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BREAKING NEWS … !

20 Apr

BREAKING NEWS: Animal Federation employs MOAB* to send message to imminent domain residents.

SUGAR MTN, NC — The Western North Carolina Chapter of the Wild Animal Federation sent a definite message to residents of Chestnut Ridge in Sugar Mountain last night.

The message? GET OUT!

“We were here first,” said chapter spokes-“person” Pogo, an opossum elected by the Wild Animal Federation to represent their complaints.

“These interlopers, not to be confused with cantalopers or antelopers, forced their way onto our reservation without so much as a how-do-you-do. It’s gone on way too long. We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to put up with it any longer!”

Bud, the bad-ass black bear who is the Enforcer of the group, volunteered to do the deed, which was under the cover of night.

“Sure, come sneaking up in the dark. Pretty cowardly if you ask me,” said one of two year-round residents.

“Fine with me,” said the other year-round resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “I got my 30-ought-6 loaded and at the window if they want to test me!”

“It’s not only the bears,” said the first residents. “Deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and crazy-ass Robins have colluded to make this serene and picturesque area a place of potential carnage! What we NEED is a wall to keep these critters OUT!”

Both sides have been reluctant to come to the bargaining table.

“Just look at me!” complained Bud, the alleged perpetrator of last night’s melee. “I’ve put on 183 pounds this month due to all of the sugar and fat these humans have tossed! It’s not only unHEALTHY for ME, it’s a cruel kind of baiting I think has got to stop. Look at all the damn bird feeders, for crissakes! There’s not a wren or a titmouse for miles around able to fend for themself anymore. They’ve all become dependant. It’s like — here’s some free and easy bird seed — come and get it! Then, in the winter, these snowbirds fly south and take their birdfeeders with them! That’s as bad as giving away a free hit of heroine, if you ask me!”

The decades-old battle between squatters (how the animals refer to the humans) and animals is not likely to find resolution any time soon.

“They are just not like us,” murmured Bud under his garbage breath.

“Animals is what they are!” replied one of the year-round residents.

*Mother of all Bears

 

Garbage carnage as a result of MOAB attack during last night’s raid

 

Expectations of the Anticipatory Kind

2 Nov

Expectations of the Anticipatory Kind

By L. Stewart Marsden

He stood in an awkward way,
Fidgeting with the watch in his pocket,
Rubbing his thumb over the smooth glass face and the protruding stem,
And remembering the words to the telegram,
Now indelibly etched in his memory:

Coming.
Stop.
Taking the 511 out of Philly 3 Oct.
Stop.
One trunk of clothing.
Stop.
Three day trip unless delays.
Stop.
There is no turning back now.
Stop.
Jane.

He leaned back and closed his eyes.
The late afternoon sun warmed his lids red from the inside.
He was reminded of a trip to a beach when he was young back East.
He lay on the sand, bathed in radiant heat from the sun.
Nearby waves crumbled onto the shore, creeping ever closer.

Notice:
Retired school teacher looking to relocate to the midwest.
Single, unmarried.
No children.
No emotional baggage.
Reasonably attractive.
Hard worker.
Marriage or companionship, preferably the former.
Respond to Box 14-U, …

And over the year, a conversation by mail.

I don’t know your name …
Jane
But if you don’t mind a small and simple house
Small and simple is fine
And a man who is straight-forward
I prefer an honest man
Who is sober
I do not drink whiskey
And is content to live within his means
I own two dresses and a ring my mother gave me, that is all
Then perhaps you will consider my proposal
Without a doubt!
To continue writing in order to know one another better
As you wish.
I was married before
I am fine with that. I have never been married.
But she died during the birth of our son
How heart-breaking!
And I have been making the best of life since
Perhaps a good woman might help fill that empty place?
As you can tell, I am not a man of letters
I prefer a simple man
And I am not inclined to attend church on Sundays
I understand. I can read my Bible by the fire.
But do, on occasion, go into town for levity and square dancing,
I have been known to dance on occasion myself.
I have 16 acres of land adjacent to a creek, which provides water
It sounds delightful
And I raise 20 or so head of cattle which I calf and keep along with the milk cows
Very pastoral! You could teach me to milk the cows?
Other than my best bull, the rest are sold and I make out okay
Again, I am not a presumptuous woman
I keep chickens and a few hogs, and have a small garden
You are a self-sufficient man, indeed!

The iron steam engine hissed into the station, coming to a gradual stop.
Porters and baggage men hopped into action, aiding and unloading passengers and luggage.
He stood straight up, pulled off his best hat, and spit-smoothed his hair along the sides of his head.
He yanked his britches up, and tightened his belt.
The end tip of a laced parasol appeared from the steps of one of the passenger cars, and a porter reached up from the platform.
A gloved hand next extended to take the offered help.
He stared, and held his breath.

Metaphors and Analogies

28 Oct

image

 

Metaphors and Analogies

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

The air is rife with them.

For us LOTR enthusiasts, who also happen to be third party supporters, I unapologetically offer the following. The music in the background is NOT from the film, but Sting’s I’ll Be Watching You.

Frodo and Sam are Gary and Bill. Frodo is a bit bewildered, but Sam is always his stalwart (the metaphor might break down at this point).

The Eye on the mountain is the political establishment.

Gollum is mainly HRC’s camp at this point. I think the ring might be Trump — who tends to drive people insane, but not sure.

We know despite all odds, Frodo and Sam complete their quest. The jury is fairly unanimous that G&B won’t — and that it’s unlikely they will score high enough with votes to establish a bonafide third party. Especially if Gary keeps smoking maryjane (Lembas — the Waybread), it looks like he won’t reach the summit to toss Donald into the fire of the mountain.

Still, we can hope. We know Gollum will do anything for the ring (here the metaphor switches from being Donald — eeeyeww! — to Hillary becoming POTUS), and she is willing to bite off Gary’s finger, which is the one he uses to tamp his bowl of maryjane — I mean, to hold his Lembas.

In our scenario, it is likely that Frodo and Sam succumb to the mountain fire, not Gollum, who morphs into someone whose name we cannot mention. And then Harry …

But, that’s another story for another time, my children. It is the season of spooks and goblins and things that go bump in the night. I suppose we should expect no less — and certainly no more.

Without a doubt, the scariest story to come down the pike in a long, long time.

The End.

The Blink, Chapter Three

2 Jun

The Blink

Chapter Three

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

They were bound to a pole that rested on their shoulders, hands crossed and lashed with leather thongs above the pole. Sequoia walked behind Adams. The men walked along either side and at the front and rear of the processional. They carried their spears at the ready. None spoke.

They followed a feint trail through the woods. Where the pathway was too narrow, the side guards waited, and caught up when it widened.

Adams wished for the urge to blink, and even tried to make it occur by will, but nothing happened.

I suppose this is what is to be, he thought to himself.

The group crossed the creek several times, wading through the water. Adams wondered if his moccasins would begin to tighten on his feet and wear blisters on his heels. He figured that was the least of his worries, and then realized he wasn’t worried for some reason.

The lead warrior suddenly made a loud whoop sound, which was moments later echoed deeper in the woods by another voice. The trail broadened, and spilled into a large clearing. At the center of the clearing was a large fire, crackling with nearly transparent flames in the noontime sun.

About the clearing were huts built of wooden pole frames and covered with various animal skins.

Old men and women and children were busy about the camp in various industry, from weaving to cleaning skins to preparing fish to eat. Large bulbous bags hung from tree limbs, and dripped water slowly. They did not appear to Adams to be skins, but perhaps the bladders of large animals. Perhaps deer or even bear.

The tribe came alive with talk and noise when the group entered the clearing. Many drew near and spat derisively at Sequoia. Some threw small stones and sticks at her. The guards made no effort to stop the assaults, but pulled the two to the edge of the clearing, and tied the cross stick horizontally to a birch, making sure the two captives were secure and unable to escape.

Their chatter was initially merely jabber to Adams. He tried to blink once more, and as if wax had fallen from his ears, he was able to hear and comprehend.

“The witch!”

“And her coyote!”

“Sequoia will see her end tonight. It is a full moon.”

“Do not say her name! You will incur the wrath of the night demons!”

“Look how pale her dog is!”

The two were poked and prodded by those who timidly approached and quickly reached out, as if expecting either Sequoia or Adams to suddenly free themselves from their binding and leap out.

Chatter rose and fell as more of the tribe entered the clearing from the woods and the lodges. Soon no distinction could be made of the chorus of voices, which quickly grew louder.

A tall man entered the clearing from one of the lodges. He wore a tall headdress fashioned of a broad leather band across his forehead with plumage from several different fowls. Across the man’s chest were scars that appeared to be part of some design — straight lines running diagonally and parallel from each pectoral muscle across to his chest to his abdomen from either side.

The man strode with purpose to where Sequoia and Adams were tied. His expression was not anger, but stern. His looked at Sequoia and she bowed her head. There was a strange mixture in his eyes, as of disappointment as well as love. That turned to curiosity when he looked at Adams, and stepped towards him.

“You are very pale,” he uttered in a low, gravely voice. “Where is your tribe?”

“I have no tribe — at least not in this place or time.”

The man looked closely into Adams’ eyes, as if to peer into his soul.

“Are you a Wanderer?”

Somehow Adams knew exactly what he meant. “Yes. You have seen other wanderers?”

“I have heard of them. My father and his father and their fathers were aware of wanderers. You are the first I have seen.”

“What will you do with me?”

“You will see tonight.”

“And Sequoia?”

“Her fate is yet to be known.”

“You will kill her?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On if you are truly a wanderer, or something else.”

“What something else?”

“Ah, I think you know.” He turned away and motioned to the crowd to disperse. Two of the men with spears crouched down to either side of the bound prisoners.

The tall man motioned to one of the children to give Sequoia and Adams something to drink, and one of the water bladders was brought for them to drink from.

The water was cool, and tasted slightly of offal. Adams guessed it was an acquired taste, and resisted an immediate urge to vomit. He knew he needed water, however different the taste.

The pole supporting Sequoia and Adams had been tied to the birch at a height that he was flat footed, but because she was much shorter, dangled a few inches above the ground, her weight on her tied wrists.

“Are you okay?” he asked in a whisper.

She groaned in reply, “What is ‘okay?'”

“It means are you well?” He realized how saying something and getting someone to understand what you mean is a challenge. Especially in this particular situation.

“I am not well. The leather cuts into my wrists. But I can tolerate this. I have known worse pain.”

“What are they going to do to you tonight?”

“As the Wise Man said, that depends on you.”

“How?”

“You will be tested.”

“For what?”

“To see if you are a Wanderer, or something else.”

“How will they test me?”

“We should not talk of this any longer. You need to rest your mind and your spirit. That will be the best way to prepare for what is to come.”

“But what is to come?”

“You will see.”

 

§ § §

The Blink, Chapter Two, continued further

31 May

The Blink

Chapter Two, continued further

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Three things happened in that instant: a tomahawk, thrown by one of the men who were chasing them, stuck with a loud thud into the trunk of a white birch tree just to the right of Adams head; he grabbed Sequoia’s hand and they were transported immediately to the top of a rock outcrop; and, he understood her.

They stood amazed. She, that they had suddenly escaped to the mountain top, as if by magic. He, that he could understand her.

“You are a god!” she declared in awe, dropping to her knees and bowing low to the ground.

“No! I’m no god!” He touched her on her shoulders and urged her to stand, but she remained trembling at his feet.

“I saw you come to earth yesterday! You were like a burning star, and came down near the mountain of the old man. In the sudden storm you came.”

“Sequoia — I promise you — I am just like you. I am flesh and blood. No god!”

“How is it you speak Cherokee?” She looked up, but averted her eyes from his.

“How is it you speak English?”

“English?”

“You’re speaking it now. It’s my native language. My tongue.”

“Cherokee. You are speaking it now. It’s my native language. It’s my tongue.”

Adams crouched down to her level and took her face in his hands.

“I don’t know how to explain this. Whether I’m speaking Cherokee, or you’re speaking English? I guess it really doesn’t matter. The fact is that we understand each other.”

She nodded. “You made this happen. You are a god!”

He pulled her up to stand.

“Okay. I can understand why you think that. And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure if I don’t have some special powers. I don’t know how to explain it, though. Honest, I’m just your ordinary old guy, who is as confused as you are.”

“You are not old. You are a young man.”

“Thanks, Dear — but I’m sixty-six.”

She laughed. She took his hand and held it palm up.

“That is not the hand of an old man.”

He looked. It was true! Somehow his hands weren’t covered in loose skin, or overly wrinkled. He drew his hands to his face, and felt smooth, taut skin.

“Here!” She pointed at a small rock indentation that held water. He looked into the mirror-like water, and saw not the old Kyle Adams — but a young man, instead.

“Je-sus! What the hell is going on here?”

“Who is Jesus? What is ‘hell’?” Sequoia asked innocently.

Adams laughed, “Honey, I don’t have the time nor the inclination!”

He walked out to the edge of a rock ledge and swept his arm broadly.

“You see all of this? All these mountains and trees?”

She nodded.

“Yesterday — which, come to think of it, is really probably many tomorrows away — there were roads winding through the forests and up and down the mountains. There were houses and buildings and farmlands cut out of everything you see! The sky was hazy and not nearly as blue! There were many, many, many people and buildings and cars and airplanes as far as you looked.”

“I don’t understand,” she said somewhat fearfully. “None of that was here yesterday. It’s been like this since I can remember. It’s always been like this. It will always be like this. And what is a car and an airplane?”

“You have no idea! No, it won’t always be like this! It will be different, I promise you! And all of this,” he gestured again, “will no longer be. It will be gone. There will not even be a memory of it.”

“You speak crazy.”

“I guess it seems like that.”

“If you are not a god, how did we get away from the men of my tribe? How did we suddenly appear up here? Where did you come from? You were nearly naked when I found you. Why is your skin so very pale? What tribe are you from?”

“I can’t answer all your questions, and the ones I can answer, you won’t believe me. Hell, I don’t even believe it! Here is what I know — somehow I came to be here in your time. I — I blinked. And it all happened in the blink of an eye!” He laughed at himself. “So, for some reason I don’t understand, I was taken out of my world and my time and place here — in your world and in your time. Let me ask you something.”

“Yes?”

“Why are you out here alone? Why are you not with your tribe? Why were those men after us? Are they from your tribe?”

She turned her face from him and looked out over the sea of hills and mountains, fading like waves into the distance.

“I was banished from my tribe,” she said in a low voice.

“Banished? Why?”

“I cannot tell you.”

“Sure you can. I just told you about me. You at least owe it to me.”

“Yes, I owe you much. You saved my life.”

“What? You think those guys were going to kill you? I thought they were after me!”

“Yes, they were going to kill me.”

“What about me?”

“And you, as well.”

“Why?”

“Because you are with me.”

“Sequoia, why were they going to kill you? Tell me!”

“They believe I am an a-tsa-s-gi-li.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know that word. What is an a-tsa-s-gi-li, please?”

Before she could answer, several men emerged from the brush surrounding the summit and encircled the pair. They bore spears, which they held at the ready, the stone tips pointed at Sequoia and Adams. This time, there was no urge to blink.

“An a-tsa-s-gi-li is a witch,” she finally said.

§ § §

Protected: Napoleon, Brutus, and me … con’t

11 Jan

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Napoleon, Brutus, and me

10 Jan

Napoleon, Brutus, and me

 

It will come as no surprise to me if you find my tale a little on the tall side. As a storyteller, I am prone to exaggerate for effect. Maybe that’s affect. I get the two confused.

This story begins at the end of a long descending staircase of failures on my part. Never mind the particulars. It’s sufficient to say I had come to the end of my rope quite legitimately, if not literally.

I had no money. In fact, I owed money to everybody I knew, and some I didn’t.

I had swung twice at marriage without a hit. I did manage some offspring, which added fatherhood to my list of failures.

In addition to no money and no wife and no children, I had no friends. Plus my parents and siblings disowned me. I gave the term “black sheep” a bad name.

Pretty much all I put my hand to ended in — well, you know what. Many would say I was the personification of bad luck.

It was early one Wednesday — or perhaps a Tuesday — no matter. It was a week day. Or perhaps the weekend. I can’t remember. Another failing.  Anyway, I awoke, and three days from eviction came to the conclusion I should do something. I called the local Goodwill and told them I had furniture, clothing and more to donate, and would they come pick it all up? The next day they did.

I saved a small duffel bag into which I packed two pairs of underwear; two pairs of regular athletic socks; one pair of size 38/30 jeans; one black T-shirt with white lettering that read “Irony — the opposite of Wrinkly,” from Café Press online; two sweatshirts; and some toiletries, although I didn’t I would use them. Something to stay connected to civilization, I suppose.

Once the guys from Goodwill left I checked out with my apartment manager, who asked my forwarding address.

“Don’t know where I’ll be. Why?”

“Refund on your deposit.”

“You keep it.”

“I can’t.”

“Send it to my sister,” whose name and address were on my original application.

Besides my wallet with three crumpled dollar bills and my driver’s license, I had a quarter. I got into my car and flipped the coin. I had decided that heads would be right, and tails would be left, and that every intersection I came to I would flip the coin and go in whatever direction came up. If I ended up going in circles, I gave myself permission to override the toss, which was one of the few good decisions of my life.

At the end of a day-and-a-half, after starting in Hickory, North Carolina, I ran out of gas on Bob Hollow Road, north of Wentz, Kentucky. I pulled off the road and wrote on a Burger King bag the following:

“Don’t need my car anymore. You are welcome to it. The title is in the glove compartment.”

I signed the title so anyone could legally take the car, left the keys in the ignition, grabbed my duffel bag and started walking north.

That’s when I met Napoleon.

◊◊◊

Napoleon was a mix. And small. Tiny, really. He was a bit scruffy and a little too wiry around the eyebrows and his muzzle. I had decided to take a rest along the road when Napoleon trotted up to me from somewhere I hadn’t seen. As he closed in he lowered his chin almost to the ground, slowed and widened the spread of his back legs, as though he was going to squat and make a pee like a female.

I knew the posture, having owned one or two dogs in my time. It was a combination of things. Napoleon wanted me to know I was the Alpha. He also wanted me to know he was fiercely hungry, and could I help him out?

I stretched my hand out to him, which he sniffed and then licked. Then he plopped down next to me at the side of the road as if we had been long-time companions. Perhaps we had.

An old beat-up Ford pulled up in the road and stopped, and a geezer leaned toward the passenger window and rolled it down.

“Need a lift?”

“Not sure.”

“Well, where you headed?”

“Again, not sure.”

“Hungry?”

“Sure.”

“Get in.” And he opened the door from the inside swung it wide. Napoleon hopped up into the cab as if second-nature, and I climbed in and shut the door.”

“There’s a café about a few miles down the road. Best hamburgers in the county.”

“Sounds good.”

Napoleon sat erect on the seat looking straight forward.

“Nice dog.”

“I guess.”

“Had him long?”

“Not really. A little bit.”

“What’s his name?”

“Napoleon.” The name popped into my head, and Napoleon opened his mouth and let his tongue hang out. He seemed to smile at my answer, then licked my hand.

“Like the French guy.”

“I guess.”

Our chauffer was in his fifties or so, and wore bib overalls with a dirty T-shirt underneath. His big boots were caked with mud, and were very worn.

“You smoke?” He reached into his bib pocket and pulled out a deflated package of Camels, offering the smokes to me.

“No, thanks. I got too many things on my list to add cigarettes at this point.”

“List?”

“My list of failures.”

“Oh. And smoking would be a failure, then?”

“For me it would. But you go ahead. I don’t begrudge you at all. I mean, you’re the one giving me a ride.”

“Right.” He pushed in the dashboard lighter and shook out a cigarette, grabbing it with his lips. “You passing through, then? I mean, not a whole lot of people come to Daisy.”

He seemed to be fishing — asking a lot of questions for someone who ought to know privacy is sacred to most people. Napoleon, as though he heard my thoughts, looked at me with the darnedest mug.

“I’m headed west,” I answered finally. He lit his cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke from his nose out the open driver’s side window.

“To see family?”

“Right. They’re expecting me in a couple of days.”

Napoleon looked at me again.

“He’s not to be trusted.”

“What was that?” I asked.

“Didn’t say nothin’,” the chauffer answered. Napoleon stared straight into my eyes. “Where did you say this family of yours lives?” He pulled deeply on his cigarette, an ash beginning to form at its tip.

“I didn’t.”

“So, where is it, then?”

“West.”

He pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. Then turned and smiled at me. He was muscular, and had toned arms and shoulders. Powerfully built.

“So they live somewhere west, which you won’t tell me. And here you are out in the middle of the sticks with your dog, hitchhiking.”

“Yep. That’s about the size of it.” I felt my heart begin to pound, and a tightness constrict across my chest. A bead of sweat formed at my hairline and trickled down my cheek.

“Know what I think?”

“Can’t imagine.”

“I think you don’t have family west of here. When I first asked, you said you weren’t sure where you were headed.”

I didn’t answer. He smiled and put his hand on my leg.

“I think you are homeless  — a drifter. Am I right?” He squeezed my leg gently.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble . . .”

“Neither do I, brother. I just thought we might be able to help each other out. Come to an understanding. I know you got needs. Gotta need money and food and shelter. Am I right? Plus, it’s getting late and it’s not safe to be out alone. Perhaps I can help you out if you can see fit to help me out.” He squeezed my leg again.

At that point Napoleon began to growl deeply, and backed close to me, his muzzle not far from the man’s hand. He removed it cautiously.

“Guard dog, huh?”

“His bite is worse than his bark,” I said, narrowing my eyes at the man. “It’s why I call him Napoleon.”

Napoleon continued to growl.

“Tell you what, friend — me and Napoleon are used to the road, and while I appreciate your offer, I’ll pass on it.” I opened the door and the dog and I got out quickly.

The man smiled and tilted his head. “Suit yourself. The money’s good.”

“There are more things than money,” I said. He reached over and closed the door, then sped off ahead, kicking up a cloud of dust in his wake.

I shook my head and sat down. Napoleon sat next to me. I patted him on the head and scratched behind his ears.

“Thanks. I owe you. I do believe we just avoided something bad.”

“Don’t mention it,” Napoleon said, his face stretched into a grin, saliva dripping from one corner of his mouth. “He wasn’t going to do anything with me around.”

I let the comment pass. Obviously I was hearing voices.

◊◊◊

My grandmother was schizophrenic. She lived with us in the back bedroom of our home when I was growing up. She used to read Uncle Wiggily stories to me from a big picture book. As she got older, she got vague. I remember once she pulled me aside and told me the Communists were after her. It was only a few months later when she died. She had gone to the hospital with what my parents called “complications,” but I was never allowed to go visit. She died late one night, and Mom and Dad had her cremated within a day. They flew up to Luverne, Minnesota with her ashes to put her to rest in the family plot.

Later I learned she heard voices, and that she was paranoid. That was where the comments about the Communists came — from her illness.

When I first heard Napoleon talk I immediately figured I was schizophrenic like my grandmother. Truth is, I think Napoleon had second thoughts about speaking to me, figuring it freaked me out, which it sure as hell did.

Then I figured maybe I was wrong about the guy in the truck as well. Maybe he was like a Samaritan, and was going to set me up a bit. Maybe all of my misgivings, which had definitely been knocked askew by thinking Napoleon said the man wasn’t to be trusted merely denied me of some great opportunity.

I spent the last of my money at a country package store. I bought a can of Spam and one of those Jiffy Pop aluminum popcorn pans. I also bought a can of Sterno.

Napoleon and I shared the Spam, and I used the can as a makeshift stove, putting the Sterno in it and lighting the blue jelly fuel. Soon the corn popped, puffing the aluminum cover into a silver dome. Most of it was burnt. The dog and I shared that, too.

“Well, I guess you can take off now, Napoleon. I’ve spent all my money, and we’ve eaten all there is. Nothing left but for me to curl up and die.”

Again, Napoleon looked at me, his eyes aglow from the blue Sterno flame.

“That’s a crock.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I’m calling you on this.”

“Ah, my schizophrenia is kicking in again!”

“No. Your dog is talking sense to you.”

“Wait! Several things wrong with this scenario. First, you’re not my dog. And second, dogs don’t talk! And why the hell am I talking to you?”

“And pigs don’t fly and the moon is made of green cheese and on and on and on. As far as your first premise, whether a human adopts a dog or a dog adopts a human, the result is the same — they own each other. Ergo, you are mine, and I am yours.

“And as to the second premise, guess what?”

“You — you’re talking to me!?”

“Ding! Ding! Ding! Give that man a cookie!”

◊◊◊

I’m fond of saying “Think outside the box.” And, I’d like to think I’m fairly open to what I might not understand or even believe in. After all, my world is a microcosm of me, myself and I. Stretching that small universe would not be a bad thing, right?

“Please, give me a moment to digest everything.”

“My observation of the world of humans is anything that challenges the norm is a threat.”

“Well, you’re a dog, and you are entitled to your opinion. What am I doing!?”

“You are trying to adjust to a challenge of the world as you know it. In your world, I can’t talk. And if I am talking, it’s not really me, but either a figment of your imagination, or some psychotic breakdown.”

“I have been under a lot of stress lately.”

“I’m neither a figment nor a breakdown. I’m a dog.”

“How is it you speak English?”

“Well, considering I was born in this country, what language should I speak?”

“Good point.”

Napoleon tilted his head to the side and was quiet, as if in deep thought.

“What?”

“We have more important issues than whether or not I can speak.”

“Such as?”

“Such as we need money. We need supplies and food and a game plan.”

“Other than rob a convenience store, I’m not sure what we can do about money. We could shoplift for the supplies and food, I suppose.”

“You are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. God didn’t give you a brain for nothing!”

“You believe in God?”

“Well, it is dog spelled backwards. Coincidence? I don’t think so. And, yes, all dogs do go to Heaven.”

“Pardon me if I still seem a skeptic. Talking animals are best left to fairy tales and cartoons.”

“Can we move pass this? Okay, pretend you’re dreaming. I just said we need money, supplies and food. And, no, we are not going to get those things illegally. Last place I want to end up is the dog shelter. You prison’s not a safe place for a cute little dog.”

“Spare me the thought.”

“I do have an idea, if you’d like to hear it. A way to get some money fast. And legally.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Okay, we find a shopping mall, or some downtown shopping area. You take me on your lap, and you pretend to be a ventriloquist. You ask me questions and I answer.”

“That’s your idea?”

“We find a hat or a tin can to collect spare change. We do a show.”

“In the middle of Kentucky.”

“Maybe not here. Maybe we hitch a ride to a bigger town.”

◊◊◊

We hitchhiked, Napoleon and I. From the backwoods of Perry County to Lexington. It took six rides. Thankfully none of the other drivers were like our first experience.

Once there we headed to the Fayette Mall, the largest around. The weather was reasonably nice, and since I couldn’t take Napoleon inside the mall, we set up near one of the entrances. Napoleon hopped onto my lap, and I started to ask him questions in a loud voice as people passed. We had worked on the questions before we performed.

“So, Napoleon?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re a small dog.”

“I am.”

“How’s your life, being so small?”

“Ruff! Really ruff!”

“Napoleon?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you a good dancer?”

“Not at all.”

“Why not?”

“Because I have two left feet!”

“Napoleon?”

“Yeah?”

“What kind of dog does Dracula have?”

“A bloodhound!”

It’s true that the jokes were groaners. But Napoleon took everything over the top. He tilted his head. He paused (no pun intended). He varied the tenor of his voice. People on the sidewalk began to slow down and stop and listen. Soon we had a small audience that laughed and groaned along with us. Then people began to drop coins into a cup I had placed in front of us. Then dollar bills.

We were on a roll when a security guard strolled up and watched from the edge of our audience. He grinned and laughed a few times, then finally stepped forward when the crowd thinned out at one point.

“That’s amazing! You are a really talented ventriloquist! Unfortunately, you can’t do your act here, and you’re going to have to move along.”

Timing is everything, right? Here Napoleon and me got things rolling a bit, and we weren’t bothering anybody, and some money was starting to fill the cup, and this jerk has to go and spoil everything.

Napoleon looked at the would-be cop.

“So, you couldn’t make it as a regular cop, eh?”

“Napoleon! You shouldn’t say something like that! It doesn’t help.”

“Well he’s the one not helping! So, Mister Security Guard — you have nothing better to do than chase off a couple of honest guys trying to earn a living?”

“Look, it’s not up to me. I don’t make the rules here.”

“Right. What a cop out! No pun intended.”

Napoleon jumped off my lap and stepped up to the guard and sat at his feet.

“Betcha if I were a talking cat you wouldn’t have a problem with our working the sidewalk.”

“What?”

He sniffed at the guard’s pant leg.

“As I thought. You’re a cat owner.”

“How the hell do you know that?”

“The smell of cat is all over your pants. Probably one of those ugly long-haired, pug-nosed, stuck-up pussies.”

“Hey!”

“See, that’s discrimination. That’s profiling. That’s the same-old same-old we dogs have had to endure forever.”

“Wait! Am I having this conversation with a dog?” And the guard side-stepped Napoleon and walked over to where I sat enjoying the scene.

“Amazing as your talent is, mister, you gotta go. We can do this peacefully, or the hard way. It’s your choice.”

Ain’t technology grand? Unawares to us, while the security guard, Napoleon and I were having our confrontation, some mall customers were taking videos of everything on their cell phones, and uploading to Facebook and Twitter. Rather than risk a night in jail, I picked up the can of money and motioned to Napoleon we should go.

“What are you in the mood to eat?” I asked my friend.

“How about a hot dog?” he grinned at me.

By the time we crossed the parking lot and found a fast food place where we could sit outside and eat, those digital videos of us had been shared and re-shared to the point half of Lexington had viewed them. One of those was a local reporter for Fox 56 television, who was in the area when she saw the tweeted video.

Kimberly Dawn drove by in a Fox 56-decorated van and saw us, screamed to her driver to stop, and hopped out.

“Are you the guys in this video?” she asked, shoving her iPhone close to my face while the confrontation with the mall security guard played. I watched, turned to her at its finish, and smiled broadly.

“Yep. That’s us.”

“Well guys, this must be your lucky day!”

 

◊◊◊

 

Napoleon and I ended up on the Fox 56 six o’clock and 11 o’clock news that night. The interview was a mixture of our “story” — travelling through with nowhere to stay — and Napoleon answering questions posed by Kimberly Dawn.

“So, Napoleon, tell our viewers what breed of dog you are?”

“Mix. Part terrier, part Pomeranian. I just say I’m a Sooner.”

“Sooner? As an Oklahoma U fan?”

“Naw. Sooner one than the other.”

“How did you meet your owner?”

“I’m not a slave. He doesn’t own me. We are a cooperative with equally important yet differing responsibilities.”

“And what are your responsibilities in this cooperative?”

“I’m the brains of the outfit.”

I was in the background of the shot, nodding and smiling and moving my jaw a bit as though projecting my voice to Napoleon.

At the end of the interview, Dawn and her cameraman/driver gave us a lift to a homeless shelter, and she apparently knew the director, who okayed it for us to stay for a couple of days. It was to his interest, as the shelter became a small part of the story.

That news spot didn’t just air on Fox 56. Oh no. It was picked up by the national Fox News people, which was picked up and re-aired by ABC, NBC and CBS national news departments. When Dawn said “This must be your lucky day,” she wasn’t kidding! For the next week replays of that little news encounter filtered through nearly every local TV station across America. Everyone likes a feel-good-story, don’t you know?

Five people saw it who responded in very different, unexpected ways. Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres, and three others.

One was a muscular man, who had toned arms and shoulders. Powerfully built. He sat quietly nursing a Budweiser, seated at the counter of a country bar on Bob Hollow Road, a bit north of Wentz, Kentucky. He reached into his bib pocket and pulled out a deflated package of Camels, grabbing one of the smokes with his lips, and lighting it with his Zippo. A large flat screen TV was hung at the back of the bar, and the news item about Napoleon and me was on.

“I’ll be damned!” he muttered. He threw back the remaining beer and placed a five on the counter, then left the bar and climbed into his beat-up truck and sped away, kicking up a cloud of dust in his wake.

A man and his wife were in the living room of their farmhouse, eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans from plates on TV dinner trays, watching Fox 56 evening news.

“I’ll be damned!” he muttered when the piece on us aired. “That’s where that damned dog got to!” He stood up and took his tray to the kitchen, then swung the back door open angrily and hopped into his truck and sped away, kicking up a cloud of dust in his wake.

A lean, prim-looking woman sat in a large easy chair, reading the newspaper, the TV blaring in the background. The news item caught her attention, as she was a dog-person at heart. Then she noticed the man in the background of the shot of the talking dog, nodding and smiling and moving his jaw a bit, projecting his voice to Napoleon.

“I’ll be damned!” she muttered, then grabbed her cellphone and dialed a number. The ringing was interrupted by a man’s voice.

“Cuthbert? This is Sally. I just found out where that deadbeat of an ex of mine has gone to. I want you to have him arrested.”

◊◊◊

It’s truly nice to be wanted. And in my case, or I should say, our case, Napoleon and I were definitely wanted by two huge television personalities. We were at the right place at the right time. Kismet, some would say. Pure luck, according to others. Whichever, the fact remained that Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres wanted us on their shows.

I like Jimmy Fallon. Not that I ever watched him before. I quit watching The Tonight Show when Johnny retired. It wasn’t the same anymore. I mean, when Ed McMahon belted out “Heeeere’s Johnny!” the world seemed ordered and right. But without them? Plus, it got harder and harder to stay up to watch the show. Jay didn’t do it for me.

Jimmy’s a real nice kid. Still wet behind the ears, but genuine as can be, near as I can tell. He had Napoleon and me flown up first-class to New York. Even though it was a short flight, Napoleon kept everyone in stitches with his dog’s perspective. Of course I was the one that got the credit, though.

“You are amaaaaa—zing!” the other passengers complimented me.

I told Napoleon in private our secret was bound to get out.

“You’re nuts! Who in their right mind would believe that a dog can talk? Don’t worry so much!”

We were picked up at the airport by an NBC limousine and whisked away to a midtown hotel near 30 Rockefeller Square, where the show is taped.

Two hours before the taping Napoleon and I were driven to the towering building, and made our way to Studio 6B, where we were ushered to the Green Room. Our guide directed us to the hair and make-up room where I was powdered and rouged a bit. Napoleon refused the make-up.

“There’s something more than weird about a dog that wears lipstick and eye shadow,” he yipped at the make-up artist. But he was into the hair bit, getting a quick style-and-snip wet cut and blow-dry.

“So, what’s your favorite dog breed, Honey,” he asked during the process. “I’m a great lap-man. Wanna meet after the show so I can prove it?”

“I’ll bet you are!” she laughed. “Thanks, but I’m more of a cat-person.”

When I walked out onto the stage with Napoleon tucked onto one arm, the brightness of the lights almost overpowered us. I sat in the chair directly beside Jimmy’s big desk, and he reached over and patted me on the arm.

“So, you and Napoleon were wandering the streets of Lexington, Kentucky, and started a street show for money, I understand.”

“Yeah.” I was so nervous I could only muster short one or two word answers. Then Napoleon took over, which was why we were there anyway. I let him have his day, and mocked moving my mouth a bit. Mostly nodded and grinned while he did all the talking.

“What’s it like to be a dog, Napoleon?” Fallon asked finally.

“Rough.”

Laughter.

“Actually, a dog’s life, depending on if you have a kind owner, is the best. Humans are great pets and wonderful to have around.”

Laughter.

“You don’t really get to experience family, though. I never knew my dad. My brothers and sisters are scattered all over the place, and my mom was a real bitch.”

Laughter.

“So I have a question for you, Napoleon. Why is it that dogs go around smelling other dogs’ butts? I keep thinking what if humans did that?”

Laughter.

“Actually it’s a great question, Jimmy. You probably know my sense of smell is probably ten thousand times better than yours.”

“I heard that. If that’s true, why would you have to stick your nose up in there? I mean, crap is crap, right? You should be able to smell it a mile away.”

Laughter.

“The fact is there are glands around a dog’s butt that can tell me a lot about that dog.”

“Really? Like what?”

“If they are ill, for example. What their gender is. I can tell if that dog is somehow related to me, or to another dog I know. Whether or not they are going to be a friend or a foe.”

“Well, if you smell my butt, we’re friends for life as far as I’m concerned.”

Laughter.

“You know that dogs have been known to detect cancer in their humans. And are used these days to alert humans about impending stroke or heart attack.”

“So, tell me about alpha dogs and pecking orders.”

“I’m an alpha dog. We’re on your show because of me, not him.” I was glad to get at least an acknowledgment.

“So size does not matter, then?”

“Most alpha dogs I know are as small as me. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. You’ve heard that, of course.”

“Sure.”

“And it’s brains, not brawn.”

“Where do you guys go from here?”

I spoke.

“We’re off to California tomorrow to be on the Ellen show.”

“That’s great! You’ll love her!”

And so it was over almost as soon as it started.

The next day we flew to California, again First-Class. I discovered that Napoleon, talking aside, is unlike any other dog I’ve known before. Most are content to lay down and nap the day away. Not him. He’s’ always got his nose into something — well, that’s normal for a dog now that I think of it — and is jabbering with someone about some thing. Me? I leaned my leather seat back and tried to sleep. That really impressed everyone!

“How do you do that?” one fellow passenger demanded, jabbing me in the arm.

“Do what?”

“Ventriloquize while you’re asleep? Obviously you’re awake, right?”

“Trade secret.”

“Well, if I didn’t know better, I’d say your dog actually does talk, and you’re the dummy!”

“You got me.” And I turned away to resume sleeping. And the other passengers kept talking to Napoleon, asking him all sorts of things.

“Who’s your favorite rock group?”

Three Dog Night.

“Your favorite song?”

Pressley’s Hound Dog.

And he, in turn, would ask them questions.

What do you get when you combine a peeping Tom with a junk-yard dog?

“I don’t know . . . what?”

An I-like-to-watch-dog.

Groan.

That went on through our first connection in the gate seating area, and again on board. It was becoming more than tiresome. Oh, sure — everyone else liked the performance. It dawned on me how this same frustration had shown its ugly face in my two marriages. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. But not nearly as quickly as it does when you have a talking dog.

◊◊◊

Copyright © Lawrence S. Marsden, 22 January, 2016

 

 

 

The Dream

14 Nov

 

The Dream

On thinking of the attacks in Paris

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

The dream endured throughout the night, even though he awoke several times in a sweat, his bedclothes twisted about his legs and ankles. He had but a moment to realize it was not real before he plunged back into the chaos as his head hit the pillow again.

He stood before a vast, open desert. Nothing grew on the plain but dirt and the occasional stone or outcropping of rock. In the long distance a bluish outline of a mountain range undulated. The sky was yellow-hot and cloudless. There were no birds aloft.

Between him and the far mountains, which seemed to be his goal, the dirt ground was pocked with small holes. Thousands — millions of holes. As he stepped towards the mountains, the head of a snake would suddenly pop out of a hole near his foot, which was bare of shoes. The snake would unhinge its jaw, as though to swallow him up, even though his foot was several times larger than the maw of the reptile. Its fangs protruded, ready to sink into his skin and inject a deadly venom.

He carried only a stick, and swung it low toward the head of each snake. The stick transformed into a machete at the snake’s head, and the beast was decapitated. Its body withdrew back into the hole and the severed head dug into the soil like a mollusk or crab. As quickly as each snake attacked, he dispatched it and it disappeared into the earth.

Behind him, he left a wake of sand splotched with blood.

Why are there no trees?

Above the scalding sand before him shimmered mirages of large lakes of water — a promise of respite from the heat and his sere throat. As he approached, each lake vanished, only to reappear some distance away, teasing him.

He continued to step and swing his machete, lopping his way towards the mountains with no perceptible progress.

He finally came upon the dried white bones of an animal. He could not tell its species nor kind. The vacuous orbital holes in its skull were like vacant eyes, and its death grin mocked as he passed. A dry wind whistled through its gaped teeth.

You will never reach them. It is useless. Why don’t you turn around and go back?

“There is nothing to go back to,” he heard himself say, and watched himself from a distance.

Then turn aside. Surely going on will result badly for you.

“There is no turning aside.”

Ah, yes. Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.

“Something like that.”

The snakes will eventually prevail against you, and you will end up like me — bones in the desert.

“The snakes are slow and small. They die easily.”

But there are many of them. As you cut off their heads, they burrow and re-seed into new snakes. They do not stay dead. And their number grows.

“Possibly true. But in the mountains there is water. Enough water to flood this entire plain. Enough to flood out every den of snakes and drown them all.”

You believe that?

“What other choice is there?”

You are a fool! Give up. Give in. Lie down and die.

“It’s not an option I will ever choose.”

Suit yourself.

  • * * *

The Foothills

 

Three more times he awoke, and on the last time staggered into his bathroom for a drink. He leaned over the sink and turned the cold water spigot. It soothed the dryness of his mouth and throat. He guessed he had been sleeping with his mouth open.

He crawled back into his bed, the area damp with his sweat. He closed his eyes and was back into his dream.

Behind him stretched the desert. Before him, scrub bushes and dried grasses and weeds appeared. He had managed to reach a gradual incline, and saw a pathway twisting up and away out of view.

The snakes still attacked, but with less frequency. There were fewer holes, but he still determined to be on the alert.

The first part of the climb was easy. The sand cooled, and ravaged his bare feet much less than before. He pulled some grasses out of the soil and fashioned a simple hat, weaving and twisting the dry material. The hat afforded him some relief from the hot sun, which was perpetually at its highest point in the sky.

As the pathway rose from the desert plain, the temperature also cooled noticeably, and his hope of finding some source of water grew stronger.

Rounding a bend on the pathway, he saw a shaded area sheltered completely from the sun. Sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree, a bit hunched over, was an old man clad in light linen. His tanned and leather skin was in stark contrast with his clothing. His hair was bleached white, and his eyes sunken deep into his face. He, too, had a hat — made of straw and more finely fashioned than the one of the dreamer. He appeared not to notice the dreamer, and remained undisturbed.

The dreamer approached and reached out his hand to touch the old man’s shoulder, which startled the man from his sleep.

“Oh! There you are!” said the old man.

“You were expecting me?”

“Eventually. Unless, of course, the snakes got you. Which I see they did not.”

“No.”

“You must rest a bit with me. And then we will continue.”

“Continue where?”

“To the mountain, of course. You were headed there, yes?”

“Yes. To find water and release the flood to kill the snakes.”

“Killing the snakes is no longer the goal.”

“What? Of course it is!”

The old man smiled and looked deeply into the dreamers eyes.

“You have much to learn. Let me show you something.”

The old man slowly pulled himself up from the log, and walked toward and past the dreamer back toward the desert.

“You’re going back?”

“No. Come look.”

The dreamer stepped up to the old man’s side and looked out over the plain he had crossed. It was no longer a desert, but filled with vibrant vegetation and animals, rivers and lakes, as far as the eye could see. He was amazed.

“I don’t understand.”

“If you look carefully, you will see the snakes.”

The dreamer looked. In the waters and on the ground he could see snakes of all kinds winding along.

“Are they not dangerous?”

“At one time they were not.”

“What happened?”

“All you see — all of the wonderful creations — were destroyed.”

“How —?”

“Not how, but who?”

“The snakes.”

“Ah, were it but as simple. No. Not the snakes.”

 

“Who, then?”

“The ones with the power. It has been so since the beginning of time.”

“What power? Who?”

“The biggest, at first. Then the strongest. Then the smartest. Throughout all time it has been so. Power overcomes the weak. The trusting. The naïve. Power leverages its way, has its way, and ensures its way will rule.”

“Is that bad?”

“Not for those in power. But for those taken advantage of and oppressed? It is intolerable. It is what changes the weak at some point.”

“Changes? How?”

“The weak tire are of the oppression. The weak understand in order to survive, they must defeat the powerful by adopting the tactics of their enemy.”

“Enemy?”

“If you are oppressed, or come from those who were oppressed, do the oppressors not become the enemy in your mind?”

“I don’t know.”

“Because you have not been oppressed.”

“But I have never oppressed anyone …”

“Ah! I suppose not. But having gained from the oppression of your ancestors, do you not still value those gains?”

“I don’t have anything I haven’t worked for. I haven’t oppressed anyone for what I have.”

“Have you not? Is not advantage gained from past oppression?”

“I don’t know. What advantages do I have? And how have those been gained from past oppression?”

“Status. Education. What I shall call ease of movement within your society. Are these not advantages? Have they not been attained at the suppression of others?”

“I don’t know! Why is this important at all? The fit survive!”

“A maxim of incredible conceit! In uttering it, those who do not survive are thus unfit. Do only the unfit suffer unjust ends? Are their prayers no less noble and honest?”

The dreamer stood and shook his head. This was stunning to him.

“Are you telling me we have brought this devastation upon ourselves?”

“Whom do you speak for? The oppressors or the oppressed?”

“What’s the difference?”

“Ha! Obviously you’ve never been oppressed! Still, the question is valid. Mark those who have risen in power and have held their power over the heads of others.  The Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. All of the conquerors throughout time have oppressed others and fallen. So in one sense, the oppressors have brought it on themselves by eventually falling. In the subsequent sense, the oppressed have earned their just rewards.”

“What’s the point?”

“Exactly! You tip-toe through the desert, snakes viping at your every step. They are the enemy to you. They are to be exterminated. Yet at one point, they were the oppressed. You and yours marched into their land, their culture, their lives to take from them what which they could not develop themselves at the time. Oil, gems, minerals and other resources. Out of their ground and under their mountains. All the while giving them pittance for their wealth.

“And as their governments and countries and people came into their own, they suddenly realized how they had been used deceitfully.

“And then you are surprised at their reaction? You are amazed they do not receive you with the same open-arms of decades ago?”

“But it wasn’t me! I didn’t do anything!”

“True. You didn’t own slaves. You didn’t rob the American Indian of his land and his heritage. You didn’t suck out the vitality from country after country. You are, in a word, innocent.”

“Yes, exactly!”

“Nonetheless, you occupy the end results of those atrocities. You have the advantage of station and class in life. You are on the inside looking out.”

The dreamer awoke and sat up in his bed. It took him a few minutes to realize where he was. It was still well before sunrise, and looking at his watch he realized only a short spell of time had elapsed.

He was wary of going back to sleep. He did not want to return to his dream.

  • * * *

The Mountain

 

The old man was surprisingly agile and quick, and made his way up the inclining path to the summit of the mountain. The dreamer had difficulty keeping up, though many years younger than his guide.  There was little talk and no rest along the ascent. The dreamer suppressed the urge to ask his guide to slow down, as he did not want to appear weak. “Are we there yet” was an entirely inappropriate question to ask.

Toward the end of the day the two crested the top of the mountain. The sun, which had held its post at the noontide position for the longest time, finally relented, and began to sink slowly in the western sky.  The aura created by sun and clouds and late-day colors was nearly too incredible to grasp, and both sat beside a monumental stone that topped the mountain. Before them lay an incredible sight: the world in all of its glory, going forever.

“What do you see?” the old man asked the dreamer.

“It is difficult to put into words,” he replied.

“There are no words to describe this. It is beyond comprehension. And please remember, that a millennia ago, it was a hundred times more spectacular. We — you and I — are complicit in its erosion and destruction.”

“How so?”

“We accepted the status quo. We turned our heads when we should have raised our voices. We allowed the evil to seep into our flesh and into our blood.”

“What evil?”

“The evil of the power. That we need to have it. That we need to wield it. That we need to suppress the weak and the lowly. King of the mountain. Conquer at all cost. Demand our way and our agenda.”

“So this glory is at jeopardy, then?”

“No. Not entirely. But its fullness is. We get but a dim view of its fullness. We diminish its full potential. And this is not only in Nature, but in our fellow mankind. Remember the weak?”

“If I am partially to blame, then what can I do to turn things about?”

“What did you say?”

The dreamer repeated his question.

“Ah! That is at least a beginning. Let me ask you — was the ascent to the mountain top an easy thing?”

“Absolutely not.”

“But, was it worth it?”

“Absolutely!”

“Why?”

“I would never have beheld this glory had I not attempted the climb.”

“Exactly.”

A shaft of light awoke him. It splattered on the bedroom wall and ricocheted to his closed eyes, which he opened reluctantly. The dreamer did not want to leave his dream. He sat up in bed and everything he had dreamed during the night flooded back into his memory, unlike any dream before. Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, he breathed in deeply, and prepared for a new day.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 14 November, 2015

Ghosts

25 Sep

Ghosts

by L. Stewart Marsden

 

 

“Are you angry with me?” she asked.

“Why the hell should I be angry with you, for God’s sake?”

“That I’m thinking of him?”

“I can’t help what you think about. I can’t even help what I think about, for that matter.”

“I do try.”

“Yes, you do.”

“But sometimes I can’t help myself.”

“It’s called PTSD.”

“What?”

“Post traumatic —“

“I know what it stands for. It doesn’t really apply in my case. I mean, I wasn’t in battle or anything. It wasn’t traumatic like that.”

“No, but his death was traumatic. Look — this is my issue. It’s perfectly natural for you to think about him and about what happened. I understand that. Intellectually, at least. I know this sounds a bit glib, but what if he hadn’t died? I mean, what if you had gotten a divorce and he was still out there?”

“I think I would prefer it.”

“I sure as hell wouldn’t. Does that sound selfish? Mean?”

“No. I don’t know — I’m sorry I’m so screwed up! I should be able to let go and move on!”

“You will. And I’ll be with you along the way. Promise. You can’t feel guilty for thinking about him.”

“No?”

“No. But not every minute of every day. You’ve got to find some space for me, right?”

“Right.”

“I mean that. It’s okay. I understand. And, I love you. I wish I had met him.”

“You would have liked him.”

“Yeah. But we would have had a problem.”

“What problem?”

“You.”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden 25 September, 2015

 

Final edit: Mrs. Foy’s Koi

28 Jul

Art by Ray Ferrer

Art by Ray Ferrer

Mrs. Foy’s Koi

By L. Stewart Marsden

Mrs. Foy lived in a large Tudor-style brick house which sat on one of the largest lots in our small town. She had been widowed for many years, her husband passing quite suddenly of a heart attack while at work. But Mr. Foy was more than adequately insured, and the business passed to his partner, who ran the firm successfully for years before bowing to the pressure of cheap imports. He closed everything, put hundreds of factory workers on the street, and retired.

Mrs. Foy had assumed her husband’s title and duties as Chairman of the Board, and made out quite well despite the business failure at the end.
She came from money − old money − which was far more important than being from new money, especially among the wealthy in our town. She had no financial concerns at all. At least, that’s what I heard in our kitchen when Mom was on the phone talking to a friend.

“She makes rich seem like poor,” Mom would say.

The Foy’s yard was our playground. It was massive. What wasn’t meticulously manicured and landscaped had been allowed to become a forest of feral oak, elm, dogwood, magnolia and rhododendron. All arose from a thick carpet of ivy. Most of the tree trunks were sheathed in the ivy as well, which climbed nearly to the tops of some of the tallest trees.

This was our South Pacific; where Guadalcanal and Midway Island and the Philippines merged boundaries in the thick greenery. My friends and I spent hundreds of hours playing war − crawling, crashing, dashing and charging through the trees and undergrowth with our plastic rifles, machine guns and pistols blazing away.

In contrast, the preened part of her yard bore edged sidewalks, beds and beds of various flowers and bushes and other plantings along stone walls that bordered the rectangular back yard.

At one end of the rectangle was a cobblestone driveway and matching Tudor garage with three large car bays.

At the other end was a rectangular pool. It wasn’t for swimming. It was only a few feet deep, discovered by Billy when he crashed through the ice one winter. Lily pads covered most of the water surface, and the rough, concrete sides were coated with green slime and algae. On the bottom of the pool were layers of blackened leaves and silt, which made the pond water dark and foreboding. Mrs. Foy never had the pool cleaned.

In the center of the pool was a stone statue of a chubby nude angel attached to its pedestal by one cherub foot. Tiny wings spread from its back — hardly large enough to carry the boy’s weight. During the warmer months, a stream of water arched from the cherub and splashed into the pool.

The pool was home to many live things — peepers, tadpoles, skeeter bugs and mosquitos. And the koi.

I had always thought they were goldfish that had grown enormous because they weren’t kept in a small bowl. Now I know better. I don’t know how many koi were in the pool — there were a lot. They hung suspended a few inches below the water’s surface, barely moving, and looked upward. They were all sorts of colors: orange and white, black and orange, red and electric blues. The colors were splotchy, as though randomly daubed onto the bodies of the fish. Once in a while a koi would roll over at the surface, and sunlight revealed the brilliance of the colors that were otherwise dulled by the murky water.

Whenever I stood a while at the edge of the pool, the koi would slowly group and head my way, as though waiting for something. Waiting and watching, just below the surface. I wondered how I looked to them through the water.

“Are the fish in Mrs. Foy’s pool dangerous?” I asked my mom once.

“I don’t think so,” she said, dropping doughy corn fritter balls into the deep fryer.

“What do you think they eat?”

“I really don’t know. I’m sure Mrs. Foy has special food she feeds them. I’ve heard they can be very expensive — hundreds of dollars.”

“How old do you think they are? They’re so big! I bet they’re really old.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Could we get a pond and some koi?”

“No, Honey. That’s too rich for our blood. Wash your hands for supper.”

I would often think about those big fish in Mrs. Foy’s pool. Every once in a while she or her house maid would catch us hovering around the edge of the pool and shout at us.

“You boys get away from that pool! You’ll fall in and the fish will eat you!”

We’d run and jump the stone wall and disappear into South Pacific.

I’m not sure Mrs. Foy really minded us playing in her yard. Maybe — when she was cooling off on her screened porch and recovering from a hot July scorcher with a tall iced tea with a sprig of mint — maybe she would hear our voices drift up from the thick woods. Maybe a thin smile would spread on her lipsticked mouth and across her powdered cheeks. Maybe she would stare off into the woods to remember some other time and place and life.

§§§

I started feeding the koi. At first I would grab a piece of toast or a biscuit and cram it into my pockets and head out the back door, taking the shortcut through the neighbor’s yard to Mrs. Foy’s. I’d stand at the edge of the pool and wait until the koi gathered, then take the bread out and crumble it, dropping pieces into the water. The bread floated a while before one of the koi, always the one with a bright red splotch on its head, would drift up to the surface and suddenly suck in the bread. The others floated nearby, seeming to defer to him. The red-splotched koi grabbed piece after piece before finally disappearing to the bottom of the pool. Then the others would eat, in no particular order.

The red splotch looked like a drop of blood splatter onto his head. He seemed to be the ringleader, so I named him “Captain Blood.”

Over time I experimented to see what the fish would eat. They liked bread of all sorts. They didn’t like cut-up celery or carrots. They would suck those in and spew them out quickly. Torn up lettuce was fine, though.

One day I decided to see if they would eat from my hand, and lay on my stomach at the edge of the pool with bread crumbs in my hand, which I dipped slightly into the water. Captain Blood had no problem at all. He floated up to my hand, studied the bread, and suddenly sucked it in with a flick of his head. That startled me and tickled. My heart pounded, throbbing in my head from the sheer excitement of it.

The other fish weren’t so adventurous. I had to drop their food into the water for them to warily eat.

I brought other food — meat — especially for Captain Blood. It started with hot dogs. I’d put small pieces into my hand, which I dipped into the water. At first I thought Captain Blood was going to refuse the hot dog. He floated in the water for the longest time near my hand. Then he did something totally unexpected. He circled my hand — wide circles at first. He drew nearer, like a shark, then leapt and grabbed the piece of hot dog! It scared me so much I jerked my arm out of the water and stood up.

Captain Blood was nowhere to be seen. The other fish milled about like herded cows. I could see a thrashing about near the bottom of the pool, which stirred the silt and leaves into a cloudy haze, making it difficult to see anything. I wondered if I had done something wrong. Perhaps the hot dog lodged in Captain Blood’s throat! Perhaps he choked and drowned!

Can a fish drown?

I peered into the water and saw Captain Blood finally rise from the bottom of the pool. He was alive! I hadn’t killed him! He floated up slowly and began to circle in a wide swathe. All the while, he seemed to peer up at me through the water. Watching me. Waiting for me. I pulled off another piece of hot dog and put my hand into the water. This time Captain Blood made just one pass before charging and grabbing the meat. Once again he disappeared into the depths of the pool.

He’s gone to eat it by himself, I thought.

The scene repeated until Captain Blood devoured all the hot dog. None of the other fish showed any interest at all. In fact, the other fish moved away from the area.

Over time I came back with different scraps of meat from the table. I minced chuck roast, fried chicken, ham hocks, bits of steak. Each time Captain Blood feasted. He was insatiable. The other fish ate bread, which the captain now disdained. This continued throughout the summer and into the fall.

By the end of that summer I noticed that Captain Blood was a bit larger than the other koi. Must be the meat, I thought, pleased to be the source of his growth.

When the weather turned cold I quit going to Mrs. Foy’s to feed Captain Blood. School, basketball and Boy Scouts took up all my time. I thought about him often, though.

“What happens to fish in the winter?” I asked my mom when the days grew short and cold temperatures prevailed.

“Not sure. I think they sort of hibernate.”

“What about the fish in Mrs. Foy’s pool?”

“Well, if they’re like frogs or snakes, then their bodies slow down. Like I said, hibernate. They’ve survived many winters, Dear. I wouldn’t worry.”

So I didn’t worry.

When it snowed three Wednesdays in a row and got really cold and school was cancelled, some of the guys and I went to Mrs. Foy’s pool to see what we could. Billy refused to step out onto the ice again, and I didn’t blame him.

The surface of the pond was covered with snow. I went back home and grabbed a broom. We took turns and swept what we could from the thickly iced pool. It was dark underneath. Only the lily pads were visible. Just before we left, I thought I saw something red flash under the ice. Captain Blood.

In the spring the tree peepers began to sing, the dogwoods budded and the popcorn trees exploded with white blossoms. I went back to Mrs. Foy’s pool to check on Captain Blood and the other koi.

The pool was very murky, as though something had stirred the silt and leaves at the bottom continuously. Stare as I might, I could not see any fish. I stood with the spring sun warming my shoulders, my shadow cast across the pool’s surface. In the past, this was enough for the koi to assemble.

I opened my bread bag of crusts and loaf ends and crumbled some bread into the pool. Ripples from the dropped crumbs circled out and widened on the water’s surface.

No response. Where were the koi?

Then something moved down at the bottom of the pool. It was large. A turtle, maybe? I knew snapping turtles ate fish. Maybe one had moved in after the ground thawed. Maybe the turtle had eaten all of the koi in Mrs. Foy’s pool. Maybe all the fish were dead, even Captain Blood. I couldn’t see anything. Thunder rumbled overhead and a light spring rain started to fall. I turned away to go home. At that moment I heard a loud splash in the water, and turned in time to see something very large with a bright red splotch dive to the bottom of the pool.

Captain Blood!

I peered intently into the cloudy water. Something in the pool looked at me from the bottom. I neared the edge and bent over. The water moved as the bottom stirred. Circular. Slowly. Large. Shadowy. My heart beat quickly. My breath became shallow and rapid. The rain increased, and the surface of the pool was perforated with watery bullets.

I turned and left for home, sighing in relief — though I wasn’t sure why. It was as if I had escaped something ominous, something horrific. In the back of my mind I toyed with what it was, but shook the idea off as ridiculous and childish. Still, the shadow in the pool stayed on my mind.

§§§

I had a terrible dream that night.

It was dark, but a full moon was out, and I was in Mrs. Foy’s backyard. Everything was bluish-black in hue. The Tudor house rose gauntly into the half-lit sky like mountains. Its windows were black eyes and the reflected moon their pupils. Ivy hung from the brick walls like grizzled hair.

Ahead of me was the pool, its waters black. The angel statue spouted — not water — but blood from its mouth. The thick red splashed into the pool, shattering the surface. The water in the pool frothed and foamed red.

I walked to the pool’s edge. All about on the grass were splotches of red foam which blew slightly in the wind. The moon reflected in pieces on the stirred water’s surface.

I looked into the pool.

A shadowy figure rose slowly from the pool’s bottom and hovered below the surface of the water. It was large — as large as me. At its top was a bright splotch of red that changed shape as I watched. It throbbed and pulsed with a regular beat. Like a heart. Pa-pump. Pa-pump. Pa-pump.

The figure circled the pool, slowly at first, and then more quickly, more frenzied. The angel statue suddenly vanished, and an eddy formed in the middle of the pool, spinning and sucking. The whirlpool drew me closer and closer to its center, pulling and pulling. Spinning around the edge of the whirlpool the shape swam, its bright red splotch throbbing and pulsing, also pulling me.

And I fell into the water.

§§§

The smell of bacon frying awoke me. My pillow was damp.

I gulped breakfast and stuffed a biscuit and some bacon into my pockets. It was Saturday, and I was off and out of the back door before Mom could catch me and say, “You’ve got chores to do!” She shouted at me, knowing I was gone and well on my way as I cut through the neighbor’s yard to Mrs. Foy’s.

In the early morning the trees dripped rain from the previous evening’s thunderstorm.

I reached the stone wall surrounding Mrs. Foy’s backyard and stopped. An ambulance and two police cars were parked in the drive near the house, their emergency lights flashing bright blues and reds. The housekeeper stood near the garage, weeping into a handkerchief while a policeman questioned her.

I crept closer, trying not to be seen.

On the ground next to the pool an oblong shape was covered with a sheet. The sheet was stained brown-red at one end. Two men dressed in white coveralls wheeled a stretcher across the lawn, leaving tracks in the wet grass. They stopped at the oblong shape. A shoeless foot protruded from under the sheet.

Another policeman talked to a third officer.

“Musta drowned sometime during the night, or maybe yesterday afternoon. It’s hard to tell. Maybe the coroner can tell time of death. But, what the hell chewed her leg like that?”

“Snapping turtle could do that. It’d take a few hours, I think. Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen!”

The local evening news said Mrs. Foy drowned in her pool. Nothing was mentioned about her chewed leg, the missing koi, or the large red-splotched shadowy figure in the pool.

I, too, said nothing.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 28 July, 2015
Note: This is the final edit for Mrs. Foy’s Koi. It will appear in the 2nd edition of Through the Glass Darkly, soon to be available on Amazon.com.