- The Knife Came Down, Missing Him by Inches, and He Took Off
- A Smile Makes a Lousy Umbrella
- Many a Hand
- The Voice in My Head
- Lost and Found
- A Little Roleplay
- Seven Figures
- Lost Job
- Nameless Evil Henchman #4
- The Angry Amphibians Farewell Tour
- The Fall of Oklahoma
- Letter from the Road
The drugs are wearing off again. Groggily I lift my head and see the letter resting at the foot of the bed. The seal depicting 3 libras on the envelope leaves me speechless. Time and time again, I had wondered whether she would find me or if I was safely forgotten. This letter just showed how dumb that wish was. Inside the envelope is a photograph of the Coral del Arrecife in the Carribean. That’s where I will find her. She is a true soldier’s daughter, she can’t leave me behind, no matter how much she wants to.
Now I have to get out of this hospital. I’d prefer to wait until I get better, but if I don’t fake this recovery tonight, I may never leave. By a stroke of luck, the one that answers the call button is the nurse who loved me. But any hope I have of convincing her to let me just walk out is quickly dashed.
“How are you feeling tonight? Let’s see if you’re improving. Can you recite the alphabet?” she asks.
“B..e..s..k..h..u..3..e..p..n..m..yellow..g..sigma..” I give up sheepishly, I know that’s not right.
“That’s better. You’re getting there.” She tries to soothe me, but the impossibility of me finding my girl hits me then. My disappointment is crushing. As I look out the window, almost it overtakes me.
The stars are so big.
I am so small.
Do I stand a chance?
“Rain just keeps on falling on me, and it ain’t no light shower either. No sir, this downpour is like a hurricane and it doesn’t matter whether I’m indoors or out. So you might want to move your fancy book there.” He gestured at the weathered tome under the arm of the girl next to him at the bar. Margaret looked at him, perplexed, until a sudden intensification of the downpour onto the man’s already rain-soaked cowboy hat deflected a wave of water at her and sent her scurrying for a safer barstool. She sat there carefully wiping the drops from the big church on the cover. “The happiest days of our lives are gone” the besodden man continued despite losing his audience, “things aren’t like they used to be, when I could have brought sunshine even to this dreary place.” The bartender smirked at this, and neither man noticed the reader of the thick volume at the end of the bar was no longer a small blonde girl, if they had looked in that direction they would have seen Margaret in captivity within a dark mass that seemed to be gathering all the light from the already dingy room into itself. The bartender felt the pull too late, and couldn’t find anything to hold on to as he slid down the bar into the void. Arms flailing, he yelled for help, “Hey!” “Hey!” “My My” (into the black went the bartender) “we meet again.” the man, now alone, turned to face the slowly expanding darkness “Thirty-three years later, have you come to remove this curse you placed on me?” No answer came from the cloud as it enveloped him.
Many years later, in the middle of the desert, in a spot that no one knew there used to be a bar, a man stood considering a cowboy hat that lay at his feet. He waved his companion over and they both ignored the many potential treasures hidden in this valley of debris, and considered the hat. One of them spoke, “You know, you’re right. There’s is no way that should be possible, but that hat is soaking wet.”
The ball of paper ejects from the desk in the general direction of the wastebasket, but sails over it and joins the flood of rejected ideas threatening to overtake you from behind. You should call for help, but you were adamant that you wanted to make your own bones on this one. If you could only see the thoughts put to paper match with those in your head, that would be just perfect. You prepare to give your heart away to another attempt, but instead you stare at the blank page like an idiot. Wind rustles the paper mountain behind you, reminding you of past failures, trying to sway your resolve. Instead inspiration strikes; the sweet sugar of a momentarily brilliant concept. The rejection of your own ideas is an idea. That ominous graveyard of crumpled thoughts behind you has a purpose, it’s all part of your process, culminating in the imagining of this new approach.
No one lived here, but there were usually plenty of people on the street each day. This was a one-horse town that had been never recovered from the sick twist of fate that had given Tehran, OK its politically charged name. If you stayed long enough you grow used to the strangers and just greet the folks you know. Everyone was there of course to scale the plateau south of town. Today was finally our day, after listening to all the tall tales and half-baked mysticism, we got to see it for ourselves. We were both in good spirits, she danced just a bit of a shimmy as we bolted out the door and south to our destination.
She was a little afraid to be lost in the crunge, that was climber-speak for the foothills that were the final test before the actual climb. She kept asking me if I had seen the bridge yet. I explained that we were following the river, and it had to lead to the bridge eventually. Tired of explaining myself I focused on the shrine we needed build. Tradition dictated that before we climbed we had to erect a shrine to somebody. Someone important to us – we had heard of shrines for everything from the holy ghost to late night TV personalities. We eventually decided on her mother (boring, but it was the only photo either one of us had on us).
“There’s nothing on the top?” her tone matched my incredulity. But it was true. The view was spectacular from up here, and there was lots to see in the surrounding country, but it kind of scared me that the only thing I could find was an old birdwatcher’s guide and a discarded broom and dustbin. It wasn’t until she whispered my name that I realized she wasn’t following me anymore. She had scratched away a section of the dust to reveal, carved into the stone itself, some characters like nothing I had seen before. “Aliens!” she breathed, and we began to clear away as much of the dust as we could.
“That was fun,” I remarked sarcastically after we had swept the entire top clean of dirt. She hushed me and went to work translating all the symbols using the key we found in the southwest corner. It turned out that the Vordhosbn (the alien species) had come here multiple times because of the sheer beauty of this particular stretch of Oklahoma desert (no accounting for taste, I guess). They composed poems and songs dedicated to this planet, and wrote then in the stone here. Sifting through it all felt like trying to make sense of second-rate junior high graffiti. It seemed like the stoners of the alien race came here, where they lay about reveling in inaction and expounding all their beautiful words. I realized despite the sense of wonder at almost contacting another species, there was still nothing up here except the bucket, the mop, and the illustrated field guide. Disappointment ate at me during the entire descent.
We were met by a man who looked to be older than the dust that caked his face when we reached the bottom. He instructed us in no uncertain terms not to tell anyone of what we had seen. I argued with him that people would want to know about this, but he just kept repeating, “you know what happened to the last person who tried to change the way people see the world, they hung him on a cross.” That really didn’t make sense, but to make him happy, we both agreed not to speak a word of it. Strangely, as soon as I said it, I knew I wouldn’t tell this story to anyone who hadn’t already seen what I had. Before he left I did ask him if there were other places like this, where extraterrestrials came to hang out. He said there was someplace in Mexico, while pointing to the green land north of where we stood. When I called him on his contradiction, he merely smirked, spit, and left. This spiteful snake didn’t know anything and wouldn’t help us even if he could.
It was 6 A.M. and already the voice in my head had started in:
“Good morning, we don’t have much going on today, looks like it’ll be a clear blue day for you.”
I growled a response “I don’t believe you at all, apologies if that offends, but there it is.” I tried to flex what was left of my right hand, remembering the last time I was promised a clear day –
It was on the last 4 hours of a 90 hour sleep-free shift, and I was wondering why I couldn’t just go home if everything was under control the way they said it was. I was getting paid double because I was covering for the other guy, Israel, who had taken off to try to find his runaway kid and convince him to come home. If there had been a son like his in my family, I wouldn’t have wasted the effort, that kid was downright committed to causing trouble. I was thinking about that kid, his drugs, and his stoner hate for his old man and I decided I wouldn’t trade places with that poor dad if someone paid me.
Next thing I knew I was lying with my entire right side on fire next to an enormous hole in the earth. The pipe bomb had gone off exactly as I turned the corner. I lay there, trying to extinguish myself without moving (it hurt every time I moved). The TV crews got there at the same time as the firemen, and started filming their violent pornography that would air right after whatever daily genocide led the news that night. Israel’s son told me later that broadcast, watching the man he thought was his dad burn and scream, was what scared him straight. Of course, it turned out it wasn’t his father, it was me – trading places with him because someone payed me. My life in a nutshell.
I don’t think it’s possible for me to walk any slower without actually stopping. Some curmudgeon and his creepy porch shouldn’t intimidate me, but here I am desperately trying to avoid a confrontation with the 86-year old recluse of the neighborhood. I began to count my steps coming up the street. On step 36 I reached the gate, took a breath and headed for the front door.
My uneasiness was enough of a prod to force me quickly up to the door. I crossed the porch expecting creaky boards and unusual sounds. Instead the only sound was the rush of the wind below the house, which gave just enough of a moaning sigh to satisfy my spooky quotient. All of this caused me to jump about a foot in the air when I realized that the door was already open and the old man had been watching me for some time. ‘Hello there, sorry for depriving you of the chance to use my door-knocker – it’s modeled on the holy mountain of the island people of Northwestern Scandanavia – I used to travel there every summer for a few months.’
I stood, mouth open, amazed and dumbstruck. He completely ignored me and just kept prattling on. ‘They used to make the most comfortable sweaters actually, they were warm and soft, actually an awful lot like cashmere sweaters, but so much more organic, you know you just can’t beat handmade clothing. Like this hat I’m wearing now, I got it in India, or maybe it was Pakistan. You know what? It was in that disputed province… what was it called?’
I interrupted the man before he could come up with more obscure geographical nonsense. ‘I’m sorry sir, I just wanted to ask you if you had seen my cat, he’s a white cat with black paws who answers to Kashmir. If you do see him, could you let me know? I live right down the street, number 2541.’
He stared past me out into the street, watching a sedan, delivery vans, and a few pedestrians who hurry by his eyesore of a house. He didn’t say a word, but turned and went back into his house, closing the door and leaving me standing on the porch, wondering what had just happened. I turned and walked away toward the next house to continue my search.
Behind me, the old man came to a window with a kitten in his arms, ‘Don’t wory Kashmir, you’ll be safe here until he comes back, I’ll entertain you with my stories of surfing the cherry waves of the Red Sea back in my younger days.’
I checked the hallway through the peephole before I eased the door open and ventured out into the hallway. Unlike you, I really don’t have anything to hide, but you make me feel like a whore in church with your constant admonitions that no one find us out. At least this time you let me use the hallway instead of the balcony, going over and out into the night from the second floor is great practice for my second career as a cat burglar, but completely unnecessary. Especially in shoes like this. “I’m designer” they shout as they rip into my feet walking down south bound Saurez Boulevard back to my car, parked a discreet 3 miles away. You’ll stay in the room till the morning comes, fighting your shame.
“Here comes No. 13 Baby!” you shouted as the 20-sided die spun out of your hand. It clattered to a stop showing a seven – and your troll died a grisly death. It’s really sad how often this happens, strategy has never been a strong point for you, always relying on a single roll to determine if good times, bad times, or disaster will befall your army. Last night was especially poor, your lead troll was killed while still in view of your home country’s camp, his anguished screams heard by all except those in the far pavilions at the rear. Soon they too would be demoralized by tales of my decisive victory. We really have to work on your gameplay before anyone else is allowed to see it.
MIRANDA) Hell is trying to please everyone all the time. I’m stretched so many ways I feel like I’m going to split myself in two, it feels like I’m in ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, with everyone’s expectations swinging closer with each pass. This afternoon the blade is close enough to almost cut my hair. I’ve worked all day on [Person No. 2]’s requests. If I’m lucky, I’ll have enough space in my schedule to get to [Person III]’s list before tonight. I know the sun will set before I go home tonight because if I don’t get it done I’ll hear it from both of them and Mr. Beenan. I’m sorry, now I’m crying from the stress, could I get a tissue?
No. 2) Ridiculous, it’s always the same story from her. I know we’re all supposed to feel terrible for the martyr over there, but I’ve got news for Miranda. That ghost isn’t holy anymore, you’ve pulled this crap out so often that no one buys it anymore. It’s just the same old song.
III) I’m not sure she’s faking it this time though, she looks like she could use a good 90 hour sleep. Of course I could say the same for myself, everyone works hard around here. That’s the joy of working for ‘Weenie Beenie‘. Can’t beat the pay though, seven figures heals a lot of wounds.
MIRANDA) Seven figures? You make seven figures!?
No. 2) Great. You shouldn’t have let that slip. There she goes. Now someone else is going to have to do all of this drudgery. Looks like a long night for you.
“ALL RIGHT! LET’S GO! HYPERPOWER!!!”
Before Nate or Billy realized where he was, the four year old hurricane had leaped from the table to the floor and sprinted past Nate, who was laying out his seventh game of solitaire, and with arms spread wide soared off to the uncharted wilderness of the living room, oblivious to the newly overturned pile of cards he left behind him. Nate began reordering the cards into a neat stack, shot Billy a dirty look and asked if he could leave.
“No, man. You have to stay.” Billy pleaded, “You need this money, and it’s hard enough to convince people to hire you in the first place, let alone re-elect the deadbeat moron who left in the middle of the morning while he was supposed to be watching their darling.”
On cue, the darling disaster came hurtling back through the dining room. He had picked up a candlestick and was using it as a sword to torment his supposed caretakers. He stopped in the middle of the room, where the sunlight fell through the window. Posing in the golden section of the room, candlestick raised, he prepared to launch into his familiar refrain.
“ALL RIGHT! LET’S GO! HYPERPOWER!!!”
And he was off.
“Next time you call and say ‘meet me in the morning’, I’m going back to bed.” Nate shook his head and returned to the card game. Billy was looking over his shoulder, about to point out the red eight he could play on a black nine, when a horrific crash came from the living room. Nate actually got there first, and in a horrified whisper informed Billy, “We’ve got a bleeder.”
Really it was an almost insignificant cut to the forehead, but it was enough that it required a few minutes of pressure with a towel to stop the blood. Nate did not take this well. “Thanks for setting up this job, this is going to work out just great! Remind me never to have you set me up on a blind date, I’d probably end up with a hooker with a penis!” With the flow of blood stopped, the child rocketed away from Billy, chanting a new favorite phrase, “Hooker with a penis! Hooker with a penis! Hooker with a penis!”
This was the scene the parents came home to, their blood-smeared darling running around looking like he survived an attack by an axe-murderer, shouting a borderline obscene phrase as he trotted from room to room. Just to get the whole picture, to really bring it on home; occasionally he would pass by a shellshocked duo of would-be babysitters holding the couple’s best towels soaked in their child’s blood.
Lectures ensued. Blah, blah, blah, we put our trust in you, blah, blah, blah. Nate would later say he would rather eat a sandwich of razor blades than go back into that house. Fortunately, he never had to.
Quickly, I gave up trying to influence her moods. It’s all wasted energy anyway, ain’t it? The life we had was beautiful, and I will dare now to say I was happiest then. She was always in danger of hurtling over the edge of the canyon behind her into paranoid rages accusing everyone of double crossing her. She knew me this time as Mark. David Chapman was my previous alias (my own twisted humor), and when she asked “Whatever happened to your birthmark?” I knew she was on to me. I felt the cold feeling of fear slither into my stomach, but I resolved to stick it out. However she decided to punish me, I would take it like a man. That was the part of me that came from my father. He wanted me to be a practical, salt of the earth, responsible child. He got off easy, once he was discovered as a foreign agent, his body was dumped unceremoniously in the River Euphrates. After a night of baring my soul, I had to wake to a tear-stained letter lying on a cold pillow and lose her forever.
My plans to hop a boat and sail away from this disaster vanished as soon as Nameless Evil Henchman #4 came through the door. He looked terribly out of place in his tailored suit amidst the freak scene that was the 42nd annual tri-state rooster showdown. He spotted me right away (as if he didn’t know I was there before ever venturing in here). Once he was face to face with me, he told me the patient man I had grown accustomed to had gone away. I asked him if the old man was ever going to get tired of following me and just forget my debt. Apparently not, I was treated to a rant about how this Nameless Evil Henchman was different from the previous dudes I had dealt with. He was here to instill a new world order for me, and if I had any thoughts about how we’re going to be friends he was going to disabuse me of that notion. I told him he had anger issues, and if he wanted to get to the bottom of them, I knew a great therapist. He turned purple. He said, once he was through with me, he was going to hang one of my fingers on his trophy wall right next to Bab’s uvula. Who? I asked. Never mind, he snarled, you’ve got more important things to worry about. You’re telling me, I agreed, I lost all my money at the cock fights, can you spare me some cash? He told me I was hilarious and walked away.
You don’t know the half of it I thought as I rifled through his newly pilfered wallet.
Ernie did the final erase/replace edit on the new posters and showed me the results. “Pretty sweet, huh? All you ever wanted was to change the name, but I redesigned the whole graphic.” Bless his heart, he was embracing this reimagining of the band as best he could, but I knew it killed him. It was always his dream to take the “Angry Amphibians” out of the backwoods, over the hills and far away. Ernie wrote the songs, designed the costumes, never flinched at the harshest reviews. He had a Gold Heart. “Mountain Top Queen Directory”, the revered index of costumed jazz acts, called us “unbelievably odd” and likened us to “being dipped alternately into a lake of fire and beaten against a block of ice.” Pretty high praise for a country bumpkin’s interpretation of a Vegas lounge act, but all the pretty words of the critics didn’t stop us from playing mostly empty bars, and wondering ‘where is everybody?’
Look, no matter how much we both want to carry on doing this, it’s time to realize that the emphasis is on “labor” in this labor of love. Dump the plush frog costumes behind a diner I told Ernie. It killed me to say it, but they had to go.
The “Two Furious Tadpoles” start their world tour on Friday.
A ringing phone is answered. Words are exchanged until the conversation ends. With his hand still on the receiver, he summons a young boy from the corner of the room and instructs him to “fetch the big guy”. Ten minutes later, The Czar of Oklahoma enters the room. His assistant addresses him deferentially but confidently and informs him that the outpost responsible for monitoring the guerilla radio network has noticed a significant increase in traffic over the last two days – the assistant adds what the czar already knows, this means another attack is coming. As he relays this information, the leader’s face darkens, and the 20 years of the grudge betwixt the countries of Oklahoma and Texizona are evident in his eyes. All those years since he collected some loose warheads and used them to leverage this territory free from Texizona, a country that didn’t want them anyway. Stored at the deceptively named St. Margaret’s Garden, the threat of those weapons were still all that ensured Oklahoma’s independence.
The leader begins to rant. His informants all report the same thing – across the country, feedback indicates that the guerillas are the main concern of the Oklahoman public. The best people in the government are working constantly, finding solutions, but nothing stems the tide of enemies from the south. Small successes are evident, but they are picking up low level spies alone or in groups of 3’s and 7’s, not even putting a dent in the hundreds they know are within their borders. “It’s time we got some answers” he fumes as he storms out.
He stalks across the barren yard, toward a low building guarded by a ferocious looking black dog. The dog growls as he approaches, but is quickly quieted by a tall, scowling man who emerges to exchange a few words with the czar. They proceed together, with the dog remaining outside, through the building to a cell, where a battered, starved, haunted-looking boy sits chained to a table. An update on the interrogation is provided by a few words from the scowling man. “In all this time we’ve had him here, he didn’t say anything – they never do, they just hold onto their stupid suicidal dream of wiping us all out by some act of God. Then just about 20 minutes ago we got two words out of him before he clammed up again. Maggie’s farm.”
The czar’s face drains of color. He tries to contact the guards to warn them but no one answers his calls. “Oh no, they’re already insi
He was peaceful now. Ten minutes ago, he was so frightened, but now with his face nestled into the pillow, sleeping tranquilly I was overcome with love for this man I was making my life with. “Sweet dreams are made of this kind of quiet” I thought as I closed the door and descended the stairs to meet with Dr. Venkman. He was pale and sweating as I entered the room. Miss, I’m not sure you’re going to like what I have to say, but my detector shows 29 ghosts. I’ve been over every inch of this house, and they’re everywhere.”
“29? The wretched things must be multiplying. Between the eight of us…”
“Eight of you?” he inquired.
“Me, my husband, and my six children. We counted up our sightings and ended up with 22 ghosts, I..I..I just can’t imagine fitting any more into this house.”
He responded with a heavy sigh. “Your children reported any violent encounters?”
“It depends on how the ghosts met their end, miss. Murder, accident, or suicide lead to different types of ghosts. The easiest are the suicides, the low self esteem in life carries over and they usually go quietly. The worst are those born as ghosts. They don’t see any reason to move on because they’ve never known anything else. Plus they’re natural ghosts so they’re impossible to catch without ‘Arms of the Afterlife’.” He explained patting the box at his feet.
“Can you solve the problem?”
“Miss, you are the problem.” In one smooth movement, he opened the box and tossed the glowing lasso directly at me.
“Hey, Peter. Is it done?”
“Well, I got the mother. The kids and the rest of them should follow pretty easily. Did you know she referred to you as her husband?”
“Yep. That’s why I had to get this taken care of now. Will you be finished by Friday?”
“Didn’t I say I would? One more night of ghost hunting should do it, now that I’ve got the worst of them in the box.”
Thought of you all night.
We finished our set just as blue thunder rolled over the mountains. For the encore I pulled out your red guitar and searched the crowd. College kids mostly – free music and cheap beer always attracts the same demographic. Standing by the bar, she caught my eye. She reminded me of a flower, reminded me of you, a little girl in bloom. As I watched, she leaned into her friend and without taking her eyes off Dave (our new drummer), whispered ‘He’s so fine’.
The hurt was obvious in Dave’s face as we rode out of town in a van sporting some new rock and bottle-sized dents. ‘Have a cigar’ I offered, trying to calm him. Instead he ranted, ‘I’ve got a message for them, I am the messenger! I’m going to say it loud. I’m black and I’m proud! You can throw me out of as many bars as you want, I’m not apologizing for somebody’s daughter wanting to buy me a drink!’ He smoked in stony silence for the next twenty miles. We left him alone.
I told you I’ll share my world with you while I was on the road. I’m almost home again. Hold on Magnolia, when I come back to Twin Falls, I’m never leaving. Even though I’m old and ugly, you’re still beautiful. Remember what I told you about that flower in the smoke and rain. Promise me you’ll dress sexy at my funeral.