Character

FeaturedCharacter
Character

The shuffling line from dock to deck
Turns up the plank to ticket check.
Those early on the rails above
Wave wanly down to ones they love;
A long look down to ones they love.

Mark the ship, her lines and seams,
A welding of designer’s dreams
And builder’s craft — but is she true?
Or will she break against the blue?
How will she fare against the blue?

New captain there, high on the bridge;
A ship so large, his privilege.
It’s whispered that he’s wrecked a few,
Though smaller craft, that much is true;
Not one his fault, that much is true —

Or so it’s sworn by this fresh crew
And owners old with lifeboats new.
All’s well insured with fading ink,
They reassure with touch of drink;
The trembling calms with touch of drink.

The seas ahead are known to swell,
Lift up to heaven, drop to hell,
Loom overhead till pounding down
To crush the air until lungs drown,
With howling winds until lungs drown.

Threatening isles with teething breaks,
A glancing scrape is all it takes
Across a careless bearing laid —
The reckless bet by all is paid;
The helmsman’s due by all is paid.

The wise will eye both ship and man
To measure both with skeptic scan.
The sea cares not for sentiment
Or fervent prayers to heaven sent;
It swallows prayers to heaven sent.

In character of steel and mind,
In ship nor man a weakness find,
On oceans’ floors, if truth be told,
There lies more faith and trust than gold,
There lies more hope than gold.

***
I read the poem live on my Facebook author's page ~
https://www.facebook.com/QuentCordairFiction/posts/1146495142054239


Copyright 2016, Quent Cordair

Oh, but you are . . .

FeaturedOh, but you are . . .

Oh, but you are an artist ~ you are the sculptor of your character, the painter of your style, the composer of your attitude, the architect of your future, the writer of the story of your life.

 

***


Genesis cover art 100215 w borderEnjoy Genesis, Part I of Idolatry  

In the twilight of the Roman Empire, a sculptor struggles to keep an 800-year dream alive while honoring the love of his life and raising his adopted son. Part I of the epic five-part Idolatry saga, the story of a wealthy young heir and a devout Christian girl who find themselves at the heart of a 2400-year struggle for the soul of Western Civilization.

“Beautifully written, on the order of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, with the historical insight of James Michener, it brings to life a time of great thought, great art, and its clash with religious fanaticism. Cordair writes with a poet’s sense of scene and nuance and gives us a great deal of insight into the mind of a sculptor; I found this an exciting and easy read.” ~ Alan Nitikman

genesis

Genesis, Part I of Idolatry, is now on Amazon in paperback & Kindle editions here…

Panem et Circenses

FeaturedPanem et Circenses

And came the hour for panem et circenses, for the promised bread and circuses, and the people’s demands grew louder until they were given, not as much as they wanted or expected, but it was what they were given, and they ate the bread while laughing in the circus at the fear and pleading on the faces below, faces which had once been above. They laughed and chewed as pale flesh was ripped and bones broken, as the dark blood pooled across the circus floor, and when the cries below had gone silent, the people drifted home, sated and mollified for that day and the next, praising their new emperor and forgiving him much, until they began to grow hungry again, and the emperor was slow in providing, and another rose up among them, promising to provide panem et circenses, and faces below which had once been above.

Character

FeaturedCharacter

Character always matters. Always. The character of a man is who he is. Character is definition, self-made. It defines what a man will do, how he will do it, and what he will not do. Discount or dismiss the character of a man at your peril.

The predator preys at convenience. Awaiting opportunity, he employs camouflage, subterfuge, stealth, while studying and testing his targets’ weaknesses, vulnerabilities. The weakness of many is simply their failure, their refusal or inability to identify the predator for what he is, their failure to take seriously the threat of what he has proven himself to be. . . . The mind, too, fights or takes flight. The danger is in the mind taking flight while the body, vulnerable, remains. . . . The predator lies low, slinks in, bush to bush through the grasses until he is within the herd. The danger is sensed—the subtle sounds, not quite right, the unusual lines shifting through the tall blades. The wary few raise alarm. The herd stops, raising their heads, scanning, listening. But the stalker has stopped too, holding, waiting – waiting until their guard is lowered again. The prey always lower their heads again eventually, their hunger winning out over mindfulness.

Out of the thick silence, the dust boils and the strike is made. The screams of the dying will long remain with those who escape — until it is forgotten again, forgotten that the character of a man always matters. Always.

The Whistler

FeaturedThe Whistler

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PLAIN, as though hewn from a mountain of crystalline quartz, rose the city’s sun-dazzled facets of towering glass. From the top of the tallest came a sound, a sparkling cascade of notes. The window washers were preparing their scaffolding for the day’s descent. One was whistling a symphony. The other two engaged in conversation.

“First day, huh, kid? What’s your name again?”

“Bobby. Yours?”

“Walt. So what did you do to deserve this? Parents finally kick you out of the house?”

“No, I’m saving money for school next fall. Besides, I like the view.”

“School? Ha. I’ve got a degree in psychology, and look where it got me.”

From the other end of the scaffolding, the whistler nodded a greeting while continuing to check the cables and connections.

“Who’s he?” Bobby asked.

“You don’t recognize that face?” Walt lowered his voice. “Well, it’s been a while, I guess. See that gold-colored building over there?” He tilted his head toward the city’s second tallest tower. “He used to sit in a plush corner office on the top floor. That man was once the president of his own bank – and now he’s washing the windows on one. He’s the biggest failure this side of the Mississippi.”

“Damn.”

As the platform lowered over the edge, the symphony segued into a melody that had once serenaded cattle on the rolling prairie below, the notes lofting into blue space.

“So, what happened to him?” Bobby asked.

“He made a bad decision, ran into some bad luck. The bank went under.”

“Oh.”

Three floors lower, a mockingbird landed on the platform’s railing. It cocked its head at a Viennese waltz and flew off in search of less formidable competition.

“Why didn’t he start over or go into some other line of business?”

“With what? Every penny he had was backing that bank. His credit is shot. Up there on the north side, he had a twenty-room mansion, four cars, a yacht, a summer home in the mountains. Now he rents a room down near that factory by the rail yard; he walks to work, doesn’t have so much as a bathtub to play in, and he hasn’t taken a day’s vacation in the two years he’s worked here.”

The waltz shifted into a lilting ragtime tune, the first of a dozen that carried them down the next seven floors.

“Does he have family?”

“His wife took the kids. The relatives who once basked in his glow now cross the street to avoid his shadow. One of his brothers even changed his last name.”

A series of Baroque canons and fugues accompanied them down to the building’s halfway point, where they paused for lunch. After eating his sandwich and tucking away the brown bag, the biggest failure this side of the Mississippi laid back on the platform to watch the clouds, whistling a soulful slave hymn.

“Surely he still has a friend or two,” Bobby ventured. “If the decision was just an honest mistake and the circumstances were unforeseeable, he would still have the respect of his peers. Somebody would give him a chance at something. . . .”

“People want him around like they want a black cat named Thirteen. If whoever is in charge of this place ever bothered to read the applications for window washer and discovered that bad luck incarnate is hanging on the side of their bank, they’d probably cut the cables we’re dangling from rather than waiting for us to come down.”

As the afternoon passed, a lively march reverberated from the surrounding buildings, followed by an operatic aria and a program of buoyant show tunes. The sidewalks began filling with people on their way home. A sweet lullaby floated down. A few glanced up appreciatively.

“Well, at least he seems happy,” Bobby said.

“At first I thought he’d taken this job just to have a convenient place to jump from, but then he started with that infernal whistling and I knew he’d lost his mind. The only future the man has is the hope of being back up on top of this godforsaken pile of glass tomorrow morning.”

An Irish ballad set them gently on the sidewalk.

“Hey, you – the whistler.” A man in a business suit beckoned from a bench next to the taxi stand.

“Here, this is for the music,” he said, holding out a five-dollar bill and patting the spot beside him. “Sit down, sit down. . . . Nobody whistles like that anymore, you know. My father was a whistler though. God, could he whistle. When I asked him to teach me how, he said, ‘Son, you have to start with a clean conscience.’ It took me a long time to understand that, but he was right. He was the most indomitable man I’ve ever known. I’ll never forget, when I was seven years old a tornado destroyed our house and the farm. My father led us up from the cellar, took a long look around, and as he tossed a twisted piece of our plow aside, he started whistling. I only remember a little of the tune. It went – La, dah dee dee, la dah, dah dee la . . .

The whistler’s whistle picked up the melody and carried it high into the glass canyon.

“Yes! . . . Yes, that’s it. . . .”

*         *         *

The next morning, on the top floor, there were only the two window washers cleaning the panes.

Walt exclaimed, “Come here, kid, look at this!” His face was plastered to the glass. “Now I know what happened to him – he got himself fired. That man, the one he was talking to, he’s the bank president!”

Bobby went and looked, and returned to his own side in a thoughtful melancholy. He wiped a swath through the dust on a window and stopped, peering into the office next to the president’s. The well-dressed man sitting at the desk was cleaning a smudge off of the glass top with his handkerchief. On the front of the office door, someone was lettering a name in the space above the words, “Vice President.” The only sound outside was the wind, but the man at the desk was undoubtedly whistling. Recognizing Bobby, he waved. Bobby waved back and finished cleaning the window.

As the scaffolding lowered to the next floor, Bobby shaped his mouth in the form of an “O” – and blew.

*         *         *

*

First published in 1994 by the Atlantean Press,  The Atlantean Press Review.

Copyright 1994, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.

“The Whistler” is included in the Lunch Break collection of short stories and poems, available through Amazon in paperback and for Kindle @ http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008B0KXFI .

Steam

FeaturedSteam

The increasingly desperate fervency, the unshakable commitment and loyalty, the blind doubling down of souls answering the call of their chosen savior – there it is again, the pre-rational, primordial stew out of which so many religions were born. Where there is faith, there are those ready to follow; out of the churning, simmering pools of hopeful followers, leaders will rise. Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, Joseph Smith — how much was forgiven of them, how many sins and improprieties excused, overlooked, explained and polished away by those who told and sold their stories, all for the promise of salvation? The price of a savior — the ready offering of the mind, the sacrifice of the independent individual to the safety of the collective. All now to the temple in obedient lines, none minding the shackles tightening around their ankles, none suspecting that it is their own warm blood to be spilled, the steam rising and curling from the altar in the gray morning chill.

Map of Aurum Valley

FeaturedMap of Aurum Valley

For those following the Idolatry story, I’ve created a map of Aurum Valley, the setting for Part II, A New Eden. Part II is on track to be published on Kindle within the week, and in paperback shortly thereafter. (UPDATE: Now available on Amazon!)

aurum valley 072016c

Anyone willing to provide a short review on Amazon can still be added to the list to receive a free copy of the Kindle edition of Part II, A New Eden. Just send me an email at dobby@cordair.com with “Yes, I’ll review” in the subject line, and I’ll add you to the list (limited-time offer).

 

Sneak peek, new cover art . . .

FeaturedSneak peek, new cover art . . .

larsen Idolatry-1 051616 small cropped swatchSneak peek! This is a cropped swatch of the new artwork for the cover of A NEW EDEN, Part II of IDOLATRY, to be published within the next few weeks. The painting, an original oil on aluminum-composite panel, was created on commission by one of our gallery’s excellent artists, Bryan Larsen. The original painting and limited-edition prints will be available (let me know if you might be interested; I’ll put you on the list to be notified when the art is available).

Genesis Audible cover 050416a
Genesis, Part I of Idolatry, audiobook edition now available on Audible.com

I have ONE audiobook copy of GENESIS, Part I of IDOLATRY, to give away today in exchange for a short review on Audible within the next two weeks — just a sentence or two in review will be fine. Be the first to raise a hand in the comments below. Listening length: 4 hrs 11 mins. Retail price: $14.95. Note: I can only give this away to a U.S. listener; sorry international fans.

 

Featured

MUJAHID ~ Free today and tomorrow


mujahid cover 011815a
 A little anti-ISIS, pro-West antidote for the soul, FREE to download today through midnight Pacific tomorrow, Friday 6/17:

 Mujahid ~ “A screenplay jihadists will hate and civilized people will love…. Set in Chicago during the holiday season, the story involves a conflict between Husam, a young Muslim man who takes Islam seriously, and his younger brother Jasim. The conflict escalates after Husam is handed a heavy bag by a bearded man and gets on a bus heading downtown…. How is the conflict resolved? In an immensely satisfying way—as fans of Cordair’s work would expect.” — Daniel Wahl, The Objective Standard. Running time: approx. 30 minutes.

 

Download today on Amazon here…  

Mujahid is #1 in its category on Amazon this afternoon…

Number 1 061616

 

First Bite

FeaturedFirst Bite

 

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not worship the creations of man,” said the creation of man—as told by the man who had created him.

And many who sat listening to the storyteller believed him. And the storyteller was pleasantly surprised.

His audience wanted to hear more. They demanded more. This worried the storyteller, as he had already told the three stories he had thought up the night before. To buy time, as was his custom, he feigned fatigue. When they persisted, he asked that they bring him food so that he would have the energy to continue. As the tent emptied, he pondered whether to craft a different story altogether, or to make up a sequel or a prequel to the story about the man who heard the thunderous voice on the mountain, and the lightning that wrote commands on a rock. But the storyteller was fresh out of ideas.

The first to return to the tent was the young boy, one of the most gullible of his audience. The boy came humbly, bearing a basket of overripe fruit. As the storyteller picked through the offering, he leapt to his feet in fright—his hand had brushed a moving thing in the bottom of the basket. Perhaps the snake had been intending to enjoy the fruit for its own dinner—though the storyteller had only seen snakes eat other animals. He walloped the boy on the head for not being more careful, sending the boy crying from the tent.

Watching the snake’s tail slither away beneath the tent’s edge, the storyteller had found his inspiration. To spice up the tale, he would introduce some nudity. His prettiest young listener, always in the front row, would always blush and protest whenever he mentioned nudity or sex, but he noticed that she kept coming back. He would set his story in a garden of beautiful flowers and harmless animals. The girls always liked beautiful flowers and harmless animals. If he told his story well enough, she might be convinced to stay afterwards for a private story or two.

He smiled as the audience returned. The girl had brought him a leg of roasted pheasant. Finishing it in several bites, he sucked what was left off the bone and, nodding his approval, wiped the grease off his mouth with his finger. She looked pleased.

“This story is also true,” he began while they settled back into their places, having laid a small feast before him. “This is the Truth as the Truth has always been, the Truth as it has been passed down through a hundred generations of the wisest men, the Truth as it was passed down to me by the oldest and wisest priest of the tribe that held me captive before I escaped and crossed the desert.”

The girl had leaned forward, eyes wide and trusting, ready to believe.

“In the beginning,” he said, “God created the heavens and the earth.” His hands moved through the air, shaping the story. “And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. . . .”

As he told the tale, he selected a piece of fruit from the basket and offered it to her, his fingers casually brushing hers as she took it. He watched her take the first bite, white teeth piercing velvet skin, rupturing the flesh. The juice trickled from the corner of her mouth and down to collect in a drop beneath the curve of her chin. The drop glimmered and grew, flickering with the firelight’s flames. When it was heavy and ripe, it fell, landing on the slope of her half-exposed breast, where it clung like a tear, rising and falling with her breathing. The flames were in her eyes, too, consuming his words, hungering for more.

*          *          *

Enjoy the Idolatry series …

My novels, short stories, collections and screenplays …

090815b

Copyright 2016, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.

The Sculpture That Won the War

FeaturedThe Sculpture That Won the War

From a letter to a sculptor
Sept 27, 2001

ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a sculptor who had only the face to finish of a magnificent statue, his masterpiece to date. Frustrated by his limitations and increasingly dissatisfied with his efforts to bring into existence the perfection in his mind’s eye, his progress on the artwork had foundered and stalled. His workshop had fallen silent. Indeed, as the days and weeks and months drifted on, the statue was in danger of never being finished at all.

But on a crystal-clear morning, a morning seemingly as peaceful as any other in living memory, a shocking event occurred: the sculptor’s country came under attack. It was a morning of sudden and unexpected terror, of cold-blooded murder that left thousands dead and the populace reeling.

Over the next days and weeks, a miasma of insecurity and anxiety settled over the land, ubiquitous and inescapable, visible on the faces of the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the strong and the weak, the eminent and the obscure. Their sense of wellbeing had vanished overnight; their paradigm had shifted, ostensibly forever. In response to the attack, some wanted to stand and fight; others wanted to kneel and plead; most wandered through their hours fearful and confused, unsure of what to do. While the government drafted plans for war, the citizenry went about their daily routines as well as they were able, anxious for what the fractured future might bring for themselves and for their loved ones, wanting to do something, anything, to combat the pervasive sense of helplessness, yet uncertain of what, if anything, could be done.

The sculptor knew that his country was in greater need than ever of emotional fuel, and he knew what could help provide it. His country was fighting for her life—she needed vision and inspiration to survive, to defend herself, to remember what she had once been, to conquer, to rebuild, to thrive once again. With renewed vigor and determination, he threw his efforts into doing what he could do, contributing with what he did best. Days and nights, coffee and curses, dejection and perseverance, but finally—satisfaction, satisfaction that he had done what he could do, as well as he could do it.

Within a few weeks of the enemy’s strike, the sculptor sent his finished clay to the foundry; within a dozen weeks thereafter, the foundry delivered the finished bronze to the gallery; the gallery, in turn, delivered the artwork to the client who had commissioned it.

The delivery brought in the balance of payment to the gallery which, due to the widespread economic uncertainties subsequent to the attack, was on the brink of closing for lack of sales. The buyer, upon receiving the sculpture, was so delighted with the finished work that he was motivated to place yet another significant commission with the gallery, and the deposit toward the new commission kept the gallery open for a few precious months more. Over that period, the economy stabilized sufficiently that regular purchases began to trickle in again, just enough that the gallery would never again be quite so close to failing.

In the spring after the sculpture was completed and delivered, an eight-year old girl was passing by the gallery with two of her friends. Upon catching a glimpse of the art on display in the window she drew her friends inside, and as they browsed the cornucopia of treasures within, the girl stopped before a lovely figure, a bronze sculpture patined in white. It was a smaller casting of the sculptor’s larger masterpiece. She fell in love with it, and she was all the more enchanted and delighted when she discovered, upon reading the tag at the artwork’s base, that she shared the sculpture’s name. She could hardly afford the sculpture itself, of course, but she spotted a photographed image of the piece framed and hanging on the wall nearby. It too was available for purchase. She checked the price—she couldn’t afford the photograph either. But she did have five dollars. She approached the gallery manager to offer what she had, wondering, hoping. The manager dug through her filing cabinet and found, from a recent mailing campaign, a postcard that featured an image of the sculpture. She gave it to the girl, smilingly, without charge. The girl went home and slipped the postcard into the edge of the mirror on her bedroom wall.

*    *    *

A young pilot cruised silently through the cold night sky, the diamond dust of stars twinkling above. The blanket of clouds below stretched ahead toward a rumpling rise in the distance, marking the boundary of mountainous terrain beneath. His sortie consisted only of himself and his wingman, in two stealth fighters. According to the screen in front of him, they had just crossed the border into enemy territory. It wouldn’t be long now.

The mountains ahead bristled with anti-aircraft batteries.

War had been declared on those who had supported the terrorists and their atrocious acts. The ground war was proving more difficult than anticipated, with the enemy forces scurrying back into the crevices and caves of the mountains at the slightest provocation. The enemy’s military leader, the very swine who had devised and overseen the terrorist attack, was proving elusive, but a disillusioned member of his inner circle had been susceptible to bribing, and the leader’s location had been leaked. The caves in which he was thought to be hiding and their surroundings had been bombed incessantly over the past days, and on this evening, an intelligence satellite had picked up a small convoy attempting to leave the area under the cover of darkness. A forward spotter on the ground confirmed that it was indeed the enemy leader, who could disappear into another system of caves within minutes or hours.

The jets had been scrambled immediately, and now the pair were within a short thirty miles of their target. They rolled onto their sides and slipped like diving nighthawks through the clouds and to the height of the peaks before turning into a craggy-walled valley. By design, the cutting-edge craft were nearly undetectable by radar, but a watchful enemy soldier, at first spooked by the two shadows streaking silently above, frantically radioed ahead a warning. Anti-aircraft fire began tracing upwards, trying to catch the fleeting apparitions. The pilots dropped lower so as not to offer a silhouette against the night sky. Without warning, a missile from below caught the wingman’s craft, and it erupted into a comet of flame, dropping away without so much as a sound from the pilot’s radio.

The young pilot who remained fought to stay focused. All of his reflexes wanted to pull the stick back and shoot straight up to the sky, to rise above the fiery tracings that would surely find him too at any moment, to live to fight another day.

Deep in the canyon, radio reception was intermittent and broken. He might have heard his commander’s order to pull up and out, but he might not have heard it either. If he climbed, he might be able get a fair shot at the convoy from altitude—if he survived the incoming fire to which the altitude would expose him—but it was the enemy leader himself, the black heart and soul of the enemy forces, who was traveling in that convoy. When would there be another chance if the pilot missed or if he were shot down before being able to make another attempt? How long might the war drag on if the leader escaped? The images that had been seared into his memory on that accursed morning came again—the hijacked airliners crashing into the skyscrapers, the innocents plunging from the heights to their deaths, the buildings collapsing, the vacant despair on the faces of the survivors.

He thought of the postcard in the breast pocket of his flight suit, of the delicately looped handwriting in violet pen on the postcard’s reverse, of the girl who had sent the accompanying letter. He switched off his radio. Steeling himself, he kicked the plane over on its side, banking hard around a canyon corner, flying lower yet, the bullets from small arms pinging into his craft’s underbelly.

The infrared radar confirmed the vehicles of the convoy on the road ahead, speeding toward a pass so narrow that even if he were on his side he wouldn’t be able to follow them in. He dropped lower, the dust from the road boiling in his wake. Either of the laser-guided bombs on board would get the job done, but he wouldn’t be able to gain enough elevation in time to guide one in on the first pass, and he wouldn’t be able to complete a second pass before the convoy scattered.

He hadn’t even met the girl. She was a student in a class of fourth graders that had adopted his unit. They had sent a package of homemade baked goods and letters. Her envelope had found its way onto his bunk just the evening before. The letter opened with the generically respectful “Dear Sir—” He recalled the words written on the back of the enclosed postcard and the tiny violet heart after the girl’s name. On the front of the postcard was the image of a sculpture, the embodiment of innocence and delight. It was the only mail he had received in weeks. It was enough.

“Okay, baby, this one’s for you. . . .”

He armed both of the bombs and aimed the nose of his black angel at the rear vehicle in the convoy ahead. In his final seconds, he thought of the target, of the enemy leader, and realizing something, he chuckled. With the fire of hell in his eyes, he said, “Live by the plane, die by the plane, mother f—”

*   *   *

On a cloudless morning in the thin mountain air, an American soldier walked through the scattered wreckage at the site of the strike. Pieces of wood, metal and clothing were scattered about the perimeter of the blackened gouge in the road, three hundred yards long. It would go down in history as the place where the head of the hydra was killed and the tide of war had been turned. The platoon was combing through the wreckage for any of what might remain of the leader’s papers and effects. Of the pilot’s body, they hadn’t been able to find anything, though small pieces of the plane were identifiable here and there. But the oddest scraps can survive such conflagrations: after the attack that had brought down the buildings and started the war, one of the terrorists’ passports had been found in the rubble below.

The soldier lifted a piece of twisted metal and noticed in the ashes beneath it a postcard, its edges curled and seared brown but otherwise unburned. On the front was the photo of a sculpture, an elegant figure in white, beckoning to be followed into a world of wonder and happiness. The soldier smiled. He turned the photo over and read: “Dear Sir, this is how I used to feel before the war. I hope I can feel this way again someday. Thank you for fighting for me. — Joy”

The soldier tucked the photo into his breast pocket and slung his rifle over his shoulder. Kicking aside a half-burned turban, he walked down the road and took in a chestful of clean air. For the first time in months, he allowed himself to think of home.

* * *
*

Copyright 2001, 2012, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.

From the Lunch Break collection, 2012 ~ http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008B0KXFI

Warmth

FeaturedWarmth

We found ourselves standing next to each other. I was studying the prices of canned tuna. She was scanning the selection of instant-pudding mixes opposite. It was mid-afternoon, the aisle was otherwise empty. Try as she might, she could bend only so low to examine the items on the lower shelves, fearing, she admitted quietly, that her knees might fail to raise her. These things come with age, she conceded. We smiled it away. I turned to assist.

She was looking for butterscotch—that was the flavor she liked. If they didn’t have butterscotch here, Target would have it. Target always stocked butterscotch. The prices were better at Target too, she said. Had I seen the price of cream cheese here? Over two dollars! I commiserated. Her daughter had found a recipe at Weight Watchers in which canned pumpkin was added to the butterscotch mix—it was really quite good that way, and less fattening. It sounded good to me too. It would be surprising if they didn’t carry butterscotch here, we agreed, as surely butterscotch was still one of the more popular flavors. Perhaps they had sold out. There were many newer flavors. We thought we found butterscotch towards the back of the bottom shelf, next to the coconut crème, but it was only some surplus vanilla. She would get butterscotch at Target. She thanked me, her eyes gleaming briefly. We wished each other a good day. I continued along my way. She along hers.

Perhaps a half-dozen times during our search for the butterscotch, she had reached out to touch my arm, to let her cold, delicate fingers, thinly gloved in fine wrinkles, linger on the warmth of my skin for an extended moment, for as long as politely possible. I hadn’t pulled away.

She would find what she wanted later at Target. She had found what she needed here. I hadn’t minded.

 


Copyright 2014, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.

Between Venus and Mars

FeaturedBetween Venus and Mars

 

Crickets below, dippers above,
Night rising cool around the foxglove,
Floor of warm stone, ceiling of stars,
Jewel on the ring between Venus and Mars.
You’ll find my address between Venus and Mars.

Striding the plain, mountains surround,
Strove to find flight, broke the earthbound,
Made from this place, evolved and sublime,
Blessedly born and right for the time,
Mastering all but the passage of time.

Tick the count down until thunder and burn,
Children will fly, no thought of return,
While I remain, wave to their wave,
Watching them wing from the home of the brave,
I’ll keep the lights lit on the home of the brave.


 

Copyright 2013, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.

Featured

Join my fiction email list…

To be notified of newly posted novel chapters, new short stories, new audiobooks, new editions, etc.,

please click here to join the fiction list!

I never send out more than one email weekly, and seldom that often. Your address will not be used for any other purpose, won’t be sold, won’t be traded for two shots of good whiskey…. (Though if someone were to offer a bottle of aged single malt Scotch… j/k )

Thank you!

Dobby, aka the admin house elf

***

Genesis cover art 100215 w borderEnjoy Genesis, Part I of Idolatry  

In the twilight of the Roman Empire, a sculptor struggles to keep an 800-year dream alive while honoring the love of his life and raising his adopted son. Part I of the epic five-part Idolatry saga, the story of a wealthy young heir and a devout Christian girl who find themselves at the heart of a 2400-year struggle for the soul of Western Civilization.

“Beautifully written, on the order of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, with the historical insight of James Michener, it brings to life a time of great thought, great art, and its clash with religious fanaticism. Cordair writes with a poet’s sense of scene and nuance and gives us a great deal of insight into the mind of a sculptor; I found this an exciting and easy read.” ~ Alan Nitikman

genesisGenesis, Part I of Idolatry, is now on Amazon in paperback & Kindle editions here…

To be notified of new fiction and new editions,

please click here to join the fiction list.

The audiobook of Genesis, Part I of Idolatry, is now available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Narrated by Robin Field.

ALSO AVAILABLE ~ My short stories, poetry, screenplays and novels are available from my Author’s Page on Amazon here….

please click here to join the fiction list…!

ENJOY THE FINEST IN ROMANTIC REALIST ART

at QUENT CORDAIR FINE ART ….

harmony

Quent Cordair Fine Art

www.cordair.com

Napa, California   *    Est. 2006

please click here to join the fiction list…!

Audiobook edition of Genesis, in production (update: now available!)

FeaturedAudiobook edition of Genesis, in production (update: now available!)
Genesis Audible cover 050416a
Genesis audiobook cover art

Update 5/13/16! The audiobook of Genesis, Part I of Idolatry, is now available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

 

Cover art for the audiobook: check.
Audio files from narrator: check.
Audio editing software: check….

Robin Field medium
Genesis narrator, acclaimed voice actor Robin Field

In the twilight of the Roman Empire, a sculptor struggles to keep an 800-year dream alive while honoring the love of his life and raising his adopted son. Part I of the epic five-part Idolatry series, the story of a wealthy young heir and a devout Christian girl who find themselves at the heart of a 2400-year struggle for the soul of Western Civilization….

disks
Genesis audio files from Robin Field

“Beautifully written, on the order of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, with the historical insight of James Michener, it brings to life a time of great thought, great art, and its clash with religious fanaticism. Cordair writes with a poet’s sense of scene and nuance and gives us a great deal of insight into the mind of a sculptor; I found this an exciting and easy read.” ~ Alan Nitikman

audacity
Audacity audio-editing software for editing & formatting audio files

UPDATE 5/6/2016: Everything has been formatted and uploaded to Audible.com. If all goes well in review, we should be live with the audiobook edition in 10-14 days. To be notified when the audiobook edition is available on Amazon, Audible & iTunes, please join my mailing list http://eepurl.com/bWoz2T .

Suite Boxes

FeaturedSuite Boxes

Suite Boxes

(by the grace of J.S. Bach)

Came gift after gift, suite boxes of sixes,
Soft muffle of canon rolled in from the sea,
A fugue led us laughing through harmony hedges,
A maze to a garden delight.

The tumbles of flora, so masterfully petalled,
A founting of blue rising high till it fell.
We left the day’s dress behind waterfall curtain,
Stepped through to wash memory away.

We waded cascades till the river ran deeply,
Surrendered all will to the strength of still flow,
We lay on the shore, souls quiet and shining.
The sun dried us softly to sleep.

Away once again to the place we remember,
To rest from the burden of so far to go.
A secret bridge shared to the call of sweet cello,
Hands held, we close our eyes.

***

From the Lunch Break collection of short stories and poems. Now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Visit my current project, the Idolatry series, Part II of which is currently being published chapter by chapter online.

Copyright 2012, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.

The Gravity Field

FeaturedThe Gravity Field

She lay naked, face up, head to the north, feet to the south, arms outstretched, hands east and west, eyes full of stars. Beneath her back, the lumped clods of dirt and broken carcasses of last season’s grain, moist from the night’s dew, served well enough for pillow and mattress, meshed with her hair, pressed against her bare skin. The cloudless sky offered no protection. She needed none. She took in the universe until she found her place again in the solar system, in the galaxy, feeling the earth and all its round wholeness—the mountains, the oceans, the molten core—not beneath her but behind, between her body and the sun. She had worked to shift her perception until she experienced the earth’s sphere as it was, tilted, turning on its axis, her body held against its side by gravity alone, its surface curving down and away below her, leaving nothing beneath her feet but the great void. But she wouldn’t fall. She was as attracted to the earth as it was to her, and she was dazzled by the distances the stars had come that night, each and every one, to kiss her body with light.

She lay there until the earth began to chill. When she rose, she brushed the straw and dirt out of her hair, off of her body. She dressed and walked back to the limousine, shoes in hand. Her driver would follow the car’s tracks back out to the road. She might not return for another year, or for three, but she would return, as she always did. Why else, but for this, would she have bought the field?

*          *          *

Copyright 2016, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.

 

 

Off Starboard

FeaturedOff Starboard

 

“Captain, I think you should come to the bridge, sir.”

“What is it, Mably?”

“Here, look through the glass, sir. At three o’clock. A ship, sir.”

“Where?”

“Closer in, sir.”

“I still don’t see it.”

“Closer, sir.”

“Oh—that. That’s not a ship, Mably. That’s a boat. A dugout canoe.”

“What could they be doing all the way out here, sir? They’re making straight for us. Do you think they need to be rescued?”

“If so, it won’t be by us.”

“But, why not, sir? Their little boat hardly looks seaworthy.”

“They’re attacking us.”

“Are you serious, sir?”

“Am I laughing, Mably?”

“Well, yes, sir. A little bit, sir. But—how can they attack us, sir?”

“See those little blowguns? When they get closer, they’ll try to hit us with poison darts.”

“Poison darts, sir?”

“Don’t fear, Mably. Unless they’ve found a new way to fire them, out of their arses or something, those darts won’t make it halfway up to the gunwales.”

“That’s—a relief, sir.”

“You’re laughing, Mably. Am I funny, Mably?”

“Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. Sorry, sir. May I ask how you know their, ahem, strategy, sir?”

“It’s the same tribe that came out to us the last time we were by these islands. You can tell by their hair. You weren’t with us then. They’re the Moral Midgets of Microndria. Miserable little excuse of an island. But the inhabitants can be rather annoying if they get close enough that you have to hear them. Rather the opposite of Sirens.”

“Can we use them for target practice, sir? The boys could use some fun.”

“They’re not worth wasting ball and powder on. We have real enemies out there we’ll be meeting soon enough.”

“So, what should we do, sir?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Ignore them. They hate that.”

“But—if they get too annoying, sir?”

“You see that storm front out there to the east?”

“Ah, yes, sir. I apologize for not spotting it earlier.”

“Distracted by the wee ones, weren’t you? Don’t let it happen again.”

“Aye aye, sir. Should we warn them about the storm, sir? Their craft doesn’t look terribly seaworthy.”

“Perhaps you should ask Mr. Darwin, Mably. Anyway, invite him up to the bridge. He’ll want to see these.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

“I’m going below to play the cello. Have the first mate get us underway after Mr. Darwin gets his sketch or two and has a quick gander at them. And tell him, no specimens. The one we took aboard last time was complaining about the food within an hour. We had to throw him over.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

*          *          *

To be notified of new fiction, new editions, and passwords to access chapters of new work before it’s available to the public, click here to join the “Let Me Know” list.

2015-12-04 14.27.24Readers love Genesis, Part I of Idolatry  In the twilight of the Roman Empire, a sculptor struggles to keep an 800-year dream alive while honoring the love of his life and raising his adoptive son. Part I of the epic five-part Idolatry series, in which a wealthy young heir and a devout Christian girl find themselves at the heart of a 2400-year struggle for the soul of Western Civilization.

“Beautifully written, on the order of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, with the historical insight of James Michener, it brings to life a time of great thought, great art, and its clash with religious fanaticism. Cordair writes with a poet’s sense of scene and nuance and gives us a great deal of insight into the mind of a sculptor; I found this an exciting and easy read.” ~ Alan Nitikman 

Now on Amazon…

COMING SOON! The AUDIOBOOK edition of Genesis, Part I of Idolatry, on Audible.com, narrated by the great Robin Field. To be notified when the audiobook edition is available, please join my “Let Me Know” list.

Chapters 1 through 10 of A New Eden, Part II of Idolatry, are available to read for free online, starting with Chapter 1 here….

ALSO AVAILABLE ~ My short stories, poetry, screenplays and novels are available from my Author’s Page on Amazon here….

 

 

ENJOY THE FINEST IN ROMANTIC REALIST ART

at QUENT CORDAIR FINE ART ….

harmony

Copyright 2016, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.

Seventh Morning

FeaturedSeventh Morning

 *    *    *

“Every god was invented by an atheist, you know.”

She had said it as casually as one might remind one’s spouse that the post office was closed on Sundays. He lowered his newspaper. She turned from studying the cathedral across the plaza to signal the waiter for more coffee. Her hair was lighter in the morning sun, the highlights in the curls redder.

“Every god, you think?” he asked, his gaze coming to rest on her lips.

“Of course. Don’t you think so?”

“I hadn’t considered the possibility, actually.”

“You will now.” She spooned raspberry jam onto her croissant and spread it liberally. Shifting her bare legs around to catch more of the sun happened to afford him a better view. A hint of her smile and a wink made him remember the night.

He went back to his reading, but found himself obliged to ponder the invention of the gods, and by atheists, no less. He glanced at her again over the paper’s edge. She was absorbed, contently, in her croissant and her coffee, soaking in the sun, watching the world go by.

He still wasn’t sure what he’d gotten himself into, but he was sure he liked it.

*    *    *

Copyright 2016, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.

Readers love  Genesis, Part I of Idolatry  In the twilight of the Roman Empire, a sculptor struggles to keep an 800-year dream alive while honoring the love of his life and raising his adoptive son. “Reading this story is essential for keeping my soul alive. If you need a tour de force of epically grand storytelling, Idolatry delivers with exceptional skill. I am shaking with anticipation for Part II.”  Now on Amazon…Genesis cover art 100215 w border

COMING SOON! The AUDIOBOOK edition of Genesis, Part I of Idolatry, on Audible.com, narrated by the great Robin Field. To be notified when the audiobook edition is available, please join my “Let Me Know” list.

ALSO AVAILABLE ~ My short stories, poetry, screenplays and novels are available from my Author’s Page on Amazon here….

 

 

ENJOY THE FINEST IN ROMANTIC REALIST ART

at QUENT CORDAIR FINE ART ….

harmony

Robin Field to narrate GENESIS audiobook

FeaturedRobin Field to narrate GENESIS audiobook

I am very pleased and excited to announce that award-winning actor and entertainer Robin Field will be narrating the audiobook edition of Genesis, Part I of Idolatry (already available in paperback and for Kindle). Many of you will remember Robin Field from his role in our production of Nobel-winning author Maurice Maeterlinck’s Monna Vanna, which we produced in Hollywood in late 2007 and on the 2008 QCFA Arts Cruise.

robin_fieldRobin Field

Robin Field is an award-winning entertainer whose career has spanned six decades. As a singer-pianist his appearances have taken him from cabarets to Carnegie Hall. As an actor he won leading roles Off-Broadway in Your Own Thing, Look Me Up, Speed Gets the Poppys and the revival of Rodgers & Hart’s Babes in Arms. As a member of The Klowns, Field toured with the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus, recorded for RCA Victor and starred in an ABC-TV special with Sammy Davis and Jerry Lewis. In 1972 Dom De Luise presented him as his “discovery” on “The Merv Griffin Show.” As a composer-lyricist Field toured the U.S. and Canada in his own one-man show Reason in Rhyme, based on Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, and he wrote, directed and starred in seven editions of Broadway — A Hundred Years Ago. For five years he served as creator and host of the New York radio series “Broadway Time Capsule” and for two years as editor and publisher of “Revival”, a magazine on theatrical history. He and his singing partner Bill Daugherty won rave reviews throughout the U.S. as well as in London and Amsterdam, won four MAC awards for “Best Musical-Comedy Team,” and their show Daugherty & Field Off-Broadway was nominated for a New York Outer Critics’ Circle Award as “Best Musical Revue.” In 1992 they headlined at Carnegie Hall to a sell-out crowd and a standing ovation.

In regional productions Field played Axel in Don’t Drink the Water, Beverly Carlton in The Man Who Came to Dinner, Captain Keller in The Miracle Worker, Frederick in The Pirates of Penzance, Ko-Ko in The Mikado, Judge Wargrave in Ten Little Indians and Mark Twain in Mark Twain in Concert. He also wrote, composed and directed the musicals Blossoms of Big Bear, The Bronze Ring, The Singing Mountains, The Crystal Palace and Tom Sawyer.

As a voice actor, Robin Field has narrated dozens of fiction and non-fiction works, many of which are available for purchasing or sampling on Audible.com.

Acclaim and awards for Robin Field’s audiobook readings:

THREE PLAYS BY AYN RAND, READ BY ROBIN FIELD

SoundCommentary rates this recording the Best of the Best 2010, adding: “Robin Field’s reading is astonishing.  If listeners were told that they were listening to a full-cast production, none would doubt it.”

LEAVES OF GRASS BY WALT WHITMAN, READ BY ROBIN FIELD
AudioFile reviewed this recording, praising Field’s “pleasing voice and astute interpretations,” and concluded, “Field brings new life to Whitman’s poems with his intelligent emphasis and emotion.  And when Field recites a particularly resonant phrase at just the right time, the moment can turn into song.”
STONER BY JOHN WILLIAMS, READ BY ROBIN FIELD
According to AudioFile:  “Robin Field fully inhabits Stoner’s character, dragging every morsel of tragedy, inevitability and, occasionally, wiliness and joy from Williams’s understated writing.  Field’s performance helps us understand that an ordinary person’s life is still grand, emotional, and worthy. . . .  Stoner is a small miracle of a novel that is enhanced by a narrator who is a perfect match.”  Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award  (AudioFile)
AUGUSTUS BY JOHN WILLIAMS, READ BY ROBIN FIELD
SoundCommentary called this recording “a vast story from a vastly talented novelist read by a vastly gifted narrator.”
ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN BY MARK TWAIN, READ BY ROBIN FIELD
“Narrator Robin Field magnificently captures the tone and rhythm of Mark Twain’s classic novel. Most challenging for any narrator is the reproduction of the dialects, dramatic emphasis, and accents that are essential to the story, which on the surface is merely a journey down the Mississippi but, in truth, explores the coming-of-age of an ‘uncivilized’ boy. Added reverb to some passages is an interesting production choice and adds to understanding the thought process of the protagonist. Field’s youthful tone and connection to the emotional core of the story anchor the action of the novel, creating a connection between the listener and Twain that adds an extra dimension to the pleasure of what is arguably the great American novel.” Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (AudioFile)

 

 

Chapter 1

FeaturedChapter 1

A New Eden, Part II of the Idolatry series, is the continuation of an epic tale told in five parts. In Genesis, Part I of the series, set in the twilight of the Roman Empire, a sculptor struggles to keep an 800-year dream alive while honoring the love of his life and raising his adopted son. It is highly recommended that a reader first enjoy Genesis, Part I of the Idolatry series before reading the continuation of the story in Part II, which begins below. Part I is available here. . . .

*         *          *

A NEW EDEN

CHAPTER ONE

It was Maria’s fourth week on the job, and the third week during which when she knocked on the door of Suite 117 and called out “housekeeping,” there was no reply. Using her passkey, she entered, pulled the cart in behind her and quietly shut the door.

The suite featured a kitchenette, a large Jacuzzi tub, and gas fireplaces in both the bedroom and living area. The Prairie-influenced design, in light woods and local stone, was finished in a warm palette, with sensuous fabrics covering the plush furnishings. Accenting the walls were sepia photo-prints of the local fauna. French doors opened onto a flagstone patio, beyond which a double terrace of flowering flora bordered a tidy square lawn with a cascading stone fountain in the corner. The perimeter of sculpted hedging, taller on the sides to provide privacy from the adjacent units, was cropped shorter across the end to allow a sweeping southerly view of the high-desert valley. The rugged range of snowcapped mountains rising close to the west and the soft rolling hills to the east cradled the city below and stretched away to the distant, hazy horizon.

On a reclined lounge chair on the patio, the suite’s lone occupant lay prone in the sun, her head to the side, her eyes closed. She hadn’t moved when the housekeeper entered. She was completely nude.

Maria cleared away the breakfast tray from room service, wiped down the slate-floored bathroom, replenished the towels and toiletries and emptied the nearly empty wastebaskets. She tucked the tip that had been left on the bed into the pocket of her apron. As she stripped the Egyptian-cotton sheets, her eyes were drawn again to the patio.

The young woman was hardly older than Maria herself, probably in her mid-twenties. Her lithe, runner’s body was already well tanned. Her bobbed chestnut hair gleamed in the sun. She had been present in the suite each day Maria had entered to clean, usually on the patio reading a book or writing longhand in a spiral-bound journal. Her face was pretty, in a tomboyish way, a lingering girlish cuteness with a tauter set to the mouth; her moss-green eyes tracked in a gazelle-like watchfulness, not afraid, but ever mindful, ready. When she wasn’t sleeping or sunning she might acknowledge the maid’s presence with a polite nod, but otherwise she said nothing and made no requests. The dozen or so books she had finished reading during her stay were mostly paperback suspense novels and biographies. On some days, Maria would find her standing silently at the end of the lawn in a bathrobe, gazing in silence at the valley.

The suite was always quiet. The televisions and radio were never on. A leather satchel, in which a notebook computer and camera case were tucked, had been left leaning against the wardrobe. Maria never saw the computer or camera being used, or a phone, if the woman had one. Surely she had one. Hanging in the closet next to the bathroom were three outfits of casual travel wear. Next to the single piece of generic carry-on luggage was a pair of well-used but clean walking shoes and a pair of sandals.

In the three weeks the guest had occupied the suite, none of the staff had seen her leave the suite, save for over the last few evenings when she had gone down to the hotel lounge to sit at the bar, where she would order a cocktail and take her dinner with a glass of wine while continuing her reading. After dinner, she would always return directly to her suite for the night.

The woman intrigued Maria, so much so that her thoughts were filled with her night and day.

One afternoon when the woman was sunning on the patio, she began talking in her sleep. To Maria it sounded as if she were arguing with someone, and in increasingly desperate tones, but in a language Maria didn’t at all recognize. Then, with a sharp turn of her head, as though someone had slapped her, she fell silent again.

Who was she? How could she afford to stay in such an expensive place for weeks on end, and if she were wealthy enough to do so, where was the rest of her luggage? Where was the expensive clothing and jewelry? Didn’t she have friends or family, or an employer she needed to check in with occasionally? Maybe she wasn’t rich at all. Maybe the owners of the resort were letting her stay, helping her through a difficult situation of some kind. Maybe she was recovering from a broken heart. Maybe she was hiding from someone. Had she killed an abusive husband and escaped with his money? Maybe she had been the secret love interest of a handsome, rich landowner in Mexico until discovering he was already married—just like in the telenovelas—or maybe she was a foreign spy between assignments, awaiting instructions before jetting off to another exotic destination to seduce and poison a diplomat who had learned too much. Despite the careful way about her, the woman seemed entirely sure of herself. Maria wondered if there was a pistol in the handbag. She hoped so.

Presently her eyes wandered again to the woman’s body, coming to rest on the dimpled hollows at the top of the firmly mounded, athletic buttocks. She reached around her own waist to touch the base of her own back, wondering if she looked the same there: she had a similar build, similar frame. But Maria had never seen her own naked backside. She certainly would never lounge about in the nude. It was a marvel to her that any woman could be so comfortable allowing a stranger to see her that way. She herself would have been much too ashamed. It was the way she was raised, she supposed.

The woman opened her eyes—she was staring directly at Maria, studying her with a piercing intensity.

Maria flushed. Fighting her reflex to look away, she stood straighter, taller, feeling naked herself under a scrutiny that seemed to see through her clothes, through the fabric of her very thoughts—but she had nothing to hide. Nothing. Finally, the stare softened into what appeared to be a pained melancholy, as if Maria perhaps reminded her of someone. The woman smiled faintly, almost apologetically, and rolled over languidly to expose her front to the sun. By the time she closed her eyes again, the smile was gone.

Maria hurriedly finished making the bed, her heart racing. She gave a final fluff to the pillows and wheeled the cart out of the room, her thoughts still tumbling. Before closing the door, she stole a last, lingering look.

She was pushing the cart down the hall toward the next suite when she recalled that she hadn’t been to confession in months. She wasn’t sure when she would go again, but she was sure that when she did—if she did—she wouldn’t tell the priest about the woman in Suite 117. There were just some things a girl wanted to keep for herself.

*           *         *

The world outside was visible only through the mesh screen covering the face of the sweltering black burqa. She was struggling to work her way through a crowd of thick-bearded men and wild-eyed boys shouting and gesticulating in righteous anger, many with stones in their hands as they pushed forward for a clear shot at their target, a short, writhing object set in a clearing in the mob’s midst. At first impression, the living thing appeared to be a stunted animal with no legs—but it was a fully formed teenage girl, buried to her waist, her legs encased beneath the ground, her hands and arms bound tightly about her exposed torso. A thin sheet had been tied around the top half of her body, but the cloth had been partially ripped away by the sharp stones and the girl’s struggles. Blood poured from gashes on her face, head, and shoulders. The side of her skull was already partially caved where a large rock had smashed against it, an eye hanging partially out of its socket, the cheek beneath the eye torn through from mouth to jaw. The girl was wailing, pleading for mercy as she weaved and ducked vainly to dodge the hurled missiles. But the stones continued to land in dull, unremitting thuds against her clothing and hair, in wet smacks against her skin and bones.

There was no way to reach the girl, no matter how hard she tried. Despite her efforts, she couldn’t force her way through the men. They pushed her back roughly, threatening her with the same fate as the girl’s if she persisted. She tried to speak, to scream, to beg them to stop and let her help the girl, but no sound would come from her mouth. The other women of the village were standing well back, their black, shapeless forms clustered on street corners and in darkened doorways. Not one would come to the girl’s assistance.

Suddenly the crowd dispersed.

The victim was motionless, her eyes still open, a slumped, human gravestone tilted askew in a field of strewn rocks and bloodied chunks of concrete. 

She ran and knelt next to the silent body, cradling death in her arms, rocking the girl, trying to shush away the cries of confusion and terror that lingered in the air, sounds she could still hear in the silence, sounds she would always hear, sounds the girl would never make again.

“Shh . . . shh . . . it’s over now, it’s all over . . . it’s okay now . . .”

But then there was more screaming in the distance, and she got up and ran toward the girls’ school, as she always did. The school was on fire, as it always was, surrounded by the cordon of religious enforcers holding the hysterical, pleading mothers at bay, proclaiming censoriously that the girls’ heads were not properly covered, that they couldn’t be allowed to exit, they couldn’t be allowed to be seen in public in such a state—the law stated it clearly. A man standing nearby shouted angrily that the girls were not supposed to be going to school anyway, that they properly belonged at home, that the fire was Allah’s punishment for the sin of seeking knowledge instead of obedience. The girls pressed desperately against the padlocked gates and windows, screaming to be let out as the smoke and flames took them one by one.

She pushed through the cordon and ran to the gate, where she tugged, tore and twisted at the padlocked chain with her bare hands. An enforcer on horseback was bearing down on her from behind. The girls begged her, clutching at the sleeves of her burqa through the gate, screaming as the flames grew unbearably hot and the scorching chain blistered her hands. She could hear the steaming, snorting breath of the horse behind her as she begged for someone, anyone, for help—but there was no one, no one to stop the evil, no one to stop the horror, the injustice, the insanity. . . .

She awoke in a panic, her eyes flickering open, squinting at the hot orb above. Anxiously, without moving, she closed them again, trying to remember where she was, what had happened to her, trying to identify, to assess—

My name is Paige Keller. I’m an American. I’m at a resort, on a hillside. The hill is on the north end of a valley, a valley in northeastern Nevada. I am safe here. I’m back in America—I’m no longer in danger. No longer in danger . . .

Yet the sound of the horse’s wet snorting had been too real. She couldn’t shake it. She focused on relaxing her mind, slowing her breathing.

How long had she slept? How long had it been since the maid left?

The frequency of the nightmares, which nearly always played out the same, had begun to abate somewhat. It had been four or five days since the last episode—but here they were again today, in the middle of the afternoon. She wondered if they would ever let her be, or if they would plague her for the rest of her life. The enforcer on horseback was a new element though—and she realized that her internal antenna, acutely attuned to danger, was still crackling ominously.

She heard the horse’s snorting again.

Without raising her head, she determined that the sound had come from the far end of the lawn. Feigning being asleep still, she shifted her head slowly, just enough that she could see, between her lashes, the hedge at the lawn’s end, while in her mind’s eye she measured the distance to her purse in the nightstand by the bed.

A movement through the hedge’s upper leaves revealed, beneath a black, round-rimmed parson’s hat, the face of a young man. His eyes were dark. He had a short, squared-off beard with no mustache. To his left, visible through the leaves, the head of his horse shifted nervously. The man’s eyes were flitting along Paige’s naked body, his expression torn between lust and loathing.

Without covering herself, she sat up abruptly and stared back at him. The flash of guilt on his face settled into a sneer—he spurred his horse and rode away noisily.

She rose, walked unhurriedly back inside and locked the doors behind her. After showering under hot water, then cold, she sat on the bed and tried to read, but couldn’t concentrate.

Though the hedge was less than four feet high on the lawn side, the maintenance path running along the outside, lower on the slope of the hill, was a good nine feet below the hedge’s crown. If the man had seen her by accident, he could have ridden on. But this one hadn’t. The fact that he hadn’t ridden on wouldn’t have bothered her so much except that, upon being caught, he hadn’t shown even a modicum of appreciation for what he was seeing. His response had been quite the opposite. And there had been something else, something in the sanctimonious censure of his expression that reminded her too much of the behavior of other men in other places.

She shook it off. An hour earlier than usual, she dressed for dinner. To her customary, casual ensemble she added a pair of modest freshwater-pearl earrings and a simple, matching neck chain, its single pearl resting at the base of her throat.

*     *      *

Her regular and preferred bartender was coming on duty, swapping out cash drawers with the day-shift bartender, the latter an unflappably staid and well-mannered gentleman, graying at the temples, immaculately groomed. The young woman replacing him was in her mid-twenties, tattooed and pierced, her body art mostly hidden by the long sleeves and starched white collar of her black-vested uniform. Save for the small silver ring in her eyebrow and the discrete silver stud in her nose, her numerous piercings had been left unfilled, an acceptable compromise, presumably, with her employer’s standards for appearance. Her close-cropped, ink-black hair was highlighted with a subtle but unapologetic purple streak through the left side, a contrarian gel-tipped bang swept low across her forehead. Belying her edgy externalities, her face was unlined and innocent, her almond eyes as calm as a lullaby.

“Hi, Sandal.”

“Hi, Paige.”

Without looking, Sandal had already found her a tumbler and, in the same motion, had scooped it full of ice before adding a liberal shot of top-shelf vodka retrieved with her other hand. While the day-shift bartender minded his bar with the dependable decorum of a butler’s pocket watch, Sandal ran her bar with the efficient precision of an experienced assassin. She and Paige had exchanged no more than brief pleasantries over the term of their relationship, but Paige was already convinced that if she were ever in a fight, she would be more than comfortable with Sandal having her back, or her side, or her front.

“How was your day?” Sandal asked.

“Fine, until about an hour ago.”

Sandal frowned, capping the tumbler and shaking it. “What happened?”

“While I was sunning, I had a visit from a gentleman on horseback, peeking through the hedge. I might not have minded except that, by the look on his face, the creep apparently didn’t approve of what he was seeing. And it wasn’t that he didn’t like my body type. Actually, I think he did—and he disapproved nonetheless, or maybe even because he liked it.”

“By chance was he wearing black, with a black rimmed hat?

“Yes—you know him?”

“Maybe,” Sandal frowned again as she poured the vodka into a martini glass, adding a splash of olive juice and two speared olives. “It could have been any one of them.”

“Any one of whom?” Paige asked.

“Of whom?” Sandal gave her customer a raised eyebrow and a sidelong grin. “Another clue to the mysterious lady’s identity.  But if you were a copy editor or an English professor, you couldn’t afford to languish so long in my gilded grotto.” She set the martini in front of Paige, turning it just so, leaving the olive spear pointing exactly to two-o’clock.

“And if you ever open your own bar,” Paige retorted, “you could call it Alliterative Libations.”

Sandal smiled broadly. “Maybe, but not in this town.”

“So, I’m to assume there’s a whole pack of peeping Toms on horseback roaming these parts?”

“It’s worse than that, unfortunately.”

Paige took a sip from the martini, which was perfect as usual. “Do tell,” she urged.

“They’re kind of hard to describe. It’s complicated. But really, you shouldn’t be worrying your lovely head over it. I’ll inform management of the incident, and you can be sure that you won’t be bothered again. You’re here at The Sophia to relax, and we’re here to make sure you can do so. I’m sorry you had to experience that today.”

“It wasn’t a big deal, it’s just that I . . . that he . . .” she trailed off, but didn’t care to discuss it further, calming herself with another sip of her drink.

“Please don’t dwell on it a second longer, hun,” Sandal said, her eyes soft and kind. “If the bastard comes around again, I’ll take care of him personally.”

Paige looked at her askance. Sandal gave her a wink.

“I believe you would,” Paige said. “But if you do, you have to promise to let me help.”

Sandal only smiled and went about wiping down the bar.

“Thank you, Sandal.”

“You’re welcome, Paige.”

Paige glanced at the copy of the novel she’d brought, a murder mystery set in South Africa. It was a well-told tale and she was well into it, but for the first time in weeks, she found herself reluctant to bury herself in a book again at the first opportunity.

“Are you ready for something to eat?” Sandal asked. “Maybe an appetizer?”

Paige nodded, finding herself suddenly hungry.

“Would you like to see the menu?”

“I’ll trust you.”

After setting flatware and a napkin for her guest, Sandal disappeared into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later carrying a small china bowl on her fingertips. She set the steaming, artfully presented fare before Paige with a playfully servile flourish and a nod.

“Would mademoiselle trust me with selecting a wine as well?”

“Yes, that would be lovely, but—” Paige breathed in the aroma—“what is this?”

“Try it.”

Paige did. “Oh . . . my . . . god . . . this is . . .” Her body was melting from her tongue to her toes. “Okay, tell me,” she insisted, taking a second bite.

“It’s a little something the chef created this afternoon. I thought you might like it. It’s a ricotta and chickpea ravioli in a parmesan wild-mushroom and truffle broth.” She poured a glass of a silky, soft-hued red wine—“Try this with it.”

“Ah . . . oh . . . yes . . . thank you. That works perfectly. A Burgundy . . . A Givry, or a Gevrey-Chambertin?”

“The latter. Very good!”

“I’m never leaving here,” Paige said between bites. “Ever. And you have to work here forever. This will be our routine every evening. You will feed me and pair the wine, and we’ll have witty conversation, and the rest of the world can rot.”

“As delightful as that sounds, I’ll agree to it only if, in turn, you’ll wait on me hand and foot every day at lunch.”

“Sorry, can’t do it. I’m afraid that would cut into my sunning and reading schedule.”

“I suppose you’ll just have to keep tipping me damned well at dinner then, won’t you?”

Paige couldn’t help but smile, her first of the evening, her first in too long.

“Ah, there it is. . . .” Sandal smiled and winked, pleased with her accomplishment.

Paige wanted to launch a retort and thought of several, but she was too busy enjoying the ravioli, the wine, and the company. She could feel the warmth of the room caressing her—the richness and solidity of the mahogany, the comfort of the barstool cushion, the warming and soothing atmosphere—the fire in the fireplace, the soft music in the background. It had taken three weeks, but in this place she was healing. From the very walls around her, from the moment she had arrived, she had felt the embrace of a benevolent, gracious hospitality, as though she herself were the sole beneficiary of the intent that had designed and created the retreat that was The Sophia, as though it were all just for her.

She and her new friend made small talk about the food, the wine, the cute waiter who kept finding excuses to pass through, the spring weather. At the high-desert elevation, the days were typically toasty warm, the nights refreshingly cool. The flowering plants around the property were in bloom—Sandal could hardly believe that Paige had yet to get outside and tour the resort’s gardens. She made her guest promise to do so.

For Paige it was good to talk again, and at a normal, unreserved volume, to be conversing unreservedly in English with a native speaker with whom she could cut loose with any American idiom that might spill off her tongue. And so she talked, hearing herself chirping away about everything and nothing, like a lovesick teenage girl. It was good to be home. It was good to be eating so well. From room service, she had been ordering simple sandwiches and salads as her system readjusted to Western fare. Her previous meals off the menu had been quite good, but this evening’s offering from the chef’s own hand, with Sandal’s wine pairing, was from a higher, exalted realm.

Sandal had brought out a second course—braised short ribs with a Cabernet  Sauvignon reduction on a bed of trumpet-mushroom risotto, accompanied by haricots verts sautéed with almonds and capers, paired with a single-vineyard estate Cabernet. Paige could only nod wordlessly, humming her appreciation. It was minutes before she spoke again, between bites.

“So—where did you learn wine?”

“My father used to keep a few racks of mysterious, dusty bottles in the basement. We were accustomed to having wine at dinner growing up. He taught me the basics. I think my parents were into it because they thought it was very European. The wine almost made up for being raised vegetarian.”

“Oh—sorry.”

Sandal laughed. “It’s okay. I can still make a vegetarian lasagna that would make you never want to go back. I learned more about wine in the restaurant I worked in prior to coming to The Sophia. The chef here has taught me the rest. I’m always learning.”

Dessert was a dark chocolate pot de crème with beurre noisette and warm beignets. An elderly gentleman and several couples had ventured into the restaurant proper for dinner, but Sandal and Paige were still alone at the bar.

“Well, you’ve thoroughly spoiled me tonight,” Paige said, adding real cream to the coffee Sandal had French-pressed for her.

“I think you needed it.”

“If you only knew. . . .” Pleasantly sated, she felt the most relaxed she had been in years. “You know, I think I’m ready to stretch my legs a little. Is there anything in town worth seeing?”

“I’d show you around myself, but I’m not off until eleven-thirty. You can take the lane out through the front gate and walk down a few blocks through Old Town—the gardens around the Victorians are pretty this time of year. You’ll end up at the plaza, our town square. It’s early—most of the shops will still be open.”

“It’s safe then?”

“You could say that. In Aurelia, if you left your purse sitting on a plaza bench it would probably still be there three hours later, that is unless someone had it in hand, trying to track you down to return it to you.”

“It seems an unusually nice place.”

Sandal shrugged. “If that’s what you’re into.” At Paige’s questioning look she changed the subject. “I’ll talk to management about your visitor today. Be assured it won’t happen again.” She smiled convincingly but seemed to have cooled a degree, as if in retreat from a line inadvertently crossed.

Paige added a healthy tip to the check and signed it to her room. She rose to leave, feeling a momentary, urgent desire to go to the girl behind the bar and to embrace her, and even more urgently, to be embraced in turn. How long had it been since—? In a crushing flash, she recalled that the last human she had embraced had been dead. She pushed the memory down and stayed on her side of the bar.

They exchanged warm, polite farewells. Paige left her book with Sandal for safekeeping. Crossing the lobby to The Sophia’s front doors, she realized that, despite it all, she was beginning to feel—normal. And normal was good.

*          *          *

Sandal watched her guest walk out of her bar and back into the world. She picked up the bar phone and pressed the top button.

“Yes?”

“Mrs. Hale, it’s Sandal. Do you have a moment?”

“I’m in the garden. Do you need for me to come in?”

“No, ma’am, but one of the guests had a problem today.”

“Yes?”

Her phone in one hand, pruning shears in the other, Sophia Hale listened while continuing the careful snipping of her roses. As her bartender related the incident, emphasizing the rider’s apparel, the shears’ blades paused mid-air. “It was an Angel then?”

“It must have been, ma’am.”

“Thank you, Sandal. I’ll take care of it.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.”

Sophia ended the call, sighing in consternation.

Hearing her tone, the Great Pyrenees lying at her feet raised his big white head alertly, scanning the property, a low growl in his throat.

“It’s okay, Jax,” she said, scratching him between the ears. “I’ve got this one. Thank you, though.”

The dog lay down again, keeping an eye on her with lingering concern.

The gardeners maintained the grounds in pristine condition, but they weren’t allowed to touch her prized tea roses, the more delicate varieties of which she had brought out of the greenhouse only a few days ago, now that the danger of late spring frosts had passed. She had been looking forward to her quiet time in the garden, but Sandal had been right to call her.

A tall, slender woman with silvery blond hair, Sophia Hale carried herself with a poise and carriage more often associated with ballet schools and society ballrooms. Strangers often mistook her gentility for aloofness and her magnanimity for weakness, but her friends knew her to be entirely unpretentious. Those who crossed her learned that she could be as tough as gunmetal if necessary. Before her parents had sent her to private school in the East, she had birthed lambs in the dark hours, mended barbed-wire fences in the middle of thunderstorms, and on the distant reaches of her family’s ranch, shot mountain lions from horseback without hesitation or regret. As a fourteen-year-old, she had single-handedly chased off a gang of cattle rustlers, firing shots over their heads and at their feet, leaving holes in the tailgate of their truck for good measure.

After marrying into the Hale empire, she had helped design and oversee the building of the eponymously named resort, and from the property’s first year, The Sophia was consistently rated second to none west of the Mississippi. Though still classified as a boutique hotel, over the years its occupancy had doubled in size, with the addition of the third floor of suites, the spa, and the cottages around the garden. The golf course, wrapping around the lower west side of the hill and spanning the river gorge, had been completed the autumn prior; over the past months the company had broken ground on a dozen luxury villa sites above the course on the eastern side.

At fifty-eight, Sophia felt as though she were still in her prime. While her husband managed the balance of the Hale family’s properties and business concerns, holdings that were now six generations in the making, she still loved managing the resort herself, working six days a week when not traveling. On paper, it was true, she was an exceptionally wealthy woman—from the day she married she was neither required nor expected to lift a finger—but having worked the high-desert plateaus of the ranch in her youth, she had spent more than one night huddled under a blanket in a freezing rain, hungry, knowing what it was to want nothing more than a warm, comfortable bed, a hot meal and a dry roof over her head. Few of her wealthy guests had ever known with such immediate clarity what it was to want the simple comforts, but every one of them benefitted from Sophia Hale never having forgotten. She thrived on being the consummate hostess to appreciative guests, providing the ultimate in comfort, peace, well-being and—security.

She snipped another rose stem at a clean angle, holstered the shears in her gardening-apron pocket and placed a call to her security captain.

“Jim, to your knowledge have there been any Angels on the property lately?”

“Yes, ma’am. One of the night guards thought he saw an Angel riding up around the new construction last week, but whoever it was took off before we could be sure. Then yesterday, one of the fellows was riding a big roan right through the valet parking lot like he owned the place. He left the property when I confronted him, but not before giving me a cold stare and a quote of scripture.”

“Do you remember the verse?”

“Yes, ma’am. I jotted it down.” She could hear him shuffling through notes. “Here it is: ‘How hard is it for those who trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God.’”

“I see. Well, unfortunately one of the Angels, perhaps the same gentleman, was peeping through the hedge at one of our female guests in ones of the Valley View suites this afternoon.”

The security captain swore under his breath. “I’m very sorry, ma’am. I’ll adjust our procedures and increase the rounds. With your permission, I may need to hire one or two more guards and install a few more cameras.”

“Do what you need to do, Jim, but see to it that it doesn’t happen again. I’ll be making another call to the Church. Please keep me apprised of any future incidents. The Angels are not allowed on the property. No exceptions.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She disconnected and placed a second call. A secretary answered.

“Brother Lundquist’s office.”

“Good evening. This is Sophia Hale. Is Reverend Lundquist in?”

“Brother Lundquist is preparing the Sunday sermon, ma’am. He cannot be disturbed. May I take a message?”

“Please let him know that it’s Sophia Hale. He’ll take my call.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but he can’t be interrupted.”

“Young lady, may I ask your name please?”

There was a hesitation. “This is Sister Tina, ma’am.”

“Sister Tina—I appreciate that you’re doing your job, and I’m sure that you do it very well, but Reverend Lundquist is going to be quite upset if he learns that I called and you refused to put me through. Now please do as I requested.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Sophia walked up the stone path toward the gazebo, Jax following. She wondered what interest the Angels could possibly have in the new construction and how they might have accessed the area. The road to the villa sites—the lower, paved portion of the old mining road leading to the top of the hill—was accessible only through the golf course gate, which was always shut and locked at night. There was the lane and the path between the golf course and the resort proper, but while the resort’s front gate was open through the evenings, it was well monitored. All other accessible segments of the property’s perimeter were fenced. The fencing along the front of the golf course, though, was low enough that someone on horseback might—

“Mrs. Hale, it’s so very nice to hear from you today. To what do I owe the pleasure?” The deep timbre of the pastor’s voice never failed to excite a small tremor in Sophia, quite against her wishes.

“Reverend Lundquist, I would like to—”

“Please, Mrs. Hale, if you won’t call me Brother Lundquist, please call me Brother Cole—or, really, just Cole. I’m the last man on earth who should be revered by anyone. Only our Lord and Savior above is deserving of reverence.”

“Reverend Lundquist, I believe we had a conversation last autumn about the presence of Angels on the resort property.”

“Why, of course, Mrs. Hale. I hope that they haven’t been inconveniencing you again.”

“It’s not a matter of inconvenience, Reverend, but of respect for private property. I trust that you haven’t been encouraging the congregation to commit trespass.”

“But of course not, ma’am—”

“This afternoon, one of your Angels was seen looking into a private suite here, and either the same gentleman or another was confronted yesterday riding through the valet parking lot. There may have been other, less blatant incidents over the last months, but this seems to be an escalation, and it’s unacceptable. I hope that we won’t need to get the sheriff involved.”

“Oh, of course not, Mrs. Hale, and I am so sorry. I can assure you that breaking Man’s law is the last thing the Angels want to be doing. As we discussed before, the Angels do have their own ways, and as you know, they’re tasked with helping keep our sacred valley safe—I’m sure they’re simply trying to help keep an eye on things—”

“And as we discussed before, we have our own security, and we’re perfectly capable of calling the sheriff’s office when and as necessary. I trust that I won’t have to mention it again.”

“No, no, of course not, ma’am. I was completely unaware that they’ve been on the property again, and I ask your forgiveness. You know, the younger lads can err out of zealous dedication to the mission from time to time, but I know that their hearts are in the right place. I’ll see to it that they stay off the property in the future.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re so very welcome, ma’am. I hope we can still look forward to seeing you in church again Sunday morning? You were quite lovely in your blue dress last Sunday. It is new, yes? I don’t believe I’ve seen you wear that one before.”

“If you have the same music group perform again this Sunday as last, I’m afraid I’ll have to pass. My ears could barely tolerate it.”

“Oh, yes—Thorny Crown. Well, they were a bit of an experiment, you know, and just between you and me, those kids aren’t to my particular taste either, but today’s young people seem to respond to that kind of music style, and we’re always trying to find a balance, you know, to inspire the youth to praise God in whatever musical language they know and are comfortable with, particularly to draw in the kids who aren’t already Flock. I believe the group was to be on the program again this Sunday but—now that you mention it—I think you’re entirely right, Mrs. Hale, and I thank you for bringing it up. Perhaps we should save the more contemporary music for Friday night youth services.”

“I think that that would be a wise choice. I’ll look forward to your sermon on Sunday. I hope it’s as inspiring as last Sunday’s.”

“I’m so glad that you enjoyed it, ma’am. All credit and praise to God, of course. I am humbled whenever He chooses to speak through me to His flock.”

“Until Sunday, then, Reverend.”

“Yes, ma’am, and—if I may, one more thing, ma’am—and I’m really sorry to bother you with this, Mrs. Hale, but I was meeting with our attorneys this morning, and they mentioned that we haven’t yet received a signature on the authorization for access through the property for the Passion Procession next Friday. I know the document is just a formality, and I’m sure it’s entirely unnecessary after all these years, but still, attorneys being attorneys, they insist that we should keep dotting our i’s. . . .”

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t have received it yet, Reverend, but I suggest re-contacting our legal department to see if the document has perhaps been mislaid or overlooked. My husband usually takes care of that kind of thing.”

“Of course, of course—we just want to continue to be completely respectful of the family’s wishes, and we were just hoping—well, I assume that there isn’t any problem. . . .”

“Not that I’m aware of, Reverend, though we haven’t discussed it.”

“Okay, well—we’ll check again in the morning then. Thank you, Mrs. Hale. God bless, and I’m delighted we’ll be seeing you again Sunday.”

“Good evening, Reverend.”

Sophia was never quite sure how much of Cole Lundquist’s solicitousness was genuine kindness and how much was due to the substantial donations she made to various church projects. She had been happy to help fund the Church’s community health clinic, the food bank, and several foreign mission schools. It was only of secondary benefit that her generosity gave the family influence in matters such as the Angels’ activities and with local government departments and commissions, in which there were nearly always church members in positions of influence, right up to the city council. It was leverage the family used sparingly and tactfully, but as necessary.

She paused in the gazebo to watch the sunset. The edges of the brushed cirrus clouds were turning violet. The sun itself had disappeared behind the Garnet Range, where the snow in the northerly crevices of the upper reaches would remain well into July. The mountains’ long shadows were marching slowly across the valley floor, swallowing the curves of the river that snaked through city, absorbing the grids of homes that extended southward towards the reservoir. The glass-faceted jewel that was the church cathedral was already darkened, save for the top of its towering spire and cross. Ahead of the shadows, the sunrays reflected in fiery orange bursts from the windows of the taller buildings and the houses dotting the eastern hills, and for a few short minutes, from the panes of the Hale mansion itself, set in the grove of pinyon pine on its own private hill. Except for the staff, the house would be empty now, with her husband still at the office and her son not due to return until tomorrow. She was in no hurry to leave for home.

She hardly considered herself a convert to the church’s brand of religion—her parents had been staid Episcopalians, and she herself was not attached to any particular denomination or creed—but admittedly, she found comfort and uplift in the sermons and in the sense of community and extended family amongst the congregation. There were times in one’s life when one needed comfort and uplift. Above all, with rare exception such as during last Sunday’s service, she did enjoy the music, which could be rapturous, especially when the choir sang. Especially when the soloist was Skye Emberly.

She stood in the gazebo until the sun shone its last, reflected from the tip of the cathedral’s cross.

*          *          *

Cole Lundquist composed a text on his phone: The Sophia property is off limits for now. Will discuss at morning meeting. Bathem.

He sent the message and waited for confirmation.

Bathem,” came the immediate reply.

Blessed are the meek . . . B-a-the-m . . . Among members of the Flock, Bathem was the good morning and the good night, the hello and the goodbye, the call to worship and the command to obey. Bathem! The benediction and the banner—

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

The pastor had finished composing the Sunday sermon an hour before Mrs. Hale had called. He was particularly proud of his latest script, a sustaining call to hope in deeply uncertain times, with the promise of a new dawn after even the darkest of nights. With some fleshing out and reworking, it would make for a good chapter in his next book.

When the secretary had interrupted with the call, he had been perusing a magazine interview to which he now returned his full attention.

The subject, Denver Fleming, was the leader of the valley’s clique of environmentalists. In the interview he alluded obliquely to the imminent launch of another legal battle in the valley, though he wouldn’t divulge his target or any additional details.

Fleming and his cohorts had been a thorn in the side of the Church for nearly two decades, first over water rights for the Flock’s residential developments on the south end, then over the alleged negative effects the new Bible college would have on local resources and infrastructure, then over the construction of the new cathedral itself.

Fleming had claimed initially that the site for the cathedral—though it was squarely in the heart of the Church’s campus, where several outbuildings had been in use for over a century—was located on what was claimed, with only scant anecdotal evidence, to be an old Indian burial ground. A further protest was lodged that the cathedral’s considerable height would block or interrupt too much of the community’s views of the Garnets, with a threatened suit against the city if it granted a variance to zoning height restrictions. Fleming’s efforts had cost the Church two years of legal and political jockeying prior to the cathedral’s construction and several millions of dollars in the purchase of adjacent view-blocked properties. Then there was the considerable time and money spent for the anthropological excavation, which had turned up only a few broken arrowheads, some gnawed antelope bones and part of a rotted woven basket. The Church’s board of deacons speculated that Fleming and his cohorts were likely gearing up to contest the construction of the additional Bible college dorms. The building site was on previously undeveloped land near the river; it was rumored that Fleming’s group had managed to discover a rare species of salamander that existed solely along the valley’s riverbanks.

Cole’s long fingers drummed the edge of his desk in a slow, deliberate march. When he let the magazine drop into the wastepaper basket, it fell with the photo of Denver Fleming, wearing his signature fringed buckskin jacket and bolo tie, lying face up.

“Dear Lord, may Thine enemies be brought to their knees before the bright light of Thy glory. . . .”

He unfolded his limbs from the high-backed leather chair. Being unusually tall, standing was less an act for him than a process. As a teenager, his physique had been considerably awkward, but he had grown into being an eagle of a man, with dark, angular features and a commanding presence before which women swooned and men faltered.

From the northerly window of the parsonage office, he looked toward The Sophia. His eyes lifted to the hill rising above and behind it, the prominence dominating Aurum Valley like a throne at the head of a great royal hall. In contrast to the lushly green, irrigated grounds of the resort and the golf course, the hill’s upper two thousand feet were a waste of stone, sand, boulders, loose scree and smatterings of clinging, scruffy sagebrush. An old dirt road climbed and crossed the face like a long bootlace, rising in a long slow grades and tight hairpin turns, winding to the barren plateau of the peak.

To Cole, who had dreamt the most vivid dreams of the wondrous beauties promised in Heaven above, the barren hill at the head of the valley was the most beautiful sight on Earth below. For it was the Prophet Obadiah’s hill. It was God’s hill.

A verse from the sacred hymn began to flow from his lips, his voice a deep, lustrous baritone—

As the Prophet has prophesied, so shall it be,
When His Flock is humbled and on bended knee,
When His Cross is raised upon yon mountain high,
The Age of Christ’s Reign upon Earth will be nigh.

 “Soon, dear Lord,” he whispered prayerfully, “let it be soon. The lambs of Your Flock cry out to prostrate themselves before the majesty of Your glory. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Bathem.

 

Enjoy chapters 2-14 of A New Eden

in Kindle or paperback

now available on Amazon….

*          *          *

*

Copyright 2015, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.

Are you enjoying the story so far? Your comments, feedback, and social-media shares using the options at the bottom of this page are greatly appreciated! Please let me know via my Facebook page if you have any difficulty posting comments here.

ALSO AVAILABLE: All of my published fiction is available from my Author’s Page on Amazon here….

Amazon list 042515

ENJOY THE FINEST IN ROMANTIC REALIST ART

at QUENT CORDAIR FINE ART ….

the only way

Genesis, Part I of Idolatry

FeaturedGenesis, Part I of Idolatry

Genesis, Part I of the Idolatry series, is the first segment of an epic tale told in five parts. The story begins in the twilight of the Roman Empire as a sculptor struggles to keep an 800-year dream alive while honoring the love of his life and raising his adoptive son….

*  *  *

CHAPTER 1

THE BOY WAS STANDING on the summit of the hill above her, the spring grasses waving at his feet, his white tunic carving clean against the azure sky. He was waiting for her, hands on his hips, smiling his irresistible smile. She ran up the hill to join him, her feet barely touching the ground.

Whether she had fallen or knelt when she reached him, she neither knew nor cared – the musky scent of his sandal leather mingled with the pungency of the earth between her fingers and the sweetness of wildflowers twining through her hair. She lifted her eyes to follow the arching line between his bare shin and supple calf, the skin as smooth as polished marble. A soft wind pressed the folds of his tunic against his thighs, hollowing a vale between them. His hands were asking for hers – her fingers were found and encircled by the warmth of his own. She hadn’t realized how cold hers had been. From her knees, she studied the knot of his belt until, as he raised her to her feet, her gaze was drawn upwards to his chest, to his lips, into his eyes – eyes that were shining orbs of hazel agate flecked with umber and gold, rimmed in moss green. Her gaze flitted from one iris to the other, marveling at the minute differences between them, delighting in the detail, while his eyes studied her own, penetrating more deeply –

“Sira . . .”

Her name came on the breeze dancing through his bronze curls, a dark-flamed corona pierced through with brilliant rays from above.

“Sira . . .”

She was too close to his lips – she didn’t dare look at his lips, though the heat of his breath was between her own. She gasped as he lifted her into his arms and began to spin her slowly around, and as the heavens turned above his head, she fell deeper and deeper into eyes from which she could conceal nothing, wanted to conceal nothing. He was breaking through every barrier within her and soon would know everything –

“Siranush!” Her mother’s voice snapped her back into the present.

The cacophony of the bazaar rose in Sira’s ears, the babel of voices climbing and tumbling, the clangor of copper pots and bronze ware, the clinking of silver coin. From the street came the bleating of goats and sheep, the crack of the crop against an oxen’s dusty flank, the grind of wooden wheels on paving stones.

She blinked and regarded the length of fine white wool in her hands: it was the same swath of fabric she had been folding when left in charge of their stall by her mother, now returning, with her basket filled with fresh chickpeas, ripened olives, dried apricots, mint sprigs and flatbread.

“Less dreaming, Sira. More selling.”

Sira sighed and pressed her nose into the piece of bread her mother had torn off for her, still warm from the oven. The figs and cheeses of the farmer in the stall adjacent were beginning to tempt – either would be good with the bread, both would be better. She tried not to look at them. From the stall opposite, the fat Phoenician who sold donkey saddles was still leering lasciviously, while his wife, not more than a teenager herself, glared daggers at the younger girl from around the edges of her veil. Sira closed her eyes. The vision of her lovely young god had slipped away like a startled stag into the forest.

She scanned the heads of the crowd in the bazaar, searching for the boy’s curls – but today, he was nowhere to be seen.

Checking her reflection in the polished bronze hanging from the tent pole, she tucked an unruly wisp beneath her plaited braids and adjusted her ivory hairpin. With eyes as large as dates, their irises as dark and richly shining as her hair and lashes, she had learned to use her other gifts judiciously. A mere hint of her smile was usually more than sufficient to secure all the attention she might desire, and often, unfortunately, more.

That morning she had donned her coral-colored tunica and belted it with her favorite sash, a brilliant blue silk from the distant East, trimmed in gold brocade and embellished with six pairs of finely embroidered birds that flitted and played across the blue silk sky. While her family was far from wealthy – over the years, privation had too often been the unwelcome guest at mealtimes – Sira had always been allowed to select her apparel and accessories from the best of their inventory: the better she looked, the more she sold, and today, she had never looked better.

She could feel no guilt over the daydream. That morning she had already sold more fabric and cookware than the rest of her family had sold the whole of the week before. Her brother had disappeared again, to gamble with the boys in the alley; her father was likely sitting under a tree or leaning against a wall somewhere, exchanging news and gossip or bartering with the craftsmen and other traders for new stock. It mattered little to him what the goods were, as long as they were of good quality and saleable at a profit down the road. Every few days or weeks the family would break down their tent, pack up their wagon and join another caravan, to travel the old Roman roads to the next town that would accept them. From Constantinople to Antioch, from Ephesus to Neocaesaria, in towns large and small across the breadth of the Eastern Empire, Sira had sold kitchen utensils, aphrodisiacs, buttons, brooches, goats, carved wooden boxes, spices, honey, scented oils and ceramic pots. She hated selling dried fish. She loved selling textiles, clothing and jewelry. The trove of fine silk her father had acquired for a pittance from a cash-strapped Sogdian trader was a rare treat, by far the best fabric yet to pass through her hands. Her enthusiasm for the luxurious textures and rich colors was infectious to prospective buyers.

Or to most of them. Yesterday, she had been attempting to accommodate a fussy man who was flipping through her fabrics dismissively, disheveling her carefully folded stacks, mussing the samples hung neatly from the cross poles, complaining that nothing was quite the right hue and finding flaws and imperfections invisible to mere mortals. She had been on the verge of asking him if his mother had had the same keen eye, and if so, why she hadn’t traded him away as a child to the slavers for a couple of chickens, all things considered, when she glanced up to see – the boy.

He was standing in the middle of the street, staring at her intently, looking as if he had just found something he hadn’t realized he had lost. Pedestrians detoured around him. Cart drivers cursed him. How long he had been standing there watching her she didn’t know. Casually, she brushed her fingers through her hair: the fresh white lily she had tucked there that morning was still in place.

By the time the fussy man had moved along to be disappointed by the farmer’s fruits and cheeses, the boy was walking away, nearly out of sight.

Sira had thrown a quick excuse to her mother and followed him.

She trailed him through the bazaar and beyond, into the town’s central square, in the middle of which was an elaborately carved marble fountain. As the boy passed it, he touched his fingers to his lips and raised his hand in a saluting kiss.

Sira hadn’t ventured as far as the square before, her family having arrived in town only a few days earlier. As she neared the fountain, she found herself slowing.

It was hardly the largest or most ornate fountain she had ever seen, and she had seen many in her travels, yet the more closely she approached, the more captivated she became. Its lower tier was composed of four remarkably lifelike elephants, facing the four winds, water spouting from their trunks, each creature captured in its own motion and mood. The southerly elephant was stomping in agitation, trunk cocked high and to the side. The easterly animal was bracing defiantly, head lowered and ears back, trunk pointing outwards. She circled to the northerly creature, who bore its burden with resignation, its trunk swinging low. The westerly elephant was the youngest of the four; it seemed eager to trot away at the first excuse, ears perked and flapping happily. She thought the elephants magnificent. She wanted to name them all and feed them and ride the youngest to the sea, where they would sit together in the sand and eat pistachios and watch the waves for hours on end.

The elephants were positioned between four columns, each of which was exotically adorned with bundles of reeds, Egyptian motifs, and capitals of palm fronds. A herd of small antelope peered out from around the columns. Some nibbled on the reeds; others drank from the fountain’s pool. The elephants and columns supported a wide, spouted bowl, around the rim of which lounged the figures of three graceful girls of about Sira’s age: one lay prone, her chin resting on her clasped hands as she admired her own reflection in the water below; another was supine, her leg bent and raised at the knee, her arm hanging loosely off the side of the bowl’s rim, her face to the sun; the third was sitting with her knees drawn to her chest as she contemplated the fountain’s central figure, which stood majestically on a stepped circular dais rising out of the upper pool.

The rendering of the elephants, the antelope, and the three girls was so masterful as to be nearly beyond Sira’s ability to grasp or accept. Surely these living, breathing beings had been turned to stone in an instant by the Gorgons and they would spring to life again the moment the spell was broken. But when her gaze had risen to the top tier, she felt as if she herself might have come under the Gorgons’ spell: her feet were rooted to the spot where she stood. She couldn’t take her eyes off of the figure of the woman above.

At any moment, the woman’s name or title would spring to mind. Sira was certain she recognized her – yet, she couldn’t remember. . . . She was a great queen, or the wife of a dignitary Sira had met, or a distant relative, or a friend of her mother’s – but no, perhaps this was a goddess of whom Sira had not yet heard. . . .

The stone of the fountain was unblemished, practically new by all appearances, barely weathered – which struck Sira as strange: she realized she had never before seen freshly carved, new sculpture in the round. Apparently, it just wasn’t being done anymore. She thought to ask her father why this was so, why the only other such sculptures she had seen, save for the occasional frieze on a government building or mausoleum, was weather-beaten, crumbling or partially destroyed, why it was that the beautiful fountains and statues were always old, deteriorating and historical – relics of the past – and how it could be so, when this could be done? The fountain was perfect and gorgeous and young and uplifting, as fresh and bright as the dawn after a rain-washed night.

Scattered about its lower rim were offerings of flowers and fruit, but there was no clue to the figure’s identity, no identifying prop or symbol. The woman was dressed simply but elegantly in the classic tunica, stola and palla. An exposed swath of the tunica, from the shoulder to the waist, was so sheer and revealing that the woman may as well have been partially nude – the nipple of her right breast and her navel were clearly visible beneath the transparent stone fabric. Flanking the figure, on the steps below, were the figures of two young boys, one sitting, the other kneeling, each holding a tilted amphora from which water flowed and converged to cascade down the steps and into the pool below. The woman wasn’t tall, yet she seemed to stand taller, and more comfortably so, than any sculpted figure Sira had ever seen. Her chin was lifted slightly, arms held loosely to her sides, hands relaxed. She was regal yet approachable, worldly wise yet light of spirit, nothing more and nothing less than a woman standing in the place where she stood, the whole of the earth as her kingdom and home. Sira found her enchantingly beautiful, shiningly intelligent, passionately feminine, faultlessly virtuous – all that a girl could want to see, all that a girl could want to be.

For Sira, it was turning out to be a most extraordinary and wondrous day, and in such a remote, nondescript town, no less. When her family had entered the town’s gate, the place had promised nothing beyond the ordinary, and now she felt as if she were falling deeply in love for the second time within the hour, first with the boy, and now with this woman –

The boy . . .

She caught a glimpse of his curls disappearing into a street off of the far side of the square. She groaned, hesitated and, taking the white lily from her hair, laid it next to a blue lotus flower that someone had left next to the fountain’s lower bowl. She looked up to the woman again, longing to spend at least a few moments more with her. She could have stood there forever. “Wait here,” she said, and she ran to follow the boy, laughing as she realized she had just spoken aloud to a statue of stone and, moreover, had told it not to move.

Read more…

Genesis cover art 051115c

50 reader reviews; 4.9 out of 5 STARS….

A reading of my poem *Character*

A reading of my poem *Character*

(you can follow along with the words of the poem below)

Character

The shuffling line from dock to deck
Turns up the plank to ticket check.
Those early on the rails above
Wave wanly down to ones they love;
A long look down to ones they love.

Mark the ship, her lines and seams,
A welding of designer’s dreams
And builder’s craft—but is she true?
Or will she break against the blue?
How will she fare against the blue?

New captain there, high on the bridge;
A ship so large, his privilege.
It’s whispered that he’s wrecked a few,
Though smaller craft, that much is true;
Not one his fault, that much is true—

Or so it’s sworn by this fresh crew
And owners old with lifeboats new.
All’s well insured with fading ink,
They reassure with touch of drink;
The trembling calms with touch of drink.

The seas ahead are known to swell,
Lift up to heaven, drop to hell,
Loom overhead till pounding down
To crush the air until lungs drown,
With howling winds until lungs drown.

Threatening isles with teething breaks,
A glancing scrape is all it takes
Across a careless bearing laid—
The reckless bet by all is paid;
The helmsman’s due by all is paid.

The wise will eye both ship and man
To measure both with skeptic scan.
The sea cares not for sentiment
Or fervent prayers to heaven sent;
It swallows prayers to heaven sent.

In character of steel and mind,
In ship nor man a weakness find,
On oceans’ floors, if truth be told,
There lies more faith and trust than gold,
There lies more hope than gold.


Copyright 2016, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.

Burning the flag and other sacred things . . .

Burning the flag and other sacred things . . .

In light of the flag-burning statement by the president elect, I’m making my short story THE MATCH free to download for 72 hours, through Saturday, midnight Pacific. In the story, several items are intentionally burned — items even more sacred to many Americans than the U.S. flag. Should such actions be outlawed? Many would say “yes.” In the protagonist’s situation, what would you do? (The Kindle reading app is free to download to any device too.) ~ https://www.amazon.com/The-Match-ebook/dp/B00CTWYBKC

113016a