Smoke trailed from door jambs and rooftops, blotting out the sun; and the brightest thing on the street was a paramedic in white overalls with a red cross on his back like a bull's eye. He wrapped a bandage around the head of an old black woman, weeping on the curb as a stretcher was slid into the back of a police van.
Rumors spread through the hood. "They cracked that boy's head wide open. Them white cops." The cops said the victim took out a knife and lunged at the police woman. "L.A.P.D., cops, all of em, in bed with that Mark Fuhrman."
Three days of looting and violence passed quickly.
Mr. and Mrs. Lucce held hands and slowly dragged a squeaky shopping cart over the blood stained street. Now Mr. Lucce's greatest fear was that one of them would slip, break a hip and end up in the hospital for the holidays. But when Mrs. Lucce saw Mr. Jenkins and his son outside their grocery store, she smiled at her husband as she always did. The Jenkins were sunk low in their lawn chairs, shotguns balanced on their kneecaps.
"Now what you folks doin' out in this mess?" said Mr. Jenkins.
"Ya want, I could run up some bread," said Jenkins junior, offering Mr. Lucce a chair.
"No thanks," said Mr. Lucce. "Better you hold down the fort."
"Helluva night," said Mr. Jenkins, shaking his head as if it all were his terrible burden. "But people in Los Angeles sick of these doings."
"But people gotta eat, don't they?" said Mrs. Lucce. "And all the stores burned and closed out."
"Yes, we gotta eat," added the husband.
He swore he could still smell the proscuitto and provolone in the rotten floor boards of Jenkins' store. Only now the floor was tiled. And he was warned by Mrs. Lucce:"Don't mention it." These people overcame their circumstances. They might take it the wrong way. It's just that Mr. Lucce lived on the Boulevard so long, he remembered when Jenkins' Deli was Fiori's Bakery. And why shouldn't he remember? Even with his eyesight failing, he could still see the faded signs along this, his boyhood street: Dante's Cafe, Laccio's Drugs, Alonzo's Paper Company-- all the Italians that once lived in South Central.
"Yup, that's the truth. People gotta eat." said Jenkins junior, pulling Mr. Lucce's shopping cart into the store just as a fire engine clanged around the corner.
"But I don't get it," Mr. Jenkins said. "The burning and looting. They even hit on the brothers last night. Now me and my boy are standing guard. They're haters out there."
"They hate our skin, you mean," said Mr. Lucce.
Mr. Jenkins seemed busy sweeping glass away from his broken windows.
"So, why don't you let my boy run up something?" said Mr. Jenkins. "Really, you people shouldn't be out on a day like this."
"You know my husband," said Mrs. Lucce, winking. "It's something to do with floor boards and provolone."
"You mean he's still smelling my place?" said Mr. Jenkins. "But them folks are long gone. Mr. Lucce, please, please... don't go sniffing around here like you did the other day. Gives people the wrong idea."
"And people gotta eat," said Mrs. Lucce, her voice bubbly.
Just then, Mr. Hurley came into the store, his thumbs covered with soot. Mrs. Lucce was laughing as she helped Jenkins junior fill a sack with flour.
"Good mornin', y'all."
"Good mornin' yourself," said Mr. Jenkins. "When is all this nonsense gonna end? It's ruinin' business."
"And good morning to you," said Mr. Lucce. "I guess it's good we live in the same building? Don't you think, Mr. Hurley? They're burning out the others."
"I suppose," said Mr. Hurley. "But I didn't expect to see you people. But yeah, long as I'm super--"
"But some people are burning out their own," said Mr. Jenkins.
"Well, not me anyway. Not yet," said Mr. Hurley. "Boiler's gonna need some fixin' though... Could be cold tonight."
"That's what you said last time," said Jenkins junior. "These poor folks came in here lookin' for canned food."
"Yeah," said Mr. Lucce. He was standing next to the son who was hacking away at a frozen chicken. "Lots of old people in the building nearly went solid in the cold. Why don't you just get a new boiler?"
Mrs. Lucce gave her husband a sideways look. He should've known better, pressuring people like Mr. Hurley whose difficulties probably began on some plantation-- ages ago.
"How about a new boiler?" said Mr. Jenkins.
Mr. Hurley picked up his grocery bag. "A new boiler?"
Smoke filled the little store as the front door slammed shut. Mr. Hurley didn't wave good-bye.
"Such a nice man," said Mrs. Lucce.
"Will that be all?" said Jenkins junior dragging the shopping cart to the cash register.
"Maybe you folks better stock up. With this mess, you never know," said Mr. Jenkins adding up the items. "Put it on the bill, as usual?"
"You're too kind," said Mrs. Lucce, opening her purse. "But we've imposed on you people for too long." She handed over the last few dollars of the week.
"Besides," said Mr. Lucce. "It's the first of the month. The check should be in the mail."
"Hell, if you need anything...just let us know," said Junior.
On the way home, Mrs. Lucce chattered. "The Jenkins are nice people." Mr. Lucce nodded mechanically. He held open the graffiti splattered door for the mailman, Mr. Dupee. But before Mrs. Lucce could drag the cart into the lobby, Mr. Dupee gave her a helping hand.
"First of the month," said Mr. Lucce, anxiously.
Mr. Dupee dug in his bag. "Actually," he said. "With all the craziness, there's been a delay."
"It's that bad?" asked Mrs. Lucce.
Mr. Dupee locked the boxes and looked at the old creatures. "It's getting worse," he said. "It's going to snow."
"Snow!? In Los Angeles," said Mr. Lucce. Everyone seemed shocked as a lone snowflake blew against the lobby door, scorched charcoal black. "Maybe I'll take the dogs to the park."
"We don't have a dog," said Mrs. Lucce.
It howled all night; and snow drifts banked over the hoods of cars. clouds of steam rose from the hot ash smoldering under the ice covered streets. Mrs. Lucce stuffed newspaper and towels into the cracks of her windowsills; an icicle hung from the ceiling pipes. Mr. Lucce fell asleep in an arm chair, his feet propped on a pillow in front of the kitchen stove.
This was totally nuts. Snow in California. Mrs. Lucce kept dialing the weather channel. But the line was always busy.
Then the snow stopped and the sun was well above the smoky rooftops, the mercury pinned to its bulb. Mrs. Lucce woke, fell asleep, shivered and woke again. She was on the floor under a woolen blanket. Mr. Lucce's head was thrown back, his mouth wide open, eyes closed.
The oven went out during the night and Mr. Lucce's blanket slipped off. Mrs. Lucce rubbed her husband's face until the pink came back.
"Damn boiler again!" he said.
"No lights, and no gas," Mrs. Lucce added. "Maybe the whole city is down?"
"No, it's them, I tell you. The gangstas."
"What are you trying to say"
"Oh, right. I forgot. Their circumstances, of course."
"It's because of our skin... you're saying?"
Mr. Lucce opened the refrigerator. The light was out. The milk was bad and the eggs had burst. "People gotta eat?" His false teeth clacked. "My denture glue? I can't even boil water."
"Danny, stop thinking about your stomach. You can't shut me out. It's because of our skin, you think."
"No, everyone and everybody, they're just wonderful. And delightful. Delightful and wonderful."
"Don't be stupid, you, I'll show you."
She picked up the telephone:
"Mr. Jenkins. Thank God. Our boiler, our oven, everything's out. Could you have your son bring some hot coffee, and fresh bread?"
There was static at the other end.
"I'm sorry. It's crazy, busy down here."
There was more static.
"Excuse me? Hello? Are you there?"
"Hello? Hello? Anyone there?"
"Hello, Mrs. Lucce. I'm sorry. Dad's busy, but if you can wait, I'll run up as soon as I can."
"Oh, you will? How wonderful."
"What now?" asked Mr. Lucce.
"They're busy, but Junior will come up as soon as he can."
Mr. Lucce looked out the window and saw a policeman turn the corner by Jenkins' store. His footprints were the first and only ones in the freshly fallen snow. "Busy, huh. Funny how snow sticks."
"What's the snow got to do with it?"
"If they're so damn busy, why aren't there more footprints outside the store? Look out the window...."
"No, I won't. I won't look. I'm sick of your suspicions. You've ruined my life."
"My suspicions. Maria, what do you think the looting and burning are all about--you?"
"That has nothing to do with it."
"Right, I never heard you people this and that in Jenkins' store today. I imagined it, like a lot of things."
"Oh you're just trying to get even because Jenkins won't let you sniff around the place..."
"Right, that's another thing. Whose side are you on anyway? You just want them to think I'm a good for nothing."
"Now you don't trust me either."
"No, it's them."
"Know what I think. We're going to end up in an early grave if we don't do something."
"Remember my sister?"
"She got involved with that crazy Russian, didn't she?"
"Right, she and her husband hired that writer to live with them for a few months. He wrote a story about them. Remember? So they could see themselves, they could see what was killing them."
"So, what are you saying. You want a Chekhov to come to South Central?"
"No, I don't think he's right for us. But what if we could get one of those black writers, you know, someone who knows his way around, we could know, once and for all, how they see us..."
"Look, you know what? At this point, I don't care what you do. I'm hungry, it's cold and I have to eat...It's not funny anymore. Where's Junior?"
Mr. Lucce looked back to the window in despair, but his wife got the yellow pages...She remembered a book she saw in the library. The Ways of White Folks or something like that. Surely whoever wrote that would know a few things...and she was surprised to find his number listed along with a Chekhov's and a few other writers who had taken out a full page ad. And she was even more surprised when he agreed to do it, gladly, promptly.
"It's done." Mrs. Lucce primped the pillows of her arm chair. She put on a wool house dress and bright lipstick; and she insisted her husband wear a heavy sweater, like a hair shirt, under his suit.
"But didn't you overlook a small detail," said Mr. Lucce. "How much is this gonna cost? We don't have a pot to piss in."
"It'll work out," said Mrs. Lucce. "Don't worry. Just get ready. He'll be here...now hurry."
When someone knocked on the door, Mr. Lucce hoped to find Junior and food. Instead, it was the writer fellow, a hat pulled over one corner of his eye, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He looked more like a detective than a writer...and he smoked throughout his visit. Mrs. Lucce remembered that her sister's writer actually spit blood into a handkerchief.
"You shouldn't smoke so much," she said to her writer. "It'll tear your insides."
"I'm sorry," he said, squashing his cigarette into the ash tray. "This is Southern California. How can it be so cold?" He put his hat back on his head.
"Lately, everything is upside down," said Mrs. Lucce.
"Actually," said Mr. Lucce. "My wife lives in a fantasy world. That's why you're here. All this has nothing to do with our skin. Isn't that right, dear?"
"She explained it all...on the phone," said their black writer, opening his notebook. "Are others in the building without heat?"
"Well, we don't really know our neighbors. I mean, in the hall, we're friendly, it's not that we have differences. And Mr. Hurley, the super, is delightful."
"Right, the boiler's broken, there's no gas. Delightful and wonderful."
"The gas is out?" said the writer. "That's odd. I was only a few blocks from here, and--"
"Case closed," said Mr. Lucce.
"Now one second," said the writer. "I made it clear to your wife. There are two types of stories. The commercial one which contains the traditional hero. And then there's the other one, which abandons the hero and villain in favor of the social problem. Without making the characters social types, of course. And did you explain the agreement to your husband?"
It was clear enough, Mrs. Lucce thought. Given they couldn't pay this writer, he only wanted exclusive rights to their story. There might be a movie in the old people, given they were the last white family in South Central. Something like the last of the Mohicans. It had a romantic ring to it. And one other thing: The writer insisted on complete access to every facet, every detail, of the Lucce household--no matter how personal.
He read old love letters sent to Mrs. Lucce from Sicily during World War 11. He examined old IRS forms, and some 8th grade report cards. ("Mr. Lucce," one teacher wrote, "comes to school as often as Santa Claus.")
The writer even asked questions about their sex life, and showed them ink blots. Then he found a rotten potato on a black ribbon hanging in a closet. Mr. and Mrs. Lucce looked at one another conspiratorially. It was something Danny's mother brought from the old country. The idea was: Spit on the potato, put it in your closet; when it dried, so did someone's soul, your enemy. The writer had a hunch that the black ribbon might be a telling detail.
But he was too exhausted (and frozen) to pressure the old folks. He left, promising to get the story to them by the day's end. But first, he'd interview neighbors; and he promised to deliver their message to Jenkins: Send food!
"What now?" asked Mr. Lucce, closing the door. Mrs. Lucce looked out of the window as their writer turned the corner by Jenkins' store. There was still hardly a footprint in the hardening snow.
"I better go down myself," she said, "even if I slip and break a hip." The husband agreed to watch her from the window.
Mrs. Lucce dragged her shopping cart down the long hallway. Funny, she thought, the lights were on. Still she hurried, afraid the Jenkins might close for the day; so she left her cart at the top of the stairs, too heavy to carry down in a rush.
"Am I glad to see you."
Surprised, Mr. Dupee looked up the stairwell at the cart. Then he turned back to the mail boxes filled with green checks, checks which he stuffed into his mail bag.
"You're surprised?" said the mailman. "But I thought you people would be under the covers, staying warm?"
"We will, but first we need a little money. We gotta eat, but the gas is out and the heat is off."
"That's what you people think about?"
"That's a funny way to put it, isn't it?" said Mrs. Lucce. "You sure crack me up."
Mr. Dupee locked the boxes and was knee deep in snow when Mrs. Lucce realized: The check! "You forgot the check!"
"There's a delay," he said, without turning around.
Mrs. Lucce climbed back up the steps. Then she got a whiff of cooking fat and she heard what was bacon crackling in a frying pan, and a steam pipe hissed behind a neighbor's door.
"Danny?" She found her husband hacking away at some frozen milk, sucking on the ice chips.
"Where's the shopping cart," he blurted. "The food?"
"The cart? Jesus, I left it by the steps, but when I came back, it was gone."
"Gone? You mean stolen?"
"I don't get it. I heard someone cooking, I swear, and the hall lights are on and I think there's steam in this building and checks for everyone but us."
"What am I, an idiot?" Mr. Lucce grabbed the phone. "This time, I'm catching them." He put down the phone.
"It's dead," he said "They cut the line. What are they doing to us?"
Mr. Lucce looked under the kitchen sink.
"What are you doing?" said Mrs. Lucce, pulling a brown envelope from her coat pocket.
"No, what are you doing?" said Mr. Lucce pulling out a tool box. "It's something our writer sent with the mailman."
"I see. He got our number pretty damn fast, huh?"
Mr. Lucce grabbed a crowbar and got on a ladder. Then he banged on the pipes, knocking the icicles from the ceiling. Mrs. Lucce took out a short, but neatly typed manuscript.
"Shhhh, would you stop. I'm trying to read"
Mr. Lucce kept banging--clang, clang, clang
"Listen, would you listen to this!?"
"Why should I? The bastards." He hit the pipes again. "People have to eat," he cried. "Don't they know?" He swung his crowbar with all his strength. Then his ladder slipped. He fell and his teeth were knocked loose and into a corner of the room, with a hard slap, like a hockey puck.
Mrs. Lucce was busy reading:
They were the types who went in for black people--Danny and Maria--the Lucces. Maybe they tried too hard to make friends, dark friends, and they suspected...
Contributor's Note: P.J. Jason's stories have appeared in African Voices, Fiction International, ACM (Another Chicago Magazine) , River Styx, Black River Review, Wascana Review, Blue Penny Qaurterly, and Private Arts.
Doctor Gloucester sat in his room, reading a novel by Marcel Proust. It is a very good novel, thought the good doctor, with not too many long words in it. Idly, Gloucester thumbed the edge of a page, as though about to turn to the next one. Then his thumb, sweat stained and tarnished by newsprint, paused perceptively on the cusp of page-turning. The doctor hesitated a moment. A bead of perspiration rolled from the side of his forehead, threatening to wander along his nose then drip, slowly onto the page - as if to see what all the fuss was about - but it, too, halted awhile to watch the doctor in his deliberations.
Firmly, Doctor Gloucester slammed "A La Recherche de Temps Perdu" closed, but not before the moist bead, its mind made up at the last, had had a chance to zip down onto the page, providing a single greasy bookmark to remind Gloucester where he had got to in the novel.
Doctor Gloucester glanced about him, and paused awhile once more, in contemplation of what he saw. A War! he thought, A Bore. Such a bore is war, a sore bore, yet not so torn as an apple corn. Which lies, forlorn as though drawn upon a paper. Drawn, as they were, to the window, the doctor's eyes took in the exterior scene.
A carriage went by. Another followed it.
Something wrong here, thought Gloucester, Something definitely wrong. But what? But what?
No horse! the thought screamed out, but none heard it as none were there to hear. No horse! it cried again, but louder this time. Again, none heard its wail - but more clearly this time.
The doctor's eyes rose up, maintaining their position on his face as it - too - was raised. This last was caused, as 'twere, by the movement of the good doctor's head, which responded in characteristic fashion to a change in the angle at which his neck was held. So it goes.
A cloud drifted by, as clouds have been known to do, as the doctor stared from his window. A tendril of cloud caressed another cloud, pulling from it - gently, oh so gently - a wisp of likewise cloudy material. A swirl, a whirlpool in the skies, then gone, and only cloud remained.
The doctor stared.
A crick, a cricket, a cricket neck caused Doctor Gloucester to turn away momentarily from the cloudy landscape, and his eye alighted upon a picture beside his desk. The picture showed a herd of sheep, a flock of cows and a shepherd's crook. Around the crook was draped a cobweb, fine as cobweb in the early morning light. The doctor raised his arm, and thereby his hand, to stroke the web, which broke.
A strand of cobweb fell, slowly, drifting to the floor of the doctor's study. He watched it swirl, a whirlpool in the air, then land and come to rest upon the bare floorboards which cushioned Doctor Gloucester's feet from the bare air beneath.
Oh shit, thought the doctor.
A creak, a crack, a racket. A cracket of sound disturbed the good doctor's contemplation of the webby fibres, and caused him to turn to the door. The door was opening, slowly, its hinges shrieking as a hundred knife-wounds of rust buried themselves to the hilt in their vulnerable metal bodies. A chink, a chunk, a clank of light shone through, outlining three sides of the door as it swung wider, wider, and wider still, in answer to the hingey cries.
Oh shit, thought the doctor.
The door now open, a figure emerged, and entered the room with a tray in one hand and a knife in the other. "Who's there?" cried the doctor, his voice betraying the terror he felt in his heart at the sound of the door, and the clank of the light, and the screams of the hinge, "Who's there?"
And a voice, soft and low, whispered across that room, "'Tis eye."
The doctor stood up, the better to walk, and crossed 'cross the room, he crissed crassly crossed 'cross that room, to greet with his voice the bearer of tray and of knife - which the reader has yet to learn more of. The doctor addressed that strange apparition with words from his throat, ushered soft from his mouth, though hoarsened by sounds uttered early in panic 'gainst that very shape, "Who is 'I'?"
"'Tis I, kindly doctor, who bringeth thy supper for you to partake of now daylight has finished."
The doctor spun round, with a complex manouver, and glared at the window to see the last streaks of the daylight descending like icicles melting beyond the horizon and sighed, like a river, in pain at the passing of a friend.
'Who is 'I'?" he repeated, since last time he uttered those words he had got no reply from the figure, bearing knife and a tray which it claimed was his supper. That figure whose entrance had startled the doctor and caused him to miss the moment of passing of day. "Who is 'eye'?"
The person who stood, a-framed in the doorway, looked on to the doctor and noticed his face, and noted his expression, and formed her opinion of what the poor doctor had done all that evening, and looked for the book, the sweat-stain-ed novel, by Marcel Proust, which the doctor was reading, and said to the doctor, "I'm Mary."
The doctor was shocked. Oh shit, thought the doctor.
Mary stalked forward, she storked t'ward the table, deposited tray and placed there the knife, which she had been carrying, onto the tray. Placed she it. Mary turned now to Gloucester, and stared at his face, expressions of pity vieing for place on her features with shades of expressions of anger that Gloucester had noticed the clouds once again.
Oh shit, thought the doctor.
The table groaned lightly.
Oh shit, thought the doctor.
Then, Mary walked to the doorway, and turned to the doctor, "Goodnight," as the door was closed from the outside, leaving doctor alone with the tray and the table. And the knife. The window was open. Doctor Gloucester left it open, reached for the knife then stabbed his hand downwards to capture a cockroach that crawled 'cross the table t'ward the tray which bore his supper. Gloucester raised the cover and unveiled his meal.
Oh shit, thought the doctor.
(c) 6/4/1991 Roy Stead
"Oh, come on, relax."
Cronos Warchild wanted to retort, "That's easy for you to say, chum, you haven't got a suction device hanging in your mouth and a piece of drilling equipment homing in on your molars," instead of which, however, he heard himself uttering something like, "Hmmmm hmmpff dribble ow sshidd."
Why was it a universal property of dentists to try and start a conversation with someone of whom the vital bits of his speech production apparatus were temporarily invalidized?
He hated his annual checkup, which is why this was his first one. He already regretted not having regularly undergone them, for now his dentist had started to actually physically drool when Warchild had opened his mouth to display the oral disarray that had prompted the visit in the first place. He could have sworn there were Thanatopian Credit signs in the man's eyes before they were quickly blinked away. The man had looked familiar in a way many dentists tend to. Cronos was quite sure he had met the man before - he just couldn't remember, no matter how hard he tried.
"Ssssjjjggrrrrrr," the suction device intoned.
Warchild decided he didn't like the drill, and the sedative stings even less.
"Now this may hurt a little," a positively gorgeous assistant had shushed when the revealing of small syringes had caused frenzied fear to creep on Cronos' face.
It is said that the pain limit can be relocated to a rather more favourable position in the presence of female beauty. This is a lie. On top of the discomfort of two pairs of hands working their ways in his orifice he merely felt an additional feeling not unlike cramp elsewhere.
Now what had the dentist whispered to that absurdly pretty girl just before that? Warchild had not forgotten his hearing aid this time, as a matter of fact he had even had new batteries installed. Dura-something - he had liked the rabbit commercial. Now what was it again?
"Better give him something extra. He's a big dude. A regular dose might not work, and there's plenty of work to be done."
The Thanatopian Credits had been in the man's eyes again, just for a while.
Cronos felt them turning him around. And around again. They swivelled the dentist chair a bit. A drill homed in on his eye. He wanted to cry but found it impossible because of an excess amount of tools lodged somewhere. A mirror, previously located on a wall at a sufficient distance, suddenly started to move around the room. At just a few instants after the mirror had started moving, Warchild's personal tiny universe folded in on itself, collapsing into a tiny speck of blackness at the end of which there wasn't a spotlight.
"Oh, come on, relax."
He had little other choice. Four boys had tied him to a pillar and the only thing his current position allowed was plenty of relaxing, be it in a vertical position. He tried to move a foot but gave up when it turned out to be of no avail. He blinked an eye. Even that was hard, what with all the make-up that was clumsily painted on it.
Now all he had to do was wait. Wait until the boys had decided to leave him be, and then wait until school opened again after the holidays and some stunned janitor would find him.
"I know something funny," one of the boys had whispered to him. He had come to life there and then. None of the really popular guys in his class had ever found him worthy of confidential information. Nobody had whispered anything in his ear. He wished it had been a girl, but for now a boy would have to do. Male to male bonding it was called, he thought. Anyway, it was better than nothing.
He had waited breathlessly until the confidential revelation would follow.
It had caught him totally unawares when it had turned out to be, "Me and Tony and Jack here are going to tie you to that pillar overthere and then paint you with girl's make-up."
He had been lucky. They hadn't used reinforced tungsten scarfs to tie him. With any luck, halfway through the holidays he would have wrenched himself loose and then try to stumble home.
He wondered if there were any school buses driving in the middle of summer. No, probably not. He'd have to walk the way home. But he'd been worse off before. He didn't know exactly when that had been - his memory refused quite desperately to let the event escape from its psychological hiding place - but he was fairly sure it was true. Anyway, what was 80 miles to a healthy young lad?
A stinging pain invaded his consciousness. He thought he heard someone shouting angrily, "I told you he needed more. Give him another shot!" There was a pause. "What do you mean, 'where'? Anywhere will do. As long as it's lots."
He saw a familiar face. It made him feel more comfortable, but as if the emotion had to be punished the face changed into that of Jack, then Tony, then that of Merle with its familiar already retreating hairline. He tried to blink them away but they wouldn't. He tried to reach out but his hands went through the images, touching nothing.
Then, suddenly, there was his father. He was holding a knife and fork and looking rather too hungry. The image was hit on the head by someone else. He wanted to see who this kind benefactor was, but somehow everything stayed hazy.
"Oops," someone said. A girl's voice expressed wonder somewhere on the other side. "Perhaps you shouldn't exactly have given him that much of the stuff." A girl started to sob uncontrollably. "And certainly not there." The sobbing increased.
There was a dramatic pause. If thinking processes could ever make sound, this was deafening.
The girl was padded on the back in consolation. Then a man said, "Perhaps I have a solution."
In reply he heard not the expected gentle sound of her voice he so much longed to hear, but a cold wheezy windy sortof breezy sound that he considered void of all emotions. When he opened his eyes he heaved a deep sigh upon discovering himself in a situation encountered rather too often for any one lifetime: Stranded on an unknown planet without any clothes on. This time, as opposed to all previous times, there was a faint sense of relief; he felt confident his American Express Travellers Cheques were still in the pocket where they belonged.
Only the pocket was probably somewhere altogether far away.
He could even muster the enthusiasm to utter a heartfelt moan, or even a curse. Life had its strange little twists and turns, but why was he always the one to get the wrong end of its twisted stick? He was getting sick of it.
He erected himself. A good thing was that there wasn't anybody around to arrest him for indecent exposure, but the bad thing was this also meant he couldn't rob anyone off their clothes. His body was trained to block out cold, but the rather minute size of a certain bit of his anatomy betrayed it more than adequately. It destroyed his sense of dignity and on top of that quite literally nullified his manly pride.
His head didn't feel like the proverbial half-peeled orange with squash balls bouncing to and fro in it - all things considering he felt pretty excellent, actually. It seemed to prove that last night had not involved a battering or alcohol consumption. Only the matter involving bodily coverage would have to be resolved soon. Hiding from sight his private parts rendered one hand useless, something that could prove quite a disadvantage should this turn out to be yet another dog-eat-dog world.
He observed his surroundings. Things were looking up. His Travellers Cheques were most likely still in his pocket, he didn't have a brainsplitting headache and he hadn't been dumped in some desolate, filthy, scum-ridden back alley. He found himself looking at two eyes frozen wide open, partly hidden by the snow that had fallen on what seemed a mound of rubbish quite literally in the middle of nowhere.
A metallic sound became apparent to the inner workings of his hearing aid, a little world on its own filled with electronic parts and sticky bits of cerumen. Cronos had often wondered about it but never quite understood its workings at all. Anyway, that was not important.
What was important, at least at this time, was that the device revealed to the mercenary annex hired gun a kind of slow repeated laughter that seemed to emanate from somewhere in the suspicious-looking mound.
With his free hand he wiped some snow off the top of the mound and was momentarily startled by the sight of some rather more unsightly parts of the frozen corpse, its toothless mouth twisted in a dying scream of agony. In its hand the corpse was clutching a small device which Cronos momentarily mistook for a Gargantuan Organ Disruptor pointed at what he desparately tried to hide with his other hand. After fighting down the waves of nausea that ran from his groin via his spine to his brain, he pried the device loose from the frozen fingers and inspected it in more close detail.
"Ha Ha Ha," the device droned.
Cronos squinted his eyes to be able to read the fine print on the bottom of the device.
"Cyrius Cybernetics Laughing Gas Dispenser with Pro-Logic Audio-Feedback Unit," it read.
Warchild stifled a giggle and pocketed the thing, after which he cursed and picked it up again. It was then that he noticed the small nozzle on the top with a even smaller button next to it. Even he knew that buttons were supposed to be pressed - unless they were labeled 'self-destruct' in bright red capitals - so he planted a meaty thumb on the thing.
A faint hissing sound followed by a funny smell tickled Cronos' olfactory senses after which he suddenly realized the absurdity of his situation and decided to have a good laugh at himself. In fact, he knew that this one had to be a real holler, a tear-jerker of monumental proportions.
He started laughing.
"It is a Class E ice planet, sir, average temperature -20 degrees celcius," the android said, "Lifeform readings negative, and no Federation records present in any of the databases."
"Very well, Mr. Data, perform another scan when we pass the system," the captain instructed.
Snow twirled around the vague shape that was kneeling on a small mound, clutching its belly while convulsing heavily with what seemed to be uncontrollable laughter. Loud wails of it erupted from its mouth, and tears formed glistening trails of frozen ice crystals down the face of Cronos Warchild, naked, freezing cold, alone in the middle of nowhere, and laughing.
"I won't stop," the voice said, reassuring. It was the voice of one with infinite time, one with no desire other than to continue what was being done.
Warchild tried hard, but failed vigorously. He was finding it difficult to breathe, his entire body writhing and aching as yet another powerful boost of laughter coarsed up and down his body. He was beginning to laugh the laugh of the insane, the piping high semi-roar of girls, whatever, but nothing vaguely male or heroic or mercenary-ish.
"I assure you I won't stop," the voice repeated. Its owner seemed to enjoy doing whatever it was doing, which was moving a feather up and down one of Warchild's bare soles, his victim tied down entirely and immovably with boyscout knots. There were some bystanders, laughing for entirely different reasons.
Cronos' reaction was void of anything but laughter. He would have laughed at the crucifixion of Christ, hollered in the face of Ashtaroth, smilingly given the finger to Cthulhu and hooted at Armageddon itself. There was no stopping it. They had found his weak spot. For three years he had succeeded in hiding it most cleverly from his tutors and fellow students, but somehow they had found out about it.
The dragon moved closer to him. He tried to evade its mighty claws and its reeking, fiery breath, but the animal would not relent. He took a few steps back, suddenly finding himself up against a wall.
If dragons could grin inanely, this one would have. It waited until it could close in on its victim. There was nowhere for the culprit to go. Supper time!
"Feed me!" the dragon said in some inexplicable language of its own. It had loved that film. "Supper time!"
Quite suddenly a light struck the intended victim. The dragon was bound to have a weak spot. All creatures great and small had weak spots. He had one himself, and if the dragon had it too he was saved for sure. From his pocket the victim - none other than a Knight of the Round Table - took a quill. He would probably no longer be able to write with it a letter to his loved one, but at least he would remain alive to buy another one.
Nobody can stand tickling. Not under the soles of their feet. He doubted whether Atilla, Hitler, Napoleon or Caligula would have had such success in their conquests had they not known boots and had been forced to walk across short grass.
Triumphantly he extended the quill. The dragon wondered.
Warchild had been most rudely interrupted from his dreams of valiance by an odd feeling. A fellow student looked him right in the face, guffawing. It was Merle. He had hated Merle for a long time but, in the way this tends to happen to many persons you don't like - including the person you ritually exchange addresses with when on holiday - both their careers had quite spontaneously unfolded in a similar way. Fate was like gravity - it sucked.
"Now we know your weak spot, Charwild," an almost demonic voice had said, "Next time try not to talk in your sleep!"
The android gave his scanner displays a typical puzzled look and turned around to face his captain.
"Captain, the scanners seem to be picking up signs of a humanoid lifeform on the planet surface."
"But I thought you said there weren't any lifeforms on the planet."
"Its lifesigns are weak, sir, they only just showed up on the scans."
"Hard to tell, sir, the intense snow storms and other atmospherical circumstances make it hard to be more precise. The conditions do allow for use of the transporter, however."
To relieve the tension, Cronos let go of another shrieking gale of hard core laughter. It was beginning to hurt. He doubted if he would ever again be able to hiccup without a pungent ache stabbing through most of his abdomen.
"I am quite happy to continue indefinitely," the voice confided in him.
Warchild didn't doubt it for a second. Assistants at the Proximity Sigma Mercenary Academy were famous for few things but their relentless stamina was one of them. He made a mental note, between a few violent convulsions, to teach Merle a lesson when - if - he ever got out of this predicament.
A part of his brain frantically signalled him to faint. He hated fainting. Girls faint, men didn't. He was brought up with traditional values. But, then again, perhaps this time it wasn't such a daft idea anyway. Perhaps the tickling would stop.
Oh, mommy, why wouldn't the tickling stop?
Almost blotted out completely by Warchild's laughter, a voice said, "That will be quite enough."
The world came in focus again, and the echoes of his own laughter wore off as quickly as the violent feather-induced itch under his left sole. The assistant jumped to attention.
"At ease, sergeant," the man said. It was a decorated soldier, wearing a rather fancy uniform that betrayed a high rank. Warchild had never been good at learning ranks, but he reckoned this guy was pretty high up the fascist ladder. He connected the face with a name...salmon...haddock...carp...Trautman, that's it, Colonel Trautman, a man almost his father, the main Academy's supervisor and director of daily affairs, probably the only individual convinced that, deep down, cadet Warchild had things going for him.
Cronos looked up through a haze of tears when some people materialized beside him and the snow-covered mound. There was a weird sound. He couldn't make out any details, nor even the actual amount of individuals that suddenly considered it necessary to be present.
"It's life, sir, but not as we know it," the android said. He looked at Warchild quizzically. His yellow eyes scanned the mercenary. Had he been capable of human emotions, he would have experienced something not unlike pity.
"You wouldn't believe the things I see," another man emphasized, a black guy with a permanent infrared vision device attached to his head, "just a large blue shape with a tiny red sort of worm in the procreational area."
A woman giggled girlishly and took out her tricorder. It uttered a few beeping sounds and then became utterly quiet. Apart from telling her that there were the faintest traces of an alien gas present, its display read, "DEAD."
"To our standards he isn't even alive, Geordi," she concluded.
"But he's moving," Geordi said.
"Death and mobility aren't necessarily mutually exclusive," the android remarked, "for example, it is a well known fact the Muier Shipbiter, the large flightless tracking bird of Altitude Pleiadis, travels back to its place of birth by means of involuntary post-mortem muscle convulsions induced by electrical patterns emanating from the brain decomposition process."
The android uttered a meaningful pause for dramatic impact, totally failing to sense the fact that all people present thought he was a smart-arse, then added, "The largest recorded distance covered by this wholly unique means of vertebrate propulsion is 67.62 earth miles."
"What do you think of this, Commander Riker?" the woman inquired, indicating Warchild.
Cronos deemed that instant perfect to demonstrate once more the extent of movement his apparently dead body was capable of. Another fit of laughter shuddered his being.
"Well, Dr Crusher," the Commander replied, a man who had so far observed in silence, "perhaps it's some kind of hibernating species."
"Hibernating and laughing at the same time?" a Klingon intoned. He wasn't amused and was nervously fingering his phaser. In Klingon society you didn't laugh in the presence of others. As a matter of fact he found this humanoid blatantly insulting, dead or not. Back home he would not have restrained himself.
"Riker to Enterprise," the Commander said after hitting himself on the chest.
"Go ahead, Number One," a voice came from nowhere. It was the kind of voice you would attach a bald head to.
"We found a life form here that may be in need of medical aid," Dr Crusher said, ignoring the Klingon's snort.
There was a pause.
"OK," the voice out of nowhere spoke.
"Six to beam up," the Commander said.
There was a strange light effect, as if in some cheap SciFi series, and an equally strange sound. Once that had ceased, the only sound was that of the wind, breezy kindof windy.
In the middle of nowhere there was a mound next to which lay a partly snowed in Cyrius Cybernetics Laughing Gas Dispenser with Pro-Logic Audio-Feedback Unit, but it was beyond the corpse to be able to laugh about it.
The Klingon escorted Cronos to the bridge. By now the mercenary annex hired gun had totally recovered from his icy ordeal. He was comfortably warm again, neatly dressed in crisp clothes and feeling decidedly less giggly than before. He was a bit disoriented though - the last thing he clearly remembered was lying in a dentist's chair and being severelyy sedated. Now he was walking beside a taciturn Klingon on what seemed to be a Federation starship.
They reached the bridge. A door opened automatically, they went through, and the door closed behind them. It was the kind of door Cronos expected to drone, "Thank you for making a simple door happy," but it didn't.
They went inside, where he was lead to a balding middle aged man, and a very familiar-looking balding middle aged man at that. Several bells rung as the recollections took a solid shape inside the vast emptiness that formed Cronos' mind.
"Merle!" he yelled.
"Er...How do you know my real name?" the captain hushed to Cronos, an embarrassed and perplexed look on his face.
The android swiveled in this chair. "I checked this individual's genetic patterns to the old Federation Colonies DNA databases and found a 99.8% match on Ambulor Eight where he has spent a prolonged amount of time in the hospital for the Very Very Splattered. Despite appearances, he's human - one Cronos Jehannum Warchild."
"Captain, I sense utmost confusion and a violent sense of revenge in this man," a dark-haired woman with huge black eyes counselled agitatedly.
The Klingon immediately drew a phaser and started forward, an unprofessionally eager look on his face.
Cronos launched himself at his nemesis, intending to reduce him to a mass of quivering flesh. He was stopped rather painfully by a phaser blast from a grinning Klingon. It slammed him up against a panel. A few lights blinked, a few beeps beeped.
"Incidentally," Mr Data added, unperturbed, "according to these records this hospital is supposed to be run by a nurse who looks like an identical twin of Gloria Estefan."
Unfortunately for the couple of thousand people aboard the starship, the phaser shot had hurled Cronos Warchild against a large red button with the text "PLEASE BE SO KIND SO AS NOT TO PRESS THIS BUTTON, FOR IT WILL SELF-DESTRUCT THE SHIP".
Perhaps Cronos Warchild had finally taught Merle his lesson. Unfortunately, however, there were hundreds of people attending the same class, one of them being Cronos himself who was too unconscious to alter anything.
A siren threw in a few wailing words.
"THIS WAS NOT IN THE SCRIPT," a voice boomed.
A hushed silence fell over the bridge.
Cronos scratched his head as he sat up and looked around himself.
"I WILL NOT ALLOW IT," the voice continued. A huge face appeared on the viewscreen.
"Mr. Roddenbery!" the crew exclaimed in exalted chorus.
A gaffer walked up to the large red button, irritated, and pushed it once more. The siren ceased its incessant wailing.
"SCOTTY, BEAM THIS MAN OUT OF HERE," the mysterious voice now commanded.
"Excuse me, Mr. Roddenbery," the android began, "but there is no record of a Scotty, Mr Scott or anybody with the first name Scott aboard the Enterprise..."
"Shut up, Data," the captain snapped.
"Mr O'Brien, beam this...this...Neanderthal out of here," he added.
"Aye, sir," the transporter chief responded, "which coordinates?"
"Anywhere will do," the captain said, suppressing an evil grin, "basically any random planet. As long as it's far away from here."
"Aye, sir," O'Brien said. Finally a command that left room for some creativity.
Cronos found himself standing on a grassy plain, a shimmering sun hanging in the sky. It was silent, eerily silent almost, and as usual he was completely baffled, utterly confused and most muddled for a very long time. Thoughts of Merle drifted through his mind but he didn't know exactly why or how.
Before he had a chance to completely recover, though, another bizarre thing started happening. Small mounds of earth began to appear all around him, muddy hands extending from some of them. Soon, earth-smeared heads started popping up everywhere. Some time later Cronos found himself surrounded by a large group of extremely soiled men and women. They were all quite naked, although most details of their features were in some way covered by mud and bits of fungi. They had all crawled from their own individual little holes in the earth and were now eying each other vibrantly, the tension in the air building up around a now totally dumbfounded Cronos who had absolutely no idea what was going on. He had never been anywhere where people sortof pop out of the ground where you stand.
Warchild stammered something.
This seemed to trigger the strange group because at that moment they all started fondling other muddy individuals and engaging in acts of rather explicit sexual nature. These were explicit enough for Cronos to turn slightly red around the cheeks. For the first time since his waking up on the ice planet did he realize that he in fact did himself have a sexual organ located in the lower abdominal area.
He wandered around aimlessly for a while, making sure not to step on any of the writhing bodies around him, trying to make sense of it all. After a while he found a solitary woman lying on the ground, naked and covered in streaks of dirt, her forms exposed to a befuddled Cronos who never really knew what to do in this kind of situation. He sat down next to her and decided to find out what was going on.
"From what hole are you, handsome?", the woman asked huskily.
"Errr...well...", Cronos didn't really know what to say. He never before had his home planet Sucatraps referred to as a hole.
For a brief instant visions flickered across the insides of his eyes. There was the utterly enticing Klarine Appledoor. After two moments she was squashed by the rather less slim form of Penelope Sunflower, his almost-betrothed. And, of course, there was half a nanosecond worth of Loucynda, enough to see the sturdy and rather rusty locks around the chastity belt were resisting time bravely. He always had that when he was around women. He either started acting like a total git or simply shut up and entered recollection mode.
His lack of words, however, merely seemed to flatter the woman, encourage her. Maybe she was an expert at body language, or maybe the rapidly shifting folds in the crotch area of Cronos' trousers told her all she needed to known. She peeled a piece of dry mud off a breast. Cronos had no idea the removal of sand crust could be this provoking. A few of his inner glands started to excrete their produce.
"What is all this?" Warchild asked.
"Isn't it obvious?" the woman responded rhetorically.
"This is the moment we've all waited for," the woman said. Her eyes went into a musing distant-gaze mode when she told a story involving the burial of 41 infants in the rich and nurturing soils of the Mother Planet where their collective minds would dream about Unabridled Sexual Nirvana for 17 years until finally the Exhumation Phase of their Life Cycle would come upon them. She revealed to him the Doctrine of the Nine Utterly Holy Phases - Cloacal Birth, the Burying of Infant Eggs, Life in Entombment for Seventeen Years, the Unearthing, the Shedding of the Sands, the Mating (a.k.a. Passionate Time of Ultimate Bliss), the Smoking of the Cigarette and then, after a short but exciting Life, the Revelation of the Truth in Death. A pretty fulfilling life, so she assured him.
To Cronos she appeared to be human, but she was talking about eggs and cloacas - and what was this thing with the cigarette? He was about to ask when she grabbed him in her arms. The two of them looking like the covers of cheap love novels, only this time the male held by the female.
"O noble hunk," she whispered wetly in his ear, "be my Sacred Partner in the Ritual of Ultimate Joining!"
He thought about it for a while, but not for long. The woman peeled another piece of half-dried mud off her anatomy. This time it revealed part of her right buttock. Warchild hadn't realised half a square inch of buttock could look in any way alluringly. Well, he concluded, this particular piece did.
The woman, her lips moist with desire and her eyes undressing him unceremoniously, now interpreted Cronos' muteness as reluctance. She had to fight for him. Perhaps he was playing hard to get. She liked that in a man. It's never any fun if they throw themselves at you. She liked getting "no" for an answer. They always meant "yes" anyway.
"I have four sexual organs, you know," she revealed, "and that's not even including the cloaca." She turned around a bit and showed a few of them.
By now Warchild got the general idea. In fact, the part of his body that had been shrivelled hopelessly during his ice planet experience was now claiming most of his blood and sending waves of unclean thoughts through his mind.
Perhaps a blood vessel in his brain sprung, or an adrenalin gland went into Warp 9 mode. Things went strange.
"Videodrome!", he yelled, tore his T-shirt off his body and jumped onto the ecstatic woman. That is to say he aimed to hurl his body at her but somehow it failed to hit its target and impacted a rather unforgiving piece of bedrock. Debbie Harry vanished off his mind and was replaced by a screaming pain racing through his nervous system. Yet a certain part of him was poised for serious action and the sudden impulse of the cold and gritty rock was enough to cause a rather intense climax of the most pinnacle kind. A blurred vision of tissues and washing machines came to his mind, but it was quickly replaced by a detailed vision of microwave ovens and food blenders.
It was orgasmic, fatamorganic, spirallomatic and truly mind-evaporatingly huge. The Dingo stared at him with yellow eyes, and a brightly lit church from Vienna appeared before him. Kiss the guitar, feel the Fields of the Nephilim. Someone's got to suffer. Pain looks great on other people, that's what they're for. He was sick of all the people, the angels getting on his nerves. Sweet dreams, his soul screamed. He cannot live, he cannot die, Sumerland is where he wanted to go. It was the depth of his soul made real. Afraid of waking up, he stayed deep down in the lands of forever...call it a day. What a bastard of a blinking cursor staring at him. Sleep...forever...
Last thing he remembered was a rather cute Tiger Quoll looking at him, wondering what he was doing. He didn't know where the little animal had come from, and actually didn't even realize it was one. He decided to give in to what his body wanted him to do.
With an erection that would have made any London Knight proud and a girl next to him that was ready'n'willing to go to the end and have him mount her in each of her many bodily openings, he fainted.
The thing most prominently present in his mind was the face of Merle. Or Picard, or whatever he called himself now. It morphed to and fro into a hungry face of his father. In the back of his mind he heard his mother pleading with the man, but there was no stopping him.
His father was whetting a stainless steel kitchen knife of huge proportions, eyeing him rather unfatherly.
"It has to go!" the man bellowed.
Cronos tried to hide behind his mother but his father shoved the frail woman aside and advanced on him with a grin of very demoniacal proportions.
"Come here boy," his father whispered satanically, "it might not even hurt."
"Drahcir!" his mother uttered, "please be careful!"
Cronos had hated the idea of circumcision ever since.
Cronos felt a tiny tongue licking his face.
He opened his eyes and was confronted with the rather cute Tiger Quoll that seemed to like him rather a lot.
The strange sound seemed to arise from one end of a long pipe. Attached to the other end was a strange looking man with scruffy black hair, his body covered only with a primitive loincloth and multi-coloured paint. The pipe seemed to be some kind of bush-native instrument.
Cronos sat up straight and uttered an inquiring, "Huh?"
The Quoll, disappointed, began licking its own genitals instead. The man removed the pipe from his mouth and started to speak with a heavy accent.
"Hey man, whatya doing 'ere?"
Cronos looked around him and noticed several empty holes. A few of them had been filled up again and covered.
"Dunno, actually. Where is everybody?" he asked.
"They buggered off to bury the eggs and then...well...let's just say I'm 'ere to clean up the mess," the man said.
"Mess?" Warchild wanted to know.
The man said nothing, merely pointing in another direction. Cronos' head swivelled - without as much as a heroic "swoosh" - and beheld a pile of dead people he had missed so far. It would have been nice for this story if he had recognized the girl with whom he had had the near-hit experience, but he didn't. There were just lots of legs and arms, some totally worn out bodies and asinine grins on a lot of faces, some still with smouldering cigarette butts dangling in them. A breeze took the smell of death and Saigon Brothel Backrooms to him.
Disgusted, if only because he hadn't been part of the events necessary to produce the distinctive scent, he looked away.
Reality isn't half as real as you think it is, and just when you think you've come to grips with it everything changes. In books all things happen in neat patterns where great minds have thought out excellent plots to let their characters experience the most exciting of exploits. Cronos Warchild, mercenary annex hired gun, was about to have something happen to him that was of no relevance to his current situation whatsoever. Which is half the fun of writing, sometimes, though not necessarily of reading.
Somewhere deep within the reaches of space a cell twisted and turned. It was a warped cell, deadly in its own disctinctive and very weird way. Without apparent reason it decided to pick out a random life form in the multiverse and hit it on the head.
"They surely went out with a bang, didn't they?" Cronos asked.
The man nodded and started playing 'Advance Australia Fair' on his instrument.
Cronos was not a very smart man. We know that, because it has been mentioned countless times. Nonetheless he had a strange innate sense of tact, which now told him the man had no further use for him. He'd better make himself scarse.
Somewhere deep within the reaches of space, though now infinitely much closer, there was something that had a use for him. Though it, and he, didn't quite know yet, at least not consciously. It hurled itself at an ever increasing speed toward a squarely built form, even though neither was yet visible to the other.
What to do now? The huge pile of smiling corpses wasn't a likely partner for jest or conversation, not even a friendly fight.
Infinity is all relative, just a matter of perspective.
What sounded like the loudest explosion conceivable to the ears of the rotating cell - had it had them - was virtually and quite totally indistinguishable from utter silence to the Mercenary Annex Hired Gun. Within the instant of collision, however, profound changes occurred in both of them.
The cell suddenly found itself in a void we know as Cronos' brain. It wasn't the best place to be in, but at least it was confined whilst still allowing room for plenty of motion. At least it was safe, and they wouldn't know where to find it. Hopefully.
Cronos suddenly found his cranial contents doubled. Whereas previously his brain had been almost solely dedicated to movement, a few incoherent thoughts and the production of apparently sentient speech, its newly acquired extra capacity was entirely paranormal.
Cronos had never known paranormality was a bacterial disease flung on you by a discontent universe, and he probably never would. What matters to the current discourse, however, is that this was exactly what had happened.
Warchild looked at the man that had almost finished playing the Australian National Anthem. Instead of a man, however, his mind saw a boy. A frightened boy that looked around it in panic.
The man looked at Cronos. Had his multi-coloured paint fainted, perhaps, and was the stranger looking intently at that?
"Leave that boy alone!" Cronos bellowed. He meant business.
The man looked around him. He saw no boy to leave alone. The stranger was surely acting irrational.
Then the boy was gone, just like that. Warchild walked up to the man and shook him at what, for lack of a better word, were the lapels of his loincloth.
"What have you done, insane man?!" he shouted. His eyes looked around rapidly, "where is the boy?"
"Wuh...wuh...wuh...what boy?" the man stuttered.
Warchild suddenly looked at the right ear of the man, or perhaps somewhat beyond. He cocked his head. He could have sworn he heard some music. It was peaceful music, with flute and soft synthesizer. His mind told him, not with words but equally effectively, "Gandalf. Gandalf's 'Fantasia'."
"Fuck off, idiot!" the man said, recognizing the wild look in Cronos' eyes gone all soft.
Warchild sat down.
"'He' tells me not to use those words," Cronos said with the patient and infinitely peaceful voice of a religious nut.
"Who?" the man said, irritated, "the boy?"
"No...no..." Cronos responded, dreamily, "'he' told me."
The man displayed an "Oh no, it's Jehovah's witnesses" look. He patted Warchild on the shoulder.
"He's a good boy," he said, soothingly, with his other hand swinging the Aboriginal instrument. It was made of wood lovingly fondled and spoken to for countless generations. He hoped it would survive the intented maltreatment.
There was a skull-jarring 'thud'. A cell was hurled off back into space.
"Oh no, now they will be after me again?" Cronos wondered fleetingly as unconsciousness once more embraced him.
"Genuine fake watches!"
The exclamation had a difficult time reaching Warchild's awareness.
"Genuine fake watches!"
He opened his eyes. He had expected to be on a totally different planet without any clothes on and, indeed, he wasn't. Life isn't like that. However, seeing as a city seemed to have been erected about him, he reckoned he had been out for a while. He stared almost directly into the empty eyesockets of a few grinning corpses, butt-ends stuck between perpetually grinning skeletal teeth blowing softly in the wind. Now he thought he could recognize the girl whom his near-hit relationship had been based on. She had lost quite a bit of weight since he'd last seen her.
Why had the builders left the pile of corpses in their city? Had they considered it an artefact of sorts? Why had they left him? Was he an artefact too?
"Genuine fake watches!"
Warchild tried to move but found that he couldn't. He frantically scanned his memory for explanations. Was he paralyzed? Cast in concrete? Rendered motionless by some arcane wizard's spell?
In reality everything can be much more simple. He was dead. At least he showed all the signs of it.
"Genuine fake watches!"
The voice was a lot louder now. It just repeated relentlessly. Cronos tried to crane his neck but couldn't. Instead he craned his eyes as much as he could and saw the type of guy you would expect to pop up at spectacularly gory accidents in the street, selling sausages.
"Genuine fake watches!"
"Hey," Cronos tried to whisper, but nothing passed his lips. He tried to shout but that proved of no avail either. Nobody heeded him, and there was no way he could cause people to.
He was beginning to feel just as genuinely uncomfortable as the watches were fake.
"Genuine fake crowns!"
The man turned around to look at the mercenary annex hired gun.
"Definitely genuinely fake!" he cried, eyeing Cronos rather more closely.
"I don't understand," a voice said, and there was a female voice that said something in the background. Cronos blinked his eye a few times. The watch salesman grew blurry.
There was a distinct smell. The kind of smell you always try to prevent your dentist from smelling but that instead the man himself breathes up your nostrils when examing your orifice in the most minute detail, every agonizing minute it takes.
"He appears to be coming to," the girl now said, "good thing you did with the water and the feather."
"Forget that," a man's voice said, "or we'll get sued until we're both cross-eyed. C'mon, give me that sucker."
Cronos blinked his eyes again. He was quite sure someone had just put a suction device in his mouth. Instinctively he waited for the inevitable conversation to develop.
His sight was adjusting to the light. The first silhouette it saw was that of the ravishingly gorgeous dentist's assistance. What a silhouette! It was actually the first time in his life he had woken up with that kind of view.
"Ha," the dentist said, sounding happy, "it seems we are waking up? Have we had a nice nap?"
Cronos wanted to say, "Actually, no, I had a bit of a nightmare where I sortof got dumped on planets by the likes of you, where I had an almost perfect encounter with someone of a different and highly compatible gender but somehow everything went wrong. I don't know how much time I spent in your damn chair with half your sucker collection dangling in my mouth, but if you think I'm going to pay for this you've got another thing coming. And I hate the way you're talking to me as if I'm some half-arse imbecile. I would, however, like to have a go at dating your positively lovely assistant, though, if you don't mind."
He tried hard, especially with the last bit, but all that came out, as he looked at the almost totally bald head of the dentist whose face he now quite suddenly remembered, was, "Hmmmm hmmpff dribble ow sshidd!"
Original written from the last week of May up to June 23rd 1994, with the bulk of it done on June 4th and 5th. A change/addition or two made in March 1996.
It's said that Daddy-Long-Legs have the most lethal venom of all spiders, but they're not deadly to man because their fangs are too weak to pierce human skin. My mother told me that my aunt was found dead from a spider bite, and the only spider they found in the vicinity was an innocuous-looking Daddy-Long-Legs. Consequently my mother purged our house of all possible offenders - mashing, spraying or stomping on all potential eight-legged culprits. To this day I don't know if the spider was to blame.
Forgive me, I digress. For me, time is a particularly finite resource and speed is crucial. The point I am trying to make is that this apparently harmless spider was accused of murder and summarily put to death due to circumstantial evidence. Like myself.
I say that because I, too, am to be executed for crimes I didn't commit. My name is John Harcourt - perhaps you've read about me in the newspaper, or seen the shamefully biased reports of me on television. Until two months ago I was an anonymous school teacher, unmarried, approaching middle-age (as my increasing gut and decreasing hair will testify), living in a modest flat in an equally modest suburb of this city. That was until I met Frank, bought a bed, and watched helplessly as my life destroyed itself around me.
Life as a teacher isn't - wasn't - too bad, really. It's boring, after so many years; but I played golf once in a while. My lifestyle, by its sheer lack of the interesting or bizarre, convinced them that I must be abnormal and therefore guilty of all the things they said I did. But that's neither here nor there. I'm running out of time, so back to it.
I don't have any 'girlfriends' (another piece of evidence used against me) but I sometimes plucked up enough courage to ask a lady out. This was usually successful for one date only - for some reason they never agreed to go out with me more than once, which is still a mystery to me. I'm very quiet, you see, and perhaps women don't like that, and my tiny flat wasn't at all glamorous at the best of times. That was, until I met Frank and his bed.
The bed was completely amazing. It was larger than king size and really far too big for my tiny bedroom, but at the time it didn't seem to matter. When Frank spoke of it, nothing else mattered - nothing except having that bed. It was a four-poster, draped with pale blue silk which fell gracefully from the frame of the top forming a soft canopy. The mattress was deep and incredibly soft, and Frank told me it was a woman-magnet, and after all, Frank would know. He owned a small furniture shop only two blocks from my flat, and though I'd not spoken to him before that day I had often ridden my bicycle past the window on my way to school. He was almost always there, a woman draped on one arm (sometimes one on each) using his salesman smile to convince them to buy his wares. Frank told me there wasn't anything on earth he couldn't sell, including himself. On this particular day, I was riding past when I noticed the bed in the window. No, not so much noticed it - was entranced by it. It filled the entire display area with its decadence, and I couldn't help but stop and stare at it. I was captivated by the deep warm red of the wood, the way the smooth lines of the carved head-board followed the delicate curves of the grain. I had to have it, and completely forgetting that I had a classroom full of sixth grade boys waiting for me, dropped my bike and went into the shop.
As I said, the bed was far too large for my flat and it was monstrously expensive as well. However I had a small sum saved for a rainy day and now it seemed that I knew why I'd saved the money. I bought the bed, of course, and returned to my flat to eagerly await its delivery.
Mrs Hughes, my landlady, was almost speechless when she saw the size of the thing I was proposing to put in the flat. After a lengthy struggle amidst the cries of 'don't mark the walls' and 'if you break anything, you'll have to pay' from Mrs Hughes, we manoeuvred the bed into the tiny bedroom, where it took up all the available space, and more. I had to move my set of drawers and portable TV out into the cramped living room/kitchen area, but it didn't matter. I had the bed, and a feeling of triumph completely inappropriate to the occasion made all other matters pale into trivialities.
Even though it was only ten in the morning, I couldn't resist the urge to climb between the cool blue sheets and rest my head on its pillows once the delivery men and Mrs Hughes had made their exits. As I sank into the incredibly deep, soft mattress, totally naked (my cotton box-print pyjamas uncharacteristically absent) my mind seemed to cloud over and my body demanded sleep. I gazed up at the billowing canopy of silk above me and drifted off.
I don't know how to begin to describe the nightmares I suffered that night and for the seemingly endless nights following. I don't often dream of women, but in that bed I seemed to dream of nothing else. My sleep was filled with visions of myself with beautiful, elegant women. I'd be having dinner with them, dancing with them, and I'd eventually bring them home, to my flat, to the bed. Then the dreams changed; my dream-sight became clouded and the images distressingly chaotic and confused. There were flurries of white and blue and red, and then I'd wake, drenched in sweat, exhausted, to find the mattress bare, the sheets and pillowcases (sometimes even the pillows themselves) missing. When this strange occurrence first took place, I searched the flat convinced there had been an intruder, questioning Mrs Hughes on the off-chance that she might have changed the sheets while I slept. Mrs Hughes, of course, knew nothing and replied that I was suddenly acting very strangely.
I searched unsuccessfully for the missing bedding, eventually shrugging it off as something I must have done while sleep-walking, although I'd never suffered from somnambulism before. They would turn up, sooner or later.
I ran out of bedding after the third or fourth night of this, and began to borrow from Mrs Hughes, hoping that the missing sheets would somehow turn up. They didn't, and soon I had also used up all of Mrs Hughes' bedding. Out of necessity I bought another supply. I noticed that the mattress was no longer as comfortable as it had first been, and as I searched for a reason I discovered a line of stitches on the side of the mattress where it had been repaired along the length of the bed. I resolved to see Frank - I'd try to convince him to take it back and give me a refund. No, I said, it hadn't turned out to be a 'woman-magnet', and I'd not had a single good night's sleep on it. He soothed me, flashing his salesman smile, assuring me that I'd get used to it, sooner or later, and I believed him. On leaving the store, I mentioned (in passing) the missing bedding, and his salesman smile faltered slightly. I assumed he thought I must have been going a little barmy (he wasn't the only one) and thought no more of it.
Two days later I returned to the shop, two days more exhausted and minus two more sets of linen, hoping that Frank would simply take the bed back. I didn't want my money, I just wanted the damn thing out of my flat. I cycled up the road, only to find Frank and his furniture gone. A 'For Lease' sign hung over the door and when I enquired, the agent claimed to have no forwarding address.
Alone again in my flat, I stood at the bedroom door and stared at the bed. What could I do? I couldn't bear the thought of sleeping on it again - every morning I woke exhausted, every muscle and sinew aching, some parts of me bruised and stiff. I'd lost weight and my usually neat appearance had degenerated to the point where Mrs Hughes was threatening to evict me for making the place look disreputable. Of course the missing linen didn't help, and every now and then I caught her giving me strange sideways looks when she thought I wasn't watching. Once, she made a cryptic comment about all my late-night comings and goings. Soon she was complaining about the smell coming from my flat as well, although I can't say I ever noticed anything. I didn't understand most of what she said, and assumed she was trying to find excuses for getting rid of me.
I stared at the bed for a long time before deciding what to do. Eventually the solution to my problem came to me. I left my flat and walked out to the back garden, where Mrs Hughes' husband kept his tools in a tiny shed. I took an axe back to my flat and began to work on the bed. I'm not a very physical person, and the wood was strong and stubborn, but after a few minutes I was in a chopping frenzy and in a short time I had reduced the bed to kindling. The silk made a strangely familiar and satisfying sound as it ripped, and after the work was done I sat in the midst of the rubble, axe in hand, surveying my achievement. Eventually the thundering in my ears faded, and above it I heard Mrs Hughes banging on the door, demanding to know what I was doing, making all that racket. Pleased with myself and eager to show her my handiwork, I let her in and proudly led her into the bedroom. At first she stared, and then she began to scream.
They found the sheets buried in the garden. They were covered in gore, just like the mess they found in my bedroom. Half the original contents of the mattress were there, too, tufts of filling matted together with blood. They took the bodies away, seven in all, and then they took me away, too. They claimed at the trial that I'd killed them and stuffed them in the mattress, just like my mother claimed the spider had killed her sister. They said they tried to find Frank, but they never managed to, of course. I don't think they really tried.
It's nearly time now - I can hear movement down the corridor. My cell's quite comfortable. The mattress isn't quite as thick as the one I'm used to, of course, but my sleep is deep and dreamless, for which I'm thankful. There's a Daddy-Long-Legs in here with me, you know. His name is Frank and he keeps me company, two condemned souls together. I think I'll take him with me and keep him in my pocket - I wonder if you can electrocute a spider? I suppose I won't be around to find out, so that's another mystery. Well, I've written it all down, and it's time to go. I'm rather looking forward to it, as a matter of fact. The trial was so wearisome, and waiting for death has taken its toll on me. When they sit me down I'll be strapped in, of course, and the priest will lean over and ask me if I have any requests, any final questions before I go.
Yes, I'll say. Is it true what they say about Daddy-Long-Legs?
Charlie had been transformed from one of those nasty buzzing pests, a black garden fly, into a charade playing house fly. Mr. Black captured the fly after Charlie landed and planted his mandibles into the back of Mr. Black's hand.
"Lucky Charlie," Mr. Black said now, "You don't have a worry." Mr. Black had put Charlie into a large Mason jar that his former partner had left behind. He was careful to poke holes of proper size to allow ventilation but still prevent escape. Charlie had grown to an obscenely obese fly and was now covered with the same dirty black hairs that always seemed to be growing out of Mr. Black's cheeks, chin and nostrils.
"Here you go Charlie my friend," Mr. Black said as he gently poured a spoonful of cool coffee down through one of the holes in the top of the lid. "Happy birthday to you," he softly sang. "Happy birthday my little girl."
Mr. Gray set his lunch pail down on the desk and took off his boots. He hung up his spring jacket on a nail behind the door and squeezed a look at himself in a tiny mirror above the sink. "Morning," he said to Mr. Black. "Anything exciting happen that I should know about?" Mr. Gray's wife works as a nurse in a local psychiatric hospital and had always envied the time of report when the night nurses bring the day shift up to speed. It seemed much more exciting than just grunting at each other and he always tried to get anything out of his co-worker; challenge was something he lived for.
"Mrs. Morning is having another Tupperware Party."
"Imagine that, eh?"
Both men cracked a smile at this familiar exchange.
"Anyone going to show up this time?" Mr. Gray asked.
"Oh the usual gang of Tupperware Junkies I suspect."
"That would be ole Invisible Sam, Jessie Vapour, and Flora Boards?"
"You got it, sir." Mr. Black picked up his magazines and headed out the door. "Ooh, some of the tenants called about the slow drainage in their sinks and tubs again. I meant to drop by a few of them and check them out, but it was pretty busy last night."
"Ya I know," Mr. Gray smiled and shook his head. Mr. Black was famous for his insignificant contribution to the maintenance of the building. He always had the office nice and warm, however, if not the sweetest smelling, first thing in the morning.
Charlie nodded and lapped. Nodded and lapped. The Eight O'clock coffee, sugar and milk would have normally been a great find, but now it was just the same old same old. Even the cleaning process no longer possessed the cathartic effect that it used to. Charlie strained his plump body and tried to kick up the wing speed for a little levity. Lift could not overcome drag, and Charlie's grapelike fullness bumped softly against the inside glass. Despair and sadness descended upon him and the giant multilobed eyes which once served his freedom so well could now only reinforce his captivity in a thousand images of bondage and imprisonment. Charlie nodded and lapped some more.
Mr. Black drove his old Pinto to work and parked in his usual spot. His head was still pounding from the effects of overindulgence. His wallet and hopes had once again taken a beating at the hands of the Nevada Ticket and Scratch & Win seductresses. He did however manage to budget ten dollars for a copy of AutoTrader and the latest issue of Snatch magazine; to help the hours go by at the office. "Evening," Mr. Gray said .
"Oh, ya." Mr. Black sighed and went to the washroom to hide his reading material until later on when it got quiet. "What's up tonight with you?"
"Going home for some hot cooking and good loving," Mr. Gray said and simultaneously patted his head and rubbed his belly. "Nothing much happening here tonight.
Mrs. Morning got her groceries delivered, UPS brought her another box of Tupperware and residents on first are still having troubles with their drainage."
Mr. Black grunted as he slipped his giant key ring onto his handtooled monogrammed belt. "Well, have a good shift my friend," Mr. Gray said and left whistling down the hall.
Mr. Black opened the back window and let in some early evening air. He pulled Charlie's bottle out from behind the stack of scrub sponges and placed him on the desk. Even though more and more people are smoking Player's Lights these days, Mr. Black stuck with his old standby DuMaurier. He smoked not so much for the flavour, buzz or habit, but rather for the simple excuse to carry his matches around. 'Don & Marie July 14th, 1982' they said on the cover. He had had two hundred books made for their wedding then but when plans collapsed at the eleventh hour, he was stuck with them. So he took up smoking and carries them wherever he goes. The gift store owner always looks at him a bit strangely when he orders more, but that doesn't bother Mr. Black in the least. What does bother him was not seeing his daughter. He hasn't seen her since he and Marie's last big fight, two years ago this day; Jessica's 13th birthday.
A long fluorescent tube was burned out in the superintendents office, some ashtrays were to the point of overflowing in the visitors washroom, the main level carpeting needed vacuuming. "What the hell did he do all day?" Mr. Black wondered.
Jessica and her mother had kicked him out of the apartment following his attempt to bring in a couple of his buddies from Eddy's Sports Tavern. One of the thirteen year old girls screamed when one drunk grabbed her rear. Marie threw a pop bottle at the man who in turn threw himself through a wall. Police and ambulances were eventually called and when the dust settled, two men including Mr. Black were arrested and all of the girls were in tears. Jessica forgave her father the next day, but Marie refused to allow her to contact him. A court order was issued to Mr. Black not to initiate contact and he was placed on suspended sentence for two years.
"Damn it," Mr. Black said and headed back to the office after fixing up the messes.
The phone was ringing and his message machine was blinking. "Black here," he answered. He was hoping that it would be his daughter.
"Mr. Black," an elderly voice said, "is that you?"
"Yes of course. What can I do you for?"
"I'm afraid my toilet has overrun, Mr. Black. I fear I may need your services."
"Which suite are you in please? I'll be right there."
"I'm having a Tupperware party tonight and this just won't do, you know."
Mr. Black hung up the phone and grabbed a snake, plunger, mop and bucket. He didn't need to hear anymore about suite numbers. Mrs. Morning was in Suite 109. Just inside the back door. "A few more minutes won't spoil it for the guests," he laughed to himself and closed the bathroom door behind him. After the work he had already done tonight, he didn't want to wear himself out without a break first.
Sarah Hamilton was seven years old. She lived with her parents on a farm outside of Matawa, Ontario. Her brothers were all older and worked with her father raking hay, and feeding the livestock. Her mother kept house, but always found time for Sarah between ringing out clothes or kneading the bread. Sarah's mother gave Sarah a large sketch pad with several thin sticks of charcoal for her birthday. Sarah sat outside with her new gift and stared wide eyed at the large maple tree in her back yard. Her brothers had built and since abandoned a beautiful tree fort some thirty feet up in the lofty branches, safe from dogs, skunks and little sisters. Sarah sat staring up at the tree fort and dreamed of living there, free from the world's noises and busyness. Free from chores, free from school, free from rules and restrictions. She would be as free as the birds and animals who are the fort's neighbouring tenants. And even though she would grow up, marry, have children, be widowed, and move into what most would consider to be a claustrophobic cage of an apartment, Sarah Hamilton Morning would always remember that feeling of freedom that she dreamed of on that summer's day 65 years ago.
Mr. Black entered Mrs. Morning's apartment pushing his cart full of tools and accessories.
"Good Evening, Mrs. Morning," Mr. Black said, "what seems to be the trouble tonight?"
"As you can see my good fellow, there is a terrible problem with my toilet. I'm afraid that it has overfilled the pot and spilled onto my flooring. I'm having a Tupperware Party tonight and I'd hate for the water to distract."
"Of course, Mrs. Morning," Mr. Black said and set about clearing up the job. A simple snake down the drain soon cleared the problem for the time being. While he was mopping up the spillage, an unusual feeling of conversationalism overcame him. Maybe it was the depression of losing contact with his daughter, or maybe it was his curiosity that got the better of him after the last seven years of hearing about it. What ever the reason, Mr. Black cleared his throat and smiled at Mrs. Morning.
"You sure do have a lot of Tupperware Parties, Mrs. Morning," he said in the friendliest tone possible for him. "How have they been going, anyway?"
Charlie the fly climbed up the side of his jar and stuck one hairy leg out of a tiny sharp edged air hole. The wind from the open window rolled across the top of the jar and the breeze caused the sensitive follicles to bristle with excitement. It was a far cry from the past of free flying buzz attacks on loose dog's snouts, but it would have to do now. Charlie dropped back to the bottom of the jar, not bothering to walk along the dung stained walls anymore.
"Coffee? Mr. Black." Mrs. Morning smiled at his question. She had realized long ago that she was something of a curiosity amongst the staff and residents alike. What with her reclusive lifestyle, her once a week deliveries of groceries, and the occasional special courier delivery from a certain company specializing in air tight plastic containers . Mrs. Morning had often thought about the paradox of the Tupperware dish; how something that creates a positively and purely stagnant environment, void of any newness of air or moisture, no revitalizing stimuli or invigorating elixir - how can an environment of critical and severe deprivations foster such amazing freshness in its captive product? It is by it's own cloister, capable of sustaining vitality. Preservation though limitation. How? Why? Mrs. Morning loved her Tupperware and everything it had come to represent. And so, as she smiled at Mr. Black's question regarding her parties, she felt it unnecessary to explain it to him in so many words. She handed him his coffee, black, and opened up the door to her studio.
"You see, Mr. Black. When I throw a Tupperware Party, this is where it happens."
Mrs. Morning gestured around the room with her hands in the air. Surrounding them both on all sides of the small chamber were beautifully hand painted water colours. Images of butterflies on dandelions, candy apples and balloons; landscapes of impossible waterfalls crashing over rocks of impossible size and structure. Everywhere you turned, Mrs. Morning had displayed her impressions of freedom and freewill. Pictures lay about of old barnyards and hay mows, sweet strawberry fields lying upon hilltops in the mist, finally, one small painting caught the eye of Mr. Black. It was a self portrait of Mrs. Morning as she was when she was seven years old. She appeared sitting in a giant treefort emanating from within a majestic maple tree. She was wearing a smile on her face and a straw hat in her hair. Mr. Black began to cry.
"So you see, Mr. Black," Mrs. Morning said, " even though I am old and am not visited; and I live in a tiny place where the toilet leaks, I am not fully here. Most evenings I am disappeared. Most evenings I am at a Tupperware Party far away."
Mr. Black stared at the small girl in the image. He saw his own little girl sitting there too. He missed her terribly and the tears were coming so fast now that he could no longer focus on the painting.
"Thank you Mrs. Morning," he managed and tried for the door.
"No. Thank you. For your time, and for joining me at my party."
Don Black pulled the phone from its cradle and dialed his daughter's number. The two year suspended sentence was nearly over, and regardless, he didn't care anymore about bars, cells or anything else. He needed to speak to his little girl. He needed to tell her that he loved her. He needed to see her again. The phone began to ring and his heart began to beat again. Soon, very soon he would live again.
Mrs. Morning tidied up her place after Mr. Black had left. He forgot his equipment but she knew he had more important things on his mind right now. It was getting late for her, so she decided to call it a night. She rinsed out her brushes and packed up her sketch pads. She gathered up her many paint cakes and placed them all, protectively and lovingly, inside their own separate Tupperware dish. Safe and sound inside. Just like she was.
Copyright Mark Oliver February 1996
Mark Oliver lives and writes in Brockville, Ontario. He eats three squares a day and never has leftovers.