The Night Hag’s Poem


Spin and shatter and sweep the clay

With changing clouds and winding days

No work of human hand withstands

Time’s oft-short allotted span

So clay unto earth, earth unto dust

Towers to crumble and ploughs to rust

‘Till wilds run where they once did creep

Through wood and marsh, and scarlet deeps

With changing clouds and winding nights

Raze their fields and drown their lights

Grind clay unto earth, earth unto dust

Towers to fall and swords to rust

Follow, and hasten the workings of time

Hear the fellhorns and heed the signs

Waste the walls of their dead knight

And run them down with claw and blight

No work of human hand withstands

Time’s oft-short allotted span

But know you he who defies time?

Follow, follow, the Wizard of Nine.


Elizabeth Cook, 2015

When I could climb in through your window


When I could climb in through your window

Your bed was a twin with scratched posts

From which we’d tent blankets, to huddle

Over old beads of your mother’s, and stamps

That we cut from used envelopes

When I could climb in through your window

It was a small night-light square in the dark

Through which I would tumble, giggling

And we would join hands at the sill to wait

For fireflies in the goldenrod below

We played at swallowing those wandering lights

And whispered forgotten things through the nights

It seemed like there were more wildflowers

In the days when I could climb through your window


Elizabeth Cook, 2015

High School Boys are PC

Da na na, na na na, Neeeeooooo.

Kou lays out his pencil crayons with precision, the laws of the colour wheel observed (beginning with indigo, as is his preference), before laying out the other contents of his pencil case. It is a new semester and the first day of cultural class in 1-01. He brushes nigh-invisible specks of dust from his new sketchbook.

Yves, Hiroki, and Rob look on with eyebrows climbing up their foreheads. And Yves, realizing that for once he has the chance to make a jab, tries to make one that the other two might appreciate.

Yves: “Kou,” faint laugh, “Kou, what the heck? You’re being prissy, like a girl or something.”

Rob sniggers – Yves waits for the rejoinder. But Kou just frowns. He doesn’t even look at Yves, he stares at his sketchbook and frowns mightily. He selects a pencil. Then he doesn’t speak to any of them for the rest of the day. He stays bent over his sketchbook, even through science in last period, and heads out on his own as soon as the bell goes.

The next day Kou comes to school wearing a purple shirt.

Yves feels a wriggle of discomfort. Kou only wears blues and greys and black and white. Yves’ comment of yesterday simmers and bubbles. Then Kou pauses in his work and takes out a tupperware, which has a pink lid, and he begins eating carrot sticks out of it.

They huddle up two desks over from Kou, all whispers.

Yves: “Isn’t Kou acting kinda girly, all of a sudden? And he’s not even talking to us.”

Rob: “Yeah, like since you said that stuff yesterday.”

Yves: under his breath, “What? You thought it was funny!”

Rob: “Well you said it.”

Terrence: “What’d he say?”

Rob tells Terrence and Eshwar.

Eshwar: snort, “And then it came true!”

Terrence: “Well, if you hit a sore spot…” and his mouth broadens into a smirk, “it’s probably your fault, right?”

Yves: “My fault?”

Rob and Eshwar see what Terrence is about and chime in on the same note. Hiroki also sees what Terrence is about, but chooses to remain bemused.

Rob: “You can’t just say that stuff to people.”

Eshwar: “Way to be an asshole, Yves.”

Terrence: “Go and apologize.”

They have Yves cowed faster than you can say social-justice-warriors. Hesitant, he goes to hover near Kou’s desk. When he glances back, Rob and Terrence and Eshwar are making chivvying motions, and of course it’s when he turns back to Kou that they revert to shit-eating grins.

Yves: “Kou…” Kou doesn’t look up. “Kou, you know about yesterday… I’m sorry I said that, I mean, just because you had things so, um, particular. It’s not like that makes you a girl – unless you want to be, of course! And that would be fine! Totally cool! Organizing things by rainbow is cool too!”

Closer to the front of the classroom, Lana’s head snaps up as she hears this.

Kou makes an annoyed grunt. He stops drawing, leans back in his chair, and finally looks up at Yves. “Did you say something yesterday? I didn’t notice.”

Yves: “Yeah – wait, what?”

Kou picks up his pencil crayon again. Before Yves can process this, Lana comes in like a freight train, leveling a finger. “Hey! He’s not girly for being organized! You can’t be a decent human being in the first place if you’re not organized!”

The others have been listening in, and at this Rob gives a long snort and throws his eraser (which he has not been using anyway) at Lana.

Lana locks onto the eraser and catches it one-handed, a declaration of war. She and Rob glare at each other like stray cats.

Into the mounting tension Kou finishes a stroke of colour, and there is a click of finality as he puts his last pencil back down on the desk. It and all the other pencil crayons are laid perfectly parallel to the edge of his paper. He declares that he has finished his pachycephalosaurus.

His non sequitur fizzles the lightning bolts flashing. Lana carelessly tosses the eraser in the vicinity of Rob’s desk and goes to look at Kou’s drawing.

The next day Kou is wearing his conventional blue shirt. When Hiroki asks him about the purple shirt, and the pink Tupperware, and the vegetables, Kou sweeps his expectant audience with a sneer.

Kou: “That was indigo, you morons. And I don’t pack my own lunch.”

A flip through Kou’s sketchbook would reveal drawings of considerable taste and technical execution.

Afterdays – 4

Continued from Afterdays -3

But far as Don ranged, and doubled back, and took to the water, and came around again, eventually he gained…

For Willa had stopped moving. Many, many seasons had passed without Don’s heeding them. The girl who was no longer a girl had never seen any sign of pursuit, and might have settled sooner, had she been able to find a suitable place which deemed a female of her temperament suitable, however reluctantly.

Yet at length, Willa settled. The spear had been lost somewhere between the last mountain range and the lake of the bearded fish, and Willa had been aged not only by time but by her travels, so that when Don stalked into the seaside village she had borne a child or two, and thickened, and had gotten her hands thoroughly roughened to the peculiar ways of ocean fishing. She no longer looked deer-tail white from a distance. Don might not have known her at first glance were it not for the narrowing of her eyes and the throbbing of his crooked nose.

They stared at one another for a moment, and the village got very quiet. Willa broke and ran.

For his part, Don was sorely disappointed by the changes wrought upon Willa. But this resolved a dilemma which had returned time and again during his marching. He had been of two minds about what to do with her, and what to do in what order, and despite losing the long-anticipated moment of decision, Don had to admit that things were being wrapped up very tidily.

So the hunter went after the woman, scrambling up the sea cliffs, which were thickly sown with jungle all the way to their very edges, dark branches stretching outward over the water. Twilight played the trick of their shadows doing more fleeing and more chasing than their legs, and turned the gulls’ nests ruddy. The birds rose in a deafening swarm as Willa and Don climbed past, Willa still with some measure of her lead, and the gusts from their wings threatened almost to fling her from the rocky face.

It was not quite fair to reproach Willa for running along the jungle’s edge when she reached the top of the cliff, but he did not anyway. She would have done better to stay on the cliff or to go straight into the jungle, thought Don derisively, who came up and over the cliff, already running. There was so little brush in his path that he could run nearly at full tilt.

This poor judgement illustrated that Willa had somehow survived despite knowing nothing. Don herded her onto a promontory with ease and stood there admiring the neatness of the box he’d made. Twisting trunks and vines hanging thicker than his leg towered behind him, a titanic darkness lurking, while to the west, in one hemisphere over the cliffs and the water, twilight was turning to sunset in sweeping flares of defiance. The changing of sun for moon burned the skies in colours never seen in the days when there had been skyscrapers, and lit the sea from molten gold at one curving rim to silver-flecked ebony at the other.

“You asshole, if I was a man – ”

Don didn’t see any point in answering that when he was busy thinking, and running one hand over the spearblades on his back as he decided which one to use.

“Christ! What’s a hunter like you, when you got nothing better to do than to follow me?”

Loud and bitter, but only to her own ears, and Willa could tell that he wasn’t listening, and she was all the angrier because this made it harder for her not to shake and cry.

Don considered, and no longer saw a deer in her at all. That was when he decided against the spears entirely and jumped in, into a tangle of flailing arms and shrieks and a bit of shouting, which was probably his own. As a last resort, Willa’s teeth snapped – and they almost caught, so Don grunted and knocked her right on the chin.

Willa reeled back, forgetting to flail. There were only a few feet between them, their shadows stretching long so that they might have been born of a people who were taller than the herons and the wolves, a giant race which might have moved the world rather than moved with it. She looked at him for a moment, and they both knew when the sense of being irrevocably trapped sank in, when her mouth went dry and her lips curled back.

Don took a step forward, enjoying the crunch of the rocks under his feet. Her snarl was nothing to bother him, but unreasonably she still made the expression. Willa took a step back.

He took another step, he reached. And then Willa upturned his notion of how things would go, for she darted straight backward into thin air, without an animal’s sense which would have told her that nothing was there.

Her snarl vanished and the pure horror that replaced it was, offensively, not a thing that was concerned with Don at all. Her horror was all for herself. Then she vanished.

Don sat on the cliff between jungle and sea disconsolately, honing his spears, for some time. Even the memory of the dying puma – the thrust of his spear fist-deep into its eye, reducing the yellow flicker of hatred into a socket – was of no use to him. And until the sounds of wide, leathery wings crept into the darkening sky, he, whose head would not reach the shoulder of one of the gargantuan horses, sat there like some pensive lord of the forest.

There must be something else, in a place so vast as this great earth, which would offer another chase like that one.

Afterdays – 3

Continued from Afterdays – 2

Something smashed the spot where Don’s nose had been, and the stars rocketed up and down in a bewildering torrent.


It was Willa’s misfortune that Don was not eaten that night, where he was laid out cold by the riverside. There was no reason to think that he would not be eaten, but in its reasonless way the world went on, so that Don was untouched when only a few miles down the river a beaver had been torn open on the bank, the teeth that might have crushed a man’s head hanging open quite fruitlessly.

He sat up, and someone who had been peeking from among the huts screeched. This irritated his head. He did not bother putting a hand to his nose, for he knew what would be there. He simply reached over to his spears and hurled one in the direction of the offending noise. Which stopped, sensibly. Don stared at his spears with his vision wobbling slightly and decided that aside from the one which he had just thrown there was a spear missing.

It was Willa’s second misfortune that the people of her cluster of huts were presentient. Or they must have been, for they came at Don’s bellowing and tended to him, although he was weak and a jab of the oldest man’s harpoon would have killed him. They did this although he was not to be feared presently, because they were thinking only of he would soon be fearful. Foreseeing Don’s rage the people sought to propitiate it before it occurred. Hence did another self-fulfilling prophecy come to pass, a phenomenon which had survived the fall of civilization, and which would persist until the end of mankind.

When Willa saw that Don was not dead, her satisfaction with the morning was ruined; and when she saw her fellows’ intentions, her satisfaction in general was ruined. She took the spear which she had stolen and cut all the boats free while her neighbours crowded the hunter, even her father, tongue-tied and fearfully seeking to distance himself from Willa’s misdeed.

So Willa cut the boats free and jumped into the last one, a canoe far too large for one person, and for the moment she left herself to the river, which she now trusted more than the scatter of houses.

It did not take Don very long to see what had happened. It did not take Don very long to decide what he would do.

“How quickly,” he demanded of the oldest man, “can you make a boat?”

Don left on a raft, for a boat would have taken too long. While the cowering people of the huts built it for him, he told his stories and spent some time expounding upon how their way of life left was liable to make them effeminate, and how they should leave their uncertain peace for the life of hunter, which was the only proper way to live. The people piled the raft with food and gave him a strong rope, so that he would go in good humour, and never come back. Willa’s father gave him the blanket that Willa had forgotten on her pallet, broad-mindedly disregarding the way his jaw had been cracked in penance by the blanket’s recipient.

The raft proved great fun until it smashed, and Don had a day and a half of coursing downriver, which widened and slowed only by the most stubborn increments, as though it resented being tempered. He hollered more loudly than the crash of the current on the rock and swung his pole around brazenly.

When the raft smashed it was on a shallow rock, which Don had been too busy yelling to see, and then he thoroughly cursed the raft, and the pole, and the people who had made these things. He dragged his newfound wealth from the raft and sunned himself dry on the shore, for it was midday.

He entertained pleasant thoughts of going back to Willa’s village and berating its inhabitants, all of whom he stood at least a head above. Then Don made a pack out of the blanket and set a serious pace. He felt that his sojourn had come to its proper conclusion, and now he marched rapidly down the riverbank, for Willa must have been carried this way, and there had been no signs of disembarkment on either bank; Don thought thus, and so thoughts of the village were supplanted by thoughts of the girl, and her deer-tail arms, and his fist at her temple.

Don had marched in this manner countless times before. There was little to say of his finding the trail, and of following it, that he had not accomplished in some variation before, and that had been explained much to his own satisfaction in the stories that he’d shared.

But somewhere between the dell of the five-horned questing beast and the eerie of the boar-eagles, somewhere between the hills of the wild dogs’ and the haunts of the black monkeys, looming and glitter-eyed, their intelligence a menace, somewhere along Don’s march the manner of his marching changed. He did not know it, but he pressed onward with less sleep than ever before, hale and keen. He sought villages more often, and commandeered countless watercraft, for he realized that the traces of Willa were often to be picked up there, whenever the trail had petered out. The people were usually near in subservience to those of Willa’s village whenever one such as Don appeared, and the hunter laughed at their effeminate ways, they who scarcely killed for themselves, and he took what they offered for his journey and demanded more. The darkest dark of the deer’s pelt grew stronger in the image of Willa which he retained, the downy white of the tail flashed brighter, and Don made haste. He slipped past another monstrous questing beast with his teeth shown in a grin, his arm hooking around one of the beast’s eggs as he went.

If their routes were traced and viewed from an aerial perspective, something which was once a trivial matter, the trails of Willa and Don would differ astronomically on a human scale, and would be two near-twin squiggles on an earthly scale. But far as Don ranged, and doubled back, and took to the water, and came around again, eventually he gained.

To be Continued

Elizabeth Cook 2014

Afterdays – 2

Continued from Afterdays – 1

“I like duck,” said Don.

But there was no means of catching one of the monstrous, water-tossed fowl. They quacked their way down the river, and the question of Don’s meal was resolved by Willa digging up roots. The digging wore on in a manner incomprehensible to the hunter, who never did such things, and the light turned rosy and riotous among the evening clouds.

Curious faces looked out from the huts and disappeared again, in no hurry to get between a hunter and his meal of choice, and Don hovered over Willa talking about the hunts he liked to remember best. The washing lay abandoned as Willa’s eyebrows slowly singed over the fire, and she glared at Don without him noticing.

“Have you seen a questing beast? Of course you haven’t,” Don replied. “They’re like nothing else that’s ever walked this land. Not long ago, when I happened to be carrying a few fawns across my shoulders (tender, they are), I nearly walked into one of their dells. You wouldn’t know one if you saw one, but I don’t mind telling you. They chew the trees to pieces, you see, so the clearing isn’t proper, and where their scales and feathers fall away – ”

“It’s ready,” Willa said.

Don fell to eating, sprawled by the fire, and night spread her thick cloak all around him, calling to the creatures who crept or hid or slept by day. Like rocs the owls lifted into the air, soundless, invisible but for their tawny irises, and noticed only as they blackened out great patches of the moon and stars. Among the marshes, frogs emerged to scale rushes the size of lampposts, or to splash below the willows that trailed over the water, and they lapped up small birds and their eggs, and the beetles that hummed, and creaked, and glowed on the bark. Every few years one of the willows, somewhere, would crash down, momentarily shocking the air to silence – then the beavers would take the tree to pieces. Great as the beavers had become, they were cautious. Only in the water were they safe from the lynxes and the fishers, who wound solitary paths through mazes of brush, tongues searching and claws shredding the leaves they walked upon.

And bats darted about, bold enough to brush the ears of sleeping grizzlies, and sleeping men, should there be any men so luckless as to be sleeping in the open night. For the bats would circle anything smaller than the gargantuan horses, whose hooves like granite churned up great swathes of the plains, and Willa thought that she could hear a telltale leathery flapping.

The beasts had lost their fear of fire long ago, so as the night and its denizens circled inward Willa wished she were among the huts and sqautted lower, glaring at nearby noises nearly as much as she glared at Don. No one had poked a head out to watch them for some time.

Don ate, and spoke, and laughed, because a hunter afraid of the night would not be a hunter. A hunter camped as best he could and slept soundly whether he would wake or not. So Don heard the formless noises and the spears on his back kept him warm. He told the story of how he had happened upon a wounded puma, its eyes as large as his fist, and had plunged his spear through one of those orange and black-shot orbs. In his tellings he made his best kills, and executed his greatest feats, once more. He recalled, as his jaw worked slower and slower, how just this past spring he had leapt a gorge, so as to avoid a mountain pass riddled by the territorial big-horns, only to notice in mid-jump the wide maws of snapping turtles below.

He saw the turtles clearly. The razor’s curve of their beaks, the sun on their backs, the smell of the water at the bottom of the gorge. His feet found earth with a bone-shaking thud, and he turned back to get a better look at them…

Don’s tongue was thick. He gazed up at the stars from his back and he was pinpricks away from himself just as the stars were so near and so far. Galaxies spun, and yet they were none so vast as this great earth, whose crevices and whose bounds had become unfathomable. Stories would intimate that things had not always been this way; had the children of men dwindled, or had all else grown?

His jaw had stopped moving. Now, sounds and vague shapes of the many-faced night plunged around him, dark and vicious and untrammelled, for he could no longer feel his spears. His eyes moved sluggishly and saw how his spears had rolled away.

“After that you shouldn’t have eaten anything I cooked, whatever-your-name-is!”

Something smashed the spot where Don’s nose had been, and the stars rocketed up and down in a bewildering torrent.

To be continued.

Elizabeth Cook, 2015

Afterdays – 1

It was in the days when the Earth had gone back to the wild, and people lived in round houses of mud or straw. The rivers rushed by faster, and the days turned in timeless abandon. Every forest was primeval, and lusher than ever before, and in all but the coldest climes vines went capering amongst broad-limbed trunks, thick with the spoils of civilization. The rocks grew mosses out of sheer humidity and lust for life, and feral cattle waded through gigantic grasses. If the plants and the beasts, the mountains and the plains, seemed to grow bigger each generation while the people grew smaller, this was only to add to the wonderful colour and savagery of the landscapes.

People lived on the waterways, that they might still travel if they had to, and made rafts and canoes out of the mighty trees. If one caught a fish it would feed a family for days, but if one was pulled by the line and down into the rushing water, it would be one less mouth to feed. Storms thundered over the rivers, and lakes, and coastlines sparsely dotted with their round houses, and just as the storms had grown mightier in scope, their clouds many-hued and their thunder vengeful, the wakes of the storms were many times more beautiful.

Through this glorious, short life Don stalked away from the riversides and into the forests, to kill deer and flee from the towering wolves and cats. He would emerge from the trees and follow the water wherever he found it, dragging his prizes to the nearest settlement. Someone from among the squat houses would prepare the deer, and cook it, and by that night he would lie with a full stomach next to embers smelling of smoke and sweet meat.

Don went into the fathomless forests at many different points, and emerged at many different points, so that he roamed far from wherever he had been begotten and suckled, and it was fortunate that he had no mind to return. It would have been impossible to retrace a way over the water, through the tangles of trees and underbrush, across the hills and dells with their questing beasts, and around the mountains whose roots lifted and cracked the earth. Don did not care – he had no direction, for a kill would bring him comforts wherever he redeemed its worth. This was a currency that could not fail. And on the rare occasions when he failed to carry a prize out of the forests, he had some stories that he judged to be good enough for a meal and a bed at the very least.

On a summer day, when the dragonflies and the lesser flies were at brilliant, scintillating war, and a haze seemed to hang over the riverbanks, Don came out of the forest without a deer. A scatter of houses stood to his right, things of wattle and daub, squat but well-made. To his left was open grass all the way down to the rocks that lined the narrow, tumbling river. It was a swift current, but somebody was seated precariously on one of those rocks, leaning over the rush. It was a girl, and she was washing something.

Don went left, choosing the girl, because the sun was gleaming off her head and her outstretched arms. Her hair minded him of the darker bits in a deer’s hide, and he fancied that her torso was of a colour with the underside of a deer’s tail, although they were not. They turned out to be tan and freckled when he drew near.

She noticed him when he stepped down onto the rocks, and she went from her precarious perch to a more secure one, looking at him in an unimpressed manner.

“Who are you?” asked Willa, because that was her name, and she hadn’t seen fit to change it.

He was annoyed by such a stupid question. “I am a hunter,” Don replied, as if it were obvious. Indeed, it was obvious from his apparel and the direction from which he’d come that he must be a hunter, but Willa stared at him with a flat expression.

“Right. But you haven’t hunted anything to be seen. What do you want?”

“A meal, and a bed, of course. I might tell you some stories in exchange, across a pillow.”

“Buzz off,” said Willa, picking up her washing again.

A noisy parade of ducks came into sight on the river, lead by the three foot wide matriarch, bobbing along and bumping into each other, in such a chaos of feathers that law herself might have fled from them – were this still the age when law held her scales and wore a robe intact. But there was no law here, between round huts, and water, and trees, so Don smacked Willa roundly over the head.

“Christ,” muttered Willa thickly, prying her face off of the rocks. It was a strong word, a word without meaning, because all the books had fallen in rising waters, or had been buried in ruins, or had found and favoured that mysterious, dank abyss of forgotten history.

“Christ,” Willa repeated, glaring at him, and she wiped her mouth.

“I like duck,” said Don.

To be continued.

Elizabeth Cook, 2015.

Class 1-01

After school they walk to the pizza place on hot pavement, sweating. Since it was the first day of class some kind of enthusiasm hatched the pizza scheme but they soon fall into twos and threes like oil and water. Although May goes back and forth talking to everyone, Camilla walks to Suzu, and Lana is in no-man’s land between the two girls and the Rob-Kou-Hiroki contingent, with whom she trades barbs. Terrence, Eshwar, and Yves kick up noise at the back.

May can’t circulate fast enough to forge the semblance of group cohesion, and they’re sliding around like stray amoebae by the time they get their slices.

The light is thickening to orange when the bell on the shop door jangles shut behind them. It’s with a sense of relief in more than one heart that the girls split off – even though Lana and Suzu’s houses are not in that direction, and they all know it.

The guys looks at one another. Give each other nods.

Eshwar: “Man, I forgot school was so much work.”

Terrence: scoffing, “You’re such a scrub, Eshwar.”

Eshwar: “Oh, riiiiight, I’m that scrub who’s beaten you in Smash all summer.”

Laughter from Eshwar, a quick in-and-out scuffle. They start meandering toward the metro.

Yves: “You guys should get Tale of the Elder Star!”

Kou: “Pfft. Shit’s for kids.”

Rob: “We need something else to play… Man I’m so beat.”

Eshwar: back at Rob, “So long as its got nothing to do with your zombie fetish.”

Hiroki: “What about the new RawMecha? It’s pretty good, isn’t it?”

Feet slow. Inscrutable looks.

Eshwar: quietly, raising one hand and squinting at the red traffic light up ahead, “Pew, pew…”

Nobody is around.

The chckkk of joints and squeak of wheels, springing into countdown sequences, racing against each other. To the takeoff – KRRR-PHOWWWWW. The dogfight is instantaneous, lasers missing eyes by milimeters. Kou draws back in the attempt to launch a missile, Eshwar harrying his position and Yves running interference, as the swords come out in the sky. Terrence isn’t changing sides, he’s a faction of his own. Hiroki winces as he dodges a wide swing.

Then, underneath it all, a green light and the quiet beep, beep, beep of the walk signal. Straight past them, a woman pulls her little girl across the crosswalk. The woman’s hand is covering her mouth. The little girl is staring.

The battle dies out with red ears and necks and cheeks. Rob slides his Mega Doomsday Shitsmacker back into its sheath, and slumps back into being tired like he never left it. They reach the metro stiff-faced with the pretense that they are too old to play robots.

Cut to black.