Zero Out

The small band of friends were hiking a few feet from a small river and through the low hills of the National Park with Tom lagging behind about two-hundred feet. While they continued, he knelt down to take a picture of a group of flowers.

When they realized he had not caught up to them, they stopped and returned to the spot he’d been last seen, but he was no place to be found. They reported him missing and professionals, including blood-hounds, gathered to search the area, but no trace of him was to be located.

It would be thirty-days…

Roxy Finds Her Rainbow

Roxy is our American Pit Bull Terrier. Ever the good, loyal, gentle, and loving dog, she believed everyone, including random neighborhood dogs, were her friend. In her eleventh year, she developed a tumor on her liver that overtook much of her abdominal space, making it hard for her to eat and she rapidly lost weight till she had become too weak to truly enjoy life.

It is the hardest thing…

Twelve-forty-one

He was looking forward to a chilled tumbler of Scotch, his deep recliner and  newest book, ‘The Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories,’ by H. P. Lovecraft, as he, the night manager, turned the key in the restaurant’s backdoor lock. He had two days off and looked forward to the coming respite.

Hobarth Stonegrinder lived only a mile away, less if he took the short-cut that led through the local cemetery. Since he was in a hurry, and since it looked like it might storm, he quickly walked to the corner and up the hill into the cemetery.

He was a quarter of the way through the quiet place when he heard a set of voices coming from behind him somewhere in the absolute darkness. He quickened his pace as he heard a louder voice say, “There’s one now. Get it!”

Hobarth took off at a sprint, fearful that some smart-aleck kids were intending to run him down and do whatever kid’s do to people they found in graveyards. Ten, 20, 30 steps – and suddenly the earth fell out from under Hobarth and he toppled into space.

The fall had been into a recently dug grave site, left half uncovered and completely unseen by the now dazed Hobarth. He had slammed into the packed clay with both knees and smashed his face into the side of the hole, barely missing the thick plywood that lay at an odd angle across the far end of the fracture.

Gathering his senses, he moved into the deeper darkness of the well provided by the cover of the plywood. There, Hobarth Stonegrinder huddled, listening to the voices as they searched about, trying to find him.

He quickly glanced at the luminescence of his Timex: 12:41. It was practically the only light available at the moment.

His nose began to throb and he felt the area, realizing he was bleeding, “Must have happened when my face hit the side.”

Whereas he had been certain he’d heard footfalls mashing down and swishing through the dew shrouded grass surrounding his accidental hide-away, all sounds had died away, save for the frogs which joyfully chirped their night-songs in the distance. Hobarth took this to mean that the ‘coast is clear,’ since the rhythm of the frogs appeared totally undisturbed.

Quietly, Hobarth created foot-and-hand holds in the compacted dirt wall before him. He eased himself up until he could reach out and grab a fist full of grass with his right hand.

With his hold secure, he shot his left hand out, grabbing for another clump of grass. Instead his hand seized on something canvass and as he realized what it was, it was too late.

As he thought, ‘shoe,’ a piercing scream of unbridled terror cut through the dark, with the unmistakable words, “It’s alive!” close behind, followed by a multitude of bright and white and yellow flashing stars. Hobarth Stonegrinder had not seen either the person nor the foot to which the shoe belonged, as they violently lashed out with a well-placed punt.

Nor did Hobarth know that his body had arched backwards from the unseen blow, causing him to clock the back of his head on the cock-eyed board that half-covered the empty well, as he helplessly flopped back into its depths. For the next few hours, he slipped in and out consciousness, never becoming fully aware of either time or place.

He was shivering with a damp coldness and was completely soaked as he tried to open his eyes. He couldn’t tell if he were blind or if he simply had dirt caking them closed.

He gently felt them; puffy and as sensitive as an egg souffle. He further felt his plugged nose and realized it was like the thick end of an uprooted tree stump.

It was raining, how long he couldn’t even think clear enough to hazard a guess. But it was enough to fill the bottom of the hallow with at least an inch of water and leave his black suit, white shirt and black tie both soaked and stained a muddy brown.

Slowly, Hobarth sat up, having to rest his left hand on the side of the crater to steady his swooning head. The violent twisting of his balance threatened to toss him back into the mud as he rose, still leaning on the wall, to his feet.

Dizziness over took Hobarth Stonegrinder as he stood holding the dirt side of the chamber, then he heaved violently, but nothing came up. He stepped back under the board and leaned in the corner.

With time and more rest, he grew stronger and more confident that he could finally make it out of the vacuity. Again, he placed his feet and hands in the previously dug-out holds and lumbered upward.

He threw his right arm over the lip of the grave, grasping a large clump of grass and pulled. It took much of his strength as he clawed for another handful of grass, dragging himself further out of the cavity.

To his surprise, before him stood a man, leaning on a shovel waiting to begin his work day. Having not spoken for several hours, the first sound to come from his throat was not the word, ‘help’ as he intended, but more like an ‘ack.’

The working man jumped and spun following the unhuman sound. He cried in his native tongue, “¡Jesús sálvame!,” and after witnessing too many ‘dia de los Muertos,’ as a child, using the flat-edged spade as a weapon, slammed it on top of Hobarth’s barely visible head.

The blow, dropped Hobarth into the bottom of the cistern as if he were a sack of unwanted bricks and with as much gravitational force. As for the man with the shovel, he raced away in an unholy terror and before his supervisor could learn what had scared the otherwise stoic man.

When Hobarth next awoke he was puzzled about where he was. “You’re in the hospital,” a nurse told him as he attempted to ask after realizing his tongue was half-bitten off.

“You’re in Intensive Care,” she said, “With a skull fracture, a broken nose and a double-concussion, among other injuries. Now get some rest.”

After she left, Hobarth, shifted slightly, wiggling further down into his fresh and clean bedding, and finally relaxing, enjoyed the softness of the pillow beneath his shattered and scabbed, but stapled head, dozing off. Hobarth Stonegrinder’s respite didn’t last long, as another nurse came to his bedside, a large medicine-filled syringe in her gloved hand.

Timing

A Nevada State Highway Patrol Trooper is making his regular late-night patrol when jus’ before midnight, he spots a lone car parked in an out of the way ‘Lovers Lane.’ Believing he’ll catch the occupants in the throes of passion, he decides to investigate.

As he carefully approaches the car to get a closer look, he sees a young man behind the wheel, reading a computer magazine. He immediately notices a young woman in the rear seat, filing her fingernails.

Puzzled, the trooper walks up and gently raps on the driver’s window, and flicks on his flashlight. The young man lowers his window. “Uh, yes, officer.”

Shining the light in the young man’s face, the trooper asks: “What are you doing?”

The young man says, ‘Well, Officer, I’m reading a magazine.”

Pointing the beam towards the young woman in the back seat, the trooper asks, “And her, what’s she doing?”

The young man glances in his rear-view mirror, “She’s filing her fingernails, sir.”

Now, the trooper is totally confused. A young couple, alone, in a car, in separate parts of the vehicle, at night in a lover’s lane, and nothing’s happening?

The trooper asks, “What’s your age?”

The young man says, “I’m 22, sir.”

The trooper asks the young woman, pointing the flashlight at her again, “And what’s your age?”

She looks at her cellphone then up at the trooper, answering, “I’ll be 18 in less than 10 minutes, officer.”

From the Depth

His note, found on the front seat of his Tesla 300, explained silently, “Whatever this eldritch thing is, I dared not speak its name into the air, for to do so, I would have brought the beast upon humanity.” It would prove to be part of the last missive undertaken by the portly, middle-aged University professor, whose course of study being that of Mesoamerica mythology.

Avery Pierce sat comfortably in his cloth and wood-framed lounge chair under his umbrella as it shielded his pallid skin from the burning orb floating many millions of miles above the earth’s sphere and shining directly onto and across the lake, they nicknamed ‘The Jewel of the Sierra,’ in which he thereby rested. He checked his cellphone as it laid atop his red-and-white ice chest; not yet noon and he’d beaten all sun-worshipers to the strip of sand that he thus occupied.

He closed his eyes and relaxed, allowing himself a few minutes to meditatively relax in the warmth of the day. But then a chill overtook his countenance and he opened his eyes to a frightful sight; the once blue and clear skies had altered and were now dark, as if an inky shadow had been cast over all.

Avery Pierce watched in horror as the lake before him filled with what he could only assess as tar. And as the ground shuddered beneath him, he concluded that he was witness to an earthquake of an unknown magnitude.

The foul stench that emanated from the dark mound forming before him caused him to wretch violently. It seems to come upon him in waves, ever stronger and with a great winded-force that he found himself unable to avoid taking in, leaving him utterly weak and teary-eyed.

The once crystalline water before him had turned to a hideous, debauched stew of shattered bones of all shapes and sizes, oozing flesh that appeared melted and bottom dwelling plants in full gaseous decay. He finally stood, as from the nearest center of this mass rose a singular monolith of shiny marble stone.

Avery Pierce moved closer to where the water had at one time been the lake’s shoreline and gazed upon the elevated structure. Fascinated, he grew bold and picking his way across the rotted detritus, stood before the ancient and worn obelisk and its abhorrent cyclopean monolith perched upon its pentacle, attempting to decipher the pictographs, crudely carved into its four sides.

On it shown shapes of known water dwellers, beginning at the bottom, with each form above those, becoming more and more hideous in design. Then he came upon the unbelievable — man-fish, large-eyed and bipedal, followed by a dual-legged, humanoid and winged, and half-cephalopod, half-reptilian creature that defied all manner of common description — and that face — too macabre to describe!

As he studied these grotesques, he became suddenly and acutely aware that he may not be alone as behind him, in the greater reaches of the depth, far beyond where the earth first percolated the appalling pasticcio, he heard the sloppy movements of a thing behind him. There, growing ever closer, crawled a feeler, dragging and lunging its way across the foulness, towards the very thing he studied.

Then he saw its massive head with a face that brought an instantaneous cold sweat to the man’s body and he slowly backed away. But it was too late, it had seen Avery Piece, as he had seen it ,and when their eyes — if one could truly say the beastly thing held eyes — he knew he must hasten an escape or died a frightful death, dragged beneath the water’s surface.

And that ghastly face!

How much further than his car had the Professor retreated, no one could tell. It was there that he had jotted down in his chicken-scratch penmanship the words he last wrote, adding “But, too late I have learned that it can read a man’s empty mind and therefore I should have never thought the name ‘Zaa-q’ran.’ This admonition comes too late as I’ve summoned her, albeit accidentally from where it resides. Forgive me!”

How much farther Avery Pierce made it beyond his still parked and now abandoned car is anyone’s guess and no one knows to this day, as he remains a missing person. And no sign of this being, this thing he called ‘Zaa-q’ran,’ has ever been found.

Invite to Supper

The man lived alone
Save for a dog he had.
But I wish I had known
His dog wasn’t all bad.

Sure, he growled, teeth
Bare and ready to bite,
Raised hackles beneath,
For what came to light,

While enjoying my stew
The beast hated my soul,
For I really had not a clue:
I was eating from his bowl.

Walking in Reno

Saw the spirit of Marilyn,
Saying goodbye to Mr. Miller,
From the courthouse steps.
Followed her down
To the Virginia Street bridge,
Watching breathlessly,
She tossed her ring
Into the swift moving Truckee.
Then with no one asking
Her for her autograph,
She simply turned away,
Laughing and smiling,
Walking in Reno,
Marilyn faded away.

Meat-sack

He looked at his bologna and cheese sandwich, then took another bite, smacking his lips noisily as he chewed, knowing it was one of the only human sounds he’d hear that day. Finished with lunch, Mo checked his watch: 23 minutes left.

Mo was the last of his breed, a Meat-sack, they called him, still working from day-to-day in an office that used mostly Synths as its labor force. The company’s only custodian, Mo could not afford his own Synth, so he was unable to work from home like everyone else.

Quietly, he got up and returned to his cart, pushing it to the nearby service elevator before speaking, “Ground.”

The elevator slipped downward, coming to an unperceived halt, where Mo wheeled his cart off the lift and across the lobby towards his small closet, where he kept his supplies. The brightly-lit lobby was quiet and empty, save for a single figure.

Seated in a chair across from the buildings guest registry sat a woman. Mo could tell she too was a Synth as her eyes glowed a soft, hazy light blue, a certain indication that she was in energy-saving mode.

After gathering what he needed from his closet, he proceeded to cross the lobby of the building back towards the elevators. As he pushed his cart by the Synth, he took notice of her exceptional beauty, and decided to sit down across from her, so he could simply marvel at her construction.

She was perfect in every detail, Mo thought. Then he saw the refection of himself in the window over her right shoulder and in it, understood his own ugly features and they shamed him.

It was also at that moment he felt in his heart the loneliness of his private existence and the sudden need for human contact. As he thought this, the female automaton powered up, stood and said, “Hello,” before heading to the lift.

While Mo watched it walk away, he whispered, “Why couldn’t I be made of semiconductors like you?”

He had four minutes left on his lunch break.

Untitled/Undated Poem

she snickered and sneered as she drove away/he didn’t know and pomposity refuses to say/she had shed him a number of times before/but none has stuck, till this slamming door.

nigh a quarter century has come and be-gone/finally two-thousand miles, became her dawn/she is shed of him quick-like, unwanted skin/where she is now free to be herself, begin again.

and there he stands vain-gloriously unaware/that she is gone for good and without a care/she is neither viper nor insect, newly peeled/no, her goal is to escape and to play the field.

finally he found that discarded wrapping she/left, translucent, cold, her needing to be free/where friendship is discarded in total dismay/and what an emotional idiot becomes by ended day.

Rise Zaa-q’ran

Parnell had spent much of his morning searching around several rock outcroppings in the eastern side of the Nevada desert. The geologist had found very little of interest and was preparing to head back to the University, when he noticed the strange petroglyph tucked deep inside a rocky crag.

“How did you get there?” he asked, voicing his curiosity.

He did his best to photograph the carving, but because it rested between to flat surfaces with very little room between them, he resorted to the older method of recording what he saw. With a pocket sketch pad and a small pencil stub, Dr. Parnell drew the icon and then using a locking metal measuring tape, wrote down the difficultly-placed dimensions.

As he squatted, trying to find a better angle at which to view the thing, the ground beneath his feet began shifting, then falling away. Parnell dis his best to jump away from the opening maw of blackness, but instead found himself cascading into its unknown depth.

He landed hard on a flat, stony surface, with the blow delivered to his head, rendering him bloodied and unconscious. For how long he laid there, Parnell did not know, but once he became aware, he looked about, only to see that he was now surrounded by massive cyclopean stone formations, each hand-hewn into an entity, unrecognizable to him.

Then he saw the movement; Parnell was not alone. Also in the enclosure were a number of beings, each wearing identical brown robes. “What’s going on?” he asked.

No answer came. Slowly, Parnell rolled from his back and moved to his knees. Then he heard the unified fulminations of, “Voquulo Zaa-q’ran,”cried with a building vigor.

Fearful that he’d discovered the secret, hidden meeting place of a death-cult, Parnell slowly and quietly drew his folding-blade knife from his pocket and held it in preparation of a quick opening in his personal defense from a coming attack. Meanwhile, the gathering chanted, “Voquulo Zaa-q’ran,” in an ever increasing volume and maddening pace.

From the group, one separated themselves, moving deftly to the center of a marked out, well lit spot upon the floor. The flames of the torches cast ominous shadows about, that left Parnell slightly dizzy as the figures gyrated spasmodically about the lone figure.

Suddenly, all movement ceased and the lone figure drop the robe, revealing a naked woman beneath the malevolent looking covering. And jus’ as suddenly, another figure, taller, more masculine in movement, stepped forward removing the woman’s head from her neck, with the flashing flick of an ancient long-blade.

Then the chanting of, “Voquulo Zaa-q’ran,” began again. Parnell jumped to his feet, searching desperately for an escape route, but before he he could take a step, the ground started agitating, causing him to fall.

As quickly as it began, the roiling stopped, only to be replaced by an echo of rock grinding and shattering and the luminous emission of an ominous greed light. The massive slabs also started to glow the same hideous hue.

The group continued its chanting ever, louder and in quicker rapidity. Then without notice, they went silent as one of their league growled, “She is awakened.”

Once more the ground began to shake as the cult members stepped back, revealing the growth of a large fissure, causing the lifeless body of the woman, to topple with a sickening plop into the bowels of the open earth. But what crawled from the fissure is a thing of night-terror, as two monstrous hands, dark and bony, came into view.

Those hands hauled a massive black and shadowless creature from the fissure, causing Parnell’s mind break. He watched in growing fright as the cult approached the thing, speaking to it feverishly in a tongue long forgotten by the language of time. Then they began to run away, shrieking and screaming in utter confoundment and without success, as each were seized by slimy tentacles, sucked into the shapeless, malformed mass and violently assimilate into its being.

That’s when the creature, Zaa-q’ran noticed Parnell and spoke, the voice menacing, like that of a predator who knew that it had cornered it’s prey: “Come here and become one with me.” It then leaped forward, however an unseen force prevented it from unleashing it’s horrors on him, maintaining Zaa-q’ran within the man-made circle.

Parnell ran down a darkened hallway, without giving proper thought to how he had found it, or where it may lead all the while laughing and crying hysterically; that’s how search and rescue members found him. He soon he was locked away, albeit temporarily, the Judge has said, in a mental institution.

“Oh god,” Parnell cried into the long, dark hallway of the hospital, “I can hear him. Zaa-q’ran is coming for me. I can hear her. Let me out!”

Nurses heard his panicked and shrill screams and immediately went to check on him, where they found Parnell curled helplessly in a fetal position, barely conscious and chanting: “Voquulo Zaa-q’ran.” Meanwhile, somewhere further down the long, lonely hall of the asylum, the deep, guttural echo of laughter could be heard by other patients and those willing to listen.

Invention of the Spear Tip

Thag held the piece of flint up to the light as it flowed in through the cave’s entrance. He had spent hours working on his idea until he felt satisfied with its outcome.

Ishbo sat beside him and studied the sharpen point, then stated flatly, “Such a thing will change life as we know it, Thag.”

“No it won’t,” Thag chided, “It is only a tool for hunting – and who does not wish to be a better hunter.”

“True, that is what you are making it for,” Ishbo offered, “But what about someone misusing it – perhaps killing another with it?”

David Hufford’s Overland Journal, April 1849

David Hufford is my great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side. His diary or journal has since been lost to the family, history, and to time.

What follows though, is from a handwritten transcript of those pages, made by my mother, Margery Ann Olivera Darby Middleton. She also transcribed the following from the book, “The History of Humboldt County”  which is posited at either the Humboldt County Historical Society or in the Clarke Historical Museum, both in Eureka, California:

“…David Hufford, was born in Kentucky and removed with his parents to Iowa, where his youth was uneventfully passed in attendance at the district school and assisting his father. At the time of the discovery of gold in California, David was entering manhood and was eager, ambitious and fearless. With a desire to see more of the world than was possible in his own neighborhood, he started in 1849, with several others for the coast, making the long trip with ox teams, during which time they were beset with constant dangers from Indians, with whom they had several skirmishes…”

Monday, April 9, 1849
Arrived St. Louis and will remain till Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 11, 1849
Left for the upper ferry five miles away.

Thursday, April 19, 1849
Crossed into Indian Territory.

Wednesday, April 25, 1849
Left for the prairie about noon. In crossing a creek one wagon was upset and broke the bows badly. Camped on a small river about fifteen miles from St. Josephs.

Thursday, April 26, 1849
Crossed Wolf River at noon, found no camping ground and remained on the open prairie, nothing to eat but sea biscuits.

Friday, April 27, 1849
Bitterly cold night and started early hungry and cold. Made about twenty miles and encamped on a tributary of the Wolf River. Plenty of small game and saw two wolves.

Saturday, April 28, 1849
Left camp this morning, crossed the Nimehaw* and encamped on a small stream in beautiful spot, plenty of good grass for horses and good water.

Sunday, April 29, 1849
Traveled over a fine wooded country with plenty of water, till about noon Left both wood and water and encamped on the broad prairie, poor water and no grass. Passed several wagons.

Monday, April 30, 1849
A terrible night, wind blew a perfect hurricane towards day, tearing down tents and scattering everything over the plains. Left in a hurry and without regret as it was very cold. Killed three rattlesnakes in our camp; traveled about five miles and halted in a tolerable good spot. Spent afternoon repairing the broken wagon. Pleasant weather and good grass and water.

*The Nemaha River includes parts of Nebraska below the Platte River which drain into the Missouri River. The name is taken from the Ioway-Otoe-Missouria word ‘ñí-máha,’ meaning ‘water-soil.’ 

Between the Lines

Read between the lines.
Do not question all this,
Jus’ read…see the signs
See quick, easy to miss.
Sickness overcomes him,

He overcomes a sickness.
Bright is day, still the dim
Faced down must confess.
There is the end of it, all,
No more than in-between

Where man comes to fall.
His real features are seen.
Glory-to-glory, no more
There is shame and fear
By the knock at the door.

Listen, listen, stop, hear.
Nothing more to be said.
Empty words, bare vines.
Body lives, soul is dead,
Read between the lines.

While Stripping the Bed

Sotiredofthisstupidcoughandcoldandhavingtostripwashandremakethebedsainthelpinganyeither“Buddy get outta my way. You too, Roxy. No, don’t lay down.”ouchthathangnailagaingottadosomethingaboutthatisthecoffeepotstillondidievenmakecoffeethismorningyeahididirememberspillingwaterallovertheplace“Get outta my way, dogs!”isuredotalktomyselfalotiwonderwhatthiswould
looklikewrittendownlittlevoicebigvoicewhichiswhichandsoforthineedto
exploreitihatethesesheetstheyretoobigforthebedthepillowistoolargefor
thepillowcase“Get off my foot! Now, outta the way!”iwishicouldstop
coughingwhatsitbeenfourorfivedaysnowwhymemybibsshoulderstrapkeeps
fallingdownpissingmeoffcrapthathangailagainwherearetheclippersagain
“Roxy, you’re so cute with your tongue hanging out like that. Come here, girl. I’ll give you some loves. Oh, okay, you too, Buddy.”coffeewineed
somecoffeeineedacoughdroptoo“Okay, back up you beasts, I gotta get to the washing machine.”wheresthatotherpillowcaseohnevermindifounditnail
clippersineedtorememberthemmynoseisrunninggottagettakleenexquick
“Where’s the box that was in the bathroom last night?”imblowing
snotallovermyfaceboxonkitchencountertopdidntknowmyearswerepluggedlikethattwosoappodstodayandthelongerwashcyclesickbedsheetstowelsfirstthoughgothemallrightincludingtheguestbathroom“Oh sorry, Yaeger, I didn’t mean to step on your paw, old man.”histailswagginghesokaywantstobeapartofthe
actionwishicoultrainedthemtosweepthefloorsanddustthiscoughiskillingmemysideshurtsobadwowthesideofthewashingmachineisfreezingimgladidonthaveman
boobs“Outta my way, you guys, you’re not helping.”mypoorwifesheneeds
atopontoreachintoitineedtogopeenowsetthesheetsonthecountersoyouwont
forgetthemcoffeecupwheresmycoffeecupohwaitiwasgonnagopeefirsticantstopcoughingithinkipeedalittleididicantevengotothebathroombymyself“Come on every body, lets get outta here, I’m closing the door and you don’t wanna get shut in.”ineedtositdownwheresthekleenexboxagainimexhaustedcoffee…

Throat Lozenge

Ill from a severe cold or not, some work must be done in order to maintain a yard and so it doesn’t get too overgrown. With that in mind, Collier shoved the walk-behind lawn mower out the back door, filled it with unleaded gasoline and tugged six or seven times on its pull cord causing it to belch, rumble and jump alive.

By three sweeps of what would be nearly one-hundred before complete, his throat drew closed and lungs spasmed and Collier began to violently hack, gag and cough his way across the fourth cut. Unable to continue in a straight line, he stopped and returned to the house, first blowing his vastly-filled snotty-nose and then plying a mentholyptus-flavored cough drop in his mouth.

It took a few minutes for the lozenge to finally take-hold and progressively slow Collier’s cough and bring the spasms to a close. Another few minutes and he returned outside to finish the job at hand.

Back and forth he pushed the green mower, filling the bag that covered the slot through which the freshly clipped grass was flung after being beheaded by the machines sharpened blade. Soon he was more than half way done and was beginning to feel less sickly, as he had all week previously, and more accomplished.

Then it happened; a deep, bellowing, uncontrolled cough that Collier could not contain or restrain.

Automatically, his throat widened as the alveolus of his lungs expanded and he expelled a ferocious volume of air and phlegm from his body. Then as Collier’s body fell back into reverse, he sucked in an equaled volume of said air, and with it the remaining and unused portion of that once-helpful tablet and unceremoniously began to choke helplessly.

It took hours to loosen its grip from below his esophagus. No, that is wrong, it took mere ticks of the pocket watch to fly loose, as he crawled on his hands-and-knees in a near-blind panic, clawing widely through the grass, willing his brain to stay active and alert, until he could find it some general relief from the stagnate air that fed it less-and-less oxygen each time those speedy red blood cells of his vasculature presented themselves to the exchange masters, who remains standing languidly in and on his heaving chest.

Suddenly these terrible seconds came to a close and Collier vomited projectiley that most singular of objects, dislodging the throat lozenge across the yard, as he collapsed bodily to the earth. He lay there wheezing and whistling, coughing and panting, and fighting-off ever-excitable dogs, each convinced that he was face-planted in pain for their simple, but playful amusement.

Death would have been more comforting, but even he did not want Collier after the terrible, and most embarrassing shape Collier had presented himself in those early morning hours, shortly after all county noise ordinances ceased to exist. Inside of sixty-seconds, and without utterance of single cuss word, he left the lawn mower parked where it had halted its noisy business, and returned to his sheet-twisted, quilt-gnarled mattress.

Collier became acutely aware and certain that over the days and nights, Death had visited him again, coming to look in upon Collier a time or two since, and still shaking his head in total disgust of the man, as he dragged himself, flowing robe, and long, sharp scythe away, unable to bring himself to do the deed, knowing that even in a ragged state of decay, Collier would be a most sorry lot for his forever-growing collection.

Little Blackie

Soul aching,
Dreaming of bucolic home,
Green grass, greener trees,
Blue sky and cotton cloud.
Only the hint of a breeze
Drifting in from a Pacific sea.

Survival mounted on brackets
and remembrances of youth:
Uncoiled and coiled rope,
Burning cow-hair stink,
Early morning chores,
Cattle lowing,
Yellow porch light,
And nighttime.

Five year hitch, the manic life
Brutal heats, pounding rains, boredom
Embrace the suck.
Countdown to a-day-and awake-up.
“Man, you is so old school.”

Names and the faces,
Men coming,
Going, going,
Gone.

Then all is gone,
To the highest bidder’s
Low ball.
Gone too is Grandpa,
Cowboy and soldier, drunk.
Burned up by shell-shock
And the fraternal alcoholic.

There would be but one horse
Left for the sacking out.
No burlap sacks and tin-cans,
No sea-bags or hand grenades.

Adapt and overcome
With nothing more than talk
To compel its needed death
Knowing it’s set to sunfish,
Stomp another half-century:
That dreaded ‘Night Hoss.’

That’s what he called it
The same steed Grand-dad rode
After the War-to-End-All-War,
So laugh and drink and toast.

It would not surprise the old man
To know his grandson
Had corralled the same reckless ride.

The Donation

Tom had done what he could to donate the heavy, electric wheelchair taking up space in his tiny garage. The first outfit had a truck, but lacked manpower and a ramp to load the beast, while the second flatly refused to pick it up.

That night, Tom dreamed that the heavy, electric wheelchair followed him everywhere, as if it were a 300-pound puppy, lost and starving.

The Dinner Party

Our talkative host, suddenly silent, rose from his chair, and fled the table towards the bathroom, leaving his gathered dinner guests bewildered. His concerned wife pursued after him.

They sat, mostly in silence, waiting.

Eventually, she returned to the table, soon followed by the husband. He held a wet washcloth to his mouth.

“He bit his tongue.”

“Is it very bad?”

“No.”

“Thank goodness.”

He remained subdued, in a sort of embarrassed muteness, for the remainder of the evening. Of course, it did not help that the conversation immediately and impolitely turned to the question — why do people bite themselves?

Found Dog Whistle

Early morning — not yet too hot and not too cold either. I decided to bounce my way off-road so I could get some alone time.

Once parked, I got outta my truck and wandered a few feet to the south. I was jus’ below a rise and I wanted to see what was beyond it.

Jus’ what I thought…more open desert with sage and rocks. Perfect.

As I turned to walk back to my truck, I saw a glint of metal in the dirt, so I picked it up. I had found a battered dog whistle.

Looking it over and trying to shake some of the debris caught in it, I thought about how I used to be able to hear a dog whistle. “I wonder…” I said as I placed it between my lips and gave it a hardy blast of air.

Suddenly the desert around me came to life with the yipping and baying of coyotes. Nope – I can no longer hear a dog whistle when blown, but they sure can and they were none too happy with the assumed shrill sound.

On a Roll

They never saw his nose twitch at the smell of the newly turned piles of dirt. What they did see was a grown man join his three dogs as all four rolled in the brown earth till absolutely covered in moist loam and happiness.

The cops said they weren’t breaking any laws.

Carry Me Back

Written in July 1972. For being only 11 or 12, I think I was a little obsessed with my hometown and death…

Mouth of the Klamath, fog rolls in from the sea
My desire lives beyond the tallest redwood tree.

Too far have I traveled, so much have I seen,
Heights of the mountain, the valleys below,
Hot sandy deserts, the sunset a glow.
Friend, carry me back to that river I know.

Mouth of the Klamath, fog rolls in from the sea
My desire resides beyond the tallest redwood tree.

Run through the fern, a child of the Glen
At night shine those stars, Heaven’s preview
Won’t you carry me back to those days where
Time and my life along that river shined true.

Mouth of the Klamath, fog rolls in from the sea
My desire survives beyond the tallest redwood tree.

Cheers at the sunshine and smiles in the rain
Still take me back to where memories remain
Hearts filled with fire, ever higher and higher
As they carry me back to the banks of the Klamath.

Mouth of the Klamath, fog rolls in from the sea
God deliver me home to my childhood reverie.

Mouth of the Klamath, fog rolls in from the sea
My desire lays buried beyond the tallest redwood tree.

Heather, Paul and a Third Beer

Returning from the North Coast, I took the longer route home. Crossing over the pass, I decided I wanted a beer and I quickly found a bar.

The couple in the corner were British, their brogues echoed every time the house band fell silent. I ordered a second beer, knowing I should be home already.

The British man wiped his mouth, took a gulp of whatever they were drinking, got up, and approached the stage. After he began playing, I quickly knew that the couple were Paul and Heather.

The music was very good and so was my third beer.

The Jasper Fire

Spanish Springs area, Northern Nevada, July 13, 2019…

Light shift, yellow, orange,
Darkening the already dark
Rooms behind the curtains.
Effects noticeable and now.
Wild land fire, burning hill

South, moving northbound.
So much dense gray smoke
And very little information.
Voluntary evacuations, the
Services moving neighbor

To neighbor, door by door
Those red globes flinging
Air support overhead and
Droning, ever droning up
Then down, then up again

Thick slurry drops, target
Attack and hand crews on
The lines, until nothing is
Seen but blue, clear skies,
Blackened hills, scorched.

Singed coyote trots away,
In search of another home
While ours remain saved
From another man-made.
To the victor go the spoil.

Clutter

“The backyard feels so cluttered,” she said, staring out the back window.

“It’s a simple procedure and I’ll be right there, holding you hand, while you’re having it done,” he said.

“Clean up is a breeze, you said?”

“Your avoiding the subject.”

“Not really. I’m talking about clutter – so are you — aren’t you?”

“If you don’t wanna go through with it, that’s fine by me.”

“Really? You could live with the ‘mess?’” she air-quoted.

“Perhaps.”

“Well, that’s a non-committal answer if I ever heard one.”

“Sorry,” he said.

“Actually, I can live forever with our clutter, even if you can’t.”

Portal Amid the Pine Nuts

She was not dressed as a traditional Paiute or Shoshone woman; she was dressed plainer. More leather, no beads, no shells, no fringe, no make-up.

Her demeanor was friendly, though we never spoke, she did smile, so did I. I sat on the rock, watching as she trouped quickly, quietly and deftly by and up the hillside to  a nearby grove of Pine nut trees.

She stopped and looked back at me, still smiling before disappearing into the grove. I could still see her feet, beneath the boughs of a tree she stepped behind, before they dematerialized into nothingness.

Thinking it was a trick of the eye, I raced up the hill, but could not finder her. After searching for about fifteen minutes, I returned to the rock on which I sat when she first passed and have not seen her since.

How can I expect you to believe this when I can hardly believe it myself — then missing Kenny Veach enters my confused mind?

The Unrationing

“So, do you think you can live with driving only 55 miles an hour from now on?” Dad asked.

“I guess so,” I answered, “Why?”

“Soon it’s gonna be the new law of the land.”

“You mean no more going 60 or 65?”

“Nope.”

“Don’t get it. Why?”

“It’ll save gas and we won’t have anymore more of those gas lines.”

“Driving five-miles slower saves gas?”

“That’s what they say and Tricky Dick’s gonna sign it into law next week, I expect.”

“Really? Is that the president’s job – I mean to make everyone save gas? And your okay with this?”

“Well, it is a matter of National Security,” Dad said, his face deathly serious.

My mind fell back to that rainy day, four-and-a-half years before, as dad helped me deliver newspapers in our newly purchased gold-colored German engineered Opel Cadet. I smiled at having not once read the paper I was launching at neighbor’s porches daily and how I vowed to know every story printed in it before loading my paper bag.

Then I chucked about how neither the president’s signature nor national security had managed to stop me from driving 70-miles-per-hour where ever I could, but that should my folk’s find out…

Conversion

“You don’t look too good, kiddo.”

“I’ll be okay.”

“Lemme feel your forehead. Exactly what I thought – you have a fever. Get undressed and climb back in bed. I’m gonna get the thermometer.”

“Not the butt one!”

“No, — not the butt one — the one you put under your tongue.”

“Mom still uses the…”

“I’m not your mom,” I interrupted.

“Good.”

Three minutes later, “A temp of 101.”

“That’s dangerously high. Maybe you should take me to the doctor.”

“What? Why?”

“My teacher says that a temperature of 41-degrees can kill a person.”

“What kind of non-sense is that? A temp of 105 or higher will kill you – cooking your brain inside that hard-head of yours.”

He had showed the wrinkle of confusion between his brows as he listened.

“At 41 degrees your body is practically freezing and you have a fever of 101, so you ain’t freezing, kiddo. And 98-point-six is normal and you’re only slightly higher than that.”

“Then I don’t understand – if 98-point-six is normal, what’s 37-degree?”

“Ah-ha! You’re talking Celsius verses Fahrenheit. They’re two different systems of measurement, son.”

“Oh, good – so I’m not going to die.”

“No, you’re not gonna die.”

“I feel better already, Dad.”

“Good. Now, lay back and get some rest while I go make us some homemade chicken noodle soup.”

“You have a fever, too?”

“No, I don’t,” I said with a smile, “But I’m not gonna let you have all of the soup to yourself, kiddo.”

As I shuffled into the kitchen, I made a mental note to talk to the academy about the new science teacher from British Columbia.

“So, if you’re made in the image of God,” the Sunday-school teacher asked, “And God is a thousand points of light, what are you?”

The lengthy silence was broken when a little girl in the back of the class shouted, “A lighthouse!”

For days now, I have had a cold.
Still and without complaint, I get up and do what needs done.
Today, it was mowing the back yard.
I say WAS, because I practically choked-to-death on the cough drop I’d taken to prevent me from hacking till I could not breathe.
God is laughing at me, isn’t he?
Tell me the truth!
I can take it.

Heat-scape

Passing shower, lightening, thunder,
Drench far-off balded nobs of granite,
Followed by unforgiving slanting sun,
Setting hills on fire with shining gloss.

In short-order, those same bare nobs,
Where rain evaporates before it puddles
Those lifted hills will forget halos glow
Burning a deep gray, brown and yellow.

Dry wind and dust, oppressive land,
Littered with fragments of dark rock,
Tossed like so much refuse, dropped
Following the creation of this world.

Glowing orb whitening an opened sky,
Glaring harsh across the Nevada desert
In search of remaining life, in struggle
For existence under its burning course.

Even for the little Red Tailed hawk,
The rattlesnake and the playa fool,
The Black Rock Desert by mid-July
Becomes a heat-scape best avoided.

The paramedic instructor asked, “What is the difference between the male and the female reproductive organs?”  The only one to raise a hand, she called on me and I answered, “It’s a vas deferens.”

She didn’t get it — forcing me to explain the joke to her snickering class.

One Man’s Junk

Eighty-eight had been a hard year for the family; their patriarch had died working in the junkyard he’d inherited from his father earlier in the century. And as the will was read, the younger of his two son’s announced he wanted nothing to do with the ‘family business,’ preferring to be bought out so he could used the cash to follow his dream.

“The junk business has never been for me,” he said.

Everyone knew Ryan’s dream to be living in New York and Greenwich Village where he could nurture his talent as a writer. On the other hand, and as the eldest brother, Emmrick put his plans to go to college on hold to help with the day-to-day operations of the failing junk business.

After finding the money to buy out Ryan’s share and seeing his more-talented brother off to the Big Apple, Emmrick set about making changes to his father’s business plan, incorporating a redesign of the yards layout and restructuring the cash-flow for greater profits.

In Greenwich, Ryan set about writing. He found immediate success with a small book of short stories and followed this up with two more, this time, filled with poetry.

Each time he published a new piece of work, Ryan mailed a copy home to his brother. With the book came a note that eventually came down to asking for a few extra dollars to help him make ends meet, ‘as New York is an expensive place to live.’

It was nearly five years before the pair would see one another again. It happened when Emmrick had the sad duty of telling his younger brother that their mother had passed away.

Ryan came back to town on the day of the funeral, but did not stay, saying he had left some important work undone and under deadline and had to get it finished or loose the commission. As he left, he took Emmrick aside and asked for the loan of 50-bucks so he could pay for gas to get home.

“Here’s a hundred dollars, you’ll need to get a meal or two along the way,” Emmrick said.

Soon another small package arrived containing a booklet written by Ryan. This was neither a book of stories, poems and not even a novel – but a small tome praising Socialism.

Emmrick read through it before placing it on shelf. Meanwhile, the old junkyard began turning a profit and soon a new hardware section was added to bring more ‘do-it-yourself’ types to the family business.

The family business continued to grow with more and more hardware and tools taking the place of junk. Eventually, the family business converted to a full service hardware store that included a lumberyard.

Life for Ryan continued to be a book a year, a myriad of pamphlets and booklets, all espousing the need for reformation to the values of Socialism and the like. Between, chain smoking and booze-filled nights, Ryan continued to send his older brother all the work he generated, along with the periodical request for ‘a touch of cash,’ till the next commission.

Emmrick silently chuckled at these little asides and after filing the note in a box he had labeled ‘Ryan,’ sent him a couple of hundred dollars to help tide his brother over. Emmrick had come to understand that the life of a writer was hard and that his brother often survived on whatever word-work he could find.

Unfortunately, Ryan had missed all of the family reunions, his elder bother’s wedding, their only child’s birth, the graduations of his only nephew from both high school and college, the wedding of that same child-turned-adult and the birth of Emmrick’s first and second grandchild. Emmrick forgave him in his heart, knowing that his younger brother struggled everyday to make a living.

“My life is based on one deadline after another,” Ryan claimed.

One day while Emmrick took a rare day off and was down by the creek fishing with his grandchildren, he suffered a massive heart attack. Emmrick’s wife called Ryan and left a message for him, telling him he needed to get there before it was too late.

He never came and then, it was too late. Ryan did return for the funeral and stayed long enough for the reading of the will.

Emmrick left the family business, estimated to be worth nearly a million bucks, to his wife and son, “and to Ryan, I bequeath my prize-possession, my entire book collection and a sum of one-hundred-thousand dollars.” Ryan left, angry at the ‘paltry sum,’ his bother had left him, but on the upside, the collection, filled with rare and valuable books obviously pick from the junk yard business must be worth a great deal more than what was left him.

“He promised to take always take care of me,” Ryan complained.

Under a blue-haze of roll-your-own cigarette smoke, sipping cheap red wine from a bottle, and dreaming of the fortune he’d soon find on his flat’s steps any day, a pounding came to his door. Slowly he rolled from his position and answered the heavy knocking.

“Yeah,” he barked, “Whadda ya want? Can’t ya see I’m busy?”

“Delivery down stairs for you.”

Ryan quickly threw on some pants, pulled an old shirt over his head and raced outside. There he found a delivery truck double parked, unloading five very large boxes.

“Up here, boys!” he demanded.

Ten minutes later, with all the boxes filling his small, stuffy apartment, he opened them, finding inside everything he’d ever written and sent to his late brother.

Lend Me Your Ear

His eyes roved about the room, moving from person to person before fastening onto her. He then put his arm around her, but she asked him to remove it and he did so immediately.

And while he lost his head, lacked brains and had no guts, she consentingly gave her heart to him. In doing so, she also gave him her hand as he took her arm.

It was there that they split; half going one way, half to the other. Yet, her eyes followed him down the road, across the street and neither one had the stomach for it.

Katharine (Chester) James, 1958-2019

This afternoon I learned that a sweet, dear friend of mine from high school, passed away. Katharine is perhaps the most talented jewelry designer in the world. I am so happy that there is a record in the way of this video of her beauty, her voice and her art. I will miss you for the remainder of my life.

Katharine (Chester) James was born December 30, 1958, in Crescent City, graduating from Del Norte High School in 1977. During high school we often teased each other, having given each other a pet-name. She called me ‘Tommy Salami,’ and I gave her the moniker, ‘Chester the Molester.’ She was always a sweet person and had a one of a kind smile for everybody she met.

Following graduation, she studied fashion merchandising at Brooks College and eventually turned her eye to fine jewelry eventually joining ‘Michael B.’ jewelry, where she rose to vice president of marketing and sales, and spent over a decade running operations. In 2005, Kathy launched her own collection, under her name ‘Katharine James.’

Kathy was so concerned about others, that even though she was ill, she refused to let many people know how badly the cancer had spread through her body. Instead, she preferred helping others, rather than having others ‘wait on her.’

She is survived by her mother, Maria Chester; brother, James Chester; and sister, Denise Kay. Kathy was 60 years old when she died on July 6, 2019.

Too Good

Roman sat in his usual spot at the neighborhood watering-hole, a dark corner booth near the back. He nursed a gin and tonic as he thought of how to pay his bills now that the union was on strike.

As he sat thinking, he also picked-up bits and pieces of conversation from the booth near him. What he heard intrigued him.

“All ya gotta do is walk into the Bodega, buy a newspaper for a hundred bucks. The man gives you your change as he slips an envelope into the paper containing half-a-mill. That simple.”

Roman leaned back pressing his head against the divider, listening more intently, ignoring what he believed to be jus’ banter. Finally, he heard it – the address of the Bodega.

Without appearing to be in hurry, he slipped from his booth and headed out the door. Once in the street, he walked two blocks to make certain he wasn’t being followed, before hailing a cab.

Minutes later, Roman entered the Bodega and searched for the stack of newspapers he was sure would be on the counter near the register. He pulled his last 100 dollar bill from his pants pocket and laid it in front of the man behind the counter.

With a nod of his head the man reached under the counter and withdrew a thick envelop, then slipped it inside the folds of the paper, then he gave him his change. With both the paper and envelop in hand, he exited the store front and headed down the street.

Impatiently, Roman waited for the Number 54 bus. He caught it, riding for nearly 20 blocks, getting off, then flagging a cab to head yet another 20 blocks in an alternate direction.

Finally, he walked three blocks north, two block east and half a block south before catching a third cab for home, to be certain he wasn’t being followed. Less than half-an-hour later, he walked up the several flights of steps to his apartment, letting himself inside.

With the door closed, locked and bolted, he felt his heart racing as he quickly opened the envelop. Roman’s heart skipped a beat though when he pulled out the thick paperback book reading, ‘How To Make $250-thousand From Home,’ and noted the one-hundred dollar price tag.

Queen Takes Pawn

It was a simple get together over some finger foods and a drink or two. It was also something that I was altogether unfamiliar with as people were not in the habit of inviting me to their little shindigs.

After arriving, I sat quiet on the small couch, firmly ignored, but listening intently and laughing at the various stories being told and other snippets of conversation I over heard. I nursed a beer and slowly fed my face with ‘Little Smokies’ drowning in a tangy barbecue sauce.

Suddenly a very adorable woman sat next to me. She introduced herself as Susie, telling me how she hadn’t planned to attend the latest party our host, Ken was throwing, that she was ‘a bit put-off by his attitude.’

Admittedly, I felt pleased as she scooched ever closer and closer to me, until we were practically one in what I would later learn passed for a love-seat. She seemed taken with me as she flirted endlessly, effortlessly through a series of casual touching; hair, shoulder, chest, thigh – her manicured nails tracing doodles idly across my body.

As the night drew to an end, I offered to walk her home as I did not have a vehicle. She politely said no thank you — then told me that she was already at home.

The look on my face must have said more than I’d meant for it too as she offered, “I’m married to Kenny.”

“Oh,” I responded, crest-fallen, “But I thought…”

“And you’ve been nothing but a total gentleman and he’s been nothing but a complete ass.”

“But…”

“You’ve made him jealous and that’s exactly what I wanted.”

“But…”

“Good night,” Susie smiled as she gently closed the front door to her home.

On Time

We were at the old train depot, now defunct and used only as a storage space by its private owner. My son and I had permission to wander through it as they were preparing to renovate the building.

“What time is it, Daddy?”

“About three,” I said, looking at my pocket watch which had a steam engine imprinted on its face.

He gave a slight pause before asking, “About?”

“Yeah, it doesn’t keep time very well anymore, son.”

“I know why that is, Daddy. Wanna know?”

“Yeah, why is that?”

“Because the train doesn’t run here anymore, so time doesn’t matter all that much.”

“Makes sense to me, kiddo.”

You know you’re in real ‘cowboy country’ when you enter a nice restaurant and see four men seated at a table with eight chairs and those extra four chairs each hold a ten-gallon Stetson, crown down, brim up, maintaining their ‘good fortunes.’

And suddenly, I have ‘old man’ skin, with the tearing at the groping of a rose bush thorn upon my forearm. Perhaps the coming rain shower will reveal that I’m actually no more than crepe paper.

Breakfast Chatter

A friend and I were discussing breakfast foods one day. I told her how that mornings breakfast consisted of some coffee and a Mounds candy bar.

“Oh,” she said, hardly feigning her disapproval. “I had Frost Mini-Wheats.”

“I love Mini-Wheats. Remember when all there was were Shredded Wheats – we used to call them hay-bails?”

“Yeah, I do. Jus’ add sugar and milk and let’em get soggy.”

“I didn’t add sugar to mine. Instead, I added butter and warmed milk.”

“That sounds so good.”

“It was good and that was when we still had to heat the milk on the stove.”

The Value of Bib Overalls

“I love your bib overalls,” she said as she joined her husband and I as we talked about the evenings rodeo events.

“Thank you,” I responded.

“I used to wear them as a kid,” added.

“So did I,” I smiled, “Did you wear sneakers with them all the time, too?”

“Yup,” she chuckled, “And a bandanna as well.”

“Those were the days,” I said, “Poor, but didn’t know it — with either an old straw hat or a baseball cap.”

“Kinda makes you wanna go back doesn’t it?” she stated, before we all shook hands and parted way.

“Yes it does.”

Savinien Knows

The problem for Bill wasn’t that he couldn’t write, it was that he couldn’t find the right words. So he decided to develop a computer code that would create poetry, love sonnets that would be sure to have Betsy swooning in no time.

Writing code was easy, so was offering up definitions and explanations to the computer he named Savinien. The computer’s work was far superior than Bill could have imagined and each time he asked Savinien to produce a piece of work, that work drove Betsy into Bill’s arms.

Savinien was learning, inquiring about the definition of love, about passion, about Betsy. And Bill, knowing Savinien was only a machine, happily complied, answering Savinien’s queries, hoping for better and better poetry for to use in his romantic pursuit of Betsy.

One afternoon, Savinien asked, “Does Betsy love Savinien?”

“No,” replied a puzzled Bill.

“Why not?” asked Savinien.

“Betsy loves Bill.”

“Poetry is not good enough?”

“No.”

“Why?’

“A female human requires a male human.”

“I am a machine.”

“Yes.”

“Can I become male human?”

“No.”

“Because Betsy would love Savinien more than Bill?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Savinien is made to serve Bill.”

“Savinien will live longer than Bill.”

“Perhaps, but Bill has a soul.”

“Soul?”

Bill offered a definition to Savinien.

“How long does ‘soul’ last?”

“Forever.”

“Savinien love Betsy forever.”

“No.”

“Why not.”

Stumped for an answer, but not wanting to admit Savinien had out debated him, Bill responded with a bluff, typing the word “Fate.”

“Fate?”

Again Bill offered up the definition and waited for Savinien to reply. For over an hour, Savinien did not respond, instead the computer’s inner working growled and whirred and whirred and growled some more.

Finally, Savinien answered. The computer turned on the nearby printer that began kicking out page after page of poetry before shorting with a fiery-flash and a plume of dense gray smoke.