Not Long Tales … October 15th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4198)

10.

Mr. Eyeballs

Curtis Marshall was the father of two young boys, a contractor, avid Philadelphia Phillies fan and great proponent and propagator of practical jokes.

He loved to create a setup that surprised trusting victims with a payoff ranging from foolishness to horror, and then to stand back and howl with laughter at their naivety.

At a barbecue-rib-and-corn-on-the-cob night, he once replaced the toothpick container down at the Reynolds Dining Hall with his own toothpicks, which were covered in maple syrup. For a solid hour he observed folks grossed out by the sticky pick, casting it away in disgust. Finally an employee noticed his giggling, and he was confronted by the manager and asked to leave.

Curtis was always surprised at what you could get away with as long as you looked like you knew what you were doing.

For instance, one busy Saturday he set up a table at a local shopping mall, with a big banner with the drawing of a deer, reading “Free Doe Nuts.” Sitting out for all to enjoy were small, dark-brown, round doughnut holes. Curtis thought it was absolutely rib-splitting to offer these to people in the mall, and while they popped them in their mouths or were chewing on them, he explained that they were actually Doe Nuts—testicles taken off a deer. Reactions were absolutely explosive. Some people spit, others cussed, one little kid spewed—and finally Curtis was reported to the mall manager and had to hustle away with his table and Doe Nut holes, security on his tail. At no time did it occur to any of the participants that does were ball-less female of the deer species.

More recently, he got in trouble with the Health Department. At the ladies’ restroom of the movie theater, he replaced the liquid soap provided with a product known as Blood Soap. It came out looking like regular soap, but as you washed your hands it turned bright red and appeared to be blood. Curtis sat directly next door in the men’s restroom on the pot and howled with laughter as he heard the women screaming. When it was discovered that he was the culprit, the Health Department filed a suit against him for disturbing the peace, or something or other, but it was thrown out of court.

Curtis Marshall was certainly committed to the art of the practical joke. He had pulled so many on friends and family that it had gone from humorous, to quaint, to finally—with all in agreement—flat-out annoying.

They got together to hold an intervention over his practical jokes. After an hour or so of him protesting that it was innocent, a way for him to enjoy life, they countered by informing him that if he wanted to continue to be a part of the family—or even married, for that matter—he had better stop practicing what they deemed “a spiteful wickedness.”

Discouraged, he nodded his head. But the next morning, he decided on one final escapade. It needed to be a big one. He decided he would even spend some money.

He rented a post office box at one of those strip-mall stationery stores under the name of Stanley Morton.

Next, he needed to find a private investigator. Having no idea on how to go about such a task, he asked a couple of friends. Finally Jerry, one of his work buddies, happened to have a card from a young man who had passed through the office, trying to drum up business for his foundling company. He was an investigator. The name of the company was Mr. Eyeballs.

Curtis had to chuckle at the silliness of the name and decided it would be perfect for implementing his coup de gras of laughables. So posing as Stanley Morton he called Mr. Eyeballs. Curtis asked the young proprietor to do a job for him.

What Curtis—pardon, Stanley—wanted was for the private dick to follow a man around to see what his activities were, because Stanley was planning to do some business with this fellow and feared he might be dishonest. Curtis—Stanley—explained that he would send Mr. Eyeballs a picture of the individual he wanted to be scrutinized.

Well, Mr. Eyeballs said he could do as requested—he would give four full days of bloodhounding the activities, but it would cost five hundred dollars.

Curtis winced a bit at the expense but figured the payoff would be worth it. He agreed and sent Mr. Eyeballs a five-hundred-dollar cashiers check, along with the name of the fellow he wanted pursued—Curtis Marshall—and a picture.

Curtis, who had stopped all other practical jokes in honor of this magna cum laude, was nearly beside himself with anticipation over the arrival of the report.

One week passed. Two weeks passed. In the middle of the third week, Curtis decided to call Mr. Eyeballs back—as Stanley—and ask what the holdup was. The young man was apologetic. He explained that he was new in the business, wanted to do a fine job, and was still typing up the final draft. He was holding it in his hands and would put it in the mail immediately. Curtis, under the guise of Stanley, was agreeable.

Two days later, when Curtis checked the mail at the stationery store, there was a manila envelope waiting for him. He grabbed it, raced to his car and opened it, pulling out the stapled report.

It had a preamble:

Being asked my Mr. Stanley Morton to investigate Curtis Marshall to determine his honesty and virtue, I have come to the following conclusions.

Mr. Marshall made quite a few stops at the ATM.

I have found through my studies that two visits a week is commonplace. Mr. Marshall sometimes made two a day.

(Curtis just laughed. It was his practice to never carry extra cash, but to take out of the ATM whatever he needed for the moment.)

The report continued:

I also discovered that Mr. Marshall made frequent trips to the library, and following him into the establishment, it seemed to my mind that he spent an inordinate amount of time whispering to the librarian.

(Once again, Curtis had to burst out with laughter. One of his favorite targets was the librarian. He would ask her for books that did not exist, and then be disappointed that the library was unable to fulfill his wishes.)

Still more report:

Three times during my four-day investigation, Mr. Marshall made a stop at the back door of a small mom-and-pop restaurant called The Rib Shack.

He huddled with a man in an apron, exchanged some cash, and hurried to his car, carrying a small bag.

(Curtis smiled. He loved the ribs at The Rib Shack, but he didn’t like the way they cooked them for the common people. So his buddy, Mickey, always fixed a quarter-rack of ribs for him just the way he liked them. Curtis picked them up three times a week, on the down-low, so nobody else would know.)

Mr. Eyeballs was not finished. The report also cited that Curtis Marshall picked up his two children at school, always arriving early, and seemed to be watching the other children as they departed.

(Now Curtis was feeling a little nervous over the report. It was true that he went to the school early—for two reasons. Number one, he wanted to make sure he was never late so as not to keep the kids hanging. And number two, he used this as his private time, to think up…well, usually to think up new practical jokes.)

Finally, Mr. Eyeballs cast some doubt on why Curtis Marshall spent so much time in his garage at night, working on some sort of project. Getting close to a window, Mr. Eyeballs was able to determine that there was a lot of rock and roll music being played, some smoke coming from one of the open windows, and—well, it was all just very brash.

(Curtis resumed his laughing profile. He loved loud rock and roll music. He wife thought he had quit smoking three months earlier, so the garage was his only safe haven. And he was trying to learn how to be a carpenter but finding that he was not very good at measuring or cutting.)

At the bottom of the report, Mr. Eyeballs had placed, in large letters, the word CONCLUSION.

“If I were surmising the life and times of Curtis Marshall, I would say that perhaps he’s involved in selling some drugs—maybe on the high end—having an affair with the librarian, using the contact at The Rib Shack for distribution, trying to get young children started on smoking grass, while working in his garage, hatching a plan for some sort of criminal evil.”

Curtis finished the report and stuck it back in the manila envelope. He was a little disgruntled. It was ridiculous, but he thought it would be funnier. Instead, he felt affronted, even defiled. He decided this particular joke was a fizzle, and that if he was going to finish out the life of a practical joker, he would need a better exit prank. He would think about it.

As he was driving home, about five doors down from his house, he saw an old gold sedan in his neighbor’s driveway with a magnetic sign on the side which read, “Mr. Eyeballs.”

He was so surprised that he almost slammed on his brakes, but then thought he needed to be cooler than that. More controlled. Once he got home, he forgot all about it. Of course, he told no one about his disappointing and expensive adventure.

The next morning, on his way to work, about eight doors down on the right hand side, at another neighbor’s house, there was Mr. Eyeball’s car again, with the ugly sign. This time, Curtis noticed the paint was peeling on the door. He drove by very slowly so he could get a good peek.

The same thing happened that night—except it was three doors down on the left-hand side, in the driveway of his neighbor, Michael. There was Mr. Eyeballs’ car—right in front of everybody.

Curtis was unnerved. He needed to talk to somebody but couldn’t do it without exposing his foolish flub. So after dinner, as darkness fell, Curtis decided to walk out, go down the street and talk to Michael about who the visitor was with the golden sedan.

But before he could get to Michael’s house, driving slowly by in the other direction was that ugly gold sedan with the magnetic sign, which could barely be read in the darkness, but still was certainly Mr. Eyeballs.

Curtis turned around and hurried home, taken aback by the whole encounter. He peeked out of his front widow four, five—maybe six times that evening, and on two occasions, driving along at a creeping crawl was Mr. Eyeballs’ vehicle. What in the hell was going on?

A whole week passed. It seemed like every time Curtis looked around his home turf, there was the gold sedan either coming or going.

And then, something truly startling–friends and neighbors, who had frequently come for visits, ceased to appear. The Crawfords, three doors down, cancelled a barbecue that had been planned for months. Curtis had always tried to walk his neighborhood every day, but now each time he saw one of his friends and waved, they ducked their heads and hurried inside.

What in the hell was Mr. Eyeballs up to? Had the young man become too aggressive, following him to his home and warning the neighbors about these fictitious concerns?

Finally, Curtis decided to ask his wife, Carol, if she knew anything about the gold sedan driving through the neighborhood. She said no, but her eyes darted like they always did when she was lying.

Curtis went down to the police station and explained his concerns to the lieutenant. He surmised that he was either being persecuted by this stranger, or Mr. Eyeballs was perhaps planning to extort money by ruining his name among his companions.

The following Saturday, Curtis went to the doors of his neighbors—seventeen in all—and knocked. Half of them refused to answer at all and the other half refused to open up and allow him entrance. Skittishly, they peered through their windows at him, or made up some excuse for not being able to talk.

Curtis was losing sleep. He had to do something. It was completely out of control. The young detective he had hooked up with obviously had some mental problems and had targeted him for demolition.

Finally, two days later at the grocery store, he cornered his friend, Brian, in the meat section between the steak and the chicken. He maneuvered his cart to prohibit Brian from escaping and came right up into Brian’s face, whispering, “You are my friend. You are not going to lie to me. You are not going to avoid me. You’re going to tell me the truth. What’s going on?”

Brian looked at him nervously, his eyes flitting to the left and then the right. Brian leaned into Curtis and whispered back into his ear. “Leave it alone,” he said. “You’re in a lot of goddamn trouble. We’re all scared. The young man has us terrified. We can’t talk to you. He told us about following you—he’s discovered all of your sinister paths.”

Curtis couldn’t take anymore. He pulled Brian in by the shoulders and shook him. “You know me, man! You know me. What’s wrong with you?”

Brian took the opportunity to wiggle away, grab his cart and dart to the front of the store. Curtis was barely able to maintain his public decorum, chasing his old friend through the canned goods.

He gathered a few last things, remembering the gallon of milk and dozen eggs his wife had requested and headed to checkout. Brian was two people ahead of him, on the right-hand side. Checkout 6.

Curtis stared at him—a threatening glare. Brian finished paying, gathered his groceries quickly and headed for his car as Curtis impatiently waited for the cashier. He was pissed—done with being nice.

He raced his car home, but as he approached, he discovered there were cars everywhere. What caught his attention immediately was the one sitting out front—the ugly-ass mustard sedan with Mr. Eyeballs’ sign on the side.

All the cars were at his house and on his grass.

He parked as close as he could, leaving his groceries in the car, no longer concerned for the outcome of his Rocky Road ice cream. He scooted through his front door. There were his neighbors, sitting in a circle in his living room, and there was a young man in the middle—the one he assumed to be Mr. Eyeballs. He was through being courteous.

“What’s wrong with you all?” he screamed, turning in every direction. They all peered at him without flicking an eyelash.

“I ask you, what’s wrong with you?” Curtis demanded. “Are you actually listening to this maniac? He’s so stupid—so dumb—that he doesn’t even know that I—yes, I—am Stanley Morton.”

He turned to Mr. Eyeballs, shouting angrily,  “I set you up, you dummy! I gave you a fake name and you got taken in!”

The women in the room pulled back in fear as the men stood, ready to subdue him if necessary. Lunging forward toward Mr. Eyeballs, his arms were caught by two of his friends, Tommy and Jack. They held him as he tried to break free to attack his oppressor. Fully constrained, Curtis stood helplessly panting.

Mr. Eyeballs looked at him and said, “Gotcha. Or would it be better to say, ‘April Fool’s?’”

From across the room, Curtis’ wife shouted, “I kind of like hee-haw!”

With this, everyone burst into uproarious laughter.

Curtis, still feeling heat from his fury, looked around in disbelief. “This was a joke?” he challenged.

Mr. Eyeballs replied, “Yeah. But an expensive one. I plan on keeping the five hundred dollars.”

This brought a whole new wave of laughter. Curtis Marshall was embarrassed, angry, humiliated, bereft, nervous, suffering high blood pressure—and deflated.

Everyone stood to leave and quietly passed by, patting him on the back. A couple of folks even gave him a hug.

Curtis desperately tried to imitate humility. He didn’t want to be an angry loser. He didn’t want to act like other people had when he’d pulled pranks on them.

But the truth was, he felt exactly like them.

After everybody was gone and his wife kissed him on the lips, he headed out to his garage and turned on Metallica full blast. After fifteen minutes of hammering nails into a board (which would never be anything but hammered) he stopped and considered.

“This was not fair,” he thought to himself. “This was not a joke. This was…completely impractical.”

 

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Not Long Tales … October 8th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4191)

9.

Write Before My Eyes

At age twenty-five, just shortly before his wedding day, Nathan Merced decided he wanted to write a novel. Energized by his romance and a bit greedy for some notoriety and profit, he envisioned a book showcasing all of his art and much of his heart.

Now, nearing his fortieth birthday and a father of two, he returned to the dream, determined to once and for all pen a lasting tribute to immortalize his name and offer credence for his time on Earth (or words to that effect).

Staring at the page, with the working title, “Monstrous,” Nathan paused, considering his byline. What name should he use for his book? He had never favored pen names—how would people know it was you who wrote it? Nathan Merced was a solid handle, he thought, but it didn’t have that three-name flow common to writer—like Edgar Allen Poe.

He thought about using all three of his names: Nathan Edward Merced. But suddenly, Edward sounded very common. He decided to transform Edward into Edvard. So now typed on the page in front of him was:

Monstrous

A Novel

By Nathan Edvard Merced

And the morning was the first day.

Coming back after a lunch (which he tried to make continental and light, so as not to bulge his brain with fat grams) Nathan felt his best approach was to conceive a work with a popular theme—of course, nowadays that would be science fiction or a graphic novel. Bringing up something about the Apocalypse would be a plus. Bouncing a few ideas around, he decided to write them down, just in case one of them fired up the ferocity of his writing thrust.

How about a book where a human becomes a monster, while simultaneously, a monster from an alien planet becomes a human? Yes, yes…then they mysteriously meet somewhere in the middle of their transition, and in those few hours of complete similarity—one being half monster and one being half human—they fall madly in love, only to move away from each other as the human becomes more monster and the monster more human, until finally, the human (now monster) kills and eats the monster (now human) whom he or she had once loved.

Nathan sat back and considered. It could work. It could really work.

But did he know enough about monsters to write about one? He laughed. Since there really weren’t any monsters, anything he made up would be fine. No one could challenge him, citing the “Book of Monsters.”

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. He had told his wife he needed to be left alone, so assumed she would answer, running interference. But the knocking continued. Finally, Nathan’s next-door-neighbor, Jack, was standing outside his bay window, pointing to the front door. Nathan heaved a sigh of despair. Apparently, his wife got caught up in some temporary difficulty and failed to be the watchman required.

So Nathan waved at Jack, slowly stood to his feet and walked to the front door. He welcomed a man who was obviously agitated. He invited Jack into the study where Nathan had just been involved in writing the Great American Tome. Before he could offer Jack drink or even seat, the man launched.

“My daughter Cynthia,” he began frantically, “I need help. I need wisdom. I came to you because you have more education than me. You’ve got some sort of degree, don’t you?”

Nathan sat down slowly in his desk chair. “Well, I’ve got a bachelor’s in fine arts.”

“Perfect,” Jack said quickly. “That’s more than I’ve got. I thought you maybe could help—here’s the problem. In high school, my Cynthia’s history class has been studying the 1970’s and she has become obsessed with Patty Hearst.”

Nathan frowned, trying to remember the name. Jack, seeing his confused face, offered, “You remember her, right? That rich girl that got captured by the Symbionese Liberation Army.”

Nathan’s eyes grew wide. “Listen, Jack—you obviously know more about this than I do.”

Jack objected. “That’s only because I looked it up. I thought I should at least know the name of what was destroying my daughter. Do you understand? My beautiful, young daughter, Cynthia, came to me today with a headband tied around her head and insisted that from now on, we should address her as ‘Scratchy.’”

“Scratchy?” repeated Nathan, trying to keep up.

Jack shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know why she wants to be ‘Scratchy.’ She’s read up on all this stuff, she knows all the details. She even knows what Patty Hearst wore the day she was abducted. Nathan, for her sixteenth birthday, she’s asked for an Uzi.”

Nathan chuckled nervously. “Come on, Jack,” he said, trying to sound reasonable. “She’s a teenager. It’s a phase she’s going through.” He motioned to the page on his computer. “Listen, I’ve got some work going on here. I think you should back off—don’t do anything to either discourage her or encourage her.”

“Did I tell you the worst part?” jack responded impatiently. “She is advertising—posting on the Internet—asking for someone to come and kidnap her.”

Nathan crinkled his brow. “Oh-h-h. That’s not good.”

Jack sat, shaking his head, staring at his hands, not saying a word. Thirty seconds of silence went by, creeping up to a minute. Nathan, realizing that Jack was awaiting some kind of guidance of divine proportion, finally responded gently, “Hey, Jack…”

Jack stood up, and Nathan rose, too, speaking. “Listen,” he said, “I am gonna help you with this, but not right now. I think I told you last week. I’m on a jag. I’ve hitched a plane. I don’t know how to explain it, but I’m really buzzed about writing this novel, and here I am. See? I’m sittin’ here and it’s happenin’. We’ll talk about Cynthia later. Just go home, lock all your doors and keep an eye on her.”

They arrived at the front door. Jack turned and looked at Nathan like a desperate man on his way to the gallows. “Okay,” he said slowly, “if you say so. But I don’t think I can keep crazy people from attacking my house to snatch my daughter.” A quaver invaded his speech as the last word was spoken.

Nathan nodded his head, walked over, patted him on the back—but literally pushed him out the door and on his way.

Nathan quickly returned to his computer, trying to regain the energy of his monster-human story. He was on the verge of coming up with an idea concerning how the sexual parts of the emerging monster and unfolding human were difficult to…what would be the word? Well, he decided, let’s go with “reconnoiter.” But their love was so strong that somehow, they found a place for everything.

As Nathan turned back to type up the ideas that were eeking out of his brain, there was another knock at the door. He was stuck. He now knew his wife wasn’t home to sidestep the danger, and he didn’t want anyone else doing jumping jacks to get his attention through the bay window, so he eased to his feet and went to the front of the house, peering through the curtain to see who had come to invade his privacy. He recognized him immediately. It was the new minister from the church down the street. (Nathan had only met him twice. Church didn’t come up often on the Merced schedule.)

All at once, the minister winked at Nathan, glimpsing his peering position behind the curtain. Exposed— “made,” as they often said in police dramas—Nathan pulled the curtain back to its former position and stood tall for a moment, trying to remember the preacher’s name. He remembered that when he first met the fellow, his name reminded him of donuts. Powered? Glazed? Jelly-filled?

Unlikely.

Nathan went to the door and opened it. Fortunately, the minister, well-trained by his seminary, solved the problem. “Hello, Mr. Merced,” he said brightly. “I hope you remember me.” He reached out his hand to Nathan and continued. “I’m Reverend Thomas Duncan.”

Nathan laughed inside. There it was. Like Dunkin Donuts. He shook Duncan’s hand but decided to keep the conversation at the door instead of letting it spill out into the house.

The polite parson, realizing he had not been welcomed inside, began to launch on his mission. “I don’t mean to bother you, but I’m contacting all the church families because we have a…how should I say? Well, I guess it’s a crisis.” He quickly added, “But also an opportunity.”

For a crisis, Nathan felt forced to invite the minister in. They walked back to the study where the novel had been on the verge of being unleashed, Nathan perched behind his computer, hoping to create a visual for not talking too long.

The young minister perched and explained. “We have gotten information about a refugee family from Central America. They were just rescued from the Atlantic Ocean. You see, Mr. Merced, they were so poor, so frightened of military retribution, that they made a raft—to the best of their ability. Although I have to be honest. I don’t know how they would have any information on how to construct such a vessel. But somehow or another, they got together a raft and launched it into the Caribbean—all six members. Mom, Dad and four kids, the oldest being twelve.”

Nathan was frustrated. He felt a long discourse coming on and he was not in the mood for it. He could just feel the inspiration dribbling out of his body. Here he was, on the precipice of writing the first paragraph—or maybe even chapter—of “Monstrous,” and he was being held captive by an overwrought reverend. Yet Nathan had no idea how to shut the man up, so the soliloquy continued.

“Well, as you probably guessed, they got the raft past the tides and into the ocean, but it began to fall apart. The family members ended up clinging to it, holding on for their lives. As the story goes, they figured out a way to catch fish, or some sort of sea life, which they broke apart, shared and ate raw. On hot days, they licked the sweat off each other for moisture, and when it rained, after the storm passed, they would remove their clothes and wring them out into each other’s mouths to achieve hydration. After six days on the ocean, they were rescued by a fishing trawler, begged for asylum and arrived on the mainland of the United States with no place to go. When the notice of their plight went out on the Internet, I immediately contacted the authorities and offered our town, and said that our church would provide this family lodging for two weeks, until they could gain their admission, get assistance and make their way to becoming part of our great country.”

Even though Nathan was absorbed in his own concerns, the tale was so compelling that a tear came to his eye, yet he bravely fought it back in respect of regaining his muse. “Listen,” he said, “we can’t have a family near here. You see, the problem is, Pastor, there’s a girl who lives next door and she’s kind of crazy right now. She wants to be abducted by…what should I call them…scoundrels. I don’t have time to give details—but I don’t think this is a good place for this lost family, but I will tell you what I’ll do. I’m gonna sit down right here—right here at my desk—and I’m gonna write you a check. Yes, I’m gonna give you a donation to help these folks.”

Nathan grabbed his checkbook from the drawer, took his pen and scrawled the gift. He ripped it out and handed it to Pastor Duncan, who said with as much vigor as he possibly could, “Oh! Twenty dollars! Well…that should help.”

Nathan interrupted him. “That’s what they say, Pastor. Every little bit helps.”

The startled preacher responded, “And this is just that. A little bit…”

The young pastor quickly stood to his feet, shook Nathan’s hand and headed for the door, asking him as he walked, “If you have any other people you know or ideas, please contact me.”

Nathan, a bit ashamed, confused, yet a tad irate over his donation being trivialized, tried to change the subject. “Hey, preacher,” he said. “You know how I remembered your name?”

The minister shook his head. Nathan chuckled. “Donuts. I remembered ‘donuts’ and that’s how I knew your name was Duncan.” Nathan laughed.

The minister smiled. “Huh,” he said. “I never heard that one before.”

There was no more conversation.

Nathan’s mind was already floating back to his computer and the pastor’s focus began to float to the lost souls who had floated his way.

With the departure of the cleric, Nathan gleefully shut the door behind him and ran to the computer to resume his quest for the Great American Novel. He hadn’t even made it to his seat when his phone buzzed. He glanced down at the screen. A text from his wife. He wanted to ignore it. He wanted to purposely set it aside to demonstrate his devotion and dedication to his mission. But after all, it was his wife. How could he ever explain to her that he had declined her text?

So he punched the button and the text came up. “Son arrived at school dressed in drag. Meeting required immediately. 2:00 P. M.”

Nathan wanted to throw the phone across the room, but such actions always ended up costing money, only offering temporary satisfaction. He glanced at his watch. Twenty minutes until two, and the school was ten minutes away.

He shouted at the walls around him, “How the hell am I supposed to write a masterpiece in this environment, where I am constantly interrupted, and I don’t have the chance to transform small ideas into great ones? My God! How did the masters ever achieve their successes, surrounded by sniveling mortals?”

He finished his little speech, so enthralled with his boisterous outburst that he quickly typed onto his screen the phrase, “sniveling mortals.” He would certainly want to use that later.

He decided to take ten minutes—ten holy minutes, ten consecrated minutes—and see if he could add to the already burgeoning possibilities of “Monstrous.” But rather than being inspired by his efforts thus far, the plot line began to mock him.

Who would be interested in a half-monster and half-human, getting busy?

How would he sell the book to kids under fifteen once it was dubbed too racy? They would certainly read it, but they would download it from their friends, and he wouldn’t make a penny.

And finally, the worst realization. What kind of name was “Monstrous” for a novel?

He was so discouraged.

Why couldn’t Jack take care of his own daughter?

Why didn’t the preacher start somewhere else to seek aid?

Why didn’t his son choose Saturday to experiment with women’s clothes?

A sense of gloom, and then doom, fell upon him like a pelting summer rain. He closed up his computer, heaved a sigh, stood to his feet and walked toward the study door, turning for a moment to address his computer.

“Good-bye, old buddy,” he said softly. “I don’t think I’ll come again. There just don’t seem to be any great stories left to tell.”

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Not Long Tales … October 1st, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4184)

8.

Play Boy

In 1864, while General William Tecumseh Sherman was marching across Georgia, destroying and looting everything in sight on his way to the sea, a man named Big Tom seized the opportunity to run away from the Hutchins Plantation, with all of its peaches and nearby cotton fields, to escape the prison that had been his life since birth.

The townsfolk were in disarray and the Rebel Army was being pushed back, and everybody’s attention was riveted on personal survival. So under the cover of night, with only his shirt, britches, a corn cob pipe and a small pouch of tobacco, Big Tom grabbed his eleven-year-old boy, Garby, and headed toward the North Star.

The best plan, he decided, was to stay two miles behind Union lines all the way North, sleeping in the woods during the day and traveling by night. Dad and boy lived on wild rabbits and scattered berries of questionable origin, as they lay on their bellies and drank out of streams, like all “deer folk.”

The whole trip took two months. Caution was the most important factor in determining the speed of the journey. There were Southern sympathizers everywhere—always the danger that bounty hunters, still loyal to Dixie, might grab the two of them and take them back to their bondage.

Yet there were some bright spots along the way. An old man and sweet lady let them sleep in their barn one night and brought them out some buckwheat pancakes dipped in molasses. Since it was so special, Tom decided to tell Garby that it was his birthday, and God had supplied a great surprise.

Patiently, tirelessly and fervently, they traveled until they stood on the banks of the Potomac River, and gazed across at the seat of freedom—Washington, D. C.

They had been warned by the old couple to be careful when they reached the Capitol, because there were many who favored Jefferson Davis. They suggested the runaways make sure to find an abolitionist to draw up some false papers for them, proving they were free men. So that was the first thing Big Tom did. Quietly he asked among the Negra population that inhabited the city where to find such an individual. He was finally directed to a Quaker couple, who welcomed him and Garby into their house, and drew up the phony identifications. It was a blessing of God.

Paper in hand, Big Tom was able to go to the Union Army and get a job as an orderly, emptying bed pans and taking care of the wounded soldiers housed outside of town. Young Garby went down to the local theater and was given the job of scrubbing the floors following the productions were performed. Sounded like a simple job to him, but he found that all he had was a mixture of lye and wintergreen to clean floors that were filthy from dirt, mud and the spit of tobacco chewers. He also had to freshen up the seats, which were sweaty and grimy—full of all sorts of nasty human residue.

But he never complained, nor did his papa. There was a huge difference between doing hard work as a slave and doing equally hard work when at nighttime, off by yourselves, you are free men.

Now, there were two or three old barns outside the city, where the Negra slaves congregated, making beds of hay and doing their best to cook for one another, sharing stories of their ordeals, with greater hopes for the future.

Although the labor was tedious, Garby was always thrilled to get to the theater—just to be around the kind of folk who lived in Make Believe. But he had to be careful not to be noticed, or they’d chase him away, watching out for him and preventing his curiosity. But after a while, he found some loose boards beneath the stage, and a cubbyhole on one of the ladders which carried the technicians up to check the props.

He loved it all—the funny parts, and even enjoyed it when the Booth family came to down to do their Shakespeare. He didn’t understand a word they said, but they did it all pretty-like, and they were so beautifully dressed up.

He got an opportunity when a magician rented the theater and advertised his show. He asked Garby if he would be willing to climb into a trunk and disappear. He wouldn’t really be gone, the magician explained. There was a trap door, and all Garby had to do was slip out of it. Then, after the magician startled the crowd with the disappearance, Garby needed to slip back through the trap door and reappear, so there would be double applause. Garby was ecstatic.

The first part went beautifully. He slipped out the trap door, disappearing, and shut the door behind him. But when it came time to slip back in, one of the latches got stuck and he couldn’t get it open, so when the magician pulled back the curtain, the little black boy was still gone. Whispering under his breath, the magician said, “Do it again.”

He put the curtain back over. This time Garby gave a big tug on the latch. It opened, and when the curtain was pulled back, there he was. Everybody applauded, but not nearly as much as they would have the first time. The magician was not terribly angry and didn’t yell too much, but also did not give Garby the dollar he’d promised.

Even though Garby was careful not to draw attention to his interest in the theater, and he made sure he got all the stains out of the floor and the seats, everybody still knew that the little Southern boy was crazy about the shows. Matter of fact, since none of them knew his real name, they started referring to him as “Play Boy.”

At first, he was offended, but then the costume seamstress, a woman named Auntie Minerva, explained that it was a compliment. “Don’t be so dense, little feller,” she said. “They’re just sayin’ that you’re a boy who likes the plays.”

Garby shook his head. There was so much to learn. For all eleven years of his life, he’d had two jobs: first, to do what his papa said, and second, to make sure he looked busy when Massa came by. Now he was in a different world, and he was trying to find his place.

Meanwhile, the war raged on, even though most folks knew it was coming to an end. The army of Robert E. Lee had been cornered in Northern Virginia, and the fall of Richmond was imminent. General Ulysses S. Grant had sent surrender terms to the secessionists, and now it was just a matter of days before the horrible four years would come to an end.

Garby didn’t worry much about the war. After all, his conflict was somewhat over. He had been a slave—now he was free. What happened next didn’t seem quite as important as what had come before.

But on one Monday morning shortly before Easter, it was announced that Robert E. Lee had surrendered at some little village in Virginia. (They pronounced the name to Garby, but he couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Somethin’ like “Apple.”)

There was such a celebration in the city—firecrackers, guns shot into the air, people hugging one another (still careful to make sure the embraces were with the same color).

Papa Tom explained to Garby, “Livin’ in Washington does not mean that we are loved, or even accepted. It just means that we’re not gonna be forced to work the fields or beaten if we make a mistake.”

Then late Thursday afternoon—the end of the war week—word got out that the President of the United States would be coming to the theater on Friday evening to see the popular play, “My American Cousin.”

Garby really loved that play. It was silly, and he could understand most of the words. But when he heard that the President—the man who said he was free—the fellow who sent troops down to make sure that freedom was honored—well, when Garby heard that his President was going to be at the theater, he knew he had to make some connection with him. There would be no way to get close, of course—partly due to the fact that the man was President, but mostly because Garby was just a little black boy.

So Garby went out into the woods and found a small piece of wood. He sanded it down until it had a smooth surface for writing on. He hadn’t learned to write yet, but Auntie Minerva was really good at such stuff. He asked her if she would scrawl a note for him, which he wanted to try to get to the President.

She laughed. “You’re never gonna get close to Abe Lincoln,” she said. “He’s a busy, famous man.”

Garby’s heart fell down to his feet. Auntie Minerva continued, “Yet if you want me to do this—if you want to try—I see no harm. What do you want to write on this hunk of wood?”

Garby thought for a second. He had been thinking for several hours on what would be just right. It couldn’t be too long. He didn’t want to take up too much time with the President’s eyes.

“Write this,” Garby said. “Thank you for making me free.”

Auntie Minerva waited, then finally asked, “Is that it?”

Garby nodded. Faithfully, carefully and quite beautifully, the aging seamstress wrote the words on the wooden surface. She read them aloud, pointing to each one.

Garby wanted to hug her, but his papa said that was not something that black-skinned folks should do. So he shook his head over and over again, with tears in his eyes.

Auntie Minerva reached over and patted his nappy hair. He walked away from her slowly, staring at the beautiful figures written on his wooden message board.

Now…how could he get it to Mr. President?

Some of the slaves had started calling Mr. Lincoln “Father.” Others referred to him as “Captain.” Garby just thought he was great. He decided to do something bold.

When the soldiers in charge of the President’s detail arrived late Friday afternoon, before the play began, to make sure the President’s box in the theater was clear and there was no danger, Garby was waiting. He stepped forward to the man with the biggest feather in his hat. The Commander, in his haste, nearly knocked him down in his haste. Upset by the little boy’s appearance, he spat, “Get away! This is no place for a little urchin!”

Garby did not know what an urchin was, but he figured the Commander was right. It was probably no place for him. But he was on a mission. He mustered all the strength and all the will he could and spoke. “I was wondering if you could give this to President Lincoln?” He held up his small piece of wood.

The Commander took it, looked at it front and back and then read it. “I don’t even know if I’ll see the President,” he responded. “So you might want to keep it until you see him another day.”

Garby was determined and vigorously shook his head. “No, sir,” he replied. “He’s too big, and I’m too small.”

The busy Commander found himself touched by the words. He told Garby he would do what he could and tucked the piece of wood into his breast pocket. Knowing it was time to make a retreat, Garby turned and quickly slipped away. For the next hour he just sat in a corner of the alley behind the theater and dreamed about Captain—Father—President Abe—reading his note.

A little bit late, the Presidential carriage finally arrived, and the family was hustled into the theater and up to the awaiting Presidential Box. That night there were so many in attendance there was no room to even get through the front door, so Garby found his favorite side window and sat underneath it, listening carefully to what was going on. There were muffled words, laughter, hands clapping.

But then, all of a sudden, there was a bang. Then there were screams. Garby knew the play, and at no time would the production make folks scream. The screams increased. Before he could move one muscle, he heard the front doors of the theater bang open. Soldiers came running down the street.

All the instincts he had gathered during his time on the plantation in Georgia kicked into gear. He slid around the corner and pushed himself up against the building, trying to be invisible. Such horrible sounds. Frantic men, shuffling boots, screaming women. And then finally, from the front of the theater, a man bellowed, “The President’s been shot!”

Garby slapped his own face, praying, wishing that he had fallen asleep, and it was all a dream. A horrible dream. But he wasn’t sleeping—he was awake, and the message spread down the street like a brush fire.

Garby stayed where he was. He wanted to run. He wanted to find the man who had done such a thing to his hero. He wished he was a surgeon, and could remove the bullet, or that he had the power of Jesus and could heal the wound.

Instead, he sat very still, like a black boy should. For an hour—then two—and finally, he fell asleep. Horrible nightmares of bullets.

And a dead President.

It was morning when he woke up, chilled, shivering from fear. There was still a bustle in the street, but it was much quieter. He stood to his feet, his legs aching, and walked around the side of the building. He made his way to the front door.

The manager of the theater was standing, staring up at his own establishment. Garby had never spoken to him; he had only seen him two or three times. But all at once, his boss, as if awaking from a deep slumber, turned and saw him. “Aren’t you Play Boy?” he said.

Garby’s eyes grew very wide with surprise. He couldn’t speak—all he could do was nod his head. The manager motioned for him to come toward him, but Garby was afraid. What was wrong? Were they going to blame him for the President being shot? He knew that was impossible, but why would the manager want to speak with him?

The manager motioned again, and finally the boy was able to move. He stood next to his employer, looking up into his face. The man spoke, “I would like you to do something for me.”

Garby nodded.

“The President just died,” the manager said.

Garby sucked in air, tears struggling to push their way out. And then, an amazing thing—the manager knelt down and took Garby’s face in his hands. “He was our father, too,” he said.

The little boy could not contain it any longer. Forsaking propriety, he buried his face in the waistcoat of the white man and sobbed. The manager held him, and after a few seconds, pulled back and looked into his eyes. “Play Boy, I want you to do something that nobody else wants to do. They tell me that you’re my best cleaner. I’ve set aside extra lye and plenty of wintergreen, and even some bleach. Son, I want you to go up into the President’s Box and clean it thoroughly. Wash away all the blood.”

Garby could not believe it. Stunned, he stared at the man, who continued. “I don’t want it there. I don’t want people taking pictures of it. I don’t want people coming and trying to acquire drops of our President’s blood.”

Garby was scared, but in his own eleven-year-old way, he understood. He agreed to do it. Gathering the supplies necessary to do the job, he headed up to the very special box reserved for the nation’s leader.

Cautiously, he walked into the door. It was a total mess—chairs knocked over and the smell of death hung in the small room. He was completely alone. It was so quiet that he felt he could hear the beams of wood weeping.

He made his way down to the President’s seat, staring at the blood. He knelt and offered up a prayer to his Jesus. “Help me do a good job.”

Garby scrubbed and scrubbed, and he cleaned and cleaned. After about an hour, any trace of crimson had disappeared, and the wood shone through.

He was about to stand to his feet and leave the box when he noticed—right underneath the seat where the President had been watching the play—there was an object of some sort.

Slowly, tentatively, Garby reached for it. As soon as his fingers touched it, he knew what it was—his chunk of wood, with his note.

He couldn’t pick it up. He just kept his fingers on it, stilled in disbelief. Then, encouraged by a surge of faith, he grabbed it and looked at it. There was more writing on it than Auntie Minerva had originally written. Scrambling to his feet, he ran out the door, into the street, looking for anyone who might be able to read the words on his piece of wood.

There was a man strolling toward the theater door, with two other men carrying cumbersome camera equipment. Garby stopped him. “Please, kind sir,” he said, “can you give me a minute?”

The man brushed him to the side. Determined, Garby tugged on his coat. “Please,” he begged.

Angrily, the man turned. “What is it you want?”

Garby held up the piece of wood. “I need you to read this to me. I can’t read. Would you read it, please?”

The fellow heaved a huge sigh of disapproval but took the small slab from Garby’s hand. He glanced down and read aloud: “Thank you for making me free.”

He finished reading and handed it back to Garby, who thrust it back. “No, there’s another part. I can tell.”

The man looked down with a frown, which gradually, ever so slowly, melted into a smile. He read again, from the top, “Thank you for making me free.”

Garby interrupted. “Yes, that’s what I wrote. I mean, that’s what Auntie Minerva wrote for me.”

The photographer shook his head and continued. “Kid, then it reads: Gladly. A. Lincoln.

Garby grabbed it from the photographer’s hand. He stared down at the words. The wood was speckled with drops of blood.

The Captain had spoken.

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Not Long Tales … September 24th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4177)

7.

The Grass Is…

Having been married for five years and saving up the residue from paychecks, Harry and Sandy Richardson were finally able to muster the down payment, mingled with the gumption and the good fortune, to purchase their first home—not exactly what they wanted, and certainly a little more than they could afford.

Sandy worked the night shift at the local county hospital and Harry was the overnight manager at the local pencil factory.

Now, the little two-bedroom, one-bath cottage sat on 156 Carmel Street in Walakons, Washington. There was no back yard, as the home sat in front of a nearby forest, but there was a quarter acre of beautiful lawn in the front, with the prettiest green grass you’ve ever seen.

Shortly after arriving, the neighbor to the right came over with a special casserole, and the neighbor to the left soon appeared at the front door with two bottles—one of wine and one grape juice, just in case the Richardsons were teetotalers.

So Harry and Sandy settled into domesticated life, and even began to consider having a child, though the idea terrified them. They certainly knew how to make one, but not necessarily what to do once it sprouted.

Speaking of sprouting, their front grass didn’t.

Something went awry. The beautiful lawn they had purchased suddenly began sporting dry patches—ugly brown sections all over, splotching the expanse. Harry quickly ran down to the local self-help store and asked what to do. Several different nutrients, and bags of this and that were suggested, but no matter what he applied, the grass continued to die out.

Harry thought it was a good idea to go over to the neighbor to the right to ask for a suggestion, since his lawn seemed fine. He was happy to help though he had to admit he had never seen such a problem in all his living days. He explained to Harry that the best thing to do was buy a big bag of hog excrement mingled with plenty of nitrogen to enrich the soil. He further expounded that the key was to spread it over his lawn at night, so that the evening mist and dew could perform their magic. Harry was so excited that he almost hugged the man, though it was a bit too soon for familiarity of that sort.

That night, Harry and Sandy, before going to their jobs, went out and sprinkled the magic potion all over the front yard. It took about forty-five minutes. When they arrived back home the following morning and the sun rose, they prepared for a miracle.

But the patches of ever-losing grass remained the same. The only evidence of the treatment was the lingering fragrance of a hog farm in full bloom.

Then the left-hand neighbor, sympathetic to the plight of the Richardsons, stepped in, patting Harry on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, my man,” he said. “I have the answer for you. There is this grass seed you can buy which is derived from a strain from the rain forest in Brazil. You plant this in your yard, and then, just make sure that for the next two days you water the entire area in three-hour intervals.”

It sounded so promising that Harry nearly cried. (Sandy went ahead and did it for both of them.)

Once again, the pair faithfully followed the prescription offered by the left-hand neighbor, but after a week nothing improved, except that the front yard had patches of puddles, resembling a rice paddy in China.

Harry talked to a botanist. He consulted a turf and earth specialist. He listened. He studied. He scanned the Internet.

He began losing some of the sleep he needed during the day, trying to find out what to do with his deteriorating quarter-acre. Because both Harry and Sandy were so invested in the issue, they became snippy and started blaming each other. There was no basis for the attacks—it just felt good to scream at something other than the front yard.

The death of the grass continued. Then Harry and Sandy noticed that the neighbors weren’t coming around anymore. Matter of fact, they had stopped making eye contact. The normal “howdy” or “how are you?” disappeared, as right-hand neighbor and left-hand neighbor quickly turned their backs, busying themselves and avoiding all contact.

There was even the whisper of a rumor which trickled back to the Richardson household. There were those in the surrounding block who believed there might be some sort of curse on the couple, which was manifesting itself through this unnatural occurrence. Of course, most of the sane folk of Carmel Street rejected such superstition but still played it safe by not getting too close to the 156 address.

As the bickering between the Richardsons grew worse, they sought out a counselor who offered little comfort to them, except to suggest that no matter how odd it seemed, perhaps a move to another house might be in order, to salvage their nuptials.

Then one day, neighbor to the right had a knock on his door. It was Harry, informing him that he and his wife were going on a cruise to Bermuda—one of those counseling affairs, where married couples with problems could escape onboard a beautiful ship, sip Mai Tais and solve their painful struggle.

Harry also visited the neighbor to the left. He told both neighbors that while he and Sandy were away, he had hired someone to come in and do a very special treatment to the lawn, blending both right-hand neighbor’s idea and left-hand neighbor’s idea together—to see if the twain could make the lawn one.

Harry outlined to his friends that these experts would be pitching a huge tent over the entire quarter-acre to do their work and to keep the sun from interrupting the treatment. Both neighbors were fascinated and promised to keep an eye on the house but would stay away from the tent area so the blending could be truly miraculous.

So on Tuesday, Harry and Sandy put their bags in their car and headed off to the airport to escape to rediscover their marital bliss. As promised, trucks arrived, workers erected a huge tent, there were the sounds of digging, and people coming and going for the next five days. Matter of fact, the workers had to come to Neighbor Right and Neighbor Left to apologize, because they would be doing some work on the final night, and might make a little noise, which they hoped would not be an intrusion.

Exactly nine days later, Harry and Sandy returned, well-tanned and doing a lot of smiling and hugging. They went to Neighbor Right and Neighbor Left and invited them over for the unveiling of the front yard—the result of the two treatments that had been so graciously suggested.

Five workers came, and meticulously removed the tent. After about an hour of labor, they exposed the prettiest green lawn you ever saw in your life.

Neighbor Right gasped and Neighbor Left clapped his hands. The two men walked over, shook hands vigorously and patted Harry on the back. Harry returned their enthusiasm, thanking them profusely for their contributions, and standing back to admire his lawn—the evidence of a community effort.

Well, before you knew it, there were half-a-dozen other folks, who came out and stood back in wonder, peering at the green grass like they had arrived on resurrection morning, witnessing Jesus himself walking out of the grave.

Everyone was so thrilled that a block party was planned for the following Saturday night to celebrate the patch of grass that was once brown and now had “greened” before everyone’s eyes. After all the congratulations were done, the giggles were finished and the back-patting was fulfilled, everyone returned to their homes and Harry and Sandy walked into their front door.

Harry gave Sandy a big, huge, loving hug. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe that I let our front yard control my affection for you.”

Sandy nodded. “Do you think it’s gonna work?” she asked Harry thoughtfully.

Harry Richardson turned and stared out his front window at his amazing lawn. “Yes,” he said. “I think it will. If our neighbors don’t ever find out that we put in really high-quality artificial turf.”

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Not Long Tales … September 17th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4170)

6.

Walt

The name “Walter” was quickly selected by two frightened young folk, who found out that his had mixed with hers, to suddenly produce an us.

Walter was the name of the uncle who had purchased her a Volkswagen Beetle the summer before she headed off to college with aspirations of becoming a marine biologist. Instead, she ended up pregnant before the first semester was done. He and she decided that “Baby Three” deserved to have a Mom and Dad instead of a live-in boyfriend or a Baby Mama.

So Walter began his life with parents who worked two jobs while trying fervently to pursue college degrees. By the time he began school, he had already discovered that his name was different than most of the young kids who frequented his personal sandbox space. As his education began, the atmosphere of “Biancas, Brians, Alicias and Brocks” left very little air for a “Walter” to breathe.

Immediately, by consensus, the first-grade class unanimously agreed that Walter was a “stupid name.”

By the third grade they began to rhyme it: Falter, Halter (as in “one who halts”).

By the fifth grade, when he insisted they call him Walt, for some reason the class clown changed it to Wait. Yes—W-A-I-T.

Then, in the seventh grade, it became a joke, as people began to poke him with phrases like “losing Wait,” or “Wait a second.” Then there was “worth the Wait…”

Well, you get the idea.

By the time Walt graduated from high school and had finished his second year in college, he decided to spend a year traveling through Europe. There he discovered that the name Walter was not worthy of persecution, which caused him to yearn stay on the continent for the rest of his life. But instead, he returned home to finish his education, still socially stunted.

So much had he missed that by the time he was twenty-five years old, he had no driver’s license.

People found this odd, and often questioned him. “How did you get to be twenty-five and have no driver’s license?”

He tried several answers, searching for one that would satisfy the questioner but make him look as good as possible. He eventually landed on a pair of possible purposes:

  1. “I never had to drive anywhere.”
  2. “I didn’t want to get a driver’s license until I could buy my own car.”

Exactly nine days after his twenty-fifth birthday, Walt took the bus over to the local DMV to take his driver’s test. It was a Tuesday morning. (One might call it a beautiful Tuesday morning if one were not frightened to overuse the word “beautiful.”)

As Walt stepped into the DMV and glanced around, he surmised that there were about thirty-five people. Sure enough when he walked up to take a paper number—his place in line—it was 37.

Walt would wait.

In the midst of the sitting and trying to make a four-year-old magazine seem interesting, a young man burst through the door, walked immediately to the front desk and began to argue with the receptionist.

This would not have been horribly unusual, but it became louder and louder. Then they began to hit each other.

When a guy in a chair nearby stood to his feet, attempting to become the knight in shining armor to rescue the damsel in the dress, the shouting dude grabbed a letter opener on the counter and thrust it to the girl’s throat.

The room was suddenly chilled in a freeze frame. No one could breathe. No one could think. Speech was absent.

Walt, on the other hand, was pissed. Walt was done.

Maybe it was the countless years of criticism over his name. Perhaps it was regretting that he hadn’t stayed in France.

All he knew for sure was that he had come to the DMV to get his license, and godamn it, he was going to leave with permission from the State of South Dakota to drive a car.

He stood to his feet and began quickly walking toward the door, as if to leave.

“What the hell are you doing?” called out one of the astonished sitters.

The holder of the letter opener screamed at him. “You sit back down!”

Walt did not listen. He kept heading for the exit.

“Where are you going?” screeched the attacker.

And then, Walt stopped dead in his tracks, pivoted toward the accoster, and spoke calmly. “Well, it’s real simple. You see, there’s a gun store just two doors down. I’m gonna go and buy myself a pistol, get some bullets, and come back here and blow your ass away.”

“Quit it! Quit it! You’re gonna make him mad!” shivered a lady directly across from the action.

“I’ll kill’er! I’ll kill’er!” shouted the boyfriend.

Walt asked, “What’s your name?”

The young man paused for a moment, then said, “None of your business.”

Walt tilted his head back, examining the ceiling. “Okay. We’ll call you Angry Boyfriend, which is too long, so you’re just A. B.”

Completely baffled, the man slowly nodded his head as if approving the name selection.

Meanwhile, Walt turned to the girlfriend. “Now,” he said. “What’s your name?”

“Mandy,” the little lamb said sheepishly.

A. B. squeezed her neck tighter. “Don’t tell him your name!”

“Why not?” she said, mousy.

This completely stalled A. B., yet not wanting to appear indecisive, he recovered quickly. “Because then they’ll know!”

While A. B. was busy arguing with Mandy, Walt had turned back toward the door, walking again, ready to make his departure.

“Wait! Wait!” pleaded the angry boyfriend.

Walt giggled a little inside at hearing the word “wait.” Brought back some memories. Still, without turning back toward A. B., he said, “I’m sorry. I’ve gotta go get my gun.”

A. B., mustering as much macho-sinister tone as possible, spat, “But I’ll kill’er.”

Walt chuckled. Yes, he did. He turned around slowly, and said, “A. B., I don’t think so. You see, what you’ve got there in your hand is a letter opener—and by the way, I didn’t even know they made’em anymore. Who’s opening letters?”

Mandy piped up. “just every once in a while, it’s nice to have one around.”

A. B. shook her. “Shut up!”

Walt continued. “Well you see, back to what I was saying. What you have is a letter opener, which is supposed to be dull, so people don’t cut themselves and bleed all over their desks.”

A. B. glanced down at the letter opener and threatened, “I’ll make it cut.”

Walt laughed. “Well, if you want my opinion, and you want to come off as really dangerous, you better go ahead and test it. You know—find a place on her arm or her leg and see if you can even puncture the skin with it.”

From way across the room, a man’s voice objected. “Don’t give him ideas!”

A. B. thought for a second, ran his finger across the blade and had to agree—it was too dull to cut anything. He changed his strategy. “Then I’ll strangle her with my arm!”

Walt couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing. This caused the whole room to gasp, fearing he was going to taunt the boyfriend into mayhem.

“Come on, A. B.,” chided Walt. “By the time you tried to strangle her, three or four of us would be all over you.”

Suddenly, in the midst of the conversation, the front door burst open, breaking glass everywhere, and in came two policemen in full riot garb, each carrying a shotgun. Walt was barely able to jump out of the way and escape the spray of glass as it flew through the entranceway.

The policeman noticed Walt standing there and turned the shotgun in his direction. Nice and easy, Walt reached over, pushed it away and said, “No, no, no. It’s not me. It’s that guy over there with the letter opener, trying to decide if he wants to be the DMV Strangler.”

The policeman, confused, just peered at Walt.

The second cop spoke up. “What’s his name?” he said, shotgun pointed at the offender.

“Good question,” said Walt. “We’ve decided to call him A. B.”

“Abee?” challenged the cop. “Is he an Arab terrorist?”

Walt shook his head. “No, no. He’s a whole lot of fussin’ from ever creating terror.”

Walt again tried to leave, but all at once, A. B. beckoned to him from his unholy stance. “You stay! I can talk to you! Don’t go! I don’t know these cops—and they already got guns! All I’ve got is a…”

Walt turned around, stepped past the policeman and interrupted. “Yeah! All you got is a letter opener!”

The first policeman leaned in and whispered to Walt. “Would you mind staying? You seem to have a calming influence.”

Walt leaned back and glanced at him. The policeman repeated his request, much more loudly. “Would you stay? I’d like you to help us talk to this fellow.”

The whole room seemed to nod in mutual agreement. Walt was needed. Walt was valuable. Walt suddenly was worth the wait.

He smiled. Never before had he been honored or appreciated for anything. But now, Walt was not only the center of attention, but his abilities were required to diffuse the danger.

Walt nodded and slowly approached A. B., one foot at a time, as he spoke. “A. B., what you’ve got here is a situation where you’re in the middle of a fox hunt. You know much about fox hunts? If you don’t, in this fox hunt, y would be the dog. It works this way—when gentlemen go out on horses over there in England, and hunt for foxes, it’s the dog that does all the work. The dog gets dirty. It is the dog that crawls through holes, gets stuck by bramble bushes, and finally corners the fox, leaving it no place to go. And then the good men of the county show up with their guns and blow the furry creature away.”

Walt stopped his walking and looked squarely into A. B.’s eyes. He reached up and scratched his head. “Now, wait a second,” he said. “Maybe I’ve got this wrong. I mean, the story’s good. But maybe you’re not the dog. Maybe you’re the fox they’re gonna blow away. It’s just so hard to tell. You know what I mean, A. B.? But either way, if you’re not careful, you’re either gonna walk out of here completely as a stinkin’ dog—or a dead fox.”

A still fell over the room while A. B. considered his dilemma. Suddenly he let his arm fall to his side, as the letter opener fell from his hand to the ground. A. B. looked out across the room and spoke to the entire gathering. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was just trying to argue with my girlfriend.” He glanced over at Mandy. “My cheatin’ girlfriend.”

Mandy suddenly gained full voice. “I was not cheating!” she said indignantly. “You never gave me time to explain! The guy I was hugging was my older brother, who just came back from basic training. Support the troops, loser!”

A. B.’s mouth dropped open. He wanted to object, but realized her story was not only possible, but likely. He hung his head, then lifted his eyes. “Well,” he muttered, “it sure looked like cheatin’.”

At this point, the two policemen stepped over quickly, apprehended A. B. and cuffed him.

The whole roomful of DMV-waiters, greatly relieved, burst into applause. As they took the angry boyfriend (A. B.) away, and the traumatized girlfriend to the hospital, the people turned and stared at Walt.

Yes, Walter who didn’t falter.

He, on the other hand, realized it was an excellent moment to gain some turf. He held up his tiny piece of paper that read “37.”

He walked slowly around the room. Then, speaking with a firm and deliberate tone, said, “Listen,” he said. “I don’t know who has Number 1—but get this straight. Whoever you are, you’re trading with me.”

He looked around and concluded, “Today I’m going first.”

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Not Long Tales … September 10th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4163)

5.

Pocket Size

Carl couldn’t stop staring at the small, cherrywood box sitting at the front of the church. He was very still, except every once in a while he got nervous knees and started swinging his legs, which prompted his mother to give him a quick, gentle swat, as she whispered in his direction, “Don’t you be actin’ like some peckerwood.”

He did not know what she meant by that, but every time she warned him in her stern tone, which still contained just a hint of her Norwegian upbringing, he was quite certain that even though he was a young fella, subject to fits of boredom, he did not want to be classified as a peckerwood, which based upon his mother’s disgust, must absolutely be a forsaken doomed child.

Inside that cherrywood box which drew his attention was his classroom friend. Her name was Lydia. They had told Carl that she was dead, though no further details were offered. Yet just by sitting quietly and listening to the adults on the way to the funeral, he was able to learn that his friend, Lydia, had been murdered by some stranger and cut into pieces, leaving behind only her blood-soaked dress.

All these words were so cruel and foul that Carl was unable to find an image in his mind to match them.

The funeral pressed on. Song after song, speech after speech. Especially terrifying to his young heart was when he saw Lydia’s mother and father break down in tears, a howling so intense it left him shivering, his skin crawling.

So he was relieved when they left the church, got into the big, black car with four adults including his mother, and headed off to the gravesite, where there would be more songs, talking and tears. Carl felt a little bad because he was grateful for the distraction.

Recently his life at school had become nearly unbearable. Living in the rural regions of Minnesota and having the last name “Bunyan,” Carl was constantly teased by all the children, because unlike his mythical ancestor, Paul Bunyan, Carl was a boy who was very small, slight, quiet, shy and sheepish.

Although these words were associated with goodness, they were taunted as failure by the overwhelming bullies. Last week, desperate, Carl went to see his grandfather, Peter. Peter Bunyan. He explained the trouble he was having at school because he was a Bunyan but didn’t have a mighty axe and seemed to be unable to “drink an entire lake.”

His grandfather listened carefully, stroked the boy’s flyaway hair and said, “When these boys say their words, you think this to yourself. I want you to memorize it. You think, then speak: Not small, not tall, not loud, not proud, just a lad, so glad, no lies, pocket size.

Grandfather reached down and tickled his ribs to prompt a giggling closing. Then he continued, “You see, that’s what you are. You’re perfect. You’re pocket size. You can be tucked away and carried anywhere.”

Even though Carl was not greatly comforted by the counsel and the bullies were unimpressed by the little rhyme he shared, his tensions were relieved.

And then the whole school received the news that Lydia, who had been missing for a month, was dead.

Now, standing at the grave, next to the hole in the ground where the cherrywood box would be placed, he was suddenly shaken with fear and grief. Since nobody was paying much attention to him, he scooted away and walked through the cemetery, heading toward the northeast corner where the bigger and older monuments covered with moss stood, worn but tall.

As he walked among them, he paused in front of one that still had some bluish-gray stone shining through.

“Is that you, Thomas?”

The voice seemed to come from inside him—out through the top of his head and into the surrounding air. “What?” he asked, looking around in every direction for the source of the question.

“Is that you, little Thomas? You haven’t visited for so long.”

Carl held his breath. He stared at the gravesite and realized that the question was coming from within it. He couldn’t help it—he was so terrified he peed his pants. He leaped away and looked in every direction to see if there was anybody who might possibly have been addressing him.

Embarrassed by his action of urinating himself, he looked over at the surrounding grass, and noticed some dribble of his own pee on the blades. Fearing being caught and punished, he ran over, took his foot and covered up the droplets with some dirt. As he did, the voice spoke again.

“Thomas, why have you come to see me?”

It was too much. Carl turned and ran at breakneck speed, not stopping until he literally collided into his mother’s leg, almost knocking her over. Having a maternal sense beyond comprehension, she gave a sniff and inquired, “Did you wet yourself?”

Carl was astounded, but replied, “Maybe. But I don’t think so. Nah.”

When they got home, he scurried out of the car and into his room, where he immediately changed. Merely wearing underpants, he lay on his bed, thinking about what he had experienced.

He must have been dreaming. Yes, maybe he had dozed off looking at the stones. Still, there was a tug from the adventuresome part of him—which usually hid away out of propriety and for fear of criticism.

He came out to eat dinner and asked his parents when the sun would rise. They gave him a quizzical look but told him that according to the newspaper it was set to rise at six-thirty in the morning. He nodded. They waited for an explanation. Realizing he needed to come up with something, he continued nodding, and mustered, “Schoolwork.”

“But tomorrow is Saturday,” objected his father. “There’s no school.”

Nervously, Carl replied, “Yes. But there is a sunrise, right?”

Carl’s mother found this funny, laughed, and the subject disappeared into the air. But the next morning, shortly after dawn, Carl headed back toward the cemetery. He brought along a canteen, a couple of candy bars and one of the small kitchen knives, just in case he had to defend himself. Of course, if ghosts were talking to him, a knife probably wouldn’t be very helpful. But it could scare them away.

Arriving at the cemetery, a walk of about a mile-and-a-half, he made his way to the gravestone where he had heard the voice. He edged forward until he was standing directly in front of the stone.

“Is that you, Thomas?” came the voice again, sounding identical to the way it had the day before. Carl immediately had the urge to run, but tried hard to stand still, his knees knocking.

“Not many people visit. Thank you for coming,” the voice stated politely. He quickly backed away, moving to the left, and found himself in front of another stone.

“My wife is my problem,” spoke a different voice. Frightened, Carl quickly leaped back to his original position.

“Hello, again, Thomas! Did you forget something?”

Carl carefully stepped across the adjacent grave and perched in front of another stone, next to the complaining husband.

“Do you know my husband?” A woman’s voice. “He is a philanderer.”

Carl didn’t know what the word meant, but inched back to his right, facing the other grave.

“My wife is nothing but a nagging machine!” intoned the voice.

Carl smiled. He was standing in front of the graves of a husband and wife. He moved to his left.

“I didn’t want to be buried next to him,” said the wife, “but the plot had already been purchased.”

Carl stepped again to his right, in front of the husband’s plot.

“It was bad enough that I had to live with her. To have her as a next-door neighbor is completely intolerable.”

Carl was terrified—but entertained at the same time. He spent the next hour going from grave to grave, hearing pieces of conversation—mostly complaints.

He wondered if death was a place where people realized that their lives were over, but they still kept their sadness. He had not yet decided whether to talk back to the grave-speakers, so forming what he thought was a very good question, when he was in front of the lady’s grave, after he heard her latest complaint, he asked, “Why are you so unhappy? I thought heaven was a place of joy.”

There was a long pause. Maybe Carl was not allowed to offer a contribution to the conversation. Then the voice responded, speaking softly.

“Heaven is unimaginable,” came the answer. “It’s just that every once in a while, we have to come back here to remember our lives, feel again, and pray for others.”

Carl shook his head. It was all so bizarre.

He had heard of a word—they had just learned it in school. Hallucination. Maybe that was what was happening to him. With all the tension of being bullied at school and the death of his friend, maybe his mind was escaping reality by creating a new world, separate from the pain. At least, that’s what the definition in the schoolbook said.

He slipped away, careful not to disturb any more gravesites, or souls.

As he was leaving the cemetery, he remembered the grave of his friend. Young Lydia. He wondered if it was proper to bother her so soon after her passing. But his curiosity overtook him.

He eased up to her grave and stood right in front of the marker that had been left, preparing for the arrival of the stone.

Nothing but silence.

Wondering if the hallucination time was over, he stepped over to his right. There was a woman’s voice, explaining the pain she had tucked away during her life.

On the gravesite to the left of Lydia’s, there was a young man’s voice, apologizing for drinking and losing his life in a car wreck.

But whenever he stood in front of Lydia’s grave, there was only silence.

Something was wrong.

Carl walked to the edge of the cemetery. About to head to his house, he realized that the town was only about a half-mile away, so he walked, jogged and ended up running to the police station. He had no idea what he was going to say.

He walked through the door. The entire station turned to look at him. He felt surrounded, realizing there would be no way to explain what he wanted to say without appearing to be the “crazy boy,” a dumb kid pulling a crank, or worst of all, coming off like a peckerwood.

A woman detective stepped forward, sensing something amiss. She took little Carl into her office and sat him down. She bought him a root beer. He loved root beer. (Mostly it was the taste, but some of it was being able to say he was drinking a beer, even though it had a root, too.)

After several sips, he relaxed. She was so understanding that he spilled his whole story. The funeral, the gravesite and the voices. He even told her that he had wet his pants. He explained that he had come back this morning just to see if he was nutty—or maybe just to confirm that he was wacko.

She listened carefully, hanging on his every word. When he was finally done sharing, she leaned in close to his face—so near that he could smell the coffee on her breath. “You’ve just had a really, really bad week. What is your name?”

Carl swallowed hard, knowing that once he gave his name, he was opening the door to his parents finding out about his weird comings, and now, weird goings.

“Carl Bunyan,” he replied dutifully. But he could not silence himself. The sense of dread overtook him, so he continued. “I know my story sounds crazy, but what if I’m right? Would you really hate yourself, ma’am, if you helped out a little kid? Even if I’m wrong, you can always say, you know…that you’re a good police person.”

Carl could see that she was considering it. She chuckled to herself and asked, “Well, what do you want me to do?”

Carl said, “I’m telling you—Lydia is not in that grave.”

The policewoman sat back and heaved a sigh. “Of course not. They didn’t find her body. I don’t want to spook you, but we think she was chopped up by her killer, and her body parts thrown in with the hogs down at the Spencer farm.”

Carl grimaced, but after he thought for a moment, he replied, “No—I mean, you know what you’re talking about, but I still just don’t think she’s dead.”

These seemed to be the magic words—the needed phrase. The detective patted him on the head and said, “Now you’ve given me probable cause. It’s my duty to follow up on every lead.”

She asked Carl to stay in her office while she checked some things out. It didn’t take very long. About an hour-and-a-half later she returned and awoke him from one of those “do nothing, go to sleep” naps. She was shaking her head. Carl noticed that her hands were also shaking.

“Carl,” she said, “I need to tell you—we went to the mortuary to talk to the undertaker who buried Lydia. At first, he was hostile. Do you know what hostile means?”

Carl nodded.

“I was suspicious of why he was so hostile,” the detective went on, “so I pushed him, and when I told him I was thinking about digging up her body, he broke down and confessed. Now, here’s the story. Carl, Lydia’s parents ran out of money, so they decided to go over to Beckersville. That’s about thirty miles away. They found some people who owned a big farm and they sold the girl to these folks so she could work for them. They got twenty thousand dollars for her. Before they took her over there, they drew some blood from her, telling her that she was donating to the Red Cross. And they worked out a deal to give two thousand dollars to the undertaker to keep his mouth shut—and to bury just the dress they had stained with her blood. So you, sir—you were absolutely right. Lydia was not there, and now she’s headed back home, to be with her grandparents. And three very bad people are on their way to jail.”

“Peckerwoods,” said Carl.

The detective frowned but nodded her head. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I guess they’re peckerwoods.”

Although the authorities kept the story as quiet as possible, it was leaked, and young Carl became quite the hero. He never, ever went back to the cemetery. He took the deceased at their word. The folks there were busy with their concerns.

He went back to school, and the bullies left him alone. Maybe they were all a little afraid that Carl might bring a ghost down on their heads.

Carl didn’t care.

Carl wasn’t unhappy.

Carl didn’t need to be famous.

He had decided he enjoyed being pocket size.

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Not Long Tales … September 3rd, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4156)

4.

43

The Great Debate.

As the critics and advocates tumbled and tussled over the issue of gun control, an innovation quietly made its way onto the world stage. It silenced the controversy about guns because it was not considered a weapon. It was touted as beneficial and given a clever, almost cute name: The Blaster.

Privately, for years the American government had been working on a nuclear hand-held device. Though it was initially considered impossible to control a fission reaction held in the human hand, the well-funded research nevertheless persisted, energized by much money.

It was unveiled as a simple climate-friendly way to dispose of waste, clean up after a hurricane or even quickly eliminate unwanted foliage in building of new communities.

It had a companion device called “Clean Boy.” Even though The Blaster itself emitted low-level radiation within the acceptable range of human exposure, Clean Boy was manufactured to make sure that any work done with The Blaster would leave the region free of the fear from radiation sickness.

The Blaster seemed ideal for disposing trash from an area since it only covered a twelve-foot radius, leaving whatever was in its path a pile of ash and dust. As often is the case, for a brief season it was used exactly for what it was conceived to address.

That was, until the Holy City Massacre.

Blasters, which were supposed to be highly regulated and kept out of the hands of criminals or the uninformed were suddenly used at a mass shooting in Jerusalem, killing over four thousand pilgrims and annihilating several of the holy sites.

Of course it was a shock to everyone’s system. But over the years there had been so many mass shootings that no one considered The Blaster, with its nuclear implications, to be that much worse than other atrocities.

What was once considered an American problem had, over the years, been translated into every language and culture. Even though the United States wished to export democracy and freedom, it ended up transporting death and mayhem. So the debate about The Blaster was similar to the arguments over assault weapons.

But there was a man who lived in Winesca, Iowa, named Dylan Cavanaugh. Fifteen years before The Blaster came onto the scene, Dylan and his wife realized that the thirst to kill and the appetite to hear about it on the nightly news was too strong to stop the insanity.

When the ban on assault weapons was lifted, Dylan and his wife journeyed to Wyoming, where they found a parcel of land with a mountain and purchased it, using some inheritance money Dylan had acquired from his mother and father.

The couple set off to change their world. Every summer (and actually, every chance they got to get away) they prepared a way of escape. Even when four daughters arrived, Dylan and his wife, Crenslo (whom he called Crennie) went to Wyoming to their dreamscape and made plans—intricate plans.

Dylan was a licensed electrician, but he also was an inventor. He had manufactured a special battery for an electric minibus which had solar panels in its roof and large storage spaces in the sides. It seated eleven counting the driver.

Shortly after the Holy City Massacre, Dylan gathered his family together and explained his plan. “I do not want to scare you, or maybe I should say I don’t want to scare myself, but because of the atrocity in Jerusalem, it seems to me that half the world is anticipating the wrath of God and the other half is ready to bring it. I’m going to ask you to trust me. For the time being, and for further notice, we are going to our property in Wyoming, which we have prepared as a living space, until I am certain that I can offer you a safe home here in Iowa.”

The girls stared at him in disbelief. Each one had a life in the small Hawkeye town. But Dylan had succeeded, both as a human being and as a father, to build trust with his children. So Clancy, age fifteen, Roberta, thirteen, Sharon, eleven, and Caroline, nine, climbed into the electric minibus and made the journey with their parents to Wyoming. There was sadness, intrigue and just enough distraction along the way from trying various treats at gas stops to keep them engaged and hopeful.

Upon arriving, the young ladies got to see their mother and father’s vision. Carved into the mountain were a series of caves, fully lit and even decorated—enough openings and rooms to house fifty people. On the mountain itself were thousands of solar panels, providing enough energy—especially with Dylan’s new battery technology—to keep them warmed or cooled for months.

They spent the whole first month learning how to shoot a bow and arrow. No guns were allowed, but there was a need to gather food. Dylan had brought a computer, and also a ham radio setup so he could stay in contact with society. Still, the rest of Earth seemed far away from the Wyoming outpost.

About two months in, the Internet disappeared, and the radio went silent. The girls watched as their father cried and their mother joined him. They weren’t certain what the tears were for, but they contributed a few of their own.

At that point, Papa Dylan began going off in the minibus for days at a time. Upon returning, he always had one, two, and once, five people along with him. Each one had a story, each story more terrifying than the one before.

Dylan made his journeys for about six months. He ceased them once he stopped coming back with human folk. All in all, there were 43 people who found refuge in the vision of Dylan and Crennie.

One day, when it was pretty certain who was who and what was what, Dylan made a short speech. “I have not given up on the Earth. But right now, I want to make sure that we don’t give up on each other. I know each one of us saw lots of movies about the Apocalypse and the destruction of the Earth. In those flicks, the survivors always ended up killing each other.” He looked around, then joked, “Maybe it was because they were all zombies.” Everyone laughed. It was good to laugh.

He continued. “There are going to be three jobs in our little home. Those who gather the food, those who cook the food and those who clean up. Each one of us will learn how to do all the jobs. We’ll alternate. There will only be three—well, I guess we can call ’em rules. Love your neighbor, do your work, learn something new every day.”

The other 42 people who had gathered for the little speech smiled, shed a quick tear over loss and then turned to one another and embraced. Dylan found Crennie and kissed her lovingly on the lips.

Clancy, the oldest daughter, looked across the room at a boy named Zach.

She thought he was cute.

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