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Outrunning the Storm

Michele Dutcher
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Harris Tobias
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Jeromy Henry
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Gordon Rowlinson

The Exile Song of Lut-Zhul

by Robert Hegwood


When I was alive I sang beneath the wind-spent catkins

Beneath the shading alders to one who answered me beyond the stream.

All morning I tendered forth the courting songs,

Like plum blossoms strewn coral-red upon water darkened stones.

In the evening I rose and crossed between the yellow gates forever.

He who listened and sang back to me of lapis blue pavilions

Took the other road.


Lut-zhul stared at the sparrow lying in the dust at his feet and thought, you are a dead bird. Just as well, living has consequences. He stepped around the tiny corpse and took a few more steps down the path before he collapsed trembling beneath the shade of a wax-whortle. You are a dead bird, he thought, clutching the itching pinions emerging at his temples. You are as dead as Nam Korobo…deader, for you must live with the consequences.


It was just past noon, the sun still a tight pupil of scalding incandescence fixed in the dome of heaven. He would rest here on this the fifth day of his exile. He had been walking since morning, since the first blue light of day after which he was named. That was the best hour for walking, when the sun spread wide in the sky, soft and cool, the day waking from the dark blue of night. The sun shone hotter down here in the lowlands. Maybe it only seemed hotter, maybe only more merciless. Nam Korobo was dead and he is dead because of you, because you had to sing like the fool that you are. Stinking iges you had to answer a song not meant for your ears. Nam Korobo is dead. For mercy's sake let him be dead. And with that Lut-zhul stopped thinking. He only trembled until he slept.


When he woke the sun had relaxed, broadened; its ebbing fury cooled from white hot to just the faintest intimation of red. Two more days remained before he must cross beyond the yellow gates. Walk on the right hand until you come to the Zal-Eyus, the great river that is the eastern boundary of all the lands allotted to his people among the Wohauogul, the avian races. Then go north to the trade road, to the yellow gates. His people, a sardonic purling rose in his throat. Among his people Lut-zhul was iges, outcaste, offscouring, without lot, fit only for the most menial of existences if their high and anointed graces, the "allotted ones" were not unduly inconvenienced. And among the God-owned iges he was an orphan…without family, a son of the wind.  What is lower than a son of the wind iges…a sump in a cesspit? You are a dead bird Lut-zhul.


He found the great timbered yellow gates mid-afternoon of the seventh day. Four gumon with outstretched arms could barely hope to encircle any one of the gate’s eight pillars.  The timbers stood massive, simple and unadorned except for their ancient weathered grain that flowed down their length in bands of yellow and dull gold.  Between the pillars of the gates stretched a gray dusty road. To the left hand it ran straight and true until it vanished in haze across a grassy plain. To the right hand it crossed the broad blue-gray rolling waters of the Zal-Euyus on a suspension bridge. Not far beyond the road crested a thinly forested hill and plunged on into unknown lands among gumon races he had only heard discussed at night over the coals of a campfire…Gorza, Mak-zhou, Topi, Aun, and a dozen others he could not recall.


Four wardens in red robes and yellow sashes stood at the gates. Each nested a white warden's staff in the crook of his arm, the emblem of their office, the font of their power. Two wardens were of the Tsi-yu, his own race, their shimmering green and cerulean feathered pates and curved ochre beaks unmistakable. The third was Kouh, black feathered with iridescent flashes of lapis behind his eyes and on his neck, a corvid derived race. They liked these lowlands. The fourth warden though was of a type he had never seen before, hairy, mustard colored, with a sharp face, high mounted pointy ears, and a mouth full of teeth that grimaced at him whenever he glanced its way. Perhaps it was a Topi or Gorza. He could not tell. Beyond the gates lay worlds of races whose mouths were full of teeth.


Lut-zhul met the strange warden’s eye for a moment, then averted his gaze as did all iges. He had hardly dared so much with anyone since he had witnessed the binding of Nam Korobo in black fetters; when the magistrate’s wardens had plucked every last feather from Nam Korobo’s face before leading him away; when the blood had dropped from Nam Korobo’s cheeks like viscous rubies that shattered along the path to the white cliff. There all sins were expunged upon the sky-road, the road Nam Korobo walked in Lut-zhul’s sted.

He waited until all that was left of the seventh day was a dull orange glede hanging high and wide amid the encroaching blue-black of early evening. When he could wait no longer Lut-zhul handed an eight-sided yellow and black token to the Kouh, who nodded, then lowered his staff, pointing towards the tree covered hill on the other side of the bridge. The remaining three wardens likewise lowered their staves and pointed towards the hill. Lut-zhul, took a step then two, then two more, then two more, again and again, slow stuttering steps upon the gray road as it crossed the bridge. As he approached the midpoint he looked back only to see a glistening confection of blackness being pulled into a broad sheet between the warden's staves which they attached to the timbers of the gates with but a touch. The blackness seized hold of the yellow, grew, and spread into a curtain blotting out the last lingering sight of his homeland. You are a dead bird Lut-zhul; cast yourself off this bridge and be done with it. He extended one four-toed foot over the rushing water, then stepped back trembling, trembling, trembling as he set that foot once more on the road towards the hill that loomed before him a hulking shadow in the night. Living has consequences, and Nam Korobo had traded places with him that he might live. Lut-zhul would live with the consequences.



2013-11-16 09:24:55
Original for sure. Pretty deep stuff. Love the language.

2013-11-14 11:31:36
micheledutcher - Of course I love the rich, full descriptions in this story. Beyond that, the Eastern tone of the piece is a pleasure to read. I was watching an old movie recently and the hero said, "There is no happy ending necessary - this is not an American story." Excellent imagery.

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