06 October 2014

Do I Really Have to Explain It?

No Olive?
Have you looked at it recently? I mean really had a good look at it? It looks awful.

For a while it seemed to be just fine. It was rolling right along like a gentle stream (or a thundering herd of yaks with dysentery, depending on the day), and we all thought everything was just fine. When it got to looking a little weary, that nice old Slovak lady from down the street would wobble over with a basket full of those prune-filled pastries and pat it on the head. She would mutter something in Slovak, set the pastries down and wobble home. That brightened things right up. That did the trick.

Why wouldn't it?

But somewhere along the time that we had someone in charge who liked showing people the nasty scar from his operation, it started to shake and shimmy when people looked at it. I always thought that the shaking wasn't as bad as the shimmying, but everyone has his or her opinion on such things, I suppose. After a couple of decades of shaking and shimmying, the whole thing would stop for a bit, and then lurch off again, scaring everyone.

Last month, it was seen on a street corner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Right there, between the smoke shop and the bordello. Was it a bordello? No, I think it was actually another smoke shop. Yeah, right between the two smoke shops. Well, to be accurate, I should say the two boarded-up smoke shops. Ever since smoking was made punishable by death by beheading, the smoke shops have been closing up left and right.


There it was, crouching down low to the pavement, trying to stick something into one of its veins. It looked like hell, it really did, and I wanted to say something, or try to cheer it up, or sing it a little tune, or buy it a sandwich.


It just isn't what it used to be, and no one seems to care. Well, there is a group of people in that one place, just over there – the group that keeps trying to organize a bake sale for its benefit. I think that they care. But not many other people care.

Do you?

12 September 2014

Quietly, but with Vigor

Flag-bearing Benjer left the wingnut factory early that day, holding a pair of playing cards in his hand (and a little bit of insecurity in his heart). The streets were dark, and he made his way home with the help of a tiny little electric torch that he held between his teeth. Holding it in his teeth was his only option, you see, for his free hand was needed for swatting away the little blood-sucking drones that swarmed around his head.

There are always a few blood-sucking drones swarming around one's head, now, aren't there, poopsie-doodle? Sure there are.

The electric torch led our dear Benjer down a side street that he had not expected to traverse, and with great alarm, he watched rather passively and with horror as the torch led him through a tiny little door and into a dark, dusty shop that smelled of tamarinds, incense, and garlic.

“Poocha-hee!” exclaimed a small amber-skinned man from behind a counter. “Poocha-hee! You have nice electric torch!”

“I'ng sarry...I gnust av ade a rong urn,” said Benjer, the torch still between his teeth and his free hand still waving at the drones. He stopped waving and took the torch from his teeth. “I'm sorry...I must have made a wrong turn.”

“Kalla-longo! You in right place!” said the amber-skinned man. “You come to right place. I show you what you need!” He scurried out of sight, and into the back room. Benjer occupied himself with looking at a stack of old magazines from Indonesia. In less than a minute the amber-skinned man returned, carrying a dented and dusty cardboard box, no larger than a couple of loaves of bread.

Not bigger than a breadbox, you might be led to say.

“Squabbo!” exclaimed the amber-skinned man. “This what you need!”

He withdrew it from the box. It's surface was pitted, but still fairly shiny.

Benjer looked upon it with some fascination. “I never knew I needed one of THOSE,” he said. “How does it, ummm...how does it work?”

“Squabbo-licious!” said the amber-skinned man. “It no work at all. You just carry it. Just carry in pocket of oversized jacket, and let magic genies do work!”

Benjer frowned, for he had no oversized jacket to call his own. The amber-skinned man saw the sadness in his eyes, and had anticipated just such a reaction.

“Kalla-longo! I have jacket for you,” he said, as he helped Benjer into a dusty, oversized jacket. “You look like million bucks!” said the amber-skinned man, clapping his hands together. “Now to see if it fit in pocket!”

The amber-skinned man reached into the cardboard box again. He removed just what Benjer needed, its pitted but fairly shiny surface reflecting the dim lights of the shop.

“Well, it is quite lovely,” said Benjer, opening up the jacket front to reveal the large interior breast pocket. The amber-skinned man slipped it inside and closed Benjer's jacket. He patted him lightly on the chest and smiled.

“Rolla-rolla! Magic genies now do work. Magic genies keep you safe,” said the amber-skinned man.

“How much do I owe you?” asked Benjer, reaching for his wallet.

The amber-skinned man waved his hand. “You just go. You be careful now. You have big day tomorrow.”

Benjer smiled and bounded out of the shop with a new spring in his step. He began to cross the street and was hit by a speeding truck and killed instantly.

29 August 2014

St. Wally of Hippo

I poked my head into that little space between the refrigerator and the wall, expecting to see some sort of a light shining from the electrical socket. You know how that is? Sometimes there is ectoplasmic luminescence pouring out of places where a wall is breached.

Just a word on that, however – when I say “breached,” I mean almost any sort of perforation or hole, mind you. It doesn't have to be the typical sort of what you might think of when you hear or read the word “breach.” Let me make that very clear. Ectoplasmic luminescence can come pouring out of the smallest little gap. This especially is the case when you are looking for it.

So I poked my head in there, expected light, and did not see any. I slumped to the floor and considered swallowing the rat poison. My great uncle, Lord Gadsden “Stonewall” Janikowski had become so desperate after losing the battle of Thorny Point (right after he lost the battle of the waistline), that he consumed nearly a half pound of rat poison. He chased it with a pint of Tennessee whiskey, however, so the poison had no effect. He woke up in a field hospital several weeks later and gave a field promotion to an orderly who was in the act of polishing his bedpan. The newly brevet-ed (is that a word) captain was quickly reassigned to a garrison hospital in a quiet sector, but unfortunately (and quite ironically) met his end when an errant mortar round from the tactical dance unit next door did him in while he was playing mah-jongg. It is always during a mah-jongg game. Let that be a lesson to all of us: don't play mah-jongg.

Where was I?

Oh yes. Years later, when Uncle Stonewall was an elderly man, I was sitting on his lap while he told me a story of how they had run the Yankees out of Chattanooga (odd, seeing as how he fought in the Korean War). He paused for a moment, and then looked me straight in the eye.

“Tommy,” he said, “don't ever eat freaking rat poison.”

I kept this bit of advice close to my heart for decades, so when I slumped to the floor and considered eating the rat poison in the little tiny box on the floor between the refrigerator and the wall, I immediately heard my uncle's voice.

“Tommy,” the voice said, “don't ever eat freaking rat poison.”

I had found the ectoplasmic luminescence I was looking for, after all.

(Author's note: the bit about Tennessee whiskey negating the effects of rat poison is purely fiction. Tennessee whiskey does not make rat poison safe to ingest. Thank you.)

30 May 2014

On a Tuesday, for a Dirt Farmer

A long time ago, just after Terrence's mom told him to lay off the rot-gut, there was a loud noise in Haverland. Folks out that way talked about it for weeks afterward, and they all just called it “the loud noise.” No one was ever quite sure what it was, but there was Danner, the crazy old guy who used to sit around the post office and pick at the scabs on his knee, he said it was a sign of the end times. I wasn't sure what he meant, but he said it real low and spooky-like, so I took him seriously.

Maybe others did, too.

Anyhow, there was a man that some said was from the government. That man came out there to Haverland, and I mean to tell you, he got folks all riled up. They were worried, and rightly so. The last time we had a g-man come to visit Crawford County, it was on account of that Sweetwater kid getting killed out on the Rural Route outside of Blanchers. Nobody wanted to be reminded of that, and no one wanted to talk to the man with the bad hairpiece and breath like mothballs.

So when the loud noise was still in everyone's minds, this g-man showed up. This one didn't have a hairpiece, and his breath wasn't near so much like mothballs, but still no one wanted to talk to him. That was okay, seeing as how he mostly just drove around to the hog containment facilities and spent the rest of his time scribbling in a notebook.

On the day that he was out near Pole Creek, on some land owned by Sheriff Morgan, he got to taking pictures of that anhydrous shed – the one next to where the Staley family had their pea fields. Sheriff Morgan showed up in his cruiser, and the two men went inside for a long time. I know this on account of I know Jason Staley and he was working the fields that day and told me all about it.

Jason said there was some shouting and the government man came out of the shed, got into his car and pulled away, throwing a ton of gravel in the air. Sid Morgan came out later, looked around, scratched his crotch, and got into his car. Jason said he was on his phone for almost half an hour before he drove away. Jason went on in for supper after that.

Well, two weeks after the loud noise, that anhydrous shed went up in flames, and then, of course, that same week was the week that Yorkie Daniel's son Digger was found hanging from the hayloft in the Daniel's barn. No one was sure what had been eating Digger enough to make him want to take his own life in such a way, but who knows what people think? Some said that Digger had been shot in the back of the head as well as hung, and that sure is a strange way to off yourself. Sheriff Morgan called it suicide, though, so there you have it.

There you have it.

I walked to the post office in Haverland just yesterday, and there was Danner again, that old crazy guy, his eyes flittin' around.

“It's the end times,” he said again, some spit coming out of his mouth and hanging loose on his lower lip. “The end times, I tell you.”

I guess for some it might be, I thought to myself.

For some it might be.

09 May 2014

In the Succulent Summertime

I never really told you about Charles and Mindy, I am sure of that. You know the old saw about them opening a drive-in hardware store, and the hilarity that resulted. Anyone and his brother (or sister) could now just drive right down the street to “C&M's Hardware-a-Go-Go” and get a packet of washers or bolts or some damned thing. They really had damned things in the store, mind you – actual cursed or anathematized bits of hardware. My uncle Bert (the one with the yellow skin and five-pack-a-day habit) had once purchased some heretical drywall anchors there.


Anyhow, Charles and Mindy were both from the south side of Milwaukee (not entirely unlike myself and much of my kin), and they spoke with a definite accent. They hardened their “th”s and employed long vowel sounds where none was required. Sometimes they would say “oh ya den.” No one paid much attention to them in Milwaukee, of course, as everyone spoke that way there. It was not until they moved to Davenport, Iowa, that the trouble began.

Now, on a curious note, my own wife and I also live in Davenport, and we, like Charles and Mindy, moved here from Wisconsin. Not directly from Wisconsin, mind you, but you get the idea. Stick that in your personal vaporizer and inhale it. Davenport is known far and wide for being an inclusive community – we allow Germans, Burmese, and Belgians to coexist peacefully and all have an equal shot at happiness and at winning the Iowa lottery. Check me on that, if you like – it's true. The one thing that Davenporters will not allow is the illicit carrying of non-clear glass recyclables across state lines into the Scott County recycling facility (I made this up, actually, in vain hope of it having something to do with the story).

Badda bing. Case closed. On a bright June day Charles and Mindy were nailed on charges of aiding and abetting a resident of Illinois in his attempt to flee the oppressive Rock Island County recycling laws. Illinois State Police as well as the Scott County Sheriff conducted a raid on “C&M's Hardware-a-Go-Go” and exposed Charles and Mindy's little game.

“Aha,” said the burly Illinois trooper, “we have exposed your little game.”

Charles and Mindy were given a one year suspension of their Scott County passports, and for the next twelve months commuted from a rented apartment in Muscatine.

When the suspension was finally ended, the two of them drove back to their home in the East Village. A tear came to Charles' eye. His left eye. It was due to the wind, as he was driving. Please do not think that he was getting sentimental or anything.

Thank you.

“Sometimes,” said Charles over the sound of jackhammers tearing up River Drive, “having your little game exposed is the best thing that can happen.”

“Keep your eye on road,” said Mindy, “you nearly hit that street mime.”

A lot can change in twelve months, they realized.

24 February 2014

It was with the heaviest heart that I had to bid farewell to my cousin Denise this past Friday.  My cousin, my dear friend, my poetry collaborator, and the sister I never had departed this earth in the early morning hours.

The world is a colder and darker place, suddenly.

I will be reposting some of Denise's work on our poetry blog "the lost beat" for a while, and her husband Todd is going to try to get me some of her latest poems, and I will be sure to publish them as soon as we can.  She had a couple of notebooks full of new poetry, and was writing in the hospital right up to the end.

Please keep her dear, loving, and devoted husband Todd in your prayers.  Her funeral will be this Thursday in Racine, Wisconsin.  If you need information regarding time and place, please feel free to email me at martinipen@gmail.com  I will get back to you as soon as I can.

I am in agony over losing her.  I know that many of you loved her poetry, and more importantly, loved her. She was truly one of a kind, and one of the sweetest and most genuine human beings I have ever known.  Her poetry was wonderful, and as she told me just a short time ago, it seems, she had "not quite hit her stride yet" as a poet - it was only getting better.

I will have more information and reposts of her work on our blog, as well as links to her soundcloud account, where you can listen to her reading her own works.  A true treasure.

Please keep our family in your prayers, and please keep reading.  That is what Denise would like, I think I am safe in saying.

May her memory be eternal.

02 January 2014

Size: Small

So I put on a funny little wool cap, made in Ireland. “Made in the shadow of the famous church in Cork,” the ancient label told me. I knew it was ancient because it was yellowed. Funny, really, how yellowed things look old. My uncle Bert was like that. Each individual part of his body, as it aged, turned yellow. First his fingertips, then his teeth, then his hair. Eventually his skin followed after. In retrospect, it may have had something to do with his five-pack-a-day habit and his six martini lunches. Who knows?

So the funny little cap is perched on my head, and it is just a little too tight for me. My wife says it looks good, but I am not too sure about that. She asked me if it helps me write, and I am not too sure about that, either. I am conscious of the fact that certain memories from previous wearers of this ancient cap are starting to wind their way into my synapses and likely will start to pour out into what ever it is that I happen to be writing. Luckily I am able to sort them out into different bins in my brain so that I do not get them confused with my own.

I just hate it when someone else's memories get intertwined with my own. It is kind of like when I was making that skillet full of colcannon over a peat fire last spring. Had I not been half in the bag from all the damn whiskey, I suppose the idea of introducing a wee bit of red potato into the mix would have seemed less reasonable. But there you are.

Hmm. That seems to have come out of nowhere. I have no idea what colcannon is, and I have never cooked over a peat fire. And furthermore, you all know where I stand on spirits. I stick with the clear variety, and let my brother Pat handle the whiskeys of all sorts.

Anywhow, the hat is warm and stylish, to say the least, even if it is a little too tight and beginning to cut off circulation to the top of my head. Might it impair the growth of hair on my scalp? I once had a barber (Steve was his name – he had to have gone a little over 20 stone, and he wore his trousers too tight and too short. It would scare passing neighborhood children.) who told me that the surest way to make yourself go bald was to wear tight hats and drink too much ditto fluid. A recipe for disaster, as they say in the welder's union.

My, but this hat is snappy. It reminds me of my old friend, Hugh (not his real name, so as to protect his innocence). Hugh lived in a city that shall remain nameless (so as to protect his innocence), and was slowly removing stones from a nearby abbey and creating a lovely grotto in his garden. It, too, was snappy, and it had already been graced with a visit from the Blessed Virgin Mary. One night after a long day of mortaring several dozen ill-gotten stones into place, Hugh was relaxing with a large tumbler full of his favorite whiskey and three or four Vicodin tablets. Lifting his head out of a big bucket of “Ready-Grotto Mortar Mix,” Hugh looked upon what he first thought to be his next door neighbor's wife, Triona. “Triona,” he said, raising his wobbly head, “sure'n yeh got a luffly jumper on, yeh do.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary told him to pray for peace, but Hugh never heard her say that, as he had passed out again and went face first into the Ready-Grotto. Mary rolled him out of it and made sure he was breathing freely before she got on her way back to Medjugorje. She was expected there and could not be held up by drunken grotto-makers.

Having now doffed my snappy woolen cap, I realize that I am about out of time, and I hope that this passionate little love story that I have told you was to your liking. Charles and Mindy lived happily ever after, and their drive-in hardware store was a great hit, bring them fame as well as income.

The end.

13 December 2013

Contracted, Lethal

Do you remember Beulah Minor? Oh, sure, everybody says that they remember Beulah Minor, but only a handful of people actually do. Beulah used to play first trumpet for the executioner's orchestra on the planet Bezelda. This was long before Jerry Grogan became a naturalized citizen there, of course (please refer to my novel Yerba Mate – if you cannot get a hold of a copy, you have the choice of time traveling into the future to obtain one from almost any North American or European home, bookstore, library, college, university, synagogue, or brothel, or of taking my word for it).

Beulah held almost everyone in high esteem. She was known for this. In her high school yearbook, there was a tiny, little listing by her picture, and it read “most willing to hold someone in high esteem.” People had her number. They were on to Beulah Minor. This was many years before she was shot by the policeman in the woods outside of Bennington, Vermont (please refer to my short story “Priceless and Serene.” If you cannot get a hold of a copy, well, it looks like you are up die scheissenfluss, as we used to say in Tulsa).

In case you are wondering, “schiessenfluss” is the author's manner of rendering a pidgin-German translation of “fecal matter river.” Why the author chose to do this is anyone's guess.

There was one person, however, that Beulah Minor did not hold in high esteem, and that was Crackface Eddie. Crackface Eddie was a dealer of the extreme variety, and he would calculate the molecular weights of all contraband that he peddled, and sell it by the mole. Crackface Eddie got his name after a barroom fight when he was young, and it actually had nothing to do with illegal drugs – the name, that is, not the fight. The fight had everything to do with illegal drugs. Eddie got sliced by a man who had a razor. The man wanted some chemicals that Eddie had up his sleeve and in his pocket and, sadly, within his bodily cavities. The man with the razor, when told that he could not have the chemicals, sliced Eddie's face with said razor, leaving a wound from upper lip to forehead. Eddie's colleague, Finchbreath Hernandez (don't even try to figure it out), said that the new scar made Eddie's face look more like his backside, and that his face now reminded him of a plumber's derriere. “Crackface” was born.

Before the “Irreputable Naysayer's Narcotic Act” was passed, people were always trying to obtain illegal chemicals (in any molecular weight, it seemed) so that they could render them into liquid form, place the liquid into a syringe and then inject the lovely little chemical cocktail into their veins. The chemicals would course through the person's body and sometimes render their brains as pliable as salt-dough. Sometimes their hearts would explode. Sometimes their eyes would bleed. Life was fun and unpredictable back then. Hooray!

Beulah Minor once received a lovely gift from Crackface Eddie. Beulah had tried to purchase a Mother's Day gift from Eddie, and Eddie made it difficult for her. I mean, really, who buys only 20 milligrams of methamphetamine for a Mother's Day gift? Eddie was adamant about only selling less than a quarter gram a day, and he was getting near his daily limit when Beulah showed up. She pleaded and pleaded, but it was no use. Eddie stood fast. He always used to say “what good is a rule if you don't keep it?”

A good saying, I suppose.

Beulah was beside herself, but Eddie was unwavering. He did, however, sweeten the deal, but promising to give her a wonderful, lovely gift if she went away with only 20 milligrams.

Beulah though about it, and decided that there was probably no other meth lab open at that late hour, and she would otherwise be unable to purchase a gift for dear old mumsie on the eve of Mother's Day (all the pipe-wrench emporiums were closed, after all).

Beulah quickly nodded her head and got out her credit card. Crackface Eddie swiped it, closed the deal, and gift-wrapped the tidy little package.

“My gift?” whispered Beulah Minor in a voice as light as cotton.

“Memories,” said Crackface Eddie, smiling a greasy, toothless smile, “which are better than the real thing.”

Beulah walked home several inches above the sidewalk.

The next day, after her mother's brain had been rendered as pliable as salt-dough, her heart exploded. Beulah watched as her mother took her last breath and as her eyes fluttered shut like the closing wings of a briny-flower moth.

The days ahead and behind were cold and broken like a glass-shard siren. Veins and nerves and breath of stale air, nestled in lungs that shook at the slightest suggestion of a human touch.

But the memories were better than the real thing.

05 December 2013

A New Book For You to Buy!

worse than it looks

poetry by
Tom Janikowski

This nifty little volume of mine makes a wonderful Christmas gift for your therapist, spinster aunt, or neighborhood stalker.

Order now! 

Order often!

02 December 2013

Quasi-Sasquatch, Quasi-Squanto

You've heard it told how Mr. Michael Nitrous of West 43rd Street was a wily little street urchin when he was young. Back in the day he was known as Little Mikey Nitrous, and there was more than one thing that held his interest. Some people thought that he was an orthodox druid, but he was not – his parents had been reform druids for some time, but little Mikey himself was more of a shaman. He used to eat druids for breakfast. In fact, on Little Mikey's unicycle there was a bumper sticker to that effect (no small feat on a unicycle) - “I eat druids for breakfast” it read.

Little Mikey used to make his way down to the shamanic mall every now and again, especially when they held a smoker. Mikey would fire up a cubeb (usually a cubeb, anyway – sometimes he would smoke a lizard, as it was said that Mr. Huston fellow did upon occasion), and hold forth on some great and important topic related to shamanism. It might be harmonic vibration or badger innards. Who could tell? Little Michael Nitrous covered it all. At least in his own mind, and at least until people stopped referring to him as “little Mikey Nitrous” and began referring to him as “Mr. Michael Nitrous of West 43rd Street.”

Everything changes. Some of it for the better. Just wait...you'll see.

At one particular smoker, little Mikey came face to face with a demonic shaman – one who was just right testy, believe you me. The fellow wore a red jockstrap and a headdress made of calf's liver – you don't get much more testy that that, if you know what I'm saying. The demonic shaman saw Mikey and shook his little bird-bone rattle at him.

“Quee-hotch!” shouted the demonic shaman.

“Awww...applesauce!” cried back little Mikey Nitrous.

“May the spirits confound your aura!” shouted the demonic shaman.

“Yer mama's got a confounded aura!” shouted back little Mikey, waving his hand.

This was too much for the poor shaman to take, and he limped off to the wet bar, seeking a cool draught of gin and milk. Little Mikey Nitrous wiped his hands on his trousers and smiled a contented smile. He might have just as well licked his chops, but alas, he did not.

Licking one's chops” is a phrase that was used profusely throughout the 20th century, and it referred (in the literal sense) to a person or animal licking his or her teeth with his or her tongue – often in anticipation of eating some nearby and readily-available food. In the figurative sense, this referred to eagerness or anticipation of some soon-to-be-realized source of pleasure. In the 21st century we stopped using this phrase altogether. By the early 22nd century we had begun using the phrase “dulking the mudjow.” It means about the same thing. Trust me.

Little Mikey Nitrous followed the demonic shaman to the wet bar and skulked up behind him (Mikey had always been an expert at skulking). With a little shake of his very own bird-bone rattle, Mikey began to sing the “Rime of the Ancient Shamanic Mariner.” The demonic shaman looked on in disbelief.

Several hours later, little Mikey wiped the spittle from his chin and adjusted his balsa-wood breastplate. He looked the demonic shaman in the eye. He looked him up and down. He looked at his hairy left ear. “Sorry for sayin' that about yer mama's aura,” said Michael.

The demonic shaman narrowed his eyes until they were showing as little red slits.

“I shoulda' just pointed out yer sloping mast and dipping prow,” said Michael, “but I thought yer name was Coleridge, so I just left it alone.”

Michael turned on his heel and walked back to the dancefloor. The demonic shaman collapsed in tears, and a puddle of milky gin.

Some things are just too hard to take, even for a demonic shaman.

Just wait...you'll see.

20 November 2013

Back to Balloonheart

I peered out of the open access panel over the stubbly corn fields overgrown with prairie grasses, weeds, and wildflowers. What exactly is the difference between a weed and a wildflower or a wild grass, anyway? It has something to do with what is supposed to be there and what is not, I guess. Certain things are in a place because someone put them there, and other things get to where they are because they just wind up there. No telling, really, how a lot of things end up where they do.

Kind of like me, I guess you'd say.

I had not seen Ed's Ghost for over a day, and I started thinking about what a ghost might really be. I had never been what you would call a “spiritualist” or (in the old fashioned way of talking) a “dualist” - that is, one who believes in the a separation or coexistence of a man's mind and his body. I never found any reason to start thinking that way – until I met Ed's ghost, that is.

I looked at my rifle. My stolen rifle. My rifle stolen from a guy who had a heart attack while he was trying to peacefully take a leak on a roadside. Poor fat fool. Since he was dead, did my taking the rifle from him count as “stealing”? I suppose if I stole it from anyone, I stole it from the Project. If there was anyone that could afford to lose a rifle, it was the Project. And if there was anyone who would serve up your head on a platter or your chest against a firing squad for stealing a rifle, ditto. It was the Project. I would plead ignorance and fear, I suppose, if I got caught, and just hope for a blindfold. Bastards. Like they need all the rifles they've got.

It was a peaceful looking rifle. Black. Gas-operated. Air-cooled. Magazine-fed. Select-fire. 5.56 millimeter bore. My uncle Niles said these were almost the same kind of rifles that they used way, way back before the war. In fact, Uncle Niles said that his granddad (is that my great-granddad? Great grand-uncle? I don't know) had used almost the same rifle in a place thousands of miles away where we went to go kill people for killing the people who were helping us to kill people. He had stepped on a bamboo skewer of some sort – the thing went right through his boot when he stepped in a pit. The damned leg got infected and they ended up having to cut it off. Uncle Niles showed me a picture, once, of his great granddad and some of his friends using drugs in that same war. Not the kind of drugs we have now, mind you. We have safe drugs now. Him and his friends smoked things right into their lungs. How crazy.

That was before his leg had to come off.

Anyhow, it was a peaceful rifle – nothing like the street sweeper that I used to use on patrol. I held it up against my shoulder and looked through the ghost rings. Funny name, isn't it? Ghost rings. I thought about Ed's Ghost while I did that, and I thought about Ed doing the same thing. And I swept the barrel over the stubbly fields way down below, and I thought back to Ed getting pressed though that steel grating – the whole big load of titanium ingots coming down on him like a ton of heaven or a ton of hell, and turning Ed into pulp in less than a second. Pressed him right through that grating, clothes and bone and kevlar helmet and all. And Cindy only had his one gold tooth that they found that she could identify. The gold tooth with a cross engraved into the back of it. Crazy.

And I saw a three-man patrol way down below – looking for me, no doubt. They were less than 100 meters away when they came into view, stretching their way across the corn field, just like they were trying to flush out some kind of game – which they were, of course. I trained my ghost rings on the man in the rear, and flipped off the safety. Snap. He went down like a sack of silicone caulking. The other two crouched down and shouldered their rifles. Before they could figure out where the shot had come from I trained on the second one. Snap. Right through his teeth. I saw it. Down he went.

The last man let his rifle drop on its sling, and he turned to run. I put the front sight right between his shoulder blades, and took up the slack on the trigger.

“Hombre, easy.” I heard the voice of Ed's Ghost.

I thought that I shouldn't let him get away. I thought that he would let the garrison know my location. I thought I shouldn't shoot a man in the back.

“Ed, I can't shoot a man in the back,” I whispered into the ether.

“Easy,” he said again.

There was a flash of white light and I saw bits of fatigue coat go blowing into the air. Probably a little soldier-meat, too, but I didn't look too closely. The guy had hit a white phosphorus anti-personnel mine. He probably never knew what him him, I thought to myself.

“Like a ton of heaven or a ton of hell, Hombre,” said Ed's Ghost. “Take it from someone who knows.”

It got silent. So did I. I snapped the safety on and crawled back into the main shaft of the windmill.

The wind picked up, but I fell asleep, and dreamed of wild prairie grasses and gold teeth.

15 November 2013

Lunch? Or a Story?

“Lissen' here, Gutboy,” said Prentice, the silver-haired exterminator chimp, “I gots me a lil' story to share wif' you, so I needs you t' juss shuddup and siddown.”

Gutboy was in no mood to cooperate. Gutboy was enjoying the gladiator match far too much. His low-carb roast mutton wrap with arugula was not helping matters, either. He chewed (not silently, unfortunately) and shook like a bowl full of schmaltz as he watched the chariots tip end over end.

“Gutboy, youse de' one I gots' to tell dis' here story to,” spouted Prentice in desperation, “I GOTS to tell de' story. If'n it don' get told, it goes away fer' good. Don' choo get it?”

Gutboy stared into space. When a person does not want to hear a story, you can hardly force it on him, can you? No, of course you can't. Forcing a story on somebody is just ridiculous.

Prentice reached out with a meaty paw and seized poor Gutboy around the throat. Now, while we have seen things like this played out before in our fine literary establishment, it has never been the throat of a poor, unwitting puppet that we have seen grasped with a meaty paw. It has always been right around the cranium (the work of very large hands) or the lapel (accordingly, that of very small hands). Necks, while seemingly a fine target, never get grasped in the way you might expect. Perhaps it is due to the soft flesh. Perhaps it is due to the proliferation of fragile bones in that region. Perhaps it is due to the neck-devils that so many people seem to be sporting these days – neck-devils with barbs of stainless steel and the occasional spool of concertina wire.

Who would want to grab a neck-devil?

Prentice grabbed Gutboy around the throat without a thought to the neck-devils, and his gamble paid off. Gutboy made a sharp gulping sound and lurched forward. He lurched backward. He lurched inwardly, attempting to escape the meaty hand by means of existential absence. Nothing seemed to work. Prentice increased the pressure on Gutboy's throat until the poor fellow could no longer concentrate on the gladiator match and the low-carb roast mutton wrap.

Such injustice.

“Okay...now you sits down an' I tells you de' story.” Prentice dropped Gutboy's limp body to the floor. His spirit sailed aloft, however, hovering several feet in the air.

“When I was just a lil' chillun', I used to hafta' go an' gets my daddy a pail a' beer from de' corner tavern. You know how dat' goes? When you gets a nickel slapped in yer meaty ol' paw from a way meatier paw? An' den' you hasta' go an' walk t' de' tavern for de' pail a beer?”

Gutboy's spirit shook its head. Prentice never saw it, so he went on.

“An' de' one day you gets to de' tavern, an' at de bar 'dere sits de' biggest ol' lumpkin of a man – puffin' on his ciggy-but an' hampherin' away at de' ol' lumpkin next to him.”

Prentice made a pantomime motion of a man smoking a cigarette.

“Well, when I gets to de' bar an' de' barkeep' he up an' sez “well Master Prentice, wha' choo' want? Nudder' pail a beer fo' yo' daddy?” an' I looks at him and sez “yessir.” Well, de' hairiest and biggest ol' lumpkin of dat man, well he reaches on over an' tweaks my cheek wif' a meaty set o' fingers and a smelly, bony thumb.”

In mid air, the spirit of Gutboy pondered what a bony thumb might smell like. He gave up after but a moment.

“Well, 'dat bony thumb, it lef' a mark. It lef' a deep mark. Like dat' man said as he tweaked it, “be careful what you pretend to be, because you are what you pretend to be.” I dint' know what he wuz talkin' 'bout at de' time, an' dat' he wuz usin' anudder man's words. Dere' wuz worse, too...”

Gutboy's spirit hovered and with a wispy ethereal hand made a 'so, go ahead...go on...' kind of motion. Prentice never saw it, of course, but he went on anyway.

“I got home wit' de' pail a' beer, an' my daddy din' even say thank you. He din' even say a 'ting. As time got goin' by, I got to prentendin' dat' I wuz a whole lotta' bad stuff. An' dat' kin' be really bad. Just look.” Prentice swept his hands in front of himself, as if to display what he was wearing.

“But now, I ain't gonna' preten' no more. You kapiche? Gutboy? You kapiche?”

Gutboy's body was motionless on the ground. Gutboy's spirit nodded his head though, and said silently with wispy, ethereal lips “kapiche.”

“Gutboy...Gutboy, youse de' one I gots' to tell 'dis here story to. Ain' choo' gonna' say somefin'? Ain' choo' gonna' say? Do I gotsta' go on wif' de' pretendin'?”

Gutboy wept. Not for himself, but for Prentice. His spirit flew away, not caring anymore about gladiators and low-carb roast mutton wrap with arugula.

Spirits have bigger things to care about.

And spirits don't have to pretend.


13 November 2013

Two's Company

With a hop-holder starchart, that gravy-drinking idiot thought he could find his way around the universe of dreams, but he was mistaken – there is nothing you can read on a hop-holder starchart that will tell you how to get anywhere.

Just ask that old Tumultuous Tooby, the wisher of pigeons.

Tooby held his pigeons in a grand old coop. This was back in the day of much larger coops, however, so for me or anyone to call his coop “grand” really meant something. It was grand. It was lavish. It was clean. It was energy-efficient and (for the most part) politically correct. Everyone wanted to visit Tumultuous Tooby's pigeon coop. Wouldn't you?

Of course you would.

(I say that a lot these days.)

Tooby had one of those less-than-accurate hop-holder starcharts, and on a blissful day back in 1979 he attempted to actually reach the stars – he was going to go for all the glory. I was but a tender youth at the time, but I knew a grand coop from a plain one, and I knew what glory that gravy-drinking Tooby would draw upon himself if his outlandish plan would actually work. He would be the talk of the town. The toast of pigeon-land.

Tooby took that hop-holder starchart in his sweaty little fist. He clenched. He squeezed. He dreamed. He went to his happy place. He went to his calm place. He went to his agitated place. He went to his nervous and shaky place. He soiled his trousers. He whistled a German marching-tune.

Nothing happened.

Tumultuous Tooby opened his eyes and wiped the palms of his hands on his stained trousers. He had felt the sweat pop out of his pores like bullets. That is, each little droplet of sweat had actually come to the surface of his skin as a little lump of soild lead – some of them with hollow points or with steel jacketed cores. It was the strangest thing. Tooby listened to the little leaden droplets as they rolled off his pants leg and onto the linoleum floor of his kitchen. He realized that perhaps the kitchen was no place to shoot for the stars and assume that your hop-holder starchart was going to do you any good.

Tooby came upstairs and sat down in his beanbag chair, right next to me in mine. We looked at each other for a brief moment.

“It didn't work, did it?” I asked him.

“Shut up and give me a bite of your Zagnut,” he replied.

I handed it to him and we turned back to the TV. The hop-holder starchart never worked for Jack Tripper and Mr. Roper either.