Monthly Archives: October 2012

Listen to them Birds—Pandors Andre-Beatty

Listen to them Birds

 

“Listen to them birds.”  The old man who usually sits in the park all day, crumpled paper bag around his beer, now sits on the bottom of their stoop.

“Listen little man,” He points to the sky, now bright and clear.

The storm had passed.  A soggy mess of trees and cars and salt water left behind in its wake.

“It’s a song of joy and praise.  They’re telling us to wake up!  It’s a new day!”

Behind the shuddered windows and sand-bagged doors sleepless eyes are rubbed.  Powerless light switches flicked on and off and on.  Cell phones checked again, but still no signal.  Refrigerators dark interiors rummaged for something to eat, as long as it still smells good.

Slowly the boy emerges into the new day and hears the birdsongs reverberating through the still air.  Their sound a cacophony of trills and chirps, uninterrupted by the sound of buses, or car horns or even the dull drone of airplanes flying overhead.   Living in the city he has never heard the sound this many birds in his life.  It fills him with wonder.

He watches the old man from the top of his stoop, noticing how his clothes hang wet and heavy.

“Where they go last night?  Where they sleep?” he asks the man at the bottom of the stairs.

“I took them home with me and let them stay in the rafters.”

The little boy nodded.  He didn’t know what rafters were but they sounded like they could float.

“I’m gonna go see if my mama has any food.  You want some?”  He stood to go back inside.

The man looked up at him and smiled.  “I’m alright, little man.  You’re still growing so you eat it all up.”

When he gets inside his mama is busy taking the cardboard off the windows.

“Who you talking to out there?” she asks the boy.

“Old man from the park.” He replies, picking up a cookie from the counter.

“Put that down.  You need some real food.  Old man probably needs some food as well.  They sure put them out early from the shelter.  At least he had someplace to go last night.”

As she turns to survey the inside of the fridge she looks out the now open window and sees a group of rescue workers coming up the street.  She pauses when she realizes they are carrying a body in a long white bag.  Turning quickly from the window she sees the boy.

“Here,” she hands him a cookie.  “You stay inside now, ok?”

“O.K.” The boy happily takes the cookie focusing all his attention on it.

As she rushes outside she sees the rescuers placing the body onto a stretcher and loading it into the back of a van.

“Who you got in there?” she calls out to them as she comes down the front steps.

One of the rescuers turns to her as she approaches the back of the van.  “Found this old guy down in the park under the tree that came down in the storm.  No i.d.  I’d say from the smell of him he was homeless.  Probably passed out drunk when the storm hit.”

She stands in the street speechless, holding her sweater close around her, looking down towards the park where the big tree has fallen over the park bench.  As the van pulls away she notices the thousands of birds that fill the downed tree’s branches each one chirping and singing with raucous abandon.

Shaking her head in disbelief she quietly says to herself, “Listen to them birds.”

 

 

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*****Anne Holmes

“How could you?” he screamed.  “I told you specifically never to open that incubator!”

Chad and I met as at the beginning of grad school.  It was 2006.  He was studying epidemiology and I microbiology.  We had a few classes together and our labs were adjacent to one another.  We were both very passionate about our work.

I suppose some would say we were both a little socially awkward, as is sometimes said about people like us with a single focus and purpose in life.  Neither of us had very many friends in high school or during our undergraduate years.  Both of us had been lucky enough to get financial aid so we never had to work at those terrible jobs often performed by less fortunate students.

There was an instantaneous attraction between us when we met.  Neither of us knew how to make any sense of these unfamiliar feelings.  I suppose some would say we became involved too quickly.  Those with more experience would probably know how to control themselves.  Suddenly we were spending all our time together.  Are lives were made up of our passion for our work and each other.  We moved in together and settled in to a comfortable routine.  We were mutually supportive of each other in every way and progressing well with our research.  Things were great.

In April of 2008, I submitted my grant application as I had the previous three years.  Those following months were always a little nerve wracking as I awaited a response.  But I was confident my grant would be renewed.  To my dismay, I received notice that it was not.  Now I was left scrambling to secure other sources of funding.  If I couldn’t, there was a good chance I would have to abandon my research for an entire academic year.  The mere thought of it was humiliating!  In the meantime, I was forced to take a menial job selling pizza by the slice in order to help pay the bills.

About two months into this dreadful predicament of mine, Chad suggested it might boost my spirits to assist him with his research.  At about that same time Chad’s seasoned student assistant had to leave school for an undetermined amount of time leaving him in jeopardy of missing a publishing deadline.  This proposed new arrangement seemed to be a solution to our respective predicaments and I immediately agreed.  I was able to change my hours at the pizza joint to the evening shift in order to help him.

What a relief it was to return to research, even though it was not my own!  I began to appreciate even more what he was accomplishing the more involved I became.  I would compile and analyze his raw data, typical student assistant duties.  It was tedious work but it had to be done.  I was able to apply my microbiology expertise as well by suggesting some cutting edge propagation techniques.  He was considering incorporating my ideas.  I was very proud of him and I was happy to help.

Looking back, I was pretty lucky that pizza joint even hired me.  I had no job experience and was very uncomfortable interacting with the general public.  But I was able to keep the job and contribute to the household funds.  And I must admit that I enjoyed my coworkers.  To my surprise, I found them quite interesting.  They weren’t nerds like me.  I found their interests, activities and carefree attitudes to be quite refreshing.  This opened up a whole new world to me and I feel that I grew socially at this time.  There were a few more perks as well.  My pay was greater than my grant stipend and I was able to bring home leftover pizza.

I settled into this new life of mine with unexpected ease, excited that Chad would most likely meet his deadline, that I was able to share improvement ideas with him and that I was actually enjoying my pizza joint job.  I finally heard back from another grant source that my proposal had been accepted.  I was thrilled at the prospect of resuming my research!  Excited to share this good news with Chad, I splurged on an attractive new sweater, flowers, a bottle of wine and an expensive ready-made dinner from the local boutique supermarket.  I got home early, set the table and tried to create a romantic atmosphere…

…to be continued…

…When Chad walked through the door, his face was overcome with a look of pleasant surprise.  I was so excited and began telling him of the acceptance of my grant proposal and how I could resume my research.  His face suddenly went blank.  He paused, then became agitated, walking back and forth waving his arms, saying he would not make his deadline and how could I abandon him like that.  I was stunned.  How could he be so selfish at this time and not be happy for me.  I assured him that his fears were baseless but he continued like this, going on and on about how I couldn’t quit my pizza joint job because we needed the extra money.  Then he started ragging on me for the purchases I made for this special dinner.  I assured him we could live with less money, we did it before and we could do it again.  I reminded him of the process improvements I had suggested and that if he would implement them, he could obtain his data sooner and it would be more accurate.  Then he nearly exploded.  I had never seen him like this and I was scared.  I calmly and quietly reiterated my improvement plan, step by step, and how it would help his research.  Slowly, he began to calm down.

I always wondered why he had not implemented my plan earlier, he had agreed at that time it was a good idea.  But I didn’t dare bring that up now.  It wasn’t too late to make these changes and I finally got him to agree to it.  He listened, but seemed unfocused and agitated.  Later that evening, he left the house.

When I awoke the next morning, I realized he had not come home.  I thought back upon the previous night’s events, trying to make sense of it all.  Could it be that I really didn’t know him?  His behavior had seemed so out of character; I just didn’t know what to think anymore.   But for now, I decided to put that aside, get to the lab and start my work.

I gathered all my required lab supplies:  glassware, reagents, microorganisms and dry ice and placed them on my work bench.  I set everything up and got to work.  About two hours later, I finished and was ready to add my solutions to his cultures.  I grabbed my keys and headed over to the incubator room.  To my surprise, the door was unlocked.  I froze and held my breath, the door was always supposed to be locked.  I carefully put my ear to the door and could hear a muffled voice, it almost sounded like someone was singing.  I carefully opened the door and could not believe my eyes.  There I saw a person with wild hair and crazy eyes pulling vials out of the incubator and throwing them around the room.  It was Chad.

Tuning the Pitch—Clark Humphrey

Sherri itched in the “presentation pantsuit” she only wore on special occasions like this. It had been one of the last ensembles she’d still kept from her previous life in local TV news.

This was to be the day of fruition for everything she’d done the past five years, when she invested all her wrongful-termination money into her own venture.

But it wasn’t just her freshly dry cleaned, and only marginally still-fitting, jacket making her feel discomfort.

Her business partner and videographer (and, thankfully, never her lover) Stan had just told her he’d lost the DVD-R of the edited pilot (lesson for the future: do not abandon such valuables on the hood of a car on a ferry boat).

She looked at him. He was all wide-eyed like a puppy dog begging for mercy. She made an instant decision. They would not argue. They would not talk about blame or apologies. They would improvise.

After all, this was no mere pitch meeting. This was the project that would take Sherristan Productions into the big time, or at least the slightly-less-small time.

Stan offered to call Cynth at the office in Winslow, and ask her to load the footage onto a cloud server, so they’d have at least something to show the reps. “We can still pull this off!” he told Sherri.

Sherri looked back with the silent, inscrutable stare she gave whenever she waited for an interviewee to tell her what she’d really wanted to hear. Only this time she wasn’t leading Stan on. She was pondering, calculating.

If this somehow worked, they could move up in this business. No longer simply providing location shooting services for other companies’ reality shows, but making their own series. Even if it was for one of the very obscure “three digit” cable channels, one Sherri’s local cable company didn’t even offer.

The series would be their figurative crack in the door. From there, they could land a series on one of the cable channels people have actually heard of. And from there, maybe she could finally make the “real” documentaries she’d wanted to make when she started the company.

But all that depended on the presentation.

And as Sherri pulled into the Seattle hotel valet parking entrance, Stan gave her some bad news. “Cynth sent the wrong footage.”

“What do you mean, the wrong footage?”

Stan kept his laptop open and in his hand as he got out of the car. “It’s the pilot, but it’s the rough cut.”

Sherri gave the car keys to the valet and got out of the car. “Which rough cut?”

Stan followed Sherri into the building, toward the elevators. “No narration. No music. No titles.”

“The main-title montage?”

“The sequence that took three weeks and almost half our budget? That proves we’re a full service production company, not just a location crew-for-hire?”

“Not there?”

“Not there.”

Sherri paused only a moment after pushing the elevator button before the doors opened. “So now what?”

Stan shoved his still-open laptop into Sherri’s arms just before the doors re-opened. “What I do is run around for a whiteboard and a Sharpie. What you do is greet the network people and stall for time.”

Which Sherri did, at a level of which she hadn’t known she was capable. She made all appropriate greeting small-talk to the two women and one man from the obscure three-digit cable channel. She smoothly kept up her small-talk as she plugged the laptop in to the presentation projector in the meeting room. When she saw the laptop’s wallpaper screen projected onto the room’s white wall, she turned to the topic at hand.

For years, she began, the TV industry has struggled to latch on to the power of the Internet and social media. The trick, she insisted, was not to lamely try to imitate the same shticks used by Facebook and Twitter, by blogs and chat rooms. But without the real-time spontaneity or the unpredictability or the sense of user empowerment—or the ever present danger of a discussion devolving into racism and profanity. These attempts have only led to small successes and large failures.

No, Sherri intoned, the answer has been under all our noses all this time.

Stan rushed into the room, awkwardly holding a Sharpie pen and a combined whiteboard-and-easel unit. As he set that up, Sherri continued as if this point of the spiel had been pre-scripted. At no point in all this did she ever mention, or apologize for, the lack of a fully-edited pilot video.

The Internet tells stories in its ways. TV tells stories in ITS ways. We tell stories about the Internet, but we use the storytelling strengths of TV.

Stan scrawled the title on the whiteboard: A MEME TO REMEMBER. He then quickly scrawled storyboard-type drawings of the missing title sequence. Hands of various races and sexes typing, texting, mousing, and touch-screening. YouTube-like video screen windows (avoiding any sight of the YouTube logo) playing away, with an extreme close up of the time bar moving steadily to the right. CGI animation of the globe encircled by an increasing “web” of wires, microwave towers, and satellite dishes. Then the title, blinking like a neon sign with alternating words around the common letters MEM.

While Stan drew these many little drawings, Sherri kept explaining. These are the stories millions already know a little about. But not many know the whole stories, or the real stories. We’ll tell the stories behind the slogans, the catch phrases, the fads, the words and pictures that travel the world in an instant. We’ll investigate the origins, the people behind these online sensations. Some of them meant to become famous. Others had fame, or infamy, thrust upon them.

Then Sherri punched up the retrieved rough cut of the pilot episode. She repeated, as best she could remember, the narration for the strange tale of “Anthony Humboldt,” whose supposed “video suicide note” had caused such public alarm earlier that year. Sherri, Stan, and their part-time research assistant had pieced together their script mostly from already-known information—the real identity of the hoaxer, his varied explanations (ranging from “just a joke” to “trying to get web hits” to “getting back at school bullies everywhere”), his eventual plea bargain over trumped-up “fraud” charges (he hadn’t asked anyone for a cent for himself, only donations in “his” name to charities).

Most of this was re-enacted. Actors (including friends of Sherri and Stan) silently mimed the roles of the semi-fictional “Anthony” and of Internet uses who’d watched, and been alarmed by, the video.

They’d tracked him down and even got him to talk on camera, along with other figure close to his case.

The footage faded out with the now-adult “Humboldt” at home. Sherri then explained what would happen next on an actual series episode: an animated pre-break “bumper” graphic, accompanied by some fun fact written out on the screen (the origin of “All Your Base Are Belong To Us,” or the contents of the first e-mail ever sent).

Stan then joined Sherri in further pitching the show’s benefits. While based on timely trends and fads, the episodes would be crafted to be “evergreen,” rerunnable for potentially ever. To avoid stretching topics beyond viewers’ interest, each half hour could contain as many as five different true tales. The built-in notoriety of each episode topic meant easy publicity tie-ins. They already had enough potential topics for two 13-episode seasons.

The network people nodded, sipped their lattes, gave their we’ll-get-back-to-you formalities, and escorted Sherri and Stan, and their whiteboard and laptop, out of the room.

Sherri and Stan celebrated the pulling off of their minor miracle by downing several rounds in the hotel’s bar. That’s where they got the text from Cynth asking if they wanted her to post the edited pilot footage onto the cloud server because she’d just found it now.

That’s also where Stan, at least three drinks into the session, said something Sherri had theretofore refused to consider. “You know this whole project is bullshit, right?”

Sherri gave Stan her “inscrutable” stare again.

Stan continued. “It’s bullshit. It just is. It’s sure as fuck not gonna make a better world, get people to understand each other better, or expose any ugly truths that need exposing. It’s bottom-feeder reality TV. Just one notch above the shows about made-up ‘celebrities.’ You know I’m right.”

Sherri moved her head but kept her expression. Now staring into the depths of her wine glass, she pondered and calculated. Half a minute later, she spoke.

“Yes. You’re right. For once. Five years, trying to make ‘real’ documentaries, then just trying to survive, then trying to prove I could plop out formula ‘content’ as reliably as the big boys, for half price.”

Stan, reliably indiscreet (one of the things he WAS reliable about), gave her a sneering smile. “Look up: You might still get to do that. They could still buy the series!”

Three weeks later, the network people called. They were passing on the series, but wanted Sherri to do voice-over narration on other producers’ shows. They said she sounded authoritative yet impersonal; a rare combination in a female voice-over artist.

She took the gig. Survival, you know.

Annie Get Your Nocino by Karen Uffelman

Anthony Humboldt’s suicide note became an instant internet sensation, leading to all kinds of unexpected consequences, one of which involved me.

I hadn’t even known Anthony Humboldt, or at least wasn’t aware that I knew him, and my name wasn’t one of the many listed in his pretentious, drama queen farewell letter.  But he did refer to a certain liquor store, and described a certain clerk at that liquor store, and based on that description, a great many folk decided he had been writing about me.

…when Gregory abandoned me for that fraud (yes, I’m talking about you, poser), I didn’t have any other choice, did I?  The pills in the medicine cabinet called simply for a reasonable accompaniment, and the lovely redhead at the liquor store sold me the appropriate bottle without a second thought.  It’s going to be so easy to remove myself from your stupid equation…

So – two things.  Most people don’t describe me as lovely, and I’m okay with that, but 1) I happen to work at the 12th avenue liquor store (in close proximity to Anthony Humboldt’s house), and 2) I am the only redhead that works there (we’re talking stop sign red – so, no mistake).  And let me tell you something else – being referred to in some washed up B-movie actor’s suicide note is not an ideal way to spend your 15 minutes of fame.

The first thing that happened was my older brother called.

“Hey Annie – I guess you’re famous, huh?”

“Hello, Kevin.  How are you?  That’s how normal people start a conversation, you know.”

“No, Annie, I’m totally serious, you’re like, in the news and stuff!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Wow, Annie.  You’ve got to get your head out of those sci-fi novels and pay attention to the real world once in a while.  Anthony Humboldt just committed suicide and announced to the world that you helped him do it!”

“Who’s Anthony Humboldt?”

And so it began.

It turns out I was familiar with Johnny Arrow, the character that Anthony Humboldt played in Airstream Sex Machine.  And from the sordid pictures on the internet I did recognize one of my regulars at the liquor store.  But I would have never, not in a million years, guessed they were the same person.  The years had not been kind to poor Anthony Humboldt.  Johnny, the movie character, was slicked back and muscular, with piercing blue eyes and a weirdly compelling voice.  Anthony, my regular, was anything but.  Crazy haired, tending toward paunch, a little smelly if memory serves.  Very polite, and always with requests for the most esoteric booze.  I’m into the obscure liquors myself , so he and I would sometimes get into it about Crème de Violette or a particularly special eau de vie.   And it’s hard to recall his voice – he mumbled, maybe, or smoked one too many packs of menthol cigarettes.  I certainly would have recognized him instantly if he had spoken in Johnny Arrow’s dulcet tones.  The Anthony I knew sounded more like sandpaper.

In any case, I remember quite clearly the last time he came into the store.  He didn’t browse at all, which was unusual, but found me stocking bottles and said he needed something very special.  It was close to Halloween and we’d just gotten in a case of Nocino for All Souls Day.

“Perfect,” he said in his scratchy voice, “just perfect.”

Apparently he drank the entire bottle with his handful of pills – it was completely empty when they found it on the floor next to him.  I can’t imagine drinking that much Nocino.  Actually, I kind of can.  Like eating a sticky, bitter, two-pound Easter bunny in one sitting.  Thinking about it makes me feel really bad.

But not as bad as I felt the morning after Kevin called.

When I arrived at work there were literally hundreds of people crowded on the sidewalk in front of my store.

“There she is!  That’s her!”

A few of the folks in the crowd seemed to be actual paparazzi, with cameras and lights and the whole nine yards.  And then there were the weirdos, dressed up like Johnny Arrow or other characters from Airstream Sex Machine.  And finally, there were the gawkers, come to find out what was attracting the paparazzi and the weirdos, and taking pictures with their stupid little phones.  And soon, they were all taking pictures of me.

I’d dragged myself out of bed later than usual that morning, after suffering through a night of crazy Johnny Arrow/Anthony Humboldt dreams.  Hadn’t had time to sort out my hair and had thrown on the same wrinkled dress I had taken off the night before.  So you can imagine everyone’s confusion at the adjective “lovely” when photos of me started reproducing in cyberspace.  Me, trying to navigate the crowd. Me, trying to unlock the accordion gate across the door. Me, trying to keep the surging masses away from all of the precarious bottle displays while also trying to avoid having my picture taken.  Me, with my hands across my face.  Me, trying to shove everyone out of the liquor store and locking the door.

I somehow made it home that night without too much hassle, but at 3:00 in the morning when I got up to pee, some jerk was camped on the ledge outside of my bathroom window and managed to get three shots of me sitting on the toilet before I figured out what was going on.  And then my first instinct was to flip him off.  With my pajama bottoms around my ankles.  You can imagine the scene, but no one else had to.  It was like wallpaper on the internet – everywhere. My parents never mentioned that particular photo but they must have been very proud.

“Hey Annie, why did you let some dude take a picture of you on the pot?”

“It’s not funny, Kevin!  I’m totally freaked out, okay?  It’s like I’m under siege!”

“No, you’re right, Annie.  It’s weird and inhumane, but you do know that you are like ungodly famous, right?  I am the brother of someone who is ungodly famous.  You gotta’ admit that’s kind of cool.”

Eventually the paparazzi went home.  Some other washed up movie star killed himself or married a sibling or was spotted with cellulite.  The weirdos in costume stayed on a little longer.  My boss, Gary, refused to let me wait it out with sick days because he was convinced my notoriety was bringing in more business.  Mostly it just meant our store was full of Airstream Sex Machine fanatics wanting to know what Nocino tastes like but too cheap to actually buy any.  Apparently there’s a negative correlation between B-movie cult membership and disposable income, or maybe they were just afraid that it would somehow kill them like it did Anthony Humboldt.

The worst part, however, was not the paparazzi (naked bathroom portrait, notwithstanding), nor the costumed freaks.  The worst part is this: I’ll get picked up in a bar, or in a club, or at the friggin’ Safeway – somewhere far, far away from the liquor store.  The boy will be cute.  He’ll have good taste in books, and tell funny jokes and make a decent cup of coffee.  And then one night, a few weeks in, after we’ve hooked up, he’ll make some reference to Airstream Sex Machine, or Anthony Humboldt, or the fucking Nocino and then confess that he knows all about me.  That when he read the story and saw the pictures online he had to find me.  That he tracked me to the liquor store and then followed me after work to the cafe or bar or grocery store where he chatted me up.  He’ll have the crazy pictures of me from the day after they found Anthony Humboldt’s body and he’ll want to talk about it.  About how the metathemes of Airstream Sex Machine have helped him understand the universe and his place in it and how Johnny Arrow is his personal hero.

This has happened to me four times now – you think I’m kidding but I’m not – and I’m honestly going to down some pills and a bottle of Nocino (yes, an entire bottle) if it happens again.  Be careful who you give good customer service to, ’cause you might end up in their suicide note and inherit a bunch of creepy stalkers.

Sometimes, to distract myself, I come up with lists of people I could mention in my own suicide letter.  All of the creepy stalkers, for sure.  My boss, Gary.  Anthony Humboldt if he hadn’t already offed himself.  Maybe my brother, Kevin…

Status Update: Midnight Tonight—Elaine Bonow

Status Update: Midnight Tonight

Elaine Bonow

            I wasn’t a natural believer. I liked to think of myself as a pragmatist, show me the actual physical proof and then I’m with you all the way. That was until; well let me start from the beginning.

A couple of years ago I got a call from an old friend, Tony, Anthony Humboldt.

“Sandy, long time huh since I was in touch.”

“Hey there Tony, good to hear from you. What have you been up to?”

“Well, I’m calling because I have a favor to ask you.”

“Sure man. I hope it’s something I know how to do and it ain’t illegal. Those days are over for me now.”

“Oh, nothing like that. I just signed up to Facebook and I found you. I thought I’d call because you posted that you are selling real estate.”

“Yeah, I’m doing some brokering. Things are getting better since the hard recession but… What do you need? Are you selling or buying?”

“Well Sandy, it’s like this, my grandfather passed a few months ago and well, I couldn’t believe it. He left me a small fortune. I never knew he had that kind of money. I thought about it and decided to buy the house of my dreams. I’d like to live somewhere on the peninsula, in the Port Angeles area. I know that’s not in town but I thought you might be interested.”

Of course, I accepted his offer. He wanted to spend close to two mil, which would mean a cool stack of cash for me. I eventually found him the perfect house; a mansion perched on a secluded cliff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It had belonged to an old sea captain who built the house in the twenties and been abandoned for at least forty years.

Tony started posting to Facebook about the house soon after he moved in. He named the house Ligiea from an Edgar Allen Poe poem, the one about the worm, The Conquering Worm. “Ligiea is going to be my doom.” He posted. “The house and its array of ghosts are out to get me. I’m sure of this.”

His friends’ list grew as more and more people found him on the internet. He had offers from TV ghost shows to feature the house and measure it for hotspots of magnetic paranormal evidence, but he wouldn’t hear of it.

I seemed to be the only person who had actually been to the house and that was when I sold it to him. I certainly didn’t see anything unusual then. He stayed pretty much alone only admitting a handyman or two to help with repairs. It is not hard to stay alone on the Peninsula; it is a haven for loners and eccentrics.

We, his Facebook community, were his virtual family and friends. It was a one-sided community as he never commented or liked anyone’s posts just posted his eerie sightings. After a few months he introduced us to his ghostly community. Ligiea or Lee Gee as he called her was the first to be introduced. He posted profile pictures of her at strange angles and shadows. The house was large and the rooms vast but not especially dark and gloomy by any means. Just blank walls and sparse furnishings, a table here, a floor lamp there; standing alone by a window, like the lamp posed itself for the photograph.

Their photos garnered new friends to Tony’s page, not all of them Goths and Pagans but others who had also been affected by a house. Comments flowed, 20 people like this and then 80 people like this next to the “Thumbs-up” sketch. Tiny profile photos of Sumyria Comoplague said, “Love the photos Tony. Reminds me my home in Rumania.” And Alan Pardoux just posted “I ©©©©©.”  Someone whimsically named Dor T Ofozz posted. “When’s the party dude. I want this house.”

I thought all of the fuss was getting a bit bizarre and decided to limit my contact with Tony for a while. But late that summer I checked in again with Tony’s doomed house. Now he was actually posting sketches of the ghosts that he thought lived in the house.

The Grey Lady appeared to be at least by her clothing, from the Thirties, dressed from head to toe in grey her face obscured by a thick veil. The Captain had a peg leg and smoked a pipe. He drew little girl twins, one dressed in dark red velvet trimmed in ermine with dark hair and hypnotic eyes, stuck like glue to her doppelganger in white velvet and white sable, blond with eyes completely closed like she was blind.

Tony attempted to photograph the ghostly figures but no one could see what he saw every night in the vast rooms of the old mansion. He became totally obsessed with the haunting, posting every night at midnight the goings on at Lee Gee.

I got worried about him and decided to make a trip to see him. I felt responsible after all I had found him the house. I drove out late October on a fine Northwest day of clear crisp blue skies with remnants of autumn leaves dripping from the trees.

I sent him a text letting him know I was coming. I knocked loudly at the back door.  It took him a while to get to me. I was shocked when I saw him. His once robust body bordering on middle age fat had shrunk. He was positively gaunt and unshaven. He opened the back door of the kitchen a sliver. The kitchen looked unused just a few dusty dishes stacked in the sink.

“Tony, it’s me Sandy.” I said. He looked at me with vacant eyes blinking in the sunlight. “Jeeze dude, you don’t look healthy. I am worried about you. I think you need a break from this place. I’ll drive you back to Seattle right now. You can stay with me. I’ll look after you.” I blurted at him, at a loss seeing him like this.

“No, no go away.” He screamed at me and slammed the door shut. “ She loves me, Lee Gee loves me.” He mouthed back at me through the windowpane.

I staggered back to my car totally shocked by what I’d seen. It was getting late to drive back to the city. The once clear skies filled with rain and opened torrents on this watery edge of the rain forest.

I got a room at the Red Ranch Inn in Sequim, took a hot shower and plugged in my laptop. I logged onto Facebook. There was a new post from Tony. “The day has come. Tonight I’m finally going to be united with Lee Gee.”

Worried I commented “Tony don’t do anything foolish. I’m in Sequim and I can come right back out to get you.” Others joined in the conversation. There must have been sixty comments some urging him to complete his mission, some worried about the outcome of his decision.

The storm outside intensified. I could hear the crash of distant trees felled by the howling wind. A shock of lightening illuminated and then killed all the lights in this remote village. I waited in limbo and fell asleep atop the polyester cover of the stiff motel bed.

Just before midnight my laptop screen arose from the dead and also woke me from my dreamless sleep. There was a private message notification on the Facebook screen. I clicked it open. It was from Anthony Humboldt. “Dear Sandy, by the time the storm abates I will have joined my beautiful Lee Gee. She is my best lover and closest friend. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining us together forever. BTW I have named you in my will as my heir. Enjoy my fortune on this earth and I will enjoy mine in the next. Your friend in heaven, Tony.”

His last post on Facebook was there for all to see, just two words. “Midnight Tonight.”

 

 

Phoenix 2 Jess—Klaudia Keller

Phoenix  2  Jess
I answered an ad on Craigslist.  It was a sheep herders position on Jess Island in the San Juan Islands in northern Washington.  After 16 years of school I was ready to escape from Phoenix and breathe cooler air and do something out of the ordinary before starting with Goldman in the fall.

I was to take the ferry from Anacortes WA.  to Friday Harbor on Lopez Island, I arrived to find The Puffin, under the Esso Gas sign as specified in the email,  a small boat that would ferry me to Jess.  David Lloyde was the captain and I guess I was relieved to see there really was someone waiting for me.  As I  stepped aboard, we immediately set off, not a word spoken, I was his only fare on this lag trip north.

David was the epitome of a sage old captain, his grey hair showing from underneath his wool billed hat.  He had on hardy rubber boots, and Bermuda shorts, a tattered flannel shirt that looked like he’d worn it all winter, dirt and all.   One could just tell from looking at him he was a man of few words.  I had so many questions about the area, the ins and outs of living the island life.  The only inhabitants of Jess Island, were Angora sheep.  They grazed all summer long and I was hired  to keep the well water on either end of the wrench shaped island in fine shape for the sheep as they went from the south water well, grazing and then to the north well.

I had studied the San Juans on the internet before coming north, and now as traversed through the channels and wide open sea I needed a chart to see exactly where we were, but David didn’t, he navigated through various channels north, we buzzed by various buoy’s that were to keep you from hitting bottom when the tide was out or crab pots that were spattered about. It was an amazing maze of islands, I needed a chart, the sea was unfolding in front of me with islands dotted everywhere,  now on the water vs. an overview, I had no idea of where we were or where Jess Island was in this myriad of islands, too many to name, too many to count.

I was lost, dumbstruck, they seemed closer on Google earth, like you would have friends that would row over with dinner, and maybe play Parcheesi.  but David wasn’t,  he’d traveled these waters, oh too many times, knew them like the backs of his sea worn hands.

There were islands on the either side of us, Orcas a huge island in comparison to Jess Island, with million dollar houses that hung over cliffs with docks below.  We traveled north, I could see little lumps of islands come into view, John’s Island, Sautaurna, which was in Canada and Vancouver beyond.  The noise from the engine was comforting in a way, in transit, not there yet and not from anywhere either.  As David slowed the Puffin in front of an isolated beach I realized this was Jess Island, I began to gather my gear, camping stuff really from Boy Scouts, what could be more simple and more complicated at the same time.   I had my large pack and a couple of duffel bags all on the back deck ready to begin my adventure in the most pristine place I had ever been.  We pulled up on the beach, the outboard in neutral, and as I stepped off the Puffin, David handed me my bags as the salt water seeped into my keen sandals.

David finally spoke, and although it was the only 5 words out of his mouth that day, he asked  “Do you have a tide table?”  Really,?  that was all he wanted to know, “No” I answered, wondering why this was at all relevant,   it’s the tide,   ebb and flow,   easy enough to figure out with the moon, right?

On the north end beach where he dropped me there was a path that lead to an old rock cabin, the one room was just a kitchen, wood stove, a table, (no chairs) and a small  alcove for sleeping.  I was settling in feeling pretty put away and ready to get out and explore.  I headed along the bluff from the cabin down to the skinny part of the island, the middle of the wrench.  I could see the sheep up on the hillside on the south side, all fluffy and white.  Man, was I the luckiest guy alive or what?  This felt like paradise, and all I had to do was maintain the water flow.

I found myself  down on the beach again, and walking up toward the south end of this 9 acre island up to the second bluff that looked southward.  There I sat in a group of rocks that protected me from the wind, took in the sunset, rested in peace, thinking of the scorching sun I left behind in Phoenix and felt the dampness of the evening upon me.  It was June here, and the weather was not summary as of yet.  I was hungry and the cabin was a ways away, oh well, the island life, what would it
entail?  I was off  to my little shelter on the north bluff.

Holy shit…..I got to  the beach where  the skinny part was and the middle of the island was no more.  There were now two islands, no handle in the middle of the wrench,

I was trapped on the south side, no cover, no food, no God damned tide table, how long would this last? Jeez, was the moon different with the tides as we approached the longest day of the year?  I was not prepared, I didn’t know who or how anyone would row here, if there was anyone that would bring me provisions when mine ran out or if anyone had even ever heard of Parcheesi in these parts.

Lafite 1963—Pandora Andre-Beatty

“Sam! How could you?” he screamed.  “I told you specifically never to open that bottle of wine!”

Coming home from the hospital into the darkened house he’d spied the bottle lying emptied beside the couch.  It was the ‘63 Chateau Lafite Rothschild.  It had been in the cellar since their wedding in ‘64.  A special gift from his father in-law who advised they open it on their 20th anniversary.  And now their daughter, their only child, was lolling on the couch, wasted on a very special bottle of wine.  A bottle worth more than the couch she sprawled out on.

“Dad, don’t be a douche bag!” she slurred from her slumped position.  His daughter’s bleached platinum hair reflecting the light of the tv.  He looked over the couch to the screen flashing with images of a music video on the new cable channel MTV.  The sound was unrecognizable as music to his ears.

It was August 24, 1981 and the world had become strangely unrecognizable overnight.  His sweet child no longer a child, instead an angry teenager who bleached her dark hair (it had been the same color as her mother’s hair) until it was stripped of all color.  His family torn apart before his eyes, by hair dye and angry youth, and music he didn’t like, and mostly by a disease no one had ever heard of.

“Besides, she wouldn’t have been able to drink it anyway,” the girl giggled from the couch, “unless they poured it into her IV bag.”

Rage filled Bob in an instant like molten metal surging through his body.  He reached over the back of the couch grabbing her under the arms.  The girl’s weight surprised him, and for a split second he wondered if her army boots had lead in them.  As he pulled her over the couch she suddenly came to life and began swinging her feet trying to break free.  One of her boots made contact with his groin forcing him to drop the girl and drop to his knees, then fall to his side, gasping in pain.  As she sprang free from his grip, Sam grabbed the empty bottle from beside the couch.  She wielded the bottle like a bat holding it by the narrow neck, cocked over her shoulder ready to swing.

“Sam, please….”  He saw her tear streaked face, black eyeliner running down her cheeks, then she was gone, running out the door into the night and away from the nightmare of their lives.

He’d hired a private detective before the police gave up looking for her, but even the detective could only provide speculative information on where she’d gone, reporting that LA had become the destination of choice for disaffected youth.  After his wife died Bob thought he would see her at the funeral but she remained at large.  Three years later, on what would have been the 20th anniversary of their wedding, Bob saw the small hand picked bouquet of flowers resting up against his wife’s headstone.  The flowers were arranged in a dark green wine bottle with a faded cream-colored label.  In red ink still faintly visible the year 1963.

A ‘Trophy’ Wife—Clark Humphrey

1.

The ceremony and the reception, with the endless toasts and speeches and bad potluck food and stiff catering-service drinks and the endlessly yammering relatives, were too much for both of them. They were both too tired and/or drunk to drive all the way to the resort. Instead, they pulled off at a Red Roof Inn about an hour away.

As he called the resort on his cell to cancel our first night’s reservation, she plopped herself on the bed and promptly passed out.

At around 3 a.m. she came to, only to find he’d undressed her and tucked her in. She looked to her right and saw him peacefully snoozing away. As she snuggled up to him, she noticed he’d left his smartphone out on the little desk in the motel room. That was the last thing, besides his angelic face, she saw as she re-closed her eyes. Yes, despite all the noise and hectic flurry, it had been a good day. Only a few little things had gone wrong, nothing worth remembering. It had been a good “first day of the rest of her life.”

2.

He’d buried them in a documents folder labeled BORING JOB SHIT. They were a one-PC household at the time, and he’d neglected that day to log out of his user mode.

She was spying, but those weren’t the files she was looking for. She knew he’d hate what she was doing. She had to do it anyway.

She had to find anything related to overtime. She had to know if he was telling the truth about why he wasn’t home so many evenings and weekends. Because she couldn’t just accuse him of sneaking out with the guys, or worse. She had to have evidence.

That evidence she found. He had a sub-folder with a whole string of overtime authorization emails.

But then she glanced at the directory listing and saw another folder. SLEEPING BEAUTY(S). What that was, and what it was doing there, she had to know.

And soon enough, she knew. And it creeped her out.

The next day, her friend Nancy told her there was a word for men who secretly took naked pictures of their girlfriends or wives. Nancy didn’t remember what the word was, but was certain there was one. Nancy told her if she wanted to confront him, she’d support her completely. She could even stay with Nancy until she found a new place; no pressure, no deadlines, no worries. She said she’d think about it.

Which she did. A lot. In her kitchen, over two white wines and two tequila shots.

She didn’t look at his smartphone pictures again; she didn’t have to. But she thought about them. About the way she looked in them. Lying in, then out of, her post-reception dress, looking weary but at peace. The dim, fuzzy, flash-less phone pictures seemed to show her off as his prized acquisition. A trophy, proudly placed on display.

She’d liked to think she wasn’t one of those women who got all upset over “body image issues;” but she’d also never thought of herself as pinup material.

But there she was, the star of the only “porn” images on his computer (yes, she wound up looking for that too). The only visual inspiration for him to “fap” to.

She decided she liked that after all. She decided to keep him.

But if he ever posted those pictures on some porn site….

Out of Focus—Elaine Bonow

Out of Focus

Elaine Bonow

I didn’t want to go to my grand mothers house that summer. I tried every excuse I could think of to get out of going.

“Sarah, get up right now. We have to leave in exactly one half hour to catch the train.” My mother Janice Hopkins shouted from the bottom of the stairs.

I stared at myself in the mirror and the plain reflection stared back. I took off my glasses and wiped the lenses on the bottom of my shirt. Without my glasses I couldn’t see anything clearly, including, myself. I quite liked life when it was just a blur. When I blurred my eyes I could go right into my daydream self. It was like I became a television story, well, not me really but I could lapse into the most wonderful daydream.

“Sarah Hopkins. What are you doing? We have to leave in just twenty-five minutes.”

I thought that the bedroom of my childhood was superb. I appreciatively looked around at the single bed, dresser and bedside table all in matching blond wood.  The walls were pale green and the curtains and bedspread echoed the pastel landscape in yellow polished cotton. My favorite dolls, ones I had collected or at least the ones my mother had saved, dressed up and coiffed, were lined up by size on the pillow of the perfectly made up bed. I was proud of myself for being able to make up a perfect bed. The crease under the pillow was sharp and straight without a wrinkle to be seen.

I would miss my room that summer like I had missed it the past five summers. I especially missed looking out at the shiny pale green leaves of the willow tree now taller than the rooftop of my second story bedroom.

I picked up my neatly packed suitcase, stooped in front of the oval vanity mirror, patted my bangs and went downstairs to rendezvous with my mother.

“Well, Janice, I’m ready to go I guess.”

“Alright, Sarah, you look presentable, after all, this is the first time you’ll be going on the train alone. It’s not too long of a trip. I’ve packed you a very good dinner. Grandma and grandpa will pick you up from the station.”

We drove along in silence. I felt big and small at the same time. I was scared but at thirteen I didn’t want to seem like a child. I opened my purse and checked for my newest Nancy Drew book, “The Case of Broken Chandelier. ” I checked my coin purse again counting by memory the two crisp dollar bills and four quarters I had saved from my allowance.

My mother doesn’t allow me to wear lipstick, but I hide the small round pot of pink lipstick I shoplifted from the Kress Store downtown in my bureau under the paper liner in the back of my sock drawer.

I daub some on at night after I go to bed. Taking off my glasses and blurring my eyes, I’d stare in the mirror and imagine what I would look like if I wasn’t so plain and afterwards, wipe off any traces with a Kleenex so no pink would stain my pale yellow pillowcase. In the morning, I’d take the soiled tissue and flush it carefully down the toilet so that Janice wouldn’t find out.

The train station was a fifteen-minute ride from the house. It was a low brick building with hard wooden seats, like pews in a church. We arrived in plenty of time for my train, the same one I had taken for the past five years with my mom. It seemed strange to say goodbye to her. I could have been going away forever.

I wanted to cry but crying would make me seem like a child, like I had never been alone before. I held back my tears and gave my mother a stiff quick hug. “I’ll be alright.” I told her softly. She held me by both shoulders. I couldn’t see her real eyes behind her thick tinted glasses.

“You be a good girl, Sarah. Help your grandmother around the farm. She’s getting old now and can’t do as much as she once did.”

“I’ll be OK mother. I’d better get my seat.”

“Here’s your lunch. I made the cookies myself, your favorite.”

“Thanks, mother. I’ll see you in three months.”

I found a seat next to a window. There were just three others in my car. I put the carefully packed basket of food on the empty seat next to me and lugged the suitcase on to the overhead rack. The train whistle blew and the train pulled slowly from the station. I waved at the gray clad figure of my mother as she receded from my view. I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Alone.” I said to no one in particular. “Alone, for the first time in my life.” I waited until the train was at full speed. I waited until the conductor came by to take my ticket. I waited until the rocking of the train took me into the future.

I opened my purse and took out a small mirror and the tiny pot of pale pink lipstick. I used my pinkie to daub the faint color on my lips. I unbraided my ponytail and let the dark tendrils slide close to my face. I took off my glasses and made my eyes unfocus on the tiny mirror.

 

Mama Likes Obama or Billy Bedwetter Eats Pancakes by Karen Uffelman

They were so very tired by the time they got home.

On the long walk from the train they passed by the window fronts of bars and restaurants, and Molly could see the debate on big screens, two big heads with moving lips – talking or smirking or interrupting.  Molly got punished when she interrupted, but she did it anyway.  So delicious to stop someone else from talking just by opening your own mouth.

“Mama likes Obama but I like McCain!” she chanted.  Mama pulled her along, grimacing but not taking the bait.

“You, Molly, are an idiot,” her brother said from the other side of her mother’s big coat. “McCain eats little children like you for breakfast!  He learned to eat ‘em when he was locked away in jail for 30 years.  He loves ‘em!”

“Shut up!” screamed Molly.  “You eat boogers!”

“Nope, I put ‘em in your sandwiches.”

“That’s enough, Ian,” Mama pulled them a little faster.  It was past six, she had no idea what she was going to feed the children for dinner, and she really wanted to see the goddamn debate.  Not watching through one of the windows, but in her own house, where it wasn’t 49 degrees and drizzling, and where the scene her children were making wouldn’t be quite so public.

It was another half-mile once they passed the shops and bars.  Molly was sniveling, saying she couldn’t walk anymore.  Ian had stuck something in Molly’s hair, something disgusting, probably.  They were both hungry, Mama reminded herself, not responsible for acting like monsters.  She was already carrying Ian’s saxophone, and had slung Molly’s backpack over one shoulder.  She couldn’t imagine what Molly had in there to make it so heavy, or why 7th graders should be made to carry such big, awkward instruments.  Molly sat down on the wet sidewalk and said she would go no further.  Ian kicked her leg and she started to cry in earnest.

“We’re almost there, okay, and then…then, we’re having pancakes.”

Like magic, both children perked up.  Molly rose from the sidewalk, like the undead, and Ian restrained himself from pushing her back down.  Ten minutes later, and Mama was unlocking the door, turning on lights, turning up the heat, turning on the TV.

Molly wrapped herself in the afghan on the couch, and Ian sat down next to her, shoving a little with his elbow.

“Stop pushing!”

Mama walked around the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room and said, “I’m going to say this once: if either of you talk during the debate – one word – I’m going to take all of the pancakes I make and throw them in the garbage.  Got it?”

“Got it, Mama,” Molly whispered.

Ian glared at her, “Great – now she’s going to throw away our dinner!”

“Starting now, okay?” Mama said, “Starting now.  No more talking starting now.”  She clearly sucked at this parenting thing.  She wondered how much gin was left in the bottle above the fridge and if her kids would notice their mother downing a stiff martini.  What goes great with pancakes?  Gin, of course!  She found a chair and climbed up to the cupboard.

MCCAIN: Now, Senator Obama, I’d like — still like to know what that fine is going to be, and I don’t think that Joe right now wants to pay a fine when he is seeing such difficult times in America’s economy.

Senator Obama wants to set up health care bureaucracies, take over the health care of America through — as he said, his object is a single payer system.

If you like that, you’ll love Canada and England. So the point is…

SCHIEFFER: So that’s your objective?

OBAMA: It is not and I didn’t describe it…

MCCAIN: No, you stated it.

OBAMA: I just…

MCCAIN: Excuse me.

“Mom, are we going to be like Canada and England?” Ian asked.

“I hope so,” Mama replied, taking another swallow of the vermouth-less martini and swirling butter around the frying pan.

“I don’t want to go to Canada and England!” Molly whined.

“You’re not going anywhere, loser!”

“You’re not supposed to be talking, right?” Mama let the skillet come down a little hard on the stove to make her point.

SCHIEFFER: But you don’t want Roe v. Wade to be overturned?

MCCAIN: I thought it was a bad decision. I think there were a lot of decisions that were bad.

“What’s Row and Wade? Is it a boat?” Molly looked back at Mama.

“It’s a law, honey, that lets women choose if they want to have babies or not.”

“I want to have a baby, Mama!”

“Good – then McCain will eat it for breakfast!”

“I’m warning you, Ian!” Mama poured some batter into the frying pan.

OBAMA: I’ll just give you one quick example. Senator McCain and I disagreed recently when the Supreme Court made it more difficult for a woman named Lilly Ledbetter to press her claim for pay discrimination. For years, she had been getting paid less than a man had been paid for doing the exact same job.

Mama flipped some pancakes onto plates.

“Pancakes are ready!”

“Lilly Ledbetter, Lilly Ledbetter,” Molly sang, with the syrup bottle upside down over her plate.

“Billy Bedwetter, Billy Bedwetter,” Ian echoed, spilling milk on the counter.

The kids settled back in on the couch.  Mama slipped a couple more ice cubes in her glass and poured herself the last of the gin.

“Sit with us, Mama!” Molly said with her mouth full, patting the cushion between her and Ian.  She had syrup dripping down her chin.  Mama sat down between them, put her arms around each of their shoulders and pulled them close.

OBAMA: …but it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be quick. It is going to be requiring all of us — Democrats, Republicans, independents — to come together and to renew a spirit of sacrifice and service and responsibility.

I’m absolutely convinced we can do it. I would ask for your vote, and I promise you that if you give me the extraordinary honor of serving as your president, I will work every single day, tirelessly, on your behalf and on the behalf of the future of our children.

“I just love pancakes for dinner, Mama,”Molly licked her sticky fingers.

Ian put his head on Mama’s shoulder.  “I hope we get to go to Canada and England.”

“Me, too,” Mama sighed, “me, too.”