Atalanta’s Quest, Part One

For a timeless moment she stood there, swaying to and fro, dizzy, and disoriented. Her toes dug into warm sand and she could feel a gentle breeze upon her skin. Her eyes would not, or could not, open. Her breath caught within her lungs; burning for release. Slowly, she brought up her right hand, slid it up to her exposed stomach, moved over her breasts and felt for her face. Her cheeks were wet, tears or blood, she wondered.

“Why have you come?” The voice was so vast, so powerful, that it brought her down to her knees. The voice of a god, inside her head, no ears had heard that question.

Afraid for the first time that she could remember, she opened her eyes slowly, looking up into forever.

His skin was a moonless night, all stars and comets, suns and planets; moving over him, through him. His head was larger than she was in height, his eyes were unfathomable to her; they seemed to show her every outcome to every action she had ever taken. His body was that of a lion, but with a human head.

“I ask you child, why are you here? This is not your time, you are mortal yet,” he said again to her without moving his mouth.

She stood again, taking a moment to survey her surroundings. Her feet were resting firmly upon sand, but she could clearly see that the sands were falling away into the darkness that surrounded them both; her and this god. There was an illumination on them as well, but she could see no source of light. No candles, no torch, no lamps in her eyesight aglow. There was a soft darkness surrounding them, she could see all of the being before her, but beyond him there seemed to be movement in the black, like shadows of shadows.

“The sand is not there. Do you understand that child?” again his mouth had not moved.

She shook her head no.

“Why have you come here Atalanta? I did not bring you, you came of your own accord. What is it you seek?”

She closed her eyes, trying to gain some strength from her own heart, felt the dryness in her mouth and wished her waterskin was snug against her back.

“Water? Is that what you seek child? I thought you might have real questions for me. For yourself.” This time his voice echoed off of something real, something substantial.

Atalanta opened her eyes again. She stood upon alabaster marble. They were inside a temple somewhere, it looked like home, it even smelled like Greece. Beside Atalanta stood a waist high pillar with a clay pitcher and a small brass cup.

“Thank you. I am thirsty,” she said to the god.

“I did nothing child,” he said, again moving his mouth for her.

She stepped back, turned to take it all in again and saw that they were at the end of a very long row of pillars. The floor, walls and pillars were all made of the same alabaster marble. There were lamps hung from the ceiling and the flames danced with the light breeze that moved past her skin. She felt exposed suddenly, remembering her nudeness and wished for her bronze chest armor, or at least a leather shirt that could cover her.

“Do you not yet understand?” he asked, drawing her attention and eyes back to face him.

At his feet there lay a bronze chest piece, a soft leather undershirt, her longbow and quill.

“Who are you?” she asked of him. “Are you Ares?”

“Sometimes, yes.”

“Are you Zeus then, or maybe his father the Titan, come back to end us all?” she kept her eyes upon his while she bent low to pull back the shirt, armor and weapon.

“Yes, I am your Zeus, when need be.”

“Maybe you are the god of the eastern men, come to deceive me then? Did a Persian pray to you?”

“Yes, many Persians have knelt in prayer to me.”

Atalanta poured water into the brass cup and lifted it to her lips. The water was cool and clean, it tasted like spring water, drawn from the ground at great depth or maybe a fresh spring creek. She walked back away from this god, this god who sat there looking at her as if she was a newborn.

Once the armor and bow was hung on her body she turned to look at him again.

“Have I prayed too? Have I called out to you by another name?”

“Yes,” he seemed to smile down at her, happy in her little triumph.

He shimmered and was no more; now standing in front of Atalanta was a woman of raven hair and white dress, much like her own. She walked to the pitcher and poured wine from the clay container into the brass cup.

“You called to me before, and I answered you, but you did not always like the answers you were given.”

“Artemis?” Atalanta began to fall to her knees.

The god reached out a hand and stayed her from falling lower.

“Stand Atalanta, look me in my eyes and decide what you seek. You came to me, I had no hand in this.”

***

This story continues in Part two.

 

Two Billion A Month

During the late news last night they reported that the US is spending about two billion dollars a month on the war against terror. I sat there for a moment and then I thought about it… $2,000,000,000.00 a month; what could be done with that? Could we cure all cancer? Could we end hunger, poverty or illiteracy with this kind of money?

According to the National Priorities Project we have spent $467 billion to date. Staggering. This war, which began on March 30, 2003 and continues today, is quickly becoming the costliest war in American history. In contrast World War II cost the United States $288 billion in 1945 dollars. That is over three trillion dollars, it would look like this; $3,189,752,033,348.

OK, so we haven’t yet spent anywhere near what we did on WWII, right? For just a moment remember that WWII was a multi-theater war with almost every nation caught in the conflict, fought in the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, all across Europe, Asia and northern Africa too. (Did I leave anything out?) The war on terror, waged primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan so far, has been waged for the most part by Americans.

Yes, I know; we have allies there with us. Sorta. The smart ones bailed as soon as they could. The WMD debacle squandered trust and friendship all across the world when it comes to international relations. The ones that are left are there at their own political peril. What began as a true coalition has since become the US and her closest allies; mainly other British colonies as it were.

I know I don’t normally write about my political views, but why is it OK for this war to continue? Why are American’s not in the streets nightly demanding the cessation of all hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan where US men and women are concerned? Is it the old argument that we are there to protect our loved ones back in America? Are they fighting to bring democracy to the region? Is someone waiting in the wings to spring terrorism on us again if we pull out?

Let me state here and now that I am not a pacifist. True, I am no war-hawk, my hands don’t ache for the feel of the M-16, but I still hear the hymn of the United States Marine Corps when I brush my teeth. (Inside joke for other Marines.) I believe there is such a thing as a righteous war, a war that simply must be fought. Sometimes the only course of action that a nation can take is the use of force. But this war is beyond that pale.

Hey, let’s try this: suspend the war for a few months. Take eight or ten billion dollars and set up a hospital somewhere or build a college in Guatemala or something like that. Let’s take that money and feed the homeless in California or build new homes for the twenty-two thousand Americans still living in FEMA housing after Hurricane Katrina.

If that is a complete waste of time, whatever, start shooting again. Something tells me that it won’t be a waste of time or money.

We need to remember that we are all one race of man. We are all worthy of loving-kindness, respect and compassion. How can any of us truly be happy while there are others suffering?

The Trial of Jyoti: Part 1

He sat there, watching the judge for what seemed like an eternity. He could feel the minutes slipping away, minutes that would never come back again. The defender sat beside him on her haunches, perfectly still, eyes closed; serene. All around the court were beings that he had and had not met. Too many animals and spirits to count: furry little hedge hogs, a buck and his doe, birds of various plumes were at home, both in the branches, and on the ground alike. The guardians of the wood were there also.

A beautiful nymph leaned against a broad-leafed tree, smiling at him, triumphant. Her skin was the color of bark, the same browns, tans and greens as on that tree she was familiar with, her hair the green of spring leaves, her eyes like rain clouds. The smile she wore frightened him.

All of this because I stopped beside a white flower, thought it lovely, and picked it for my home. If I had known now that picking that chrysanthemum would have ended here, I would have kept walking, he thought looking into the sky.

“Do you defend this human?” asked the judge from his bench.

She opened her black eyes, licked her tiny hands once again and said a quiet, “I do.” With that the proceedings began in earnest.

***

The previous day had begun well for Jyoti: the sun came up on time and the morning dew glistened like precious jewels upon the grass and flowers. Insects buzzed from here to there while birds swooped down to nab them mid-flight. He had woke with the dawn and set out to the stream to collect breakfast.

His first thought that morning had been of the blackberries growing along the shore. Where the smooth rocks gave way to the moss and black loamy earth there were clumps of giant berry bushes. If one was thoughtful and slow, you could get your fill on the berries without even a single prick from the thorns.

By the time Jyoti had walked from his home to the streams, the sun had burned off the dew and the berries were dry. Washed in the dew and now ready for breakfast he sat beside a low bush and began the collections.

“What is your name?” asked a voice from the bush.

Jyoti looked into the bush, for the mouth that spoke the words, through the shadows, leaves and berries, only to find a small jade green snake coiled in the thorns.

“My name… I am Jyoti.” He bowed his head, put his hands into prayer position and introduced himself.

“Are you a guardian?” asked the snake. “I have seen you before in the woods, but never so close as now.”

He placed another berry into my mouth, giving a moment more to think about the answer, am I a guardian?

“I don’t know what I am,” was the only answer that made sense.

The little snake moved like solid water, muscles coiling and uncoiling as it climbed out of the thicket to the sunlight with the top layer of ripe berries. As it perched on a well supported bough Jyoti could see the colors now more clearly. The green was like deepest jade, as if you examined a wonderfully cut gem by firelight, all shades of green seemed to glow and shimmer on the glimmering scales. It was beautiful.

“Who are you?” He asked the snake.

“I am called Chalak. Jyoti, I have asked the others and none can remember you before the rains came.”

Jyoti looked around, wondering at the others the snake had mentioned. “Where are these others?”

The snake seemed to inhale greatly, puffing up and then with a great hissing voice it answered, “The others. I asked the others here in the woods. Can you not ask others like you with thought?”

Jyoti looked at this jade green snake for a moment longer, then finally in a hushed voice answered, “I am alone.”

***

“He does not know what was, he does not know what is to come, and what is now, that is lost in the shadows of his consciousness.” The defender walked towards the judge on all four legs as she spoke these words to the gallery.

***

With breakfast over and his hands stained from the blackberries, he sat off again. Walking away from the stream and berry bushes he wondered how his friend Chalak could talk to the others, and why he could not. Are there others like me? Coming out of the shadowed woods Jyoti saw a single white flower in a sun-filled clearing. It was many-petaled and the fragrance was like summer fruit; sweet and heavy. He decided it would be a lovely thing to see beside his little bed of leaves and straw, so he bent down close and carefully plucked it from the soil.

A warm wind blew beside Jyoti and then a voice spoke from behind. “You have caused death before the time that was given this life.”

Jyoti was startled by the voice and suddenly felt guilty, for the flower he held softly in his hands. Jyoti turned to see who spoke these words , flower behind his back, and was surprised to see the woman that stood there with the eyes like rain clouds.

***