Ardashir knew that he had to leave the palace, and soon.

He was tired of being asked how to do everything and anything. They should know better. They didn’t need his advice or opinion on everything. Or maybe they did. He was the Shah, the King of Kings, after all. There was none higher than him. But even he had started to question this. From birth he had been groomed for the role, passed to him at 23 when his father left his body.

The Shah never dies. Only commoners died. Everybody knew that.

He’d been born in the palace, like the rest of his family. He had never been a commoner. H was told, and believed without question, that he was the human incarnation of God, God himself in human form. Everyone else was created from the Earth – basically dirt. He was entirely spirit, a quantum singularity, unique and holy. This is why he could never be touched, except by his wife. Alas, he didn’t have one – a suitable candidate having not yet been found.

Marriage for the Shah was never easy. He never got to pick who his mate was. That would be absurd. How could he have time to find her – and how could he leave the royal grounds? No, she had to be carefully selected, interviewed, groomed. Sometimes there were choices. Sometimes they were up to a dozen wives, so he could pick who suited his fancy that day.

Each wife was made holy, coequal in Divinity for as long as he lived. The moment he died they all (except the one who had been lucky enough to bear the male heir) were immediately de-consecrated and summarily kicked out of the palace, reduced to scrabbling commoner status again. Every other unlucky wife was sent penniless , with only the clothes she wore, to the street.

Some were savvy enough to sell their royal clothes to make enough money for food for a month. Some were vain enough to keep them, wanting to retain their former glory. Yet their family and neighbors remembered how they had treated them upon attaining divinity. Sometimes this didn’t go well.

Ardashir envied these women, his father’s and grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s widows in their cold anonymity. He wished he could disappear to the dusty streets. 

(Written around late August 2018)

Soul gardening

Barred and bolted, the tiny door kept out most of the intruders, the nosy, the curious, the hopeful. They all thought that they were unique, were special enough to have a private audience with her. They were wrong.

She’d hired a guard but he was too easily suckered. They’d claim to be her best friend from high school or from her church, or bringing Chinese takeout. They’d try anything to get to her – well, anything other than being honest. The guard was a babyface of course – she couldn’t have a heel connected to her. It would ruin her reputation. But maybe it was going to have to come to that. But for now, the door was the solution. That and the courtyard. If someone was bold enough to get through the barricade, they’d probably get distracted by the courtyard garden that lay between her and the rest of the world.

It was her own special spot, designed by her and her penpal from Japan. How many private tea gardens were there in the world, especially outside of Japan? We would never know. Thus hers was the only one. In the absence of absolute certainty, the only sure thing was the only truth.

She’d come to this impasse because they flocked to her. She was forever needed by those who were empty, absent – hungry ghosts masquerading as humans. She had grown up in a family of them – the emotionally needy, the spiritually bankrupt. She spoke their language fluently. So others, related by temperament and outlook if not by blood, saw her as a kindred spirit. They confided in her, told her all of their dark secrets, the ones they never told their priest or counselor. They could have healed those voids, these ugly reflexes, but they chose to look outward to others for their happiness and healing. 

They told her she was special and she said no – anybody can do this, but maybe they were right. What made her different was that she’d achieved escape velocity and done it. Yes they could – but they didn’t.

So she had to lock herself away from them from time to time – the gnawing neediness, the game they played over and over where they chose the role of broken or helpless or victim or all three. She could no longer play along – it wasn’t healthy for any of them. So here she retreated to her soul garden to nurture herself, to tend the parts of her soul that were worn.

(Written mid August 2018)


The boys were selected, weeded out. The Japanese taught us this with their apples. Figure out which ones were strongest, the best. Keep them to make the crop stronger. No use expending energy on halfway and under-done. No use spending money and time on anything less than the best. No use – the society was all that mattered. Not the individual.

The Winnowers could see the future of each person. They would know at a glance who was headed for addiction or homelessness or who was likely to rob or rape. Stealing is the same, after all, whether it is property or personhood.

Those souls needed to be weeded out – no use allowing the leeches to drain away from the community. All takers and no givers? A waste of time.

In the past, before the Winnowing came to be, women who were awake simply chose to not reproduce with those men. They wouldn’t date them or marry them. Maybe they awoke after they were married, so chose to be celibate or use other methods to ensure his genetic code wouldn’t carry. Divorce wouldn’t work – he might find a weak woman, one who is desperate for attention. She wouldn’t care, wouldn’t think about her duty to the group, the city, the nation, the world.

Nature or nurture? Both, it turned out. You could raise a boy with defective traits in a home that was awake and you had a 70% chance he’d turn out average. Never great. He had too much working against him. And that 30% was too high a chance to risk.

They based this on Matthew 5:27-30. “It is better that you lose one of your members than your whole body be thrown into hell.” Except they took it further. “You should purge the evil in your midst” from Deuteronomy. No sin at all – pluck the weeds before they grow up and choke the fruit. All too often a robber graduated to murder. A liar went to wife beating. Why waste time waiting for it to happen?

So they were culled, sent away, privately. All those missing people on milk boxes and flyers in the mail? That was them. The community made it look like they try to find them, but they knew where they were. Lost forever and soon forgotten. It didn’t take long for the outliers to fall off the radar. They weren’t missed, after all, and there were plenty of other more pressing issues to attend to. Who had time to waste on worrying about where some scofflaw was?

Privately, the Winnowers called themselves the garbagemen, because they took out the trash.

(Written mid August 2018)