Sunday Snippet, Many Waters by Bill Chance

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”

― Anais Nin

The land of lakes, volcanoes, and sun. A painting I bought on my last trip to Nicaragua.

Many Waters

(Twenty Minute Writing Exercise)

A thousand little streams screamed down the steep jungle mountainside and joined together into a quickflowing rocky river before leaving the coastal valley and dumping into a gravel delta formed since the last eruption. Here the river broke up again into rivulets dumping their sediment and spreading out until they reached the sea. The short stretch where the water all took the same course was called Zahouetek – a corruption of the native’s ancient language – a combined phrase that meant “Many Waters.” At least that is what Marvin had been told.

“I wrote in to the Guinness Book of Records People and told them to list the Zahoutek as the shortest river on earth,” Marvin said.

“Is that so,” replied Cynthia. She answered it as a disinterested statement, not as a question. Marvin answered anyway.

“Yes, it’s true. But there are these two rivers… the D River in Oregon and the Roe River in Montana. They were fighting it out for the shortest river until Guinness gave up and didn’t list the shortest anymore.”

“So, this isn’t the shortest? “

“No, I guess not. Still, it’s pretty short, isn’t it?”

Cynthia didn’t answer. She dipped a toe and then turned to walk back up to the house. For a second, she was silhouetted against the mist that rose from the cold river into the warm air above. Marvin thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. As she turned toward the house, she caught Marvin looking at her and her face clouded with anger as she spun away from his eager gaze.

She had not walked more than ten feet when the thumping sound of a helicopter started echoing down the valley.

“Oh! Oh! He’s coming back,” squealed Cynthia, her languid laziness suddenly dispelled by the sound. She started hopping and walking fast towards the little flat landing pad next to the house on.

“Shit! He’s coming back,” Marvin muttered as he followed, with a little less speed and a lot less enthusiasm. “I wish the damn thing would crash.”

“What? Marvin? What?” Cynthia asked without turning her head. “I can’t understand you when you talk and you’re behind me like that.”

“Sorry dear, nothing, nothing at all.”

The chopper was descending quickly down the center of the valley. It would land at the house before they could reach it. It was a small two-man craft piloted by Ralph McKenzie – a geologist that was on the island studying the volcano. At first, Marvin had welcomed Ralph’s presence. It was nice to have some new company on the island. Marvin had bought the property for its isolation and its natural beauty. He and Cynthia were the only people on the island – everything had to be brought by launch from Port du Monde. Even the servants commuted across the straight. Marvin thought that being alone with Cynthia would bring them together… but it seemed to get on her nerves.

When Ralph first showed and talked about the work he wanted to do Marvin gladly had the landing pad constructed. The trouble started right from the start, though. He didn’t like the way that Cynthia, his wife, stared at the work crew as they graded and finished the oval patch of gravel that the chopper would use. She seemed impatient, chewing her nails as the men slaved and sweated in the heat.

As the days went by and Ralph spent more and more time at the house, Cynthia’s interest in the geologist and the work he was doing up on the mountain grew. The little helicopter was the only way to reach the upper reaches of the volcano and, of course it could only carry Cynthia and Ralph alone.

One time Marvin insisted on taking a ride and visiting Ralph’s observation station, but he wasn’t impressed. The smell of sulfur and the roar of the gas down in the crater made for an uncomfortable atmosphere. Marvin couldn’t understand the attraction and never went back. Marvin was considering forbidding his wife from making the trip, feigning concern for her health, when, a month ago, Ralph banned it himself.

“The volcano is gathering power. I’m afraid it may erupt any day now. I don’t want to put you at risk, Cynthia.”

Marvin’s wife fluttered her eyes. “If it isn’t safe for me… how can it be safe for you?”

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” Ralph said. “I’ve been doing this all my life. I know when the getting is good.”

By the time Marvin had reached the house, Ralph had already landed and entered the building. Cynthia went in after him and when Marvin strode up to the door, they both came out, pushing past him.

“Ralph says we have to go, have to go now!” Cynthia shouted at him.

“Yes, I’m afraid so, old boy,” Ralph said calmly. “The volcano is going to go any minute. The lava dome has cracked, I’m afraid it’s going to happen.”

Marvin was suspicious, but there wasn’t much he could do. “Well, I guess we better radio for a launch.” The servants had taken the day off, at Cynthia’s request, and had crossed the straight in the boat. “There’s no way off the island right now.”

“Well, that’s what I just now checked on, chap,” said Ralph in that awful cloying tone he used sometimes. “The radio is out, just came from there.”

“Out?” asked Marvin.

“Completely out,” nodded Cynthia.

“So you see, old chap, I’ll take the chopper and Cynthia across the straight and we’ll send a boat back for you. Simple as that.”

“Simple as that,” repeated Marvin. He didn’t like it at all. There had been plenty of time for Ralph to sabotage the radio.

So this is they would do it. Abandon him there, waiting for an eruption, no radio. He knew that launch would never come. And then Cynthia would be rid of him, and she would be with Ralph, her beautiful geologist. And they would have his money.

But what could he do? Marvin thought and thought. He couldn’t suggest that Cynthia stay behind, that wouldn’t look right. Ralph had to pilot and there was only room for one more.

“Simple as that,” was all he could say.

Cynthia looked way too happy and eager as she climbed into the chopper. Ralph didn’t even look at him as he spun up the rotors and took off. The tiny craft dipped through a bit of mist and then sped off over the sea.

“Simple as that,” Marvin muttered as it disappeared. “So that’s it,” he added. As an answer, the mountain grumbled and the earth shook. A large piece of the slope tumbled off and crashed into the river, throwing up a wall of water and foam.

“Well, I guess ol’ Ralph wasn’t kidding, was he?” Marvin said to nobody in particular. “Well, he thinks he knows everything, but he doesn’t know it all.”

Marvin walked quickly down to the edge of the water, where there was a little shed. He dialed the combination and pried open the door. Inside, hidden under a dark tarp, was a small, plastic kayak, with a paddle bungied to the seat. Working quickly because the mountain was shuddering again, this time more violently , Marvin hauled the craft down to the river. He slid it in from the shallow bank, undid the paddle, and set off as quickly as he could.

“They think they know everything, but they don’t know it all!” Marvin sang as the little boat shot through the shallow gravel bar at the end of the river and coursed out into the sea. He had kept his little kayak a secret – it had come over on the launch and he had stuck it in the shed while Ralph had Cynthia up on the mountain in his little helicopter. Marvin grinned as he paddled. The straight would be a long trip, paddling by hand, but he knew he could make it. The two of them, they would have their story already, how Marvin couldn’t make it, how he had sacrificed himself so they could live. But he would fool them, he would show up, very much alive, and asking why they hadn’t sent the launch when there was still time.

At first, the little craft skimmed across the waves, but Marvin noticed it getting slower and slower. At first he thought it was only fatigue, but he realized the boat was suddenly riding a lot lower in the water. He twisted around and saw a quickly flowing leak filling the inner floatation cell of the kayak with water. Running his had back he found a hole, a big hole. It had been plugged with some red putty or something, and it had dissolved in the water. He was sinking. He was going to drown.

“I guess they did know it all, in the end,” he said, as the red plastic boat slipped beneath the waves. The mountain behind him let out a roar of agreement.

Sunday Snippet, The Ubiquity of Spiders by Bill Chance

“Spider venom comes in many forms. It can often take a long while to discover the full effects of the bite. Naturalists have pondered this for years: there are spiders whose bite can cause the place bitten to rot and to die, sometimes more than a year after it was bitten. As to why spiders do this, the answer is simple. It’s because spiders think this is funny, and they don’t want you ever to forget them.”

― Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, New Orleans

The Ubiquity of Spiders

Sam Monaghan’s father had moved his family – Sam and his baby sister Brenda – out to the tiny town of Gilmer right after his wife had been attacked. They had lived in a brownstone in the old meat-packing district – they felt like urban pioneers. Until the one afternoon when Sam’s mother, Paula, came home from work to find the two tweakers that Sam’s father had hired to paint Brenda’s nursery waiting.

In the city, Sam had been an elite baseball player – the offensive star of a select team, The Bombers. In Gilmer, however, he had to suddenly give up the sport, which left a frustrating gap in his life, like a missing tooth in his jaw. The attackers had used his bat on his mother and he couldn’t bear to hold one in his hands again.

“Sam, I wish you would make some friends in the school here,” his mother said to him as he pushed her chair out onto the porch so she could watch the sun set.

“I know mom, I’ll try. I just don’t have anything in common with these kids.”

“What about Duane, dear? He lives on the next farm over, you can walk there whenever you want. He’s only a grade below you.”

“I’ll see mom. I’ll see.”

She was talking about Duane Clankman, who was a year older than Sam, even though he was a grade below.

The walk to the Clankman farm wound down through the creek bottoms, on an old abandoned road, not much more than a couple worn wheel ruts and a rusting iron bridge missing most of its roadway. The riot of weedy creekbottom swamp forest grew in from the sides and over the top until the way was a winding green tunnel.

The thing was, Duane had a cool old barn on his family’s farm. Over the start of the school year, Sam began to get in the habit of walking over there. The loft of the barn was full of hay bales, and Duane had arranged everything while the loft was being filled so that there were tunnels in the hay. They would pull a bale out of the opening and then crawl down a series of narrow tunnels into a pair of secret rooms hollowed out. Duane had even thought of leaving small openings for light and air.

Sometimes other kids, usually Frank, whose father was missing somewhere overseas, and Maria, whose father roofed houses would meet up there and the four would crawl through the tunnels and sit in the rooms talking about their friends, their school, their hopes and their dreams.

As the fall fell away, the sun began to set earlier and earlier. The kids smuggled some old flashlights into the hay so they could see their way out, though they would turn them off and sit in the darkness whenever they could. One day Duane showed up with some old candle stubs and a pack of matches from a bar in Broadtown, but the others convinced him it was too dangerous to light candles in the hayloft.

He’d stay as long as he dared, then Sam would rush home along the overgrown path by the light of the set sun, smeared gray and orange across the wide country sky.

“It’s late, Sam,” his mother told him as the screen door slammed shut behind him. “I don’t want you walking back from the Clankman’s in the dark.”

“It’ll be all right, Mom, there’s nothing out there, nothing to worry about.” Same saw a flash of pain across her face and the falling from the uneven spot where her broken cheekbone hadn’t healed quite right. “Really, Mom, don’t worry about me. It’s safe.”

“Well, I guess…” she said. “Here, take this flashlight with you every time, though, it’ll make me feel better.” She reached into a paper bag with a receipt still stapled to the edge and handed Sam a big four-D cell metal light. “I had your father pick this up in town for you. The nights get really dark out here.”

Sam ran his hands over the bright metal ridges along the long, heavy handle. The switch on the side had a solid, firm feel as he clicked it on. Even in the bright kitchen the beam stared out clear and strong… Sam flicked the beam into the shadows behind the table and watched the darkness flee. He grinned and felt his heart jump – this was so much better than the cheap plastic lights they had been using.

That night Sam purposely stayed around the Clankman’s until it was dark as pitch. He wanted to use his new flashlight on the way home. He walked as far as he could until the night was so black he literally could not see his hand in front of his face. He raised the heavy torch and slid the metal slide switch. The light leaped out, poured from the glass lens and the path ahead jumped into view.

He could see the twin ruts running through the center of a tunnel of scrub. He could see the archway of plants, gray-green in the beam. He was not expecting the jeweled constellations of bright lights that surrounded his path.

All along the way, bright twinkling blazing spots shot back at him. Some were white, and some were bright green. They were everywhere and Sam jumped back from this beautiful mystery. Then he gathered himself, swung the beam, and walked through. All along the creek bottoms the fiery jewels, yellow-white and emerald-green, surrounded him, leaping into life whenever his light touched them, blinking out when it swung away.

He felts his soul lightened by the sight and walked through the jeweled gauntlet, crossed the rusted old bridge, and up through the forest on the other side. The lights persisted through the creek bottom scrub and ended when he reached the fields around his family’s own place.

Sam through himself into bed, excited about the lights, flicking his flashlight under the covers, until he finally fell asleep with the torch on, still clutched in his fist.

He was dismayed to find the batteries almost dead in the morning, the bulb only a faint orange glow. He gulped down his breakfast and rushed out early to meet the bus to school. He wanted a few minutes in the salmon dawn to look at the creek path and see if he could figure out what had made the bright jewels the night before.

As he walked down toward the creek he peered into the scrubby brush, covered with thick twists of thorny vines, he immediately saw the white tufts of webs thick through and between the leaves. He picked up a stick and poked one of the webs and jumped back as a huge brown spider came crawling quickly out, jumping up onto the stick almost to his hand.
At that moment, he heard the bus horn calling him and he had to abandon his quest and run for the stop.

At study hall he started pulling out the encyclopedia and then asked the librarian for help finding books on spiders. It didn’t take him long to find a picture that looked what had jumped out at him that morning.

It was a wolf spider. The book said they were very common. He felt the hair rise on the back of his neck when he read, “Their eyes reflect light well, allowing someone with a flashlight to easily locate them at night. Flashing a beam of light over the spider will produce eyeshine. The light from the flashlight has been reflected from the spider’s eyes directly back toward its source, producing a “glow” that is easily noticed. This is also especially helpful because the wolf spiders are nocturnal and will be out hunting for food, making it easier to find them.”

So that was it – the white lights were bits of water clinging to the webs and the green lights were the spider’s eyes. He sat and thought about that for a while. He thought about walking through the path, past and underneath thousands of wolf spiders. The thought didn’t bother him. He wasn’t sure why, but the spiders didn’t frighten him. Their green lights in the flashlight were too beautiful.

After school he told the other kids at the Clankman’s about the spiders. Frank didn’t seem to care, Maria was frightened, “You mean those spiders have always been there, we just didn’t know about it until you shined that light?”

“I suppose.”

“Uggh,” she cringed, “That really creeps me out. I’m never walking down there no more.”

Duane’s reaction surprised Sam. He was angry.

“I can’t believe it, all those nasty bugs down there, living along my road.”

“It’s not your road, Duane, Beside, there not hurting anything.”

“Still, who told them they could do that.”

Sam wasn’t sure what Duane was so pissed about, but he hardly talked any more that afternoon. When it was dark Sam put the fresh batteries he had brought from home into the flashlight and tried to convince the others to walk down to the creek with him and see the spider’s eyes. Nobody would go.

Disappointed, he walked home by himself, and barely stopped to look at the lights, though they were as thick as the night before.

The next morning was Saturday, and Sam walked back to look at the spider nests. He was curious about where the wolf spiders went during the day and if he could find any of them. When he looked across the bridge at the path on the other side, he saw Duane already there.

He had a big metal can with a hose running out of the top of it. There was a handle attached to the top and Duane was straining to pump the handle up and down as hard as he could.

“Duane, what are you doing?” Sam called out across the old bridge.

“I’m gonna kill all those damn spiders – that’s what I’m gon’ do, dammit,” said Duane.

Sunday Snippet, Cut While Shaving by Bill Chance

“I often stood in front of the mirror alone, wondering how ugly a person could get.”
― Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Cut While Shaving

Over the years, Andrew had learned to completely avoid looking at himself in the mirror. Even when he shaved, he would only wipe a little oval into the steamed-over mirror and place his chin and cheeks right into that area, cutting away the shaving cream without making eye contact with the person in the mirror.

It wasn’t that he was ashamed of the way he looked – he knew he was perfectly ordinary and about what was to be expected for his age – a little on the downside of middle… but he was disappointed. He wasn’t the person that he had hoped he would be and didn’t like being reminded of that. He avoided having pictures taken of himself and when he failed at that he wouldn’t look at them. Avoiding his reflection in the mirror had been going on for so long he didn’t even think about it any more.

The night before was difficult. He kept waking from horrible unremembered nightmares and would toss and turn with dull pain in parts of his body he never thought about. When his alarm went off he dragged himself into the shower and then, for some reason, there was no steam on the mirror.

Still, his habit stayed and he concentrated solely on the task at hand. He brought razor up and into its long-familar position. He immediately cut himself and dropped the razor into the sink.

For the first time in years he looked at himself full-face and saw a completely different person. It was a tremendous shock – he went weak-kneed and wobbly, grabbing the bathroom counter top until he could steady himself. He grabbed a towel and scrubbed off the shaving cream and then rubbed his face, pulled on his cheeks, and closed his eyes for as long as he could stand – but it made no difference. There was a different person staring back at him.

His hair and been thin, straight, and sandy-colored but the mirror had thick jet-black hair, tousled into a mop. This new face wasn’t handsome, but it wasn’t ugly. It was a little younger, a little thinner, but not young and not thin. It didn’t remind Andrew of anyone, or bring up any strong emotions – it was nondescript… but it was different.

He thought about shaving, but didn’t want to get close to this new face with a razor. Beside – the shadow of dark beard wasn’t altogether bad looking. He felt better as he dressed, and couldn’t see that stranger’s face, though his body felt thinner and more muscular. He was surprised that his clothes still seemed to fit perfectly.

He fearfully walked out into the kitchen – worried about the reaction of his wife to this stranger walking around in his house.

“Honey, get a grip, something odd…” he shouted ahead of himself as he walked into the kitchen, where his wife always stood in the mornings, making breakfast. The second shock of the day came when he entered and found it deserted. On the counter was a brown sack lunch and a note.

It said, “Honey, remember to pick up the kids after work, I have a late meeting tonight and can’t get there in time, Love, Katherine.”

Katherine had quit work when their daughter, their oldest child was born. His kids took the bus to and from school and had for years. He couldn’t think of anything else to do so he grabbed the lunch and drove to work. Nobody in the halls said a word to him and Andrew was thankful that his cube at work still looked exactly the same. He sat down and logged in his computer. His boss appeared at the entrance with a cup of coffee and a list of tasks – he never mentioned Andrew’s new appearance.

The workday settled in as always. Andrew began to feel normal again as the routine took over. Every now and then he would start at the strange dim new reflection in his computer monitor, but after a couple of hours, even that ceased to scare him. At about ten o’clock his phone rang.

“Hello?” he answered.

“Oh, Drew, this is Pen, I’m glad you’re at your desk, I’ve been thinking about you all morning.”

He recognized the voice as Penelope Smithers – the secretary to Johnson, the corporate vice president at their location. Every month he had to take a sheaf of papers to her, marked with little stickers where her boss had to sign them. She would call him back and he would pick them up, signed, and then mail them off to various agencies that required the periodic reports. This was his only interaction with Penelope Smithers – but this voice was heavy, breathless, excited, and personal. He could not imagine why she was talking this way. And why had she called him “Drew?” He had been Andrew since he was six years old.

“What can I do for you?” he answered.

“Oh, Drew, don’t be so cold! Wait, is somebody there? Oh, I see. Well, I wanted to tell you that Johnson is off site today and I can take a long lunch. Let’s meet, let’s get together. The usual place. I’ve missed you so much.”

Andrew almost choked on the phone. He didn’t know what to say.

“Drew! Are you there? I know you can’t talk, but give me a yes and we’ll meet.”

“Ummm, Mizz Smithers… I’m afraid I can’t…”

“Oh, is someone still there? Someone else in your cube? I understand. Well… if you can’t you can’t. You must have a lunch meeting scheduled. Call me back if something works out. I’ll be thinking of you.”

The line went dead. Andrew sat there sweating. What the hell was going on? Why did Penelope Smithers think that he would meet her… at the usual place. She thought they were having some sort of an affair. Sitting there, thinking back, he began to remember things about Penelope… about Pen – he was beginning to think of her as Pen, and he was feeling something… he wasn’t sure what, when the image of her came up in his mind.

Andrew was beginning to feel two parallel sets of memories. His old life was beginning to be overlaid with a dream life. Something new, shocking, different. Andrew began to cry. He felt his life slipping away. He was losing his mind. This dream life was getting more real by the minute.

“Get a grip on yourself,” he told himself in the voice of his father – who had told him this a million times. He looked at the corkboard beside his computer monitor and saw a scrap of paper that said, “Katherine – Work,” and a phone number. He picked up the receiver and dialed the number.

“Katherine Monroe, how can I help you?” Andrew breathed a sign of relief. The voice definitely that of his wife.

“Oh, Katherine, I’m having such a tough day. You wouldn’t believe it. I…”

“Drew, sorry,” Katherine interrupted, “I’m in the middle of something, we’ll talk tonight. Don’t forget to pick up the kids after work.”

“Umm, that’s one thing dear, I’m not sure where exactly to get them.”

“Jesus Drew! The same as always, just watch out for the Hartford private cops… they want everyone in the right lanes.”

So that was it. The Hartford School was on his drive home. There was always a huge mess with parent’s waiting to get their children. The private school didn’t have a fleet of yellow buses and all the cars waiting jammed up the streets and made Andrew’s commute home hell. Once there had been some sort of a fight and he had to creep by watching all the red and blue lights. It was on the news. And now, this is where his kids went. He had talked about this years ago with his wife, but they had decided it was too expensive. Actually, he had decided it was too expensive. And now…. He guessed he had no choice.

“Ok Katherine, I’ll get them.”

The line went dead.

Andrew had to ask the private police guard which lane to take and the guard had looked at him like he was crazy, then asked for an ID. Andrew had a moment of panic when he pulled out his wallet, but his Driver’s License matched his new face. Andrew moved into the proper lane and sat there waiting. He looked into the rear view mirror and for the first time that day wasn’t shocked by what he saw. He moved the mirror around, rubbing his chin, looking closely at the face that was getting more and more familiar by the second. With a shock he realized he was forgetting what he used to look like. That image was getting foggier every second – as if it was a bad dream.

While he was in this reverie the children had come pouring out of the school building. He looked around for his children, his daughter and son, but didn’t see them anywhere. He was beginning to think this was a big joke and thinking about driving home to where his kids would be getting off the bus right about now – when the back door opened and a young man and girl slid in.

“Hey, pops, what’s up?” the boy said. The girl was busy typing something into her phone.

Andrew looked back at the two strangers – they were the same age of his own kids, but they looked different, they looked… well, they looked more like his new face. He guessed it made sense – if he had changed his looks overnight, why not his kids.

“Umm, Jack, Samantha?” He tested. Had their names changed too?

“Yeah, Pops, are you OK?” Their names were the same. At that moment he realized they were his children. The memory of his old kids began to waver and fade.

“I’m fine kids. I just had a tough day at work,” he said.

“Hey Pops, my radio station please.”

Andrew reached forward and tuned the radio. He didn’t know how he knew the station, but he did.

“That good?” he asked.

“Perfect, Pops, like always.”

So Andrew started the car, and drove off into the complete unknown.

Sunday Snippet, Scream by Bill Chance

“Contrary to popular belief and hope, people don’t usually come running when they hear a scream. That’s not how humans work. Humans look at other humans and say, ‘Did you hear a scream?’ because the first scream might have been you screaming inside your head, or a horse backfiring.”

― Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals

The Headlines Screamed, Baithouse Disappears

Scream

Sam hadn’t been getting much sleep. With summer there, the kids were staying up later and later – keeping him up. In the mornings, Sam would try to get up and slip out of the house before they woke up. They always had friends over, often spending the night. When that happened, The kids went nuts, staying up past the wee hours, getting wilder and wilder as the nights grew longer.

Tonight, his wife was off somewhere, leaving him with a whole pack. He was barricaded in the extra bedroom, trying to get some work done, when there was a sudden pounding on the door.

“Dad! Dad! Come look! We want you to see this!” they all yelled in chorus.

They hauled him out to the computer in the garage room where one of the neighbor kids was seated. Sam could see he was logged into America Online as a guest, under his own account. He did some clicking and a web page appeared, it seemed to be a simple picture of a room.

“OK, now,” they all said at once, “Look at that picture and figure out what’s wrong with the room!”

Sam peered at the picture and could see nothing out of the ordinary. “You have to look close!” the kids yelled. He could hear a hiss from the computer speakers – they had the volume turned way up.

He turned his head to check out the kids and they all had an amazing look of combined terror and excitement. Several had their palms planted firmly over their ears and were jumping up and down. Another was so juiced he was actually pulling the skin on his head backwards – he looked like his face was melting and being blown back by a powerful wind.

What the hell were they up to? Sam was getting pretty nervous – that bunch is capable of about anything when they all get together. Was there a firecracker under his chair?

While he was looking at the kids Sam heard a terrific scream from the computer speakers and turned to see a horrific face superimposed on the monitor for a split second. Then it was back to the room again.

“Haw! Haw!” yelled all the kids.

He was disappointed. He had been expecting something a little more ornery out of them.

“Listen guys,” Sam said, “you’re going to have to act a little cooler than that if you want to scare somebody Y’all were so wired I thought there was a firecracker in my computer or something.”

“A firecracker! Haw! Haw!” they all yelled.

Sam went back to his room and tried to go to sleep – He needed to get up early Saturday. A while later he heard the dogs bark and front door open; his wife was home. After a few minutes Sam heard a double scream – one from the computer and a louder, more panicked on from his wife.

She must have been looking really close at that picture of the room.

Sunday Snippet, It’s You by Bill Chance

That man’s silence is wonderful to listen to.

—-Thomas Hardy

My Toshiba Netbook – rode my bike to a coffee shop.

It’s You

I was behind in my work – the magazine needed some short fiction from me – so it was a good thing I was able to get in my usual Saturday morning two hours of writing at Starbucks.

The voyeurism of overheard conversations at that Starbucks on Saturday morning was fun, interesting, and sometimes a creativity starter. It seemed that there was a penchant for confession – people came to the coffee shop to own up to the sins they had committed on Friday night. Lately, the quality of the conversation overheard at nearby tables has been slack but today it was fairly good.

Behind me two guys were having a long one-sided discussion. When I first sat down one said in a clear voice, “I still love you, and I hope we can still be friends, but there are issues.” I thought this would be really juicy, but it turned out to be a discussion about friction within a local Baptist church.

I could not help it, I had to look. Twisting in my seat I pretended to gaze at the board that displayed the coffee selections but I was really glancing at the two guys talking – well, the one guy talking and the other taking the abuse. I noticed there was another coffee-drinker sitting close to them – she wasn’t pretending, she was staring.

While I wrote, I listened to this guy go on for over an hour. The other guy was leaving the church and the talker wanted him to stay, I guess. The talker was the kind of person I want to bitch-slap. He thought he was a good talker – but he was a terrible listener, which is very important for a church person. He never shut up; never let the other guy get a word in edgewise.

I was able to make out a list of all the people associated with the guy’s church and their failings, weaknesses, and shortcomings. He complained how nobody ever stuck to his or her course, nobody was “a stand-up guy,” and how people were leaving for the big Baptist churches in Rockwall and Garland. He kept saying how the “church world” is the same as “the business world,” and would expound at length on his ideas and theories for expansion and success. He kept using phrases like “fundamental commitment to leadership.” I thought about how he bloviated about a church for over an hour and never mentioned God, Christ, or Faith.

Then, suddenly, a loud screech of a weighted chair rudely scraped across a stained concrete Starbucks floor, a breeze of motion and a gap of very loud silence.

I whipped around to see what was going on. The woman that had been sitting near them had slid her chair back, jumped up, and advanced on the men. She was red as a beet. She began to yell.

“Hey! Dude! It’s you! It’s you! It’s you! They can’t stand you, you run the place, you tell everybody what to do; you don’t listen to what they need… what they want – what the hell do you expect!”

“Excuse me?” the guy creaked out.

“Excuse me? Excuse me! Excuse the fuck you! I’ve been listening to… No, no, I haven’t been listening, I’ve been sitting here trying to enjoy my coffee, the high point of my week, and your bile and self-serving crap has been pouring over me. You are ruining my day! People like you… Men like you are ruining my whole life!”

The man made some quiet clucking noises while the entire coffee shop broke out in applause. The woman stormed out while the two men sat in shoulder-hunched silence.

I clapped a bit myself – but I never said anything. I had a short story to write.

Sunday Snippet, The Dream Screen by Bill Chance

“That which is dreamed can never be lost, can never be undreamed.”

― Neil Gaiman, The Wake

Dallas Heritage Village

The Dream Screen

All his life, Sam could never remember his dreams – he would wake up with a vague feeling of frustration and discontent, but whatever was causing it would fade so fast he could never get his mind around it. For the last month, however, he had been having the same… or rather similar… dreams and they haunted him all day long. The dreams were especially bothering him because in the dream he was lying in his own bed, just like he was in real life. That made the line between dream and reality blurred and Sam was afraid that he would lose track on which side he was on.

When he was a child his parents had insisted he sleep on his back, arms at his sides, under a smoothly made sheet and comforter. They would pop into his room several times a night and if he had turned on his side or mussed his covers, they would wake him, berate him, and make him set everything back as it was.

“If you are to be organized and follow the rules while you are awake, you must follow them while you are asleep,” they would tell him.

And the training worked. For a half-century he slept on his back, with his arms at his sides, without tossing or turning.

But now, in his dream, he was on his side, with one hand extended holding a wireless track ball. In front of his face, glowing in the dark, was a screen – a tablet of some sort – with the internet on it. He couldn’t see what was holding the tablet up, but it stayed steady, almost filling his field of vision. He could use the trackball and its buttons to move around the internet, but he didn’t seem to be able to decide what to watch – his hands did if for him.

He told his grief counselor about the dreams.

“Is it disturbing to you?”

“Not during the dream itself. It bothers me when I wake up.”

“Why?”

“I don’t like not being under control. And now, I’ve been waking up in the same position, with my arm out, cradling an unseen object.”

“Why does that bother you.”

“It is so unorganized.”

His grief counselor was a doctor and he gave Sam a prescription to take before bed. Sam was certain that it was some sort of a placebo, but he took it anyway. It didn’t help.

When his counselor asked him what appeared on the screen, Sam obscured the reality and gave a deceitful answer.

In truth, the screen was showing, forcing him to choose, a very specific set of scenes. The screen was replaying moments from his life, some short, some longer. Some of these scenes were events in his past that he thought about often, but most were episodes that he didn’t consciously remember, until the dream screen showed them to him, and he they would arise from the depths of his memory, suddenly clear as day.

He remembered all these scenes after he woke. Even the ones he had previously forgotten, became a big part of his life, anew.

Sam finally decided to open up to his counselor. “Are these disturbing scenes, fearsome events, that you have subdued in your memory?” his grief counselor asked.

“No, quite the opposite. They are the little golden moments of my life. The happiest times. Most are not any big deal – as a matter of fact, when they happened I usually didn’t even understand their importance. It wasn’t until later, or even until the dream-screen brings them back, that I realize how happy and meaningful they are.”

“Well, Sam,” his grief counselor said, “I think your subconscious is simply bringing back the best memories of your past to give you some relief from the awful terror of the present. Maybe it is reminding you that things were better once, and maybe, they can be again.”

Sam nodded his head. He was being polite – he knew the grief counselor was wrong.

As time went by, Sam became used to the dreams. He bought an expensive pillow designed for people that slept on their sides so he would be less sore when he woke up. Sam began to sleep longer and longer until his day was made up of sleeping with only a quick meal and other necessities that he rushed through in order to lay back down and enter the world of his dream-screen as quickly as he could.

Sam was amazed at how many wonderful, tiny things had happened during his life. He knew that his supply had ended, however, there would be no new ones. Eventually, the scenes began to repeat. He realized he was watching something the dream screen had showed him before.

The second… and third… times through the memories were not as happy, they somehow faded with each showing. That was when Sam realized that his time was growing short.

Sunday Snippet, Mall from Hell by Bill Chance

“Civilized life, you know, is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly. The trouble is we forget after a while that they are illusions and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us.”

― J.G. Ballard

Toad Corner, Dallas Arboretum

Mall from Hell

He dreams of a shopping mall from hell
At the center, the intersection of walkways
Is a lobotomy kiosk
Crowned with a shiny silver
Ball peen hammer
Youths with untied shoes
Line up in front of the food court
Where the famous
Deep Fried Toad Dicks on toothpicks
Are cooked and served up by
Lolita in a paper hat

Sunday Snippet, Insomnia by Bill Chance

“How to Commit the Perfect Murder” was an old game in heaven. I always chose the icicle: the weapon melts away.”

― Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones

8 50 Caliber Machine Guns, Commemorative Air Force, Wings Over Dallas

Insomnia

I ride the trains at night. I can’t sleep and I have a monthly pass, so why not.

It was almost three in the morning and I was sitting on the Darkwater platform on one of those little seats that fold down.

There was a maintenance worker, a tired looking old man, washing the platform with a faded green hose. He pretended not to notice me and I pretended not to notice him.

The thief came from nowhere, pulled a gun on the maintenance man, and demanded in a loud and obscene voice that he hand over his cell phone.

He did hand it over, without hesitation. I was thinking how big of a loss this was to him, how many platforms he would have to hose down to buy a new phone when the thief shot him, twice, and he went down in a quickly expanding pool of blood.

The thief turned and ran down the stairs. I followed, not slowly but not running either. At street level I saw the thief disappear down an alley between two dilapidated brick industrial buildings. I followed.

The thief was waiting for me. He was yelling something at me – but I couldn’t make out the words. His gun was big – I recognized it as a Glock 21 forty-five caliber. It was a real hand cannon and it was pointed at me.

My Walther PPK 9mm dropped from the holster in my sleeve into my hand. It is a lot smaller than his Glock. But I am practiced, very fast, and I never miss.

Sunday Snippet, No Throwing the Corn by Bill Chance

“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

― John Green, Looking for Alaska

On the way to Toad Corners

No Throwing the Corn

Amanda found an article in the newspaper about some guy that had cut a series of mazes into his cornfield, about a half -hour east of the city – and was charging folks to walk around and get lost. It sounded like fun, so we bundled the kids and a friend up and headed out of town.

It was getting late, the sun was setting as we pulled up. It was a fun place, although everyone was tired and grumpy.

They have a number of mazes. One made out of hay bale tunnels – with instructions posted on the hay. It’s more of a puzzle than a maze. Then there are three labyrinths made up of fencing right near the parking lot. Jim liked those the best.

The main attraction, though, are the two labyrinths cut into the cornfield itself. They are huge, covering about a square mile or so. One maze is more twisty and complicated, the other more open, with long straightaways.

The rules are simple: no running, no pulling the corn, no picking the corn, no throwing the corn, no cutting through the corn. The smell of the ripe, dry cornfield was wonderful.

I can’t speak much of what it looked like because by the time we hit the cornfield maze the night was pitch black. A lot of people were in the maze had flashlights and/or glow sticks – plus some light (and noise) filtered across the freeway from the drag races going on there.

It was fun, wandering around in the dark, dodging the clumps of screaming kids (many ignoring the rule about no running), and trying to figure out the overall layout of the corn. It was easy to get truly lost, especially in the dark. There are clues to help you find your way out, plus a lot of workers in there checking on the customers… though we never needed any help – simply a lot of walking.

It took us about forty minutes to get through the Phase I maze – we probably walked two miles or so. Jim’s knee was aching, so he sat it out while Amy and I made it through Phase II a little quicker.

The kids kept getting frustrated in the maze when we would hit a dead end or realize we were at a spot we had passed before. I told them not to be so bothered, to relax and keep moving. “You have to walk down the wrong paths to find the right ones,” was my fatherly-zen advice.

They groaned at that.

Sunday Snippet, Ghosted by Bill Chance

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”

― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Nasher Sculpture Center Dallas, Texas

Ghosted

“I haven’t heard from Elana,” Sara said to the ghost of her nephew Jimmy.

“Really? Did you expect to?”

“We’ve been friends for years. We used to meet for coffee almost every week and lunch on Fridays.”

“And now?”

“She ignores my texts.”

“She ghosted you.”

“Yeah.”

“That sucks. I would never do anything like that.”

“But you’re a ghost.”

“Sure. But still. I never liked that term. It gives us a bad name.”

“Do ghosts ghost people?”

“Well, eventually we move on. To another plane – hopefully higher, but sometimes not. If we have been visiting people, live people, ordinary people, that can come as a shock. We disappear. Like ghosts.”

“So you do ghost people. As a matter of fact, you ghost people inevitably.”

“Well, it doesn’t count. We have no choice. It’s always a surprise, unexpected, when we have to move on. That’s how it works.”

“So you are going to ghost me? You said it was inevitable. You just don’t know when.”

“I guess. I’m sorry.”

“You and Elena. Both of you.”

“Which one is worse? Who will you miss the most, me or Elena?”

“That’s a hard question. With you, there is that feeling of guilt.”

“Guilt? Because you were driving. That drunk hit the passenger side of the car. You never saw them. That’s not your fault.”

“I know. I know. But I feel guilty. I was driving. You didn’t want to go. I talked you into it.”

“You didn’t twist my arm.”

“Yes I did, a little bit.”

“What about Elena? Do you feel guilt for her too?”

“Why? Well, maybe. I must have done something wrong.”

“Maybe she just moved on, like I will some day. Living people move on too.”

“Moved on? What, moved up? Without me? How does that make it better?”

“Maybe she moved down.”

“That makes it even worse. And I am so lonely. You are the only friend I have left.”

“You need more friends. Living friends.”

“Finding new friends, now, today, at my stage of life… it’s impossible.”

“Your stage of life? How about mine? You need to get out there more. You need to do something.”

“What?”

“Anything. Everything.”

“I miss Elana. I miss her so much. Does she miss me?”

“I’m sure she does. I’ll bet Elana misses you even more than you miss her.”

“Will you miss me? Will you miss me when you move on?”

“Of course I will. Of course.”