Elegy

Monday, April 10th, 07:00 a.m.
Scrub the bathroom floor, Hailey might be up soon…
Those alabaster tiles that she picked out because “white is a tranquil colour” aren’t going to keep themselves shiny. That reminds me I have to pick up more tile cleaner when I go to the store later, we’re almost out. I pause several times in front of the mirror, vaguely staring at my reflection.

Gotta get back to scrubbing.
The smell of bleach reminds me of the nearby gym’s members-only pool. Hailey was a lifeguard on duty that day, the day we met. My mind always liked taking mid-day strolls but lately it got worse. I find myself in foreign countries, walking through floral paths whilst sitting at the kitchen table chewing plain toast for hours.

Monday, April 10th, 09:47 a.m.
I get up from the bathroom floor and my back is aching like the eroding cartilage of an 80 year-old’s knee. I pay little attention as there is still so much to do and Hailey might be up soon…

Monday, April 10th, 14:33 p.m.
Lunch was terrible. Note to self: never go to Paolo’s again. They burned my steak. Why do they always burn my steak? That reminds me of the time Hailey and I were walking downtown and a burning crisp of a pizza slice hit the floor at ludicrous velocity from the building above and onto the pavement in front of us. I’ll never forget her hysterical but adorable laughter that day. She laughed so much she got teary-eyed, one of her favourite feelings, she said.

Tuesday, April 11th, 07:00 a.m.
I leap out of bed and suddenly get the urge to make breakfast, Hailey might want some when she gets up, and that could be any moment now…

Why do we need so many special places for things? Spice drawer,  sugar jar, brown sugar jar, cutlery drawer, napkin drawer, good napkin drawer, bread box. “Huh…” I pause.  I quickly turn to the cabinet where Hailey keeps the plates for “special occassions”, like that time her father came to stay with us. I mutter some arithmetic and notice we’re one short of the full set. My eye catches a glimpse of the shattered answer, slyly trying to make its refuge under the fridge. I panic and rush over to pick it up before Hailey wakes up and sees that one of her special plates is broken. Into the nylon cemetery with the bacon I’ve burned to a crisp by this point because I was day-dreaming again. I hope the smell doesn’t bother her, she hates the smell of burnt food.

Tuesday, April 11th, 18:18 p.m.
I’m extremely aware of how my head feels on account of the new haircut. I can no longer fight the urge to scratch my head and now my hand is full of newly-trimmed hair. At the risk of looking like a complete lunatic in public, I clap frantically but it doesn’t seem to want to leave me. I conclude that this is an exercise in futility and that the hair trimmings aren’t going anywhere right now. Is Hailey even going to like my new haircut?

Thursday, April 13th, 16:09 p.m.
I run my index finger along the kitchen table and before I even look at it I can tell I’m going to need to clean. The circular, grey dirt on my finger only confirms my suspicion. Wouldn’t want Hailey to wake up to a dusty house, she’s had enough on her plate lately as it is. Plates. I hope when she wakes up she doesn’t notice one of her good plates is missing. I should go out and buy her a new one.

Saturday, April 15th, 10:14 a.m.
Had every intention of sleeping in today but the nearby church bells had other plans for me, it seems. At least it’s a joyous occassion that interrupted my sleep. I can’t bring myself to get up, however. Maybe I’ll stay in bed a while.

Sunday, April 16th, 08:12 a.m.
I’m standing in the middle of the living room, dressed in all-black on a rainy Sunday morning. Who are these people? Why are they in my house? Why are they all shaking my hand?
Conversation seems a little one-sided, too. Instead of “good morning” or “hello” some other, four-syllable word seems to have replaced today’s vernacular. Amongst the sea of strangers I recognize my mother’s figure, processing through the crowd and offering them food and snacks. She looks at me from a distance, as if she’s trying to hug me inside her mind. Why does she look sad? Come to think of it, everyone here looks kind of sad.
I have things to do around the house, wonder when everyone’ll be leaving.
Hailey might be up soon…

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Copyright © 2016 by Miltiades Strouthos. Do not reproduce or use any contents by any means without prior written consent of Miltiades Strouthos. All rights reserved

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Whence Cometh The Rain

Benjamin Hunter reached for his overcoat decidedly but exhausted. As he stared outside his glass prison and into the graveyard that had once been his home town he felt nothing but disgust and an overwhelming urge to run as far away as possible, his faint reflection colored cold on the nearby window.

“Have you ever wondered where the rain comes from?” he internalized.

“No, all you do is scurry between the streets and intersections, wasting away your finite breaths like purposeless insects, not even realizing that the obsidian cloud that poisons our sky is the source of our misery. We must run away, revolt even. I have had enough of this cesspool of a city, a city literally drowning in its own problems.”

A small town-turned-city situated at Mt. Reth’s feet, Io’s Hollow was a place like no other; it was the city of perpetual rain. An unending storm loomed over the city for as long as stories and myths recalled it so, as if the place had been cursed by the dying breath of a bitter witch but one thing was for certain: Ben had had his fill. Pale creatures crawled through the ever wet streets and went on about their mundane existence, disease due to lack of sunshine running rampant amongst the citizens of a dawn-less sky.

“How could anyone bring a child into a place such as this?” he pondered further. Ben’s lust for finding what was beyond this cursed mountain bloomed at a young age, and what was weirder still was that he seemed to be the only one who actually sought escape. At twenty-eight years of age he decided to take action and finally leave behind Io’s Hollow for good.

He rushed downstairs, threw some provisions into the trunk and slammed the car door shut, not even looking back once. He put one weary foot onto the gas pedal and pressed down as hard as he could, heading straight for Devil’s Ridge but more importantly what lay beyond the mountains; a clear sky, just like in his dreams. He had seen a great, fiery ball, floating gracefully in the ether, touching everything in its path with warmth unfelt by Benjamin.

As he slithered through the streets, faces both strange and familiar meshed into shades of unrelenting grey and never once waved goodbye or stopped to consider who Ben was or what he was after. Finally getting past the Ridge he sped up even further, eventually making it into a half-lit motorway that was also tormented by heavy rain. Some three hours later the rain began to thin out, eventually stopping altogether. The gravel winded and coiled in brilliant patterns but as Ben drove further and further away he felt… peculiar. It was vestigial at first, but the emotion slowly but surely got more and more intense with each passing second. The other cars began to disappear from his line of sight one by one like blown-out candles, then the traffic signs and finally the street lights. It felt as though the road led nowhere, a path much worse than the one he had known before, Ben felt.

He stopped by what he assumed was the side of the road, stepped out and flirted with a cigarette for a few minutes, allowing himself to become lost somewhere between the moment and his thoughts and then got back inside his car and turned it around the other way with but one destination in mind; Io’s Hollow.

If you had asked Benjamin Hunter why he turned around that night he couldn’t much tell you himself, but as he approached the city limits and the ashen atmosphere fell into sight his eyes bulged wide as he had, for the first time, witnessed the sign erected beside Devil’s Ridge. Standing tall beside the Ridge was a white sign embedded with bold, black letters that read

WELCOME HOME

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Copyright © 2015 by Miltiades Strouthos. Do not reproduce or use any contents by any means without prior written consent of Miltiades Strouthos. All rights reserved

Filius

A kaleidoscope of soft shades of blue decorates the walls of a room, serene creations dangle from the ceiling and chime a playful note every time they are caressed by a breeze from the open window on the North wall.

The infant, in all his infinite knowledge, sits awkwardly in the middle of it all, atop a blanket with patterns meant only to soothe, its pudgy skin folding neatly on top of itself like never used play-dough. He mumbles to himself in a tongue not even he understands and immerses himself with objects that mean nothing as of yet, but the constant frustration of inability to express oneself leaves him with no choice, as even at the tender age of newborn the necessity to create as created is vivid and inescapable in all living things.

Mother Nature sends her compliments to the child, in the form of a bird that bears the color of love, and it perches gently atop the pallas of the open window, staring half-curiously inside at this clumsy ball of happiness, though it could not even begin to understand what it was witnessing on the ground next to the boy. Another gentle gust rolls by and the chimes make the boy laugh in the sincerest of ways. It’s a thing of awe, a child’s laugh; a joy of the little things, so unfiltered and so uninhibited, it spreads into the cosmos without even a hint of burden and it splashes bright colors on a blank canvas. It is an incorporeal wealth most, if not all, lose somewhere along the way without even realizing.

Footsteps interrupt this wondrous ritual, as two figures begin to resolve into focus. “There’s my beautiful baby boy, my Filius.” A soft but firm grasp clenches either side of him and with a little help from tunnel vision the boy feels like he has teleported to the skies. His face meets that of his mother and father, welcoming visages complimented by laughter, one of the few stimuli the boy reacts to as clear as the day outside. His mother takes him to the window, near the beautiful avian spectator, but it flees as quickly as it came, as the boy’s curiosity overwhelms him and he attempts to grab it.

“Honey” Tuuq exclaims! “Our boy has already completed his first creation, and only at such an infantile state, he must be a genius!”

Norrah turns away from the window and directs her attention to the ground, directly behind where her boy was playing just moments ago. The parents are overwhelmed at their newborn’s affinity for creating, even at such a young age. Norrah places the boy down gently and they both approach the emerald and verdant sphere, their eyes glowing with excitement.

As they inch closer, the sphere unfurls into an exponentially increasing amount of detail; blazing rocks and streams of clear liquid, but the most bedazzling of all: sentience. A myriad of living beings of all shapes and sizes performing an unimaginable variety of tasks is revealed, some interacting with others and some happy to just be, while others were plunged into what could only be described as chaos. Two proud parents turn to their child, barely able to contain their overflowing joy.

Norrah caresses her son’s glistening cheeks; “it’s his first creation, they will eventually become more refined, but I can’t believe he’s completed one so young.”

“What shall we call it?”

“How about… Earth?”

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Copyright © 2015 by Miltiades Strouthos. Do not reproduce or use any contents by any means without prior written consent of Miltiades Strouthos. All rights reserved

A Terrestrial Tragedy

“It was the year 2055 when my kind bridged the gap between cosmological solitude and contacting other sentient life.
I was in what we humans would refer to as a zygotic stage then, probably. Fast forward twenty three years, where science has made previously unthinkable bounds, which has brought me, inexorably, to this day and point in my short life.”

Doused in the half-light of a flickering light bulb, the boy fought to hold his pen as steady as he could.

“My name is Edgar. My loved ones call me…” he paused for a moment, and then scribbled over that last part with a touch of bitterness. “I do not expect whomever this letter reaches to understand or even be familiar with the concepts of life here on Earth. Nor do I wish them to. No such plague should ever befall your kind, truly. I have seen the advertisements on TV being incessantly forced down the throats of our daily schedule and there is a saying on my planet; no time like the present.”

As chance would have it, as he wrote those words one of the ads the boy was referring to had begun to play. A ubiquitous persona appeared on TV and started to vaguely throw around some science; about how space exploration was perfectly safe and how they were looking for more volunteers to join the CRP, or Cosmic Relations Program, that helped send people to other planets to begin life anew there, in the hopes of ensuring humanity’s survival outside Earth, should conditions ever dictate so.

“Dinner’s almost ready” a distant voice faintly echoed through the house, but Edgar did not respond. Instead, he continued to focus on the page before him.

“But the ads do not satisfy the why, that is a much tougher question to answer but I will try nonetheless. I want to be part of the Cosmic Relations Program because there is a perpetual black hole in my being. A gap so big it’s eating me from the inside out, scrounging at the leftovers of the life force I still preserve. I feel as though I am swimming against a maelstrom and slowly finding less and less reason to keep fighting the overwhelming current. The thought of letting it take me has crossed my mind more than a few times, but I digress. As I previously mentioned, I was not swayed by the many perks our government promises or the plethora of shameless promotion I was bombarded with, rather, my hand was forced.

It was forced the day my mother started to make a hobby of taking triple the prescribed dosage her doctor advised and the day my father started looking for answers in empty bottles of alcohol. I choose…. no, must leave my planet behind and never look back because I cannot live down another day of slurred insults, and a parent whose eyes are as hollow as the space between our planets and as cold twice over. I cannot bear another second of painful silence over a half-heart meal in a house that hasn’t changed one bit since the day I can remember, yet somehow feels like a stranger’s home. Photographs of previous family outings stare blankly into the space before them, simply gathering dust day in, day out with no one to pick them up, if only for a moment and try to remember how we let those memories slip through our fingers like sand.”

Unable to remain in one piece, the boy broke down as he saw the sum of the last three years of his life materialize on a piece of paper, knowing this letter was to reach a being of life that could not be more estranged to these concepts and feelings Edgar spoke of.

Then rain started to fall from the boy’s eyes and splatter softly onto the page below. He took a moment to compose himself, folded the page neatly and put it in an envelope which he tucked under his pillow.

And there the letter would remain, tucked away between Edgar’s pillow and the dozens of other unsent letters he had written.

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Copyright © 2015 by Miltiades Strouthos. Do not reproduce or use any contents by any means without prior written consent of Miltiades Strouthos. All rights reserved

Pariah – part 2

Part II: Shadow of a Man

“Everything okay in here?” he asked, haphazardly. Carl Mudder, whose breath reeked of desperation and dinner for one, could not even feign interest in the patients at Moriarti Mental Asylum, anymore, as if he was somehow superior. He peered through the square opening at the top of the metal door, stared vaguely at the drooling hollow of a man lying on the ground and then swiftly turned his attention elsewhere. The Asylum’s pre-approved alabaster outfit was battle-scarred with mustard and microwave dinners and the highlight of his day were the poker games he and his buddies illegally played during work hours. What a meaningless existence. He couldn’t even spell “meaningless”.

“Fucking crazies” he said condescendingly to the other orderlies, whilst making a circular motion with his index finger to the side of his fat head to further add to the layer of mockery he so thinly veiled in his voice. The other orderlies let out an agreeing chuckle. Oliver heard the remark but had neither the interest nor strength to mentally pursue a response, nor did he wish to dignify that pathetic mountain with one. He was far too busy experiencing the aftermath of his prior visit. It was days before he even stopped flinching at every sound outside his cell and even then he was on full alert.

One particularly quiet afternoon, Oliver found himself entranced by the sunset that faintly painted his room, until he was scared conscious by a strangely familiar voice.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

He turned to see not a spider this time, but a man. A man he had never seen before in all his life, but vaguely recognized, somehow.

“Who are you? NURSE?” he shouted and banged on the door but there was no response, not even a footstep.

“Is that any way to greet an old friend? Oliver, please, calm down, I just want to talk.” The man spoke calmly but his voice was dripping with poison. With hazel-green retinas fixed on Oliver he motioned a few pats on the floor, as if to suggest that Oliver join him on the floor just beside where he was sitting.

“I have nothing to say to you. I don’t even know you.”

“Oh but you do.”

“Enlighten me, then.” Oliver had stopped banging on the door now.

“Seriously, you don’t see it? No… similarities whatsoever? Poor soul, you’ve forgotten your own face. I am the heart pumping blood through your veins, I am the electric signals in your brain, you miserable excuse for a living being. I am the sickly, misshapen smile you pulled when you held the wooden hilt against two screaming children and a father twitching in his own pool of blood, unable to move as his own son sent the rest of his family to Hades one by one. I’m the sudden realization and panic-driven frenzy of the aftermath, I am the hands that tried and failed to wash the blood stains off your worn clothes.”

As his new visitor spat fire and fury something caught the mental patient’s eye. It was impossible not to notice and Oliver found himself slightly surprised not to have noticed earlier. Across the man’s chest was a giant slit, a wound still seeping blood as if it was just made.

“Oliver. I am your brother.”

Oliver’s eyes widened to a frightening bulge, letting a shrill escape his lungs with a violent force, but as he began to cry for help he quickly began to decelerate to a deathly silence. Those rough hands, that stature, those forsaken-colored eyes.

He was telling the truth.

He couldn’t recollect the last time he looked into a mirror, but it sure felt like he was staring into one now.

How?

“You blew ‘em out faster than candles on a birthday cake, buddy” the man chuckled. “Boy, the look on their faces.” Oliver’s shadow stretched his arm into the air as if to caress the dying sunlight.

“What are you talking about?”

“You really don’t remember.”

“I don’t want to play this game.”

“You think I’m playing some sort of game? Au contraire. I am here to shatter your soul into bits, to remind you of your actions and take away those last, few, remaining rays of sunshine you so desperately cling to. I want you to relive every second, as I have these past eleven years. Allow me…”

His voice adopted a narrative tone; “you were no older than twenty years old when the beast began to whisper to you. At first it was faint and harmless and with your help I dismissed it. You came to me, out on the rye field and fell to your knees and begged that the voices go away. Then you grew weaker. I implored you not listen to it. I pleaded with you not to feed it. My cries fell on deaf ears and you put your hand out and touched the monster inside. You washed your face in its black sludge and heeded its call.”

Then anger joined the dance; “you took your father’s axe and you tore a hole in your universe so deep that you wound up trapping yourself in a soulless place, eating tasteless meals day in, day out, and grasping for sunlight, being made fun of by a man with half your IQ and three times your weight. You stood at the fork in the road and took the path that led into a blackened sky and never even stopped to look back. You sat there as the beast consumed you, bit into your flesh and carved you empty from the inside out. You tossed your tomorrow aside and hacked it to pieces alongside you family. You murdered every last one of them.”

He went quiet for a few seconds then spoke again, this time softer but with disappointment. “We fought the beast and lost, Oliver. This litany of visitors is your mind trying to come awake for the first time in years. I am here to remind you, so that you may forgive yourself and be born anew.”

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Copyright © 2015 by Miltiades Strouthos. Do not reproduce or use any contents by any means without prior written consent of Miltiades Strouthos. All rights reserved

Pariah – part I

Part I: Arachnid

There’s only so much sun that can puncture through a tiny opening fitted with grey, steel bars. Warmth was a commodity not easily acquired in this desolate box of pillows. Eventually, the whitened-out walls adopted all sorts of colors and shapes, as Oliver’s brain silently suffered for stimulus. He just sat motionless on the cushioned floor, as he found himself often doing these past few months, trying to make sense of it all.

Was it months?

Years?

All perception of time had fled from him, like sand bleeding through the holes between his fingers. Human interaction dwindled down to briefly touching the nurse’s rugged hands three times a day, while she handed him his temporary sanity in pill form, and sitting on an uncomfortable and cold, leather couch once a month or so and spacing out, while a man who was overdressed and under-qualified was constantly finding new ways of expressing the notion that Oliver needed to “eventually say something”. A Socrates statue stared in disapproval through marble-carved eyes, its only meaningful conversation with the stacks of medical books gathering dust on the mahogany furniture around it. What had he done? At this point, it must have been something severe, because he kept hearing whispers between the nurses and doctors that he was “unqualified for the parole board”.

The meaning of certain words became twisted and skewered beyond recognition. Words like “outdoors” stopped meaning things like the countryside or beach and began meaning cement prison the orderly called a garden and other words like “unstable” or “dangerous” became frequent adjectives used to describe Oliver’s behavior.

As the hours crawled by he began to feel his legs grow roots into the soft floor prison, his skin become one with the wall he pressed it against, but then… he had a visitor. A rather unexpected one.

Through the door’s only sliver crawled a spider. The invader wore gloom colors with a touch of proud red on its back, and at first looked nervous in its scurried movements around the room. It was no bigger than half of Oliver’s palm in length, but was getting more confident with every passing second until, finally, its tiny limbs made it progress toward the direction where the man was sprawled in, on the far left corner of the room. It then paused for a few seconds, carefully inspecting the mountain it was about to climb. Penetrative, charcoal-colored eyes studied their victim and then simply began to climb with a rapid pace.

The invader eventually reached flesh; freshly shaven but weary nonetheless. Somewhere between the straitjacket and overwhelming sense of fear, Oliver found himself unable to move, as the eight-legged enemy made its home on his visage. It circled around for a few moments, and then found a softer spot towards the top half of his face. It stood up on its hind legs and used its front legs to pry open Oliver’s eyelids. Horror, unlike any before it, overwhelmed Oliver’s brain with messages of inbound pain.

With a swift motion the spider dove behind its victim’s eye and inside their skull and began to violently thrash and turn with every inch of its miniscule body, touching nerves and muscles all around. Unprecedented pain hit Oliver, the kind he could only compare to with imaginary scenarios, like slowly getting run over by a train or having your brain shot multiple times with a nail gun. The spider excavated deeper inside his head as fifteen minutes of eternity went by.

Eventually, it crawled out covered in blood and fluid, and left the room as quickly as it came, without even a glance of remorse gifted. The whole thing left Oliver barely cognizant and twitching all over, his brain permanently left emotionally lacerated from the experience it just tasted. When the spider left, it took a part of Oliver’s last remaining scraps of sanity with it, but it was, sadly, the most eventful day he’d had in an immeasurable amount of time, and it was only the beginning…

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Copyright © 2015 by Miltiades Strouthos. Do not reproduce or use any contents by any means without prior written consent of Miltiades Strouthos. All rights reserved

Solace

A solitary cabin sitting ‘neath the mountain heaved smokey breath from its rooftop and into the icy air of the infant morning. All around him nature shed its tears of orange and pale yellow.

Lucas, holding dying tobacco in his left hand, was sat atop his wooden porch, lost inside the forest of his mind; a boy dwelling in the mold of a weathered man who bore scars of time and tide alike. In his other hand he held a sepia photograph; a beauty by any other name. She had flowing hair and a fondness for music, and was a prismatic presence in his otherwise monochrome existence.
He knew her as Agatha.

The silence was gently broken by the sound of a mockingbird that gracefully made its way through the autumn air and Lucas blinked himself conscious once more. His weary lungs could not cope with the surrounding cold, so he willed himself up from the creaking chair and into the safety of the cabin.
He didn’t call it a home, anymore. The abyss had taken her away from his arms and he could no longer truly find a definition for who he was. His slumber had become infested with scenes of a broken ship, slowly abandoning the surface of the water and heading into the depths, the smell of salt and death all around. Her rose handkerchief, the one she would affectionately touch his face with long ago, was all that stayed afloat. Eventually, it too met with a watery end.
As he approached the oak door, he found himself suddenly unwilling to move. For a moment he just stood still, unable to process the sound he had just heard, coming from over his shoulder.
Was it?
It couldn’t be.
How could it possibly?

He could no longer leave his curiosity unquenched, so he turned around to find where this mysterious melody was coming from. His strides were filled with intrigue as he made his way toward what he could only distinguish to be a weeping violin, coming from the ridge just across his garden.

Briefly, he entertained the idea that what he was hearing was actually real, which was quickly crushed by the weight of the cynicism the years of tragedy had brought him, but as he inched forward he began to fill with more and more hope.

Before he even made his way to the top of the hill, a harp had joined in, chiming playful overtones to the violin’s sad procession. By the time he reached the apex, a whole concerto was playing, coming from an indistinguishable place just beyond the mountains. It was far away, but he could hear it loud and clear.

He stopped trying to figure out where it was coming from and let his eyelids gently shut. Even through his closed eyes, the light pierced through in a flutter of wondrous colour. Aquamarine and violet and crimson and hope came pouring through; sheer bliss, a feeling so rare and radiant.
Lucas was lost, but unlike any time he had felt lost before. It was a tune he had heard before, an aria from his childhood, the same aria he heard his father play on the phonograph at home the first day Lucas met his butterfly.
Like a painter nurturing one of his creations, he softly stroked the air with brush-like patterns and flirted back and forth with nature in almost ankle deep snow. He opened his eyes and lo’ a fair butterfly stood. She didn’t utter a word, but gifted him a look which broke through the barren orchard of his soul. It was unmistakable.
That silhouette.
That complexion.
And then she approached, and for a brief point in time they danced together, the earth-bound and the ethereal and he could swear her hand was in his, as it once was before. The moment had faded, but his joy did not.

And the tortured man who went up the mountain sheer minutes before returned a boy, the hardened mold that encumbered his soul now gently crumbled to the ground. He returned to the cabin in the woods, still hearing the music coming from the hill, and he took that sepia photograph and dusted it off.
He placed it on the cabinet next to his bed and lay there in peace, forever cherishing the final moments he had with her. The moments he had with his butterfly.
The one he called Agatha.

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Copyright © 2015 by Miltiades Strouthos. Do not reproduce or use any contents by any means without prior written consent of Miltiades Strouthos. All rights reserved