Voice of the Fire

I would like to welcome all visitors to Voice of the Fire. It’s a podcast about storytelling. We will share stories, interviews with storytellers, as well as observations and thoughts concerning the written and spoken word.

The first season is mostly interviews with storytellers from around the globe. I am looking forward to all listeners. You can find episodes here, on Soundcloud, iTunes and Youtube.

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Mirrors of the Force

Apart from journalistic, quasi-journalistic and photographic work, I’m also writing fiction.

A few years back, I wrote a Star Wars sort-of novella called “Mirrors of the Force”, about a jedi who cartographs the force at the edge of the known universe, is then blown to bits and still has to get the girl and save the day…you know, as you do.

I had an excellent illustrator, Barbara Sobczynska, who made a set of eerily beautiful illustrations for the story.

With “The Force Awakens” pretty much on our doorsteps, I thought it would be a nice time to share this story again.

You can find “Mirrors of the Force” by clicking on the title, or read an excerpt below. Enjoy.

Li, my brother, was sitting quietly. Tach, who took care of us, was talking and inattentive. He was often talking like this and nobody was listening. I didn’t know what the words he said meant until I found them again in one of the libraries of the dark monks. This speaks of their power. That they could stay in my mind, uncomprehended, only to reveal themselves at the moment I had enough knowledge to comprehend them. I know now that what Tach did was dangerous. I didn’t know then.

Then, twenty years ago, the words were many things to me. Lullaby, magic spell, words which hid feelings that I didn’t comprehend and which jumped out at me, unexpectedly, when I was listening to Tach’s singsong for too long. But above all the words meant Tach and all that he was to us. When they first met him, many people thought that Tach was an imbecile, one of the countless number of people driven mad by the loss of their homeworld, maybe one of the last of his kind – and there were many such people when I was a child. The empire had rampaged through the galaxy, destroying worlds almost at random with their world devourers. It wasn’t a strange thing to have lost a planet, it was as common as losing a toy or a parent. We lost both parents, but we had toys and we had a planet. Not that Li ever saw it, but I did. In fact I am currently sitting on a shuttle taking me from the surface of my own planet back into space, which belongs to nobody but is always being fought over. The interior of the shuttle is turned red and orange by the light given off by the friction heat. People around me look pale and lonely. There is much fear in this little shuttle. Much clutter, too, since the staff didn’t bother securing the refreshments too well. Even though the stabilizers have improved immensely in the last decade or so, it is still difficult to keep away the feeling that one is among many dice in a cup, shaken by an enthusiastic player, as one passes from air into airlessness. Streaks of flame and heat turn to blackness and it takes a while until the pilot decides to turn on the shuttle’s internal lights, so one races from fire into shadow. Everything becomes quiet with an inexplicable suddenness, as if some cosmic giant clapped his hands and so took all noise away. I become very still inside, feel myself flowing out, hoping against hope to fill that immeasurable emptiness that I am going to cross.

It is in these moments that I feel that which they call the Force strongest. Against the black backdrop of space all hopes, plans and fears become starkly visible. My own plans, my own hopes, my own fears are reduced to a single thread and it takes all my strength to keep following this thread, symbolic of my existence, as it weaves into the tapestry that appears in my mind.

Interested? Read the full story for free here

Pattern Recognition

patternrecognition

It’s almost like a nervous tick. Check facebook – check your emails. Things are moving. If not, get them moving.

Moments devoted to oneself are considered unproductive, selfish isolation.

You are a hive being. Everyone is just one click away. You need to remain in constant contact with everyone or they will forget about you, eradicate you, take all value from you.

Do they like this? Do they like that? In the morning you stumble, bleary eyed and tired, to your computer. Coffee is a rush for your body, but online is a rush for your mind. You are no longer alone, no longer forced to watch your dreams, desires and failures play out in your head.

They are right in front of you, subsumed and mixed with the desires of everyone else. You can watch your dreams rise and fall in real time. How many people like this? How many people will come to my event? What is trending?
It’s always on your mind. Makes you itchy and restless whenever you enter one of those strange patches where your drug cannot be supplied and you’re forced to be offline. You are so meaningless in those moments.

You realize that your public persona – now it has a name again, thoughts rise, your own, not the hive thoughts…but everything will be forgotten again under the rush of incoming information – your public persona has forgotten your private persona. Severed itself from it. Cut the virtual umbilical cord. Your public persona is all that exists, apart from this…this madness. All those thoughts that you cannot write down, nor present in a clear light. Your unlikable side.

This darkness that needs a name. This is inside. Private. Private. It takes you on a dizzying spin…for a second.

Then wifi pops back up. You can connect. Rush. Facebook like a deluge of senseless information. Not nonsensical, but senseless, since none of your senses apart from the visual will ever process it. It numbs you once more. Makes you deaf to the voice of your private self. Feeling is reduced once more to little flickers of knowledge on the retina of your consciousness…your consciousness is now one big eye, of course…networks and synapses that mirror the networks you aim to build are inside of it.

Red likes and message numbers are momentarily mistaken for blood – but of course there is no blood here. A rush runs through you as they flicker up and up…you must have hit a virtual nerve. You ask a friend “Are you online” and need a moment to realize that he is sitting right next to you. Distances become meaningless, after all, even very short ones.

Your nervous tick now manifests itself in random likes and terrible spelling. I have no time, comes over you like a disease and you would never guess that it is simply your body momentarily remembering its mortality. Instead you rush even more, take on more tasks all of which you will leave half finished.

Your body is beyond tiredness already and claws the spirit back from the virtual world to envelop it with sleep. It tries to get it used to being corporeal in the several hours that the two spend together sleeping. You would never guess that your mind and your body are sharing a bed like two lovers fallen out with each other.

In the morning you wake up and it’s the spirit that drags the body to the virtual hole, jumping inside gleefully…

Lem the Immortal

stock-footage-glass-of-wine-on-a-background-of-fire

Lem was immortal and it was a bother. Not in the sense that he was a Byronic sort and depressed by the utter impossibility of committing suicide – he had tried all sorts of demises, most of them were rather fun if you liked that sort of thing.

It was a bother because Lem had an awful memory.

Sometimes, when he was particularly drunk, he boasted of his immortality to drinking companions. Sometimes they were drunk enough to listen to him with actual attention.

“So, how were the pubs during Napoleonic times? And the girls of feudal China?” they would ask.

Lem would scratch his head, struck by the acute realization that he had totally forgotten everything about the Napoleonic times and feudal China. He felt like a schoolboy in such moments. Lords and men, I must be the only immortal vegetable around, he thought to himself.

He wondered what life everlasting was good for if you remembered jack shit. He could have known the slow progression in taste while drinking each vintage of a particularly fine wine for centuries, could have heard the actual shift and change in a dialect through generations, could have experienced how the changing morals of civilizations affected the perceptions of passion during love-making.

But all he remembered was getting drunk and working a sequence of forgettable jobs. Truly, I must be the only immortal moron there is.

Usually, at this point of the story, a woman comes along. But there had been so many women and none – sorry! – had been so memorable to Lem that she would serve as a radiant beacon for his attention and memory.

After several millennia he had realized that the only thing he loved was strong drink. Hell, sometimes it was the only thing he remembered. He was convinced that inside drunkenness there was this perfect moment of ember clarity waiting for him…he just had to reach it.

I don’t drink to forget my failures…I drink in the vague hope that I’ll eventually remember them.

He had been working diligently to perfect his addiction.

Now you, dear listener, might be wondering why are we telling the story of such a bland man in the first place? Well, because he is going to save the world.

Of course, you say. It’s one of those stories. Saving the world…I’m out of here.

But stay. Just a bit longer. It’s not quite one of those stories. You could look at it that way: Only a man who has the capacity to completely forget what the world has been like, despite seeing pretty much all of it, would actually be willing to save it.

How do you save the world, anyway? This big lump of misadventures and things gone wrong? Certainly, it’s constantly tumbling down an abyss, but the good news is – that abyss is pretty much bottomless. Lem mused over this while he drank. So, the only way to save it would be to go on. To go on with all your failures, hopes and clear cold mornings.

He had seen endings. He remembered that. People reaching the end of the line…there was so much anxiety and anguish. So much horror, but then this was spent. There was an instant of…well, what was it? Acceptance, perhaps? No, acceptance is too active a word.

It was like a wave…but also like the moment you remember having seen a calm ocean. He moved his glass around and watched the wave of wine break against the concave side. Briefly he imagined the glass swelling to titanic size and breaking…the world drowned by a flood of rather fine Merlot. Then survivors, clambering to shore, too drunk to stand.

Is that really the best thing we managed? Lem wondered, but wasn’t too sure what he meant. The world is saved by tiny acts after all. As long as they mean nothing but what they mean… He got up, not particularly drunk, and walked out into the world to beget a child or two and to see what else was there to do and to forget.

Wolf and Balloon

Another old short story of mine…it was inspired by an illustration of the same artist as in the last story…unfortunately this illustration seems to have disappeared from the web entirely…instead you’re getting my own sketch of the main character (not a fair trade, really, but hey…)

 

Wilkolak_by_charonferryman

 

“I want to go to the moon,” said the balloon. Later, he said, “I will go to the moon.”

Wolf scratched his head, thinking about lice and how he hated them and ignored the balloon`s whiny and insistent tone. He was not exactly sure when the balloon had begun to talk to him, but it was an arrangement he found entirely to his discomfort. Wolf was very quiet by nature and he appreciated silence in others. He especially appreciated silence in things that were not supposed to speak at all. He had bought the balloon because it had seemed like a good idea, provided nobody rubbed it and made that squeaky, rubbery noise that made Wolf´s teeth tingle and his fur stand up like battalions of warlike soldiers. He had liked watching the balloon float across his cramped room and he had liked it very much to wake up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning and to see the balloon looming and turning like some indoor planet over his bed. Wolf remembered, he had been very sorry that one could not put a candle inside the balloon without melting it or having the flame eat up all the air inside. A floating light – such a thing he would have loved. A quiet floating light.

But then the balloon had begun to talk. The words had snaked halfway into his dream and upon waking Wolf had found his head swarming with words like so many ants, his skin crawling with them like so many lice. It was nonsensical babbling, so offensive to Wolf whose dreams were always filled with a clear and somwhat blueish silence.

“Take me for a walk,” the balloon said.

“No,” answered Wolf through gritted teeth. But eventually he did, hoping that outside, in the uncomfortable silence of the grey streets, the balloon would feel how misplaced it was, with its bright colour and its insistent voice lost in the fog and mortar, and be shamed into everlasting silence. When Wolf closed the door behind him, he felt himself swimming in silence, the streets were filled with the trickling moments when we consider a remark we never make and those moments lapped at Wolf´s fur like tiny waves. To Wolf, the silence seemed more substantial than the bricks and, indeed, if he could build a house from silence instead of bricks, he`d have done it in an instant. In this country, people called the wolf a melancholy beast, for its lonely howl it is assumed, but Wolf howled silence. He could open his mouth and scream silence across the world and for as long as his breath lasted him, all noise was lost. He screamed now and thought that even the snake-like slithering of the fog over the wet cobblestones fell silent. He was pleased with himself.

“Is it far to the moon? Do you think I could go there?”

The balloon floated above his head like a bright and merry offense. For a moment Wolf toyed with the idea of simply opening his paw, watching the nylon string slip through his claws and wishing the balloon a speedy end to his lunar voyage – at the beaks of curious birds, if he had his wish. But no, that was too simple a solution. Wolf was no coward. He shut his paw tight around the string and began to walk. He walked long, seething and boiling inside, the balloon happily bobbing in his wake, chitter-chattering from time to time. He walked long enough to reach that part of the city in which humans settled. Wolf disliked humans almost as much as balloons, but he thought that if somebody were to be interested in a mindlessly chattering toy, why, it certainly must be a human.

Wolf looked around. The houses here seemed more refined, the windows more glaring, the doors somewhat more shut that elsewhere. Everything seemed to be wearing a suit, even the mist that sauntered by, apparently ignoring Wolf who blew it away angrily. Wolf didn´t know it was possible to dislike mist, but he found he did. He disliked the very night around him.

“I have heard that you must cross a river if you want to go to the moon. Is that true?”

No human was on the streets, a fact that Wolf would have relished at any other time. Now he bit his lower lip. If he simply left the balloon here, he was certain it would return to him in mysterious ways. Caught by the drift of a passing plane and blown into a train carriage, caught by a little boy who gave it to a secret admirer of Wolf who then tied it to his doorknob, or something like that. Disgust is like a magnet.

There was one house that seemed less unsympathetic than the others, in fact the longer Wolf looked at it, the more he liked it. It was wedged between two big and haughty houses, small, a roof like a straw hat and tiles in wildly mismatched colours on the walls. It looked like it should not be allowed to dress itself alone. He looked up to where the balloon floated and noticed that the balloon seemed to look at that house as well. No further thoughts! Wolf loped towards the little house and hammered his paw against the door.

There came a clockwork sound from within, rattling machines, a metal cough, the crackle of electricity. Then the door swung inward and a tiny figure with an immensely heavy and immensely black frame of glasses and a goldfish bowl for a hat appeared. “You`re pretty hairy for a postman,” the figure croaked and blinked, eyes and lids magnified to fascinating proportions behind the glasses. “And pretty late.”

“This might coincide with the fact that I am not a postman,” said Wolf who was eloquent and soft-spoken whenever dealing with humans. He thought to see a huge and possibly wild beast speak in the mildest of manners might scare them more than bared teeth. “Would you, perhaps, like to have this balloon as an apology for my disturbing you so late at night?”

The man looked at the balloon, the goldfish in his hat pressed its side against the glass and stared at it one-eyed. “Is it filled with helium?”

Wolf was a bad salesman and seeing that his politeness failed to scare it failed him altogether. He stared at the man with disgust and grunted, “What do you care?”

“Well,” began the man, leaning back as though he had to inhale a particularly large amount of air. There was a pause. The pause went on longer and Wolf realized abjectly that it was meant for dramatic effect. He hated dramatic effect.

“Yes?” Wolf asked with badly faked interest.

“It so happens,” said the man, obviously happy that he was asked. “That I am building a rocket in my backyard. It is a good rocket, as you may well believe, but for a reason I have not yet discovered, it won´t fly. A helium-filled balloon, however, might help it rise a bit, just a bit, you see, until it has enough confidence in the thrust of its rockets.” He leaned forward, grubby fingers outstretched towards the balloon and whispered furtively, “It is a question of confidence, you see. It is a very sensitive rocket.”

Wolf snatched away the balloon just in time before the man`s fingers closed around the string. A second later he wondered why he had done it. “And where, dear man, do you mean to fly this sensitive rocket of yours?”

“Why, to the moon, of course!” The man sounded insulted.

Wolf was horrified. He looked up at the balloon which seemed to swell in size and grow deeper in colour. “The moon,” it said in a dumb, lowing voice. It sounded like a cow. “The moon.” The word was stretched out so long Wolf thought the balloon was emptied of all its air by the effort, but it kept on growing.

“Why, this is perfect!” cried the man, full of delight. “Come, quickly, before it has any second thoughts!” He snatched Wolf by the wrist, dragged him through a few cluttered and claustrophobic rooms into an equally claustrophobic yard, where the rocket stood. It seemed to be made from various kitchen appliances, scrap metal and assorted garbage. “I wonder if he doesn´t misjudge the situation,” muttered Wolf, “It must take an awful lot of confidence to hold something that frail together.”

“No time to waste. Hurry.” The man took the balloon, climbed up a shaky structure next to his rocket and knotted it fast on the rocket´s nose, which was the handle of an umbrella. As quickly as he had climbed up, he slid down again, grabbed Wolf and ushered him, through a creaking hatch, inside the rocket. “We must encourage it to grow more. You must help me.”

If that means I get rid of it, thought Wolf, I`ll play along with the lunatic. He was doubled over, surrounded by blinking lights and frayed wires. It smelled of burnt toast. The man took a piece of a garden hose and spoke inside it. “The moon. To the moon. To the moon. To the moon.” He took a break from his litany to explain. “I installed the speaker, in case I need to communicate with other rockets. If we speak through here, the balloon can hear us. We have to make it grow larger.”

Wolf took a deep breath. The man was excited, the damned goldfish on his head was excited, even the sensitive rocket seemed to hum with excitement – and of course the balloon who swelled and swelled. Its excitement could hardly be any greater. So Wolf bit down on his sarcasm and began to mutter, “The moon. To the moon,” along with the man. In his mind he already saw himself on a beautiful and very solitary walk home. The lunatic would be so smitten with the balloon that he would pay any price in order to keep it and Wolf would, after some deliberately exaggerated consideration, graciously give in to him and the two would sit next to their pile of rubble called a spaceship and low at the moon like dumb and stricken beasts. It was a pleasing image.

But then the cramped room began to sway, lightly at first but soon stronger. The floor felt very light and some feathery weight pressed on Wolf´s head. The lunatic gave a wild scream and hugged Wolf who simply coughed and looked away. His gaze fell on a bulkhead not larger than his head which, it seemed, had been the door of a washing machine not long since. Wolf was puzzled about this for a moment, but he was even more puzzled about the dwindling rooftops he saw through that window. He bit his lip, listened to the low chant, “the moon, the moon, the moon,” that came through the cardboard-thin walls. The thoughts that they had actually lifted from the ground and were rising, on an uncertain route, pulled by a monomaniac balloon, together with a man who built a rocket in his backyard, refused to enter his brain. He opened his mouth to say something and was unsure whether to be surprised when it turned out to be, “Say, when do we cross the river to the moon?”

The journey was, if such a journey can be said to be, uneventful. They reached the moon. The lunatic was blissfully prostrating himself on the pockmarked ground. The moon circled its way along the craters, driven by a slow and dumb joy that nevertheless was quite pleasing to look at and even Wolf found what he had always wished for – absolute silence, in the pit of a crater where the burnt and consumed piece of a meteor still smouldered as a source of light and warmth in what was to be his new home. Taking the rocket back to earth, proved to be impossible for, it´s confidence all used up, it fell apart while it landed, scattering kitchen appliances and household wares across the white dust. Wolf patiently picked them up and decorated his home with them. Sometimes, when he goes for a walk, he sees the balloon and the lunatic whose joy seems to be unending and then, when he is certain that they are not looking his way, he allows himself a little private smile and saunters on, often until earthrise or later.

The Story of Siddhartha

 

Buddhism is a child of India. It was born in the form of Prince Siddhartha. It was also born out of desperation, because the Vedic system had become a prison, encapsulating every living being in a fixed and unchangeable form. You are born a beggar, so you will be a beggar until you die and then are reborn as a gnat.

So the great achievement of Buddhism was this: humans can change.

The prince himself was changed numerous times and every time this change brought him great pain. He went out of the palace of his parents, a pampered youth, somebody who believes the world is at his feet or in the palm of his hand. Up until this day he had known nothing but riches, three lavish meals a day, soft clothes and the beauty or anger of his own thoughts. This image is most of us, who have not seen suffering or have never been forced to change…we live in a prison of our own thoughts, beautiful and frightening mirages that we take to be our lives.

The first time the prince went out he saw a beggar. What did he do? Probably ignored him or did not know what to do with the man clutching his hand with such a hard grip until some attendant shooed him away, kicked him maybe, berated him or gave him a coin to get rid of him. But he couldn’t understand. Weren’t all people rich and well-fed? The gaunt and hungry face and the burning eyes of the man followed the prince deep into his own dreams. He felt unwell until he understood that he had begun to accept the beggar’s suffering. He had taken it into himself. This could be us, if we begin to accept what we don’t want to accept. We will suffer, yes, but this is simply change.

The second time the prince went out he brought coins with him and distributed them to the beggars. Then he saw a woman with sores, gruesome wet and slimy-looking wounds over her legs. She refused his coins, just looked at him with eyes full of pride and pain. So again the prince returned and again his dreams were troubling and painful. He looked at the bodies of those around him and saw on them those wounds, blooming like the most frightening of flowers. They came out of nowhere and caused such great pain. He went to the palace doctors, obsessively so, and had himself checked over and over again and took pills and tinctures with him. This could also be us, if we accept suffering but become afraid of it.

The third time the prince went out he had with him coins and medicine and was awfully nervous and fussy, making his caravan stop anytime he saw someone malnourished or pale so he could give and give in order to feel better. On this trip he came across something that would frighten him very badly: a woman holding a bundle. He went up to her, inquiring whether he could help her and her child and he saw the empty face of the woman and realized that the child she clung to was no longer living. He hurried away, full of fear, but this was one fear that he simply could not conquer by fussing about it or by changing himself to accommodate it. Gradually he lost all interest in the beautiful pastimes of the court, stopped smiling at the young women who visited him to talk to him or hear him recite poetry and lost himself in gloomy, pensive moods. This is us, if we get lost in what we call today a depression.

The prince realized that would have to change something else. Not the clothes he wore, not the words he said, not the things he ate. No fasting and no gluttony would help him, no drugs and no medicine. He would have to change himself, be a prince no longer. So one morning he left his name behind the way other people leave a finished book on the bedside table.

He left the woman who was his wife behind, too, and that is something many women rightfully complain about. Couldn’t he have explained himself to her? Maybe she would have understood. Maybe she would have come with him. At least she would have deserved a choice.

Her name, by the way, was Yashodhara. But this is as it is. He did not give her that choice. He also left his son behind and that, perhaps, is damning, but it is what he did. Could Siddhartha have become Buddha if he had gone with his family or would he have had to give up his quest in order to take up a plow or learn a trade to feed the two?

I wonder what a woman would actually say to this…Yashodhara, in her material situation, probably wouldn’t have been too bad off. The son, especially if he was fond of his father, might have been a problem, but she could have lived a comfortable life even without Siddhartha. I wonder as well if women consider all that talk about giving up your desires about as silly as they consider men’s talk about going to war and about honour.

Perhaps his mother and wife got together after he left and talked about how silly he was just to comfort each other…of course this wouldn’t bring him back, so eventually they would have to reconcile themselves somehow.

Anyway, what was his quest? This quest that drove him from all comforts his world offered to him? What made him give up food and sex and warmth?

To understand life and death. To understand change. To understand now and forever.

Is that a worthwhile trade? Perhaps…perhaps not. After all the ultimate fates of a man who chooses a life at home with his family and the man who remains alone in order to gain understanding don’t differ too much.

Whatever you or I may think, Siddhartha – although he was no longer Siddhartha, but just some guy named either Nobody or That One, depending on whom you believe – chose that lonely path and went into the woods to meditate.

Meditation back then meant a lot of physical self abuse. Punch nails through your tongue, eat dirt, hang on one limb from a tree. The same stuff that an old one-eyed wanderer did in Europe’s North when he hung himself from the ash tree. Denial of the body – asceticism.

So That One lost a lot of weight until not even his wife and mother could have told the difference between him and a skeleton. He also gained a lot of scars. But he was none the wiser for it.

After a few years of that he decided to start eating rice again and he found that he genuinely liked it. He could have eaten a hundred bowls, but he moderated himself. He realized that if he stopped doing something he liked at a certain point the enjoyment didn’t overtake him completely, nor did it disappear entirely. That was something to remember.

He made himself a robe of old linen that was given to him by a petitioner and wore it comfortably. He clumsily carved himself a bowl and ate from it. After all this self-torture and constant pain such small things seemed an inestimable comfort to him.

Some people say he was fasting and meditating for fifty days, but really it came quite suddenly to him. He had found a tree that he liked and sat underneath it and rested for a bit.

Actually he had given up meditation by this point or – as more romantic souls say – everything had become meditation to him.

Very dimly he remembered a wife and a son, a young man who would by now have become a prince and he felt at peace.

The animals speaking to him? Now that’s a tricky bit. Just like St. Francis…are they meant to represent something, perhaps the lower urges of men that he had learned to curb? Or are they actually animals because he has become so silent that he now understands the speech of all things?

So under that tree a curious thing happened to him. He hadn’t fallen asleep yet – and he really liked to sleep because he was becoming older – but all of a sudden he woke up. How strange that was. He knew so many things he didn’t know and contrariwise there were so many things he had thought he knew that he actually had no clue about.

He had finally changed and That One became Buddha – the Awakened One.

In his heart perhaps he preferred to be That One or No One, but now there were so many things to do and the world was so full of people that he got up from underneath the tree and started walking again, trusting his feet to know the way, his tongue to know the words and his eyes to see what was truly there.

A Tryst in Baghdad

 

One day when the Sultan was in his palace of Damascus, a beautiful youth who was his favourite rushed into his presence, crying out in great agitation that he must flee at once to Baghdad and imploring leave to borrow His Majesty’s swiftest horse.

The Sultan asked why he was in such haste to go to Baghdad. “Because,” the youth answered, “as I passed through the garden of the palace just now, Death was standing there, and when he saw me he stretched out his arms as if to threaten me and I must lose no time in escaping from him.”

The young man was given leave to take the Sultan’s horse and and fly, and when he was gone the Sultan went down indignantly into the garden, and found Death still there. “How dare you make threatening gestures at my favourite?” he cried; but Death, astonished, answered: “I assure Your Majesty I did not threaten him. I only threw up my arms in surprise at seeing him here, because I have a tryst with him tonight in Baghdad.”

 

 

The image is copyright of mahlukat.deviantart.com – go visit his gallery.