lost ironies

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Month: December, 2013

the diy encyclopaedia

poems rewritten 

preface
It makes sense that we disappear sometimes and don’t come back. People forget and we fossilize in the neglect of our names. It makes sense that there’s a road in the valley, flat like the river it follows. And that there is architecture, the texture of arcs. Penciled eyes lining a curve of breath. The wind spinning leaves from green to green. And the perfect trees, correct and forever standing. 

how to wash your hands
Stand at a sink with a bar of soap &. Watch what’s wild coming. The wrongness of the second knuckle index finger left hand. The leftness of it. So wrong for cursive writing. The palms of both hands. Creased with lines of life. A planet hidden in every wrinkle. Do not inventory regret & poorly written poems. Just turn on the faucets. The right amounts of hot & cold. With just reflection between you &. What is behind the mirror.

how to read a poem
You breathe &. Know the words are your own. But have somehow switched position. As the small audience dreams & expects. At their well coffeed tables. So you look up from the page &. Smile. Looking over the top of your glasses. Knowing you look professorly. But knowing also that professorly is not a real word. Just four syllables that fit with adhesive. Somewhere on the edge of a sonnet. In which the word love in the second line. Now. Somehow. Reads parsnip. 

how to read a fortune cookie
They found an ancient Chinese restaurant in the buried Mayan city. Noodle Moon of the Golden Lion Café. Built & deserted centuries before Columbus scratched his first flea bite. It was a dark place near a Nahuatl court. Where high priests ordered Kung Pao Ming Har &. Sipped their cacao. Dreaming of alien spacecraft. Erecting temple cities &. Abandoning them. Construct your pyramid of righteous stone. Venus smiles upon your war. There is a conquistador in your future. The fortune cookie came to your table with the cheque in Mesoamerica. Placed on a plate the ambivalent waiter dropped upon your table. As he sauntered lazily by. Enter the forest as you would a friend’s home. You will overcome the trials of the underworld. Linger not in the River of Scorpions.

how to inject insulin
Shaking up the NPH at 10pm & dialling the dose. I think about demanding more of the words around me. The single syllabled ones. Standing at the end of sentences. Their eyes on the period. Relieved that it is not a semicolon. I think about what they say when unseen. Together & a book is closed. The spite of their conversations. The jealous words of words. Neutral protamine Hagedorn is an intermediate acting insulin that was created in 1936. Its zinc suspension gives it a cloudy appearance. A city in a refrigerator fog. A blunt rough diamond of autumn. Swirls of angels gazing out from the vial. Atom planets travelling through the syringe. The forest humid purr of a subcutaneous injection.

how to tie your shoes
We were the poor kids. Black, white &. Spooky on flat Kodak paper. Our bodies fixed &. Angled. Our eyes engines of impulse. We the juvenile algorithms of our prejudiced neighbourhood. Our city lakes joined by rivers underground. They ran deep beneath our concrete. Delivering the drowned here &. There. Italian crooners sang in the clubs on Commercial Drive. Our clocks ticked. Then stupidly &. We studied time’s three hundred & sixty degree passing. The radio active glow. In the dark. Isotopes reaching out. To our innocent nightmare minds. We were the future of escape &. Violence. We were legend & headlines. Harleys & handguns. Without knowing it then &. Tending resolutely to our shoes laces. Undone.

how to take antipsychotic medication
To sleep like a seed & dream of a garden. The stem I will be. Bent under late snow. Voices &. Oils on canvas. Their lips. Their stilled tongues but. Rapid eyes. They think of me as family. From a tragic buttoned distance. A manic Christmas poet. Psychotic. Still as a century. Dire oh dire. Sleeping the seroquel sleep. The Olanzapine street corner raving. At the yellow lights in my shoplifted coat. Take at bedtime. The label says. Or. When the angels gather round you. Like jungle animals &. Hum your name. Like a wordless song. Or. Do not take them at all &. Fall in with those angels. Instead &. Walk with them their. Whispered mile.

Tibbit Crow Girl in the Land of Hence a Christmas story – part 3

read part 1 here, read part two here

In which NORAD dispatches F-22 jet fighters to shoot down Santa Claus’s sleigh in order to prevent the continuance of his pinko ploy and the socialist inspired redistribution of wealth through spontaneous gift giving. And in which the depths of one man’s tender erotic love of his killing machine are plumbed.

Elmendorf-Richardson military facility
US Air Force Captain Elvis Goldfinch walked round his F-22 Raptor jet fighter. He called it Oswald. It was a jet powered phallus. It was a long grey killing machine that had yet to kill. Captain Elvis Goldfinch could fly his Raptor at top speed down Broadway in New York City and parallel park it for a late showing of Les Miz without breaking a sweat, but he had never fired a missile or its cannon in anger. Now, though, the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf-Richardson military facility had been put on alert. Anything was possible. The Captain stroked the long hard fuselage, and felt the firm roughness of its cylindrical stealthy length. And as he did, he shuddered inside. There’d been times like this when he’d nearly swooned in the ecstasy of his intimate coupling with this machine, and he’d blushed at the blissful stirrings in his loins.

“It’s okay, Oswald,” Captain Elvis Goldfinch said. “Our day will come.”

land of hence
Sid, Nancy, Norman, Daryl, Gwendolyn, Vickie, Morrie and Jessica had decided to fly. Arlo had swayed Sid and Nancy and Nancy had convinced the rest. Not flying on Christmas Eve, after all, was contrary to a magical reindeer’s natural compulsions. Not doing so might lead to indigestion and an overall malaise throughout the year to come.

It was harder with the elves. But despite the centuries of perceived slights and unresolved arguments, most of the elves agreed to help load the sleigh and attach the reindeer to the sleigh. Che, on the other hand, refused to help in protest, and instead surfed the net, reading socialist manifestos and sweatily watching Céline Dion videos on YouTube.

Seeing the unexpected change in activity, Klaus commenced putting on his red suit. As he did, he noticed, looking out of his bedroom window, that it had begun to snow.

meanwhile back at NORAD
When Lieutenant-General Bucky Bungard walked out of his office and into the NORAD War Room, he was surrounded by walls of massive flat displays, each one monitoring its own section of western hemisphere air activity. There was a small army of technicians and analysts with their eyes fixed on the screens.

“Where’s that damn degenerate Santa Claus?” Bungard yelled. “We’re supposed to be tracking him for the little kiddies, aren’t we? I want that bastard in our sights. I want that commie pimp blown out of the sky!”

“He’s late this year, General,” one of the analysts said. “There may be some delay in his itinerary.”

“Well you’d better find him fast,” the General said, “or you’ll be working a radar shack in Arm Pit, Arizona for the rest of your deployment. You got that, Lieutenant?”

“Yes sir.”

“Please, sir,” said Canadian Air Force Major Wilfred Milk. “Perhaps we shouldn’t be talking about blowing Santa Claus out of the sky. It may be bad for morale.”

Bungard looked over his shoulder at Milk. The General had forgotten he was there.

“Godammit, Milk,” the General said. “This is my shift, and I’m putting an end to this Islamisist Pinko conspiracy once and for all.”

“Islamisist, sir?” Milk said.

“They’ve gotta be involved somehow, Major,” said the General. “In fact, let’s get this machine rollin’.”

The General picked up a phone and dialled. In a moment he spoke, “This is General Bucky Bungard. Who the hell is this? Okay, are you hotshots up there at Elmendorf-Richardson ready to fly on target? Have the pilots been briefed? Yeah? Well, that’s fine. Then scramble the bastards. I want them airborne when the target appears on radar.” The General hung up. “Wadda ya think the history books will say, Major?” The General relit his cigar.

“Please, sir,” Major Milk said. “You can’t smoke in here, it’s the War Room.”

Elmendorf-Richardson military facility
The bell rang at the military facility and the well rehearsed dash for the fighter jets commenced. There would be only three aircraft going aloft, and the reduced squadron would have the unique name Memphis. The mission name was a special request of Captain Elvis Goldfinch, who would be the squadron leader.

Members of his flight crew helped Goldfinch into Oswald, then strapped him in. Others removed conduits and blocks. The Raptor was now free to taxi. Goldfinch threw switches on the aircraft engine controls and the jets came to life. As he felt the low end rumble, his eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he trembled in a rapturous climax. Then he gasped and, for a brief moment, felt a bit ashamed.

“Elmendorf Control to Memphis Leader,” a voice said over his headset. “Proceed to strip one-niner.”

“Roger that, Elmendorf Control.”

As the three Raptors proceeded toward the runway, the cockpit domes came down. And as they did, Captain Elvis Goldfinch patted the console before him and whispered, “I love you, Oswald. More than anyone or anything in my life. Now let’s kill something.”

Soon they were airborne and heading toward coordinates consistent with past NORAD sightings of Klaus’s sleigh.

land of hence and NORAD all in one section
With the sleigh loaded and the reindeer securely hitched, the elves waited along side for Klaus to arrive. The snow was thickly falling, providing a marshmallow contrast to the millions of fairy lights round the compound. It was going to be a classic take off.

Lilibeth noticed him first, the not-quite fat, but certainly robust, white bearded man in red walking toward them, across the compound.

“Ha!” he laughed. “You’ve done a stellar job, people. If a cynical and unbelieving world makes this our last flight, then we’ll be going out with style.” He stepped into the sleigh and took the reins. Then he said, “Get up!”

“I hate it when he says that,” Sid said, and the sleigh took to the sky.

Tibbit’s flock followed as Klaus’s sleigh went skyward. It wasn’t flying weather and many of the crows cawed complaints. But the Crow King urged them on. “He’ll fly above the weather,” he said. “Let’s follow and see what swag we can pinch.”

And soon the stars and moon were visible. It was cold, but the flock followed the sleigh in hopes of riches.

Meanwhile in the NORAD War Room, a lieutenant yelped, “Look!” and pointed to a new dot on a radar screen displaying northern Canada. The text that accompanied the radar blip read Santa 2013 Claus.

“That’s him, dammit,” General Bucky Bungard said. He picked up a headset and plugged in. Then he ordered a technician to connect him to the Elmendorf-Richardson tower. “We’ve got him on radar,” he told the tower. “Sending coordinates now.”

“Roger that, NORAD Leader,” was the reply. “But please confirm target is Santa Claus. Have two daughters, 5 and 6, at home now waiting for his arrival.”

“Target confirmed, Elmendorf-Richardson tower,” the General said. “And don’t make me confirm it again. Stop by Walmart on your way home and buy your daughters a real American Christmas gift.”

“Roger that, NORAD Leader,” Elmendorf-Richardson tower replied. “Something plastic manufactured with child slave labour in China. God bless America, NORAD Leader.” There was a static pause. Then, “Memphis Leader, coordinates given. Proceed and engage.”

“Roger that, Elmendorf Control,” Goldfinch said. “With extreme prejudice.”

a side-note on pigeons and the arbitrariness of the multiverse
It is well known that pigeons do not fly south for the winter. And they certainly don’t fly north. They are housing birds and do very well wherever they are during the winter season. They’re also not very bright and, as a result of their gluttonous proclivities, are usually too obese to fly more than a mile or two at a time without suffering an avian form of congestive heart failure. That is why it was so odd that a massive flock of pigeons was present in the area where Klaus was to encounter the NORAD dispatched F-22 Raptors that Christmas Eve.

Experts would later agree that it must have been either a prolonged freak gust of wind that blew them north from Vancouver, or an alien abduction gone terribly wrong.

Whatever the case, it is also well known that crows do not like pigeons, except à la carte. It might even be said that crows hate pigeons, but this is a Christmas story, so we’ll keep hate out of it. But it is sufficed to say that the presence of a sizable flock of pigeons changed outcomes that Christmas Eve because it provided the crows with a practical and convenient tool for saving the day. It could easily have gone another way, goodness knows. The pigeons, for example, could have ended up crashing into the Amazon, which is a river in the South American Amazon Jungle as well as an American international electronic commerce company with headquarters in Seattle, Washington, and been eaten by piranhas. And this demonstrates the arbitrariness of the multiverse, get it? I’m just saying.

now back to Klaus,  the reindeer, the crows and maybe even the pigeons
There’s an unpopulated area on Ellesmere Island in Canada’s far north, between Eureka and Grise Fjord, where Klaus was able to accelerate to his top speed, and make time. The reindeer loved it and Klaus got to wear a stylish pair of racing goggles he’d purchased on vacation in Scotland in 1923. It had always been a favourite part of the Christmas Eve trip.

Unfortunately, this year’s trip would be different, for it was over the Agassiz Ice Cap that Klaus, the reindeer, the crows and definitely even the pigeons encountered the F-22s.

“Target in sight, Elmendorf Control,” Goldfinch said as he flew in close to the sleigh. The sleigh lurched and swerved in the jet engine blowback. Tibbit and her flock shucked and jived to avoid the jets.

“What the h-e-double hockey sticks is going on!?!” Klaus shouted as he shook his fist.

“See,” said Sid, lighting a joint. “This is what I’m talking ‘bout. This ain’t even American airspace.”

Goldfinch consulted his fire control computer and said, “Elmendorf Control, this is Memphis Leader. I have a fix on target.”

“SOP dictates that I tell you to fire when ready, Memphis Leader,” said Elmendorf Control. “However, I’m going home now to hug my daughters and build a gingerbread house. That’s where the DAF Police can find me, if they care to look. Merry Christmas and over and out.”

Goldfinch sneered and released an AIM-120C air-to-air missile straight at Klaus and his sleigh.

“Look out!” Nancy said, and Klaus put the sleigh into a subsonic crash dive. They rapidly dropped 400 feet and barely dodged the missile.

“Those be raptors of a different kind,” Tibbit’s mother cawed. “And that sleigh with all of our swag is about to be blasted.”

Normally, a flock of crows will attack predatory birds en masse. But these predatory birds were too big and flew too fast for a conventional attack.

Back at NORAD a new radar blip had appeared.

“What the hell is that?” General Bucky Bungard said.

“It looks like your standard massive flock of birds,” a technician replied. “But it’s unusual for this time of year.”

In fact, it was the lost flock of pigeons. Tibbit’s flock was too small to appear on radar.

Tibbit’s mother saw the pigeons and brightened. “I be thinking I have an idea,” she cawed. “Let’s round ‘em up.”

And in the way that tight knit groups sometimes do, the entirety of Tibbit’s flock had the same idea at the same moment, and began to corral the pigeons. They observed the flight behaviour of the raptors’ formation and moved the flock of pigeons into a dense mass at a key point in the sky – right into the jets’ flight path.

By the time Captain Elvis Goldfinch and his fellow pilots discovered the pigeons ahead of them, it was too late. It was like hitting a brick wall. The pigeons were sucked into the air intakes and clogged the engines.

The words mayday, mayday, mayday came through the radio receivers at Elmendorf-Richardson tower and in the NORAD War Room. Then came the words pigeons, pigeons, pigeons.

“Damn, I hate pigeons,” Captain Elvis Goldfinch said over his radio. Then, with his radio off, he said to Oswald, “Don’t worry, baby. I’m riding you all the way down.”

The other two pilots ejected, but Oswald took Elvis down to a fiery encounter with the Agassiz Ice Cap. The paradisiacal euphoria Goldfinch felt seconds before impact will forever be etched across the dark cosmic matter that is the glue that sometimes binds man and machine orgasmically together to their mutual doom.

Klaus, the reindeer, the crows and the surviving pigeons flew on. And Klaus visited every good child’s house worldwide that night. Well, okay, not every good child’s house. Inevitably, there are always some children who, in spite of their goodness, wake Christmas morning to nothing. But the children believe and hence the man exists, even if he’s flawed and too often forgetful.

wicca

sorry brother I
don’t play the bongos I’m
not Jack Lemmon I’m
more Kim Novak in a
turtleneck sweater in
New York snowbound at
Christmas seducing Jimmy Stewart who
should be on PBS living a
wonderful life over &
over until every citizen with a
television set has
coughed up an
extra buck for public
broadcasting until the lights of
America shutter arc & fuse some
New Years Eve close to 2020 &
every bongo player from
here to the moon speckled
skies over hell converge in the
dark with snow up to their
arses & beat out silent
night holy night like code like
words down a wire to a
terminus abandoned in hysteria as
the city shakes itself like a
head of long long hair

everybody loves Mandy Patinkin – a Christmas story, sort of

It’s when you secretly slide it down into your lower frontal region that you realise why cheese is the most shoplifted grocery item in North America. It’s nutritious and a half pound of it is just the right size and shape to hide in your pants. In fact, I read somewhere that cheese theft was one of the primary reasons that most supermarket pharmacies opted out of methadone dispensing programs in the eighties and nineties. But you have to be careful because store security watches the cheese. That’s why I put it into the basket and walk around the store a bit before I sneak it into my jockey shorts.

That’s just something from the street, baby. I don’t care what you do with it. I mean, if you’re reading this, you’re probably all comfortable with a fridge full of cheese. And not that crappy orange shit they pass off as cheddar, either. You’ve probably got some Camembert, Stilton or Parmigiano-Reggiano, maybe even some Crotin du Chavignol. Careful you don’t choke on it.

So anyway, you ever wake up with your head real messed up? Because you drank the night before, and it ain’t sitting well with the Olanzapine? Which is what you expected would happen but a friend had some cheap rye and you were feeling a bit lonely, so you helped him finish both bottles? Ever wake up like that? Probably not, because you can afford your own cheese. But it’s a bitch to wake up like that. I’ve had your conventional Betty Crocker hangovers and they aren’t anything by comparison. I mean, it’s like you wake up and you’re suicidal and homicidal at the same time but you don’t know what to act on first. And isn’t it all about choices, man?

It was like that this morning and I wanted to sleep all day, but my landlady cut this six foot hole in my wall two weeks ago so the plumber could do exactly forty-five seconds worth of work and she hasn’t been back to fill it in. Now I can hear everything happening in the apartment above me. I mean I can hear the woman up there breathing. I can hear her light a cigarette and blow smoke. I can hear her thinking about what shade of lipstick to wear.

So there I am this morning lying in bed, eyes wide open at 9 a.m., listening to the woman in the apartment above me running her Swiffer back and forth over her linoleum like it’s some kind of aerobics – like it’s Swiffercise or something. And she’s listening to this lame-ass radio station playing Celine Dion and Michael Bublé.

So I get up, and I feel like shit. I mean you’ve got no idea. I can’t even puke my guts up and get it over with. Dry heaves are the best I can manage. Booze and court ordered atypical antipsychotics make for a whole different kind of hangover, baby. It’s like being in a food processor with the pulse setting cycling on/off on/off on/off on/off into infinity with Celine Dion and Michael Bublé sitting on your couch singing Don Ho tunes. At times like these, command hallucinations are redundant. I don’t need the dark shadow in the corner telling me to go downtown with a meat cleaver, but at least if it did it might ground me.

But I’m outta bed now. That’s my point. And I’m stumbling round like a fool. I even bounce off of the walls a couple of times. And I’m hungry. So I open the fridge and there’s the cheese. It’s orange and it glistens in its plastic wrap. It sits alone on a shelf in my otherwise empty refrigerator saying, I’m all you got, baby. Eat me. I reach in and gab it. Then there’s a knock at my door.

When I first met my neighbour Myron, I had one of those uh-huh moments. I remember looking at him and thinking, my god, the eugenicists were right! My thoughts rarely have exclamation marks but that one did. Over time, I’ve come to know his knock. It was him at the door. I closed my eyes with the cheese in my hand. What were the chances that if I stood perfectly still and didn’t make sound he’d go away? He knocked again.

Knock knock knock. “You in there, Nick? Got any weed? Nick? You home?” Rap rap rap. “Let’s smoke a joint, man. I’m feeling all strung out.”

Some of us are born with deficits. Others of us acquire them over time. Myron fits both categories. Once, in a drunken stoner of a conversation, Myron described an accident he’d been in. “It’s where I got my brain injury,” he said. He described to me how, as a kid, he’d nailed roller skates onto the bottom of the family toboggan, and rode it down the driveway. Into traffic.

“I remember seeing this big chrome bumper coming at me real fast,” he said. “It had an Alberta plate. It said Wild Rose Country just under the numbers. I was just a kid but I thought, wild roses must be real beautiful. Then, for a second, it got all bright, then real dark. It’s been kinda dark ever since.”

Knock knock knock. “Nick? I heard you bump into the wall, man. I know you’re in there.”

“Bugger off,” I yell.

“C’mon, Nick. I got the tinnitus real bad today. It’s making me crazy, man. C’mon. I know you got a bag of bud, man.”

I went to the door and opened it. “Why the hell don’t you tell the whole damn building, man?”

“What?”

“What do you mean what? You’re in the hall telling the world I got inventory. That’s fucked up.”

“That cheese?”

“Shut up.”

“You look like shit, man.”

“Shut up.”

“Could I have some cheese?”

I grabbed Myron by the shoulder and pulled him in. “I thought you wanted to smoke a joint. You want cheese, too?”

“I like cheese,” he said.

“Fine. Sit down.”

I pulled a joint out of a small soapstone box above the electric fireplace and threw it at Myron. In the kitchen, I opened the cheese with a pair of scissors.

“You got a match?” Myron said.

I cut the brick of cheese into six chunks and threw one at him through the kitchen door. It bounced off of his nose and onto his lap. He looked down at it with his mouth open.

“You got a match?” he said again.

I grabbed a Bic off the top of refrigerator, and threw it at him. It bounced off of his forehead and fell next to the cheese.

“Let’s watch Mandy Patinkin videos on the YouTube,” he said.

“Mandy Patinkin? No way, man. ”

“C’mon, man. They cut off my internet.”

“Why you all hot for Mandy Patinkin all of a sudden?” I said. “You turning queer?”

“No. He’s just got a good singing voice.”

“Forget it, man. You’re in a Mandy Patinkin free zone.”

“Hey man, what’s wrong with you? Everybody loves Mandy Patinkin.”

“Fuck if I do,” I said chewing on cheese.

Then Myron said, “Check it out. I do a great Mandy Patinkin impersonation. Listen: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

“It’s getting real gay in here,” I said.

“He’s a talented and sensitive guy who’s overcome great adversity. I read that somewhere.”

“Isn’t that swell.”

“I think so,” Myron said lighting the joint.

Then I said, “Hey, you know I knew a guy once that looked like Mandy Patinkin. His name was Dick. Dick Freed. He was even more fucked up than you, Myron. He dealt crack downtown. Smoked as much as he sold. One day, after a harsher than average encounter with the cops, Dick says he’s had it. Fuck the cops, the crack, the other addicts, sleeping in the alley. He says he’s gonna disappear, leave the city. Go to the country and live in the woods, or some shit like that.”

“Sounds good to me,’ Myron said. “Can I surf some porn?”

“No. Hands off the computer. So anyway, I tell Dick he’s full of shit. I tell him that every skidder-junky I ever met downtown says the same thing. They ain’t even got bus fare but they’re going to live in the woods or with the goats on some imaginary farm. They’re gonna get all clean and healthy and shit and start eating their vegetables. And then I told him that it never happens. I never met anyone that made it out. Talk‘s cheap, and it’s boring. And then I told him another thing; I told him to be careful because, in my experience, it was always shortly after a junky started talking that kind of shit that he overdosed or got knifed or got in some other way dead. When you lose your focus on the street, you die, baby. That’s just the way of it.”

“You got crackers?” Myron said, taking a monster toke. “Cheese needs crackers,” he coughed.

“I got ‘em, but you can’t have any. So, I run into Dick Freed a few times after that. One time, he’s all bandaged up. He’d just gotten his arm sliced by some crazy bitch named Helga in the Savoy. Not with a knife, but a broken beer glass. The next time, I’m pissing out back of the Washington Hotel and there he is, bleeding bad leaning up against a dumpster. Beaten for outstanding debts. I made sure he was still breathing, and split. Called 911 from the hotel lobby.”

“Can we listen to Howard Stern?”

“Shut the hell up. I’m telling a story. Next time I see Dick is the last time. Months go by. Dick Freed is nowhere downtown. I stop thinking about him. Some other dealer takes over his spot on Hastings Street. His name comes up a couple of times in conversation — Whatever happened to Dick Freed? You remember crazy Dicky Freed, looked just like Mandy Patinkin. That kind of shit. But he’s real gone, and I figured dead.

“Then it’s December, just before Christmas, and I see him. Dick Freed, walking up Hastings towards Carnegie. And he’s dressed real nice. He’s standing straight and walking kind of proud, like a real citizen. I mean, he actually looks out of place against the locals. I step aside as he approaches, and watch him coming.  When he sees me, he says hey there, Nick, and holds out his hand. We shake. He tells me I’m looking swell, which I know I’m not. And I say the same of him, which he actually is. He asks if he’s been missed and I say that he has, by some. And then he tells me what happened.

“When I told him to be careful, that the shit he was talking was an overture to his own demise, he took it to heart. After the beating out back of the Washington Hotel, he begged five bucks and bought a lottery ticket. He lost. But he did it again and the lucky bastard won. He won ten million seven hundred thousand and change.

“So, now he lives in a nice little house in the woods on the SunshineCoast. He’s gone off of the drugs and booze and he’s eating his vegetables. He said he was in the neighbourhood looking up old acquaintances. It was Christmas, after all. That was when he stuck his hand into his pocket and pulled out a crispy new one hundred dollar bill and handed it to me. Ain’t much, he told me, but he hoped it would take the edge off.”

“Wow,” Myron said in a cloud of smoke. “That’s kind of a cool story. What you told him helped him to move on, to overcome. That must have made you feel good inside.”

“Not really. I was jonesing and I figured there must be more where that one hundred dollar bill came from. So, I pulled the kitchen knife I’d hoisted from the dollar store and robbed the bastard.”

“What?”

“Yeah. The dumb shit was carrying more than a thousand dollars. He was just asking for it, man.”

“You’re a real sick bastard, Nick.”

“I guess.”

“You got beer?”

“Not for you.”

lady in the rain

from Christmas 2008

If he had a car, he’d drive away to Jesus. He never had thought of Him as a person, just a destination. A roadhouse with faded awnings and a door on squeaky hinges, out on a protestant prairie where the wind hadn’t let up since the cretaceous. The parking lot a quarter acre of grit blown in off the highway where some rusty pickups park. Just inside the door, there’s a scratchy 78 of Django Reinhardt playing on the jukebox. Everyone at the counter’s smoking, except for a couple farmers who prefer a pinch between the cheek and gum. Everyone’s drinking coffee. Behind the counter, the waitress is on the phone, getting some bad news. Not for the first time. She’s a tough bit of stone, though, hard to move and slow to erode.

This is Jesus in his mind. Where he’d be if he could.

Jesus the place, the ephemeral. It comes to mind in the night, mostly. Three hundred black and white lines of jumpy resolution at 3.00 a.m., long after the medication has stopped working. But the waitress, the one across the counter on the phone, she’s in colour. Slightly over saturated. The pink glow of her uniform follows her as she refills coffee cups. Her face once fresh. She’s slim from hard work and an indifference to food. There are streaks of grey in her hair. Hair that’s been put up and out of the way, though a strand occasionally falls to lie on her cheek. She pushes that back behind her ear. That’s when he sees the pink enamel on her nails, sees that the nail of her left ring finger is broken and looks painful, that the skin around the base of her thumb is a little red and cracked. That her eyes are a little red, too. From lack of sleep, or….

He sees her other places, besides the roadhouse. In the city. Standing very still on the street as crowds move around her. Present but detached. Like a dashboard statuette. Her uniform’s gone. This time of year, round Christmas, wearing a long surplus greatcoat and worn Docs that were once red. When she sees him, she smiles. It’s hesitant. Then she looks away. Traffic passes in front of her and she’s gone.

If he could go there, he would.

***

In honour of Christmas Eve, Elsa Street pins a small Christmas tree broach onto her hand knit tam o’ shanter. She places the hat on her head. Standing before the mirror to adjust it, she sees her mother looking back. She purses her lips and carries on, tugging at the sides of her winter coat. There are worse things than resembling your mother, dressing, walking and talking like her. Worse things, like loneliness. She walks over to the stereo cabinet and removes the needle from a vinyl Perry Como album. The last great crooner is cut off in the middle of No Place like Home for the Holidays. Elsa pulls on her black kidskin gloves and retrieves her handbag and keys from the telephone stand next to her apartment door. It snowed last night. Now it rains. Elsa remembers at the last moment and manages to grab her umbrella from the stand before the door closes.

***

He’s walked in the rain for a century of Christmases, avoiding the eight by six foot room and its swinging bulb. It’s full of ghosts, that room. All of them talking. Some bullying, some merely melancholy and calling out. All of them wanting part of him. So, he walks. The shoes on his feet wet, forever wet. Socks, a vague childhood memory. The crazy, unavoidable beard soaked and populated, like his long dirty hair. His eyes slightly crazed. He stands at a corner, hands in his holy pockets, waiting for the light to turn the correct shade of green. Sometimes this takes a very long time. Sometimes, like now, it’s better to try a different corner. Turning to walk away, he catches sight of her out of the corner of his eye. There she stands. The rain pelting down around her. Radiant, the colours of a summer mural. She smiles. This time, when a truck passes between them, she hasn’t disappeared. She remains, watching him from the opposite corner.

Once, while standing in the sandwich line of the Franciscan Sisters of Atonement, he mentioned her to Sister Daphne. Sister Daphne replied, joyously, that Our Lady is with us always. Meanwhile, at St James Social Services, the mention of her caused the mean, tight fisted Anglicans to insist his meds needed adjusting.

Yet there she was, smiling at him from across Burrard Street. Sister Daphne, the old, bucktoothed cheerleader for Christ, may have been right. But he’d never said she was Our Lady, only a lady. The same one that bites her thumbnail between orders and the shouts of cooks. There in that place called Jesus.

He steps out onto the wet asphalt. Crossing towards her, even though he’s lost track of the light’s current shade of green. In fact, it’s red. The downtown Vancouver drivers blast him with their horns. A bike courier yells and flicks a lit cigarette; a Yellow cab tags him just below the knee and spins him around. But he keeps walking. When he reaches the opposite corner, however, she’s gone. Only a dry spot where she stood, quickly disappearing in the rain. He stands there for several moments. A fat man with shiny shoes and a tight overcoat forces a $2 into his hand.

from Christmas 2008

Elsa Street stands in a shop looking at flat screen TVs. Digital-ready, a salesgirl says. But Elsa’s obvious ambivalence sends her away. Elsa’s trusty Trinitron is obsolete. 1980s analog, fat and boxy.

It’s difficult not to be nostalgic at times like these. Retailers go for the throat. It’s essential to possess the newest things. Who are you if you don’t? She looks down at her prudent shoes. Is she really so old, so out of touch? Was it that long ago that she stood in Woodward’s Department Store holding her father’s hand, marvelling the Christmas bustle from that safe place? Perhaps she was born old. A man in her life said that once. He’d stolen money from her purse, and thought buying clothes at second hand stores made him smarter than everyone else. Elsa thought the frayed collars and missing buttons made him look cheap, and a little stupid. She’d walked away from him and never met anyone else. Now she takes an escalator down and emerges onto Granville Mall.

She decides to walk west along Robson. At Burrard, emergency services have congregated. A knot of them, police, fire and ambulance, around a filthy, poorly dressed man seated with his back against a plate glass window. Hit by a cab, someone says. His head is rolling on his skinny neck. His eyes make great, all encompassing arcs in their sockets. He’s taking in all of creation, yet he sees nothing at all. Elsa looks down and sees one more tragedy. She feels numbed, then slightly ashamed. She hears a cop say mental male into his two-way. She begins to look away, but not before he, the mental male, makes eye contact. She can’t help but return his stare. A firefighter shoulders through the gathering crowd, nearly knocking the umbrella out of her hand, but she holds her ground. And for the briefest moment, there is an altogether complete silence before the man on the ground yells…

“YOU.”

He tries to stand and says, “You” again. This time holding out a hand. Elsa tries to step back, but she cannot. His yelling has attracted more people. A police woman asks if Elsa knows him. She says no, but is suddenly unsure.

He is standing now. The ambulance crew moves off, allowing the police to move in. He’s gotten to his feet faster than anyone would have believed. “It’s you,” he says. “Don’t go. Please don’t go this time. Stay and talk to me, just once.” A pair of cops step in while a police woman takes Elsa’s arm.

“No,” Elsa says. “It’s okay. I….”

Again, the policewoman says, “Do you know him, ma’am?”

“No.”

“Then move on. He’s delusional. He’s not going stop until you go.”

“PLEASE,” he yells, now holding out both hands. He can hear the scratchy opening bars of Django’s Honeysuckle Rose. It’s coming from somewhere outside of his head. The two officers attempt to restrain him, but there’s very little of him to hold onto and he’s slick with rain. He takes three steps toward Elsa as one of the officers draws a weapon. In unison, the crowd backs off. The officer shouts, “Taser.” The other cops look confused, but there’s no time for discussion. As the emaciated man comes close enough to grasp Elsa’s lapels, there’s a brief hissing sound and he stands frozen with his hands out. Elsa sees the grime beneath his nails, the bulbous knuckles of his starved fingers, and then looks up to see his wet, stunned eyes. The dark network of red around the pale hazel irises. They implore, and are resigned. They tell their entire story in the time it takes to gasp.

He drops to the concrete, and the ambulance team is on him. Rolling him over, checking for vitals, tearing his shirt open. No pulse. Everyone seems surprised. They’re pumping his chest now, creating an airway. Elsa feels a hand on her elbow. It’s a policewoman coaxing her away. No, she won’t go. Inexplicably, she’s been called to witness this thing. To breathe deep the troubling scent of its finality and wrongness. Is he really dead? Is it possible to be so profoundly unwell? To die so easily on such a grey, ordinary day?

Looking up, Elsa sees her reflection in the plate glass.

*****

For a while, he stood observing the gentle but persistent wind move the fields of prairie grass. Planets and stars. Then he walked in off the shaded porch, past the faded Orange Crush and Copenhagen ads, and sat at the counter. These were remembered eyes, he realised. Eyes he’d once looked through before it had all come down to a choice between flat affect or psychosis.

“Coffee, stranger?” the lady in the pink uniform asks. She smiles, and he sees some creases round her eyes and at the corners of her mouth. The kind that don’t come freely; the kind a woman earns.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah.”

She poures. “Menu?”

“Nah,” he says taking a deck of Players out of his shirt pocket, like it’s the most natural thing in the world to do. “Bacon and eggs, I guess, with biscuits and gravy.”

“That’s a mighty big plate in this joint, mister. You hungry?”

“Awfully,” he says. Then quieter, “Awfully hungry.”

“Cream,” she says, writing up the order.

“Yes, cream.” He could have cream in his coffee. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. Say, you got some nickels?”

He pats his jeans pockets. There’s something there. “Uh huh.”

“Do a girl a favour and drop some in the juke. Nothing worth a damn on the radio this morning.”

Outside, a pickup pulls in. The country twang on the vehicle’s radio dies and both doors slam shut. There’s some good-humoured chatter coming up the stairs. The voices of happy people who meant no harm.

“Gonna be a damn fine day,” she says.

Tibbit Crow Girl in the Land of Hence – a Christmas story – part 2

Read part 1 here, read part 3 here

In which almost everyone is either rightfully or wrongfully accused of being a socialist. The NORAD Commander exposes himself as a Santa hater and reveals his plan to end ineffective hand washing and spread skin cancer throughout the Aerospace Defence Command. And in which we meet Sid and Nancy, two thoroughly stoned reindeer, and also meet the Supreme Elven Soviet, headed by a poser named Che, that unsuccessfully casts off the shackles of Capitalism only to discover Justin Trudeau supporters, Rhinoceros Party members and gay elves among them.

Christmas Eve at NORAD

NORAD Commander Lieutenant-General Bucky Bungard reached into the top drawer of his desk and retrieved a blue latex glove. He wiggled his fingers and fitted it onto his right hand. Then he took the stack of papers from Major Wilfred Milk. Milk stood upright again.

“Ever notice that I never get a cold, Major?” the General said.

“No, Sir. But then, I haven’t really been paying attention.”

“That’s because I take precautions, Major.” As the General said this, he held up his gloved hand. “How many times a day do you wash your hands, Major?”

“Not sure, Sir. As many times as necessary, I’d say.”

“Really? And when was your last cold?”

“Well, I have to admit being a bit sniffly last month. But it’s nothing worth mentioning.”

“That’s because you touched something filthy and contaminated, Major,” the General said. “Like a doorknob. Or you shook the hand of, or otherwise came into physical contact with – don’t tell me how, this isn’t the time or place – some infected carrier. Then you probably passed it on. You played the role of disease vector, Major. Like a tic or a mosquito or a flea. How’s that make an educated, sophisticated man like you feel?”

Major Wilfred Milk looked nonplused. His jaw sagged slightly. “I….”

“I’m planning on implementing the use of UVGI in the new year. Wadda ya think of that?” The General leaned forward on his desk and glare at Milk with a fixed stare.

“I’m not sure what that is, Sir.”

“It’s ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, Major. You just zap your hands, or any other body part or surface, and all of the microorganisms die. Everything from your common cold to the ebola virus. NORAD needs to be ready 24/7, Major. We cannot place the supremacy and the sovereignty of our two great nations at the mercy of feckless microorganisms.”

“Ah,” said Milk. “Yes, I have heard of that, after all. I understand it’s strongly associated with skin cancer. Perhaps we might try encouraging more hand washing first, Sir.”

“Dammit, Major,” the General said, raising his voice and banging his desk. “We have the technology! We’re no sand dune nation of minarets. Mere hand washing has failed us. Hand washing is sucking us dry and putting our beloved freedoms at risk. It’s our freedom that those who endorse hand washing hate. It’s time to move on. We make these choices not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

“I see. That’s very JFK of you, Sir.”

“Now, back to what’s on the radar. Pretty soon that Santa character’s going to pop up, isn’t he.”

“Yes and the children are expecting us to track him,” Major Milk smiled warmly. “It’s a grand tradition. Millions will have their noses glued to their computer screens, following along.”

“Well, he’s never gotten clearance from us to fly in our air space.”

“That hardly seems necessary….”

“Tonight we test the robustness of my new no-fly zone, Major.”

“But it’s Christmas Eve, Sir. It’s Santa.”

“He’s a socialist, Major, and therefore an enemy of both our great nations. He redistributes material wealth without requiring compensation of any kind in return. That’s nearly as bad as Obamacare, dammit! It’s contaminating our children. Each one of them is lost to the radical Republican cause the moment they start looking skyward for those eight tiny reindeer.”

“It sounds more like a poorly thought out form of mass philanthropy to me, Sir. But the children love Santa.”

“I’ve ordered the F-22s of the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf-Richardson military facility on alert. As soon as that fat cross-dressing commie bastard appears on radar, we’re gonna scramble those bad boys and blow this yuletide socialist conspiracy outta the sky.”

“You can’t be serious, Sir.”

Lieutenant-General Bucky Bungard relit his cigar, sat back in his massive desk chair and said, “I’ve never been more serious in my life.”

the Land of Hence

Klaus watched Arlo and Lilibeth enter the compound, escorted on high by an unfamiliar flock of crows. The flock landed where it could round the compound as the smallish couple stepped up to Klaus’ door. Arlo knocked and Klaus answered.

“Welcome back,” Klaus said. “Come in and warm up. The second house in the wood didn’t work out, eh?”

“Let’s not talk about that,” Lilibeth said.

“Fine by me,” Klaus said.

Lilibeth and Arlo looked round the place and were struck by the overwhelming inactivity. “Seems very quiet round here for Christmas Eve,” Arlo said. “Shouldn’t you be loading the sleigh?”

“There won’t be any sleigh this year,” Klaus said. “The reindeer refuse to fly and the elves seem to have gone temporarily insane. It’s a disaster.”

“But that can’t be,” Lilibeth said. She looked embarrassed and slightly appalled at the same time. “The children are expecting us.”

“Are they?” Klaus said, looking away. “Maybe this has been a long time in coming. But I think we’ve finally been rendered redundant by way of Aeroplan loyalty points, Walmart and plain disbelief.”

“Screw Walmart,” Arlo said. “We’ve got to do the run tonight. And we’ve got to get started now. How’s inventory?”

“Inventory’s low,” Klaus said. “Production is way down. But it’s also been a bumper year for naughtiness. If I stick to the Lump of Coal Rule, we might pull off a full run. But without the elves to load the sleigh and the reindeer to pull it, we’re not going anywhere.”

“Let me talk to the reindeer,” Arlo said.

“And I’ll have a word with the elves,” said Lilibeth.

“Wait a minute,” Klaus said. “What about your independence? I thought I was a slave-driver and a sadist, and that you were my victims.”

They were wounding words. The two smallish people looked down at there shifting feet.

“It made sense when I first read Marx,” Lilibeth admitted. “Now it sounds a little specious, at least for elves.”

“Then, at the risk of generating further worker alienation,” Klaus said, “get to it. And I‘ll open the sleigh shed.”

* * * * *

When Arlo entered the reindeer stalls, there was smoke in the air. But it wasn’t burning hay, he was heartened to realise. Instead, the smoke was that of a bodacious hydroponic bud from the reindeers’ private grow-op. Sid and Nancy passed a joint back and forth over a ganja-melodious game of Backgammon.

“Hey, wait a minute,” Nancy said as Sid moved a checker. “That can’t fall on the forth or the fifth points. Both have more than one of my checkers.”

“What?” Sid said, toking. “That’s ridiculous. I started here.” He pointed erroneously to a point on the board.

“No way, caribou-boy,” Nancy said. “You started here.” She pointed to the next point over. “This is why they won’t let you play any reindeer games, man.”

“You callin’ me a liar?”

“No, I’m calling you totally freakin’ wasted.”

“Where are the Doritos, man? You eat ‘em all?”

“No, you finished them an hour ago.”

“There’s gotta be something else, then.”

“Have some fodder.”

“I hate fodder. It sticks in my teeth.”

“Then floss.”

“You know,” Sid said finally, “I just can’t win a conversation with you.”

Arlo stepped up to the board and said, “You two give anthropomorphism a bad name, man.”

“Got any food, elf?” Sid said. “Any of that gingerbread shit you little people pack around?”

Arlo patted his pockets. “I’ve got some Tic-Tacs,” he said.

“Bummer,” said Sid.

“Too bad about the house, man,” Nancy commiserated.

“Yeah,” Sid said. “I could’ve had a righteous nosh on that, for sure.”

“You two ready to fly tonight?” Arlo said.

“Hell no,” said Sid. “That chapter in our lives is closed. We ain’t flying the hostile skies anymore just so Klaus can get his gift-giving rocks off. You know how many midair collisions there were last year alone?”

“No,” said Arlo. “How may?”

“Shit, I donno,” said Sid. “I’m just asking.”

“Well,” Arlo said, “Lilibeth is talking to the elves. She’s going to get them to load the sleigh. You two need to get the other reindeer mobilised for flight.”

“I need a nap,” Sid said.

“What if we don’t,” Nancy said.

“Then there’ll be a world of disappointment,” said Arlo.

* * * * *

The recently formed Supreme Elven Soviet sat round a table, dimly lit from above. Although they had access to better, most of them smoked cheap proletariat cigarettes and drank a greasy solvent-like alcohol flavoured with synthetic juniper. And though elves are normally happy, immortal and forever young, they tried desperately to look world weary, disappointed and worn down by the hateful shenanigans of the capitalist system.

“This will be our great triumph,” said an elf who called himself Che. He wore a beret, and hammered the tabletop with his fist. “The first Christmas Eve that we refuse to participate in. It is a monumental statement. The Man may own the means of production, but it’s all sleeping machinery without us.”

There were mumbles of agreement from round the table. Then an elf named Gerald spoke up, “Why do we have to drink this corrosive piss. Klaus supplies us with a nice bit of brandy. I’m gagging on this paint thinner. Might as well be drinking Aqua Velva.”

“It’s good enough for the masses,” Che said, eyes blazing with revolt.

“Doubt it,” said Gerald. “The masses like a nice nip of single malt when it can get its grubby hands on it. It’s only human to want better. Besides, if we’re playing at being the great unwashed, why can’t we just have some beer instead of this caustic rubbish?”

“Embrace your poverty,” Che demanded. A few of the elves agreed.

“But we’re not poor,” said Gerald. “We’re quite well-to-do. Elves come off in the highest adjusted earning percentile of all mythic beings. It’s the only reason we can sit around here pretending to be Marxists. We aren’t really a Supreme Soviet, we’re just bloody hobbyists.”

Che was reaching for a pistol on his belt when an elf said, “Oh look who’s here.” Lilibeth was standing in a corner and observing. “Property and acquisition behaviour still aren’t paying off for you, eh? You’ve come back to enjoy the benefits of our all-inclusive socialist ideology?”

“No,” said Lilibeth. “We need help loading the sleigh.”

“You weren’t listening,” said a smirking Che. “We’ve cast off the shackles.”

“Is Klaus gonna make a go?” Gerald said.

“He’s going to try,” Lilibeth said. “We may have all been taking ourselves too seriously lately. If we don’t get Klaus airborne tonight, we’re going to regret it.”

“I’m not a Marxist, anyway,” said an elf named Ned. “I’m an Anarchist, if you must know. And you lot are boring. I’m all for helping Klaus, as long as it’s done on a voluntary and cooperative basis devoid of recourse to force or compulsion.”

The elves round the table grumbled in agreement.

“Yeah,” said another elf named Burt, “I actually belong to the Rhinoceros Party. I just come to the meetings because Phillip does.”

An elf across the table named Phillip blushed, looked at Burt and coyly smiled.

“And I was on the nominating committee for Justin Trudeau,” said an elf named Dilbert. “I’ve got pamphlets if anyone’s interested.” The table went silent at Dilbert’s offer. “Never mind,” he said.

“Don’t allow yourselves to become chattels all over again,” Che said standing and raising a fist.

“Look, Che,” Ned said, “why not come along on the run. Klaus can drop you off in Bolivia. There was laughter round the table.

Tibbit’s flock

The crows watched as Klaus struggled to push the empty sleigh out into the compound. It was trimmed in gold filigree and studded with shining gems. It caught the crows’ attention. The Crow King and his Wizard came to perch next to Tibbit and her mother.

“There be some shiny swag,” Tibbit’s mother cawed, looking at the sleigh. “Might make this side trip worthwhile after all.”

“My stomach hurts,” Tibbit rattled, cleaning her sticky bill.

“The Wizard has foreseen our flight home,” the Crow King said. “There will be raptors. Spread the word.”

Keep a festive eye peeled for part 3, coming soon!

Tibbit Crow Girl in the Land of Hence – a Christmas story – part 1

read part 2 here read part 3 here

In which we witness the dodgy goings-on behind the scenes at the North American Aerospace Defence Command, visit the Christmassy but not so snowy Land of Hence and follow a flock of crows north to feast on edible domestic architecture.

Christmas Eve at NORAD

Everything in NORAD Commander Lieutenant-General Bucky Bungard’s office was big. He reclined in his massive desk chair with his gigantic feet on his enormous desk and watched the huge screen on the far wall, which was very big as well, even for a wall, which was expected to be big in the first place.

The movie on the screen was Dr. Strangelove, one of his favourites. It was coming up to the scene where Slim Pickens rides the warhead down as it descends over Moscow. Slim goes down toward glory a-whoopin’ and a-howlin’ all of the way, like a cowboy riding an apocalyptic buckin’ bronk. Lieutenant-General Bucky Bungard loved that scene with all of his heart. It was folk art. It was high art. It was goddam Americana. Even though the director was probably a hell-spawn commie homo Islamist. God worked in mysterious ways.

Canadian Air Force Major Wilfred Milk knocked and entered Bungard’s office.

“Paperwork, General,” Milk said. “Usual stuff. Thought I’d drop it off personally, rather than leaving it with your secretary, and wish you a Happy Christmas.”

General Bungard paused the movie with a remote. It was the scene where Slim Pickens was still in the weapons bay of the B-52, sitting on the bomb. “What’s on the radar screens?” Bungard said, steely-eyed.

“Nothing untoward, sir. Just the usual traffic.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means there’s nothing on the radar we should worry about. But then if there were, we’d have contacted you.”

“No, I mean that word – untoward. What the hell kinda word is that?”

“An English word, Sir,” Milk said, cautiously.

“You messing with me, Milk?”

“Goodness no, Sir.”

“I took English in school. I don’t remember untoward. It’s one of those words that contradict themselves, isn’t it.”

“You mean an oxymoron, Sir?”

“Yeah. One of them.”

“No sir. It’s impossible for a single word to contradict itself. An oxymoron is actually a figure of speech that positions apparently contradictory elements together ….”

“And what’s with that accent of yours, Major? I’ve been meaning to ask.”

“I wasn’t aware I had one, Sir.”

“That’s just it. You don’t. I thought all you Canadians were either French or British.”

“Well, I think you mean English, Sir, not British. British is more a term used to describe being of the United Kingdom. As far as the French and English languages are concerned, both are spoken with different accents and intonation in Canada than in their mother countries. My father is of English ancestry, but has no accent.”

“And your mother?”

“Sir?”

“Your mother, man. Where’s she from?”

“Mississauga, Sir.”

“No, dammit! Where are her people from?”

“Oh. Lithuania, Sir.”

“I flew over Lithuania once in a B-1 Bomber full of nukes. Didn’t look like much.”

“No, Sir. I don’t imagine it would have from up there.”

Milk stepped up to the desk now and held out the papers for Bungard to take. Realising too late just how massive the desk was, he leaned forward ever so slightly with his arm out straight in front of him and the weight of the stack of papers in his hand. Bungard remained unmoving in his colossal desk chair. They looked at one another for a moment. Then Bungard leaned forward toward Milk, but not to take the papers from his hand. Instead he said, “I’m re-evaluating NORAD’s role, Major.” Then he leaned back in his chair, put a cowboy hat on his head and lit a cigar.

“That’s fascinating, Sir,” Milk said with an awkward smile, still holding out the papers over the seemingly endless expanse of the General’s desk. Beads of sweat were forming on his upper lip. “Great year-end fun, eh?”

“Why should we have to monitor the skies over North America at such a great expense? Why not just create a no-fly zone.”

“Be bad for the ol’ economy I imagine, Sir. And we’d still have to monitor it, perhaps even more than now.”

“We’d have to monitor it at first, but that’ll all be over after we shoot down a few planes. A couple passenger jets to show our resolve. A stray unauthorised Chinese cargo plane. Something Russian, maybe.”

“That sounds like a very bad idea, Sir.”

“Most good ideas sound bad at first. That is until they’re executed and the world sees their genius.”

“I see,” Milk said, still leaning forward over the desk with his arm outstretched and the pile of papers in his hand. “I wonder, would you take these papers please? I’m afraid this is getting rather painful.”

the Land of Hence

Children believe in it, hence the land exists. That explains the name: the Land of Hence. It is perhaps an over use of one particular word, hence in this case, in the first two sentences of an introductory paragraph, but it does get us off to the right start. And that is to emphasise that the existence of the Land of Hence is indisputable, and that it is appropriately named. Who named it thus? Likely as not, some incorrigible discoverer of places whose own name is now lost in a world of cast-aside things. So, we’ll ignore that question and move on to the intended story.

Klaus looked out of the bevelled, leaded glass windows that separated the sunlight into prismatic colours on the floor at his feet. He drew on his pipe. Smoking was considered wrong these days, but what could he do? He was a nicotine addict. He had been for centuries. And he loved the sweet and mild Kentucky Cavendish he had sent in from the Dire World outside.

Through the window, he observed the retreating ice and snow. Even the Land of Hence was affected by the phenomena of global warming. Global warming had transformed the elegant year-round white expanse once visible through the window. Now, most of the year, it was gravel and a few icy pools of melt water. His once inaccessible, snowbound land of magical elves and flying reindeer now looked like a roadhouse parking lot. And the Dire World’s rejection of almost everything enchanted and mysterious had reduced him to mere memory. A vastly exploited memory that rescued whole economies at the end of every November. He let his pipe go out.

There was much on his mind these days. Things changed so rapidly in the Dire World. But the Land of Hence resisted change. The elves would only make toys of wood and tin, and refused to build anything with a microchip. And oh how they squabbled! Klaus recalled a recent exchange between Roger Elf, a poet, and Daphne Elf, an accordionist. What a lonesome and antisocial pursuit poetry is, Daphne had said to Roger. Not as lonesome and antisocial as playing the accordion must be, replied Roger. Daphne Elf then clobbered Roger Elf with a rolled up yoga mat which made Roger morose and uncommunicative for the whole of the spring.

Now Klaus himself was under pressure to lose weight. Not for personal health reasons – he was immortal, after all. But for branding purposes. Plump was out. Thin was in vogue. The Dire World was obsessed with good and bad cholesterol and the body mass index. Children sat on their rear ends all day gawking at computer screens. How could an obese bearer of gifts be a good example?

And then there were the reindeer. All of them refusing to fly round the planet another year. Klaus felt his grasp on Christmas slipping.

Was it worth fighting for, he wondered. It was just a festive bit of forgery. Christ was born in the spring, not December. The Church simply stole a pagan holiday to sell its stunted dogma. So much for the eighth commandment. The Dire World even got the reindeer names wrong. Did they ask him for their real names? No, they relied on a poem by an anonymous author. If they’d just shown the common courtesy to consult, he’d have told them that the names aren’t Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. No, not at all! The actual reindeer names are Sid, Nancy, Norman, Daryl, Gwendolyn, Vickie, Morrie and Jessica. And now Sid, Nancy, Norman, Daryl, Gwendolyn, Vickie, Morrie and Jessica wanted to skip the Christmas run all together.

It was Sid who started it all, claiming that the event had been stripped of all meaning ever since 1955 when NORAD began tracking them by radar every Christmas Eve. How long would it be, Sid asked, before the warmongers at NORAD scrambled fighters by mistake and blew them out of the sky. And maybe he was right. Why should they be immune? Just look at the US drones that were dropping on Pakistani wedding parties.

And then there was the issue of animal rights. Where, asked Nancy, whenever she had a chance, does the world get off expecting reindeer to fly the globe every Christmas Eve for the sole reason of human gratification? Don’t reindeer possess the right to self-determination? And what was the benefit to reindeer of spending all of Christmas Eve flying and stopping, flying and stopping, so Klaus could go on a worldwide break-and-entry spree by shoehorning himself down the planet’s chimneys and exhaust conduits? Surely for any reindeer, the time would be better spent pursuing opportunities for personal growth and spiritual betterment. They weren’t just common reindeer, after all. They were magical. They were self-aware.

Things were no longer how they’d been, that was for sure. Klaus sighed deeply and considered once again his doctor’s recommendation of a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor.

Tibbit’s flock

It is not the fault of crows that enchanted vortexes exist that might carry them into regions that they would otherwise never visit. It is also worth mentioning that crows are up for whatever misdirected adventures come their way as a result of an encounter with such a vortex, especially if that adventure involves the discovery of tasty bits of food and shiny bits of stuff to pilfer. So, when the flock to which Tibbit crow girl belonged took flight out of Vancouver that December 24th morning and ultimately found itself having been transported quite far north and into the Land of Hence, none of the crows thought much of it. They simply came to perch like a murder of black spectres on the snowy ridge of the steeply pitched roof and smoky red brick chimneys of the Klaus house, and calmly observed the coloured fairy lights and breathed the gingerbread air.

“This be a strange place,” Tibbit crow girl’s mother rattled as she shifted from claw to claw. She marvelled at the aurora borealis above the unchanging twilight. “I think we turned wrong more than once during this flight.”

“It’s pretty,” cooed Tibbit. “But I’m hungry. Where is the food?”

“I smell it on the air,” cooed her mother. “There be something nearby.”

It was then that they saw a flock of white ravens with golden eyes fly above them in the sky. “Greetings, sister and brother crows,” they cawed. “There is food for all of you where we fly.” And they proceeded toward a distant wood.

“What be the food in those woods?” Tibbit’s mother cawed, suspicious of ravens.

“This is the Land of Hence,” the white ravens cackled. “Come there and see what waits.”

“Raven tricks,” Tibbit’s mother rattled.

But Tibbit cooed, “I’m going to see.” And she flew off after the white ravens with golden eyes.

In a moment, her flock followed and they flew dark against the northern lights until they reached the woods and saw a house there made of salted pretzels logs with a chocolate shingled roof. It was decorated with candy cane columns, gum drops and colourful marzipan wreaths, and it stood behind a wall of rock candy. Tibbit saw there was light coming out of the windows. And as the ravens and crows descended, a smallish bearded man and an equally smallish but unbearded woman in a crumpled pointy blue hats came out of the front door. The smallish bearded man shook one fist and held a torch in the other, while the smallish but unbearded woman wept hysterically.

“Blast you ravens,” cursed the smallish bearded man. “You’ll eat me out of house and home. Again!”

“But you build such tasty homes,” the ravens cackled, as they tucked in.

The crows stood back a moment and watched. The smallish man ran at the ravens and waved his torch at them, hoping to scare them off. But there were too many. Each raven he attacked simply moved out of his way as he approached and then resumed munching when he moved on to attack the next.

They feasted on the house and the PEZ brick chimney. They pecked at the colourful marzipan wreaths, the tasty chocolate roof shingles and the candy cane columns. And they nibbled blissfully at the salted pretzel logs and gnawed on the Jolly Rancher stained glass windows. The crows soon jumped in and feasted along side. When the outer walls fell and the roof was gone, they found inner rooms full of overstuffed marzipan and marshmallow furniture, beds and easy chairs, and fat pillows made of Turkish delight. There were china cabinets and sideboards made of hard crack caramel and a peanut brittle fireplace. There were pieces of candy art in dark chocolate frames and gaudy vases of spun sugar. There were gummy fish in the pantry, along with bushels of candy corn. In the end, all that was left was liquorice whip carpets on the peppermint floorboards and the birds ate all of them too.

The white ravens with golden eyes flew away when the house was gone, but Tibbit perched in a tree with her flock. They quietly watched the smallish couple, who now sat on stumps staring at the empty space where once their house had stood. Tibbit wondered if filling her belly was worth leaving them both homeless. She flew down to speak with them.

“I’m sorry we ate your house, mister,” Tibbit cawed apologetically. “But it was very delicious. Perhaps it was a mistake to build it using such appetising building materials.”

“They said it was a mistake building the first edible house,” the smallish woman said, now staring at her husband with vicious squintiness. “Someone’s bound to come along and eat it, they said. But did he listen? Noooooo! He went and built it anyway. And guess what, someone came along and ate it, that’s what. And when he said he’d build another one after that, everyone said that he was a total nutbar. But did he listen then? Noooooo! He just went ahead and did it again.”

“But it was cheaper to build a pretzel and candy house,” the smallish bearded man said. “There’s so much of those things roundabouts in the Land of Hence.”

“What good is that, though?” the smallish woman snapped. “Now we’re homeless again. Oh, what ever shall we do?” She buried her face in her hands and wept.

“I guess we’ll return to Elf Manor at the Klaus Compound.”

“You said we were done with that, that we had a right to our freedom and autonomy. I’ve had enough of stitching doll clothes and painting eyes on rocking horses twelve hours a day. And what kind of living is it? Three meals a day, sure. A warm bed, sure. But are there any real wages? Any benefits? None! We’ll be Klaus’ slaves again, if we go back.”

“But Klaus doesn’t make any money to pay us,” said the smallish bearded man.

“Well,” said the smallish woman, “for him it’s a nice hobby, isn’t it. It’s a nice way to guiltlessly pass his immortality. For us, on the other hand, it’s slavery.”

“Oh, there’s that word again,” the smallish bearded man sighed.

“It’s the non-ownership of our personal labour,” the smallish woman continued. “It’s a civil association in which one individual has complete power over another and controls his or her life, independence, and fortune.  And are you prepared to tell me that there’s nothing linking slavery with sexism, racism and heteronormativity. In the end, it’s all about bondage and discipline, dominance and submission and sadism and masochism. And what are the antecedents of this little arrangement? Which of our smallish ancestors decided one day, Oh! I’d truly enjoy performing a jolly bit of unpaid labour for an obese obsessive compulsive with a fondness for tight sooty places and who practices a perverse form of second-story work. And why are we expected to tolerate it? For the milk and cookies?”

“The milk and cookies are nice,” said the smallish bearded man dreamily.

“You’re wearing me out, Arlo,” said the smallish woman.

“That’s not my intention, Lilibeth.”

“I’m not going back.”

“Well we have to go back tonight,” said Arlo. “We have nowhere to live. I’ll have to rebuild.” Arlo thought a moment, rubbing his chin. “Hmmm,” he said. “This time, maybe I can use Marmite and saltines.”

“Okay, Frank Lloyd Wright,” Lilibeth said, taking Arlo by the ear. “We’ll go back to Elf Manor tonight, but only because we’re homeless and it’s Christmas Eve. Tonight at least Klaus won’t be conning us into schlepping for him. But the day after tomorrow, we contact a proper architect.”

Tibbit crow girl’s flock took off and flew above Lilibeth and Arlo as they walked across a once snowy, now gravely, landscape toward the Klaus Compound. And when the two smallish people entered the silvery gates, the flock perched all round on the walls, roofs and chimneys.

Nelson

a snowman at Christmas

The snowman smiled. He was driving a ’72 Lincoln with the windows down and the A/C on full. He smoked Kools and drank frosty cold cans of beer. The Stones played on the eight track. It was December 24th.

The Voice was speaking to him. It had been all afternoon. It was the same Voice he’d been hearing since he’d opened his bottle cap eyes and walked off of the abandoned lot of his birth. The Voice had told him to steal the car. It was nameless. The one that whispered. Sometimes it even spoke backward, as though in tongues. Now it was saying, “Smoke, drink and drive fast, for snowmen melt sooner rather than later. We have seen the future, and you are not a part of it.”

The snowman accelerated, his wide white frosty foot on the pedal. The speedometer ticking toward 75 mph. Too fast for a snowy, winding rural road. It was 5 pm. The snow-coated dirt farms, billboards and Christmas lit road houses flew by. The crows on road kill flew off in chaotic murders. The tape deck hissed and played Tumbling Dice.

He speeded through a highway intersection where a semi had run into the ditch. The driver waved for the Lincoln to stop, but the Voice said drive on.

The landscape rolled in the gentle way of a prairie. The sky darkened. There were stars and a moon. The Stones tape ended. The snowman pulled it from the deck, and threw it out of the window. He put in John Lee Hooker. Boom Boom came bluesy over the speakers as the snowman observed for the first time an orange glow coming from over the next rise in the road. A glow that distinguished itself oddly from the expanse of cold, dark winter night.

A snowman has no word for dread. And if dread was what he felt in that moment, it was a feeling accentuated by speed, beer and nicotine.

He slowed the Lincoln as the road began to run down into a hollow where a homestead had stood next to a creek for a hundred years. A large white house in flames. He could see, as he approached, a small knot of people standing in the yard, watching. One of them, a woman, ran frantically from one spectator to another, her arms raised. Her clenched fists in her hair, pulling.

“Keep driving,” the Voice said. “We have seen what passes here, and you have no part in it.”

But the snowman slowed even more as he approached the driveway that lead off of the road. He pulled over, killed the engine and turned off the headlights. Then he lit another cigarette. He felt the uncomfortable heat of the blaze.  “That’s one hell of a thing,” he said blowing smoke.

“Drive on,” said the Voice.

The snowman’s hand was going meekly for the keys in the ignition when he saw a man run out of a shed with a ladder. The man placed the ladder against the house beneath a window and began to climb. It was the only window not issuing flame. But as he neared it, there was an explosion of fire. The man fell two stories to the ground.

“Sandra,” the woman yelled louder. “Somebody please do something. My daughter….”

But there was nothing anyone could do. All of the windows and doorways spewed flame. By now, it must have been the same on all sides of the house. They could only watch. The woman took a desperate run at the open door at the top of the porch, but was driven back by the heat. The others pulled her away and held her down. From far off in the distance, there came the faint sound of a siren, still a mile or more away.

The snowman stepped out of the car. He paused and watched. Someone still in the house. A child, perhaps.

“Don’t,” said the Voice.

But the snowman didn’t listen. He walked slowly at first, then faster. Then he began to run toward the house.

“You’ll perish,” said the Voice. “You’ll melt before you even get to the door.”

“But there’s so much of me,” said the snowman. “I may not melt so fast.”

When he got to the people in the yard, he said, “Who? Where?”

They stared back at him, bewildered. A large, white grim-faced man of snow. But the woman stopped struggling and gasped, “Second floor. Third room on the right. My God, she’s only six. She can’t save herself.”

The snowy yard was orange and red, reflecting the colours of the firestorm. Water dripped down his forehead.

“You’re melting even now,” said the Voice.

“There’s enough of me,” the snowman said. The people saw him talking to himself. “I won’t melt all at once. If I move fast, and she is easy to find….”

“I gave you life,” said the Voice. “You’ve no business doing this.”

“Please,” the woman said.

“These people don’t care about you,” said the Voice. “Get in the car and drive. The night is cold and full.”

The snowman stopped thinking about it. He sprinted toward the house, up the stairs and into the flames through the front door. Inside everything glowed. A once decorated tree in a corner of the main room crackled and snapped. The heat was overwhelming. He felt himself melting, maybe faster than he imagined he would. He turned this way and that, and finally saw the staircase leading up. He ran for it, and ascended to the second floor. Third room on the right. There it was. He entered and saw no one. The flames were finished with the window curtains and were running up the walls and consuming the closet door. He felt himself becoming smaller. For the first time in his short existence, he felt weak and disoriented.

“Sandra,” he called. But all he heard at first was the snarl of flame. “Sandra, please. I know you’re scared….”

“Help me,” he heard a little voice say. “Help me.”

“Tell me where you are.”

“I’m under the bed.”

The bed, of course. He saw it smoking, and then turn to flame. Quickly he crouched and reached underneath. There was a tiny hand. He grasped it and pulled. A little girl with singed hair wearing a flannel nightgown came out. She held a smoking, half scorched teddy bear.

“Hey, you’re a snowman,” she said. And began to cough.

He pulled her close, stood up and ran. He was thawing fast. His legs felt weak, and there were still the stairs ahead of them. In the hall, the ceiling crumbled and fell. The girl was a small, coughing ball of humanity in his dissolving arms. The stairs gave way beneath him as he descended, and only by moving over them very fast did he avoid falling through.

The first floor was so fully engulfed, he finally knew he wouldn’t make it. Even the floor glowed a blackish charcoal red. He sprinted for the door as his legs and arms disappeared. What was left of him fell out of the fiery front door and onto the porch.

Frantically, the people in the yard rushed up the stairs, shielding themselves from the heat. They found the little girl covered in slush. They grabbed her and escaped the blaze, leaving behind some bottle caps, a wet book of matches and a soggy half empty deck of cigarettes.

Her mother cried and hugged her daughter.

“Did you see the snowman,” Sandra asked. Then pointed and smiled at a star falling across the sky.

The sirens of the approaching fire trucks ruined the quiet of the nearly silent night.

“Snowmen are fools,” said the Voice. But no one heard.

doppelgänger fantasia part 5

Read part 1 here, Read part 2 here, Read part 3 here, Read part 4 here

Paris July, 1944

Round midnight. There was an air-raid siren in the distance. He entered through the alley door, climbed three flights of stairs and walked the corridor maze to her door. He was a tall rangy man whose face seemed always to be in shadow. He knocked.

“Oui?” came the quiet pensive voice from within.

“Bonsoir, Mademoiselle.”

“What the hell…?” She opened the door part way. “Your can’t be here. Beat it.”

The tall man, Henry Caine, American OSS, pushed his way in. The apartment was dimly lit with candles and a Tiffany desk lamp. There was a Boldini on one wall, a Picasso on another. “Ah, my Soho,” he said, removing his hat. “So distant and haunting. Please close the door. We have to talk.”

“No, we don’t,” said Trudy Parr. She was dressed in a pale blue silk kimono. She closed the door. “I’ve been instructed not to talk to you. We shouldn’t even be seen together.”

“Those instructions are dated,” Caine said, lighting a cigarette and handing it to her. “The Nazis are old news in Paris. The elephants are in the trees.”

She accepted the cigarette. “Perhaps the Nazis don’t share your point of view.” She drew on the cigarette then looked at it. It was a Camel.

“They wouldn’t, would they,” he said. “But isn’t that always the way with an extinct species. They’re already looting the city. The swag trains heading into Switzerland are overflowing.”

“You’re risking our lives to tell me that?”

“No,” he said. He lit a second cigarette for himself, removed his coat and sat in a Royère chair. “It’s about Doppelgänger. That thing the Nazis are doing in Lyon, at the École polytechnique, with anomalistic microwaves. You know what I mean. Anyway, I understand the Russians want it when the fracas ends. Just because the Germans stole it from them, like that still means anything now. Point is, the English are willing to role over and let them have it. Something about sharing the spoils and all that. But I’ve decided that ain’t in the cards.”

“What have I got to do with it?”

“Two things, actually. First, in time, you’ll tell them in London that I’ve decided that the Russians can’t have Doppelgänger. We’re probably going to give them a piece of Germany and Berlin. And they should be damn glad we are. The US army’s rolling now. We could take it right into Moscow if we liked.”

“Tell them yourself,” said Trudy Parr. “Have someone stateside do it. I’m not your monkey.”

“They don’t know stateside,” Caine said. “Maybe I don’t want them to know, not yet anyway. I just decided this last night. It’s a field decision, get it? When things start happening round here in a few weeks, they’re gonna happen fast. I don’t have time to run to daddy. The second thing is that I want you and Dillinger to help me infiltrate the Doppelgänger operation so it’s ready and in our possession when our tanks roll in.”

“Screw you, Caine. We don’t work for you. Get your own people to do it.”

“We’ve taken casualties. My numbers are down and everyone’s already assigned. Besides, no one would ever guess we’re working together. That’s the genius of the plan.”

“What plan?” said Trudy Parr. She knew Henry Caine well enough to know that likely no plan existed. “And you’ve taken casualties because you’re reckless. You treat everyone like they’re disposable. Working with you is a death sentence.”

“Look, Trudy,” Caine said, standing up from the chair. “Patton’s on his way. You and Dench are foreign spies in what’ll damn soon be American territory. You wanna come down on the right side, don’t you? It’ll cushion the fall.”

“What fall? I thought we were all on the same side.”

“Hey,” he said stepping closer, “this is war, sugar. Nothing’s for certain. The world bleeds, but the US hasn’t even reached its full war production capacity. We could take it all, baby.”

“Why would you? Most of it’s yours for the asking.”

“Don’t ask me to make it sound rational, doll.” He reached out and tugged gently on the lapel of her kimono. “It’s just what people do. They kill each other and steal their stuff. Why should the states stop now when we’re on a roll? The banks are loving it and everyone has a job.”

Their eyes met and then she looked away. There were bombs falling in the distance now. “You’re not making sense.”

“We’re Americans, Trudy. We’re God’s switchblade children. Never tell us what we can’t do, or we’ll push the Apocalypse button and eat popcorn while we watch you burn.” He took her hand and tenderly kissed the palm. “I’m bringing you in on this so you don’t get hurt. We’re allies tonight; by tomorrow that could all be over.”

She pulled her hand away. “Don’t,” she said. “That part of this war’s over.”

“No,” he said embracing her. “Not over. We never really got started.” She struggled as he kissed her. “That’s right, baby,” he whispered. “Fight it. That’s how it goes with us, isn’t it. We scrap, and you lose. Then I take what I want.”

Struggling to free herself, she brought the heel of her hand up hard and sharp under his chin. His jaw slammed shut with a loud blunt thud. He stumbled backward, dazed and shaking his head. In the second that followed, Trudy Parr opened a desk drawer and pulled out a pistol. She stood and took aim. He grinned as he regained himself, rubbing his chin.

“This is bringing back some very fond memories, baby,” he said.

“Yeah, well come on over for some more.”

“Ah, honey. You’ve never pulled a gun before. This ain’t part of the game.” He stepped towards her. “You’re not gonna shoot me, anyway. Wadda you gonna do with the body?”

“There’re plenty of corpses in Paris right now. Yours would blend in just fine.”

“We had a good thing once.” He tried to look wounded. “Remember London?”

“I remember you were a stinker.”

“But we had fun.”

“You did. I got bruises.”

“Maybe I was falling in love.”

“You can’t love anything in this world and neither can I.”

“Oh, I get it,” Caine said, as though he’d just solved a puzzle. “It’s Dench, isn’t it? He finally jumped your bones and now you’re doing the boogie woogie. Well ain’t that precious. You’re his little quail.”

“You know better than that, Henry. I ain’t nobody’s quail.”

“Then let’s do this.” He threw his cigarette onto the Persian carpet and attacked.

She knew she’d never look back to ask herself why she didn’t fire the weapon. Killing Caine would have just been plain wrongheaded. He wasn’t really bad, just an asshole. Like all Americans. Besides, she figured romance had rules – even their kind of romance.

He batted the gun away and pulled her close, grabbing her viciously by her hair. Her hand went down and caressed him. He kissed her hard, no hope of tenderness now. Then he tore off her kimono.

“Where’s the fucking bedroom in this museum,” he said. She smiled and nodded over her shoulder, never losing contact with is his hard hazel eyes. He pushed her towards it.