Thirty Years at Store #29

“You’re gonna do what?” I asked.

“I’m going to leave Circus-Circus and go to work for Port of Subs.”

In my mind, I was sure Mary was making a mistake. Leaving the third highest position in the housekeeping department of one of the largest hotel/casinos in Reno seemed crazy.

Yet, that’s exactly what my wife did. Not only did she take on managing this start-up sandwich shop, she built it through her strong customer service and dedication to the products offered.

That was 30 years ago. And today — well — it’s her last day and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

Imaginary Nevada: January 29, 1920

https://soundcloud.com/sierra-tom-darby/in-01292020

Brady lived by himself in a small hovel dug from the side of a hill, south of the town of Beowawe, Nevada. It had been a mining claim at one point but long since abandoned and it worked well for the single man.

He like it this way. While he didn’t mind being neighborly, he enjoyed his solitude even more.

Evening time and Brady was sitting out front of his place on his newly built porch, enjoying a cup of coffee and a roll-your-own when he noticed the silence and the absence of the wild horses and pronghorn from the nearby hillsides.

The stillness was disquieting.

As he finished, he saw a vague movement beyond the sage line. Between two low set hillocks, a lone figure, dressed in all-black, moved with a sense of purpose towards him.

The being was tall, ashen skinned, with a black beard and black, deeply sunken eyes. He carried in each hand a gleaming scimitar and moved as if he were a puppet.

He knew he would soon be under attack and that where there was the one, there would be many. So without panic, but hurrying quickly, Brady went inside and retrieved his Winchester rifle and several boxes of ammunition.

He then took up position in the doorway.  For 18 hours, he kept up a continuous fire, and when the shooting was over he counted 200 corpses, all of which he burned over the next three days.

Scam Call Killer

Her cellphone rings for the sixth time that day. Another private number, another scammer.

She accepts the call.

“Hello,” a man with a Jamaican accent says, “This is the Social Security Office, how are you Mrs. Hansen?”

“Raheem? Raheem, is that you? Thank goodness! It took you long enough to get back to me. So what did they say about me claiming my husband’s disability, especially since I was the one that killed him?”

“You killed your husband?”

“Come on Raheem, I told you that the last time we spoke and don’t worry, they’ll never find his body. I chopped him up and fed him to the pigs. So what did they say?”

The caller clears his throat, “Ma’am, this is the Social Security Office and I am calling to inform you that a warrant has been issued for your arrest and…”

“A warrant!?! You turned me in? How could you do that, Raheem? I trusted you. We were supposed to run away together! It’s your fault he’s dead and I’ll tell them that you put me up to it! I swear I’ll tell them everything!”

“Mrs. Hansen, you have the wrong number. I just…”

“How can I have the wrong number, Raheem, you called me. You set me up, didn’t you? You thought you’d get me sent away and claim all that money for yourself, but you remember this, Raheem – I know where you live and I didn’t have any trouble killing my husband of 20 years and I certainly won’t have any trouble killing a man I’ve only known for six months. What do you think about that?”

‘Click,’ the caller hangs up. She hasn’t had another scam phone call since.

Frankenstain

The once famous monster had fallen on hard times. He lost his home one evening after setting fire to it while in a rage.

Now homeless and drinking too much, he wandered the streets at night, sleeping in a garbage bin during the day. After two years of this, he decided it was time to pull himself up by his boot straps and find a job.

Happy with his decision, he unthinkingly stepped onto the busy street without looking first. A passing bus struck him and that’s how he came to be known as “Frankenstain.”

Life can be so cruel.

A Bedtime Conversation

Sharon looked up from her book, “What would happen if a werewolf and a human were to mate?”

Tyler fluffed his pillow and laid his head back on it, “What an odd question…why, did something…?”

“No, nothing happened. I’m simply being curious,” Sharon answered.

“The child could be a werewolf, a wolf or a mutt,” Tyler said.

“Perhaps a pit-bull?” Sharon interrupted questioningly.

“No, that’s only possible with Jeremy Renner,” Tyler responded.

“I do hope so,” Sharon smiled as she returned to her book.

Tyler didn’t want to think of the implication as he rolled over to face the wall.

Coyote Waits

“Coyote told me how to find the path.”
A spiteful sun singes his skin.
“That bush looks like a jack rabbit.”
The high desert oozes its heated hostility.
“I should have passed the station by now.”
A rock stained with bird-shit cries out:
“Turn back!”
He has circled back upon his-self.
“Is that the sound of moving water?”
He turns to face that burning sun.
“Coyote told me how to find the path.”
He cocks his gun as Coyote waits.

The Red-Hat Assassin

Monday morning, beginning of the work week as I wheeled into the parking structure next to the newspaper, where I work. As usual, with satchel hanging from my left shoulder, I walked lost in thought towards the entrance I’d jus’ passed through.

Her low, square heels made a soft tap, tap, tap as she walked behind me. I knew from the sound that she’d overtake me before I rounded the corner.

As she began to pass me, I felt a sudden sting. She had poked me with a needle in my leg led, below my butt-cheek.

“Hey!” I shouted.

She did not look back at me as I stopped to rub the spot from where the pain emanated. I figured that I could distinguish the elderly woman from other women because of the bright red hat she wore.

Continuing my path towards the office, I picked up my pace, determined to call the police as soon as I made it to my desk. As I rounded the corner I was met with a sea of red-hatted women.

The sight made my head spin wildly, my heart race uncontrollably and then growing sweaty and clammy, my throat fill with bloody vomit.

Diddle

Rachel and I were on her living room couch, half-naked when my cellphone rang. I reached over and tapped ‘dismiss,’ sending the call to voicemail.

Curious, Rachael asked, “Who was that?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” I replied as I slipped my hand back inside her panties.

Then my phone started chirping again, demanding my attention. This time I decided to answer it.

“Who is this?” I demanded, not recognizing the number.

“Rachael’s dad,” a voice on the other end announced.

“Why are you calling me?” I asked in astonishment.

“To tell you to use your tongue and not your finger. She responds better to that.”

Before I could say respond, the line went dead.

“Well,” Rachel asked, “Who was that?”

“Your father,” I answered.

“Can’t be! My father’s been dead since I was seven.”

In the Name of the Spirit

She was sitting in the hospital’s Chapel.

“May I?” the young man asked.

“Sure.”

“Oscar,” he said, as he held his hand out.

“Janet.”

“Praying for someone?”

“My mom. She’s in surgery – heart transplant. What are you here for?”

“I’m an organ donor.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, got a call this morning that I’m a match.”

“Aren’t you scared you could die on the operating table?”

“Not any more,” he returned.

“Janet, I’ve got good news about your mom,” the nurse said, poking her head through the doorway. “Thanks to an organ donor, she’s gonna be okay.”

Janet turned; Oscar was gone.

The Chapter Nine of Real Life

As a writer, I’m always looking for that next story – the one where art imitates life. It doesn’t come around often and the reverse is even less frequent.

Such was not the case last night as my wife and I lay in bed…

To begin with, I am terrified of spiders. I’ve had a couple of incidents that have left me scarred with regard to those certain creepy-crawlies.

There happened to be a rather large spider on the wall and I pointed it out to her. She got up and with tissue in hand, and much to my relief, dispatched the thing post-haste.

Crawling back in bed, she picked up the book she’s reading titled, ‘The Friend Zone,’ by Abby Jimenez. No sooner had she settled in, picked up where she’d left off, then she began laughing.

“What?” I asked, thinking she was laughing at my silliness.

“Listen,” she answered as she began to read aloud from Chapter Nine:

She stood in the hall in her curlers, wringing her hands, with Stuntman Mike at her feet looking up at me. I thought for a second she’d seen someone in the yard and had come to tell me.

“What?” I asked.

“Josh? Can you come to my room?”

My wolfish grin broke some of the tension of her face.

“Oh, stop. There’s a spider. I need you to kill it. Please. Before it disappears and I have to burn my whole house down.”

I laughed. “Should I get my gun or…?”

She bounced nervously. “Josh, I’m serious. I hate them. Please help me.”

I pulled a few tissues from the box on my nightstand.”

Anyone who knows me, knows that I once in complete panic, used an M-15, on full-auto, to kill a Banana Spider that I’d knocked from my face after I fell asleep. While that was no laughing matter, my wife and I had a good laugh at the obvious parallels between what had jus’ happened and the storyline in her book.

The Disappearance of Herbert K. Smithhorne, III

Grandma had an antiquated, mostly yellow umbrella rack, decorated with green eldritch beasts with long tentacles and red eyes. It resided behind her front door and held a lone, but very large looking black umbrella with an even darker, hook-shaped handle.

“You must never, under any circumstance, ever touch that umbrella – even if it is pouring rain, Sheila,” she often warn me.

As child, the rack unnerved me and because I was frightened by it, I never went near it. As an acknowledged tom-boy, I was used to playing in the rain without an umbrella or even a rain slicker, so I never gave the rack a second thought.

That is until the night I was beautifully styled in a long satin gown, my make-up perfect and red hair coiffed in a high bouffant for my senior year prom date with Herbert K. Smithhorne the Third. So, not wishing to get utterly drenched before I made it to his car and without thought to her warning, I grabbed the umbrella, opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch.

As I started down to the first step, I released the mechanism that kept the umbrella from opening and pushed the sliding tube upward. To my surprise the entire umbrella came undone, shooting forward off the handle, landing on the stone walkway a few feet from Herbie’s car and in front of where Herbie was standing.

He laughed at the silly sight and I giggled in embarrassment.

Without warning the black material became thick and hairy and sprang to life as it fully unfolded, then with it’s spindly metal legs, it dashed directly at Herbie. He tried to escape the attack and I screamed in horror.

The thing envelop him head to foot. He made a small squeaking sound that was quickly overpowered by a gigantic slurping and sucking noise and in a matter of seconds, it was over.

The hideous thing jumped to the car’s hood and turned to and fro, checking to see where it was and where it should go next. Then it hopped down into the roadway where a passing automobile ran it over, destroying it.

Socks

Like making your bunk, regulation-style, or maintaining a proper gig-line, it’s a common item that every branch of the US military shares: socks.
They are a great source for individual training and discipline because the instructions are easy; pull your socks all the way up and keep them up.
The moral: find that common point from which to begin leading.
That is all.

Polar Plunge

“Yes, I know all about the legends…myths – whatever you wanna call them,” she said as she stripped down to her bikini. “They’re not true and I’m still gonna do it.”

It was dead of winter and the ice was a foot thick in the middle of Convict lake. With her boyfriends help, she had cut a hole in it large enough to slip into.

“I have a bad feeling about this, Babe,” the boyfriend complained.

“It’ll be fine. They’re jus’ stories – besides it’s too cold for a cold-blooded beast to be swimming about.”

“We don’t really know that its cold-blooded,” he countered, “What if dinosaurs were actually warm-blooded.”

“Oh, pish-posh,” she replied as she squatted by the hole and smiled, “Don’t forget to push record on your phone this time. I only want to do this once.”

He held the cellphone in front of him, recording her as she slipped her feet, then her legs through the hole, finally submersing her entire body, her head still above the water.

“See, I told you,” she smiled, looking up into the camera.

In a flash she disappeared beneath the surface. A multitude of bloody bubbles danced to the surface in her wake.

Worst of the Worst

Damn it! I wasn’t gonna write today, but then I got this friggin’ plot-line in my head and 30 minutes later…

“They say the house is haunted,” the Realtor stated.

“More than likely rodents,” the buyer returned.

“No. We fumigated the building, so there shouldn’t be a rodent or insect in sight.”

“Either way, I’ll take it.”

Withing the month, he was moved in and starting to get settled. Geoff Mueller could not believe his remarkable fortune, finding an 1890’s 12-room Victorian mansion in the middle of nowhere Nevada, and though the house needed a number of repairs, ownership of such a prize thrilled him.

The middle of the fifth week and the strange noises began to emanate from the walls. As he sat in what had once been the library, he heard the scurrying of rats moving about, so he got up a banged on a nearby wall. The sounds dropped off.

This continued throughout the week and by Friday, Geoff drove to town to purchase as much rat poison as possible. Having returned home, he moved from room to room depositing the small, but deadly boxes along the molding along the floors.

It was Sunday evening and after a lengthy day of tearing out the floor and repairing the sub-flooring in the kitchen, Geoff grabbed a cold beer and retired to the library, which had become his favorite room in the old mansion. As he sat in his recliner, noted that the endless scurrying sounds had ceased.

Next he was shocked to see a large rat, the size of a Maine Coon, watching him from the far corner. The animal’s eye’s caused him to shiver, they looked so human.

He slowly closed the book he was reading and chucked it at the giant rodent, which retreated through a hole in the wall. Not hesitating, Geoff went to his work area and got a piece of discarded drywall and returning began the job of patching up the opening.

Twice more he saw the rat, with it’s seemingly human eyes, as it stared at him and twice more it escaped as Geoff threw something at it.

Finally, he drove into town and purchased a 22-caliber rifle. Five days later, having satisfied the state’s waiting period, he returned to pick it up.

“Hunting rabbits?” the clerk asked.

“No, rats – big ones,” Geoff responded, “Tried poisoning them but it didn’t work and there’s this huge one that’s as big as a small dog.”

The clerked looked at the address on the registration form, “Your the one that bought old Marshal Williamson’s place.”

“Yes,” Geoff answered.

“Legend has it Marshal Bart Williamson never took prisoners, they think he killed a couple hundred, maybe more as a lawman. S’posedly he took on the worst of the worst with orders to only bring’em back dead. He’s dead nearly a hundred years. The old house has been empty for nearly 40 years save for a few brave souls like yourself who’ve tried setting up housekeeping there.”

The clerk went on the tell Geoff how every tenant of the old building had abruptly moved and how it was rumored that an entire family of nine had disappeared back in the 30’s and were never heard from again. Ever the skeptic, he thanked the man for the information and the conversation, then with his new rifle under his arm, he left the store.

That night, Geoff sat in his accustomed spot, the weapon loaded and a round in the chamber, ready to shoot the giant rat, should it appear. It was nearly three in the morning when Geoff jumped awake after having fallen asleep in the recliner.

The noises come from behind and in-between the walls had become commonplace and Geoff had learned to sleep through it. However, it was suddenly quiet, a silence Geoff, whether conscious of it or not wasn’t accustomed to and he awoke.

He sat there in the dim light as the antique wick lamp sputtered to remain lit. He twisted the knob, pushing the flame higher, only to see the glow of the huge rodents eye’s staring, unblinking at him from the far corner.

Slowly and deliberately, Geoff lifted the muzzle of the rifle and aimed. The muzzle flash filled his eyes leaving him temporarily blinded and he had to wait to see if he’d earned his prize.

Within a minute, Geoff was standing over the cooling form of the enormous rat. He poked it with the gun barrel, then certain it was dead, picked it up by its tail and tossed it out the front door.

Satisfied, he closed the door and returned to the library to retrieve his chimney lamp and head up stairs to bed. He stopped in his tracks and his blood ran cold as he realized he wasn’t alone.

The lamp fell from his hand as he watched a hoard of vermin swarm him through the blaze that had begun from the spilled lamp oil. He screamed and writhed in terror and pain as they bit and gnawed his flesh away, before he was overcome, falling to the floor.

As the flames engulfed the library and then the entire Victorian, Geoff Mueller couldn’t help but think he’d made a mistake in killed the big rat – Marshal Bart Williamson – the only thing keeping the other rats – his dead prisoners — at bay.

Imaginary Nevada: January 22, 1920

https://soundcloud.com/sierra-tom-darby/in-01222020

Wen Shu Tang owned five laundry businesses, a restaurant and two pig farms in the small town of Dayton, Nevada. His family had come from the main land in 1857 and settled in the town because it had been the largest Chinese population center  outside of San Francisco at the time.

Having spent the majority of his life in Nevada and California, he learned to speak English fluently and quickly incorporated the White man’s ways into his daily life. Unhappy with his disrespect of Cantonese tradition, Tang had a falling out with his father and the old man packed up the family and returned to China in 1891.

Tang lived in the back of one of his businesses and while congenial with employees and customers, he kept mostly to himself, preferring to shut himself up in his apartment. The only person he was known to speak with on a regular basis was Brady.

When Tang died in August 1919, it was left up to Brady to clear out the dead man’s belonging and to try and find a relative in which to ship not only his possessions, but also the ossuary, holding Tangs now-bleached bones. Once he entered the dead man’s living quarters, Brady was surprised to discover a secreted room and a ready-made family of five complete skeletons, each dressed in traditional Chinese garb and seated around a low ornate table.

At first Brady thought they were the remains of Tang’s family and that his friend had lied about them having returned to China, but then an official examination found none of them to be Asian. Moreover, the same exam showed that not one of the many bones were from the same body.

Where those bones came from, no one was ever able to find out as the crate they were shipped in disappeared en route to Carson City.

The Farmers Daughter

She was skilled with a scythe.
I sat on the side of the dirt and gravel road, watching her
With each sweep of the blade, she laid low another quarter sheave of wheat.
Stopping momentarily, she mopped the glistening moisture from her brow.
She smiled at me.
I smiled back.
She picked something from the ground.
Playfully, she tossed it in my direction.
I looked down and reached for it.
A gray pebble.
She was already upon me when I looked up.
Her eyes wide and perfect white teeth locked in a maddened grin.
She was skilled with a scythe.

From Acorns to Pine Nuts

We gathered on the beach, south of Crescent City. It was 1969 and as a Cub Scout I was one of the few to attend. It’s where Kitty Harriman, a Redwood Empire Council leader, and native Tolowa, taught us how to make acorn cakes. She had with her a large burlap sack filled with shelled and dried acorns, ready for grinding and leaching and number of large woven baskets and several boards.

First we crushed, then ground the acorns to a powder, then put it in the baskets. Next, she showed us how to remove the bitter taste, using water taken from the nearby ocean. This took some time, but once done and while the acorn meal was moist, we formed our cakes.

Meanwhile, she cleared an area in the bottom of fire we’d built earlier, laid large leaves down, placed our patties on them, covering them with more leaves, followed by hot coals. A few minutes later, we retrieved them and ate.

Since then I’ve made cakes while camping, using pine nuts instead. While pine nuts don’t require leaching, do take time to shell and dry. This is my recipe, which works for both the field and kitchen:

2/3 cup finely ground pine nut meal
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup milk (more for batter)
1 tablespoon honey (more if you like them sweeter)
3-4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Fold the dry ingredients together. Mix in the egg, milk, and honey, then beat, while pouring in melted butter. If you like your mixture to be the consistency of pancake batter, add more milk. Spoon or pour the batter into a hot, greased pan or griddle. Bacon grease and a cast iron pan are my favorite. Cook each cake until brown on both sides. Eat them plain or with your favorite syrup or jelly. Personally, I love blackberry jam.

Don’t forget the coffee!

Four More

It was January 1986, and Doug Tracht, better known as ‘The Greaseman,’ while working at  WWDC-FM in Washington, D.C., created an uproar by telling an on-air joke regarding the new federal holiday, Martin Luther King Day.

“Why don’t we shoot four more and get the whole week off?” Tracht said, “Come on, now, you know I don’t mean nothin’!”

Not even the free speech guaranteed by the US Constitution, could protect the disc jockey. He was suspended from the station for five days, publicly apologized, and later donated money to create a scholarship at Howard University in honor of Dr. King.

Herman

Herman Krakatoa is a profuse bleeder.
An massive eruption every minute.
He leaves puddles of sticky redness everywhere.
Everyone thinks him disgusting.
Herman bleeds so much he fills up city buses.
He bleeds all over the office.
He even bleeds on dogs, chicken and children.

Herman likes to go swimming.
The ocean is his playground.
Drives the sharkies insane.
They bite everybody.

Elon Musk bought Herman a Tesla.
Herman filled it with blood.
The millionaire built a rocket ship.
He sent Herman into outer space.
Now Herman bleeds on the stars.
He bleeds on other worlds too.
Drives the aliens insane.
They visit Elon often.

The Greater Act of Love

A friend of mine lives in a house that she technically no longer owns. A squatter. She worked for me at one time and when I left that job, we lost contact. Since then she worked several jobs and after being fired one final time, she’s never found another.

To be honest, I think she made some bad choices. Drugs. Men. Roommates. She was depressed and alone. But thanks to social media we reconnected.

Soon she asked for help; a ride into town to donate her plasma, to which I agreed. During our short weekly trip into town, we discussed getting her out of her situation. Finding a job. New digs. Transportation. Even had her over for Thanksgiving one year and a couple of backyard cookouts that following summer.

Soon that single weekly trip turned into two and so on. Her cash flow very tight, I never asked for gas money. Ever. For nearly two years this continued. The more I assisted the more she depended upon that assistance. Point is, she did not help herself and I finally said enough and stopped helping her.

A heart wrenching decision for me. Contrary to my tough outward persona, inwardly I’m a big softy with a genuine love for the common man or woman down of their fortune. Tough love they call it. I am still not sure who it’s tougher on – the person it is aimed at helping or myself.

That’s been five-years ago and we again have lost touch. I think about her, concerned for her welfare; mental and physical, and I talk to God about her from time-to-time. I’ve been assured in my heart-of-hearts that there are times when it is okay to look away, that assistance it meant to be temporary and not permanent.

Still…

Brexit 1.0 and 2.0

My friend is from Southampton, England. She’s against Great Britain leaving the European Union and though she’s tried to explain her position on this to me, I’m still lost as I jus’ don’t know enough about UK politics.

She recently asked me where I stood on the subject and I answered, “It doesn’t matter much to me as I’m not a British citizen.”

“True, but I still want to know your opinion.”

“Didn’t they jus’ hold a referendum on this where the majority voted to leave the EU?”

“Yes, but don’t avoid the question, please.”

“Okay, but you have to understand that I’m a citizen of a country that went to war to establish their right to self-governance. The original Brexit plan, if you will.”

“Yes, yes, Great Britain – but that was a long time ago. Besides, I don’t think the two equate.”

“Time doesn’t really matter when I comes to freedom. And, yes they do equate.”

“So you’re for Brexit.”

“Yes and the fact that not a shot was fired to achieve England’s exit from the EU makes it all the more sweeter.”

“You Americans have a strange sense of self.”

“Yeah – it’s called ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. ”

“Okay,  now your simply being a wanker, so let’s talk about something else before you piss me off.”

“Sure. How’s about the War of 1812?”

“Go shag yourself!”

Boxed

It began when Tom had a ‘run in’ with a ‘Southern-Born’ program director, who wanted a box for listeners to place their names in for an on-air give away that evening. Tom politely explained that it couldn’t be done because a corporate rule demanding a two week period of on-air announcements prior to any giveaway.

“Sorry, but those are the rules,” Tom said as Southern-Born stomped off.

Minutes later Southern-Born returned, this time with a box of his own. With Tom seated, back to the doorway, Southern-Born bounced it off Tom’s head, demanding the box be ready in half-an-hour.

Tom stood up, “I’m not your nigger and I won’t be treated as such! The answer is still NO!”

That was Friday night, after everyone but himself, Southern-Born and a couple of disc jocks had gone home for the weekend. On Monday, Tom was called into the Station Managers office and told that ‘name calling wouldn’t be tolerated.”

“Who’d I call a name?” Tom asked.

“You used the n-word on ‘Southern-Born’ man,” the manager stated.

“No, I didn’t,” Tom corrected him, “I used it on myself, after he hit me in the head with a box.”

And though he successfully pled that he hadn’t called Southern-born the n-word, he was still written up and threatened with firing. Southern-Born however, was never disciplined for the assault or trying to circumvent corporation rules.

Graveyard Fertility

He walked Katy every day. As for the shepherd dog, she tugged at her leash, nose to the pavement, head swaying back and forth, tail up, wagging happily.

She had her favorite spot, an old tree at the edge of a nearby abandoned cemetery that she liked to snuffle. One of its thick roots had fractured the sidewalk and the recent Fall wind had stripped it of its leaves.

James Ryan was looking up at the bare branches, when Katy nosed his hand, “Ready, girl?”

As he turned and with Katy’s leash twisted around his legs, he fell, head bouncing off the edge of the sidewalk, bright stars exploding in his eyes. Laying in the grass between two headstone, he felt something bind his legs and wrap around his chest.

Katy, barked ferociously and snarled wildly. A fat tendril tried to subdue her, but she was quicker and she retreated to the other side of the street.

Jame’s tried to scream, but the thick stem about his chest constricted. Then the now helpless man was dragged slowly towards the darkened crack of the broken sidewalk.

Katy, whined and growled as the tree pulled James through the fracture until only bits of his torn up tennis shoes remained. As the last of him disappeared, a hesitant Katy turned and started for home.

Overhead the thunderous crash of a thunderstorm rumbled, bringing with it torrents of rain, flushing clean the bloodied gutters.

Nothing

A few years ago Tom quit his promotions job at a large multi-signal radio station. His boss called him the following day, asking what had happened to cause him to quit so suddenly?”

“Nothing happened,” Tom answered.

“Well, if nothing happened, why are you quitting?”

“Nothing happened. That’s why I left.” Tom replied.

“I don’t understand.”

“Never a lunch, a coffee, or dinner, never a birthday card, never an acknowledgement of a job well-done, never a pat-on-the-back and further, you either refused or failed to stand up for me when I did nothing wrong.  So, like I said — nothing happened.”

Unfulfilled

“So, what’s your greatest fear, Tom?” Doctor Headshrinker asked.

“Death.”

She tapped the word into her computer while still looking at him.

Psychiatrists and the like had long since stopped hand writing their notes and had taken up the more straightforward method of keying directly into the patient’s electronic file. Gone, too, were the uncomfortable couches that the patient laid restlessly upon.

“What about death leaves you in fear?”

Tom sat for a moment mulling the question over before answering, “That I’ll die unfulfilled.”

“Unfulfilled?”

“Yeah, but I can’t really explain it.”

“Try,” Headshrinker said.

“I’ve always wanted to be known for my writings.”

“I didn’t know you liked to write,” she stated, tapping more notes into the computer, “Are you an author?”

Tom shook his head up and down as a hurt look came across his face, “How long have we been holding these sessions?”

“I don’t recall the exact date, but about five-years,” she answered.

He sighed, “See what I mean?”

“No.”

“Betcha know who Danielle Steele or David Baldacci are, right?”

“Yes, and I enjoy both authors.”

“Do you know either of them?

“No.”

“But you know me, right?”

“I don’t see your point,” she responded avoiding the question.

“We’ve been holding these sessions for about five-years, you said so yourself. And in all that time you didn’t know I was a writer, with two books under my belt, and yet you ‘know’ me. That is what unfulfilled means to me.”

Doctor Headshrinker had stopped typing by this time.

Crimestop

It was a banging on the door rather than a polite knock. Sam rolled over lifted his smartphone from the dresser and checked the time: 2:37 am.

The sound at the door was louder, sharper, more demanding.

“What the fuck?” he mumbled as he pulled on his sweatpants, a tee-shirt and slipped into his house shoes.

Bang-bang-bang!

“I’m coming,” he shouted, “Hold your horses!”

Sam stumbled around the corner, flicked on the porch light, then stepped up to the front door to look through the peek-hole to see who was pounding on it at such an early hour. It was the police, in full riot gear.

He flicked the bolt and swung the door open. Sam was immediately swarmed, knocked to the ground and unceremoniously hand cuffed.

“Samuel Smith Evans?” a plain clothed detective asked.

“Yes.”

“You’re under arrest.”

“For what?”

“A four-15. Disturbing the peace.”

“What? At this time in the morning?”

“We’re or we’re you not fist fighting an unknown subject in your dreams?”

“Yeah, but that was simply a bad dream.”

“I understand that, but still any act of violence is against the law, even if you simply dream it. Load him up fellas.”

The team of eight, surrounded Sam and quickly escorted him to the waiting van still idling at the sidewalk.

“Good job, guys,” the plain clothed office shouted after them.

HUnter-2-4621

When I was in grade school, we had a black rotary telephone in our hallway. It was heavy and attached to the wall with a thick cord. Originally, it came with a phone number that started with two letters. Our two-letter prefix was HU, which stood for Hunter and represented the numeral 48.

“Darby residence,” my mother would say, answering its deep-throated ring.

Sadly, that’s all gone now; mother, childhood, the rotary phone, that deep-throated ring.

That phone has been replace by the smartphone, the size of a postcard. As an aside, a postcard is a smallish rectangular piece of very thin cardboard used for sending a message by mail without an envelope, typically having a photograph or other illustration on one side and place to write a few brief words like, “Wish you were here,” the precipitants address and a stamp on the other side.

And now, instead of a ringing all through the house, we hear tiny sounds, little dings, beeps, dongs and bongs going off at all times and from the couch, end table, laundry room, under the bed pillow and even the bathroom.

It used to be, in the old days, you’d just send a birthday card or pick up the phone, wish them a happy birthday or whatever, but not now. In fact, a week ago I wanted to say happy birthday to a long-time friend.

“Do we have his phone number by chance?” I asked my wife.

“I don’t know,” she said. “If it isn’t in the Rolodex, perhaps you can looking him up on Facebook and tweet him.”

I’m certain she meant ‘message’ him. It’s so easy to get confused with all the assorted social media apps. Anyway after an exhaustive search, I was unable to find his address or an online profile and I never did get to wish him Happy Birthday.

Then today, I found all of his information in my cellphone’s contact list. Now I know what happened to the old familiar phone book as well as the Yellow Pages, so thick that it could double as a booster seat in a pinch.

There is a reason they call them smartphones and mine is definitely smarter than me. At least I’m intelligent enough to know not to use my phone as a booster seat, though I often forget it is in my back pocket and I wind-up sitting on it anyway.

Quaint

“I’m going to the post office to buy a stamp,” I say, slipping on my jacket.

“Why don’t you get an entire book of stamps instead?” my wife asks from the back room.

I pretend I didn’t hear her as I pull the front door closed behind me and lock it.

Buying a single stamp is a heady process. It demands walking, standing in line, talking to people, seeing cute and ugly babies, asking about the dog sniffing at my pant leg, maybe even petting it, helping a person with the door, perhaps shaking hands or hugging, waving hello and talking to even more people.

“I didn’t think you heard me,” she says when I get home, seeing that I bought the entire book and not the single stamp as proposed.

I smile at her, placing them on the counter and she knows then that I heard her.

What few know though, is that I never really go out to buy anything. That purchase is only a by-product of a larger agenda. I went out to bypass the television and radio, to avoid my computer, and to ignore social media. No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no pen, paper or pencil, no cellphone.

Instead, I went out to experience life in the real and to feel alive and now, I must figure out who I’m going to write and mail a letter to. I have a stamp.

Asshole

I used to wonder
Which had the bigger asshole;
The whale or the elephant?

But then I realized,
Size does not matter.

The mosquitoes asshole,
A cockroaches asshole,
Or me.

Size does not matter.

An asshole is an asshole.

But the shit
That comes out of it…
That is the real difference.

Imaginary Nevada: January 15, 1920

https://soundcloud.com/sierra-tom-darby/wn-01152020

Brady headed out along the trail, north of Reno. His mustang’s easy stride moved him quickly up the uneven slopes of Peavine Mountain.

Soon he came to slight trickle of water. Nearby he found the remains of large, but ancient looking campfire, holding charred and shattered bits of bone.

“An old Indian hunting camp,” Brady thought.

Ground tying the horse, and removing the saddle, he wandered around, picking up dead-fall, dried sage and crusty cow chips for his campfire. By the time the sun neared the western horizon, a definite chill had settled, so Brady sparked the tinder, coaxing a tiny flame to life.

By the time the sun set, Brady had finished his meal of bacon, beans and coffee. He made a roll-your-own, lit it off a branch from the fire, and lay back on his blanket, saddle under head, and watched the stars populate the night sky.

As he grew tired from the heat of the flames, his eyelids began drooping and he flicked the butt of the cigarette into the fire. His relaxed state didn’t last but a second or more after as he scrambled to his feet in a near panic.

Out of the darkness, came a giant, easily eight feet tall, naked, save for the loin clothe and coarse, red hair covering his thick frame. In his left hand, he carried a massive rock ax with a long wood handle.

Brady reached for the Mustang’s reins, but jus’ then the horse bolted, disappearing into the blacklessness of the high desert night. The giant broke into a broad smile as Brady took a step back, thumbing the Colt still hanging from his right hip.

The giant chuckled, “There is nowhere to run, my child.”

“What in the hell…”

He knew the native legends of the Red Headed People, but had no idea that they were real or that they could speak flawless English.

“I am Baker,” the giant said, cutting Brady’s question off.

“Baker?”

“Yes, Baker, as in the childhood rhyme: Be he live or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread…”

Brady didn’t hesitate the moment he recognized the nursery rhyme and the fate it indicated awaiting him should he pause. He yanked his six-shooter and filled the beast with more than a third of a pound of hot lead, killing the thing calling itself ‘Baker.’

“Damned horse,” he sighed as he quickly reloaded his gun and started off after the frightened animal.

An Ode to Stella: a sonnet

A long while back, my friend Stella asked if I could write a sonnet. I told her that I didn’t know how to do that, but I would teach myself and try to pen one for her. So, after much trial and a lot of error…

My sad Stella, you inspire me to write.
How I dream the way you sleep, walk and bathe,
Invading my mind day and through the night,
Always feeling about your endless scathe.

Let me compare you to the Superi?
You are more loving, glorious and kind.
Snow chills the berries of January,
And wintertime has the clad frame of mind.

How do I see you? Let me shout the ways.
I see your perfected eyes, mouth and breasts.
Thinking of your naked heart fills my days.
My bent for you is the intended crests.

Now I must depart with a tender heart,
Remember my glad words whilst we be apart.

As you can see, Stella — I still gotta a lot to learn about crafting a sonnet.

The Day the Devil Died

It’s been half-a-century now, fifty-years, since I encountered him or at least something that claimed to be him. Forget Slenderman, for I knew that creature by a different name, an older name, his biblical long before the Internet was a thing.

It was a bright blue morning in early August 1969, jus’ passed my younger brothers’ birthday and we had less than a month left of summer vacation before returning to school. Dad had jus’ left for his fourth and final tour of duty in Vietnam and mom was already at work.

The world somehow seemed safer when…

Grabbing up one of the many salmon rods my dad had hanging in our garage, I hopped on my bicycle and raced towards the river. My path to the Klamath River took me south on Highway 101 and westerly on Requa Road

It had been less than 120-years since my childhood stomping grounds had been known by their native names, the river, Tlametl and the settlement south of the river’s mouth Rekwoi. There was still a sense of mystery and mysticism in the land, even for the White settlers of the area.

There was a line of sports fishermen spread out along the sandy shore, south of the mouth as I rode beyond Larson’s boat dock and ditching my bike, climbed over the base of Oregos Rock. There I spooled out the heavy filament into the breaking waves.

Quietly, I sat reeling in my line and then like a fly-fishermen in shallow stream, casting it out again. Much to my surprise, I felt a solid tug on my pole and found myself fighting to haul a heavy fish to the embankment.

Never had I felt something so strong fighting me at the end of the line. Up till now, all I had ever caught were a couple of trout and a few catfish from the old sawmill pond north of the Trees of Mystery.

Never in my wildest nine-year-old imaginings would I have dreamed how this day would turn out as it did.

Minutes seem to be hours as I pulled back and then relaxed my pole, reeling in line each time I drooped the tip of the thick fiberglass shaft down towards the surf. Soon I saw the splash of the salmon I had on the end of my line and I had to fight back my excitement to keep battling it and to not screw up and have the fish break the line and escape.

At last I had it up on the bank of the river. I had landed the biggest fish I had ever seen and I estimated it was nearly as long as I was tall. That’s when I smelled the awful odor of sulfur and heard the snapping of brush from behind and to the right of me.

As I turned, there stood an impeccably dressed figure, very tall and thin, wearing a crisp black suit, white button down shirt, thin black tie and glossy black dress shoes. I knew instantly, he was not human as he had no face and his arms were monsterably long.

His skin was sickly pale, to the point beyond white, and he was devoid of eye sockets, lips or a nose. This skin of his, it was leathery and scales so fine that they were nearly imperceptible.

I froze in utter fear.

Then from out of where his mouth should have been I heard, the deep rumble, “Nice big fish, child!”

My body trembled, my blood ran cold, and try as hard as I might, I could not will my body to move, run or even breathe.

“Wha…who are you?”

“Why, you do you not recognize me, child?”

“No!”

“I am Lucifer,” he laughed, “and I am starving, so I think I will rip your little stomach open right here and eat your guts, heart and all.”

Locked in fear, I watched his long arms reached for me. Seeing his hands, there claw-like appendages for fingers, snapped me out of my trance and I stepped back.

I fell, peeing myself and trying again to cry out.

Still he kept reaching and not wanting to be his meal, I grabbed the salmon and though weighing more than me, shoved it towards him.

“Here, take my fish and eat it, if you’re hungry,” I heard my voice quivering say, as he grabbed it from my shaking hands.

“Ahh…” he boomed, snatching it.

Suddenly, where there had been no mouth, I watched his ‘jaw,’ unhinge into an unnatural proportion and the fish disappear, head first down it’s gullet, like a seabird. As the salmon slipped from sight, I heard the crackle of a blaze and watched in horror as the fish began to broil.

The heat felt like a blast from my grandparents furnace. The cycloid scales of the salmon buckled and curled upward as did the fishes two pectoral fins and the dorsal.

Still finding it hard to move, I was surprised as the thing stopped mid-swallow, only a third of the fish was visible, and began to gag. The dagger-like fingers had also stopped reaching for me and where now clawing at his throat and trying to withdraw the remaining portion of fish from his mouth.

The hideous sounds the Devil made were beyond anything I had ever heard and to this day, I have no ability to even begin describing what awful noises emanated from his evil self. It suddenly occurred to me that he was now choking; suffocating on the many bones of the salmon.

Quickly, I backed away as he flailed wildly, struggling to dislodge the fish from his fiendish airway. Finally, he dropped to its knees and slowly pitched over onto his face.

“Die you son-of-a-bitch!” I shrieked, though I’d never used such language before in my young life.

The smell and smoke of burning brush and decaying flesh overwhelmed me and I fainted. When I awoke, I sat up and looked about me, only to find myself alone.

My pole lay beside me, untouched, filament still spooled in the reel. Also beside me was a patch of ground blacken and deeply scorched to the bedrock.

Wasting no time, I scrambled from where I lay, back around the base of the sacred rock and without looking back raced my bike all the way home. I have never returned to that spot, that sacred place where I watched the Devil choke to death on the bones of an ill-gotten salmon.

Word-o-graphy

Now that the matter has been officially cleared up, the story can be told: I got in severe trouble after my wording was misunderstood on Facebook.

In the post, I wrote: “Going to the mall with my Canon to shoot people.” (The past few days I had been using my new cellphone, experimenting, seeing how it compared to a standard camera set-up.)

Three things happened to and following that post: auto-correct changed ‘Canon’ to ‘Cannon,’ someone reported the post and I found myself confronted by law enforcement shortly after I arrived at the mall. Since I only had my ‘Canon,’ and not my ‘cannon,’ the responding LEO-in-charge realized that there had been a misinterpretation of my posting and released me.

Not trusting the situation though, I called my attorney immediately and she said, “Keep your mouth shut and let me take care of it.”

I did and she did.

If it weren’t for using FB to stay in touch with my friends across the country and around the world, I would’ve deleted it the moment I got home. What a two-edged sword social media has become.

King of the Throne

“What in the hell was that, Doc?”

“It was me.”

“Yeah, I know! But why?”

“I’m afraid of spiders, Sarge.”

“Oh, for chrissakes — gonna have to take your man-card away from you if you keep that shit up!”

No longer was I paying attention to unnecessary ass-chewing. Instead my eyes were focused on the tile floor at the sergeant’s feet. He looked down and saw the large black tarantula-like spider slowly passing between his highly glossed boots.

With an ungodly yelp, he tried to join me on the commode I was inhabiting. Nearly falling off, I pushed him back and demanded, “Get your own fucking toilet…this one’s presently occupied.”

Without touching the ground, the sergeant sprang from my perch to an adjacent one. As he did so, his left foot slipped and he dipped that boot ankle deep in toilet water.

He glared at me as I watched the spider slip away to places unknown through a small crack between the wall and floor, below the far sink. Five minutes later Sarge was on the horn demanding that our area be fumigated.

Job Interview # 1, 091

My thought on today’s interview is as follows: I got all dressed up to meet a man who didn’t wanna be there interviewing people for the position. So perhaps a little levity will break the disappointment…

Well, Hell’s bell
That interview
Didn’t go well.

My other thought is that perhaps I ought to dress like a ragged-assed schlub as many others do. I may wear blue jeans, but at least mine are clean, pressed and hole-free.

It’s a battle maintaining the positive when one feels the bite of defeatism creeping into one’s brain. Anyway, I gotta keep trying because as my folks used to say: ‘Beggars can’t be choosers.’

Imaginary Nevada: January 8, 1920

https://soundcloud.com/sierra-tom-darby/wn-01082020

For years, the old man had worked as a flagman on the railroad in Beowawe, eventually retiring after an accident left him crippled. Still he puttered about the yard, helping where he could and enjoying the swapping of tales late into the evening by the glow of a pot-bellied stove.

Like any other town, the whistle-stop saw an uptick in fires as the cold weather set in. The fires were rarely fatal, but that changed one early morning when a blaze broke out at the rail yard, killing the nightwatchman.

Brady saw the man hobbling away from the tracks, and realized what he had been up to. He followed him to his house where he overpowered, bound, threw a noose around his neck and stood him on a rickety old chair before tightening the rope.

“You know the nightwatchman had a family? A wife and five children.”

“Yeah, but how’s I ‘spose to know he’d try and be a hero? That ain’t his job.”

“And setting fires isn’t your job.”

“So now you expect me to hang myself?”

“No, you’ll have a choice.”

Before he left the house, Brady set it on fire. The retired flagman could either jump or burn.

Disinter

After screaming for help and scratching at the box, buried far beneath the dirt, for hours, I gave up. I gave up my fear of the ungodly darkness, of suffocation, of death and let it come upon me in as natural a way as possible.

That was two years ago. This morning I heard the heavy machinery above my desiccating body and knew they were finally going to disinter me.

The nearer the hand shovels came, the more I could hear them talking between each other. There was fear and trepidation in their voices.

As felt my casket lifted from the ground, I wondered, “Why are they so scared, after all, I’m the one that was buried alive.”

The Last of the Unicorn

The two elegant figures trotted up the ramp like the other beasts, two-by-two. But Noah turned them away telling them, “The time for magic had ended on Earth.”

“But our rhinoceroses cousins are inside.”

“Yes, but their horns, unlike yours, are not magical.”

So the two Unicorn headed north and stood on a nearby mountain as it began to rain. Soon the water was over their hocks and they believed that they had breathed their last.

But God saw their plight and took mercy on them. He whispered, “Use your magic one last time to become something that will be able to withstand the ocean’s depth.”

“We’ll become fish,” one said to the other.

“Better yet, let us change ourselves into whales.”

“Can we keep our horns?”

“Yes, we can – we’re magic.”

Thus the Unicorn disappeared and became the Narwhal, the unicorn of the sea. Narwhal are known to dive to a mile in depth and the more elder the whale, the whiter they become.

History Reimagined: The California Gold Rush

“So, shall we do this thing,” John said.

“If you think it’ll make us rich,” James answered.

James caught up his horse and rode out of New Helvetia, heading to the water-driven sawmill he had built in nearby Coloma on the south fork of the American River. The idea was to salt the river with a few nuggets of gold John had brought from Europe in 1834, before embarking westward towards California.

The pair wanted to create a new town and believed this was the perfect way to get settlers to cross the wide open plains, the Rocky Mountains, Nevada’s scorching deserts and finally Sutter’s fertile land holdings. And they were right, as hundreds of thousand left their Eastern homes at the news and struck out to get rich.

Unfortunately, Sutter nor Marshall had any idea that the land was rich in gold and that this gold would destroy their dreams. Eventually, New Helvetia and Sutter’s Fort would be replaced by the city of Sacramento.

Guard Dog

A home in the process of being built was severely vandalized recently, having nearly every bit of copper pulled from its walls. This incident is the catalyst for this horror story…

Tanner quietly walked up the freshly asphalted street in southeast Reno, and into the cluster of houses under construction. He found one without the drywall in place and knew it would be easy pickings.

Within an hour he had pulled the majority of the copper wiring and tubing from the wall spaces and the three sink areas. Next he located the hatch that was the opening to the crawl space and he slipped under the house.

He worked quietly and quickly filling up the last duffel bag he’d brought with him. He was yanking out what he believed to be the last piece of piping when he heard what he thought was footsteps on the unfinished flooring above him.

Tanner crawled over and pulled the hatch cover into place and then waited as he heard more footsteps crossing back and forth above him. He listen intently as the footfalls faded and were replaced by muffled voices.

Soon even the muffled voices faded away. Not wanting to take any chance of being discovered, Tanner remained in place for another hour.

Certain that the coast was clear, he finally dragged the bag of ill-gotten goods over to the hatch and raised the wooden square out of its resting place. As quietly as possible, he lifted the bag up from under the house and slipped the hatch back in place.

He lift it to his shoulder and raced to retrieve the other two, when he was met with a harsh and gravelly voice, “Going somewhere?”

Tanner froze in place and slowly turned. He tried to scream as the dog-like figure, with red-glowing eyes and white glistening fangs stood up, crossing the room in two strides and ripped his throat out.

Imaginary Nevada: January 1, 1920

https://soundcloud.com/sierra-tom-darby/wn-01012020

Brady rode the Mustang along the gravel flats of Beowawe, north or the railway, when the wind shifted. It carried a strange and offensive smell, like something was burning, and his horse reacted with a sudden jerk.

He gently guided the leery animal along the flats to the tallow works. There, he could see smoke curling upward from one of the shacks, where the non-edible parts of farm stock and wild beasts were boiled down to make lard, soap and tanned leather.

Outside the shack stood the owners only boy. He seemed not to notice the pungent odor as he paced back and forth from the works to a deeply rutted drive that lead to the works, only to turn around and walked back to where he started.

Brady watched him do this for a few minutes before loosening the loop that held his Colt in its leather and before approaching the boy. When called, the boy’s head jerked up, a look of surprise on his face.

Hardly 12-years-old, the boy stared at Brady, eyes wide, fingers twitching. That’s when Brady saw the Texas-44 tucked in the boys waist band.

“Where’s your folks?”

“Cooking.”

“In the house?”

“No, in the pot,” the boy nodded towards the shack, a vicious, toothy grin on his face.

The kid was fast, but Brady was faster. The shot cut through the boy’s head, spilling his brains on the ground.

He dragged the boy’s remains to the tallow pot, dumping him in with what was left of his parents and stoked the fire some more. Brady would return the following day to check on the family’s rendering.