Synchronized Chaos October 2021: After Some Thought

Welcome, readers, to October’s issue of Synchronized Chaos. Each of this month’s submissions comes from a place of considered perspective. Whether through the craft or the subject matter, these authors show they have taken some time to reflect on what they have to say.

Blue stylized image of a nondescript person's left profile staring off into the clouds.
After Some Thought

J.K. Durick considers our warming climate as an example of how we are sometimes late to realize what is truly important.

John Hicks’ descriptive narrative poetry reflects on the dislocation of Vietnam War service through a soldier reading a newspaper on his day off. In his second piece we ride with his speaker on a crowded bus with various local people to visit a Thai temple. Robert Thomas contributes a rich tale of watching the centuries-old Palio horse race among different neighborhoods of Siena, complete with characters, history, and local color.

Jeff Bagato encourages us to step back from our human productivity, take a lesson from the cycles of nature and rest for a season. Oona Haskovec turns to withered grape leaves for an extended meditation on navigating age and decline with grace. Jack Galmitz also contemplates the passage of time in pieces with natural scenes as backdrops to the pageant of our lives.

White person sits down and looks through a scrapbook that has color photos of children.

Mahbub laments tragic deaths in his country through balladic poetry, concluding with a few shorter pieces reminding us of romantic love and nature’s beauty. Chimezie Ihekuna’s collection of screenplays catalog his various thoughts on how to build and sustain a relationship and marriage.

John Culp makes a bold statement on the triumph of his love while Lorraine De Mauro reviews Michael Robinson’s poetry collection From Chains to Freedom, a celebration of his surviving a harrowing life. Ian C. Smith relates stories from an older man recollecting his rough youth after the loss of his father, time in prison and hitchhiking.

J.J. Campbell proffers his signature witty, jaded view of life and would-have-been relationships.

Randall Rogers muses on life and human nature while conveying a healthy skepticism of social institutions. Z.I. Mahmud, in the monthly installment of his thesis on the works of Charles Dickens, explores how the author satirizes corruption in high places. Santiago Burdon posits a child’s questions to force us to re-examine the founding myths of American society.

Christopher Bernard offers up a dramatic section of his “Ghost Trolley,” an all-ages tale with a children’s sensibility that illustrates the eternal conflict between the lust for power and the instinct towards compassion. Ike Boat promotes a children’s literacy program in his native Ghana.

Old time reel film camera

Jaylan Salah interviews Egyptian film director Amir Ramses on his passion for artistic representation. With an attention to detail that some may call ‘bossiness,’ he illustrates the harshness of societal judgement, the power of residual memories, and the everyday journeys of characters unlike himself, including women and Jews.

Some contributors go beyond meaning to craft language itself like a cinematic work, creating an atmosphere and sensibility with words.

Beach at sunset or sunrise, gauzy yellow light over sand and blue water and sky. Children play on the sand with pails.

Joshua Martin joins strings of words, giving a simulacra of meaning while suggesting the presence of a fanciful ‘speaker’ and ‘mouthpiece.’ Mark Young juxtaposes snippets of sense and conversation, then ends with a statement of loneliness while J.D. Nelson contributes an inventive set of wordy experiments.

Santiago Burdon speculates on what fame and success mean to a writer, while Hongri Yuan (translated by Yuanbing Zhang) brings us back to a place far removed and more glorious than our personal quests for recognition.

We hope you enjoy this issue as food for thought with the changing seasons.

Essay from Ike Boat

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Wide Reading Among Kids – WRAK Donation Promo-Script.

A child can read.
A child can dream big by reading one book.
A child be it from a rich home or a poor home has the same potential to dare to dream.
The easiest way for our beautiful pearls to escape this world into a world of possibilities is for them seeing themselves in stories.
Stories told by locals and in African settings.
Wide Reading Among Kids – WRAK campaign needs you to put a seraphic smile on our little one’s face.

Make your contribution in a form of donation as low as 1 Cedi daily and in one year you’ve blessed a community.
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Originally, Written By Dennis Mann #Founder #President #Director – WRAK.
Re-Written Edited And Studio Recording Voice-Over By Ike Boat

Poetry from Ian C. Smith

Blood Stirring Under Scars

Although memory’s boat has drifted far downstream now I remember a movie directed by Resnais about troubled memory, others adapted from plays by William Inge, Paddy Chayefsky, characters living in boarding houses, but alone, clocks ticking, repressed sexual energy, longing; Cheever’s stories, sadness of the human heart, days draining into the gulf of middle age.  I also strain to remember staying near a train station, some storm of my own, some calm, leaving almost-love, airy dreams, behind.

A publican’s spoiled daughter with a taste for carnal excitement who resembled a Toulouse-Lautrec model, liked Elvis Presley, averted her head to exhale smoke, showcasing curls on her nape, hair in a top-knot.  Tracing her after so long, I ambushed logic with foolish assumptions, a wrong address.  You could blame addiction to quietly dramatic tales, wanting two goes at life.

A postal employee in the Dead Letter Office, perhaps a TV soapie fan with an old-fashioned attitude to service enthused by possibilities of solving problems of the aforementioned human heart, placed a newspaper ad that tinkled a tiny bell of memory in a reader’s mind.

I hitch-hiked thousands of miles across foreign soil through the Yukon to Alaska without losing my nerve, yet now, feeling the heft of years, sleeping too much, welcome her answering service, relief a brief respite from angst, my message putting off expectations, but too late to turn back.  Coward, coward, I think knowing not how many blurred, bestilled evenings I have left.

Train arrivals once shook our floor like great wind gusts as we sought each other’s heat.  I again trawl over early chapters, their residuum, questions needing detailed answers.  My agitated phone’s signal engulfs me, trapping a small bird in my chest.  Those trains emerging from the blackest tunnel, those dilapidated days, surge back.  


No Mercy

A thirteen year-old boy wearing a school jumper and gauzy bravado he shall always remember strides towards a beach several miles from his poor family home south of Melbourne, cold, trembling from his latest thrashing.  The gravel road lies quiet but for a lone car driven by a novelist who never stops to offer a ride.

When my father died my mother gave me his wallet, his belt.  He left no memory of kind words.  She knew this.  She remembered.  Inside the wallet, hidden, I found money, too much for the old-age pension, not part of a memento.

The novelist’s family, with their own light aircraft and airstrip, lives beyond the boy’s, all English emigres settling a domain of kookaburras and copperheads.  He has finished writing a book about the fraught end of our beloved world, a world I wanted to experience before it ended, later to be filmed, partly in this area where the posher properties swoon, immaculate, with white horse fences gleaming below a pale moon and its jewels.

Through the long personal twilight I thought about my father’s life, and death, which he feared right until the end.  I thought I heard a man weeping when a bird, seeing only freedom in my window, stunned itself, lay panting on my veranda near a birds-nest fern in a tub before travelling on, a wingbeat ahead of silent cats and certain death.

The car’s sound faded, the boy’s contempt for that novelist, for most adults, parents, teachers, cops, dissolved into shadows at a paddock’s edge, a stray dog passes him, then turns to follow ten yards behind, gait faithful to his, seeking adoption, the boy’s mind running amok through a dreamlike future, that unknown pinprick of starlight we each grope towards.

I fell to thinking about how I found a kind of love, relegated the past, discovered the remainder of my days.  When I returned the banknotes, everything except a cropped photograph of my sister long ago, and small change, my mother’s face stamped her guilty of attempted bribery.  And heartache.

The boy has a pound for each year he has lived, earned, stolen, stashed, his pouch of tobacco, a rage for freedom, for cities’ giddy adventure, thinks he could hitchhike 500 miles to Sydney: in imagination’s kingdom a truck-stop, a jukebox, songs of lonely far-off times.  



Those days furnished no mementos, only hard memories about dreaming of freedom.  Locked up in an historic gaol built in an era of self-satisfaction, of statues, outdated then, townhouses now, we spotted hardened lags wasting precious days in the much larger adult section.  Like them, most of us boys were heading for damnation.  Protocol savage, recent tattoos serving me well, we hearkened back in that pandemonium to times when we were boys as if our collective childhood happened in the distant past.

An infamous murderer, a DJ on the outside, ran our in-(the big) house radio station.  I listened wrapped in a cloak of provisional safety holding a flat earpiece connected to a wire, alone at last, dreaming of freedom, endurance of solitude the best time for me but apparently not for many of the other young offenders between 4p.m. and 7a.m. when we emptied our waste in the cold light, avoiding splash, fetid stench swirling in the air, our reek the only vestige of us in that stink hole free to float away.

Old magazines circulated.  Most boys didn’t care to read, or couldn’t, although they liked the pictures.  Glossy photos of food outraged my hunger for a meal better than degrading.  Swimsuit models caught my eye, my breath.  I devoured word knowledge tests dreaming of freedom using a pencil stub kept in my tobacco, often guessing the opposite to correct answers of multiple-choice questions, otherwise doing OK.  I instinctively mentally corrected spelling mistakes reading the despair, defamation, humour, and of course, rage, in graffiti etched and inked over years into my walls, but I lacked answers.  Still do from time to time, faded tattoos become motifs these remedial years on.

Two boys who hit an elderly newsagent harder than intended when robbing him received crushing sentences, unlike mine.  The younger one, who acted tougher in the yard, was overheard sobbing nocturnally in that silenced madhouse of rage sorrowing for a lost dream of freedom, or the dead man.  Who knows?  I can’t find them on Google, but traced another, a loud, ignorant boy from those drear days, dead now, described as a habitual petty criminal all his life.

There was a girl whose letters had finally caught up with me.  She worked in the city.  On my release, unmet, resolute after a careful countdown, a thing I still do, the raw cry of a tram rattling towards the bright city surged my young blood.


Ian C Smith, P.O. Box 9262, Sale, Australia, 3850.  <>

Fifth installment of Z.I. Mahmud’s thesis on David Copperfield and Victorian society

Discussion On the Plot, synopsis and setting of the novelist Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations 

Fundamentally, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations immortalizes satirizing constitutional democracy, parliamentary reforms bill, labour rights’ and prison amendments through reformation of genteel characters as gentleman. Marginalization and exclusion both extend suffrage of these fictional characters; they accomplish the triumph of success and prosperity of Dickensian doubles or juxtaposition with regard to indigenous or hybridized gender, caste and ethnicity. The publication of “The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin” theorized or reinforced Dickensian novel Great Expectations compelled characterization undergoing cataclysmic degeneration or progressive evolution.

“Through all my punishments, disgraces, fasts and vigils, and other penitential performances, I had nursed this assurances.” These lines expostulate the infernal despotism of injustice and tormenting tyranny, grieved by the biographer or the protagonist.  Firstly, churchyards symbolize deathly gallows or gruesome grimace and secondly, prisons symbolize the exploited or persecuted power. Sepulchral graveyard with tombstones and the dramatic encounter with the prisonship or hulk escaped convict memorializes Charles Dickens’ juvenile infancy –the symbolic immaturity. Through freemasonry sympathy or affectionate tenderheartedness, the narrator embodies Abel Magwitch as the marginalized or underprivileged distinction.

Intellectual liberty or freedom of education enables readers to interpret that this aspect Miss Havisham abandons ever since jilted by her fiancé Compeyson twenty minutes past nine.  “She an’t over partial to having scholars on the premises […] and in partickler, would not be over partial to my being a scholar, for fear as I might rise. Like a sort of rebel, don’t you see?” The narrator doesn’t want to be governed by institutionalized authority that penalizes the rural village folk community. These majority of oppressed from injustice and victims of presentment becomes marginalized as minority by administrative power, aspects of wealth or finance-the symbolic evil menace. Dickens references to “savage young gentleman contrasts ”“wild beasts” symbolic of modest aggressiveness and profound explosiveness respectively. Abel Magwitch’s Gentleman Compeyson, the sham involvement in feud reflect Dickensian demonic that needs to be polished. This misty marshes or moors scene foreshadowing contrasts with the feud of Satis House, Pip challenged to duel with Herbert Pocket, “the pale young gentleman” ere in the novel.

Moreover, Dickens’ Great Expectations turning point plot twists renders to the advancement of society from the threshold terminal of the sub-urbs to the absolute cosmopolitanism. The narrator or biographer’s migration embodies aquaintanceship with Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer. Beknownst of the stranger’s eccentricity Mr. Jaggers. “smell strongly of soap” body fragrance and the incessant “washing of hands” memorialized by the incidental wedding feast of Miss Havisham’s party. Dickens allegorizes British imperialism, English the parliament and justice system through the obsessive washing of hands as a psychological mechanism to persecute criminals from corrupting or impure him- this symbolize despotism in shrewd criticism. He consorts with vicious criminals and even these ruffians are terrified of him. Although a criminal lawyer-ironically symbolic impenetrable exterior [Mr Jaggers can be characterized as pragmatic, dark, professional and arrogant] Mr. Jaggers was bestowed with the sponsorship or patronage to be Pip’s counselor and guardian. Benediction of wealth and fortunes intrigued Mr. Jaggers to solicit family Havishams’ or Magwitch’s lawsuits of legacy.

“Jaggers has an air of authority not to be disputed” and “a manner expressive of knowing something secret about every one of us that would eventually do for each individual if he chose to disclose it.”  Wemmick’s remark further elicits disposition of Mr. Jaggers when he says, “as deep … as Australia.” Mysterious Molly, the wretched savage caregiving or civilizing was happening by and by. Subtlety of detrimental knowledge pertaining to the appraised Molly’s persisting  existence. The hero’s Great Expectations should be fulfilled by solicitation and purchase of shoes and suits embody the perpetual condescension as a gentleman-symbolic of cultural assimilation to consumerist London.  “Through good and evil I stuck to my books.” and “I had a taste for reading, and read regularly so many hours a day.” Education of Victorian England and passion of learning exemplifies the Dickensian spirits of Shakespeare’s reading. The narrator subconscious acquiesced privileges of attending the tutorship of Herbert Pocket. Even Magwitch dreamed of being a gentleman despite being a fierce rebel; nonetheless, he wanted to embellishing prospect to mould Pip as a young gentleman. Moral regeneration lacks in the apprenticeship of Orlick [“He should never be thinking”] or education of Drummle [“half a dozen heads thicker than most gentlemen”] respectively.    

Poetry from Mahbub


 The Laden Sour Grapes
 It has been a daily matter to us
 Just after the night when the sun rises and call the birds
 The sound of lamentation levitates in the air
 I come across, don't I?
 Pretending not to see or hear
 We step down to the other
 Some walks on uttering Allah! Allah!
 Some walks on uttering Hori! Hori! 
 Some walks on uttering God! God!
 Some say nothing but in a hurry
 Some cry - teardrops rolling on the cheeks
 Looking across the leaves of the large banyan tree
 Counting the clouds on the move
 Some sitting on the tong with the vapors of the tea cup
 Storming the matter over
 Some are fetching clean water from the distant tube-well
 Raising so many questions for the dirty supply of water
 Some are discussing on how they see the light of the glory
 Some are experimenting into the abyss of darkness 
 Don't ask them what happened in the last night
 In the meantime someone stands by gasping at the news of death
 The immature pregnant girl married to the brutal monstrous formation
 The brilliant one of fourteen being convinced by her parents
 Without registration to avoid the risk for violating the marriage system  
 Bleeding so seriously from the first time of their sexual intercourse
 Continuously month long bleeding - darkness in her eyes 
 The very young wife informed her maternal grandparent what's happening to her 
 Her husband would regularly like to have her intimacy whispering  
 'This is natural, dear. Don't get so nervous.' 
 Though every time she would cry in pain  
 Her mother in law called on a person who works for exorcising  
 But her husband remained silent 
 Not taking any step for her better treatment
 In these ignorance she succumbed to death 
 On the thirty-fourth of her marriage day 
 The stranger informing this strode out
 Here the world not resilient for art and music
 No flute to match with the deadly tunes 
 Nightmares on the broad daylight 
 Defeats all the challenges of the mythical tyrannies 
 So tired of hearing about the scabies
 O dear, come on 
 Keep your hand on my breast!
 Let's go to sleep
 It's dead of night. 
 Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh
 The Cloud in Lighting
 Life quivers, life interpolates, life's over
 Fuzi, a student of Jahangirnagar University shared her life
 Coming from hundred miles off to her friend's mess at Rajshahi
 How blazing fire the two eyes!
 Crying and crying over the crisis immanent in her life
 Just after her mother's death
 Father married the second time
 But no peace and harmony in her father's second married life
 On the other hand falling in a victim of her lover's betrayal
 She could never make her mind 
 Cried and cried over the matter
 Heavy the heart to the shreds of the cloud in lighting
 She assumed the night proposing for what
 In no way she could make her mind - alone in her bed
 Heard the sound of the clock -----tic, tic, tic
 In this stinging heart beating --- tic, tic 
 The stars at once confounded her eyes
 Why did she come here leaving hundred miles back her home?
 Only to share the problems or do some more on!
 What the twinkling stars whispered in her eyes?
 At once decided to fly over  
 Where she can take rest for ever
 Never to disturb herself or the surroundings
 Flooding the two eyes her friend was exposing all 
 Indicating the hanging body on the ceiling fan 
 Before the police officer
 In a moment the brilliance submerged in remorse
 Would it be reconciled?
 Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh
 Corona, to Reveal the Truth
 Corona brought a lot to know
 The human heart - flowing on the blue crystal water of the ocean
 Or staggering on the turbid one
 Reveals the secrets of wrong and right 
 In the circumstances - deep and light
 When the two names vibrate the wind
 Shahed  and  Shabrina from two different sites
 With the fabricated result on testing for corona 
 For positive or negative
 A chance of looting crores of money bears the weakness of the corona body
 Caught red handed and kept into the custody 
 Flashed the light world wide
 Some local leaders exploit the poor monopolizing the government subsidy
 On the other hand, some come forward opening the heart sky like
 The middle smile on from a little bit distant side
 Just like the water on the arum leaves trembling by the soft wind
 Corona made us known to the unknown the hidden gift
 Deaths and diseases not always for mourning or cries
 Pave the way how to live and fight
 A realization from plus and minus 
 From the colorful water of the shivering leaves 
 The heart that sticks to love or deceive
 Corona brought a lot the things never would come into light. 
 Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh
 The Love Bird
 You are my love bird
 Colorful butterfly 
 You are my evening glow
 A soft condition of mind
 When the old grope for their sticks
 And walk towards home
 What a pleasure you fly here and there around me!
 Swarming the bees and calling the birds in my garden
 I come across the light out from my lonely chair
 The haunted fear calms down into the dancing light  
 Oh, my finger's joy!
 No thundering storm
 In this soft moderate weather
 I fly over the land wherever I like to go
 Again and again every time
 I find you in my dress I am wearing
 And take a seat on my head or hand 
 My world where I round about.
 Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh
 On the Bend (1)
 Life is always on its move
 Just the river we see taking the bend
 Molding the light of the sun and the moon
 The shades of the tress, green memory of the plants
 So many flowers smile on the soft wind
 The sweet note of the birds, the swarming of the bees
 The colorful butterflies and the restless wandering of the little babies
 A place for living you and me
 Blissful the sight of the setting sun
 What a harmony in all the objects of nature!
 On the Bend (2)
 Behold the trees uprooted and the burning branches
 A tell of sadness lies in firing or cyclone
 Changed the way of the river's flow
 Overflowing the lands and the houses
 Deaths and diseases mend the monochrome   
 Life is always on its move
 Just the river goes by its own through the bend.

Christopher Bernard’s latest Ghost Trolley chapters

The Ghost Trolley: A Tale for Children and Their Adults

By Christopher Bernard

Chapters 11, 12, and 13

Chapter 11. The Altar of Ramora

            But Petey was nowhere to be seen, and they ran blindly on.

Petey had gone off like a shot after the Korgan kids, just managing to keep them in sight as he caromed through the crowds, mostly of soldiers, but also of women and children, civilians and elderly, horses with six legs and donkeys with three ears and odd-looking draft animals he had never seen before: something that looked like a cross between a camel and a giraffe, moving ponderously under a pile of domestic furniture, including a strange kind of piano with a tuba stuck to its back and a stove as long as a sofa, and other creatures, apparently used in battle: one looked like an ostrich covered with armor and with the head of rhinoceros, and another one looked like a flattened hippo with the head of a pig and the beak of a crocodile; it carried a kind of Gatling gun with barrels spread in a circle, slowly twisting like a pinwheel on its side – a strange weapon made to kill everything in a 360 degree circle, leaving alive only the gunner and the piggy hippo crocodile to tell the tale: all of these were either the results of manipulating genes (he had heard about that in school) or different evolutionary paths taken in this weird world called Otherwise, just as the Creels’ strange speech was no doubt the result of a different evolution of language.

But he had no time to wonder about these things. Smoke wafted across the camp like an army of ghosts, burning his eyes. He looked back once or twice, looking for Sharlotta and the others. Maybe this had been a bad idea. But it was too late to turn back, and he ran ahead, afraid to lose Bang Bang and Blue Moon in the confusion.

But they were nowhere to be seen.

They had run in the direction of a distant iron-like skeleton of a tower toward the south; maybe that was where he should be going. But first he had to find Sharlotta and her brother and sister.

Then he saw the strange religious thing he and Sharlotta had seen moving through the camp earlier. The Altar of Ramora (as Sharlotta had called it), stood silent and still, draped in black and red, with the crossed lightning bolts rising above the gathering smoke like a gleaming symbol of a dreaded power. Standing in front of a huge tent with spire-like towers, crowned with the forked lightning, at each end, like an enormous temporary temple or church, it loomed ahead of Petey unguarded in the melee, left there after the completion of the macabre ceremony they had witnessed ,like an abandoned float at the end of a parade, and he ran toward it.

The bottom of the altar was surrounded by a kind of apron drape, and Petey slipped under it and huddled there, pulling up the drape to peer out at the turmoil unfolding outside.

After a few moments of watching, he slipped out and called, at the top of his lungs, “Shar-lot-ta!” then scurried back under the altar.

In all the turmoil, no one seemed to notice what must have sounded like a name that sounded very suspiciously un-Korgan-like name – especially given the suspicious fire.

After a moment, Petey slipped outside again and repeated the call: “Shar-lot-ta!” then ran back under the altar. Then he did it again. . . .

Sharlotta and Beely and little Johja were running at random through the smoke and confusion, hunkering down briefly, here behind a tent, there behind a truck, there behind a parked soldier convoy, driven in to combat the fire and control the panic. Bursts of crackling gunfire in the near distance made her blood freeze, and her little siblings started whimpering.

This brought unwanted attention, as some of the adults, mostly female, turned to them with disapproving looks or the kinds of concern Sharlotta knew was the last thing they needed.

They almost ran into an elderly Korgan lady, who turned to them with a worried look on her wizened face.

“Are you lost, dear?” she asked.

Beely looked like he was about to offer a candid reply, but Sharlotta wasn’t about to let it be known by this woman – no matter how kindly she seemed – just how lost they were, and ran off, pulling the little ones with her.

She wasn’t looking where she was going and this time ran right into someone and fell, taking the little ones with her. Their whimpering erupted into full-throated wailing. Sharlotta, frightened, looked up at the person she had bumped into.

It was Blue Moon, staring down at her with a triumphant grin.

“I knew you were Paonas!” she crowed, in her deep, froggy voice. “Did you set the fire? I bet you set the fire!”

“Quite done!” Sharlotta shouted at her brother and sister, who were wailing even louder. “We not start a fire! We nearly burn alive ourselves! Look my jacket!” And she showed Blue Moon the black smears from the ashes across the bright red cloth, from her burned-down home. “Would I burn myself? And”—gesturing toward her wailing siblings—“would I bring two crybaby along with me if I mean to start a fire?”

This stopped Beely in mid-wail.

(“I be not a—!” he was starting to say when he was interrupted.)

“Maybe,” said Blue Moon, skeptically, ignoring Beely and staring straight into Sharlotta’s eyes, “and maybe not. But I think I’ll call a guard to find out!”

And she raised her hand to her mouth to call out.

“Do not, please!” Sharlotta pleaded. “You be right – we not Paonas, but we Creels, their friends. We be . . .  we be kidnapped!”

Blue Moon snorted. They didn’t look very kidnapped. “Who kidnapped you?” she demanded.

“A soldier with eye-patch.”

This had an immediate, and peculiar, effect on Blue Moon, whose face went slack, her eyes turning strangely cold as they seemed to penetrate into Sharlotta’s own.

A moment passed, and Sharlotta was afraid she had just said exactly the wrong thing.

“You were kidnapped by . . . Orgun Ramora?” Blue Moon asked, with the coldness of an adult, though her voice hesitated before speaking the name, as though reluctant to let its syllables cross her lips.

“I not know his name. We just call him One Eye.”

“He belongs to the royal family.” Blue Moon stopped, to let this sink in. “He is the cruelest Ramora of them all. Everyone hates him. Everyone hates . . . Orgun Ramora of Ramora, for his cruelty, for his lies, for his greed, for his cowardice, for his pride, for his . . .” Blue Moon faltered. Her eyes darkened with a rage that frightened Sharlotta and made the two young ones freeze. “And you . . . you . . . ,” she continued, “. . .  escaped him?”

“Well,” said Sharlotta, “we not escape yet.”

Blue Moon stared at the three of them. Her eyes suddenly filled with a mixture of anguish and an almost icy anger, but Sharlotta wasn’t sure whether the anger was for Orgun – or for them.

Little Johja, who had stopped crying and was staring at Blue Moon with a curious fascination, went up to her and, staring as if for all the world she wanted to console her, put out her small hand and touched the Korgan girl, whose anger seemed suddenly to melt away as she stared back at the tiny Creel.

It was then that Sharlotta heard her name shouted in the distance.

“That be Petey!” she said, peering in the direction of the shout. It wasn’t clear exactly where the shout had come from, and she looked about in confusion.

“It was from there,” Blue Moon said, pointing toward a distant yellow gleam against a curtain of black smoke: a golden X of crossed lightning bolts, notorious symbol of the loathed enemy.

Sharlotta looked at Blue Moon dubiously – could she trust her? What if she was sending them into a trap? After all, she was sending them toward the center of the fire – but then, what alternatives did they have?

Muttering an uncertain “Thanked be you,” she grabbed her siblings and started running toward the distant gleam. She glanced back and saw Blue Moon, who was watching them a little sadly, vanish in a swirl of smoke.

The three children were running against the current of rushing Korgans, so their progress was slow. Sometimes they lost sight of the golden X. Then it would pop up above the tents again, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away, and they would have to turn back toward it again and struggle on. At one point Sharlotta picked up little Johja and let her ride on her back.

Then she heard Petey shouting her name again, this time not far away.

“Come on!” Sharlotta cried out encouragingly as Beely was starting to blubber and Johja was hugging her neck fit to choke her. “We be there, almost.”

And, heedlessly, she ran straight through a troop of Korgan soldiers running toward them.

“Watch it!” the Korgans shouted as the soldiers parted for them. A short, stubby Korgan glared at them.

Then they turned into an open space, and Sharlotta saw the crossed lightning bolts standing against the sky above the priest’s moving altar, and she turned away in disgust. She slipped, pulling her siblings behind her, under a kind of food truck (it looked like) parked nearby, hunkered down behind one of the wheels and peered outside.

Chapter 12. Caught!

Petey was starting to feel discouraged: he’d been shouting his head off for fifteen minutes; they should have heard him by now, they hadn’t been that far away. And he knew he shouldn’t shout an obviously non-Korgan name too often without drawing attention to himself, even in the middle of the mayhem. The memory of the torture chamber made him want to avoid capture at all costs: the torture instruments had been lined up in the dismal cell in a row of increasing terror – One Eye had only just begun his monstrous work on Sharlotta’s poor father, and look what a wreck the Korgan had made of him. Sharlotta had better bring her brother and sister here soon, or he’d have to go looking for them.

Then he heard a pair of little feet running up on the other side of the altar. It was about time!

The feet stopped, then a small figure dunked under the apron, and Petey’s voice, about to call out, stuck in his throat.

It was Bang Bang.

There were half a dozen wooden rollers in the dimly lit space under the moving altar, and Petey snuck behind the closest one, between him and the apron, not realizing that this caused a prominent bulge in the drape outside.

“Paona!” Bang Bang called out. “I know you’re in here – I heard you shouting! Who but a Paona would have a funny name like Sharrr-lut-tuh!”

Petey froze.

Then he heard a strange voice behind him.

“What’s this?”

A hand pulled up the drape, grabbed Petey by the belt, and dragged him outside. Another hand grabbed him by the back of his shirt and yanked him off the ground, and Petey dangled there, about a foot from the ground, facing a short, stocky Korgan soldier in a rumpled uniform and with a scar across his face, which was an inch or two from Petey’s own face, glowering at him.

“What’re you doin’ under the Altar of Ramora, you little—why, you don’t look . . .” the ugly Korgan was saying as Bang Bang scrambled out into the open.

“He’s a Paona spy!” Bang Bang shouted. Then he added, on an inspiration: “He started the fire!”

Of course Bang Bang had not seen Petey light the black tent with his match, nor had he seen Petey set the trash fire to distract the guards before that – he was just guessing. But Petey realized how plausible it all sounded, and his shirt collar was choking him too hard for him to deny or protest with anything but an inarticulate gagging sound.

“Gaggh!” he protested. “Gaggh!”

“What’s he saying?” said the short Korgan.

“How should I know?” said Bang Bang. “I don’t know Paona!”

Then he moved in for the coup de grace. 

“But I can prove it!” And he jumped up and snatched Petey’s cap off his head, uncovering Petey’s blaze of orange hair.

“Gaggh!” Petey protested even more loudly.

The Korgan needed no further proof.

“Just another Paona lie! We know what to do with Paona liars and fire lovers! We give them a little of their own medicine! We let them lie on their own fire! Hey, redhead! How would you like that?” And the soldier laughed uproariously at his joke. “We let them lie on their own fire!”

“That’s right!” shouted Bang Bang, not quite getting the pun but laughing to pretend he did. “That’s right!”

And the soldier jerked Petey by his shirt and started off toward where the fire was raging across the camp.

Bang Bang ran after them, taunting Petey as he swung like a pendulum from Scarface’s raised fist.

Sharlotta had watched the whole scene from under the food truck, which, unattended, had supplied the three of them with a dozen stale doughnuts without holes for a belated breakfast, as they were all famished.

She watched helplessly as Petey was marched off. She so wanted to follow them, but she also had to think of her siblings. It was bad enough to have to abandon her parents till they found an escape route, but she couldn’t abandon Beely and little Johja, however briefly, on what might well be a hopeless mission to rescue Petey – and if possible, pay back Bang Bang. On the other hand, she owed Petey – they all did. And she liked her new friend – he had proven he was a friend – from Howtiz. If only his hair weren’t so orange! 

She could not just let them hand Petey over to be tortured or worse (she hadn’t heard the Korgan’s terrible words but knew he meant Petey no good). She had to take a chance.

“You see them take our friend Petey away?” Sharlotta said, pointing toward the stubby Korgan and Bang Bang and Petey, who hung by the scruff of his neck, like a cat, from the Korgan’s outstretched arm as they moved off.

The little ones nodded somberly.

“Well,” said Sharlotta, in her most grown-up voice, “we must to rescue our friend. And you must promise be very quiet and not make sound, because if you do, we might be caught again, and you know what happen then!”

 Remembering what had happened to his father, Beely whimpered and little Johja blinked hard, twice.

“Not whimper!” Sharlotta commanded. “That be just what I mean! We must be quiet absolute.”

And Beely stopped, in mid-whimper, cleared his little throat and became quiet.

“We must to make no sound, until I say so!” Sharlotta went on. “So – you promise?”

Beely squeezed his lips shut in what looked like a tightly squeezed upside down horseshoe, and stopped breathing.

“You can breathe, Beely – just not make sound!”

Little Johja looked at Beely and then at Sharlotta and blinked hard, and then nodded in solemn silence.

“Breed!” she said. “No sound!”

“Keep close to me now,” Sharlotta said, and they snuck out from under the food truck and went after the departing trio, who she could just see disappearing into the smoke.

Unbeknownst to them, a small shadow appeared from behind a donkey tied up not far from the food cart, and quietly flitted after them.

“Haugh!” went the donkey.

“Oh!” said the shadow, turning back and impatiently untying the donkey, which fled away from the smoke. Then the shadow ran after Sharlotta and the little ones just as they vanished around a corner.

Chapter 13. The Shed

“We got a little arsonist here!” the Korgan cried out as he marched Petey through the camp. “We got the little Paona firebug!”

Korgans stopped along the way and shouted angrily, “What? Who?”

“We got who started the fire!” the stumpy Korgan shouted back.

“You got him?”

“We got him! Here he is! We’re going to burn him in his own fire!”

And they were soon surrounded by angry Korgans marching with them in a small ragged, whooping crowd toward the fire.

“Burn the arsonist! Burn the Paona! Burn him! Burn him! Burn him!”

The soldier, though he was short, held Petey above his head high as he could stretch, where the boy swung helplessly, petrified with terror above an angry sea of Korgan faces, fingers pointing and fists shaking at him. Some of those near him pinched and slapped him. All taunted and harassed the helpless boy.

One of the bigger Korgan soldiers suddenly grabbed Petey and lifted him up even higher, so all could see the malefactor. Petey felt himself starting to cry as he was lurched high in the air.

“Burn the Paona! Burn him now!”

Sharlotta, who, with her siblings, was following just beyond the fringe of the crowd, had, in a panic, for a moment lost sight of Petey, but now she could see him again, stiff with fear, lifted in the big Korgan’s hand above the heads of the mob.

“Burn him! Burn him! Burn him!” the crowd chanted. “To the fire! To the fire!”

And they hurtled in a wave toward the conflagration that was eating its way across the camp like a rising tide, carrying Petey to it like a criminal or a sacrifice.

As the crowd approached the fire through shrouds of smoke, they suddenly halted and parted, and Petey, half fainting from fear and smoke and the heat, blurrily saw a figure he dimly recognized, dark against the flames, come up to the Korgan who was holding him.

“Bring the little imp with me,” the figure, who was covered with ashes, his clothes torn and burned, ordered gruffly. “He’s not alone. Our little firebug helped free the captives. And you know where they are. Don’t you.”

The figure grabbed Petey’s forelock and wrenched his face up until the boy found himself staring, teary eyed, into the face of One Eye.

“No, sir,” Petey whimpered, honestly enough. Right now he felt like he knew absolutely nothing whatsoever.

“We’ll see about that,” said One Eye. And he slapped Petey’s head down with contempt.

“Go!” One Eye shouted at the rest of the crowd. “Help save the camp, or go save yourselves!”

And the crowd, shaking their fists at Petey one last time, reluctantly dispersed. They had missed their chance for a little entertaining revenge, seeing the little arsonist fry in his own fire.

“We have work to do,” said One Eye to the two soldiers and eyeing the fire defiantly. “While we still can.”

Then he stalked away, the two soldiers, the tall one and the stubby one, following with Petey. They marched him to an ominous-looking shed far off from the fire and tossed him inside.

The silence within the dim, foul-smelling shed was profound. There was only one small window, high in the wall and covered with a film of dirt and cobwebs. They might have been a thousand miles away from the mayhem roiling the camp. One Eye clearly had only one thing presently on his mind.

“Now, you imp,” he said to Petey. “We need to have a talk.”

One Eye suddenly grinned genially, looking Petey over from where he towered above him.

“I’ll say that’s quite clever. You almost look like a Korgan kid. I thought all of you Paonas hated dirt, but you’re practically bathed in mud . . .”

“I’m not a Paona!” Petey blurted out.

The Korgan stared coldly at him.

“You do look strange for one, or any of their . . .  ‘friends.’ Wrong ears. Wrong skin. Wrong voice. Above all: wrong hair! What are you, then?”

Petey was a bit startled by the question. He had never asked himself that. He thought for a hard moment. What, in fact, was he?

Well?” the Korgan demanded.

“I’m a little boy!” Petey said, defiantly. “I’m a person!”

The Korgan’s eye screwed into a red scowl.

“A little boy! A person!” he said, with disbelief and disgust, as if Petey had claimed he was a wobbly gnat or the prince of the stars. “Where are you from?”

Petey remembered something Sharlotta had said, then said, speaking carefully, “I’m from Howtiz.”

One Eye’s face went slack for a moment. His expression was inscrutable.

“You’re a little boy from Howtiz, are you? Well, I think you’re just a little firebug liar! I’m a Korgan – and this is how it is!” And he slapped Petey as hard as he could across the face.

Petey’s head snapped back and he saw stars – in different colors, in broad daylight. He had tried to answer the questions as honestly as he knew how – and he was being accused of lying? Petey had never been very good at lying – his parents had always said he was transparent. And now he was being punished for telling the truth? He was shocked and frightened. What could he say that One Eye would believe was true?
         “Now, who are you, and where are you from?”

         “My name is Petey Myshkin Stephenson, and I come from the town of Halloway. It’s in” and he named the state.

         “Never heard of it! How did you get here?”

         “A yellow trolley,” Petey muttered, anticipating another slap.

         “What? Speak up!”

         “A yellow trolley . . . to Otherwise,” Petey said, lowering his head.

        “And how long have you been – in Otherwise?”

         “Since this morning.” Right now it felt to Petey like a year at least.

         “This morning! So you were in it before we blew it up?”

         One Eye was silent for a moment.

         “Yes,” said Petey in a small voice.

         As Petey’s head was still bent in submission, all he could see of One Eye was his muddy boots; they looked just like the boots he had seen in the grass this morning, except they were now also smeared with ashes as well as mud, and streaks of red he did not want to think too hard about.

         “You’re more dangerous than I thought,” the other said, almost to himself. “Or you’re more valuable.”

         There was a shriek outside the door, and the two Korgan guards entered, dragging in Sharlotta, Beely and little Johja. Sharlotta was raging, in full combat against Big Boy (as, in his mind, Petey called the tall Korgan), who was carrying her, and Beely was pop-eyed with wonder and little Johja wailing in the arms of Scarface, who Sharlotta gave a vigorous kick to whenever he got too close.

         “These Paonas were sneaking around the shed,” said Big Boy.

         One Eye gave the new captives a frosty look, recognizing the little ones from his interrogation session with their father that morning. Then he grinned. This was turning out better than he could have conceivably hoped. Wherever the chicks were, the hen, and her wounded rooster, could not be far behind.

         He gestured to a corner. “Put them there.”

         The guards tossed the three children into the corner and left.

         “Let us be out of here, you . . .” Sharlotta shouted at the top of her lungs: “bully!

         “If you wish me to kill your Howtiz friend here,” One Eye said in a quiet voice, gently swinging Petey up off the ground like a pendulum, “please, keep it up.”

         Sharlotta went silent but did not switch off her glare.

         “All we have to do now is wait for the parents,” said One Eye, coolly. “They can’t have gotten very far after what I did to your daddy.”

         At this Sharlotta went red with rage, but kept quiet.

         One Eye – or Orgun Ramora of Ramora, as Sharlotta knew his name to be – stared thoughtfully at Petey, who the Korgan had dropped into the opposite corner, and stood for a long moment, towering above him.

         “You know, young man,” One Eye said at last, his voice suddenly soft. “You and I do not have to be enemies. You do not, in fact, owe these Paonas anything. Look at them—” And he turned and gestured toward the trio—“shivering like cold and hungry animals, weak and vulnerable and helpless. All they have done is get you into trouble. One nasty thing after another! And now you’re even accused of starting the fire. What have they given you? Trouble. What can they do for you? Nothing. Now even your life is at risk. And why? Because of them. It would have been better if you had never met them. It’s a pity. Nothing whatsoever can save them now. But”—And his voice became even softer.— “you can be saved. You and I can be friends. I can protect you and get you out of this . . . this mess. I can convince the crowd outside that you had nothing to do with the fire. They will listen to me. You understand that, don’t you? You believe that, don’t you?”

         He waited. Petey gloomily nodded where he stood unsteadily on the dirt floor.

         “All you have to do,” One Eye went on, “is tell me one thing.”

         The boy, silent and suspicious, stared up at the powerful Korgan. He felt a tug of anticipation. And he also felt remorse, as if he had already, in his heart, betrayed his friends.

         “If you just tell me exactly where the yellow trolley entered Otherwise.”

         “Well,” said Peter, with an ill-timed attack of common sense, “if you just follow the tracks where you blew the trolley up, you can find it out for yourself.”

         One Eye’s face went cold and he raised his hand to strike Petey again. Then he seemed to think better of it and lowered his hand. “The tracks disappear in the woods. They disappear in a tangle of metal and flowers, a cloud of ferns, a fog of shadows. No; there is no way for anyone to find the way to Howtiz that way. I need to know exactly where you entered Otherwise.” One Eye seemed to catch himself, and his voice went soft again: “You can remember that for me, can’t you? Anything at all you remember of the exact moment you came here. Tell me that, and you’ll be free as a bird. Freer! Birds can only fly. But you are a little boy, a person, and you will be as free as the soul – something we Korgans do not have, and for which I envy you. Yes, I admit it: I envy you that!” One Eye suddenly appeared abject, humble, even pained. He suddenly knelt in front of Petey, so he no longer towered above him but was at the level of Petey’s face. “I’ll tell you a secret, just between us. We, all of us here in Otherwise, have no souls. We are only flesh and bone and meat, energy and matter. We are not real. And we long to become real in the only way we can: by entering Howtiz. . . .  I’ll tell you what,” One Eye said, in an intimate voice, looking down at the floor for a moment, then looking up again. He had suddenly looked vulnerable, and Petey almost felt sorry for him. “If you take me to the place where the yellow trolley entered Otherwise, I’ll help you go home, back to your parents and your friends and your family. You can leave all of this behind you, as if it were no more than a bad dream. No more nasty Korgans, no more big, ugly one-eyed jailer. No more fear. You can go home. You can forget that all of this ever happened . . .” The Korgan stopped, paused to consider; then suddenly said, as though just thinking of this, and as if it were the greatest gift he could possibly offer: “One more thing. Not only will you be free. Your friends here will be free too.” He gestured toward the three frightened children huddled in the opposite corner. “You will all be free.”

         Sharlotta, straining her ears, could hear most of this despite the intense quietness with which Orgun Ramora had spoken, and, her mind whirring at an astonishing pace, she suddenly realized the implications: if the Korgan discovered where the yellow trolley had entered Otherwise, not only was Otherwise in danger of being lost, but the world that Otherwise depended on to exist at all – the world of Howtiz – would finally, after generations of conflict and centuries of struggle, be vulnerable to conquest by the Korgans. Everything would be frozen, entombed, forever in Is. And there would be no Otherwise again.

         “Petey! He lie! He never let you free! He never let us free! Not tell! Never tell . . . !”

         “Shut up, Paona . . . !”

         Petey froze, terrified and guilty. He had been on the verge of telling what he remembered seeing as the yellow trolley had entered Otherwise – the old covered bridge in the woods not far from the field of battle – the prospect of escaping back to his home from Otherwise was the greatest temptation he had ever felt. But a little voice in the back of his mind told him, if he did, he would never escape Otherwise alive.

         One Eye, infuriated by the girl’s outburst, slipped off his belt and approached her.

         At that moment there was the sound of stone hitting the dirty window.

         This was followed by a shout, in a strange, froggy, childlike treble, “Orgun Ramora! I dare you to face me!”

         The Korgan stopped and crept up to the side of the glass, flattening himself against the wall, and peered carefully out. His face froze as he seemed to recognize the person outside. He looked down and to the side.

         “Little one . . .” he muttered under his breath.
         Suddenly he glanced to the other side of the window, but too late. A mirror lying in the dirt outside the hut was laughing at him. But the danger was not coming from there, it was from the exactly opposite direction . . .

         An explosion shattered the window and One Eye reeled back into the room, glass shards sticking from his face – a missile had broken the window, piercing his eye – and, shouting in pain, he stumbled blindly around the room.

         A moment later, the face of Blue Moon appeared in the window and she fumbled it open and slipped inside, pressing her finger to her lips so none of the others would give her away. A little sling shot lay over her shoulder. Blue Moon lightly ran to the corner farthest from the broken window and shouted to get One Eye’s attention, while pointing from the others to the open window.

         “I’m frightened, I’m scared!” Blue Moon cried out in false, high tones. “Oh! oh!”

         “You!” roared Orgun Ramora.

         He lunged at Blue Moon, rocking from side to side unsteadily on his legs. She slithered between his knees and ran to the corner away from the window, and squealed. He lunged after her.

         As this crazed dance of the Korgans – one big, blinded, in pain, the other small, alert and making shrill, squealing noises – went on in the shed, the four other children, as quietly as they could (the two little ones had been terrified into silence), crept to the window and crawled out, Petey first with help from Sharlotta, then the two little ones, then Sharlotta herself, as Blue Moon taunted and distracted the raging, sightless Korgan, like Odysseus the Cyclops in the ancient epic.

         Sharlotta looked back one last time before slipping to the ground, just as Blue Moon, with a shard of glass in her hand (it seemed to be bleeding), struggled with One Eye, and just as, as bad luck would have it, he reached out at random and grabbed her by the neck, and squeezed with a surprised cry, “I have you, little one!”

         “Sharlotta!” Petey shouted, and she leapt to the ground, not knowing what happened next inside the shed.

Screenplay from Chimezie Ihekuna

Title: Significance of Life
Adapted from a book by Chimezie Ihekuna (Mr. Ben)
Screenwriter: Robert Sacchi

Chimezie Ihekuna (Mr. Ben) Young Black man in a collared shirt and jeans resting his head on his hand. He's standing outside a building under an overhang.
Chimezie Ihekuna

Genre: Drama/Family

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The book tells the ordeals people go through in life; relationships, marriages and parenting. “An insightful look into situations we could fall into,” Aaryn Smith comments, after reading the book. “Stories of Life Significance” avails readers the opportunity to answer for themselves asked questions in various marriages and relationships they find themselves. Hatter says, “A thinking couple’s love gifts, these stark truths loom over many relationships”. The lessons learnt in the book is, in her words, “Let this then be the crux of life’s truths and possible conversation starter between those seeking to marry”.