November 17, 2017
(begun by Brian)
He put the memories away in boxes. There were boxes everywhere, so many that you had to navigate a passageway between them. The apartment was smaller than David remembered it. It had been 15 years since he’d last been here, when he’d walked out and never looked back. Pat could rot, for all he’d cared. He’d had enough. And in a way, Pat did rot. David’s foot hit a box and he heard something inside break. Shit, he thought. He opened the box, and inside was the bone china teapot he’d bought Pat as a gift on their 2nd anniversary, now broken. The lid, though, was somehow intact. And then David did a double-take – under the lid, a small square of folded paper had been tightly lodged.
November 21, 2017
He walked outside with the box, to get more light and pried the paper out, unfolded it and was flabbergasted to find it blank! Just then a gust of wind blew the paper out of his fingers. Flying along like a kite , it twirled and twisted only finally land in the sand along the beach. As the sun warmed the sand, words began to appear on the paper. As luck would have it a young boy strolled by and saw the writing appear. He picked it up , thinking it was a treasure map, only to find it was more a letter. Nevertheless, he folded it up and stuffed it in his pocket then headed home.
“Shit!” thought David, as he lost sight of the paper. He thought it might have been a clue, a hint, something to unlock the mystery of Pat’s sudden disappearance. But it was nothing, nothing at all. The truck from Out Of The Closet Thrift Store arrived an hour later, and carted away the memories, and Pat’s collections and memorabilia, clothing and period furniture. Not a word in 15 years – both private investigators had found nothing. It was past time to move on. He was taking one last look around the place – he had to admit, the view of the Pacific was magnificent – when he noticed something glinting. Stuck in the framework of the sliding glass doors to the balcony was a wad of shiny brown hair, with the ends colored a faded red. Which was odd, since Pat’s hair was golden blonde.
November 28, 2017
“It isn’t human,” said the nurse, giving the results to David. He’d given the hair to Frank, Paul’s GP, to have analyzed. “It isn’t human? How’s that possible? What kind of hair is it?” The nurse finished the phone call she was on, took a sip of her coffee, handed a bunch of files to another nurse passing by, made a quick announcement on the loudspeaker, then finally turned to him. Now that’s, thought David, multi-tasking at its finest. Her nametag said “Tameeka Jenkins.” “In order: No, it isn’t. Yes, it’s 100% possible – it’s animal blood. And I have no idea, we’re not a veterinary clinic.” Suddenly her cell rang. “Excuse me, I have to take this.” David turned and sat down in one of the waiting areas. He heard Nurse Jenkins say “Where is Mykell? What do you mean he ran out?” “Hey, David, I’m sorry the blood’s not Pat’s.” Frank sat down next to him, and brushed his silver hair out of his face. “Nurse Jenkins said it was animal blood. How can I find out what kind of animal? Doc, this could be an important clue.” Frank took a card from his pocket and wrote on the back of it. “Take this to Peter at this vet clinic. He’ll analyze it right away if he has time – and he owes me a favor. And David – don’t get your hopes up. It could be a neighbor’s dog for all you know.” David took a deep breath, and said very seriously, “That’s just it – Pat was afraid of animals of all kinds. He avoided them like the plague.”
December 7, 2017
David was pacing back and forth. Peter at the vet clinic had not had the time. In fact, it had taken 8 days to get the hair sample analyzed. Reindeer hair, Peter had said, and given him the test results (after he had paid an exorbitant fee.) The closest reindeer were, strangely enough, in the Santa Barbara Zoo. The Zoo had them flown in from Tehachapi for the season, two males named Holiday and Lightning. So he’d made plans to drive to Santa Barbara but those plans were foiled by the damn wildfires when they jumped to the other side of Highway 101. If there was one thing David was afraid of, it was fire. He’d lost his first lover in a fire – the apartment complex they’d been living in had caught fire, and by the time they’d become aware of it the fire spread to theirs. Hank had been right behind him when he’d tripped and Paul watched in horror as the ceiling above Hank collapsed on top of him. He’d managed to escape, but Hank did not. He looked outside the window of the cottage at the Malibu Country Inn, and looked north. The raging fires had created a dark grey, roiling mass; above it was what looked for all the world like a mushroom cloud. David shuddered. “Damn you, Paul!” he cursed. “Why California? Couldn’t you want to live in someplace sane?” I am, thought Paul, 67 years old and on a wild goose chase to find my lover who left me just as we were about to celebrate our 18 year anniversary, who disappeared 15 years ago leaving his bills and estate to be run by his lawyer, who calls me out of the blue to tell me Paul’s run out of money and would I be so kind as to either pack his things or pick up his tab? The fact that I’m here is enough to make me certifiable. “And the only thing I have as a clue to his disappearance,” he shouted to the soot-filled air, ” is a clump of goddamned reindeer hair!”
David walked along the beach. He missed Warrenton, Virginia. He loved his job, teaching American Literature and Dialects at NVCC. He’d met Paul at a bar in DC and they’d hit if off, both having a love of early American legends and folklore. Paul got a job as a counselor at Fauquier High School, and they were happy for 17 years. Then Paul changed – not physically, since he never seemed a day older than the day they first met. His attention wandered, he became short-tempered and at the end of 1999, he became unbearable. Then, on December 24th, Christmas Eve, their 18th anniversary, he didn’t come home. And that was it. A year later came a very short letter, Paul telling him how sorry he was, but they couldn’t be together. Ever. He stopped and checked his watch. The watch had been a gift from Paul, who didn’t trust cell phones to tell the time. It was 6:00 p.m. – he’d been walking for 30 minutes. Looking up, he saw Paul’s former apartment. As he was nearing it, he heard someone whistling “Es Ist Ein Rose Entsprungen.” The hair on David’s neck stood up. That was an old German carol, one that Paul loved. He heard someone come down the stairs, so David hid in the shadows.
The stranger, still whistling, was wearing a large and dirty overcoat, at least two bulky sweaters and a pair of jean that were most likely 3 sizes too big. Paul emerged from his hiding place, and his foot cracked a twig underfoot. He lost his balance and fell, face first, into the sand. By the time he’d stood up, the stranger – who may or may not have been Paul – had vanished. He turned around and was summarily knocked flat. He heard a young man’s voice say, “We’re sorry mister. I hope Rhonda didn’t hurt you.” He opened his eyes and saw antlers. Dammit, he thought, if I didn’t just get run over by a reindeer.
November 18, 2017
(begun by Brian)
Matchstick woke up to Tiddles licking her cheek with a sandpaper tongue. She ruffled the cat’s fur and reached into her raggedy coat pocket. She pulled out the last handful of kibble that she’d scrounged and put it on the alley floor, where it was quickly devoured. She was grateful for the cat’s company at night. As she stood up, she picked up her small suitcase and duffle bag and let herself into the Podunk Library. She rinsed her hair, washed her face and put on her other set of work clothes (Goodwill purchases, all of them) and set down a bowl of water for Tiddles, who was the library’s official meet-and-greeter. It was her fourth week as assistant librarian, and her 4th year of homelessness.
November 23, 2017
Matchstick (or ‘Matty’ as her new friends called her) tore into a drumstick. Tiddles was curled up in her lap, happily purring after eating the few, tiny bits of turkey that she’d been given. There was, she reflected, a lot to be thankful for. First, she was alive – she’d survived a good-for-nothing boyfriend who had stolen her savings and left her penniless. Second, she’d met someone on the streets who had helped, protected, and encouraged her. She got as far from California as she could, and somehow ended up in a place named – of all things – Podunk, Kentucky. She’d managed to scrape enough savings from panhandling in L.A. to buy a nice ensemble, which she had kept clean. That, and the nice librarian she’d interviewed with, landed Matty her current job. Tiddles shifted on her lap.
Matty idly scratched him under his chin. Mrs. Anberg couldn’t have been nicer or more understanding about her situation. Her daughter Sally had called yesterday, and told her that she was going to live on campus. Today Matty was told that, as soon as Sally was all moved, she could stay in the room for a small fee in exchange for doing some chores around the house. Matty had met a Ms. Millicent Green, who taught Sally in the college she was attending but was visiting relatives for the weekend. Mrs. Anberg told Ms. Green about Matty – hence the enormous care bag of leftover Thanksgiving food that she was now devouring. I have much to be thankful for, she thought.
November 30, 2017
“Here you go, Mrs. Campbell,” said Mattie, “Roses Love Garlic: Companion Planting and Other Secrets of Flowers, by Louise Riotte.” “Thank you, Mattie. Where did you find it?” asked Mrs. Campbell. “Misfiled in Romantic Fiction. Don’t ask me how I found it, I just knew where it was. It’s a knack I have.” Mrs. Campbell laughed, and her face lit up with laugh lines – and rather than making her look older, it had the exact opposite effect. Tiddles jumped up onto the counter, and stood partly on the book as she bumped Mattie’s hand, looking for a head scratching. As Mattie was checking the book out for the woman, Tiddles jumped onto the copy of the Podunk Weekly Press and sent it scattering off the counter. “Tiddles!” she shouted. “It’s okay dear, you finish checking out my book and I’ll pick it all up.” A few moments later Mattie handed the book to Mrs. Campbell, who was looking at the open newspaper with a sad expression. “What’s that you’re reading?” she asked.
“It’s about the Murphy boy. He’s been missing for almost a month now. They’ve found no clues, none at all. His poor parents have been besides themselves with worry. ” Mrs. Campbell gestured with her right shoulder, and whispered, “That’s Mrs. Murphy over there. They’re poor, the Murphys. But what they lack in funds they make up for in love. Colleen couldn’t conceive, and they adopted Thomas when he was a baby. That’s why,” she said, pointing to picture in the paper, “Thomas doesn’t look like them.” Mattie looked and recognized the boy instantly. It wasn’t his bright red hair, but his eyes that gave him away. She’d been at the Las Vegas Bus station six weeks ago when she’d spotted him, looking lost and alone, probably 15 or 16 years old, she’d thought. She had walked to his side, as he joined a line for a bus leaving for L.A. “Here,” she’d said, giving him the Value Meal she’d just bought, “You should eat.” He took the bag, looked inside, and just as he’d mounted the steps he turned to her and gave her the most amazing smile she’d ever seen. His eyes had shone with gratitude. Strange eyes, the color of beach glass.
December 8, 2017
“I ‘m crazy,” she said quietly, her words steaming the window beside her, making the passing landscape even blurrier. She’d left behind a great place to stay – making sure she’d paid two month’s rent in advance, to make certain it would be there when she returned. When she called Mrs. Adberg from the bus station in Wichita, it was to tell her that she’d left a CD on the bed to give to Sally, as an early Christmas present, and (c) she shouldn’t worry about Tiddles, who’d stolen away in her travel bag Mrs. Anberg had tsk-tsked, and said that Tiddles went where he wanted to, but she made Mattie promise to bring him back safely, and soon. Why do I feel that I have to find this kid? Tiddles batted her hand as she scratched under his chin. Yes, I know – it’s because have a knack for finding stuff, and if CPS finds him first, he’ll probably never see his family again. She gathered her things as the bus pulled into the Los Angeles Greyhound 7th Street Station. She had just emerged onto the street, Tiddles’ head peeking out of her knapsack, when a beat-up old car pulled up beside her. The smudged window was rolled down, and the driver leaned over. An old man’s face peered out at her, mostly wrinkles with huge bushy eyebrows and a big, gap-toothed smile. “‘Kin I gives ya a lift, young lady?” he asked. “In your dreams, Grandpa!” she said with disdain, and marched away. Tiddles let forth a pitiful meow. “No way. That geezer creeps me out!” Tiddles meowed again. The car pulled up alongside her 5 minutes later. “There’s no need to be impolite, Mattie. Your mother taught you better manners than that.” The hair on the back of her neck stood up, mainly because that’s exactly the way her mother used to scold her, and because the old man’s voice and demeanor had changed. She turned and faced him again. “Why are you following me?” she angrily demanded. “What makes you think that I’m following you?” he said playfully, “I’m following both of you. As to why, well you’re trying to find someone, and although you have a powerful knack, we are all running out of time, so you need a little help. He’s north of here, so if we hurry, we might make it to Ventura by morning. So get in, the both of you.”
Mattie didn’t budge. The guy gave a queer little whistle, and Tiddles leapt out of her knapsack, through the car window, and into the back seat. “Hey” Mattie shouted, “you get back here!” And she was rewarded with a typical feline defiant look. “Stupid, stupid cat! Damn all males!” She turned around and marched back towards the bus station. She heard someone playing a flute, something like ‘Ave Maria’, and she stopped to listen. When she awoke, a half hour later, she was in Grandpa’s car, Tiddles asleep on her lap. She turned to him and started to speak. “How did I…?” He held up a small flute, and said “One day, you’ll know.” Tiddles purred contentedly. They passed an exit sign that said ‘Shoup Avenue.’ “It will be another hour. And you can call me Niko.”
November 19, 2017
(begun by Brian – EXCLUSIVE storyline: no one else may add to this)
“So do ya think he belongs ta Klaus?” asked Bunion. Tinker looked at the frightened child in front of him. Nicely dressed, although the clothes looked a little careworn with age. There had been a hole in one knee, and Tinker admired the handiwork that had gone into its repair. Sewn with love, he thought. “Nah, he’s none o ‘Klaus’s gang. What’s yer name, kid?” The boy looked up at him, his face a little dirty, his hair bright red in the wan streetlight. “He don’ talk at all, Tinker. He’s broke,” laughed Bunion, “Ya reckon ya kin fix ‘im?” “They don’ call me Tinker fer nuthin’, ya know. Well then, I’ll call you Timothy.” And the newly-named child looked at him with eyes the color of beach glass, and smiled.
November 22, 2017
The dream was more vivid this time. Things were happening, everywhere. And there were connections, if he could just see them better! Every few nights since the 1st, someone new appeared – sometimes two people. There was even a cat, connected to a young woman somewhere. He could catch a word here and there, but his ‘eavesdropping’ gift couldn’t pick up anything more. Klaus might know more, but he hadn’t talked to the old fart in years. The new recruit – Timothy (though most of the crew called him Tim) – had been in a dream. “But he’s one o’ us, all right!” Tinker said out loud. A rustle of papers and a yawn told him he’d awakened Bunion, his second-in-command. Now, Bunion had arrived years ago, and Tinker dreamed him truly – his real name, his history. Bunion didn’t know he knew, and that was as’t should be. He was a good sort, was Bunion, but he was one o’ the rare broken ones that Tinker couldn’t fix. That’s goin’ ta change soon, he thought. “Ya looks like yer a 1,000 miles away, old friend,” said Bunion, “Let’s round up the tribe and find some breakfast. Fancy trying the cans behind the Pierpont?” “Take the kid and have ‘im give their head chef his best big blue-green eyed look. We might score some fresh muffins while you check the cans!” He watched as Bunion told Tim his job, and while he still couldn’t speak, the kid did laugh out loud. Laughter soothes the wounded spirit, and loosens the chains of pain and memory. Pretty soon, he’ll be talking.
December 2, 2017
Tinker was remembering the movie “The Whales Of August,” in which Bette Davis’ character says, “Life fools you. It always does.” Damned if she wasn’t right. Tim had been with them for over 2 weeks, and he still hadn’t spoken a word. It was young Fries-Girl (sometimes she got work at McDonalds when she was clean) who solved the problem yesterday, by giving him a cell phone she’d found that someone had thrown away. “Here,” she said, “If he don’ know how to text then he’s not from this planet.” She’d been right on the money. As soon as Tim held the phone, he was typing. He learned a lot about the kid, and most of what he’d assumed had been dead wrong. He didn’t mind bein’ called Tim, as his real name was Tom. He could talk, he had written, but he wasn’ s’posed to, ’cause he had somethin’ real important to say and do when the time came. The last thing he typed afore the phone went dead was a “thank you” to everyone. Bunion got all teary-eyed and even Hairy Katey gave him a big squeeze. He’d had to give Tim credit, he didn’t back away like most o’ the tribe, but hugged her right back. It was getting dark, and they’d managed to find a bunch of sandwiches that had passed their expiration date in the Vons trash bins, along with some sodas that one of the night delivery guys had given them. That night, Tinker had everyone talk about themselves and their talents, or gifts, or ‘knacks’ as some called ‘em. All o’ them shared a little bit, or a lot, o’ the same blood. He wanted to tell Tim about The Forgotten and their history, but when he saw the kid starting to nod off, he decided to let it go for another day. Bunion sat down next to him, and wiped a tear from his eye. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I don’t know why you keep sayin’ I’m one o’ the tribe. I’m not anythin’ special-like, jes’…” “Stop it, stop that now!” Tinker said gently,”Jes’ cause I canna see it proper don’ mean it ain’t there. Every time I dream you, it runs from me, like it don’ wanna be found. Never seen the like o’ it before.” It was true. Bunion wasn’t ready to ‘member it hisself, so it didn’t want anyone else to, either. But the change is coming, thought Tinker. He looked at the stars. Maybe closer to Christmas. Then again, ‘Life fools ya!’ And Tinker laughed, sending Bette a kiss into the stars.
November 21, 2017
(begun by Dagmar)
I’ve got to pass this jury. If I don’t, my whole career is ruined. Having to make the grade like this is so scary, thought Sally. If I’m not careful, I’ll end up working in a stupid library, like Mom. Man the weirdoes she meets working there boggles the mind. I hate playing piano for a grade. I was meant to entertain people not to sit here waiting for my torture to begin. Mr. Johnson has those beady eyes that bore through you. Ms. Green is nice but she’s so namby pamby, like never an original thought of her own. I should have been a voice major. That faculty is so much nicer. Oh God, here I go. I hate my life! Brain, please don’t have a memory slip.
November 21, 2017
Sally heard them call her name. She entered Reagan Hall and walked across the stage, her knee-high black leather, metal-studded boots letting the teachers know that she was there before she even passed the stage curtain. She could still hear her mom shouting at her, but Sally had put her foot down and told her that if she had to do this, at least she’d be comfortable. And so she steam-punked herself to the nines. She sat down in front of the piano, and began playing Liszt’s Etude No. 5. The music filled her, and took over, as it always did. Not a single cough came from Prof. Jerk-son. When she finished, she stood up, and bowed. Not a sound. It was then that she noticed a figure sitting way in the back. Sally turned to go, but just as she lifted her foot, she heard a hearty male laugh, and a “Bravo!” from the back of the room. She looked, and both her teachers were on their feet, applauding, mouths hanging open. She walked out of Reagan Hall as fast as she could, out into the open air, and breathed deeply.
(December 4, 2017)
She passed, of course. She wasn’t certain if it was entirely on the merits of her performance, which Jerk-son had called ‘profound and inspiring’ (gag me with a spoon, she thought) or the fact that the mystery man that had attended her performance turned out to be Chance L. Dorado, the country’s foremost classical music booking agent. It turns out he was a childhood friend of Ms. Green, and when she told him about her (!), he’d all but invited himself to her end-of-semester jury. He’d adored her outfit, was blown away by her playing, and wanted to book her for a live production on Christmas eve for WKYU-TV! Ms. Green might be namby-pamby, but she was full of surprises! Sally had a ‘business brunch’ with Mr. Dorado at the Wild Eggs Restaurant in Bowling Green; it was quite a distance from the college but Mr. Dorado raved that its Mr. Potato Head Casserole and their Bananas Foster Cappucino were worth it.
He was so right! “Sally? I can call you Sally, can’t I? Now isn’t this place just divine – almost as heavenly as your performance today! We’re going to call you…let’s see…how about the Pachelbel Punk Belle? You’ll be fab-u-lous!” It hadn’t taken her long to guess which team her new friend played on. It didn’t phase her one bit, but this was Kentucky, and their fellow diners were giving them pretty disapproving looks. “Now, here’s a prepaid Visa card so you find something outrageously punk and holiday pretty to wear for the show. Rehearsals are on Dec. 21, 22 and 23 at the University and the show’s on Christmas Eve. Oh, and here’s the first half of your fee, my dear.” And he wrote her a check for $1,000. Later that day she’d phoned her Mom with her news, and told her she was moving to the college dorms. It was time for her to get some space of her own. But her mom had surprised her, and asked if she could rent out her room to her new library assistant, Mattie. When she’d moved out a few days later, she’d met the young woman, and strangely enough they’d hit it off. “I’d love to hear you play some time,” she’d said, so Sally had told her about the show. Sally went back into the house to check for anything she’d forgotten, and stopped. She’d been thinking about how to punk-ify Pachelbel’s Canon – but had hit a roadblock. Wafting through the house she’d heard the melody of the Canon, but more playful than the original. She’d been making her way into the living room when she almost ran into her mother. “That’s the Canon, isn’t it?” she asked. “Yes. It’s played by George Winston. He called it ‘Variations on the Kanon.’ You’ve never heard it?” No, Sally thought. I’d never really heard it until that day.
November 20, 2017
(begun by Judith)
She listened to the man in the next booth complaining about how his daughter wanted to go to college in another state. It wasn’t the cost of the school – rather he did not want her to be too far away. That started Marie to remember the year her daughter wanted the same thing and Marie would not budge on the issue. Then her eyes filled with remorse and she thought about that phone call almost 3 years ago. Her daughter had defied her wishes and gone anyway. Both refused to talk to each other after that. Marie heard the voice at the other end telling her that while traveling with a boy, the car the boy was driving lost control in the middle of nowhere, in Kansas. The driver died at the scene. Now Marie visits her daughter at the hospital hoping, as each day passes, that she will wake up.
November 20, 2017
Marie had Emily moved to Longmont United Hospital four years ago, so she could be close to home. She could have put her in one of the better hospitals in Denver, but that would have meant fewer trips to visit and a considerable strain on Marie’s already strained finances. She looked at her half-eaten bear claw and half-empty cup of coffee, and sighed. Thanksgiving was just two days away, and she hadn’t bought a single thing. For the past four years, she’d prepared the full spread: turkey, side dishes and dessert, and set a place for Emily, in hopes of a miracle. This year, hope was in short supply. The hospital had called in a coma expert, who had proclaimed that her daughter could wake up, or be in a coma the rest of her life. She wasn’t brain dead, and her health – as long as she was cared for 24/7 – was stable. Her I-pad beeped at her, reminding her it was time to go back to the studio. Her new sculptures, made from wrecked car parts, were selling well. It was cathartic work for her, at best.
December 7, 2017
(Brian wrote; character of Morales suggested by Marcos R. Stump)
Some New York gallery had seen her work and had wanted to show the entire collection. After having gotten permission from buyers of the pieces that she’d sold, she’d shipped the last of them today. It was her first showing in NYC, and she’d promised to attend the opening, which they’d scheduled on the first week of January. They’d told her they had three days of interviews and photo shoots before opening day, January 5th. Marie had cautioned them that her personal life was off-limits: she’d only talk about her art. And they’d agreed. She was nervous as hell about leaving Emily for a week, and although the hospital had assured her that they’d call her if anything changed, she was feeling guilty about the whole thing. Today, she could have sworn that Emily had squeezed her hand, if only for a second or two. At least they’d be together on Christmas. She went to the front desk, and was about to ask the attendant if anyone on Emily’s floor was allergic to poinsettias when there was a commotion down the hallway, coming from the Emergency Room. Against her better judgement, Marie went to see what was going on.
She walked into mayhem – nurses and doctors were rushing alongside 5 gurneys that sped down the hallways like getaway cars. Vitals were read off, codes called, and operating rooms set aside. Her attention was caught by four drunk college students, bloodied and handcuffed as they were forcibly made to sit down by a pair of attending police officers. “What the fuck did you hafta do that for, Drake?’ said one. “Jesus, man, I think you killed him!” said another. “Fuckin’ queer ass faggot deserved to die,” Drake growled, “That asshole winked at me! I ain’t no faggot!” “Will you SHUT UP!” said a dark-haired kid in a “Jesus Loves You” t-shirt. “Good Christ, man, you didn’t have to run them off the road,” said the brown-haired one. “Don’t you guys know we could be up for multiple murders?” cried the dark-haired one. One of the policemen grabbed Drake by the shirt and lifted him out of his chair. “My son is gay, and he’s a quarterback at Ole Miss. You beat that kid – who was already seriously injured from the car crash YOU caused – into unconsciousness. The guys in prison are going to have a field day with you. You’ll be lucky to last two days.” Drake spat at the cop’s foot. “They deserved it.” It happened so fast, it took Marie’s breath away. The officer hit Drake square in the face, breaking the kid’s nose, spat at him, and said: “Two of that kid’s family are dead, two may not last the night, and the kid – his name is Morales, not that you give a shit – is in God’s hands now. All because he winked at your sorry-ass pretty face. I’m going to make sure you never see the light of day.” And he walked down to the middle of the hallway. On the waiting room TV, CBS4 news anchor Jim Benemann talked about Colorado sending 50 firemen to help with the California wildfires. The world is going to hell, thought Marie.
She walked back to the front desk, where the attendant then told her that no, no one was allergic to poinsettias that she knew of. Marie left the hospital, and drove to Dicken’s Tavern, where she ordered a coffee and banana bread pudding. She was no longer certain about using wrecked car parts for her work. She’d seen photos of Emily when she’d been hurt, and now she’d seen the human carnage up close. She tried to imagine the horror her daughter must have felt…and if she was still conscious, trapped in that motionless (mostly motionless, she corrected herself) body, with only the memories of the crash to keep her company? Then she thought about what those college kids had said. One of them had beaten up a kid who had just been in an accident, one that he’d caused. And the whole family might die before morning. While “White Christmas” played in the background, Marie put her head in her hands and cried.
November 21, 2017
(begun by Brian)
Wu Gorogochi sat in the lunchroom, eating his beef bulgogi and ramen. He was eating alone this time, by choice. He needed to think about the call he had gotten just last week. He couldn’t talk about it with Jane -, it would only lead to uncomfortable truths for both her and the kids. “You a fool,” said a familiar voice. He looked up and saw his grandmother’s ghost, sitting across from him and smoking a ghostly cigarette. She had never gotten the hang of English, and only spoke it when she wanted to drive him crazy! (Forget the fact that she appeared to him every day since her death!) “Halmuhnee, go away!” She blew smoke in his face, and stuck out her tongue at him. “You stupid – you no have talk to him!” Wu slammed his bottle of Snapple Green Tea on the table. Several of his fellow workers stopped eating and turned to look at him, but Wu wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, and said “Aaaah! That’s good tea!” and sat back down. He took a bite of a mandu, and raised his head to say something, but she’d gone.
November 26, 2017
“Let me try some of that,” said Wu’s co-worker, Ben Simmons, “It looks interesting.” Wu could think of a lot of things to call Jane’s homemade kimchi, and interesting-looking was not one of them. Today’s batch was an attempt at a kale-broccoli-edamame blend. “Are you sure?” Wu asked. “You no like him? Give him wife’s kimchi. Friend no more!” said his grandmother’s ghost, who cackled. Wu glared at her as he passed Ben the jar. He ate some of his Pa Jeon as he watched while Ben sputtered. “What <hack> is that flavor?” “My wife really likes ginger. Have some water,” said Wu. Halmuhnee’s ghost waved her hand through Ben’s midsection. “Oh, I don’t feel so good,” said Ben, “I’ll see you back at the station.” Wu looked around the lunchroom and saw it was empty – almost. “Don’t ever do that again! That’s bad karma!” His Grandmother took another drag on the spectral cigarette and waved him off with her free hand. “Hah! Only bad karma I got is visit you every day!” she replied. “You no do this bad thing, grandson, or you shame family- all of us!” Wu hung his head. How can he tell her it’s better for them to live in shame than to die in agony, that he has no choice? “You must eat patjuk, it help drive bad spirits away…help stop bad men.” “Halmuhnee, they are not bad spirits.” Her body dissolved in smoke, until only her head was left, and came face-to-face with him. “They the worst, grandson. I know. Eat patjuk.” And she vanished. Wu shook his head. In 6 days, he had to pick up the package at the airport.
December 3, 2017
Wu wanted so badly to wipe the self-satisfied grin from his grandmother’s face, but he’d already tried that and his hand passed right through her. He brought the thick red-bean broth with a few saealsim to his mouth, and ate it. It was a dish Jane had mastered, and he chewed on the little rice cake balls with relish, all the while enduring Halmuhnee’s chuckling. “Wife make good patjuk, I remember. Now, why she make patjuk? Hmmm? It drive away bad spirits, but you no believe in them. It okay, it good for you.” Wu banged the table with his fist. Once again, a few co-workers looked his way, and he caught their eyes. “”Fly,” he said grumpily and went back to eating his lunch. Ben had told him they’d started calling him Grumpy Gorogochi. Yesterday, he’d sat in the airport lobby, opposite the Singapore Airlines ticket counter. He’d chosen the location carefully. At 11 a.m. his contact has arrived, and they’d greeted each other as businessmen. He had taken the manila envelope, put the man into a cab, and watched him leave. He knew that the taxi would circle back, and the man would vanish into the airport. As he made his way to his car, he began to sweat. It seemed every one was looking at him. He checked for cameras in the parking garage, and changed his walking pattern. By the time he’d gotten to the floor where his car was parked, he was practically running. He looked at the envelope. It felt colder than the winter air outside. Death was in that envelope.
“Finish patjuk, grandson. It already helping. Bad spirits cannot touch you.” “Enough with your nonsense,” said Wu, “Go away, Halmuhnee. There’s nothing you can do.” He watched as she frowned. “Maybe, maybe not. But, fool of a grandson, there bad spirits and good spirits. Always they fight. One wins, one loses. It old, old story. And you, me, we part of it. Which side you choose, hmm?” And she vanished. Wu shook his head, and left the lunchroom. As he made his way back to the research lab, he again had the feeling that he was being followed. He was, but couldn’t see the shadows gathering behind him.
(begun by Brian)
November 29, 2017
Mykell woke up in a place that he knew, but had never been in. He remembered things, things that had never happened to him, faces of people he knew well but that he – Mykell – had never met. Then, of course, there was the deer. The shit started that day, 8 days ago, when he’d picked up that freaky piece of paper with the really small writing – tinier than anything he’d ever seen, aside from on his cell phone – while walking on the beach. He’d taken the 534 bus from school to the Beach to meet some friends, but they’d blown him off – no surprise – when it hit some heavy traffic on the PCH. No big whoop – he needed the alone time. His mom was dating again, and she’d asked him if he was cool with it. Truth was, he didn’t really care, as long it was someone nice, someone non-violent. He’d been walking past some of the really cool houses when he saw something small and golden in the air. It pretty much hit him in the face, and then fell at his feet. He looked at it briefly, and thought he saw some writing. Right then his cell phone rang, so he stuffed the thing in his pocket and forgot about it until the next day. He’d taken a really good look at it with a magnifying glass until the letters swam into view, like the One Ring in LOTR. He almost dropped it but saw the words, “We ask you please remember, the you that once you were, Return here this December, Forget no more, good sir.” Every day after that, he’d had these dizzy spells – faces, places, weird stuff he couldn’t piece together, much less talk about with anyone. He’d gotten then on the street, in class, in the mall, and at home. So yesterday Mom had made him a doctor’s appointment at the hospital she worked at. He’d managed to slip away from his aunt, and then he’d taken the bus again, and wound up on the beach. He had come to this house – and knew he could sleep on the second floor – knew where the spare key was kept – knew that there’d be blankets in the chest on the porch. He had not expected to be awakened by a deer, licking his face with a big wet tongue. He really did not expect what happened next – it spoke. “Well, shit. Who the hell are you?”
December 5, 2017
“Is she the last one?” asked Mykell. “Because I don’t think I can stay awake much longer!” “That’s the last one,” said the deer named Rhonda, who slowly knelt and let the child off her back. The smoke was not as thick here along Thompson Avenue. “Thanks, Officer Rhonda. You say my mommy is over there?’ And the child pointed to a building not far away, surrounded by television station vans. “Yeah, that’s right,” Mykell said encouragingly, “Now you go find her. And don’t forget to tell her that you love her very much.” “Okay! Aren’t you a little young to be a policeman?” “I’m a cadet in training,” he said, and winked. Away she ran, toward the shelter at the Ventura County fairgrounds. Mykell collapsed onto the bus stop bench, and brushed off the constantly falling ash from the fires raging close by. He was covered in it, as was Rhonda. “I don’t know how you do it,” he said, “all this crazy hocus-pocus. It still feels weird taking to a deer.” “Reindeer,” she corrected him. “Does this mean you’re used to my flying like Superman?” He laughed, and then coughed. “I’ll never get used to that. But your illusion magic?” Seems reindeer could create an illusion that would hide them from humans, even in plain sight. But it couldn’t work on big groups – just a few people. They’d been flying into Ventura County when they saw the smoke. They’d set down near a camera crew and listened to a reporter talk about something they were calling the Thomas fire. So for the next 4 hours Rhonda & Mykell had scoured the area and rescued people who’d gotten lost, or trapped. Sometimes they rescued pets. Rhonda was fearless and ferocious, but finally the heat and the smoke were getting to her too – Mykell somehow sensed it. “Can you take me back now? Did you sense him?” “Yeah, he’s here. But I’m too tired to look for the geezer. Grandma’s still got some time left, so we’ll come back here tomorrow.” “Okay,” he said, and thought back to six days ago.
Her name was Rhonda. She was the granddaughter of Dasher, who was dying. And Dasher’s dying wish was to see her old pal, William Laughead, who had disappeared from the North Pole almost 200 years ago. And so she sent Rhonda to find him. Rhonda had gotten a faint whiff of his ‘scent’ and followed it to find Mykell. And that’s when things got really weird. It seems the paper he’d found had belonged to Mr. Laughead, but somehow it didn’t smell of him anymore. According to Rhonda, he – Mykell – now smelled of him, if only a little bit. At that point, Mykell’s head hurt – a lot! He’d asked Rhonda for a minute, so she went to the other room, barely squeezing through the doorway. “Next time I see something golden flying at me, I’m gonna duck!” he said out loud. It was a lot to take in. “This is some crazy-ass psycho Christmas story shit. First off – if I buy into this, it means Santa is REAL, creepy he-sees-you-when-you’re-doin’-your-thing REAL. And reindeer. Wait!” He’d run back out to the living room, where Rhonda had been waiting. “Yes, kid, I fly.” “Next you’ll be telling me about elves and crap!” Rhonda had shaken her head. “Now, I need your help to find this guy,” she said, “And no more disrespect from you, okay?”
So, he’d gone back home, and his mom had all but crushed the life out of him when she saw him. Over the next few days he’d gone out with Rhonda, looking for this Mr. Laughead, but with no success. Until today, when Rhonda had nearly stopped mid-flight. The sense had gotten very, very strong and they’d headed north, where they would – if the fires allowed – return tomorrow. Rhonda set him down in front of his home in Malibu. She turned to go, and stopped. “What is it?” he asked. Still facing away from him, she said, very gently, “You did good today, Mykell. Even though your Mom would be proud, don’t tell her anything about today, okay?” “Okay,” Mykell replied. “One more thing,” said Rhonda, “Everybody knows there’s no such thing as elves!” And with that, away she flew.