Die Writing

The Maid and the Bishop (FFC 2016)

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on September 22, 2016

This is my second-round entry for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Since I scored zero in the first round, this may also be my last entry for FFC 2016.

The prompts were historical fiction, circus tent, and a doll’s head.

Perhaps, this needs some historical background. Surely you’re familiar with Joan of Arc. Cauchon was a French (Burgundian) figure, closely allied with the English cause. He presided over Joan of Arc’s witch trial. Jean, Duke of Alencon was a French nobleman and military commander. He was among the first to recognize Joan’s value, he was her close ally and even friend. Joan of Arc was nineteen, and Jean was about twenty-two. At the time Joan had come along, about a third of France was lost to the English and their allies, and the French haven’t seen a major military victory in decades.

For France and King!
 Mud streaked her face. Blood caked one side of her head. Swelling and the sweat made it almost impossible to see out of her left eye. She was bound to a chair with rough twine that cut into her bruised flesh; her arms were growing numb. A terrible thirst scorched her throat.
 Four guards stood in silent attention around her. The red tunics covering their spotless, gleaming armor bore the three lions of the English.
 The battle had been a roaring human storm. Afterwards, a silence so deep, it made your ears ring. Wind quietly whistled around the ragged canvas edges of the tent. She thought she heard distant horses.
 The canopy of the once-splendid tent rested on two mighty poles. Rotting straw covered the floor. The center clearing was ringed with benches, many broken and overturned. The faded canvas had lost its bright colors. Joan remembered tents just like this. They would be full of actors, acrobats, and clowns with clever limericks. She could not recall any. Her thoughts sank into a drowsy molasses.
 There was a rustling of heavy cloth and a burst of bright sunlight. Someone exclaimed in French:
 “Do my eyes deceive me? Is it really her? It is. A glorious day! Right here in the flesh. Joan of Arc.” The tall man clad in a fine heavy robe approached her, bending over to look closely in her eyes. A wolf’s smile appeared on his lips, and he continued with the flat and measured tone of a coffinmaker’s hammer. “The mighty, invincible Joan of Arc.”
 “Cauchon,” she breathed through her cracked lips.
 “One and the same.”
 The man straightened up and took in the shabby pavilion.
 “What in heavens is this place? A county fair, was it? Ah, the plays. The Lovers.” He pursed his lips in an exaggerated kiss. “Pierrot, the clown.” He frowned with theatrical sadness. “Nonsense, the lot of it.
 “This arrangement is temporary, of course. You’ll be moved shortly. To Rouen, eventually. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even see England before you are executed.”
 Then he added, in English, “Leave us.” The soldiers obeyed.
 He circled behind her. Joan’s neck was too stiff to follow him.
 “You’re quite pretty, you are.” Something creaked and thudded heavily. “Did you ever fancy yourself as Colombina?”
 Cauchon reappeared in front of her. In one hand he was holding the head of a wooden doll. He blew the dust from its perfectly polished countenance and held it up next to Joan’s muddied face. Then, he grabbed her chin and twisted her head, comparing her to the doll. Her neck and spine burned with pain.
 “The men talk about you, you know.” He studied the toy and the young woman. “What about Jean? That handsome boy duke of Alençon. Does he find you beautiful?”
She spat at him. He swung his fist wide and hit her. She did not flinch; the soldiers had hit much harder. The rings cut her skin and fresh blood trickled down her cheek. He dropped the doll’s head and splintered it with his boot.
 “You stupid girl. Dukes don’t go with peasants.”
 His gaze wandered away from Joan, and traveled toward something distant, beyond the canvas walls. His tone again turned casual, absentminded.
 “They are still dying for you. They scattered, but… Burgundy’s got the fastest horses, and your friends have none. All they ever really had was hope in you. Turns out, that’s not as good as a horse.”
 He leveled his gaze on her again.
 “You brought them here, and now they are all going to die.” Tears welled up in Joan’s eyes. She did not even notice them at first. Joan remembered the faces of those who stood by her without wavering, even before a certain death. Seeing her in their lines, they drew a fresher breath.
 “You should have stayed on the God-forsaken farm, girl.”
 Tears came as a torrent. She wept and choked on her sobs. She remembered the bodies strewn on the fields, the inhuman tension in the battle lines just before a charge, the exhausting, crushing marches. Yet even in those moments, the darkest of them, she saw courage grow in the hearts left fallow and barren by a lifetime of defeat.
 “I couldn’t… I couldn’t.” She shuddered, struggling to speak through the tears. “We are dying on our land. I had to come. And so I have come, and so I have done God’s work. Don’t you see that this is His plan? France will right herself with Charles as the king. God has told me so.”
 “Blasphemer,” he grabbed her throat. “You will burn for these words!”
 “He has told you, too. You can see it as clearly as I.”
 Cauchon peered into Joan’s broken, filthy face streaked with tears. Her eyes were as steady as a mountain’s heart. He recoiled.
 “The English will abandon you. They will sail back to their isles, leave you here as so many bilge rats, and never look back. In death, I will stand with the brave multitudes. But you, Cauchon, for the rest of your life you will stand alone, seeing terror in every shadow.”
 Cauchon staggered out of the tent. Joan’s words thundered in his head like hammers. He tugged at the suddenly suffocating collar.
 “Sergeant, have the prisoner bound and gagged. We leave for Beauvoir,” he ordered in a rasp, halting voice. The sergeant regarded Cauchon indifferently from his horse, then raised his hand and signaled to his troop. The English cavalrymen began to form into a column and move out onto the road heading north.
 “It’s just a woman, bishop,” the sergeant said coolly. “And she’s bound.” He rode off without waiting for a response. The troopers’ capes and banners billowed in the wind as they steadily receded. Cauchon stood still. A frigid, sucking hollow formed in his chest.
 “The witch,” he whispered in a quiver, not daring to go back into the tent. “The witch.”


A breath of whiskey – Jenny Dollar

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on November 23, 2015


This time I rolled a couple suggestions into one – a Johnny Dollar episode, and a gender-swapped noir piece. As with writing similar pieces, DJ Food provided the perfect working music. The result is an attempt at a short radio play.

The Sam Slacone Matter


JENNY DOLLAR, insurance investigator
ALEX McCRACKEN, compliance officer with Continental Assurance and Liability
SAM SLACONE, proprietor of The Chrome Jet

From Hollywood, it’s time now for…

(Background sounds of a public lounge – people’s voices, glasses and dishes clanking.)

Jenny Dollar, there is barely a breath of whiskey in this glass. What’s the big idea here?

Well, Mr. McCracken, I thought I’d give you a bit of a show-and-tell. This is Mr. Slacone’s newest and biggest – the prime digs right on the Waterfront. But take a bit of a closer look, and the place feels just paper-thin.

(Intro trumpet flair)

Tonight, and every weekday night, Betty Bailey and the transcribed adventures of the woman with the action-packed expense account, America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator…

Yours truly, Jenny Dollar.

The following is the accounting of expenditures during my investigation of the Sam Slacone matter. Expense account continued, item number 8, twenty-five dollars and thirty-six cents, fare to an incidental expenses at The Chrome Jet, and establishment owned and operated by one Sam Slacone.

I found Alex McCracken alone at the bar, swirling a tumbler with a serving of sub-par whiskey too skinny for the supposed luxury of this newly opened hotel-lounge. Like most insurance compliance officers, he wore a square dark suit, looking a bit too bland to be a cop.

I would have loved at least a couple of breaths in this glass.

Now Miss Dollar, Continental Assurance holds the policy for this hotel, but we can hardly bother Mr. Slacone over a whiskey-pinching bartender.

Of course not. But the show-and-tell ain’t quite over. If Mr. Slacone holds to his habits, we may snatch an introduction shortly. Ah and there he is, I believe.

(Distant sounds of a car coming to a halt, its break squealing a bit. A rumbling engine idles. Doors opening and closing. Sam Slacone’s voice is heard, first distant, then slowly approaching, greeting people along the way.)

I can hardly believe my eyes – the famous Miss Jenny Dollar under my own roof! Do what I do owe the exquisite fortune? May I have that you are here for pleasure and not business?

It is always a pleasure to do business, Mr. Slacone. May I introduce my kind acquaintance, Mr. McCracken.

How do you do, Mr. Slacone.

Grand, just as yourself, I hope.

Mr. McCracken here is with Continental Assurance, and at the moment, I am in his employ.

Is that so, Mr. McCracken?


Well, lucky you, Mr. McCracken. I hear Miss Dollar is a crack shot investigator. I am sure she can help you with whatever trouble you are pursuing. I’m afraid I’ll have to take my leave – urgent matters that need attending. Good day!

Good bye, Mr. Slacone.


(Diminishing footsteps)

(A paper being unfolded and straightened out)

What is this? This paper is from a month ago.

That is a story about The High-Flying Wing Resort, another one of Mr. Slacone’s, going into bankruptcy. Story is, the creditors foreclosed on the place, only to find it completely cleaned out, down to the last chair and piece of china. The court matter is ongoing and entirely unpleasant. Oh, and the chrome rod in which Mr. Slacone just arrived is a Maserati 3500GT. Factory-fresh.

What’s the story here, Jenny Dollar? How does this concern me and Continental Assurance?

The District inspector who signed off on the plans for this building has taken an extended vacation in the Florida Keys, and in a hurry, too. Never been much of a maritime enthusiast, if you ask his friends. But the move seems permanent – been gone for two weeks and no one’s been able to get a hold of him. They’ve got phones in Florida alright, but apparently they don’t go to the place where Mr. Carmack now resides.

Alright, Mr. McCracken, it’s just a one, two three.

(Closing trumpet flourish)

Now here’s our to star to tell you about tomorrow’s episode of this week’s intriguing story.

Tomorrow, the trap is ready and baited, and you won’t believe who springs it.

Yours truly, Jenny Dollar.


The Ranger’s last stand

Posted in Ezra Haley by erdaron on August 27, 2012

The orcs piled into the room. The Ranger stood at the other end, blocking the door to the next passage. His longsword was drawn, with its tip pointed down, touching the rough stone floor. With his other hand he held his cape. The orcs formed a semicircle around the ranger, packed almost shoulder to shoulder in the small room. The cleric followed the orcs, standing behind them at the other end of the room.

“Stand aside, ranger. The bounty is ours. You cannot stop us.” The cleric spoke with mocking confidence.

“We’ll see. All that separates me from your throat is a few soldiers.”

The cleric laughed.

“It used to be hundreds of miles and tall castle walls. This is easier,” the Ranger replied.

The melee broke out without any warning. One of the orcs launched at the Ranger, whose blade cut him down in an instant. The wave of soldiers’ steel then thrust forward, but the room was crammed and they constantly blocked each other. The Ranger bound and leapt in the tight space, weaving a deadly arc. His cape flashed a momentary obscuration, and his blade cut and sliced against his enemies. Several more fell away, but still their number remained great against the lone vigilante.

Then for just one instant, he broke the wave of black armor that rose around him. The thrust forward with his gleaming blade, striking at the cleric, who froze in disbelief. Yet the Ranger was not quite accurate enough to find his enemy’s heart, not quite fast enough to evade all of the cleric’s bodyguards, not quite powerful enough to brush them aside. The blade did not strike true, merely wounding the sorcerer, yet the attack left the Ranger open. A warhammer landed squarely on his chest, tossing his broken body back against a wall. His convulsing hands dropped the sword. His body whizzed as he tried to suck air into his crumpled lungs.

Though the Ranger was dying, the orcs surrounded him with their weapons still drawn, and did not approach his body.

“Bring me his badge,” the cleric growled, clutching at his shoulder in an attempt to stem the flow of blood. Two soldiers knelt down and started searching the ranger. He was still alive, but could do nothing to resist. A minute later, the orcs stood up, empty-handed.

“That is impossible,” the cleric spat. He shoved the orcs aside and stood over the broken Ranger. “Where is it…” he said. He stared at the dying Ranger. Perhaps it was the odd, shifting lighting, but to the cleric it seemed that the man’s lips curled in a grin. The cleric looked up, and turned his gaze toward the door through which he came in, then back at the Ranger. “Open the door,” he ordered, motioning toward the door that the Ranger was guarding.

One of the orcs moved toward the door. It was stuck, so he used his shoulder to force it open. Beyond it was a tiny room filled with broken dusty furniture. There were no other exits. There was no one in it. The Ranger was guarding trash forgotten in this cave for centuries.

The gambit was not for the Ranger to draw the cleric into close quarters and kill him. The Ranger must have known he could not overcome the guard. The gambit was to lure the cleric deep into the underground tunnel, while the woman who was worth more than the Ranger’s life could slip away to freedom.

Silent, the cleric took a sword from one of the orcs, knelt beside the Ranger, then stabbed him in the chest several times.

The spirit

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on May 14, 2012

He stood outside the bar on the wet street. The unique bar fragrance of booze, tobacco, and sweat was slowly draining off his clothes. Hands stuck deep in the pockets, and shoulders drawn up in the cold air, he stood and stared down the street. The cobble stones meandered between aged colonials and dim street lights, dissolving in the shadows just a few blocks away. His eyes were fixed on the fuzzy darkness.

She followed him a few minutes later. The drunk air and the buzz of the music clung to her. She carried it along. She clasped his hand, he barely reacted, and she tried to follow his gaze. It was merely an empty and crooked street.

“Are you ok?” She asked.

“I came here looking for the spirit of this city,” he said, surprising himself with the revelation. He thought that in jest before, but now it seemed completely serious. “This whole time, I knew it was here somewhere, some place in this city. But now I can see it, just a block away.”

He paused. This sounded insane, but he also knew that it wasn’t. He could not really decide whether he was speaking in metaphors or not, but it also seemed irrelevant, like this wasn’t the sort of thing that could be neatly divided into “real” and “not-real” categories.

“I want to go to it, but I know it will just move on the moment I take a step. I could keep wandering these streets all night,” he felt, knew even, that if he did chase the spirit, the night would never end. “But it would just turn into more alleys, slip through more arches and shadows until I find some terrible end of my own. And I still would be no closer to it than I am now.”

Farce remix – How does your garden grow?

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on February 22, 2012


This is a long piece, so more explanation. This is an absurd, farce version of Agatha Christie’s How Does Your Garden Grow? This is a short story about the great Poirot. You should probably read the original before reading this. If you ever find yourself in a conversation with me and I suddenly begin to giggle for no reason, it’s probably because my mind has turned our exchange into something like this.

This all really started when I realized that one of the characters was such an incompetent liar he came off completely insane, simply blurting out surreal give-away statements.

Grrreat blow!

Hercule Poirot handled an oversize hunting knife in one hand and his mustache in the other. Growling, he kept stabbing at a pile of letters in front of him.

Patience! Nous allons arriver!” He exclaimed when one of the letters finally got caught on the serrated blade. A mixture of confetti, candy, dried flowers, and pieces of paper with words and phrases on them spilled out of the ruined envelope. In no particular order, the messages comprised the following list:

  • Recommended
  • Private and confidential
  • Hushed up
  • Circumstances (accompanied by a crude drawing of a squirrel)
  • A cut-out pictures of Poirot and some old lady, superposed in a way suggesting kissing.
  • Rosebank, Charmen’s Green

At ten o’clock precisely, and with a mouth full of hard caramel, Poirot burst into his secretary’s room. Miss Lemon, a demented hag confined to a wheel chair and always packing several loaded pistols, was sleeping.

“A case!  Private and confidential! Werther’s!” Poirot was shouting incoherently. Startled, Miss Lemon unloaded one of her pistols into a wall. Being almost completely blind, she could not aim and simply shot off at random.

“Soft soap! Purr purr!” She screeched like mad harpy.

Never the one to test his luck by giving Miss Lemon another opportunity, Poirot plunged through a window and ran off toward Charman’s Green. Despite his short stature, the great detective possessed the speed and the health of a horse and made along at a good clip.

Arriving at the Rosebank, the great detective stationed himself near a bush, munching on its leaves and observing the house. He was covered in spittle and dirt from the road, yet his mustache remained regal and proper. His continental sense of propriety was unshakeable. While he was waiting, he began to quietly sing,

Mistress Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With cockle-shells, and silver bells,

And pretty maids all in a row.

Drawn to his enchanting voice, a young maid appeared from the brush. However, once she caught the sight of Poirot, she exclaimed in terror,

“You’ve come for the dead!” Then promptly disappeared back into the bushes.

“Come back, blue eyes!” Pleaded Poirot and launched himself into the bushes after the pretty little maid, but she was nowhere to be found. Even Poirot’s unmatched intellectual talents could not rival her many years of experience scurrying through shrubbery. Giving up the search, he wandered into the house where he encountered a small, sullen, sallow girl that stared at him uncomfortably.

“Why have you come?” She inquired sternly.

“Candy?” Poirot continued to plead and, pouting, produced a handful of empty wrappers.

“Are you a lawyer?”

The two have arrived at an intellectual impasse.

“Katrina!” The mistress of the house arrived atop a great white horse. Henry the husband followed, occasionally yelping “Ruskies!” and biting furniture.

“Aunt Amelia is dead!” The mistress announced. “Long live Aunt Amelia!”

“Grrrreat blow!” growled Henry the husband and tore a leg off a chair with his gleaming white teeth. His eyes were wheeling around like two shopping carts driven by the mischief of faulty bearings.

Parfaitement,” thoughtfully said Poirot, then ran across the room and escaped by hurtling through a window. His great detective’s intuition alerted him that something was wrong in this scene. Something was terribly amiss, and so he directed himself to the local police station.

“Facts, inspector!”

Inspector Sims was a hybrid of an old grandfather clock and a dresser. The glass case containing the pendulum and the clock face was surrounded by a cluster of variously sized drawers. His unbending stick arms spun around like a demented cartoon whenever he spoke.

“That’s easily done. Old lady was taken bad after dinner on Tuesday night. Very alarming. Fish pie.”

“Aha!” The great detective has sensed that he was on to the case.

“Very nasty bit of work. Half a Russian girl. She left the soup on the stove and the fish pie in the oven, and the apple tart was cold.”

“A bêtise!”

“I don’t know about that.”

“A little favor – you will send me a little word how the affair marches.”

“Why, certainly.”

“Also, chocolates.”

“Why, certainly.”

Poirot raced back to his house, where Inspector Sims already awaited him, excitedly whirring his arms and hovering near the roof’s ledge.

“ITEM NO. 1!” He inspector bellowed. Poirot ran inside the house, only to be greeted by a bullet from Miss Lemon. He dodged it by diving behind a ragged couch.

“You are a Russian girl!” Poirot yelled at Miss Lemon, hoping to distract her long enough for him to make an escape.

“Yes!” She replied and fired another gun.


“You are alone and friendless!” The great detective engaged the old hag in a battle of wits, making a deep psychological attack.

“IN CONSIDERATION OF HER GREAT KINDNESS AND ATTENTION!” Inspector Sims was flying around the house, warlike thrustings of his pelvic drawer ruining the roof tiles. His deep voice boomed and echoed down the street.

“The old lady takes a fancy to you!”

“Yes!” A bullet shuttered a window.

“ITEM NO. 2!” The Inspector became so excited that his arms became positively a blur. “MISS B.! EVERYTHING ELSE TO K.! NOBODY BUT K.! THE YOUNG LADY – K.?”

“The dripping will be in the fire! Enfin!”

“Yes! The fishmonger?” Miss Lemon finally caught on to at least some of the words – this sounded like something related to food – and wheeled toward the kitchen. Taking advantage of the pause in the shooting, Poirot dove through the window and into the garden. There, Inspector Sims got caught in an apple tree, like a bewildered washing machine thrown at a fruit stand in a grocery store. The great detective was showered a mixture of chunky apple sauce and fresh mulch.

Knocking down a fence, the mistress of Rosebank rode into the yard, Henry the husband in tow. He quickly climbed a tree not yet assaulted by Inspector Sims.

“Ruskies!” he barked from his vantage point.

Poirot regarded the new arrivals with suspicion, narrowing his eyes to slits.

“They are not cockle shells,” he noted with bitter disappointment and leveled an accusatory finger. “They are oyster shells!”

“We’ve done it for years,” she began to declare theatrically to no one in particular, gesturing broadly with her arms. “It – it seems quite fantastic. My aunt died on Tuesday. It was quite unexpected. My name is Delafontaine. This is my husband. This was my aunt. The matter you speak of is no longer of importance.”


“Grrrreat blow!”

The man with the favors

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on October 15, 2011

A glass of expensive whiskey and a cigarette in the right hand.  A chrome-plated pistol in the left. Whiskey held casually at waist height. Three-quarters burn on the cigarette with just a bit of ash, with a simple, understated fragrance that instantly puts images of leather saddles bags in your mind.

A perfectly starched white pin-stripe shirt – necktie loose, top button undone – and tailor-trimmed slacks would normally place this man in a luxurious board room. But the gun – the gun held back just enough to not be obvious, but just large enough to not go unnoticed – makes the scene wrong, surreal.

How could one person make such a transition – from exclusive glass-and-steel to this place, standing a puddle of… Blood? Sweat? Waste water? – with such ease? Some people are just natural at wearing a suit. This man is a natural at wearing Fifth Avenue’s best while carrying a gun in a run-down warehouse.

“Well greetings to you. Fuck you.”

This town of ours

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on September 4, 2011


I think depression is better for my writing productivity than happiness.


The blinding sunrays filled the dusty street. They lit up a generally dull street. Gray houses. Gray dirt. A rare glint in the scene is a tiny speck of brass casings.

A man is sitting on a porch. Hat’s brim shifted low over the eyes that are narrow slits. His posture is casual, relaxed. There is no tension, just a the dull black steel of pistols in his lap and calloused fingers on the triggers.

Death doesn’t stalk this town. It takes up residence on Main Street.

Lord Kuerich

Posted in Ezra Haley by erdaron on July 26, 2011


Man, what if I actually put one of these categories into a full story. That’d be something.


The heavy door creaked and swung open before Lord Kuerich. His tall, gaunt stature and movements, so precise they seemed mechanical, gave him a marionette-like appearance. His manner was exact and deliberate. Commanded, the guards left and closed the door behind them.

Ezra could just barely see him in his side vision. He tried to turn his head, but the restraints and the searing pain in his neck stopped him.

Slowly, gracefully Kuerich walked into Ezra’s view. He set down his doctor’s satchel. Something sharp and metal clanked inside. Then he carefully sat down and directed his gaze at Ezra. Kuerich was stretching, savoring every moment of the long pause.

Panic was rising in Ezra. He could feel it come up from his stomach. A churning, suffocating ball of fear was filling his chest.

“My name is Kuerich. What’s yours?” He sounded polite and gentle. He gathered his hands, leaned back in the chair, and smiled.

“Ezra… Ezra Haley…” Words came with a struggle.

“Right. Pleasure to meet you, Ezra.” Kuerich continued to smile and leaned forward, studying Ezra’s eyes. His expression was focused, as if he meticulously studied an artifact rather than a living person. His long fingers vaguely traced over Ezra’s facial features in midair.

“Are you frightened by me, Ezra?” The boy said nothing, and Kuerich smiled even wider. “You are rather frightened. That fear… this panic.” He pointed at Ezra’s chest. “It is quite alright, though. You have every right to feel this way. I am a frightening creature.”

Kuerich sat on the edge of his chair, leaning even further forward, just inches from Ezra, his long fingers almost touching the boy’s face. Ezra shut his eyes, tried to sink himself into the hard back of his chair.

“My my my…” Kuerich mumbled to himself and stood up. He closed his eyes for a second, and began to slowly gesture, speaking quietly in an ancient tongue. His fingers left traces on the air, lines of thin black smoke. In a few stroke, he wove a symbol. Its lines solidified for a moment, and then the symbol dispersed.

Smoke began to pour out of the sleeves of Kuerich’s robe, pooling around Ezra’s legs, climbing up his body. The boy struggled helplessly in his binds.

“Time to rest, young Haley,” Kuerich uttered. Ezra began to lose consciousness.

Villainy, part 3

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on July 17, 2011

“But you need me!”

“I do. I need you to die!”

“Be you good or evil?”

“Good. Wicked fucking good.”

“You can’t do this!”

“Sounds like a dare.”

A knife in the dark

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on March 9, 2011

It is a knife in the dark. A cold and merciless blade, free of convictions, qualms, and regrets. It is a dead and wandering gaze, the eyes of a hungry predator. It is a prescient fear, the clear and absolute knowledge of mortal danger in the complete absence of any apparent evidence. The smell of something wrong and terrible is in the air. The breath shortens, the heart quickens, the blood cools. It is a macabre dance of the shadows, ready to welcome another in their midst.

It is a dark and blind alley.