Happy Halloween

Ahoy! Been a while, been busy, thought I'd add a new post for the Halloween time celebrations. 

I've recently formed a writing group with my friend Kathy Dell (http://katherinedell.com/) and it's been a great motivator. Ideally, I'll be able to share some writing from our group members here, as well and link to their content, so I shall add fun tidbits as time goes on. We've had one meeting so far and it was great to get to know local writers and listen to some excellent stories. 

This ghostly short was what I chose to write and share for that first meeting. Enjoy!

In Retrospect, We Shouldn’t Have Put All the Creepy Stuff in the One Room

                Now, I know you folks are serious buyers. I knew it from the moment you gasped at the claw-foot tub. And the look you shared when we entered the kitchen? I mean, it’s written all over your faces. And, believe me, I get it. The place is beautiful, and it’s because you’re serious buyers, I should disclose something to you. The house does have a bit of a… well a ghost, if you can believe it.

                Ok, slow down, let’s not get too excited. Sure, there’s a ghost, but my wife and I are pretty convinced that we sort of caused the whole haunting… thing. Heck, it’ll likely be leaving with us. See, the room we’re about to enter is what we believe caused it all to begin with.

                Before we step inside, I’d like to highlight that this door handle is handcrafted Bavarian metalwork, dated to around 1700 AD and only recently restored. Nice, right? Your faces are kind of screaming “show us the ghost room”, but I saw a bit of knob-related twinkle didn’t I?

                The creaking sound you’re hearing is something I’ve not been able to fix on this particular door, but it didn’t start happening until after the ghost started hanging out, so the two things are likely related. There has been an unbelievable amount of WD-40 poured into this thing and nada. Just keeps, well, I guess screeching is the only word for it, wouldn’t you agree? It’s like the sound of a cat just shaking a weasel to death, is how I think of it. Like, can you even imagine a more terrifying sound? Every time you open the door? All I’m saying is that, sure, there may be a ghost, but, I mean… it knows its stuff, right?

                Oh, so sorry. I didn’t prepare you properly for that. The door will slam shut as soon as you’ve crossed the threshold. Quite violently, as you can see. I sure am glad you didn’t catch a finger in there. It may seem like we’re trapped, but not to worry – I’ve only had to spend the night in here a single time.

                You’re going to notice a lot of oddities in this room, and – when I say that the haunting is probably our fault – this is what I’m talking about. My wife and I have accumulated a lot of what you might call, stereotypically “creepy” items. Take this porcelain doll for example – it’s an 1875 antique worth a pretty penny in today’s day and age. We got it for a pittance at a garage sale from this haggard old thing, probably didn’t know what it was worth. Got this case for it too, nice glass on a stellar mahogany plinth. While I think of it, just check out the wainscoting in this room. Pretty impressive, isn’t it? I redid the colour, so it’s not quite original, but it wouldn’t take much to restore if you aren’t a fan of that particular shade of ochre.

                Anyhow, the doll is one of those ones with the eyes that close when you lay it down, and then open when you stand it up. Naturally, if there were to be any spooky stuff going on in the house, the doll’s eyes would open and close on their own, maybe blink irregularly, that kind of thing. They didn’t when we first bought the place, but they sure do now. Oh, there they go. Watch how they alternate like that – that’s not supposed to be possible, but, there they go! Crazy stuff.

                The doll on it’s own would’ve been fine, but then we have this player piano. Honestly, I don’t even know why I came to acquire this thing. Piano’s not really my bag and it’s heavy as can be. The tune it’s playing is a rag time thing, but I have no idea what the name of it is. The roll didn’t have any notes or anything, but it’s downright eerie when slowed down this much, isn’t it? I literally can’t get it to stop playing and I have tried everything short of burning the thing to the ground. Took an axe to it once, and damned if the thing didn’t just bounce right back and hit me in the shoulder. Thank goodness it wasn’t the sharp end. Still aches like the dickens during a full moon. Harvest moon? Forget about it. Unbelievable pain. Great song though. Would sound nice on a machine like this one.

                We put the piano and the doll in here, and still, it was just a normal room with some weird stuff in it, but check out this wheelchair. This thing was from a turn-of-the-century mental facility back when they still called them “insane asylums”. The straps on the arm rest and foot rests are wool-lined leather, so at least there was a bit of comfort for all the barbarism of the design. Original wood, with these beautiful spoked wheels. You don’t see things like this anymore, you know? Things that are designed to last, but still have a beauty to them? Anyhow, as you can see, the wheels keep spinning in place without moving the chair itself. They’ll stop, move backward. Once I saw a flash of light and what looked like a person sitting and… well, I suppose screaming in agony is the only word for it, really. Only the one time though, you don’t have to cover your eyes like that. Trust me, when you’re in here, you kind of want all your senses to be fully operational.

                Things were still fine after we added the chair. Even after we added this ancient book used to judge people during the witch trials, after the painting of the feudal lord thought to have burned an entire village, and after the coin pulled up from the wreckage of a doomed passenger ship, everything was still ok. The trouble didn’t start in earnest until we added the old séance table into the mix. I mean, it came with the original table cloth? Isn’t that something? Getting together for a séance used to be such a grand to-do among the elite of the day, and it’s rumoured that this very table was used to commune with the ghost of Harry Houdini, though I can’t imagine he’s our spectre. This table tipped the scales as far as we can tell, and there was simply too much in the way of spooky bric-a-brac in here. I’d actually be more surprised if we didn’t have a ghost. It’s like, you build a birdhouse, you’d better expect there’d be a bird living there, you know? Ok, your eyes are starting to involuntarily roll backward into your head, so that’s my signal to move this party back into the hall.

                Oh, looks like the wind’s started. Perfectly calm day outside, and in here it’s a gale force situation. Sorry to have to yell! Look, I know you’re serious, and like I say, I’m sure this will all stop once the stuff is gone! No, don’t worry, the levitation is normal! You can just sort of swim for the door! Give the knob a real good tug! I think it may have bit me once, so just reef on it! Great, there you go, now let’s get out of here before the blood-snow starts!

                Whew! Quite the trip, eh? Here, can you help me with this barricade? Great, thank you. I don’t know if you noticed the light fixtures while we were up near the roof, but they are exquisite.

                Here, let me get you something to wipe away the tears. Once you’ve settled, I think we should talk about your offer. It was a little low, but I’m sure we can work something out over a cup of tea. It’ll stop once we leave, I’m certain of it.

                Oolong, anyone?

 

                

What Did We Learn?

My friend Shiraz and I were chatting about story ideas the other day and he posed the following scenario: a new class hamster is becoming nervous as it watches one of the kids calmly sharpening a pair of safety scissors. We noodled the idea for a bit and I asked him if I could run with it and put a short thing together for the ol' website. And so, here is a first draft little thing about hamsters, sadness and adulthood:

What Did We Learn?

“Do you know why we’ve called you in here, son?”

Samuel did not. He’d never been called into the principal’s office before, certainly not after school. He’d only ever seen the Principal from afar, stalking back and forth across the auditorium stage with his microphone, welcoming everyone to the first day of school.

The office was feeling a little cramped, adding to the feeling of intimidation that was beginning to overwhelm him. Not only was the principal here, he was also faced with his first grade teacher, Mrs. Pert, and another woman who was a stranger to him. She was dressed rather garishly, with loose, multi-coloured scarves draped around her arms and shoulders, beads hanging and clacking about her neck, and a hat like the one he’d seen a monkey at the circus wear one time. The hat was a short cylinder with a little tassel on top, flopping about as she moved her head. Between the flowing scarves, the dangling beads and the hat bauble, Samuel was feeling a little motion sick whenever he looked at her.

“She’s like the ocean,” he thought. “Scary and nauseating.”

The principal repeated his question.

“Samuel, do you know why we wanted to meet with you?”

Samuel shook his head. “No,” he said, “did I do something bad?”

“Can you tell me who Porkchop is?” asked the principal.

Samuel nodded. Porkchop was his homeroom mascot, a little hamster that Mrs. Pert had bought to help teach the class about responsibility.

“He’s our pet,” Samuel explained. “In class. I have a different pet at home.”

His teacher snorted at this, angrily blowing out air like a neutered dragon reaching for long lost flame. Samuel had no idea why she would have reacted that way. The principal gave her a look that caused Mrs. Pert to cross her arms and slouch down in her chair. She looked at the wall and chewed at her lip as the principal continued.

“And do you know this woman?” he asked, pointing at the collection of sound and colour sitting to his left.

Samuel shook his head. “No,” he said softly.

“This is Madame Imelda Zampanos,” said the principal.

“Hi,” Samuel said to Madame Zampanos, unsure of how else he was to react.

The woman bowed deeply, beads jangling and scarves swooped and she did. “Greetings, dear Samuel,” she said with an accent Samuel had never heard before.

“Madame Zampanos, perhaps you’d like to explain what it is you do?” asked the principal.

“But of course,” the woman said. “I, Madame Imelda Marguerite Zampanos am the world’s foremost pet psychic.”

Samuel looked very confused. “What’s a pet side-kick?” he asked. The image that came to mind was that she was like Robin was to Batman, but for pets. Why would a pet need a side-kick? Did Porkchop fight crime?

“My gifts are many, but to put it simply, I can harness the elements to commune with nature on a psychological level, allowing me to divine the thoughts of the animals we hold dear.” She bowed again for some reason, spilling out like flimsy waves.

This was not making any sense to Samuel, until his teacher clarified.

“She can read animal minds,” Mrs. Pert said curtly. “I hired her to find out what’s wrong with Porkchop.”

“There’s something wrong with Porkchop?” asked Samuel with concern. He really liked the little hamster, especially when it shoved food into its cheeks looked all silly.

Madame Zampanos nodded. “Yes, I’m afraid there is. You were right to call me,” she said this to Mrs. Pert, reaching past the principal to wave her fingers at the teacher. Samuel was not sure what this gesture meant, but figured it was just something a side-kick does.

The principal jumped back into the conversation. “Samuel, Mrs. Pert thought that Porkchop looked a little sad ever since school started. Madame Zampanos had helped pick the class hamster with Mrs. Pert…”

“And he was the happiest hamster I’ve ever seen,” Madame Zampanos interrupted.

Mrs. Pert sat forward and pointed a long-nailed finger in Samuel’s direction, “Which is why I was so worried. I specifically bought a happy hamster. Happy hamster for a happy class. It seemed very suspect to me that a happy hamster would suddenly become so lethargic, mere days after I bought him for you little…” she trailed off, leaving the sentence unfinished.

“Grade one is a lot harder that kindergarten,” Samuel thought.

“You can imagine my surprise when Mrs. Pert called me to look in on poor little Porkpie…”

“Porkchop!” said Mrs. Pert, with more than a little aggression.

The principal motioned for her to sit back. “Now, now,” he said. “I’m sure Samuel was unaware that he was making Porkchop so upset. Isn’t that right Samuel?”

“I made Porkchop sad?” asked Samuel. He was starting to tear up. He didn’t want to cry like he did when he skinned his knee playing jump rope and all the kids laughed at him. He didn’t want to be a baby again because he was getting older now and it wasn’t fair to call him a baby.

Madame Zampanos made a move to comfort Samuel, reaching out to him with wiggling fingers like he had with Mrs. Pert. Samuel momentarily forgot his sadness and jerked away from the knobby things attached to the side-kick’s hands, nearly toppling out of his seat.

“No need to be upset my dear boy, no need, no need,” the woman said, retracting her arm back into the swirl of clothing that enwrapped her. “You are most certainly the cause of the hamster’s depression, but there’s no way you’d have known. It is only because of my magnificent power that we have any idea what’s going on in the creature’s head at all.”

Samuel calmed down a bit, but his breathing remained ragged and the water in his eyes prepared for the slide down his face. “How do you know I’m making him sad?” the boy asked.

Madame Zampanos waved her arms dramatically, ending the motion by placing two fingers from each hand against her temples and then closing her eyes. “That is a very good question, dear boy. Allow me to explain. As soon as your teacher called me, I came as quickly as I could. When I saw the hamster, it became immediately clear to me that a miasma had sunk into the four walls of his tank. I prepared to meld minds and as soon as I did, he told me all about the sadness. Oh, the sadness. He was unable to move the way he once did. He started eating more to make himself feel better. He started sleeping more to hide away from the world. And so, he grew fat, tired and felt oh, so very alone.”

Samuel was crying now, but keeping himself together, allowing only a small sniffling sound here and there, though he wanted very much to break down completely.

The side-kick continued, “I asked the hamster, ‘Hamster, what causes you this pain?’ He indicated to me that it was a student. With this knowledge under my hat, I moved from desk to desk. At each one, I would ask, ‘Is this the desk of the student who is making you sad?’ And he said no, and he said no, and he said no, until finally, I received a clear and triumphant ‘Yes!’. He said, ‘Yes, that is the boy who is making me sad.’ And do you know who’s desk it was?” The woman’s eyes were open wide, her whole body shaking with dramatic fervor.

“You already said it was me,” Samuel said, eyes down. “It was my desk.”

The woman deflated, sitting back suddenly and dropping the act. “Well, yes. Yes, I suppose we have. When I moved to your desk, that’s when he said ‘Yes’.”

This didn’t make any sense to Samuel at all. The hamster hadn’t been around very long, but he was nice to him. At least, he thought he’d been nice to him. He fed Porkchop from the little bag of pellets and watched him run around on his wheel to play. The animal hadn’t seemed sad at all. He thought of his cat, Buttercup. She seemed happy too, and she purred when he pet her, but sometimes she was grumpy. Was she grumpy because of something he’d done? Thinking of the effect he might be having on the mood of his little cat was making it much harder to keep himself together.

“This is your fault,” said his teacher, either not noticing or choosing not to notice the boy’s feelings. “And since it’s your fault, you have to fix it. You’ll be taking Porkchop home tonight and you will cheer him up.”

“It’s the only way,” added the side-kick, jangling theatrically. “You must make peace with the animal.”

“But how am I going to cheer him up?” Samuel sniffled.

“You’ll just have to try your best,” said the principal. “This is your responsibility now Samuel. Do you understand?”

Samuel nodded, though he truly didn’t understand.

 

*                *              *

 

When he got home, Samuel hid the hamster from his parents. The teacher had bundled Porkchop up into a carrying case that was roomy enough for him to stay in while he was with Samuel, and had made a care package of food pellets and cage lining. As soon as he got off the bus, Samuel ran from the stop to his house, being careful not to jostle the cage as he flew through the door and up to his room before his mother or father could stop him. He wasn’t sure how much trouble he could get into for making a hamster sad, so he figured it was for the best if his parents didn’t find out.

He spent the time before dinner talking to the hamster and trying to hold in his emotions. If he started crying like a baby at dinner, he wouldn’t be able to keep his secret and he might even get grounded.

“I’m really sorry, Porkchop,” he said. The hamster responded by sniffing at the air curiously. “You don’t seem sad to me. Are you sad?”

He heard a scratching at the door. The cat was likely curious about the rodent smell coming from Samuel’s bedroom.

Samuel cracked the door open enough to see the cat, but not wide enough to let it through.

“I’m sorry Buttercup,” he said. “For everything.”

During dinner, he pretended that everything was fine, but with his mind preoccupied, Samuel was not able to make much in the way of conversation. His responses to “How was your day?” or “Did you learn anything fun today?” were short, one-word answers. He noticed his parents sharing glances across the table, though if they were worried, they didn’t press him. This was a good thing, as Samuel was deep in philosophical thought. He did have the presence of mind to squirrel away some lettuce from his salad – it would make for a nice snack for the hamster and a change of pace from the pellets. Maybe the hamster was just unhappy with the lack of variety in its diet?

“Mom?” he asked during a lull in the dinner chat between his parents. “Does Buttercup like to eat the same thing every day?”

“Buttercup is just happy to have something to eat,” his mom said. “If she had her say about it, she’d be Butterball. Cat eats like there’s no tomorrow.”

“But doesn’t she want different food? What if her food is making her sad?”

“That cat is living the sweet life,” said his father. “Sleeping all day, eating when she’s not sleeping, getting attention whenever she wants… I wish I was Buttercup.”

He pictured his dad with whiskers and white fur and was happily distracted from his conundrum.

As soon as he’d helped clear the dishes, Samuel ran upstairs and popped the crisp lettuce into the hamster’s cage, but the little thing didn’t go near it. It was breathing heavily, crouched in the corner and making a strained noise.

“I’m making it worse,” he thought, and began to cry again.

In the next hour, he tried everything he could think of. He introduced the hamster to his favourite stuffed toy, the little red porcupine with its plush quills, but it had no effect. He tried playing “Hot Cross Buns” for the hamster on his recorder, but there was no change. He read the hamster a story, small little tears hitting the pages as he did so. The hamster only seemed to get worse.

Finally, he could stand it no more. Porkchop really didn’t like him, it was true. No matter what he did, the hamster only seemed to hate him more and more. He made a big decision – he would have to tell his mom what was going on.

He ran downstairs in tears, found his mother on her computer and hugged her leg.

“What’s wrong honey?” she asked with concern, reaching down to rub her fingers through his mop of hair.

“It’s Porkchop,” he said.

“Who’s Porkchop, Samuel?”

“The hamster from school. My teacher said I made it sad and I’m trying mom, but it’s not helping and he’s just really sad.” He clutched her tighter.

“You brought a hamster home?” she asked. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Samuel just shook his head.

“Come on then, let’s go have a look.”

His mother led him upstairs, and opened the door to his bedroom, shoeing Buttercup away from the door as she did do.

“See what I mean about fatso?” she joked. “Don’t let her in here or she’ll have something different than kibble for dinner for sure. I don’t want her getting a taste for Porkchops.” She smiled at him but Samuel wasn’t seeing the humour in it.

His mother sighed. “So, where is he?” she asked.

As Samuel led his mother to the cage, he froze. Something was different. “Look!” he said, pointing into the cage. Where there had been only one hamster, now there were four.

“Well look at that,” said his mother. “Looks like Porkchop had a few piglets. You only brought one hamster home?” she asked.

Samuel nodded, and ran up to the cage. The small grey animal was calmly licking the newborns clean, and as he watched the new family huddle together, he grew up just a little bit.

“Mom,” he said, “maybe I need to find a new school.”

The Gentlest Meteorite

Oh man, have I been ill.

There I was, big plans for some creepy Halloween stories, until after a short vacation, I was struck with a rather insidious lung infection. It’s only this week that I finally, more-or-less, feel back to normal, which is good, but I’ve not had the energy to be creatively productive, which is bad. Even now, my eyes are attempting to force themselves into an off position, and my brain is telling me to go back and re-read each of the sentences that are crawling out onto the page, because they likely don’t make a lick of sense.

That said, apologies if this is all a bunch of poorly edited nonsense.

In the spirit of attempting to get back into things, here’s a bit of musing about an odd photo I found:

*             *             *

My job often requires that I seek out some stock photography to compliment a bit of text. While fun, it’s often difficult to focus on finding the right image because when setting out to find something, I already have an idea of what I want in my noggin. Unfortunately, the search engine on the photo website I subscribe to doesn’t have a direct line to my imagination, which usually means ending up frustrated and settling on something in the vicinity of what I’m looking for. It also means that I end up rummaging through enough content that I come across the odd thing that makes me stop and go, “Huh…” and also, “Why…?”

A while ago I was looking for an image of a wrecking ball and the search engine had no idea what I was after and kept spitting up the wrong thing, like a cat bringing home the corpses of small animals as gifts – they both mean well, but you’re not really going to have much of a use for what they bring you.

While looking for something I was never going to find, I came across an image of a wrecking ball Miley Cyrus-ing its way into a woman’s living room. (Miley Cyrus is being used here as a verb, meaning “To be obnoxiously intrusive”, as a Miley Cyrus song might, were it to come on the radio during your drive-time commute with little to no warning. It goes without saying that it’s also a reference to her hit song, “We Can’t Stop”).

The image struck me as amusing, as the woman is wearing a fancy dress and seems to be mildly surprised by the appearance of a brand new hole in her wall followed by hundreds of pounds of swinging metal. She has an expression that seems to be saying, “Now who put that there?” There was an option within the image for “More in this series” and I clicked to find this, which I bought for the purposes of this bit of stock-image commentary:

This image is nearly identical to the one of the wrecking ball, down to the same pose and expression on the model. The major difference, as you can see, is that the wrecking ball has been replaced by a meteorite.

There are a few things wrong with this picture.

First of all, it’s not moving. The wrecking ball in the alternate version of the image wasn’t moving either, but that makes sense – a wrecking ball works off of inertia, meaning it’s going to do that whole pendulum thing, slowing down as it reaches the maximum height of the swing. Naturally, it’s going to slow down even more as comes into contact with a brick wall, so the slow-to-no movement works for the image.

But a meteorite? Uh… less… that.

If the image were more in line with how a meteorite might enter a home, it would look more like a smoking pile of rubble – for one that size at least – which would make for a less playful image, to be sure. 

There aren’t even any motion lines, or signs of any sort of speedy travel. It’s as though a lovesick, socially awkward giant tossed the thing into the poor woman’s living room, hoping to woo her with the promise of rare earth metals. Maybe it’s not the first time he’s done it either, which would explain her demeanor.

Then again, maybe it’s not a meteor at all. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a Kool-Aid man that’s let himself go, stumbling through the wall because he was dissatisfied with the woman’s beverage of choice, which, if I had to guess, would be a Cosmopolitan, hold the juice powder. If that’s the case, I’d strongly recommend she not partake of whatever beverage he has ruined the wall to offer up. Dude needs help.

Whatever the story, it made me wonder how a slow moving meteor came to bring a mild surprise to this countess-type, lounging on her fainting couch in fancy dress, one step away from ringing a bell to summon an elderly butler who will simply sigh and then put his spine out of whack attempting to shove the thing back outside whilst cursing in an adorably old-timey fashion. 

And now, back to sleep...

They Will Find Us Eventually

So, it's October. I'm normally not one for overextending the stay of a holiday, but I thought it might be fun to post some eerie bits and bobs leading up to Halloween. Here then, is a bit of a mood setting, short, blog-type-thing to kick off the fun. 

*          *          *

Two long shadows, aided by the sun, moved slowly through the forest, clutching to the underbrush and silent as ghosts. The two stopped suddenly, happening upon a figure laying motionless in the heat.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Was it alive?”

“Looks like it.”

The shadows soon overtook the figure, clothing it in dark, shielding it from the light of the sun.

“What do you think it was?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I can’t make it out.”

“No. It’s a mess.”

The shadows seeped into its mouth, into its fur, into the hole that had worn into its side.

“It isn’t very big.”

“Not too small either.”

“You can’t think of what it might be?”

“I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“What is that, there, on its back? Is that its back?”

“Could be.”

“What do you suppose that thing is?”

“Looks like a tail.”

“A tail? On its back?”

“I guess not. Maybe a fin. It is kind of flat.”

“What has a fin?”

“Maybe a… lizard?”

“It has fur.”

“Not a lizard then?”

“No.”

The shadows crouched, drawing in on themselves, becoming inkblots on the ground, ambiguous.

“There’s a hole in it.”

“Yes.”

“Maybe it was bitten. What do you suppose happened to it?”

“It’s hard to say. I can’t imagine how it died.”

“Don’t even know what it is or how it died. How odd.”

“Maybe poison.”

“Oh.”

Tired, the shadows sat to rest, on the ground beside the lifeless form, still staring, overtaken by curiosity and hunger.

“Do you think…do you think that we could eat it?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“It smells. It’s rotting.”

“But we could make camp here. We could try to build a fire, try to cook out all the poisons. We could try.”

“We don’t even know if it was poisoned. We don’t even know what it is.”

“But it’s meat! We haven’t had meat in so long.”

“We cannot eat it.”

“I think we should try.”

“Look.”

“What?”

“Look there.”

“Where?”

“In the eye.”

“Is that an eye?”

“Was.”

“It’s moving. I hadn’t noticed.”

“It’s a maggot.”

“So? Maybe we can eat those?”

“No. We can’t.”

“Why not, maybe they’re good for you? We’ve never tried them.”

“There’s a reason we didn’t eat maggots before.”

“I can’t even remember ‘before’.”

“Probably for the best.”

“We can pick out the maggots.”

“There are eggs.”

“We can pick out the eggs!”

“We can’t see the eggs.”

“We can boil them out!”

“There isn’t any water.”

“Why isn’t there any water?”

“I won’t answer stupid questions. Don’t ask them.”

“Please don’t be angry with me.”

“I can’t be angry with you. You’re all I’ve got.”

The two sat still and then, one rose, stretching out again over the forest floor. The other sat, stayed, shivered.

“Will…will they…”

“Yes. The maggots will find us eventually.”

The longer shadow moved forward, not waiting for the other. It would follow when it was ready.

Tongue Depressor

Fotolia_90967105_XS.jpg

 Alright, say “Ahhhh”.

Good, good. Everything looks… oh, wait. Oh, wait, wait, wait… what have we here?

 Can you turn to the left? Thank you.

              Oh my. I’m afraid it’s just as I thought. Here, I’ll get the mirror.

              I want you to look here – just toward the back. You see that? You can just nod, I know it’s hard to talk with all of these implements in your mouth. You see it? What you are looking at is very troubling. I can tell you right now, that this is something you’ll be glad we caught.

              That thing you see in the mirror means that your tongue is – I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll just come out with it – your tongue is quite sad. It’s a strange thing to hear, but it’s actually a lot more common than you think.

              What you’ll find in situations like these is that you’ll start to question everything that comes out of your mouth. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that sometimes, the things you say feel wrong, even though you’re certain that nothing you’ve said is upsetting in the least. It’s, just a strange feeling, you know? Like you’ve just asked for someone to pass the butter, but you keep going over the way you phrased it, wondering if you somehow insulted them in some way. Have you noticed anything like that?

              Could you tilt back the other way? Thank you, good, good.

              And there it is. Looks like the state of your tongue’s mental health is also affecting your taste buds. They are all messed up in there. Your tongue is bringing down the party in your mouth. Have you noticed that things taste bland when they should taste vibrant? No? What about things that used to be salty that now taste sweet? A bit of that, eh? Understandable, given the state of things in here.

              What’s important is that we slow what’s happening here, try to reverse it if at all possible. Right now, your tongue’s mood is only affecting your sense of taste, but if left unchecked, you’ll come down with a number of other mouth maladies. Within a few days, you could be experiencing weeping teeth, sour gums, lethargic larynx and possibly even jealous jaw. That’s a serious issue, that one. When a jaw starts envying the state of say, the pancreas, you’ll literally be drooling insulin.

              Now look, I see your lips are curving into the same chagrined expression that your tongue is sporting, but I’m here to tell you that there’s no need to fret. This can be managed, and as I’ve said, it’s important that we turn things around, and quickly.

              First thing’s first, I’ll need you to avoid any words with hard consonants in them. You mentioned your spouse’s name is Jackie? Well, for the time being, it’ll have to be… I dunno, Acey? Tell you what, you figure it out. The important thing is that you steer clear of harsh syllables altogether for the next few months.

              Additionally, you’ll need to refrain from commonly used, but improper words, such as “irregardless”, or “supposably”. If you were to utter something like “for all intensive purposes”, your tongue may need to be institutionalised.

              Finally, try to laugh more. Your tongue, like all tongues, loves laughter. If you can, go home and watch a comedian fall down some stairs, or whatever they are up to these days. Cat videos work for many people.

              It’s so good you came in today. I’m glad we caught this in time.

              

Steven v. Margery

              I’ve called this meeting because it’s become apparent that we are living with a double standard. Certain recent events have erased any doubt in my mind that there has been a bias against me that started some years ago, first as nothing more than some trifling differences between the treatment of myself and certain other people, but has grown into something so sinister it can no longer be abided.

              You’ll notice there are a series of exhibits that I have presented as evidence. I’ll kindly ask that you now pick up and examine Exhibit A. Note that this is an image of what appears to be a fire truck, parked in front of a burning building. The fire truck is being driven by my sister, crudely rendered in crayon, with a preposterous hat that resembles something more along the lines of a deformed banana than any sensible heroic headgear. Naturally, you and dad are shown in front of the building, smiling, presumably due to having been rescued by your doting daughter. Meanwhile, if you’ll cast your attention to the upper floor of the conflagration, you’ll find the frowning image of myself, arms outstretched, still awaiting assistance.

              Now, this drawing hung on the fridge for over a month. A month! Each and every morning, I would arise for my morning glass of milk and a pop tart and take in the sight of my helpless doppelganger, clinging to life while Margery sits idle in her vehicle, proud to have rescued at least a portion of her family.

              On more than one occasion, I have had cause to draft a transcript of certain conversations that display what I would refer to, as a clear preference for one child over the other. As these documents pertain to the drawing, I would like to share the following. Quote: “Isn’t it adorable? My little girl is such a talent!” And: “Look at poor Steven! I hope you’re going to get him down from there.” And: “Can you believe she’s only four?” Unquote.

              Poor Steven indeed.

              Now, surely this could be seen as some manifestation of my brotherly teasing, and here resentment thereof, were it not for Exhibit B.

              As you examine Exhibit B, note the subtle shading of the palm fronds, the harsh contours in each and every claw and tooth. This magnificent velociraptor took me a solid day to produce, and I should note, in pencil crayon, not that monstrous waxy abomination referred to as the crayon. I too, was four years of age when this masterpiece of a dinosaur was created. And what was the treatment my artwork received? Did it hang on the fridge for a month? A week? Did it hang on the fridge at all? Of course, we all know the answer to that question, don’t we mother?

              Quote: “That’s nice honey.” Unquote.

              No fawning, no praise. I believe father referred to it as “violent”, though sadly, I did not have the foresight at that age to record nearly as many of our conversations as I have the need to in this day and age.

              In all of my six years on this planet, I’ve not once been honored by a fridge display of any kind.

              Naturally, this is not the only demonstration of what can no longer be called merely a perceived bias. When I tried to ride the cat as a toddler, I was admonished and sent to my room. When Margery pulled the cat’s tail only last week, you paused to show her how to pet the cat in a friendlier manner. At four, should she not already be aware of how to conduct herself around the family pet?

              Then there was the dance competition. Despite my clear style and panache, you chose to award her with a full 10 out of 10! When I lovingly crafted those numbered cards for judging, never did I imagine that a spastic display of frantic shuffling in a tutu would be described as “cute” and “irresistible”. We all know that these placations are simply due to the fact that, as you say, “She’s younger and needs the encouragement.”

              Now, I am well aware that as parents grow and expand the brood, they learn and they soften. There is a marked increase in the amount of patience afforded Margery that I can only wish had been applied to me in my youth. I am aware that you learn as we do, and become better parents as a result. But to allow Margery the incredible bedtime of 9 pm when at her age I was to be in bed with lights out by 7? I’m at a complete loss for words.

              Despite my growing animosity, what would I be if I could not find forgiveness in my heart? Naturally, I’d be willing to overlook my treatment for nothing more than an additional 25% portion of Saturday desert, and for an additional hour a week playing video games. Of course, I’ll expect that some of the learning you’ve been able to apply to Margery should also be applied to me. Simply because I was your first child should not mean that I am a lost cause.

              To make these terms official, I’ve prepared a document for you to sign. Standard boilerplate, I assure you. Please, feel free to read. I’m sure you’ll find it all above board.

              If you need to borrow a writing implement, may I suggest a crayon? I’m sure Margery would be more than happy to supply you with one. 

The Biplane of Discomfort

A while ago, I was listening to an episode of This American Life that talked about dreams, specifically about how boring it is when a person is subjected to the recounting of another’s sleepy-time imaginings.

It reminded me of a dream I had that has stuck with me for years, and that I felt might possibly be worth sharing.

So, here’s my dumb dream that you hopefully don’t find boring:

*            *            *

              A friend of mine has purchased a biplane. According to the logic of dreams, there was no preamble or lead-up to the moment I found myself in when the dream began. She and I were there, with the plane, on a hill overlooking a cliff. The colours were all heightened, with the green grass swaying in a slight breeze, the blue sky beaming down on the ketchup-and-mustard colouring of the one-seater plane.

              She is explaining to me that she’s just got her pilot’s license, but that the plane is an old one. While she can fly, the plane will need to go over the cliff to get enough momentum for takeoff.

              I’m pretty impressed and tell her that this is really great, but since it’s only got the one seat, I can’t help but wonder why she’s asked me here.

              “I want you to come for the maiden voyage,” she tells me.

              I’m working out the logistics and can’t quite figure myself into the picture.

              “But where will I sit?” I ask.

              She points to one of the wings. “You can sit on the wing and hold on,” she says.

              In the dream, I’m ok with this idea, while in reality, I would have been back in the car and on the road home at the thought of some improvised wing-walking. It’s not the fear that’s the issue in the dream – it’s the physics.

              “The plane won’t be balanced if I sit on the wing,” I tell her.

              “Oh, I know,” she says. “That’s why I invited someone else.”

              Out of nowhere, appears her second passenger, the jolly, smiling figure of John Goodman. The actor.

              “Hi,” he says with a smile, extending his hand. “I’m John Goodman.”

              I nod and shake his hand, very happy to be meeting the man, but stuck on my original concern.

              “You’re here to take a ride in the plane?” I ask.

              He nods. “Yep, gonna be really exciting.”

              I turn to my friend. “We’re both going to be riding on the wings?”

              She nods.

              John says, “Yes, you on one and me on the other.”

              “But John Goodman,” I start (throughout the dream, I use his full name whenever I address him), “I… uh, don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

              He gives me a quizzical look. “Why not?” he asks.

              Now, I’m not the thinnest guy in the world, but I’m no John Goodman. And here I am, faced with telling an actor I respect that this might not be the most balanced of see-saws with him on one end and me on the other.

              “There a problem?” he asks, and in the dream, there is the distinct feeling that he knows what I’m on about with the balance issue.

              Not wanting to offend the man, I shake my head. “No, no. No problem.”

              My friend smiles as she climbs into the pilot’s seat, John Goodman smiles as he takes his position on one wing, and I frown with concern as I climb onto mine.

              As the plane thunders toward the cliff, I wonder if it was worth being polite, or if I should’ve voiced my concerns. This could be, after all, the last plane ride I take.

              The dream switches to some sort of third person camera perspective and I see myself and my two flying companions all plummet over the side of the cliff, and there’s a lingering moment when nothing happens and aside from the wind rushing through the vegetation, not a sound can be heard.

              And then I awoke.

*            *            *

So, there’s my strange dream. Hopefully, it made you smile just a little. 

Modern Monsters: The Auralist

Long ago, we used to scare our children into behaving, frighten them to keep them safe. Don’t go near the water or the Brook Horse will get you. Beware the witch that hunts the little ones lost in the woods. All over the world, people told tall tales to keep their kids in line.

Over time, the monsters faded away, relegated to the realm of folklore or some page of curiosities on Wikipedia. But there are still things our children do that could be put on ice with a little horrific whimsy.

Here then, is one such modern monstrosity:

The light fades as the sun begins to make its way to bed, stars beginning to shine. Your feet hit the pavement with great slaps, shoes sluicing through the fresh puddles from all of those clouds that came, opened up and then suddenly went away. Of course, you can’t tell how loud the squishing sounds are, as your headphones are on, pumping in a podcast, or some driving music that keeps your pace quick as you move from A to B.

You don’t hear the traffic. You don’t hear the rest of the people moving in and out of buildings, brushing past you, making their own splashes while they head to wherever it is they are heading. You don’t hear the birds trilling after the downpour, singing a lullaby to the setting sun. You don’t hear the beep of the crosswalk speaker or the whoosh of the bus doors opening to let the commuters on for the ride home. All you can hear are the sounds of your choosing, travelling from the phone in your pocket, through to the wires connected to your ears.

It is when you turn into the alley to take the shortcut home, that you fail to hear the singing. It’s soft at first, a gentle, friendly humming sound. As the singing nears you, it grows louder, words beginning to form, but word in a language you wouldn’t understand even if you had been paying attention.

The singing belongs to a creature called an Auralist. It is a monster obsessed with sound, believing that if only it had more ears, it could improve the quality of the noise it so craves. To that end, it collects the ears of those who fail to notice it, who take their hearing for granted. If a person were to hear the singing of the beast, it would cease its hunt immediately. As it hunts, the singing grows louder and louder still, and if the creature’s target fails to hear the eerie song at its loudest, the hunt shall be completed.

When the Auralist’s target fails to notice they are being stalked, the thing takes the two curved blades it carries and with one quick, bloody strike, the victim’s ears are removed simultaneously.

The harvested ears are added to the collection that cover the Auralist’s head, feeding the creature’s obsession with sound. It leaves the victim cowering in shock as it shrinks into the shadows to seek another who fails to pay attention to its song.

And so, young children, it’s important when you’re out and about to remove those earbuds and pay attention to your surroundings. You never know what’s lurking out there in the shadows…