Saturday, November 18, 2017
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.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
“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.
Monday, November 20, 2017
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
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. Paul could rot, for all he’d cared. He’d had enough. And in a way, Paul 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 Paul 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. 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 Paul’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 Paul’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 Paul’s hair was golden blonde.
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.
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.
Wednesday, 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.
Thursday, 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.
Sunday, 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.
Tuesday, 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 Paul’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 – Paul was afraid of animals of all kinds. He avoided them like the plague.”
Wednesday, 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 them 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?”
Thursday, November 30, 2017
(Podunk, Kentucky; Las Vegas, Nevada)
“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.
Saturday, 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’t 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 himself, 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.
Sunday, 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 had 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 are 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.
Monday, December 4, 2017
(Podunk & Bowling Green, Kentucky)
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 turned 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.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
(Ventura/The Thomas Fire and Malibu, California)
“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 talking 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.
Thursday, 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 David 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 David, 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 in 1984 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 2002, 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. David 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.
(Denver & Longmont, Colorado)
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. “He 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.
Friday, December 8, 2017
(Los Angeles, California)
“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. Anberg 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 that 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 I 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.”
Tinker had been restless, ever since Bunion had left early that morning. It was one of his ‘outings’ as he called it, and normally it would have been nothing to worry about. But Tinker’s dream last night had found himself and his small tribe lost in one of those Victorian garden mazes. People would vanish down one path and then, minutes later, return with one or more people – ones he’d been dreaming about. Something big was starting to happen, and he had no idea about what to do, like he usually did. Hairy Katey had not uttered any foretellings (which was her knack.) Mad McCracken had been speaking in perfect English, and usually at times like this he’d be spouting something useful that would give Tinker some direction. Anyway, it was now past dinner and he’d been hard-pressed to keep the little bit of uneaten food from El Rey Cantina that the owner had kept for them from being devoured by Fries Girl, and save it for Bunion. The back of his head was itching.
He wandered over to the fire, only to find the rest of his Forgotten already gathered around it. They passed around a large water bottle, each taking a sip. Tim handed his cell phone to Fries Girl, who read his text aloud: “What’s up?” “Sometin’ gonna happen, huh?” said Hairy Kate. “Sure as there’s a sky full of stars tonight,” answered Poet. Poet’s knack was truth-finding. “Special Night,” said Beast Boy. Fries Girl had called him that not because of how he looked – he wore what could be called ‘threadbare nerd’ clothes – but because his knack was with animals. “Friends coming?” asked McCracken, his six-foot plus frame casting a long shadow in the firelight. “They’s coming now,” said Horton Four Ears.
Out of the darkness came a figure – a young girl wearing a backpack. As soon as Tinker saw her, he ran to her and gave her a big bear hug. “Matchstick! What brings you here?” “What, you mean you didn’t dream me?” said the young woman. A yowl came from her backpack. “Oh Tiddles!” she cried, and from the pack produced a calico cat. It wrapped itself around her legs, purred, and then looked straight up at Tinker, and yowled again. From the fireside Beast Boy laughed. “It’s tellin’ you, Tinker, that he’s here, and that you’d best make room.” ” ‘An why’s that?” Tinker asked. The boy just pointed up.
“Outta the way!” someone shouted. And one man, a teenager and a reindeer landed right where Tinker and Matchstick had been standing. Tinker felt the world shift. It knocked him off his feet, and he assured his tribe, and the newcomers, that he was all right. It would happen two more times this year, he knew. This year, though, the first had happened early. And he needed to know why. And he needed to know just where the hell was Bunion!
Mo remembered noise. At least he thought that’s what it was. Screeching, screaming, tearing and ripping, shouting, cries that sounded like someone asking for help. He was asking for help. He was trying, but he couldn’t move his mouth. Because of the fist that kept hitting him. Hitting his already broken and bleeding body. There were other bodies…his foster sister’s bloody teddy bear…his foster father’s lifeless stare…and that angry, angry face shouting at him. His fist. And blackness.
He heard bleeping sounds, and light began to take shape, filling his sight. He was looking down at his body. How was that possible? There were tubes and bags everywhere, like something out of a crazy hospital drama. Then he looked around the room he was in (?) and knew it was a hospital. “I look like shit,” he said. The nurse checking his monitors didn’t hear him, and left the room, scribbling something onto a clipboard she carried. He was bandaged from head to toe. Only he had slits where his eyes should be. His other eyes weren’t open. Did this floating Mo even have eyes? He didn’t know. He was tired, so tired…
The next thing he remembers is the moonlight coming through the window. He sees, from above, he’s still out, lying on the hospital bed. He hasn’t moved at all. That’s bad, he thinks. No, she thinks. The part of Mo that cares too much, the she part, is the one that thinks this. Now, thinks Morales, I’m Maureen. So Mo goes away, leaving Maureen to watch. There are two others in the room, a nurse and another woman – middle-aged but young-looking. Funky clothes, she thinks, like an artist would wear. The nurse is telling her something, and the artist-woman listens intently. Maureen strains to hear, and suddenly it becomes crisp and distinct. The nurse is telling the story of what happened to Morales. And it brings it all back, all the memories, all the pain. That asshole in the car, Drake Hansen the jock, had mouthed the word ‘faggot’ as their car had passed his, and Morales had done something both brave and stupid. They’d looked Drake in the eye and blown him a kiss. That’s when it all happened.
“So this kid has nobody?” asked the woman. “No one to give medical permission, to make decisions on his behalf?”
“‘Fraid not,” said the nurse, “Childhood Services is backlogged through the New Year.”
“And he needs this operation now? How much will it cost?”
“He’ll hang on for three, four days tops. But without it, he’ll die for certain. It will require that we find a match first. And we may not find one in time.”
“The cost, please?”
“Around 125,000 dollars. They won’t even begin the search without the money guaranteed.”
“I’ll guarantee the money. Tell me where to go and what to sign. Start your search.”
“But ma’am…” began the nurse, but the woman stopped her.
“It’s Marie, Marie Niamu.”
“Why…why would you do that, lady? You don’t even know me!” Maureen/Morris/Morales cried out.
“Don’t flatter yourself, kid. She’s not doing it for you. She’s doing it out of guilt. She’s doing it because of me.”
If they could tremble, they’d be trembling right now. Morales turned and saw a beautiful young woman, floating in the air beside him. “Who are you?”
“I’m her daughter, Emily. Pleased to meet you. Um, all of you.”
Sunday, December 10, 2017
She’d been living in the dorms for almost a week. And while the course-work and studies hadn’t changed, her fellow students’ attitudes certainly had. Mostly they all wanted to be her friend so they could get to meet Mr. Dorado. Except her new roomie and fellow piano major, Jennifer Gorogochi. Jenny was a transfer student from Seoul, and was really into jazz and improvisation. Jazz was a uniquely American musical genre, and Sally was amazed to learn of its impact on the world music scene. One day they were both in a practice room, just goofing around on the keyboards. “My Appa & Umma used to love this music!” And her hands started dancing along keys, playing a traditional “O Tannenbaum” that morphed into something jazzy, yet still true to the original carol. “That sounds like the sort of styling that I’ll be rockin’ on the 24th!” exclaimed Sally. “I thought so too,” laughed Jenny, “and the Vince Guaraldi Trio played this for the Peanuts Christmas Special. Our whole family would come and watch, even though we are Buddhists and do not usually celebrate Christmas.” Sally thought for a moment. “You said ‘used to’ – did they die?” Jenny abruptly stopped playing, got up and walked over to the window, which looked out onto the campus grounds. Sally walked over and put her arm on Jenny’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s just it,” said the young woman, holding back tears, “I don’t know. No one knows! Six years ago, they left to visit a dying relative in North Korea, and never returned. I was taken in by an aunt.” “So, will you leave for Seoul next week, when the break starts?” asked Sally. “No. I’ve been invited to stay with my Uncle Wu in D.C. but I turned it down. He and my Appa were really close, so he gets depressed just by looking at me.” An idea began to form in Sally’s mind. She’d have to sell it to Chance, but she’d learned a lot about how to get through to him – she’d refused to wear a camisole-less bustier by telling him that he’d lose half the Christian audience – and it would be fun! “Hey Jen – how’d you like to be on TV with me?” she asked.
Monday, December 11, 2017
She had said it on impulse, and although the minute she did she panicked, she also knew that it was the right thing to do. It was past time, way past time to be done with and move on. There was a buyer in Los Angeles who’d offered her half a million for it. She’d thought he was kidding, but when the offer was delivered to her by his agent, she could not believe her eyes. But she couldn’t part with it. The buyer, a movie star of some note, had said the offer stood in perpetuity, provided she promised that when she was ready to sell, he’d be the one she’d sell it to. She kept it in a warehouse that housed her larger pieces, where it occupied a space equivalent to a small apartment. Not many people knew it existed; her potential buyer had been told about it by a very close friend.
It was a one-of-a-kind piece, raw and shocking and moving all at once. It was the sort of piece that any artist dreams of creating, knowing it would be career-changing. She’d personally searched through miles of junk to find what she was looking for, something very specific that had been lost and given away and almost lost again, until she found it in a small unassuming junkyard in Podunk, Kentucky. It had cost a large part of her savings to have it shipped to Colorado, where it stayed boxed up for several months before she worked up the courage to begin. It was difficult working around the bloodstains, especially those on the upholstery. She finished it in two weeks, losing sleep, laughing and crying and screaming. She assured the other artists whose studios adjoined hers that she was okay, she wasn’t going crazy, and promised to show her piece to them when she was done. It had been seen, since its creation 3 1/2 years ago, by all of 10 people.
Seeing that broken young man caused something to finally break inside. All the pain poured out, the self-denial and self-hating and anger and self-pity emptied out of her. She might not be able to help Emily, but by God she had the means to help this sweet-faced person lying on that hospital bed, clinging desperately to life after suffering abuse and yes, a hate crime. She felt more like herself now, ready to take on this challenge. She’d had her lawyer start filing the adoption papers the day after Morales had been brought in. The hospital had not yet found a match, but hopefully they would. Her cell phone rang, and she stroked the hair from Emily’s forehead. “Hello? Yes, Mr. Childress, tell your client that I’m ready to sell him ‘Emily’s Crash.’ I’ll need a deposit, and then I’ll have it shipped wherever he’d like.”
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Mykell, David, Matchstick, Tinker
(Ventura & Malibu, California)
Mykell wanted to tell someone – anyone! – so badly he’d thought he’d burst. He couldn’t, though. Neither could that skinny girl with the weird cat, or the suit guy named David. At least, that’s what that the man called Tinker told them. He and his ‘tribe’ were probably as weird as people can get – but they were okay, after he talked with a few of them. Rhonda apparently knew Tinker, or at least knew of him, and when he told them about the missing guy, the one called Bunion, Rhonda was certain that he was the guy she was looking for. So, apparently, did Tinker. David kept yelling at Tinker, demanding to know where his friend Paul was, until Tinker said the name ‘Bunion.’ And he was real quiet while Tinker began describing his missing friend to Rhonda. Turns out everyone was looking for this guy.
Then Matty, who’d been talking with the boy the tribe called ‘Tim’, came over and held Tinker’s face in her hands. “My knack led me to find that boy. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m here now.” “No, my little matchstick girl, it isn’t, although I don’t know why I didn’t dream you.” And so here they were, 4 days later, trying to find this Paul: himself, Rhonda, and the one called Matty. David had refused to come. Apparently he and Bunion had a thing, and the guy disappeared, and now that he might be alive, David was all kinds of angry and sad. “He’s moved to a hotel downtown, the…Pierpont Inn, I think. But he doesn’t want anything to do with Tinker and the tribe,” said Matty, who wouldn’t get specific about them, saying that Tinker would explain everything, but only after Bunion had been found.
They were sitting on a bench opposite Gladstone’s, a famous seafood place in Malibu. Rhonda was using her illusion magic and appeared to passersby as a very large dog – Matty called it a ‘Newfoundland.’ Mykell had never seen one before, and wondered what they’d be like to care for. “I’d love to eat some of that seafood right now,” he said. Matty laughed, followed shortly by Rhonda. “”Boys!” said Mattie. “Always hungry,” chimed in Rhonda. “Hold on, kiddo.” Matty crossed the street, entered Gladstone’s parking lot, and disappeared around the back. In minutes she returned, with three styrofoam takeout cartons of food. “Thanks!” he said, and then opened his box. “What is this?” Matty sighed, “It’s food that people have left untouched on their plates. A little bit of this, a little bit of that – it doesn’t cost the staff anything to save it for people like us…um, like me. Like I used to be.” And she told him her story. Rhonda’s box contained salad – a lot of salad.
“Are you certain the dude’s here?” asked Mykell. “I smell him,” said Rhonda. “My instincts said to go here, so he’s either right here, or nearby.” Suddenly, Mykell had a thought. “Hey, what if he’s got the same power you’ve got?” he asked Rhonda. “Mykell, I don’t think he can fly,” said the reindeer. “No, you knucklehead. The illusion magic?” “You’ve got a point there,” said Matty, “It would explain why you smell him, but we don’t see him. He could be anywhere!” “You’re a smart one,” said Rhonda approvingly. “Can’t you follow the scent?” he asked? “Nah, that particular talent belongs to Donner and his line.” “Well, let’s walk around then. You never know, Dude might be – what the hell?”
To Mykell, it happened so fast that he almost missed it. If he hadn’t turned around, he would have. He’d seen, as he was getting up and turning to talk to Matty, a six foot line of golden light, a leg disappearing into it, and then the line winked out. Out of nowhere came a gut-wrenching scream, and a bear-sized shadow that stank of burning meat erupted from the ground and began clawing the air where the golden line had been. Then Mykell saw Rhonda charge the shadow, and when her antlers touched it, it exploded. It was 5:00 p.m., and full daylight. Rhonda, now looking every inch a reindeer, lay unconscious on the ground. “Holy shit…”gasped Matty, who then fainted onto the bench. People were shouting and yelling, snapping pictures with their cellphones, and police sirens were blaring, getting closer.
And all Mykell could think of was: What on earth was he going to tell his mom?
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
He’d stopped eating patjuk days ago. His grandmother’s ghost harassed him every day about it, but he tried to ignore her. He didn’t tell her that his headaches had come back. They were worse, the pain sometimes getting so intense that he’d been tempted not to go to work. His contact told him that the government was poisoning him, that he had an antidote, but Wu would get it after he’d performed his task. Sometimes he thought it might be from his contact with the package, but that couldn’t be true. He wanted to see Kyubok and Hae-Won, alive and well. To achieve that goal, he had this one thing to do. He finished testing today’s samples, finding nothing alarming. The lead reading was still slightly above normal, but they were working on that.
He made his way to the lunchroom. He walked by several groups of co-workers, some talking about going to the Nationals Winterfest this weekend, some about seeing the light show at Mount Vernon. Two weeks ago, Jane had wanted them to go to see the Christmas Parade in Warrenton, Virginia – seems her good friend David was on the planning board and promised them a spot on a float. Little Sarah’s friend had just moved there, as well. But he needed to wait for a phone call from his contact at a particular phone location in D.C. and since Jane refused to drive (ever since her younger brother was killed while driving in Kansas), they hadn’t gone. As he neared the lunchroom, he passed more co-workers, most of them in their mid-thirties and twenties. “Stupid people, all of you,” he thought, “you have elected a fool who will kill you all with his stupidity, and you get excited about parades and concerts. Clueless sheep!” He didn’t see the person walking up to him, and literally got knocked off his feet. As he stood up, he vehemently said, “Watch where you’re going, you blind bastard!”
“I was going to ask you how your head’s feeling today, but I think I’ll just steer clear of you.” And Wu watched, dumbstruck, as Ben walked back down the hallway. Smoke blew into his face, and he tried to wave it away, only to hear his grandmother’s raucous laughter. She was floating in the air beside him, the phantom cigarette in her hand. He marched up to an empty table and sat down, removing his jajangmyeon with pork from his lunch bag. As he ate, she sat (if ghosts can sit) across from him, blowing smoke rings at him. “You know I right,” she said, staring him down. His head was pounding. “Bad spirit eating you, and you not fighting it! Think of Jane, of my grandchildren! Do not let it inside!” He stood up, sweeping his meal off the table with a crash. “Stop it! You know nothing, Halmuhnee! Nothing! I do everything to keep them safe – to keep all the family safe! GO AWAY!” She vanished, then, after making a strange gesture with her hand. “Mr. Gorogochi? Will you come with me, please?” He turned to see Ms. Trenton, his boss’ secretary, standing a slight distance away from him. He could not see the shadow clutching onto him, digging its way into him through his ears. “Why the hell should I?” he said, shocking himself into awareness, sensing for the first time that maybe something was very, very wrong with himself. “Mr. Hansen would like to see you. Now.”
Smoke, as far as the eye could see. That’s what David saw in the sky from safety of his hotel room. The fire, which so far had burned more than 235,000 acres, was only 25 percent contained, and continued burning into Santa Barbara County. Ventura no longer had to boil water for it to be safe, although they’d done evacuations very close by due to hazardous air quality. He shouldn’t even be here – wouldn’t be here, except for Paul. The Pierpont Inn would normally have been lovely, but now it was partially covered with ash. The city was covered in ashes. His relationship with Paul had been in ashes for years.
Looking back, he could remember the day that Paul’s ‘panic attacks’ (as he’d called them) began. It was in the year 2000 – right after New Year’s Day. They’d taken a gay cruise from Atlantis Events, sailing to Alaska. Paul had convinced him, in spite of his dislike of such outings, to ‘give the middle finger’ to the doomsayers and see the Aurora Borealis. And it had to be ‘in style’ – after all, if it was going to be The End Of The World, then why not? And so they’d packed their formal wear and their not-so-formal wear and had a wonderful time. He’d awoken to find Paul hiding in their stateroom closet, hugging his knees and rocking back and forth, speaking in tongues. David had experience with paranoia and the mentally ill, as his youngest brother was currently living in an asylum. He simply knelt beside Paul – funny, fearless Paul – and hugged him. After less than 10 seconds, Paul looked at him and started to softly cry. The rest of the trip passed without incident, and when David asked him about it, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Panic attack. That, and too much good champagne.”
In the next year, he’d developed a fear of animals. He’d walk as far from them as he could possibly get – preferably to where he could no longer see them. He started snapping at his students, he lost interest in his appearance, and drank more than usual. In June of 2002, he quit his job at Fauquier High. And holed himself up from the world. On Christmas Eve, Paul left while David had been out picking up some heavy cream for their Christmas Day Dessert. ‘If the damned supermarkets (2 supermarkets, 4 groceries, a bakery and restaurant – to be exact) hadn’t run out,’ thought David, ‘maybe I could have caught you before you left.’ Because, oddly enough, all he had to do to calm Paul down was hug him. He walked out to his balcony, and through the smoky air, watched the waves of the Pacific.
An inkblot of darkness slide from among the ashes below, climbing to the edge of the balcony. It worked its way to where the guard railing was, and dripped onto the screws that held it in place. In seconds the four screws silently dissolved, as it noiselessly worked its way to the second of four pillars. Its instructions had been clear.
“In the past 48 hours, I lost my opportunity to catch a man I thought might be you, rode a flying reindeer from Malibu to Ventura, and met a bunch of loony tunes who talked a lot of nonsense. It was a scene out of Dickens and some kind of comic book. Then this character named Tinker tells me about his friend, who sounds an awful lot like you. Oh yeah, the reindeer – whose name is Rhonda! – is also looking for you, if I’m to believe this young kid named Mykell. Funny thing though – they called you Bunion, like the big toe condition. I know you meant Bunyan, like the American folk hero. It would be so like you to choose that.”
The shadow was at the final post when David said – to the air – “I’ve lost you twice. I’m not going to lose you a third time.” He leaned against the railing, feeling it wobble slightly, concerned but unworried. The shadow had just finished dripping on the last bolt when a whistle from inside the room was heard. The shadow didn’t know the tune, but David did – Eis Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen. David whirled around from the railing and ran into room and then the hallway to find its source. His movement was enough to unsettle the now unsecured railing, which then tumbled over the edge and crashed into the ground below, waking up the guests on the first floor and stopping David in his tracks.
The shadow, now unbound by its compulsion that it remain hidden in the presence of humans, grew enraged, thrashing its many oozing tentacles and eyes. It heaved its bulk towards the hotel room. So all-encompassing was its rage that it did not see the golden line appear above it, and too late it was sent to oblivion as a candy-cane shaped blade sliced it in half.
David stood in his doorway, saw the golden line wink out, saw the fetid clouds of steam vanish into air. He gazed at the rail-less balcony, and decided that the best thing right now was a trip to the downstairs Ocean View Lounge, and a good stiff scotch.
Sometimes, they’d find themselves back in their body, floating in a sea of drugs and painkillers and who knew what else. Their body was still surrounded by IV bags. Maureen had overheard 2 interns saying that there was going to be a shortage of IV bags soon, thanks to the storm that hit Puerto Rico a few months ago. Morales had said they’d be dead before then, so there was no reason for any stupid fucking tears. They’d watched while two nurses changed their bandages, because it required two strong people to move their body to change what Morales liked to call their “Band-Aid Body Bag.”
It had been Emily, the “Coma Girl” (Morales loves to give things funny names), who had made them aware of each other. Somehow, she had seen all three of them, and when she spoke to each, they answered separately. It was Mo who figured out what was happening. Mo had been the original. He remembered their birth mother’s face, and when they were five she took him across the border and left them at a gas station in the dead of night. They were placed in Foster Care. and Mo had been beaten and abused. That was when Maureen consoled them – she’d sing to them, tell them stories, and hug them until he could fall asleep. It was after the oldest boy in care raped them that Morales appeared. Mo and Maureen were happy to let him take over. Morales exercised every day, got bigger, fought back, and began talking back. That was when Maureen – sweet, gentle Maureen, pushed Morales away and took over. Mo was still there, but silent.
It was Maureen who’d been in charge when they met the family from Wisconsin. Then his Adoptive Dad got transferred to Colorado. It was a year after they’d been there, during the second year of high school, when puberty roused Mo from inactivity. Maureen found boys interesting, Morales wanted girls, and Mo wasn’t sure which to like. Mo had forgotten Maureen and Morales, Morales had forgotten Mo, and Maureen believed that she should be in control. It was when they were watching a show on multiple personalities that Mo said, “That’s me.” They were the first words Mo had spoken in ten years. It had taken them a few months, but they somehow found the courage to talk to their Adoptive Mom about it. Luckily, she got them in counseling, and were making progress. Mo was becoming more dominant, albeit more confused about which sex they were supposed to like. When the counselor said it was fine to like both, the last roadblock was removed and Mo had seen/heard the others less and less. In 18 months, they had begun to think as a single individual.
Until the accident. And the deaths. And the beating. The pain had severed the bonds they’d made and reverted them to their survival roles: Morales to feel the pain and fight it away, Maureen to soothe and sing and hug, and Mo to seek an end to the pain of existing. Meeting Emily had been incredibly helpful in getting them to think through the pain, and to work out the puzzle that they were. She had been going to study Human Sexuality in college when her car accident happened, and she had – by reading magazines in ‘spirit form’ looking over people’s shoulders in the hospital’s waiting rooms – learned about the current debate on gender-fluidity.
Mo felt themselves drift away from their body, and he sought out Emily in the maternity ward. She told him it was a popular gathering spot for spirits, as it was a place which pulsed with the ‘life force’ as she called it. He saw Maureen materialize next to her, and they both sang “House At Pooh Corner” until the babies were all asleep.
“That was really nice, you two.” said Morales. “You’re a terrible liar, but thank you anyway,” said Emily with a laugh. “Careful, Coma Girl, you’ll break our heart.” “She’s going to be our hermana, our soeur, our sorella, Morales. We can love her, but she will never break our heart,” said Maureen.
Suddenly Emily gave a little cry. “What’s the matter?” asked Mo. “I…don’t know. Someone’s…ow!” And with that her form winked out, as if someone had thrown a switch. Fearing the worst, three hearts sank – almost as one.
Thursday, December 14, 2017
Mykell, Matchstick, David, Tinker
“I didn’t know what would happen. I didn’t think at all. I saw that thing, and instinct took over,” explained Rhonda, as she flew over Point Mugu Naval Base. “It was a good thing that we were brought to the hospital where your mom works, Mykell.”
“I wish you could have seen the look on those policemen’s faces when they saw that he had a woman in the animal cage and not a reindeer,” laughed Mykell. “Well,” said Rhonda, “It was Matty’s drawing everybody’s attention away from me that allowed me to make the illusion.” “It was nothing,” said Matty, “I’m just glad that you’re okay, and that thing is gone.” “And that my mom is now cool with this. I’ve never seen her so…so…scared. I didn’t think she was going to believe me. What did you two talk about, Rhonda, when you went into the examination room?”
“I’ll tell you only if you promise to keep it a secret,” said Rhonda, a serious tone in her voice. “Okay, I promise,” replied the young man. “I dropped my illusion and let her see me. It’s something we’re not ever supposed to do with regular people, only with the Forgotten. And before you ask, I don’t know if she believed me. I only know that nothing else but the truth would satisfy her. I had to do a few more illusions, just to see if she thought she was crazy when she saw the first one. We had some words, but in the end, you’re here. aren’t you?”
“There they are,” said Matty, “I hope Tiddles is okay.” “You mean that cat you came with?” asked Mykell. “I promised a friend that I’d be sure he came back. I intend to keep that promise.”
The trio landed, and were soon enveloped by Tinker in a huge bear hug. Tiddles ran from Beast Boy’s lap and curled himself around Matty’s legs. They explained what had happened two days ago, while enjoying mugs of hot cocoa, provided by David. He then told them about what had happened to him last night. “Old friend,” said Matty to Tinker, “I think it’s time to tell us what’s going on.” “It’s way past time,” Tinker replied, laying a hand on Matty’s and David’s shoulders, “and I’m sorry about what happened ta both o’ you. S’actually dangerous, now. You there, Critter Kid!!” Beast Boy shot up, Tiddles jumping out of lap like rocket, and shouted back, “That’s Beast Boy to you, Old Timer! Whatcha want?” Tinker laughed.
“Did he just ‘Ho, ho, ho?’ or am I hearing things?” David asked Matty. “Yeah, I heard it too.”
“Who’re ya callin’ old? And that’s Tinker to you, not Timer! Gather the tribe around the fire. I’m gonna tell the oldest Tale.” “No shit! I’ve been waiting to hear that one for over a year! Hey everybody, Geezer’s gonna tell the Oldest Tale!” And he ran off into the depths of the camp. People began to gather, and after 15 minutes or so there were slightly over 40 people. “Wow,” said Mykell, sitting down nest to Rhonda, who was getting head scratches from Mad McCracken, “Where did they all come from?” “We know how to hide in plain sight,” replied Hairy Katey. Last to arrive was Tom, followed by Beast Boy. Upon sitting down Tom’s lap was claimed by Tiddles, who purred loudly.
“Everyone’s here, Tinker sir,” Beast Boy said, who bowed deeply and sat down next to Fries Girl. Somebody had brought a big wicker chair for Tinker to sit down on, so he did. When he spoke, all traces of any accent were absent. “Most of you know what happens this time of year, for regular folks….”
Someone clapped and said “Christmas! Presents! Ginjabread!” Matty recognized the boy as Lucky Jim, a boy with Down’s Syndrome who nonetheless had an amazing knack for bringing luck to those he cared about.
“That’s right, Jimmy. But our kind has other work to do. And to understand what we do,” he said looking at his guests, “You must know who we are. It has always fallen to the Oldest to tell the oldest tale, therefore I’ll begin.”
“In the beginning, there was The Void. All there was, was Emptiness. We don’t know how long the One Universe endured, we only know that, with its first – and only – word or thought, it shattered with such force that some scientists think it is still shattering. The thought, which was Pure Light, and the Pure Darkness pushed each other away, and in that massive explosion the One Universe became many, some shading ever more towards The Darkness, and in the opposite direction, ever more towards the Light. Life as you know it cannot exist in Pure Light or Pure Darkness. The Light Universes had a head start, however, as different forms of life evolved, and spread. I and my kind were born in Light’s Mid-worlds.”
“Consciousness eventually came to Darkness, through contact with the children born in Darkness’ worlds. But while The Children of Light reveled in their individuality and independence, Pure Darkness consumed its children. It longed for the days of The Void. However, it began using its children to cross the its universes in search of Light, to extinguish it utterly and restore the Void. Because it is one mind and not many, Pure Darkness uses its puppet creatures to add to its hive mind. So Light began sending its children to help them band together to push the Darkness back. Except that neither Light nor Darkness anticipated what would happen when they reached the universe that is neither Light nor Dark, but both in equal measure. That universe is this one.”
“When Civilization began on your world, some of the more adventurous children of Light lived among you. Our ‘knacks’ were more powerful in those days, and many worshipped us as Gods. Some discovered that our two peoples could interbreed, and had children of their own, passing on their abilities. The rest of us decided it would be best to remove ourselves from you and keep watch from a distance, to be called upon when needed. We became the Forgotten Ones. It was then that we met Gaia, the spirit of your Universe. She explained that yours is The Balance Which Must Be Kept, and while the balance could tip a little either way, it could not turn to either Light or Darkness permanently. She had sensed the children of Darkness at her boundaries, and had been keeping them at bay. But our arrival and subsequent interbreeding had altered the balance too far to the Light, or else The Void would certainly return. Soon, she said, they will be here, and unlike us, could not be reasoned with. And then the Pure Light interfered, and manifested itself in a child, not trusting that we – and you – would be able to hold back the Darkness.”
“To keep the balance and protect itself, Gaia granted Darkness a boon: it too could manifest itself in a living human, but on one condition: it be granted independence in thought and action. Gaia also instituted the following Law: for every death of a child of Darkness, there must be a death of a child of light and vice-versa. And it was from these events, and others similar to it, that the Christmas myth was made. One of my brothers is behind the Santa Claus myth. And at this time of the year, Gaia’s barriers and laws are stretched and tested. The Pure Light and Darkness have long since absented this universe, and have left it to us and the pieces of Darkness to fight the battles. We fight to keep the balance. But whoever is Darkness’ avatar has set into motion many, many plots to happen this Christmas. If it succeeds, the balance will be permanently broken. David and these two have seen the shadows of the Darkness. They saw them killed – one by Rhonda, and another by one of us.”
Tinker got up, and walked away from the circle, onto the beach. “One of us who is hiding, scared of what was, and is, and might be. You cannot hide from me anymore, so come home.” And more earnestly, “Please come home, friend. We all need you now. Especially David.” And Tinker opened his arms wide.
David started to get up and run, but was stopped by Mykell. “Dude, wait. Look at that!”
A golden line was drawing itself in front of the old man, and then a figure flew through it and into his arms, as the line instantly winked out.
Numerous voices shouted, “Bunion!”
David had run to his side, only to find his clothes were covered in blood and dirt.
Rhonda stood in front of him, and said, “She’s waiting for you.”
But it was Mykell who triggered the man. He walked right up to him, hands in his pockets, and kicked the sand in front of him from side to side. “I’ve got something of yours, Mr. Laughead, but I don’t know how to give it back.”
“I’m…I’m so sorry,” he said. David gathered Paul into his arms and held onto him as Paul cried for the first time in over a decade.
Friday, December 15, 2017
(Johnson City, TN)
Sally sat across from Jenny, in the crowded Kalm Bistro. They’d stopped here on yet another recommendation from Mr. Dorado. “They have the best pho outside of San Francisco – which is amazeballs because it’s in Tennessee!” he’d said. “Enjoy your road trip. And don’t be late for rehearsals, you two – nine o’clock, next Friday. And if you happen to see Mr. T, don’t say anything.” He’d paused for – of course – dramatic effect. “And why is that,” she’d replied, “when I’d love to ask him who does his hair?” “Precisely,” he responded, “Didn’t your Mama tell you that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything?” “Yes, but she said to spit instead.” Sally had quipped. “Your contract does not include me getting you out of jail, young lady. If you want to misbehave, I suggest Madam’s Organ Blues Bar – tell ‘em I sent you.”
He had agreed to include Jenny in the program – ‘just one number’ – so of course, Sally had chosen the main number, Pachebel’s Canon. They’d been practicing all week, working in the midst of mid-terms. Sally normally didn’t interfere in her friends’ lives (not much, anyway) but there was something about Jenny that made her want to help. She’d convinced her to accept her aunt’s invitation to stay for the Christmas holiday. Jenny agreed, but only if Sally some with her – for a day or two, to see how things went. Road trip! They’d chosen the southern route, taking I-81 into D.C. As it turned out, Kalm Bistro was located just south of Kingsport, Tennessee, which was about halfway there. Sally had to laugh at the Special Dish – a 1 inch square very thin slice of Unicorn meat, priced at 1 trillion dollars, said to grant you special powers.
“I’m a little nervous about this,” said Jenny. “My aunt said Uncle Wu is not himself these days. Then again, she did say he might enjoy seeing me. She sounded unsure, though it could have just been a bad connection.”
Sally had been pleased that the restaurant had vegan menu options. She took a sip of her Thai iced tea. “No sweat. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.” Sally wasn’t sure at all. But she hoped the Christmas Spirit would pay a visit, even if her family were Buddhists. “What does he do?”
“I don’t remember,” said Jenny, “It’s something to do with water filtration. It’s a government job.”
“C’mon, let’s finish up. We’ve got six more hours, and I want get out of T-country, far away from pick-up trucks with Confederate flags and MAGA bumper stickers. That last idiot nearly sideswiped us! Mr. T may have tiny hands and an even tinier brain, but one thing he’s got is bigger than all of ours.”
“What’s that?” asked Jenny, her lips curling into smile, as both of them crooned simultaneously, “His dumps!”
Saturday, December 16, 2017
After wearing a track in the already well-worn hospital floor, Marie finally stopped pacing after an hour, and collapsed in a chair beside Emily’s bed – which her daughter was not occupying. The doctor had called her yesterday, sounding very excited, and asked her if he could run some tests on Emily – but he wouldn’t say why. He’d assured her that none of the tests would harm her, but that time was of the essence. When she arrived, she’d been told her daughter was still being tested, but that she was fine. And no, there’d been no change. No, the doctor was performing surgery right now, but he’d see her very shortly if all went well.
Well, she was finally moving forward with her life. She thought it would happen after making ‘Emily’s Crash’ – but it was letting that painful reminder go that did it. She’s felt a sense of lightness when she watched it leave on the truck. The adoption of Morales had gone through without a hitch. She felt alive, and motivated. And now this medical unknown had been thrown at her. She was ready for almost anything.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Ms. Niamu,” said Dr. Dehkan,”I came as soon as my last surgery was able to be handed over to someone else.” Startled, Marie said, “Why the rush? And what’s going on with Emily?”
“I think you should sit down,” he cautioned, and then smiled. “I understand you have legally adopted Morales Patterson?” Marie nodded.
“We’ve been looking around the country to find a kidney donor match for him. We’ve been so busy looking elsewhere that we didn’t even think of rechecking our own records.”
“What does all of this have to do with Emily?” asked Marie, frustrated, “Get to the point.”
“Your daughter is a match,” answered Dr. Dehkan, “And what’s more, it’s almost a familial match. Somewhere, somehow, you share a common relative. Since you have legal authority over both of them, I need your permission to perform the operation.”
“My daughter is in a coma!” Marie cried. She was not expecting this – this unexpected miracle that could end up being a curse. “Will she be in any danger?”
Dr. Dehkan sat down on the bed, and looked her in the eye. “There is always a risk, I cannot lie to you. Her body is weakened by her comatose state, but her chances of survival after the operation are much better than her ever waking up. And your new son has maybe 24 hours left. He’s running out of time. He may not survive the operation, either. Don’t take too long to decide, Ms. Niamu. I’ve moved both Emily and Morales to a sterile isolation room. We can perform the operation as soon as you give us permission.”
Marie looked at the photo she’d brought from home, and put on Emily’s table. It was Emily, in midair, on a skydive that Marie had forbidden her to go on. She was adamant that she’d be okay. Just like she’d been that fateful day, when she’d taken off to college against my will, thought Marie. What would she want me to do with her life? “Be fearless,” she’d say.
“Do it,” she said. “How long will it take until I hear something?”