Saturday, May 29, 2010

#fridayflash: Ripple Creek Bar-B-Que

Ripple Creek Bar-B-Que

Louise Dragon

So, it’s two days before Memorial Day, Chuck and I have been cooped up at work for the week, the sun is out, the weather is beautiful, and nature is calling to us both.

We grab the dog plus a couple of cold ones and literally jump into Chuck’s beat-up Suburban. At the bottom of the driveway, Chuck says “Left or right?” I flip a coin to tails and shout, “left” with mounting excitement. This will take us north through the Ozarks and I’ve always loved the mountains.

Chuck and I chatter quietly about work, the scenery, and Lucky the dog who is perched precariously on the back seat. We’ve never figured out what she’s looking for, but she either watches through the windows intently or lies prone on her side -- sound asleep. Chuck never takes the same roads on these trips. What would be the point? New roads lead to new adventurers and Chuck, Lucky, and I are all about new adventures. So when we saw the sign proclaiming “Entering Slate Valley,” it garnered our interest immediately.

Slate Valley, it seems, has one of the few remaining slate quarries still in operation. The entire town seemed to be made of slate: slate benches, slate walkways, slate steps, slate fences, etc. We spent the morning exploring the quarry which was “Closed for the Holiday Weekend” according to the sign. We found a slate lined cave, a slate floored lake, and even a small slate adored park.

With rumbling stomachs we made our way to the center of town, still marveling at all of the unique uses this town had found for slate. I think we both saw the unusual sign at the same time, Chuck pointing with his left hand out of the driver’s side window, and me pointing with my right hand. Written in colored chalk on a huge piece of slate were the words “Ripple Creek Bar-B-Que.” I looked at Chuck and he looked back at me with a huge grin. Chuck and I are barbecue freaks. Chuck will travel hundreds of miles to check out new barbecue restaurants or to try a new barbecue sauce. This sign slathered icing on the cake of our fun and exciting day exploring in Slate Valley.

I could see that the building had once been someone’s three-story home, now painted a garish aqua color with stark white trim. The huge slate sign stood between two top-story windows. The eatery itself was on floor number two which was reached by traveling up a set of thick slate steps supported by wide beams. Floor number one lay half buried behind these steps, the high small windows boarded (slated) up. Prickly looking shrubs spiked the lawn in this area. A tired dirt driveway wound around to the back of the building.

The slate steps led up to an old-fashioned front porch, which held a quaint selection of rockers, swings, and deck chairs. An old man with a wiry gray beard down to his belt buckle sat seeding peppers into plastic tub on one of the porch swings.

“Howdy, folks,” he spoke with a phlegmy growl. “Hope you brought yer appetites,”

“Never leave home without ‘em.” Chuck replied as we headed inside.

A siren screamed in the background and the old man almost knocked me over getting to the other side of the porch.

“Lots of bad accidents on holiday weekends,” he murmured, spitting over the porch railing and narrowly missing the picnic tables below.

“Let’s eat inside,” I whispered to Chuck, who nodded readily.

The inside of the self-service restaurant was as quaint as the outside. The walls were dotted with small pieces of slate. Some slates in the kitchen area wore pricing and marketing blurbs. Those slabs in the dining area sported old-fashioned clichés like: “Make it or break it,” “Waste not, want not,” “The lesser of two evils,” and “Cooking with gas.”

Chuck and I bantered pleasantly with the blonde grandmotherly woman behind the counter. Chuck ordered ribs and I ordered a bar-b-qued pork sandwich -- we both asked for extra sauce and cream sodas to wash everything down.

As we sat at an old-fashioned slate topped table and polished off the succulent food, I tried to pump the old woman behind the counter about her sauce recipe and cuts of meat, but she slyly shook her head – a strange little smile playing over her little perch lips.

Later, stuffed to the gills, I inquired about a ladies room. The woman’s pleasant face furrowed into a frown and she glanced toward the front door as if expecting old Pa Kettle to come barging in. She hesitated another few seconds before ushering me through the fragrant kitchen to a small door marked “Privy” at the rear of the kitchen.

A tiny window in the washroom had been painted over, but I could make out movement in the backyard shadows below, so I scratched at a small area of the paint with my thumbnail and peered through to the back yard.

Big mistake!

An old fashioned ambulance squatted below the window and two burly large men bearing a striking resemblance to Ma & Pa Ripple Creek were wheeling a sheet covered gurney into the belly of the building below.

Fear turned my blood to ice water and I took several deep breaths before leaving the little bathroom and making my way across the kitchen and dining room toward Chuck.

The woman watched me closely with fear or malice in her eyes. It was hard for me to tell, I was in such a state of terror I wanted to run, but I pictured Chuck, myself, and Lucky being hacked up and barbequed in the pits under this house.

“Hey, Lizzy, I found the pipe for the barbeque pits,” Chuck said as I approached. He stood by a huge stainless-steel pipe, which ran from floor to ceiling through the dining room.

“Liz, what’s wrong?”

“A little too much delicious barbeque,” I said very loudly struggling to keep my voice steady. My stomach churned queasily at the thought of what we may have just eaten.

“We need to get out of here,” I whispered quickly in Chuck’s ear. “Act natural, she’s watching us.”

Safely in our car, Chuck turned to me. “What the hell?”

“Just get us out of here. Drive slow and act natural,” I said smiling and waving to Pa Kettle on the porch.

As we headed back home I told Chuck what I had seen in the bathroom. The color drained out of his face.

“What should we do?”

“Do? We do nothing! These people are all related around here. I’ll be damned if I want to end up some hillbilly’s dinner. We do nothing and we tell no one, deal?”

Chuck and I don’t explore the Ozark’s much any more. We don’t eat barbeque very much any more either, but we have talked about starting our own business – I’m sure there are other slate quarries around.

Wrong Turn [Blu-ray] (3 pack)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dragon Chronicles XXVIII

XXVIII. Garden of the world near the new city
Spans forty years before the chosen committee
The arid earth grows ever more dry
As the great star burns in the violent sky

New Jack City: Music From The Motion Picture


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

#TuesdaySerial: Wrenge III

Wrenge (3)
Louise Dragon

Summer was almost over, Wayne noticed as drove his olive-green jeep down the winding ribbon of road toward Moriah Gorge.

Towering crags on either side gave Wayne a claustrophobic feeling, like a beetle inching carefully between two spider webs.

At the park, Wayne banged his jeep to a halt, hopped out, and breezed along the foliage checking for errant hikers or vagrants. His hiking boots crunched gravel as he poked about the rustic grounds. Normally teaming with birds and wildlife, this spot had apparently been abandoned for today. A chill wind kicked up. Wayne rubbed the shoulders of his green ranger's uniform. The sudden cold gust flipped up his collar and riffled his hair. It carried a vile odor, like decayed road kills.

Wayne's stomach gurgled as another rush of foul wind swept him.

Across the parking lot his jeep crouched comfortingly.

Feeling a vague apprehension, Wayne wished he were closer to the vehicle. It seemed so far away. The next blast of wind loomed slightly warmer but smelled twice as rotten.

The muscles of Wayne's neck tightened. His jeep rested too far away. Harsh grinding sounds issued from Wayne's mouth as pebbles of goose flesh cropped up on his bare arms.

Instinct told him that he needed to get to that jeep.


He sensed danger, although he couldn't see or hear anything close by.


The voice in his brain sounded much like his dead wife's although he was sure the thought had been his.

Wayne's rooted feet took on life and he began carefully

(Nonchalantly?) moving toward the jeep.

A squall of darkness advanced over the gorge. Involuntarily, Wayne took a step back from the shadowy veil of blackness cascading toward him. He looked up expecting that a dark cloud had blotted out the light momentarily.

No cloud.

He glimpsed something dark and huge floating lazily across the top of the gorge.

(A big bird? An eagle, perhaps?)

The black shadow of the thing enveloped him. His fear swelled into a balloon of terror. The shadow folded Wayne into heavy darkness -- it tugged at him with clutching fingers.

"Blood, bone, tears, and fears." A mere whisper floated on vile smelling wind.

Teeth grinding and flesh crawling, Wayne bolted toward his jeep. As suddenly as it had appeared the shadow dissipated.

All that was left was a frightened little man in a green jeep -- all alone on a desolate road.

Continued . . .

Link to Wrenge I
Link to Wrenge II
In the Tennessee Mountains
In the Tennessee Mountains

Friday, May 21, 2010

#fridayflash: The Lonesome Elm

The Lonesome Elm
By Louise Dragon

The sign by the driveway read “Lonesome Elm Ranch.”

Derrick glided his Chevy Blazer into the rutted dirt driveway beside the peeling sign, slid his five feet eight inches out from behind the wheel, rubbed his aching back, and gazed up at the huge single elm tree overshadowing the small weather-beaten farmhouse.

In all of his years as a real estate agent, Derrick had yet to see such a mammoth elm. Its root structure must be enormous. Looking closely, however, the agent noticed the huge tree was dead. Its gray branches spread out to the horizon like a multi-fingered hand, but there were no leaves or buds on the tired looking twigs.

Derrick gazed out over the vast green countryside looking for more elm trees, but not only were there no more elms in sight, he couldn’t see a single tree close by; just green grass and brown dust.

As he hastily glanced over the notes on his clipboard concerning this property, his mind wondered if you could still call the homestead “Lonesome Elm Ranch” if the one lonesome elm was dead. He supposed he’d have to make arrangements to get the eyesore removed and a new elm planted. Derrick rubbed a hand over the rough gray bark – he felt a strange tugging sensation in his fingers and swiftly pulled his hand back. A pulsing headache suddenly began to twitch above his right eye and the agent staggered back from the tree frantically rubbing his hand on his slacks as though it were wet . . . or dirty.

Derrick took a deep breath and moved away from the tree. Pinpricks of revulsion crawled up his backbone and marched across the back of his neck. Trying to regain some composure, the agent turned back to his clipboard to read up on the history of the abandoned ranch.

The Kingsbury family had lived on this ranch for several generations. Seems that one by one the family members disappeared. Townsfolk assumed they’d moved on –

“T’ain’t much goin’ on in Perry Oklahoma to keep folks hanging ‘round here.”

The whispered words seemed to float on the air. Derrick’s chin tightened as he glanced over his shoulder. Of course, no one was there.

Trying to shrug away the fear and uncertainty responsible for Derrick’s aching head, he decided to quickly check out the rest of the property so that he could get on with the listing. He just wished there were more people around here. The ranch house sagged at the foot of that dead tree like an afterthought in a child’s Halloween drawing. And not one vehicle had passed the ranch since the agent had arrived. Silence added a surreal quality to the eerie surroundings.

The small ranch-style house looked as gray and dead as the gigantic tree growing above it. Derrick stepped up on the porch, which creaked alarmingly in the stillness of the day. The house windows held enough grime to make peering through them quite a chore. Inside, the house smelled bad, rotten and decaying like punky old wood you’d find in a forest.

The interior of the house was not what Derrick had expected. Instead of emptiness and desolation, it was completely furnished with old-fashioned flowery furniture. It looked as though the folks who’d lived here had gone out to tend the ranch one day and never came back. Cobwebs shrouded the rooms with an eerie filtered light.

Derrick liked being inside of the house about as much as he had liked being in its yard. Something bothered him about this place -- like there was something dangerous crouching unseen in the dusty corners of this old house – just outside his line of sight. Lurking . . . waiting . . .

As if to emphasize his thoughts Derrick saw movement in the old stone fireplace to his right. There were several logs placed haphazardly in the fireplace -- the wood moved ever so slightly. Derrick crept in closer for a better look and one of those logs reached up for him like a wooden tentacle. Too late the agent saw that the roots from that old elm had grown into the house. Several rough gray shoots gripped the large man and yanked him screaming and sobbing through a broken board and into the old root cellar below the fireplace.

As Derrick’s life’s blood flowed onto the roots of the giant elm a miraculous change took place outside of the “Lonesome Elm Ranch.”

Overnight the huge tree sprouted lush green leaves. The home straightened on its foundation as the well-fed roots retreated and the house took on a warm inviting glow.

It waits.

Tree of Life: The World of the African Baobab (Tree Tales)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dragon Chronicles XXVII.

XXVII. The brilliance of the translator will result in a fail
Orators tell a gruesome tale
After the great games comes awaited help
From the shadow of the new mountain spawns the welp


Spawn, #1 (Comic Book)Spawn, #1 (Comic Book)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

#TuesdaySerial: Wrenge II

Wrenge (2)
Louise Dragon

Wayne Michaels, murmured in his sleep. In his dreams, he again struck the fatal blow. He watched his wife tumble, in slow motion, down the stairs for the last time. Her mouth formed a round O of surprise; her reaching hands scrabbled for a hold.

While he slept, Wayne clutched his hands behind his back. Clutched them tightly as he had on that night as his wife bounced from wall to stairs. Each thump echoed in his brain.

He could have saved her!

If he had only reached out one hand instead of stubbornly hiding his palms like a bad boy caught in the cookie jar.

But Elizabeth crashed to the bottom with one final thud.

From his place at the top of the stairs Wayne heard her gasp out her last breath: saw her chest rise once before she lay motionless forever. Her once beautiful face locked into an angry mask of death so hideous Wayne looked away.

In his nightmare, Wayne's eyes moved from the fresh corpse to the window where the late afternoon sun swept golden rays across the carpet.

The day darkened abruptly.

Chills rippled through Wayne.

Thudding heartbeats gnashed and grated like machinery.

"I'm coming,” a tiny voice grated in his ear. "I'm coming for you, Wayne."

Wayne needed to wake up now. But as he turned toward the window again, a huge dark shadow swept by . . .

Jerked awake by something he couldn't quite remember, Wayne Michaels shivered in the cool night air. Harsh grinding sounds plagued his ears. It took him a moment realize that his teeth were grating against each other. While he slept, he had kicked off the quilt and could feel goose bumps bubbling on his naked flesh. Rubbing his aching jaw, Wayne reached about on the floor.

His hand encountered something soft just as a dark shadow blotted out what little light had been in the room. Shivering with fear that he couldn't explain Wayne snapped on the bedside lamp. Yanking the quilt from the floor, he wrapped his chilled body and huddled miserably in the big empty bed, still rubbing his jaw.

He hadn't had a problem with grinding his teeth at night since he had been a child. He really hated sleeping alone. Damn Elizabeth. Why did she have to be so weak?

He left the light on for the rest of the night.

Continued . . .

Link to Wrenge (1)

Battered Love


Friday, May 14, 2010

#fridayflash: Undercover Garden

Undercover Garden
Louise Dragon

She bent, peering at the odd bloom that had appeared overnight in her prized garden. It burst open expelling its venom.

Sally, stunned, carefully extracted the dozen or so tiny dart-like seeds from her neck and right cheek. She collected them gingerly in her palm, careful not to lose any of the precious pods.

She felt really strange. Routine carried her from task to task, but her mind was literally miles away. Her thoughts seemed to tick inside her brain like check marks on a to-do list.

A soothing soft voice droned in Sally’s mind. The voice called her simply “Gardener.”

She received instructions from the voice. Her mind dubbed the voice as “Maraud” for some unknown reason.

Maraud directed the Gardener to plant the unique seeds in special little pots of soil obtained from the belly of a cave, which branched into Sally’s prized back yard garden.

Sally had always feared the dark recesses of that cave, but that day she entered without alarm and placed her small pots of soil onto thirteen natural looking little alcoves jutting from the walls of the cave.

As the last pot sank onto its resting place, a blue light shot from the rocky wall beneath it and struck another pot on the opposite wall. The blue light zigzagged back and forth between the pots until a cobweb of filmy blue strands hung across the cave walls. The light blinked out from the strands leaving iridescent filament crisscrossed over the interior surfaces of the cave.

Sally watched without fear as a bat woke from its ceiling resting spot and attempted to swoop through the cave filaments. It stuck to the thin pearly fibers and struggled to get free.

A small multi-legged creature about the size of a golf ball scuttled from one of Sally’s flowerpots. It grasped the struggling bat with powerful looking tweezer-like claws and inserted a thick gray straw-like appendage into the struggling animal’s chest. The bat gave one final high-pitched chitter then fell limply against the weird beast from the pot. The voice of Maraud called the creature Guardian as soft tones soothed the fear centers of Sally’s brain until she was able to watch the Guardian suck all life from the bat turning its small body into a dried black husk that wafted silently to the cave floor.


Sally’s back yard garden of beautiful and unusual plants is a unique showplace in the Arkansas foothills.

Sally works her garden with the abandonment of a gardening fanatic careful that not one weed should mar her treasured showplace.

The cave opening is camouflaged with colorful flowering shrubs and vines that carry with them a haunting fragrance like peppermint and cherries.

Sometimes, when dogs or children approach the cave opening wanting more of the delicious fragrance, Sally rubs the right side of her face trying to remember why she should shoo the visitors away. At times like this, Maraud’s voice intercedes and sooths away her worries.

Sally’s the Gardener. Her job is to keep her garden a perfect showplace and attract visitors (food?).

It is not her job to wonder how big the Guardians have grown with all of the food they’ve consumed recently.

At night when she’s asleep, however, she dreams that Maraud visits and plants more seeds. He looks like a smiling Greek god with curly hair and beautiful white teeth, but sometimes the mask slips a little during his efforts.

Sally’s mind tries to grasp the look of the hideous being know as Maraud but the insectile alien contours of the face above her softens into its smiling human version before she can fully grasp the concept of what’s happening. Soothing tones then smooth away her terror. The soothing tones that lately seem to end in an almost angry insectile buzz.

Somewhere, deep in the cortex of Sally’s mind, a tiny nugget of her former self wonders if the new buzzing voice belongs to Maraud or the fetus she’s carrying.

A numbing trill kicks away that little nugget and reminds her that Gardeners were put on the earth to garden and nurture. She must leave the thinking and wondering to the Marauders.


Note from the Author: The first paragraph of this story is courtesy of #storystarters, a Twitter Application.

Related in Time: Secrets of an Ozark CaveRelated in Time: Secrets of an Ozark Cave

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dragon Chronicles XXVI

XXVI. The cloud will cause two suns to appear
Never more horror nor more fear
Newspapers tell of worse in the past
Settlers come to terms at long last

Two Suns Rising: A Collection of Sacred WritingsTwo Suns Rising: A Collection of Sacred Writings

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

#TuesdaySerial: Wrenge I

Author’s note: On Friday, April 30, 2010, I wrote a #fridayflash story called “Wrenge.” Since that day the Wrenge has been begging to become a longer story . . . she swears that she has more business to take care of . . . I’ve decided to turn her lose. I hope you enjoy my first #TuesdaySerial:

Wrenge (I)
Louise Dragon

During twilight hours on the day Elizabeth Michaels was laid to rest -- one more statistic in the journals of domestic abuse -- a small Memphis cemetery spawned the Wrenge.

Born from the persistent cries of abused women, the Wrenge tentatively extended leathery wings. Equipped with wings, she'd rise above the suffering and pain of her creators. Her leathery skin carried the blue and purple bruises of countless abused women -- giving her a dark, mottled image. A silvery sheen of tears, shed by thousands, gave the Wrenge an iridescent glow against the darkening night sky. Her face, shadowed by the twenty-foot wingspan, carried the hollowed anguish of many faces. A spark of determination glittered in her deep-set black eyes: determination, which had often arrived too late to help its couriers. These crumbs of resolve, pooled together, gave the Wrenge colossal strength and almost weightless stability as she lifted her powerful wings and soared high above Memphis. Owls and bats shrank from the huge dark shadow whose breath carried the stench of death.

Continued . . .

Dare To Find Out About.... Frightful Winged Creatures

Friday, May 7, 2010

#fridayflash: Acorn

by Louise Dragon

The acorn-like rock first appeared on Mother’s Day; Tina vaguely remembers this, although not sure about the significance . . .

Tina Marshall drives the same route every day. Back roads so that she can speed and not have to worry about patrolling state police cars. Thirty miles to work her job as a pediatric med tech at Haden General Hospital every day and then thirty miles back home; the same route, day in and day out. The familiar scenery passes her by each day like a well-known movie set.

Although a Sunday, Mother’s Day holds no unusual significance for Tina. People working in the medical profession work Sundays, holidays, and weekdays with little notice in their minds. Tina has no children -- she’s been divorced for seven years. Her job is her life – she’s good at it and likes to think that she makes a difference in the lives of her tiny patients.


The acorn-like rock first appeared in a grassy field midway to the hospital. The rock jutted from the field like it had fallen from some huge tree. It was the color of redwood and its cap bristled with feathery spines reminding Tina of a modified Beatles haircut. The rock was much larger than a standard acorn also. It was about the size of a basketball. She sped by without much concern for the new landscape blemish.

That rock often drew Tina’s attention as she traveled her accustomed route. It seemed to grow and swell each day. It also seemed to be moving closer to the road.

“Your overactive imagination will get you in trouble one day.” The voice of Tina’s dead mother droned in her mind. Tina shook the voice from her head and kept driving.

Of course it’s my imagination, she scoffed to herself.

Rocks don’t grow.

Rocks don’t move either!

But the next day the rock seemed even closer and larger than when Tina had first seen it. It seemed to visibly swell and bulge with a pulse not unlike that of a heartbeat.

The thought of a heartbeat and Tina’s foot hit the brake. The car shuddered to a halt. Tina grabbed a wooden windshield brush from the seat beside her and approached the rock, which now sat on the grassy lip of the back road.

Tina glanced in both directions, but she knew there was very little traffic on this road – it was one of the reasons why she enjoyed traveling on it.

The acorn-like rock pulsed and twitched before her like a giant cocoon. As she drew nearer, Tina picked up a faint lemony peppermint smell that was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. When she stopped about three feet from the rock and squatted to get a closer look, the bottom of the rock split open like a grinning mouth and a woody looking tentacle shot out and wrapped around Tina’s left ankle. She screamed and fell backward pounding on the tentacle with her brush like a mad woman. As abruptly as it had happened, the tentacle retreated back into the rock, the rock closed about it and proceeded to look like a normal rock again.

Tina scrambled frantically backwards rubbing her offended ankle. There were a few tiny puncture marks and scratches, but otherwise she was unharmed. She went to work and tried to forget the incident, but the slimy feel of that tentacle on her ankle had ingrained itself upon her mind like a horrible tattoo.

Tina continued to drive by the acorn rock each day but it seemed to have stopped moving and growing – either that or her imagination had stopped inventing problems that were not there.

Then came the day of the hailstorm. It had been a beautiful sunny summer day when abruptly the sky turned dark gray and the town of Haden was subjected to a thunderous whopper of a hailstorm.

The Hospital became overloaded with storm victims and Tina stayed to work a double shift to help out. Midnight was fast approaching by the time she placed her weary body behind the wheel and headed home.

Tina was so tired she had forgotten all about the acorn rock – which would not be visible at night in any case. There was a full moon, however, and the wind had picked up to blow the clouds away. As Tina’s car approached the field with the acorn rock, she noticed a soft pink glow where the rock should be. The glow was reminiscent of trying to hold a flashlight beam in your hand.

Slightly punchy from her tiring day, Tina pulled over without thinking. Something nudged her mind toward the rock. She felt a tugging, pulling sensation in her brain that made her WANT to see the rock. She felt an instinct to touch the rock, to caress its smooth surfaces. Tina felt a growing kinship for the rock that was closer than those relationships she had with her patients.

As Tina pondered this new feeling inside her, the acorn rock once again split open and the tentacle slid quietly out. It did not grasp this time, but merely caressed her ankle with a soothing touch. The remainder of the acorn rock split completely open to reveal a naked infant girl with beautiful coal black eyes and a silky redwood colored Beatles hairdo.
 Tina picked up the soft cooing infant smelling of lemon and peppermints and cradled her. She was unmindful of the tiny little tentacles that appeared and caressed her hands and arms from time to time. She also didn’t mind the new whispery voice in her head.

“Take care of me. I’m your little girl now.”

Author's Note: This story was inspired by an original drawing glimpsed on the pages of a blog belonging to my good friend Susan Mordigal, Artistic Illustrator. Her Blog is entitled Susan Beth Studio and her drawing is entitled: Acorn, Sunday Sketches IF Cocoon. Let me point out that Susan is in no way responsible for the horror that blossomed in my mind from her beautiful sketch. I hope you enjoy my Mother’s Day story. lm

Dear Mom, I've Always Wanted You to Know: Daughters Share Letters from the Heart(TM)
Dear Mom, I've Always Wanted You to Know: Daughters Share Letters from the Heart(TM)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dragon Chronicles XXV

XXV. Prey to the Barbarians from ancient France
The east and the west must take this chance
There will be peace, union, and change
Harmony filters through the new mountain range

Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of EuropeEmpires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe