I drink too much; I’m partly drunk now. Mary left me last week; she told me I needed to talk to somebody: a psychiatrist. I was doing fine up until a month ago when the nightmares started again. Started drinking again, and finally got drunk enough to tell her the story. She thinks I’m nuts. It only took her a week to leave me after I told her.
Go to a shrink? I’d rather kill myself with the booze. They wouldn’t believe me either. Things like that don’t happen, can’t happen. No white rooms for me. Computer rooms? They’re mostly all white. I’m even writing on a computer. I shouldn’t be writing this. It can get me this way. He’s dead, isn’t he? I should know, I killed him. But that damn machine is still out there.
I’m drunk enough. I can write this. Maybe it will help me forget it.
It started in college, working in the library. That’s on a computer most of the time inputing bibliographic records into a large nationwide system. All big libraries are computerized these days. They don’t even have card catalogs anymore. They’re linked into networks of holdings. You can punch in a title, and if one library doesn’t have it, another one does.
So I had a lot of library experience and decided to go to library school. That’s what they like to call an MLS in the library business, a Master of Library Science. That’s where they taught me about authority files. Authority files keep all those computer records straight. Uniform titles, authors, series: everything neat and tidy. Just check your authority file.
I was fresh out of graduate school, looking for my first job. But times were tight for librarians. Nobody was hiring in reference work, and I was tired of cataloging. So when I heard about a new bibliographic network starting in the Pacific Northwest, I applied. When I took the call for an interview, I was down and out. There were only a couple hundred left in the account. So I had to follow through. The rent had to be paid; I had to eat.
The network was based in Seattle. It always rains in Seattle, at least that’s what everybody says. The first time I saw Seattle it was sunny, warm, with blue skies. The interview went well, and I was offered the job. It was checking records against an authority file just like the records I input back in college. I was a natural. I took it.
You have to make sure those records are all the same or they get all messed up. Too many ways to spell a name, too many open entries. And you have to close those entries when they are finished. You have to close those entries.
Do you know what Seattle reminds me of now? Something washed up on a beach. Some huge pale sea-beast with tentacles reaching out into the dark forests and mists of the Sound. It’s something that doesn’t quite belong there. A modern technological wonder somehow linked to ancient forces that twist the finest ideas along dark paths. It’s evil. Like that white room where they put me to work, with a couple of computer terminals, me on one and him on another.
At first I didn’t think of him as strange. A spindly little clerical worker, yes, a bit of a nerd, yes, but just a guy. His name was Drew.
He was about forty I guess, thin greying hair, black plastic glasses, and fond of those button up sweaters you parents always made you wear when you were a kid. I guess he was always cold. Computers need to be cool. Drew was cold inside anyway. After we were introduced by our supervisor, he never said a word except to answer my questions about work.
It started to get on my nerves. I didn’t know anybody in the town. He was my closet contact to a human being in that little room with the computers. It started to seem like the whole world. So I started to talk to him, started to work my way through that cold exterior. We didn’t have anything in common except books. That’s where I stared. If I knew what I know now, I would have asked him to a Seahawks game and put him right off.
We talked American writers, English writers, French writers: good writers and bad writers. We didn’t really connect on who we liked, but literature was at lease a beginning. He liked Wordsworth, I liked Coleridge. When I brought up Poe, Drew brought up Hawthorne. Fitzgerald brought up Hemingway, Cather made him talk of Anderson. Baudelaire turned him to Voltaire. He was kind of stuffy in what he liked, nothing too far out of line with the world as he saw it.
I finally asked him out for a drink after work. To my surprise, he excepted. We ended up at a little dive near the U district. It was quiet that night, we could hear each other. Before we went in, he stuck a quarter into a paper-stand for the evening edition. He set it carefully folded between us on the bar, occasionally glancing at it as we talked over our first couple of drinks. Eventually there was a lull in the conversation.
Drew picked up the paper and turned straight to the obituaries without even glancing at the front page. Scanning the column of people who had died, his eyes stopped at a name. His lips curled up into a smile. Setting it in front of me, he tapped his finger on the notice.
“Good, I’m glad he’s dead. Never liked him anyway,” he said with definite glee, no remorse what so ever. His actions were those of man almost expecting what he had found. It was a stupid thought, but it did cross my mind. He must have heard it on the radio or something.
I looked at the name. I’d heard of it somewhere before. Reading quickly, it turned out that I probably had. He had been a minor writer over the last ten or twenty years. He had turned to politics for a time in the sixties, little protests and court cases over the war, women’s liberation: that kind of thing.
“Hell, I thought he was dead years ago,” I commented. “I guess I’ll have to close his entry in the database.”
“Humph,” he breathed out, “don’t even bother.”
It was just a statement of disgust, but thinking back there was something else there. We closed out our evening early and he went his way, I went mine.
When I arrived at work the next day, I sat down with my first cup of coffee in front of the machine. I glanced over at the empty station where my fellow drone should have been sitting. He was a little late today. No big deal, he usually stayed late. I started sorting through the set-works. Then I remembered the obituary from last night.
I keyed in the name. It came up readily enough with about half a dozen entries attached. He wasn’t prolific or anything. I was about to put his date of death in after the little dash following his birth date, but it was already there. Somebody had beaten me to it. I looked over at the empty terminal. He couldn’t have. And there was nobody else in the office that would have. Just a strange screw-up I guessed. Like me, somebody else had figured that he was dead years ago. But it was this years date?
Drew wandered in about an hour late. He looked a little worse for wear from the night before. The man wasn’t use to drinking. It was break time before he looked like he could be spoken to. I told him about the closing date.
“I told you not to bother,” was his answer. “I closed it yesterday morning.”
I still thought he had heard it on the radio or TV, on the way to work or something, and shrugged it off. I went back to correcting records, and sending them back if they were too messed up. AACR2 has to be stuck to, there are rules to find pigeon holes.
After lunch, Drew was looking a lot better. We started to talk about one of my favorite writers from the sixties. He had recently been rediscovered by a whole new generation. He was on the supermarket shelves. That must have annoyed him no end, being in a supermarket was counter to all he wrote about.
Of course my co-worker hated him with a passion. Our discussion grew a little hot. With a final jibe about what a crummy writer the man was, and how stupid the people were who actually read him, the man called me around to his side of the work station. He pointed to the screen of his terminal.
Drew had called up the authority file record on the CRT. There was my author’s name all neatly outlined in little green electrons on the screen. He had placed his cursor next to the dash by his birth date. The man typed in the current year as his death, making him dead according to the computer. A totally contented look filled his face. I frowned my displeasure.
“Ha, ha, ha,” I let fall in a totally bored way. He was pissing me off the little jerk. I went back to work, and we didn’t say anything to each other for the rest of the day. I didn’t plan to say much to him for the rest of my life. I’d just about decided he was too much of a geek, and I’d rather be bored and lonely. I went home at five, ate some food, had some beer over the tube, and fell asleep to late night static.
After a shower in the morning, I pulled in the paper from the concrete and wrought iron “veranda” outside my front door. That’s what I liked to call the walk-up to my one bedroom apartment. The paper boy was getting to be a better shot by then. I was pouring my coffee when the article on the front page made me spill it.
It was the freakiest thing that had ever happened to me. That writer was dead as hell, some kind of car accident.
“Weird coincidence,” I thought out loud.
That was the sort of thing I would gladly have drunk away the night talking to my friends about back in college. But I didn’t have any friends here, just work, and Drew. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of mentioning it. I didn’t have to.
“I’m glad he’s dead too,” was what he hit me with first thing in the morning. He had the same smile he had back in the bar that night.
“I’m not,” I answered as indifferently as I could. I was not happy about how happy he was. “It was strange the way it happened though.”
“Bullshit.” Drew said firmly. “I killed the fucker.”
‘He’s crazy as well as a loon,’ I said to myself. He must have known what I was thinking.
“I can prove it. Who do you want me to kill. As long as they’re in the machine, I can kill them. All I have to do is close the entry.”
“Sure . . .” I hesitated. I decided to humor him. “Kill the president you jerk.”
“No, I like him. I only kill the people I want to.”
I didn’t say anything else to him. I worked on the machine for the rest of the day, took long breaks, and generally avoided him until I could get out of there. He was totally nuts. The squirrel had finally cracked up in his chosen profession. I decided then and there, I wanted a nice quiet library to work in. I wasn’t going to wind up like this freak. I made it home with out talking to him. There was a bottle around and beer in the fridge. I forgot about the day fast.
That night the dream started. I woke up sweating in Seattle and it wasn’t the humidity. It took place at work. Drew was sitting across the way from me doing his job. I was closing entries on my terminal. I glanced down at what I was doing. When I looked up again, he was the skulled face of Death. I go back to work, try and ignore him. When I look up again his eyes are staring into me. There are no eyes, just empty sockets, but I know that they are looking at me. It scares me. I decide not to look up again. I close more entries. Then I look down at my own hands; they are bones. They rattle on the keys. I have become Death. I woke up and had to check if my hands still had flesh on them. I had to go into the bathroom and look in the mirror to see if I still had a face.
It was just a dream, I knew that. But I didn’t get back to sleep until it was nearly light outside. I woke up tired, made coffee. Drank it while I took a shower, and pulled on some cloths. When I pulled in the paper from outside, I didn’t even look at it, just let it sit on the kitchen table. I wasn’t afraid or anything, just didn’t have the time.
When I arrived at work, Drew was already at his terminal. He didn’t say anything, and I wasn’t about to. The days passed like this. If it wasn’t work related, we didn’t talk. And during those days, I never opened the newspaper. I began to think I was afraid to look. I was running down fast. Drinking helped, but I always woke up with a hangover. When I didn’t drink, I woke up terrified. It was starting to show in my work. I was making mistakes. This couldn’t go on.
One morning I decide that what I was feeling was all bullshit. I walked deliberately to the front door of my apartment and ripped open the paper and started reading it. On the second page, the coffee cup froze half way to my lips. Another writer was dead. This time a poet from the beat generation of the fifties. I didn’t want to go to work that day. I called in sick. But that only worked for one day. I had to face the evil little man tomorrow. He had become the “evil little man” in my mind. I was really cracking up.
It was just a coincidence. I kept telling myself this. I would go to work the next day and everything would be fine. He would just be a clerical worker. When I went to sleep, the dream came again. My hands became white, bony claws on the keys. I think I woke up screaming, but the apartment was quiet. There was no one there to tell me otherwise.
I drove to work the next day telling myself that I was just going to ignore him.
‘He isn’t going to get to me with his crazy power trip. It is a figment of his twisted mind. If it gets any worse, I will tell my supervisor that the guy has obviously snapped and let him take care of it.’ That is what my rational mind was saying. The tired side of me, the dream side of me, was shouting that I should keep driving, turn south, find some beach with sun.
It had been raining for what seems like two months solid. When I pulled into the company parking lot, I sat for a minute listening to the wipers clear my vision. Then the mist would cloud it over again. I turned off the engine and climbed out into the damp, grey mist and black asphalt. The worms were all on the surface so they wouldn’t drown. I had to avoid them as I walked in the side entrance of the office.
He looked up when I sat down at my terminal. Drew had been waiting for me.
“You were sick yesterday,” he said with the same smile from the bar. “Did you see the paper?”
“No,” I said curtly trying to hide the fact that I had by staring into my screen. He knew that I was lying.
“I killed him too,” he pointed out with a giggle. Then he stood up and headed off to the break room with an empty coffee cup in hand.
“Drop dead asshole,” I yelled after him. He glanced over his shoulder and giggled again as he went for his coffee.
I dropped my hands from the keyboard and stared into my screen. My mind had gone, too little sleep, no one to talk to, I don’t know. The image of my hands turning to fleshless bone filled my head. I began to type. I dropped out of set-work screens into the main authority file. I made up a record for a new author, filled in his birth date. I glanced up at the break room door.
“Drop dead asshole,” I whispered. Then I filled in the death date and hit the enter key. There was a moment of quiet, a slight hush of soundless automation stopping. And then the sound of a coffee cup falling on the concrete floor in the break room: a cry of a concerned staff member. I didn’t bother to look.
Putting on my coat from the back of the chair, I stared down at the screen. I glanced at the flesh covering my hands, and then kicked out the terminal screen with a soft, electrical implosion. I left by the side door and never went back.
I was doing ok, until the dreams started again.
published in Fugue: The Univ. of Idaho Literary Digest, Spring/Summer, 1992, #5
first internet publishing BlogSpot.com, 1/4/2015.
Today I looked up at the November moon as I was driving my route, picking up the garbage. It was just a day before the last quarter, between the lead of storm clouds, hanging in the sky during a sun-burst. It was the first time I ever looked up and felt that drop in the stomach, as if I was looking out at the erosion of the Badlands, or the cut through the basalt of Hells Canyon. It felt like I finally understood that I was standing on a rotating ball, locked in a duel orbit, and the craters and dust was only a quarter of a million miles away, moving with me. If I just stretched my arm far enough, I could touch it.
I remember the time sitting waiting for my mother; I was on the passage side of the front seat, light streaming in from the warm sun. I must have been five-ish, certainly under ten. It dawned on me exactly why I could not see the stars in the day time. The sun is too bright; it overwhelms them. It does not seem so important now, but at five-ish, certainly under ten, I felt a profound wonder.
Today, as I picked up the garbage, I felt that again. There is something to be said for being this old, being this broken but plodding on. Every day, the wonder comes back.
There is an article in the October Smithsonian entitled “What ever happened to the Russian Revolution?” by Ian Frazier. It is a question that I have only starting asking myself over the last two years. It has become an even more serious question over the last eight months as I wonder what ever happened to the American Revolution.
When I began learning Russian, it was still the CCCR and I could get away with calling the entity “the Soviets”. I can still speak Russian if I regress to the age of a two year old. Since the Reagan years, I have had to go through the process of calling Russia the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) to just Russia, and now the Russian Federation. Like Clapper, I still have that “Freudian slip” of calling it the Soviets.
But it is an easy answer to what happened to the Russian Revolution, greed and capitalism won. Basic Darwinian Theory of the strong surviving and weak not being able to adapt. The weak in the parlance of Donald Trump would be “losers”. I suppose that would be everybody but himself and Putin in Trump’s sack of squirming rodent brain. Now we have a group of wealthy powerful men in the Russian Federation pretending to be concerned about the people’s welfare. The Russian people have an advantage over us in that they know that the government lies. They understand a hard reality, perhaps this is why your average Russian knows more poetry than your average American.
What happened to the American Revolution is a bit different, but maybe not a lot. The two hundred and forty plus years of America culture has always been capitalistic. Greed has always been the governing factor, earning what is yours. But when did we lose sight of the “Horacio Alger” story? The poor, honest working boy who makes good. From the early days of expansionism to the rise of the monopolies it was demonstrated that each person could claw their way up the ladder, so long as they were white, and male. Grudgingly the American Culture has tried to sell this lie to incorporate women and every immigrant since. So long as they know their place, they can have a little taste.
So why after the 2016 election do I feel that the American Revolution failed? It is the same group of rich and powerful families in American that has been selling the lie of “you too can get ahead if you work hard. If that fails, you could always win the lottery. You are so much better off than the rest of the world, just drink you beer and watch the tube. But do not drink too much beer (or whatever drug you choose) or watch too much TV as you have to go to work. America needs you in the service industry. It needs you in the factories and the industries that we own so we can keep raking in most of profit.”
I think it is because it was two groups of rich and powerful men who made this happen. It was the Russian Oligarchs and our 1% who made this happen. And they paid part of the voting block to help make it so. That part of the voting block sold their fellow Americans down the river for a few grand and a song in their heart. And that song that was in their hearts was the same one Trump and Putin sing all day long, “They are all losers . . .”
Half the voting population also bought the line that you cannot trust the government, but you can trust your buddy Bob. How old do some people have to get before you learn that you cannot trust anybody, including yourself most of the time. We are all capable of shooting ourselves in the foot if we are not careful. I watched a YouTube video recently called “Stupid People with Guns”. I rolled on the floor laughing, but I have a twisted sense of humor. Misery loves company. I am much happier not paying attention to this stuff. I would rather be drinking my beer and watching Godzilla stomping on a large city. But I have a grand-daughter who does not need to grow up with this kind of crap.
With each weekly news cycle, I start the week with hope, and by Saturday I see that the world plods on in the same corruption. I have lost faith in the American and Russian Revolutions. All I have left is the hope that the French will get it right. Perhaps we missed a bet with the invention of the Guillotine? I hope not.
Today I saw a Golden Eagle harried into a copse of Scotch Pines by a pack of juvenile ravens. They were not happy by its presence. Eagles are not so tough. I took it as an omen. Tomorrow the world is going to end according to certain voices in the evangelical circuit. It is also the first days of autumn, we are entering the long dark night of the soul in winter. Another circuit of the evangelical voice is calling Donald Trump the anointed of God. Hopefully they short each other out and we can get back to sanity.
I was dusting and straightening out my research library when a copy of “Gonzo Papers Vol. 2 Generation of Swine, Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ‘80s” by Hunter S. Thompson caught my eye. It had been a bit since I had last read it. He was writing a column for the San Francisco Examiner in 1985-86. One of the columns made me shake the book like I was looking up the word pooka in the play “Harvey”.
This week we had the quake in Mexico City on the tail end of a couple of hurricanes barreling into the Caribbean: Sept. 19th, 2017. It was the anniversary of the Sept. 19th, 1985 quake in Mexico City after a couple of hurricanes barreled into the Caribbean. It was the Reagan years, and the beginning of the Iran-Contra scandal that proved caustic for another Republican president. Ronald Reagan was a good actor, he could read a script and get his lines right. But he had the foresight of most actors, he had to wait for somebody to write the next script or he was out to sea.
I submit that we are seeing what happens when that generation of swine gets into the radioactive waste dump of Hanford and starts to mutate. Huge ravenous, mutant, glow in the dark pigs that have over run the world, and once again the gods are not happy.
Trump is fond of eagles, so were the Roman legions. He likes to work them into his tasteless décor to overcompensate for his upbringing. When they finally drag him off to the institution, raving like a psycho, he will be diagnosed, we may find out all the horrors locked up in that twisted brain.
In 1985, Trump was just starting out, a young pig rooting around in those spent fuel rods. Reagan had helped tear down the wall which lead to the rise of the Russian oligarchs who have bribed and extorted their way into the GOP and probably the rest of the 1 percent in one way or another. The Web did not exist in 1985. We had to watch it all through the tube, or read the paper. There was no fake news back then, just news and lies. You could tell who was lying because their lips were moving. The rich were counted in millions instead of billions and there was some faint hope that you could carve your own plot of ground in some cemetery after you put in your time working for the head pigs because they owed you.
This glow in the dark hog is different. They do not owe you a thing. Not only have they taught you to sit still at your desk in school, but they have taught you that nine to five is what you owe them. And the current pigs in DC with their super irradiated brains know that they are the elite, and you should just do your job as the lines in the film “Metropolis” or work on the assembly line until you snap as in “Modern Times”. But those lines have moved overseas and they are not coming back. The rich sold out the worker in the Russian Federation a long time ago, and the worker in Asia took up the slack. The American worker sold their soul for bread and circus, beer and football, wine and cheese. The ones that snap are on the street with a brown bag and a bottle of mad-dog or in an opium dream someplace. Broken parts that the rich have just cast aside because they are not going to pay for the rehab. Plenty of indentured servants in the world, plenty of people they have taught to believe the lies.
Reagan never got his, and Bush never got his . . . Trump and his ilk? I am putting my hope in the juvenile ravens. Maybe they can harry these swine into the harsh steel cage of justice to spend the rest of their days paying for what they have done.
To the world at large: The Resistance to a Russian Federation attack on the US election of 2016 continues. I just posted this e-mail to all of the representatives of my state. This is just one more grain of sand in the ever growing push to change our angle of repose.
I just want to be sure that my representatives for Idaho know that I consider anyone who votes for the repeal and replacement of the ACA to be in criminal collusion with an attack by the Russian Federation on our country. Those who are not actively responding to this attack and are attempting to push a divisive agenda should be brought up on criminal charges. This is not government as usual.
In the spirit of demonstrating that people will always fight against tyranny: Outside of Kabul in the late 1970s, the dog fights. The Afghan people will only change when they want to change, and they will fight to do so.
Upon a time when you were caught in the Khyber Pass past sundown, the oddest things could happen to you. It paid to have friends who had friends who would take you into their walled compounds before the other Pathans knew you were there.
I may never know if that is my mother under that burka, or perhaps just the lady of the house. But I will tell you one thing about any group of people who want an exit strategy from a foolish invasion of Afghanistan, unless they have a way of placing the destiny of that country back into the hands of the people who lived in compounds like this, it will never be stable again. I believe we were all tied up with USAID at that time, before the Soviet invasion.
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.