30 August 2012

Tiled Haven - Part Three

Unger slumped back down against the wall and closed his eyes. He reached down and touched his abdomen, raised his hand and opened his eyes. “How long does it take to bleed to death?”

“I guess that depends how much you're bleeding, doesn't it?” replied Sheik.

The room fell silent again and Sheik slid down along the wall and sat on his bootheels. Once he was away from the open frame of the window he couldn't hear the drone anymore, just the labored breathing coming from Unger's rising and falling chest. He really wanted a smoke but didn't dare light up with patrols likely nearby, let alone drones that could probably pick out a heat signature a lot smaller than the cherry of a cigarette.

There was a curious sound outside in the street. It was a sound not unlike a human voice in song, but mixed with a rhythmic, mechanical grinding sound. The sound rose and fell in volume, and it reminded Unger of cicadas that he had heard in his youth – large, scary-looking bugs that came out of the ground only every several years and that make a pulsating, buzzing sound as they hid in the trees or bushes or wherever it was that they hid. Unger had not seen a cicada carcass in years, nor even heard them in the distance, even during the hottest summers.

Sheik slowly rose to a crouching position and shouldered his rifle in the low ready. He crept to the window and took a quick peek. Not a thing. Not a damned thing. The sound even seemed to fade away as he dropped back down to the floor, until it was no more and shortly made him wonder if he had heard anything at all.

“How different do you think people are, Sheik?”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“Well,” said Unger, shifting a little bit and propping himself up on one elbow, “do you think we are all basically the same, or that we are all different? Like, I know we're all different in some ways, but there have to be some things about us that are different that we don't even know about. Do you think so?”

“I don't think about that,' said Sheik, sitting back down onto his boot heels, “and I think you should keep quiet and conserve your energy. Once they forget we're here, we're gonna' have to make a break for it, and I'm not gonna' carry your sorry ass all the way.”

Unger thought back to a time when his older brother had told him he wasn't going to carry his “sorry ass” back home if he broke his leg on a bicycle jump. Unger attempted the jump and broke his leg. His brother turned out to be bluffing, because he carried Unger's “sorry ass” all the way home.

The light was fading quickly, and the two watched as their surroundings gave way to shadows. Sheik placed his little finger in his ear and gently rotated it several times. He withdrew his finger and looked at its tip, but could not see anything in the low light.

“Do you suppose everyone does that?” asked Unger from across the room.

“Does what?”

“Looks at his finger after he digs in his ear.”

“How the hell should I know?”

“Well,” said Unger, “it's like everything else. We are interested in what we leave behind. If you take a crap, you turn to look at it. If you blow your nose, you look at the snot you blow outta' there. You dig in your ear, you look to see what you pulled out.”

“I wasn't diggin' in my ear,” said Sheik.

“Well, sure you were – you had your little finger in there and you were diggin'.”

Sheik pulled himself up as much as he could in the squatting position he maintained beneath the window frame. “I was just scratching a little,” he said, “just scratching.”

“Well, whatever you were doing, you looked at it. Don't worry. I do too.”

Sheik motioned toward the open window frame with his thumb. “If you don't stop worrying about earwax and shut up, we're gonna' have more to worry about. Now just shut up and sit still...you need your energy.”

27 August 2012

Tiled Hav... Hey! What the Heck?

Greetings, dear readers of "A Martini and a Pen."  Mr. Andrews wanted me to let you know that the third installment of "Tiled Haven" is written and will be posted this week. Please be patient.

Mr. Andrews is enjoying a cycle of the steroid known as "prednisone" and is hot, sweaty, hungry, red-faced, and working on his new novel like there is no tomorrow. His short stories are playing second fiddle right now, in deference to this big whopping mess that he is writing.

Thank you once again for your patronage, and please check back daily. Encourage your friends to drop by if you are so moved, and please do remember to keep the shiny side up.

Mr. Linus G. Janikowski,
Secretary and Personal Assistant to Mr. Andrews

22 August 2012

Tiled Haven - Part Two

“D'you ever think that maybe this is just what we are?” asked Sheik, running his hand along the length of the window frame. “d'you ever feel like a shattered window frame?”

“Whaddya' mean by that?” asked Unger, shifting his weight from one side to the other. Sitting in one place on hard concrete in a puddle of one's own blood could get uncomfortable.

“Like, we see out just a little bit, and others see in just a little bit, and we're all pretty broken. You might say shattered.”

Unger didn't answer but just breathed heavily, his eyes closed and dirt creasing the furrows in his forehead.

“We use the window of our life pretty much all the time,” said Sheik, “no matter if it's dirty, or got tears in the screen. Know what I mean?” He waited for a response that didn't come. “And others use our windows when they need to, just like we use somebody else's window. You only look into it when you need to see if someone is there.

“Or if you're a nosy bastard,' said Unger, breathing more evenly.

“Yeah, or if you're a nosy bastard.”

The rain was picking up, and along with the sound of drops hitting the pavement and the side of the building, the smell of fresh rain came to the two. It was, like so much else in this landscape and in this environment, polluted.

“Smells like diesel,” said Unger, through heavy breaths.

“Smells like diesel and gunpowder, I'd say.” Sheik leaned out of the window frame just a bit and for just a second. After a quick back and forth snap of his head, he pulled back inside, eager to deny any Army sharpshooter so juicy a target as his hairy little melon.

“I hate the smell of diesel,” said Unger, closing his eyes even tighter. The breeze had picked up with the rain, and was circulating the scent around them.

Sheik knelt down and half-rolled his upper body across the floor beneath the window frame. On the opposite side he stood up, crouched down, and then leaned up against the wall and peered outside. He used this new perch to gain a view of the approach from the opposite direction. The coast, as they say, was still clear, and he dropped his rifle to the low ready and pulled a cigarette out of the breast pocket of his field jacket.

“You ain't lightin' that up, man,” said Unger, his eyes widening.

“Naah...don't worry. I just want to hold it in my lips for a little while. I don't even have a match, anyway, so don't sweat it.” Sheik put the cigarette in his mouth and breathed through it, imagining the smoke pouring through the filter and down into his lungs. The tobacco tasted dry and flat, but it was better than nothing at all. He stood there for some time, mimicking the smoking of this cigarette. Once, when Unger looked up at him, he pretended to blow a smoke ring, holding his face and mouth in the familiar pose, and then even sticking out his finger and poking in the air, as though he was thrusting it through the middle of a smoke ring. He let out a little laugh, and looked at Unger.

“What?” asked Unger.

“I did that to make you laugh.”

“Did what?”

“I blew a smoke ring.”

“No you didn't. You're not even smoking.”

“Never mind,” said Sheik, turning away and putting the cigarette back in his pocket. “So it's gravity, huh?”

“Yeah,” and his voice trailed off. Unger winced as a wave of pain shot through his abdomen.

The light was starting to fade outside as evening came on, and Sheik saw the first drone just as he turned back to the window. It looked almost like a bird at first, and then as he made out what it was, he thought it looked more like a model airplane, kind of like the kind he had built and flown as a kid. As he watched it even longer, it started to look almost real, like a small version of a full-size military plane – the sort you hardly saw anymore. It was perfectly silent in the distance as it approached, but made a faint hum as it drew closer. Sheik instinctively drew back from the window's edge, into the shadows. Unger took note and tried to sit up.

“What is it?”

“Nothing,” Sheik lied.


“Never mind, man, just stay quiet. Save your energy.”

20 August 2012

Tiled Haven - Part One

The blood was oozing out of Unger's abdomen and through his shirt, right around the area that was torn by the bullet hole. He was breathing heavily and alternately clutching the wound and looking at the palm of his hand. Every time he looked he let out a little breath and closed his eyes. There was gunfire in the distance.

“It's getting less intense.” Sheik was keeping watch out of the concrete frame of what used to be a window but what was now just more of a hole in a cinder block building. They were in a shot-up room on the third floor in the ruins of something that to the casual observer might have been an office block or it might have been an apartment building. It was an apartment building. This became obvious upon entering, owing mostly to the remains of the plumbing, as Unger had once observed. He was more concerned with his own plumbing at this point.

“I'm gonna' die. I know it.” Unger dabbed at his bullet wound with the palm of his hand again. “I'm gonna' die.”

“You ain't gonna' die.” Sheik turned in place and looked at Unger lying on the floor. “I'm gonna' have to shut you up if you don't shut up yourself, though.”

Unger closed his eyes. He tried breathing through his nose and calming himself, but it didn't accomplish much. There was a little bit of a breeze blowing through the opening in the wall, and he could feel it on his forehead. It was wet, and when the breeze kicked up it felt cooler than it actually was.

“You think anyone knows we're here?”

Sheik didn't answer. He turned away and looked out the window again, staying close to one side of the what used to be it's frame, trying to make use of any concealment the shadows there might offer. This answered Unger's question just as well as any words could have.

“They can sniff out blood the way a shark can,” said Unger. “They got some kind of sensors on their drones. I heard a guy talkin' about how they can pick up fresh blood and some kind of hormone or something that's in it. They can zero in on a guy who's been hit and doesn't stay indoors. As soon as he steps out into the open air, bam. They got him. The finger of god comes down like the sky just dropping right on him. Bam.”

“I don't know if I buy that.”

“It's true. They got the all-seeing eye of god up there in the clouds, and as soon as they get a fix on a position, the drones start circling like sharks. Then its the almighty finger of god.” Unger was looking up toward the ceiling, like he expected the finger to burst through at any time.

“Why don't they just open up with a gun or something?” asked Sheik.

“The drones just get a lock on the target. They circle and circle until they positively identify the DNA or something in the blood that they're picking up. They get a match based on a real-life blood trail. So a guy gets hit in a firefight, and the troopers from the Project get a read on the blood – even from a long distance – and there's some kind of spectral analysis, some kind of DNA readout or something. You get fingerprinted. They got your name. They got your number.”

Sheik kicked at a piece of concrete and adjusted the sling on his rifle. He looked at Unger and spit on the wall.

“So the drone just spots you and gets a lock on you,” continued Unger. That's just the eye of god. After they got you in your sights, the finger of god is just a breath away.”

“So how's it work?”

“Gravity,” said Unger, breathing heavily. “It's some kind of titanium bolt. I guess it's got a little transmitter or something on it. It gets dropped from a satellite that carries a couple thousand of these things. The bolt is just a couple of inches long, and it comes streaking down through the heavens and hits the target red-hot. Bam. It hits you between the ears and your melon explodes.”

Sheik was quiet. A light rain started falling, and he watched it make dark spots on the dry, broken slabs of concrete in the street. He leaned against the wall and gazed out through the shattered window frame.

17 August 2012

Have a Little?

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As I sat with my great uncle, Warren Gamaliel Andrews, upon his favorite park bench, he began to tell the oft-repeated story of his involvement in the “Punch-Bowl Arch” affair that took place in the woods of Northern Michigan back during the “roaring 70's”. I retorted that the 70's did not roar at all, but rather boogied a little. He countered that it was more of a shimmy. I relented, and he went on with his story.

Just as Uncle Warren was getting to the part about the illicit trading of pet rocks, we were interrupted by the most disturbing conversation being conducted at high volume on the park bench just behind us. A large woman (weighing, by Uncle Warren's estimation, nearly 30-stone) in an electric scooter-contraption was gesturing wildly at a pasty-faced man who appeared to be of Swedish extraction.

“Well, go on...go get me one. And get it with lots of bacon,” cried the woman at long last. The man went off to the nearby food-mobile that had been so courteously provided by the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cardiology.

Uncle Warren resumed his tale, and did his best imitation of President Ford dancing the “electric prostate.” Just when I thought my dear uncle might dislocate his clavicle, the pasty Swede returned.

“They're all out of bacon. They said the delivery truck would be by later,” said the man. “How about a cheesy sausage-roll?”

Can they put bacon on it?” asked the woman.

“I think they're out of bacon for everything,” said the man.

“Well, go find out.”

The Swede returned to the food-mobile and Uncle Warren gave his clavicle a shake. He had just reached the part of the tale about Mrs. Ford and an amorous lumberjack when the man returned again.

“No, they don't have any bacon at all. You have to wait until later if you want bacon.”

“Well, what the hell am I supposed to eat?” asked the woman.

“I don't know,” said the man. “Lemme go see what they've got.”

The man returned once more to the food-mobile and Uncle Warren continued. We were just observing the usual moment of silence that uncle Warren would demand after he told the part of the story about the demise of a 40-foot blue spruce when the pasty-faced man returned and spoke again.

“How about some nachos and salsa?”

The large woman thought for a long while. Uncle Warren and I thought she was perhaps joining us in the moment of silence. We were mistaken.

“Is it meat salsa?” she asked after the lengthy pause for reflection.

“No, I think it's just regular salsa.”

“Let's get the hell outta' here and go to a park that's got some meat.” The woman began to zoom off toward the park entrance. The pasty-faced man of presumed Swedish extraction followed after with his head hanging low. We watched them disappear down the lane and onto the sidewalk, where the pair of them were immediately struck to the ground by a runaway streetcar and killed in an instant.

Uncle Warren turned to me. We were both obviously quite shaken.

“Here,” he said, handing me his hip flask. “Drink up.”

I took a long pull from the flask and immediately spit it out. “Is this rat poison?” I cried in disgust.

“No,” said Uncle Warren, with the usual twinkle in his eye,” I think it's just regular poison.”

14 August 2012


“I lifted a finger to my own destruction. And I ain't sayin' that we don't all do that from time to time...I know we do...you hear what I'm sayin'? When I lifted my finger, it was big. Not just on account of me havin' these big, huge fingers, neither. When I does somethin', I does it right. You hear what I'm sayin'?”

The deliveryman, known to friend and enemy alike as “the Fleckster” simply nodded. He heard what the Cavorter was saying. He looked down at the Cavorter's fingers and indeed they were big, huge fingers, looking like pinkish-gray bratwurst. One of them had a gold band around its lower third, and each finger had small ripple-wrinkles on the fronts of the knuckles. The Cavorter lifted one hand to inspect a big, huge finger, and as it came before his eyes, the Cavorter smiled.

“I always had big old fingers. I thumped plenty a' melon in my day with these here fingers, and no one better forget that. When you thumps a melon, the sound don't never die down.”

“Him-ish, you done thumped that one cop that one time, didn't you now?” Fleckster called him by his pet name.

“But I didn't use no finger of my own, Fleckster. I used another.”

The Cavorter reached across his chest and rolled up one sleeve of his dirty gray t-shirt, and then reached across and did likewise on the opposite side. The dirty gray rolls reminded the Fleckster of his mother's nylon stockings, which she would roll down when she “meant business.”

“Do you mean business, Him-ish?” asked the Fleckster.

“I always mean business.”

“Wha-choo gonna' do?”

The Cavorter withdrew the “necessary equipment” from his moth-eaten satchel and polished one most heinous looking instrument on his pants leg. He rubbed it on the the top of his thigh until it was gleaming and reflected the empty light of the perfect vacuum.

“You see that?” asked the Cavorter, holding up the most heinous looking instrument.

“I most certainly do, Him-ish.”

“That is the light of a perfect vacuum.”

“Wha-choo gonna' do with that, Him-ish?”

“I gonna' put it in.”

The Cavorter grabbed a hold of the Fleckster and squeezed four bratwurst-looking fingers and a meaty thumb around his head. Hair and pale flesh squirted between his fingers, but there was frightfully little blood seeping from his eyes and nostrils.

The Cavorter put it in.

Hours later, as life-juice was returning to the Fleckster, the Cavorter whistled a merry tune and polished another piece of the “necessary equipment.” The Fleckster opened his misshapen mouth and squeaked a faint cry.

“You don't gotta' do no more of that, OK, Him-ish?”

“I done and gave you a new name. You're 'Plondie' now. Got it?”

“Aww...Him-ish. I don't need a new name.”

The Cavorter twiddled the instrument he was polishing. Reflected in his eyes was that same light, that empty light of the perfect vacuum, and all was still and all was quiet.

“Like I said before, I lifted a finger to my own destruction. You hear what I'm sayin'? When I lifted my finger, it was big. When I does somethin', I does it right. You hear what I'm sayin'?”

The Fleckster, now known as Plondie, nodded his rippled, wavy head.

“So I got to doin' the wrong things 'most 'cause I thought they was the right things.”

Plondie nodded again.

“And now I shall take your life, Plondie, but I shall let you keep it still.” The Cavorter returned the instrument to his moth-eaten satchel and crossed his legs.


“Forever and a day. And you gonna' watch that empty light of the perfect vacuum all the time. And you ain't gonna' leave your room ever again. And I might let you yell at the maintenance man who comes around to fix the furnace when it gone bad. But you ain't goin' nowheres. Got it?”

Plondie rubbed his throbbing head and wiped a tiny spot of blood out of the corner of his bent eye. It could have been a tear.

“Don't cry, now, hear?”

“I hear you, Him-ish.”


The Cavorter wrestled the restraints out of his bulging pocket and quickly slipped them around Plondie's wrists and ankles. The nylon cut into Plondie's pale, tender flesh, but all was still and all was quiet. The Cavorter lifted Plondie's limp form in his arms and carried him to his room. The Cavorter laid Plondie on the sleeping mat.

“You gonna' stay there forever and a day. You hear what I'm sayin'?”

Plondie nodded.

The Cavorter closed the door behind him as he walked out of the room, and he took meaty strides to cross the lampish-lit parlor. All was still and all was quiet, and the Cavorter rubbed a tiny crumb of sleep-dust out of the corner of his greasy eye.

It could have been a tear.

08 August 2012


When I stepped out of the flesh-veiled cloak room, I looked deep into the tiny wishing well that was standing outside, guarded by that vile Turk known as Mustafa. Mustafa grunted at me and lifted a small bag that I think held a curd-like substance, similar to yogurt. I smiled.

“Smile pretty, kemosabe,” said the vile Turk.

“Now Mustafa,” I replied, “you know that my smiles are always pretty. There isn't a thing I would rather do than give you a pretty smile.”


“Roll up your sleeve, Mustafa,” I commanded.

Mustafa rolled up his left sleeve, exposing a tattoo of a zebra with multiple rows of eyes. His forearm was hairy and veiny, with the hairs on the inside and the veins on the outside – a network of bluish veins and red arteries covering the surface of his skin. The zebra peeked out of the network in several places, owing to his many eyes...and the many apertures in the network of veins and arteries.

I selected a particularly toothsome grabber-leech from my little leech-pot that I always carried with me. It wriggled and gnashed its teeth as I held it aloft. I wiggled back and forth and its drippy little skin glistened in the noonday sun reflecting off of Mustafa's curd-like substance.

“You got that one for me? You picked it just for me?” asked Mustafa, his lips curdling and turning brown.

“Just for you, Mustafa.” I placed the grabber-leech upon Mustafa's hairy, veiny arm, and it dug in with such verve, panache, and gusto.

“It hurts like a sumdebish,” said Mustafa.

“Yes, I know.”

“Can you make it stop?”

“It will not stop until you are sucked dry.”

“I guess I had best enjoy it then, huh?”

I nodded in agreement and watched as Mustafa sat down cross-legged upon the razor-sharp grass. The grabber-leech was violent, to be sure. It was burrowing right beneath his very flesh, unable to get enough of Mustafa's thick, Turkish blood.

Soon Mustafa was bled white, and his head dropped slowly to his chest, and then he rocked over and sprawled onto the lawn. The grabber-leech wiggled its way back into my leech pot, and I hummed a merry tune.

I looked down at the poor Turk, and saw that the zebra on his forearm had up and left. We found him days later in a petting zoo, entertaining the figures of children who had been tattooed on the wrists and ankles of gypsy dancers. The smallest gypsy cried out to me in a hot, zephyrvoice:

“Can you make it stop?”

06 August 2012

In Which I Receive an Honor...

Zoiks!  What an honor!  The charming and talented Lyndsay Wheble, proprietor of Tolstoy is My Cat, just nominated me for a "Versatile Blogger Award"!  What a hoot!  You can read all of her selections here, including another mention of "the lost beat", on which I collaborate with my cousin, Natasha Gdansk.

The rules of the award state that when one is given said nomination, one must then 1.thank the nominator, 2.pass the nomination on to fifteen other blogs, and 3.disclose seven fascinating facts about yourself.  Here we go...

Thank you, Lyndsay!  I love your site, and to show you just how much, I list you as number one!  Is that OK?

1. Tolstoy is My Cat.  Lyndsay Wheble's site - home of some of the best book reviews you will read on this planet. The best part, though, might be her header links to her own short stories and pieces of flash fiction.  Lyndsay is phenomenally talented, and I can't get enough of her work. Bookmark this site and return often.  It is first rate!

2. Penelope's Romance Reviews.  OK.  I don't even like romance novels.  I have no interest in them, in fact, but that is not enough to keep Mrs. Watson off my list!  This site is a hoot.  Her literary bits-n-pieces are great, but best of all is her wry commentary on the writing life, cocktails and facial hair.  Check it out.  Totally worthwhile and fun.

3. I Write Things. I Read Things.  Lacy Lalonde's blog always offers something interesting - usually offbeat, and often things that I would not normally read.  Keep an eye open for this one, folks - when she is big and famous I expect a signed copy of the great Canadian novel appearing in my mailbox for telling you so.

4. Haikulia. From Haikulia.  Containing zombie haikus from Haikulia.  You have to see it to believe it.  She is the best zombie haiku writer I know.  I mean, she's not actually a zombie, as far as I know, but her haikus are about zombies.  At least some of them are.  They are all great.  Go there.

5. How to Write Badly Well.  You must look at Joel Stickley's site.  That is all I will say.  It is so good that i nearly wet myself with laughter most days that I visit.

6. From a Corner of a Foreign Field.  Always brilliant stuff from Eleanor Gwynn-Jones.  I haven't seen anything there recently, so perhaps she is on a bit of a vacation.  Nonetheless, she writes about life in such a clear and compelling way.  You must have a look.

7.  Block or Not.  Trying to answer timeless questions and solve the age old problem for many writers.  Definitely worth a stop every now and again.

I am going to pick up the pace on the remainder of these, as I can hear the bill collector tapping at my windowpane and I will need to make a quick getaway downstairs and through the cellar door.

8. Gulls of Brighton. A certain non-place, as Rachel Silverlight says. Delightful in any season, at any time.

9. Like Totally 80's.  This is just silly, and it is just wonderful.  I love it, and have ever since I stumbled upon it.

10. Melissa West.  A YA writer.  I am not at all into YA, but that is not all she has on her site - there is from time to time a great piece pertaining to writers of all stripes.  Check it out.

11. The Meth Lab.  Explicit.  Excellent.

12. Hazel Foster.  Incredibly talented.  Reviews and links to her writing.  Brilliant.  Did I say incredibly talented?

13. Wuthering Expectations.  Yes.  you must look at this.  Yes.It always manages to make me smile and develop a craving for marmalade.

14. Throw Grammar From the Train.  Another must-visit.  One of my favorites for a long time.

15.  Your Blog.  Yes, this is the one that you will be writing in just a short time.  Keep the art form alive, OK?  It is good for you and builds healthy bodies in seven ways.

Righty-ho, then...here are the seven things you might not know about me...

1.  I collect and shave with antique shaving equipment.

2. I learned how to rappel using non-traditional equipment attempting to evade law enforcement while on a drunken spree in South Korea with two crazy Canadians.

3. I fenced foil and saber while at university.

4. I am descended from Pomeranian royalty.  Really.

5. I can't stand Pomeranians.  The dogs, that is.

6. I have a Venn diagram tatooed on my right shoulder.

7. I once served as a naturalist for the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation on a week-long canoe voyage in far northern Wisconsin,  That is so very Darwin-esque of me, isn't it?

03 August 2012

Ed's Ghost and the Hombre

(excerpted from the forthcoming Balloon Heart - a wacky and disturbing lil' novella.)

“You nearly got waxed yesterday, Hombre,” said Ed's Ghost the next time I saw him, which was the day after the whole steel-garden-fork-prong-up-the-kazoo-vision-and-nightmare episode. I was outside, grabbing a quick smoke after a shift in the warehouse, when I heard his voice close to my ear.

“Ed,” I said, stepping back, “what gives? I ain't seen you in a while. You saw the whole suburban nightmare yesterday?”

“Yeah,” he said, frowning and scratching at his gearclaw. “That was some nasty shit. You grunts really ripped those two kids apart.”

I didn't say anything to that, as it made the whole episode come back in a pretty vivid kind of way. I just took a long drag off my smoke and looked at the ground.

“So she's got you thinking about her a lot, it seems. That is most definitely NOT, Hombre, what I had intended, but then, no one goes and asks Ed what he thinks anymore these days, do they? ”

“Ed,” I said, looking up, “What the hell am I supposed to do? You mean you never had fantasies?”

“I tried to keep them to a minimum when my life or the lives of others around me were at stake. But what the hell do I know? I'm just a ghost.”

“Ed, what's the deal with Andy, anyway? This all started because of you, you know.”

“Whoah, Hombre,” he said, “this did not start because of me. On the contrary, I think this most definitely has continued, however, either because of or on behalf of the both of us. And I would greatly appreciate it if you would spend some time contemplating that while you chew on your beefsteak over this coming dinner hour.”

“Continued on our behalf?” I asked.

“I would like to some day go on to the remainder of my eternity in the afterlife confident in the knowledge that I got myself diced into a bazillion little bits of bite-sized meaty morsels for some purpose other than making the clean-up an absolute bitch for a bunch of sorry losers who drew the short straw that morning.”

“Yowch, Ed,” I said, “ I'm sorry. That sounds worse than I ever thought.”

“Don't sweat it, Hombre. It happened so damn fast I never knew what hit me. Just make me a happy old ghost and contemplate like I asked you, OK?”

“Sure Ed.”

“And by the way, I really meant that about the beefsteak for dinner today, too. If I were you I would pass on what they're going to be serving as chicken.” Ed's Ghost shared this last nugget of wisdom and vaporised once again. I was standing there by myself, with a cold cigarette butt in my hand.

“Thanks Ed,” I said to the thin air. I stood there a while longer, contemplating the cigarette butt, and contemplating what Ed had said to me. I tried to number what I had learned since my ghostly visitor had been making his sporadic visits:

  1. I knew, or at least I thought I knew a bit more about the nature of ghosts.
  2. I had a healthy curiosity about time-keeping within the confines of the Project.
  3. Sympathy can get you killed.
  4. Things are not always as they appear.

This was, as far as I could tell at that stage of the game, all that I had really learned from my visitor from the other side. It didn't seem like a whole lot, but at the very least number 3 and number 4 were making me look at things a little differently and perhaps they might cause me to go about my work a little differently. I probably could have added to the list something about “not having violent sexual fantasies while standing in potentially hostile territory,” but I should have had that lesson drummed into my thick skull a long time ago. Sadly, I just needed a refresher.

I tossed the butt into the air and kicked at it like an errant hacky-sack. It flew a little ways across the compound and I could have sworn that it actually hovered in place for just a split second before it fell to the ground. I did a double take, but it was just lying there by that time. I walked over to it and looked down. I could see the imprint of a silver lightning bolt printed on the rolling paper, and near the end of the filter tip, a bright red smear of blood. I instinctively reached up and put my hand to my lips and then looked, expecting to see a matching smear on my fingers. There was nothing there, just a couple of fingers freshly moistened with my spit. I did this a couple of times, even sticking my fingers right into my mouth to check my tongue, my cheeks, and the roof of my mouth. Nothing. I then coughed a couple of times and spit on the ground, expecting to see blood mixed in with my phlegm, but it was as clear as it could be after a couple of smokes. I shook my head and thought again about point number four as I walked in the barracks. I got back, washed up, and headed off to dinner.

I wandered into the mess hall and grabbed a tray. The same old bald-headed guy with greasy looking skin was serving the food, as always, and he barely even looked up as he spoke.

“Gravy on your chicken?” he asked with no enthusiasm.

“Isn't there any beefsteak?” I asked in return.

“Ran out. Gravy on your chicken?”

I opted for just a big serving of the rehydrated potatoes and some sawdusty bread. Once again, Ed's lessons that translated into point number four were proving useful.

01 August 2012

Do You Mind? (Songbirds of North America, Part 3)

Grayson hobbled to the left, and then he hobbled to the right. Having expended the last scraps of his energy, he collapsed in a heap. The camera pulled back, back, back. Grayson was face down in the middle of a deserted street. Unexploded bombs surrounded his motionless form. A small child wandered through the street, zig-zagging his way to Grayson.

As the piss-gulls rushed out of the heights and dive-bombed poor Grayson's inert form, the small child waved his arms as if to say “off with you! Off with you!” The piss-gulls took no notice of the little child waving his arms. They dove closer and closer to Grayson.

One large, beige piss-gull landed upon Grayson's back. He lifted his beak and turned. Right then left. Right then left. He pecked at the back of Grayson's head and then gave the strangest call that anyone had ever heard. “Ou-whah...ou-whah. Piteema. Piteema.” The piss-gull leapt into the air and caught a current beneath his wings.

All of Grayson's spirit was caught up in that piss-gull, and it took wing that day. The bird reflected on the spirit within him, and was never so confused as he was in flight that day. The spirit of Grayson moaned, it shook, it wept. The spirit of Grayson called out for all those it had known over the previous thirty years, and it wailed such as had not been heard before in these parts. The piss-gull flew higher and higher, higher and higher. It climbed a circular gyre into the heavens and for the first time the piss-gull was light headed from lack of oxygen. The piss-gull suddenly stopped flapping his wings and he glided – silently and silently. The wind beneath his wings was the only sound he made. High-altitude puffer-fish were scared to say a word and the lifeguards turned their heads in mock distraction.

Silently, silently. The piss-gull, infused with the spirit of Grayson, thought back about the doctor of philosophy who had been the Sabre-jet pilot in 1950-something. High in the stratosphere or somewhere this doctor of philosophy had plied the waters of the airy ocean, seeking target after target and defending the right of piss-gulls to call out “piteema” when charity was expended along with the last scraps of energy.

The sabre-jet steered its eternal exhaust trail into the heavens, and the doctor of philosphy jjust quietly closed his book and put down his pen. The piss-gull winged his way home. The small child dropped his arms to his side in disappointment and set his sights on the journey to Jerusalem.

Grayson became like the dust and the dew and the fine, precious oil that runs down upon the beard and down to the skirts of his garments. And Grayson let go and Grayson departed. Grayson departed while he lie there. Slow, quiet, and soft, like the very path of the saber-jet as it winged its way to eternity.

“Ou-whah...ou-whah. Piteema. Piteema.”