I had seen more dancing bears before I ever saw my first golf-course. I mean real golf-courses, not miniature golf. And I mean real dancing bears, not something off of a Grateful Dead bumper sticker.
In the market in Lahore there was a Pashtun wearing dirty perahan wa tunban with a long grey vest and lungee, on his feet Pathan sandals, by his side marched a muzzled sun-bear with chain collar and long chain dangling from his master’s hand, arms entwined behind his back. Very cavalier for a man with a bear. For a few rupees he would make the bear twirl on his hide legs, paws in the air.
The Russian circus came to town before I had even learned to drag a camera about. Their bears where brown, large and un-muzzled. I remember the red vests the trainers wore, very striking.
It was not too many years later that I discovered my first golf-course in the middle of the night. But I never learned to play. I did learn that high school children liked to drink beer there, smoke dope, and hook up. I imagine that college age people did to, probably for nostalgia sake. You could find the empty green bottles, empty baggies, and occasional condom. By then I had learned about grizzly bears, and black bears, Kodiak bears, and the extinct golden bears of California, and the great bear of Russia.
There is a wicker basket in the corner of where I live. It used to be used for laundry; it is now used for balls. All those nights and days wandering around avoiding the bears, the cougars, the skunks, walking by tennis courts, golf-courses, picking up lost balls. My father played golf, but I do not remember him doing so. There was a golf bag in his effects. I took home the bucket of balls for the basket, my brother took home the clubs. I learned to juggle.
This was all B.C., before Caddyshack. Those were good years, B.C. I was younger and it was fun to find empty ground without people. It was even more fun after Caddyshack. “Biggest wastes of real estate, golf-courses and cemeteries” spouts the developer played by Rodney Dangerfield. I took it to heart and was happy. Cemeteries and golf-courses were keeping the world a little nicer because they were keeping the ground out of the hands of real estate developers. I could watch the edges of towns blur the country, but the cemeteries and golf-courses were still safe at night. I could wander around avoiding the cougars, skunks, and bears.
But now it is A.D., after Donald. I try not to go near golf-courses. They have become bad places, not preserving the ground from developers. They are the playground of developers. They are the place you go to look at the kleptocrats, to emulate the kleptocrats. They are pretty like the gold souq of Dubai, or the frankencastles on the hills with well-manicured lawns and gardens. I do not go there at night anymore, because I am afraid of the great bear. He is no longer tied to Polaris.
That leaves me the graveyards at night. I pass them in the daytime; they are getting busier, new holes, new mourners. Night is the only time they seem at rest.
The cluttered office desk was illuminated by an antique brass lamp. It was the only light in the room. A man in a charcoal grey suit picked up an old, hide bound book from the stack that was face down on the pile and began to read.
‘In the legends and lore of the werewolf, the three days encompassing the full moon have total sway over the soul of the beast. There is also a tradition that the beast can change at will, regardless of the phase of the moon. My studies have shown that both are true. The young werewolf is still in partial possession of its own soul, and as such can still control the urgings of the beast until the moon is in full sway. Yet in ancient creatures, the human soul is gone, having been totally consumed by the dark beast; the desire to hunt and kill is always present. Yes, the beast remains cunning, able to mask this desire in pursuit of its prey, but all moral control is gone. But I still believe, that even in these old beasts, the days of the full moon must by-pass even the most cleverly held barriers of the creature’s mind.’
Argus, Barton, BA, MS, Doctor of Philosophy, The Lycanthrope, Lake District, England: Blackpool Press, 1869.
Doctor Hobbs laid the book back down on his desk with a little smile. He had a face that would create trust in both young and old. He found Barton’s insights charming even if he was a little parochial in his attitudes. It was such a shame that the little man had died so tragically. What was it? Torn apart in his study? It must have been hard on the staff: all that mess. Still, if one goes chasing tigers eh? He never did understand the habits of the beast in the wild, the way that the natural world intersected so easily with man’s, even with a Victorian view of tidy social order.
His patient, Miss April Grant, had been very reticent in her daily sessions of late. She had not been very forth coming in their conversations at all. He knew that she was growing in her sensations of her place in the world, so naturally her distrust of him had grown also. She had to resent his control over her. Still, she was improving.
He picked up her journal that was next to Barton’s book and began to read her narrations. He could picture her carefully sharpening her pencil every few lines. Her handwriting was immaculate.
‘There is blue behind the banded grey haze of clouds that are coming in high across the sky from the west. It will turn to black and then an eerie silver in a couple of hours as the night comes on, and the full moon rises. The large cumulus clouds, white on top, but heavy black underneath will totally hid the banded sky by morning. The moisture in the air is growing as the sun’s heat grows weaker with the coming of autumn.
Of course, I can see none of this, but I can feel it. Freedom will once more be in my grasp.
The cell isn’t padded now. It used to be, just like the one before used to be rough concrete and steel with bars. I’ve a cot now, and they even let me into the common room once in a while, although it has been several days. Some of them know the change is coming, some of them don’t believe it. I think this is my best hope of escape: disbelief.
There are windows in the common room, and through the chicken wire glass you can see the pretty garden turning brown as the season changes. It is growing colder by the day. One of the gardeners planted a pumpkin patch, green and lush all through the summer. The first frost was heavy, leaving the vines withered. The orange gourds were still laying on the ground when I last looked outside.
I hope that some of them are carved into jack-o-lanterns. People will need to ward off evil here soon. It doesn’t all come from inside me. There is other evil here.
They won’t let me have windows in my cell, my room. Someone must have told them about what happened in the jail. The first county jail was several floors up, the fall should have killed me, but somehow I escaped into the night. It is unclear in my mind; I don’t remember much from that time.
They let me keep this diary. I write in it just to pass the time. It disappears sometimes, but always comes back. I suspect that the doctor reads what I’ve written. He has too many insights into my thoughts when we have our sessions.
I’m not a violent person, most of the time I like to be with people. I’m getting tired of the doctor, something about him bothers me. I know that he is a great part of where the evil comes from.
The staff is great, really friendly. The male nurses like me a lot, and I don’t threaten the female nurses. They are all professionals. Some are a little friendlier than others, but that will just make it easier when the time comes. My body attracts them. It arouses the animal in them I guess. I can smell it on them, just like I can smell something wrong with the doctor. Some of them could even be my friends.
But I won’t remember who lived, or who died when I go.’
Hobbs set the book aside and stared at the ceiling. He was enjoying her sessions. The things he noted in her journal were most encouraging, but April had a strong personality. That delusion was not slipping away as hoped, in fact it seemed to be growing stronger. She could not come to grips that her humanity was slipping away. There was plenty of time to overcome it; isolation in a windowless room would make it go away. The less contact she had with people the better. The uncanny thing was that April always seemed to come back after the cycle of the moon, most discouraging and odd. He worried about her; she was such a lovely thing.
April Grant paced back and forth in her room in her ward pajamas. She could get six strides, but not seven. Her slight frame didn’t fill the loose-fitting white garments and her short brown hair did not bounce as they kept it well-trimmed. But her muscles bound and unbound with the restlessness of her motions. April’s brown eyes were focused on something other than the room as she thought back. She was rebuilding memories, or maybe it was reshaping them.
‘When they first picked me up off the street, ranting, broke and dirty, they put me into the drunk tank. The moon hadn’t risen yet. There must have been a half-dozen people in there with me. Come nightfall, I don’t know what happened. It must have been gory. They were assholes anyway. If they hadn’t been women, I would have been raped a dozen times over. They had done their best however. I tell myself that.
The cops dragged me out of the cell in the morning to the county hospital. They thought I was a survivor. I was in clean sheets in the lock down ward when I woke up. I hate waking up in blood.
To tell you the truth, I don’t even know how it happened, how this thing came to me. I’d been on the streets for over a year. Every drug, every drink I could find on the road to destruction had pretty well done the job. Pain and teeth in the dark, wet smell of rotting garbage and alley, nursing a wound in the morning and then back to the routine of the streets. That is the vague story in my head.
Then the first full moon and waking up naked, with blood on my hands and face, cold, strangely full for the first time in months. I’d washed the blood off with a water-faucet, pulled some rags out of a dumpster, and started trying to live off the streets again. I didn’t even care what happened, until it happened again. It’s funny. That is when I started to take some control over my life again. I didn’t have to drink, or smoke, or shoot anything that came my way. I only had to wait for the moon to forget, to become satiated, but I couldn’t forget the growing fear of those around me.’
The doctor sat in his office chair, glanced at the face down volume and then at the journal beside it. The small digital clock that faced him across the desk flipped another minute by. The clock was a plastic mahogany, the same shade as the veneer of the desk. It was set so that his patients could not see the time to better involve them in his sessions. He really didn’t need a clock; Hobbs had always had an unerring sense of time.
He checked the window; it would be dark soon. The moon would rise moments after that. He smiled to himself, knowing that April was securely locked in her room. Hobbs had removed her journal so it would not be destroyed in her episode tonight. She was obviously noticing when it was gone, but it provided valuable insights into her thoughts. Poor little April was still having thoughts that she was something other than what he wanted her to be.
Hobbs put his patients at ease. He looked to be a pleasant enough man in his early sixties. Most people thought he was much younger. He had used his appearance more than once to help in his psychological conquests to better mental health. That is why it was curious, this reserve in his last meetings with his female patient.
She was much younger than him, only in her twenties, yet this had never been a stumbling block before. If she had not been of special interest to him, he might even have expressed his growing ardor more actively. Yet she seemed to be developing an active dislike of him. Were her senses developing that quickly? Perhaps her next journal entries would enlighten him.
‘It is almost time. The sun is about gone. I can feel my senses growing: my smell, my hearing.
For some reason my mind keeps drifting back to all those pumpkins out in the field. Maybe someone has carved them. Maybe they are all around the clinic with candles lit, jagged faces fearless of demons, driving back the dark. I know that half the fear is inside me, but I know that there is a very real thing outside, waiting to get in. Right now, I know that the beast inside me is the only thing that can beat it. The human inside me is too weak, too helpless. All I can remember from my childhood is carving those pumpkins with my small hands, and it never did fight off the evil.
Somewhere, through the walls, I can hear a radio. It has to belong to one of the attendants. The doctors would never allow the patients to listen to an outside radio station. It is very low, but I can hear it. The storm is coming inside me, outside of me. Over the pulse beginning to build in my ears the announcer speaks:’
“That was a great hit! You’re listening to KNRK, anarchy radio, all naked, all live! We’re all nude here!”
Hobbs stood up and moved to the large picture window in the corner of his office to enjoy the coming darkness. The clouds were filling in the last of the open sky. They would obscure the moon rise. It did not matter; she would change anyway. Even at this time, did she really think that she was something better than an animal? Her journal might tell him when he returned it to her.
In the gloom, he could pick out large wart like objects on the ground. What were those? Ah yes, pumpkins. The grounds keeper had planted those this year.
He had entertained the thought of using them as some kind of therapy for his patients. “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” But then he had remembered what they would have become in these people’s hands. Pagan charms against what filled the night. Right now, he found them a little disturbing. Hobbs would not allow the grounds people to plant them next year.
His treatments did favor some kind of keeping busy, some kind of seduction. He favored seduction. It seemed over the long run to snare more results.
Discipline, even brutality had its uses in keeping people in line. Negative conditioning was a time-honored tradition in building the wall of fear. But seduction brought them to him on their own.
April would enjoy what was growing within her to the core of her very soul! And he would put it to such wonderful uses.
In her cell, April was almost gone for the night. Her body screamed in joy as the beast was clawing for release. She had ripped off her ward clothes in an agony of pleasure. They burned her with the sublime growth of her sensations. Rocking against the barren walls, her skin trembled with the desire to shape.
There was a slight click as the observation hole on the door slid back. Her eyes pounced on it; her panting quickened. A man’s face peered through with its own needs in his inquisitive eyes.
She paused the rhythmic shaking of her body to run her hands down from her naked breasts to the tangled hair between her thighs. Moaning, she looked into his eyes with longing, animal desires. Behind her eyes she could smell the blood in him, she could taste the meat.
“Help me,” she softly whispered with her last breath of human reason.
There was a far flicker of lightning just on the horizon. It startled Hobbs out of his thoughts. There was a storm coming. He had felt no storm coming.
Something was wrong, and his mind searched for the problem behind the walls and in the corridors of his institution. Then he felt more than he saw the young ward attendant turn the latch on the beast’s door. He felt more than saw the moon rise.
His institutional whites rustled as he slipped into the room, he glanced behind him to make sure the hall was clear. He was just going to watch, just going to make sure that the stories about the woman were not true. There was no such thing as a werewolf
But she was just too hot looking. He knew that he was not going to just look as soon as he had seen her standing naked in the muted light. The blood inside him was rising. She had asked for help and in his passion he could not refuse.
As he stepped across the room toward her, it was a cloud of shifting darkness that leapt toward him and hit him in the chest like a badly executed dive from a great height. The jaws that crushed, ripping into his throat, and broke the vertebrae in his neck made sure that his lungs would never come up from that plunge.
Hobbs moved out of his office as the wind of a tornado drives the straw through the cellar door. He was a beast of his own kind moving through the halls, but even he paused as he came within sight of what was outside of April Grant’s room.
The energy, the terrible beauty of the creature that stood on all four paws, shaking the dead flesh of what had been a living man by the throat, gave even a creature like Hobbs pause. As she ripped the hot bloody flesh away, she tossed her head back to swallow. Blood stained the multi-colored fur of her neck.
A thought formed in him that he might be over matched by the thing he had locked in that room. When she screamed in her ecstasy of kill and release, he knew that doubt might have some foundation.
Then the thing that had been April Grant, or perhaps was more her than at any other time, saw him. She moved faster than any normal eye could follow, but the doctor’s eye followed. Shooting down the hall towards a vainly protected window, a leap carried her out into the gathering night and growing flickers of storm. In a short time, the rain would wash the blood from her pelt as she ran free. In the nights of darkness and chaos that would follow, she would be nurtured to form a being of a universal natural order, outside of some other’s manipulations.
Slowly, the doctor walked down the hall, pausing by the lifeless corpse on the floor. He did not even bother glancing down at it as he looked after the path of his escaped charge. He supposed he would have to say something to cover up the problems the body would cause. He was good at making up stories.
Turning into the now vacant chamber, he looked about for something that would help him come to grips with a troubling feeling that was growing inside him, the suspicion that there might be a greater power outside the darkness of fallen angels, perhaps something older.
For just a second, before the creature had fled, he and she had made eye contact. He had expected to see a beast, cunning perhaps, but still a beast, a lower animal. But in those eyes there had been a soul, a soul in the wonder of triumph. There was a light in the darkness.
There was nothing left in the empty room to help him understand.
Hobbs would have to find April when the bodies started to appear again. She had been legally committed, he had the papers to prove it. The law would help him regain his pet project.
He would have to think about it, upon more reflection he might not want to face some power greater than his own.
first published through triod.com, 2015.
This short story was written as a friend’s nudge to us both to write. Write a story with the work “pumpkin” in it. I have only had one short story published in a local literary magazine. It was called “Authority Files” and is posted on my blog at http://johnsmithiimxiii.blogspot.com/, this piece, “Yonder in The Pumpkin Patch” is probably second in line as to best of my half dozen short stories. There are another four that I am going to put on this blog as examples of how not to write short stories. They have never made it into publication except online at triod.com. I think I have the short story thing down now. My next ones I hope I can get published before I become dead.
Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886
Poem #260 from her catalog of works . . .
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Once upon a time I had a teacher in a poetry class named Ruth Slonim. She was fond of quoting Emily Dickinson and every once in a while snippets of these poems pop into my head. Some I have even burned into my brain years later. But this is an example of someone who effected my life in such a way that I didn’t even realize it fully at the time. The old song goes “you never know what you got until it is gone.” She died in 2005.
I later learned that during her life, she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Just to be nominated means she effected a lot more people than just me. She had, and still has relevance in this world. She is still effecting in her own quiet way.
The last time I remember meeting her was on a side-walk maybe 20 years after she taught me in class. She remembered me from that class, and said she had been hearing good things about my work. I mostly feel I have dwelled in hiding all my life, so when these little bumps come along, they make me reevaluate what I really am, what I think I have and have not done with my life. And things like “How dreary to be somebody . . . ” pop into my head.
The frog tune that was posted on this blog a little time back in reference to the Donald Trump horror, must come from this poem, and Ruth Slonim. “An admiring Bog” is a danger that Donald Trump never had a teacher burn into his brain as a warning. It is really a shame that the humanities of a well-rounded education never sank in for Mr. Trump. It is people like Ruth Slonim that I have to thank for adding this little angel on my shoulder, or is it a demon? Whatever it is, it is one of those lessons that never really gets over.
Photo: A bail of #1 Plastics at the Local Recycling Center
This is a critique of Graphic Library’s “Engineering an Awesome Recycling Center with Max Axiom, Super Scientist.”
Before they started paying me to pick up garbage, they paid me to catalog books. I have kept in touch with some people who still do. When they came across a copy of Graphic Library’s “Engineering an Awesome Recycling Center with Max Axiom Super Scientist” by Nikole Brooks Bethea, they knew that I would want to see it.
I have spent the last nineteen years or so helping to move garbage and recycling off a small university campus, and I do appreciate anybody trying to teach people that garbage is bad and recycling is good. As a child, I collected comics with the best of them, so I know the difference between a graphic novel and a comic book. Also, I believe both of them have a valued use as a crossover medium between literature and graphic arts. In fact, one of my early poems has a line about all my “heroes come from comic books.”
Like any form of storytelling, graphic novels and comic books do not subscribe totally to reality, but I spent many years learning to analyze literature for an English degree. It took me a bit to understand why I started laughing out loud when I reached page seven. It was Max Axiom’s definition of the problem in his outline of the engineering process that made me laugh.
The basic story line of the piece is that Max gets a message from the mayor, “Help! The city’s landfill is filling up quickly.” He zooms off to check out the landfill and see it in action. He explains to Will, the solid waste manager, how the engineering process works and what engineers do. “They create things that help people and change the world around them.” They use “what they know about science, math, and people to consider and compare many possible solutions.”
He comes to the conclusion that “Our problem is the landfill is running out of space.” For an engineer that might be the problem, but he is a little too reliant on the science and math. He has forgotten what he knows about people and there for fails to come up with the right problem to start his engineering process. The real problem is that there are too many people making too much garbage. It is possible that for the sake of the story, he decides to bury the core problem of people making too much garbage because he knows that it cannot be solved. But as the old programmer’s axiom goes, “garbage in, garbage out” (no pun intended).
Max starts with the wrong problem so this may be why he goes wrong in his information gathering process. He speaks with the mayor, solid waste and recycling managers, with a little nod to the engineers who do the building and inspections of the new recycling facility. But he does not talk to the people who operate all the equipment to make the solid waste/recycling process work. The people who drive the recycling trucks, the operators of the track and wheel loaders, the people who clean and sort recyclables even with a wonderful sorting machine. These are the people who have to clean and repair and maintain and operate it. The food and biological contamination in recycling is pretty bad, especially at central drop off points without monitoring.
Max does not talk to any of these people. They would tell him that it is not the landfill filling up too quickly. It is people making too much garbage that is the problem. And all this equipment that makes the process easier, possible even, takes its toll. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, being a solid waste/recycling collector in 2011 was the seventh most dangerous job in America for deaths per hundred thousand. It became number five in 2013. People die out there in the trash world, and the people who actually do the job will tell you it is a losing battle. The hole in the ground is going to get full and you are just going to have to get another one no matter how you slow the process with recycling.
There is a point in the story while the mayor, Max, and the solid waste manager are looking for options. She points out that “the city council doesn’t want to upset citizens.” In this instance she is nixing the building of an incinerator to burn the garbage. But I think the citizens will be upset with the millions of dollars spent on building and maintaining a recycling program as well as a solid waste program. They will certainly grumble about having to sort their garbage. I thing the original call for help should have been to ask Max how to finance a new recycling center. In the world of this story, funding is never discussed, and building an awesome recycling center costs nothing to make it happen. I believe that selling recycling product covers the cost is implied in super scientist world. However shipping out material these days eats most of the profit. The only way recycling centers survive is by government subsidies. The big sorting and recovery plants are where the profit may lie. That will be even more so with single stream or co-mingle recycling. Co-mingle may well cut out the middle person in the solid waste flow.
At the end of this graphic novel, there is so much recycling that they may have to build a larger recycling center. If this town is anything like the place I work, they will be waiting for a new building in fifteen years like we are.
There is a “more about” section in the back of this book also. It has a small blurb about a statistic from 2010 which says that Americans generated about 250 tons of trash and recycled about 85 tons of that making a thirty-four percent recovery rate. I do not know where this statistic came from, but the organization I work for generates 400 tons of trash a year and recovers about forty-eight percent of that. So I question how much trash America really generated for that year.
I do not want it to seem that I am totally disenchanted with “Engineering and Awesome Recycling Center”. I like it very much! It is a good starting place to learn that recycling is good and garbage is bad. There are a couple of panels that are just too real not to be appreciated. When Max is at the city landfill, in the back ground there are piles of trash with track-loads moving it. With a few little strokes of black ink above the piles, there are flocks of birds. That is just a beautiful touch that most people would not put in. It brings the dump alive. I wish that people could smell the methane coming out of the ground also.
Maybe this line of work all boils down to tilting at windmills, yet you have to remember, my heroes all come from comic books. I hope someday, some kid will pick up a copy of this book and say “Hey!” That is what I want to be when I grow up.” Until somebody addresses the central problem of too many people making too much garbage, somebody is going to need to operate those recycling trucks and front-end loaders.
First published through triod.com, 2015
This book review was written to keep me writing and publishing through an on-line clearing house of materials which was supposed to make me a couple of dollars. It didn’t. However, it did keep me going until I was distracted by the continuing horrors of the American election of 2016.
Photo: AL-foil bail at the Local Recycling Center.
The bastard breeds as well as the Son;
remember the Father never married.
Not two wrongs but a trillion . . .
Against the will of woman, we have
been raped and the children suffer.
So breed the blasphemies.
published in Wind Row, Spring, 1983.
Photo: Old Moscow, probably in Washington Territories (USA)
Dark night, cool and crisp,
softened dreams and settling mists.
Golden leaves fall so swift,
floating shadows with green well mixed.
Torrents of sounds from the drainage pipe,
thick rich earth after natures strike.
A scoured sky a joyful sight,
countless specks of twinkling light.
Endless green in the form of pine,
blackening shadows at this time.
Rising up from the cold damp leaves,
living the seasons as they please.
Growing warmth from within small homes,
people together, not alone.
Actually tearful is the night,
her soft light heart is far from sight.
published in Major Poets, Fall, 1974.
Let’s face it, I am not a major poet. So this is another “Vanity Press” publication. It was written as a literary conceit, I hadn’t been “in love” in over a year. I managed to get this published without knowing what it was being published in. I really don’t consider it a good poem. Cute maybe, but not great. Sitting on a shelf gathering dust and long forgotten. I actually stumbled upon it by accident.
“We the People” should stop working for these dicks. They would be helpless! Do you think that Donald Trump can cook? Do his laundry? Make the scotch tape for his tie? Clean his toilet? Mop his floor? Cut the grass? Paint the fence? Hell, build a wall? He sure as Hell does not know how to build and fire a tomahawk missile. And he is too cowardly to walk up the Khyber pass with a rifle. Most of the rich are very much the same.
These bastions of those that come and go, each person to
their own choice of direction, could appear as castles.
Buildings stand to their appointed corners, lattice works
of red brick and mortar, like a crown of thorns upon a brow
that hangs its head in weary pain and abuse.
Bartizans at each corner made of carefully fitted stone,
towers of the guard to watch over the voyager who rests within.
At some crossroads there have been planted trees, perhaps in
winter covered with snow and not easily seen. Their roots run
beneath the road and the traveler’s feet. The roots lie beneath
each branch of the junction giving them support, giving them life.
published in Our Twentieth Century’s Greatest Poems, April, 1982.
Just a quick comment of “Vanity Presses”. I imagine this does sort of count as a publication, it is in my portfolio towards the back. I do not think of it as a particularly good poem, but it is gathering dust on some library shelf someplace and will never see the light of day again. The company that published it, World of Poetry, out of Sacramento, CA expects to make money off of people buying this volume to give to friends and relatives, that sort of thing. I doubt that anybody else in the academic or literary community has ever seen it. This is not a publication that is going to get a writer any exposure.