Sarcasmo's Scribblings

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Nanowrimo Fakeout 2007 - Story Snippet -

“What are you doing, Helen? How can you sleep? Don’t you understand, the world is going to end?”


Helen gently removed Edgar’s meaty hands from her shoulders and finished clothing the buttons on her nightshirt. She sat down at the old wicker vanity and began to brush her hair in the traditional 100 strokes. At stroke 30 she said to Edgar, “Ed – for years now that idiot box has always been predicting something; they’d tell us the Russians were going to get us, or the Arabs – or heck – even the snow. And every time they scream doom and gloom I go to bed and get up the next morning and life still happens. The bed still needs to be made, breakfast still needs to be cooked, and the books at Mr. Johnson’s feed store still need to be balanced. And you know as well as I do I’m not worth a darn without a good night’s sleep. So, Edgar, I am going to bed so that tomorrow, if the world hasn’t ended, I can still function as a normal human being. And if that world has ended – well – quite frankly, I’d rather face my maker refreshed from a good night’s sleep than with a grumpy face and eyes red-rimmed from crying.” She finished her hundredth stroke and got into bed. “Now, of course Edgar, you may do what you’d like. Call all your friends. Sit down and finally write that novel you’ve been talking about. Go out and have an orgy – whatever you feel you need to do. If it were up to me, though, you’d put on your flannel pajamas I got you last Christmas, climb into this bed next to me and put your arms around me. When I married you I told you I wanted to do everything by your side – that includes go to sleep, wake up, and, if God so wills it – be turned to goo by alien invaders.” Helen gave Edgar a peck on the check, climbed under the covers, put on her reading glasses and picked up yesterday’s crossword. In a moment she was chewing on the pen cap in her mouth, muttering about 16 across.

Edgar went out into the living room and stared hard out in to the darkness. Down in the valley, he could see all the lights in the city burning, bright as day- search lights and sirens exploding in frenzied activities from all corners. “I should be there,” he thought. “I should do something.” He grabbed his hat and coat from the hook by the door, and ran to the lockbox where he kept his gun. He got his rifle and stormed towards the door. He’d show those alien bastards. He was the best shot in town. Why, there wasn’t a deer or trash-troubling raccoon that hadn’t gone down after he aimed and fired….

Helen looked up and smiled as Edgar came into the bedroom, wearing his flannel pajamas, still creased from the package. “Well, don’t you look handsome?” she said, putting down her crossword, and setting her glasses on top of them. Edgar got in to bed and put his arm around her. Helen switched off the light – and didn’t move from the circle of his arms even though they both heard her pen scuttle from the end table and roll across the floor. “I love you Edgar,” she said. “I love you too, Darlin,” he murmered into her hair. And they slept.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Stories That Never Were #6

The request: Make up a title for a story I didn't write, and I will respond with details of those non-written stories.

The Title: 20,000 Geeks Under the Sea

The Result:
Roger realized the Titanic LARP had gotten out of the storytellers' control when the ship capsized for the 3rd time. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time, allowing the dot.com millionaires secure the locations - they had the money and energy to get each and every detail right to create a truly immersive gaming experience.

Even the lack of modern communication.
And the giant iceberg.
And, sadly, a poor ratio of passengers to life boats.

Ah, well. Roger, being a NPC in the band could do nothing else but play on.

Stories That Never Were #5

The request: Make up a title for a story I didn't write, and I will respond with details of those non-written stories.

The Title: "Seventh sneeze of a seventh sneeze."

The Result:
There is a well known myth, that the seventh son born of a seventh son will be possessed of a great power.

A lesser known, much rarer and darker myth, is that the seventh sneeze, caused by a germ transmitted by a seventh sneeze, if left unchecked, will be the sneeze that will unravel the universe.

It is because of this, that it is considered poor manners not to cover your nose and mouth upon sneezing – not because you may infect others – but because there is no way to know where your infection came from. To sneeze without appropriate handkerchief measures is the etiquette equivalent of announcing that you hold the world in great disdain and would destroy it in a breath if you could.

In some countries, this is crime enough to end in a quick and public stoning.

Always cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze.

Stories That Never Were #4

The request: Make up a title for a story I didn't write, and I will respond with details of those non-written stories.

The Title: Ignatia Hypotenouse And The Case of The Rusty Trombone

The Result:

Ignatia Hypotenouse’s fantasical name, like most names, was entirely the fault of her parents. In her case, she did not suffer the indignities of woefully inherited names that could be explained away by having been in the family for generations. Ignatia was an adopted child, and her parents felt that instead of assigning her the bland, recognizable names of their families: Mary, Ethel, Nana – or even, in fact, their family name, the detestably common Smith – these free spirits thought she should have a name that was entirely her own. So - they took their passions – homeopathy and mathematics (and not spelling), and an 8 year old Ignatia Hypotenouse was so re-introduced to a world.

A world which would, due to her name, taunt, tease and shun her in her formative years. Although she heard through certain channels that when of her fellow inmates at the orphanage had gone to some Disney fans, and had been saddled with the moniker “Tinkerbell” – eventually shorted to “Tinks.” As the story went, Tinks ended up an exotic dancer – since her name made it difficult for her to be taken seriously anywhere else. Whenever Ignatia felt badly about her name, she thanked heavens for that her name only gave her the sort of lonely difficulties that had chased her into books for companionship at such an early age – a passion for reading that had subsequently led her to become well versed in the fine art of detecting. It began with Encyclopedia Brown then Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes. By high school she had tired of fictional cozies and had turned instead to the hardstuff – forensics, pathology, criminal psychology.

So – complain as she might, (and she did, often and to anyone who would listen) – Ignatia (or “Iggy” as she was known around the studio) knew she owed her career as head writer for CSI to her parents and their unorthodox naming methods.

In this role, she received many calls from fans and cranks wanting to give her an idea for her next big case – so when she started getting repeated notes regarding a “Rusty Trombone” she quickly filtered them into her trusty circular file. But one day, when the receptionist was out to lunch and Iggy had to answer her own phone, a strangely familiar voice came over the line. “Is this Ignatious Hypotenouse? This Tinkerbell Johnson – we…we were at St. Mary’s together.” A sob should the receiver. “Tinkerbell?” Iggy whispered into the phone. “Tinks, what is it?” “It’s the bandleader of the burlesque house – he’s missing and their blaming me because of some instrument they found in the dumpster of my building. Please, Ignatious, I need your help. I don’t have anywhere else to turn.”

Ignatious grabbed a well-chewed pencil and her notepad. “Slow, down, Tinks. Tell me everything. Start from the beginning. And Tinks..”
“Yes.”
“Call me Iggy.”

And so Ignatious Hypotenouse began the strange case of The Rusty Trombone – her first hands-on investigation and…the following year, her first Emmy nominated episode.

Stories That Never Were #3

The request: Make up a title for a story I didn't write, and I will respond with details of those non-written stories.

The Title: To Hell in a Handbasket and Back

The Result:
Mary Sue squirmed in her seatbelt. “Insulated my ass,” she muttered. It hadn’t been difficult for Martin to convince her that Hades would be a grand vacation adventure now that the underworld had opened its doors to tourism due to the increasingly high cost of torture. “Rekindle the old fire, ha ha” he said. How easily he sold her on the “Jesus Special” (“Descend into Hell – Return on the 3rd Day or Your Money Back!”) as a good way to get the lay of the land without making too much of a financial or spiritual commitment. And how calmly he assured her that the advertised “Handbasket” mode of transportation was just a clever marketing euphemism for “Coach Class”

Now, strapped tightly into sharp, leaking wicker that was allowing the River Styx to stain her best travel clothes, Mary Sue cursed Martin under her breath. She didn’t know why she listened to him –things always ended like this. Mary Sue miserable thanks to Martin’s machinations – from which Martin inevitably & elegantly extradited himself at the last moment. Not that the heartattack had been elegant, exactly, but at least it didn’t involve his pores being permanently infused with sulfur.

On the plus side, the resort had called to confirm her trip, ensuring her that Martin had already arrived (This was promising, the prompt service – their call came before the hospital’s did). At least they’d still get to have the weekend together. And she could give him one last piece of her mind.

And then see if she could exchange an extra torture or two for him in order to get herself a travel upgrade for the return trip.

Stories That Never Were #2

The request: Make up a title for a story I didn't write, and I will respond with details of those non-written stories.

The Title: In One Word--Umbrellas!

The Result:
In a future world where both written and spoken language are forbidden to anyone outside the powerful elite, a young girl discovers a relic hidden in the bottom of her dead grandmothers jewelry box. At first she assumes it is a dirty rag, but something in the imagery stops her – the markings seem deliberate. Ordered.

As working class, she has never encountered words before – even grunting is forbidden to those taught only to communicate via simple body semaphore. Because speech is forgotten to them, no one has whispered to of legends times past when things were different. And she wouldn’t have understood them even if they had.

What she did understand was that her grandmother had kept this thing – safe and secret for a reason. And when she unriddles it’s meaning, with the help of the young boy to whom she has assigned no name (never knowing why she should), she will shake down the oppressive phylarchy like the trumpet tumbling down the walls of Jerhico in word—“Umbrellas!”

Stories That Never Were #1

The request: Make up a title for a story I didn't write, and I will respond with details of those non-written stories.

The Title: Was it Really Gazpacho?

The Result:Edgar Anderson was a trustfund baby, raised, along with his interest, by a board of financiers and the blind old family Nanny who often had time distinguishing Edgar from the family dog, (also named Edgar, as his mother, exhausted from childbirth, couldn’t be troubled to think of a second name at the time), which was given to Edgar as a gift on the occasion of his birth by his perpetually absent father. By age 5, he had stopped correcting Nanny. By age 7, he had begun seeking inward for those intangibles he couldn’t find around him. By 7 ½ he had suffered his first existential crisis. By 16, he had subscribed (and made sizable donations to) most of the world religions. At 21, and fully in control of his finances, Edgar exhausted them immediately, in search of a mythical yogi atop a distant mountain, about whom he heard whispers in every cult, ashram & “estate” the board of financiers had spent his teen years rescuing and deprogramming him from. At 23 – he succeeded, and was able to ask this wisest of wise men one question.

The book begins with Edgar at 24, trembling, broke, exhausted, half-way around the world from everyone and everything he ever knew….preparing to make a new life for himself armed only with the cold coffee left in his thermos and the answer to the question that had plagued Mankind throughout the ages. Join Edgar as he makes sense of his life among the ruins, and wonders, each and every day at this wisdom of the ages, whispered so succinctly from the weathered lips of the old man. Was it really, “gazpacho?” Or had the yogi merely mistook Edgar for the young man who regularly took his lunch order?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

2005 - Hamlyn2 (the other side of the story) - still in progress

Like Hamlyn - this is a pretty static sequence, with one person relating a story to another. I'm really just working an idea out I had a while ago - and haven't quite hit the right balance with it yet. This section is probably about 1/2 finished.

“Married, friend?” Fluvio asked, leaning close enough to the fellow next to him at the bar that his lips nearly touched the man’s shoulder. His stool wobbled, and he swung back a little too quickly to right himself, sloshing more than a modicum of ale on the already sticky bar surface. When he finished swearing, he turned to see that his erstwhile companion had beat a hasty retreat to a table in the far corner of the common room. Fluvio raised his half-empty mug to him in a combination salute/apology. He turned back to the bar and continued to no one in particular. “I was married once. Still am I suppose.” He empty his mug and slammed it suddenly on the bar – pushing it forward with a grunt to indicate to the stoic bartender that he’d like another. He’d put a guilder down when he game in the bar hours ago – so the bartender was happy to let the fellow drink himself blind (or, hopefully, hoarse) – but that didn’t mean he had to talk to him.

“Women,” the little man continued, “Women have been the root of all my trouble. Specifically, wives. Well, and witches. Women, wives and witches. Yessir. I’m through with all of ‘em.”

Roberto (the bartender, who will take the narration of this tale from here-on-in, as I have arbitrarily decided to change point-of-views mid-paragraph) righted an overturned mug on the bar top, and began wiping it with his greasy rag. “Surprised they’d have the likes of you.” Fluvio snorted and buried his head deeper in his cup. “Besides. Can’t ‘ov given you too much trouble – not when you’ve still got a purse like that.” Roberto had a real loathing for men of this sort; loafs and lay bouts that life seemed to work out for. The weight that jangled in his purse (which he’d be keener to put away, if you asked Roberto – flashing that much wealth around without care was liked to get his purse strings – not that that was Roberto’s business, so long as his bill was paid in full first) spoke volumes about his ease of life, and his pipe informed all that this was a man of the road – with no job or home or whelp to tie him down. Granted – his clothes (the huntsman’s shirt and breeches, combined with the cape as wild as a foolscap and that ridiculous red hat) were a bit of an oddity; but having listened to the man rant for the past few hours – Roberto felt that this could well be one of those instances where the clothes might actually reflect the man within them; crazy.

“What, this?” he said, waving his purse about. The noisy chatter that filled the background paused a moment; Roberto could suddenly feel the intense gaze of a hundred pairs of eyes on them, and he inwardly noted that if the gentleman kept this up, he’d likely end up with his throat cut instead of his purse strings) – “Feh. Pointless. Useless. It’s disgusting. Covered in blood.” Roberto picked the guilder up from the bar, spun it in his practiced fingers, and even bit it openly.

”Looks plenty clean to me, musician.”

“Musician? Me? Aye, once. Now I’m no better than your average mercenary. An animal.” Roberto began to suspect the gentleman was looking to have his throat cut – and said so. Fluvio laughed. “After witches and a wife, why should a fear a few men with knives?”

Roberto sighed and leaned closer to the man at the bar. He could see his daughter, Brenda, making her way thought the crowd, serving the customers – both high born and low, with her usual sass and grace. She was a good girl, his Brenda – but Roberto found himself wondering how much longer it would be before she sent men crying in their cups.

If she hadn’t already. He shook the image from his head; the thought was more than his paternal heart could bear.

“Alright, musician, you’ve clearly got a tale to tell – so out with it and be done. And don’t be expecting me to pay you for it in the end; I know that trick. And the last man who came looking for a shoulder to cry on and then tried to demand payment for the ‘entertainment’ when his weeping was done left here with a fewer bones intact than when he came in through my door.

Fluvio snorted, and tossed a few guilders loudly across the bar. Roberto made them vanish with a silent skill to rival that of any cutpurse. Roberto gave the musician an appraising look. He was well (if strangely) dressed, that much was true; but despite his heavy purse his face with thin, and his eyes threatened to be swallowed any moment by the dark hollows of their sockets. He signaled for his daughter to take over coverage of the bar, and ignored her look of disdained incredulity. He produced a dusty cobalt bottle from beneath the bar (it was without label, covered only in a layer of fine dust), and two glasses. He came out from behind the bar and half-drug/half carried the musician to a private room just behind the bar area. Tossing the musician into a seat, he removed the cork from the bottle with a practiced ‘pop’, and poured a measure of thick, amber liquid into each glass. Even from the tabletop, the sweet sting of the drink made his eyes water. He shoved a glass roughly into the musician’s hand, then clicked their glasses together.

Roberto took a thoughtful sip – fighting back the cough that threatened his throat when the first few drops went down, warming his insides with its familiar flame. “You’ve an audience now, musician. Might as well talk.”

Fluvio stared down into his glass, his head bent so far Roberto was surprised it did not simply roll from his neck and into some dark corner under the table. The musician stayed so long that way that Roberto wondered if he hadn’t passed out already. Irritated, he pushed his chair back from the table. He had customers to care for – why he had even come back here –

Before Roberto could stand to leave, a baleful sigh whistled through the musician’s lips.

”She was,” he said, his eyes still in his cups, “the plainest, most stubborn, least agreeable woman I had met in all my travels. Every time she looked at me with her cold eyes, my stomach turned and my skin crawled.”

Roberto eased back into his seat, his glass growing warm in his hand. “The witch.”

Fluvio laughed – it was a surprising sound – raspy and unnatural; it shook his thin frame till it rattled. “No. The witch was a delightful, obliging woman…very obliging. This young harpy was my wife.”

“Maybe you should have married the witch.”

Fluvio spat. “I should’ve burned her, is what I should have done. But I am a sad, weak man. My wife – she was a good woman. Deserved better than that…to die that way. If she is dead.” Roberto’s hand moved stealthily, unconsciously beneath the table to the knife he kept at his hip; he hadn’t anticipated the drunk to be the violent type – but his years behind the bar had taught him about the deceptive quality of looks.

“So…” he ventured carefully, “you killed your wife to run off with witch … or tried to? Why not just leave her – walk away?”

“You don’t understand. My wife…she was a harpy when I met her – or so I thought. Cold, aloof, the other girls from her village would blush and pull their skirts up if I so much as looked their way – and there she was – this ugly thing who wouldn’t even give me a smile in exchange for a song.”

“Ah,” Roberto said, “a challenge.

”Exactly. And there was a time…when I was young…when a challenge was not something to be turned away from. So I wagered myself that I’d bed in a week’s time.”

“And did you?”

“No – she was a tougher nut to crack than that. It took me a month – and I had to wed her besides. Oh – I didn’t mind – marriage was my idea – and a surprise it was too. She was…the more I wooed her the more besotted I became myself. She was different. Smart – and not just the book kind, but witty too. She barely spoke – sometimes I wouldn’t hear a word from her for days – and then when she broke the silence it was but a few words that cut so deep I actually felt I would bleed. So instead of wooing her with love songs and sweet words, I worked hard to get her to turn that tongue of her sweetly to me. So I talked to her. I talked until I was blue in the face. And when I couldn’t talk anymore I listened – and I learned how much of herself she hid away behind her mousey hair and thick waste. Outside, she was the quintessential milk maids daughter – but beneath – she was alight with a curiosity and passion and independence I had never seen in another woman – or indeed man – in all my days. And when she talked about the world and her desires that passion burned her up from the inside – and then she was beautiful. And I knew if there was going to be any woman on this whole earth to share the road with me, it would be she.”

Sunday, November 06, 2005

2005 - Hamlyn

“May I smoke?” she asked, already pulling a long-thin lady’s cigarette and tapping it on a silver case. It seemed out of place with her casually modern attire – a white sundress decorated with small green flowers, and a matching green sweater and mules. I pegged her as the conservative sort as soon as she walked through the door. I never would have made her for someone to waver something so obviously valuable about. Maybe I was slipping.

No chance. Her case was… different. I knew that. Now was not the time to start second guessing myself, times being what they were.

“Of course,” I smiled, gesturing to the crystal ashtray at the end of the couch. She moved it onto the coffee table in front of her, placing her case besides. I couldn’t read it the initials from where I sat, but I could see that it was elegant, monogrammed, and bearing the slight tarnish of true silver.

She lit up with a cheap, drugstore lighter (her practiced hands quickly bypassing the parental safeties that my own hands often stumbled over) and inhaled gratefully, then let the smoke out slowly, reluctantly, from pursed lips. “Thank you,” she said. “I can’t tell you how long its been since I’ve the luxury of smoking indoors. I can never get one of these lit in the wind.”

“I like people to be comfortable,” I smiled and nodded towards her case. “Family heirloom? I haven’t seen one in ages. Looks quite old.”

She laughed – it was a deep, throaty laugh that exploded from her tiny frame, and broke down into the hacking cough all smokers share. I offered her some water from the decanter by my elbow – but she shook her head and held up her hand as the cough subsided. “Old,” she said, still coughing. “You have no idea.”

“So tell me,” I said, leaning back in my chair and threading my fingers behind my head; unsure which had creaked – my back or the old office furniture.

She pushed her hair back behind her ear and took another drag from her cigarette, her body crouched over the ashtray as though it might escape her any moment.. “Well, it’s like this, Doc,” she said “I’m about 700 years old – give or take a few decades.”

“I’m a Detective, Ms. Farmer, not a Doctor. And if you don’t mind my saying so, you don’t look a day over 30.” I almost never took the loonies anymore – but I’d had her vetted – and she had seemed sane enough. And more importantly, her back account was full to bursting – and things being what they were, I couldn’t be too picky.

A grim smile pursed her lips, “Sorry, Detective. Force of habit. Almost everytime I tell this story, it’s to some damn doctor or another. Oh – don’t worry – they’ve always found me to be “harmless,” but of course you know that. Now, now, don’t be embarrassed, I wouldn’t want to work with a detective who hadn’t been thorough enough ohave me checked out.” I gave a non-committal nod, as I mentally began firing my street guys. Outsourcing never did pay in my business. She leaned back onto the soft, stretching her arms out along the top; the smoke crawling up her cigarette towards the chipped plaster ceiling. “In fact, do you mind if I just call you ‘Doc,’ Detective? It’d make things go faster.”

“As you like, Ms. Farmer.”

“Please, call me Edna,”

“Please, Ms. Farmer, you’ve given me a PhD; the least I can do is maintain the manners my mother gave me.”

“It’s your office, after all, I suppose you’d better do as you will.”

“Please continue, Ms. Farmer.”

“Well, Doc, as I said, I’m just over 700 years old – nearing 750, actually, but I am a woman, so you must allow me my small vanities. I was born in a small village in Germany which hasn’t existed for so long even I can’t remember what it was called. My parents were famers – hence the name – and I was the perrineal farmer’s daughter.”

“German?” I interrupted. I don’t hear any trace of accent.

“Really? People often tell me they hear some Boston in my vowels. Still, I’ve been a long time in this country. I haven’t sounded like a haus frau for..well..ages.” She stubbed out her cigarette butt and lit another. She offered her case to me, wordlessly, and I fought the impulse to take one. I’d given it up long ago…and the smell of her own, girlie cigarettes were almost enough to drive me to distraction. I feared an entire cigarette would push me right into a lung-eroding bliss and oblivion. She pulled her legs up under her.

“This part of the story isn’t terribly original, I’m afraid. Young, naïve farm girl meets worldly, musician who fills her head with stories of the big city. It wasn’t that he was especially good-looking, you understand.” She leaned back and closed her eyes, the faint trace of a smile making it’s way over her face. “Oh, I suppose he was handsome in a common sort of way; strong jaw, bright eyes – and a slim build—making him decidedly different from the farm boys I was accustomed to. It was his stories; he’d seen the world – or more of it than I had, you understand. And, of course, the music. Young girls have gone giddy for musicians since the dawn of time itself. Just ask Eurdyce.”

”You know her?” I asked.

“I’m speaking metaphorically, Doc. I’m old, but not that old. And certainly not that crazy.”

”I never said..”

“They never do. My point is that he was a big city musician and I was a small town girl…”

“And one thing led to another,” I said, fiddling with my pen. “You’re right. It is an old story.”

”That’s just it – one thing didn’t lead to anything. At least not right away. Look at me, Detective. I’m not hideous, but I’m nothing special.” She pressed on, surprising me but not allowing me to suggest she was wrong. “Even without 700 years of gathered wisdom I knew better than to let some fast talker turn my head. Or at least I thought I did. After all, there were many other girls far prettier than I who’d bed him for a smile and a song; and I was smart enough to know a song wouldn’t feed a child any children he might leave behind.”

She leaned her back against the faded velvet armrest; and folded her stocking feet beneath her. “You know, in all this time, I never really figured out what drew him to me in the first place.” She held her cigarette to her lips for a moment, and just held it there, not breathing. Without inhaling, she laid it gently down in the ashtray. “In the end, I guess it was because I resisted him so strongly at first. I think he’d become so accustomed to pretty young girls falling at his feet that he was challenged by the plain, resistant one.

“In any case, woo me he did, and in no small manner. After I rejected his advances, he put down his pipe and fast-talked my father into giving him some odd jobs at the farm. Father wasn’t hard to convince – I had no brothers and he was getting on in years. He never trusted him… but he wasn’t so foolish as to let his worries stop him from having a willing, strong back around. Father didn’t allow him into the house except for at mealtimes, so he wooed me in the fields and when we met up on the road to and from market. He told me stories that made me laugh until my side split; he revealed the secrets of his youth. He engaged me in arguments about what was going on in the world, and listened to everything I said as though I were his equal. One night, when the moon was dark, we sat in the fields and he wept on my neck over a long lost love who broke his heart.

“Don’t laugh at me Detective. I know now these are the way to remove an earnest woman from her smallclothes – but at the time, I believed he believed in me. And when he asked me to marry him, I was sure.”

“My parents could see right away it was a bad match – and made no bones about telling me so. That’s where they failed, I suppose. The quickest way to get a stubborn young girl to do anything is to tell her not to. But I can hardly blame them – this was the 13th century; reverse psychology hadn’t been invented yet.”

“The worse part is, even then I knew it was a bad idea. He was a young man, accustomed to independence, and the very things that made him attractive to me were going to make him attractive to many other young women. And I was just a farm girl, with little education and barely a bosom to speak of. On the night we became engaged, he kissed me with such force and clasped me so tightly I thought he would squeeze all the air from me and leave me a husk on the ground; and even then I knew I’d never be able to hold him tightly enough to keep him from straying. Three days after our engagement, I offered him a chance to walk away without reproach. And he swore to me with tears in his eyes that I was the only woman he wanted, and the only one he’d ever need for the rest of our lives.” She rearranged herself again, lifting her eyes up to meet mine. “And you know what, Doc, I knew at that moment he was lying – but he seemed to want to believe it so badly – and I wanted it to be true more than I had ever wanted anything – so believe I did. And so we were married. I’ll take that water, now, if you don’t mind.”
I sloshed some water in a glass, inwardly sorry that I hadn’t at least dusted them clean before her appointment. They hadn’t been used in ages. Still, she took it from me gratefully, and if she noticed the dust and cracks, she was too classy to acknowledge them.

“Take your time, Ms. Farmer,” I said gently, crossing my legs and tapping my pen on my notepad. I’d taken very few notes during her story. “Traveling musician” I had written. And “Infidelity?” She was right; aside from her incredible claims about her age – there was nothing extraordinary about her story. “Marry in haste,” my mother had often warned me, “and repent at your leisure.” It’s one of the many things that had kept me safely a bachelor. That and the slug imbedded in my body that all but insured I’d never father any brats of my own. Made marriage seem a bit needless in my estimation. And the one woman I’d thought I’d try it with anyway was too eager to be a mother to try it without the whelping. “Would you like to take a break, stretch your legs on the balcony a bit? You’ve been talking quite a while.”

She shook her head again. “No, I’m fine. Funny though, isn’t it – time passes and you think all those feelings are gone. You’d think 7 centuries would be enough to forget. I can’t recall where I was born, or my best friend’s name or my mother’s face; but then I catch a scent in the air like the sun on his skin in the morning and well…well, I’m getting ahead of myself here, Doc. Let me back up some.”

“By all means.”

“So, it went well enough in the beginning, as most marriages do. Have you ever been married, Doc? No? You should try it sometime. When it’s good, it’s very, very good – and when it’s bad, well,” she shrugged playfully, “it makes you see the good in being single. In any case, I traveled with him for a few weeks following the wedding – and he doted on me every day. This was it, I thought, my life on the road – a man who loved me and adventure every day.”

“After about 2 months of travel, however, I was exhausted and our conversation was becoming strained. I wasn’t used to traveling; and when I had in the past it had been only to the nearest town and back – either by foot or wagon; all this horseback riding and sleeping on roadsides and haylofts was more adventure than I bargained for. At first I bit my tongue, afraid to complain; but soon enough he made noises about how he was usually much more successful around that time of year, but he moved faster on his own and could visit more villages in a short amount of time. I confessed I was road-weary and homesick – so he promised to take me to his cottage where I could set-up house while he earned our living. He said it so kindly that I wept with relief and ignored the eyes he made at the serving wench at the inn where were spent that night. And I said nothing when I awoke to an empty pallet in the morning. He said he was making some extra money by assisting with the morning collection of eggs, and I believed him; I knew it wasn’t true in my heart of hearts – but a marriage is based on trust, afterall – and one must start somewhere.

“So he set me up in a small cottage at the base of the mountains.” She laughed bitterly. “Cottage. Even now I’m protecting his image. It was barely a shack – one room with a chimney, a dirt floor and a handful of thatch that was less ceiling than sky. Worst of all, it was several days walk to the nearest village. He deposited me with a kiss and an ear full of promises of gifts and riches, and soon I was spending days, weeks, even months at a time alone - far away from everyone and everything.

“I was fifteen.

“I busied myself for a time making the ‘cottage’ a habitable place to live. And every so often my husband would come home to me. If his pockets jingled then he would cover me with kisses and sing me songs and kept me up nights until I thought the world itself would become tousled and breathless. And if he came home without a song in his step, I was treated to sullen silences, overturned stewpots – and anxious waiting when he stormed out the door if my nerves were stretched far enough to ask about the love bites yellowing on his neck and chest.

“Still (although he often threatened) he never raised a hand to me in anger; worse marriages had been made, and even if I did not have the life of song and adventure he wooed me with, I was not altogether unhappy.

“But I was terribly lonely. Sometimes, when he was in his silences, I tried to pick a fights with him so he would strike me – so long as he’d at least acknowledge me. Funny, isn’t it, Doc? You’d think being lonely when someone else was around would be easier – but it wasn’t. It was much, much worse.” She lit another cigarette. This time it took her several tries to maneuver the child protection lid.

“I see nothing humorous about spousal abuse, Ms. Farmer.”

“No, of course, not, Doc,” she said, scratching her knee, and causing a small hole to form in her hose.

“Ms. Farmer, if your husband was in someone abusive, you would be better served by going to the appropriate authorities. I don’t know what you’ve heard about my services – but I find people – perhaps spy on them a bit. I’m not in the …how shall I put it… revenge business.”

“No, no, Doc. Don’t you worry. I just want you to find him for me. No funny business, honestly.”
“You understand stand, I’m not a lawyer, there’s no confidentiality agreement between us; if you tell me you mean to do him harm.”

“Doc, relax. Honestly. Have a smoke. I’m a tiny woman. I could hardly do him any harm. I just…want to talk to him.”

“Why?”

She made a noise that was somewhere between a laugh and a snort of derision. “Million dollar question, that is, Doc. I suppose I want to know why?”

“Why what?”

“Why he left me like that. Why I had to be punished.”

At last, I thought. Familiar territory, the woman scorned. This one wouldn’t be the first to let the disappointment make her a little batty. “Left you, Ms. Farmer?” She looked down and bit her lip, giving only the smallest of nods. “I don’t mean to be … indelicate… but I assume there was another woman?”

“No,” she said, a bit too firmly for my comfort. Why had I agreed to see her alone? “I mean, yes, of course there was another woman. It was the one who gave him that stupid red hat – he thought it such a prize – I could never get him to take it off, and red was a terrible color on him. But – it wasn’t her, the woman. There were so many women – how could I have left him for her and not the others? No, Doc. It was them. The children.”

“Children?” Her background check had not turned up any known relations.

“I told you, Doc. He was gone so often, and I was so lonely. I thought perhaps that if I had a babe to bounce on my knee I wouldn’t have to be alone. And so I told him I wanted children.” She tapped her fingers against her case, her nails clicking staccato.

“And he didn’t?”

“Honestly? I don’t think he cared either way. The longer we were together the more evident it became to me that the cottage wasn’t any kind of home for him. The road was his home, and our little cottage was just another inn and I was someone to tend to his knees. One child there more or less wouldn’t have troubled him either way.

“And, besides, he liked to have something to brag about now and then. And a new father is entitled to the odd free drink here and there.

“I think it was my timing that was bad. The Plague was starting..you know, the Plague, Doc?”

“’Ring Around the Rosies’ and all that?”

“Got it in one. Well, The Plague was becoming a real problem…and it made travel difficult – and out-of-towners – even those that might bring news and songs. So the money dried up – and he was finding himself forced to be at home more and more. And all the while he was home, I was troubling him for babies.”

“Some men would be happy for such a willing wife.”

“Yes, well, all he could seem to hear was that I wanted another mouth to feed. I was young, then. Foolish.”

“Folly is meant for the youth, Ms. Farmer.”

Again, she graced me with an unexpectedly large and open smile. Right that moment, I could see how a young man might fall in love with a smile like that. Perhaps even an older one. I felt the sudden need for something stronger than water, and went and fixed myself a whiskey, neat, from the sideboard. I made one for Ms. Farmer as well, and she held it carefully in both hands.

“Someday, Doc, when you have a few weeks of free time, I’ll tell you my whole life’s story. I think you’ll find I’m a woman who is forever doomed for folly when it comes to love. But that’s for another time. Let’s just say, for now, that had I been wiser, then, I would have simply stroked his ego and seduced him into bed, rather than trying to woo him there with requests for squalling babies. I didn’t understand about egos then. Mine or his.

“The more time he was forced to spend at home, the more difficult and withdrawn he became; and the more withdrawn he became, the more lonely I was..and the more I begged for a child. He called me ungrateful, and demanding, and a host of other names – and told me that if he wasn’t company enough for me, than maybe I’d be happier alone. And he grabbed his pipe and his coat, and stormed out of the cottage.

“I did not see him for a month or more.

“I was besides myself with grief and anxiety for the first few days. I wept until I hadn’t the energy to weep any more, then I’d sleep, only to wake and weep some more.

“Then one day I woke up, cleaned myself and the cottage, had some food, and went back to my routine. And to be honest – when I thought he might not come back, I was a little bit happier than I had been, for a time.

“Or so I had thought. One day as I was sweeping the floor he walked in the door, bold as if he’d never left, and gave me a great kiss and squeeze. He was dressed in the strangest clothes I’d ever seen him in; a patchwork coat of many colors..and..of course, that damned hat. I’ll admit, my heart was full to see him, and every harsh word and recrimination I had practiced, every refusal and rejection I planned to say was quickly forgotten when he smiled at me.

“I told you, Doc, folly in love. It’s my fate.

“He was so excited when he came in, I couldn’t have asked him to explain where he’d been all this time even if I had been in the state of mind to try. He sat me down on the rocking chair by the hearth, and told me that all of our financial woes are over. He had, he explained, discovered the most wonderful talent – one he must have had all his life, and had never known before. And each time I opened my mouth to speak and ask him what he meant, he would interrupt me and tell me to ‘Listen, just listen.’ And then he played.

“Now, I had heard my husband play many a time before. He was a proficient piper, if not impassioned; he could well carry a tune a tarvern full of drunkards could happily sing along to for a few pennies and a tankard of ale. But the noise that came out of the pipe…it was…discordant. Painful. I was so afraid I’d anger him into leaving again if I so much as flinched, so I smiled a painful smile, and grabbed a fistful of my apron and skirt to stop myself from raising my hands to my ears.

“It was when I felt something soft brush against my foot that I looked down and saw them. They were everywhere. Beady eyed and long of tooth, coming from all dark corners, and coming like a river in from under the doors.

“Rats?” I asked, suppressing a laugh.

“Rats,” she said with uncommon seriousness. “Never before or since had I seen so many. I would have fainted dead away if I hadn’t been so engaged with screaming.

“My paused his playing just long enough to laugh – a sort of maniacal glee in his eye I hadn’t seen since I agreed to be his bride, then he picked up his pipe and played again, marching out the door. I was rooted to my chair, convinced he had somehow summoned the rats to get rid of me or eat me…but I saw soon enough that they followed after him…every one.

“I was still sitting there, shocked and shaking, when he returned, ruddy and triumphant a half-an-hour later.

“Once he was able to calm me, and convince me that his army of rats had been safely drowned in the river, he explained his plan. Rumour had it that Hamlyn had been run over by rats. The problem was so bad the mayor was looking to someone, anyone, to rid them of them for good. The reward was more than a king’s ransom. He’d march those rats right out of town, and we’d never have to worry about money again. And then, he promised, we could have all the children I could stand. In fact, he was so sure of his success, that we started trying that very night.

“I guess you know the next bit? He did go to Hamlyn and take care of their rats – but then they put off payment. For month’s he waited – and as you can imagine – the longer he waited the more sullen he became; and it wasn’t long before we were fighting about expanding our family – only this time he was crueler – bitterer. And when he vanished again – this time I was convinced it was for good.

“It was only a week that time. But this time when he came in there was no kiss and no laughter. He just took me by the wrist, and drug me kicking and screaming to the side of the mountain. ‘Never let it be said,’ he spat at me, ‘that I don’t keep my promises. All the children you can manage, dear wife.’ Then he tossed me in a cave before I got my bearings the opening closed behind me and I was alone in the darkness.

“I despaired myself for dead – and beat my hands against the walls until they were near bloody. I don’t know if hours passed or minutes – but at some point I realized that not all the crying and screaming I heard was my own. I turned and looked, trying to get my eyes to adjust in the darkness. And there they were, all around me.

“More rats?”

“No, Doc. The children. The children of Hamlyn.”

“I see. I’m sorry. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a children’s story.”

“Children’s nightmare – you mean. Imagine being a child and following someone you think is your friend and saviour – only to have them lock you up to die in a mountain somewhere; and no way of knowing if you’ll ever be saved – or even missed.

“There were fifty-three of them Doc. And their screaming was terrible.”

“What did you do, Ms. Farmer?”

“What any woman would do. I put aside my own fears and tried to calm them. And sang them the songs I knew; some I had learned on when I traveled with my husband - and perhaps they weren’t the most appropriate songs for children – but they were what I knew – and it quieted them soon enough. I hugged them all – every one – and started taking stock of our situation. There was condensation for water – and I soon learned to get over my fear of rats, since whatever I (and, soon, some of the older boys) were able to catch we learned to eat for food. I did my best to keep their spirits up = and we made looking for a way out a game. I learned all their names and kissed all their scrapes and bruises and told them every story I’d ever heard or could make up. I can’t tell you that we were happy, Doc, or even comfortable; we were frightened and cold and lost – but I loved those children. Every one.”
“The day the wall rolled open was one of the most surreal of my life. It was mid-day – and the light that flooded in was horrific. The smaller children ran behind my skirts, screaming – while the bigger children clutched whatever rock or stick they had been using for hunting tighter in the their tiny hands.

“What a sight we must have been – emaciated, filthy, trembling. I can’t even begin to imagine the smell. It wasn’t until the mothers – their real mothers – started shrieking and weeping that I understood we had been saved.

“Saved. That was the word that came from my cracked lips. Someone official grabbed me, and I all but fell into his arms. ‘Saved,’ I mumbled again. But instead of wrapping me in blankets and feeding me as was happening to the children, I was hauled roughly into the sunlight, to blink and stammer as demands were made as to the whereabouts of my ‘demon husband.’”

“Demon?”

“Well – the laws of Nature were different then. And whose to say he wasn’t? He had stolen their children and locked them away – the fact I had been locked away as well didn’t seem to make a difference to them. The boy – the hobbled one who was so famously left behind? – he had seen my husband taking me to the cave – and since I was there and he was not – they were quite happy to punish me for his sins. Since I could not give them his whereabouts – they assumed I was protecting him.

“And who am I to laugh that they called him demon, anyway? After what they did next.”

“What was that, Ms. Farmer. What happened next.”

“They cursed me. Oh – I know it sounds ridiculous – but they called me ‘Witch’ and ‘Demoness’ and all sorts of horrible names. I believe they would have committed me to flames if the children of the town hadn’t threatened to thrown themselves in with me. This too, the people of Hamlyn blamed on my witchcraft - but having just got their children back, they weren’t willing to take the risk. So instead, they cursed me.”

“Cursed you?”

“Yes – they found a man who claimed to be a wizard, paid him what they were meant to pay my husband. Since I was the only one found, I was forced to stand trial – but the curse was on us both. The punishment was manifold. First, for bringing witchcraft to Germany, I was exiled from my homeland on pain of death. Secondly – for stealing their children, the wizard cursed my womb and my husbands seed so neither of us could bring forth issue; and third, and most cruelly – I would be forced to live an additional 15 years per child forced to live in the cave to repay the world for all those years of innocence lost.

I did some quick figures in my head. “That is quite a fantastic tale, Ms. Farmer. But every assuming it were to be true, which as a man of reason I don’t see how I can, it seems to me that if this curse were true, you’re time would almost be up. Why look for your husband now?”

“If not now, when? I’m an old woman, Doc, and as you say, I’ll likely begin aging sooner rather than later. He could have spared me all this, you know, all he had to do was show up and tell them I was a victim too – I had nothing to do with it. I could have stayed in Hamlyn and helped care for those children - and my weary soul could have been put to rest generations ago. Instead he left me there; perhaps he intended me to die in the cave. But surely he must have heard about the trial. If he hadn’t wanted to father my children, surely that didn’t give him the right to let them take away my ability to have my own? What man has the right to take that away from anyone?”

I grimaced, and tasted sour copper in the back of my throat, but said nothing.

“And it’s not that I still carry a grudge; even a woman scorned only has so much energy – but I find I still have so much I don’t know. How could I have failed him so much that he could walk away from me so entirely? Our relationship was far from perfect…but for centuries now I have not been able to stop myself from wanting know that he loved me, at least a little bit – and at least for a short amount of time.

“And, of course, I need to apologize to him.”

”Apologize to a man who was emotionally abusive and left you first for dead and then to face the tribunal for his crimes? Ms. Farmer, really.”

”Don’t you see, Doc. The thing with the children…I think..well, it’s my fault, don’t you think? Going on about children like that when he was clearly so…unbalanced about Hamlyn. Those poor children, and their parents. I’d apologize to them if I could – but I can’t. But I can apologize to him, at least. It would help clear my conscience for when the time does come. “

“Ms. Farmer –are you looking for reconciliation?”

“No, Doc. Whatever tenderness I had for him is long gone, along with my ire. I just…it would just be nice to talk to someone from time to time who I know will be around as long as I am.”

“I still don’t understand what I have to do with this? Assuming – for argument’s sake – that the curse is real, and your husband is still alive – I don’t see what I can do to help you. He could be anywhere in the world.”

”He’s in New York, Doc, I guarantee it. This is exactly the sort of place that would appeal to him. I would track him myself – I certainly have the time – if I thought it was a simple matter of simply calling all the “Piper’s” in the phonebook. And I hear you’re good at finding people who don’t want to be found.

“To tell you the truth, Doc. I’m a bit afraid to find him. Terrified that he’s forgotten me entirely – even with the curse. I’ll bet he doesn’t even think it’s a curse. He’s probably delighted – extended youth and relations with abandon. But even he has to know the loneliness.

I raised an eyebrow. “To hear you speak of him, he doesn’t seem the type to be lonely for long.”

“No – fair enough, Doc. But it’s different, this loneliness; it’s not just being alone – it’s knowing that everything you’ve ever known and loved, and everyone you’ll know and love for a long time to come will eventually disappear from your life. He, at least, could understand that. And maybe if we could face that together, it wouldn’t be so bad, that last century or so wouldn’t be quite so bad.”

“And if I should find him, Ms. Farmer – would you want me to make contact – or just tell you where he can be located?”

She smiled her strange little half smile. “Find him first, Doc. You do that, then we’ll figure out the next step. In fact – I was wondering if you might be able to recommend the services of a good lawyer.”

“Lawyer?” I asked downing the last of my drink. “I could recommend a few. What do you need one for.”

“Well, the way I see it, that bastard owes me a few centuries back child support.”

And then it was my turn to laugh.



Monday, November 22, 2004

Hall of Mirrors

A little comic book style silliness, inspired by this post.

The gallant Twaoonsi Ranger strollied through the lush, tropical nature preserve that sheilded her hidden fortress from the eyes of evil; stopping on an overbluff to sit, watch the sunrise. She sat, stretched her legs, and poured herself some hot coffee from a stainless steel thermos in her pack. The sun crept slowly up from the horizon, stretching it's colorful fingers into the sky. The gallant Twaoonsi Ranger smiled as she sipped her coffee - this is what she missed most when they held her in the deepest pits of the demonic alien planet, the sun. Sure, they had given her powers, but they had taken everything else from her - her identity, her family, her freedom. Well, she had her freedom now - having clawed her way out of the depths of her hellish prison. When she got out, she saw the planets seven firey suns. That's when she knew she had defeated them, that she was free.

That was when she knew she had a purpose.

And that she would never miss a sunrise again.

Some would have consider the Earth's single sun a disappoint after the explosive spectacle of seven simultaneous sunrises, but for The gallant Twaoonsi Ranger, it was the most beautiful site in the universe.

Just as the sky threw off the reds and oranges or morning to cloak itself in its azure glory, The gallant Twaoonsi Ranger felt a sharp pain in her head. "Trouble," she thought as she squeezed her eyes closed, pushing back her fedora to press her red hands to her temples. She could see an amusement park, once grand, now worn and past its glory. Somewhere in it's depths she could sense the pain and confusion of dozens of patrons, their fingers coated in the powdered sugar of funnel cake, their souls sure of their place in the heirarchy of the world. "America," she muttered, "Coney Island." The gallant Twaoonsi Ranger whistled for her Firebrand, her flying Zebra. Soon she was miles above her beloved natural paradise, her coffee forgotten and cooling on the verdant forest floor.

Soon The gallant Twaoonsi Ranger was racing over New York, her long, thick braid whipping violently about in the wind. She tapped whispered something into Firebrand's waiting ear, and they set down by a Nathan's Hotdog stand. "Somethings not right, Firebrand," she said, looking around. It was a beautiful summer day, and yet Coney Island seemed deserted - discarded bits of cotton candy blowing by like tumbleweeds in the wind. "Where is everyone?" she wondered aloud."

Just then she heard a rustling sound behind her. She turned in time to see a small, hairy, blue demon appear in an unecessarily elaborate puff of grey, smoke. The gallant Twaoonsi Ranger blinked away the sting and stench of smoke and brimstone. "Jeffds," she said coldly, keeping her stance open while her muscles tensed to prepare to defend an attack.

"What are you doing here, Ranger?" The satanic Jedffs Warrior asked, his voice like a silky growl. He stood in front of a large atrium, which a wildly painted sign proclaimed 'Hall of Mirrors!. The gallant Twaoonsi Ranger could here a quiet weeping coming from inside.' "They stopped using animals in their amusements decades ago."

"Step aside, Jefdds," The gallant Twaoonsi Ranger demanded, slipping a fire disc from her belt, readying it as it ignited in her grip. "I'm going in."

Jefdds pointed to the Hall of Mirrors, grinning. "What's the matter, Ranger, need to check your makeup before I defeat you?"

The fire disc grew in intensity; and The gallant Twaoonsi Ranger skin illuminated as though she was burning inside. "I...SAID...STEP...ASIDE," she said, and she threw the disc. The world exploded briefly into flames...and then an unconcious, slightly singed Jefdds lay unconcious at the entrance to the Hall of Mirrors. The Ranger kicked his supine, smoking body as she ran inside the hall of mirrors.

The weeping was louder as she ran into the Hall of Mirrors. "Hang on," she called out. "I'm coming." Then she hit the mirrored wall, hard. When she stood, she found herself standing in the center of circular mirrored chamber. She systematically felt around the walls, and could find no exit. She could still here the weeping and moaning of many souls in torment; they seemed both at once near and far. She whistled for Firebrand, but instead of the familar pumping sound of Firebrand's wings, Jefdd's voice filled the air.

"Leaving so soon, Ranger? And you were so anxious to get in."

So. A trap. "What is this Jefdds? Some kind of game? Where am I? What I have you done with those people? Whatever it is, you won't get away with it."

"Relax, Ranger. It's just as the sign said, a Hall of Mirrors. A 360 degree hall at that. Look around you. I'm just giving people a chance to see themselves as others see them, as they really are. I can't help it if they don't like what they see.

" Look there. Look in the mirror. Did you know that duster coat made your rear end look so big?"

"My rear end is NOT BIG," the Ranger screamed, shooting a fire disc at towards the disembodied voice. The mirrors reflected the firey explosion so brightly she feared for a moment she would never be able to see again. She shook with anger listening to The satanic Jeffds Warrior laughter as her vision came back into focus.

"My dear," he said, still laughing - a deep, throaty, animal laugh. "There are things that don't lie: Mirrors, Scales, and I."

"What are you talking about, Jefdds?"

The room got dark around here - until there was just a concentrated beam of light on The Ranger. She could sense Jefdds very close to her - but could not see or touch him. His voice came quiet and close to her ear.

"You may kid yourself about your size, kitten; try to hide yourself under all those men's clothes, but we can see you. I can see you. I know how much you weigh. Shall I tell you?" Then he whispered a number in her ear, then added, "but your outfit makes you look twenty pounds heavier."

The Ranger's eyes grew round as she stared at herself in the 360 degree mirror, her hands working desperately to pull her clothes simultaneously tighter and looser - trying to make the image in the mirror match how she felt on the inside; lean, sexy, strong.
Did she really look this bad? All the time? Why hadn't anyone ever told her? How could her friends have let her walk around like that? She thought she looked good, especially for being a firey red freak.

Her eyes watered, and she could feel the moan rumbling in her stomach before it exploded from her mouth. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" She summonded all of her super-strength and banged both her fists against the mirror in front of her, shattering the mirrored room around her. She found herself face to face with a startled Jefdds in the middle of Coney Island - weeping men and women curled in the fetal position around them.

Before Jefdds had a chance to react, The Ranger was pummeling him, tears streaming down her face. When the authorities arrived, they had to pull her off of Jeffds. After he had been secured they told her she had been screaming; something about "unrealistic media-created body image" and "water weight." She couldn't remember anything but a blinding, debilitating rage, but her throat was sore, so she had no choice but to believe them. She whistled for Firebrand, and before she mounted she turned to the young Red Cross volunteer who was bewildered that all the affected park guests were so violently refusing his offers of food and hot coffee while they waited to speak the detectives. "Hey," the Ranger asked sheepishly, "hey. Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," the Red Cross volunteer smiled, coming over with a donut and coffee and hand, clearly relieved someone was speaking to him civilly.

"Do you think...I mean," the Ranger asked sheepishly,"do these cargo pants make me look fat?"

The Red Cross volunteer shuffled his feet uncomfortably. "I - that is - I mean - I'm sorry m'am. I'm not supposed to answer questions about people's - I mean - you look fine to me - I - just - oh-god - please do hurt me - I'm just supposed to give people donuts. Do you want a donut?" He outstreched a shaky hand, offering the Ranger a donut, she good smell it's sugary glaze. It made her stomach rumble.

She felt her hand reaching for the donut and shuddered. "No, thank you," she said curtly. She mounted Firebrand and escaped into the sky. She promised herself that she would jog to the overbluff tomorrow. And she would start drinking her coffee black.





Thursday, November 18, 2004

Feh

Today I was tired and cranky. Does it show?

Becky was tired; the kind of tired that overtook all else. She was too tired to eat, to think, to sleep. Her glassy eyes stared at her computer monitor, as she desperately struggled to look busy lest someone provide he with actual work to do. In her state, actual work was a disaster waiting to happen. Her eyes glanced around her austere desktop. A clean black radio; neatly-lined up, alphabetical file folders; a pen cup organized by pen type and ink color. Becky chewed on her thumb cuticle and silently cursed her anal-retentive ways. Organizing always looked liked industrious activity.

She alt-tabbed her open text document back to her browser – wondering with ire which co-worker was whistling loudly on the other side of the office. (Who could be happy enough to whistle in this desolate place?) Even the Internet, with it’s up-to-the-nanosecond news and things that went “flash” and “bing” couldn’t offer anything to focus her muddy brain.

She bent her head simultaneously lifted her glasses and rubbed her eyes with her thumb and forefinger. It was that damn anxiety dream. Could you call it an anxiety dream if it didn’t make you anxious? It had had all the classic hallmarks: an task of some importance she was expected to but entirely unprepared for (in this case a performance of the scene with an “acting partner” in an acting class); strange celebrity guests (including a television chef (who she believed was an imposter because he offered her sugar-free chocolate – as if), a British actor dressed as the character she most recently saw him play on TV, Donald Rumsfeld, and her boss (as “The Teacher’). In the dream she was pretty sure that she could cram-memorize her lines in the few moments before the performance – but she was entirely bewildered by her partner’s desire to obtain live worms for the scene.

In any case, she hadn’t been nervous about it – yet there she had lain in bed this morning, from 4AM onward, her brain adamantly denying her body’s desperate cries for sleep.

To sleep perchance, yadda yadda yadda. Becky wondered how many of her fellow cube-veal would notice if she found herself a duvet and crawled under her desk for a few hour power nap.

Not the whistler, at the very least. Stupid, bland, Snow White mimicking bastard.

Becky leaned back, yawned and stretched; pretending that the creaking noises came from the chair and not her joints. Almost everyone she knew seemed to be having anxiety dreams lately. Maybe there was something in the water, or something missing from it.

Oh, Christ, she mused. I hope my brain isn’t having some sort of high school graded crisis – generating sleeplessness just to be a joiner.

“Stupid, insecure brain,” she muttered, as she flipped through her still empty email box.

“You’re not stupid? Why would you say that?” The chipper voice Becky detested most in the world chriped from just behind her chair.

“Marcia,” she said as civilly as she could manage, barely turning her chair to face her office-arch-enemy; tall, slender, blonde, with a permanent and huge forced-smile that only Botox could stop from causing her face to become one giant wrinkle. “Oh, hi, nothing. It was nothing. I was just talking to myself. Rough night.” She turned back to her monitor and pretended to start writing a memo. Instead of going away as she had hoped, Marcia leaned her sat her tailored skirt on the edge of Becky’s desk. She made tutting noises and put a well-manicured hand on Becky’s shoulder.

“You know, Bethy, girls our age can’t be going out like we used to. It’s so bad for our complexion. And no-one promotes a woman with pasty skin.”

Becky took a deep breath and willed the growl that was growing in her throat to subside.

“It’s Becky actually, Marcia. Did you need something? ‘Cause I’m kind of in the middle of something here…”

“No…I just hate to hear you say you’re stupid. You’re not. Why don’t you come out to lunch with the girls and me today? Fresh air might wake you up.”

I’d rather skewer my own eyes out with a Number 2 pencil. “Oh, thanks. But I brought something in with me.”

Marcia’s mouth frowned - but her forehead resisted. “Well, ok,” she said in her best disappointed-voice. “You know where to find us if you change your mind.”

“Thanks. Really. I’ve got stuff to catch up on,” Becky waved her hand vaguely at her computer. She shrugged apologetically as she watched Marcia turn out of her cubicle.

“The girls” was the a tight-knit group of thirty-somethings who lunched together everyday – carefully crafting and enforcing the pigeonholing office hierarchy between bites of Caesar salad and TV sitcom recaps. She had a standing invitation to join them; they seemed to think that since she was in the same age range she was just like them, but after the first ten minutes of the first painful lunch she knew that wasn’t true.

For one thing, Becky’s voice couldn’t even produce that high-squealling sound they seemed to make when they were excited, her political views were all wrong, and she had a hard time keeping up with the conversation as they all seemed to be talking around one another rather than to one another.

And Becky always felt they were over-interested in the state of her ovaries. When Brenda (whose conversation usually consisted of reports of what she did with her church group that weekend) observed during the “why don’t you want to have kids” conversation for the third time in so many lunches that if Becky didn’t want to have kids, she must just want to have “lots and lots of fun sex” – (an observation based on no input from Becky herself, and one that Brenda seemed overly-eager to share anytime the words “Becky” and “babies” came up in the same conversation) that Becky decided brining her lunch in was a safer, saner option.

Becky pulled her blue, insulated lunch bag out from under her desk, and freed a peanut-butter sandwich from it’s plastic wrap. She pulled off a corner and chewed it absently.

At least that weird one who used to shadow them, Esmerelda, seemed to have gone away. She had been a piece of work, that one. She could barely manage to answer the phones effectively, and yet she always seemed to think she knew everyone else’s job better than they did.

Rumor was she was fired for being part of some subversive internet website. “The Girls” were insisting it was porn. Becky didn’t see how – Esmerelda had been so mousey – so poorly kempt; but then again – she supposed everyone was somebody’s porn idea. (What a great bumper sticker that would be, she grinned.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Birthday

A long post - but possibly not much to see here. There is no purpose - I just followed this character around a bit - trying to incorporate a few suggestions (and also my mis-reading of a headline today, which actually read "Poetry Beamed In Space"). I guess what I'm saying is don't expect too much. And don't get too attached to Fraser. There might be more later, and there might not.

Fraser Bright stepped through the portal and back into the leather-appointed office of the Honorary French consul. “Bienvenue en arrière, madame. Allait-il comment votre voyage?” asked the unsmiling intern, not even bothering to look away from her computer monitor. Fraser could hear the familiar dings of an instant message conversation ringing from the mousy girl’s computer.

“Beau, merci, mademoiselle.” Fraser answered as she plopped herself into the thick honey-colored leather chair put aside for visitors who experienced travel sickness. Fraser had traveled by portal a handful of times, she was pratically a pro; she learned long ago that squeezing her eyes during the travel process went a great way in quelling the initial nausea and disorientation most people felt watching the landscape dissolve around them. She was just a little light-headed – and knew it would pass, but she slumped down slightly in the chair and gave out a low moan. She could hear the abrupt cessation of the click of sharp nails against the keys, and the barely surprised sigh as the intern pushed her chair away from the desk and went to the water cooler. Fraser put her head between her knees so the intern couldn’t see her grinning.
Snotty little bitch.

Fraser kept her eyes down as she listened to the girls heels click against the parquet floor. The intern’s toes appeared just beneath Fraser’s overturned auburn hair. They looked painfully pointed. “Etes-vous bon, Madame? Avez-vous besoin d'un docteur?” Fraser shook her lowered head and gestured for the girl to put the water on a nearby table.

“Non. Pas de docteur,” she muttered. She waited until she heard the return of the sign-song AOL chimes to sit up and sip the water slowly.

She understood the girl’s scorn. Fraser was a Luncher – the lowest of the portal travelling low. Lunchers could travel to the destination country for a vastly discounted price – with the caveat that their trip could not last more than one hour. Originally started as a promotion to introduce the wealthy business traveler to the pleasures of portal travel (see the Seine on your lunch hour, be back in time for your 1 pm board meeting!), it soon became the illicit splurgey thrill of young, urban 30-somethings who couldn’t afford a proper vacation but still wanted to fill the languishing pages of the passports.

Fraser prided herself for not being like other Lunchers. For one thing – she always strove to learn a bit of the official language of the country she was visiting, she never got drunk and argued with the locals, and she never advertised her country of origin unless pressed. She considered herself a guest of these countries, not a conqueror. She was also very, very prompt when it came to her return trip; although this was more about good finance than good manners. She hadn’t visited a country yet that hadn’t charged excessive “overage fees” for every minute a Luncher overstayed their one-hour visit. Fraser worked with someone whose indulgence of a half-hour during their anniversary lunch in Tibet meant they had to take out a second mortgage on their house.

Fraser stood up, pulled her faux rabbit fur coat tightly around her, and headed for the door. She bypassed the brochures offering more flexible travel options (weekend packages, visits limited only by the length of your visa – special European Union packages that allowed Americans to visit 6 countries in 6 days!). She used to pick these up as a courtesy – or perhaps out of fantasy – but she had given up on that. Airlines, though frustrating, were still the cheapest way to travel – and until she hit the elusive big time (or bagged herself a millionaire) – she’d have to live with jet lag, crying babies and cramped legs when she wanted to travel.

The cold January air cut into Fraser’s skin as her feet hit the slate paving stones. The sky was gray and dark – not so different from the weather in Paris. She walked by the old brownstones and admitted to herself that Philadelphia was a lovely city – but it was no Paris. She’d be brown-bagging it for months to pay for this trip – but to lunch lightly on the Seine on her birthday had been worth it. Her annual trip to Paris always renewed her spirits- made her feel bright and alive. Let others have Paris in the Springtime! She much preferred it in winter – slate gray skies, streets less crowded with hopeful young lovers, and a substantial discount for off-peak travel.

Although she was disappointed, as she had, predictably, forgotten to bring along her camera. Typical.
Were it not for her passport stamps – no one would ever believe she had left the city, let alone the country.

Pulling her hands into her lined sleeves, Fraser considered her options for the rest of the day. She could window shop – the only kind of shopping she’d be able to afford for a while, maybe catch a matinee. She never planned too much ahead for her birthday celebrations.


They started the same way– Frasher pulled her overcoat and Galoshes over her flannel pajamas, plunked a hat on her still unbrushed hair – and then braved a quick trip to one of the many Starbucks ™ in her neighborhood (you could pick a random direction from her front door . They were on every corner now) for a triple Venti latte and some chocolate croissants. Then back home; crawling back under the covers to eat her crumbly breakfast with no apologies –sleeping, reading, stretching, and or/lounging as long as her body could stand to be supine. For the past two years she cut her lounging a bit short in order to be showered in time for her birthday lunch. Sleeping-in was a joy, but then Paris was…Paris. After lunch she liked to wander around and see where the day took her. Despite years of disappointments, Fraser believed firmly in the magic of birthdays – and was certain that if she had faith, one of these years the universe would take her on a real adventure.

Today seemed too cruelly cold for an adventure. Fraser could see her breath fogging up before her – and the metal arms of her glasses burned icily against her skin. She pulled her hands into a giant fist and blew into them – relishing the brief warmth.

Clearly, today was not a day for wandering.

She considered going home, getting back into her flannels, mulling some wine, burying herself on the sofa under a huge down comforter and renting hours of weepy films on her all-purpose home media entertainment unit. Comfy and tempting – but she knew that evening ended; ill-advised text messages to old flames, weepy phone calls to friends, and a very bad hangover to suffer at work the next day.

Besides, whoever heard of an adventure showing up at one’s door? Ok, she conceded, Bilbo Baggins maybe. But otherwise – it was incumbent on the adventurer to find the adventure. Fraser stopped at a corner paper box and freed a local paper, took herself to the nearest coffee shop for something warm, caffeinated and delightful; and sat herself down in one of the carefully market-researched and strategically placed over-stuffed chair and opened the paper to the events section.

It was always important to know one’s options.

Fraser flipped through pages of ads for bars and sex services until she found that day’s listings; bars and sex clubs she could go to any old night (they were basically all the same to her – dark, smoky, and devoid of potential for interesting conversation. The only discernable difference was whether the anonymous sex was happening in the bathroom stall or on the bar top).

It was her birthday, dammit. It should be something special.

The water front casino arena was staging a Giant Atomic Chicken fight that afternoon. They were both rookie fighters – barely out of their eggs apparently - so there weren’t likely to be any interesting celebrities in attendance. Fraser chewed absently on her lip – and considered it. Since learning the chickens’ massive 12 ft statue was due to years of top secret genetic mutation and cross-breeding and not anything remotely radioactive (the term “Atomic” was apparently a marketing term meant to remind folks of the oversized animals in old B movies) she had a morbid, curious desire to go to a match. Maybe even bet a little money. The bleeding heart hippie liberal in her held her back – safety from radiation exposure aside – cock fighting was a barbaric practice; only pandering to the most basest bloodlust of man.

On the other hand – she couldn’t deny her human, deeply-seeded and slumbering blood-lusty roots. And if she did want to see it, she knew she’d have to soon. NPR said the ASPCA hadn’t been able to shut the Giant Atomic Animal Corporation down because some of the genetic tinkering they had done apparently made the chickens technically not chickens – or any other recognizable animal – which affected their party line.

And also – they had a hard time convincing the public that the chickens should be freed. First of all – they were ugly, snarling, violent beasts with red beady eyes and hideous chicken feet; not cute, cuddly, big-eyed creatures of comfort.

Secondly – no one could think of a good place to let them go. They had no natural habitat. And certainly couldn’t have them wandering the streets. How do you fine a Giant Atomic Chicken for blocking the box on a Saturday afternoon? Who do you sue when they lay a giant egg that crushes your car? Some folks wanted to destroy them, or ship them to one of the fledgling moon colonies (if only there were portal trips there, Fraser mooned) – the ASPCA couldn’t publicly support an action of extermination or deportation, so the shows continued with little trouble.

Fraser secretly mused that they gave up when USA Today did an Info graphic that showed more A-list celebrities attended the matches than protested them outside arena doors. (The Gant Chart depicting celebrity match attendance/protest crossover had gotten many a press agent fired.)

Fraser nibbled the last of her shortbread cookie and listened to the intermittent hiss of the espresso machine punctuate the air. It’ll have to be it, she decided. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Besides, if it were awful, she could always fall back on her sofa plan.

She treated herself to a cab.

The waterfront casino was always busy – didn’t matter the time of day or day of the week. Scores of folks from bright-eyed young twenty-somethings to cloudly-eyed eighty-somethings streamed in and out of their darkened doors all day.

She made her way down the strip towards the Barnyard – a farm-themed casino that catered to folks who liked to bet on cattle and pig roping, bronco riding, and, of course, Giant Atomic Chicken Fighting. Outside the Milky Way (space-themed) she had to push her way through an adamant crowd of angry young protestors. A young man carrying a silvery placard jostled Fraser as she tried to Excuse-me her way through; his elbow dug sharply into her chest.

“Oh, sorry,” he said. “I didn’t see you. These streets are so narrow. It’s getting to be you can’t protest properly anywhere anymore.”

Fraser grinned and rubbed her ribcage. “Hey – at least they don’t lock folks up in those Free Speech zones anymore.” He was cute, she found herself thinking. Dark hair, thick, Poindexter glasses. Just the type she went for. “Say, what are you guys protesting, anyway? Not the chickens, I hope?”

“Chickens? Huh? Oh no. The chickens are great. Saw them last week. Really exciting. And frankly a little surreal. Lost a bundle on Little Pete. I heard the mob’s got a line on him – so I wouldn’t put my money there if I were you.” His smile was crooked. Fraser tried not to swoon. “I’m Bob, by the way.”

“Thanks for the tip, Bobbytheway. I’m Fraser. Fraser Brights.” They shook icy hands. “So, is that what you’re protesting? Little Pete? Rigged sporting events? Losing money?”

Bob turned a red that was too dark to be from the cold. “Oh, no. Sorry. I – we- want to ban poetry in space.”

Fraser hated when old adages were true. The cute ones were always crazy.

“You want to do who with the what now?” Fraser asked, backing away slightly.

Bob’s face became very serious. “Ban poetry in space. They’re talking about teaching it in the colony schools. I don’t want to have to pay for that. Those people wanted to take that risk, try to farm those dead worlds, fine. They want to drag their families into the cold tundra of space – ok. But it’s not up to me to pay for their kids to have a liberal namby pamby education. I say teach ‘em farming, basic math., survival skills. That’s what they’ll need up there. But poetry? I’m not paying for that crap.”

Fraser nodded slowly. “O-kaaay, Bob. Well, I got to go – the fight starts soon and I still need to get my ticket. Good luck with your protest,” as she turned away she quietly mouthed “crackhead” to the wind.

“Yeah, thanks!” he shouted out to her. “Don’t forget – stay away from Little Pete. Maybe I’ll see you out here after the fight.”

Fraser turned and gave a fake smile and friendly wave and then began to walk faster. She had never been so relieved to be in enough of a crowd to get lost in.

The inside of the barn-shaped casino was surprisingly dark despite the seemingly endless rows of machines and doodads the swallowed money with their flashing, blinking, hypnotic lights. Fraser checked her coat with a young man who was wearing something she could only describe as “bondage cowboy” – cowboy hat, cowboy boots, the tightest leather shorts she had ever seen – and naught else but a bolo tie any girl with imagination could easily use as a leash – or some other things. The cocktail waitresses all looked like every girl who had ever tried to go out for Halloween as some trashed up version of Gilligan’s Island’s Maryann; it was a veritable sea of belly-revealing gingham and shorter-than-short-shorts.

Fraser sashayed up to the nearest slot machine, dropped in a quarter, and spun the wheel. Then she pressed the service button. Two quarters lost later, and she was the proud holder of a watered down cosmopolitan.

Fraser often pretended to gamble in casinos. She had discovered as a broke college student that a carefully spent five dollars could be meted out into a mind-meltingly good night of complimentary food and drinks. After her morning’s splurge it felt good to get back to her penny-pinching roots.

She wandered through the casino and found her way to the arena.