Wednesday, December 23, 2009

From The Desk of The Editor

Dear Reader,
Exciting news! The staff, by now you should get that joke, of this soiled publication has decided that it is in the worst interests of everyone they know to put out this publication in a physical format. What we're talking about here is a book. You'll be able to find it on in the coming months, and some discrete private distribution may happen as well.



Thursday, October 22, 2009


The best Swamp Magnolias in Powesheik County grow along the banks of the Deep River, just north of the town that shares its name. There is a grove, if you can call it that, which is split in half by the river. Their branches reach out to each other, straining to touch. In late spring their flowers fall into the river.

At that time of year a man by the name of Warren Guthrie used to sit on the muddy bank and watches as the petals drift lazily down the small shallow river. It wouldn't be right to describe Warren as a smart or happy man. He spent his life avoiding such things. His youth was wasted smoking marijuana in abandoned barns, and drinking stolen liquor in the darkness of Deep River's only movie theater. It didn't matter what movie or what barn, just as long as the whiskey was strong or the smoke was thick.

When he dropped out of High School he joined the military, and spent three years of the Korean War on a military base in Virginia, smoking dope and drinking beer. He was discharged, dishonorably, and he returned home.

He spent the better part of his life working as the worst mechanic in town. The cars he fixed usually came back months or even weeks later in worse condition. If word had gotten out at how poor of a mechanic he was the good people of Deep River would never have patronized Earl's Garage and Auto-Body Repair. Earl was a shrewd business man though and kept Warren on, he would rotate Warren from customer to customer, never letting him work on the same car twice. Earl explained this to his wife Sylvia saying "That boy doubles my business, it is getting to the point where people around here think their cars just fall apart." It was true.

Warren rarely talked when he smoked or drank, he just sat there with the same blank look on his face, as if he was watching the magnolia flowers drift slowly down Deep River.

When Warren died, of cancer at the age of 78, the county had to come and collect his body. He hadn't married, and there was no next of kin. These were unusual circumstances in Powesheik County, most people there had enough cousins to make dating a treacherous endeavor. It isn't unusual to find couples on their first dates reciting their family trees, looking for the branch that overlaps.

In his will Warren asked to be cremated and to have his ashes spread among the grove of magnolia trees. The county sent Glen Carrol out to search for the grove. It took three weeks of looking up and down both sides of Deep River before Glen realized that Swamp Magnolias don't grow in Poweshiek County, the winter kills them before they have a chance to take root.

So Warren's remains were spread under the branches of a stand of Dogwood trees. Now during the summer months Glen Carrol thinks of Warren Guthrie when he sees the white flowers of Dogwood trees.

We should all be so lucky.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Consequences of Split Pea Soup

In the early afternoon a man in a grey hat sat at a table drinking a glass of iced tea. The beverage was an un-seasonal choice, it was mid-november, and snow was falling gently on the man's grey hat. The staff of the small cafe had abandoned the man to his glass of iced tea an hour ago. He was innocently waiting at his outdoor table for a simple bowl of split pea soup. The cashier told him it would be brought to his table. His request of a table to be placed outside was unusual, but somehow the manager had been convinced that it was the only rational place for this man to sit.

The only thing that was remarkable about the man's attire were the sporadic burn marks that mottled his grey suit and hat. His tie was straight and black, and his shoes were somehow darker than black. The shoes were obviously polished with care, yet their darkness swallowed any light that came into contact them, as if he was standing in two puddles of darkness.

Passers-by chortled and snorted to each other. They laughed at the mans burned, out-dated, clothing. One brave soul asked the man "Where did you get your hat?" and then quickly answering his own question "A fire sale?" It was not a good joke, and the man in grey gave a cold stare that removed any sense of mirth from the passerby. The young man scurried off into the falling snow, giving periodic glances over his shoulder.

When he finished his iced tea, the man in scorched clothes, stood up walked slowly into the cafe, took out a book of matches, and busied himself with the task of setting the building on fire. As the fire took hold, and began to climb the wall the man grabbed the nearest waitress and repeated his request for a bowl of split pea soup. Unable to comply the waitress screamed for her life.

No one died in the fire, but on the other hand the man in the grey suit could not be accounted for. Police sketch artists made attempt after attempt to capture the likeness of the man. Each sketch was a failure, when the witnesses was given the chance to examine the portraits, they invariably said that the sketch looked nothing like the man in the grey suit.

Never make arsonists wait for their soup.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What I Think About When I Hear Glenn Miller

The last time I saw my Mother she was already underground. She hated everyone and hated herself for hating everyone. Towards the end she would write me these letters about how I didn't brush my teeth right, or how I never put the bottle of ketchup back in the fridge. The letters were about the childhood she gave me. I like to think they were her anger at how short that time was. It was only fourteen years before I got a job and started helping to pay the bills.

I hated her too, or I hated what she had become. It is hard to love someone who is filled with bile and rage. None of the nurses in the hospice wanted to treat her, or even get near her bed. She would scream out at them, yell at them for stealing things she never owned, or even wanted. The hospital called me when she bit a nurse who was changing her i.v. bags. My mother was yelling at her because the nurse allegedly stole her water pick. My mother didn't even floss. She had never owned a water pick, let alone an electric toothbrush.

The doctors barely touched her. Towards the end they only graphed her downward spiral. The charts were filled with vitals and statistics, all shrinking and decreasing, as if the woman I knew, the mother I loved had already left and the remains were evaporating. The only evidence was the charts. They wrote everything down on the clipboard that hung from the foot of her bed, and they wrote it in duplicate on the clipboard that hung on her door. Other than that they told me how slowly she was dying every time I asked.

When the hospice called me for the last time, to tell me mother wasn't going to make it through the night, I tried not to go.

Let me explain.

She wasn't always like that. I remember when I was little and she would put her favorite records on, and we would dance together in the living room. We'd flip the coffee table over onto the couch, and then she'd go and choose a Glenn Miller record, and put it on the turntable. She taught me how to swing dance, how to foxtrot and keep a steady jazz square going. She would turn me and spin me, and then we'd slow dance. She'd hold me close like only a mother could.
Sometimes she would cry and tell me she loved me, and that nothing else mattered. At the time it confused me, why was she crying, we were dancing and having fun. As a child I never made the connection between tears and laughter. At the time, I didn't understand that you could recognize how quickly the most beautiful moments in your life flash by, and how even when you are in those moments you can mourn their passing.

Her illness took all of that warmth away. She lost that part of herself that made her care about moments and people in her life. She'd been in the hospital for the better part of the year by the time we moved her to the hospice. She called me names, and told me how disappointed she was in me. She told me I was a mistake, told me that the day I was born was the worst day of her life. How I wasn't worth the nine months of effort, and the eight hours of painful labor.

When the hospice called, I was listening to music alone in my own empty living room. It wasn't Glenn Miller, I don't even remember what it was. I only remember the silence between the notes, and the how wrong it felt for the singer to mourn their unrequited love. The voice on the phone sounded worried and practiced, and finally relieved when I told her I was coming. I wondered how many times a day that person had to make that call, and how many times no one came to watch their next of kin die. I thought about how horrible it would be to die alone knowing that there was someone out there who once loved you, but couldn't bring themselves to hold you at the end.

I made every stop I could. I was hoping that the nurses telling my mother I was coming would be enough, and she could die in peace, knowing that I still loved what was left of her. I was hoping I would come and find her lying on her bed, looking like she was asleep and at peace, and that maybe I could hold her limp figure and cry, and wish away all the years we spent apart.

When I entered her room she was crying weakly in the dark. Every breath was a sob that took all her strength. It took all of her strength to cry. I sat next to her bed and reached out to take her hand, and stroke her hair, but she pulled her hand from mine. She cowered on the other side of the bed. I sat with my hands outstretched for the better part of an hour before she started to struggle to breath. She stopped sobbing and started gurgling and coughing. Five minutes later she was dead. She didn't get any last words. There were no whispered promises of love, not even any last promises of bile. My mother simply died, her face still wet with tears.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Adam's Merciful Divorce

Adam arranged for the marriage to last only a short while. Now, let us not judge him. Indeed when he took his vows he meant every last one of them. There was part of him though that itched and chafed as he declared his love for Julia. He couldn't stand to look in her eyes when he said his vows. Everyone took this to mean that he was trying not to cry, and they thought he was a good lad for doing so, but Adam, and maybe the minister, and improbably Julia's kid sister Tiffany knew. They knew that he couldn't hold her gaze, because he was afraid she would see into him. He was afraid that she would see into that part of him that wanted to run wild in the streets and burn down civilization and howl at the moon as he tore meat from a bone. He was afraid of all of these things in himself and so he couldn't let her see.

It really was better the way things happened. Imagine if she loved a man who raped and pillaged along the coastline? Of course he had to sleep with his secretary.

He couldn't even explain it to her. Not even when the took him away for bombing the marinas, and laughing as he burned down the Arby's. He couldn't explain it to her, if he did then maybe she would forgive him, and then maybe his illness would spread to her.

No it was much better the way he ended things, on top of his secretary on the dining room table, rattling the china hutch.

Monday, September 14, 2009

After The Storm Breaks Pt. 1

In the east thunderheads were gathering, giant black and grey anvils, stacking up on one another. In the west the sun was setting slowly. Bantam cocks fought in the yard as my father and I filled the barn with bale upon bale of hay. With each toss and turn, the stacks grew higher and higher. Finally after hours of stooping and reaching and grabbing and tossing- we were done. Just as we closed the barn doors a crash of lightning announced the arrival of the storm.

My father and I ran, almost skipping, through the rain, thrilling in the wild downpour of the sudden storm. That was the last moment I want to remember. We stopped short of the porch when we saw the figure of my mother crying by the back step. Around her were all the dishes, every last dish in the house, lying broken and shattered in a semi-circle around her. At her feet lay the two Bantam cocks that fought in the yard. She had wrung their necks, and the blood that dripped from their beaks was on her hands.

Not knowing what to do I rushed inside. The kitchen was empty. There was nothing in the cupboards, in the pantry or on the counter tops. When I got to the dining room I found out where everything was. The kitchen knives were stabbed into the table and the seats of chairs. Everything had been thrown or stabbed, or stabbed and thrown. I had never seen anything like it. I almost laughed at the clever way my mother's madness arranged the knives, smallest to largest, except one knife was missing, there in the middle, taken away, like a man with a broken grin.

Things had never been this bad before. Even when my mother had her "that-sort-of-day" days, even when her medication ran out because she had been taking them and throwing them down the sink. I ran upstairs to the office to the phone to call someone, but when I got there I didn't know who to call. I thought about calling my siblings, maybe my older brother Ted who still lived in the area, only a twenty minute drive away, or maybe my sister Susan, she was down in Moulton though, a whole hour to the south. I sat there paralyzed by the phone, I knew that I needed to call someone, because my father was down there dealing with my mother, who would probably try to hurt him or me, or both, like she did last summer when she pushed my cousin James to the floor and bit him on the shoulder. But she'd been taking her medication and we thought, we thought things were getting better.

I ran my hand over the phone, I still didn't know who to call when I heard my father yell from down stairs. He yelled in pain. This was the man I saw lose a finger without flinching, he didn't bat an eye when the tractor engine sheared off his right ring finger. He simply grabbed a kitchen towel, wrapped it around his hand, and walked to the car. My father calmly drove to the hospital with his hand above his head. So when I heard him cry out in pain, I knew my mother had stabbed him. I knew she had done this because last winter we took her to the hospital and as the orderlies took her away she whispered in my ear "I'm going to get you for this you little shit, I can't believe you'd betray your own mother for Christ's sake." and then no longer in a whisper she yelled "I'm going to get you all, oh yes, you'll all pay, they won't get me." When the double doors slammed shut we could hear her yelling down the hall.

I was finally happy and free for about three months. Father and I worked the farm, and we even allowed ourselves to laugh sometimes. We didn't have to force pills down my mother's throat, we didn't have to wake up at three in the morning and drive along country roads to go find her.
And I didn't have to run to the phone to go call someone.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Flax Seed Oil, Eggs, Avocados, Radishes

The last note she left me, the very last crumb of us, read like this: Flax Seed Oil, Eggs, Avocados, Radishes, and at the end "harold I'm leaving. Everything"

I didn't understand it at first.
In fact I still don't.

Who ends a twelve year relationship at the bottom of a grocery list?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sunil the Thief

Somewhere in the deep jungles of southern Sri Lanka is Sunil. He is known as the Bachelor, also as Sunil the Thief, and Sunil the Handsome, and of course Sunil Who Returns. He is getting older now. His long white hair clings stubbornly to his scalp. It is not the thick perfection it once was, and yet, his mustache still shows the virility of his youth, as it ever will. What maiden can resist the temptations of Blue-Skinned Sunil's Mustache?

They say that on long cool nights you can see him running, slightly out of breath. With the wind at his back he reaches speeds, well not nearly the speeds he used to reach, but still speeds of valor. They say that you can see him leap cliffs, and climb up the tallest trees. Some sages whisper that in his youth Sunil could run along across the tops of branches, almost as a bird in flight.

Sages also tell of the tragedies left in Sunil's wake, of the ruined women, the absent mothers and the hordes of his many scorned fiancees that can be seen chasing him through the dark and moistened trees. The jungles thick vines hampering their every step, as they strain to catch their hearts prize. Each of these poor wretches was left at the altar, as a profane sacrifice to the gods, or to the men whose hearts they broke in turn.

Whatever the reason, the chase goes on, and it will continue until Sunil climbs up into a white-flowering tree. He will release the women from the bonds of love by laying down his life to the serpent he will find there, but it will not last. From the serpents egg will spring a new Sunil, who will run across the land and unknowingly draw women from their lovers arms even as he flees their caresses.

This is what will happen, it is written in neat white scripts running up and down Sunil's deep blue arms. On his back are the curses of Lakshmi, who loved Sunil from the moment she looked down from her chariot, which is drawn by nine white and black swans.

A Special: Iceberg Lettuce

The staff of the Particular made his way over to the 6 Sentences ( blog the other day, and the staff decided, on a whim, to submit six sentences to their site. On the very likely chance that they wouldn't approve, the editor-in-chief (god rest his blackened soul) decided to publish those six sentences here. The title of the piece is "Iceberg Lettuce." Without much further commotion, here it is:

Iceberg Lettuce
"On first dates, Africa doesn't count", she told me this when I brought up the subject of places we'd each like to see. I thought about answering the question with a very smooth, but ultimately futile: "Your apartment." She answered first though and she said the south pole. She carried on and on about how cute penguins were, or rather, are. I couldn't listen anymore, not with my childhood flashing before my eyes, I got up and left. Penguins killed my father.

Summer's Fat Dripping Down Our Chins

Here we are in the thick of July. Deep in the heart of this hazy, thrice-hexed season. We're sitting on the porch, breathing heavily in the descending sunlight. Our movements are slow and thin, as if our limbs were too large and too porcine to penetrate the calm and ease of this moment. This is the moment when I learned about how I really felt about you, myself, and every item in my life.

It isn't so much indifference as another greater sort of benevolent apathy. Here on the porch, safe within its halcyonic columns, I can clearly see the sun dipping below the horizon. Above us, high above the purpling clouds, come out the fireflies, and we are lost. For our gaze drifts between them and the curling smoke that comes in waltzes from our lips. One, two, three, one, two, three, and again again the waltz- breathe breathe smoke, breathe breathe smoke. Rising from the ashes of our cigarettes are moths that flutter in the growing moonlight. They fly west towards the sky's lowering flame, like humans towards delusions.

We, all of us, all that matter for the moment, are here, gathered on the porch. We watch the towns around us, and we watch the flickering light from the cities on the hill. What more can one ask than this, this twilight paradise? Truly on our porched thrones we are kings and queens, emperors and empresses, coronated with soft fluttering breezes that chill our sweat dripping bodies. We sit in the blessedly growing darkness as the fat of summer drips down our chins.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jonah and a Whale

"Like the guy who got swallowed by a whale, right?" It happens every time I introduce myself to people. Even here, with this guy holding a gun to my head, all he or I can think about is the story of some guy who got swallowed by a whale. Me, I'm looking at the whale tattooed on the arm that's pointing a gun at me. My parents tell me that they named me after a distant relative of ours who fought in the civil war. Why they named me after someone who's life never overlapped with theirs, I don't know, but it happened, and I wish it hadn't. Damn whale follows me everywhere.

I can't go anywhere without the whale. In the grocery store, "Hey Jonah, have I got a whale of deal for you!" The whale is everywhere. For christmas my perpetually dying great-aunt Esthelle, always makes me a sweater with a whale on it. Each year she makes me put it on, then we take a picture of us together. I have to wear the damn itchy sweaters all day. In our family photo albums you can see me growing up, foot by foot, with the whale right on top of me.

I used to wish it would happen though. I wished a whale from the Lord would come, come and swallow me and take me away from here. This little town, it needs to be swallowed by something, or at least something other than the decay that is swallowing it now. Although I suppose decay is a sort of whale. Yeah I used to wish something big would happen, that is before this happened.

After he asked if I'd ever been swallowed by a fish, stupid question, the man with the gun came over the counter. I had to stop him, not because he was robbing our store, and not because he had already shot someone, but because of the whale.

On his arm I could see his tattoos. There, right there, on his left arm was a big white whale grinning at me. When he pointed the gun at me, all I could do was look at that whale on his arm. I don't remember much more than him pointing the gun at me, and me looking at the whale. I've been told I screamed something and ran at him, and I still want to ask everyone who was there what I said, but I know they couldn't tell me. I know all they heard was the sound of gunfire, and then the sound of a body crumpling to the floor, my body.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Postcard To The Atlantic

Dear "Howard",

Firstly, I'm not even sure who you are. Let alone how you might know me. Also my cat died when I was in high school. Were you a neighbor of my parents, or a friend of theirs? If you did really kill my cat, why did it take you so long to tell me?

Anyway, it was nice to hear from you. I agree with you on the whole zeppelin front, such a shame. I've always wanted to fly in one. I know one of my great-grandparents took a ride in one. Of course that was before I was born, but I like to imagine that some part of me, some part of their genetics, has flown in a zeppelin.

Can you even send a postcard to a ship? I guess they have mail-planes, or telegraphs. Maybe they'll scan this and you'll get a printed copy. I hope you get to see the picture of Mt. Rushmore on the back of this. I drew a mustache on George Washington, and I gave Abraham Lincoln lipstick.


Mary Anne

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Glass Night

A man sat in a worn out rowboat, on a small pond without a name. It was midsummer, and the wind was dying in the pine trees that surrounded the pond. He had inherited the pond and fishing rod from his father, along with all the old farmer's debt.

Somewhere in the distance he could hear the rumble of a large truck, hauling away his father's tractor. The tractor would hold off the bank for a month, maybe two, but that didn't matter to the man in the boat, not right now anyway. Even the pale line on his finger, where until very recently he wore a wedding ring, didn't matter. What mattered at this moment was the subtle movement of his hands, pulling gently on his rod's line. Twenty feet in front of him a fly he'd tied himself danced magically along the water's surface. It bobbed and hopped across the still surface of the water.

Nights like this are rare. To himself, below his conscious the man in the boat knows these nights as glass nights. They are nights when the wind dies, and the air is cool. The surface of the water is like a mirror reflecting the failing twilight. Insects rise from the water, and light from the setting sun reflects off of their wings. A subtle show of lights, small crystals flashing across the surface of the still water.

The man in the boat let his hands go still. He laid his rod down in the boat. These things the fish, the rod and the boat were the excuse he used to come here on this night. Nothing mattered but the stillness of the water. The trees let their whispers fall silent. It seemed as if the birds in the trees sensed the sanctity of the moment, and they stopped their common chatter.

To the man in the boat the momentary silence stretched joyously on for hours. He sat there in the boat in a state of earthly nirvana. He did not exist, all that existed was the still and quiet of the water. There were no troubles, no money or love, only the constant quiet of the still water.

In the distance a car's horn sounded, and the world started turning again. The wind picked up, the trees brushed their limbs against one another. Birds started a chorus, and the sun moved slowly towards the earth.

The man rowed to shore, back to money and love and movement. He rowed back to all of the things that make nights like this possible, these glass nights.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Glorious Descent of Lockjaw Jones

Lockjaw Jones, nobody remembers him anymore, except me. What good has he done me? Here I am pushing a broom around this stinking joint because of him. Everyone else forgot about him and moved on with their lives, they got better jobs, faster cars and bigger houses. Me, I'm stuck here, stuck in this old arena, nobody even comes here for the fights anymore. But it doesn't really matter, I've only got a couple of years left in me. 

The owner of the arena organizes a local boxing circuit here. I get to watch the fights for free, well I have to watch the fights. I clean up the teeth, I mop the blood sweat and piss up from the ring. Yeah that's one thing they don't tell you, sometimes you piss yourself when you get knocked out, sometimes you shit yourself too. The kids who come in here these days, so full of hope. You can see it in their eyes, they aren't here to fight, they're here to put bread on the table. These kids will never make it past this old broken down ring. They're gonna spend their weekends here fighting for scraps until they can't lift a glove anymore and they have trouble remembering whether milk goes in the fridge or the dishwasher. 

Don't get me wrong. You still get into it. You attach yourself to one color of shorts and yell at the guy standing in them to beat the crap out of the other. You yell at him, because you can't do it yourself. It doesn't matter that the kid in the other corner can't pay his medical bills from the last fight, you still yell for your guy to kill him, because you want to be in there taking his punches and hitting back harder, showing the world that you can still do it. 

That's the way Lockjaw was, right up until the end when he fought "Tricky" Ricky Robinson. God, I still remember that fight. I can't go day without thinking about it. I still remember the camera flashes made the fighters look like statues, the way the light froze them in a pose and your eyes wouldn't let anything go until they took everything in. I remember the way the referee danced around the fighters like a marionette. 

Lockjaw tried to go down in the eighth, like he was told to. "Tricky" Ricky wasn't in on it, but Lockjaw thought he was. So when that last blow came, the one after he had started falling, well Lockjaw set his jaw tight. He got back up and spent the next eight minutes giving "Tricky" Ricky a lifetime of lost car keys and half-finished sentences. 

The men in suits who had tried to fix the match watched in horror as Lockjaw Jones let the referee lift his glove over his head. They sent a man with a bat to the locker room. What happened there is something I can't tell you, I wasn't there, but I heard Lockjaw describe how much he screamed before he passed out. Lockjaw's legs were broken, the doctors couldn't set the fractures right. 

A boxer's nothing without his legs. Any damn fool can throw a punch, but a boxer's gotta move out of the way of those punches. He's gotta be able to shift his weight, lean in for the strike and lean back for the counterstrike. He's gotta absorb the blow, or twist away from the punch. Everything comes up through the legs, gains power in the hips and stomach, and finally out through the arms. A good punch comes from the earth. If you can ground a punch right you've got the whole damned world behind your fist, and there ain't nobody who can take a hit from the planet. 

Lockjaw had a limp for the rest of his life. Maybe it was out of pity, or vengeance, but the men who broke his legs got him a job working for them. You can still see Lockjaw somedays hanging around the ring, watching the young kids fight, leaning on his broom. 

A Postcard From The Atlantic

Dear Mary Anne, 

The boat left the dock a couple minutes late. Crossing the ocean this way gave me a lot of time to think. Even small delays, like the porter dropping my luggage from the cart add up. Across the ocean these small delays build up like a cresting wave, until it takes us four extra days to make port. 

I don't know why we don't have zeppelins. Airplanes are terrible. You don't have enough time to be comfortable, and the airlines make sure of that. If we still had zeppelins I think air travel would be cheaper. People would spend another couple days on board the zeppelin, while airplanes would only get used by businessmen and for freight purposes. 

But things happen, we don't have zeppelins anymore, also I'm afraid I killed your cat. 

Best Regards, 


Monday, May 25, 2009

A Request To The Readers from The Editor-in-Chief

Dear Readers, 
The Staff of the Particular has decided to send a story up the river to another, more illustrious publication. However, we're flummoxed as to which story to send. This is where you come in, we'd like to hear from you. What is your favorite story we've put out so far? Why? 

Please reply with a comment on this post. Our staff is standing by and we're anxious to read your thoughts and opinions. 

The winning story will be submitted to, and probably rejected by, literary magazines all across the country. 

The Staff of the Gin Mill. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

That Thanksgiving The Oldest Man in the World Had Us All Over For Dinner.

When those brown envelopes came in the mail it was a surprise to everyone. A lot of people thought it was a clever advertisement, but when they all called their relatives to prepare for thanksgiving, well the only thing anyone could talk about was the strange letter handwritten on a piece of legal paper. 

Everyone got a letter. Expecting mothers got two or more depending on how many they were expecting. In a couple of cases the mother didn't know how many children were growing in her, but in nine months the number of letters proved accurate. 

The letters were all politely addressed to whatever name we each preferred. The return address read simply Great-Grandpa. A lot of people, I'm told, opened their letters wondering why their great-grandfather had written them a letter, seeing as they hadn't spoken since their eighth birthday. 

The letters all had the same text too. Each one invited the addressed to join the mysterious sender for a holiday dinner. Eventually our Great-Grandpa called a press conference. He explained that he wasn't really our Great-Grandpa, there were a lot more greats. A lot of people didn't believe him when he said he was the founder of the human race, and a lot of people pointed at the bible and their old pictures of Adam from the fifties. "But he's not white!" they'd say. Great-Grandad would just chuckle and say "who knows what color I am, if you spent as much time in the sun as I have you'd be tan too." Eventually some team of scientists proved Great-Grandad right, everyone on the whole planet was related to him. 

Our Great-Granpappy just got lonely, he'd been in a nursing home for thirty or so odd years and no one had visited him. So he had decided to invite us all to dinner. Every last one of us.

Of course, not everyone made it, and there wasn't enough room for everybody. Instead of cramming into some building we decided to set up tables along the highways. Everyone brought more food than they could eat, and we all ate more than we thought we could. As I asked a homeless man to pass the plate of dinner rolls I realized that I passed him everyday on my way to work. Then the thought struck me at how ridiculous it was that I never gave him a dollar. We all ate together, everyone, and then when we were all too full to eat anymore we went and shook hands with our great grandfather. He was an old black man with a big white beard. 

A lot of people asked him why it took him so long to get everyone back together. He would answer shyly "You know how it is... trying to get everyone together... big families just have troubles like that sometimes. 'Course I would have wrote to you all sooner if you all hadn't been so damn angry at each other."

After dinner everyone went home and for a couple of months the whole country was happy. People hugged each other when they got off the subway. Airports were jam packed with people welcoming and hugging strangers. It was great: people didn't rob or kill each other, nobody got too drunk or took too many drugs. Everyone just wanted to be invited to next years Thanksgiving. 

But then Christmas came and when everyone didn't get together we were all pretty disappointed. Then Valentines Day rolled past, and everyone started to forget the reason why they didn't cut in line anymore or cheat on their taxes. Soon everything was back to the way it was, and nobody talked about who they saw at Thanksgiving. Like the old man said "some families just have their problems, especially big families... but still its family." 

I waited all year long for that envelope, me and the homeless guy who passed the rolls, we waited in the worn down benches at the post office. To pass the time we told each other old family stories. We waited another year, but those brown envelopes never came. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Part of Me Will Float Forever At The Bottom of the Ocean

When that man from Denmark approached me, well it didn't make any sense. Why would I lock myself in a steel tube at the bottom of the ocean? The bigger question really was why I would lock myself in down there with five thousand other people. I imagined it after a couple of days, our bodies coming free from the restraints, bumping into each other in suspended animation. 

But then, I thought about it. I thought about how really I'm locked in a steel tube anyway, only the sun shines on me and I don't feel weightless. I imagined how great it would feel to have even a part of me, just a single part of me floating down there with everyone. We'd all be free from worry, and we would drift endlessly through the currents. 

When the time came I paid that man from Denmark, and he put me, well part of me, just some hair and blood, in that steel canister. Then the man from Denmark took a boat to the middle of the ocean and threw me and everyone else in the cylinder overboard. My friends and family tell me it is a sham, they ask me how I could pay a hundred dollars to have some of my hair put at the bottom of the ocean. 

I don't care what they say. They will never understand how I can still feel that little part of me: down there at the bottom of the ocean I am drifting endlessly through the currents, free from myself and everyone else. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Everything We Lost in the Fire

Twenty three napkins and fifteen napkin rings, twelve place settings, and everything else in the buffet. The insurance company still wants to know how much we lost, and I can't tell them everything. There are some things still smoldering in there. Underneath the ruin of our lives, burning in the wreckage of the cellar, there are still some embers glowing. 

I know you want me come to the store with you, so we can buy all those things that made up our home. You should know we lost more than things. When the fire came through the walls, you didn't even turn to watch me get trapped beneath the ceiling. From inside I heard you screaming, somehow over the roaring flames I heard you yelling for me. 

I saw the panic in the fireman's eyes when he cleared the rubble off my body. I watched his face as he picked me up, as gently as he could. Both he and I were afraid that I might turn to dust and ash if he held on too hard. All the while the world went blank and there was only me breathing in the smoke and your voice screaming in my ear. For some reason I always thought you would turn back and look for me as we ran out of a burning house. Instead you ran on ahead without me. 

We lost everything in that fire. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Birds in the Darkness

In her sleep Aderyn could hear the birds chirping outside her window. Her dreams were filled with the echoes of birds chirping and singing back and forth to one another. Of course, this made her hours of rest much less restful than they should have been. How can a body perform the necessary functions of sleep with a constant chorus of songbirds outside the window?  Aderyn's days were long hours spent aching for the rest of sleep, knowing that it would find her and leave her unsatisfied, like so many lovers. 

In the daylight hours Aderyn had the habit of singing. She sang songs with out words, sometimes without melodies, and more often than not songs without repetition. She would sing fluidly from one song to the next, never knowing when or where the music came from. 

When her therapist, who happened to be an avid amateur ornithologist, heard her singing one day he instantly recognized the song of the common Bewick's Wren. He then asked her a series of thinly veiled questions about the fauna and insect activity surrounding her house. After responding to the question "What mood do the azaleas, that is if you have azaleas, put you in, in the morning?" she answered "sleepy." At this moment, Aderyn realized that her therapist was an idiot. Despite her immediate disappointment in his skills, the fact remained that he had identified the, until then, unknown source of her problem. 

She hoped with the birds gone that lethargy and crankiness would leave her, and she could continue on as she had before, blissful and rested. An exterminator was called. It is surprising the sort of things people will do for money. The morally flexible exterminator proceeded to send a cloud of poison into the nests and branches of the trees outside Aderyn's window. 

Her nights were silent. Her days too fell silent. She found that instead of brighter days and darker nights her future consisted of grayer, duller, days, and an endless series of forgotten dreams. She sang no songs and ached to be tired again. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

You were right, it is good to just sit down.

Staring up at the clouds we could smell the grass growing around us. We could smell that sharp silica, and the long ages the grass had grown on that hillside. Somewhere across the field a pine tree was growing. In the air between us and the tree, riding on the gentle currents of wind, was a saffron sea of pollen. When the wind picked up it looked liked the tree was evaporating into the blue sky above. 

We didn't talk about anything for a long time. Words came out, there were topics and sentences, but we might as well have been quiet. Eventually we were. We fell silent, staring up at the clouds. I knew you were trying to figure out roles for the clouds to fill. You're always finding, or trying to find, patterns in things. Remember that time you went through Jean Dutourd's The Horrors of Love? You circled every first letter of a page and told me it meant something. In the end you couldn't find an anagram for anything meaningful, but that didn't stop you believing.

In the silence of the clouds we didn't need to care about our lives. We didn't need to care about the war, or your father's drinking. I didn't feel those uncomfortable desires to move closer to you, to run my hands through your hair, and try to kiss you on the cheek, and then maybe the lips. All the problems of the world melted away into the blue sky above. The gun felt lighter in my hand than it ever had. There was no meaning beyond the moment. There was nothing to attach to the memory except the memory itself.

When I look back on it now, sitting in my prison cell, I wonder where you've gone. To pass the long endless nights I remember that day in the field. I stare up into the blue sky of my memory and everything falls away, up past the clouds. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fires of Synchronicity

Ten years ago I swallowed a handful of popcorn. After a half hour I vomited, what came up was not popcorn but thirty-two pernicious violet butterflies. I haven't understood that moment until now. At the same time I vomited the butterflies a mine shaft collapsed in Virginia. No one was in the mine, but two types of rare flower went extinct. 

When she walked in the room, somewhere in africa a baboon began mating. My memory is more beautiful than the moment itself, even as I look at it now, I still prefer to remember the way her hair fluttered around her shoulders in the afternoon light. I know that seems disconnected, but looking back now, events seem to have a certain glow about them when they go together. When you watch the earth spin from my view you can see these fires light up the darkness of chaos. A statue topples and an infant nurses, and the universe glows brighter. 

Every time I sneeze, I notice that a bus stops in Chicago. I've never been to Chicago, and I don't know if I could go in the spring. Traffic would become tragically backed up. I've also noticed that right before I sneeze a man in Hong Kong usually breathes in. 

Last year, before this all happened, I would have told you that the world has rules and laws. Everything in nature works one way, because that's the way it works. I'm not so sure any more, being able to see all of time, I'm not so sure that gravity isn't just an illusion caused by the profusion of the color red in crayons. 

Very recently I've started questioning a lot of things. As you can tell I have no more faith in the red giant gravity. It is a pretty thought to think that it can escape us at any time. On some rainy days, I like to think that when we push down hard enough we hurt the earth's feelings and it runs away from us for a second. But because we are her favorite children, she cannot stay mad at us and rushes back to hug us. 

Everything is different now. It has become hard to think straight through things. Someday I hope time will go back to the start of things, or before I could see everything. If I could jump into the burning brilliance of every moment, I would, but now I'm stuck floating through time and space watching the fires burn brighter and brighter. 

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Death of St. Bartholemew the Merciful

He was found in a small church near Boleradice, in the country we now call the Czech Republic . His body was laid out on the altar, as if in his dying moments the young priest had offered his body to God. Maybe it was out of fear that they were wrong, or simple superstition, but the enemy never touched his corpse. They left him to die the painful death he had chosen for himself. On his lips was a smile, and his eyes stared coldly at the remains of the ceiling. 

As the townspeople fled for their lives, the young priest had fired thirty-two bullets at the advancing soldiers. With each shot he recited a short prayer. In the end the young priest killed thirty-two of the enemy's men before a bullet found its way to the Eucharist in his stomach. Each man the priest shot died with a smile on his lips, perhaps with the knowledge that they would not have to kill anymore.

The first miracle of St. Bartholemew occurred when the bullet penetrated his stomach. The desperate men that advanced upon his dying body found that what poured from his wound was not blood, but wine. They found him laying on the altar, with his arms spread wide. His white robes were stained red with wine. 

The second miracle occurred in a small cafe on the south side of Berlin, when a survivor of the conflict found St. Bartholemew's head floating in his soup bowl. Of course the size of the soup bowl was much too small for the head to float, but there it was floating all the same. The head spoke to the former sergeant, but no one around could hear the words that made the guilty man begin to weep. 

The third miracle the saint performed was when he delivered a small german child to her grandfather. The girl had been missing for three days, there was no explanation for her disappearance. One minute she had been clutching her grandfather's hand, and the next thing he knew her clothes lay empty on the train station's platform. The little girl was returned to her grandfather in perfect health. She appeared in his attic wearing blood stained and bullet ridden clothes. There was the faint smell of wine around her.

The old man explained to his granddaughter that he loved her very much, he then returned her to her mother. After a meeting with his lawyer, he packed a small suitcase and made arrangements to travel to Boleradice. He was found stretched out on the altar of a ruined church, smiling. Around the body there was the smell of wine. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The World is Filled With Glittering Beetles

To a mind blinded by the bleak promises of science: we inhabit a realm of cold chance and bounded, explainable, probability. Each miracle of existence has behind it laws and rules correcting its presence in the world. Even the tiniest particles must adhere to strict traditions regarding their movements. To such a mind the following events will no doubt make a certain sort of sense, but such comprehension is false. There is a deeper layer of meaning that I myself have yet to find. 

Recently I received a letter. It was from an old friend who I hadn't seen or heard from in a long while. The friend was writing from a hotel in Avignon. On the envelope there was a drawing of a Golden Scarab. The drawing was clearly illustrated by a talented and loving hand. One could  easily note the care with which each line was drafted. 

The next morning, on my walk to work, I passed by seven posters advertising a particular brand of pipe tobacco. I don't smoke a pipe anymore, I haven't since the war. The central design of the posters was exactly similar to that of the Golden Scarab on the envelope. In great haste I contacted the friend who had written the letter. He denied any knowledge of the brand of pipe tobacco, or indeed performing any design work for any corporation. 

Then in my office, as I was interviewing a patient who had just confessed to having dreams about a Golden Scarab, I heard a noise tapping on my window. When I opened the window a beetle flew in. I grabbed it from the air, and noting the color I pocketed it. I calmed my patient, and returned to our therapy session. For the next few hours, as my patient complained about their parents and upbringing, I would pretend to check my pocket watch. Secretly I was examining the beetle. 

After the appointment I ventured over to the city university and presented the beetle to an entomologist. Professor Stapleton, although normally reserving himself for the study and collection of butterflies, confirmed my suspicions. The beetle was a member of the scarabaeidae family. Indeed the color of the beetle's shell was a bright gold that seemed to glow regardless of the lighting.

Several days later I was called into my study by my maid. She had just finished dusting the mantle above the fireplace when she noticed a glowing line forming on the paving stones before the fireplace. By the time I entered the room I found, burned into solid stone, a perfect representation of a golden scarab. In fact the light given off by the glowing stones distinctly matched the color of the beetle I had brought to the Professor. 

The following evening, as I walked home from work I noticed that every third woman seemed to be wearing a golden scarab broach. Aside from the broach, I could not sense any other similarity of dress in any of the women I encountered. I interviewed several women as to the origin of their broaches. No two gave the same answer. It seems that craftsmen from multiple points in history, and geography, decided to craft identical broaches resembling golden scarabs. 

How strange is it that our lives are full of unavoidable details. One man may find that doors seem to close in front of him. Another may open fortune cookies only to find the same fortune, reprinted time and time again. For myself, I have decided that the beetles are as unavoidable as the sun above us and the air around us. I can no more remove the golden scarabs from my presence than I could pull the moon down from the autumn sky. Instead I have decided to catalogue each incident. Perhaps some sort of satisfaction may be gained from this endeavor, perhaps not. Regardless, my world is filled with glittering beetles. 

Monday, April 27, 2009

When Baron La Croix Comes Calling, Open a Bottle of Wine

What you won't get for a while now, what neither you nor I will understand until it is our time to understand, is why Baron La Croix laughs when he comes to visit. Perhaps you've met the Baron in passing, seen him walk into your neighbors house, or even watched him sitting across from you on the bus. I'm certain I've shook his hand in the cemetary after a funeral, and I think he's punched my ticket on the train.

Last Saturday I was having coffee with a friend. We had just finished talking about all of the insincere details of our lives when I heard the Baron start laughing. He's got a very distinctive laugh that never sounds the same any time you hear it, but you always know its his. When I turned to see the source of the laughter I saw someone choking on their bread. My friend ran over and administered the Heimlich Manuever. When it was clear that everything was ok the cafe's patrons clapped and shook my friends hand, but behind all the noise, echoing off the buildings, I could hear the Baron laughing.

I've been told that, until he explains it to you, you'll think the Baron has a cruel sense of humor, but once you get the joke, well you might as well follow him out the door into the night because nothing else is funny anymore. That's why I like to be prepared. I know the Baron likes wine, an old Mamba told me once. So, I've started buying wine every week. I'm not sure what type the Baron prefers, but I know he's well versed in every style.

I know he's coming to visit me, but I don't know when. So I'm going to settle into things, keep buying wine. When the Baron comes dressed in his black tuxedo I'll ask him to sit down and tell me a joke... after we drink some wine.

A Conversation Between Friends

"As surely as my name is Al Jolsen, you are a crocodile." Said the zebra to the waiting predator.
The crocodile gazed up at the zebra and wondered if it was worth it. He knew that right now the zebra didn't know for certain that he was a crocodile, also there was no way that zebra could be Al Jolsen.

"Your half right" said the crocodile as he jumped up and bit the zebra in the neck.
Blood mixed gently with the murky, muddy, waters of the Serengeti watering hole.

Later a human drove by and shot the crocodile.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Tallymaker

Several decades ago a woman was born in Brooklyn. At the instant of her birth she had a sort of consciousness that is conventionally given only to philosophers and the French. She realized that her life was fleeing before her, and even as her heart beat she was dying from the effects of time.

In an effort to stop this, or perhaps to celebrate it, she began counting. It is not known how she came to possess knowledge of numbers at such an early age. Those who knew her, and knew of her obsession, would claim that it was simply an innate skill, or perhaps she invented her own numbering system that simply fell into accord with the generally accepted system of numbering the rest of us use.

As she aged she grew into a normal and beloved person. She married, birthed children, and even took care of a dog for many years. Aside from her obsession with counting each infinitesimally small moment of her life it could be said that she lived a rather mundane existence. As a result of her counting she could perfectly remember every moment of her life, even her dreams. If you asked her she could tell you the angle of the sun as her parents wished her a happy first birthday.

When she died the powers that be decided she had no use for an afterlife because she had already attached herself perfectly to each moment of her life. Her soul was allowed to rest until Time was instructed to flow backwards once again.

Her reverse life was, and is, fraught with despair as she was forced to perfectly divorce herself from her existence. In this way she spends eternity in perfect despair and perfect joy, the paragon of living.

I'll Eat the Core of the Earth

I made a promise to my mother. I would always be a good boy. She laughed and told me that sometimes you can't avoid it. I've always tried but sometimes I get away from myself.

When I drive the hearse I feel the bodies in the back pulling me into strange parking lots. Their fervent demands cause me to deviate from the route as we stop in all the places their foolish dead minds try to remember. I don't know why people don't cremate their loved ones. It really seems to be the most economical choice. When I die I'm going to leave instructions to my few remaining friends to have me cremated.

I don't want to leave anything behind. I don't want anyone to look at my body and wonder what might have happened if I had lived longer. I just want to accept what will happen, and I want everyone to accept what -by the time I die- has happened.

If you want to spread my ashes fine. I'll make do with the wind. I'd prefer it if you buried me though, because my carbon has always wanted to be as hard and unyielding as a diamond. I'm pretty sure my molecules can handle the heat and pressure of the earth, we've dealt fairly well with life so far. Surely one million degrees of heat and unknowable amounts of pressure can't be much harder. When I get down to the center I'm going to eat the core of the earth, then it will be a part of me, and I'll look up to the surface and watch life spin around me.

Twenty Thousand

Twenty thousand trumpets sounded, and in the background you could hear the syncopated marching steps of the infantry. As they passed us by we told each other that some day we would be wearing their bright uniforms, with the pressed creases and impressive badges. My father gave me his old war helmet and I laughed as it fell over my eyes.

Twenty thousand years from now they'll find our bones, fossilized in the ground, right next to the petroleum. A man in green pants will fill his automobile with the remains of our families and friends. You and I will dance the slow waltz of the earth. Our coffins will decay, but we'll still find each other beneath the soil.

Twenty thousand seconds have passed since I held you last, and the time drips slowly by. You might wonder at my famous impatience. I will never be satisfied. I am a man on the edge of reason, even at my most reasonable moments. You can calmly talk to me and stroke my hair all you want, but I will remain hot-headed and romantic, just like the stag that charges into the headlights of trucks on the highway. I will leave myself ruined and wasted on the side of the road.

Twenty thousand is an odd number to choose for your destiny, but an old gypsy whispered it to me in a tent at the state fair. In the darkness of that August afternoon I believed everything she had to say. The next week I watched in wonder as her predictions came true, one by one, and now I have no doubts about the future.

Twenty thousand, twenty thousand, twenty thousand, twenty thousand. I look into the Aleph, and watch my obsession with the Zahir, but everything blends together. I feel the universe pull me into a wider reality twenty thousand times, and everything spirals outward towards the center.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Molly Mclarey and the Cylinder

It was no surprise to Molly's mother when she admitted that she had started taking antidepressants. The doctor who wrote the prescription wrote it out in a huff. The pharmacist who filled her handed her the paper bag with instructions and warnings stapled to it looked down her blouse. It seemed to Molly that he sighed as if it wasn't worth the effort. 

The conversation with her mother went something like this: 

"Mom I've started taking antidepressants because I hate myself."

In an ironically sweet voice her mother replied "Well that's no surprise, you hate everyone, and your kind of a bitch. I've got to go now sweety, it's Wednesday and your father's already taken his e.d. pill." 

Then the line clicked off and Molly stared at the red tail lights in front of her all the way home. 

In the morning Molly brushed her teeth staring straight ahead at the small bottle in her medicine cabinet. She thought about how brilliant the inventor of the medicine cabinet was, because you didn't have to look at yourself when you swallowed the things that were supposed to make you whole. 

When she swallowed the pill she expected some sort of burst of sunshine. She wanted the clouds to part and a white beam of light to descend while a choir sang the "Ode to Joy". Of course that didn't happen. Instead she felt nothing. Her disappointment and bitterness started to fade, but nothing came into focus to replace them. She was not ecstatic, and she wasn't cured. She still hated herself, but that didn't really seem to matter as much.

After a month of mornings staring at the orange bottle she refused to refill the prescription. Molly told her doctor they didn't work. He agreed and then cancelled her future appointments. Molly left the office and walked out into the rain, content with her discontent. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

Diesel Engine Blues

Gregory the engineer piloted the Number 29 back and forth across the state. After working his way up to the position of engineer he said "Is this really all I do?" The railroad instructor nodded and turned to mark something on a clipboard. Gregory silently cursed to himself and pressed the button to engage the electronic horn, wishing that it sounded like a steam-whistle. Then he leaned his head out of the window and imagined great clouds of smoke puffing joyfully out of the nonexistent smokestack. Outside nobody waved to the anonymous train as it passed their identical homes and cars, they merely grumbled at the inconvenience. Despite their complaints Gregory delivered their mail, their coal, their steel, and the thousands of other items that make up our lives; all the while looking out of the window watching invisible clouds rise across the plains. 

A Love Letter to Jenny

Dear Jenny,
You're all I think about. I know it has only been a couple of days, but when I got your last letter, well I just had to write you back. I'm so glad that you finally relented! I can't wait for you to move in with me. I'm sure it was annoying, me constantly asking you, and at first I thought it was because I've turned into a wolf, but the rest of the pack assured me that it was something else. I know I can be difficult sometimes, but I really want you to know that I'm committed to this relationship. Yeah, I know it is a big step, and that scares you, but I can accept that. I mean after all, you're still human. I'm not gonna leave you like your asshole of an ex, Mark, what a douche. 

I will admit though, you had me worried for a while there. Like last week when I started yelling at the policeman who gave you a ticket. Those idiotic leash laws have ruined more than one of our dates and I was fed up. I really didn't mean to tear his trousers. The bill came in the mail yesterday. I never knew how expensive police uniforms were. I thought you were going to yell at me for days, but when you looked into my eyes and laughed, well that was worth all the fines and ugly stares from strangers. 

My favorite part of being a wolf is how I can smell you from far away. I know it is weird, and if I were still a human I'm sure it would be creepy as hell, but I can't help it. You smell like a freshly killed rabbit, in the best possible way. Hell I think you smell better than a sickly fawn. When I see you again I'm going to roll all over you. The other guys in the pack are going to complain, and I'm sure more than a few kills will get away from me. Whatever, it's worth it, just to have you with me all the time, even if it is only your scent. 

I know we're always going to have our troubles, and I don't think your parents will ever understand. My tail still goes between my legs when  I think about the first time I met them. Oh god, the thought of your dad with that shotgun. I don't know if you saw the rage in his eyes on the dim light of the porch. The only thing that kept me together was your hand on my paw. 

It feels really good to know that you've finally gotten over your commitment issues. If we could get married I'd propose to you right now, but I don't think they accept a paw print as a legal signature on marriage licenses. I can't wait to see you again, in a couple of days the moon will start to wane and I'll be able to get away from the pack for bit. Until then I'll think of you constantly. Oh, the pack killed three deer yesterday, so I'll bring you some venison steaks. 

All my love, 

P.s. Does your dad like venison? 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Miracles of Harrison H. Hardigan's Beard.

The beard itself began as unremarkable stubble on the pale face of a pre-pubescent Harrison Hardigan. Perhaps it was in an effort to impress the young girls at school, or perhaps it was a misguided effort to save money on razor blades, but one day on the school's lawn Harrison H. Hardigan swore in front of the flag, with his hand over the Holy Bible, that he would never ever shave his beard. He swore that no razor would cut through the hairs on his face. Among his remaining family members it is whispered that Harrison vowed the uniquely binding oath to spite his father, who was a barber by trade.

By the time Harrison had reached high school he had become an impressive athlete. He was particularly well known for his talented take-downs on the wrestling mat. Among the more religious members of the community many joked that he was Samson come to take revenge on the philistines of Franklin Pierce High. The fans who watched young Harrison in his blue singlet would often chant "Smite 'em, Smite 'em, Smite 'em hip and thigh!" and Harrison H. Hardigan would oblige, with a shrug of his shoulders and a twist of his torso he would toss his opponents to the floor and pin them there until the unfortunate youth would scream or bleed too much for the referees to allow the match to continue. In the showers after wrestling meets Harrison could be found telling stories from the lives of those he had pinned .

When Harrison arrived at college his beard had grown past his waist. It seemed that there was some mysterious connection between the beard and the strength of his limbs. Doors came off their hinges in his grasp. Desks flew across classrooms when he tried to gently move them out of his path. Tables broke in half when he sat down to eat. When he was allowed to join the wrestling team his enormous strength led the coaches to believe that the innocent young man was taking steroids. They could find no other explanation.

When he reached his sophomore year young Harrison had lost all contact with those around him. He was ostracized. No one would listen as he told the life stories of those around him. Fellow students were afraid to socialize with him. Even the kindest professors turned him away from their classrooms. Society had begun its long judgment of Harrison.

Several times during these years he attempted to shave the beard off, and when that didn't work he would attempt to turn the scissors and razors on his wrists. However his oath to the flag and the Bible held so firmly that the scissors and razors dulled against his skin.

Then came the unfortunate day when Harrison attempted to catch a young red haired woman who had fallen out of a dormitory window. Her bones shattered as he caught her in his arms. He shouted for help and was immediately arrested for assault. The woman’s parents asked the judge to lock the young man away for life. They assured the court that their daughter, still unconscious in the hospital, wanted Harrison to be put in prison. During the proceedings Harrison sat meekly in front of the judge, and would not utter a single word in his own defense.

Harrison spent ten years in prison. Upon his release Harrison struck out to find gainful employment. He worked a series of low paying jobs and was fired from each one. Once, while working at a construction site he had rushed to the aid of a fellow worker trapped beneath a pile of rubble. Harrison threw the stones and boulders aside with ease. The man’s life was saved but the stones landed on the houses and buildings in the surrounding area. The construction company was forced into bankruptcy to pay off the damages. The man Harrison saved would later complain about the loss of his job.

So Harrison began the lonely life of a vagrant. He walked around the country and begged on street corners. In every town he found the need for his strength. In Atlanta he pulled children out of burning houses. In Seattle he pulled a sinking ship safely to the shore. In Omaha he saved workers from a stampede at the stockyards. He stopped runaway trains, and cleared wreckage. He once held a collapsing building up for three days as the residents calmly moved their possessions out on to the street. Instead of gratitude Harrison was met with anger and hate. More often than not he was blamed for the catastrophes he had saved people from, and the townspeople would run him out of town in a great mob. At the back of every mob was a red haired woman.

One day, while Harrison was silently begging for change on a street corner, a man in a suit approached Harrison. He was an advertising agent and was putting together a promotion for a razor company. The idea of the campaign was to film homeless men shaving their beards. The commercials showed before and after shots of the men, who were given suits to wear in the second photo. The man in the suit contracted Harrison for the promotion, despite Harrison’s silent warnings and promises that the beard would not submit to any mortal blade.

When the time for filming came the production crew found that all of Harrison’s predictions came true. They tried every razor the company produced. None of the razors could cut through mystical beard. The advertiser called the company, who quickly sent a man in a lab coat to examine Harrison’s facial hair. When the scientist could find no way to cut the beard he contacted his supervisor. After a brief conversation the man in the white coat asked Harrison to come back with him to the company’s headquarters.

For the next several decades the razor company employed Harrison as a consultant. His job consisted of sitting in a chair while men in white laboratory coats attempted to cut his beard. Several options were tried, pneumatic scissors, diamond blades, focused plasma beams, and microscopically sharpened edges. Nothing worked on the supernatural hairs. Despite the all of their failures the company advanced man's understanding of shaving technology by leaps and bounds. NASA sent inquiries into the project and soon the company had a government grant to cut Harrison's beard.

Over the years Harrison began to lose hope. He stopped talking to the technicians. He reached such a state of depression that he would not leave the laboratory and spent the long hours of the night sitting quietly in the chair where they attempted to cut his beard. Harrison grew so despondent that he blinded himself, not in the usual manner of fire or gouging. Harrison simply stopped using his eyes. He closed them and refused to open them. For years he lived in a darkened world of whispers and questions. Until one day a red haired woman appeared next to his chair in the laboratory. She calmly sat down next to him and began stroking his beard. Feeling a gentle pull on his chin Harrison opened his eyes.

When his vision cleared he was gripped with a sudden terror of words he began to speak without end. Narrating the events of his life he told her of the flag and the bible and the girl on the ground. He told her about the man trapped beneath the rubble and the long years on the road. He became lost in an endless stream of words until he was no longer narrating his life, but the events of every person’s life he had ever met. He told her childhood stories of the lab technicians. The histories of all of the towns and people he had saved poured from his mouth. In great detail he described the lives of people he had never met.

One evening, after talking for five years Harrison paused in the middle of a sentence. He closed his eyes, and fell out of his chair. Harrison didn’t notice when the red haired woman kneeled next to him. He didn’t protest when she pulled an old straight-edged razor from her pocket, and he didn’t raise a hand when she calmly began to cut away at his beard. Written on the strands of hair that the woman cut were the stories and histories Harrison had spoken.

In the morning a janitor found Harrison’s, clean shaven, smiling corpse. Nobody could identify the body without the beard. An article appeared in the newspapers declaring that an old man had broken into the building and died of unknown, but assuredly natural causes on the laboratory floor. The body was cremated and put into a cardboard box in the county health department’s storage area. Months later, no one noticed when the box mysteriously disappeared. In towns all across the country nobody noticed as a red haired woman was seen scattering ashes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Golden Seas

Those who knew him before the sailing accident would often remark at what a waste it was. A man of only twenty-five years, and handsome at that, struck down in his prime. Well yes, Jeffery was at one time a rather handsome and robust youth. That was all before the sailing accident. Back then he was smart as a whip, he could calculate the ships position accurately in his head. He was never wrong. There were several times when the captain of the ship, who faithfully held onto his charts and tide tables like one holds onto the bible with a dying breath, doubted the miracle of Jeffery Mare. 

Young Jeffery was the finest sailor the sea ever knew. Some say he was found on a beach, in a basket wrapped in a ships sail. Their fellows would whisper of a dark past full of murdered lovers, betrayal, deceit and threats of capital punishment. The rarest version of Jeffery's history, and perhaps the one closest to the truth, was as boring as every man's story. In this tale he simply set out to see what lay beyond the horizon. The poorest of sailors, those who clung to their religions the fiercest, called him Jeffery Moses. They said he could, if he so wished, divide the seas with but a wave of his hand. He was modest, truthful, faithful, loyal, respectful, in short he was all of those things most people try to be, but actually aren't. Jeffery never faltered at the helm of his doubting captain's ship. When the storms blew and the gales came he would stay rooted to the ship's wheel. 

At sunset, no matter the season, no matter the sea, Jeffery would be found on the bow of the ship, looking into the west at the golden waters below the sun. If one approached Jeffery at such a time they would find an unresponsive statue of a man. When the sun would finally succumb to the waves Jeffery would let out a sigh of longing and regret, and then turn and address the mundane queries of those around him. Once Jeffery was out of earshot the sailors would huddle together and ask each other what they thought Jeffery was looking for.

His evening contemplations soon became a regular service of sorts, sailors would gather around Jeffery and sing hymns, and wait expectantly for Jeffery to give them some sort of sermon. Jeffery never did, but that did not stop the sailors gathering. There was even a time when the sailors would discuss what message they could divine from Jeffery's silence. Some claimed that each day brought with it a different sort of silence. Others said that the length of his silence was linked to the length of passages in the bible, and each day they would read aloud passages, trying to find the one that fit with Jeffery's silence. These men soon gave up though. Only the hymns became a lasting feature, and in the end those did little to hold back the fires.  

When the accident happened, well many sailors say some sunlight left the glittering seas. They say the sea wept, and still weeps. Several ballads and tear stained sonnets were written for "Bonny Jeff". Of course none of the poems ever got the story right. Most of them said that Jeffery Mare died in the calamity at sea. There are long passages written about the moment when the boilers exploded, and ninety-three men would've been lost if it weren't for "Bonny Jeff's" quick wits and strong hand. Several stories have been sent in to sailing publications falsely describing the innovative methods Jeffery used to rescue those men. Even more common is the type of long sad ballad that ends with Jeffery's supposed last words, "Tell the captain the ship is still on course". 

What very few people know, and even less admit to themselves, is that after a long night of drinking his secretly smuggled rum Jeffery overloaded boiler number three. The captain of the destroyed ship still swears there was no cause. But there must have been some, surely no man would change so swiftly from a gentle and popular soul to the possessed beast that destroyed the graceful Swanknight. In his unknowable rage Jeffery grabbed everything he could find, every crate, anything that would burn, he threw into the boiler. He locked the crew in their bunkrooms and burned everything he could lift. The cargo hold was soon emptied by Jeffery's quick and sturdy hands. The captains books of charts and tables of tides were burned along with the drawers from his desk and the goose down comforter from his bed. The ship's clock was thrown into the furnace along with several Gideon's Bibles. The things he couldn't lift he broke apart and threw piece by piece into the fiery mouth of the glowing-red metal furnace.   

When the great iron belly of the boiler finally gave way to the pressure, Jeffery was standing next to it. By some miracle, or curse, of the sea he survived. His face was immediately scarred and his left arm was torn off at the shoulder. He lost his legs below the knees to the infections that came with his untreated  wounds. He spent several days at sea floating in the wreckage from the ship, and when another boat pulled him from the water he asked to be thrown back overboard.  

If you can find him now, and you ask him his story, he will smile and gladly tell you. He will relate all of the events in the finest detail, he will describe the smells of the objects in the furnace, the sound of the cargo crackling in the boiler, and the yells of the his fellow sailors from the bunks. Jeffery Mare will tell you all of these things, he will even show you his scars. With a practiced hand he will point to his face where the metal and steam tore away his handsome features, and then he will lift his shirt and point to where a pipe pierced him clean through. All in all you will hear a tale of the greatest injuries a man has ever endured. The only thing Jeffery Mare will reserve for himself is his reasons for destroying the ship. If you ask him his motive: he will fall silent, then laugh and quickly turn his head to the west. What he sees with his steam-blinded eyes is beyond any sailor's guess. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sooner or Later We're All Higher or Lower

Of course you know the story of the great flying ace, Hans-Joachim Marseilles' death? The man who shot down seventeen allied aircraft over North Africa, you do know how he died, yes? He died falling out of his aircraft, he wasn't even flying over enemy lines. Apparently his last words over the radio were "I've got to get out now, I can't stand it any longer", then he turned his plane over, opened the canopy and jumped.

What you won't read in any text book or radio transcript is why this decorated Nazi pilot decided to leave his perfectly fine aircraft. His aircraft was marvelously decorated, the whole nose of the plane was covered in the small icons pilots once used to denote kills. There were bands of french flags, artistically arranged in a spiraling pattern branching out from the nose. In between the these were streaks of Union Jacks and Old Glories. What would drive a man to abandon his seat in the sky? Oh sure his squadron says that his aeroplane was on fire, and that he was referring to the smoke. Well, really, they're just lying nazi bastards.

The truth is that the pilot known as Hans-Joachim had just had eaten some bad shellfish earlier that day, striped muscles I believe. Anyway, the poor blighter suffered a case of Diarrheal Shellfish Poisoning, the symptoms include as you might expect, a large amount of diarrhea, over which you have less control than normal diarrhea. When the search party found the "Star of Africa's" body, the smell was too much for most of the men. What you might not realize is that these men regularly picked up putrid, desert-cooked, corpses. When a man who picks up rotten bodies for a living can't stand the smell, well, then you know it's bad.

Now, here comes the real shocker. Hans-Joachim Marseille did not die in the air over the desert that day. The thing you won't believe, the thing nobody believes, is that he switched places with a now anonymous corpse just before take off. Of course he took all the precautions and taught the dead man everything he knew about flying an aircraft, which let's be honest is quite a bit. The corpse certainly did not object to the switch. In fact, once in the cockpit, the dead man seemed as if he was trying to smile through the rigor mortis that held his face in a painful grimace. Can you blame him? Who wouldn't want to trade the dark certainty of the grave for the bright blazing uncertainty of the sky?

The night before the mission Hans, as usual was seen in the bohemian cafe that sprang up in Sidi Abdel Rahman. After downing quantities of liquor worth several hundreds of Deutschmarks, the flying ace stood upon his table and gave a speech about compassion for our fellow humans. His peers all toasted and cheered. They congratulated themselves on the excellent capacity they, as the aryan race, had for tolerance and compassion. On the way back to their lodgings that evening a group of combat pilots raped a young woman, all the while they thought about how truly compassionate they were for their fellow man.

So it came to pass that Hans-Joachim placed a corpse of a young german soldier in his cockpit. It had taken very little effort to find a suitable sample in the shallow graves of the northern Sahara, and the young dead soldier took very little convincing to walk back to the German base with Herr Marseille. After treating the man to an unusual breakfast at the only place in Sidi Abdel Rahman that served shellfish, Hans-Joachim took the corpse to the airfield. There he spent a few short hours guiding the dead hands of the anonymous corpse through the pre-flight checklist. After quickly explaining some theories about combat and marksmanship, the young flying ace closed the cockpit, wrapped his scarf around his head, and quietly made his way out of the German base. The dead man took off beautifully and joined Herr Marseille's squadron with supernatural ease. Their formation held tightly until the shellfish poisoning, or the fire, whichever version you prefer, forced the corpse to exit the aircraft and return dramatically to a shallow grave on the desert floor.

Meanwhile, Herr Marseille had arranged for passage to Morocco, and then perhaps to Paris. To be authentic the decorated officer had decided to make the journey by camel and in full beduin garb, turban and all. He imagined that he could pass the long hours in the dessert observing the sublime vastness of the landscape, and somehow come to a fuller understanding of his existence. After four days his guides turned their guns on the pilot. They took his bags, his forged documents, and his food. The bandits left him with only a half a canteen of water and the clothes on his back. The young man eager for a bohemian existence allowed all of this to happen with a pleasant smile on his face. It would only be seven hours before that smile faded into an unending stream of curses and oaths, only interrupted by desperate pants for breath.

If things had gone the way they were going Hans-Joachim would have made it to a small dessert oasis, and then perhaps on to Morocco, and then given some small luck on to Paris. However, fate has a way of landing squarely on our shoulders, and no matter which way we turn, what vast nameless dessert we choose to wander in, it will find us.

Hans-Joachim's last moments were spent trudging up the face of a great dune. He noticed that a shadow had begun to grow over his position. Then as he stood looking upward for the source a familiar sound reached his ears. If he could have seen the fuselage before it crushed him, perhaps that same smile and eagerness for a sublime understanding of the mad world around us would have returned to Herr Marseille. For the fuselage of the ruined flying machine was decorated with a spiral of French flags, in between the spiral arms were patterns of British and American flags, all delicately painted and artfully arranged.

Friday, April 10, 2009

C'Est Pas Grave

When it happened, I can assure you madam, I didn't know what to do. The moment I sneezed the first snail I clapped my hands three times. I couldn't ever tell you why, it is one of those things you do by reflex. When the doctor strikes your knee with that little rubber mallet you kick. The same rule applies to sneezing snails, when you do it, your hands vigorously force themselves together three times. After I sneezed and clapped you might have wondered why I immediately started singing the chorus to an old calypso, "c'est pas grave, c'est pas grave, c'est la guerre!", in french. I would like to give you an answer, I haven't been able to develop one properly though. I think the singing and the snails and the clapping are all connected somehow though.  

The other waiters at the restaurant won't even look me in the eye anymore. The maitre 'd has threatened to fire me because of the incident with your soup. In fact that's why I'm writing you this letter. I figured maybe if I could explain to you why the snail was in my nose, and then your soup bowl, well maybe you could ask the maitre 'd to not fire me. 

It all started a couple of weeks ago, when the new shipment of meat came in. As you know madam our restaurant is renowned for its premium steak selections, as well as our fine French cuisine. The meat that came in that shipment was of a particularly magnificent variety, it is a shame that you did not order a filet or sirloin. In the months I've spent working at the restaurant I've become friends with our butcher, a most superstitious man named Giorgio Fellini. Giorgio, despite what you'd expect is not italian. He was however adopted by italians. In fact Giorgio is haitian by birth. I'm almost certain that Giorgio absorbed some french while he was in the womb. Giorgio is a consummate butcher, classically trained. He is particularly well known for his abilities with pate, foie gras, and sausages. While he is busily working in his butchery he hums old french calypsos under his breath. In the corner of the butchery is a small statue of a dark-skinned Virgin Mary with a candle at its feet.  

The calypsos are important because that is how I met the old woman. I met the old woman just after smoking a cigarette by the dumpsters with Giorgio. Even though I had a cold, I had spent my lunch break with Giorgio. In that brief time he had endeavored to teach me his favorite calypso. I don't remember the name of the calypso, but it had a chorus in french. "c'est pas grave, c'est pas grave, c'est la guerre!" Giorgio had impressed upon me the proper pronunciation and pacing of these words, and I had to admit the phrases soon became caught in my mind as I attempted to emulate the grand exotic manner with which he pronounced the delicate lyrics. As I was singing, behind the dumpsters, an old woman came up to me. With a look of terror on her face she walked up to me, grabbed my cigarette, threw it to the ground and stamped it out. Holding her finger to her lips she grabbed my wrist. Somehow, with unnerving ease, she turned my hand over and opened up my palm. Then she reached into the pocket of her raggedy blue winter coat and pulled out a small blue snail shell. In french she said, "Au moment même vous venez comprendre la vie, vous cesserez d'exister comme avant." What that means I'm not sure, I don't speak french. The old lady then clapped her hands three times and walked around the other side of the dumpster, when I looked around the corner there was no sign of her.

I threw the snail into the dumpster, and went back to work. Later when I reached into my pocket for my pen I found the snail shell, and immediately the lyrics to Giorgio's calypso came into my mind. For several days I would empty my pockets of the snail shell, only to find it and the mysterious lyrics had returned to me. 
The situation reached its climax when I sneezed the snail into your soup bowl. 

It has been several days since the incident, and in the meantime I have sneezed thousands of snails. I suppose it is only natural that I cannot turn my thoughts away from the old lady and the snails. All of my friends and family have become worried about me, not so much about the sneezing or the singing, but mostly for the lack of concern I seem to have. No matter how hard I try I can't seem to attach any meaning to any of this. So, the thought occurs to me that none of this matters. The dumpster doesn't matter. The maitre 'd firing me doesn't really matter. I mean, it would be nice to eat for a while longer while I figure out how to stop sneezing snails. The more I think about it though, the less I care, in fact I've even come to enjoy the snails, and the singing, and the clapping. "c'est pas grave, c'est pas grave, c'est la guerre!"

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What The Coyote Said

$250. The Coyote wanted six hundred. Six months of scrimping and saving, and this was all he had to show for it. He’d eaten ramen every day, he bought day old bread, dented cans, and he walked to work. He’d asked for a raise, or some sort of change. However, the restaurant was strapped for cash, or at least that’s what his manager told him. Six months of hard work and Miguel was only $250 in the black.

He’d already paid rent, he’d already bought enough bland and outdated food to last him another two months. It was the Coyote that was his problem. He had said that there were unforeseen expenses relating to the transportation of his Maria. Last Tuesday, on his way home from the gas station where he bought his cigarettes, Miguel had called the Coyote from the usual pay phone. As Miguel tucked his change and an ill-fated state lottery ticket (it had come free with the purchase of two packs of cigarettes) into his wallet, he listened to the sound of traffic and the ringing on the other end of the line. In Miguel’s weary state the sounds merged into one soothing melody.

When an unpleasant voice suddenly spoke into his ear, Miguel was startled out of his momentary stupor. The Coyote began the conversation with his usual sinister politeness. Miguel listened as the faceless man told him of the many dangers the desert held for unwary travelers. He listed off the usual threats: vultures, cacti, snakes, scorpions, and -of course- Coyotes. Miguel knew what he meant.

After the conversation Miguel asked his manager for the raise again. He’d done dishes, he’d sliced so much celery it made him physically sick to smell it anymore. He had mopped, he had swept, and he had taken all of the garbage out. The young immigrant had performed every single mind-numbing task the manager could think of, and still there would be no raise.

 The neighborhood kids who worked in the kitchens in the afternoons and on weekends, tried to make small talk. Miguel replied in kind, made jokes, his English was decipherable, just not pleasant. Despite their mutual attempts it was beyond the abilities of either to connect with the other; they could not know his existence.

Every morning at four Miguel unlocked the restaurants back door. For the last six months he had been tasked with baking the restaurants bread. This morning was no different from the last six months. The monotony of the morning seemed to stretch into the future, giving Miguel visions of himself as a withered old man opening the restaurants doors hours before the sun rose, and locking them hours after it had set. Immediately upon entering he turned on the ovens. They took an hour to heat up, a hurried tortuous hour. While the ovens transformed the backroom from a cramped ugly workstation to a hellish one, Miguel had to unload the day’s shipment of fresh produce.

The days labor was long and monotonous. Celery was sliced. Soup stock was boiled. Bread was baked. Long lines of glistening produce passed under Miguel’s knife. With each slice of the knife another hungry, bloated, mouth was fed. At ten o’clock that evening the manager finally let Miguel clock out. After a short conversation about the impossibility of a raise Miguel began the trek home.

Halfway to his apartment Miguel stopped at the pay phone he used to contact the Coyote. He was going to ask for more time. But the words stopped in his throat when the Coyote greeted him on the other end of the line. The Coyote talked for several minutes, and then with a chuckle he bid Miguel farewell.

When the line clicked off, Miguel went numb. He went to the liquor store and overdrew his bank account several times. Then back to his apartment. His mind glazed over, and hours later, he realized that he had turned on the television and opened a now flat beer. Between Wheel of Fortune and the nightly news the lottery numbers were announced. Remembering the little scrap of paper in his wallet, Miguel checked the numbers, and began to sob.

It never happened. It couldn’t have happened. Even if it had happened it was too late. Miguel wandered the streets for a few days, with the ticket clutched in his hand. It didn’t matter how much money this insulting scrap of paper was worth. He had bought it because of the promotion; really he had wanted the pack of cigarettes that came with its purchase. He almost threw it away, but instead, he tucked it into his thin, worn down wallet, then the only piece of paper the faded leather held.

She was dead, and he was rich in America; the wrong half of the dream came true, and it was now a nightmare. He wandered the streets for days, clutching that filthy insignificant scrap of paper. Somewhere in a dessert far away a coyote howled at the moon as it ran across the sands.