Friday, September 26, 2008

Where to?

"Wake up little tart," Gordon said, he had one arm under the girl and was easing her into a wheelchair.

She stirred but her eyes remained closed, little gurgles bubbling up from her throat like a drainage pipe.

"Take care of her, Mate," He told the nurse who'd come out to collect the girl and the nurse gave him the 'it's my fucking job' look and hurried her inside. "Glad that shit is over. What?"

"She could die, Gordon," said Mali a little hotly.

"She'll be fine. My uncle used to get that way once a week. We'd just leave him outside the hospital and hope for the best,"

They stood outside the hospital for a long time, shuffling their feet and watching as men pushed laden gurneys through the wide ER doors and barked orders to each other.

"Should we go in and check on her?" Joe wondered aloud. Mali shook her head.

"I think we should just go," she said and the others nodded.

They started walking up the street in the general direction of another bus station. They talked in hushed tones as they went, idly asking if one or the other was alright, if they maybe wanted to tell a story or get something to eat. None of them seemed to want to. Even Joe had started to wonder if he'd want to tell any stories for a while. He kept picturing the girl in the hospital, seizing or already dead. He wondered if maybe they should have taken her to the hospital first instead of making her tell them a story. He decided that if he didn't want this whole trip to collapse before it really began, he would have to do something quickly.

There was a boy, once, who went to the woods in search of wood for his family's hearth. He was pure of heart with straw colored hair and eyes like the midsummer sky. He took only his father's axe and himself and marched into the woods without fear. He knew them, after all, and most of it belonged to his father. Only the northwest corner did not belong to them and he had never ventured there.

He marched a long time through the woods in search of a tree that he could cut down. He wanted to chop one that would last, that would keep him from being sent out into the woods too many more times. After hours of searching his father's property he rested his axe against a sapling and say down in a bed of leaves to cry. There were no trees left that would keep him warmly inside during the winter. Nothing but saplings and adolescent maples with broad green leaves. It was hopeless.

A rustling in the foliage caused him to look up and he realized that a thin black cat was perched above him on a thin maple bough.

"Why so sad child?" The cat asked, swinging it's tail playfully through the air.

"None of these trees is fit to cut and if I don't chop one that will last I will spend all winter out in the forest cutting logs," he replied through his tears.

"Ahh I see, but have you looked everywhere?"

"I've looked all over the forest,"

"What about the northwest corner? There is a tree there that would heat your house for years,"

"I've never been there. It doesn't belong to me,"

"It doesn't belong to anyone," The big cat said, "I could take you there if you wish."

The boy thought for a long time. His father had told him to go to the woods and get a tree, but he didn't specify where in the woods the tree had to come from. A tree that large would save his family so much time. They might even be able to sell some of it. He told the cat he would and followed him through the thick wood.

It grew ever darker as they plodded, the light being strangle by mossy trees and tall brush. It was difficult to follow the agile cat, the boy having to sprint under low boughs and over fallen foliage. He leaped with the cat through a thick line of brush, cutting his face and arms, and found himself in a wide clearing. In the center of the clearing, too tall to even see the top of, stood a tree that daunted the boy to his very bones.

The gnarled mass was as thick as a house and taller than anything he'd ever seen. He was surprised that he'd not see it from his own cottage. He wondered how far from home he must be to have missed this on the horizon.

"It is beautiful," he said, hefting the axe in his hands, "I don't know where to even begin."

"Do you see the thin scar that faces us on it's bark?" the cat asked and the boy nodded, "I made that mark. It will make a great place to begin."

The boy thanked the cat and took his axe to the enormous tree. He worked for days at it's base, heaving the axe into the thick flesh of the tree and sleeping beneath it at night. The cat brought him each day to a stream where he could drink and caught rabbits for the boy to cook and eat. By the fifth day the boy was bone weary and his father's axe nearly dulled to a club. He'd cut deep into the tree, however, and turned to the cat.

"One or two more chops should fell her," He said and the cat congratulated him.

"Your family will be proud,"

The boy smiled as he hefted the axe and cut. hefted and cut. hefted and then, pausing, felt the rumblings of the tree on it's base. Hot cracks burst in the sides and fired arm-thick splinters into the woods like shotgun pellets.

"Run!" the cat yelled and hey took off out of the clearing, always looking over their shoulders to make sure that the tree was not leaning towards them. They landed flat on their stomachs and covered their heads, praying that the tree fell opposite of them. When it came down the boy felt his insides slosh against his skin and thought his heart was going to burst. He stood and ran back to where the tree now laid.

"Oh no!" He cried and covered his mouth. The tree had cut a path through his father's woods, crushing trees and damming a wide stream. It had fallen directly across a dam built by a family of beavers and the water that pooled as it hit the log was crimson with entrails. "I killed them," the boy gasped.

"And you have my thanks for it," The cat said happily, "they sat all day, happily eating in their home, mocking me. They chewed on my trees and were going to build more homes for more beavers with this great one you've cut. I'd have been miserable if you had not come along," the cat slid a prickly claw around the boy's throat and grinned, "I'd have been hungry, too."

Joe finished and stared at his feet. He just hoped that it helped the others.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What is Grace?

"I'm breathing," she managed to muster through the flood, the salt stinging her eyes and caking her skin. "My name is Mali, and I can breathe underwater."

She feverishly swam, searching for some sort of solution but none yet to come. The only solution present was that of sodiom chloride and one part hydrogen, two parts oxygen. The sand slowly began escaping her feet as she drew on through the deep. Glowing sands soon became black muck. The sky appeared miles above her. She sank, she plummetted, submerged.

"You better run like hell," a voice rang out to her from a bodiless entity.


"RUN LIKE HELL," it repeated.

"I can't move any faster," she cried, her tears mixing with the black water around her. There was no bottom, no place to rest, no vision. She had tried one of those isolation tanks once and this was by far the closest camparison she could make of the matter, disregarding the ominous voice following her through her strained movement.

So she attempted, as well as she could, to run. Her feet swayed with what felt like a current and before she knew it she found herself on solid ground, staring at the face of the addict they had encountered earlier with a somehow glowing black aura surrounding her.



"Th-think about them," the addict asked in a desperate plea to Mali.

"It doesn't make any sense."


The only 'he' she could think of is the bodiless voice, but why? There's no face to a voice in the dark, there's no face to an addict on the street, none of this should matter.

Black, gray, and white seagulls are colored. They flock around metropolitan and seaside areas as rodents of the sky, a nuisance to locals and tourists alike. Theme park rides are ridden with white specks of shit because of them, and this broad wants me to think of them?

Before Mali knew she found herself face first on the ground, her knee bleeding with gravel and sand in the wound obviously from tripping.

The only thing in front of her face was a square shaped stone with six darker indents. The only thing that came to mind was 'dream.'

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The World May As Well Be Flat.

"So, she end up preggers? Burning the bun in t'oven? Bit of a bitty Parker leeching off 'er innards?" Gordon inquired after a long session of stroking his pointed chin, imagining what paisley-draped dame had taken Parker inside herself. Parker's face flushed and he briskly strode away, leaving the troupe to wonder the possibility.

"Can we just find some place to eat? I'm hungry," Joe chided. He, Gordon, and Mali had nearly spanned a block (with Parker trotting more than a few paces ahead, refusing to look back at them) before they realized one among them was missing.

"Where's Casey?" Mali nervously asked.

They studied their surroundings, peering around long shadows cast by the aging architecture and eying with mild terror the immense alleyways leading into shadows even darker. The streetlights, their casings muddied with the rotting corpses of hordes of insects, cast desaturated, grey light upon the asphalt and concrete, bathing the quiet night in subdue. Seagulls and pigeons chattered somewhere in the darkness, discussing the strange group wandering the lonely streets of their city.

"Okay, seriously, where did she go?" Mali asked again, panic rising in her voice.

"Guys!" Casey's voice called from the darkness.

The group broke into a run, even Parker returning to the side of his comrades as they charged toward the source of the voice. They discovered Casey around the corner of a dilapidated theater (Closed August 1979, according the sign loosely hung on the front door), kneeled at the side of a young girl. The girl's hair was gritty and tangled, her clothes stained and disheveled, her eyes struggling to focus on any one of their concerned faces.

"Is she okay?" Mali asked Casey.

Casey didn't respond, instead lifting the girl's arm gently, showing the rest of the group the bruises and red-spotted marks lining the inside of her elbow.

"They talk as though I'm not even here," the girl muttered to herself before bursting into a small fit of laughter.

"She's high as a damn kite, in't she?" Gordon mused, thumbing his nose.

Casey shushed Gordon and continued rubbing the girl's shoulders. "It's okay, girl, it's okay. Are you alone here? Do you have friends or family we can get you to?"

The girl's eyes rolled to the back of her head for a moment, then reappeared, this time focused on Casey.

"No family, no friends, but that certainly doesn't mean I'm alone. I'm not from California, not originally. I was born to a Midwestern father and a Midwestern mother, born and raised in the Rust Belt and brought up with nothing but cornfields and labor unions to warm me. Have you ever seen winter in the middle of America?

I took to reading when I was a little girl. My mother used to take me to the public library on Herman and Main whenever I went a whole week without upsetting my father. She'd let me run through the aisles of bookshelves, which of course the librarians hated, and I could check out as many books as they'd let me.

I'd read about all sorts of things. Sometimes, I'd read about princesses and knights and dragons; other weeks, I'd read mystery novels, always trying to solve the case before the detective in the story - sometimes, even, I would. Not always, though.

My favorite book, however, was about a girl who could talk to seagulls. Her name was Madison Musky, and she and her family lived near the coast in northern California. Every day, Madison would bike to the shore and make friends with the seagulls. They'd tell her about what lies beyond the ocean, the faraway lands filled with dangerous jungles and noble kings and treasure chests bursting with diamonds and riches - or at least, that's what the fish told them. One day, Madison asked the seagulls if they'd like to see these distant isles for themselves. Together, they devised a plan and Madison returned the next day with spools of firm, strong wire. She tied the wire to the feet of two dozen seagulls and then to her own arms and legs. When the tide was low and the wind was just right, the seagulls took to wing and carried Madison Musky out over the ocean. They flew and flew, but the horizon never came any closer. When they couldn't fly any longer, the seagulls used their beaks to chew through the wire, depositing moor Madison into the waiting waters below.

Which is sad, right? I couldn't tell you why it's my favorite. But I think it's maybe the reason why I ended up here. I wanted to see the edge of the earth. I wanted to know just how far the horizon that never draws near really is.

Maybe I just thought I could do a little better than poor Madison Musky.

Monday, September 22, 2008


The lights and sounds of the night’s endeavors gave a rather poignant introduction to San Diego. Not wanting to be a part of the crime scene along with the fact that they had nothing evidence-related to offer anyway, they decided to hit the road on foot. Only Casey had been to San Diego before, but she had little to offer in the way of directions. Thankfully, the bus had a port, allowing Mali to charge her “phone of infinite wonders” as Gordon referred to it. After an unsuccessful attempt to download a digital bible into the sleek piece of machinery, Parker took the lead, likening himself to Moses, though the more obvious reason was to give distance to a very angry Thai girl. Joe made it a point to absorb all he could of his surroundings. He wanted to assimilate every aspect of every place he saw. You never know when a view may inspire a concept, a character, a plot device, hell a story, he thought, not realizing his own grin. Gordon simply strolled along, his gait resembling that of the cowboys of old, as if at a given moment he would be involved in a shoot-out.

“It’s weird thinking about the native Americans who lived here before us. Some tribes went thousands of years without once thinking about the idea of ownership.” Casey’s words perked everyone’s ears except Gordon’s, who was still lost in his own Western fantasy. “I mean really, the rest of the world couldn’t go a generation without labels, it really makes you wonder about the human condition. Was it because they simply believed that everything belonged to everyone and left it at that, or because the notion of property simply did not exist? Maybe they liked the nomadic lifestyle; it certainly would have made for an exciting childhood, that’s for sure. Maybe it’s the simple fact that the opposite must exist somewhere; a balance of sorts. I’m sure Mali could educate you folks on the nature of yin and yang. I’m not saying that because you’re Asian, I’m sayin that because you have yet to put your damn phone down and I’m willing to bet you have a folder filled with bookmarks on Taoism.” Casey hadn’t said that because she understood Mali, she spoke with confidence because she had gone through her phone while she was sleeping.

The night sky was beginning to fill, the sun streaming swathes of orange across the horizon in one last futile effort to cling to the day, knowing time was not on its side. “I believe it is time for some to divulge a deeply personal fact, those are the rules, yes?” Mali’s words were soft like a precocious child, ready to break into song. Everyone stopped, staring at one another curious as to who will step forward. Finally, Parker stepped forward, breathing in deeply, as if he were getting ready for a speech.

“I’m not a virgin.”

“……….What? No fuckin way. So who was the nice bloke who offered a little how’s your father?” Parker was unamused by Gordon’s jest, but instead of getting angry, he simply replied;

“It’s okay though, we love each other and we’ll be together forever and ever. I prayed a lot about it and God was okay with it.”

“Seriously? Bog himself just up and went, go on now ya scamp, give her what for.”

“Gordon, could you please not speak of our love in such a vulgar manner.

The truth is, before I had met Margot, I was addicted to pornography. Crazy, I know and before I get your commentary, just let me finish. I didn’t hold a lot of value to God for a time. It’s not that I was against God or anything silly like that, I just didn’t really put in any real thought or effort into the idea. Then, like Paul the zealot, I was knocked off my horse.

Even after Margot and I started talking I couldn’t stop. It became a habit. Whenever my parents weren’t home, whenever I had time between classes…I did. Looking back, I feel like I separated myself from the act, like there was a moment of detachment, a divide between who I was in that moment and who I was outside of it. I always had the same emotion afterward, but I couldn’t communicate what it was.

One evening Margot was coming over to study. After I hung up the phone with her, I got the urge. I had to and I thought I had enough time to do so, but while I was in the middle of it, Margot walked in. She had come over early to get a head start and in my panic to get my pants up and turn the computer off, I tripped and smashed my head on my desk, knocking myself unconscious. I awoke to find her staring down at me smiling that wonderful smile while running her fingers through my hair. My pants had been pulled up neatly, buckled and buttoned, and an icepack sat on my head, help in place by her other hand. At that moment I knew what I had always felt; shame. I asked her why she had taken care of me, why she did those things for me knowing what I was doing. Her smile cut through my confusion and her words rang in my head like the harps of angels. She said that’s what Jesus would have done. I knew what I had to do in my life and since then I’ve had Jesus in my life.

I know you guys snicker at my zealotry and how much I love to talk about Jesus, but the truth is I just want you guys to be as happy as I am. I wake up every morning happy that God’s smiling down at me and since he’s the one true God, I think he’ll smile on you guys too.

For the first time in his life, Gordon was speechless. The number of times the group had stood dumbfounded had been numerous already in the infancy of the trip, but that moment had been by far the most striking, aside from the gunfire. The first to act was Mali, who smiled and hugged Parker. Casey grinned, allowing Mali to act as a surrogate, communicating the same sentiment. Joe pondered Mali’s reaction for a moment, then it came to him; that speech must have been hard for Parker and even though he had said some pretty naive thing, he meant well and really, that’s all that mattered.