Sunday Snippet, You May Already Be A Weiner by Bill Chance

“Fame you’ll be famous, as famous as can be, with everyone watching you win on TV, Except when they don’t because sometimes they won’t..”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

You May Already Be A Weiner

Doyle Nash knew life would be tough when he decided he would make a career as an actor, that he would have to take every opportunity to make a buck – but this was too much. He stood naked in the rusty metal shed behind the hotdog and custard shop – Jerome’s Hot & Cold – facing Jerome, the owner. There wasn’t much space and they were way too close to each other for Doyle’s comfort.

“Hey, I don’t see why I couldn’t at least keep my underwear on,” said Doyle.

“Costume’s too tight, once you’re in you’ll be glad you went commando. Here, put these on, that’ll make you feel better.”

It didn’t. The shabby looking yellow tights were too loose, had lost their elastic, and made of some cheap fabric that started to itch something awful as soon as Doyle pulled them up around his waist.

“Okay, now. Let’s get you in,” Jerome said. He reached up to the top of a mottled tan curve, like a leaky canoe leaning up against the wall. There was a ragged clatter as he pulled a rusty zipper down to the ground.

“Step in, and I’ll zip you up.”

Doyle pressed his face into the zippered opening and Jerome gave him a shove from behind.

“There, now, lift your legs up through those holes… your arms go in there.”

Doyle fought back panic, blinded by the mass of the costume, until his face popped out through an oval in the front. He felt Jerome strap some elastic band tight behind his head until his eyes bugged. He stepped up into the leg holes and his arms wriggled through some sort of tubes. There was the groan of a zipper from behind and the costume closed around him.

“Okay, back up now, lift it, it’s got some weight but it’s not as heavy as it seems. Now turn, let’s get you out of the shed and see how you look.” Jerome managed to shove Doyle and the costume outside where he stood up fully.

Doyle was encased within a long red cylinder – a hot dog, with his face poking out a hole near the top. His legs emerged at an odd angle, forcing him to waddle around. Around his back was a giant fiberglass and foam bun and his arms flailed out from between the two parts.

“Hey this is really uncomfortable!” Doyle cried. The curve of the hotdog kept him hunched over, already his back was beginning to throb. He tried to reach the zipper in the back of the bun, but his hands couldn’t come close.

“I can’t reach the zipper! I’m trapped in here!”

“That’s the idea,” said Jerome. “That way you have to stand out here and get customers into my store. Otherwise you’d bolt. Here’s your sign.”

The sign said, Jerome’s Hold and Cold on one side, and Hot Dogs and Frozen Custard on the other. Doyle took it and stabbed the air with it.

Outside of Wild About Harry’s Deep Ellum Dallas Texas

“Hey, I just thought of something. What if I have to take a piss?”

“There, on the front.”

Doyle looked down and found a rectangular patch Velcroed into the front of the hot dog.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. I don’t think it’s in the right spot.”

“It’s close enough. Figure it out. Now get out there and start walking up and down. I’m paying you to drum up business, not to goof around.”

“I’m not sure I can do this. I’m an actor, sure, but this….”

“Don’t worry, you’ll do better than the last pair.”

“Last pair?”

“Yeah I had a custard costume too. This couple – Matilda and her boyfriend Hubert – they seemed awfully happy to do this. Too happy as it turned out.”

“What happened?”

“Turns out they were really, really into costumes. You know what I mean? On their second day, as soon as I turned my back, they sneaked off down the alley, into that blind spot behind the closed Chinese restaurant. You wouldn’t believe what I caught them at down there.”

“Oh, God…” Doyle stared with despair at the Velcro flap on the front of the hot dog.

“Yeah,” Jerome said, “Ruined a perfectly good custard costume too, tore it to shreds. Now, you’re on your own.”

Despondent and morose, Jerome waddled out to the sidewalk and started to figure out how to best hold the sign.

“Hey look at the hot dog!” shouted a crude voice from across the street. “Yeah, lookit… Haw Haw!”

Doyle looked over and saw two men wearing stained canvas shoes, tattered knee-length shorts and filthy olive drab military surplus jackets, rolling back and forth on the sidewalk in front of a butcher’s supply company, pointing and laughing at him. Both had long, dirty hair matted into irregular dreadlocks.

“Damn gutterpunks,” Jerome said, “Watch out for them two – they’re over there selling crack again. They’ll rob you or anything that moves if they think they can get away with it. Scared Hubert and Matilda half to death.”

“What the hell can I do about it?”

“Well for one thing, take your wallet here.” Jerome retrieved it from the pile of clothes in the shed, “And keep it on you, I’ve seen those two snooping around the shed before.”

Doyle held the wallet in his hand, “Where can I keep this?”

“Oh, there’s a pocket built into the costume, right under your left arm, between the dog and the bun.”

Doyle felt for the pocket and shoved his wallet inside, being careful to turn so that the two gutterpunks couldn’t see. As his hand slid inside he felt a couple of objects already there, one hard and irregular, the other a soft rectangle. Hubert, in his haste and excitement, must have left some stuff behind. Doyle thought it best to wait until Jerome was inside before he checked it out.

So Doyle started waddling up and down the sidewalk in front of the joint, waving his sign in as non-threatening a manner as he could. Still, it seemed like he was scaring more people, especially the children that might enjoy some frozen custard, than he was attracting.

Every time he passed the two gutterpunks across the street they would shout obscenities at him. They seemed to have a series of rude hot dog jokes already prepared – Doyle guessed that they had worked these out at Hubert and previous walking dogs. He imagined they were disappointed that there wasn’t a female in a custard costume any more.

After a couple of hours, Doyle was trying to decide if the costume or the boredom was the worst part of the job when he remembered the items he felt in the pocket. At one end of his walk, he leaned his sign against the building and turned to hide himself. Fishing his hand in, he withdrew a good-sized ziplock full of what looked like poor-quality weed and a small, cheap, twenty two caliber revolver – the kind they call a Saturday Night Special. It felt so tiny in his hands, but he checked and confirmed it was loaded.

He supposed that Hubert was afraid of the gutterpunks and decided to pack some protection. As far as the weed – Doyle decided that the next day he might bring a pipe and look for that hidden blind alley where Hubert and Matilda had their ill-fated tryst.

He stuffed everything back into the pocket and began his monotonous back and forth, trying to think of something, anything, other than where he was and what he was doing.

Doyle’s reverie was interrupted by the squeal of tires and a loud thud. Looking up he saw that a big black Tahoe had run up on the curb across the street and slammed to a stop.

Radio Antenna Hot Dog Man – I don’t remember where I took this.

The two gutterpunks immediately started running down the sidewalk. The passenger door opened and a huge man wearing a crisp leather jacket slid out and using the door as protection and a gun rest, leveled a mean looking submachine gun and fired a burst at the retreating gutterpunks. Doyle saw the two tumble to the ground in a spray of blood and ricocheting bullets.

Stunned by the murder he just witnessed, Doyle stood stock still until the man turned and looked right at him. He began to swivel his gun and Doyle realized the guy didn’t want any witnesses, no matter how silly they were dressed. He turned to see Jerome quickly locking the front door of the Hot & Cold from the inside and sliding down under a booth.

His instincts told him to run, but the costume would only allow a waddle. He began to totter and weave when the burst of fire hit him. It felt like a giant hand shoving him in the back as he jerked forward and fell into the parking lot.

Doyle cursed his bad luck as he waited for the pain of the machine gun bullets. It didn’t come. He realized that the fiberglass shell of the hot dog bun and the thick foam underneath must be, at least somewhat, bulletproof. As he rolled he saw the man still coming, running across the street, with his gun raised. Doyle’s hand reached into the pocket for the little twenty two and as he spun onto his back, raised his arm and fired.

A tiny handgun may be no match for a submachine gun, but the bullets are still deadly. Doyle saw a red circle appear on the man’s forehead as he pitched forward, falling right on top of Doyle, now stuck on his back like a turtle. The machine gun rattled to the ground.

Looking back to the street, Doyle saw, to his horror, the driver’s side door opening. He heaved the dead man off his chest, grabbed the machine gun, and used it to lever himself up to his knees. Then, grunting with all his strength against the weight of the ungainly costume, he rose to one knee, then stood.

Doyle barely had time to turn away before the fusillade from the driver blasted into the armor of his costume’s bun. Absorbing the shock, he crabbed sideways and shot the submachine gun into the side of the Tahoe.

That suppressed the driver’s fire for a second and Doyle tried to waddle his way to safety but another burst came and buried itself into his bun.

Suddenly a wave of anger came over Doyle and he turned again and fired. Instead of a short burst, though, he kept shooting. Letting out a hideous roar of fury, fear, and humiliation he tottered as fast as he could toward the Tahoe, spraying bullets.

The sight of a machine gun firing giant hot dog, complete with armored bun, running at him and screaming was too much for the driver. He turned and tried to flee as Doyle gunned him down. Without mercy.

His anger spent, Doyle saw the blue lights of the police as they sped down the street toward him. The machine gun clattered as he dropped it in the street. The cops screeched to a stop and leapt out, guns drawn.

“Put your hands on top of your… hot dog!”

Doyle complied. The cops tried to cuff him behind his back, then gave up and put his hands in front,

“Wait, wait, he’s innocent.” It was Jerome coming out of the Hot & Cold. “It was self-defense. Hey! We better unzip him. Uh, I’ll fetch his clothes.”

“Now you come out,” said Doyle.

Doyle noticed two bystanders huddled behind a low brick wall down the street. They were both standing there, phones held in front of them, filming.

“Oh, great. This is going to go big on YouTube now, isn’t it.” he said to the cops.

“Serious publicity,” said Jerome as he fetched the sign and waved it in front of the filming bystanders.

Doyle sat on his couch and remoted to one of the true crime channels. At first he wasn’t going to watch the show, but the more he thought about it, he decided he couldn’t really miss the thing.

Sure enough, they had everything wrong. The worst thing was the actor in the show was zipped into a giant peanut suit.

“A peanut! I wish. A peanut would be a piece of cake.”

Of course he had tried out for the part on the show, to play himself. The producers had given him an audition. Doyle figured it was only a courtesy. In the end they said he “Just wasn’t right for the part.”

That was when Doyle decided the acting thing wasn’t going to work out. When he can’t even get a job playing himself, well, it was time to pack it in.

He had taken a job as a salesman in his father’s car dealership. It seemed to make his dad happy. He shook his head at how he had ended up. He had always hated those salesmen and couldn’t believe how they had to run around in those cheap suits all day.

Now, of course, he realized that there were worse things you might have to wear to work.

Sunday Snippet, The Last Lifeboat by Bill Chance

“- John Kovac: Lady, you certainly don’t look like somebody that’s just been shipwrecked.

– Connie Porter: Man, I certainly feel like it.”

—-Lifeboat

lifeboat propeller

The Last Lifeboat

Willis was on a cruise ship in the South Pacific, on the way from Bora Bora to Tahiti, when the asteroid struck.

As you know, the impact site was in the Atlantic, almost exactly on the opposite side of the world from Willis and his cruise ship. The North and South American continents protected them from the massive waves. Secondary meteorites, mostly hunks of seabed thrown into space to rain back down, were falling around them, but the sea seemed so vast it was more of fantastic light show than a real fear.

Most of the population of the main continents died out from the enormous Tsunamis and the fire raining down fairly quickly. It took days for the impact to impact their part of the world (sitting on miles of water depth, even the earthquakes were not felt).

There was increasing panic onboard as the radio contacts from all over the world went silent, one by one, with frightening rapidity. A cruise ship is largely self-contained – but the supplies wouldn’t last forever.

Willis wasn’t sure what sank the ship. Maybe it was struck by a random rock screaming down from the sky. Some said the crew went mad and scuttled the ship.

Willis had always taken the lifeboat drills too seriously, but this time it served him well. He made it to one of the enclosed survival boats and had it lowered and adrift just as the giant liner slipped beneath the salty waves.

There were about twenty souls on the craft. Looking around, they did not see any other boats. Some people must have been caught unaware, most probably didn’t care enough to save themselves. There was a lot, and I mean a lot, of drinking going on.

Now that this tiny craft was all that was left of the world to them, the twenty searched the emergency locker to see what they had. Unfortunately, a crewman seemed to have been making the vessel his home, an extra private cabin.

The survival supplies on the lifeboat had been replaced by an impressive bag of cocaine and a generous supply of shockingly violent gay porn magazines.

They were adrift in a trackless ocean without emergency flares or signal mirrors. Which was fine because there was nobody to signal. But panic began to set in when they discovered emergency biscuit ration and containers of fresh water were gone too. But there was the tiny engine and some diesel fuel, and when that ran out, there were oars. The compass was missing and they didn’t know what direction to go – but they used the sun and the stars to row in more or less a straight line, straight into the unknown.

Of the original twenty, ten, including Willis, were still alive when the top of a ragged volcanic peak poked above the horizon. It was a harrowing row across waves, rocks, and jagged razor-sharp corals to get to the beach and the line of coconut palms. Nobody knew how many people were left in the rest of the word (as you know, there were very, very few) but a healthy number had made it through the rain of fire on the island.

The lifeboat survivors were forced to trade with the natives. Willis was surprised to find out that the cocaine, though valuable, was less in demand that the pornographic magazines. The residents of the island had never seen publications of this type. They said, “The internet is just not the same.” And, of course, the internet was gone now… paper, as information and stimulation was again the gold standard.

A decade later, Willis found himself in the unexpected role of “King” of the island. The little society had not only survived, but it had thrived. But they were multiplying and it was obvious that their island, their little piece of paradise, was going to be too small soon, very soon. So Willis started a project to rehabilitate the little enclosed lifeboat. They stocked it with food, rudimentary sails, and a crew that knew how to row.

Then, at dawn, with the sea calm and the trade winds blowing, a chosen set of twenty set out again, to rediscover and repopulate the world.

Sunday Snippet, Tiny Courtesies by Bill Chance

“You have carjacking back in old England?”

“Carjacking?”

“People walk up to you, steal your car.”

“No, but thanks for asking. We have people who clean your windscreen against your will, but, er…”

Joe barked with contempt.

“The thing is,” explained Dirk, “in London you could certainly walk up to someone and steal their car, but you wouldn’t be able to drive it away.”

“Some kinda fancy device?”

“No, just traffic,” said Dirk.”
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Highway 75 at Sunset (click to enlarge)

Tiny Courtesies

The end of the week, danced around plenty o’ disasters (mostly rain related) at work, he feels alittle lucky. But sooner or later the bear’ll getya son, so he had better keep a keep eye out.

Driving in to his place of gainful employment was a springtime storm adventure. The faithful AM radio traffic newspeople (no choppers up today, though) talked to him from the waterproof clock radio in the shower, warning of accidents on the I635 loop and at La Prada & Gus Thomasson (his two direct routes into work) so he mazed his way through middleworkingclass two bedroom neighborhoods. Lots of running water, had to be careful, flash floods will kill ya. Looking through the blurrr of defective needreplacing rubber oscillating blades, his eyes gauging depth of street rapids, waves, rills, whitecaps where only asphalt should be, alternating the ventilation from too hot defogger as long as he can stand to cooler direct blowing outside air ’till the windshield fogs and he can’t see, back to the heat. Cycles oscillating: blades, ventilation, radio stations (The Edge, Classic, Stern, Talk, News, Sports).

At Motley and Gus Thomasson he had to make a bad left in front of Fazio’s Discount Emporium. It’s a left into six lanes of traffic, no light, only a red octagon. In front of him was a school bus. Now a little disposable paidfor dented car can inch out dodging through a turn like this (who wants to live forever). But a school bus has to wait for all six lanes to clear, there isn’t enough room for them to wait in the median. They sat like that, he was watching four kids in the back window, for twenty minutes. He wanted to yell, “Go for it, they’ll stop, nobody’ll ram a schoolbus for Christssake!” But he didn’t cut to the left, go around, though he wanted to and thought about it. He waited his turn though he was late for work.He began to realize that little bits of civilization, tiny courtesies, are what are missed, are important.

Especially when nobody knows (though I guess that y’all know now, don’t you).

Sunday Snippet, Creature by Bill Chance

I can tell you something about this place. The boys around here call it “The Black Lagoon” – a paradise. Only they say nobody has ever come back to prove it.

The Creature From the Black Lagoon

Beer Cap

Creature

Sammy Peeps lived by a park where a lot of people walked their dogs. He didn’t have a dog but since he quit working he had a lot of time and he’d walk by himself. There were little dispensers of plastic bags and he developed the habit of carrying one and picking up any forsaken piles of feces. He thought he looked odd carrying a little bag of dog shit with no dog, but he did it anyway.

There was a string of ponds lined with a few benches. On nice weather days he would sit and watch the dog walkers going around and around. As the days went buy he began to notice all the other critters that inhabited the park and the ponds. He was surprised at the amount and variety of wildlife, given that this was a tiny green space in the midst of a huge city. Squirrels would scamper in the trees next to his spot and cackle at him – either playing or pissed, Sammy couldn’t decide. Ducks swam across the water or flew through the air. So did two flocks of geese – Sammy was shocked at how large the geese were once he was able to observe them closely. His favorite sound was the whish and splash as the birds flew in for a water landing. Turtles – laconic red-eared or primordial, savage snappers – basked in the sun or moved underwater with heads poking up.

If he walked out at dawn or just after sunset he would see coyotes out for a nighttime duck snack along with rats, skunks, or other nocturnal creatures. The city had to wrap wire around the lower trunks of the trees to protect them from the beavers that lived upstream. On a couple of rare occasions he even saw the large, black bulk of these sliding through the water or crossing from pond to pond.

As the months went by he learned the entire menagerie of wild animals and the society of dog walkers until it was all very familiar and mundane.

That amplified the shock when something new showed up. It was small and slick and reptilian and slid from a drainage pipe into the pond. He stared at the slight V of the wake as it swam smoothly just under the water. Then he saw a face – part fish-like, part reptilian, and part shockingly human rise above the water for a few seconds. It seemed to be looking at him.

He would see the creature again and again, almost every time he went to the pond, which was at least every day. Now that he had found something strange and unknown, the pull became irresistible. The creature seemed aware of him, though it never came close – would simply swim this way and that, or climb a short way out of the pond, to rest in the warm sun. Sammy was confused that nobody else, none of the dog walkers, paid any attention to the strange creature. It was like he was the only thing that saw it and the only thing it saw.

He bought a pair of powerful binoculars in order to observe the creature better. He felt odd sitting there on the bench in public scanning the ponds with the heavy instruments – people would glare at him but nobody said anything.

Sammy had no idea what the creature ate, but it was growing. Imperceptibly at first, but the change began to add up over the months. It was getting undoubtedly bigger.

Then, one day it was gone. Alarmed, he went to the ponds in every spare moment, scouring the place for another glimpse. He even took to walking the creek up and downstream in case the creature had moved to another area, but nothing.

Finally, one night, he woke up to the sound of his doorbell. At first he did nothing, hoping it would go away. It was not the time of night for anyone to be trying to bother him. But the ringing continued and was interrupted by a kind of knocking on the door itself. The sound sent shivers up Sammy’s spine – it was almost like a human knuckle knock, but just a little soft, a little wet sounding.

Sammy finally gathered all the courage he could and went to the door. He looked through the peephole and saw what he was afraid to see, though he was expecting it.

It was the creature. It had grown to a human height and was standing on his front stoop, still knocking on the door. It’s face was covered with scales and it had some sort of preternatural gills hanging down from its neck – but it looked more human that it had at the pond.

Shivering with both fear and excitement, Sammy Peeps reached out, unlocked the bolt, and began to turn the knob.

Sunday Snippet, My Hovercraft is Full of Eels by Bill Chance

“It would not be until darkness had taken indisputable control over the land, until the flames of the bonfire created an unreal world of shadows, until tequila and mescal untied men from their somber selves.”

― Warren Eyster, The Goblins of Eros

Moore to the point (click to enlarge)

My Hovercraft is Full of Eels

Willard Waters had an undergraduate degree in accounting. He thought of himself as being an accountant’s accountant. After spending a couple of years at a desk staring at a spreadsheet to the left and a calculator spewing a long spiral of paper tape to the right he decided to go to law school. Now he was still an accountant’s accountant but he was also a lawyer’s lawyer.

He rode the foundation’s car service into a sketchy run-down industrial part of town that he had never been in before. The car disgorged him on the sidewalk and drove off. The driver knew a favorite burger joint nearby and would wait there for a call.

Waters looked at the rusty hulking warehouse in front of him and found the heavy steel door. Off to the side was a button and a small speaker. He frowned at the sign on the door:

Sacha Row
Sculptress Extraordinaire
“My Hovercraft is Full of Eels”

“What the hell does that mean?” Waters mumbled to himself. He smoothed the fabric of his expensive suit, adjusted his tie, and pushed the button. Almost immediately a voice crackled from the speaker, “Com on in, it’s not locked.”

He tugged, the door squeaked and gave way, opening into a dark, vast space filled with smoke. Waters coughed and entered. He knew the smoke wasn’t tobacco. Some sort of a massive sound system spewed out the deafening beats of overamplified electronic dance music. As his eyes grew used to the dim light the first thing he saw was a massive, lumpy pile of grayish clay heaped up in the middle of the room. He knew that must be the sculpture in question. It didn’t look like it was very close to being finished.

Waters looked around and spotted a group of three men sitting on a huge overstuffed couch. On a table made of a big wooden cable reel sat a massive hookah and a collection of plastic bongs filled with dark water. A galvanized five gallon bucket of ice and studded with bottles of beer leaked a puddle of water onto the concrete floor. Two women stood in front of the men, eyes closed, dancing to the pulsing rhythm of the loud music.

“Are either of you two Sacha Row?” Waters shouted at the dancing women. They ignored him.

“Sacha? Naw… She’s in the back,” said the guy in the middle of the couch.

“You wanna talk to her?” said the guy on the left.

“Sacha! Some guy out here wants to talk to you! Sacha!” yelled the guy on the right. He had quite a pair of lungs on him… he was able to out-shout the music.

“Jeez, Doc, I heard you the first time, who’all is here to see me?” Sacha said as she walked out of an office at the back of the space.

Waters felt his jaw drop and a warm pit form in his stomach when he saw her. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. “Sacha Row?” he managed to choke out.

“That’s me!” she said as she walked directly up to him. On the way, past the ice bucket, she leaned over with incredible grace and pulled out a bottle.

“Ms. Row… I am a lawyer and a forensic accountant here representing the Wintringham Foundation concerning the sizeable grant you received for the sculpture commission. The schedule is vastly past due and,” he said gesturing at the mass of clay, “the product doesn’t seem to be in a deliverable condition.”

“Well, first, call me Sasha, please, and second… well, great art can’t be rushed.”

“Umm… Sasha, we have noticed that you have withdrawn the majority of the funds allocated for bronze casting has been withdrawn… prematurely…”

“I’m not sure if either of us are in a mood to talk business right now… So, here, have a swig,” she said as she handed him the bottle. He realized it wasn’t beer – but some sort of cheap Mescal. In a trance, Waters raised the bottle. The liquid burned like liquid lava and he coughed as he swallowed. Sasha grabbed the bottle from him, stuck the neck into her mouth and tipped her head back. Waters watched as she held it there with the bottle sticking straight up, upside down. He was the worm sink slowly down through the clear alcohol, into the neck of the bottle, until it disappeared between Sasha Row’s lips. There was a gulp and a pulse in her throat… and the worm was gone.

Willard Walters was hopelessly in love. It was no use. He also realized that Sasha knew it too. He took another big, deep burning drink.

“Now, Willard,” Sasha said, “We’ve been using the money for a little ongoing party here… and we don’t see any reason to stop. Don’t you agree?”

Waters nodded. He took another drink. He stared at the hookah on the table. But one thought suddenly pushed into his consciousnesses.

“Sasha, you know that no matter what I do, they’ll send someone else.”

“I know. They’ve sent others before. You are not the first.”

“But what happened with them?”

Sasha Row merely gestured at the three men on the couch.

Sunday Snippet, Trouble by Bill Chance

“If trouble comes when you least expect it then maybe the thing to do is to always expect it.”

― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Kids love the reflecting pool. The water is less than a quarter inch deep.

One day he said he picked up a “warning.”
“What did you do?”
“I dunno.”
“Did you forget to raise your hand?”
“Nope”
“Did you break a rule?”
“Yeah, that’s it. I must have broke a rule. If you break a rule, you get in trouble. I got in trouble, so I must have broke a rule.”
“Do you remember what rule you broke?”
“Nope.”


He went on to say he didn’t like it when somebody was in trouble
“Cause the teacher STARES at us!”
A demonstration was made of the teacher’s stare, eyes narrowed, brows lowered, forehead slightly knotted.

It was pretty scary.

Sunday Snippet, Emprise by Bill Chance

“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”

― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, the Whale

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

Emprise

The thing is, in an isolated tiny town like New Solace, thrown out there lonely in the ice cold windswept plains, there weren’t very many opportunities to meet someone that you might desire. Anyone was lucky to find one. Stan and Emilia were lucky, but there was no other choice. Since they were infants, born on opposite sides of town yet less than a mile away, seven days apart, it was assumed they would grow up to be a couple. Not because of any imagined or real compatibility of their personalities, but because there simply was nobody else.

They married the day after they graduated from high school. Neither of them had ever seen the ocean so for their honeymoon they went to a warm, humid coastal town and decided never to go back to New Solace, even if it was home and they were needed at harvest time.

Stan found work stocking the shelves at a hardware store and Emilia worked in the grade school cafeteria, making huge pots of mashed potatoes and gravy. “Gravy?” she’d ask the children in front of her as they moved through the line with their trays with the already-filled ladle in her hand. They would make fun of her accent that had floated a thousand miles down from the far north. She came home from work hours before Stan and one day, she was waiting for him in front of their apartment building.

“Come walk with me, I’ve bought something,” she said. They had always been very proud of their apartment, although it was too small, cheap, and rundown… it was only a block from the ocean. There was a litter-spoiled bit of beach and a small marina – as cheap and rundown as their apartment. Emilia led Stan to the marina and asked him to close his eyes.

“What? I don’t want to fall off the dock.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got your arm.”

They walked out over the water and then Emilia let Stan open his eyes. There was a moldy looking sailboat, resting at a slight angle in the water, tied to the Marina with old, greenish ropes.

“What do you think?” she said.

“What does this have to do with us?”

“I bought it,” she said, “While you were at work. Don’t worry, it was a great deal, we can afford it.”

“But what?”

“It’s a Catalina 22, a very common boat. We can fix it up, parts are available and cheap. We can go on an adventure.”

And that’s what they did. Stan was very handy with tools and had a nice discount at the hardware store where he worked. He scraped and painted and varnished and replaced. It was a lot of work and took almost a year but slowly the boat began to look like a shiny new vessel. Emila wasn’t very good with her hands and she figured her part was the planning stages. She was constantly looking up destinations and strategies. After consulting a bulky thesaurus she announced they would name the boat “Emprise.” Stan made a note to himself to look word up and see what it meant – but he never did.

“I think we need to sign up for sailing lessons,” said Stan.

“Naw, we don’t need that.”

“I think we do, they are available at the yacht club,” said Stan.

“Why? All that stuff is available online.”

The boat was gleaming, supposedly seaworthy, and almost finished. Stan took a few days off for the final touches. The afternoon was warm and he was exhausted when he fell asleep in the small cabin. He woke feeling the boat moving in an odd way and stuck his head out up and looked around. All he could see was waves. The sails overhead were out and Emilia was at the tiller grinning from ear to ear.

“While you were asleep, I decided to take ‘er out.”

“Where are we going?”

“I figured we’d do a loop, find an anchorage for the night.”

“But you don’t know what you’re doing!”

“It’s simple.”

But it wasn’t. Emilia wasn’t even sure how to read the compass – it wasn’t nearly as stable as it was in the instructional videos she had watched. The wind kept switching directions and getting stronger and stronger.

“Did you check the weather?” asked Stan.

“Why? Not a cloud in the sky.”

“There is now.”

They never found an anchorage and had to sail blindly into the night. In the pitch blackness the wind and waves rose and rose until they were caught in a full-fledged storm. The hot rain poured down and the warm sea flung itself up until the boat felt like it was being ground to pieced between the two and propelled by the wind over the edge of the world. Stan was beyond terrified and resigned to death several times. Luckily, in the darkness he could not see the eternal grin plastered across Emilia’s face and he would misinterpret her whoops of joy as cries of terror.

Stan woke to the morning heat of the rising sun to the confusion of feeling an odd texture under his body. He realized it was sand and he had been thrown onto a beach next to the broken sailboat.

“Stan, wake up!” Emilia was walking around, seemingly no worse for wear.

“We’re on an island,” she said. “I thought I’d let you sleep. I’ve been walking around, and it looks like there’s a house a bit down the shore. There’s smoke coming out of the chimney.”

Stan had never felt such a weary pain in every bone as he hauled himself up and walked with Emilia to the house about a mile from where they boat had floundered.

They knocked on the door and an older woman answered right away.

“Come on in, I have some coffee and breakfast,” she said as if they were expected.

The woman was Alice and she had lived on the island for ten years, five alone, since her husband has passed away. They walked together down the beach and looked long and hard at the boat but it was beyond salvage.

“Shame,” Alice said. “It looked like such a nice little boat. Can’t be helped, though.”

“But what can we do now?” asked Stan.

“Well, for one thing, you can stay here as long as you need to, or want to. I can use a handyman to keep up with repairs, the yahoos that come out from the mainland are all useless or thieves. There’s plenty of room. Plenty to eat. I can use some company.”

“Sounds great,” said Emilia.

“But we were looking for an adventure,” said Stan.

“But, you see, there are more ways to have an adventure than to go off across the world,” replied Alice.

Sunday Snippet, Hummingbird by Bill Chance

“The haft of the arrow had been feathered with one of the eagles own plumes. We often give our enemies the means of our own destruction.”

― Aesop

Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, Texas

Hummingbird

There was this old, old guy – he was my neighbor and my landlord. I rented half of a duplex and he lived by himself in the other half and owned the whole thing.

We used to talk in the back. It was a covered carport back there and I set up all of my weight lifting iron under the overhang by the alley. I’d spend a couple hours each day out there jacking steel and he’d waddle up when I was finishing for a chat.

He talked about how his wife and kids were killed in a car accident years ago. He said they had a really nice house but he couldn’t stand living there because it reminded him too much of them. He sold it and bought the duplex, “So that it would bring in a little money.”

I think he bought the duplex because he was lonely. Fine with me, I didn’t mind the chat and the rent was cheap.

The old guy was weird. He kept the yard immaculate. He had this ancient aircraft-carrier sized car that he hardly ever drove. It sat there so long that one day when he decided to drive it to the station and put some gas in it he came back in a panic.

“I’ve forgotten where the gas cap is!” he told me.

I looked at the model and year and went to the internet.

“It’s behind the left rear brake light, the left when you are facing the front. The light swings to the side.”

He was grateful for the help and amazed that I could find that out on my phone.

He was always buying hummingbird feeders and putting them all over the back of his half of the house. Some looked like bulgy flowers, some like bottles, some like dishes. He’d fill them with sugar water or red powdered stuff he bought. He did this for years and never, ever saw a hummingbird. It was crazy.

Then one day, I was pumping iron and he came out all excited. He could barely contain himself.

“I saw one,” he said.

“One what?”

“A hummingbird.”

He died the next day. He collapsed on his front walk going out to get the mail. I was at work, a neighbor saw him. They said he was probably dead before he hit the pavement. I guess it was good he snuffed it out front like that – if he had died in his sleep God knows how long it would have been before anyone would have checked on him. I know I wouldn’t have.

Still, I felt bad. I read about his funeral and thought about going. I was nervous because I figured there would be nobody else there. He always talked about how he had nobody left. Then I decided to go anyway. There was a handful of us… the lawn guy, the neighbor, his lawyer, some strange woman standing off by herself….

It was a graveside service. As they lowered the coffin, we saw it. It was amazing. It was like a cloud or a column of smoke, but multi colored. And it moved on its own. Flowing and pulsing, changing shape, growing round then stretching out. The lawyer said something about “Murmuration.” I had never heard that word before… I thought it had something to do with the sound (now I know better, I Iooked it up) which was more like a high-pitched buzzing that a murmur.

It was on the news, it was in all the papers, someone shot a video and it went viral. There were interviews with experts, professors, zoo people and they all were perplexed. Nobody had ever seen hummingbirds behave like that before. Literally millions of them had come from miles and miles to form that huge cloud.

“I have never seen hummingbirds cooperate in a social way,” one expert said, “Especially when you take into consideration that there were several different species involved.”

None of them made the connection that the birds were in a changing formation, a performance, over the cemetery.

The lawyer told me there was a will and that the old man had left me the duplex. I’ll rent the other side out, and get the lawn guy to keep the landscape up really nice; he gave me his card at the funeral. I went next door and collected all the hummingbird feeders and moved them to my side.

I have to make up barrels of sugar water now. Hundreds of those birds show up every day.

Sunday Snippet, The Meano Tower by Bill Chance

“My peak? Would I even have one? I hardly had had anything you could call a life. A few ripples. some rises and falls. But that’s it. Almost nothing. Nothing born of nothing. I’d loved and been loved, but I had nothing to show. It was a singularly plain, featureless landscape. I felt like I was in a video game. A surrogate Pacman, crunching blindly through a labyrinth of dotted lines. The only certainty was my death.”

― Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

Bronze cattle drive, Central Park, Frisco, Texas

The Meano Tower

Theo crawled through another long plastic tube, suspended high in the air. It was too narrow for comfort, designed for people much younger than him. He paused, slowed by something that smelled bad, stale, rank. He wondered what it was until he realized it was him. Theo had been crawling through the maze of tubes and little rooms for so long that he had sweated through his clothes and stunk in the still air of the tubes.

It seemed like a long time ago that he had brought his two kids to the newest craze in children’s amusements, the Nossos Adventure Labyrinth. They paid at the door and were given matching numbered wristbands.

“It’s a safety feature,” the scrawny teenager in a bilious uniform said, “A child can only leave with an adult that has a matching wristband.”

Properly labeled, they all walked through the gigantic cube to the entryway at the center. Theo marveled at the complexity of the overhead mass of interlocking passageways, mesh-sided rooms, and aerial ball-pits that rose high and filled the place. Everything was hung from the ceiling, high above, by thick steel struts. It shook with the weight of children moving through the construction. There was one entrance at the center where kids were pouring through the plastic arch and several exits at the end of brightly colored slides disgorging children, who would run to the center and repeat.

His two kids disappeared into the massive throng and Theo retreated to the “Quiet Room” off to one side. It was glassed-in, elevated, soundproof, and guarded by a sign that said “No Children Allowed.” This was the retreat from the insanity for harrowed parents – Theo realized that this room was the attraction that drew the adults – the ones that paid for everything.

Theo settled into an overstuffed chair, let out a sigh of relief, and began thumbing through a magazine that sat on a side table, “Luxury Yachting.” He knew he would never own a yacht, never even have the opportunity to be on a yacht, but he could dream. His relaxation was interrupted by a loud rapping on the window right next to him. Startled, he realized that his kids, Daevin and Icobod had piled up all the foam exercise pads, climbed on top, and were beating on the window.

Aggravated, Theo walked down the stairs from the Quiet Room and demanded an explanation.

“You need to climb into there with us,” said Daevin.

“We’re scared,” said Icobod.

“The kids say there is something in there,” continued Daeven.

“They call it the Meano Tower,” said Icobod.

“That’s crazy, go back in and play.”

“Please, dad. Come in with us. We’re scared.”

Theo thought for a minute, looked for a sign that said, “No Parents Allowed in the Tubes,” and didn’t find one – so he gave in. He even admitted to himself that it might be a little bit of fun. They never had anything like that when he was a kid. His father with his famous dignity would never stoop to doing something childish like that and if it was something his father wouldn’t do – then it must be worth doing.

He crawled into the entrance and tried to keep up with his two kids as the tunnels rose up and up. There were little mesh-walled rooms with padded floors and Theo would rest in those, catch his breath, while troops of excited kids moved through in different directions.

Other rooms, connected by the plastic tunnels were full of colorful, hollow, plastic balls. The sign out front said, “All Balls Washed Continuously.” He saw how pipes in the bottom of the pits would suck plastic balls out and down through clear tubes to a central machine that sprayed the balls with water in a big transparent hopper, then dry them in a stream of air before sending them back in a second set of tubes to drop down through the ceiling of the ball pit rooms. It was like a giant circulatory system, with clear plastic arteries and veins moving round plastic corpuscles back and forth.

He watched this hypnotic cycle through the mesh of one of the rooms until he realized he had lost his children… or rather they had run off and left him.

Calling their names he worked his way around and across the tangle of spaces, looking for the both of them. He was also looking for one of the plastic slides so he could get down and out – but didn’t have any luck with that either.

Theo had no idea of how long this went on. Finally, the number of other kids that moved through the spaces began to thin out frighteningly fast, until he was practically alone. He yelled out through the mesh of the rooms but nobody seemed to hear him. Finally, the lights went out, leaving Theo in a dim, dark, panic.

He had no idea where his kids had gone. They could not leave without him and his matching wrist band – though the scraggy teenager at the entrance didn’t seem like the most secure of guards. How could they leave him? How could they not miss him? Then he thought of how complex, massive, and high the place was, how loud, and realized one adult, unexpected in the tubes, might easily go unnoticed.

Theo finally stopped in one of the rooms and gave up. His elbows were torn and pained from all the crawling and he was sweaty, hungry, and out of breath. As he sat there, hunched over, he thought about what the kids had said. What was the Meano Tower? Kid’s imaginations are so vivid.

But then he heard the roaring. And it began to get louder, and he feared, closer.

Sunday Snippet, Long Fall by Bill Chance

“I shall remain on Mars and read a book.”

― Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man

Mural, covered by “For Rent” sign Deep Ellum Dallas, Texas

Long Fall

Elissa told her counselor that she dreamed of falling – dreamed of it all the time.

“I’m falling from a great, great height.”

“Well, dreams of falling are very, very common.”

“I know.”

“Are you afraid?”

“No, of course not. No matter how far I fall in my dream it won’t be nearly as far as I’ve fallen in real life.”

“You’ve fallen in real life? How far?”

“All the way from Mars.”

“Mars? The planet?”

“Yes, it is my home. I slipped and fell one day and kept falling, through the atmosphere, through the millions of miles of empty space, and ended up here, on earth.”

The counselor scribbled pages of mad notes.

I knew Elissa because she hired me to cut her lawn. She said her neighbors had told her to hire someone to cut the lawn and one of them suggested me. I cut a handful of lawns in her neighborhood, but nobody was like her. Not at all. She told me what her counselor asked and what her answer was.

“Why do you see a counselor?” I asked.

“I feel… alienated.”

“Why do you feel alienated?”

“Probably because I’m an alien.”

She would watch me cut the lawn and get down on her hands and knees and look at the sliced ends of the blades of grass.

“Doesn’t it hurt them?”

“No, I don’t think so. Grass – in its natural state – is designed to be snipped off. Animals eat it and then fertilize it in turn. This sort of takes the place of a natural occurrence.”

“We don’t have grass on Mars.”

I asked her why nobody ever saw anybody or any signs of life on the red planet.

“There are rovers there now,” I said.

“I know. It’s a pain in the ass. We are very shy. Even though we live underground, we have to sweep up our footprints in the dust.”

“Are you nervous about the helicopter?”

“It’s not very big. It’s more of a toy. But someday we will have to do something.”

“What will you do?”

“Something.”

That’s as much as Elissa will tell me. I’m only the guy that cuts the lawn, after all.