34 and Forty Three
One

Having taken care of the necessities they handed the screaming newborn to its mother: Terena Torres, who declared herself delighted once she confirmed there were just the two eyes. Although he would be known as Alex by a few, Terena had him named Alexis, for it was a girl her heart had desired. Arval Torres, the male participant in the genesis of Alexis had no say in the matter, being too often far away.

Within two weeks of returning home with her only child, Terena who at the very beginning loved her son very dearly, hit him; not for lack of compassion but for lack of sleep and a feeling of hopeless despair; for it was beyond cry that her child hurled from its mouth; hungry and somewhat docile he would be fed of breast, eagerly gulping down all and then from a bottle when she was dry; contented he would sleep for an hour's fraction and resume the chaotic assault upon ear and sanity. Hitting him seemed like the last thing to try, it just raised the stakes, his tonsils oscillating with ever greater frenzy.

Since realising she had a child forming inside, responsibility had weighed heavily upon Terena's slim shoulders: she had dreamed for almost all of the child's incubation and still now, although less frequently because she slept so seldom; of a child's red, new born creased face and eyebrows set above three large brown eyes. These dreams now felt almost irrelevant in her mind, her son only had two eyes, now it was the constant screaming, that clawed at her well being.

During the fifth year scolding Alexis with palm, morphed from being a random conclusion of frustration, into a habit. No matter his eager intent, there was seldom a conclusion that pleased, instead displeasure and anger were often the outcome. Although his incessant screaming had stopped shortly before words had started tumbling from his lips, he suffered terribly from ailments that left his skin raw from rashes and the consequent attention of his restless little fingers. A succession of doctors had pushed and prodded young Alexis, turning him this way and that, over and around but defeated in diagnosis, they would try the latest technique for remedying unknowns, sending poor Terena on her way, another scribbled list of medication fluttering in hand. One particular solution: a complex series of plastic bags encompassing his whole body save for head, had the international specialist perplexed: he had travelled by air across a great expanse of water, the result of idle conversation at a conference for the very best in their field; now standing white gowned with the child beneath latex hands, he suspected whoever prescribed these bags, had not intended turning the poor child olive green. Several blood tests and this international specialist with ginger hair and a complexion to match, diagnosed an allergy to the foods of dairies; removed the plastic, prescribed a new ointment and recommended Terena continue the same treatment for his asthma; that had began in the child's second year, considered by most of the white coated to be a matter of stress on the child's part. Within a month Alexis was restored to a healthy pink with less evidence now of the vivid red rashes, courtesy of a diet that carefully avoided products from farms; mostly he missed ice cream. His asthma continued to worsen, for which there seemed no medical explanation; other than some unfathomable trauma. Terena, when asked by the white coated, “What do you think causes such anxiety in this child?”, while straightening her boy`s hair with the tips of her fingers, always dead pan answered; “I think he would benefit from seeing more of his father!”.

By the time Alexis was in his ninth year he had been struck with a fear not uncommon among boys of that age and now more frequently by his mother: having taken to wetting the bed. One night during that year, the bull came to visit for the very first time. Thirty four years later, when the bull made its last visit, he would remember that first with absolute clarity: with skin smarting red from the attention of Terena's palms and tears still wet on his cheeks, his breath rasped as the air destined for deprived blood cells, struggled down to lungs; through a path no wider than the palm of a clenched hand; his mind fending off panic, wide frightened eyes tracked shadows dancing on the pale blue luminance of walls; realised as ghastly shapes of demons and spirits. These walls and their dancing figures would grow about his small form, away up and high, his body shrinking, the skin tight around his bony frame forcing him smaller still; fear gripped his muscles taught around these small bones, his wide searching mouth too busy gasping at air to muster a scream; the room became a universe, high and chambered and suddenly dark with the confines hardly discerned, stars blinked into existence and with his body numb and losing its grip on life; it appeared; the bull: fearsome but not frightening, no torso, just a great head framed by massive curling horns and centred by a large wet quivering snout, that over rolls of flesh climbed towards a large single dark eye; thick dark lips pulled back from yellow wolf's teeth; its breath exhaled, enough to fill a sky with air, its passage a rumble as if reverberating from the very depths of the earth, up through caverns and echoing through mountains and across the rolls of land. It spoke to him, a voice of all time, earthy but sombre and laced with a comforting rhythm; the lips never shaped to form words, they just peeled away from those teeth and then closed down and then parted; the snout blew, the eye constant and seldom blinking, the voice spoke only to his mind, “I will stay as long as I can, I might never come again, one day I may take you with me”; the single great eye blinked once more, the snout snorted and then without explanation nor reason the bull began telling tales of the earth to Alexis and the cadence of the sound in his mind relaxed the muscles in his chest and eased the air into his lungs. It told him the first great tales of time, of the universe and the earth and the gods that came and made the sky through their breath and formed the oceans from the sweat of their toil, the great gods of this earth - at some point his eyelid's became impossibly heavy and after a moments peace he awoke the next morning to the sound of birds singing, the blue of his walls almost washed out by the day's light and the familiar sounds of his mother seeing to her morning chores.

For some time he wondered if he might have dreamed a nightmare as the bull did not return for the longest time. Soon after that first visit Arval returned home and Terena's attention was drawn to his father's well being and comfort. For a brief period as with all these visits during his young hopeful age, there would be these moments that Alexis perceived as family life; looking forward to walks in the forest; along paths guarded by thick green towering high, sometimes these would give way to gnarled old branches, or trunks laying wounded by disease, or toppled by great gusts, or merely naked from nature's seasons but perfect for climbing. Guided by his father and therefore safe from his mother's lashing tongue, Arval would urge Alexis to climb higher, to run faster, to skid and jump in the mud and would be there with a smile and booming laugh; picking him up should he fall or ready to pluck him from branch should he be taken by fear high up. Each night he looked forward to his father sitting him on the sofa and then reclining in his own chair, lighting a long thin cigar before asking him about life, what he was reading? how was school? he was sorry he could not be here more often. Sometimes if Alexis was very lucky his father would smoke the cigar and then challenge him to a game of chequers or an arm wrestle, the last would end in a play fight which Alex never won but he never minded; he adored his father and was amazed at how thick and strong his arms were. Soon enough though Arval's chair would be empty again and Alex would sit on the sofa and imagine his father and of that booming laugh, but Terena would quickly remind of reality and the bull soon returned.

And this is how it was for the next ten years, that in the worst moments with his father long gone and with no sight of return; at night with Terena curled sobbing in bed, her palms still stinging and his body small and alone and losing its fight for life, that the bull would come for a talk. As with all times it would appear in the high chambered room with Alexis shrunk and gasping, after some time blinking and snorting it would always repeat: “I will stay as long as I can, I might never come again, one day I may take you with me” and then the stories would begin, the beat of the voice relaxing his muscles and the air soon freely supplying his body. During the remaining months of that ninth year and through the tenth and into the eleventh the bull told him of the great gods of earth and their magnificent stories; their shaping of this world, the creation of life, fauna and flora and of their bickering, loves and bloody tempests. Through his eleventh year he learned how these gods, desiring the soil to be toiled and wanting greater strength through adulation; created man: their greatest invention and their ultimate folly. For some time earth's gods grew strong and thrived on man's awe; but no sooner had they finished shaping this creature and empowered it with a thinking mind did man then invent their own gods to worship. Having grown dependent on man's adoration, the gods of earth that had existed for all time became weak and diminished into their earth and tended their wounds. As Alex the boy shaped into Alexis the young man, he heard the earliest stories of these men and of their deities that were born of the power in hope through hardship, from the dark recesses of minds that sought control and from belief: man's gods took shape in the world and grew mighty from fearful devotion. Alexis learned of all men's deities and how these grew jealous of each other, laughed at and ridiculed their earnest subjects and then instructed them into battle against each other; ever ceaseless in their quest for further dominance over reverent minds. By the time Alexis neared the fifteenth anniversary of his birth; he had discovered all time had recorded of man and their evolution and their great civilisations and incredible inventions. So powerful had man become that they had stopped their worship of deities and had grown to think of themselves as gods, as the greater power on this earth. During the 187 days that led to his first kissing a girl and well into his seventeenth year, he learned that through all these millennia, the diminished gods of earth that had crafted this world of their sweat and toil had grown strong again in the warmth of the earth's core. Through each rise of the sun, bright and orange on rock, far below they waited; through each red sunset they plotted and watched carefully over the evolution of their creation and its destructive ego, waiting for men's gods to fade as they themselves had once before; biding their time and then rising, mighty and powerful, restored in nature's eyes to ruin the idols of mankind in the last war of this age; and then they would judge man for their worth.

In the long conscious interludes of those painful years that followed on from that first visit in his ninth and which ended when Alexis left home at the behest of a sweet caress in his eighteenth; life continued as it always had. Arval returned home infrequently for a period counted in weeks upon one hand and then disappeared for months counted on two; gradually it was dawning on the emerging Alexis that his father seemed to have very little interest in the raising of his son, just joy that he was. These years also grew him; now standing eye to eye with Terena, her shame and anger that the small bewildered boy had grown into a young man, that now understood all and looked back at her through contempt filled eyes, which, with impunity she tried to beat out of him, which she always could, but never for long.

School had only served to further alienate Alex from this humanity. Pale and thin, racked very often with exhaustion from the labours of the night and always short of breath, he was a constant target for displaced boys and sometimes girls, that had only aggression to show for their own domestic chaos. His teachers reported him annually as: “quiet and withdrawn but possessed of a limitless imagination that would serve him well, if only he would choose to apply it”. Scholastically he rarely exceeded average despite showing remarkable application in some subjects; his occasional fantastical and very detailed tales were well received by literature tutors but not so well his lengthy and methodical corrections of the histories. His tutors of the last, fierce advocates of the tomes by which they taught, which had been written over a great period of time by men and therefore shaped by man's desire to have history confirm their beliefs, found Alexis contradictory to the point of remedial. A few months after turning sixteen and at the beginning of the period that saw the bull divulging the fate of man and the return of earth's gods, Alexis was ejected from the education system, which had ran its course but with little scholastic proof that he had ever been there, save for the three Rs.

At the insistence of Terena that he find employ and thus contribute to his upkeep and start paying back the sacrifice endured in his parenting, Alexis began to consider options for employ. His delicate physical condition did not lend to labour beneath the open skies and with an increasing desire to avoid people wherever possible, he turned his incredible ability for memory to another of man's great innovations; a machine that could make a great number of calculations and manipulate vast stores of data, according to a list of instructions: Alexis became a programmer of computers, a much sought after skill in his time; despite his best efforts though, Alexis was not able to avoid people in the main, they were everywhere.

Two

In those later teen years Alexis Torres found himself awkward and tall and somewhat thin but not without appealing physical structure, nor was his face hard to look upon. When engaged in conversation people found him in the main to be of little interest, although a few, when discussing Alexis outside of his company would, in mystified tones, equate his detachment from social affairs and lack of interest in the world's current news, as not some failing in intellect but of an existing world weary understanding, mixed with some foresight of its inevitable repeated conclusion; all rather remarkable for someone about to celebrate their seventeenth birthday. Alexis the young man was also not without total appeal to women of an equal or greater age and although not particularly aware or accomplished in the art of union, did find himself the target of occasional interest from females of a particular type: homely with pink cheeks set below long dark lashes, that in turn framed large innocent eyes: girls with inexhaustible supplies of hope and fairy tale dreams.

During his eighteenth year, the interest of one such female led to that first kiss, that so beguiled him: the tender and warm caress of roving pink lips beneath an impish look of mischief, that rendered him powerless of all emotion save for love and devotion. Within a very short time they both came to a whispered decision: Terena first stood over him as he packed; having shouted and then wasted her fists on his immune body, she now just sat in the kitchen with hopeless tears dripping from her chin; years of opportunity to rescue her child's love now lost. Rebecca; the participant in that kiss, who would be the only women that he would ever want for company, laughter and physical solace, also completed the same, although bade her time and packed in an empty dark house, with just a note and two words to mark her passage: she too sought escape from sad tales of childhood, that not even Alexis would ever hear, the sheer thought of recollection freezing the words on her quivering lips.

They both boarded a coach and travelled as far away as was physically possible without crossing water. The journey was spent with expectation in their wide eyes, release in their minds and hope in their hearts. They were two that consumed freedom as a precious gift and therefore motivated by a fear of failing and because of this there was never a doubt, despite struggle, that they would succeed; at least within the realms of their need for happiness. Rebecca; strong minded, willowy and sometimes ethereal but at all times enchanting, had a great skill with her fingers and could craft all manner of objects from blocks of wood, that she would shape with a knife and then link with thread as sinew: her greatest realisation the life like wooden puppet that when finished; she would animate on the kitchen table at the will of string and a wooden stick beneath her magical hands. Soon there was a second puppet and then a third and a fourth much smaller; each took their turn on the table after dinner had been cleared and light had been washed from the sky. Alexis would sit back; her audience while she worked her creations and made up stories that were of love and laughter and sometimes great sadness: with one larger puppet and one small, she told dark tales of sorrow that left tears on his cheeks and ended with the wooden figures collapsed disjointed on the table, her slight frame held tightly in his arms; this was her way of telling her story, that she never could face to face.

His natural aptitude for making machines do his bidding meant his services were much sought after and as a natural consequence they soon joined the mortgaged masses; standing very often together in their long country garden, looking over the patchwork fields that sat at three of the poles; the grown up medieval village sitting at the fourth; which itself was built around an imperious church that had survived almost a whole millennia; a village that had gradually expanded through its modern day additions of housing association estates and converted barns.

Now in his twentieth and she in her twenty first, the following 14 years would be the happiest of both their lives. Rebecca would mould wood as she desired, building a collection of loose limbed figures on the large wooden table of their kitchen, each with individual names and stories of love and happiness penned in accompaniment. She would at first pack all into a suitcase one or two times a year and then take the suitcase around all the villages that skirted the coast and would walk through doors that chimed her presence; shops that sold toys of wood and games for children and very soon the suitcase would be empty and puppets with their stories would be carefully displayed in cheerful windows, that would stop children in their tracks through an appearance of being real and in turn had parents leafing through these stories at night with children sat on sofa wide eyed, and as if by some magic and adult hands holding wooden sticks and string in the air, these puppets would come to life and act out these stories of love and happiness.

Such was the popularity of these puppets that within four years Rebecca had her own workshop at the end of their long garden, of which the walls were papered with orders. After five years she had two helpers: specifically in the realm of ordering and accounting, as she trusted no other in the crafting of her creations. In the seventh year accompanied by these two of their closest friends, Alexis and Rebecca visited a registrar where they made formal through the legal eyes of the land, that which they had known from almost the first kiss: their marriage was known to very few for neither needed ceremony or ring to confirm what always existed in mind and heart. With this cemented she began creating new inventions of which the most popular were the carefully crafted large paper daffodils, that were designed to sit above a child's bed and would each morning, if that child was purely loved, blossom magnificent and beautiful of all the colours of that child's imagination; sometimes orange, yellow, red and purple, occasionally of all these. Each night as the small head rested back on the pillow, looking up at the delicate coloured petals, the flower would close as child eyes grew heavy and return once more as a bud, with the appearance of the fragile paper it was.

Seven years after first shaping a puppet's head with her knife, Rebecca had outgrown the garden workshop. After months of discussing semantics with leading figures of the parish, she found from within a steely determination that finally turned them to her want; with the expectation of increased economy for the community and a good donation for the ongoing restoration of the medieval church; she decamped to the park of industry, that had in recent decades grown into existence between the village and access to the nearest major road. Having license from the start to design this new shop to her mind's want; she had large windows for display built into the front, behind which sat a counter and shelves all around, upon which she lined the toys of her invention, that also now included the most sought after in all her popular creations: the wheel of hope. Through the back of the shop she made space for a small office, into which a person may shut themselves if quiet and peace were required and the rest was left open so that everyone involved in the making of her toys, which had steadily increased now to seven, for it seemed those that had served longest, just by being in Rebecca's company could make all her toys save for the puppets. The finishing touch to her design sat fastened to the panelled roof: a large white sign that could be seen from the main road and in all directions long before you entered the village; on which was written, as if by the hand of a giant child, the name she had given to her franchise: Family Toys.

And it was that the wonder of Rebecca Torres, through no other means than word of mouth entered so many homes across the land and across seas to many others. The toys that her will shaped sat above beds, were enjoyed after meals by offspring and parent, that through the visible indications of their children's happiness and desire for love; families that had struggled but hoped for a salve grew together. For a period of time brightly coloured paper petals would spread open with each dawn as so many fields of daffodils, nurtured by the loving spring sun.

In the middle of the night, just about the time they were building Rebecca's first workshop at the end of their long garden, Alex's eyes opened from a deep sleep, staring up at the ceiling; his breath long and easy into his lungs, the warm breath of Rebecca rolled over his shoulder, her arm careless across his stomach. The bedroom, a mixture of blues and yellows in light, now colourless but possessed of the same objects and patterns, did not appear high or chambered, nor he small and helpless, nor for that matter were there dancing demons on the walls; just simply animated weave of net curtain at the want of a light breeze and a moon's shadow. The great bull appeared at the far end of the room; its one great eye blinked and its snout snorted, its lips pulled back from those great yellow fangs and it spoke to his mind as always; “One day I might take you with me, but not yet my friend, enjoy this time for she is precious and we have just the thirty four!”. When he next saw the bull, which would be the very last time, he would recall that visit with Rebecca asleep at his side, as he did the very first, with absolute clarity. At the time though Alexis mistook the declaration of 'thirty four' to be a prophecy of his age when the bull would finally come and therefore vowed that he would make the very best of the ten years that separated him from that anniversary of his birth; and he did.

With the first of two great works in mind; Alexis first resigned from the employ that, until that time had paid for the roof over their heads and instead sold himself as a freelance wrangler of digital information, which despite infrequent trips to the city meant his time could be directed mostly at convenience. Although not greatly possessed of skills associated with a housekeeper, but infinitely better qualified than Rebecca; he devoted his time to all things that brought that impish grin to her face, not least of which their garden which over a period of two summers and one winter, he transformed into a Giverny of their very own, which they enjoyed, sat upon a blue bench she crafted for the purpose of watching the colourful light of each day dawn and fade.

With the second of his two great works in mind, Alexis sat down in all spare moments and began pouring the bull's tales into a tome that would at completion, take all but three of his remaining days; although if his time had ended in his thirty fourth year, as he thought at this time; this mammoth work would have been left only half finished. This great work: that would one day endure through publication across eight volumes and be marvelled at for the great invention and detail of the stories but never thought for anything other than intricate tales of myth; until almost a millennia later, archaeologists digging through the remains of cities that had been laid to waste in the theistic wars, unearthed within the buried chambers of ancient libraries, copies of all the volumes that were in a remarkable state of preservation. Only then; when these stories were translated into the native tongue of the new civilisations, of which the very first line read, “My name is Alexis Torres and I was born with a third eye. Into these volumes I have poured the accumulation of knowledge gained of all things as seen through this eye”; were all his words shown for their truth in what man knew to have transpired and brought them to realise the significance of these volumes as testament to all man's past and of their future.

Three

And it was, that through Rebecca's popularity in the eyes of salved parents and at the will of incessant little mouths, her shop soon saw an endless procession of visitors that travelled sometimes across continents and oceans and through the flatlands by any means possible, to this magical place on earth. The local parish, seeing an opportunity to boost the church restoration through the sheer weight of visitors and seeing the success through whichever Rebecca directed her attentions, gave her free reign to redesign and expand her shop. With this freedom, she imagined a great haven for those that would come and doubled the size of the park, mostly in the facilitation of refreshment, accommodation and entertainment. With her ceaseless energy, grit and fire she poured all into this last project and had fully realised this dream within two years. For the following four years and then for many after, it was often told that you could hear the song of playing children for scores of miles in all directions.

The secret of Rebecca's gift should not be a surprise to anyone, nor that it was something she could only give; for it was the limitless love that both she and Alexis possessed through childhood, that had pooled inside their hearts but with no outlet had been bound by hope; so that when they first kissed it flowed free between them and because of her pure beauty of self, their magical love melded and imparted with wondrous effect anything she chose to imbue. In that final year; with Alexis happily engrossed in his keeping of house, of food creations and of their garden that resembled a sun dappled masterpiece of colourful brush strokes and well into his writing of times great tales; which he would also recite to her while she lay in his arms during the evening as weariness took her; did some abnormality of cell silently spread from the very core of her, to all reaches. The first pains began as the New Year drew near; by the time of the incessant April showers, Alexis found himself within the disinfected white walls of a centre for medicine; seated disbelieving over the wasted remains of his beautiful life. Her bed was one of a number in a long row that faced across a narrow corridor from another, identical row; plastic tubes fed and anaesthetised against the savage pain of her fatal condition, rain beat soundlessly against the large glazed windows. Her grip tightened around his and for the penultimate time her eyes flickered open and her lips, that had so often warmly caressed his, now thin and tired struggled to form her last request; “take me home”. And he did without pause; pulling free the tubes, binding the wounds and lifting her free of the bed and weighing less, it felt, than one of her beloved puppets, he carried her in his arms, through corridor and through rain and carefully into car and then to their bed. She died the next morning; for the last time she opened her eyes, those tired thin lips shaped around: “my love”. Outside, with thick cloud in the sky and only dim light proof that the sun even existed, the rain stopped and for miles in all directions daffodils of all colours: oranges, purples, reds, yellows and sometimes a mix of all these; that nobody ever recalled planting, burst into life and remained dancing in winds embrace through all that summer, despite the crowds and well into the winter.

Although Rebecca had been known personally by very few, her funeral was attended by so many, of which nearly half comprised of children, that their number surpassed even the most renowned of religious pilgrimages. Helicopters with cameras circled above in wonder; broadcasting to all reaches of the earth, the endless collage of human colour that mingled with the fields of daffodils and even in death, the beauty of Rebecca reached out and healed so many. Such was her phenomenon that the story of her passing was told through generation by word of mouth and then as good news that would continue as legend and then myth, even when there were none alive that had lived in that time, and even despite man's subsequent manipulation of the truth for their own needs, did the essence of Rebecca continue to mend.

Alexis mourned through all that summer of his 34th year and into the winter. Having lost touch with reality and having seen the memory of his happiest years ransacked at the need of media, Alexis abandoned self preservation and a will for life. Each day he rose having barely slept and pushing his way through crowds, would sit within the shadow of the church, leaning against the modest stone that marked her grave and hope that this night the bull would fulfil on its promise, which of course it never did because no such promise had ever been made. This vigil continued in repetition for 187 days, until, with his body emaciated from lack of nutrition and sore from friction between material, stone and flesh; with the crowds dispersed but not washed away by the inclement weather; with rain smacking against grass, mud and skin; did a small willowy figure step through the haze of weather and people. Looking down on his saturated bleary eyed form, she held within her offered hand a small puppet: one of a kind and announced herself as Emily, before allowing her face to break into an impish grin that cast in an instant the cloud and rain from the skies and the wind from the trees. At first he thought his eyes deceived and that he saw the ghost of Rebecca, or that he dreamed of her resurrection: the same eyes set in long lashes, pink cheeks and wide red lips: dear sister Emily that had been taken into the care of their natural mother. Easing himself to his feet and feeling a warmth wash over his weary soul and with a smile now on his face that had not been seen all that year, he smoothed with tender fingers her dark sodden hair. Looking down into the infinite universe of her eyes, he knew then what he must do and after collecting a few things from the house, he left that place forever to embark on his long walk, leaving all in the gentle care of Emily, who through time and deed carved into legend her own story.

Alexis Torres, in general considered humans not to his liking; but in some part needing to confirm for himself the message of the bull, vowed to learn all he could of the human condition; which he did in the main, by any means available; generally by foot or at the courtesy of passers by via car or boat and on two occasions by air. In this time Alexis found himself at all reaches of the earth; travelling through and around breathtaking scenes of nature, sitting with the various tribes of man; revelling in their hope and assaulted by their needs. On occasion he embarked, not usually of his own free will, on great adventures that included running faster than lava down a supposedly dormant volcano; skipping in an ancient red biplane between the misty thermals above the great waterfalls of Africa; waking in a sheltering cave, next to a snoring polar bear; being chased by sword wielding Mafia in an Asian suburb and being rescued unconscious by Bedouin on the shores of Persia, after an incident on a small smuggling vessel in the Mediterranean. At all times whether at roadside sat on golden sunset mud, two stepping on desperately humid trains through sparse sunlit jungles, or huddled beneath the single shaded leaf of the oasis tree, did he keep writing his tales of time; that stored in his back pack with little room for anything else, were steadily increasing in volume; these tomes that even having been assailed by mud, river, sun and on one occasion a billion roving, ravenous termites; always maintained a remarkable condition of preservation. He wound from settlement to town, across river and border, around and over mountain and across ocean; which ended in the ninth year when he stepped onto the golden warm sand of Siam's western shores and mesmerised by the cloudless red sky, that was mirrored in the gentle ocean; realising the truth in all the bull had told him and knowing that his mortal time was coming to an end, he vowed to never again move more than a mile in any direction.

He spent those final three months of nights within a shelter of bamboo and twining sat beneath the clear Siam moon; writing furiously to complete what was so nearly finished. Three days before the bull finally came, he packaged all eight volumes into a large wooden crate, that was carefully addressed to a Dutch American and watched them disappear in a cloud of exhaust fumes atop an ancient flat panelled truck.

Three nights later, while awake, the sea ceased its conversation and the cicadas stopped their song: the bull arrived for the final time. It blinked that great eye, its snout dripped and those dark lips pulled back from those mighty yellow teeth; “One day I told you I may take you with me!”, to which Alexis answered; “I have been waiting for nine years too long!” The bull roared, from such a deep place that the ground shook and the sky filled with clouds; in those last moments he recalled his ninth year: skin smarting red from the attention of Terena's palms and tears still wet on his cheeks; his shrinking body within those cavernous blue walls and the beginning of his time with the bull, through a blur of blue and yellow to his twentieth year and the peace and warmth of Rebecca's breath and her careless arm; realising then that it had always been thirty four years and now in his forty third; having served his purpose, the bull opened its mighty jaws from which brilliant white light streamed and freed him from the mortal shell in an instant. Now rising up high as his true self, the clouds down about his waist and the continent beneath his feet as a patch of mud and sand, the ocean a puddle; looking at all now on this earth through timeless eyes; he saw what man had in store for mankind, which he stepped through and beyond as all fell to dust; towards the outstretched hand of Rebecca, who with a glowing smile beckoned him to their eternal life among a kind that they could count as their own, which they did together, stepping from planet to planet through space and time as so many stones across a river.

End
Submission: 30 December 2006
Revision: none
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