Adventure Holiday – Part II

II

          He regained his senses at the door of his Deville.  He’d finally had it restored and painted firefuckinengine red, in the proper super-high gloss.  Ted got in, checked his hair and roared off, wisps of California nightlife playing magnificently off the chrome.  The curvy silhouette of his date dripped honey in his ear, “She handles beautifully.”  He nodded, jaw tense, as he barreled around a corner and opened it up.  “Ooh!” she gasped as he slipped through a red light.  Her features were indiscernible in the darkness.  He could see just the ashen blonde edges of her hair, cropped at the shoulder.  He found the road again just in time to dodge an idling taxi with a deft maneuver.  “That’s it!” she cooed.  His hands guided the machine into more heavily trafficked neighborhoods, weaving through the other cars with purpose.  “That is how you drive!” With each squeal of tires, every lurch, his companion urged and moaned, pushing him to push the car, his shirt soaked with sweat, until all he could hear was her screaming “Go!  Drive!”  He jerked the wheel with white knuckles.  He looked hard at the woman, trying to make out her face in the streetlight.  Groping for the light, he suddenly exploded through the windshield in slow motion, hearing the tink of each shard of glass floating around him, through him, until he landed limply on the blacktop.  Lightposts and skyscrapers loomed and swayed above him, dancing back and forth to the hiss of rain on pavement, the last number of the night.  Then she was over him, looking down.  It was Margareta, angelic and glorious.  Ted thought she had come to claim him, but she faded.  There were only the signs and buildings of the city, cold dervishes spinning and whipping wildly over the street, over his broken, dying body, fading out.

He regained his senses on the jungle floor, his face covered in blood and mud and his leg screaming.  A storm thrashed the moonlit treetops above.  He screamed.  In a panic Ted tried to lunge forward, away from the pain, but he was held fast to the mossy jungle floor, fading out.

 

For the duration of the storm he sat, half-buried in mud, in a ditch behind Rudi’s dilapidated home.  For days heavy torrents and gales beat the earth with frantic noise.  Cyclones of mad dreams whirled in his semi-conscious mind as he wandered between worlds, his mind flailing to grab hold of anything but confusion and pain.  In the darkness, dreams of knife flashes and milk-thighed urgencies, of hot spite and bitter love tortured him.  When his eyes opened, nature’s tantrums buffeted his face, sharp fingers of broken bone plucked staccato rhythms of agony upon his body, sending him spiraling back into his nightmares.  He had no refuge.  He could only keep drifting from world to world, drowsily savoring the in-between times.  Impotent, Ted swam in his fevers, battered by the wind and the rain.

 

As the storm subsided and the warmth of the sun touched his eyelids, the curtains of concussion began to open.  Muddy run-off from the steep mountain was flowing across his lap.  Ted wondered if he could trust it.  He was deathly thirsty and tried a handful.  It was gritty and tasted of rotten leaves and urine.  He spit it out along with some partially congealed blood.  While he was unconscious his grinding teeth had shredded his inner cheeks and much of his tongue.  The heavy rain had splattered him with mud, leaving him covered in mottled filth.   Streaks of his fevered sweat had carved angular channels in the layers caking the toonish arcana of his vainglorious arms. 

A distant rumble of thunder cut him to the stem and hinted that perhaps portions of the grand forest were still being punished.  He shuddered to think of the storm’s return.  He dimly remembered repeatedly having dreamed of drowning or being suffocated, then waking up with the rain beating his face and the howling wind sounding something like a sobbing child. 

Moving was difficult.  Any shift of position intensified the pounding in his temples.  His glasses had broken in the fall, gouging the bridge of his nose.  He could feel the dirty scab twisting down the middle of his face.  His whole body hurt.  The lazy ache in his head drifted down his body to meet sharp jabbings rising from his right ankle.  The sensations blended into a throbbing cramp in his groin.  The headache he could push through.  This wasn’t his first lights-out concussion. 

The ankle, however, was alarming.  He knew it was broken, but how badly?  Ted held out hope that he could hobble the three or four miles of trail back to the road.  He certainly couldn’t expect any help from his formerly gracious hosts.  Trying to lift his leg out of the mud, he cut short a scream.  Oh no!  Was he heard?  He winced nervously through the brush toward Rudi’s cabin.  Nothing was stirring.

Again he heard faraway thunder, but the tone was thin and the sky clear.  It didn’t seem real.  He realized it was snoring.  Rudi was sleeping off another late drunk.  Listening now above the water running over his lap, Ted could also hear Soleese munching and pawing the ground nearby.

Well, if he couldn’t walk out he would have to ride.

 

The rope he found laying around was heavy and slick with mud.  Ted had dragged himself to a broken split-rail just behind the cabin.  He had difficulty with the simple slip knot he used to think he’d never forget.  It was funny how the old movies never showed cowboys actually tying any lassos.  They were always at the ready.  Funny, he thought, what comes to mind sometimes.  Really funny.  His hands were shaking with frustration and hunger and creeping dread.  Hilarious.  Fresh tears wet his cheeks before he held a workable loop. 

The elderly grey donkey milled about calmly, occasionally glancing at the muttering man.  Whatever humans fussed about rarely affected it.  It had everything it needed here at the cabin so it stayed, unfettered.  The large, cloudy eyes became suspicious, though, as this strange new human hopped closer.  It had been a long time since the beast had smelled such desperation.

Ted managed to rope Soleese with just a couple of tosses of the loop and without panicking the animal.  When he tried to pull it close enough to mount, however, Soleese began to whinny and jerk.  Ted’s head snapped toward the suddenly silent cabin.

“Soleese!  QUIETO!”  The shack rang with impact of another pot against the wall.

Ted waited many minutes, then resumed breathing.  Soleese seemed more submissive after the scolding, but Ted still doubted his chances of getting onto the donkey to ride.  Holding the rope, he flipped over a splintered bench from beside the house.  He sat with his back braced against one set of legs and his own injured extremity sticking out ahead.  With the slack end of the rope he whipped Soleese on the rear.  Soleese jumped, startled, but with a second whipping he began to pull, plodding down the trail from his masters’ home.  This relationship was familiar to the animal.  Though the trail was painfully bumpy, Ted was beaming.  It wouldn’t be more than a quick jaunt down to the road, down to what passed for civilization around here.  He’d even been able to nab a handful of coca leaves as he skidded past the neglected sacks.  He was triumphant.

Inside, Rudi was snoring again. 

 

After days of rain the jungle was calm again, hot, dripping and content.  Golden light floated on the hum of a cool breeze.  Ted felt his panic receding and let the scenery peel back his cynical scowl.  He sucked coca leaves to quell the pain in his leg.  He was now surrounded by the verdant paradise of a child’s dream, more beautiful and soothing than any place an adult expected to find in waking life.  Technicolor birds swooped cheerfully.  It even seemed to him that Soleese was picking a soft and careful path through the trees as not to jar him.  “Thank you mi smelly amigo,” said Ted with great pomp.  “You will be handsomely rewarded.”  Soleese snorted.

Ted could hear the rushing of a nearby waterfall.  He had a sense that if he could peer over the next ridge he could spy on a secret accord between parrots and apes in the spray of the falls, sealing a treaty to share the treetops after centuries of bloody warfare.  Anything less magical would have seemed unreal at this point.  Rudi was lucky to have all this as his world, thought Ted.  He was suddenly guilt-stricken.  The old man had fought and endured so much to hold onto his small piece of this wonderful place.  He lived simply and took in strangers without reserve, and how did Ted show his respect?  By insulting his wife.  By cursing the man.  By stealing his donkey!  There wasn’t anything he could do now to redeem himself.  The rules here were simple and he’d trampled them all.  Maybe he could find a way to return Soleese, find someone on the main road to bring the donkey back…

His mind came around full circle and focused on the present.  Where was the road?  Where the hell had Soleese taken them?  Ted looked behind and realized they had been going steadily uphill for some time.  They were now on a narrow hillside trail with a steep dropoff to their left. 

“Damnit Soleese, the road is at the bottom of the valley!  How long have we been climbing?”  He gave the rope a jerk.  The animal pulled back sharply and continued up the trail.  Ted cursed and jerked the rope harder and Soleese stopped.

“Turn around dimwit!”  He pulled with one hand and whipped the donkey with the other.  Soleese didn’t know what to do.  There wasn’t room on the trail to get by this angry man and go the other way.  It pawed the ground in frustration.  

“Idiot!”  Red-faced and screaming, Ted grabbed a large stick from the ground and swung it threateningly.  “Ass!  Moron!  Damn you!”  The donkey didn’t react, which enraged Ted further.  “Fucking beast!”  He swung again and connected.  Soleese reared and jumped, sending Ted and the bench into the air.  They came down on top of Soleese and all three tumbled off the trail, rolling over each other down the embankment and into the brush.

Ted groaned.  He hurt all over, again.  There were broken ribs now, and Soleese lay across his twisted legs, but it was all a distant pain, faraway seeming.  He was pretty sure he knew what that meant.  The breathing of the donkey on top of him was as labored as his own.  Soleese was broken as well.  The golden hum of the forest was supplanted by an eerie green radiance. 

As Soleese’s breathing slowed, Ted counted down the animal’s final breaths, without pity and without spite.  Soon his prophet, his savior, his executioner was gone.  Ted thought of Margareta, strong and proud.  He recalled her eyes, huge, cold, dark as a grave, banishing him.  They floated over him now.  A madly yellow bird started and flew out of a nearby tree.  Ted watched it fly across those eyes until it was a rapidly fading peripheral ghost.  As it faded, the ghost drew away with it the unearthly greens of the earlier light, leaving Ted in a cool, gray place.  The mossy ground cradled his head like a mother.  Peru became quiet for him.  He began counting down.

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Adventure Holiday – Part I

Adventure Holiday

Part I

 

            The brown man smiled.  “Me too, Yankee.  Me American, too.”  He gestured around with a shaky hand.  The one holding the rifle was steady.  “El Mundo Nuevo, eh?”

He faded into the shadows of the jungle cabin chuckling.  Ted’s grin collapsed into a scowl more suited to his face.  The woman remained before him.  She stared at him with hard midnight eyes while Ted swore bitterly.  She understood, he knew it, but she dismissed him with silence.  After some long moments the woman followed her husband into the shelter, slamming what time had spared of the door.  Alone on the porch, hungover as hell, he looked down at the spot where he’d slept the previous night.

The clack of the latch was punctuation on his sentence, exile.  “Indian bitch!”  A delayed reflex of anger drew his 9mm before remembering that he had no bullets for it.  Glassy-eyed, staggering, he waved the pistol pathetically.  His shoulders sank and he holstered the gun.  He was done here.

The late-morning sun was beginning to penetrate the canopy, heating the ground and raising a tactile funk in the air.  Ted shifted his bag to calm the itching of sweat on his shoulders as he walked.  His hair was wet and flat and his glasses were sliding down his nose.  “Rains my ass.”  He halted for a slug of water from his canteen and glanced at the old man’s cabin thirty yards back through the trees.

 

He’d met Rudi the previous day on a trail not far off of the main road through this part of the jungle.  The aged Peruvian was walking alongside his donkey, both of them heavily burdened with canvas sacks full of leaves.  Ted had a hunch. 

“Coca?”

The sun-cured man wore coarse linen and a wide-brimmed hat.  He grinned.

“Coca, si.  Yankee?”

“Yankee, si.”

“Well den Yankee.”  The man fetched a fistful of leaves from his sack and popped two into his mouth.  The rest were presented to Ted.  The lean, tattooed American accepted.   The donkey approached him unsteadily and nuzzled his shoulder with affection.  The old man was delighted.  “He hates gringos!”  He seemed genuinely amazed.  Thus began a simple conversation along the trail, filled with laughter at each other’s broken English and shattered Spanish.

Rudi invited the adventurer back to his home where they spent the evening and most of the night chewing coca leaves and drinking a spirit distilled by the locals.  By sundown Ted was finishing his second jarful of drink when there was a commotion at the door. 

“My wife, Margareta,” said Rudi as a dark woman burst through the door carrying a large basket of produce.  Noticing the stranger, her face rapidly flashed through surprise, fear, puzzlement, annoyance.

 “Quien es?” she demanded.  “Who’s this?”

Our guest, who is very thirsty, eh?”  Rudi motioned to their jars with expectantly arched eyebrows. 

“Teddy Brando,” offered the tipsy Yank, hand outstretched in mock formality.  She stared.

Margareta threw down her harvest and advanced on her man.  Ted feared for the old man’s last few teeth.  She merely gave Rudi a playful whack on the back of the head and winked at Ted, then retrieved the jug of lubricant from the counter along with a third jar.  Ted studied her as she poured three oversized portions.  She was short and dirty and had muscles like a man.  The narrow face and broad shoulders, tight waist and thick legs; his Cali-Coast taste told Ted that she didn’t fit together properly, but there was an indifference and honesty in her movements that he found pleasing, if not quite attractive.  She smiled young, though, seeming much younger than her husband.  Ted would have been forced to give-or-take fifteen years to guess either of their ages anyway.

 

The earthy jungle moonshine was slowly coating Ted’s vision in a sticky primordial syrup, making the contents of the single room snicker with each flicker of the lantern’s flame.  All of the wood furniture was worn smooth by generations of use and seemed to grow right out of the plank floor.  An old stove of blackened iron held court over the room from one corner, sided by a lasciviously leaning cabinet, doors whorishly ajar, like a prostitute’s plunging neckline drawing guilty glances at shadowy wares.  As the jars emptied, Ted was less and less offended by the odor of the donkey housed in an adjacent lean-to.  The mingling man and beast smells seemed appropriate to this world.  This was how real people lived.

Rudi’s stories were well rehearsed.  He unwound narratives of oppression, revolution, and betrayal forever cycling in a restless portion of the world.  He spoke mechanically and without strong emotion, just shades of weariness and regret for having survived so many tales and therefore having to endlessly repeat them.  Often in his stories he paused and gestured to an ancient rifle hanging near the door with a reverence that was lost on Ted, who understood only fragments of the bilingual tales.  Margareta seemed bored.

Ted was floating on moonbeams and bravado.  He told them of his travels around the world on adventurous vacations, visiting foreign lands and learning many things of the world.  He even told a couple spiced-up versions of some of his Special Forces exploits, the ones he wasn’t supposed to ever repeat.  His boasting wandered the Gobi, conquered Mediterranean volcanoes, island-hopped Samoan empires, overthrew penny despots and tyrants and finally arrived at his more recent travails.  Rudi was sympathetic as Ted explained how the guide referred to him by the Tourism Board led him for hours into the wilderness and then demanded extra money, only to disappear into the thick forest when Ted drew a hidden gun as a reply.  More than a novice survivalist, Ted had no worries about finding the road again, but he had run out of daylight.  He was forced to make camp alone in the jungle.  There was little kindling dry enough to fuel a fire and he spent the night huddled over a hissing pile of coals the size of his fist. 

Rudi tittered and shook when the American tough confessed the panic that had risen in him as he was ambushed by the din of the howling Peruvian night.  His mind could not reconcile the darkness with the teeming metropolis he was hearing around him.  The old man fell laughing at Ted’s admission that he had fired his pistol blindly into the bush hoping to kill every scurrying phantom, until he ran out of ammunition many hours before dawn.  Margareta, who’d appeared asleep for an hour, sat up and laughed openly.  Ted applied his most menacing barfight visage to her corner of the room.  The woman was unaffected.  Ted began to stew silently and Rudi was forced to retake the reigns of the conversation.  Rudi stared through his front door and began to recall yet another chapter of his harsh history, but Ted was no longer listening to his host.  He was instead blearily staring Margareta down, trying to show her who she was laughing at.  He’d killed, she shouldn’t doubt.  He’d killed for a living and been given medals for it.  Even an ignorant jungle squaw like her should be able to see he was a killer…

 

In his anger and humiliation his eyes were fixed on Rudi’s rifle.  Its coquettish gleaming entranced him.  It was quite a piece.  Some geek collector in LA would fall all over himself for it, he was sure.  Rudi noticed his fascination.  “We fill your pistola tomorrow, Ready Teddy, if rains let us.  No worry.”  Ted was skeptical of this conditional promise.

“Rains?”  He hadn’t seen a single cloud since he’d stepped off the plane.  “You get the Weather Channel up here?”  He laughed sarcastically.

Rudi was unphased.  “Soleese told me.”

“Soleese?”

“SOLEEEESE!”  Rudi jumped to his feet, his face crazy.  He grabbed an iron pot from the counter and flung it against the back wall.  The crash of the pot was answered by a panicked hun-haww from outside.  “Soleese,” said Rudi calmly.  He sat back down.  “Soleese limped today.  The rains will come.”  They sat in silence for several minutes.

Ted was startled by a grinning Margareta as she plopped down on a stool beside them, another full jar in her hand.  Powerful woman, he thought, from all that work on the mountain I guess.  He could admire that hard kind of life.  Now, suddenly, there was something about the low lantern flame glistening off the moist brown of her cheeks, the glow of her wet, laughing lips.  In her eyes the howling of the jungle sang him different promises.  Ted’s brow softened as he stumbled into something akin to love.  Another gulp and he careened into an intoxicated desire to own her, to be owned and dissolved into her primitive soul through her primitive body.  In his imagination he embraced the feral churnings of her work-strong hips against him in animalistic throes, her awkward teeth gnashing incantations of passionate monsoons, until they were driven raving through the alien hinterland.  Teach me to survive the wild jungles of night, O Mestiza! 

Margareta saw this change in him and began giggling.  Again, her mirth at his vulnerability made him feel ashamed of his desires, of his fundamental un-jungleness.  Head swimming in the weakness of his need, he inwardly raged at her with a dizzy hate enhanced by his own self-loathing.  She’d tricked him!  Gulping sloppily, he wanted to humiliate her, as she had humiliated him.  He needed to show her how weak and stupid she was for not pleading for his protection.  That old man…  That old lecher!  He couldn’t take care of a woman like her!  Couldn’t please her!  He’d probably sell her to the first sleazy guerrilla to make an offer-

Ted’s posture relaxed and he leaned back against the wall, smiling like a snake.

 

It had only been a passing thought. You never know the customs of others.  Like that time in Cape Town.  There’s crazy folks with crazy ways.  You never know.  Some places, with enough money…  A simple inquiry.  But it wasn’t a question of how much, was it pal?  Besides, it was a joke really.  A drunken joke between men.  To take it so seriously… It wasn’t necessary for the old fool to translate it to her.  Boy, she was right on him like a feral cat.  By the time he’d gained advantage and had her pinned Rudi had the rifle down and aimed right at his heart.  “No decoracion, senor.  Not for show.”  The old codger held that gun mighty steady for so many jars of ‘shine.  Dizzy-drunk as he was, Ted had known to not fuck around.  He’d staggered out the door, feeling the unmistakable prick of polished steel training on his spine up until he heard them bolt the door shut behind him.  He took a few long breaths to try to clear his head, but nocturnal Peru was eager to greet him with the full thunder of its life.   It pounded his temples with its screeching fists.  He had made it only a few steps before his head spun and his knees broke and he folded, heaving violently in front of the shack.

 

A sting roused Ted from his reverie.  A swollen mosquito was feasting on his stenciled bicep.  It was nearly the size of Ted’s thumb.  It had gotten an early start on the day.  Just before he killed it, he felt a kinship with this hunter, this survivor.  We feast on flesh, he thought, and he smiled.  He raised his hand slowly.  The creature, lethargic and blood-drunk, did not react.  Ted brought his hand down on his arm with a smack and felt a cool spray on his neck and shoulder.  He wiped his arm, smearing the blood across the mouth of a koi fish, watched it trickle over the lips of a tiki and pool at the feet of a row of hot-rods.  How much of that blood was mine, you little bastard?  He flexed his arm to make the bloody tiki smile.  He touched his face gingerly.  It felt like she’d managed to give him a black eye, but he had no mirror to check.  There were certainly some scratches.  He satisfied his crawling back with the bag again and glanced backward at Rudi’s shabby home. The damp scorn of the previous night rose bitter in his mouth and he spat back at the cabin to be rid of the taste. 

 

That self-righteous old ass is nothing but a third-world pimp, and a drug trader to boot.  The kindness of strangers, ha!  Shoving guns in the backs of civilized folk.  Damn savages.  I wonder how much he gets for one of those giant sacks of leaves.  Hey, maybe I’ll find out, hmmm?  Something to do, anyways.  Give him something to think about after he sleeps it off and wants to go make a buck for more beans and booze.  Just out of sight here, now creep back around.  What’s a joke between men?  Just swing up that hill around back, and wait.  Steeper than I thought, treacherous.  Watch it.  Damn jungle, crazy overgrown everything.  Here, this’ll do.  Pack’ll be safe here.  Bet it’ll be easy to off the stuff out on the main road.  Maybe even for some ammo.  A little hair of the dog wouldn’t hurt either.  Hey!  Fucking bugs everywhere man.  Had enough of this place.  What’s that?  Okay, there she goes, out for water or something it looks like.  Probably to peddle her ass to the monkeys.  Goddamn animals.  Just a piece though… nah, forget it.   There’s the bags, just below.  Nice of him to leave ‘em out back for me.  Would that donkey make any ruckus?  Nah, just smack it in the head with a board, that bench there if you have to.  Hun haw– Whack!  Christ, I can hear the old fuck snoring from up here.  Alright, she’ll be out of earshot by now, got to move quick.  Swing down like Tarzan, shimmy.  Pirouette.  Damn, steep man.  Slowly now.  Watch the loose rocks.  Footing’s tricky.  Almost there.  Got to clear that ditch.  Slow down!  Shit, wait-


The Monkey and The Weasel

‘Round and ‘round the mulberry bush

The Monkey chased the Weasel

The Monkey thought ‘twas all in good fun…

 

“Stop!” goes the Weasel.  “There’s got to be a way that we can make a deal here.”

“Weasel!” replied the Monkey.

“That’s right, I am Weasel.  Now, are we just going to run around this stupid bush again and again until something unfortunate happens to one of us?  Because I’m not interested in ending my story any time-”

“Weasel!” interrupted Monkey.

“Yes,” sighed Weasel.  “Now, I notice that a fellow your size has to do quite a bit of stooping down to get around these bushes.”  Monkey sat down with a shrug and began to fidget with his toes.  “I may have something to offer you that will help.”  Weasel reached deep into the bush and pulled out a large floppy hat.  Monkey scratched his belly and looked quizzically at the foreign object being offered.  “You put it on top of your head,” explained Weasel patiently.

“Why?”

“So you can walk through the bushes with your head held high, and this marvelous hat will keep the branches from smacking you in that handsome face of yours.”  Monkey grinned and Weasel continued, “You will be bigger and taller and you won’t have to be so careful of where you walk.”  Monkey accepted the gift and placed it on his head.  He stretched his back to stand as straight as he could, puffing out his chest proudly.  He looked ridiculous, even for a monkey.  Weasel beamed with satisfaction.  “Now you can look around as you walk and enjoy the scenery far and wide…  or turn your attention to chewing on your shoulder,” which was what Monkey was doing.  He looked up innocently.

“Thanks Weasel!”  And Monkey bounced off into the forest without a care in the world, shaking bushes and breaking branches as he went.

So Monkey lived, always wearing his fancy floppy hat and walking tall through the forest.

“Weasel!” exclaimed Monkey upon seeing his friend some time later.

“Monkey, hello,” answered Weasel sunnily.  “Looking good mate!  How have you been in your dapper chapeau?”

“Weasel, I can’t see up!  That Bird swoops down and steals the fruit right out of my hands!  Squirrel drops things on me when I pass beneath him!  Everyone laughs and makes fun of me.”

“Monkey, Monkey, Monkey.  They’re all just jealous of your newfound swagger and style,” Weasel surmised.

“I’m hungry and dirty, and it’s all your fault!”  Monkey began chasing Weasel around the mulberry bush again.  Weasel dove under the cover of the lowest branches, squirming all the way to the trunk where he knew Monkey could not fit in his big floppy hat.  Monkey screeched in frustration and beat at the bush uselessly.

“Now, friend, listen to me,” Weasel pleaded from his leafy sanctuary.  “If you will just calm down I can teach you a trick that will fix your troubles, I promise.”

Monkey plopped down dejectedly.  “Fine,” he pouted.  Weasel crawled with caution out of the bush and brushed himself off.

“What you need is a house, somewhere to be protected from all those jealous, uncouth beasts.  Look here Monkey,” and Weasel began breaking branches off of the bush and stacking and tying them together with ribbons of bark.  Monkey did the same and in no time they had assembled four strong walls and a roof made watertight with interwoven leaves.  These they erected in the nearby clearing and Weasel invited Monkey into his new shelter.  “Now you can eat and sleep and the other animals can’t bother you at all, you see.  You can even grab extra food when you have a chance and store it inside to eat later.  The others will be very jealous indeed, but what can they do?  What can they do to this proud, handsome Monkey who is safe and sound in his very own house?”

So Monkey lived, hanging his floppy hat by the door of his very enviable home.

“Weasel!  Weasel!”  A forlorn Monkey cried out into the forest before long had passed.  “There you are you scoundrel!  I see you hiding in there!”  Weasel emerged from the thicket in which he was napping.

“Yes Monkey, what is it now?  Is everything alright in your sturdy chateau?”

“Oh Weasel, nothing is right!  They’re all so jealous of my house that no one will talk to me anymore.  Rabbit snuck in while I was out and ate all my food!  Spider and Bat keep trying to move in whenever I’m not looking.  Last night Bear came and shook the walls so hard while I was sleeping that I jumped up and ran scared all the way across the woods before I knew what happened!  I can’t live like this!”  Weasel pondered this for a moment.

“The real trouble,” he opined with a haughty air, “is the company you keep.  Lower orders, as they say.  Someone needs to put them in their place.  It’s been a long time coming, it has.  And you know what Monkey?  You may be just the one to do it!”

“Oh no, not me,” said Monkey peeking out from under his floppy hat.

“Oh yes, you,” replied Weasel convincingly.  “Who else around here can walk so tall and proud?  Who else is so clever to live in a big, fine house?  That Bear and the rest are nothing but stupid beasts.  They need someone to call the shots, so they’ll know how things really are.”

“But me?  How?”

“You just need a way to control them. Hmmm.  I know!  Ah, it’s so simple!  We must cut off your tail.”

“M-my tail?”

“Don’t worry Monkey.  Don’t you trust me by now?”

“I guess so, but-”

“But nothing my friend!  Watch.”

And without further debate Weasel darted around Monkey.  Monkey yelped and jumped, but it was too late; Weasel had bitten his tail clean off and was twirling it around

with dark glee.  He explained, “Now your tail has become a lash.  Anyone who steps out of line can be put in their place.”  With a flick of his wrist he cracked the air with Monkey’s tail.

“Oh, no.  I couldn’t do that, not ever!” Monkey fretted.

“Well you may have to!” snapped Weasel.  “But if you prefer, it also works as a leash.”  He spied Squirrel eavesdropping from behind the stump of the old bush and deftly flicked the leash at him.  It wrapped around Squirrel’s neck and held fast, despite all of his struggling.  “Now you’ll do as I say!”  Monkey flinched as Weasel yelled at his captive.  Squirrel’s eyes and shoulders sank as he saw that he had no choice but to obey.  “You see Monkey?  Now if Bear shakes your house again, you can make him fix it for you himself, bigger and better than ever.”  Weasel jerked Squirrel’s neck cruelly with the leash.

“Weasel, I wanna try now,” implored Monkey.  Weasel gave Squirrel a stern warning about running away and removed the leash.  He handed Monkey his tail.  Monkey took a tentative step toward the cowering Squirrel then quickly spun to face Weasel.  “You Weasel!  I’ll show you!”  He snapped Weasel with the lash and began to chase him around and around the stump of the old mulberry bush, whipping andcracking his tail at the rascal.  Weasel tripped and fell and Monkey wrapped the tail around his neck, holding him tight until he gave up fighting and cringed pleadingly.  “It works, Weasel!  It really does!”  With that he tied the other end of the leash to the stump and Weasel was stuck.

They left Weasel there for a long, long time, to think about the trouble he had caused Monkey and the others.  Bird swooped down to steal the food that Monkey had brought.  Squirrel threw acorns down on him from the treetops.  Bear came by to shake the leash at night.  Rabbit and Spider and Bat walked by to laugh at him every day.

So Monkey lived, storing food in his house to share with everyone and never missing an opportunity to show off his fancy floppy hat.


Pike’s Story

 “…his very own room, where his supper  was waiting for him, and it was still hot.  The end.”

“Are monsters gonna get me?  Where do monsters live?”

“Oh, monsters only live in stories.”

“And they want to get out?”

“Hmmm.  Maybe some of them want to, but they can’t.  Don’t worry. “

“Thanks Daddy.  G’night.”

 

In a house on a hill down in upstate New York, under the bed of a sleepy head given the name of Willie Farsted, hid an open book.  Laying flat under socks and trucks, somewhat torn but still very bright, page five and four gave life to a huge birthday party of silly monsters, dancing and cavorting with streamers, balloons, confetti and kazoos, banners and presents and a big red birthday cake.  Laughing and yelling and singing and hooting, all of the monsters pink purple yellow and green, round and square and with tufts of weird hair were so pleased to be in a story with such a fun party going on.  All the monsters, that is, but one.

Tucked in the crease between page five and four sat a lone figure, sullen and brooding on a stool by the door.  Less cartoonish than the others, he looked almost a man, with vague eyes, sunken grey cheeks and long-fingered white hands.  His name was Pike.

Pike sat on his stool, annoyed, his impenetrable gloom shielding him from the careless fun all about.

“Why must I be stuck here amongst these fools?” he groaned.  “There must be some more horrible place for a monster to be.  There must be more terrible and monstrous things to do and be, all more befitting the dignity of a creep such as myself.”

He sat and he thought and he squinted and schemed, racking his brain for some way out of his silly book.  How he longed for graveyards and dungeons and fiery pits!

“Look at you squeaking, chortling buffoons!  Disgraceful!” he’d rage, but the ridiculous party was too loud and carefree for anyone to pay heed.  Pike was alone with his dark thoughts.  He dreamed of escaping his pages and rattling bassinets, or unplugging all the alarm clocks on a Monday morning, whatever sort of mischief he could find to make.  And someday, just maybe, a little closet of his very own, where he could wake to the sound of a good night kiss and know he could look forward to a good night’s skulking. 

Oh what fiendish fun could be had!  There were no limits to the awful things that Pike pictured himself doing, if he could ever get out of that crease between page five and four.

He sat, gazing past his celebratory prison, staring at the bottom of the bed.

Pike would have gone mad, perhaps even mad enough to join in the fun, if not for a fantasy, a daydream he held tightly in his grayish heart behind his long-fingered white hands, and any time the pages were shut and the party was dark and muffled around him, he would dream this dream:

It’s dark.  Silent.  The book hasn’t been opened in ages, then…

Violent jostling.

                                        Voices.

                                                           Footsteps.

                                                                                 Blinding light, and, slowly coming into focus,

                              a fresh young baby.

The baby squeals and gurgles its approval of the boisterous scene depicted on the pages.  Drool splatters, running down the edge of page four.  The clumsy child bends the book backward, cracking the spine, and there is Pike, vague eyes peering out from the reversed crease.  The baby stops, transfixed.  Pike knows this is his only chance.  He summons every wisp of existence he has and asserts it, punching through the barrier between being and non-being with a tiny, reality shattering “boo.”

As if a whisper takes a shallow breath and whispers in turn.

“Boo.”

“Ha ha!  Boo!” the baby answers.  And with that, Pike had leapt from his pages and crawled deep into the baby’s mind.

Oh, the whisper that should have held its breath!

The broken book is soon disposed of, but the mysterious image of Pike is solidified as a common theme in the imagination of the child.  Pike is daydreamed of and dwelled upon.  As years pass he is doodled, giving him frequent tastes of being without the indignity of that chaotic birthday carnival.  Pike still wishes for more corporeal methods of malfeasance, the ability to loosen handrails perhaps, or to drain brake lines, but when the child is tossing in his sleep, Pike is living it up as the centerpiece of various emotional dreambursts.  Sometimes he plays the vile villain (with a natural flair), sometimes he is forced to be the adventurous hero, but usually his role is that of an indistinct, grey everpresence, a sullen fog through which other dream play is attempted.  As the child grows, carrying this grey under his consciousness, he himself becomes indistinct, grey.  People see him as somber, spooky.  He never seems quite comfortable in a crowded room, and if there happens to be a stool by the door, well…

People feel the melancholy radiating from him.  They say he has an “old soul”.  The child’s parents interpret his detached behavior as an indicator of an artistic temperament, choosing to see his slowfog dreaminess as a subtle sensitivity.  They give him creative outlets, trying to draw him out of himself.  They cannot know that it is Pike they sense, lurking.  When the boy is sent to a privileged school for artistic temperaments, it is Pike that is the grey smudge in the foreground of every charcoal landscape.  It is Pike that is the inadvertent minor chord at every piano recital.  It is Pike that is the ancient ennui in the eyes of every portrait.  No one can grasp what is different about this sad boy.  All along, it’s Pike…

Nearing adulthood, the boy-who-was-never-alone-with-his-thoughts veered his creative training toward the modern era, throwing aside his pencils and brushes for cameras and editing software.  He becomes passionate about his new art, producing an incredible number of films in college and earning acclaim for adept use of light filters and, in the words of one professor “an uncannily vivid use of grayscale.”  By the time he leaves school, mega-film conglomerates are lining up to fund his first major professional works.  The first of these, an arthouse-horror piece, is sketched around an unnamed figure with sunken grey cheeks…

The film, “Grey Me”, is an enormous success, both critically and financially, earning  the man-who-once-answered-“boo” millions of fans, the reverence of his Hollywood peers, and permanent creative freedom.  Sequels are a foregone conclusion, and in each film can be found a shady character with vague eyes, or long-fingered white hands reaching out of the shadows…

Each movie is a bigger smash hit than the last.  Younger and younger audiences clamor.  There are offers to put the iconic image of Pike on lunchboxes, breakfast cereals, but the filmmaker resists.  Now he makes each new project scarier and more disturbing.  In spite of this, because of this, the public fascination grows.   Before long, the image of Pike has supplanted all previous bogeymen in the collective imagination.  He is seen in every cemetery, heard in every night wind’s howl, felt under every bed.  And his legend continues to swell, until he inhabits the cold shivers and dark quakes of nearly every human child in the world and he is as real and undeniable as the night itself…

It is at this point in the dream, every time without fail, at this zenith of presence, that the book is opened and the murmurs of all the silly creatures surrounding Pike rise to again jar him out of his fantastic calm and stain his perfect black night with their childishly bright colors.  His loathing swells beneath his frozen frown as he realizes that he isn’t real after all, and he yearns for a roar, a scream he cannot produce.  A child’s face looms, but Pike has no existence to assert.

So he sits and he broods on his stool by the door,

deep in the crease between page five and four,

under the bed of young Willie Farsted,

Down in old upstate New York.

G’night.


a Conversation

The Poet is perched on the rocky shore, pen in hand, puzzling over a notebook. His long frazzled hair and open shirt blow in the salty breeze. He muses, “What is the way to measure a man?”

The Candidate smoothes his dark suit, strikes the speechmaker’s pose. “It is difficult. All men are equal, yet not all make equal use of their talents.”

The Samurai is practicing kata on the sand above. “Self-discipline is the beginning of all merit,” he says. His controlled slashes are nearing the Poet’s head.

“Self-discipline?” asks the Poet, trying to shoo him away. “Self-denial you mean. A man’s capacity for life must be gauged by his capacity for awe, his ability to behold beauty.”

“We must take caution, though, in trying to measure men,” says the Candidate with quick, decisive gestures that make the Samurai spin and roll away. “There is no way of accounting for a beholder’s level of appreciation. Measuring men may be impossible.”

The Poet cries, “Then we must measure the impossible! And we will judge those whom deny life!” He thrusts his feathery quill at the Samurai. The Samurai parries nimbly and they fence upon the rocks while the Candidate orates at an imaginary podium.

“Each does what they are able,” says the Candidate. “That is the basis of our society.” The samurai scoffs and cuts open a sleeve of the Poet’s shirt. The Candidate continues, “A skilled man who will not work. A smart man who will not think. An eloquent man who will not speak…”

The Samurai yells at the Poet, “A strong man who will not fight!”

The Poet, running away, answers, “A living man who will not love!”

“These are the tragedies of our time,” finishes the Candidate. “The fear of discovering our limitations paralyzes all of humanity.”

The Samurai kneels, tired of toying with the Poet. He murmurs from a meditative trance, “In the end, only honor will distinguish men from beasts.”

The Poet leaps over him playfully, singing, “What notion of honor? All duty is born of the heart!”

The Candidate lifts a baby, kisses it. “Honor is addressing our debt to our forefathers.” He sets the child down among a dozen others.

The Poet storms toward him, fists clenched, eyes ablaze. “They left us with a debt to pay? Damn them!” The Candidate shrugs sympathetically.

The Samurai answers in a low and even tone. “It is not a debt that can be repaid. It can only be passed on.” The babies crawl all around him.

The Poet turns toward the ocean and takes a deep breath. “So what is the way to measure a man?”

The Candidate shrugs again. “Perhaps a man can only measure himself,” he says.

The Samurai stares at his sword. “The measure of a man is how much of himself he is willing to give.” He sinks the blade deep into his belly. He gives it a quick twist and slumps to the ground. The infants crawl away, up the shoreline. The Poet drops to his hands and knees and follows. The Candidate stands over the Samurai, gazing out across the ocean.