Monthly Archives: September 2013

Centenial

“This is Turk Mangan, and today I am interviewing my great-grandfather Abel Thompson, for Media Arts 101. Today my great-grandfather turns 100 years old.

Happy birthday, Grandpa. How are you feeling today?”

“I’m good. Happy to be here.”

“So, you know I’m recording this for my class and I have five questions to ask you.”

“Shoot.”

“Ok. You are 100 years old today. What’s the secret of your long life?”

“It’s not a secret. There is no secret. You live to be 100 by either a curse or dumb luck. I knew people who supposedly lived better lives than me and they are gone. I knew people who did stupid things and they out-lived some of the better ones, for a while I guess. I guess they’re gone now too. You live your life. You do the best you can. You get what you get.”

“What was the best thing you’ve seen over the span of your lifetime?”

“Your great-grandmother.”

“Ah. I meant over the last 100 years, in the world.”

“I know. My answer’s the same. Humans have done some incredible things over my time. I’ve seen some amazing things. I’ve seen some terrible things. For all their brains, humans aren’t very good at what matters. It’s hard to find somebody who will go through the mess with you, who will put up with you. If you do, and you don’t screw it up, it’s magic. It beats anything.”

“What’s one thing you never got to do that you always wanted to do?”

“Deep sea diving.”

“Really?”

“Sure, why not?”

“I don’t know. I guess that’s just never come up.”

“What else is there? I’ve done a lot of stuff. My to do list is pretty short these days. Of course, I never shot anybody either.”

“That was a joke, boy.”

“Oh! Right! Of course. Uhm … How long would you like to live?”

“I think I’m pretty much done. A lot of people I knew are gone. I hate to think of them all having any kind of fun without me. When you get to be this old, there isn’t much use for you. I don’t have much use for me. I paint a little, but mostly people near my age spend most of their time waiting, waiting for their bus they call it. They don’t have any idea when it’s going to come, but they will be ready. I don’t see much good in that. Waiting is boring. Being 100 is boring. If 100 were the new 50, we’d have more to talk about.”

“I see. My final question is, how would you like to be remembered?”

“That’s a trick question.”

“How so?”

“Who is doing the remembering?”

“Well … people, us, your family.”

“Most the people who knew me are gone. You will remember me as being old, and probably a bit crazy. Being remembered is only part of it, and it’s a useless part if you only get the bits and pieces. Hell, I don’t remember many of the details. I guess they don’t matter. If I’m to be remembered, I guess I’d want people to know that I was just man. I did the best I could. If I did anything right, it would be reflected in those I leave behind. That would be enough.”

Turk reached over and clicked the recording panel to off. The two sat together for a long while, mostly in silence as he pulled together his gear. 

“Grandpa?”

“Yeah.”

“Would you mind if I stayed and we could just talk for a while?”

Ledge

Elliston Craw stood on the ledge and looked down, slowly so as not to toss his balance. The view from seventeen stories above the ground was unsettling at first. The ledge extended a good three inches past the tips of his shoes, so he felt sure enough that he wouldn’t slip off too easily. His back and arms were pressed against the bricks behind him as if he were holding the wall back from tumbling down to the street below.

A gust of wind ripped by him and while he felt secure in his footing at the moment, the brush of the wind’s fingers caused him to jerk and to catch himself as if he might fall.

He closed his eyes and tried to relax a little. He took as deep of a breath as he dared and then stared out across the city. This might have been a mistake.

Initially, his being here was a clear case of his curiosity, clouding…no, obliterating his better judgment. For eight years, the window next to his desk at Harlow & Jenks afforded him the opportunity to stare out into the wild blue and gray of city and sky to wonder. What do pigeons do all day? Does that ledge go all the way around the building? Is it strong enough to hold someone? How long might it take to go all the way around the building on the ledge? Would anyone notice him being gone? Is seventeen floors high enough?

He wasn’t sure what actually tipped the scales between wondering and doing. It could have been seeing the window washers last Tuesday. It could have been that it hadn’t rained in eight days so everything was pretty dry. It could have been that in eight years of wondering he realized that he did and awful lot of wondering and very little doing.

The window in the older building opened easy enough. The height of his desk and the first drawer accommodated his getting to the ledge as if they were designed to do so. Actually standing on the ledge and getting adjusted so the he wouldn’t fall was a bit slow going, but he managed and the inching down across it was like walking, once he got a pattern down.

It was when he stopped to embrace the moment that things sort of changed.

He looked down again. It was exhilarating. It was the most dramatic thing he had ever done. It was life.

Another gust of wind raked over him and he tried to get even closer to the wall as if it might hold him if he got unsteady.

His goal, if he even had one, because at this point he realized this was all pretty crazy, was to step out onto the ledge, go around the outside of the building, get back inside and finish his work on the Whorton account.

But now.

A glimmer of the depth of what was happening crept into his thinking. This was not normal. Normal people may think about walking on ledges, but normal people usually discount those notions quickly in lieu of the greater call of a food craving or other useless distraction.

This was…

A lot of his thinking stopped when one thought, or the memory of the thought pushed everything away. Is seventeen floors high enough?

He had a nice place to live. He had a decent job that, while it would never make him a rich man, it would give him a decent life and the occasional trip out of town. Still…

Is seventeen floors high enough?

Elliston Craw closed his eyes. He opened them again to look at the sun. Another heart gust of wind blew towards his direction.

An open letter to Miley Cyrus

Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations:

An open letter to Miley Cyrus – Dear Miley Cyrus:

We don’t know each other and I doubt that the circumstances of our existences will ever allow our paths to cross. I also realize that it might appear a bit cliché to address you publicly at the peak of your current festival of weirdness. Considering all the other people in the world who have decided to weigh in on your recent round of personal and professional choices, I can see how easy it would be to assume I’m jumping on the bandwagon.

I want to be clear on this one point. I am not one of those “pile on” people who will berate you for what’s currently going on in your world. Frankly, I’m not a fan of your work, so I couldn’t care less about what you decide to do professionally. And since I don’t see you babysitting my kids any time soon, I couldn’t care less about your personal choices. I say, let your freak flag fly baby.

I was 20 once. I know what it feels like to want to break free of your childhood and establish yourself as an adult. I recognize that being 20 and wanting to be an adult is way different from actually being a mature adult. At 20, your head is still full of crazy. Some people tamp that down better than others. Very few get to go through this change as publicly as you, so they don’t know your circumstances well enough to bash you for bad decisions.

I’m quite sure that a lot of “mature adults” out there who are hating on you right now, might A) be a little jealous of your ability to completely disregard any personal sense of tact and grace, or B) be dishing out a little of what they got at 20 when they did something stupid on a grand scale.

There might also be a third factor in that many “mature adults” harbor a deep-rooted longing to break free from their own lives even now, and seeing you so loose and free only fills them with a feeling of venomous envy. I don’t know many adults who haven’t gone through a “take this job and shove it” phase.

To me, you and your circumstances raise different questions. For instance, what makes young stars, and in your case, young Disney stars, go so berserk, so publicly? Is the desire for admiration, adoration, fawning, money, or whatever might pass as genuine love in that world so strong that they are willing to do anything to keep it or grow it? I mean let’s face it, it could be argued that Disney has churned out some truly “damaged” young people.

Another question that comes to mind is what happens next, and then, after that?

There are things I did at your age, that if given the chance, I might go back and punch myself in the face for. After all, we are the products of all of our decisions. Some people get iggy if any sort of their past resurfaces say on Facebook or similar forum because they aren’t really those people anymore and they don’t want to have to justify any past decisions made with a 20 year-old’s crazy brain. I didn’t grow up in a time where every waking moment is recorded and shared so freely. You have, and you will have one hell of a time putting this all away once you decide to move on.

Maybe you won’t move on. Maybe this is the person you have longed to be and you have hit your sweet spot and the rest of the world can just suck it. If so, good for you, but I’d like to caution that the standard scale for “outrageous behavior” has shifted over the years.

Despite what some might see as your shocking display, you still have a way to go before you have to do any real damage control. I just hope you recognize that there is only so far a person can go and still look at themselves with comfort and calm. Once you’re all covered with ink, have been bare and naked to the world from head to toe, have stuck your tongue everywhere it could possibly go, have sworn and offended, have risen and fallen, and loved and lost, got loaded up and detoxified, where do you go for the shock and awe? Only you can answer that. I suppose it will come down to what you want more, the seductive drug of attention or some sense of personal joy and satisfaction.

The long and the short of it is, I wish you well on your journey. Again, I’m not a fan of your work, so the only thing I’m subjected to is the onslaught of imagery and news coverage that I wish frankly were dedicated to the more pressing matters we face here on the planet. But, I can’t control that either.

Whether you rise to the highest heights or crash and burn, it’s all up to you now. Many people have gone through far greater struggles than you are ever likely to face as a poor, confused rich girl and they come out just fine. I hope you find your path and your peace and if you could just put your tongue away, that would be awesome.

Your friend in the cosmos – Java

Writer

Copper Channing made a living from the extreme misfortune of others. Writing horror novels, and best sellers at that, gave him access to a world he would have never known otherwise. Had he not called in sick to work at the foundry and picked up a pen and a legal pad that day at the ripe old age of twenty-one, who knows where he would be today.

Still, despite the wealth and fame, Copper Channing suffered from the very same thing every mailman, housewife, café chef, preschool teacher and everyone else in between suffered from. He was dissatisfied. Despite his very enviable position he yearned for something more. It was a ‘grass is greener’ mindset that allowed the blues to settle deep in his soul. It generated a certain loathing for his position, a disconnection with his entire accumulated body of work and a nauseating guilt that came with wanting something else, something better, in the face of having so much already. It was greed and immaturity and envy wrapped up into one distasteful ulcer of woe.

It wasn’t the writing. He loved the writing. He loved the fact that words had given him so much. Where his hands excelled at typing, they proved to be of little use to him in any other endeavor. The writing was his still and long-standing silent partner, the agent of evil he sold his soul to in exchange for security and position.

It was what he was writing that was the problem.

Perhaps it was because success came so fast and the struggle fairly slight. It took twenty-three months from the time he scratched those first words onto that pad, until he secured his first publishing contract. It wasn’t that he was a particularly gifted writer, but more that his imagination allowed him to conjured the darker images that the general public yearned to look at. He simply wrote down what he saw in his mind.

Kill Eye, was his first book to top the best-seller lists pretty much everywhere. Plastic, followed the year after and triggered a windfall of luck which carried him over the years to fifteen best sellers, eight top grossing films and a mountain of awards which he kept in boxes in a storage unit at the back of his property.

Still, he would give it all up today, or so he told himself, if he could write something real. And what was real? He wrestled with the notion that because horror came fairly easy to him it lacked soul and skill. It was hack-work, and the popularity of his product showed him, at least in this moment, that the reading public required little from him beyond a good reason to invest in a nightlight and a vivid description of one of a hundred ways a human could be disemboweled. It was tripe.

He sold millions of books, but could even one of them compete as one of the great American novels? He created relationships and families, but had he ever written a great love story? He would likely be remembered beyond his time, but in the same hallowed halls as Hemingway, or Shaw, or Eliot or would he be packed into the circus tent of lesser writers known for their mass appeal, and not so much for the mastery of their craft?

He tried. October Frost had the makings of a great love story until the text, or his mind, demanded the introduction of a wraith. It ended up being one of his biggest, not because of his insights into the tender, fragile state of love, but more into the inter-dimensional and explosive struggle for the human soul at the end.

In Ferryman’s Wake, his exploration of the complications that come with the loss of a loved one showed depth and promise, but that was all but dashed with the appearance of Old Hamm, one of the many characters he created to represent Satan, or really, the darkness in all of us.

Even now, having traded legal pads for processing power long ago, he sat before the blank screen intent on writing something truly moving, or truly funny, or truly anything to show that his years of practice had not gone to waste. Anything to show that he could connect on a deeper level. Yet, all his head would allow was blood and a thousand gruesome ways in which to release it.

Aliens

“You’re out of your mind,” Durf said, flipping the tops of the boxes open to release the glorious scents and magnificent sight of two Canterelli pizzas. “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”

Lex reached over and grabbed a slice of pepperoni. “From heaven above,” he said plopping back down on the couch. “And I don’t know why you disagree with the premise.” His words wrestled with the molten glob of pepperoni, sauce, cheese and dough to make their way to the air clearly.

“Uh, because it’s stupid,” Durf said, plopping down on the other side of the couch while balancing a hearty slice of everything but anchovies.

“It’s not stupid. It’s amply reflected in popular culture. Popular culture represents us as a race and as a species. Therefore one can surmise that the popular culture, while admittedly glorified for effect, can be tied to reality.”

“Yes, but aliens?” said Durf.

“Absolutely!” said Lex. “Don’t confuse a truth with acceptance. Just because something exists and it is what it is, doesn’t mean we have to accept it or participate. But, we can’t ignore it as if it’s not the truth and hope that everything works out differently. I just think it’s some weird fascination of mankind’s that probably dates all they way back to when we crawled out of the primordial goo.”

“Some sort of latent survival instinct?”

“Exactly! It’s the desire to propel the species, if not forward, at least onward. I’m not sure what’s so hard to get.”

Durf took a big bite of his slice. After a few hearty chews he forced the mass into his cheek. “I wouldn’t do it.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do.”

“You don’t and it’s stupid to say so.”

“I know.”

Lex licked his fingers and reached for another slice. “You don’t. That’s like saying if we discovered a new fruit deep in the jungle somewhere that could cure any disease, you wouldn’t try it because you never heard it before, because you had no familiarity with it.”

“It’s hardly the same thing.”

“It isn’t. All I’m saying is that if we encountered a race of aliens, someone, somewhere, at some point would try to mate with it. It’s inevitable. I never said it was right. I just said that it’s our reality. And…I’ll go as far to say that after a while, with enough time, it probably wouldn’t matter what the alien looked like. I mean it’s a slam-dunk if they all came down looking like Tani Capers.”

“Tani Capers?”

“See? I got you,” Lex said. “If a spaceship full of Tani Capers looking aliens dropped down into the backyard, I’ll bet your entire pristine collection of classic Hobarts albums that you would have more on your mind than finding out how the ship works or taking them to your leader.”

Durf sat and thought for a moment. “Fine. I can see alien Tani Capers, but not those from something like Space Scream Six.”

“What if they could transform?”

“Shut up.”

Superpower

Kelber Knoll had a superpower. He could put people to sleep. Not like he could bore people to the point of sleep, but quite literally, with a light touch and a whisper, “sleep,” he could drop people into a good, solid, deep repose.

He discovered the power one night when he was very young and playing a game with his mother. It was about seven. It was getting late and he was restless and awake. He kept singing into the darkness to pass the time. Eventually, his mother came in to settle him down.

“Goodness, young man,” she said while fixing his blankets and tucking him in. “You go to sleep.” And she tapped him on the nose with her finger.

With a big grin on his face Kelber reached out and tapped his mother on the nose. “You sleep.” After which she crumpled to the ground in a big sleeping pile.

It sat ill with him at first, for he didn’t really understand it. He lay there waiting for her to get up, “Mom?” But he light snore was the only response. About an hour later she stirred, then popped up and sort of picked up where she left off. “Ok, little man, you’ve go to get some sleep,” and she left.

Over the next few months Kelber tested the power of his “magical sleep finger,” as he called it mostly on his mom, because she was around and on Mustang, the family dog. Every sleep worked out to about an hour – depending on how tired his mom was, or the dog. And every time she woke up refreshed and with little memory of what put her off. He also learned it’s best when she was sitting, that way she wouldn’t hurt herself.

The magical sleep finger was really more like a trick than a superpower, but he supposed it was like a superpower in that, as far as he knew, nobody else could do it, nobody that he met could resist it and everybody reacted the same way.

It came in handy a few times for getting out of scrapes. Like the time Andy Duetcheff was bullying him. Kelber dropped him like a bag of rocks was able to climb on his bike and glide away, with Andy never the wiser.

He also found that he could only put one person to sleep at a time, the result of another parental test one night in front of the T.V.  That basically dashed the notion of putting his whole class to sleep at one time.

He protected his trick like a superpower by keeping it a complete secret, even from his best friend Gill. Who knows if or when he might need to put Gill to sleep? He didn’t have any immediate plans at the time, but one never knows.

Over the years, with practice, he got quite good at putting somebody under without others noticing. It came in handy during arguments and uncomfortable situations the he didn’t want to deal with at the time.

He tried to use his trick sparingly and only for good, as any superhero would. He could vividly imagine using his power to mess people up and put them in embarrassing situations, but he never considered that a call to the dark side as much as a reminder that even a small amount of unique power must be handled with respect and care.

He tried to only use it if he felt the people he used it on could afford the time, if he or someone else was in peril, or if he felt that person really needed a good solid nap. While his mom wondered what the heck was up with her during his testing years, she never really complained about how good she felt when she woke up.

Warning

In a small town like Cromwell, it stood to reason that the Bronson Family Funeral Home would see nothing but slow weeks. And that was usually that case. Unless there was a service, Thad Bronson, III was generally in his chair at home plodding his way through the newspaper and capping off his first scotch of the evening by 6:30.

This past week however, proved something of an anomaly. Poor Tyler Montgomery came in after a tragic swimming accident at the quarry. There was the John Doe, found dead on Route 32 and if that weren’t enough, one of the town matriarchs, Maggie Crisp passed away in her sleep last night.

Creature of habit, Thad liked everything in its place, and with three in the cooler, he got to his routine a bit later than he anticipated. Deep in the heart of Fall, it was already dark outside by the time he put the last of the tools away and finished wiping everything down. When he gave the room his last inspection before heading out, he nodded silently to himself in satisfaction.

The Bronson Family Funeral Home had been a staple of the Cromwell community for well over 75 years. It was a fairly simple but effective operation that the people in town seemed to appreciate. Much like Pastor Kirt or Doc Matts, the folks who made their stay in Cromwell were destined to come to the Bronson’s place sooner of later.

Thad took over the family business just over a year ago after his father died. He liked the business overall. It was calming, quiet work that served a purpose. There was a simple level of gratification that came with it, a sense of peace.

Thad washed his hands one last time and wiped the sink out. Slipping his watch over his wrist, he noticed it was much later than he anticipated almost 11:30. He grabbed his jacket from the hook near the stairs and headed up. He was three steps closer to home when he heard the small crash behind him. He stopped, turned and listened. A small frown crossed his face as he stepped back down into the workroom.

A small pile of glass that used to be a beaker lay on the floor. “Hm,” Thad thought with a grunt. He secured the broom and dustpan and cleaned the mess quickly, but effectively to ensure no wayward shards got away. He took a good look around the room, even closer than before to make double sure everything was in its place.

Once more, he headed to the steps, but drew to a stop the moment he heard it…a small, single knock.

Thad turned to face the room again. He squinted as he traced the space from end to end. Sometimes kids like to mess with funeral homes, mostly because they were scared of them. Dares and double dares often led to small and mostly harmless pranks.

Silence.

Thad turned slowly toward the steps as if he was waiting for something to happen. The moment his foot touched the first step, another knock came. He spun around.

“Who’s there?”

He set his posture and decided on one more look, when another knock came and another. They were soft at first, but as the volume grew so did the intensity. Thad’s heart was pounding heavy in is chest. For a moment, he thought of his father who died of a heart attack. The sound of the pounding began to fill the room. It was coming from the cooler.

Thad stepped closer, almost as if hypnotized. The sound of the pounding grew and the cooler door, a good solid and heavy door, appeared to shake and rattle on its hinges. He placed his and on the door to confirm the vibrations. With his heart pounding in his ears, Thad reached for the handle. Taking a deep breath, he pulled that handle and yanked at the door forcing the light inside to click on.

He staggered backwards. Three gurneys sat in a line. All was well, accept for Maggie Crisp who sat upright before him, her drape had slid into her lap.

Thad gulped heavy breaths to try and keep pace with his racing heart. He stared at the woman, his face contorting with disbelief as her head slowly turned to meet his gaze, but with closed eyes. The stiff, deceased muscle made the movement slow and strained. Maggie lifted her hand, again slow and with substantial effort. She began to point at him.

Thad stepped backward. His chest heaved as he gulped in the cold air. His heart beat like a bass drum in his head.

Maggie’s mouth a jaw split open and worked itself a couple of times as if it had just been released from a vice.

Thad had backed himself up against the cooled wall and while he had nowhere to go his feet continued to push.

A long, soft, guttural whisper gushed from the deceased woman’s mouth, “Four Days.” It was then that Maggie Crisp truly expired. Whatever work she was intended to do was done. The corpse collapsed backwards with enough speed and force to knock it to the floor.

It was then that Thad Bronson, III began to scream.

Rock God

Nigel drew a deep breath and knocked tentatively. He got all the crappy jobs.

On the other side of the door was current rock god, “Dirt.” Known only to his mother as Stanley Krabbowski, Dirt, and his band “Bulldozer,” took the music world by storm last summer with a hard-edged rock single called “Stuff It” supported by a platinum record that followed with the same name.

Dirt’s stage persona was one of an angry, anti-establishment, man-beast who was prone to spitting on, screaming at and otherwise abusing the faithful who came to see his shows. It puzzled Nigel as to what the throngs of people found so alluring about paying good money to be screamed at and pissed on, but he learned quickly that in the music business, there was no accounting for taste.

A muffled response came from behind the door, “Yeah?”

Nigel drew another deep breath, turned the knob and slowly swung the door open enough to stick his head in. “Mr. Dirt?”

“Yeah?”

Dirt was in the offices of Atomic Blast Records to discuss the terms of his next record and to sign off on some merchandising agreements. Once this little snag gets resolved, he would be out and away and doing whatever rock gods do at 2:30 in the afternoon.

“I’m Nigel Cro…,” his voiced cracked forcing him to swallow and clear his throat. “I’m Nigel Croft.”

“So?” Even in the shortest amount of space Dirt’s thick scouse accent rang clear.

“I’m from Atomic Blast Records, but I guess that’s obvious since we’re both here in the offices here at Atomic Blast, right?”

Dirt stared at Nigel, emotionless and still. He was a big man. Most of the current batch of rock-god wanna-bes, were slight, thin and pale. Even sitting on the couch, he was imposing.

“Right. Uh, I, uh, I guess it’s better to say ‘they,’ gave me the, uh, they wanted me to, uh,” Nigel said, sputtering as he searched for his mental footing.

“What’s wrong with you?” Dirt said. Beyond the slight curl of his upper lip, he remained stoic.

“Nothing,” Nigel said quickly.

“Are those the papers they want me to sign?”

“Uh, no. No, Sir they’re not. They are almost ready for you, but they want this little matter ironed out before they grab your ink.”

“What matter?” Dirt said.

“Yes,” Nigel said stepping into the room holding the papers out as he followed. “There seems to be some concern with the lyrics on your upcoming release. They, uh, them, not me, wanted to see if you could, uh, ‘take another look’ to see if you might be willing to make some adjustments.”

“Why?”

“Uh…well…they, not me, think this batch are…well…uhhh, offensive.”

“They’re love songs.”

“Wha…” Nigel caught himself before he let the full expression of his shock go. “I mean, yes. These are love songs. Of course…but, they, not me, are having a hard time, uh…seeing the love, as it were.”

Dirt sat still and silent.

“Let’s just take a look shall we?” Nigel quickly rifled through the short stack of papers. “Ah, here we go. This one. ‘Bleeding Whore.’ I guess that’s the working title. Uh, you start off really strong with the first word, ‘Woman!’ That’s really good, but then right after that where you talk about the ax and the long ride into the desert, and this bit with the rope and the animals nibbling and such…”

“What’s wrong with it?” Dirt said plainly. “It’s beautiful.”

“I agree there is some stark and vivid imagery there. I think you, ah, yes, you do mention a sunset there around the third verse. That’s nice. But then there’s this part with the entrails and then I guess Satan shows up at one point and there is something about collecting her eyes.”

“Beautiful eyes.” Dirt said, as a point of clarification.

“Right! Beautiful eyes. Nice. Still, they, not me are worried that this kind of imagery might negatively affect, well…everything.”

Silence filled the room. Nigel’s finger stayed glued to the printed phrase on the page about Satan’s collection of beautiful eyeballs. His arms stretched out so that Dirt could see the passage clearly. Never looking at the paper, Dirt fixed his gaze on Nigel.

“That’s offensive?” Dirt said.

“Yeah.” Nigel said nodding harder than he should, but unable to stop. “That’s… that’s offensive.”

Silence.

“I’ll change it.” Dirt said, his gaze never wavering, his expression never-changing.

Nigel deflated a bit with relief. “That’s…that’s just perfect. That will be great.”

“Change eyeballs to lips.” Dirt said. “That’s even more beautiful.”

Nigel deflated even further. He got all the crappy jobs.

Touch

Del slid his chair slowly to the edge of the bed. Before sitting, he leaned low and kissed Maxie softly on her forehead. He stood with caution, for sometimes moving too fast made him dizzy and sometimes he fell.

Looking down he reached over to adjust the oxygen tube that started to pull away from her left ear. His deliberate movements followed the instruction the duty nurse gave him to the letter. He wiped softly at the corner of her mouth with a tissue to remove a tiny crescent of spittle that had accumulated overnight. He brushed at a curl of gray on her forehead, which moved at first, but then slid back as his touch passed. He smiled.

Once Maxie was right, he lowered himself into his chair. He reached over and gently scooped up her hand, holding it like a child might a tiny bird’s nest she found in a bush. Her once strong hand, the hand that relished slow-pitch softball and performed Rachmaninoff piano concertos, looked… felt diminished, small and fragile in his.

“Let’s see,” Del said, looking up at Maxie’s stoic expression. “What do I have to share today? Hm…well, Del Junior said he and Tara would try to come up and see you this weekend. It depends on what the kids have going on of course. Rena might enter the national spelling bee and Carter has baseball games. Del said that boy has his grandmother’s arm and can really throw some heat.

I watered your plants, so you don’t have to worry about them. They look great and that little violet you wanted to get rid of, remember that one, well, it’s blooming again.”

Del put out a small laugh, and shook his head a bit side to side.

He talked to Maxie with a slow and steady pace as she lay resting. The beep of the monitor provided an ever-steady rhythm to his conversation. He covered the news of the day, a bit of gossip their neighbor Patty Conklin shared with him about some trouble the Anderson boy got into, and how he finally got rid of that old gray sport coat like she wanted to because, after giving it a good close look, she was right.

“You’d be proud of me Max,” he said. “I just clean got rid of it. I didn’t even entertain the notion of giving it to the Good Will, because you said, that coat had seen three lives already and there was no good reason on earth to force it upon somebody else.” When he said her words, he shifted his voice and tone a bit to sound more like her for a little poke of fun. Maxie lay still, resting.

Del fell silent. With her hand on his, he gently stroked her fingers. He looked down at her hand as his brain whirred through a cascade of memories that he and Maxie shared over their many years together. He clutched her hand as hard as he dare, hoping for even the slightest twinge of a response. He inched closer and held her hand against his lips firmly, warmly, creating a bridge for a tear to travel down his cheek and onto her now ever so delicate fingers.

Maxie stayed motionless. The beep of the monitor consumed the silence.

Adrift

Maybeth’s eyelids slowly fluttered awake as her eyes beneath rolled in search of clarity and focus. The dream of her flying a hot air balloon over a chasm filled with churning lava dissipated as the light reached her. As the fog in her head seemed to thicken, George Harrison started in with the first verse of If Not For You. It was a bit louder than she wanted at the moment and she couldn’t be completely sure that the song wasn’t part of the dream.

She closed her eyes, drifting between the temping allure of sleep and the nagging need to stay awake.

The unpleasant pressure in her shoulder intensified as she tried to shift to a more comfortable position. She tried to turn her head, but stopped immediately when her brain began to scream with pain. Still not fast enough to stop her from wincing against the pounding.

Where?

What?

“Babe, I couldn’t even find the door. I couldn’t even see the floor. I’d be sad and blue…”

She instinctively reached out for the button to stop the music. She loved George, but not now. Her shoulder protested with a three-way shot of pain that radiated up her neck down her spine and into her arm. She winced again in response, sucking in air, which also seemed harder to do than usual. She missed.

Blinking, the only thing she did at the moment that didn’t hurt, she tried to focus as her eyes sought her hand. It was wet. Red.

Defying the order of her brain to sleep, Maybeth’s eyes shot open. Realization and recognition flooded her senses as the familiar collided with the unfamiliar. She glanced a little to her right. The gaze of her Perky Petz bobble-head puppy, whom she named Tiger gazed back at her, but the spring that held the head to the body was stretched and bent making Tiger’s head appear as if it popped off into mid air leaving a cartoonish swirl of motion behind it.

But, Tiger was in her car, firmly attached to her dashboard with a serious chunk of two-sided tape.

Where?

She shifted her gaze forward into an intense spider web of light.   

“Without your love I’d be nowhere at all, I’d be lost, if not for you…”

She turned her eyes to the left trying hard to keep her head still. Where she suspected glass, she saw dirt. It was then she realized she could not feel her legs.

100 Days

Yesterday, I capped my 100-day writing experiment/exercise.

The goal was to write something new every day for 100 days without missing. I had no length requirement, but I found that as I got more into it, the greater effort was in keeping the piece short and interesting than writing something daily.

I learned a lot about my writing style, the mistakes I’m prone to making and I discovered some good things about my imagination. I think there are other lessons there that I’m still working on.

My secondary goal in this exercise was to develop a field of ideas from which to build on. I feel a longer work coming on. Initially, I thought a play, some longer short stories or a book. But to do that well enough, I wanted to get my skills up to par.

Many people have been very kind and supportive in their comments and notes. It is a great compliment for people to ask for more. I really appreciate the time everybody took to check out the stories, or story bits, and provide feedback. That is just the best.

So I ask myself, what now?

I was hoping to get a bit more feedback from the people prone to reading my posts on what they might like to see. Since you are reading it, it seems contrary to produce something you might have little interest in. Some questions come to mind:

  • Is there any interest in a longer work?
  • If so, was there something you saw over the last 100 days you might like to see more of? Something I can flesh out?
  • Is that something you might be interested in reading along the way or would you want to wait until it’s complete?
  • What would you be interested in? A play? A book length piece? An array of dazzling advertising slogans?
  • Any other thoughts?

I can find all 100 posts here on my blog. Please share the link if you can: https://thejeffworks.wordpress.com

It would be great if you could take a moment to comment, or drop me a private message or email and let me know what you think.

I can’t see putting the brakes on now as I feel I’ve hit some sort of stride, so I’m thinking I will continue my posts, unless writing a longer piece takes up all my writing energy, but I’m thinking I might take the weekends off.

Thanks again for all your support. Now…let me have it.

Friendship

Mush pushed the Rambler to the limits of its abilities. Dap lay in the back. It was hard to see him from the front and even harder to hear his breathing over the rough running engine. The hospital was still at least thirty minutes away and the whole world was hanging from a fragile string of potential accidents waiting to happen.

The weekend was supposed to be a laugh. It started that way. Mush and Dap worked at the Mortworth foundry. They met in high school and became fast friends spending lunch periods and time after school getting to know each other. They had enough in common to become fast friends, and just enough subtle differences to build a mutual deep respect and genuine admiration.

The plan was to leave around noon on Friday and head to a cabin by Lake Morris. Dap’s uncle had cleared the weekend just for them with nothing to do but fish and drink some beer. If you told him he would be tearing up small mountain road, not 24 hours later, with his friend in the backseat fighting for his life, his only option was to turn you in and have you locked up.

Dap’s mind was far from the backseat, having been tucked away for safe keeping the moment he slipped into unconsciousness, but his body was full on and quietly fighting to retain life as it jostled, bounced and bled it’s way around the Rambler’s dark interior.

News

Elliston Mast plopped the paper down and flopped backwards into his chair. He started reading the daily paper end to end as a deliberate practice two years ago as a way to keep his mind fresh and to have a good understanding of what was going on in the world.

He found the routine satisfying, at first. Over the last few months however, something shifted. His once passive intake of news and information started to come with a mental commentary. Spotty at first, the thoughts and reactions crept in and grew with the days. Audible grunts and ‘humphs’ followed. They prefaced longer strings of conscious responses and soon he was not only reading the paper out loud, but providing feedback on the story at the same time, often waving the pages in the air with disgust.

Today, even the ads annoyed him and he told them so while pointing and shaking his fist. The nerve of so and so mattress company to spread the fear that a mattress needs to be replaced every seven years! Why he could jump right into his twelve-year-old bed, roll around in it without so much of a hint of a squeak and then sleep solidly like a newborn baby in glorious comfort and support. He might even sleep better, to spite the mattress company! Yes, so and so mattress company, in your face!

The rage never started with the ads of course. The silly, simple context of the ads which treated human beings like morons was only the creamy topping on a ‘news’ sundae which not only set the pot to boil, but brought it up to full burn. Even the sports page garnered comments and derision.

Every day, like a soap opera, the paper added a few more sordid details to the developing stories intent on stringing the reader along  just enough to pick up tomorrow’s edition to see what happens next. Sensational murder trails, unfortunate accidents, crimes of the stupid and tragically uninformed littered the pages every day and like a waterfall, new stories of the same ilk awaited him the next day and the next day and the next.

He started reading the paper to keep his mind fresh and to have a good understanding of what was going on in the world. The paper itself often ended up balled up in a huge mass in his backyard with him standing over it, setting it ablaze with the help of some tiki torch fluid from the garage and a disposable candle-lighter.

Ghost

Time was indefinable. She no longer marked the days. The sun cycles and the passing seasons simply went on as they always had, one after the other, with little consequence. She no longer wrapped herself in the warmth of sunbeams or reveled in the wonder of the moon. She was…cold.

She no longer sat, or stood, or ran. She did not hunger. She did not thirst. At least, not in a way she could describe. Still, there was a need, a yearning for something long gone. Her desire to embrace it, to possess it stirred a rage she had not known before, for all the yearning and pain, defining the thing seemed beyond her.

Visitors made infrequent stops to the house where she made her home. They often brought with them at least a glimmer of that which stirred her desires and being with them seemed to quell the longing, but not the need. That deep-rooted need and the inability to satisfy the hole it created seemed very much like an insatiable hunger. A hunger that often stirred the rage.

Like most visits, the welcome is only as good as the guest. She believed it was incumbent upon the guest to know when to go. If they could not give her what she needed, she had no use for them. They crowded her. They neglected her. They ignored her. They taunted her with their lives…their life.

The realization strikes like a crushing hammer blow.

Life.

She could not feel in a way she thought she remembered. She could not touch. She sought herself in reflective glass, but nothing was revealed. She sought herself in the residue of daily life, a pile of dirty clothes, a used coffee mug, a well read newspaper, but things remained as they were where she was unless they, her visitors made them otherwise.

Life.

They laughed. They cried. They yelled, and battled, and forced both violence and love upon each other with insurmountable restrictions and self-serving conditions. And all the while, she could only observe and taste the tiny scraps of life’s energy cast off by the fools who knew so little about the value in what they inherently wasted.

She was…or was she?

She was, but she wasn’t.

She was once, but now she is just an echo. A shadow one seems to glimpse behind a door, or that scurries to the corner when the light flickers on.

She once was, but now she only lurks in the mists of time, trapped in an astral plane that is the world she once knew so well, and like them, took for granted.

An Open Letter to Bethenny Frankel

Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations:

An open letter to Bethenny Frankel –

Dear Bethenny Frankel:

We don’t know each other and I doubt that the circumstances of our existences will ever allow our paths to cross. Still, I felt obligated to write to congratulate you on your new television program. Good for you. Well done.

I should tell you that I don’t plan on watching it…ever. That is due in part to my insane work schedule at Delpher’s Feed & Grain and the other things I do that consume my life. The other part is, I can’t find one reason why I would tune in. Really. Not one. You are so far removed from anything I could relate to that I can’t even imagine turning the program on out of curiosity.

That said; should you decide go full on Jerry Springer and start with the paternity tests and the chair throwing and such, let me know. I might give it a peek. To be fair, that programming is very far from anything I can relate to as well, but there is a dark, circus-like feel to it that can come off as entertaining through a haze of cold capsules or a high fever.

I will say that you have inspired me to start looking for this magical mystical fountain where they seem to handout daily syndicated talk shows. It exists right? I mean…you found it. Not for myself mind you, I’m not so eager to promote myself to the masses for the sake of the façade of fame. My friend, Clara however, would be a great talk show host. She is feisty, yet empathetic and draws from real life experiences that actually help people. Did you know she was hit by a train and lived to tell about it? No. You probably don’t. Clara should be on TV. Her biggest problem is she really likes to swear.

Finally, Bethenny Frankel, I want to wish you the best. Not for now. Save it for when the tent poles on your personal circus fold up and you start looking for the next thing to satisfy your need for public adulation. I’m sure you’ll land on your feet. You might check into another ‘reality based’ program that gives us a deeper and even more unnecessary glimpse into your sordid existence. A&E has this program called “Amish Mafia.” Check that one out.

That is all. Congrats on the new show. You go girl! Hopefully, it will run its course and be gone before I even catch a glimpse of it by accident and run the risk of going partially blind in that eye.

And I’ll apologize now Bethenny Frankel, but I have this insane, nagging need to see you in Heath Ledger’s Joker make-up. It just seems like a natural.

Your friend in the cosmos – Java