The Wall

The Wall

by James L. Secor & Minna vander Pfaltz

Buck limped across the street, calling out, “Hellecchino! Hellecchino!”

It was a bright sunny day, as per usual in Chokepointe Piste, or anywhere in the Brazos River Basin, where the rain rarely came tumbling down to cleanse the air and the land. Acid rain here was disallowed. It had been comfortably moved northward to Dallas and Houston and southward to San Antonio and Mexico. This very point allowed the PR firm of Yabu & Son–there was no son but it sounded good and made for an increase in business, for it dripped respectability–to sell tourists on the “sun all year round”-ness of the country and the temperate climate conducive to tan and wind and open range freedom. The pitch hadn’t caught on yet but what’s time when profits are involved?

So. . .Buck was perspiring by the time he reached the boardwalk on the other side of the street from The Lone Star Inn & Bordello and began stumping–rump-TUMP, rump-TUMP–along the loose boards until he turned into The Hotel, where he raised his breathless voice again, “Hellecchino! Hellecchino!”

The desk clerk dumbly watched him. Anything was a welcome break from routine. Buck peeked into the lounge. No Hellecchino. Buck peeked into the restaurant. No Hellecchino. Buck peeked into the bar-salon. No Hellecchino. Each time, he called out, “Hellecchino! Hellecchino!”

Buck ran–ker-PLUNK, ker-PLUNK–up the stairs and knocked injudiciously on the door to Hellecchino’s room. No answer.

Buck descended the stairs and stood before the front desk catching his breath. Finally, he said, “Where’s Hellecchino?”

And the desk clerk answered, in all truthfulness, “He ain’t here.”

Buck nodded and stumped out of the hotel. He looked both ways before he stepped out onto the boardwalk. It was difficult to decide which way to go, right or left. So, he turned right and continued plunking down the boardwalk toward Fancy Dan’s where he knew Hellecchino liked to indulge in lip-smackin’, finger-lickin’, chin-dribblin’ bovine costae with generous dabs of Arthur Bryant’s Masterpiece Barbeque sauce shipped direct from wild and wooly Kansas City via Yabu Transport and thus an extravagant item. Import duties made sure that any competition to the famous Yabu Cactus Barbeque Sauce remained beyond the capabilities of the common man while the ribs themselves were cheap at half the price.

And sure enough, that’s where Buck found Hellecchino, face covered in a clown-like smile of reddish-brown sauce dripping from his chinny-chin-chin down onto a checkered bib, supplied by Fancy Dan’s as part of the dinner packet. After all, rib juice and barbeque sauce stained, and stains would limit Fancy Dan’s business drastically. But, he covered his ass, Daniel Bunesci did, by also owning and operating the Italian Ristorante a la Mexicali and the Chinese laundry that conveniently did a big business removing spaghetti sauce evidence. Wives and mothers were eternally grateful. So was Daniel Bunesci.

“Hellecchino! Hellecchino!” yelled Buck, clunking up to Hellecchino’s table and plopping himself down in the chair opposite his mentor and hero.

“What’s up, Bucko?” inquired Hellecchino, smacking his lips and showering Buck with little pinpoint splatters of sauce. “Better get a napkin,” suggested Hellecchino. “Oh, boy! Another napkin, please.” He snapped his fingers, sending a shower of sauce and juice into the air.

The napkin was brought. Buck wiped his face.

“So. What’s up, Buck?”

Buck wiped his face again. “Yabu’s back in town.”

“His town. No news there.”

“No. We got trouble.”

“We’s alahs gots trouble, Bucko. It’s de name o’ de game. It’s what brings me to dis part of the world.”

Buck wiped his face. “But he’s just back from seeing his guru.”

“You mean Master Hiram Evananda?”

“You know about him?”

“Shore do, Bucko. Ain’t nothin’ I don’t know ’bout. I’m a hero, y’know.”

“An’ yore magic,” chortled Buck, wiping his face yet again.

“Oh, boy!” and Hellecchino snapped his thickly wet fingers again, again spraying reddish sauce hither and yon. “I’m finished. Bring me the handiwipes and take this stuff away.” When the boy had done his bidding, Hellecchino said, “Put it on my bill. Now. . . what is it that couldn’t wait until I finished my noonday repast?”

“Well, Yabu’s returned from Big Chief Buttons Compound out on Merengue Montaña. An’ he’s shoutin’ and carryin’ on about bein’ enlightened.”

“What so new about that? So damned many people return from Peyote Pete’s Big Rock Candy Mountain claiming the same thing.”

“Ain’t none o’ them Gyorgy Yabu.”

“Well, now. There you have a point. What’s he on about this time?”

“It’s reported–”

“Who’s reporting this?”

“McTortle. He keeps a keen eye on these kinds of things.”

“Hmm. . .always some kind of shell game, eh?”

“That’s exactly right. How’dja know?”

“I’m a hero. I keep tellin’ ya, Buck. Don’tcha ever listen?”

“Huh?”

“What did McTortle have to say?”

“Yabu’s enlightenment is about separatin’ good from bad.”

“Wowzer! He’s got a way to tell the difference?”

“Seems so. He’s gonna build a wall to keep the bad out.”

“Oh, my. . .that’ll cost a bit.”

“Not so, Hellecchino. Master Hiram Evananda has ties to the asphalt and concrete business down the road at Ocee and he owns the grease and oil business out on Country Road 317 on the way to Old McGregor’s Farm.”

“I see. . .”

“So, we got a problem, Hellecchino. Let’s get to work and save mankind.”

“I think you’re being a bit hasty, Buck. What if mankind don’t wanna be saved?”

“Yore shittin’ me!”

“No. I’m not. We gotta wait til people start complainin’ and seein’ the error of Yabu’s ways. Y’know, if’n it ain’t in yore backyard, it ain’t worth doin’ nothin’ about. It’s the rules o’ the game.”

“Ain’t Chokepointe Piste yore backyard?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes. But people tend to shrink the term ‘backyard’ to personal, private dimensions. Let me tell you a little story–”

“We got time for stories?”

“There’s always time for a story, Buck. It’s in stories that knowledge is passed along, as Wredgranny says.”

“Who’s Wredgranny?”

“An old Indian woman. An elder. A storyteller.”

“She fat?”

“Buck, I’m surprised at you!”

“Why? Ain’t all Indian old women fat?”

“You ever seen an old Indian woman?”

“Hell no. They ain’t allowed in Chokepointe Piste.”

“So, what do you base your opinion on?”

“The pitchers in hist’ry books.”

“Well. . .let me tell you, Buck. Those books are written by white men who don’t like Indians and so the pictures are what they want you to believe is the truth.”

“Go-awlly!”

“Right down the road there is the Educational Research Analysts, led by Mel Gabler, Hedda’s distant relative. Deborah L. Brezina rents the building out of which Gabler and the Educational Analysts regurgitate history. Y’see, Buck. All you know of fat old Indian women is what this organization tells you. They stereotype the Indians. Fat old women are not welcome in this part of the country, no?”

“Well, I’ll be hornswaggled!”

“That’s right, Buck. You’re the victim of political propaganda.”

“Old Indian women aren’t fat?’

“No. Not necessarily. The only thing that all old Indian women are is wrinkled.”

“Well, hell! That comes with age.”

“Indians are people.”

“Well, sure. But. . .ain’t they all got big noses?”

“You mean like Italians and Polish?”

“Sure. Like that.”

“Stereotype.”

“Ain’t stereotype something that comes outa two sides?”

“Buck. . .let me tell you a story.” Hellecchino pushed his chair back and crossed his hands over his flat belly. “To stereotype is to fix in lasting form.”

“Kinda like sculpture?”

“In a manner of speaking, stereotypes are writ in stone. Howsomever. . .a stereotype is also something constantly repeated without change–”

“Like a prayer!”

“Will you just let me get to the bottom of this?” Buck subsided, hung his head. “Alright. As I was saying. . .stereotypes come in phrases and X and factoids. . .”

“Factoid?”

“A factoid, etymologically, is ‘something like a fact.’ ”

“So a stereotype is something like a fact but it ain’t.”

“Exactly.” Hellecchino leaned back, looked up at the ceiling and began his story. “The blowback on stereotypes is that some people begin to believe ’em. That is, if you’re told something enough times, you begin to believe it. Like a fox. Foxes been told they’re cunning tricksters for centuries and they believe it now. But the trap is. . .it ain’t necessarily true. Now, somehow or other, Fox got his fellow woodsy denizens to work for him harvesting his fields. Fox, of course, was wily enough to get out of most of the hard work. But, along about mid-morning, Rabbit got a thistle stuck in his paw. He started hoppin’ and jumpin’ around and shoutin’ enough to wake the dead. You know how over-excited rabbits get. Anyway. . .Fox came trottin’ down the row Rabbit was workin’ and saw the thistle. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘go on over t’ the well and put some cool, clear water on it. But don’t be gone too long, y’hear?’ Rabbit didn’t say nothin’, just hip-hopped outa the patch and through the woods to the well. Well, when he got there, he found that the water was way down in there. He dropped a pebble into the well an’ it took some time to find bottom, as it were. There were a couple buckets sittin’ on the edge o’ the well, so Rabbit figured he’d just ride one down to the water, dip his paw in the water, take a little drink, it bein’ a hot day an’ all, and then ride right back up. So, he jumped in a bucket and fell downward, landin’ kerplop in the water. It was pretty cool down there but Rabbit knew he’d better get back to the vegetable patch before Fox came a-lookin’ for him. But when we pulled on the rope, the bucket up top lodged against the pulley and. . .Rabbit was stuck down the well. ‘Holy cow paddies,’ he said to himself. ‘I’m in for it now.’ There wasn’t anything he could do but wait for Fox to come stormin’ after him. An’, sure enough, Fox appeared at the top of the well. He knew all along that Rabbit was jus’ tryin’ to git outa work. ‘Hey! What you doin’ down there?” Fox shouted. ‘I’m fishin’,’ answered Rabbit. ‘Some fine fishin’ down here.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Really. Come on down ‘fore they’s all gone. Easy pickin’s,’ Rabbit encouraged Fox. How stupid of Rabbit, thought Fox, ‘to let me go down there an’ git all the fish while he’s up here starvin’. Okay,’ he said. ‘Just jump in that there bucket,’ suggested Rabbit. Fox did and he flew to the bottom, passin’ Rabbit on the way up. Rabbit waved at Fox, smilin’ kinda big, like a Cheshire cat. ‘I’ll come back later, when the farmin’s done,’ shouted Rabbit and hopped merrily along. Well, o’ course Rabbit didn’t come back an’ there was wily ol’ Fox stuck in the bottom of the well. Didn’t take him long to figure out who outfoxed who, let me tell you.”

Hellecchino paused.

“That all?” asked Buck, sitting up in his chair.

“Yep. Old wily Fox got himself stuck thinking he was outfoxing Rabbit.”

“Did he ever git outa that well?”

“Sure did. A thirsty hunter came by and hauled up a bucket full of water–only he got a bucket full of Fox. Well, Fox lit on outa there before he got a behind fulla buckshot.”

“Didn’t git no fish neither.”

“You ever heard of fish in a well?”

“No.”

“Pretty dumb Fox, eh?”

“An’ foxes are s’posed t’be so cunnin’.”

“Yep. Fox believed all that hype about foxes being cunning and got himself trapped.”

“So that’s how a stereotype works! An’ I was right to begin with–a stereotype is somethin’ that’s got two sides. There was two buckets there at that well. Boy! Yore ingenious, Hellecchino!”

They sat quietly at the table for some time, each thinking his own thoughts. Finally, Hellecchino got up.

“Okay. I’m digested. Let’s go out into the sunshine and see what Yabu’s up to.”

“There you are!” shouted McTortle from down the street. “I been looking for you.”

Along with McTortle was a young woman, tall and willowy with long, flowing black hair, black eyes and thin but ruddy lips. She was dressed in calico. Her hips jerked right and left as she hurried after McTortle.

“Lookie there! There’s my sister.”

“You got a sister?”

“Shore. Ain’t only Mexicans got sisters, y’know.”

“She always chase after McTortle like that?”

“Nah. McTortle’s married. Harriet’s her name.”

“Might pretty lady, your sister.”

“Yep. I s’pose so. Y’want I should interduce ya?”

“Don’t think you’ll have much choice.”

The sprinting couple came to a panting halt but a few inches from Hellecchino and Buck. They leaned over, hands on knees, trying to catch their breaths. Both spit into the dry, dry road dust. Both held up their hands, as if to speak. . .and then subsided into heavy breathing once more. Finally, McTortle straightened up. “Yabu’s done done it this time,” he said. “Don’t know how much longer I can put up with this.”

“How much longer have you put up with it so far?” asked Hellecchino.

“Oh, hell. I don’t know. Perhaps 10-12 years.”

“Where would you go if you actually ever decided to got?” Hellecchino seemed genuinely interested in McTortle’s dilemma, leaning in and peering at McTortle’s reddened face.

“Don’t rightly know. Haven’t given it much thought. My home is here. I’m kinda settled in. . .if y’know what I mean.”

“How are you, Miss Harriet? I’m Hellecchino, local hero,” smiled Hellecchino as he smiled down on the diminutive lady and held out his hand.

Harriet gripped his hand rather more forcefully than he expected and said, “You don’t look much like a hero.”

“Appearances are deceiving.”

“I’ll say.”

“Harriet!”

“Buck. . .what the hell you know? You’re drunk half the time.”

“No, I ain’t. More like two thirds’ the time.”

“And you’re braggin’?”

“Cain’t brag ’bout my leg, yknow.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t wanna talk bout it, alright? How many times I gotta tell ya, huh?”

“How come you chose Buck to be your sidekick, Mr. Hellecchino?” Harriet asked sardonically.

“He asked.” A bald-faced truth.

“Well. . .I guess that explains it.”

“Explains what?”

“Huh?”

“Have I got a piece of land for you!”

“I thought you was a hero.”

“I am.”

“So, what you goin’ about sellin’ land for?”

“Seemed like a good thing to do with Yabu’s wall going up.”

“You know about that?” startled McTortle chortled.

“Yep.”

“How could you? We haven’t told you yet.” Harriet creased her brow, one line between her eyebrows, and tilted her head off to the right.

“Harriet. . .I’m a hero.”

“I’ll be damned!”

“I doubt it. You’re too pretty. Care to take a walk?”

“Where to?”

“Does it matter?”

“I suppose not, all things considering. . .”

“You’ll take care of McTortle, right Buck?”

“Shore thang.”

“What about Yabu’s wall?!”

“What about it?”

“He’s gonna build it through town keepin’ out all the bad tings. The things he don’t like.”

“Just things?”

“No. People too, more’n likely.”

“I ‘spect so. But, tell me. . .is it built yet?”

“No.”

“Well, then. No worries.”

“But we gotta keep it from bein’ built, damn it! It ain’t right.”

“Why ain’t it right, McTortle? He was given the task by his guru, Dr. Hiram Evananda, Master of the race. Surely, Yabu believes in whatever he’s told.”

“But it ain’t right, shuttin’ good people out.”

“No, I s’pose you’re right. But Yabu doesn’t consider them good people and that’s what’s important.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, people don’t have to buy into it. If he thinks it’s important, let him build it. He’ll stop sure enough if nobody else thinks it’s important. I think what y’all oughta do it take up a collection to help him finance the building of his wall. He’s precious protective of his own money, y’know. Getting someone else’s to do the job would be mighty pleasing, don’t you think?”

“Ain’t that self-defeatin’?”

“Nope. If you donate to the building of the wall, you get to know where the wall’s going before it’s gone there and so you can organize yourselves. After all, sooner or later he’s going to need supplies, right?”

“Yeah. I ‘spec’ so.”

“Well. . .here’s a stack of money,” and Hellecchino dipped into his back pocket. “I want you to go on over to the real estate office and buy up a strip of land just outside of town. . .like right where the Chisholm Trail bends round to come into town. You buy up the land so it crosses that road. A half mile on either side and 100 yards wide. When you got title, come and find me.”

“Whatcha gonna do with a piddlin’ piece o’ land like that? Can’t hardly build a house on it.”

“Why you gotta keep throwin’ up blockades to success, Buck? We don’t have no need of a devil’s advocate here,” scolded Harriet, putting her hands on her shapely hips.

“I’m only tryin’–”

“You stop tryin’. You’re tryin’ to second guess a hero here. You can’t know what he’s thinkin’.”

“Yeah, but I wanna. Any harm in that?”

“I’ll tell, ya, Buck,” said Hellecchino, putting his hand on Harriet’s left hip hand, “if I tell ya what it is I’m up to, you’ll know too much. If you don’t know why I want a stupid strip of land for, so much the better. But it’s your land, Buck. And you’re already known for being kinda mindless, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, the agent will just put it down to another stupid Buck move and think nothin’ of selling you a useless bit o’ land ’cause his goal is to make money.”

“Y’mean. . .what I don’t know won’t hurt me?”

“In this case, yes. Though it might be more to the point to say what you don’t know won’t hurt me and alot of other folk.”

“Damn! I never knew ignorance could be so useful!”

“Y’don’t know everything, Buck.”

“Goddamn it, Harriet! Why th’ hell you always comin’ down on me?!”

“Come on, Miss Harriet, let’s go for our walk. I’d like to see the cemetery.”

“Which one?”

“There’s more than one?”

“Sure. One for us and one for Yabu’s men and one for the Yabu family.”

“Whatchu wanna go to the cemetery for on yore first date, Hellecchino?”

“‘Cause it’s quiet.”

And with that, Hellecchino steered Harriet down the street and around the corner, despite her quiet insistence that they needed to go the other way. Hellecchino told her, soto voce too, that there was more than one road to take to get somewhere and there was no more arguing. Buck when on to the real estate office, another DIY operation, while McTortle was left in the middle of the street spluttering and turning in circles over nothing getting done to solve the problem of the wall. Finally, he scratched his head and went on home, thinking that some heroes are really weird. . . and perhaps not worth their weight in salt.

Hellecchino, meanwhile, was banking on history. And psychology. How many walls have been built down through history to keep certain kinds of people out? Hadrian’s Wall. Didn’t keep the Picts out. The Great Wall of China. Didn’t keep the Xiangnu and other northern barbarians out. Flodden Wall. Didn’t keep the Brits out. Jericho’s walls. They came tumbling down. The Berlin Wall. This one came tumbling down, too. The Israeli Roadmap to Peace Wall. It was difficult to tell whether this was keeping its own in or out. Prison Wall. Nope. No good. Prisoners still got in. The Southern Border Wall, really a huge electrified barbed wire concentration camp type affair keeping Texans in and Texans out. It weren’t no good neither. So, what was one more wall? Certainly couldn’t be no worse than Frost’s Fence!

Well, Hellecchino had a plan. As all heroes do. It had to do with logistics.

Here are some questions to consider:

1) How’s Yabu going to get his wall built?

2) What’s Hellecchino going to do with Buck’s piece of land?

3) What if Yabu makes a mistake?

4) Does it really matter?

Well. . .a few days later, Buck found Hellecchino and Harriet sitting under a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g. And he was waving a piece of paper.

“Hellecchino? Hellecchino?”

“What is it, Buck? Can’t you see I’m busy cementing social relationships?”

“But I got the land. Here’s the title.”

“Good boy. Now go build on it.”

“Build what?”

“A block house. Cinder blocks. A door and two windows.”

“One on either side of the door?”

“Yes. So it looks like a mouth and two eyes.”

“And then what?”

“Move in.”

“But I got a house.”

“This is more than a house, Buck. This is a business. When you’re done with the house, you build a little three foot high pedestal alongside of the road, one on either side of the road, and you get a pole made that’ll fit into the slots you made in the tops of the pedestals. But you don’t use it yet. You keep it behind your house, where the ladder to the top of the house is.”

“What I need a ladder to the top of my house for?”

“Because up there you’re going to build a little garden with a little table and a couple three chairs. Maybe even an umbrella or something.”

“You want me to do all this?”

“Yep. I ‘spect there’ll be lotsa people wanna help a crip do himself up good.”

“I guess so. But. . .I don’t like pretendin’ and whinin’ an’ such.”

“The hell you don’t! Just gowan out’n do what you’re told for once in your life!”

“Now, Harriet, don’t be so hard on the guy,” soothed Hellecchino. “Look,” he turned to Buck, “you want to build this yourself?”

“No.”

“Well, then. . .play on your disability to get all those people who don’t really care about you to help you.”

“You think they will?”

“Anything to get you outa their hair. Besides. They’ll consider it fulfilling a debt to society.”

“Right!”

Buck hobbled off into town.

“What have you got up your sleeve, Hellecchino?”

“Buck owns that strip of land and the road running through it. He’s going to have to control traffic if he’s going to live a quiet life. So. . .once Yabu starts building his wall, Buck sets up a traffic gate and charges toll to get past.”

“So not only does he create a problem for Yabu, he makes a livin’ on his own.” Harriet smiled broadly and then kissed her hero. “My! You’re amazing, Hellecchino. Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Because you were looking at the wall as a problem for you when, in fact, it’s a problem for Yabu. When people are the centre of attraction, they tend not to be paying attention to the periphery of life.”

“So, what happens next?”

“I think we outa get outa this heat and into some place more private and. . . comfortable.”

Some days later, there was a town meeting held out in the worker’s part of town. To be exact, in the minority meeting hall. Buck and McTortle organized it. Hellecchino was the featured speaker. It was all kind of hush-hush but that really didn’t matter as Yabu and his men stayed out of this section of town. It was considered not a good section of town. Especially not one to get into at night. Even the law stayed out. Although most people saw this as a slap in the face by a big three-fingered prejudiced hand, it was actually a very empowering situation. Hellecchino had a plan.

“Because certain people don’t like you and look down on you and could care less about you, you have power,” Hellecchino began. He was shouted and hooted but he held his place, held up his hand in time and continued on. “Y’all can organize. Y’see. . .these certain kinds of people don’t do the work themselves.” Murmurings of agreement on that, for sure. And then Hellecchino laid out the plan. It was very simple.

First, they hired themselves out, the unemployed or under-employed, which was close to 25% of these kinds of people, to build the wall. Being as there were always rabble rousers and unruly teenagers who liked to destroy things, they were to be enlisted in dismantling part of the wall every night, carefully restacking the blocks and whatnot alongside the wall. This way, it would take literally forever to finish the job. Yabu’d be terribly frustrated and would turn his energies to stopping the delinquency while the workers would be employed and making some kind of living, albeit, if everything when as per usual, not much of a one. But, then, something is better than nothing. . .and there was more to come. When the heat got up, the devilish social reprobate teenagers would cool it down and leave the wall building alone until vigilance became relaxed in the face of no threat and calm–and then they’d strike again. Only this time, they’d dismantle the beginning of the wall. There’d be enough work for everybody.

The next move was to move the shopkeepers’ families up to of their shops if their shops were going to be on the good side of the fence. This would force Yabu into rerouting his wall to exclude those particular shops–or buy them. In this latter instance, the shopkeepers were to bargain for the best price possible and then take the money and run, never to work in that shop again.

A few of the old boys began chuckling over this.

“Soon,” one of them said, “he gonna be needin’ what we got.”

“Exactly,” said Hellecchino. “If you’re on the wrong side of the wall, he isn’t going to get what he wants–”

“Or he gonna hafta rebuild his wall,” said another worker.

“An’ we ain’t gotta work if’n we been bought out,” said another faceless worker.

“An’ he ain’t got no bizniss sense,” shouted out a worker woman in the back of the hall.

“Shit! He kin jest import it,” countered another.

“Buck’s got a tollgate out on the Chisholm Trail. He owns a great stretch of land that the road runs through,” offered Hellecchino.

“Damn man! We set.”

There was a chorus of approval at this point and the evening was brought to an end.

Sometimes, all a hero’s got to do is kind of look at things a little askew.

Social Studies 3

 

Social Studies 3

“Good morning, class.”

“Good morning, teacher,” appropriately answered the class in unison.

“My name is Mr. Kruztashun.” He fiddled with some papers on the little lectern on the table. He did not sit. “Mr. Drumpfelstilzchin is away on business.”

A hand went up in the back. Mr. Kruztashun nodded in its direction and pointed.

“Where’s our usual substitute teacher?”

“Mr. Braunesel has better things to do.” Mr. Kruztashun set his hands firmly on the papers on the lectern. “Today we are–”

“We hate this class,” said a little boy in the far corner. The rest of the class snickered.

“That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about! Hate.” Suddenly the class was quiet, so quiet the windows rattled with the breathing of the students. “This is Social Studies 3, is it not?”

“Yes!” answered the class in unison.

“Well, then! There’s nothing better to talk about in relation to social studies than hate.” Mr. Kruztashun put a hand on his left hip, bent forward from the waist and pointed out over the heads of the students, a good teacherly thing to do, for it kind of included everyone. “What do you hate?”

A great intake of breath in the classroom. They’d never been asked about this before. They’d been told that hate was bad and not to be disseminated out in public–and surely not toward parents, the greatest thing in the world to hate.

“I hate niggers.”

“I hate spicks.”

“I hate camel jockeys.”

“I hate girls.”

“I hate rich people.”

“I hate poor people.”

“I hate smarty pants.”

“I hate chinks.”

“And gooks.”

“And nips.”

“Injuns!”

“I. . .hate. . .parents!”

The class erupted into tremors of chaos. Girls and boys were shouting and laughing and generally whooping it up. Mr. Kruztashun did nothing to quell the uprising. After all, getting people, even little people, enthusiastic and involved was part of teaching. Only when you’ve got them on your side, as it were, interested in what you were teaching, could you succeed in teaching them the right stuff.

When the class settled down somewhat, Mr. Kruztashun put up his hand. “Wow! We’re doing so good! You hate a lot.”

The same hand that shot up at the beginning of class shot up again. Mr. Kruztashun nodded in its direction again.

“Hate is good?”

“You betcha. Before you can do anything about it, you have to get it out in the open. Then you can do something with it.”

“Like what?” asked a tow-headed little girl in the front row.

“Well. . .what happens when you hate?”

“You get left alone?”

“Right. And what’s the big word for being left alone?”

“We don’t know any big words, Mr. Kruztashun.”

“Well! Would you like to learn one?”

“Yes!” from the now enthusiastic class.

“Okay. Here it is. . .isolation.”

“Isolation,” the good students parroted.

“Right. Isolation. You hate it when people don’t leave you alone, don’t you?”

“Yes!”

These kids were good, Mr. Kruztashun thought. “So, that hate makes them leave you alone, right?”

“Yeah. We get sent to our rooms.” Lots of murmuring agreement.

“And you hate that, right?”

“But,” Mr. Kruztashun held up a knotty knuckled index finger, “when that happens and you are isolated, there are no more hateful people with you. They are all outside. Right?”

“Yes!”

“You are isolated.” Mr. Kruztashun leaned over the lectern. “And inside.”

“Yes!”

“What do you do when you’re left alone?”

“Masturbate,” said a little boy at the far end of the front row.

Everyone else snickered and giggled and held their breaths. To say such a thing in public! To say it in the classroom! What was Johnny thinking?

“Exactly!’ Shouted Mr. Kruztashun. “You win the prize.”

“What prize is that?” A smiley face? A star? A gold sunburst?

“You get to feel good!” Quiet reigned. “You do feel good when you masturbate, don’t you?”

Half-hearted assent.

“Sir?” a little blonde girl put her hand up. “You mean it’s okay to feel good when you. . .masturbate?”

“Of course it’s okay.” Mr. Kruztashun leaned over the lectern. “You do feel good when you masturbate, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then. How can that be bad?”

Lots of mumbling and rumbling and giggling.

“So!” Mr. Kruztashun brought the class round to him. “When you hate, you are isolated, right?”

“Yes.”

“And that’s a good thing, right?”

“Yes!”

“And it makes you feel good that all that you hate is outside, right?”

“Yes!”

“So, now you can hate all you want in your isolation, right?”

“Yes!”

“What better kind of place could you live in?”

“None!”

Yes!” Mr. Kruztashun wiped the wetness from his lips. “Now. You’re left alone.”

“Yes.”

“And you can hate to your heart’s content.”

“Yes.”

“That’s like masturbating til your hand hurts.”

“And you’re all sticky!”

“Ee-yew, Johnny! You’re dizgusting.” shouted a group of girls in the middle of things.

“What do you care?”

“Yeah!” shouted another antagonistic boy. “What happens when you tickle your moose?”

The class erupted in joyous laughter and taunting.

“I bet you wet your pants,” said a shy little boy.

“I want to watch.”

“Well!” said Mr. Kruztashun, clearing his throat. “When you’re isolated, you can watch because everyone’s masturbating.”

“Cool beans, Mr. Kruztashun,” said Johnny. “You’re the best teacher ever.”

“Oh, thank you, Johnny!” Mr. Kruztashun tried hard to blush but only got his eye lashes to flash up and down. He had short eye lashes, too. “Well! So. You’re isolated. What else can you say about it?”

“Nobody bothers you.”

“Right.”

“You don’t have to pay attention to what anybody else says.”

“Right. You don’t have to share.”

“Yeah. And you don’t have to do things like other people do.”

“Right.”

“You don’t have to share!”

“Exactly! You’re your own boss. You don’t have to trade with those others.”

“Trade?”

“Yup. Like, I’ll give you this and you give me that.”

“Does that mean, Mr. Kruztashun, that, like, I can, uhhm, wear things that are mine?”

“You mean, like things that are only made by you?”

“Yeah.”

“Yes. Only things made by you, for you.”

“Like. . .no Chinese stuff?”

“Right.”

“No Japanese stuff.”

“No German stuff.”

“No Mexican stuff.”

“And no African stuff.”

“That’s right. Only American stuff.”

“Then we’ll know it’s good, right?”

“Right.” Mr. Kruztashun rubbed his hands together. “Boy! You guys are great.”

“Yeah!” shouted one girl. “We can do what we want! We can do for ourselves. And we can keep it all for ourselves.”

“Masturba-aaation!” shouted little Johnny. “Uhn! Uhn! Uhn!”

“Yes. And. . .what happens when you’re isolated and everything is for you and by your and you don’t want or need anyone else and your masturbating to your heart’s content?”

The bell rang just as the kids raised their hands, clamoring to be the one with the answer.

“Oops! Looks like we’ll have to wait for next time to talk about stagnation.”

“What’s stagnation?”

“Time’s up. We’ll talk about that next time.” Mr. Kruztashun opened the door and held it for everyone. “See you next time, guys,” he said as all the students filed out. “You’re the greatest.”

“Hate!” said one boy, giving Mr. Kruztashun a high five.

“Isolation!” said another.

“Masturbation!”

“We’re the best!”

“It’s my land.”

“Right. Hey! See you next time.”

 

© James L. Secor, 2017

The Boy Who Would Be Hero

The Boy Who Would Be Hero

by James L. Secor

“Stevie-boy!” called Donald the Dragon Killer.

And like magic, as if he’d known beforehand, Stevie-boy was there, in the room, just inside the door. His hulking frame, his head cocked to one side, blocked much of the light. Donald had not yet opened or had opened for him his shuttered windows, whence the two streaks of light that tore across the floor and up the opposite walls.

“Saddle my horse. I’m going out and I’m going farther than before.”

“Whatever for, Sir Donald?”

“A hero’s job is never done, Stevie-boy.”

“Yes, sir. And what of breakfast?”

“I’m a hero, Stevie-boy.”

“As you say, sir. But even heroes must eat.”

“Oh, alright. Have me a tankard of ale and a loaf of black bread sent in. That’ll do me.”

“As you say, sir.” And Stevie-boy suddenly disappeared.

For the umpteenth time, Donald wondered how Stevie-boy did these appearing and disappearing things but it was no use trying to figure it out–the workings of these lower-downs was really quite beyond him.

Candy-girl brought Donald his breakfast and stood demurely against the wall til he had finished. Then, she took the plate and tankard away. Donald belched and rose from his table. His stomach rumbled a little and he was reminded of how long it had been since he’d had a decent meal. He liked black bread and ale but the sameness of the routine bothered him. It was, in truth, wearing on is nerves. As was the idleness–or, rather, the lack of encountering heroic situations. Surely it was not possible to have swept the world clean.

Sir Donald strode out into the bare courtyard, where even the grass refused to grow. He had his mighty bow and quiver full of arrows. Sean-boy stood by his horse’s head with his trusty golden lance, never broken during battle. But it did not gleam in the pale sunlight. Donald looked up into the washed out bluish sky with its straggly, used up clouds and wondered again at what had happened to the world.

Sean-boy watched from bland eyes as his master mounted his golden gelding. He handed Sir Donald his lance and stepped back. The horse groaned a bit under Donald’s weight but stood its ground. It took Donald several kicks in the animal’s side to get the beast moving. Off they went at a leisurely walk. Although Donald grimaced slightly, perhaps this pace was better until he’d passed through his demesne.

Once again, as he had for uncountable mornings, Sir Donald The Dragon Killer rode tall through fields of emptiness. Stubble there was and an occasional sorry stalk of some grain or other, but otherwise nothing. Not even vermin or insects roamed the dry earth. The trees scattered around, dotting the hazy horizon here and there, showed dull, dusted green leaves on branches that sagged earthward.

How long had the world around him been barren? Donald could not recall. A long time, that was for sure. Why it was this way was a conundrum the hero could not get his mind around. He consoled himself by telling himself that it was his job to do, not to think. That is what a hero did. A hero acted. He killed problems and since he had to eat, he killed his food as well. When there had been game, he’d been good at it. Unsurpassed. For his aim was unerring. After all, he was a hero. Sometimes he used his hunting as an excuse to keep his skills sharp. Sir Donald The Dragon Killer was proud of himself. His abilities never atrophied.

Yes. All in all, despite the lack of game, Donald had a good life, he thought.

It wasn’t til after passing through the once fecund now fallen fallow cropland that his horse began to canter. Donald felt better at this pace and so was not bothered so much by the lack of a view. But he did pull his steed up short upon spying a forest up ahead. This was a sure sign he’d gone farther than he’d ever gone before. It was a lush green forest with tall-standing trees and dancing foliage, for there was a breeze. That brought his head around: a breeze! He could feel the breeze. He could smell the air. He felt invigorated. Surely there was life here and he’d eat well tonight. Sir Donald’s mouth watered. He kicked his trusty charger into a gallop. Unlike earlier in the morning, this did not take much effort.

The forest was much farther away than it appeared and by the time they entered its cool shade, the horse was sweating and snorting and foaming at the mouth. Horse and rider slowed to a walk, savoring the smell and the feel. Donald’s exceptional hearing picked up the sounds of stirrings amongst the trees and in the underbrush. He knew, though, that it was small stuff so he didn’t bother to look. He was after bigger game.

It would be nice, too, if there were a stream or a well.

The time passed almost unnoticed and then Donald spotted a clearing ahead. And in that clearing, his keen eyesight espied a fowl. A partridge. A very fat partridge. He moved a little closer, steadied his mount and took aim. His arrow flew silently and swiftly through the fresh air and sank itself into its target. The bird keeled over without a sound. But as Donald was cantering in to gather up his kill, a keening cleft the air.

When Donald broke into the clearing, a skinny old lady dressed in rags stood over the fallen fowl howling her grief, hands raised in the air, a look of horror on her gnarled and crinkled face. The door to her lean-to stood open and her spinning wheel lay spilled on the ground, thread sprawled everywhere. She looked up at Donald’s approach.

“You bastard!” she cursed. “Look what you’ve done.”

Donald looked. “Yes! I’ve just shot my dinner. Excellent marksmanship, don’t you think?”

“It was my only laying hen you shot!”

Donald dismounted. He looked closely at the dead bird.

“Yes. You’re right. It is a hen,” he said.

“Damn right I’m right. What are you going to do about it?”

“Do? I’m going to take it home and eat it.” And Donald reached for the dead thing.

The old woman sprang between him and his goal. “Over my dead body!”

“Surely you jest. I’m a hero. I always get what I want.”

“Not this time, buster.”

“Who the hell are you to challenge me?”

“I’m the old lady of the woods and this is my bird.”

“Life’s tough, honey. Tell me about it.”

“You want to take my hen and leave me to starve to death. Is that it?”

“That’s it.”

“Well, that isn’t it. . .unless you pay me first.”

“Pay you? With what?”

“You haven’t got anything on you?”

“What good’s money when you’re out hunting?”

“You haven’t got anything on you?”

“What good’s money out here in the woods?”

“Well, then. You have to kill me to get the bird.” She pulled her scrawny self up to her full height, perhaps her head came up to Sir Donald’s nose, so she was not too terribly intimidating.

“Okay,” shrugged Donald The Dragon Killer and he drew his sword and cut off her head in one fell swoop. “Evil old lady,” he muttered as her head plopped onto the ground and rolled around, staining the spun thread red. “Dinner and one less witch in the world,” Sir Donald The Dragon Killer said to himself. He was quite satisfied. It had been a good day.

Sir Donald carried the arrowed trophy-hen proudly over his shoulder.

“Zippity-doo-dah, zippity-ay,” he sang.

He turned to look back at the forest before the long journey home. The color was not so green and the leaves did not rustle. Somehow, the woods had sunk in on itself, it wasn’t so big any more. Like all the life had been taken out of it.

Sir Donald the hero wondered why it is this happened wherever he went. He shook his head. And then he turned round and headed home.

“My, oh my, what a wonderful day,” he sang.

(c) James L. Secor, 2017

Old Country Baggage

Old Country Baggage, or The Making of America

by James L. Secor

We all know vampires suck the blood of the living to continue living, even though they are dead. The living dead. A curse.

We don’t know where vampires come from. They just suddenly appear in folklore. The most famous being European. Central Europe, to be exact. Though the Chinese had vampires, too, they did not travel to the West with their fabled RR builders and laundry entrepreneurs.

European vampires had not migrated to Britain before the 19th century, else they would surely have made their appearance at Salem, if not Jamestown or Roanoke Island, the Lost Colony. As it was, America had to wait for a later mass migration of Europeans.

George Calvin Brown and family and friends are prime examples of vampire baggage carriers. As always, the opening of the carpet bag was innocent, however traumatic. Very like Pandora’s box.

Ephemera Gladys Brown, George Calvin’s loving wife, died of tuberculosis one day. George and the children were crestfallen, as one would expect. Losing a caring, loving, thoughtful mother was not expected or wanted. While the family mausoleum was being built and readied, the family mourned. Mother Brown was en-coffined and discretely kept in a corner of the Ice House, which the Brown family owned and operated. With all but the carving of the alabaster monument completed, public mourning ensued with the requisite religious broodings and blessings.

And then life went on, albeit with Leonard Gardener Brown coughing a wee bit more than usual. The grocery store side of the business suffered as Leonard’s coughing increased in frequency and intensity. In fact, Leonard was excluded from both the grocery and the Ice House. Left alone, his coughing and whitish pallor led to a drinking habit that wormed its way into the family’s profits. Eventually, he, too, succumbed to the wasting away disease and was laid to rest alongside his mother. Another name was chiseled into the alabaster and life more or less went on.

Lena Mercy Brown was so distraught and beside herself and so very fearful of the future, specifically her future, that she became a frequent visitor to the grave site. Early in the morning just before dawn and late at night well past the waning moon, Lena Mercy could be found at the cemetery. So regular and spectral was she, she was spoken of as a ghost. Lena Mercy haunted the graveyard with an unhealthy obsession. So said the town doctor. But Lena Mercy would not desist, even as her pallor paled and her eyes reddened. And then she died. She told her father, one day, that she didn’t feel so good, coughed once into her white, white hands and died.

The doctor said that Lena Mercy Brown also died of tuberculosis, no history of coughing notwithstanding.

What kind of curse was this laid upon the Browns?

Surely, some townies said, this was the result of a prior life-sin. Others pooh-poohed such a superstition. Still others believed that the family was particularly susceptible to invasion by minute, even unseen animalcules. Animalcules being animalcules, this was difficult to deny. Invisible things forever manifest themselves into life. People breathe air, don’t they? And they dig in the dirt. And wash and bathe in the water. Everyone does. Some few were more susceptible than others to invasion by animalcules.

George sold the grocery business. People were wary of infection. As long as he ceased operating the Ice House, he was able to hold onto the business. The income was enough to keep him and his youngest, Edwin Prentiss. They could find no one to help around the house, though.

But tragedy again struck.

This new wrinkle to the family horror came via the cemetery grounds-keeper. This elderly gentleman began seeing the ghost of Lena Mercy wandering through the cemetery to end up hovering around the family vault, raising her hands and looking upward as if mourning her mother’s and her brother’s and her own demise or calling upon God. All in utter silence, of course, as ghosts make no noise, though their mouth holes be open. The old night watchman also reported the silence of the cemetery. That is, no scurryings of night denizens and no owl hootings. Not that owls tended to be very communicative to begin with or while hunting. The oldster’s repetitive sightings brought out the ghost hunters, ghost busters and ghost curious. The crowding of the cemetery brought about less Lena Mercy walking. This phenomenon led to a generalized exodus but for the curious, who tend to be quite persevering. Their nightly vigils paid off. Sightings were reported and substantiated. Though not by an outside, objective, uninterested individual.

Much to the discomfiture of the remainder of the Brown family, this ghostly appearance of Lena Mercy became a hot topic in the district. Curiosity seekers began visiting the Brown house. The worst of the lot were the various newspapermen. Rude and invasive, if they got no story they made one up.

Eventually, George and Edwin shut themselves up in their house. Groceries and sundries were delivered, ordered by messenger. Eventually, interest flagged somewhat. At which time the true tragedy struck.

It was here that the European old world baggage was opened and spilled out its contents all over the ground. The soil was fertile. The horror grew like kudzu, choking the hell out of reason.

How could this happen?

The mind’s job, as it were, is to make sense of things. Make sense of the world. Make sense of chaos. Make sense of the senseless. For this purpose, pre-laid pathways in the neural network of the brain are activated, for your brain forgets nothing. This is how we can remember how to walk without thinking about it. The baggage that sometimes ought not to be carried with us is opened like this; that is, habit of mind. We are creatures of habit. Habit helps us cope with the world. Habit helps us find meaning. Some of these habits are deep-seated and enduring, enduring like fairy tales, folktales, folklore.

How the mind does this is by putting various happenings together and coming up with an answer. It is this solution that is most often influenced by deep cultural memories. Memories of explication. Memories that are connected to an answer and a solution. Habits of mind. Short cuts for thinking.

First were the deaths of the Brown family. Three out of five.

Second was the ghostly sightings by all and sundry of Lena Mercy.

Third was the haunting of George by Lena Mercy. She became a nightly occurrence, dancing around George in bed, George at the kitchen table. Lena Mercy was insistent. According to George, she harassed him. Eventually night and day.

Fourth was Edwin Prentiss’s illness. The same as his mother’s and his brother’s and his sister’s, Lena Mercy not having suffered the coughing. Edwin began his coughing and increasingly wan coloring within two weeks of Lena Mercy’s haunting the house.

Surely there was a connection here.

Ghosts are not known to be benevolent.

George sought solace, sought answers with consultations of the town elders, the doctor, the various ministers and the travelling Chautauqua professors. Though not all were in agreement, those obsessed with their old baggage, those in the majority, convinced George that Lena Mercy’s hauntings and Edwin Prentiss’s advancing illness were connected. That is, Lena Mercy was responsible.

Something needed to be done. Proof was needed.

So it was that the Brown family tomb was opened. Of the three coffined bodies, only Lena Mercy’s was not decomposed.

A great cry rose up and it was decided Lena Mercy was a vampire.

What other reason could there be? Only vampires feed on the living. Edwin was declining while Lena Mercy was not. Not dying. So?

There could be but one conclusion.

The townies cut out Lena Mercy’s heart. They burned it, cringing somewhat as it sizzled. They made Edwin drink a concoction of ash of heart and red wine.

All was well. No more hauntings. No more coughing.

Edwin Prentiss died in silence two weeks later.

How could this be? Lena Mercy the vampire had been appropriately done in. Maybe Edwin Prentiss was too far gone by then. Maybe more needed to be done.

So, Edwin Prentiss’s heart had a Palo Santo wood stake hammered through it. Both the heart and the stake were burned. The remains were buried. Holy water was cast upon the ground.

Everyone waited, fretting. For lifetimes they fretted and worried.

Would it ever, really end?

Vigilance could not be relaxed.

And so it was.

(c) James L. Secor, 2016

 

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship

by James L. Secor

David Longshanks was an entrepreneur, a self-made man. Not that he began poor or on the dole. He was the son of an undertaker, Dunns Longshanks. Dunns had made a single horse town concern into a thriving business, for people must die and they must be buried, appropriately or not. As civilization bloated the town into a city, there was little call for the inappropriate sort; however, there was the Green Pastures out on the far Northeastern edge of the city where the poor and penurious and unknown (usually street people) were buried with no to-do and little in the way of respect, respect being costly, even just moderately so. Dunns served anybody who had any money.

David, before taking over the business, expanded its purview to taxidermy, for he was a hunter who liked to display his trophies. As were his friends. People in the surrounding countryside heard of David Longshanks and his superior taxidermy skills and this end of the Dunns Family Mortuary grew in distinction as the hunting seasons became glutted with guns and displaced animals. Civilization with its unlimited development and expansion led to animals losing their habitat and food source and, thus, becoming easy targets for both the city slickers and the preying country folk.

Dunns Family Mortuary.

David’s Taxidermy.

David’s next entrepreneurial endeavor arose out of the immediate needs of the Mortuary business. The business had to expand, so more land had to be bought. Empty lots and old houses alongside the Mortuary were bought up. The lots were easy to acquire; the houses, more often than not, had to be condemned. The families were forced to relocate and David then waited to buy the property at auction. The houses came down. Some of the acquired land, what was not used for renovation and expansion of the undertaking business buildings, was turned into parking lot. As the winter wind could be icy and the summer sun blazing, David made sure the parking areas were dotted with trees. This also made the business more aesthetic and caring-appearing.

Which led to David’s landscaping business. There were no shade trees in any of the parking lots around the city and the city streets needed sprucing up. David made sure that both city and businesses saw the advantages of having trees, if for nothing else than the aesthetics of the place. From trees, general landscaping grew, as did a gardening and florist business in several locations around the city to forestall too much competition. Two of any kind of business in the same area was not good for either business, so David made sure he was on site first. On site and large.

Fortune Realty.

Longshanks Landscaping.

Emma’s Exquisite Floral Shop. Emma was Mrs. David Longshanks. Emma Sue Denniker Longshanks.

The Greenery.

Fortune Realty naturally grew into speculation which naturally led to the founding of a consortium focused on developing and building lucrative ventures. It did not matter if the venture was productive or not. The Ivy League Consortium owned the land and the buildings and managed to rent out the properties if, indeed, the original idea tanked. As happened with a couple shopping centres. They were interested in high end development. Of course, The Ivy League Consortium had nothing at all to do with the East Coast Ivy League colleges and universities. But it was suggestive.

Through it all, David Longshanks’ most engaging business was the Mortuary and the Taxidermy business. David loved embalming.

Despite his drive for neverending development and the furthering of civilization, David was also socially responsible. Socially active. Because of the fight to save his father’s life, David Longshanks became involved in organ donorship. His father had needed a liver. There were too few to go around or any liver available was too far away to make it a viable replacement. Thus, his father died a painful, wasting away death. David worked assiduously to make organ donorship a socially edifying behavior, albeit to begin with the religious battled against such heresy, until one of their own died in need. David made donorship a voluntary additive to licensing: if you joined the donor program and you were involved in a fatal accident, your organs could be harvested in order that another should live. Without advertising, David always gave the families of the organ donor program a discount on their casket and in-house services, if they were in the area.

So, David and Emma Longshanks became upstanding social citizens. They were asked to donate to this or that charity. They were asked to serve on this or that board of directors. They were sought out for this or that sponsorship. Life was good.

The first sign of a chink in the Longshanks well-tempered and lustrous armor was rather innocuous. Even a tad humorous. Sometime during prohibition, a notable area resident involved in rum running was shot and killed. Briskin Swipes, AKA Sousee. Not shot by the police, though they claimed the prize, but by a rival running crew. New Brummagem was not big enough for two such lines of transport. As New Brummagemens enjoyed viewing the unrepentant dead in proof that crime never pays, Briskin Swipes was exposed in a pinewood coffin, as per tradition, and photos were taken and displayed in various shop windows and church signboards around town. Before putrification set in, Briskin Swipes was turned over to David Longshanks for burial. But David wished to preserve, for posterity and example, the body. Briskin was not the most handsome of men and in death was downright gruesome looking. He was a modern day outlaw, revered by some, reviled by others. Face was important in this time of ignominy and David wanted to save this face. So, instead of embalming the man, pickling him, you might say, David decided to stuff him, taking especial care of the external taxidermy details. Perhaps, stuffed, Briskin Swipes appeared more real than real. Not surreal, super-real, über-real. Later, David began exhibiting his stuffed man in order to showcase his skills. Taxidermy was, after all, about preservation.

There was, however, a more offing aspect to the taxidermy: inside the stuffing was the real skeleton of Briskin Swipes. David did not tell anyone this. He found it, in fact, quite humorous and often giggled at his joke, assuming someone discovered the skeleton. How shocking! How ludicrous!

Dreams have a way of coming true in the most unimaginable ways.

The local New Brummagem film studio, Cantery Studio, borrowed the stuffed bootlegger for some independent science fiction film, The Forelanders by name. Briskin Swipes was a prop, a re-occurring prop. It so happened that during one removal and repositioning of Briskin, the arm fell off. The cast and crew were accordingly astounded and horrified.

The police were notified and the State Bureau of Investigation was called in to uncover the identity of the skeleton. They had a top forensic anthropologist, Necessity Bluffing—Nessy to her friends—who returned the diagnosis of Briskin Swipes. And so the history of the man rose up in the news. This could not be tolerated in the filming, so another dummy was found and the stuffed man—with skeleton—was disposed of. Apparently, a carny bought it, sewed the arm back on and displayed it in his Wonders of the World exhibit until the skin began to scale off and the joints to fall apart. By then, everyone had forgotten all about Briskin Swipes, except, perhaps, myth and legend.

In the meantime, David’s skill with a knife and needle did not go unnoticed. Even to David’s entrepreneurship. How could he make good use of these skills to enhance his businesses? Wealth, like development, was limitless. And his desire was unslaking. Emma did not know what he was doing but enjoyed no end the benison that accrued from it.

Now that organ transplanting had gained respectability and more and more people required new organs in order to continue living, cheating death, you might say, it was discovered that there were not enough organs to go around. The sick and dying were not being saved. People had to die in horrible pain, faces and bodies distorted. Organs could not be grown but could be harvested. David Longshanks was in a privileged position in this respect, as the newly accident dead came his way for embalming and assigned donation. But who was to know that a kidney or lung or liver or, less likely, heart was removed sans visé and sent on its way to someone in need. A secret social conscience is a self-satisfying thing. It is, too, delusional.

Fresher organs were needed even though David Longshanks had insinuated himself into the legion of organ rescuers. David beat his breast over the loss of life due to the shortage of good organs, as much by less death as by those who selfishly, in his eyes, kept their organs for themselves in death. Many still believed it was sacrilege to give away organs and for others to live with these second hand vestiges of humanity. Someone here was playing God, it was thought by these people. It was of little consequence that people died in the face of their superstitious intransigence.

And so David Longshanks got involved in illegal harvesting. It is true he would not kill the unwitting donor but, still, the donor was none the wiser until after the fact. The first inklings of this new business came via grisly newspaper and TV reports of bodies found in bath tubs full of ice water. The surgical-quality scars were, of course, suspicious and, while the recovering person was hospitalized, scrutinized and medicated into a stupor, the discovery of the missing organs was revealed.

This was worse than stories of Frankenstein monsters and mad scientist experiments. The grizzly details and gruesomeness, the inhumanity of the illegal harvesting was splashed everywhere. Investigations were initiated but never elicited findings. No notice was taken of the life saved somewhere in the land. David Longshanks was not, after all, after publicity. That kind of adulation was not soulful.

Stories began emerging of the sort of a person who meets someone at a bar and they have a few drinks, a few laughs. The unsuspecting tipster becomes inebriated. Together they go to a hotel room and the person passes out. Not solely from the alcohol. Knock out drugs were casually added to the drinks. The person wakes up in the morning in a bathtub filled with ice and an abdominal incision that was not theirs. Tales of injured construction or oil or mine workers waking up days later lying on a cold metal table without certain of their organs and writhing in pain. These latter unfortunates usually died. Though the two harvesting techniques were not related, they were conflated, adding to the inhumanity of the black market organ salesmen. Organ pushers.

The organ pusher is a monster. He’s not a natural man. The organ pusher will ruin someone’s body and leave its mind to scream, all in the name of goodness and right but truly for greed. God damn the organ pusher man.

As with criminals, organ harvesters—and David Longshanks—leaned toward repetitive behavior. Humanity is both blessed and cursed with such repetitiveness. It is comfortable.

It is in such wise that David Longshanks’ shenanigans were brought to light. This was, of course, the end of his entrepreneurship. The end of unending expansion and resource development. There is a limit to the things of life. A balance, the median way, must be found for continuance to be assured. David Longshanks was over-stepping his—society’s—bounds. Exposure and punishment was inevitable, though not by the outlaw. Was not David Longshanks a Robin Hood?

The fallout from David Longshanks’ greed, his delusion of social goodness, the lie he needed to tell himself in order to make life tolerable—the fallout was immediate and long lasting. Emma Longshanks became hysterical and would not wear any of the finery she had acquired secondary to her husband’s nefarious dealings. The mortuary and taxidermy businesses deteriorated and were, eventually, sold at great loss. Emma was attentive enough, however, to dispose of the landscaping, gardening and flower businesses before they became tainted beyond repair. She retired to a ghost town out in the middle of the plains along an abandoned railway line and lived out her life in seclusion. It was a miserable life. The David Longshanks family dispersed around the country, changing their name in order to escape censure and ostracization. The Ivy League Consortium dissolved in a hole-and-corner way, the assets being divided between the owners and then new venturisms begun.

New Brummagem faded away, turning into a historical village. A tourist trap.

And, then, there was nothing.

(c) 2015, James L. Secor

What’s My Story

Here is one of our favorite little stories. While it is a satire on the character oriented story–that any good story is built solely on a character (who never changes)–in that the protagonist has no character; it is a feminist piece because it is men who give her her character. I (Minna) was arguing with the editor of a now defunct feminist zine about the necessity of a character-centred story and set out to prove her wrong: she snapped up the story because of its feminist bent and totally missed the satire/slap in the face: the protagonist has neither name nor character.

 What’s My Story?

by Minna vander Pfaltz

Crashing flash! Throbbing pain. Burning. She held her breath. And then tried again. This time, little by little. She opened her eyes. Oh, lord, did that hurt! Screeching whiteness. No. She couldn’t maintain it. Closed her eyes again. In the pulsing darkness, she felt her body. She was lying on her back. Whatever she was lying on was hard. Very hard. There was a lot of noise around. Jarring her bones. Making her ears bounce and hurt a little inside. Great rumbling noises made her body vibrate–and then they were gone.

She rolled over onto her side and pushed herself up. She listened a little longer. The vibrations were not so drumming. Then she opened her eyes again.

Still bright. But there wasn’t so much pain. She put her hand over her eyes, shielding them from the brightness above. Where was this?

These. . .things moving, moving. Going this way and that. Big ones and little ones. All making noise. The big ones bigger noise. And blaring D-flats.

She was getting a headache again.

She was the silent one, the still one in this mass of movement and noise. Around her, paying her no mind, were people. People moving helter-skelter. Great masses of heaving color that hummed along. Clicked along. Lights flashing.

Over there. Trees and grass. A bench. A place to sit.

She got up and walked–stumbled would be more accurate–to the bench and sat down on its warm wood, feeling the spaces between the slats. Not a very comfortable place to sit but better than lying on the–street? pavement?

Where the hell was she?!

Wherever she was, it looked like something she recognized. Something that was similar to something she remembered. Something. . . .

But where did she remember it from?

She creased her brows.

Who was she?

Ahh. . .now there she was on firm ground: she couldn’t remember who she was. She didn’t know who she was.

Was this an alternate universe?

Was she one monkey waiting for 99 more?

She had to get away from this noise! It was making her hair shake.

So she walked. The more she walked, the longer she walked the easier it became until she was moving along rather fluidly. But where was she going? No direction. Anywhere.

No. This was not good.

She looked up at the sky, searching for the brightest glare.

How did she know to go to her left? Without thinking, she did it. And then asked herself this question: How did I know to go to the left? This place wasn’t anywhere she knew, despite the vast similarities, so how could she be sure left was the right way? This place, this world could be exactly the opposite of her world. The world she came from to be here.

How did she get here?

She didn’t remember falling. She did remember a thud, though. And then she was here. In this place. As if she’d been dropped into this world.

Why?

What was she doing here?

Who was she?

Lord!–she had to get to a quieter place so she could think.

The glaring sky told her nothing. The world around her blurred. Her body kept on pounding along. Numbed. Apprehending nothing. Just moving. And then suddenly the noise stopped. She kept on going. She kept going until she felt the difference in color around her. She stopped. She looked around. She turned back the way she had come. All the noise was over there, in that hazy bulging upward, vertical mass of. . . spires?

And she sat down. On the green. Grass? She didn’t know. She didn’t know if that’s what it was in this place but somewhere inside her it was grass. So she called it grass in her mind. She felt it. It felt the same as usual. Usual? How did she know it was usual, this touch? This kind of softness with hard edges. Pointy. Kind of cool. Was she feeling it make noise? She put her ear down to it. Leaned down. Ran her fingers over its roughness. Comforting noise.

How did she know it was comforting?

“Hey! What are you doing?”

She looked up. A man stood at the bottom of the hill.

She looked at him. She squinched her eyebrows together.

“I said, what are you doing?”

“I don’t know. Sitting on the grass.”

“I can see that. Who gave you permission?”

“I need permission?”

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?”

“No. I’m not. Where am I?”

“Here. In Havenwood.”

“Oh. Where’s that?”

Pause.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m not hurt, if that’s what you mean.”

“How did you get here? I mean, the way you’re dressed, you’re not usual, you know?”

“I’m not?”

“No.”

“I feel like I was dropped in.”

“Maybe you better come with me.”

“Can you help me?”

“I can take you somewhere.”

“Okay.”

She got up and walked down the hill. When she stood next to him, she found he was very much shorter than she was. Perhaps head and shoulders shorter. She’d never felt so tall before.

“You’re tall. We don’t make many tall women here. We don’t make many tall men, either.”

“You make people here?”

“You know. Not make as in machines but, you know, grow.”

“Like plants?”

“No. We get born.”

“Oh.”

They continued walking along in silence. He led her into a squat reddish building with greyish lines running up and down, isolating little squares of color. Flat glass doors like a mouth. Flat glass windows like eyes. The doors swallowed them up. The eyes did not change their expression.

“Where’s this?”

“The headman lives here. He’ll know what to do.”

“Yes.”

“You know the headman?”

“No. I don’t now anybody.”

Silently they walked through some halls.

“I’m tired. I’d like to rest. I’ve been through alot today. I think I came from over there.”

“Okay. He’ll find a place for you to stay.”

“Good. I’d like to lie down.”

And then they were in a small room.

“Hey. I’ve brought you someone.”

“Hey. Where did you find her?”

“Sitting in the park.”

“The park?!”

“Yeah. Imagine that. No one gave her permission.”

“Hey. Who are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where do you come from?”

“I don’t know. I just woke up and found myself here.”

“She said she felt as if she was dropped in.”

“Dropped in, eh?”

“Yes. And she’s tired.”

“Hungry, too?”

“Yes. Hungry, too.”

“We should let you rest and eat first.”

“Thank you.”

“Hey. Take her to Na’s place. She’ll take care of her.”

“Okay.”

“Then come back here. I’ll call the elders for a council.”

“Okay.”

* * *

Shoulder to shoulder around the oblong table the men sat. The Headman and the elders. And the finder man.

“What are we to make of this, then?”

“It is very strange. Very strange indeed.”

“There have been no strangers in a long time.”

“No. She’s very tall.”

“She dresses. . .differently.”

“She talks a little off.”

“And her skin color. . .”

“Yes.”

The heavy ticking of the clock pounded the walls. They looked around the table. A few coughed. A few looked elsewhere. The headman looked at the finder man.

“I think she’s the one,” said the latter.

“How can she be? She’s a woman.”

“Yes. There has never been a woman before.”

“She is a very tall woman.”

“Larger than life.”

“Where is she from?”

“That’s a mystery. She’s not saying.”

“She just. . .appeared.”

“Right when we need her.”

Silence.

“Yes. That seems to fit.”

“Fate is a funny thing, you know.”

“You can never be too sure.”

“Are we to continue as we are?”

“We cannot remain passive,” said the headman. “I am for taking action on this.”

Pause. The elders looked around at each other.

“Will she go along with us?”

“Why should she not? She is here. Nothing happens without a reason.”

“She may put up a fight.”

“Deny herself.”

“It’s part of the pattern.”

“She’s already denying who she is.”

A collective, “Eh?”

The headman and the finder nodded.

“Well, then.”

“We must proceed, it seems.”

“Tomorrow morning at Na’s. She has a nice courtyard in the back.”

* * *

She sat facing the group of men. She frowned and held her breath. This gathering was definitely unbalanced. She didn’t know who she was. She didn’t know where she was. And now she was confronted by this. . .tribunal. How was she supposed to act? She shifted in her seat. Crossed her legs. Crossed her arms. These men were obviously here to tell her something. Could it be they knew something about herself? She could only wait.

She looked at the group of men. They looked back at her and then away to each other. Focus came to the headman. She looked at the headman. He looked at her.

“I trust you had a good night.”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“You are rested from your journey?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Good.”

She uncrossed her legs and crossed them the other way.

The finder coughed.

“We know who you are.”

“You do?”

“Yes. Yes. We do.”

“Who am I?”

“You are our hero.”

She uncrossed her legs. She uncrossed her arms. She beat on her thighs with her hands. She laughed.

“Surely you jest! I am no hero.”

“How do you know?”

She looked sharply at the finder. “Yes. You are right.”

“Yes.”

“Yes.” She leaned forward and looked at these men who seemed to know more about her than she did. This was perhaps reassuring. “Could this be illusion?”

“No, no, no. Nothing of the sort. What in the universe is not true?”

“We have dreamed of your coming?”

“So I am a dream?”

“Come true. A dream come true.”

“Dreams are part of life. Of the universe.”

“I could be a bad dream–”

“Not at all! You are just what we asked for.”

“Yes.”

“So, who am I?”

“Hero.”

“Our Hero.”

“What an odd name. Hero.”

“Odder still as that is what you are.” The headman giggled a little.

She smiled into the silence. A breeze disturbed the leaves. Gave them voice. Gave itself a voice, for otherwise it was just air. The passing of air was ever accompanied by a voicing. Without something standing in the way, the wind has no voice. Nor do the trees. Rain, too, is nothing until it demolishes itself upon trees and people, houses and streets. The sound nevertheless surrounds you like an orchestra and carries you away, protects you. All the world is one. Then. It was not one for Hero.

“I am who I am and I am what I am?”

“Why, yes, that’s the way it is.”

“My name says it all.”

“Yes. Exactly.”

“The name you gave me.” Pause. “The role you give me.”

“Do you have a better one?”

“No. But–”

“Yes??”

“I don’t feel like a hero. I’ve never done anything to be considered a hero. What is a hero?”

“A hero’s life is in the making.”

“In the future.”

“I can’t do anything.”

“I told you! Didn’t I?”

“Shush! This is to be expected.”

“What is to be expected?”

“Well,” the finder began hesitantly, “you meet the criteria.”

“I’m getting a headache.”

“Na,” said the headman.

Medicine was brought. Everyone sat silent and still for a time.

“Do you feel better now?”

“I’m sure it will go away.”

“Yes. Havenwood is known for its drugs. We can even make a sick dog feel better.”

Nervous laughter.

“Tell me how I fit the bill when I don’t even know who I am?”

“We know who you are.”

“But I don’t feel like Hero. I don’t even know where I am or where I came from.”

“That is the way it is.”

“Heroes come out of nowhere.”

“When they are needed.”

“And they are more than we are.”

“You mean my height?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“But I am no one. I am not up to this.”

“You can be no one without others.”

“I have no character.”

“We are giving this to you.”

“What if I don’t want it?”

“Heroes usually do not. . .it is said.”

“You see. . .there are historical precedents.”

“I see.”

“Yes.”

“What is it I’m supposed to do?”

All of the men sat back heaving sighs.

“You are here to save us from ourselves.”

She laughed.

“Yes. It is laughable, isn’t it? But it’s true.”

“We have become inundated with a particular kind of pandemic. Passive Ignorance Insensitivity Syndrome. PIIS.”

“Piss?”

“No, no. In our tongue when there are two i’s in a row, the first is long, the second short. We say, then, Peye-us.”

Oh. I see. You are Peye-us. And who has visited this upon you?”

“An alien.”

“An outsider.”

“Not one of us.”

“His name is Gnome Nervt.”

“How do you know?”

“He has done this before and. . .”

“He leaves traces.”

“I see.” Pause. “I must rid the world of this. . .evil Gnome Nervt.”

“Yes.”

“Well. I suppose I have nothing better to do,” she said. She thought, though, that perhaps she might also discover her true self, her true identity now she had something to do. “You must give me some context.”

“Here is everything you need to know. Tomorrow we will come again.”

“And if I am not your hero?”

“You will fail and we will build another martyr’s monument in Memorial Park Cemetery.”

“But you will not fail. The life and well-being of thousands upon thousands of Havenwoodniks are riding on your shoulders.”

And then she was alone with herself. Whoever she was. To these men she was someone. She had a frame into which to fit. There was just one nagging question: What did a hero do? That is, how did a hero act?

Was fiction becoming reality?

An unanswerable question since she didn’t know what was real. Rather, she only had this reality to go on. Could she then live up to her given character?

She shook her head. Identity was a funny thing. How do you know when you’ve got it? And when you’ve got it, how do you know it’s yours?

There are some places where people are born with no identity. Later, they can buy one from the identity brokers. But, then, you may still ask, who is this character? All you have is a label. Made up by another. A handle upon which to hang a history. A history with no character to identify it is no history at all. So where does it come from?

This is a question I cannot answer. I am only a writer. I am a writer because I write. . .and because you read me. Therefore I have character because writers have a particular character, right?

I find myself much in the same situation as the girl in this story.

(c) 2002, Minna vander Pfaltz

 

Babes in Dreamland

 Babes in Dreamland

by James L. Secor

 

We are lost in a dream world, people often say. But. . .don’t we control that dream world–which is only too real to us, the dreamers? And don’t we rule others out of it–and back into it again when it serves our purposes?

I used to have dreams. I don’t any more. I made sure of that. I take drugs to keep me awake at night. And during the day. For if I’m not sleeping at night I will fall asleep during the day. Right? So now, I don’t have any dreams. I mosey along doing my daily everyday routine without much notice of the world around me. A not-so-unpleasant side effect of the drug. That is, I move through reality as if it were a pleasant, dissociative. . .dream. As if I am not really in it as I watch it pass on. That is the only way I can keep my sanity.

Lest you think me insane. Lest you think me out of touch with things. Let me tell you of my dreams. The dreams that brought me to this reality state. They were recurrent dreams. Very vivid. Very frightening. Not only in Technicolor but in Techni-odor and Techni-touch. I often couldn’t get back to sleep, sitting staring into the darkness, a rabbit alert for the lurking predator. Panting. Heart racing. Always they were the same. Always the same plot and story line. Like a peddler of popular fiction, my dreams were made-to-order formula-written dramas. For years, I had my own little shop of horrors right in my head. Right in my bed. Lying beneath my pillow to bushwhack me at the first sign of inattention. Whenever I closed my eyes.

The worst thing about these dreams was that they began to impose themselves on the real world. The daylight world. I would feel disoriented at those times. Breathless. Frantic. I was told this was only anxiety and given some medication. But the variant occurrences continued to occur in a vast amalgamating array of ways. Without warning, like a jack-in-the-box with a fiend’s head. And, of course, at night I’d dream. Not every night, you understand, but repeatedly nonetheless.

So I stopped taking those drugs. I stopped believing there was something wrong with me, thinking I was insane because I couldn’t stop dreaming and seeing the same fearful unreality in the cold, clear light of day. Which, of course, put me right smack-dab in the middle of a conundrum: only the insane say they are sane so to maintain my sanity, my belief in what I’m seeing and experiencing in the world is to admit I am insane but since these dreams-in-reality are insane. . . .

“There are reasons for their being there. Let’s look at them. They are your dreams. You are projecting your irrational fears on a rational world. Now. . . .”

So. To maintain that the insanity that I see is insanity when in fact it can’t be because it’s reality is to prove my insanity. That is, I’m not seeing what it is I’m seeing. I’m not experiencing my experience. I’m not living what I’m living.

This was more unsettling than the reality of the dream.

As I say, I stopped the legal drugs. I found other, more effective drugs to solve the problem. In my frenzy I found how accessible illegal drugs were. Here was another case of invisibility–or visibility–when advantageous. Drugs were only menacingly underground when it was necessary for them to be so. That is, they were no problem until they were needed to be. Now, the appearance of my dream-like reality in reality does not bother me. Not in the least. If it bothers others, I wonder why they don’t invest in drugs to kill the pain. Shopping and extreme sports and sensual stimulation pall. Eventually. There is only so much you can take before numbness sets in. It’s irrational to put up with irrationality, so be rational and make the irrationality disappear. Take drugs! Make tolerance.

If you can’t see your dreams, you’re not having them, are you? If you’re not experiencing pain, you’re not having it, are you? And, of course, drugs produce a state of alternative reality and that’s not real, right?

At first, the dreams were only a part of what they became. They were only the chase scene. I was being chased. I was frantic. Eyes darting here and there. Behind me. These people were after me for. . .for. . . for what I’d done. They were hunting me. In the coarsest, most obvious way. No attempt to hide themselves, not attempt to follow me secretly. So sure of themselves. Their prey. Frightening, this kind of stalking. It makes you do things, believe things–I was something they had to have. This kind of hunting forces you into making incriminatory behavior. The simple attempt to escape is a sign of guilt. And, yet, I had to get away. There would be a loss of. . .of. . .of. . .what had I done.

What had I done?

I remember there was a priest in the first dream. A church, really, because I never saw another person. Just a form, the smooth concrete blocks of the building, the Doric columns out of an old movie. I’m not sure I heard a voice. A calm, assuring voice. Half whispering, “This way.” And showing me around the side of the building. Helping in my escape. A man who would lie for a just cause. A follower of God, a god of jealous vengeance–and, some said, love. Tough love under Gothic eaves. Were those monsters up there watching and passing judgment?

I was never inside the church. I was always running around the church, around the side and down into the. . .street? alley? It was dark. I could not tell. But I think it ran along the side of the stark, Gothic-Art Deco structure. In this stark black-and-white movie set world so much was unseen, unknown. I could not tell where the raw light originated from. I look for it but. . .I just saw black, black shadows and highlights. I couldn’t tell where I was. I couldn’t see the end of the. . .alley? I couldn’t tell who I was. I was running. Why? I didn’t know where I was going. But I was going–

And then I’d wake up.

I never got anywhere and they never got me. They were uniformed police, military police. No. Fascists. They were dutiful Fascists hunting down traitors to the cause. Like wild dogs. Clubs and knuckles and guns for claws. Black leather-gowned hands. Insistent in their starched shirt duty. And beating the found up. And torturing them. That’s what Fascists do. Tyrants. People who have a right to be right. And I was wrong. So. . . they could kill me. Dying for someone else’s a purpose.

An Inquisition.

A movie of myself. Being chased. Over and over again. Across the portico. Alongside this church. Down around the side into the shadowed passageway. Always helped by this unknown, unseen priest. “Come this way.” Always chased by Fascists. Wild dogs running their dinner to ground. Steady. Remorseless. Never tiring. Because they don’t go too fast. They’ve got all day. All night.

They got closer with each dream. I saw them clearer and clearer. Definitely Fascists. Brown uniforms. Sam Brown belts. Stiff high-crowned and steep beaked hats. Shadowy fox faces without movement and red glowing eyes. No definition. Yet stark. When they came out of the shadows. Stark. Well-defined art deco men-machines skulking quick-step, eyes glaring out of their darkness. Perpetual motion machine-men.

And always I would wake up in the same place. Caught in that side street or alleyway. Frozen in naked light. Ready for flight. Fear and anxiety mounting and filling up my eyes, making my breathing come faster and harder. My nostrils flared. Caught in the act of going. . .where? Where was I going?

When I started awake I was panting. Sweating. My nostrils flared.

In the streets outside, during the day, in the evenings before I went to sleep, I began seeing more and more uniformed police. Military-looking sorts in brownish clothing. They wore Sam Brown belts with mace canisters and guns and nightsticks and radios hanging off of them. Making it difficult for them to move quickly. They had come out of their cars and back on the streets. The cars were still there. They circled and circled around the block, watching. . .following. Looking for trouble. But now there were forces on the ground. And like their car-in-pursuit buddies circling, circling they knew nobody. Except he whom they were running to ground.

Where had they all come from? Ubiquitous.

Was I dreaming? No matter where I went, there they were. Watching. Walking easily along. Too easily. Looking for something. Stern faces. Glaring eyes. Knowing they’d find it. They always get their man.

If you look hard enough long enough, it is said, you’ll find what you are looking for; that is, you see what you want to see. Which is making it happen.

Did these crisp-shirted policemen make things happen? That’s not rational. Dispose of that thought. They are only peacekeepers. So was the Colt .45. Lots of people had them. Colt .45’s.

Then the dreams would stop for awhile. Months. But the inversion into the real world kept moving on. Inevitably, like amoebae eating. Slow and methodical. Fingers oozing to swallow up the intended. The marked. Every once in awhile I’d see riot-geared and plastic-shielded and space-helmeted policemen chasing people down blind alleys. Down streets toward other riot-geared and plastic-shielded and space-helmeted policemen. Nightsticks flashed brilliant black in the harsh light. Daylight. At night on television. On the News. Would they soon be chasing them across the rooftops? The Scarlet Pimpernel and Robin Hood flushed out into the open–I tried to laugh but it caught in my throat and gagged me. Sweating. Panting. Flared nostrils. I could not believe what I was watching. My dreams come true. Heaven help me, Mr. Disney!

And then the dreams would start up again. More intensely. Two men became three became four. Always running me into the black-and-white night gangland movie set. The outlaw cornered. Along the church portico and down into the shadows and highlights. Caught in the spotlight.

I was always running down a blind alley. A dead end street. Maybe it wasn’t but that’s the way I felt. I never saw the end. I could have projected my fear, my paranoia. Yes? That I couldn’t escape? Just what they wanted me to believe. If I believe I’m lost. If I believe I’ll fail. I will. Right?

I’d wake up before I got caught. Before I got anywhere.

Why am I being chased? What is it these Gestapo-like troops are wanting? What’s their story? What have I got? Is there no release from this manifested paranoia? It’s not mine. It’s imposed from outside. To what purpose?

I don’t know. I stand sweating and wondering. I grow dizzy with the pressure. The pressure of not knowing. The pressure of always being run to ground. . .and never getting there. Stuck at the mouth of the trap. Neither they nor I get to the far end. They do not catch me. I do not get caught. But I don’t get anywhere either. I wake up.

Why am I being chased? What is it I have that they want? Who are they, these costumed hunters?

So shaken. So shaken. Shaken and disoriented. Eyes wide, expecting. . .

Were they hiding here in the room? Would they be waiting for me outside my door? I’d get up and look about the house. Look out the windows into the blackness.

What happens next? What will happen in the next dream?

I became afraid of the night. Of closing my eyes. What if I blinked? And missed it.

And then I see on the news night-flying helicopters with bright piercing eyes scanning the ground, the streets, the buildings for. . .people? For runaways? For problem children? For trouble? Lighting up pieces of the night, pieces of the city like underworld crime movies, like slice-of-life-pies. Paranoid conspiracy theory mania. Art’s constructed worlds become life. And I fear for myself, for I have the same sensations as with my dreams. But the newscasters calmly announce they are out, these black night-flying helicopters, to make the city safer. These cyclopean machines appearing out of nowhere despite the thwack-thwack of their rotors.

In my dreams, the Fascists appear out of nowhere despite the bone-chilling studying of their boots on the pavement. Always somewhere else. And always right here. I’m already running, seeking a haven, when they come into the picture. They’ve been waiting just off camera. Waiting for their cue. They’re never late.

What is it I’ve done to be running from? What evil looms and billows like dark gathering clouds in the night over my head? Where am I going? Where am I going to go? I don’t know where it is I’m going. Where I’m trying to get to. Just away. Just–safety is just away from my pursuers. A place for me to catch my breath. I’ve got to catch my breath. There’s a stone in my diaphragm stealing my breath away. My lungs fill and there is no air there. It seeps back out leaving a hollow empty place. I can’t hold my breath. My head feels thick. I need a place to think clearly. Look at things and see what is happening. Where I’m going. What is in all this? But I’m alone and out of breath and running away from Fascists that suddenly appear out of the darkness to chase me through the black and white patchwork streets.

If they suddenly appear, they had to already be running after me, right? That part’s already established, right? Or have I manufactured them in order to give me a reason to be running? In the dream I hunt for rationality, a Frankenstein monster: there has to be reason, no?

Then I am being shown around the church building, half open large door off to one side, to an alleyway. A means of escape. And. . .caught! In the act. End of movie still shot, head turned, eyes wide. I’ll be back.

Then I began seeing pictures in the papers. Bad reprints of the movie set in my dreams. People being run down. Frightened rabbit eyes bulging for the camera. Taut faces. White teeth beneath stretched lips. Hands and arms extended in warding-off gestures. The wild dogs are upon them. I read episodes of people being run to ground. Captured. Manhandled. And then never heard or seen again. A neat Las Vegas disappearing act. Clearasil® and pimples: here today, gone tomorrow.

Notices were posted on walls and telephone poles and announced on the radio, on the television in stentorian voices of authority. Notices about a threat to our safety, to our way of life, to. . .us. Stories of why the new military-style police. They were everywhere. At the airport to greet everyone who disembarks, armed with semi-automatics. On the streets. In the buildings. At the shopping malls. In the bus/train/subway stations. In the hotels. On the elevators. Following us on the streets. Protecting us without smiling. The Great Freedom. Always with guns ready to bark.

When I saw them following me, I went to the doctor. The paranoid codswallop of my dreams becoming reality in reality. Is something wrong with me? Only anxiety, he said. Don’t worry. Projection of my fears on outside others. I’m being irrational. These things are not there. Here. Take these. You’ll feel better in a few days.  We’ll talk about it when you’re normalized.

No effect–other than more frequent dreaming. More furious running. Chasing. I could almost see those Fascist faces. Looming into my light. But always severely shadowed. Fox-like and piercing. Grimacing grins of glistening teeth. If I could see them maybe I’d know–but. . .always umbraed. I just couldn’t quite get a fix. When I was highlighted, they were in the shadows. When I was in the shadows, they were at the shadows’ edges. So close. So close. I almost knew why. I almost knew what was up. But I couldn’t stop to see. That would be the end.

Increased tension. My ability to function at work, doing mundane everyday things, was affected adversely. I would forget things. Or do them in reverse. I’d lie about what I’d done. Find excuses. It was never my fault. I was threatened with termination. Ha!–I was threatened without termination. What was I to do?

So. . .I found these other drugs. These drugs that keep me from sleeping. These drugs that keep me from dreaming. Day or night. And now, when I see what was once in my dreams out in the streets and on the TV I am unperturbed. Yes. . .it’s happening. But out there. Beyond me. Outside of me. I’m not included. I do not now see the dream inversion into the outside world, my world of the everyday, as real. Reality. Because there is no perception. Drugged, I go merrily along. Nothing affects me now.

I feel better not seeing the dream-reality. The dream-reality is invisible. I control it.

I must keep it that way or else. . .