Once upon a time, the warrior begins. The night mist tastes like
blood in his mouth, and his throat constricts, as if he is about to
throw up. With a grunt and an ahem, he begins anew: Once
upon a time, in a faraway province.
No one is present to hear his words - lately he has been given to
talking to himself. He is constructing a makeshift fire, gathering
bits of soggy cardboard boxes, slices of wood that splinter betwixt
fingers and thumb, ripped-up signage that spells promises and guarantees.
For a brighter future. one begins with dashing, dark strokes.
. ends soon, finishes another with robotic red letters. The
warrior stares intently at these two phrases, each written in a different
language, and his mind constructs scenarios, linkages, progressions, how this one slogan led
to the other.
But later. Once upon a time. So easy to be distracted. A consequence
of age. Despite the touch of gray to his temples and beard, the
chalklike lines that score his face, the warrior is a robust man.
It would be assumed that someone with his calling has seen many things,
most of them unpleasant, and thus the story about to be told is one
of charred battlefields, lands so distant that their very names seem
to have the clenched intensity of a dream, the screams of the dead
and dying like the howls of animals at night. But he thinks of none
of this as he tears