welcome to volume 88 (November 2010) of
Click on the cover image for a bio on the artist who painted this cover.
down in the dirt
Alexandira Rand, Editor
internet issn 1554-9666
(for the print issn 1554-9623)
http://scars.tv - click on down in the dirt
what is veganism?
My brother tells me
My brother tells me not
to kill the MTA busdriver who
threw me against the side of the
bus, but the reason I walk the streets of
Sierra Madre with a severed arm in my
mouth is because I bit it off after
ripping his gonads from his groin &
shooting his kneecaps with my dick/ I
also cut off his head with my plastic knife from
the Italian restaurant & don’t care that the
tomato sauce on it will give him blood
poisoning. I also sever his dick with my
sword that slew Polonius & don’t care if
his poor daughter drowns herself in the
sewer among the turds of commoners/ this
elevates the busdriver to tragedy?
when I see his rotting corpse, it just disgusts
me/ he fought in Nam & then got crippled in an
industrial accident. He was probably totally
mad, like the rest of us in America; so
it’s only pathetic, not tragic/ this
is happening everyday/ if I didn’t
kill him, somebody else would, which
is an act of mercy, because he
no longer has to drive the bus to
feed his family/ there are plenty of
places they can get free food, &
plenty of places to bury the
busdriver to get him out of
the way & make room for the
I’ll accept a thank you & a
free slice of pizza, because
even a murderer has
to eat ...
the New Generation Gap
The Vietnam veteran fiddles with the bayonet
he took off a Vietcong in Da Nang back in ’69.
Though nearing 60, his greasy hair and beard
are long and tousled, both turning an unhealthy
shade of gray.
“Listen,” he says, “these kids today don’t know
nothing about war. They go off to Iraq
and Afghanistan and come back goddamn heros.
When I got back from the Nam, they called me
‘baby killer.’ Can you believe it? A fucking
baby killer and now they got all these smart bombs
and Predator drones to do all the work. Hell man,
we used to cook gooks alive in napalm.
You ain’t been to war till you barbecued somebody
with napalm. Shit! They don’t know jack about war.”
He nods, almost wistfully and gets up
to go turn the burgers on the grill.
Mrs. Sutter’s Last Class
Mrs. Sutter’s religion class was noisy as she walked into the classroom. She demanded silence from her pupils.
“All right, class, today you shall learn about the Devil,” she announced.
The high-school students suddenly became attentive.
“Before he became the Devil, Satan was an angel in heaven,” Mrs. Sutter said. “However, he was jealous of God’s power, so God dismissed him from heaven and he became the foul fiend he is today.”
“Why didn’t God take away the Devil’s powers?” Bobby Ansell asked.
“I suppose it was because the Lord isn’t an Indian giver,” Mrs. Sutter replied.
Her expression became stern. “Do you know that Satan once tried to tempt Jesus?”
The students looked at each other.
“It’s true. When Jesus was in the desert, Satan offered him riches if he would kill himself. Of course, Jesus refused.”
Mrs. Sutter had the students’ undivided attention now.
“You must do the same thing when the Devil tempts you,” she said. “If he makes you want to lie to your parents, resist it. If he makes you want to cheat on a test, don’t do it. It’s always best to commit good deeds.”
“But don’t nice guys always finish last?” Kathy Banks said.
“Kathy, you must understand that there are people in this world who want you to believe that being nice doesn’t get you anywhere. Those people are wrong. Doing the right thing will always make you a winner no matter what.”
She stood up and walked around the room. “The Devil wants your soul. That’s why he tempts you to do bad things. He wants you to go to hell after you die. Nothing would please him more than to make you feel miserable.”
“God lets us feel miserable here on Earth,” Drake Pinto said.
“That’s because of what Adam and Eve did. If they wouldn’t have eaten the apple, we wouldn’t have to suffer.”
“I think that sucks,” Drake said. “Why should we pay for something they did?”
“That’s the way it has to be,” Mrs. Sutter said. “The Devil is also responsible for the possession of the soul.”
“How can you know if someone is possessed by the Devil?” Kathy said.
“He usually displays abnormal behavior. Sometimes he speaks in someone else’s voice or he levitates objects.”
“What can be done for such a person?” Bobby said.
“A priest must be called upon to exorcise him. That is the only way his soul can be saved.”
“Do you believe in witches and warlocks, Mrs. Sutter?” Dino Ruiz said.
“No, I don’t. In the past, people believed in witches, but they were ignorant and superstitious. Today we know better than to believe in that nonsense.”
“You don’t think that a person can cast a spell on someone else?” Drake said.
“Absolutely not. Such a thing just isn’t possible.”
“Didn’t you ever wish on a rabbit’s foot?”
“No, and I’ve never wished on a shooting star, either. I have no belief in magic.”
“But if you believe that Jesus turned water into wine, then you must believe in magic.”
“That’s different,” Mrs. Sutter said. “Ordinary humans can’t perform magic, but Jesus wasn’t an ordinary human.”
“I suppose you don’t believe in the immortality of the body.”
“That’s right. I only believe in the immortality of the soul.”
“Does the Devil ever make deals with people?” Kathy said.
“No. That kind of thing only happens in horror movies, never in real life.”
“Suppose Satan offered you eternal life in return for your soul. Would you accept it?”
“I don’t think that would ever happen. But if it did, I wouldn’t accept it, because the Devil would find a way to cheat me.”
“If a person obtains immortality, he won’t ever have to go to hell. Therefore, the Devil couldn’t cheat him. Did that ever occur to you?”
“No, it sure hasn’t.”
“One good thing about Satan is that he’s not a hypocrite,” Dino said. “He doesn’t pretend to be anything other than evil.”
“You do have a point there,” Mrs. Sutter admitted.
“You probably think we’re being the Devil’s advocate.”
“I did wonder why you’re defending him so much.”
“I guess we just want to give the Devil his due,” Bobby said. The class all laughed at this joke, and even Mrs. Sutter had to smile.
“Just remember that following Satan will hurt you in the long run,” Mrs. Sutter said. “Stick with God, and you can’t go wrong.”
“It isn’t really the Devil who sends us to hell, is it?” Kathy said. “It’s God who sends us there.”
“That’s correct,” Mrs. Sutter said. “God sends sinners to hell when they aren’t sorry for their sins. They are punished there for all eternity.”
“I thought God was supposed to be forgiving.”
“He forgives us when we are sorry for sinning against Him. It’s only when we aren’t remorseful that He doesn’t forgive us.”
“What can you tell us about animal sacrifice?” Drake said.
“Satanists sometimes slaughter animals as sacrifices to the Devil. To reward them for this, he gives them a precious gift. This is a common practice among devil worshippers.”
“What about human sacrifice?”
“It’s the same as animal sacrifice, except that people are slaughtered, not animals. It’s a horrible atrocity for anyone to commit. It gives me chills just to think about it.”
The students sat in their seats and stared at Mrs. Sutter with fiendish grins on their faces.
“Why are you all looking at me that way?” she asked, trembling.
The pupils said nothing.
“If this is a joke, it isn’t funny.”
She saw the gleam of their knives as they took them out their desks.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Mrs. Sutter said hysterically.
“We want eternal life,” Bobby said.
“So we’re making a human sacrifice to Satan,” Kathy said.
“And the sacrifice happens to be you,” Drake said.
“It will take place right here and now as we butcher you with our blades,” Dino said.
Mrs. Sutter screamed as the students pounced upon her, stabbing her brutally until her body was a bloody mess lying dead on the floor.
L. Burnette Clark
As Suzan lowered her bulky body into the chair, it creaked mercilessly. The red velvet cushion was worn and shiny, and the indentation from her rear end made her chuckle. She positioned herself in front of the window. The early morning spring air blew through the screen tickling the back of her neck, the curtains slightly bobbing back and forth. She made a mental checklist, noting that her beer, cigarettes, a bag of half eaten Cheetos and pills were within arm’s reach. As she sipped her luke-warm instant coffee she began watching the morning news, squinting at the barely visible images on her black and white television set. Like clockwork, her routine began at 6:00 a.m., and for the last decade she had not altered it. With the exception of the weather, nothing had changed.
Suzan was never rich or even comfortable, but she was able make ends meet by selling her paintings. When she was a teenager, her art teacher urged her to paint. He liked touching her too. Even though he was old, she let him feel her up because he was the first person to tell her she was good at something. After Suzan’s mom died, she dropped out of school and began standing on the city sidewalks sketching or filling canvas with color for cash. Her portraits of the ghetto were not always pleasant, but they were realistic. The slums were all that Suzan knew. When her money was low and she could not afford the canvas, she would paint on any piece of junk she could find; Old boards, cardboard, rocks, broken mirrors, it didn’t matter as long as she was able to paint. When she was desperate, her friend Mugsy would steal art supplies in exchange for sex. She didn’t mind this. Sometimes it was only a quick and easy blowjob that he wanted. Suzan only vaguely remembered what it was like twelve years ago. She awoke one morning and tried to leave her apartment, but she was afraid and lost her ability to paint. After some time, Suzan reluctantly settled in to her routine. Often, from her window, she would solicit a passerby to get her drugs from the drugstore. Sometimes a stranger would bring the medicine to her, but other times, they would walk away with the money.
It was 9:00 a.m. and for the remainder of the morning Suzan did not move from her chair; there was no reason to. She peered around the dingy curtains onto the faded city street, a comfortable habit. Across the way at Harold’s fruit stand, she noticed Mr. Lopez was stealing his usual handful of grapes. Afterwards, invariably he would pick his nose. On the television set, background screams from the Wheel of Fortune reminded her that it would be another few minutes before her entertainment appeared.
The fire house alarm blared at 12:00 noon. Ordinarily, the phone would have begun ringing, but today it was silent. Suzan hoped the bill collectors had lost their incentive. Trying to get money from her was like trying to find water in a dried up well. Maybe collections had finally realized that she had neither the money nor the mind to pay them. Suzan grabbed at the bag of Cheetos and began eating her lunch. In the distance, she heard peals of laughter from the children on their noon break and shortly afterwards her amusement arrived. Gathered in front of her window were a menagerie of laughing children with back- packs and books. The little Chinese kid pelted a few rocks that bounced off the screen.
He chanted, “Hey it’s Lazy Susan.”
“Hey Suzy why don’t you come out and play,” the black kid yelled.
“Hey fatty... why don’t you get off your fat ass and move.” A Spanish kid interjected.
“It’s Lazy, Crazy, Suzan,” they all chimed as they pushed and shoved each other down the avenue.
Suzan laughed. “Bye little mutha fuckas,” she shouted, while smiling and waving.
As the children ambled away, the black kid turned around and simultaneously stuck his tongue out and popped up his middle finger.
The dead lull of the afternoon silently crept along. Suzan began to miss the phone calls from the bill collectors. At least the ringing had broken the silence. At 3:00 in the afternoon, the door buzzer rang. Suzan was startled but relieved to hear the welcomed interruption.
“Yeah” she answered.
“Hey Lazy Susan, wanna buy some candy?”
“Is this some kinda joke?”
“No, Crazy. If you want, I’ll come in, you pay i.o.u. Just as long as I have my money by the 12th.”
“Well okay, but lemme get a look at ya before I let ya in.” Soon there was a tap on the door. She cautiously looked through the peephole and saw Byron, the white kid that lived in 4b. Suzan opened the door just wide enough for him to step in.
“Hurry up kid, spit it out.”
“Well, this is for school, if we sell ‘nuff candy we can go on a class trip, and maybe I’ll win me a special toy.”
Suzan noticed Byrons’ knees wobbling. His mother had probably warned him against visiting her apartment. This was probably his last ditch effort to win his favorite Batman toy. As she moved around the kitchen she could feel Byrons’ curious eyes observing her. She was self conscious of her massive body, blue and red polyester bulges, bursting against her clothing. Her mountains of skin moving every which way, as she lumbered toward the counter. Suzan removed her cash jar from the circular cabinet. When she walked toward him, he appeared frightened. “Calm down kid. I ain’t gonna bite.” She understood that her body moved like an earthquake, and her brillo head almost touched the ceiling. She knew that her reputation was probably more alarming than her appearance.
“My big brother told me that there was nasty, scary vermin hidin’ in your hair. You don’t think they’ll fall out of that nest you got up there do ya?”
“I dunno kid, they just might if you don’t make this quick. Now lemme see how much change I got on me, kid”. She handed him a five dollars. “I need change. I only want two dolla’s of them chocalate and vanilla bas.”
“We only got one chocolate ba the rest of em are vanilla,” he said. Byron nervously looked through his packet of change. His eyes magnified through his coke bottle glasses, grew larger as he became more anxious. “Lazy, I don’t got no more change. Can I come back?”
“Yea. Now hurry up and get outta here kid.”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Wait Byron. I’ll pay ya an extra dolla if ya go to the drugstore an pick up my drugs.”
Byron closed his eyes for a second, thinking about the consequences of his mother’s punishment if he was late for supper. He decided it was worth it. “Well alright Lazy, but don’t tell no one.”
“Now go.” Suzan shoved him out the door.
That is how Suzan remembered it. Byron never returned, and it was already 6:00 p.m. Hazily, she tried to recall if she had fallen asleep; or if she had another spell and lost consciousness. The pill bottle next to her chair was empty. She opened the front door, searching for an answer. The fumes from age-old urine and dirty diapers assaulted her. She noticed Bryon’s glasses lying on the floor. She tried to move her body over the threshold, but could not force herself to retrieve the glasses. Feeling guilty, knowing that an indigent would break or steal them, she closed the door and chained it. Disappointedly, she dined on her candy bars and dozed while listening to the evening news.
Every morning, Suzan was awakened by the morning traffic, her lungs burning from the acrid exhaust fumes. This morning was not an exception. She drearily hoisted her body out of bed and plodded through the kitchen to make her coffee. While boiling water she listened to the plastic anchor man as he recited the news. “Next, a ten year old Bronx boy mysteriously disappears, after these messages.” Susan gulped her Sanka watching the ads on television; for donuts, tires and detergent. She resented the pretty people with their easy lives. The plastic anchor man returned. “Byron Thomas, a 10 year old Bronx boy, was found murdered in a nearby dumpster. This has been the twelfth killing of a young boy in the New York area. According to authorities, Byron Thomas was last seen selling candy for his school in his local area. When he didn’t return home his mother called the police. An intense search with police dogs and the local law enforcement led them to a dumpster near the victim’s residence. The Thomas boy’s body was discovered and identified late last night. At this time, the homicide is still under investigation, but there are no suspects. Now let’s go to Frank Simmons for a look at the weather...”
As Suzan sipped her coffee, a flashback of Byrons’ words echoed in Suzan’s head, “Hey Lazy, what do ya think your doin’?” As she recalled parts of the incident, beads of sweat fell from her forehead. Her chest heaved and her skin began to burn, as she struggled to breathe. Choking she reached for a glass of water. Trying to divert her thoughts, she looked across the street for Mr. Lopez. She relaxed slightly, and was surprised to hear banging on the door.
“This is the police. Open up.”
Suzan looked through the peep- hole and cracked the door open. “Can I see yo badge?” The police flipped his wallet open and pushed his way into the beat up apartment. “Whad do ya want”?
“Well, ma’am, are you Suzan Rondelle?
“Yessir, I am.”
“Last night we found Byron Thomas’s glasses in the hallway near your apartment. One of the neighbors said they saw the boy enter your apartment at approximately 3:00 p.m.? Is that true ma’m?”
“Well yessir, it is.”
“The neighbor said he never saw the boy leave, but in fact, he saw you leave at approximately 9:00 p.m.”
“Well sir, that’s not right. I haven’t left this place in twelve years, I can’t sir.”
“Yeah, sure lady.”
“You can ask any of them other neighbors, they’ll tell ya. I never been out this place in twelve years. My heart starts pounding and I have me near a heart attack every time my foot steps outside the door.”
“Yeah lady, that wasn’t the case last night.”
“Thems don’t call me Lazy Suzan for nuthin’. Aks anyone. I ain’t never left my place.”
“Shut up,” the cop said as he shoved Suzan down the stairs. Suzan did not remember arriving at the police station. She was fingerprinted, interrogated, stripped searched, photographed and shoved into a holding cell. She lay curled up in the corner of her cot trying to imagine that she was still in her apartment, afraid to notice her surroundings; for fear that she would lose consciousness. She slipped in out of sleep attempting to ignore the stench from the inmates that permeated her cell.
Early in the morning a corrections officer pierced the silence. “Suzan Rondelle, let’s go.” She was escorted into a cold, sparse room equipped with a single table and chair. Her anxiety and confusion weighed upon her as if there was an invisible presence in the room. Her appointed legal counsel, entered. “Susan Rondelle, I’m your attorney, Mr. Whitfield. I’ve been appointed as your counsel for the trial, and the murder of Byron Thomas. Is there any thing that you would like to tell me before we get this started?”
“I said I dunno why I’m here.”
“You’re under arrest for the murder of Byron Thomas.”
“How could I’ve done that? I’m tellin’ yu, I haven’t left my place in twelve years.”
“Then, how were you able to leave last night?”
“Them cops forced me. I near had a heart attack.”
“Suzan let me remind you to be completely honest with me. I can only help if you tell me everything...”
Suzan’s mind drifted as her memories slowly surfaced to her conscious. She remembered running to her front door, her colossal body knocking the lamp over. Byron was startled and scarcely aware of what was happening. She grabbed him by the shirt collar. His glasses flew off and landed in the hallway. She shook him uncontrollably.
“Hey, Lllaazy stop. You’re hurting me!”
“Did you get my drugs?”
“They dddiidn’t have it, it wasn’t ready,” Byron stuttered.
“I want my cash Byron, you owe me change.”
“Hey, Llazy tttake it easy. I was gonna bring it in a few days.”
Suzan remembered her hands clasped around his neck as she twisted and shook. Byrons’ eyes bulged with terror but she could not stop. She remembered the feeling of his neck between her hands, and her fingers pressing into his soft white flesh while she twisted, until the light left Byrons’ eyes. Panting and confused, she stuffed Byron into a laundry bag, flipped him over her shoulder and shakily forced her self down the hallway toward the window. She struggled with the window pane and opened it. She hoisted the laundry bag out the window as she watched it land in the dumpster below. Shakily, she hugged the wall as she inched her way back into her apartment.
In the corner of the concrete room, the corrections officer stood stout and unemotional. Suzan felt his sharp eyes on her back. While she sucked on her free cigarette, she studied her grimy fingernails. Flicking ashes onto the beat up lacquered table, her other hulky hand tapped nervously. Suzan rocked in her chair and leaned forward onto the table as the warped table leg set off a drumming sound. The table leg echoed a metallic click thump, click thump.
This was the only noise in the concrete room until Dr. Martin entered. He seated himself and began flipping through the pages of Suzan’s file. Her unwieldy body shook from anxiety, but she momentarily enjoyed the sensation of her heavy gelatinous thighs rubbing together. While anticipating the doctors’ words, Suzan squinted from the fluorescent lights and inhaled a long, luxurious drag from her cigarette. After a few enduring moments, he extracted a piece of paper from his brief case. Finally, she escaped the silence, “O.k., Suzan and what do you see here?”
“It’s a black flop on a piece of paypa,” Suzan responded discerningly.
“O.k. and what about this one?”
“The same fuckin’ thing. I don’t wanna play them games no more. Dunno know why I’m here, in this god damn, mother fuckin’ place. Ain’t noone gonna tell me the truth anyhow.”
“Suzan, now calm down or I’ll have security confiscate your cigarettes. I’m going to recommend that your medication is increased.”
They both jumped as another officer entered through the electric door. Suzan gulped for breath as she glimpsed past the heavy door, and down the empty corridor. She became lightheaded while envisioning her walk down the hollow corridor, a tidal wave of blood pounding in her head. The tightness of her chest became heavy and smothering. Frantically, she gasped, trying to suppress her attack before it overtook her. It seemed as if from a distance, she could hear the doctor say. “Do you remember anything about that night?” Dr. Martin asked. Suzan collapsed. “Guards! Take her back to her cell,” Dr. Martin demanded.
Suzan’s eyes fluttered, filtering the light from the steel ceiling. The odor from her damp flesh and clothing induced a sickness in her stomach. She decided it was easier to escape through sleep. Her thoughts drifted away into half wakefulness, while vague recollections swam in her head. Slowly she began to remember the events that led her to the concrete and steel hell that she now resided in. She remembered her dingy apartment, the lonely hours of silence. She heard the chatter of inmates and the faint tinkling of laughter. She smiled when the noon bell rang; it was time for her to eat.
On Hospital Visits
The first time I was in a hospital was when I was 14,
lying in bed almost watching the Golden Girls,
nipples protruding from a wispy gown,
IVs and little circular flesh colored stickers covering my half naked body,
sucking out the Excederin and depression.
My father sat in the corner until even espressos couldn’t keep
him up, or until he could not stand the smell any longer.
It was the first time I thought I saw my father cry,
but he didn’t look me in the eye once the whole night,
and maybe if there were silent sobs only my mother
heard them later, in bed, together, asking each other
where they had failed as parents and how
their daughter, with a smile so wide, could be
half-dead, down the street in the children’s ward
throwing up charcoal, orange juice and halves
of little white pills. “Am I going to die?”, I asked the nurse,
and though she tried in the nicest possible nurse voice
to assure me that I wouldn’t, her hesitance
or maybe my perception of a pause, made me cry,
and she could see that so she stroked my hands, and said
to get some rest, and I tried to hold on to my teddy bear
that my parents had brought in the bag they packed
as they were rushed out of the house at two in the morning
on an idle Sunday in April, but I was too weak, even for that.
I sat up only to vomit, half expecting my liver or intestines
to come out onto the half moon shaped cardboard.
The next day, after my first time spending the night in a hospital,
I remember lying next to a Mickey Mouse border, mostly red,
and being questioned by a few doctors about why I did it or
“Were you trying to kill yourself?”, but I can’t recall my answers now,
only my mom sitting in trying to explain to them that
she is a good mother and nothing had ever really been wrong,
and if my mouth wasn’t still black from the charcoal and my throat wasn’t numb, I might have agreed and said,
“No, mom, you are the best mother.”,
but instead I just lie there playing with the tie on my pajama pants,
and nodded and shook my head though I couldn’t hear anything either.
I went home later that day, I haven’t been to the hospital since,
and to this day, I still can’t drink orange juice without gagging.
A Birthday in Hollywood
Dark haired Sarah was running down an elegant, quiet Hollywood back street near a major movie studio in a subdued and reserved corner of the movie making community—no ugly movie production wardrobe trailers ever profaned this hidden street.
While running, she was trying to remember the European word for, “Good Evening.”
Her wobbly scuffed high heels were clacking in an unseemly way in the street’s austere silence, but her Hermann liked her in high heels—but it was hard to hurry in them. Sarah wanted to please Hermann tonight, everything’s gotta be perfectly right and perfect, she thought. She hoped he didn’t get here already before her, this restaurant was so near “the lot.”
Ah, there, must be getting close, there was that Europe cooking smell, this must be it, and this here large, dark-tinted, no-sign front window, except for: let’s see, well, up there’s the right goldlettered number over the door—same written address numbers magic markered on her hand, she checked them in the bluish LED flashes of a passing Lamborghini’s headlights and then she grabbed the large wooden door’s cool carved door handle, feeling its chilly whorls of churchy brass carving, very European, gotta be it—but she first stopped, made The Sign of the Cross reverently, said a short success prayer; and then standing herself straighter pulled it open—it was French she was trying to remember, “Bon” something; and now only part in the door, she looked down—her blouse—‘ooh, out in front—tuck it back in,’ her bobbling breasts in running had pulled it out, and better brush back her wild hair, she whooshed the heavy door all the way open and—oooh—there was that wonderful feeling! the goose bumpily thrill on her arms, even thought she kept herself decorously erect, she was brimming over with quivers, thinking, ‘what fun this is gonna be for Hermann.’
Sarah was always doing stuff for somebody and this little goose bumpily always came.
Do unto others that which they had forgotten or didn’t know how to do unto themselves.
The wooden door was now whooshing shut behind her—oh, what a glorious smell...some-kind-of-Eyetalian, French, Spanish spicy aroma—truffles, basil. Her breathing was loud now in this inside silence only broken by very low murmurs, gotta breathe hard quieter.
Yes, this is it, lots of people eating with miniature chews because moving their jaws too much would be bad manners; this has gotta be it, one of those exclusive, no-name-on-the-outside restaurants Hermann told her about, only rich movie people came here—so what about her last week’s reservation? Every table looked already taken?
Languidly these diner’s slitted eyes were rising from their oval lavender plates covered with magazine food—super classy arty food: streaks of some yellow, mustardish cream, Technicolor bright, beansy vegetationals, and some brownish objects on’em, maybe used-to-be meat.
Arriving long plates were being sliden onto no-creases, lighter-purple tablecloths, and then were disappeared microseconds after the heavy, softly-clinking, sterling silver forks had only part emptied them, quickly sliden away by vested and bowtied waiters who communicated only by finger signs and swallowed whispers.
‘Oh,’ she thought, totally stoked, ‘this is so totally high-class, but me, I gotta look weird waiting up here,’ Sarah’s worried fingers were discovering little white blouse bits still sticking out, tucking them back into her black skirt.
But where was her reserved table in this bunch of flickering, chimneyed table candles—all taken? I got the address right?—she looked quickly down again at the number written on her palm skin, but quickly closed her hand to hide the black number. There was not a single vacant table among these white mustaches, dinner jackets, barely moving in the little candle penumbras, dim funeral parlorish forms of barely animate diners, mouse murmuring through compressed lips—everybody wearing black bowties, naked back black dresses.
She must keep her hand closed until she washed it off.
No maître d’ yet, she thought, and me up here with my hair just out of curlers that I didn’t have time—oh, oh—a terrible fear suddenly struck her—she shook her head slightly, testing, sometimes in hurried dressing she left curlers in—now she shook her head: ‘you could tell if one was still up there by the weight—and if one was left still in, she’d just have to back herself right back out—‘no, nothing still in up there.’ But flyey hairwisps were probably still sticking out—she knew she was a bit blousy and a trifle plump—oh I hope, she thought, I didn’t call too long ago so they just forgot, or maybe Hermann already came and left?
She shifted from one foot to another, these high heels hurt her beginning bunions—the shifting drawing the gaze of several sedate masticators.
Ah, at last she remembered, Bon Jour was it, the French she wanted.
She swallowed, smiled, nodding to any eyes that met hers.
No one nodded back.
She wanted to ask somebody if...but their communal gaze only barely touched hers and then glazed quickly back into that inward, splendidly vacuous, very Californish, I’m-not-here look: peering intently, with a little rising panic down inside themselves, at those vast halls of empty inner space.
But, look back there, way in back, next to that man on the telephone, that dark place, what was that? That darkened alcove back there.
‘Oh, my sad Hermann,’ she thought, ‘have I spoiled it? if this is the right place please let them remember my reservation, Hermann needs feeling special; it’s just happiness he’s never had in his life.’
Although Hermann was the grandson of a severe Nazi general, Sarah was sure he had a mine of personal spiritual gold inside just waiting her appreciation.
Sarah smiled at a boney faced, deeply wrinkled, scowling old woman sitting at a single small table here upfront, with heavily powered, taxidermied wrinkles. The smilee didn’t smile back. Sarah murmured a prayer, “Let the Holy Ghost show her a happier way.”
‘Well,’ Sarah was concluding, ‘no maître d’ because no tables; her shoulders ached with mounting tension—reservation must have been forgotten—my fault for calling too early and now Hermann, who didn’t really even want to....’
Suddenly that dark suited telephoning man in the rear turned round, saw her, smiled while flipping a wall switch. The little dark alcove brightened, as though from a wandering sunbeam.
Slowly an interior golden halo was arising, softly touching a quaint little table raised slightly above the rest, shyly revealing its curved legs, modestly protruding just below its little lavender tablecloth, carved curving legs, an exquisitely laden little table, clearly a place of honor up on the enclosed dais, glinting with the argent gleams of a silver service.
—‘and, thank you Lord—here he came, the light-switch-flipper with magisterial strides, maybe he’s even the maître d’, Michelangelo?’
Michelangelo, was the name of a Pope? but for Sarah it was a phone voice, a wonderful European accent too long ago, way last week that took her reservation, so her heart began thudding with restored hope—it was always like this when one of her surprises was about to surprise, her mouth was dry.
She pointed at him with raised interrogatory eyebrows and mouthing, with exaggerated lip movements, ‘Michel Angelo’? Maître d’ Michelangelo silently acknowledged with a nod and smile.
Oh, she thought, so could that really be it up there? The still brightening alcove, was that really hers? its rising soft illumination, its rounded Europe-type little ceilinglet with little fattybellied puti, tousle haired urchins presenting to the viewer their chubby-fingered floppy flowers.
Extremely cool, if it is, thought Sarah, trembly—but maybe Michael Angelo could still say to her, ‘whom are you to have this most beautiful of all of our tables?’ I gotta show him by remembering, what was it, Bon soir? or Bon jour? gotta sound elegant? she had taken French in high school.
“Bon soir,” she whispered tentatively on sudden inspiration as he neared—oh, mistake!—Michel Angelo was clearly Eyetalian, what was she thinking of?
“Buona sera,” he whispered back, “I am Michelangelo,” with a delightfully Europe accent, totally suave, cooly perfect, “Saarah Soden?”
“Yes, oh yes, it was me phoning, so long ago; I’m so sorry it was—I’m afraid all the way back last Thursday or Wednesday—is that...?” and she half-pointed, hardly daring at the glowing alcove, nodding a hopeful yes at Michelangelo? She must say his name altogether in one swell foop.
Oh, it was! A murmur of tearful relief escaped her as she stood there, enjoying the little table’s elegant beauty and then, with little looks back at Miguelangelo—Miguel or Michel? She was cautiously approaching the table herself, through the other inhabited tables—her little one up there was become a delicate fawn timidly nestling in its alcovian corner—look at it, sparkling with tiny little glints of its deeply patterned silver plate, every kind of midget butterknife, soup spoon, a full service just like Sarah dreamed it; and, rising above all, perching in their cut crystal goblets were violaceous napkins, two tall, unlit, mauve candles in squat, Europeany, silver candelabras, on the backs of fat-bellied bumply toads cast in precious metal, covered with toadish tubercules, and silver kids standing on the backs of the toads holding the candles up.
It was out of Hermann’s stories, this total classiness—stories of famous but unknown-to-everybody Hollywood hidden places—she’d found this one in a library book—Hermann had shown her pictures of movie insiders hobnobing, industry royalty—he will love this place.
She took a deep breath of relief, smiling to Michel-angelo and whispering, “How wonderful is this? too totally perfect.”
Diners were covertly watching her.
“Oh Miguelangelo,” she finally said putting his names together, smiling familiarly up at him, her old friend of at least 20 seconds—but this too caused bits of muted murmurs from the other diners—“who was this woman, obviously from Bakersfield or Minnesota, getting so familiar with Michelangelo?” a very erect quiet man in his Italianate dark suit, with a violet silk tie and amethyst tie pin, matching the restaurant’s napkins and tablecloths and plates, Sarah whispered on, “Miguelangelo, if, when you bring it in,” now they were within hearing distance of the little table, whispering, “put it just right here, it’ll make Hermann so totally stoked and, please, let it come first. Oh, it’ll be such a total glory.”
Sarah stamped her foot, a short stamp of subdued exuberance. Her already pinking cheeks now flaming up to bright red, “just know it’s gonna be too perfect Miguelangelo!”
Michelangelo whispered, “I’m sure eet will.”
Oh—zoowee-what a super goose bumply—but she stopped—caught herself getting so bubblingly over delighted, and remembering too well what happened on such occasions from the unendurable anticipation, that her bladder would do an uncool, absolutely unmentionable thing.
Michelangelo said, “What-eh time will de gentlemen be arriving?”
“Oh, right now” whispered Sarah, “but please, Miguel, where is the...the...you know,” she was tentatively backing away, uncomfortable but not wanting to lose sight of her treasure, repeating, “where is the...” more urgently, pointing to different room corners, not wanting to say the vulgar word so out of place...Michelangelo pointed down the hall for her.
Sarah paused at the hall corner for a last table glimpse, making a thumb and first finger “o” of delight in the air, dancing a shuffling, mini-happy dance and rushed off, chuckling herself out of sight.
Creak went a hidden restroom door down the hall.
A time passed.
Creak again, Sarah returned, still smoothing her black hair, dress straightening, but now with freshly reapplied, very red lipstick, and the uncontainable, bumpily, joyish, almost scared feeling was making a thrill lump somewhere in her...oh, in her chest, throat, someplace—oh, thank you God, she was even starting to run to the large wooden front door, but no—please stop, she admonished herself, please don’t do nothing unelegant, straightening up her back—it was not, remembering her high school French, comme il faut—gotta be cool, with a self-shushing finger in front of her red lips, she proceeded more sedately.
There were quiet chuckles amongst the eaters, but the old taxidermist near the door merely glared up as Sarah went by; Sarah was making it unbearable in here, the joy level was downright perilous—pandemic happy contagion mercilessly inoculating even these morbidly encapsulalted, terminally sour bystanders.
Sarah rewhooshed open the unmarked front door, stuck her head out for a minipeek but yanked it back in very quickly, her smile larger than her face—taking several steps backward—whispering loudly, “he’s coming. Oh, he found it....”
Everyone paused in mid-chew and waited with her.
Whoosh, a short fussy man, looking down, shouldered open the heavy door, his weary face slumping, gazing at the grapejuice colored carpet, hands jammed in baggy pockets, rather paunchy, who could this be? wearing a wrinkled blue suit and wilted tie, forehead furrowed with irritation—and then, only part in....
“Herma-n-n-n-n,” Sarah shrieked, springing her surprise.
He froze athwart the doorstep, his eyebrows up in astonishment—amazed at finding Sarah right up here in ambush. He glanced past her and—oh, no! he recognized a famous producer, a director and gasped, quickly averting his eyes to keep from being recognized, rapidly reversing, “Sarah? Shhh!” he whispered, pulling her backward with him, “you didn’t tell me, I’m not dressed—I can’t....”
But she gently captured him with a hug, pulled him back in, whoosh went the door back behind him, “Herma-a-a-n,” here she sweetly paused, cocking her head tenderly to one side, “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”
Such a sweet endearment as would tenderize the heart of a serial mass murderer, cannibal child torturer from this angelically radiant woman, shining her fierce little Sarah lovesun of joy into the gloom Hermann’s reticence, she mercilessly went on, “this’s very special and just for you my dearest sweetheart,” ugh, how déclassé, thought the numb surrounding masticators, didn’t this unfortunate woman realize that such corrrrny, unimaginative, unclassy, p.d.a., fearlessly declared, had long since become uncool here in airkissing Hollywood, even in front, or especially in front of cameras, and more especially before these extremely with it, quintessentially cool, unimpactable men with $500 haircuts, themselves full of issues, wearing $800/dram Japanese fragrance, and their bling covered trophy wives with painfully expensive wax jobs on tanning salon pimpled thighs.
But this disruptive joy blazing from brilliant Sarah was causing these sad, self-obsessed souls to suddenly be...uncomfortable, but perhaps even a microinfinitesmal warmed? Of course there must always be maintained this essential protective alienation in California life otherwise we might come to the catastrophe of affection, joy, feelings?
Of course that boney scowling woman sitting alone up front here, was out of danger, with her case-hardened soul, now maliciously scrutinizing Sarah for the inevitable Hollywood phoniness.
But even this scowler’s indifference was in danger—perhaps a dust mote had got into her eye? Some fierce, joyful, pathogen of pernicious tenderness was penetrating the woman’s skeptical armor of years—there were sudden tiny drops in her wrinkled old eyes—what in the world could those annoying, unfamiliar things be? not tears?...onto those thirsty taxidermied wrinkles, dry for decades? her blue lips twitching to regain control.
But Hermann was still edging backwards, only embarrassed and terrified, hissing, “Sarah, this is one of those places I told you about, we can’t....” twitching little quiver-lipped smiles around to what he fancied were annoyed film Industry aristocracy, backing himself and Sarah up, pushing open the front door again, whispering, “sweetheart,” as Michelangelo approached, “only very importatnt film execs can ever come here, sweetheart; stars, don’t you know you gotta have a reservation months in advance? Know somebody, bribe the maître d’? sweety—can’t just come off the street? sides I’m just a P.A., a production assistant.”
“Right dees way sir, per piacere,” Michelangelo’s experienced eye had seen the need for intervention as Hermann’s considerable butt was already pushing back open the big wooden door—“Your table ees up here.”
All of this had drawn 20 sets of Industry eyes on him so now, embarrassed or not, Hermann had to follow, but saying to Michelangelo, “We don’t have a...” then aside to her whispering, “Sarah, does he think that you have... ?”
But intrepid Sarah was not releasing him—Hermann was sure he’d never work again.
She whispered with a little chirp of delight, “Sweetheart, look up there, see? In that little place, our precious reserved table’s just waiting for us,” and squeezed his arm—this was the crucial moment, “please Hermy,” pressing herself very close, her warm bosoms, hugging him, “everybody here just admires you stud,” this always gave him confidence, “it’s your special birthday, this is your glory time big man,” stroking Hermann’s hair, “you deserve this,” then stepping right up to the little table—the whole room could see her—looking very tenderly, deeply in his eyes, soothing his fearful displeasure, “Happy birthday Herma-a-a-n,” elongating the syllable.
She went on, “just for us, Hermy; isn’t it adorable? Let’s—can we sit down? Everybody’s,” here she made a sweeping gesture including the onlookers, “just happy for you sweetheart.”
Hermann said, “How’d you get a reservation?”
“I know,” Sarah said, “it’s just all of a sudden sweetheart and a scary surprise, but this is a good, sweet surprise Hermy,” Sarah’s brave smile sun immediately sprang out again and the goosebumply feeling returned in full force while Michelangelo pulled out a welcoming chair for him, simultaneously whisking a up butterflyfolded napkin from a table goblet which he presented like an award to Hermann Guderian.
All he could do was sit.
Hermann, the grandson of an authoritarian Nazi war general, sat.
When Michelangelo was gone Hermann hissed through unmoving, lips, leaning forwards, teeth together, as sweet Sarah was now caressing him gently with her knee under the table, he said, “this place costs a fortune,” his eyebrows were smashing together a small centergroup of forehead wrinkles in a furious frown.
But Sarah only said, “Isn’t it beautiful? Don’t worry sweetheart; we’ll just have a good time.”
“I gotta worry,” Hemann said with a stone face. Her hand was reaching across to him, “Don’t you realize, Sarah,” he said to the hand, “it looks like me, just a P.A, don’t know my place and am putting on airs coming here to their restaurant, there’s a hierarchy in Hollywood,” sliding his hand inconspicuously away, “coming to one of their places? Sarah, you gotta keep a very low profile,” his eyes were kept thrust submissively down.
“But everyone knows it’s your day, Hermy, you deserve a wonderful birthday, everybody does,” she was smoothing worry wrinkles out of the linen tablecloth, as she hoped to smooth out Hermann’s worried forehead.
He whispered, “Do you even realize who’s in here? Good golly, that blond guy over at that table?”
Without looking at that blond guy, “He gets $30 million a picture. We’ll just sneak out,” Hermann was taking stuttering breaths.
“But Hermy, isn’t our table beautiful at least,” Sarah said with a little soothing laugh.
“Don’t order,” said Herman, “gotta leave, I’ll give him, that oily maître d’, a tip and we’ll get the hell out. I’ll leave some money,” he was fishing out his very overloaded wallet, “probably should be at least twenty. Maybe even more, entrées in here cost over $150 I think. I just hope that no one notices that....”
But there was singing starting someplace, the already the dim lights dimmed further.
Waiters suddenly emerged from out the kitchen? tall dignified Michelangelo and two others: “Happy birthday to you,” began the first out, a little, fat, balding waiter in front of the procession in a high falsetto, “Happy birthday to you,” and then a redhaired younger waiter with a deep basso voice and bow tie, wearing a black waiter’s vest; and—oh no! What were they doing? Not coming this way?
“Happy birthday dear Her-r-r-r-r-mann,” all three harmonizing; and, holding at the center of their joyful little group, a royal birthday cake lit with many red candles, fit for Steven Spielberg with lavender bunting and gay flowers, exquisitely enthroned on a brilliantly flowered platter, slowly advancing in the warm shifting lights of its dozens of dancing little candles, that were casting a roseate glow of happiness.
All the distinguished diners were now murmuring, “Beautiful,” in spite of themselves.
“It’s for you Hermann,” she whispered.
Hermann jumped up, his eyes spread in horror, hissing down at Sarah, “You silly, silly woman. You’ve ruined me.”
And dashed out through the tables of wondering diners, keeping his head low, whooshing open the large wooden door, leaving Sarah alone here in her special little ornate alcove at her special table with her splendid cake.
Michelangelo first stopped singing, then fat Rubens, but the last and youngest, bowtied Raphaelo persisted, still just looking down at his lovely cake, boyishly enjoying being a joyful messenger.
Michelangelo touched his shoulder.
No forks or glasses clinked in all the restaurant.
Many heads now turned back to Sarah, to her dropping tears streaking through the wavering birthday candlelight. One tear took longer, making its way down her nose through her recently applied powder, collecting little fragments, becoming cloudy at it reached her nose end.
But the huge, merry birthday cake remained cheerfully lit on the table, its little red candles dripping birthday wax...for no one.
Suddenly there was movement near the door—from the taxidermied scowler? Still seated alone at the single table? Her name was Mathilde, she rose and walked back through all of the tables up to Sarah abandoned in the alcove, stopping and standing very upright by the weeping, embarrassed Sarah.
She turned round and surveyed all the staring diners—everyone knew from the beginning that this too fragile moment must go wrong, such sappy, sentimental...but the candles persisted from the exquisitely set little table, the dauntless, magic birthday cake candles continued to cast a transforming soft glow on even Mathilde’s face; and she—it began slowly—Mathilde’s mouth corners were definitely migrating upwards to an unfamiliar posture, her eyes surveying the restaurant talent, for what?
Settling over there on the 30 million dollar star nearby, that blond guy—
Who was already looking with sad concern at Sarah, at Mathilde, with large attentive green eyes.
Smiling Mathilde made a slight, silent, come hither motion to him with her gray, heavily hairpinned head.
A slow reciprocal smile began on the famous young man’s broad generous mouth, he touched his chest, meaning me? Mathilde nodded yes.
He nodded and arose—quite tall, with very broad shoulders and a strikingly square jawed face; now walking over to Sarah’s table, first checking with old Mathilde again, to see if he understood correctly?
Smiling Mathilde made another slight head gesture, eyebrows raised, downward with her head, pointing with her chin towards Hermann’s vacated seat—the celebrity winked at her, sat as instructed and watched Sarah across the lighted cake for a moment.
Sarah’s large tearful brown eyes looked up at him, surprised.
He said, ever so softly, as if asking for permission, “No sense letting a good birthday cake go to waste?” He leaned forward, forming his generous lips into a blowing posture, and, foooof, blew out all of the birthday cake candles, “don’t worry,” the star went on, through the candle smokes, “he’ll come around. It’s the most beautiful birthday cake anyone ever saw and a cool idea.”
Michelangelo, and the others were retreating: but elderly Mathilde called after them, “We need cake plates out here please, about 10 of them,” in a cheerful tone she’d not used in years.
“About 10,” the young blonde man repeated, counting the house, and laughing, in a wonderfully deep and resonant voice and winked an understanding up at Mathilde.
Sarah just looked at him. The waiters disappeared into the kitchen.
“A birthday is a terrible thing to waste,” said wise Mathilde.
The bowtied young waiter quickly reappeared carrying a deep pile, of carefully balanced, slightly tottering stack of lavender plates—this had never been done in the history of the restaurant—clacking within itself, over to Sarah’s table and set them down, bowed slightly and went away.
The blond young man selected a silver knife from Hermann’s vacated placesetting, got up and smiled a wide, tanfaced smile down at Sarah—very green penetrating eyes, his large strong hands were now lifting a newly arrived cake plate from the tall stack and plunging the silver knife into the moist white frosting with large red cake writing across it: Happy Birthday Herman.
“Lucky Hermann,” chuckled the young man cutting through the thick, creamy frosting, breaking through little yellow sugar roses with delicate green petals and blue bachelor buttonesque flowers, then neatly balancing the cut cake piece on the cutting knife—no fingers— and suddenly he flipped it so the piece gracefully lit with a flump on a little lavender plate.
He set this first piece in front of Sarah.
She looked up at him, and said, “But you’re famous....”
“I hope you won’t hold it against me,” he said laughing and cutting another piece with the same quick, graceful, competent motion, flump into another plate and another piece, whispering to Sarah, “you’ve spread some joy around tonight, you’re wonderful.”
Mathilde next saw the fat waiter clearing a table; she seized up two of the cakefilled plates and went over, smiling her unaccustomed smile again, and thunk, thunk, set down the cake filled plates in front of a very serious man wearing a madras cravat and a woman wearing a two or 3 carat wedding ring and a low cut sequined gown revealing an ample chest, who looked up at the arrived cake plates, at Mathilde, then over at Sarah’s table, the continuing cake cutting, and the young man.
She smiled the third smile of the evening.
Mathilde ceremoniously walked back for more filled plates. A communal murmur started growing—more smiles—and, when much cake had disappeared into the many more plates that had come out of the kitchen and been distributed, the first woman with the large diamond and sequins? She rose with slightly moist eyes and a sweet, broad, joyful smile, began singing in a beautiful contralto, “Happy birthday to you,” the man at the table rose alongside and joined her in a resonant baritone and raised a grass to Sarah, Mathilde and the blonde young man.
Some of the more adventurous diners one by one joined more quietly in the chorus.
“Happy birthday to you.”
I’m an old man now. Yet I’m still a dreamer. The epidemic continues to kill tens of thousands of people each day. Haven’t been infected yet. But my wife and two daughters passed away yesterday. They were my purpose for living. Now, all my loved ones are dead. So I’m driving upstate to Time Town. Heard some weird rumors about the place. Got to check it out. But first, I might have to kill a couple of guards to get there.
The guards are located at different checkpoints on the outskirts of the city. They stand near the antediluvian toll booths. Clutching guns and rifles, they stand tall, like ancient centurions, in front of the blockades. The guards won’t allow anyone to leave or enter the city. I got other plans.
My name’s Joseph Cox. I’m a scientist. Got three PhDs in biochemistry, theoretical physics, and microbiology. Gonna get through the blockade and make it to Time Town. Got a few toys that’ll help me achieve these goals.
I stop 100 feet from the guards. On my shoulder is a gas mask hidden in an open black bag. In my hands, is a mammoth water gun. They stare quizzically at me.
“Look!” I shout as I point my gargantuan water gun at the cloudy sky above. I pull the trigger, launching a water-filled poison into the air. I put on my gas mask and watch the contaminated water sail high then rain down on the guards.
The guards laugh maniacally. Yet once they inhale the toxic air, they fall to their feet. Within seconds, all the guards lie unconscious on the ground. Will they die? Some may. The others will wake up in a few hours.
Don’t have time to move the cars in the blockade. Got to get to Time Town before dark. I steal one of their cars. The keys are still in the ignition. I drive north to Time Town in Lake George.
I arrive in Lake George before sunset. I ask a stranger for directions to Time Town.
“It closed down many years ago.”
“The place has sentimental value.”
He gives me directions. I get there in a few minutes.
In Time Town, an old amusement park, I find a locked gate that blocks the entrance. I squeeze through a hole in the gate, clutching a .45 Magnum.
I go through an open door into the main area. The Time Machine ride is still there, a special elevator into the past. I press a button and the elevator opens up.
Suddenly, a gang of six teenagers enters the area, pointing their guns at me.
“Who are you?” a tall muscular gang member asks.
“Just a guy longing for the past.”
“You got the killa virus?”
“Don’t believe you.”
He grows a wicked smile. “You think you can kill all six of us with that .45?”
“Yeah. You better get out of here, punk!”
I look at the kid and see madness and rage in his alien eyes. I shoot him dead. The others freeze.
“We’re leaving, Sir. We got no argument with you.”
“Okay. Drop your guns.”
“You ain’t gonna shoot us?”
They drop their weapons.
“Turn around and start walking.”
As they saunter off, I blast each coward to kingdom come.
“Yeah, I got the virus. Before it destroys your body, it attacks your mind. That’s why I killed my wife and two daughters. Even now, I see them coming at me. They bite me and try to eat my flesh. I beat them up. But they won’t stop. So I blow their brains out.
The dead kids are my gourmet dinner. After a full meal, I enter the elevator.
The elevator descends rapidly. Below, I hear the shrieking sounds of alien creatures. Maybe I’ll find the cure, or have one helluva midnight snack.
Mel Waldman, Ph. D.
Dr. Mel Waldman is a licensed New York State psychologist and a candidate in Psychoanalysis at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies (CMPS). He is also a poet, writer, artist, and singer/songwriter. After 9/11, he wrote 4 songs, including “Our Song,” which addresses the tragedy. His stories have appeared in numerous literary reviews and commercial magazines including HAPPY, SWEET ANNIE PRESS, POETICA, CHILDREN, CHURCHES AND DADDIES and DOWN IN THE DIRT (SCARS PUBLICATIONS), PBW, NEW THOUGHT JOURNAL, THE BROOKLYN LITERARY REVIEW, HARDBOILED, HARDBOILED DETECTIVE, DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, ESPIONAGE, and THE SAINT. He is a past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis and was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature. Periodically, he has given poetry and prose readings and has appeared on national T.V. and cable T.V. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, American Mensa, Ltd., and the American Psychological Association. He is currently working on a mystery novel inspired by Freud’s case studies. Who Killed the Heartbreak Kid?, a mystery novel, was published by iUniverse in February 2006. It can be purchased at www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/, www.bn.com, at Amazon.com, and other online bookstores or through local bookstores. Some of his poems have appeared online in THE JERUSALEM POST. Dark Soul of the Millennium, a collection of plays and poetry, was published by World Audience, Inc. in January 2007. It can be purchased at www.worldaudience.org, www.bn.com, at Amazon.com, and other online bookstores or through local bookstores. A 7-volume short story collection was published by World Audience, Inc. in May 2007 and can also be purchased online at the above-mentioned sites. I AM A JEW, a book in which Dr. Waldman examines his Jewish identity through memoir, essays, short stories, poetry, and plays, was published by World Audience, Inc. in January 2008.
The problem wasn’t that she believed in reincarnation; it was that she advertised herself as being different than she was. However, if reincarnation were to happen to her, she might not like where she was headed.
Brian C. Slaughter
“Don’t let him pull the depression card,” she snapped again, adding that perhaps I had been making up my depression as an excuse, as if I didn’t want to do my daily activities. Mom was taken aback by the remark.
Passing a beautiful rose garden, we had walked into her spacious house. My mother and I had entered a warm, cozy room. The golden glow emitted by the lamp and the soothing scent of lavender made us feel relaxed. It seemed like a hospitable place, but in reality it wasn’t what it appeared to be.
Looking back, I was in a serious depression since Dad had died of cancer. The ad for family therapy had claimed Dr. Clark was a Christian psychologist, and she had assured my mother over the phone that she was for gentle parenting. Both had been important to my mother.
Awkwardly Dr. Clark rose from her chair, the cushion rebounding once her heavy frame was no longer burdening it. “And by the way,” she added to my mother, “you shouldn’t be letting him come into your bed at night. As a happily married woman who’s raised three boys, I know what I’m talking about —you know, Social Services could have him in foster care in 24 hours.”
Mom later asked a friend to call Child Protective Services to see if there was any truth to this. The social worker was almost offended that anyone would even think those who were there to protect, would do such a thing to a family.
Let’s be honest – when I was 7, night was a disquieting time. After Dad died, I was frightened. Could Mom die too? Could I get cancer? When my dad had been close, I had been more secure. If I needed a glass of water, I felt free to go downstairs to get it. Now I had thoughts of creepy crawlies again.
Mom began to object, “But Dr. Clark, don’t you remember what it was like being a kid?”. Dr. Clark stiffened her back, tilted her chin, and put her nose up at my mother in an arrogant gesture as if to make her short, fat body look taller. “Our time is up now,” she said.
“Some day you’ll have a pet, and you will know that your husband has come back to you,” Dr. Clark had said to Mom. This statement disturbed her. Considering Dr. Clark had been clearly advertised as a pro attachment and Christian therapist, she now seemed like a fraud. Fraud contaminates believability like a disease-ridden insect biting a trusting person.
The problem wasn’t that she believed in reincarnation; it was that she advertised herself as being different than she was. However, if reincarnation were to happen to her, she might not like where she was headed. Considering she believed she would receive her position in the next life based on her past, it could be assumed that she would move to a lower species. This being said, Dr. Clark’s next life would probably be that of a bug – a very hated bug.
First, Dr. Clark would be an unwanted ant at a picnic, trying to steal food from a perturbed family. She would quickly be shooed away, but she would persistently return to bother the unhappy group. As she was driven away from the family’s lunch for the last time, she would be blasted with Raid. Crippled by the pesticide, she would limp away and die while paralyzed. Then she would become a fly.
Now, because she hadn’t done any good as an ant, Dr. Clark would become an even bigger pest. Filthy from being in the garbage, she would fly into a formal restaurant and buzz around a family celebrating a birthday, landing on their food and sitting on the rims of their crystal drinking glasses. Seeing the outraged family, the waiter would call the manager, who would bring a giant fly swatter and furiously swipe at Dr. Clark’s feeble, disgusting wings. Barely dodging the first blows, she would take cover at another table, where the manager would finally have had enough. He would take his shoe and smash Dr. Clark, turning her into a blood-sucking parasite for her next life.
As a flea, Dr. Clark would bite cats as she hopped in the street, and this would infuriate people when they found their distressed pets itching. This time, though no one would be able to kill her, Dr. Clark would still die, and always become a flea again. She could do only one thing – harass people and animals. According to her own belief, since she had deceived and provoked people in her past, consignment to perpetual rebirth as a worthless and hated creature would be her fate. She would have had many chances to change, but in her arrogance she would decide that she had never committed wrong in her previous lives. Now Dr. Clark would remain a flea forever, able only to torment her fellow creatures, just as she had in her life as a therapist.
Blood and Bones
Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Drinking coffee and spit,
I cannot live like this.
Something is in my food.
It tastes like medicine.
I am only here to
get my bones fixed and for
the pain in my belly.
I need my blood checked out.
I should not have eaten
at McDonald’s. Ever
since I ate there I feel
like I’m going to die.
I need new blood. I need
my bones cleaned and reset.
Darkness pressed in on me at all sides, as if I were sitting at the bottom of a big black lake. I sat in the darkness calmly planning my escape from this prison. As I plotted I waited silently for the Keeper to come and wake me as she did every morning. The timekeeper read 7:17 AM in a bright neon green light. It was Black Magic, but it was useful. In thirteen minutes I knew the Keeper would walk into my room, summon light, and proceed to dress me for the day. But until then my room was my own. And so in darkness I sat.
My room was pitch black; heavy curtains blocked the Black Magic of the outside world from entering into my room because it kept me up late when I saw the outside lights for they appeared as if they were the eyes of the Devil himself. The air was heavy without access to the outside. It was stuffy, hot, and humid, but to me it was comfortable. In the darkness I couldn‗t really see but by the magical light of the timekeeper. At the periphery of my room everything looked black, but I could see vague shapes: objects silhouetted against the lighter black of the walls. I distinguished the shape of my big bookshelf from the other objects against the wall. I loved it ever so much because it kept everything that was important to me. It housed great novels and even greater authors. Jane Austin, JRR Tolkien, Stephen King, Shakespeare, Emerson, and many books like The Once and Future King, Beowulf, The Iliad, and Anthem just to name a few. Of course I haven‗t read all of them, but I was well on my way, already completing my Arthurian books. I ventured a glance at the timekeeper and, lost in thought, time had left me; it now read 7:28 AM.
Damn, I thought, dreading what was to come in a mere two minutes. The Keeper had been there ever since I could remember. She was relatively young, probably no older than thirty. She had light brown hair, matching my own, but hers fell down just below her slender shoulders. We shared the same chocolate brown eyes but hers were lighter than mine. She had always been slender, but she was strong, much more than I. At first, when she began sending me to what she termed “school,” I fought hard against her, but she was just too much for me and I grew to understand my efforts were fruitless. The magical timekeeper shone 7:30 AM and instantly the door to my room exploded open and the Keeper burst in, flipping on the contraption to summon light that flooded my room.
“Goodness, Jamie, it‗s like an oven in here!” She exclaimed, strutting over to my chest of drawers and rummaged through my clothes.
“This will look so dashing!” She said winking, pulling out one of my white tunics.
I grunted in sullen agreement. I was never sure why she tried to converse with me so, but perhaps I could learn of some sort of weakness to exploit to gain my freedom. She stood me up and pulled off my long nightshirt. She looked at my near naked body and demanded, “when was the last time you changed your underwear?”
Miss, I wanted so badly to say, I keep myself clean. I bathe regularly and every evening I change my undergarments.
However, “mmh,” was the only thing I could form, shrugging my shoulders.
“Okay.” She said, tugging the tunic over my head, grabbing my arms and thrusting them through the armholes. After that she held out a pair of denim pants. I stepped into them with my left leg, then right and as soon as I had done so she pulled up violently, lifting me from the ground. She then went back to my chest of drawers and acquired a pair “socks.” They covered only my feet and didn‗t even reach past my knees. She stuck out a sock and I stuck my left foot out. She covered it and we repeated with the right foot. That had been the ritual every morning for the past two years.
“Now, go to the bathroom, comb your hair, and brush your teeth.” The Keeper ordered, floating over to my curtains, thrusting them apart and opening the window. A gentle breeze flowed through my room yet the air seemed much more chill than early September should be.
“Mmh.” I grunted, bowing out of my own room and heading down the hall to the washroom. There was a small white stepping stool in the corner that, though I hate to admit it, I needed. I dragged it over to the water basin. It made a loud, screechy noise as I got it into place. It was made of plastic, it was unnatural, it was evil.
I stood on it and stared into the looking glass that was behind the water basin. I studied my eight-year-old body closely. My hair fell around my eyes and covered my ears. My chocolate brown eyes, so much darker than the Keeper‗s, shone behind my curtain of hair. My fair skin shone dully in the reflection of the looking glass. But what astounded me most about the image before me was that such intellect could be hidden in such a young and immature body.
I had always been reading. Reading everything, beginning with Doctor Seuss, Curious George, See Spot Run, anything that had colorful pictures and little text. I didn‗t remember it, but I was told that the first real book I read was Ayn Rand‗s Anthem; a book that I read at least once a month now. I knew I was special considering all of my peers were just beginning with Doctor Seuss.
I picked up a comb that sat next to the water basin and began to drag it through my thicket of hair. It got caught the first time I dragged it through, and after a quick yank the snag was conquered and I was victorious. I loved being victorious. I was a knight after all. I came to this conclusion when I reached my seventh year. After I read The Once and Future King by T.H. White I knew that I had to have been of some sort of noble birth. I couldn‗t be a wizard, because one of Merlin‗s parents was a demon, neither of mine could be. I just knew my parents were either royalty, or perhaps a Lord and Lady of some quiet land. The one that watched over me was so unlike myself. She was dumb. I was smart. Logically, we couldn‗t be of the same lineage. She was just my Keeper.
After I had finished with the last stroke of the comb I turned my attention to the toothbrush. I squirted the paste onto it and began brushing my teeth. Circles. Just how I was taught. But I couldn‗t help but to wonder why I was incarcerated in such a horrid place. The Keeper was nice enough, but she kept me locked in her dwelling. I couldn‗t stay locked up. It was my duty as a knight to protect the innocent. How could I accomplish this if I were to stay locked up? And then just last year she decided it was time for me to start “school.” It was just another thing to steal time away from me; time better used slaying dragons or rescuing damsels in distress.
“Come now, Jamie, don‗t dilly. You‗ll make yourself late for school again.” The Keeper said, suddenly appearing in the doorway of the washroom.
I grunted, mouth full of the minty foam of the paste, in acknowledgement. I spat out the foam and got down from the white plastic stool. I dragged it back to its corner, making the same screechy noise as before and exited the washroom. I walked down the steps and into the dinning hall. There was one circular table surrounded by four wooden chairs. I walked over to one of the chairs, a mammoth compared to me, and climbed up on it. A plate sat in front of me and on it was a single fluffy disk cake. I touched it with my open palm and felt that it was cold. This was another reason that I couldn‗t be related to her: everything she did for me was mediocre. I always understood that parents went the extra mile for their children. Then again, if that was the case, why was I still imprisoned here? Shouldn‗t my parents have found me already? Or perhaps there was some great evil stopping them from reaching me. But who would care about a young knight like myself? Then again, I was special.
I finished the disk cake and took the plate to the kitchen and placed it in a large water basin. I heard it clang with other plates and some silverware. The Keeper was just so unsatisfactory. She didn‗t even keep the place in good condition.
“Jamie, come on! The bus is just down the street, hurry, or it will pass.” The Keeper yelled from the entrance hall where the stairs led and to which there was an opening to the dining hall. I quickly grabbed my pack from the dining hall and walked out into the entrance hall and out of the front door. I took a few steps on the path, turned and bowed low to the keeper.
I didn‗t say a word; I just turned again and walked to the main road to where the BOS would stop. The BOS came down the road, slowly, roaring loudly as it approached, a giant behemoth. It screeched to a stop, red lightning flashing: an ominous sign. An opening appeared on the BOS, beaconing me into it like a friendly hand, reaching out. I entered the BOS reluctantly, but I entered it nonetheless. Long brown leather seats lined the inside of the behemoth. An odd stench of feet and puke filled the interior of the BOS. A man controlled the monster behind a great wheel. There was a skinny aisle separating the two rows of seats and toward the front of the BOS was a completely empty seat. It was my seat. It always had been, and for some reason I figured it always would be. No one ever sat with me, but that was my own doing. The rest of the BOS was filled with creatures my own size, but not of the same species. They were goblins. They were small, ugly, stinky and evil. If only I had my sword I would slay them all. Of course, I wouldn‗t enjoy it. But they were evil creatures, terrorizing the world...and me. All because I was special.
The BOS came to another screeching halt and the opening appeared again. I remember once I tried to run out of it while it was still open. But that didn‗t work. The door closed on me and knocked me to the belly of the BOS. It was then that I figured out what BOS stood for. Bearer Of Servitude. The only thing that the BOS did was send us to something akin to a prison. The Keeper tried to convince me that it was an institution of some sort, but I quickly learned how wrong she was. The ones who kept the ‘institution‗ used us only for slave labor. Without the work of the goblins (and myself) how would the world survive without all of the paper cut outs we have been forced to do?
The labor didn‗t bother me that much. I was used to it after a few years of it. There were only two things that really bothered me about the institution. First was my new Slave-Master. Her name was Ms. Garrett and it only took me one day to figure out that she was an evil witch. The Slave-Master last year was much kinder than Ms. Garrett, and to be truthful she was one of the few things that made the institution enjoyable at all. I had no companions to converse with and the goblins in class taunted me when I pulled out a book that I was in the process of reading.
The second thing that bothered me was the goblin king. His name was Pence. He was a year older than everyone else but we were in the same workshop. I, myself, being two years older than everybody else. I learned that one could progress through the years at the institution until they ‘graduated‗ and until then we would have to make countless paper cut outs. Pence, however, failed to get passed the year I was in currently, and so they did not let him progress with the others. But he didn‗t seem to mind because once that happened he became the eldest and strongest of the goblins (aside from me), and so they named him their king. He was the cruelest of them all. He beat defenseless young goblins in the year below us, he kicked sand into the faces of young goblin lasses, and he ruled the land outside of the institute as a tyrant. Goblins hated and loved him at the same time. It was sickening. But everything turned personal the time Pence stole my copy of JRR Tolkien‗s The Hobbit and burned it outside of the institute. I shouldn‗t have let it bother me so, but I could not help it, I may have been a knight, but I was still young.
The BOS stopped again coming to a screeching halt and the goblins, so loud before, got louder as movement added to the plethora of noise already in existence. Goblins nearly trampled each other to exit the BOS, now with its opening again present. I sat patiently waiting for the last goblin, a young first year to stumble down the steps before I calmly stood and exited. As I exited the BOS I could hear the goblins screaming from the land outside the institute, dubbed the “playground.”
A loud clanking filled the air as the bell for classes sounded. The master of the BOS was a good enough man, slave to the beast, but he was not very good at getting the goblins and myself to the institute in a timely manner. I hurried into the halls of the institute. They were unnaturally white and they were not made of stone, like buildings should be. The floor was so polished it reflected the little goblins, however soon it would be covered over by scuffmarks. That was just the natural progression of the day; the natural in the unnatural.
With a manner of dignity, I carried myself to my classroom, where Ms. Garrett ruled. Other Slave-Masters wandered the halls of the institution, yelling at the goblins to stop running or fighting. I walked in and found my seat. I choose to sit in the darkest corner of the classroom, where I didn‗t have to view the outside world. The desks were laid out in a rectangular fashion, all facing one direction, where Ms. Garrett normally stood and watched us as we did paper cut outs. I wasn‗t sure how to describe the things we cut out. Sometimes we cut out squares, other times circles. One time I remember we actually got to cut out a human figure. None of the goblins succeeded in this, only I did well. When I was finished, one could actually tell that mine was supposed to be a human. I was special though, much more than any of the goblins were.
Ms. Garrett sat behind her desk that occupied the exact opposite corner of the classroom as me. She sat tall and had a fake smile plastered on her face. It was colored oddly, with blues and reds that shouldn‗t be on a human face. Her hair was kept up in an incredibly tight bun; I was surprised that her face wasn‗t stretched out by the way her hair was kept. Her nose was rather long, and it hooked at the end. Her clothes were unnaturally pristine, never had I seen wrinkles, or any blemish of any kind upon them. This sort of perfection was simply impossible for any normal human being. And that was how I came to the completely logical conclusion that she was, in fact, not a human, but rather a witch. A real-life witch.
Another bell sounded as class officially began.
“Good morning, class.” She began, and in response, as the class did every morning, they chanted, “Good morning, Ms. Garrett.”
“Let‗s jump right in and start with math! All of you should have your multiplication charts in your desks. Please get them out, we‗ll be beginning with multiples of two!” she said unnaturally cheery. I sighed in disappointment. I was rather hoping that we would get to begin with free reading time. I even brought my copy of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley just for it. I was already quite familiar with multiplication. In fact, I could probably do more than Ms. Garrett, but I didn‗t really want to test this theory. Then again, if I was learning integrals on my own, then multiplying things by two should have been quite doable. I pulled out my book anyway and opened it to where my bookmark was.
“Jamie, please put the book away and get out your multiplication table.” Ms. Garrett ordered from the front of the classroom. I sighed in frustration.
I opened my desk and grabbed my multiplication chart. But instead of putting the book in my desk, I sneakily stowed it on my lap, away from her line of vision, then all I had to do was not look suspicious during class.
“Thank you, Jamie” she said, turning to the white board and started to write a problem on the white board. “Multiplying by two isn‗t too hard,” she began, when I stopped listening. I opened the book carefully in my lap and scooted the multiplication chart closer to myself on the desk, to make it look like I was looking at something on the chart instead of reading.
“Ms. Garrett! Ms. Garrett! Jamie‗s still reading the book in his lap, and it‗s distracting me!” Pence yelled out from a few seats aside me. I shot a sharp glare at him as I heard Ms. Garrett‗s pointed heels click toward my seat in the corner. He looked at me with such sadistic happiness. He was a pudgy child, with a round face, but he also contained a bulk of muscle that shouldn‗t belong to a seven year old.
“The book, Jamie.” Ms. Garrett demanded, her hand out in front of me. I could smell the sweetness of her perfume. It was too sweet, quite sickening. I handed the book out toward her. She snatched it away and looked at the cover.
“The Mists of Avalon?” she began, “isn‗t this a little much for someone of your age? Oh, no, I get it, you‗re trying to show off for the class.” She said as the rest of the class snickered.
Excuse me, Ms. Garrett, but I must beg your pardon. I‗ve a reading comprehension higher than an average college student. I‗m not pretending to be anything, and why would I waste my time with this lot of ignoramus dumb-asses? I thought angrily but all I could say was “Give it back!”
“That‗s quite enough, Jamie. We‗ll have to have a little chat before recess. And a punishment is coming.” She threatened, turning around and marching to her desk.
“We‗ll continue with multiplication, if you don‗t mind, Jamie.” She said as she walked over the white board again.
I grunted angrily. She was an evil witch; there was no doubt about that. Witches were the only things that could really control me. They had powers that I couldn‗t even fathom; it was very clever to put them in the institute. They seemed to have powers over the goblins, and also myself. I was impressed and angry about her abilities.
I stared longingly at my book the entire lesson. All I wanted to do was read, why was that so bad? But my book was ever so far away, and I suddenly felt like the king after his best knight took away the queen. Admittedly there were some differences, for I was no king, and she was by no means my best knight, and that book was not my lover, but the pain felt the same.
“Okay, class, free reading time until recess.” Ms. Garrett announced as the classroom filled with loud groans from the goblins, “now, now. Go choose a book from the shelf and read it. When you‗re done with that, put it back and get another.” She said, finishing the instructions she always gave for free reading time. I got up and slowly walked towards her, now seated behind the desk of where my book was held captive.
I looked at her sweetly, as women, even evil witches, love children. I pointed to the book longingly and smiled as sweetly as possible.
“No.” she said bluntly. No? NO? That was my book; she had no right to take my book. She had stolen from me. She had stolen my Guinevere. “Now, I think it‗d be a better idea if you choose a book from the shelf. There are many great books there.”
All I wanted was my book back...so I took it. I snatched it from her desk, spun around and sprinted for the door. I passed into the pristine white hall and made the decision to go left. Right led to the front of the school, passing the offices and to the locked front doors. Left led to the playground where I might be able to hide and read my book in peace. I heard Ms. Garrett call my name with frustration as I sprinted to the doors to the playground. I slammed against the door and, for a panicked moment, thought it was locked. I felt dumb as I reached for the silver bar that kept it shut, pushed it and it swung open with a screech that filled the entire hall, perhaps the entire school.
I ventured a glance behind me, as I stepped out into the unnaturally cold September day and saw Ms. Garrett just then stepping out of the doorway, looking toward me in anger and disgust. I saw in that moment that she was mumbling under her breath. It must have been some sort of incantation. I panicked, I was nothing compared to the magic of a witch. I needed to find a place to hide. As I looked toward the playground itself I saw a few potentials, perhaps the tree, but that would be obvious, so that would be my last option. The basketball courts, between myself and the playground were completely barren of any hiding places, and so were the areas directly to my left and right, and the stair case on which I stood was a simple block-type construct with no place to hide underneath, but I needed to get going, before Ms. Garrett trapped me in whatever spell she was weaving.
I started down the steps, skipping two with every bound. And in a split decision, really just the trusting of my instincts, I turned right. It was an area devoid of hiding places, but if I kept running perhaps I could get to the fence and over it and to freedom. The ground was dark with absorbed water from rain that apparently came during the math lesson, and as I ran I saw clouds, dark and threatening, hanging in the sky ready to pour more water onto the earth at any moment. While I looked at the sky I felt the ground give way beneath me, or rather, I felt that my foot should be on the ground, but was not. I felt the ground met me and I felt warm pain on my arms and legs. My clothes became moist, as I fell into a puddle. The pain was nothing compared to the sense of crushing defeat. She had won, and whatever spell she wove had worked. My eyelids, closed to the twin pains, thrust open, my yearning eyes eager to find some means of escape. And to my immense surprise, there was a hole in the wall, a perfect hole, just big enough for me to fit in and hide from Ms. Garrett. As I began to crawl in I heard the loud creaking of the door to the institution. I wasn‗t completely in the hole, and I just knew that she saw me, I just knew it.
“Jamie!” I heard her yell to the near empty playground.
“Jamie, come out, NOW!” she yelled again. Did she know where I was? If so, why didn‗t she come straight to the hole? If she was yelling for me, did she not know? Did I get in in time? I peered out from the hole, to find Ms. Garrett pacing back and forth on the basketball courts, searching the playground with her eyes, even glancing to the kickball field next to the playground. She didn‗t know where I was. I had won. I was victorious!
“Jamie, wherever you are, don‗t move! I‗m getting Mr. Lysle. We‗re going to find you.” She threatened as she turned and walked back up the stairs and into the institution. For a moment I sighed in relief. The panic was gone. Mr. Lysle was a big man, but I was faster. If they found me, I had the option of slipping away and running. Running was always an option.
...But not for a knight. I sighed. Knights never ran away. They fought until the very end. But they had many things I did not. They had swords, they had horses, they had castles. I didn‗t have any of those. Unless...
I looked out from my hiding place and saw the big steel complex on the wood chipped playground. It had plenty of hiding places for me. And besides, recess should begin at any moment. I peeked out of the hole and at the door. With one last huge breath, I leapt from the hole and sprinted to the playground to the steel complex. I could feel the change in my running as it switched from the hard blackness to the softer terrain of the wet wood chips. I got to the steel complex and swung around to the back of the complex. I climbed up the ladder quickly and got to the very top of the complex. I looked out to the basketball courts, out to my left where the kickball field was. Closer to me, a wood chipped area housed play structures and swing sets. A single giant tree sprouted from the middle of the wood chipped area. As I stared out over the real world it slowly morphed into my kingdom. The Basketball courts, black with yellow lines painted on the surface and giant silver poles jutting from the surface became a large black water harbor. Ships were docked there and gently they rose and fell with the imaginary tide. The Kickball field slowly spread far and crops sprouted up. That was now my country‗s farmland; I‗d make sure my people were fed with that. The wood chipped area became a sprawling city in front of me. And just at the fringe of my city the giant tree multiplied into a giant forest that we would farm and we would be renowned for our wood, like the ancient Macedonians.
As I stared out over my kingdom, I heard a faint sound. It was the sharp metal clanking of a faraway land. Suddenly hordes of goblins swam across the black sea, some of them drowning, to my immense pleasure. Some goblins overtook my crop fields, destroying them with their evil red fireballs bouncing around the fields. Others still, lead by the goblin king, launched an invasion against my forest. They limbed upon it, harming it. I cried out in horror, and that was when the goblin king noticed me. He looked at me, and evil sneer on his face. I wasn‗t sure what I was going to do. I couldn‗t run any more. Knights don‗t run. He came at me, up my turrets with inhuman speed.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” He goaded, reaching my highest tower.
“Away! You horrid monster!” The words came clearly. I had always known the words, I just never used them. I yelled them at him I then ran at him, charging him, intending to push him off my castle.
“Hey! Watch it!” He yelled, pushing me to the floor of the castle, stopping my attack. Even from the floor, I could see other goblins flying to the castle, to help their king.
“What are you playing today, Jamie?” He asked, his voice full of malice.
“You have taken my land.” I yelled. I knew then what I needed to do.
“Your land? No, no, no. This is my land. It‗s always been my land, and it always will be.” He sneered at me, pulling me up to my feet from my tunic alone. I spun around, he wasn‗t expecting it, and I had the upper hand. I didn‗t think. I just acted. With all the force my body could muster, I pushed him.
I saw his eyes. They were wide with shock. They were wide with fear.
I expected to hear a thud when he hit the ground, but I didn‗t, instead I heard a loud crack. I looked down from the tower. Wood chips coated his body like the sprinkles on a child‗s birthday cake. He didn‗t move. He probably couldn‗t move. I heard some of the goblins cry in fear. Cry in agony. Ms. Garrett and a few other Slave-Masters rushed to him. I saw her bend down and touch the goblin king‗s neck. She started sobbing as she looked at Mr. Lysle.
“He‗s dead.” She cried. But that didn‗t matter. They were evil creatures, all of them. They all deserved to die. I started to laugh then, something I hadn‗t done in years. I was victorious.
I defeated the goblin king.
Duerme con la sangre
Melinda J Nevarez
it’s a quiet kind of danger,
Colder in than out
wore sadness like an old coat
lint in her pockets (and secrets
they’d put you away for)--
take your medication, darling
say thank you
when they dole out your kindnesses
like government cheese...
traded up for
cheap whiskey fingers blistered
I’ll fuck you for answers,
said, almost begging.
Narcissus never procreated.
but she will
catch you behind the curtain and
to bleed you out.
About Melinda J Nevarez
Melinda J Nevarez writes poetry and flash fiction mainly to escape, if only for a moment, the chaos in her head. A former drug addict, she is now addicted to chronicling the plight of the downtrodden and advocating compassionate mental health services.
“I’d like a one-way ticket to Denver,” I say to the pale man behind the counter. The man continues to stare silently at his computer for several seconds, like I don’t even exist.
“What time?” he finally asks. He doesn’t bother looking up.
“I don’t know. What time is the next bus leaving?” I fish around in the deep pockets of my jacket and find my wallet buried under a wad of tissues. My temples throb dully.
“The next bus will be leaving at 10:25,” says the man. “It’ll be forty four dollars.”
“Forty four,” I say, mostly to myself, and pull the bills from the cracked black leather of my wallet. I hand them to the man and ask, “What time is it now?” My phone is cracked and useless. Who knows where my watch went?
The man sighs and takes a long and painful look at his own watch. “You have about forty-five minutes,” he says. “Do you have any luggage to check?”
I start to say no, then remember the backpack I just bought. I set it on the counter. One sock is trying to work its way to freedom through the partially torn zipper. “I have this. I don’t know if I need to check it, though. I’m carrying it on.”
The man sighs again, rolling his eyes. “You only check baggage if you want the baggage to be stored underneath the bus,” he says tiredly, struggling to be patient with the idiot on the other side of the counter. I could kill him so happily.
Instead I say, “Well, then I guess I don’t need to check anything.” The man lays the ticket on the counter and walks away without saying another word. Asshole. I pick up my ticket and make my way to the misshapen seats, and sit down to look around the small bus station. Wonder what kind of company I get for my escape.
No one else in the actual station, but there’s a couple sitting together in the makeshift cafeteria connected to the side of the terminal. They sit there and whisper and giggle, not touching their food. I can’t read anything from the girl, but the boy is thinking how funny he is. I don’t need to read the girl to see that she agrees. I hate them. My head is pounding.
I rest my head in my hands, trying to block out the memory that keeps screaming at me. Seems like now I can block out almost everyone’s thoughts but my own.
A little while later a hand touches my shoulder just when I’m about to finally get some sleep. I look up at the owner of the hand, and the lights stab into the back of my eyes. “What?” I try to say. It comes out as a croak.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you like that. I just wanted to make sure you were all right. Do you want some aspirin or something?” The man comes into focus smiling. Looks sixtyish, slightly overweight, concerned in a somehow fatherly way. I can’t get into his mind, either. I clear my throat and try to sit up a little straighter. “I’m fine,” I mumble. Don’t want to look at the guy so I pick up my backpack from the seat next to me and set it in my lap, digging in the little pockets searching for nothing at all.
“Oh, thank you,” says the man, and I can’t figure out what he’s talking about at first. Then he settles with a sigh into the seat my backpack just vacated, and I realize he thinks I was making room for him to sit down. Not much I can do but keep digging through my pack. Old bastard just sits there patiently until I finally stop. I set my pack on the floor and stare at it.
“I just love traveling on the bus,” the man says cheerfully when I finally look up. “You can see such beautiful scenery. Do you take the bus much?”
“Mm,” I grunt. I try to avoid conversation by looking out at the dark night through the window, but in the reflection I can see he doesn’t even notice. I look at the night for a while. Do a lot of sightseeing in the dark, old man?
“I’m sorry?” the man says after a while. “Was that a yes or a no?”
No, it wasn’t. “Uh, this is my first time on the bus.”
“Really? Why are you taking the bus now? Airlines too expensive?”
I swallow my heart, which is trying to climb up my throat and strangle me. “My car stopped working,” I say, “and I need to be in St. Louis in two days and my car won’t be fixed by then.” It’s not a complete lie. My car, sitting at the bottom of the Colorado River, really isn’t working well at all. I try to read the man to see if he knows I’m lying, but the effort just hurts my head. I don’t think he knows.
“Oh, I think you’ll enjoy the bus,” Old Fart says with a big smile.
“Excuse me,” I say, standing up. “I need to go to the bathroom.”
“I’ll save your seat.”
In the bathroom I look at my reflection in the mirror for a long time. The cut on my forehead isn’t noticeable, as long as I keep my bangs down. Left eye is still swollen, though, and it’s starting to turn deep purple around the cheekbone. Someone’s bound to notice it sooner or later, and ask about it. Need to make up a story, just to be prepared.
There’s a muffled announcement floating through the door, before I can search for other tell-tale damage. “Attention,” says Paleface over the scratchy speakers. “All passengers bound for Denver, please line up at the door at this time.”
I splash some cold water on my face and push open the door to the lobby. Old Fart is standing there, holding my backpack. “I thought you might have fallen in,” he chuckles. Oh yes, you’re a comedian, pal. “Come on, we’re supposed to get on the bus.”
I hurry to the door and hold out my ticket to the driver. As I climb the steps on the bus I can hear the driver outside mutter loudly to the guy loading the luggage, “Typical. One guy thinks he’s important enough to make everyone else late.” My head hurts too much to bother with a retort.
I sit in the back seat in front of the bathroom, trying uselessly to adjust the seat to get it into a comfortable position. Finally I give up and collapse into it. Wonder who else is on the bus. I crane my neck to look at the other passengers. The couple from the cafeteria was sitting in the front seat, Giggles resting her head on Funny Man’s shoulder; another woman’s sitting about one-third of the way back, staring out of the window at the traffic lights. Oh, here’s a pleasant surprise: Old Fart is making himself comfortable just one seat ahead of mine, across the aisle. He’s smiling that big shit-eating grin at me. “You’ll like this trip,” he says before I can look away. Hey, it’s been a dream come true already.
My gaze falls again on the woman staring out the window. I can hear music coming from her headphones, something loud and discordant. I can’t listen through her ears to figure it out. All I can get from her is a reading from the uppermost of her consciousness, she’s unsure about something. Man, I thought I would never miss all those other people’s thoughts crowding in, but now it’s kind of scary. It’s like being blind in a dark room. I don’t like it. All I can read from her is that she is going to miss Grand Junction when she leaves. Well, I’m sure not going to miss this dump. I’ve had enough over the past twenty years to last ten times that long.
“It sure is pretty, isn’t it?” says Old Fart, interrupting my train of thought. “I like the way it just looks quiet,” he says, nodding to the window.
“Sure, I guess so,” I mumble. I still can’t read a thing from this guy. The steering wheel knocked something funny in my brain. Then I’m just irritated. It’s going to be a long trip if that man is going to talk the entire time.
“I thought he was in a big hurry to get going,” I say to no one in particular. I’m talking about the driver, who is back in the terminal. He’s leaning across the desk, talking to Paleface at the ticket counter. They’re both laughing at something the driver has just said.
“Oh, we’ll be on our way any time now. You have to be patient with these drivers.”
I close his eyes and try to ignore the man. I lean back in my seat and massage my aching temples. After a hell of a long time the bus shifts into gear and the bus lurches forward. The driver gives a little speech, outlining our schedule. I don’t give a damn about our schedule, I just want to leave. The woman is trying not to cry as she looks at the passing city. I can’t read her sadness, I can only see it in her face. Personally I don’t feel the need to even look back once at the miserable life I’m leaving behind.
Something jolts me back into consciousness. The bus ran over a pothole, I think. The jerking bus bumps my head against the window, and for a feverish second I forget where I am. But it does turn out to be only a bus window, not a car windshield. It feels like my head is being squeezed in a vice.
Looks like the sad woman got off somewhere during while I was asleep. Giggles and Funny Man are hunched down asleep in the front. I can see their reflections, sleeping with their heads together in a nauseating picture of cuteness. Old Fart across the aisle is also asleep. His mouth’s open and he’s snoring lightly. Then he wakes up as the bus bounces through another pothole, and his eyes open looking directly into mine.
“Morning,” he says brightly. One of those people who can wake up fully in an instant, and be happy about being awake. In my book, that makes him an asshole.
“Yeah,” I say, smacking my lips. Tastes like something died in my mouth. Just where are we exactly? A green road sign passing by announces the Glenwood Springs exit a mile away.
“Glenwood Springs,” says Old Fart with a sigh. “You know, the hotsprings here are very therapeutic,” he says matter-of-factly. “Have you ever been to the springs here?”
Well, let’s see. I’ve lived in Western Colorado for almost all of my twenty-five years. Probably been to the hotsprings twenty or more times in that two decade period. Not that it’s any of your business, pal. Maybe if I don’t answer him he’ll shut up. Might slow him down at least.
“Yep, it’s real therapeutic,” the man continues, like I begged him to tell me more. “Glenwood Springs is probably my second favorite place in Colorado. Know where my first favorite place is? The Eisenhower Tunnel. That’s why I like this trip so much. You get to see both.”
Oh, Christ. The Eisenhower. Why didn’t I realize that? That’s one hell of a lot of tunnel to be spending any amount of time in. It’s hard to breathe in this bus air. There’s no way I’m going to be able to make it through that entire goddamned tunnel. Why is it so fucking hard to breathe in here?
A memory from childhood. I’m six, and Richard and me are trying to build a dam in the irrigation ditch behind Richard’s house. There’s not enough water coming through the big pipe bringing the water in to make a really good impressive dam, though, so I figure I’ll crawl in and see what I can do about that. Well, what else could happen except for me to get stuck about ten feet in. So while Richard runs to find my mother I try to back up and of course just wedge myself in a little better.
We may not have been very happy with our little dam, but it backed the water up quite nicely in that pipe. The water level at my head just kept getting higher. After a while I had to struggle just to keep my nose above the water before someone finally turns off the flow. Then I feel something on my leg and I’ve got a whole other set of things to worry me. I can’t move enough to shake it off, and it’s about then that the pipe starts getting smaller on me. They start to dig up the pipe, but not before panic steps in and pays a little visit. We’re talking full blown crazed panic attack, only I can’t scream ‘cause every time I open my mouth the water comes in and chokes me.
Everyone tells me I was only in that pipe for half an hour, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t at least a full day. Then again, I am damned, so maybe it was after all. Whatever. I can still feel that pipe trying to crush me. I can’t see. I can’t breathe.
“Glenwood Springs,” announces the driver. Seems as if we stopped while I was under attack from my memory. “We’ll be here for about five minutes. If you decide to go outside, keep in mind that the bus will leave unannounced.” My sight clears just enough to let me stand and stumble over to the door.
When I can finally see again I find myself leaning against the back wall of a Village Inn. The night tastes good, and I gulp it in as my head clears and my chest loosens up. That flushes out most of the panic. Out with the bad air, in with the good.
There’s a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry,” says the old man. I forgot he was even here. “I didn’t know you were afraid of tunnels.”
Chest is constricting again. I stare at Old Fart, trying to read him. Is he a reader too? No, that’s something I can always tell right away. Even now, I’m sure I could tell. “What?” I say finally.
The man takes a step backwards, like my stare drives him back. “I saw how scared you looked when I mentioned the Eisenhower tunnel,” he says nervously. “Are you claustrophobic?”
“No,” I say tightly. Asshole doesn’t have any right to know about this. No one needs to know little things like tunnels terrify me. That’s for me and my psychosis. “I just felt sick for a minute. Probably something I ate,” I say.
“I see,” says Old Fart, raising his hands like he thinks I’m about to punch him. Maybe I am. He walks slowly back to the bus.
I drink the mountain air for a bit and watch a small boy, looks to be about ten at the most, trying to lift a duffel bag as big as he is onto the bus steps. The driver just sits there and watches, doesn’t make a move to help. I walk up and grab the bag and carry it up the steps, and the kid looks grateful, even though I can read how scared he is of me, a big bad stranger. He mumbles something that would probably be a thank-you if it had any volume behind it.
The driver stops the kid at the front of the bus and asks, “Do you have permission to ride this bus without supervision?” The kid starts to dig through his bag for some kind of form when I hand it to him, and I go sit down. When I look up again the boy is sitting in the front seat across from the two lovebirds. I close my eyes and try not to think about the fact that the kid is probably about the same age as the little girl sitting in the trunk of my car.
It’s so quiet without all the voices.
Standing outside the convenience store in Eagle, CO, watching some guy from another bus smoke about three feet away from the gas pumps. I’d kind of like to see him go up in a ball of flames, but not while I’m so close.
Feel pretty damned good, considering. Nothing but a dull ache where the knifepoint was in my forehead earlier. Waking nightmares of that little girl not haunting me at the moment.
The bell on the door tinkles as the old man and the small boy, who I can just barely read as Eric, walk out with a grocery sack full of junk food each. “It’s really over a mile long?” Eric is saying.
“That’s right,” the man says. “Enter on the western side of the continent, spend a few minutes underground, exit on the eastern side. The Eisenhower tunnel goes through what they call the ‘Continental Divide’.” Old man, you better just shut the fuck up before I smash in your teeth. I go around the corner to the dirty little bathroom to escape their voices. A little cold water on my face and I feel good again. No tunnel is going to beat Michael Evans today, I can tell you that.
“Hello,” says Old Fart cheerfully when I sit down in my seat. “Would you like a piece of licorice?” Damn straight I would. Eric has moved his stuff in the seat just in front of mine, next to Old Fart. Eric waves and I decline to return it. Instead I take the cheesy crime paperback I just purchased out of my pocket and flip the cover back.
“What kind of nightmare were you having?” That’s Old Fart again.
What the hell? “Huh?”
“What were you dreaming about?” Old Fart says again. “You were mumbling and thrashing around quite a bit just before we stopped.”
“I don’t know,” I say. Am I supposed to remember every little dream I have?
“I was just wondering. It sounded like you were talking about some little girl. Like something bad had happened to her.”
I hope my voice is steady and unconcerned when I say, “That so?” but I doubt it is. Yes, I do remember the dream now. And what could it have been anyway but the little girl stepping off the sidewalk while I sit behind the wheel struggling with the voices in my head, too distracted to see her? What could I possibly be dreaming about but her surprised face as it flattens against my hood?
The man just shrugs when I don’t say anything else. “I was just wondering. I just thought it sounded pretty serious.” He turns back to Eric and starts talking about something I can’t hear over the ringing in my ears. I put my book down and notice the pages are already damp from my sweating, shaking hands. The pain in my temples wakes and hammers against my skull.
The driver starts talking again, and it sounds like it’s coming through cotton to reach my ears. “This was our last stop before Denver,” he says. “Enjoy the rest of the trip, and feel free to catch up on your sleep.”
That doesn’t seem like a very good possibility.
I’m not sure what time it is or where we are when I wake up again. Feels like I’ve been run over by a truck (ha ha), but at least my mind is clear. In fact, I still can’t hear any voices even when I try to reach out for them. I think that shot to the head really did mess something up. Or fixed something, as the case may be.
Legs are half asleep so I stand and massage them for a while, and try to clean the gunk out of my eyes. The old man is looking out the window at the black night, and he turns as I look at him. “Nightmares wake you again?”
“No,” I say truthfully. “Slept pretty well this time.” And I had. Dreamless sleep; I couldn’t ask for more. Then I notice the seat in front of me is empty. “Hey, where did that kid go?”
“Eric got off in Silverthorne. He’s visiting his Grandparents.”
I try to frown but it hurts my head. “I thought we weren’t supposed to make any more stops.”
The old man shrugs. “All I know is we did. So was the dream the same as before?”
Didn’t we cover this, Old Fart? “I said I wasn’t dreaming.”
“Oh.” He turns away and looks out the window, cracking his knuckles, and for probably the first time in his life, he’s silent. Now that my legs are waking up I sit back down.
“I forgot how many tunnels there were on this trip,” Old Fart says suddenly. “You’ve slept through quite a few. There was one where all the lights were out, and it seemed like we were trapped in the dark and couldn’t get out. Pretty exiting, in a childish sort of way.”
“Really. Sorry I missed it.”
“You aren’t really afraid of tunnels, are you? I know you said you weren’t, but I’ll be quiet if the subject worries you.”
“I said it and I meant it. And I would like you to be quiet, since you do mention it.”
“There it is,” he continues. “The Eisenhower Tunnel.” He grins at me as the bus approaches the tunnel. I try not to look out the window, but I can’t help it. My god, it’s huge. It wants to swallow me whole.
“By the way,” old man he says as he turns back to the window, “her name was Amanda.”
“What?” I choke. We enter the Eisenhower and I can feel blood pounding in my head.
“You know, the little girl. I guess she didn’t tell you that.” The man chuckles quietly. “And I guess you can’t read thoughts from a brain after it’s spread across your windshield, can you Mike?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” No way does this fucker know I’m a reader. No way in hell.
“This tunnel sure is deep, isn’t it? Miles and miles deep.” The old man says as half the lights go out. “And long, too. Why are you so afraid of tunnels?”
“It is not that deep,” I say somehow, even though my chest doesn’t want to take in any air. “Shut up.”
The man shrugs again and gives me that shit-eating grin of his. “I think they’re pretty scary, myself. It’s like being trapped in a big pipe.” The old man looks at me, and his eyes are huge. “Did you ever go crawling through pipes as a kid? I used to love doing that. It was like traveling to another world on the other side. Only danger was getting stuck.”
“No, you’re right. It’s not like a pipe. More like a giant coffin. Wouldn’t you agree?” He smiles.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
“Look at that, Mike,” the man says softly. “Look at the walls.”
I am not going to I am not going to look at any walls I’m not going to look at anything. But I do. There’s just enough light outside to show the walls moving, caving in, collapsing toward the bus. Can’t scream but Christ do I want to.
“It’s all right,” the man says kindly. “You’re not going crazy. The tunnel really is closing in on you.” He laughs so loud my head feels like it’s about to explode. It’s like I’m just watching my body from the outside as it jumps up and grabs the old man’s throat and squeezes with both hands so hard the knuckles turn white. He keeps laughing though, and it’s actually getting louder.
I scream as the flesh under my grip turns impossibly hot. I let go and my hands are tingling and bruised from the heat. Run to the front of the bus, maybe the driver can do something.
“You know, they’ll find your car, and Amanda, in a few months,” the man calls from the back. “The mighty Colorado River is pretty shallow, as rivers go. The top of your car will be sticking out of the water by the end of September. After living in Colorado for nearly all of your life, I would think you knew that.”
I fall into the empty driver seat and can’t see straight. The old man laughs and answers my unasked question. “The driver left the same time as Eric,” he says.
Pull at the door, but that doesn’t work. Kick it hard enough to feel something pop in my ankle but the door doesn’t budge. The old man is still talking. “You would have been better off just leaving the scene, you know. No one else was there to see you.”
No, there was no one there to see. But they would’ve found me. And how was I supposed to explain the voices? How was I supposed to explain that I was blinded by a thousand voices that wouldn’t stop in my head, and that’s why I didn’t see her? I can’t say any of this now, I can only scream.
“Do you think Amanda was this scared, Mike? Do you think she saw you speeding through that light and knew she was about to die in a stupid accident?”
Before I know it I’m in the back again and hitting the old man in the face. He just grins and my knuckles smash into two rows of perfect white teeth, and then they’re not white but red with blood. Don’t know if it’s mine or his until he licks my blood away and his teeth are clean again.
He never stops grinning.
Hammer the window and my blood is smeared across it. I can just barely see through to the walls that are still closing in. How can they keep getting closer all the time? Why don’t they just crush me and get it over with?
Collapse to the floor, so at least I don’t have to see the walls any more. Old man is laughing but I look up and he’s not there. Don’t know if I’m screaming because the laughter is too loud to hear anything else. Can’t breathe.
Please. Please God, help me. I don’t deserve this.
Laughter gets even louder. Can feel the walls moving in. Please, I don’t want to die.
The voice is deeper and more bestial, but it’s still the old man’s voice. “Oh, you will want to soon enough.”
Of course, he’s right.
“Yesterday upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish that man would go away.”
It started with a story.
Three months in and the house was great. Frank said his ex-mother-in-law owned it and didn’t mind renting it out to us at a discount price, only $600 a month for a three bedroom, two story place in South Buffalo. The neighborhood was nice and even though the outside looked like a dump, with peeling gray paint and a slanted porch roof, the kitchen had new counters and cupboards and the whole down stairs sported hard wood floors.
And then, of course, there was the Throne Room (which Frank proudly presented as the “Pride of South Buffalo”). The last guy who lived there grew so old he didn’t want to walk upstairs to use the main bath, so he knocked out the wall between his bedroom closet and kitchen pantry for a toilet. Now the shoebox of a bathroom got more play on the house tour then the big screen T.V. or the creepy attic.
Frank got the larger room downstairs and parking privileges for the driveway, but I got a chance to get out of my parents house and at that price for a whole house it was an easy decision. He neglected to tell me he was a Followed until three months in.
By then a few things had happened, but nothing to raise red flags big enough to suggest what would happen. It was little things at first. Frank’s favorite hat went missing, which he bitched about for a week or so, but then dropped. Then there was the new issue of Maxim that disappeared out of the bathroom. It started with little things—things you could forget about.
I woke up on my twelfth Sunday staying on McKinley to roof rattling pounding upstairs.
My bedroom was upstairs, but the house party the night before left me passed out on the couch, my shirt stinking of dried beer and my hand half way down my pants. There was one loud crash to start it off, objects scattering across the carpeted floor, thumping against the baseboards. It was clear my dresser had been tipped over, but with Frank sitting in his room it wasn’t clear who did it.
Fear wasn’t a factor at first. Burglars were a primary concern, but a burglar sneaking in the second story window on a Sunday morning to knock over my dresser didn’t seem plausible. Frank’s cat was about twenty pounds soaking wet (which it hated being) so it also seemed unlikely he was the culprit. I sat up, my head filled by a damp fog, fungus taking hold on the interior of my skull. Headaches became less of a problem the older I got and more often it was this daze that hung with me until the late afternoon. Keystone Light does that to you, I guess.
Before I could make it to the lip of the stairs another swift punch pounded the floor. This time fear pumped through me, like my blood suddenly coagulated into liquid nitrogen. Something was doing this, calling attention to itself, beckoning me upstairs. My face took on the quality of a saran wrapped Easter ham, the skin pulling tight against my cheek bones, finding any place to hide surface area. Minutes passed while I stood there, looking up the stairs at the double windows near the landing.
After some time it passed and I took a step up.
Frank grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back downstairs.
“Don’t go up there just yet,” he said. His thirty-three year old face looked double that, darkness hiding somewhere it hadn’t been before. It was like a shadow laid over him all the time, no matter what light he was standing in.
“You heard that, too?” I asked.
“Yeah, ‘cept I know what it is,” he said. “Let’s go have a cigarette, I gotta tell you something.”
And that’s when Frank told me he was a Followed. That was his word for it, not mine. I would have just said I was haunted if it was me, but Frank claimed it had to be a ghost if you were going to call it haunted. He said it wasn’t a ghost we were dealing with, it was a Shadow Man.
“What the fuck is a Shadow Man?” I asked.
“Well,” Frank started, taking a pull from his Parliament and licking his lips before continuing, “I’m not sure there’s a technical definition for it. I only know what’s happened to me so far.”
“I saw him the first time when I was six years old. I was playing in my room, you know building blocks or whatever, and I looked up and saw him on the wall, watching me. ‘Cept I can’t say for sure he was ‘watching’ since you can’t really see his face. He’s just an outline, but you can make out his hat; one of those Dick Tracy jobs, like he’s from the 40’s or some shit.”
I thought Frank was full of it, but I smoked the cigarette he lent me and listened anyway. See, I liked all that paranormal stuff, always had. I used to watch Sightings on the Sci-Fi Channel, following the story of the Heartland Ghost and all the other UFO stories they had. Believing never had much to do with enjoying a good story for me.
“The thing that makes him different from a ghost is that he doesn’t haunt a place like a normal ghost does. He follows me. No matter where I live he’s there, he’s attached to me,” Frank said with ease, like he was explaining multiplication instead of unproven phenomenon.
“All your other room mates know about this?” I asked, half joking.
“I tell ‘em all in time, but some find out on their own.”
His room was in the back of the house, but every forty-five minutes or so we’d hear another loud bang from upstairs. I could only imagine what my room must look like at this point and wondered what the fuck was really causing shit up there. I was more concerned with a rabid raccoon then a Shadow Man, but I listened just the same.
“Have you ever tried to prove he’s there?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Frank said. But that was it.
“Yeah, what?” I asked. “What’d you do?”
“I was actually livin’ downtown at the time, in one of those doubles on Humboldt. I was staying with Lanie, you met Lanie over at Joe’s house on St. Patty’s day. Anyway, I was stayin’ with her at the time and she walked in one day and found all the burners on the stove on full blast. The flames kicked up about six inches, she said the whole place smelt like gas.
“Well, I had to tell her the deal at that point, ‘cept Lanie wanted more answers. I never messed with Shadow Man myself, always figured it was too dangerous, but she wanted to know.”
I was sitting on his bed. He was posted up on his computer chair, leaning forward looking at the ground. He crushed his butt in the tray on the desk and lit another.
“And?” I asked, batting at the ball of string he placed in front of me, getting caught up in the yarn.
“She slept in the room with the crawl space door. One day before we left for work we left a recorder in there, seein’ what’d pick up. We saw something on T.V. about bein’ able to do that and figured we might get something considerin’” Frank said.
“Did you?” I asked, looking at him while he looked at the floor.
“We listened to the whole tape, fast forwardin’ a little here or there, but there was nothing ‘cept static and a few normal sounds like pipes creakin’ and what not. Then we got to the end of the tape, the part where Lanie got home and walked in her room to grab the recorder. You could hear her footsteps when she walked in and then, clear as a jet-dried glass you heard it talk.”
The feeling of sudden deep freeze hit me again. The worst part about it was it being a Sunday morning, the birds outside chirping, the neighborhood kids splashing in a pool. Some asshole was already cutting his lawn, but who could really get mad at him when it was such a nice day?
I barely got my next question out, my throat swelling up to avoid the process of an answer.
“W-What’d it say, Frank?”
“It said, ‘Here she comes’ and then there was a bunch of scratching like a hermit crab started crawling away draggin’ it’s shell behind it.”
We sat in silence for a while until I asked for another cigarette. My nerves all felt fried, like I’d accidentally stuck a gardening shovel through an underground power line. Frank handed me another cigarette, but I dropped it when another blast pounded upstairs.
“What the fuck is going on up there?” I asked, almost pleading.
“Nothin’,” Frank said. He turned towards his computer and pulled up his Facebook, clicking through pictures from a concert we’d been to a week before.
“What do you mean, ‘nothing’? My whole dressers gotta be upside down up there,” I said. There was no other explanation for the huge racket that’d started it all off.
“Go look if you don’t believe me,” he said. “Nothing’s gunna be moved. It’ll be just like you left it.”
I did go look. It was just like he said. Nothing moved.
Couple weeks went by with nothing of note happening.
I started to grow comfortable with the idea of Shadow Man, even joking about him with Frank, yelling obscenities and blaming things on him like people used to blame everything on El Nino. Frank always told me to cool it down, half joking, but still half serious.
I found an old “For Rent” sign at the dollar store and bought it, taping it to the crawl space door in the upstairs hall way. Frank laughed at it, but there was something in his laugh that said he was glad it was me doing the taunting.
The more comfortable I got with Shadow Man the less he came around, but the less I believed in him. I was the doubting Thomas, practically begging for a corpse to show up and put my hands in its wounds. One night we were playing darts and that was pretty much what happened.
At thirty-three and twenty-two, Frank and I converted the dining room into a bar, with all the traditional fixtures you’d expect, including a dart board. We always fooled around with the idea of a pool table or a foose ball game, but there wasn’t enough room. A dart board was perfect hanging on the wall. Frank took care of all the accessories, including picking up new darts every time we snapped a tip. Eventually we filed down to just three darts left and then one night we got knocked down to two.
It was my shot, the first two stuck into twenty and a double nineteen, but the third smacked into the wall, the plastic tip breaking, the flimsy fins falling out on the floor. The actual dart bounced off the ground and skidded away. We looked for it, under the table, the bar, the couches and the chairs, but we couldn’t find it. We played on with two, Frank winning on some last minute bulls-eyes. By the time we were done we’d cut through half an eighteen pack and forgotten all about the disappearing dart.
The next day I was downstairs doing laundry, all the lights on, just in case. Scooping up my basket I headed for the stairs, but something caught my eye, the way a quarter does under a car in the parking lot. In the corner of the basement, under an old cob web covered chair I found the missing dart.
Rational thinking can be a bastard when the thing you’re thinking about isn’t rational. I spent the week after figuring out every way the dart could have bounced off the floor, banked off the wall and skidded down the stairs, but even if that was possible (which it wasn’t) there was no way it could have carried enough momentum to land under the chair.
But then things were calm again for a couple of months. Frank and I fell into a rhythm of playing darts, drinking beers and smoking cigs in the bar after work. We left the light off, opting for the glow of the giant Miller Chill light up bottle hanging on the wall instead. Combined with the string of Christmas lights we had pinned up around the ceiling it gave the ambiance of any other hole in the wall bar you could go to.
We did that, and for a while forgot there was someone else living in the house.
But then it went bad and like most things that go really bad it happened quick.
Frank left for his night shift at noon and I didn’t have to be out the door until one to be on time for mine. That meant he showered first, and I took up occupancy of the upstairs bathroom an hour later. We both played loud music while we showered, enjoying the well known acoustics showers provided. The I-Pod dock sat on the bathroom sink, and I popped mine on before walking back downstairs to grab my cell phone in case someone called.
When I came back up the stairs I froze like I had become so accustomed to doing while living on McKinley. The “For Rent” sign I taped up as a joke was backwards, the door to the crawl space ajar just enough for a small slice of darkness to hang over my head while I looked up at it. While this was registering music started to blare from the I-Pod dock, louder then it was capable of playing and it was a song I didn’t even have to make it worse.
I couldn’t move for fear I’d catch something from the corner of my eye, or turn into the bathroom doorway and see something silhouetted on the wall. Worse then the fear of seeing something was what it might do to me, slipping from the wall and sliding up my arms, in my mouth and inside me.
The I-Pod stopped, skipping like a CD might, but a MP3 player shouldn’t be able to. The glitch forced the song to repeat in rapid succession the end of one word and the beginning of another. When combined it became clear the message Shadow Man was trying to get across.
“De-Vil, De-Vil, De-Vil, De-Vil, De-Vil, De-Vil...”
I stood listening until I couldn’t stand it anymore, but instead of making it the rest of the way up the stairs I turned around and ran back down them and out the front door, trying to scream, but finding my breath caught somewhere below my vocal chords.
I called Frank later that day and told him I was out. To my surprise he understood. I guess this wasn’t the first time he’d had it happen to him.
So I moved home for a couple weeks, bunking in my old bedroom at my parents before moving out into my own place. My mom called me the second day I was in, asking if I’d moved her blow dryer, but with my short hair I told her I’d never used it. She let me know she couldn’t find it.
My third day in the new apartment I couldn’t find my wooden spoon to stir my boiling pot of spaghetti noodles and I started to get the creeping feeling I was being followed.
The Meditator 002, art by Ernest Williamson
Ernest Williamson III has published poetry and visual art in over 240 online and print journals. He is a self-taught pianist and painter. His poetry has been nominated three times for the Best of the Net Anthology. He holds the B.A. and the M.A. in English/Creative Writing/Literature from the University of Memphis. Ernest, an English Professor, at Essex County College, has taught English at New Jersey City University. Professor Williamson is also a Ph.D. Candidate(ABD) at Seton Hall University in the field of Higher Education Leadership, Management, & Policy.
“Do you have it?” Asked Donne swaying his head, sliding out from under the rain hood trying to look into the eyes of the tall man.
The tall man did not say a word.
“My comrade is Torin. Do you know him?”
The tall man remained silent.
“He said you might have a... Package?”
The rain was falling steadily in great rivers of black sooty slag that threatened to bury the streets and made everyone look dirty, like survivors of a terrific mud fight.
The young man ducked his head back under the hood.
The weather report on TV had declared the chemical content safe that morning, but the young man had long ago stopped believing in any of the state sponsored television programs. The pirate stuff was better when you could get it.
He could feel the rain washing down his back and was having second thoughts, but there was something in the tall man’s stance, or was it in his eyes? His eyes were almost expectant in the way they waited.
“my name is Donne Morri,” no response, “I told you I am a friend of Torin, Torin Stihel.”
The tall man stared at Donne through hooded eyes. His features were angular and harsh, like a bust made from granite. Donne thought no race would claim those eyes.
He wore a pointed chinese coolie hat and a long, nearly floor length black raincoat. His arms were crossed in front of him and his feet were wide apart as if ready for action at a notice. The nature of his gaze changed and Donne became expectant.
“You say you know Torin?”
“Yes.” The silence hung for a moment, the only sound was the rain drowning out the rest of the world, like they had all of creation to themselves. The alley way they were standing in might as well have been in outer space.
For a moment Donne became unsure again. He could kill me here and just walk away, Donne thought, he could do it.
The tall man looked up, as if consulting the black rain clouds. “Do you have money?”
“Yes,” Donne pulled out two million new dollars in coins from his pocket. The eight little plastic coins looked forlorn in his grubby hands.
The tall man reached out a skeletal hand. It took the coins from his hand so fast that to Donne it seemed like a conjuring trick. Those hands were lizards, fast for the stealing. Fast for the killing.
He has my money now, Donne thought. The tension was now an iron cauldron, hot and heavy in Donne’s gut. When the tall man reached into his voluminous black rain slicker Donne’s heart sank.
The tall man produced a tiny card, no bigger than the coins Donne had given him, wrapped in plastic and sealed with a piece of electrical tape. Like a tiny body bag.
“You will tell Torin that I have given you a special deal.” His lower lip curled, something between a sneer and a smile, it never made it to his eyes.
All Donne wanted to do now was run, the cauldron was boiling over. If he did not leave now he was sure he was going to throw up on that black slicker.
The curt reply cut through Donne like electricity. The smile was gone from the tall man. Departing like a lightning flash. The hooded eyes remained unchanged. Donne knew those eyes, a life on the street had taught him those eyes.
He saw the lizards, knives in them, slitting throats and snatching babies. The bile began to rise.
“The money is thanks enough.”
And like that it was over, the transaction done.
“You go home now,” the tall man said. One of the lizards slithered out of a black sleeve and made a sweeping gesture, fingers slightly apart, like a broom.
* * *
He dodged and slipped his way down the narrow streets. Through the milling traffic of human infestation. The city spires, hidden by the dark clouds, could never hold all the people. Even in the worst weather, some preferred the crowded streets to the suffocating apartments. The cluster of humanity was like a sea around him and Donne swam among it like an expert. He was of the street and had grown up not far from here. The cracked, slippery pavement under his feet was the familiar ground that held his childhood and the dirty faces were the population of his nightmares.
Donne made it, by force of will and pushing, to the tube station. He showed his ID badge to the Police Friend at the door and was allowed to descend the stairs with only a five hundred dollar bribe. He was relieved to be out of the rain. The chemical smell on the street was nauseating. By comparison the urine and vomit smell of the tube station was a welcome respite.
He went to the master display board and between the graffiti, the complex patina of scratches and cracks he was just able to make out the arrival time of his train.
He looked around the crowded station for a hiding spot but all the good ones were taken. He would not be able to pull out his book.
The Police Friends were everywhere and if any of them caught him reading they would make sure it was entered on his record and being literate brought too much attention from the Government Friends.
He walked to a long wall after shoving for only twenty minutes he reached the wall, at least now he could lean. The tube train was due in an hour.
The train arrived about four hours later. Only three hours behind schedule, he thought, the new schedule improvement plan by the Government Friends must be working.
The train was tight and so hot Donne thought of the Inferno. Dante would have recognized this place. He would have lamented how low humanity had sunk. Donne knew why education was illegal. If they only knew what they had lost... weeping would not be enough.
Donne opened his raincoat and loosened his collar, careful not to let anyone lean over him or touch his bare skin. He was almost thirty two and might not survive the plague at his age.
It was only twenty minutes before the train began lurching down the bent track, by then it was so full that Donne had to tilt his head and raise it to take a breath.
Not very crowded today, he thought.
He noticed the young man standing by the gate, chain smoking marijuana cigarettes. His skin was pale and he had the red marks on him.
Plaguer, Donne thought. He brought his hand to his chest pocket, reassuring himself that the package was still there.
“Everything all right?” the voice was behind him, loud, too loud.
“What?” Oh no!
It was a Police Friend, wearing a grin that was too wide and toothy. It was a bad sign.
He noticed me touching my pocket, Donne thought trying his best to not hyperventilate or throw up. It was a good thing he didn’t eat today. Cold sweat was forming on his eyelids.
“I asked you if everything is all right; that’s all.” the cop was staring with that who’s-your-daddy look that always got people to talk. That and the certain knowledge that to even look at a Police Friend sideways would get you tortured to death, or worse.
“Nothing off— err— friend.”
“Oh. Okay, that’s all right,” the cop wasn’t taking his eyes off him and he knew it most assuredly wasn’t “Okay.”
The whole train seemed to turn at once, everyone looking to see who yelled. Who would dare to yell in public with Police Friends on the train.
“Death to the oppressive Police State!” It was the pale kid from the doorway. The joint was still dangling from his lower lip. It had gone out and was forgotten, there were other things on his mind.
He was holding a gun.
It was one of those revolver types Donne’s father had told him about, and despite the rust and the wire wrapped around part of the barrel it looked like it just might fire. The gun looked menacing, like it was growing in Donne’s vision and it was pointed straight at him.
The cop behind Donne began yelling, hard. Spittle began hitting the back of Donne’s neck and he forgot all about the gun as he covered up with his hood. Cops rarely died of the plague, they had access to doctors, but many of them were carriers.
“You put that gun down NOW citizen!” He was pointing at the kid with his finger and Donne could feel his other hand against his back, the cop was reaching for his gun. Donne was trying to get out of his way and get down at the same time. The situation was going out of control. The cop was trying to bring his gun to bear before the confused kid could get that antique to fire, and Donne was in the way.
The kid was knocked against the train door, a woman next to him was covered in blood spray and began screaming. Everyone else backed off, she now had the plague for sure. But the cop never got his gun over Donne’s shoulder.
“Are you all right Comrade Sargent?” It was another Police Friend, this one in plain clothes. He had just shot the kid at nearly point blank range.
The sergeant barreled his way through the crowd. Pushing people out of his way like a reaper through dry wheat ripping a path to the fallen kid.
Donne, for the moment, was forgotten.
He closed his eyes and slowly let out a breath. I was dead, he thought, I know— I was dead.
* * *
The tube train arrived at his stop two hours later, only one unreported delay while the Police Friends were forced to step off the train and eliminate some tunnel dwellers.
Donne swam his way through the bodies towards the cracked exit gate. The rain had not let up and he ran, half sliding, as fast as he could to his tenement.
The apartment smelled familiar. Marihuana, sweat, urine and feces all combined for him to make the particular stink of his house. Some of his house mates were not home and he wondered if anyone was sober enough to watch him go into his room.
He stepped over some of the heroin girls in the hallway.
“Hey Donne,” her sleepy eyes tilted up not really seeing him, “want some company. I know you got money.”
“Not today Marhi.”
She let her head drop back to the floor like it was too heavy to hold up and went back to sleep in a nest of her once beautiful blonde hair.
He came to what at one time would have been the master bedroom closet of the apartment. He undid the reinforced locks and snuck inside. He locked himself in. When he pulled the string on the fixture the light came on a gave a greasy, flickering, yellow glow.
Thank god the power is working today, he thought.
He sat down and took in the silence. By the standards of his time his room was quite luxurious. He could, with some effort, recline on the floor and sleep in privacy. This was a commodity rarer than gold. He sank into the foam rubber mats and stained blankets scrounged from a lifetime of hoarding. He had an old sofa throw pillow for his head and a chamber pot for when the leather boys were in the bathroom. You either went somewhere else or risked getting stabbed, raped or both.
He also had a fantastic thing, a Personal Digital Assistant. It was a little bigger than his hand and it could pick up WiFi without logging into the Network. It was great for going on the pirate sites because it couldn’t be tracked. It also played video files and the little memory card he bought today was full of banned video files.
He reached into his jacket pocket and took out the package. He carefully remove the electrical tape and unwrapped the black plastic. The gleaming little white plastic card looked brand new, and he took a moment to examine it’s beauty. There were so few things left that were brand new.
He felt hot tears burning behind his eyes and pushed them away, this was a time for celebration. He suddenly got an idea and stood up. He took off his raincoat and hung it up on it’s rusty nail, ignoring the chemical smell that always lingered on the plastic. He dug in some blankets and pulled out, like hidden treasure, a plastic pouch of peaches.
Now the tears came.
He lay back and ripped the top of the preserved peaches. The aroma was ambrosia. He slid the little white card into the PDA and put in his earbuds as it booted up. The tiny screen began to glow and soon he heard the far away sound of singing in his ears.
He slurped a piece of peach and watched the words on the screen.
It had been a long time since the programs had any writing on them. Most of the world was illiterate and the Government Friends liked that just fine.
The words were new to him, but Turin had told him that this was a movie, and a very old one at that; hundreds of years old.
He lovingly read the words on the screen.
Frank Capra’s Production of:
“It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The music played and he tried watching the whole movie through hot tears.
The Birthday Party
Natalie van Dyk
The black envelope sat on the table invitingly in front of Ransford, yet he could not bring himself to open it. He had been expecting the invitation; the news of the child’s birth had spread like wildfire. Ransford specifically remembered that it was a boy. However, now that the news was tangible, he was even more nervous for the upcoming ritual. His party clothes hung, ready, over the chair beside him and he knew he could delay no longer. After all, the birthday party was this afternoon. With a sigh, Ransford lifted his weary body from the kitchen chair and started getting dressed as Ella came bustling into the room, wearing her own dark garments.
“You really must hurry up,” she scolded, “the party is due to begin in less than an hour.” Ransford nodded reluctantly as Ella fluttered busily around him, watering the lilies on the kitchen table and wrapping their gift. She seemed oblivious to Ransford’s unenthusiastic mood but as she bent down to fix his tie, Ransford could see worry etched across her forehead. Ella quickly smiled when she noticed Ransford’s troubled expression and busied herself with trivial tasks to pass the time.
Summer was dead, but the sun was still struggling to shine behind the clouds on the afternoon of the birthday party. Ransford and Ella closed their front door and walked slowly down the pavement sidewalk toward the park. Ella’s wrinkled hand clasped Ransford’s tightly as they passed the stylish boutiques of the main square. In the near distance, the sound of a hammer thumping dangerously against a piece of wood seemed to keep the pace of their afternoon march. Every so often, a familiar face would wave cheerfully at Ransford, and he would dutifully return the gesture. A blue streamer tied tightly around a park bench caught Ransford’s eye and he pointed in its direction.
“Almost there now,” Ransford stated stiffly. Ella nodded silently in agreement.
“Don’t know why they even bother with that thing,” Ransford continued, disgruntled. He signaled in the direction of a large green sign that read “Temsville, Population 367.” “It doesn’t ever change.”
“I suppose it’s just tradition,” Ella proposed.
“I still think it ought to be taken down. Like I said, the number doesn’t ever change.” The couple was silent as they continued up the hill towards the park.
Ransford and Ella’s walk stopped abruptly at the entrance of the park as they gazed at its transformation. Streamers were lodged into maple trees, balloons bobbled in the afternoon wind and sunlight glinted off the rows of chairs set up before the stage. In contrast, the stage looked dark and gloomy, its dark wood seeming to soak in the few feeble rays of sun and hide it in the shadows. Ransford shivered as a cool wind chased him from behind, and he pulled his sweater tighter around his frail frame. A cluck from behind made Ransford turn around to see Ella looking sternly at him, motioning to follow her as she headed in the direction of a large mound of presents. Ransford followed, noticing a young couple gently cradling an armful of blankets, standing beside the pile of gifts.
“Congratulations,” Ella said to the couple, her smile tight. They smiled happily, gazing down at the tiny figure.
“Thank you. We couldn’t be happier.” They looked to Ransford and saw the black invitation protruding from his side pocket and smiled even more widely.
“We are truly grateful that you could share this special day with us,” the young man finished. Ransford smiled, the joy not reaching to his eyes.
“Of course, it’s tradition,” he stated simply. The two couples stood silent for a few moments, awkwardness settling in around Ransford and Ella. Finally, Ransford cleared his throat and said, “Well I suppose we’ll see you at the gift opening.” The young couple nodded slowly in unison, cradling their bundle of joy even tighter. With one last appreciative smile at the eldest member of the community, the young couple turned their attention towards the next individuals ready to give their well wishes for the infant boy.
Ella steered Ransford away from the newest addition to the community towards a nearby bench. The couple sat down gratefully and Ransford tightened the laces on his white walking shoes, disregarding the nearby friendly faces trying to catch his eye. It seemed like the final lingering members of the town had finally arrived to the party. A professionally dressed middle-aged man emerged from the crowd and walked into the center of the gathering with his arms exalted towards the sky.
“Welcome!” He boomed, smiling widely. Everyone stopped their conversations to look in his direction. He waited a few moments for total silence, and then continued. “We are gathered today to celebrate the birth of Jim and Moira’s baby boy.” He stopped again for dramatic effect, smiling warmly at the young couple standing near the growing pile of gifts. A ripple of conversation spread throughout the crowd as people craned their necks to get a better look at the baby. Ransford noticed that an elderly woman standing close to him looked especially pleased at what she saw, and nodded to herself as she stuffed her own pink invitation deep into her purse.
“As the Town Director, I would personally like to congratulate Jim and Moira on the newest addition to their family,” the man continued. Applause encircled Ransford, and he joined in half-heartedly. Jim and Moira grinned, waving appreciatively at the waiting crowd. The Town Director continued.
“It is on days like these that we celebrate the gift of life.” Cliff, the Town Director, looked around superiorly and puffed his chest.
“We are ever-so-fortunate to be able to enjoy the benefits of communal cooperation and are thankful for the children in our community who will ensure our continued way of life. Here, we understand that with life comes the responsibility to contribute to the success of the town.” The onlookers seemed transfixed, taking in every word of Cliff’s speech with reverence. Cliff smiled widely, turning in a circle to address every community member. “I hope that you will laugh, eat and celebrate on this day of thanks.” A murmur of excitement passed throughout the group and a child’s tiny laugh was heard deep in crowd. Cliff seemed amused, and continued his speech.
“Like the Cliff before myself, the Cliff before that Cliff and so on, I welcome you to today’s celebration.” Applause erupted at Cliff’s conclusion, and Ransford and Ella clapped along politely with the rest of the town.
Cliff waved at his audience, and then hustled towards the cake display. Ransford and Ella watched from the safety of their bench as he and the town bakers fussed with the candles during their lighting. It was common knowledge in the town that following Cliff’s opening speech, the birthday celebration would begin with the customary singing of “Happy Birthday” and the cutting of the cake. So, as residents of the town made their way over to the cake display, Ransford and Ella followed closely behind the crowd. Ransford noticed the overwhelmingly dangerous amount of blue candles covering the top of the cake and cleared his throat before reluctantly joining in the ritualistic singing of “Happy Birthday.” Ella’s wobbly voice seemed crystal clear to Ransford among the tide of voices that echoed throughout the park. He squeezed her hand tightly for support. When the singing came to a halt, the members of the town gazed attentively at the new baby boy. His parents stood proud by his side, each grasping one of his tiny hands. Ransford noticed their faces contorting to inhale a large breath of air and the sudden puff of the candles extinguishing. One lone candle remained on fire and Ransford had an odd urge to reach out and protect it but he was too late. The boy’s father quenched the flame with a severe breath, earning another round of applause from the crowd.
People started to shuffle close together, waiting in line expectantly for their slice of birthday cake. Ransford noticed that Ella’s expression was stony in the feeble sunlight, and his throat became dry as he was handed his piece. Ransford looked up in surprise at the new parents when he realized that there was a candle still lodged in his slice of cake. The wick was burnt and crusty, and Ransford noticed that a few small drops of wax had landed on his cake. He took out the candle and presented it to the new parents, who looked at him with excitement.
Ransford and Ella retreated back to their bench to eat their cake. A cool wind blew throughout the park as clouds choked the few rays of sun which had previously illuminated the birthday party. Shouts of laughter pierced the silent air as Ransford and Ella turned to see children thrashing a wooden bat violently against a piñata. An older child took his turn to bat, his face determined. Ransford inhaled sharply as the bat split open the piñata, its contents spilling wildly onto the parched grass. Children darted without caution to retrieve the waiting candy, their mouths salivating.
Ella nudged Ransford in his side, pointing towards the stage; a large number of the town had already taken their seats. Ransford took a shaky breath, and nodded.
“Let’s go,” he said simply. Ransford and Ella stood up and headed slowly towards the stage as a group of young children crossed their path, giggling as they chased a family of monarch butterflies. Ransford and Ella sat in the back row, the stage looming ominously up ahead. The pile of presents had been moved onto the stage, and Cliff suddenly appeared front and center. Ransford twitched uncomfortably beside Ella.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and children of all ages,” he boomed; he was still smiling. “If you would all be so kind as to take your seats, we will begin the gift-opening ritual momentarily.” Ella squeezed Ransford’s hand tightly as the new parents and their baby boy took to the stage. The parents sat in hard, metal chairs and held their new child tenderly, shielding his face from the cooling temperature. Ransford’s foot thumped the ground faster and faster as the last of the town took their seats. He noticed the town carpenter leaning against a pine box beside the stage and realized that the hammering sound he had heard in the morning had stopped long ago. Cliff appeared once again on the stage. He beamed at his audience.
“The time has finally come,” he began, “to present this young boy with his first present.” Ransford’s breathing became quicker, and Ella looked worried. Cliff motioned for the new parents to stand and present their child to the crowd.
“As per usual, the first and most important gift that this child will receive is that of his name,” Cliff announced. The new parents waited, expectantly. “The name given to this child, and that which he will pass on in the future, is Ransford.” The town suddenly erupted into applause and Ella tugged at Ransford’s arm. Tears peaked out of the corners of her eyes as she motioned for Ransford to stay sitting. Ransford sadly took out his black invitation and opened it for the first time, fully knowing what its contents said. His name stood out in bold print and he passed it morosely to Ella, who stuffed it into her purse with a shaky hand.
“It is time for the official exchange of names,” Ransford heard in the distance. The town waited anxiously. Ransford began to stand when Ella whimpered beside him, tugging on his sleeve and motioning for him to sit.
“It’s my turn,” Ransford whispered to her before standing up. The faces of his friends and neighbours turned to face him as he walked slowly towards the stage, hiking with difficultly up its steep steps. He stood motionless in the middle of the stage as Cliff walked towards him and shook his hand. The new parents also approached him excitedly, holding out their baby for Ransford to hold. Ransford took the tiny bundle into his arms, alarmed at how small it was. He looked with hesitation towards the sea of faces in front of him, concentrating on the tears streaming down Ella’s face. Those same tears seemed to fall from the sky as the clouds opened up and began to cry. Cliff cleared his throat, wanting to speed up the process as the town began to shuffle impatiently in their seats.
“It is a tradition in this town that with the birth of a new life comes the death of the eldest,” Cliff announced to the waiting audience. “This ritual has served our small community well, ensuring our continued success and prosperity.” Cliff paused for a breath before continuing his well-rehearsed speech. “We celebrate Ransford today, both the new and the old. May the youngest Ransford live up to the expectations set before him by his forbearer,” Cliff finished dramatically. He turned to Ransford expectantly, and Ransford handed the baby boy back to his parents. Cliff held out his hand for support and Ransford took it gratefully as he walked up a steep plank. The rain dampened his face and hid his tears as he stepped out into the unknown, the rope tightening around his neck to create a spot in the town for the newest birthday boy.
story by Leland Thoburn|
George Rekers Voted into I LIE Institute’s Hall of Fame
by Hector Guano
May 15, 2010. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. In a unanimous first round ballot, the prestigious Institute for the Logical Interpretation of Events (I LIE) has voted professor George Rekers into its Creative Reasoning Hall of Fame, located here in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
“This was really a no-brainer,” stated Aloysius Boil, Director of I LIE. “The triumph of attitude over fact, of chutzpah over common sense; this was simply a stunning example of what one man can do when confronted with the truth.”
George Rekers, Psychologist, Christian minister, and renowned clinical expert in the matter of “sexual identity disorder” (i.e. anti-gay), was recently caught on film returning from a ten-day European vacation with rentboy (male prostitute) Jo-Vanni Roman.
Mr. Rekers mounted a vigorous defense. His web site states:
“A recent article in an alternative newspaper cleverly gave false impressions of inappropriate behavior because of its misleading innuendo, incorrectly implying that Professor George Rekers used the Rentboy website to hire a prostitute to accompany him on a recent trip.”
“Following medical advice Professor George Rekers requires an assistant to lift his luggage in his travels because of an ongoing condition following surgery.”
While Roman went on CNN explaining Rekers’ preference for the “long stroke,” Rekers came further to his own defense, stating:
“Like Jesus Christ, I deliberately spend time with sinners with the loving goal to try to help them.” Of course Mr. Rekers also said that he learned Roman was a prostitute only midway through their vacation. “I had surgery,” Rekers said, “and I can’t lift luggage. That’s why I hired him.” Off of the rentboy.com website. And in the photograph that started it all, Mr. Rekers can be seen lifting his luggage onto a cart while the rentboy watched.
“Like Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive major league baseball games, we believe Mr. Rekers achievement may never be equaled,” Boil went on to proclaim. “If this Institute lasts a thousand years, we may look back and say, ‘This was our finest hour.’”
In honor of the event, I LIE has established the honorable George A. Rekers Chair in Creative Reasoning About Problems (CRAP), bestowing the esteemed BS degree (Bachelor of Sophistry) each year on the most deserving individual or organization.
“The Institute is honored, and humbled, to announce that Lawrence (“I did not have sex with that 16 year-old prostitute to whom I paid $300 and who only watched me masturbate for an hour in my hotel room.”) Taylor, former New York Giant football great, will be the first recipient of a BS from the I LIE Institute’s George A. Rekers Chair of CRAP,” stated a proud. Boil.
When reached for comment, Mr. Taylor would only say, “That’s a load of crap.”
“Exactly,” beamed Boil, who went on to state that the Institute was considering an annual “creative reasoning” award. The winner each year would receive a “crappy,” though as we went to press there was no word on what the iconic figure on the statuette would be. “We’ve floated several ideas about, but we’re going to have to push something through quickly if we’re going to give Mr. Rekers the timely recognition he so richly deserves,” stated Boil.
The Institute is perhaps best known for its quadrennial series of Presidential debates.
Whisper in your ear
“It’s all right.”
When I whisper
In your ear
But this snoring
Has to stop.
R. v. Aziz
TORONTO POLICE, 23 DIVISION. 2:23 P.M.
“Arrest me! I am a rapist!” She clattered through the door, knocking over the waste-bin next to it. Her eyes blazed fierce sorrow. Hair, disheveled.
Hamid, Louis and Marla all looked up from their paperwork, mouths open. Marla sat stunned, her Tim Hortons coffee cup held in midair, not reaching her lips. The woman pounded on the countertop.
“I am a rapist, arrest me now! Please, now!”
“Stop shouting.” Hamid was the first one to approach her and stood directly in front of her. “What is your name? When did you commit rape?” The woman hunched over the countertop, stamping her right leg restlessly, her face buried in her crossed arms. Civilians and other officers in the station stared, riveted to what was happening mere meters from them.
The woman looked up, lost in her own thoughts. Her face was wet with perspiration and tears. “He was so trusting...so giving. He did not question me. I took advantage. I cannot bear it.” Her words were directed to no one in the office.
Hamid, six years on the force, scowled. There had not been any rapists, far less female ones, or warnings about them for a very long time. “Constable Woods, assist me in taking this woman into Room 234,” he told Marla. To Louis he said: “Constable Tam. Look at the number of people here staring, not filing their reports. Let’s get them processed and out.” Marla approached the woman, hand on her baton. Her steel-toed boots upon the floor was the only sound Louis was aware of. She and Hamid accosted the woman, took her by both arms and led her past the cluttered work desks, through the doors into the hallway leading to Room 234. Her back hunched in surrender, she let herself be escorted by the two officers.
Louis was new on the job, wading through mandatory hours of desk work. He did not yet have that stoic persona of the many officers, paramedics and firemen that passed through his Division office. Killers, thieves, gang members, drug pushers - they all made their way through his workspace. Work is work – that was the attitude of most of his colleagues. How could disgust, or outrage and desire for justice ever become contained with this stoicism? He both feared and admired this. The woman’s words loomed and lingered in his thoughts – trusting...took advantage. Louis wondered about the state of the unknown victim. How old was he? What was he doing before he was raped?
Some minutes over two hours passed. Hamid and Marla came out with the woman. Her face was contorted with anxious sadness. Marla tossed a cassette toward Louis that landed on his desk. She leaned on her own desk, picked up the cup of coffee she was working on earlier. “That was kind of bizarre,” she remarked, pointing her thumb toward Hamid and the woman.
“What’s her lawyer saying?” Louis asked, looking over at the downcast woman as Hamid spoke to her.
“Don’t think she needs a lawyer.”
“Haha, right. She’s probably gonna scour the defense ads now. Impulsive confessions and guilt only last until they hear somethin’ like ‘twenty years’.”
“She still feels guilty, all right,” Marla spoke, her eyes concentrating on the woman, examining her. The woman still looked barely able to keep herself together since confessing two hours ago, let alone overpower someone. Marla started as if she was going to say more, then paused. Louis waited for her to continue. Instead, she turned to him, gesturing her chin toward the cassette that she tossed upon his papers. “Have a look when you can. I gotta run. Incident on Dovercourt.” She threw her cup into the waste bin they shared, grabbed her hat and left.
TORONTO POLICE, 23 DIVISION. 11 P.M.
11 P.M. Another long shift over, Louis smoothened out the papers on his desk, finally realizing he had to urinate. He flicked off light switches and a couple fans around the office that were whirring for no one and walked to the toilet. After finishing, he re-entered the work area, giving his own desk a once-over and saw the video cassette that Marla had earlier tossed upon his desk. Just two hours, he reasoned to himself. He pushed a toonie into the vending machine, pulling out a packet of Cheetos and a Canada Dry ginger ale. Louis liked hanging back at the station after most people had gone. It was then that he felt an organic sense of appreciation for the building he worked in: its long hallways with witness rooms, offices and holding cells on either side; the library containing massive file cabinets and encyclopaedic law books, both old and new. The law was embedded in here.
He thought about the woman who came in earlier. A real shame. Looks young – the good years of her life going to be spent in jail. She could have been an old MacMaster University friend, graduating merely four years ago like him, meeting up on the occasional summer weekend for a BBQ or after work for some late night Chinese food. Real shame, he thought, punching in his ID digits to enter the video room. Inside, he pushed the cassette into the player, opened the bag of Cheetos and sat back, propping his feet on the table. He fast-forwarded the scenes where Marla and Hamid formally introduced themselves to the camera and where they went through routine explanations to the woman about her rights, where to sign and Criminal Code of Canada reminders – a process that reminded Louis of his first days on the force, job-shadowing. He stopped fast-forwarding, pressed PLAY.
“Are you sure you do not want a lawyer present, Ms. Aziz?” asked Hamid.
“I do not. And I would not hire any lawyer willing to represent me after what I have done.”
“There are hundreds of criminal defence attorneys in the city. The office here can even provide you with one if you cannot afford it.”
“Please.” Ms. Aziz wrung her knuckles against her forehead. “Please do not be so accepting. Let us talk so that I can be sent away quickly.”
Marla and Hamid looked at each other. “Okay then Ms. Aziz.” Marla continued, edging a cup of Tim Hortons coffee nearer. This girl must go through five cups an hour, Louis thought, watching. “The video is recording. Remember, you are under oath. Please run through the entire incident for us, truthfully and to the best of your recollection.”
“Where to begin, where to begin, how to start?” her eyes searched the ceiling. “I have been a rapist for the past seven years. Frequent incidents.”
“How many victims?” Marla asked. Hamid held his breath.
“One young individual on numerous occasions.” Ms. Aziz said. She paused for a while, closed her eyes and went on, “and three of his sons.” Louis stopped chewing. Shock gripped the inside of his body. He knew Hamid and Marla felt it too - there was distinct silence on video. No amount of time on the force would make someone immune to that kind of evil.
“Where are they all now?” Hamid, more of a demand than a question.
“They seem to have moved on. Of course I have set them back psychologically. Yet they have never pressed charges toward me.”
Marla took a gulp of her coffee - that’s a swig, thought Louis - to ease her twitching face muscles. “Ms. Aziz. You are clearly not an old person. You realize the magnitude of what you have done. If you want any hope of having a few years of your life left to rebuild yourself and give back to society in some meaningful way, you will need a lawyer to ensure that you do not spend the entire remainder of your life in prison.”
“This is kind. I do not deserve this...”
“I won’t tell you what you deserve.” Hamid uttered, glaring at her in what looked to Louis like almost uncontrollable angry disbelief. He did not buy her remorse.
“...I do not deserve this, a lawyer. I was so confident. I was so sure of myself, that I could live easily like that for a long time. There is too much acceptance directed to me.” Ms. Aziz leaned her arms in on the desk bowed her head, propping it with her arm on the desk. “He paid for all my medical bills. All of them, no questions asked. He paid for my graduate school tuition. He...He...” she began to stammer.
“Get it together.” Hamid demanded.
“He helped me to get married.”
Marla closed her eyes and shook her head abruptly. She leaned in on the table, looking directly at Ms. Aziz. “Tell me if I am clear. You say you raped this person numerous times, over seven years. You also raped three of his sons over that time. Correct?”
Ms. Aziz nodded slowly, looking at Marla’s coffee cup.
“Now, this same person – aware of what you did to his sons – paid for your medical bills. He also put you through school and ‘helped’ you get married, as you worded it. Correct?”
Ms. Aziz nodded, even more slowly, closing her eyes and internalizing her guilt. “I do not know if his sons told him. Or each other. They were that attached to me. I believed I was so much in control. I thought it was so easy. I lived without even caring as to what I was doing...” Louis shook his head. Who is this victim?
Hamid and Marla leaned in to each other, exchanging words low-key, indecipherable to Louis. The distress on Hamid’s face was evident. Marla faced the camera and spoke. “Officer Atouba and I were discussing the length of recording time that has passed. We will now step outside to discuss with each other, while Ms. Aziz will remain seated until we re-enter.” Marla turned to Ms. Aziz. “Ms. Aziz, do you understand?”
Marla and Hamid left the room. Louis watched as Ms. Aziz crossed her arms on the table and dropped her head into them. The video was silent. A few minutes passed – maybe more than six, when Marla and Hamid re-entered and sat down.
“Okay. Ms. Aziz. We think it best not to continue until you have an attorney – “Hamid put his hand up, stopping Ms. Aziz from objecting, then went on: “– present. Obviously this will need to go to trial.”
Marla spoke, continuing. “We will need to see if the first victim and the next three victims will come forward as well. They will need to provide victim impact statements, which they may either read in court or each by their own particular representative. These statements will contribute to the jury’s decision. You will be interviewed by both a prosecutor and your attorney, and those two lawyers will also interview the victims. Understood? Until then, we will need you to remain at the station.”
Ms. Aziz nodded, slightly more self-collected. “Not a problem. Keep me here as long as you must. I expect nothing more. I want nothing more.”
“Alright.” Hamid looked at the camera. “This has been the first taped in-station discussion of R. v. Aziz, dated the seventh of August, two thousand and ten. Location is the twenty-third division. Trial date to be determined.” He got up, reached toward the player next to him and pressed a button. The screen turned blue, then shut off.
Louis exhaled loudly, got up and returned the cassette to Marla’s desk. Gonna try to sit in on this one, he thought to himself. He shut the office door behind him and headed home.
TORONTO ONTARIO COURT OF JUSTICE, ROOM 230, 10:30 A.M.
On trial day, Louis organized his schedule so that he would attend for a couple of hours. CityTV cameras were set up outside the courthouse and members of the public had come. Some individuals were interviewed live at the courthouse. Louis overheard fragments as he walked by:
“...always showed a responsible and dedicated front to our community. We were proud how she lived according to its principles...”
“The victim’s future has been hurt. He has developed isolation complexes...”
“The double-life is shocking to us. Deeply troubling...”
After trial came to order and progressed, it was understood that the first victim did not show up. No one expected him to. He sent a written victim impact statement that was read over microphone by the judge:
“Day by day I try to put the incidents behind me. Suppression and denial are the best coping mechanisms I have. I have been enjoying a time of economic strength and promise after a very difficult time and I hope it lasts. In the wintertime, I stifle my emotions. In the summer, I feel full of promise. Spring and autumn, it varies, but I am overall calm and I keep positive.
Ms. Aziz, by her actions, has destabilized my very sense of self. My identity. I feel as if I do not know who I am and this is a very unsettling and at times depressing sense of being. There is much of her influence in me, more and more planted with each incident that had passed, making me undone. So much, that I feel stifled and that I cannot truly grow psychologically – something I have been trying to do for a long time, since 1971. Sometimes I think of returning to the North, where I feel strong and free.
I am aware that this is partly my own doing. We teach others how to treat us. This is a universal truth. Who knows the right lesson? I have been extremely accommodating and tolerant of Ms. Aziz’s actions. I let her be her full self, her entire self without challenge and allowed him to express her full capacity for barbarity, ignorance, selfishness and remorselessness. I was conveniently used. I have only kept myself back from my full potential.
It is true that I paid for her medical bills. It is a principle of mine that I will do my best for anyone who professes devotion to me. It is also true that I paid for her graduate school tuition fees. Her academic work ethic was excellent and I rewarded her in our relationship by ensuring she went to one of the best universities.
I am aware that she said that I helped her to get married. Given that I have taken care of her health and academic finances for so long, it is no surprise that she can do this easily. I do not wish to express any words of contempt toward Ms. Aziz. I only hope that her children will not learn from her and instead more so from their own innate kindness.
There are no physical wounds, only mental ones. I continue onward to discover who I can truly be.”
Ms. Aziz hung her head. Her eyes were tightly shut, as if trying to squeeze from her mind the awareness that the courtroom was looking at her. Her lawyer stared ahead in deep contemplation. The courtroom was hushed for some time, then broke out into subtle whispers of comments and discussion. The judge rapped her gavel. A quietness returned.
“We will now have our first in-court victim impact statement read. His name is Vincent Malcolm.”
Vincent got up from his seat and strode toward the witness box with a sheet of paper in hand, dress shoes clopping on the floor. He sat down, passed his gaze over Ms. Aziz and her attorney and waited.
“Vincent is a resident neurologist at Mount Sinai. He was gracious enough to take the time off to read his piece. Mr. Malcolm.” The judge looked at him, nodded.
“I met Ms. Aziz in graduate school. She was very charming, attentive and enjoyable to be with socially and academically. We became closer – or so I thought – and became intimate. A relationship, to me, ensued. I became very attached to her and started envisioning my life around her. However, even though we frequently spent time together as an intimate couple, she never introduced me as her companion to her family. On occasion I dropped her off blocks from her house upon her insistence so that people would not see her with me.” Vincent shook his head, surveying memory. “It made me feel like she had another life. I had made it clear that I wanted a meaningful relationship; however before long I realized it was mostly physical for her. Her abandon accepted, her demands for her needs met.”
Vincent paused, swallowed a lump in his throat, jaw muscles fighting against rising memories that had been buried.
“There is not much to say. I had felt diminished and discarded. Every day I wonder if simply being human alone is not enough to be respected and to be treated with a sense of dignity. I looked for the human in her, the one where she could step back and look at her actions from a human perspective. A compassionate perspective. I do not know if it can be found.”
Vincent stopped reading, looked up at the people in the courtroom.
“This country is my home. A place where I try to establish a sense of self. Ms. Aziz’s actions have destabilized that place for me. I do not know it. I see it differently, not for what I thought it can be, but what she makes me think that it is. I have obviously felt the death of something hopeful in me.” Vincent’s lips trembled. “Not anymore.” He shook his head, scattering thoughts he did not want. He looked down at Ms. Aziz’s downcast figure. “I have been reclaiming that place now.”
“Thank you, Mr. Malcolm.” He arose and walked out of the courtroom. Louis watched him as he went.
The court recessed and Louis joined Hamid and Marla in the hallway. They simply looked at one another and gave deep exhalations, each individually processing the trial so far. Looking out the courthouse windows, they watched CityTV reporters mulling around outside, bearing the hot temperature. Even inside the courthouse, Louis could feel his shirt sticking to his back with perspiration. He remembered the first victim’s words: ‘I think of returning North, where I feel strong and free.’ Marla sipped an Iced Cappuccino and asked Louis if he managed to view the initial Aziz interview video.
“Yeah. Stayed back the same evening and took it in.”
The bailiff notified the crowd that the proceedings were to continue and everyone walked in. A woman with long, greying curls, wearing glasses and a knit sweater sat in the witness box. Looks like a librarian, Louis thought.She was introduced to court as Ms. Aziz’s assigned psychiatrist. Jhumpa Huhnj was her name. Louis looked at his watch. 1:30 P.M. He took out his pen and wrote on his notepad, peeled off the page and handed it to Hamid, who sat next to him. Hamid read it, then passed it to Marla: Have to go now. Desk work. See if you can get a transcript copy from the court reporter for me so I’ll catch up later. Or a video, if you can. Thanks.
TORONTO POLICE, 23 DIVISION. 11:43 P.M.
Ms. Aziz feels tremendous guilt and depression over her actions. While otherwise healthy, her medical history shows frequent visits to her private doctor and the hospital for common human ailments such as the flu, chest pains, fatigue problems, colitis, OCD, bowel issues, and insomnia. Important checkups such as blood tests, physical examinations, ECG’s and x-rays all provided and endorsed as well. Of course these were all covered by our Health Care Program, free of charge for citizens.
Such problems did not impede her academic performance. Having studied diligently, she was awarded an Ontario Scholarship that covered her tuition, paid for by the government.
Having migrated from Pakistan, she came with her family, along with expectations and her own personal belief that she work very hard academically and accept the guiding principles of that country’s culture which stipulate that she raise a family with a man of Pakistani background, drawing the both families together and keeping the economic strength within that union. Economic strength is an important consideration in marriage, she admits, and attributes her education as the basis of it. The opportunities afforded her here ultimately gives her the ease to serve the strength and perpetuation of Pakistan’s culture, since she can give her own potential children the stability and comfort to learn the language, social and ceremonial traditions of Pakistan. Ms. Aziz never intended to become involved with the first victim on an intimate psychological level and contribute to the future well-being of his life.
During her time at school and the early work years, she had these involvements with the young men, all citizens of Canada, but knowing fully well that her long-term future - for her own personal desire and for her family - was with a man of Pakistani background. As a result, as time and attachments faded, these men realized that their involvements with her were merely avenues for her personal lust and sexual experience. She has never intended to become involved with them psychologically, or show them to her community. She has led a double-life, where she is the model member of her community in their company – respectful, revering and obedient. Then, outside of it, another side of her takes over, where she has numerous sexual partners and lives a careless life. These two lives never intersect.
Louis put down the transcript papers of the first court date of R. v. Aziz. Internally, he felt something coming together. An understanding. A realization. He dialed Marla’s number, hoping she wouldn’t be busy or asleep. The phone rang five times. C’mon Marla, he thought. Drop your coffee and pick up. Louis was expecting to reach her voicemail when the line opened.
“Hello.” A tired-sounding voice sounded.
“Hey Marla, Louis. Listen, you and Hamid also interviewed the first victim right?”
“The Aziz case.”
“Oh. Uh, no. All I know about him was through my conversations with the prosecution and defense lawyers.”
“What’s his name? The first victim.”
“We really shouldn’t be talking about this, Louis.”
“No one said we can’t.”
“All we know about him was read in court. None of us know who he truly is.”
The Empty Chair
Dust gathers in unexpected spaces,
in the groove left by the impatient
drumming of your fingers,
waiting for nothing to happen, again.
Dust gathers in the silence of the open door,
never to be filled by your presence,
the library that stored your experience,
and your learning is shut, the key has been thrown away.
Shadows threaten the reverie,
they highlight the difference between now,
and that which will never be,
between fiction and fact,
and the stages of life,
in which you will always be present,
but only in bittersweet memories.
is never more present,
than in your empty chair.
Zombie Romance Writer
Margaret wrapped her lips around the last luscious spoonful of homemade blood pudding. Breathing deeply, she swirled the pudding around her tongue, savoring the tingle of blood and chocolate. Refreshed by her snack, Margaret turned her attention to her computer screen and continued writing her romance novel.
No love starved females would have devoured Margaret’s books if they knew who or rather what she was. Would they understand the loneliness that drove her to write endless “cookie cutter romances”? The typical story consisted of a rich guy falling in love with a girl, and wanting to spoil her rotten. In the novels, the men were tripping over themselves to get to the marriage altar. Margaret had never met any rich guys looking for a lonely writer to marry and support. Still, she wrote the Cinderella stories and even fooled herself into believing true love could happen to her. Every novel she wrote was a ray of hope for her 38 year old soul.
Margaret’s own love story began at the used bookstore downtown. Jake found her as Margaret was reading the back of a glossy paperback. She was studying the picture of love on the novel cover imagining it was her with the gorgeous hunk on the cover when she looked up to see blue eyes like marbles, studying her carefully. Her mouth hung open and when he asked her if she wanted to get some coffee, she was dumbstruck. He didn’t just buy her a cup of coffee, he got her a cinnamon bun too. Saying “sweets for the sweet,” he should have sounded like an idiot but he made her heart flutter instead. They talked for hours and ended with a promise to meet the next day at the museum and tour it together.
Margaret shouldn’t have worried. Jake showed up for the tour of the museum and asked her to the movies that night. Dinner and a movie no less. She was sure she had died and gone to heaven. Well at least she was sure she was dead, not too sure about the heaven part.
She could have loved Jake for the rest of her life if she hadn’t eaten him on their third date.
Margaret missed Jake terribly and poured her heart into another romance novel that later her agent swore would make a statue weep. Her agent asked where Margaret got her inspiration from and Margaret could only answer, “Life.”
Margaret realized if she didn’t learn to hold back just a little she would never be able to hold onto true love even if she found it. Right then she made a vow that she would eat no more lovers. She would use mice from the pet store to satisfy her lusty need for raw meat.
Turning to her computer, Margaret logged onto Find a Love. Online dating would be the ticket she thought. She carefully filled out all her personal data, blonde hair, blue eyes, athletic build, and hoped for the best.
Margaret was thrilled when she got several emails the next day. The best was from a man who said he was a writer like herself. Feeling she had found her soul mate she emailed back suggesting they meet for coffee. John was handsome, tall and charming. They hit it off right away. Margaret told him to call her Maggie. She figured new man, new nickname for herself. The new improved Maggie would keep this man forever.
Over coffee, John confessed, “I’ve written several novels but haven’t had anything published. The publishers keep the novel for six months then send it back saying they can’t use it. I don’t know what to do.”
Maggie said, “Hey, let me have your manuscript and I’ll give it to my agent and see what she thinks.”
John said, “That would be great. Thank you so much.”
As the weeks went by, Maggie and John spent every evening together, taking walks, sharing their ideas about writing. Maggie’s love for John grew stronger every day.
John arrived at Maggie’s one night to share the good news. “Oh Maggie, I am so excited my book is going to be published, and I owe it all to you,” John declared.
“Thanks for hooking me up with your agent. They want to publish my novel and I have a contract for three more books. You are my good luck charm Maggie.”
“I am so happy for you John. You always had the talent, you just needed to meet the right agent.”
“Now we can be true soul mates, both of us living together and encouraging each other to write. Won’t it be wonderful?” sighed Maggie.
“Well actually Maggie, I have been doing some thinking about this. I need some time alone to write. I need to find my inner writer.”
“Your inner writer?” queried Maggie. “What are you talking about?”
“I’ve rented a little cabin in Alaska for the summer. It is perfect. It is isolated and right in the middle of nature. I think I can get a blockbuster novel written.
“Alaska?” queried Meg.
“Oh look Mag, we have had a terrific time together and you are a great woman and a wonderful friend. We are alike in so many different ways, but I need my own space to create.”
“Create?” repeated Maggie? “Create what?”
“I feel I have a novel inside of me that is aching to be written. It is going to be a modern day Gone With the Wind. No kidding, that’s how I feel,” he declared.
“But what about us? Are you coming back after the summer?”
“Hey let’s just play it by ear ok? Let’s just see what happens.”
Hanging her head, Maggie tried to hide her teary eyes. “I need to get something from the kitchen,” she said.
Maggie slowly walked into the kitchen. Reaching into the mouse cage she gently scooped the last pet shop mouse into her hands.
Maggie opened the screen door and stepped into the darkness of the back yard. Leaning over she opened her hands and released the tiny mouse into the grass. He immediately scampered under the nearest holly bush.
“Good luck little guy”, she whispered, wiping a single tear from her face.
Opening the screen door, Maggie paused in the kitchen, grabbing two glasses and a bottle of wine. She walked into the living room with a little swing to her hips.
“How about we celebrate your success with a little wine Mr. Big Time Author?” she asked, holding the wine bottle up high.
Maggie cuddled next to John on the couch and filled their glasses to the brim with wine. Soon they were in a locked embrace sharing passionate kisses.
“Ouch,” John yelped.
“Oh. I’m sorry,” said Maggie.
She licked a smudge of John’s blood from her lips. “Guess I just lost control there. Here, have some more wine sweetie. Let’s toast to your career.”
About Ira Joel Haber
Ira Joel Haber was born and lives in Brooklyn New York. He is a sculptor, painter, book dealer and teacher. His work has been seen in numerous group shows both in USA and Europe and he has had 9 one man shows including several retrospectives of his sculpture. His work is in the collections of The Whitney Museum Of American Art, New York University, The Guggenheim Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum & The Albright-Knox Art Gallery. His paintings, drawings and collages have been published in many on line and print magazines including Rock Heals, Otoliths, Winamop, Melancholia’s Tremulous Dreadlocks, Barfing Frog, The Raving Dove, DeComp, Foliate Oak, Siren, Prose Toad, Triplopia, Thieves Jargon, Opium, Dirt, The Centrifugal Eye, The DMQ Review, Broadsided, Hotmetalpress, Double Dare Press, Events Quarterly, Unlikely Stories, Coupremine, Cerebration,Chick, Flicks, Softblow, Eclectica Magazine, Backwards City Review, Right Hand Pointing, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, Brew City Magazine, Fiction Attic, Mastodon Dentist, Blue Print Review, Ellipsis,The Indelible Kitchen, Crickret, Entelechy, So To Speak, Taj Mahal Review, The Fifteen Project, The Externalist, Why Vandalism, Mungbeing Magazine, Lamination Colony, Paradigm, Lily, Literary Fever, Glassfire Magaine,The Houston Literary Review, Lilies and Cannonballs, Wheelhouse Magazine, Terra Incognita, Qarrtsiluni, The Tusculum Review, Multidementional, 34th Parallel, Wood Coin, Sacramento Poetry, Art & Music, Anti-Poetry, Divine Dirt Quarterly, The Mom Egg, Disenthralled, etcetera, & sea stories. Over the years he has received three National Endowments For The Arts Fellowship, two Pollock-Krasner grants and most recently in 2004 received The Adolph Gottlieb Foundation grant. Currently he teaches art at the United Federation of Teachers Retiree Program in Brooklyn.
A vegan (VEE-gun) is someone who does not consume any animal products. While vegetarians avoid flesh foods, vegans dont consume dairy or egg products, as well as animal products in clothing and other sources.
This cruelty-free lifestyle provides many benefits, to animals, the environment and to ourselves. The meat and dairy industry abuses billions of animals. Animal agriculture takes an enormous toll on the land. Consumtion of animal products has been linked to heart disease, colon and breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and a host of other conditions.
so what is vegan action?
We can succeed in shifting agriculture away from factory farming, saving millions, or even billions of chickens, cows, pigs, sheep turkeys and other animals from cruelty.
We can free up land to restore to wilderness, pollute less water and air, reduce topsoil reosion, and prevent desertification.
We can improve the health and happiness of millions by preventing numerous occurrences od breast and prostate cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks, among other major health problems.
A vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle may be the most important step a person can take towards creatin a more just and compassionate society. Contact us for membership information, t-shirt sales or donations.
po box 4353, berkeley, ca 94707-0353
MIT Vegetarian Support Group (VSG)
* To show the MIT Food Service that there is a large community of vegetarians at MIT (and other health-conscious people) whom they are alienating with current menus, and to give positive suggestions for change.
* To exchange recipes and names of Boston area veg restaurants
* To provide a resource to people seeking communal vegetarian cooking
* To provide an option for vegetarian freshmen
We also have a discussion group for all issues related to vegetarianism, which currently has about 150 members, many of whom are outside the Boston area. The group is focusing more toward outreach and evolving from what it has been in years past. We welcome new members, as well as the opportunity to inform people about the benefits of vegetarianism, to our health, the environment, animal welfare, and a variety of other issues.
The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology
The Solar Energy Research & Education Foundation (SEREF), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., established on Earth Day 1993 the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST) as its central project. CRESTs three principal projects are to provide:
* on-site training and education workshops on the sustainable development interconnections of energy, economics and environment;
* on-line distance learning/training resources on CRESTs SOLSTICE computer, available from 144 countries through email and the Internet;
* on-disc training and educational resources through the use of interactive multimedia applications on CD-ROM computer discs - showcasing current achievements and future opportunities in sustainable energy development.
The CREST staff also does on the road presentations, demonstrations, and workshops showcasing its activities and available resources.
For More Information Please Contact: Deborah Anderson
email@example.com or (202) 289-0061
this page was downloaded to your computer