Category Archives: Fantasy

Love Story

AN EERIE HOWL woke me. I sat bolt upright, scared out of sleep; scared out of my wits. Werewolves in their human form can be fearful, you know. With difficulty I controlled my fear. I patted the bed next to me. No wife. She must be night running. She’d slipped out of bed quietly so as not to wake me.

A moonbeam searchlight illuminated the bedroom floor. I stared at it. The full moon! Still in a sleepy brain fog, I got up and closed the windows.

In my surface thoughts, I knew she’d lope along in her changeling form, naked but for the furry gray mat that now covered her, hairy arms extended, drool pumping from her excited mouth. I pictured it and felt the bump of her eagerness.

Then it came to me. Full moon? Tonight’s moon is full. I should be out hunting, too. The pangs began.

“No! Wait. My gift!”

I couldn’t join her. Her birthday. I wouldn’t hunt with her on her birthday. Werewolves had made that date sacred for centuries. No sharing, not that night. All hers!

My mind stretched back six hundred years when as a young Were, I anticipated finding my wife, my soulmate, a human yet to be born, yet to be “converted.” I’d only been brought into the fold fifty years before. There had been a succession of Were-women, but none jelled with my psyche.

Then Miranda appeared on the scene. I sensed her while traveling through the small village of Hob in eastern Transylvania. Only a baby then, I sensed she had good, caring parents. She lived in a tiny but well kept thatched house on a small plot owned by the local Count. Yes, I would know her for a wife.

I cast out a charm warning other werewolves away. As a part of the convention they must leave her alone and they would. All except the crazies, that is. I would have to watch out for them, so I made a mental note to swing by this village once every six months and check to see if my charm had been compromised.

It happened twice and almost a third time. Once, after she turned six, I wandered through her village in the dead of night to check my charm. Immediately I got a feeling of being impaled, like a silver knife stabbing deep into my brain. I’d been violated. It made me curl over in fright at first, but instantly anger arose in my belly.

Curses, I thought, it has to be a cast-out crazy. I stopped by the little house in Hob and recast my charm. Being the first charm on this young person, it obliterated the corruption attached to my original. Though they ignored it, even the crazy ones knew the power of first charm.

Again at the age of nine it happened. The unknown crazy must be persistent. Not yet nubile, my recast charm solved the immediate problem and my choice remained mine.

It happened again at age fifteen, a most dangerous time. My life partner had bloomed into a beautiful, dark haired, vivacious, brown-eyed human woman nearly ripe for the taking. Two more years; only two and I could make her mine. I removed the crazy’s corruption again, but knew that such a repeat offender would not likely desist.

I began to frequent the hamlet thereafter, spreading my spoor widely so he would be aware and careful not to range within my territory while feeding at night. Not a guarantee and sick with the thought that I could lose my precious, I began to lay in wait for him, night after night.

Now I hid my spoor and kept my thoughts hidden.  I became gaunt from unsatisfied hunger, unwilling to leave, unwilling to give up my intended.

Perhaps I could catch this crazy who’d defied Werewolf convention. I knew the law. I could bring him in front of the Were council and ask them to “induce” the crazy to avoid this place forevermore. It could be done. The weight of the council’s power could be extremely persuasive.

Finally, nearly crazed myself, he skulked in. About to corrupt my charm for the third time and while focused on my lovely, his defenses down, I opened my mind, froze him to the spot and ordered him to silence, lest he disturb my intended and frighten her. I sent out my signal to the Werewolf clan to convene a council with prejudice and while I waited I smugly watched him writhe in place.

Soon I sensed other Were’s converge on my spot, angry Werewolves anxious to confront this travesty, this outcast, this Mad-Were who had worked his corruption against their law.

The oldest, a Werewolf of a thousand years took over as leader. He quickly assessed the situation, called forth for me to release the crazy into their thrall—excluding me as petitioner—and asked the assembled to lend him their support. As the council transferred power to the leader, his eyes grew brighter and brighter and finally they glowed with unearthly light. Then he blazed away at the bad one.

The Were melted within and his desire for my prize dissolved like the fantasy he’d lived with. At the right moment the leader released him, and with no further thought in his mind except the normal need to feed, the crazy skulked into the night.

“The council is concluded,” the leader said. Each member looked at the other and without a smile, their duty done, returned to their hunting grounds.

With less than two years to go, hardly any time at all, I kept closer tabs on my future wife, but with the area scoured of possible challengers and with the annoying crazy neutralized, I had little to concern me thereafter.

I briefly thought of the night I took her as wife. Such a beautiful time. I’d courted her for several months in her garden, always under the cloak of night. She came to understand that we are simply a different species, not bad, but chained to our need for the sustenance of living flesh.  Frightened at the beginning – who wouldn’t be – I patiently won her over. In the end she wanted me. I ceremoniously initiated her to immortality one night as silver-lined clouds traveled slowly past a glorious full moon atop the sharp peak of a Transylvanian mountain. The joy I felt I will never forget.

My reverie broke with a faint sound, barely heard through the closed windows, but well known, the howl of success. It told me my wife had caught her victim in the night and would soon feed. And though my countenance in the darkness showed not on my face, I felt glad for her.

She would be home before first light, perhaps with a little blood still dripping from her muzzle. I would wipe it gently away and nuzzle her lovingly.

For now I could rest, but I knew sleep would elude me while I waited because I wanted to greet her as she came in.

I wanted to say, “Happy Birthday, my dear Miranda.”

Hard Times

THIS STORY IS true, although qualified. That is to say I have the date right and the initial circumstances are true. Fantasy begins where truth leaves off. I want the reader to understand that the fine line between fantasy and reality is often blurred. The outcome of this story may not be fantasy at all.

Sometime during the night of June 4, 2010, perhaps during the early morning hours of the 5th, a borrowed Hav-A-Hart small animal trap disappeared from our back deck. No part of the deck is visible from the street and we back up to a tangle of woods impervious to all but the animal population, i.e., we live in an out of the way place.

We are surrounded by trees on three sides and summer foliage makes us virtually private from prying eyes, not that we do much more than watch the grass grow. We have plenty of lawn, children and grandchildren who love us and who participate in our lives without being burdensome.

In winter we get snow, but that’s the time for it. In summer it gets as hot here as any place in the northeast. Spring and fall are generally delightful. We are isolated, but it’s a gift. People and help are a phone call and minutes away. No one’s life is idyllic, but ours comes close and I’m going to say closer than most.

We borrowed the old trap from our son-in-law, an official animal trapper licensed by our State. The apparatus didn’t work well, but I lubricated certain parts and made adjustments to the original design. It worked fine after that.

A family of red squirrels had raised our perception from “cute little varmints,” to “pests” when they invaded our garage. We couldn’t teach them the nuances of property rights, and being varmints, they couldn’t care less, so we went to plan B.”

I called the DEP and got the skinny on what we could do with them. We’d had the trap only two days when someone came in the dead of night and took the trap.

These facts proved that inspiration to write a story can come from any set of circumstances. We certainly had a thief, but I began to wonder that it might have a broader implication. The following story itched in my mind until I decided to scratch it.

I call it Hard Times.

Herb Peters used to be assistant manager at a local food store; good at his job. People liked him. One day in June he ripped his clothes off in the store and ran around wild-eyed and naked, singing “June is Bustin’ out All Over,” at the top of his lungs.

The manager fired him on the spot. What else could he do? Such behavior required stern and immediate action, a no brainer in the back of Jackson Farley’s mind. He liked Herb, but Farley had no trouble being decisive. The new young V-P, Clarence Grudgle – what a name – began putting on the pressure the day he arrived from the Corporate office and Farley, being a smaller fish in the company pond, had to streak around quicker than his boss if he hoped to avoid being eaten, metaphorically speaking.

Farley liked his job. He saw it as big enough and small enough. He could handle it and he made a nice living. He simply knew where he stood in the pecking order.

Herb knew these things, too. At least he did until the unhappy June day he went bonkers.

Well into Herb’s fifteen-year nothing to write home about marriage, people in the know shook their heads sadly and guessed his problem had the name Lila. She came from the Elmore and Helen Litkins family, genteel but powerful local moguls. They gave their one daughter everything except common sense.

How can anyone become real if never thrown in the crucible, if never called upon to exercise what little one knows to solve even a teensy problem? Herb got her, lock, stock and beautiful barrel. Doting parents saw an up and comer in Herb. Why, hadn’t he been promoted to Assistant Manager only weeks before they were married?

Fast track to the top? Wrong. He got to “assistant” and then the Peter Principle kicked in. Managers changed a couple of times, but promotion didn’t show on Herb’s horizon.

The marriage went well at first as there is always lag time between expectation and realization, kind of like seasonal lag. Let me offer that in explanation. There are two equinoxes and two solstices. Equinox in any latitude simply means that where you are standing, the amount of sunshine on that day exactly equals the amount of night. It happens in March and again in September.

Solstice means our sun has traveled as far south or north relative to the Earth’s orbit as it can and on that day begins to swing the other way for the next six months, celestial clockwork. In winter, the solstice represents the shortest day and longest night. In summer it’s the reverse. These occur in June and December. The four seasons are each tied to either equinox or solstice.

One may note in living through a few of these that in summer it doesn’t really get hot until a long time after the June solstice. Conversely, the dark and snowy part of winter is always after December 21st, like usually in January and February.

What does this have to do with Herb?

For Herb, it took fifteen years to hit his winter solstice, his shortest day. He’d fought depression nominally and then with greater frequency after two years of marriage. Parents’ Litgin’s timetable said Herb should be moving up. Lila heard it from her parents and Herb heard it from Lila.

At first he had strength and blew it off, but as the years dragged on and three pregnancies yielded three healthy, robust and expensive children, Lila began to ramp it up. She complained to Herb of losing ground financially. Socially it galled her.

Lila’s nagging went on for years and Herb sensed no letup. His wife picked on him morning and night. For him work rescued him each day. He couldn’t wait to leave in the morning to get to work, though active and exhausting. Since that new young V-P came into his department and shook things up the pressure tripled. Six of one kind and the old half dozen other kinds of hell gave him a choice.

He’d found it easier to tune out at home than at work. At least, the way he figured it, he could grasp the reasons for pressure at work. Bad economy, falling profits, trouble with suppliers, the list went on.

It didn’t let up with the new “fixer” on board; rather things got more difficult and debilitating and Herb’s comfort away from home disappeared. Like with an Equinox, Herb reached and then passed the point of finding work marginally more fun than being at home. After the fact, the explosion had to happen.

Grudgle stood five foot three and wore a large band of fat around his middle that made him look a little like Tweedle-Dee. He wore a suit with pinstripes on it with usually a smudge of food somewhere on the jacket. His wore rumpled clothes, but he had a hard look and the employees found as nephew to the Chairman of the Board they couldn’t chitchat with him. Once they discovered the connection the cynics wagged their heads and stayed out of his way.

The V-P’s education consisted of community college, subjects in history and sociology and one business course, which, it has to be said, he aced. Looking beyond the mundane, quiet searchers also found out that Chairman Morton Shine had been seeing a lot of Gudgle’s mother, evidently a prize good looker. Evidently, Shine’s quick mind that saw that Clarence’ living at home left a fly in the works, a distinct disadvantage to him, so he brought the man into his empire and made him his personal troubleshooter.

Herb, of course, knew this, but it meant nothing to his quickly escalating mental disintegration and on that fateful day in June, he blew. The police came and wrestled Herb to the ground. Medevac people came and carted him off to a room with soft walls.

Lila showed all the love and caring she had become famous for in their family and without a backward look, took the kids and went to momma’s house. The genteel parents fawned over his grandchildren and convinced Lila her place lay with them and how they were relieved to be rid of that commoner husband of hers. To add insult to injury, she began divorce proceedings during the month the sanatorium held Herb for observation. Lila had made an actual decision.

Herb languished in a padded room at the Sunnyview Sanatorium two towns over, filled with anti-anxiety drugs and other mind control regimens. Calm again, he tried to fathom what he’d done to land him into this kind of serious soup, but he drew a blank. It’d never happened before and he had nothing to grasp.

Over the next thirty days Herb appeared to regain his self-image and a modicum of self-respect and the facility discharged him. He left happy to be away from the “crazy house.” A cab dropped him off. At the door he found his house empty as his stomach. Not a stick of furniture, only a note on the floor of the entrance-way alongside a sealed envelope, with a cryptic few words on it.

It read, “Divorcing you, took my furniture. You are a loser. Read what’s in the envelope and you will know the rest of it. The children and I never want to see you again.”

He opened the envelope. Court order. No contact on pain of arrest. His world dissolved. No family, no job, no hope. He ran into the woods, baying like a wounded dog. Recently my Hav-A-Heart trap disappeared.

He’d be hungry. I think Herb took it.

Flight 331 – Chapter II

SOMETHING GOING ON in the cockpit. I need to get there.

The john is a reasonable request. She nudges her mother in the left seat to get up so I can complete the process. After I’m out, I mention that the back toilets seem to be in use and I’m going up front. I’ve been dismissed. The ladies return to their seats, books and conversation. I wonder why I have to use subterfuge so often.

I make my way forward and get up next to the locked entrance to the cockpit. A flight attendant bars my way, all while trying to look helpful.

“You can’t go any further forward, sir. Can I help you?”

“Ma’am,” I say, “I am a scientist and I felt something about twenty minutes ago that most people will dismiss, but that could be dangerous. I understand your need to protect the captain and I will wait here or wherever you like, but please, for the sake of all you believe in, let him know that I am here. My name is Ricardo D’Guise, Professor Ricardo D’Guise, seat 17F. He is aware that we have problems and he will want to speak to me.”

The woman looks at me like, Oh, God, another one!

I try to look inconspicuous and especially not dangerous. They can sense these things, I’m sure.

Evidently she’s been instructed to let the captain know about any untoward event, and I am it, this time. She sits me back with a larger than normal male flight attendant and asks me to stay put until she returns, to which I readily agree. She gives the male attendant some sort of wink or signal and from the corner of my eye I see him change his position some. The last thing I want is a confrontation, so I sit quietly, looking straight ahead.

The nice looking lady returns after about five minutes. I give credit to the airlines for reinforcing the cockpit doors on planes since 9-11. It blocks out any sound from the other side. A little heated discussion over my appearance would no doubt be expected. Distracted by my thoughts, I don’t notice, but when I look up she’s standing over me and she is another person.

“Professor D’Guise, the Captain would like to speak to you.” She has become all deference and it’s almost embarrassing. I’m not used to being treated with kid gloves and as far away as I usually am from the normal world my mind resists being placed in a special position of any kind.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” is all I say and I get up and follow the flight attendant to the door. She knocks twice and the door opens immediately. The lady stays on her side and the co-pilot, an older man with intelligent eyes and a slightly abrupt manner motions me to come in.

The Captain is a man of about fifty-five years, tanned and rugged looking in a studious way, but he strikes me as totally competent. Competent, that is, until I look in his eyes and I can see the fright within.

I explain that I had been listening to channel nine and heard his exclamation. I mention the feeling that had passed over my wife, my mother-in-law and me and quite surely all of the other passengers as well. I show him my credentials as Dean of the Science Department at Cornell. He gets right to the point. I don’t ask either man if they had felt something, but clearly, from the little jump each made involuntarily, they had, too.

“Professor D’Guise, we lost contact with the ground about thirty-five minutes ago, just before we were to pass over Whitehorse. It’s not natural. There is no hiss, no evidence whatever of a connection between us and the Earth below. I don’t understand it and I hope you can enlighten me.”

“I hope so, Captain. I am a professor at Cornell University and although I run the Department of the Sciences, my major field of study has been in temporal science. It is not well known or well respected, but I believe that you may at this moment be willing to listen to what you have never before given credence to.”

“And what is that?”

“That we have likely fallen through a hole in space-time and that the earth is no longer beneath us.”

“That’s crazy!”

“Yes, if I were you, that is what I would think, and with some conviction. After all, it has never happened to you before, right?”

“Of course not!”

“Let me try to help you through this with an explanation that I hope you will be able to accept, because our lives, all of our lives, will ride on the decisions you make within the next,” Ricardo looked at his watch, “Fourteen minutes.”

“What?” the pilot and co-pilot shout in unison.

“It is my belief that we are in a temporal hole and that it will be closing within the next fourteen minutes, correction, thirteen and a half.” The men start to speak, but I hold up my hand.

“Gentlemen, you let me in to see what I had to offer. The least you can do is to listen to my explanation.”

“All right, go ahead.”

“Temporal holes exist in space and actually abound, but one so close to a gravity well such as Earth is unusual and unusually dangerous. These are not predictable. They have no geometric equivalent, nor do they have a great deal of stability. Fourteen minutes may be on the low end, but that is all the credence I would give such an anomaly. You could have twenty. I couldn’t bet on it.

“Should you decide to dip below the clouds you think you are viewing beyond the window and hope to see the Earth sparkling below, you would surely short circuit the only remaining stability of the hole and we would be cast into an un-place from which we would never return. In other words, we would lose our lives. Now you may speak and ask what you will. Persuade yourselves over the next ten minutes. That is all the time you have left.”

“Why ten minutes?” the Captain says.

“It will take three minutes to remove ourselves from this situation, but no more.”

“You can advise us on what to do?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, talk.”

I lose no time. We’re getting short on it. “When you look above you, you seem to see dark sky. Look closely and you will note that what stars you seem to see are not points of light, but short streaks.”

The two men look out either side of the front ports. When they turn to Ricardo they have lost composure.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before, Captain,” says the co-pilot. He sounds scared.

Captain Rourke, a veteran of twenty years in the big jets, agrees. “Go on, Professor,” he says.

“There have been a number of disappearances of aircraft, most notably over the Bermuda Triangle – it is a focal point close to earth, not close like this, more of a spike from space – but in other places, too. They have been investigated by the military and classified. Otherwise they have been hushed down by the airlines for fear of ruining a worldwide and very lucrative business, not to mention the panic such public knowledge would cause. Not all have disappeared through such holes, but the evidence is clear enough to believe that more than half of the incidents have occurred as a result of temporal activity.”

The two pilots look at me in disbelief. Then they look at each other. They say nothing for a long moment.

Finally, Captain Rourke spoke up. “What needs to be done?”

“You will need to spin your plane one hundred and eighty degrees without changing your lateral position. It is vital that you do not deviate from your current heading. Can you do this?”

“We’ll crash. I can’t turn the aircraft around like that!”

“You won’t crash. The negative energy that is sucking us into the vortex will re-polarize and push us out. Your forward energy will become reverse energy. You will have to trust me on that. You must decide what you are going to do. You have a window of two minutes before we can do nothing to stop this.”

“We have no choice either way, it seems to me. What do you think, Joe?”

“It’s crazy, but Professor D’Guise doesn’t appear to be. I don’t like the alternative of continuing ahead.”

“Me, either, Joe. We’ll give it a try.” They turn and sit back in their seats. Joe puts the seat belt sign on and the Captain at the same time opens the mike to the ship and passengers.

“Attention everyone. Strap yourselves in tight. We are going to hit some severe turbulence in a very short time and everyone must be buckled in to prevent injury. Flight attendants, get strapped in as well. Do it now!”

“Professor D’Guise, please sit in the seat behind the co-pilot and strap in.” I do so.

The captain looks to his board and goes through what he plans to do with his co-pilot. This takes one minute. Joe nods and at the Captain’s count, they flip switches, disengage the autopilot, put the brakes on one side and reverse the starboard engine while pushing the port engines to one hundred percent. The big jet flips around in place, a crazy, no, a totally insane move, one never before performed with such a craft.

Like the big bird it was, the 747 hung in the thin air for only a second. Then, with a mighty push, the negative energy of the vortex reversed and threw the jet out into normal space. Muffled shrieks of discomfort from coach and first class mingled with the gusty sigh of relief in the cockpit from two perspiring pilots.

Good men that they were, they normalized the plane and put it on autopilot again.

“Looks like Whitehorse down there, Joe,” the Captain says with evident relief.

“I can uncross my fingers?”

Captain Rourke turned and shook the hand of the man who had saved three hundred and seventy-nine passengers and crew.

“Professor D’Guise, thank you from me, my crew and, no doubt, all the passengers on Flight 311. In keeping with the secrecy that has evidently held this little bombshell from the general public, I will give an accounting to the airline, but I intend to keep mum about this to everyone else. I’ll need you to help me with this.”

“Long as I don’t miss my ship, Captain, I’ll be happy to. On our way to a cruise, you know.”

“I assure you, you won’t miss a thing.”

I return to my seat. My wife looks up. “You took a long time coming back. Might you have had something to do with that little maneuver that scared the hell out of us?”

I look pained. “Me?” I say.

She gives me a look and sticks her face back in her book.

Flight 331 – Chapter I

THE JET TAKES off with a mighty push. I feel the raw, irresistible power of its four massive Pratt and Whitney engines. I marvel at the size of the Boeing 747 jetliner I’m riding in. I marvel at the cosmopolitan sense of the passenger-filled plane. No empty seats, I hear. I look around. Some are reading, some are negligently glancing out of their porthole windows and they look utterly bored.

Do they not feel something? Have they all traveled this route so many times before that the experience means…nothing? How could this be? Each and every one on the plane had a life to give, a life to live. Were they not in the least concerned about the tragic things that could happen in flight, or even to a plane still on the ground?

What if we lost a wheel before this large, lumbering aircraft left the runway? True, I hadn’t heard of that happening and I hadn’t seen it since I watched a World War II, B-29 movie years before, but it was possible, wasn’t it? I pictured it. The jet would jerk toward the ground and immediately veer across the runway into the soft ground beside the heavy duty cement runway. The ground would yield and twist the craft sideways. A wing would dip, hit the ground and sheer off; fuel would spill out. The heat of the engines at max power would set it off. We would become a ball of fire, tumbling down the runway. Screams would fill the smoke and fire-choked passenger compartment.

I yank my mind away from such images. No, this wouldn’t happen!

I notice that while the images went through my mind, I had clasped my hands tightly. They’d turned white where I squeezed the blood out of them. I relax again. I pull away from this frightening mind journey and review what I knew of crash statistics. Traveling by air is the safest method of travel worldwide. Crashes do occur, true enough, but the stats tell me that millions of air miles are traveled yearly without incident. Anyone know how big a million is? I do.

I figured it out one time. Try counting it. One paltry million! You’ll be surprised at how long it takes to count to that piddling number. You really will. Maybe the others aboard this plane are comforted by this knowledge. Maybe they are thinking of the billions, not the millions that our government is spending daily. A billion is a thousand million, one million a thousand times over! So how can they get excited about a measly million? How do you comprehend such a number?

Maybe they simply resign themselves to the fates. Que sera, sera, right? I look out the window.

We’re moving. As the plane gathers speed, the cement runway becomes more than just another feature of the huge airport. When the cement growls beneath the tires, when it feels like sandpaper, and when the flat land outside my porthole window suddenly tilts and the jet rises smoothly away from Mother earth, my mind explodes. Not literally, I just feel great. The jet rises to the sky and becomes a bird, no longer connected to the ground. It soars into the blue and I hold my breath. Yo, baby, we’re on our way!

See, no problems! I chide myself for getting all tied up inside. United Airlines flight 331 from Chicago to Anchorage rises steeply. The big jet engines yank at the air and grab the sky. Thank you, Wilbur. Thank you, Orville. You had the far seeing vision that Man could fly like a bird and you made it happen. And, boy, if you could see us now! Small steps, small beginnings, that’s how we did it and that’s what brought humankind to a level of sophistication people a mere hundred years back would marvel at, if they didn’t consider it outright magic!

To fly faster than the birds, hell, to fly faster than the sounds of the birds, that’s not just sophistication, that’s plain damn fast! I feel lucky. I’m one man in the company of many others, and maybe they’re not, but I’m on top of the world.

They just announced a movie, Shreck II. I’m not going to watch TV while riding above the clouds! Good God Gertie, TV doesn’t fascinate me, even on the ground. I’m going to listen in on the flight crew. It’s a little perk on this aircraft. Channel nine. I can listen to the pilot’s patter with the ground, so I tune in. I have a good book in my lap, forgotten for the moment while I listen to what’s interesting to me but must be totally mundane for him. His connection with the ground he takes for granted. It will always be there. But that’s not true, is it? One never knows.

Our flight  will  take about six hours. That’s not a long time, but forced to sit within the limits of one seat for the duration, it begins to feel confining. Still, I remain upbeat. I’m loving it.

A steward comes through and asks if I want anything. He’s serving drinks. I check my watch. I never drink before eleven, a carryover from my corporate days, before I became an educator. Yes, a glass of wine would be nice. He serves me and I crack open a mini-bottle of Sutter’s Home chardonnay. Mid-shelf, but good enough.  My wife gets one, too.

I’m listening in and watching out the window. It’s small, but I can see enough to entice me. Broad, flat lands give way to low hills and then to desert terrain. The land below looks forbidding. I have a momentary feeling of sympathy for those who must live there. Is it their choice or does some thing drive them to pioneer lands no one else would consider? Or are they down on their luck and only this land will accept them? I wonder.

Soon mountains come into view, clouds, too. I mean real mountains, not those piddling little hills we call mountains on the east coast. We must be over some version of the Rockies. These are big and dark, almost black, and they send a little chill up my spine.

Hey, nothing is going to happen. I play the odds and the odds are good.

I tick off nuggets of knowledge. Clouds come with mountains because mountains generate clouds. They cause uplifting of horizontal winds carrying moisture. The air is much colder at higher altitudes. Cold air is heavy and precipitates moisture. Clouds form. God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.

The land below begins to disappear. Flying at 35,000 feet makes everything below a microcosm of what I know it to be. Living on the surface does that. You begin to think in referents. It’s comfortable.

First the puffy clouds are replaced with a milkiness that you don’t think of much, except that you want to see the ground and something gets in the way and you can’t see so much so maybe now is the time to read your book.

I sigh and pick up Steven King’s “The Dark Half.” Good book. Usually can’t put it down, but this is unusual. Three more hours, maybe a bit longer and we’ll be in Anchorage. Never been there before and I’m looking forward to it. This trip is the most!

The captain is saying something. I have to listen. Ah, we’ll be passing Whitehorse in forty minutes. Guess that’s good news. Whitehorse is in the Yukon Territory. My little portable map tells me so, but who hasn’t heard of Sergeant Preston and the Royal Mounties? They were always up in the Whitehorse area catching bad guys. I smile. Maybe I’m older than I look. I do wonder for a second how many people in this plane would remember Sergeant Preston.

Suddenly I feel woozy. Just for a second. Odd, but it passes and I don’t think about it for fifteen minutes or so, maybe more. More of “The Dark Half,” it’s really engrossing.

It’s cloudy below and I check my watch. Two hours? Can’t believe it. Where did the time go? We should have passed Whitehorse twenty minutes ago.

Wait! Something on channel nine. “What happened to fucking ground control?” the captain’s asking, “I can’t raise anybody anywhere!”

I can’t hear the co-pilot’s response. Guess it’s a selective line I’m on. Stands to reason. I mean, what if something really bad happened and here he is projecting to the entire passenger section. Good way to start a panic.

Then I hear, “Captain…” and silence, like he’s pointing to something. Guess he was connected all along, but the co-pilot is thinking and the pilot is only reacting. Can’t blame him.

The line goes dead. Us passengers have been shut out. Damn! We’ve really got problems. What do I do? Last thing I want is to upset anybody in the passenger section. But, you know, I’ve got to tell my wife. She’s right next to me. She gets mad at times, but she thinks before she gets upset and shouts out (I hope this time she remembers not to shout).

“Hey, honey?” I ask. She’s reading a Belva Plain novel and is engrossed, like I’ve been.

She looks irritated for a moment, but looks up and says sweetly, “What!”

I tell her there’s something going on with the plane and, she says, “What are you talking about?” Familiar refrain, heard it before. One of the necessary steps before she fully listens.

“The captain just said a dirty word over channel nine and now the line’s dead.”

“What did he say?”

“I don’t want to repeat it, but it wasn’t nice. The gist of it was that we have some trouble, and then I got cut off from channel nine and I don’t know what else is going on. Did you feel anything about twenty minutes ago?”

“What do you mean?” My wife is not easy to convince about anything.

“Did you, like, feel woozy for a second? I did.”

“Now that you mention it, I did. I thought it was something strange, but it passed and I went back to my reading.” She stopped and turned to her seventy-eight year old mom, “Mom, did you feel anything about twenty minutes ago?”

“I had a dizzy spell, but I came right back. Why?”

“Ricardo asked me.”

“Oh. Why?”

She ignored her mother and turned to me. “What are you saying, something is going on we don’t know about?”

“That’s fair to say.”

She knows me. She hesitates and then says, “Okay, what do you think it is?”

“I don’t have a clue.”

“Then why don’t you let the pilot fly his plane and go back to your reading?”

“Sure, that’s what I’ll do. No, actually, I need to get to the john. Could you let me out?”

I say that because she will think she’s overcome my current fears and all’s right with the world. I know it’s important to her to feel that way, but I’m antsy as hell and I can’t let this drop. I couldn’t count on my wife’s support. It’s okay, we don’t see eye to eye on occasion. Well, lots of them, but I still loves her.

I control my features but inside I suddenly know what happened twenty minutes before and now I’m scared to death!

(To be continued)

Christmas Miracle 2016

A Christmas fantasy for the 2016 season.

ΩΩΩ

KRIS STOOD COMFORTABLY, his tweed coat warming him in the chill air. It didn’t hurt him to be standing there denied. He had just finished searching the faces of two men to whom he had revealed himself.

Not like I’ve never been denied before. Two men, one on either side of me, one full of doubt, and the other…absolute denial! Do I try to convince them or just move on? The children believe in me. Isn’t that enough?

Kris turned and got ready to walk away, but something stopped him, a familiar something. He had especially strong reservations about the younger man.

The older man will take some work, but the other looks so angry, so unattainable! I’ll try, but why I bother, I’ll never know? Yet…

Thoughts silently worked behind the kindly face. He didn’t like interfering with other people’s beliefs. He agonized every time before the will to fight for what he believed boiled up, but it always did.

For centuries I have turned my face toward the children of this world. I have done so in every language and remembered every custom. I am called by many different names. I have caused most children’s parents to feel the Joy of Christmas. They apply themselves to giving during this special time. They think they are doing it on their own. That I smooth their way is surely of value to them.

He had carried his benevolent need for an incredibly long time. Finally, the thought that put his feet to action, the thought that caused him to turn back came to him.

These are ones who have lost the magic. I must help them to find it again. I must…I simply must try.

He squared his shoulders and prepared to speak. He must be the responsible one. Too many parents in the world had forgotten the child they once were. Such a pity!

The tall man stood as though deep in thought, gazing at a house on fire in the distance. The darkness, cold night and brisk numbing wind made him put up his collar in a vain attempt to keep the chill from his neck. Kris sensed the man would help if he could, but what could he do?

Fire trucks surrounded the building. Miniature figures cast long shadows in the flickering glare.

“Too bad,” he heard the tall man murmur to the air, “an awful night to have your house burn down.”

Images of people, tiny impressions in a night that brightened and dimmed as hoses spraying the building made momentary inroads into the all-consuming fire. Miniature people gazed hypnotically at it. Kris couldn’t see their faces but he could sense the tragedy written there.

The sounds of fire crackled across the still night air. Suddenly a shower of sparks vaulted into the night. A section of the roof on the attached garage collapsed. A kind of “Whoosh!” came to them a second or so after the crash.

It seemed a signal, because at that moment Kris began to speak. As he spoke, the old man glanced at the younger man nearby, including him in his words.

“Such a sadness, to see all the work and time and history in that home going up in smoke and flame. Does it affect you as it does me?”

“Yes, and on Christmas Eve, too,” the tall man replied.

Then Kris said, “What they need is a Christmas miracle. Tell me, sir, do you believe in Christmas? Do you believe that perhaps a Christmas miracle could indeed occur, if all of us were to wish hard enough?”

The tall man looked at him for a moment, but only said. “I’m afraid it’s too late for these people. I’ve been alive too long to believe in miracles…” he hesitated briefly and finished, “anymore.”
Kris looked at the fire and back at the two men.

“If I told you I was Kris Kringle and that if we all wish hard enough right now, we could stop this fire, could you believe and help that poor family?”

“I know your intentions are good, sir,” said the tall man, “but I no longer believe in Santa Claus, nor do I believe in any miracle that could stop this raging fire.”

“Sirs,” Kris said, now speaking to both men, “I am Kris Kringle. If you can believe, we can put out that fire as a gift to the unfortunate family.”

“Sorry.” The tall man offered Kris a look of pity. He turned his head away and gazed again at the conflagration.

The young man raised his head and his chin jutted defiantly. He looked down his nose and stared at the fire, clearly hoping the old guy who’d just told him he was Santa Claus would evaporate and disappear. He knew the old man saw his expression before he turned away. Silent insult; ignore the old duffer.

The stuff he’d laid on the tall guy on the other side of him…whew! Crazy as a loon! He relished his blazing return.

“Ha, ha, old man. Who says you lose your imagination when you get old? You must be nutty as a fruitcake. Why don’t you get lost?”

Kris looked at him with infinite patience but no fear. Unexpected, he could see it bothered the man when he spoke up, a sympathetic expression on his face, and said, “You have two children, don’t you?”

The angry man stared at Kris. How could he know that?

“What’s it to you?”

“They want their Dad home tonight. It’s a special night. It’s Christmas Eve.”

“Why would I care about that? The old lady is home. She can take care of them. They don’t need me. What do you mean, asking me a bunch of questions? Who the hell are you, anyway?”

“Why,” the bearded man said, “I’m Kris Kringle, just as I told the other man a moment ago.”

That’s when he’d laid the fruitcake thing on the old relic. He hoped it would be enough, but the old fellow just stood there, pondering.

Kris squinted out over the field to where the house continued to burn toward the ground. The firemen weren’t having much luck with this one. The wind rose, carrying burning embers out over the small crowd. Every so often they would hear a muffled thud, like an explosion. The young man owned a paint store. He knew the sound of exploding paint cans. Somebody had stored a lot of stuff in that ramshackle old place.

Wonder who lives there? Nah, who cares? The young man thought. Fascinated by fire since his youth, the young man endured the cold, moving now and then from one foot to the other. He intended before he’d stopped to hit the local pub. A couple of shots would warm up the insides. It could wait for this, though. Why couldn’t he enjoy it in peace?

Still, the old guy wouldn’t go away. He thought, pretty soon I’m going to get this guy out of my face.  As he thought that, the voice of the portly man began again.

“Sir,” it said in a respectful enough tone, “I can see that many bad things have happened in your life, and that your business isn’t doing well.”

Who is this guy? How does he know? It was true, and it worried him sick, why he planned to stop at the pub. A few brews with a couple of shots would take the edge off.

“Sir,” Kris spoke to him again, “with all respect, I don’t want to pry into others’ lives. I just want you to try to remember back to when you stopped believing.”

“Look, mister! I pulled myself up the hard way. Nobody gave me nothin’! It’s real hard to keep it. What are you bothering me for?”

“When was it, sir?”

The guy wasn’t going to be insulted, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“I don’t know!” he answered savagely, too loudly, “That stuff’s for kids. When you grow up you find out it’s a lot of hooey. The old lady wants to buy presents for the kids. I got to work late to come up with the dough to pay for all that stuff. I’d be ahead of the game if she didn’t bleed me. ‘You got to do for the kids,’ she says. “What can I do? One step forward, two steps back. Life’s dance! I’d rather watch that house burn down.”

Now the tall man turned away from the fire and stared at the two strangers. The exchange disturbed his despairing thoughts. Why was the little man being so feisty?

Kris noticed the change and while still talking directly to the younger man, began to share his words with both.

“Life is just life. It owes you nothing. It is what you do with it that counts. People and circumstance will pull you away from what you know to be right and good, and away from the magic you knew as a child who believed. Think back to when you were eight, when the world was bigger and full of magic. You can do it. Try.”

Both men stared at Kris. As they did, Kris passed his hand across the air in front of them. Suddenly both men were transported back to their long forgotten childhood.

The firelight made shadow-grams across their faces, but they no longer saw it. They’d returned to the world of big people, of play, of presents and of bright joy. They dwelt there for what seemed a long time. The spell lasted only an instant, but oh my, the change! Their mouths turned up in smiles. A glint came to their eyes.

The young man said. “What did you do, old man? I had forgotten. All that happened so long ago. My parents; they are both dead. They were good people. I forgot.”

The tall man didn’t say anything then, but he smiled. His problems receded. He felt…changed.

Kris answered, “I helped you both pull back the veil, that’s all. Those memories are yours, and they are good. You just needed a helping hand.”

Suddenly the tall man wanted to be home, and the young man forgot his problems and his need to drink them away. He ached to be home, too, to see his children, to see his wife in an older, better, and more loving light.

They began to move away, but Kris stopped them.

“There is one more thing to do tonight,” Kris said. He looked at the fire raging away in the distance. “Will you help me to help them?”

“What can we do?” came from the two men.

“They need a Christmas wish. Grasp my hands, one on either side, close your eyes and we will wish a mighty wish.”

They did as bid. They faced the fire, closed their eyes, and wished the fire out. A heavy, thick cloud formed above the house, and in spite of the bitter cold, it began to rain. It rained torrents, buckets. The distant bright glow dimmed and went out.

As suddenly as it appeared the smoke cleared and the cloud disappeared. Behind it they discovered a glorious full moon rising above the trees on the horizon. The ill, chill wind that had fanned the fire became a gentle breeze. It carried the piney smells of Christmas and their spirits soared.

Perhaps now the people who lived there could salvage their lives. Perhaps they would raise their eyes to the sky, from whence had come this Christmas Eve miracle. Perhaps the Christmas spirit that had been ripped so awfully out of their lives would find its way back, and would bring them peace.

They turned to Kris to thank him. They were alone. They looked at each other in wonder, shook hands and went home to their families.

Tear Holes in It

GINGHA AND HER two companions walked slowly, single file and alert as they picked their way along a narrow ridge high above a low place. The smaller of the two walked between them, a younger in training, Gingha’s charge, and the other a seasoned warrior of her tribe. Behind them the sky darkened and when shadow fell on them, Gingha turned abruptly and looked to the sky. She stifled a gasp as an orange hue manifested in the coming storm.

“Quickly!” Gingha called. “Get under! Get under!”

Her companions needed no urging. The weather deteriorated rapidly and became so bad that even deeply furred ones such as they sought haven. Far worse than the sudden storm, the wind brought with it a dreaded Kanata deluge. They searched for shelter, any shelter.

“There, in the cliff face, a cave!” Gingha called.

They ducked in, the last of the three casting a furtive glance over her shoulder; assuring they had not been seen.

They found the cave already inhabited by two not of their own. The heavily muscled light beige spotted Man’ruh were enemy, but the greater danger lay outside in the green-cast sky and viciously heated air.

Once beneath the overhang, the striped ones laid their weapons aside at the entrance and pushed furry appendages out in front of them to indicate truce. The two inside made a similar gesture, and the three piled in.

“The seasons collide,” Gingha said to their new companions, “and with them bring our common enemy.”

“Yes,” said the larger and older Man’ruh, “and thus, according to the Principles, a truce we shall have.”

They huddled in the small mountainside cave, feeling most fortunate in finding a craggy overhang to protect them. Pungent smells of rotting vegetation from the low place assailed their scent openings.

The five now, again according to the Principles, introduced one to the other in ritual, first the newcomers.

“I am Gingha. These are Longha and Tiningha. We are Or’ta.”

The massive one spoke in ritual. “We are Man’ruh of the steep highlands. I am Slango, and this,” he hesitated briefly, “is Rolfo.”

They were not friends. Each knew the others’ race. Were they not deadliest of enemies at any other time? Still, the Principles required it, and none would harm the other while weather and Kanata conspired against them. The Principles ascribed to by all four-limbed species on the planet required that the five act as friends. All under such bond, enemy or no, must individually and willingly sacrifice themselves to the good of the group.

A great Kanata storm could kill them all and thus the Principles had come about in ages dimmed to memory on Yurth, fourth planet of Aspar in the Condescension of the Little Kingdom, and it preserved life. All intelligent species respected the Principles.

If they survived their bad luck, they would give each other courtesy distance and go about their business without looking back. If they met again after the confluence of the twelve-moon, yet two days hence, they would be enemies again, looking for a first kill. The Principles guided them all.

“It is the worst, truly,” said Rolfo. The young Man’ruh, evidently out with his tribe’s prime warrior on a first mission, blanched. Thought of the deadly Kanata nearly within reach of his long, grasping appendages caused him to arch his flat-eyed craggy mane and he tried mightily to swallow his fear. Thought of the Kanata’s malevolent needle beaks resounded within his head.

“It will surely be our ending,” young Tiningha added, multiple eyestalks waving wildly. She sounded scared, not like a warrior at all. Gingha looked at her sharply. Tiningha calmed instantly. She made a head-butt gesture of respect to her leader. Gingha sniffed and looked away. Tininga would need to be spoken to, but later, in private. Her show of fear had diminished her.

Gingha concentrated two eyestalks on the Man’ruh, but neither seemed to notice or care. Placidly she settled near but did not touch young Rolfo. Even conventions had limits.

In the cramped cave the enemies regarded each other casually. Too greatly directed by the Principles to even consider the subtlety of a sneak attack, Longha squatted next to Gingha along the smooth wall of the cave. Tiningha found an uneven alcove close to the entrance. She worked her black and gray body’s motive appendages under her. Then she retrieved her barbed hunref and handed those of her companions to them. Now under convention, they would use such weapons only for protection against the Kanata. She noted that the Man’ruh’s stone-headed bludgeons lay within easy reach between them.

The Or’ta normally grew to a height of ten feet. Longha and Gingha were adults, and Tiningha, not yet grown at only eight feet stretched high, had been given in tutelege to Gingha. She fit the alcove with sufficient comfort and made no sound otherwise.

In the liquid pitch of their tongue, Gingha, not unkindly, said to the young Or’ta, “Your closeness to the cave entrance is dangerous. Keep quite still, Tiningha.”

“Yes, my leader. It is your will.”

“We must not attract attention. The Kanata’s sensors are keen.”

“Yes, my leader.”

The wind outside of the cave screamed. Rolfo, only five of his mature seven feet of height gained yet in growth, turned and spoke to his mentor. “How long will this last, Slango?”

Without answering directly, Slango mouthed the question to Gingha. “Gingha of the Or’ta, when you entered this safe place, did you know the direction of the winds?”

“Yes,” she answered, “from the north.”

“Aeii, it bodes not well,” Slango replied, and set about explaining to Rolfo how the turn of the weather came from its direction. “From the north means that the winds and their deluge of the Kanata insect will last long. We are well protected here, but hunger may come to us long before the deluge ends.”

“I hunger at this time, Slango.”

“You will hunger greatly before our misfortune releases us all from this storm, I fear.” But there was no fear in his voice, only sadness.

Longha spoke, mostly to the two youngers. “The principles require we act as one against the common enemy. This allows conversation as with friends. For this time, let us not huddle mute, but seek the rare companionship allowed us.”

“Yes,” said Slango, “In that the Or’ta are wise. Our needs cannot be fulfilled; thus a rare opportunity exists to learn of our races without hostility.”

It is good,” said Gingha. “I wish to tell a little of our race and why we must be enemies. Perhaps Rolfo will learn from this. Our Tiningha has much also to learn. As leaders, it is our responsibility, Slango.”

“We will hear of your words and I will follow in kind.”

So began conversations that lasted into the darkness that followed day and through the night. Wild winds buffeted the cave and the mountain shuddered continuously, but the cave held. Thrown together by chance, the small band of five kept their voices only just above the roar beyond the cave entrance and tried to block their fear of the night and the deadliness beyond the cave opening. In the light of the following day, the storm continued.

The Or’ta were trained to deprivation, as was Slango, but Rolfo, yet too young to have faced such hunger, complained loudly. “I must eat, Slango. I am to die, I think.”

“You are facing your first test, Rolfo. Now you must be silent and show our guests how we Man’ruh can put away hunger.”

Rolfo subsided.

Tiningha said to Rolfo, “I am only one season away from the entrance to adulthood, Rolfo. I have learned much in that time. I will hope that our paths never cross after the storm releases us and the twelve-moon is past. I cannot believe that it would feel good to take your life, not after this night.”

“Appreciation from Rolfo,” he returned. “It would be a hope I could harbor in this cave and on this day that our paths never cross. Appreciation to Gingha of the Or’ta, too, for the lessons she has taught. Slango has been thorough, but an Or’ta perspective I could never have known.”

“Nor I,” said Slango. “In my many seasons on Yurth, I have often fought the Or’ta and have thus far survived. They are fearsome fighters.”

He tilted his massive head toward them in respect. “I can now say of the Or’ta that we understand the message of our births as different creatures of our world, and why we must remain enemies. Although it is a sadness that such as we cannot live without contest for that which our races need to sustain us, we understand. Slango and Rolfo have learned much this day and in the night past.”

Gingha replied, “Also the Or’ta could wish it different. We are not unkind. Perhaps someday…” Her thought was left incomplete, because at that moment a sudden stillness descended on the cave.

“Tiningha, move carefully to the cave entrance and assess.”

“Yes, leader.” The younger Or’ta disengaged herself from the alcove where she had waited patiently after Gingha’s command of the night before, and fluidly moved six feet to the entrance.

“It is clear, leader,” she said. “Wait…” She leaned further, extending her long frame out beyond the overhang.

Gingha felt a sharp foreboding. She issued a fierce command. “Tiningha, no!”

Too late! The rock Tiningha’s appendage rested on crumbled. She partially turned, a look as close to surprise as were Or’ta capable, and disappeared.

The Or’ta leader lunged for her charge, again too late! Tiningha tumbled out and fell onto the pathway that had led them to the cave. Gingha dived for the opening, looked out, and saw what she feared most. The lull in the storm ended. With eerie keening sounds, the Kanata winged along with the returning winds. Tiningha lay unprotected. The Kanata saw her. They dived for her position, needle beaks with saw-tooth rippers extended.

At the entrance, Gingha looked back with agony on her upper features. “I am responsible. I must save!” She grabbed her barbed hunref and charged out into the storm of death.

“No!” with a roar, Slango bolted toward the light.

Rolfo stood; fear etched on his face, but grasped his bludgeon and began to follow. They were held back only a moment as Longha followed her cub leader out of the entrance, no thought for danger or the safety of the cave.

As she left, Gingha scooped up Tiningha’s weapon and thrust it at her, then parried the two-foot long Kanata insect that drove for her head. Gingha stood at half height, swinging and moving her sinewy body at great speed, successfully fending off the horde that drove on her. She used the hunref like a long stake, barbed end and knobbed butt swinging, connecting time and time again, and the sickening smell of juiced Kanata rained down on the exposed Or’ta.

Slango and Rolfo emerged and took stances facing the oncoming cloud of Kanata, leaving only enough room to swing their bludgeons.

Longha found a place below the fallen Tiningha and tried to create for her a safe zone so she could rise and join the fight. Tiningha, with only a moment of free time spied an area near the rock wall beyond the direction from which they had come. It had a level surface and an out-jut.

“Gingha,” she called, “a fighting place, better! Follow my voice!” She knew getting back to their shelter would mean death. The mindless Kanata insects would charge the opening and work their way into the cave, filling it while trying to rip the five to pieces. The five would die, horribly mangled or they would suffocate, should they succeed in killing enough to buffer their hiding place with dead bodies.

Too busy to even look around, Gingha said, “Gather and go. We will follow.”

Tiningha gathered herself and made it to her upright stance. She started a battle chant known to the Or’ta.

Swing and slash

Cut and dash

Weave and present

Death to the enemy

Kanata are old

But we are bold

Or’ta will hold

So to defy the odds

Death to the enemy

The little fighting force made its way to the cleared, flat area, battling desperately to stay on its feet and still make every swing and smash count. Hunger injected its cruelty in their minds and the night gone had sapped some of their strength. Still, they fought like the legendary Scoothos, great animals of the far south, one horned, practically immortal and totally without fear.

Now the other two Or’ta started singing and soon even the Man’ruh picked up the rhythm and started to sing in their lower register. Or’ta song they had heard before from afar, but never in memory had any Man’ruh joined in. All around them the bodies of the Kanata lay, some moving still, but unable to fly. The Man’ruh clubbed them when they could.

Suddenly a break appeared in the oncoming Kanata. Gingha the leader, tired but not daunted, looked up and realized that when the next group came at them, they could do something!

“Fighters all, I have a revelation. A break in the horde descending on us now means that the storm is nearly over. We could win! We could live! We shall fight as before, but we shall move this way and that as one entity to the limits of our space and we shall smite the horde and we shall tear holes in it. We shall disrupt them and we shall win, we shall win!”

From every sound-producing orifice of the two species came a mighty shout! The Kanata closed in once more. The five moved as Gingha commanded with renewed energy. The song began again, verse after verse. They fought hard until their sun shone halfway in the sky above. They tore holes in the Kanata storm with every swipe. Each took painful injury and the fluids of their bodies leaked into the rubble of the Kanata piled high around them, but they would not stop.

Then, with all nearly overcome by exhaustion, the winds slowed, became gentle and the last of the attacking Kanata were gone.

With another great shout they looked after the retreating horde, and they shook their weapons in defiance a last time, the Kanata now only specks in the brightening vault of heaven. Soon the murderous scud left their vision and the clear yellow-green sun of Yurth shone on them. Man’ruh and Or’ta cleaned and applied the healing forest ferns gathered from the steaming low place to the wounds on their bodies.

Elation swelled them. Victory!

They spent time in appraisal of their win against the common enemy. Then, knowing they must return to their homes, the Man’ruh and the Or’ta turned from one another and slipped away. The Principles required they never look back. The confluence of the twelve-moon approached.

And Baby Makes Me

THE LIFE I know today began with my birth. It doesn’t seem much to say, but I want you to know what happened before that. Before I was born, I enjoyed life in a place swimmingly confined and restricted, but really okay. I could kick around and turn over, stand on my head, lots of things.

Then, one day just like all the others, quite suddenly and totally without my permission, the quiescent muscles surrounding me started to work.

“Hey, what’s going on?”

Thrown around and squeezed, to my horror I felt the comfortable sack of water around me start to drain away. I stuck out a foot but I couldn’t stop it. From somewhere I heard a muffled voice.

“It’s coming! How’s that for a healthy kick?”

“What’s coming? What kick?”

No answer! Guess the walls must be too thick.

The muscles worked, and another voice from outside said, “Push…push…!”
“Push? How can I push? I’m upside down. There’s nothing in here to grab onto. Hey, I’m sliding! What’s going on?

No use, hard as I tried to prevent it, I kept slipping and slipping. Behind me, something kept pushing and pushing. Would you believe it, those damn muscles were trying to push me through a narrow opening.

“Give it up! I’ll never fit through there. Let me go back to my reading.”

I could have expected it. No answer.

“Excuse me? Hey, it’s me…hey out there! Stop! This is ridiculous!”

I heard more “Push…push…!”
“What is this push, push stuff? Can’t you see you’re disrupting me? Stop it now or I’ll get mad!”

Nobody listened.

To my dismay, the tunnel opening widened as my head pushed into it. Suddenly the top of my head got cold.

“Holy mackerel, Andy! This is getting serious!”

I felt monster hands groping for my head.

“Damn! Is there no end to indignity? Now I am mad!”

With a final huge push and—did I hear a grunt from above—I was propelled out of my warm surroundings into a harsh, thin, cold, alien environment! A huge hand grabbed me by the feet and held me upside down.

“I was happy! What the hell are you doing? Put me back!”

Somewhere, distant from me, but not very distant, I might have heard a sigh of relief. Suddenly, something came out of the void and smacked my tiny buns, causing great pain.

I let my tormentor know. I gave a yell and jerked about. I didn’t care where I was!

Laughter! Laughter! I couldn’t believe it.

“Laugh it up, fuzzball!”

I squalled! Now I wanted attention. Lucky that bozo didn’t get close, I’d have popped him one. What an affront! Held upside down in a vice and beaten soundly on the butt. Not fair; not fair at all!

And they laughed!

A low voice came from high above. “This one’s got some lungs on him.”

Well, what did you think? I’m just going to hang around and let some monster beat on me and say nothing?

Maybe I should smile and say “Thank you (you bastard)!”

More hands grab me. They’re cold, too. Suddenly I’m flying through the air. Hold on there!

They laid me on a warm surface. Felt like the outside of what I was just inside of. Tie, cut, snip!

“Put a rope around my middle and disconnect my food supply, why don’t you? Okay Bozo, you’ve got control now, but you wait! I’ll get the last laugh, mark my words!”

After that the monster laid my fragile little crinkled body on a horizontal surface and started to wipe me off. Maybe he thought those towels were soft. Personally, they felt scratchy. Why didn’t he have an Eskimo woman chew them for a while first?

“Look. I don’t want to be dry. I want to go back!”

Why didn’t the monster hear me? Someone referred to him as “Doctor.” I don’t think he likes me. Evidently doctor things were around to cause pain and discomfort.

At long last someone with smooth, careful hands wrapped me in a little blanket and whisked me into the air again. Yet another pair of hands took my tiny body and held it.

“Now, finally, this feels right!”

“Oh, my beautiful baby,” came the voice from the grunt from before.

Well, not so bad, I guess. I could put up with it so long as someone would feed me and take care of all my needs. After all, they had been taken care of for my entire life, up to this point. No reason to stop now.

Above me I heard noise and confusion. High voices congratulated the someone holding me.

“What about me? Don’t I get a few accolades? Do you know where I was a few minutes ago?” As I warmed up, I felt maybe a little sleepy. I opened my little mouth and I yawned my first yawn.

More clamor. What is it with these monsters?

“Oh look, he’s getting sleepy. Oh, such a beautiful baby!”

“Well, what did you think you got here, fried eggs?”

I felt tired. Time for a nap, I guess. As I drifted off, I heard a voice in a lower register say, “Well, Mrs. Benton, looks like you’re all set. Now I’m off to deliver Mrs. Jones.”

“Deliver-smiver, glad you’re leaving, Doc. Good riddance, is what I say. Hope you’ll chew on a couple of towels before you deliver Mrs. Jones.”

Yup, that began life on the outside. There’s certainly more to do out here, that’s sure, but I gotta say, the first part was pretty comfy.

Mouse Takes Plunge

I GLANCED AT the picture in my hand. It showed one of the wren houses I’d built in the spring of 2008 and hung in a nearby tree. A dead mouse dangled absurdly by its tail, evidently somehow caught in the intricately twig fashioned wren’s nest inside. I showed it to my wife and in a rather typical response, she said, “Ugh!”

For my part, my active mind took off for parts unknown and I conjured a fantasy.

At the end of the summer season on 10-17-2008 about the time of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, I wrote this original story based on that picture. In October 2016, a mere eight years later, but on the first anniversary of the blog I added to my website, I decided to update the story, fix its many flaws and publish it as a blog post. Here is my fantasy.

×××××

Yes, folks, the stock market crash affected everyone. After investing heavily in birdseed and sub-prime tree-house condos, the mouse finally took a dive. Word has it the little rodent had just received notice of a pending lawsuit from the Fed, something about back taxes on some dilapidated, cockroach-infested properties in New York.

Well, they caught up to him and he took it hard, folks. Recently, his buddies in the underground saw him looking all ragged, scurrying around and muttering, “I bought stock in the sub-prime housing market and “Crash,” just like that I’m ruined…ruined…do you hear me, RUINED!”

In the aftermath of what occurred, it looked like he couldn’t face it, folks. Personally, I know there’s more to the strange position we find Mr. Mouse in than forensics has discovered. I’m not telling. Hey, if they can’t figure it out…

You see, I happen to know that a flock of angry wrens ganged up on him late one afternoon and did the dirty deed. I think maybe he got a little push. How do I know? Let’s just say a little birdy told me.

The cops still think it’s suicide and it looks like it, but will they ever know for sure? I mean, hung by his tail from a birdhouse, a wren house no less, most assuredly dead and swinging in the wind. What a horrific way to go!

It makes water-boarding and other terrors our government claims never happened seem tame, doesn’t it? Do you suppose the birds “’boarded” the mouse first? I don’t know, but I put a scenario together and to me it fits. This is what I’m thinking.

I picture a small, dim room of thin, interwoven sticks. A circular shaft of bright light focuses on a spot in the middle of, let’s call it a nest, and there’s Mr. Mouse, his four limbs held firmly in the beaks of four nasty looking military wrens. In front of him is a dish of water.

From the surrounding darkness, a harsh voice grates at the wet, shivering prisoner.

“Okay, again, we know you started collecting rents twice instead of once a month. You think we’re stupid? You stashed it, didn’t you? Now talk.”

“No, I didn’t do it. You got the wrong mouse. ”

“Lies! Put him under again.”

“Sarge, not again,” Private Smith says, aghast. He gulps. He didn’t enlist to torture other animals.

“FOLLOW ORDERS, PRIVATE!”

“Yes, Sarge.” His reticence overcome by fear, he steels himself and says, “Okay, in you go.”

“No, no. I’ll talk…I’ll talk.”

“All right, Mouse, spill it.”

“Look, I did it. I needed the money. I got bad advice…real bad advice. I had a few shekels to throw at the market and this guy I met in the cellar under a bar says; he says to me, “Psst! Sub-prime, you make a lotta money quick.”

“More lies. Under you go.” He looks at Private Smith and nods.

“No…no… there’s more…” Mouse looks desperate.

“Thought so,” Sarge says. “Go on.”

“Yeah, well, I took my savings and put it into sub-prime. It looked good at first, but it went south about a month ago. I owe money. I had to make it up somehow. Please, mercy!”

Sarge studies Mouse for a minute or two. Finally, he says, “That sounds more like truth. Okay, I believe you.”

Mouse takes a deep breath. Finally!

“You tell me where the money is so I can get it back to the wren community and we’ll think about letting you go.”

“I’ll tell, I’ll tell,” Mouse pleads.

“Give.” So the mouse gives all his information and wren searchers go out to collect it.

Sarge smiles. “Put him under again, Private.”

“But, sir, why?”

“I want him to remember what it’s like to mess with us wrens.”

Terrified, the Private does it again.

Finally, the sergeant gives his Private a wicked smile. “Now hang him out to dry.”

×××××

The scene fades. I come to and realize I’ve been daydreaming. I look at my watch. Getting late. Better put something together for the next session with my writers group. How about this daydream? Why not?

How does such a fantasy evolve? One needs a sense of humor, a need to fill and some agency that kicks up the creative juices. That’s all, except putting it to paper. And that part’s fun.

A Stitch in Time

ONE OF MY earliest memories is one in which my grandmother sat at her little sewing table and mended clothes or darned socks. People did that in bygone days. You know, the old Yankee way. Buy it new, wear it out, fix it up, make it do. Drawing a stitch in time saved a lot of work later.

I’m thinking this old saying is much older than America. It makes me wonder where it came from. Did it arise in a number of places instead of just one? What an interesting thought.

Where would one start to research such an old saying? Well, of course one would ask one’s wife. She might not know, but you have to admit, it’s a fair place to start. So, let’s approach it there first.

“Hey, honey, you’ve heard of the old expression, ‘A stitch in time saves nine’, haven’t you?” I said.

“Why, of course I have. Do you think I was brought up in a cave?” she replies.

I can see this is going to lead somewhere. I am no longer sure I want to go there.

“Why would you ask a question like that?”

“I was just thinking on the subject of old sayings, and came up with that one. Did I ever tell you that my grandmother used to mend clothes and darn socks?”

“Everyone’s grandmother mended clothes and darned socks.”

Zing!

Left unsaid were the words, “Why are you asking stupid questions?”

It’s okay; I found it in her look.

“Well, thanks for the grossly informative answer you provided.” I am nonplussed. I’d rather be plussed, whatever that is.

I try again. I liken it to trying to start a cold engine with a bad starter. Nonetheless, there is a challenge here, and I must prevail. To myself, I say, hah, like you prevailed last time!

“Wouldn’t it interest you to know where the old phrase ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ came from?” I try to look profoundly interested in her answer. Evidently she interprets my caring, intelligent look as a smirk.

“No.”

“Well, it interests me. I think I’ll go to the library and look it up.” I look at her again.

“Does that mean that you are leaving?” She looks up hopefully for the third time from the Danielle Steele novel she’s reading. She’s really territorial about her reading.

I am deeply hurt by the negative feedback. If I wanted to be insulted, I could call Steven Colbert. I mean, now that I’m thinking about it, it really interests me.

“Since you are so incredibly interested in what I’m doing tonight, I’ll just leave. Maybe I won’t come back.”

“Sure, don’t let the door…you know. Now, can I get back to my book, or are you going to talk some more?”

I take it I’ve been dismissed. I put on my coat and leave. The car is cold. It starts hard. I begin to think about bad karma. Maybe I’ll have a blowout on the way or hit a deer. Yes, I’ll probably run into a deer. That would punctuate my mood.

I arrive at the end of my street. Nothing! The three-mile drive into town is flawless, with the possible exception of driving by emotion rather than good sense. I don’t normally abuse my little truck, but I am willing to tonight. I will apologize to it later. Ah, there’s the library.

I compose myself and smile. Here I go. I grin into the mirror. Not a good idea. My normally bland countenance didn’t improve with that look.

I arrive fifteen minutes before closing time. The librarian looks frazzled and tired, and naturally I’m full of energy. The meeting portends no good. She looks up from the last stack of books she’s checking back in. Half of them are overdue. More computer work for the librarian. She’ll have to send out notices. I think maliciously, at least that isn’t my problem.

Instead of a smile and a, “May I help you, sir?” I get, “We’re closing shortly, sir.” At least she called me “sir.”

If it were earlier the librarian would probably have said, “Is there something I can get for you?” Now all she wants is to get her tired self home.

“Uh, well, I’m trying to prepare a paper for my correspondence course. It’s about whether the phrase ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ originated in America, or someplace else.” I lie smoothly. “I thought you might be able to look it up for me.”

I look hopeful. Surely she will recognize my plight.

The librarian looks at me like I’d just crawled from under a rock. She’s a town employee. She owes me this courtesy! Doesn’t she? The last thing I need now is a feisty librarian.

“Sir, couldn’t you come back in the morning and look it up yourself?”

“No, I couldn’t!” I am, by God, going to get feisty myself. I want to report her to somebody. I look around. Other than this unpleasant librarian, the place is a morgue.

I am morally convinced that I am on the side of right. I am also convinced that with the bad vibes I’m getting, I am highly unlikely to get any satisfaction, either for my question or for my ego.

Let’s review. My wife is out of sorts, and so is the librarian. I’m none too happy, having made a trip to the Library for nothing. I didn’t get a flat. I missed all the deer, and no doubt I’ll go home to cold shoulder.

I think about this as I drive home. I really needed a stitch in time. In a way, I’ve just dropped nine. I start to laugh, and I laugh and laugh the rest of the way home.

Maybe I should have called this, “Laughter is good for the soul.”

Aftermath

Chapter III

“THEN WE WILL be dead, and the message will not get to Brad. We don’t operate that way. If your discipline is anything like ours, you won’t take a chance on shooting us and sweeping it under the rug. First, I’m sure there are others behind us who would have heard that first shot, and they will want an accounting of why you fired it. Second, the message we have might stop all this useless warfare, and you wouldn’t be averse to that, would you?”

Greta looked at Gretchen again, and then made a decision. “Okay, you men, I arrest you in the name of Brad, Highlander chief. You will be taken to him and he will do what he wants with you.”

“And we,” Rod replied, “will not tell Brad that you tried to coerce the message out of us, which, I am sure, is not a standing order from him.”

Gerta looked wild-eyed for a moment, then said, “Right.”

She motioned them out of the destroyed shelter and told them to put their hands over their heads, fingers locked, and not to get any funny ideas.

She called out into the darkness. “Hans, we’re coming back. With prisoners.”

A bass voice thirty yards or so back said, “Come away.”

They marched toward the source of the voice. From behind a ruined trunk of a huge old maple tree, a man stepped out, holding a rifle at ready.

“What you got?”

“Two prisoners. They said they are messengers and emissaries, one from each of the two clans. Message for Brad.”

“I’ll take them in,” Hans said.

“No, we’ll take them in, Hans. Our lookout post is ruined. It’s a bad night. You stay and be watchful. I kind of believe what they said about being alone, but keep a lookout anyway.”

“Okay, Gerta.”

They pushed past Hans as he returned to his shelter.
Soon the four were on a well-worn path that led into another valley and up a steep hill. Just before the crest, Gerta called out to a third lookout and got permission to pass. They came to a disintegrating blacktop road and marched along it. rain soaked them to the skin, but most had developed a morbid acceptance of life in these times.

Finally they came to a series of small wooden dwellings. Those gave way to larger buildings. They headed for one of them, an old Victorian structure separated from the others and well-lit with candles. Most of the houses were dark. Both Rod and Jon knew the clan numbered about three thousand and that for protection they all lived close to this central location.

They found it interesting to see so little light. It meant rationing. Rod thought silently it might work an advantage and help turn the point.
He glanced at Jon and said to Gerta, “Rationing fuel, huh?”

Gerta swung toward him and said, “Shut up!”

The two lookouts marched their prisoners up to the large Victorian home, now obviously Brad’s headquarters. A guard on the veranda called to them.

“Who goes?”

“Gerta and Gretchen from the outer post with prisoners, messengers…to see Brad.”

“Stay where you are.” He left them in the rain and went inside. He came back in a minute or more and waved them in, weapon ready.
The four mounted the broad wooden steps.

“Recently painted,” Jon observed conversationally to Rod.

“Quiet, prisoners,” Gerta called, evidently trying to look quasi-military so close to the command post.

They entered a large, ornate foyer crafted in the old Victorian tradition. Dark oak paneling with carved highlights brought them into a beautiful, well-kept example of the old world. It told them something about Brad. He enjoyed a little pomp, perhaps, but he definitely liked real craftsmanship.

They were asked to remove their shoes and use towels they found on a table next to the ornate door and coat rack. Gerta kept them covered while the prisoners and Gretchen shed their dripping outer clothes. Then she handed Gretchen the gun and she shed her stuff.

The guard waited until they were ready, led them to a vacant drawing room, told them to stand and wait, and retired to his post.
They stood for a couple of minutes. At last a small, bull of a man came through the door opposite the drawing room entrance. A tall, awkward looking man carrying an old M-16 followed him. The leader stared at them silently for a moment. The only sound came from the muted wind of the storm outside. He finally spoke.

“Well, Rod, son of Reed and Jon, son of Jonathan. What brings you out on such a bad night?” He made no move to dismiss the lookouts.

Jon had agreed to be spokesman for the two. “We come with information, and with an offer. The hostilities between us are causing great pain on both sides. Eventually, they will cause the death of us all. Josh, of the Westaves, acknowledged leader after the passing of Reed, and Jonathan, acknowledged leader of the Oronokes, have sent us under the cover of the storm to offer you a vision and a plan that is acceptable to our clans.”

Brad held up his hand. “How can you ask me to participate in a plan with you, either of you, when your clannish members are killing my Highlanders daily?”

“Brad, it is also true that your Highlanders are killing our clansmen daily,” Jon countered.

“I have no love for Westaves or Oronokes. Have you joined together now to try and eliminate the Highlanders by sheer weight of numbers?”

“You must know that is not the case, or we would merely attack you at an opportune moment, like tonight, for instance.”

Brad stood silent for a few seconds. Then he turned to the two women. He escorted them out to the foyer and spoke to them in low tones. When satisfied, he requested they leave, but remain outside until called again. Gretchen and Gerta both appeared crestfallen, but left immediately.

Brad returned to the drawing room, and turned to the man behind him. “Wolfgang, these men will not harm me. You may go, but stay within earshot.”

Wolfgang left. Brad motioned the messengers to sit. They took stuffed chairs covered in red-velvet and sat. They were period pieces and not made particularly for comfort, but they felt wonderful after the earlier hardships.

Brad began. “I would have no compunction about killing you both and returning your heads to your clansmen by catapult, but you did not take the lives of my lookouts when you could, and you may have actually saved their lives. You will be given safe conduct back, after we are finished here regardless of your message. Now, let me hear what you have to say.”

Jon began, “The Westaves and the Oronokes have killed one another in the past, but we feel we have stabilized that situation. Our leaders have recently come into information that could conceivably get the valley power plant back in operation. Electricity for the State of Waterbury would put our clans in an enviable position and make the territory much more defensible than it presently is. We are safer than any outsiders we know of, but we cannot make it work if any clan stands against the others. With electricity we might be able to expand our borders to our benefit and perhaps to the eventual benefit of Outsiders. That’s a long way off, but possible.”

Brad leaned a little forward in his chair, listening intently.

“We have been empowered by our leaders to suggest a new plan for leadership in order to stop the warring between us. No leader of any clan would voluntarily give up leadership, nor do we think it would be wise. Each of our followers would only trust and follow the leader who has saved their skins, fed them, and provided them with law and such justice as we have these days.”
Brad nodded. Jon continued.

“All of our peoples, just as they were taught to hate other clansmen, would be taught that something wonderful has occurred and there is no longer a need for fighting. Obviously, that will be difficult, as all of us have lost friends and relatives to the constant strife. It would take time, and that’s okay. What the people of all clans would need is an example, correct in its fairness, brilliant in its execution, and palatable to all.

“Disarmament is out of the question. A Minuteman capability will be needed for many years to come. Rod’s father had a plan we were on the verge of producing with good effect when he died. He had shared it with my father and given him his vision. My father looked it over critically and decided it could work. He called a truce for ten days about a month ago, and got together with Josh. Josh saw the benefit immediately, and we are here as a result. We continue our truce.

“Here is the plan. A Triumvirate. There are only three groups now. Waterbury is relatively secure from the outside. We successfully keep out the sick ones and now we need to heal our sickness within. If you will lend your voice and your powers to a Triumvirate, our leaders feel we may be able to raise ourselves to a new level, stop the downward spiral and create a city-state as the next stage in social evolution.”

Jon stopped talking.

Brad’s brow furrowed, evidently considering. The way would be hard. The man had an upbringing which included learning to read and write, and he did take joy in reading such books as were still around after the burnings of the anarchy times.

“What about justice?” he asked Jon.

“Dealt with on the basis of what is now law in each clan until one law can be worked out and agreed on by all.”

“Are your laws written out?”

“No more than are yours, but that is a technicality. We have scribes.”

“If we disagree?”

“Initially the final decision would go to the member of the Triumvirate whose law it reflects. Later, two out of three would carry the decision. We have a few who can write and record things. We could get them together at a protected location to write all law, and then combine that whose content is the same.”

“Eventually one leader?”

“If that is the correct move. We accept that strong leadership will be necessary for many years. We hope to institute a new democracy sometime in the future.”

Rod spoke up. Brad turned to look at him. “My father taught history. He has passed much of what he knew on to me. I can read and write. The Constitution of the United States of America I know almost by heart. It and the Bill of Rights that goes with it could serve as a guide in creating a general law that fits our time.”

Brad stood, and the two clansmen stood with him. “You two have brought a great deal for me to think about. I will see that you are returned to your people safely. I will send a messenger carrying a white truce flag to you both in a ten-day time with my answer. Don’t shoot him.”

Rod and Jon laughed for the first time that night. Brad smiled.

Success! There would be much to think about, much to talk about. Maybe, just maybe, all the clans could take the next step together. Upward this time.

The End

(Or perhaps – The Beginning)