Always Empty

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from September, 2022.

I. ghost hunt, n.

There’s just something missing
on the battlefield.
The thrill of the kill is there,
the electricity of bloodlust,
but iron helmets, visors
hide their eyes.

I want to watch the waves
calm within their irises.

II. beeline, v.

In the old days,
I’d strike from a shadow,
dagger to throat.

I could feel
the tremble of their larynx
on the blade’s edge
with my fingertips.

III. tots, n.

There’s a big celebration at camp
after our victory in battle.

My steps through blood-soaked dirt
become steps through drunken soil,
potatoes float in puddles of wine and ale.

They toast me as I pass,
slurred cheers of “Captain!”
I feel so empty.

IV. fabulism, n.

There was a future in my head
when I started down this road.

It did not include power, status;
it included revenge.

V. leading light, n.

A singular ember
in my chest —
A dense anger.

A vision of their bodies,
rivulets of blood
over the edge of our bed.

VI. endarkenment, n.

Their corpses felt me
empty.

The rush of the kill
from a just vengeance, 
did not fill the void.

I left town, got a job
doing the only thing
that made me feel alive.

VII. amazake, n.

A soldier hands me a chalice
of some drink or other
as I enter the captain’s tent.

A strategist from the capitol
holds up a communication scroll
bearing the king’s face.

He congratulates me on the victory,
rambles about honor and other shit
he knows I don’t care about.

VIII. Monogyne, n.

When you hold someone’s light
in the palms of your hands,
get to choose when and how
you clench your fist, see it rise
like steam between your knuckles— that
is power. That is the feeling
of control, of being alive.

IX. altaltissimo, n.

Does this dude ever
take his crown off?

When I bound my fate to his,
I didn’t anticipate
having to listen to his
incessant blathering
after every victory.

It’s not even for me—
it’s for the nobles who believe
his brother suffered a fatal heart attack.

X. anjeer, n.

I look at the palm of my glove
while King NeverShutsUp tangents
to lofty goals for the next year.

It’s stained with dried blood— mine
and others, probably— I don’t remember
when they were washed last.

It looks like a noble’s robe would
after a festival, covered with remnants
of spilled wine, fallen fruit— trophies.

XI. rachmanism, n.

The strategist drops the scroll
when he applauds for the king
as he talks about defending
the freedoms of his subjects.

This behavior is beyond me.
‘Freedom’ and ‘subjects’
don’t seem like complimentary terms,
but I don’t collect tax revenue,

so what do I know.

XII. sibsomeness, n.

Sometimes, I fear
what will happen to me
if the king has his way—
peace comes to the kingdom
and he no longer needs me
or my protection.

XIII. nash-gab, n.

The king asks questions about the battle
after the comm scroll with his head
has been properly restored.

My answers are short,
my nods curt.

I wonder what it would be like 
if he didn’t fear me
or he actually cared about the details.

XIV. deliverology, n.

I met the King
when he was a prince
in a tavern on the outskirts
of his territory. Peasant clothes
to hide his nobility or feign camaraderie,
a pint in his hand. 

He slurred through ways
the kingdom could be better
under his name. Cheers and ale
bounced off the walls with his exclamations.

I asked what he was willing to pay.

XV. xennial, n. and adj.

In the predawn dark, he was torn
between the traditions of his older brother
and the ideals of the youth in his bones.

But he saw it, for a moment,
in the flickering candlelight: the crown
on his head, the power in his voice.

He offered piles of gold, a legal pardon;
the future boredom was palpable.
He stammered, sweat on his temples.

I asked for a seat on his council,
command of his army. He thought me
a mindless killer. We shook hands.

XVI. psionic, adj.

He never asked me how
I got rid of the king.

People don’t like hearing the details
of shadow magic, especially, I assume

when your power would be questioned
if anyone ever found out.

I use it on the battlefield still:
pits that swallow squadrons;

shadows that consume brains,
flood the whites of their eyes.

After our first victory, he asked me
how it was done. I told him, “Like before.”

XVII. segotia, n.

The king closes his address
by inviting us for a feast at his castle.
The strategist accepts the invitation
for both of us: a knee jerk reaction.

The king’s face fades
into the off-white of the scroll.
He looked excited to see the people
he considers his friends.

XVIII. bird dog, n.

The road back to the city is long.
Soldiers practically skip in anticipation
for a warm welcome home,
feasts with their families.

I keep seeing faces in tree bark—
faces I’ve seen before,
ones I haphazardly sent into shadows
before the king found me.

XIX. requiescat, n.

Part of me remembers my wife—
the way she’d knead sourdough
with the heel of her hand, singing
a melody in the morning light.
I miss her then, want her soul to feel
peace.

But then, I see her fingers entangled
in the hair of someone else: the alchemist
with smooth hands; a thick, braided beard.
I see their slit throats, their blood pooling
on a bed I could never return to, and I wish her soul
pain.

XX. parapublic, adj.

The king’s army is made
of young men who break rank
as we travel through a village
outside the city walls.

Rundown buildings,
families in tattered clothes,
who anticipate their return,
who worry about and love them.

XXI. adyt, n.

I don’t stop them from running
to the open arms of their families.

I don’t force them to walk
through the city to the castle.

I don’t subject them to the king’s
lengthy speeches, empty accolades.

I don’t pressure them to eat
mediocre roast in the king’s dining hall.

That’s a job for me.

XXII. binge-watching, n.

Does this guy ever shut up?
It’s astounding
he’s capable of eating any food
while moving from story to story.
Is anyone even listening?

XXIII. sharenting, n.

I look between family portraits
which line the walls
of the dining hall.

So many stoic children
forced to stand at attention
in perpetuity.

Would it be so bad
if someone pruned
this tree?

XXIV. garbler, n.

A tendril of shadow
coils around my boot,
slithers over dried blood.

I left a sham marriage
just to enter into
the cage of power. 

Misery and emptiness
follow me like anchors
slogging through loose sand.

The shadow is hungry. I
am hungry. My fingers
twitch, nails ready

to dig into flesh.

XXV. nosey, v.

Pay attention to the small actions:
the way he flicks his wrist,
talks with both arms,
saunters across the hall.

There’s information hidden there
that’ll help identify his weak spots,
expose patterns he never talks about.
That’s what I need to kill him.

XXVI. stepford, adj.

The castle guard wear similar armor—
shiny, the king’s sigil on the breast
strong, but inflexible, slow.

They go through rigorous training,
all of them, mastering the same techniques,
exposing the same weak spots.

XXVII. pretenture, n.

Humans build to keep out enemies,
but shadows flow over them with ease.
Yet another example of overconfidence,
misunderstanding of our world’s nature.

I slip along the lines of mortar between
the castle’s stone, let threads of void
ensnare the guards, flood their eyes
with visions of tortured, mangled bodies.

XXVIII. melpomenish, adj.

The king’s chamber is filled with
garish trinkets—  objects to look at,
no utility.

Under thick quilts with intricate designs,
his snores mix with the fireplace’s crackling.
No challenge.

I envelope the flame in a shadowy blanket,
knock a goblet off the mantlepiece
for the drama.

His shoulders shift, a bleary investigation.
His face when his eyes fell on me—
exquisite.

XXIX. anonymuncule, n.

He begs, pleads for his life,
offers riches, titles, land.

He says they’ll find me out, whisper
my name in every corner of the kingdom.

Even in death, he
just never shuts up.

I grip his heart in a shadowy fist,
feel its rhythmic tremors.

I squeeze until it finally stops,
until he’s finally silent,

until the waves in his irises
become stagnant pools.

XXX. leso, n.

I rearrange his body and his blankets
to look like his heart failed in his sleep.

Intricate patterns, expensive dyes, his quilt
reminds me of the dresses my wife wore

back when she was alive. And, like that,
a void settles in my chest again.

Always empty. All is fleeting.
I exit under the cover of the dark moon.

2 thoughts on “Always Empty

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