was going, and whether or not I planned on asking Rebecca out (right in front of her! he was saying this to me, before I was ready, humiliating me, right in front of her!), you may well never understand that you can't put a label on bullying, and that what John was doing was vicious, not kind. Evil, not friendly.

That's why you'll think I'm a psychopath, that I'm unbalanced, that I'm a loose cannon, who needs counseling and therapy to control my anger for turning around to walk away, then spinning back and throwing all of my weight down my arm, into my closed fist, and onto the side of John's sympathetic, smirking face. Maybe I need drugs to drain my passion, which could have fueled my progress on the clarinet or drawing, but turned to this instead. I never thought I'd punch him, never thought I could be driven to do that, and then driven all the way out to Camp Clarity for Social Rehabilitation in the wilderness of Montana, and being told to journal about my feelings. I never thought I, Aaron Peleides, would be a bully,

But here I am.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Wraith Watch (tentative Prologue & beginning of Chapter 1)


A laser of moonlight pierced the darkness in the old Scottish cave, coming to rest on the closed eyes of the man sleeping there. They opened.

The stone walls were musty, and they sweat droplets down their ancient faces, tears of condensation dripping down the fine masonry in the cool night air. Frost clung to the grass outside, had begun forming on the flat surfaces inside too, and as the man's exhalations increased, the puffs of vapor from his mouth lit up like billowing clouds in the ray of light illuminating the dark chamber.

The man rose up from where he had been laying. He knew what time it was, but he peered down at a primitive-looking pocket watch suspended from a leather necklace, just to be certain. The workings of his body were like those of his time-keeping devices, and they moved together. Even as he rose, the beam of moonlight vanished as the moon passed its mark in the sky. If his calculations were correct, the beam would return again in fifty years time.

The man wore nothing save the watch and a beard of fantastic proportions; although he would have only looked to be in his fifties clean-shaven, the long grey and white strands added a good twenty years to his appearance. After a few long moments of waking up, the smell of the matted hair seemed to disturb even its owner as his movement wafted the years of neglect in the stone dwelling up through his protesting nostrils. First order of business is shaving,he thought.

After food, of course.

The man set about waking up slowly, knowing that the muscular atrophy wouldn't permit prolonged activity as he used to do. He massaged and stretched his limbs as he started the fire. The familiar embers danced and crackled as the hearth was brought back to life from its owner's slumber. The copper rods running beneath the stone floor glowed where the ends protruded into the flames, emanating warmth up through the flagstone. It warmed the wiry sinews in his legs, the calloused bottoms of his feet.

The fifty years had been an approximate. There was no way to be sure if he was a year or two off, and in which direction, but he knew the time was close. The patterns sometimes rushed or delayed a bit, but they never failed. The old calendar room hadn't been calibrated for the time he needed when it was originally built three thousand years ago, of course, and he'd had to do a bit of architectural modification to get the alignment suited to his needs, but it still functioned essentially as it always had. About as effectively too. As far as the man could tell, the alignment had been about one and a half seconds early.

The man packed a leather rucksack as the water boiled: dry food, a blanket, a double-edged knife, and a small collection of gold ornaments and coins. It wasn't much, but it should be enough to purchase a boat-ticket across the Atlantic. The man pulled the knife back out of the rucksack and gripped the handle. The blade felt familiar to him as he drew it and examined the edge, touching it lightly with his finger. A drop of blood formed where the iron had touched. Excellent.

He took one more look at the carefully aligned hole in the wall, where the moonbeam had pierced his eyelids. The faint light of dawn was filtering in, pink and yellow against the black and grey walls, flecked with flickering orange light from the fire. The time had not yet come, but it was approaching.

Chapter 1 - Obituaries

Reading the obituaries in our local town newspaper had never particularly bothered me. At least not the way I felt that it should. It was always some old strangers passing along, some old stranger with breath that smelled of leather, incorrigible driving habits, a fine taste in literature, who spontaneously sang aloud. Some old stranger who would be greatly missed by their family, their church and (usually quite elderly) friends. The printed praising of the departed made sometimes made me wonder if bad people ever took their turn for a change and died of with the rest of us. Reading the obituaries, it didn't seem so. Reading the obituaries was a train of kind old grandmas with cancer kicking the bucket, making room for their grandchildren, who would deeply, deeply miss them. I know that last part is true because I read it in the obituaries.

But the Koschei family slaughter really was different. This was no story about a stroke finally taking down a beloved family patriarch with one leg already in the grave. Young couple, successful, beautiful, immigrants by the sound of it--Ukranian father and Scottish mother. Beautiful couple, gunned down by bank robbers. Their six-year-old son was in the hospital, a bullet lodged in his heart, but still alive somehow. Adam was his name.

It wasn't their death, I slowly came to realize, but their lack of life that bothered me. Sure, all the old strangers that ate candy and shopped at the farmer's market lacked life when they died, but they had followed their trail all the way. They'd had their allotted time, and were politely passing the baton on. I thought, these deaths shouldn't bother me. I thought: they just finished up their time a bit early. Some take the long road, some go home early. "Go away," I corrected myself. I tend to extend my metaphors a bit too far when I'm thinking.

But something about the theft of these two tugged at something between my shoulder blades and inflated my lungs with hot indignation. The news piece that correlated to the story did make me feel bit better, of course. I didn't need to read it, having written it yesterday myself. The details still came to mind at my command: "two gunmen chased by police... quarter block... gunned down by law enforcement agents, one in critical condition, charges pending..."

One of the clumsy duo had tripped and accidentally sprayed Mr. and Mrs. Koschei with his automatic weapon. Anatol, the tall Ukrainian professor, had been hit five times in the chest, once in the arm, once in his hand, and twice in the neck. He'd bled to death through his carotid artery. Evalyn, the brunette Scottish beauty and advertising guru, had been shot twice in the stomach, once through her left breast, and two more times through her face. The policeman I talked to said even with the bullet wounds in her forehead and cheek, she looked beautiful.

And poor Adam took one in the chest, straight to the heart. I couldn't stifle a black chuckle at the time when I was told the boy was in "critical condition." The phrased seemed so inadequate, describing the state of the boy that once had been Adam Koschei. God knows who he would become after all of this. But if the boy did die, I thought, at least the robbers had shown me that the scales were even with a broad enough picture frame through which to look at the world. The bad guys do die, occasionally. Inevitably. We all have to die. No one escapes.

With that, I finished my coffee got up to go shower.


"Grandpa, what does enlightenment mean?"

Frank carefully turned the prickly question over in his old mind, grey eyes steady on the road.

"Well, young Killian..."

He paused for dramatic effect. How to answer this question...

"Enlightenment... where'd you hear the term?"

"Joey at school."

"Oh, well..."

Another pause, this time noticeably less dramatic. Killian waited patiently, his eight-year-old ears perked.

"Enlightenment is a kind of happiness, but not all happiness is enlightenment."

Frank's hopefulness in his vague answer fell away as he saw that Killian's waiting attention showed no sign of satisfaction.


Another pause. When he spoke again, his voice came from the mountains far ahead of them.

"It's the happiness that comes after you've felt pain and overcome it. Enlightenment comes after you've sang the saddest songs you know off-key, mouthing the words because you can't actually speak, when you can't even breathe you're crying so hard from the pain. When you've cried so much that you feel like vomiting, and simply cough up tears that aren't there, when you reach that point where the person you value most--"

His voice caught. "--or thing you value most, of course.

"When that leaves you, then you find yourself with nothing but the worst pain you can imagine, then you eventually come out the other side and realize that you're still alive. What's more, that even though you lost what was greatest to you, some things in life still make it all worth it.

"After a time, you come to understand that nothing can keep you down forever, because there's always good out there, no matter how small."

He turned back and looked at Killian. "That understanding gives you strength and gives your happiness endurance. That's enlightenment."

"So enlightened people can't be unhappy?" Not a beat was skipped.

"Oh, yes they can." Frank's eyes returned to the hills in the distance. "But it takes the edge off to know that you can be happy without... whatever it is that you miss, even if it feels like you lost the whole world."

Killian began to grasp that his questions were hitting Frank just below the sternum, but not that this meant good graces called upon him to cease.

"Are you enlightened Grandpa?"

Frank chuckled at the suggestion. "No my boy, not by a long ways."

Killian paused for a moment, feeling a connection but not understanding its' full nature.

"Was Grandma enlightened?"

A minute passed by silently as the pair drove on. The mountains loomed, ancient and ambivalent before them, and the road trailed away into empty farmland behind them. Frank's mind raced like their car towards the ominous, dark cliffs rising up ahead, nearly leaving Killian behind. But after a moment he remembered the boy and came back.

"Yes Killian. I think so."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Leaving Graywinter

It was a quarter till midnight when George finally arrived at John's apartment, pulling through the mud and snowy slush at the Graywinter complex. He trudged under the black security cameras, up the white snow and pushed on the grey door to number 203.

Rick spoke first as the door opened. "Ah, here's George. John, tell him about the notice from Graywinter management you were telling me about."

The young men were sitting down for a few drinks after their Thursday of retail and monotony. Still at the age when the freedom from schools and parents was a novel, exhilarating sensation, their shared evenings at the two-bedroom, two-bathroom on the second floor were what made life worth living. This was the breath of wind through the pine and cedar after two decades in a sterilized hospital ward. They called it John's apartment even though it belonged to all three of them, simply as a matter of habit. John had found it and moved in first.

"Oh! So the fucking rent lady sent us this notice that says from now on, they need the password for our internet hotspot to make sure we're not doing anything illegal online on their property. And they want to be able to view our email and facebook profiles, supposedly for the same reason. Isn't that bullshit?'

Rick jumped in. "I don't even know why they'd need that. It's not like there's been any issues with illegal activity online in the past, so it doesn't even make sense. Besides, it's not like they'd be liable for any illegal shit we do anyways."

John turned to look at George.

"Dude, can they even do this? I'm not even sure it's legal."

"It probably is, somehow. They have lawyers check all this shit." Rick spit the words as if in contempt. The contempt itself wasn't quite there. "It's bullshit in any case," he threw in, just for good measure.

George sat for a few seconds.

"It doesn't matter if it's legal or not. It's wrong, and I won't put up with it."

"You won't put up with it? What does that mean? It's not like there's anything we can do about it."

John's expression of outrage noticeably softened as he spoke.

"I don't know yet. Hand me a beer."

The conversation drifted to the logistics of opening beer bottles; superior designs, whether the keychain or belt-buckle was more handy, and the optimal metal for bottle-opener construction. Outside, the winds were picking up and the snow was falling harder.

George got up and stood by the window, looking out at the black winter around them. Fifteen minutes of talking about designs for inventions that would never be built had brought his mind back to the black winter's notice.

"I'm moving out," he said suddenly. The words came out and the thought formulated itself simultaneously.

"Dude, what the hell are you talking about?"

Rick seemed unconvinced. "Don't overreact man. It's not like they're setting our bedtimes or sending us off to a labor camp. They just want access to our internet."

"Hold up! Wait a second there... if they're doing this to check for illegal activity, any illegal activity, that's potential leverage they could use against you if you're being rowdy, even before quiet hours. It's not like they need to actually act on any illegal activity they might find, at least not right away. And if they did, instead of kicking us out, they could report it to the police. So yeah, actually. They are setting our bedtimes or possibly sending us off to a labor camp. If they felt like it."

Rick's exasperated shrug arced over his head as though George's statement had just rudely buzzed around his head on the wings of a drunken mosquito. "Alright, now you're just being ridiculous--"

"None of us do anything illegal!"

"Really? Do you know all the laws? How much would you be willing to bet you've lived a clean, legal life online?"

John paused before responding. "Dude, you're just making shit up now. They wouldn't do that."

"I'd have thought they wouldn't do something like this, but they did."

"Whatever man. You do your thing. But it's not like this is abnormal or anything. Plenty of other apartments, companies, and schools have been doing this recently; I just looked it up."

"That doesn't make it right."

Rick sipped his beer, sat forward in his chair and pressed his fingers together as a philosopher or chess player might do before their coup de grรขce.

"Look Saint George, it's like this: we young, poor guys need apartment set-ups like this that give nice places for cheap. They're just looking out for their own interests when they put these crazy rules in place. Ten-to-one odds there's some liability thing with their insurance behind it.

"All your moralistic crap about things being 'right' or 'wrong' is garbage. All you're saying when you say something is 'wrong,' is 'this is inconvenient to me.' Well guess what, Mr. High and Noble, you're not the only one here, and what's convenient to a lot of people might not be convenient to you.

"You live in a group of guys--us--and we're relying on you for your share of the rent. You can't just leave on some moral principle that you just made up and fuck us like that.

"And bigger than that, we all live in an interconnected society. You're not some lone island, who picked yourself up by your bootstraps and built yourself up with your own two hands. You have us, your family, the government, your schools, and even this little apartment complex to thank for where you are today. We're all indebted to them, so if this measly price is what you we have to pay, so be it. I'll pay it gladly. Hell, I'm not doing anything illegal; certainly not any more illegal than anyone else I know anyways, we all basically do the same thing. I'm not doing anything wrong, so I don't mind them looking through my shit."

He folded his hands across his chest and sat back. John gave a little triumphant snort and smirked in George's general direction, accidentally dropping his beer as he did so. He'd strategically chuckled throughout Rick's argument, but in all the wrong places, giving the impression that he completely agreed with Rick without having properly understood any of it.

"How the piper has changed his tune. Saint George now, am I?"

George looked out the window again.

"I kind of like it."

The snow was building up on the cars now. In the short half-hour, nearly an inch had accumulated, and it showed no signs of stopping. Out in the woods--he had to press his hands and face to the glass to see beyond the glare--he saw a deer stepping gingerly across the white field and into the black forest. The faint tinge of brown on the animal was the only hint of shade or color in the blizzard. Everything else was black or white under the cover of darkness. The glare off the mirrored glass hid the black and white landscape from the other two, but standing so close, it was clear to George.

Rick shifted a bit, as the harsh words hung in the air a bit longer than he'd intended.

"Would you say it's merely 'inconvenient' when someone is raped or murdered? A mere violation of good taste?"

George paused, thinking. The trio had had their run-ins over these issues in the past, but never so directly. It had all been passing snipes and witty stabs, never given or taken seriously because the differences between their ideas had always been abstract and intellectual. Now George had laid a real choice lay before them, and the clever comebacks, which had seemed a mark of sophistication before, made Jerry feel suddenly more unprepared for acting on his moral notions than if they'd never talked about them.

"Here's the problem you're trying to wriggle out of Rick: if what's convenient--what's pleasurable or painful--to me is something I shouldn't really concern myself with, why should anyone care of yours? You obviously don't care about my preferences. As for the preferences of society, that's just a bunch of individual's too, whose hopes and dreams are discarded as easily as mine. Or am I special?

"If you're going to say that things being really 'right' or 'wrong' is garbage, than you have no ground at all to be upset. I can't even ask you 'what's wrong?' because nothing could possibly be wrong. You're just being inconvenienced somehow, but we shouldn't concern ourselves with the inconveniences of an individual.

"But of course, what's convenient for me does not make the moral choice, and you're actually doubly wrong because it would be more convenient for me to stay. Don't act like you're taking this position as if it's because you care about other people."

Rick seethed at the insinuation, but there was no indignation in his face.

"Shut the fuck up, asshole. Just pay the goddamn rent and move on."

"I'm not finished yet. I have one more point to make."

George didn't seem to notice Jerry, was carrying on without looking at him, without noticing Jerry's arms begin to tremble. His words flowed like cool water over his sizzling hot friend in the armchair.

"I never thought I'd have heard you say it, but you did. You said you don't mind them looking through your stuff? Anyone can see through that bullshit; you're lying and you know it."

Rick rose to his feet, his eyes wide.

"You're defending the people who wish to spy on you, to have control over you, but not because being right in an argument with me is so important... no. You've conceded points to me before, as we all have to you, with no issues. You don't want to face some inconsistency in your past, you don't want to look at your parents, or maybe yourself, as you would have to look at Graywinter. And so you defend them. But don't you see this? Don't you see you're defending the attack against yourself? You're speaking like one fit to be a slave--"

His words were cut off as Rick's fist sliced through the air and into the back of George's head. He tilted forward, and his forehead passed through the glass pane, shattering it. A shower of tinkling glass, the broken mirror of glass, fell to the floor with George. The glare was replaced by the clear black and white of the world outside, stained along the edges by their friend.

John sat still in his seat, paralyzed by incredulity and comforting helplessness.

Slowly, George turned on the floor. Blood dripped from his forehead and seeped from his hands. His eyes gazed steadily downward.

"...and so you'll be ruled like one," he said quietly.