“International Bake Off Season 1 on Netflix, Episode 4”

Episode 4: Tea Time Deviating from the norm, the contestants must use their baking skills in an unorthodox challenge: a tea ceremony. Who will steep the challenge, and who will go home?

Elon White stands under a rubber umbrella, a necessary tool to stop the thunder that continually strikes him from a small rain cloud that has formed specifically over his head. Four newly added Samurai statues flank him, creating a menacing but honorable line on either side of him. He introduces the contestants to the guest audience for the day, the local Wizard University’s Football team, the Wizards of Miami Zebras, who wear their uniforms, complete with two blue stripes on one sleeve and an old Monastic drawing of a Zebra stitched onto the front. Today’s bake, explains Elon darkly, is a traditional tea ceremony, complete with scones, tea cakes, crumpets, Japanese mochi treats, and the American tradition of a Cheeseburger Omelette.

The contestants grab the necessary ingredients except for Richard Rand, who is left only with 14 pounds of carrots.

Sam Brown begins an Earl Grey shortbread before he starting on his scones. As an ex-linebacker, Sam was not allowed to get anywhere near tea, he explains, as the NFL banned tea. He is obviously nervous and wonders aloud why he can’t use coffee instead.

Jenalee loses a staring contest with Sean and, at Elon’s command, is forced to relinquish her use of the gas burners and electric kettle. She is forced to try to boil water for tea using six candles and an admiring Wizard’s lucky talisman. Betty decides that, in hopes of saving time to brew her family’s secret tea recipe, she can use the same batter for her tea cookies, mochi, and cheeseburger omelette. Adonis Letapoulous lost his mother to Hemlock tea when he was a boy so, in protest, he omits the tea from his shortbreads, makes loukoumades, a salad of smoked salmon and smoked avocado with feta dressing, made from cheese from goats of Mt. Olympus, and Greek Coffee (also smoked from Mt. Olympus.)

Richard Rand turns his 14 pounds of carrots into a subservient robot that, while scoring high marks for reproducing the Japanese Matcha tea ceremony perfectly, will not stop calling Jeff Londing a ‘Loquacious Assnose’. (loquacious assnose)

As the contestants frantically fight their delicate teas, the student Wizards’ presence releases an influx of magic into the Bake Off, creating more thunderstorms. The four newly added Samurai statues now create long, warped shadows on the walls as lightning rains down. They look ready to fight, but each other or an oncoming army, no one knows. On a map, would they be two parallel blue lines? Or one red and one blue, a burst of spiky lines representing battle?

All around Luka Bretzagalatzin the influx of magic causes tiny, bright, flying ghosts rain down, calling names of loved ones long dead. He tries hard to focus on the pickled red onions for his Cheeseburger omelette, but the ghosts invade his skull, glowing behind his eyes and in every hair on his head. Through pure force of will, he pours his Coconut Rooibos as the ghosts of ex-lovers and countless men who have died by his hand infect his tea cakes.

Sean O’Malley makes the most beautiful display of the Round, with perfect Irish Breakfast tea, perfect scones, squishy Mochi, mouth-watering tea-cakes and a deconstructed Cheeseburger Omelette. Unfortunately for him, the extra magic turns his tea ceremony into a collection of tiny glass animals, delicate and strange in the flashing lightning. The Wizards delight in this; the make the creatures come to life and prance before the judges. One tiny glass horse defecates tiny glass shards into Jeffrey Londing’s lap.

Sam Brown serves the judges tea with the leaves still in the water. Jenalee’s food is undercooked, her tea cold. Betty’s tea is perfect, but her Omlette is simply bread and her mochi are, as Raleigh Simone puts it, “Basically garlic knots without the garlic.” Londing has, by now, used a samurai sword to cut Richard Rand’s robot to a perfect julienne salad, and Adonis Letapolis’ protest has only offended the Wizards, who grumble testily about the smoked coffee being too strong and not malty enough. Elon White, under a dark pillar of clouds that resemble the Horse Head Nebula, shouts “Enough!”

Despite the other contestant’s misgivings, Sean O’Malley is sent home for not providing the judges with any food and nearly killing Jeffrey with glass horse shit.

He bids a teary farewell to the camera, his beauty radiating sunshine through the storms. He leaves a weathered Celtic cross in his wake. The camera plays a melancholy fiddle arrangement of ‘Cockles and Mussels’ as the episode fades.

“International Bake Off Season 1 on Netflix, Episode 3”

Episode 3: Muffinmania! Elon White looks to the solar system for inspiration for this week’s challenge and packs it into the small but mighty muffin!

Elon White, flanked by two columns of Union soldiers, fresh from their trip from 1864, watches as an ambulance carts off Amir Usif, rendered to mad, half-conscious ravings by the flat side of Bianca Peteron’s Nagiata.  Elon announces that they are now down to eight contestants as a large, immersive map of the solar system appears around the contestants.

Each contestant, Elon says from the middle of a hand of poker with the boys from the Ohio 54th, will have a planet assigned to them. He wins his hand, the boys in blue throw their cards down in frustration. Your muffin must have your planet as a theme. Go!

Bianca Peteron of Spain is assigned Mercury. Jenalee picks Venus. Sean O’Malley, former fairy from Ireland, is given earth, Adonis Letapolis, current Centuar from Greece, Mars. Sam Brown from the United States is assigned Jupiter. Betty, tall and mysterious, is given Saturn, ringed and brave. Richard Rand despondently receives Uranus, the Union soldiers snickering in his direction. Luka Bretzagalatzin, finally, is given Neptune, an ice Giant to match the cold, dark, ice blue of his eyes and oft-exposed soul.

Luka begins making mini blueberry muffins with smiley-face icing. Bianca Peteron, at a loss, decides on corn muffins for her Mercury Muffins. One Union soldier attempts to convince her to just make her muffins with liquid Mercury before Elon White has him shamefully dismissed and sent home. Sean O’Malley, after some thought, decides to theme his muffins around Danu, Irish Mother Goddess of Earth and Fertility and, consequently, as a former member of the fairy folk, his own mother. His muffins taste of disappointment and infrequent phone calls.

Betty makes double chocolate muffins with enchanted rings that hover around them in an ever changing rotation of neon greens and yellows. Sam Brown makes a few texts to some friends and, to go with his Rhubarb- Cardamom muffins, presents the judges with the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, who play Gustav Holst’s Jupiter movement from his Planets Suite. Jeff Londing cries as the music swells; the Union soldiers remove their caps and remember their fallen brethren. Raleigh Simone shrugs and says she doesn’t care much for Cardamom.

Adonis Letapolis rages to anyone who will listen about the petulant Romans who came from the Greeks, stealing their laws and their Gods and perverting them. Instead of making Mars Muffins, Adonis makes Ares muffins, filled with mint, pistachio and orange, topped with a ginger icing that, when eaten, summons the Greek God of War who slams his spear on the judges table and demands the Centaur be given the prize. After the episode, Ares and Raleigh consort, producing a Warring Vampire Lord who is sentenced to life in prison for a Ponzi Scheme before he can bring bloody, fanged war upon the world.

Jenalee Wolland, inspired by Venus’ volcanic surface, makes dark-chocolate cayenne volcano muffins. They explode with fiery red delight, causing a stir of wonderment and fascination among the Union Soldiers. For the remaining year of the Civil War, the 54th Ohio keep cayenne muffins in their pockets.

Richard Rand finds himself out of ideas for a Uranus muffin and picks a fight with a few of the Union soldiers who keep heckling him. In the last minute, he pulls of a beautiful Carrot Cake and Prune muffin, guaranteed according to Richard, “to make Uranus work.” The crowd groans.

By the end, Bianca Peteron is sent home. Her corn muffins, Londing explains, were dry and lacked cohesiveness with the subject. Before she can be interviewed, Confederate Cavalry storm the building, resulting in a bloody engagement under the set of Samurai statues, their swords gleaming in the flashes of gunpowder and smoke. Bianca is eliminated.

“International Bake Off Season 1 on Netflix, Episode 2”

Episode 2:  Slow Rolls With Cakes under their belts, the contestants must move on without beloved fellow baker Dolly as they try to master a smaller, more flavor packed challenge: rolls!

 

Elon White and a puppet version of himself stand in front of an oil painting of King Henry VIII. Elon’s puppet dryly notes that the contestants must bake enough rolls to satisfy the wife-killing King, while Elon slowly gorges a puppet Anne Boleyn with rolls until she is too fat to move.

Jenalee starts a batter for Kaiser Rolls before realizing she has made a life size ice sculpture of Barack Obama instead. She grits her teeth and starts over, the ice President slowly melting under the heat of the ovens. Sunshine pours through the skylight; surfer babes and beach dudes prowl the outside of the building, drawn from the beach to the sweet smell of rolls. Sam Brown makes his dinner rolls in the shape of tiny footballs, wrapping them in bacon to make them ‘pigskins.’ Betty cracks eggs, shells splintering all over and embedding themselves in her skin. She will need surgery by the end of the episode to remove them all. Jeff Londing paces about, checking in with contestants, stealing six bananas from Sean O’Malley, who must replace them in his Peanut Butter Banana Bun-Buns with whole coconuts. Amir Usif and Bianca Peteron both make cinnamon buns. Richard Rand of Australia finishes quickly, making perfect fruit rolls out of dried apples and figs. He starts next on a crumble for the top. Soon his hands are perfect spheres of butter and oats and cinnamon; the producer must lick through the crumble so that Rand, his face wet with nervous tears, may use his hands again. Adonis Letapolis makes traditional Greek Easter Rolls which he infuses with centaur magic, guaranteeing a perfect consistency.

Elon White’s puppet finishes making love to the engorged puppet of Anne Boleyn before his human counterpart beheads her. Each contestant’s roll is fed to not only Londing and Simone, but the portrait of Henry VIII as well. He exclaims with glee over Rand and Brown’s rolls before denouncing them as “Rats, unfit detestable excess of human waste, traitors to the crown.” The rest of his anti-American and anti-Australian rant is edited from the episode. It is determined that Usif and Peteron must fight to the death, as is customary, because they presented the same dish. As Usif takes a longstaff and Peteron a naginata, the credits begin to roll, robbing the end of the episode from an eliminated contestant. Episode 3 promises to begin with drama.

 

“International Bake Off Season 1 on Netflix, Episode 1”

Episode 1: Cake Off!- Drama unfolds as the newly introduced contestants are put to the test. Poorly baked cakes go home, well baked cakes live to see another day!

 

Elon White, culinary genius and Season 1 host, stands before a group of ten contestants, each from a different part of the world. The kitchen is a large, cylindrical beast; all stainless steel and chrome offset by rustic wooden chef stations. The roof is entirely skylight. Outside, the Miami skyline bleeds a reminder of the 1980s in pinks and neon greens for the camera. Japanese influences flank the walls; bamboo thickets and pagoda molding set around two seven foot suits of Samurai armor.

The action kicks off quickly, as each contestant is given the task of baking a simple Bundt cake. Sam Brown, ex-linebacker for the Chicago Bears and contestant from the USA crushes raspberries for compote, red juice staining his apron and dying his dark hands an eerie crimson. Jenalee Wolland of Britain preserves lemon, mummifying it before topping her Bundt with slim pieces and a lime meringue. White counts the clock down like Orson Wells while dangerous horns score an uneasy overture. The contestant from Jamaica, a muscular, rail thin woman named Betty, deconstructs her Bundt with a machete. Richard Rand of Australia sings a traditional lullaby to his Cake, smiling wide as it wobbles with each lilt of the natural minor scale. Amir Usif, representing Turkey, crushes pistachios individually with a hammer twice the size of a normal man. “Ouch!” each one screams, but Usif continues to harvest with a deaf ear.

Sean O’Malley, the contestant from Ireland, pays tribute to his roots. He was born one of the fairy folk; a beautiful fairy, her hair waterfalls of gold and red, twirling, dancing in the forest around long forgotten rocks marked by Catholics who, despite praying to the Holy Trinity, knew better than to disturb the world of the fairies. Formerly Slethá, now Sean, bakes a white cake he sprinkles with copious amounts of magic and, for a touch of zing, cinnamon. Adonis Letapolis, a centaur from Greece, makes a giant Baklava cake, his syrup mixture of honey, water, sugar, cinnamon and lemon boiling in cauldron. Bianca Peterón, proudly carrying Spain on her back, liquefies the pure essence of citrus, distilling it to two eye drops worth of liquid that she adds to her long, flat cake that soaks in Rum and is topped with a coconut meringue.

The judges come out, recently outed Vampire Raleigh Simone, her hair four shades of blue and pink, her fangs proudly displayed, and the enormously fat Jeff Londing, former chef turned critic turned exploiter of the free food these sorts of competitions give out. They taste each cake, Londing remarking that Betty’s has “A really nice bake and lovely consistency.” Simone flirts shamelessly with Adonis Letapolis, picking his cake as ‘Gold Level’ for the week even though, as White and Londing point out, it was technically not a cake. Rand almost goes home, but, after deliberation and a pause for a commercial break (that never materializes because the show was made not for television but for online binge watching ‘fill your craving with watching cake instead of eating cake!), and a dramatic gong solo, Rand survives for one more round while the contestant from Japan, a humble Shiba Inu named Dolly, is sent home.

The Very Counterfeit of Death

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Voice’ This is my fiction piece

 

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, 1923

Hans Kroeger strolled through the plain wooden door, its frosted glass guarding the outside world from seeing inside, and set his briefcase down heavily. He set about brewing a pot of coffee, from which he poured himself a large cup and stared out the window.

Thomas Todder, his business partner of five years, interrupted; slamming the door behind him and pointedly avoiding eye contact with his partner.

Thomas poured himself an equally large cup of coffee and added two fingers of whiskey. He sat at his desk and began to sweat under Hans’ nervous stare.

 

 

Though the two men departed from their office the night before and retired to their own homes, they found themselves reunited in a dream. It was a shared dream, impossible yes, but seemingly less impossible than the landscape around them. It was made of crimson reds, violets, oranges the color of the sunset and teals that flirted with indigo but never gave in. They stood in a desert, wavering cacti stretching for miles. It was night in their dream, daytime seemed a ridiculous notion, and under an oversize moon hung six or seven big dippers.

Death a voice repeated, simultaneously in Spanish and English.

Hans and Thomas found themselves tied together, back to back, palm trees sprouting all around them and dancing violently.

We know. We know and we will rinse your soul clean.

 

 

If you asked Hans Kroeger or Thomas Todder about their newspaper, The San Antonio Voice, they’d say it was the most popular paper in Texas, the National Paper, hard journalism, and the best read since The Declaration of Independence. It was the same paper that had unmasked the Cattle Killer as Carlos De Sueña, discovered the Texas Desert Ape and proved it was Ricardo Jimenez and his wife Maria, and had proved the corruption charges against Mayor Jonas Rodriguez true, running him out of office.

It was a three man operation with only enough glory for two. Matta Zoltón, the young man who ran the presses, cleaned and maintained the machines, and loaded the cars for delivery, was a shadow stuck behind the scenes.

This morning, Hans and Thomas found their hubris deflated, both wondering about the strange dream they had, unaware the other had dreamt the same nightmare.

They moved slowly, but by lunch both men had put the terror out of their minds and, by evening, felt jovial enough for a drive up to the Hill Country for a drink at the Beer Hall.

They left Matta with a full night’s work. Tomorrow’s headline read: SANTOS CERO: OFFICER OF THE LAW, OR KILLER OF LOCAL BATS; CHIROPTERA KILLER.

 

 

Hans’ crimson tie lay on the table next to Thomas’ teal and purple diamond print one as the two men readied themselves to leave the Beer Hall. It was not a large Hall with mostly outdoor seating, but the warm night air of the Texas summer kept patrons comfortable where walls and ceilings did not. The owner brewed his own Ale and kept a plethora of pretty daughters behind the bar, both contributing to the continuing success of the establishment.

It was dark and the moon had not yet risen when the two men decided to call a car and return home. Without the blanket of stars, the sprawling, open fields of the Hill Country remained seemingly unconquerable. Thomas grabbed both men’s ties and encouraged Hans to follow him on the short walk to the road where they could more easily meet their driver.

As they trudged through the wet grass, the moon rose violently, stars coming into view under a wavering orange band of light. Trumpets sounded around them, playing a dark melody in an incongruously snappy, crisp performance.

The sound of hooves snuck up on the two men until they spun around to find a glowing white figure atop a horse. It was clearly, even through the haze of a few pints of Ale, a skeleton wearing a General’s uniform, a tailored black and red coat with black pants that made the apparition resemble some sort of vampire if not for the unnerving, grinning skeleton face the two men could help but fixate upon.

The hands and head of the skeleton sucked the glow from the full moon and illuminated fully in the space around the men. Its face was adorned in the traditional Dia De Los Muertos Calavera Skull, flowers around the eyes, with smaller more decorative lines in oranges, teal and crimson all across the face. On the forehead a small sun faded to crescent moon and back again every few seconds. The Skeleton pulled the reins of the horse and jumped in an acrobatic spin, landing in front of the two men and knocking them to the ground.

Hola! It cried.

“Who are you?” Thomas demanded.

Oh, senior Todder, you do not recognize me? Is it perhaps because I am dead? It does alter the face a bit, no? the apparition laughed, drawing his face in close to Thomas’.

“I know that voice…” Hans murmured.

It is General Posata you odorous gringos!

“No, no you’re dead.” Hans retorted. He had only met the man a few times, but this did not sound like General Posata. Or did it? Perhaps having no vocal chords altered the voice?

I AM??  The General cried, looking back in forth, his features pulled into exaggerated surprise, like a glowing, undead tragedy mask. He laughed heartily, a meaty chuckle that sent shivers down the two men’s spines. Walk with me. He said, and set off.

“No. Leave us alone,” Thomas spat.

Wasn’t asking. Posata said, and Thomas realized his feet were moving independent of his brain. They were no longer in the Hill Country; the landscape had changed to that of the desert far west of San Antonio.

It is cold here at night, but not as cold as death. Did I mention I’m dead? Posata said lyrically. I believe that you two had something to do with that. And I believe you two have had something to do with a number of deaths, all which number among the Mexican men and women of San Antonio.

The desert was indeed cold. The Big Dipper fell from the sky, crashing to earth and revealing itself to be seven souls, each men and women The San Antonio Voice had proved guilty a crime that had sentenced them to death.

Posata circled the men. I am a blunt man, so let me say this; You have brought death upon too many who did not deserve it, including myself, all in the pursuit to prove a your so called truths. You are not journalists, but prejudice harbingers of death. Tonight, this ends, unless you can report from this desert, your new home Someday, you will feel the cold of death, but first ,you will burn in this place.

Hans and Thomas could not protest; their voices were stripped from them. The big dipper danced around in cold, fiery torment, and the coyotes of the desert laughed and laughed.

 

 

 

No one in San Antonio ever figured out where the two men who ran The San Antonio Voice had gone. The bar maids at the beer hall said they had wandered off and were captured by wolves. Others claimed the old Native American Gods who protected the land had taken them. Matta swore it was an Angel sent from hell to take them.

Matta took over the paper, proving swiftly that the previous management’s versions of the truth were both fabricated and dangerously askew. The Mexican community rejoiced at his ascension and fine work running the paper.

He was not only a fine journalist and well respected member of the community, but also the best horseman in all of San Antonio

And the coyotes laughed and laughed.

“SUNY West-Cayuga Men’s Basketball”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Leviathan’ This is my fiction piece.

 

 

It was the first time in the history of March Madness a 16 seed had beaten a 1 seed. For those who don’t speak Basketball, all that needs to be known is that the SUNY West-Cayuga Leviathans won a game they weren’t supposed to win. Not the don’t-win-this-game-or-your-family-will-be-mysteriously-relocated-to-an-island-in-the-South-Pacific-no-one-will-discover-for-another-150-years kind of not supposed to win, but the team-they-beat-has-bigger-stronger-faster-and-better-players-with-better-scholarships-and-are-all-one-foot-taller kind of not supposed to. From there, the miracle run lasted far beyond anyone’s expectations. In the blink of an eye and the space of a few weeks, the SUNY West-Cayuga Leviathans were playing in the National Championship game.

 

 

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Poseidon loomed over the battlefield, a web of shallow rivers in a dry plain filled with palm trees. Odin, grinning a grin from a cartoon noir, stood tall over the other side of the battlefield. Poseidon’s Leviathan had fought better than expected in the Tournament of the Gods, first beating Bast’s Wildcat, followed by Loki’s Azure Frost Giant, The ‘Blue Devil’, Hephaeustus’ scrappy Wolverine, Badb’s menacing ‘Fighting Irish’ Crows, and Tyr’s new alliance with Fenrir’s Wolfpack.

All in all, it was surprising to everyone involved that the Leviathan was able to defeat such strong opponents, but with her long neck, sharp teeth, narrow, gar-like jaws, mud colored scales that shone blue in the water, and sharp mind and focused eyesight, Poseidon’s creature was the feel-good story of the Tournament.

Hermes blew the horn that signified the start of battle. The Leviathan darted forward through the system of rivers, plunging without fear into the fight. From a cloud of darkness and static electricity emerged her opponent, Odin’s Great Bruin.

 

 

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SUNY West-Cayuga huddled around the bench, grief and consternation brushed across their faces. In 4 minutes, UCLA had gone up 28-3. After sinking the first three point shot of the game, SUNY West-Cayuga had lost the ball, missed blocks, fouled far too many times, and allowed three Sports Center worthy dunks.

“SUNY West-Cayuga is going to call a timeout here, Jim,” said one commentator.

“They’re going to see if they can get the tires back on this thing. Only 3 points, allowing UCLA to score 28, I can’t think of a worse start to a game.”

“Arlington Roberts has a stat line that reads 0 points, 0 rebounds and -2 assists. I don’t even know how you can get negative assists Jim, but this team found a way.”

“It’s a shame too, because SUNY West-Cayuga has really played some great games in this tournament, but the narrative around them was that a 16 seed in the Championship Game would lead to a blowout. That’s certainly been the story so far.”

Over in the huddle, Coach Cavanaugh took a breath and tried to compose himself.

“Okay guys, listen up! I didn’t think I’d have to make this speech until the last minute of the game, or until the last three minutes, or at least halftime. Or, at least the last minute before halftime. Or-”

“Coach!!” Arlington Roberts cried.

“Sorry,” Coach Cavanaugh said, waving his arms as if to clear the thought. “Sorry. You guys deserve to be here, so don’t give up. You’ve got nothing to lose at this point! Those guys over there? Yeah, they may be bigger, they may have scholarships or a chance at the NBA, but they don’t have the wild run you guys have had. No one expected you to be here, so get out there and keep fighting! Keep fighting your butts off because tomorrow, you either wake up the greatest underdog champions or the greatest underdog story. Either way, people will be talking about you for years to come. We might as well give them one more shock, huh? Alright hands in, Leviathans on three!”

 

 

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Odin’s enormous Bruin swatted a morning star sized paw at the Leviathan, who, to her credit, dodged the brunt of the attack. She darted forward, nimble jaws outstretched to close around the bear’s throat, but was knocked away by the other paw. The Bruin pounced onto the Leviathan’s back in a thunderous bolt of crackling energy.  The Leviathan screeched in pain, a cry that echoed around the battlefield in a sickening Doppler effect. She dove underwater as fast as she could; losing the Bruin’s snapping jaws to the surface of the water. She turned and gave herself a burst of speed and rammed into the furry mountain, managing to knock the wind out of the bear as it was pushed back to land. It recovered more quickly than she thought. Machine-like jaws clamped down on her back, blood flowing under the scissors of teeth. She flailed awkwardly and detached herself. Poseidon called timeout.

The Leviathan swam lazily to the God of Water, his long white hair tied back in a ponytail. He set his trident down and knelt to greet her.

Poseidon gave her a few reassuring pats on the head.

“I’ve been thinking,” he murmured. “Now, no one expected you to get this far, but we did, and I have an idea of how to win this.”

He looked across the way to Odin’s plastered smile. Odin laughed in Poseidon’s direction.

“Go for the bad eye.” Poseidon said, staring at Odin’s eyepatch. “It’s the fat man’s weakness; it must be the Bruin’s.”

The Leviathan nodded. A horn blow from Hermes signaled a resume play. The Leviathan dove as far as she could, letting the deep silence of her underwater world surround her before she propelled herself out of the water. The Bruin was waiting for her, but she managed to snap forward, jaws closed together like a jab connecting with the Bruin’s eye.

Nothing happened. She splashed back into the water and peeked her head out to examine Odin.

“Other eye!” Poseidon yelled.

The next jab she landed.

 

 

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“Another three!!”

“Jim, this is incredible. But did we really expect anything less from SUNY West-Cayuga?”

“Their Cinderella story is NOT over yet!!”

“It’s incredible, with one minute left to play SUNY West-Cayuga takes a 68-61 lead. “And Arlington Roberts is fouled! He will go to the line and shoot two!”

“I don’t get it Jim, it’s almost like someone punched the Bruins right in the eyes! They cannot make a shot! SUNY West-Cayuga is playing great defense, hitting the three point shots they need and, as Roberts sinks one and they go up 69-61 with 45 seconds left, it looks like the Leviathans are going to be National Champions!”

Right Now, On the Back Porch

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Feathers’ This is my fiction piece.

UPDATE: I was the winner of the #Blog Battle for my ‘Feathers’ piece! Thanks to everyone who read and voted!

 

It was last March when all the trees sprouted feathers instead of leaves and the birds grew flowers and leaves instead of feathers. Just to make things equal, I suppose. Sure, it was strange and very surprising at first; I remember being over in Riverside Park for a case, all the way up by 125th street where the park is below West Side Drive, down on the river that looks out on Jersey. I remember taking a cigarette break and looking down into the water where a mess of feathers floated. I thought for a moment maybe a boat had hit a duck or something, but when I looked up, I saw a tree, bent in the breeze shedding feathers. I figured it was an isolated incident, something I’d read about in the paper next week, but Wilson’s existence in the sliver of a chair that sat in the sliver of New York I called an office changed that.

“It’s only affecting certain species of trees,” Wilson told me from behind his clear framed glasses and sandy brown hair, his voice like burnt coffee. “Palms seem to be just fine, as well as anything in the Spruce and Fir family.”

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

He threw a briefing down on the desk in front of me. “You’re the best person for the job,” he said. He was right, but I was holding out for as much money as I could get. “You figured out why that volcano appeared in Central Park. You helped stop those baby tornadoes that kept popping up in Williamsburg. You even tracked down why the sturgeon in the Hudson started singing the entirety of A Little Night Music.”

“Those fish love Sondheim,” I noted.

“We’ve got people working on the consequences of this, but I need to know why,” he said.

“Find someone else, I’ve already got a case.”

He wrote a number down on a piece of paper. I added a zero. He sighed, but nodded.

I took the case.

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I made slow progress the first few weeks. As March turned to April, it became more apparent which trees bloomed feathers and which were unaffected. Birds, however, didn’t get such a lucky break. Eagles on the Hudson grew oak leaves, pet parrots bloomed with tulip petals. Pigeons, once the winged rats of our fair city, now sported beautiful flowers of bluebells and nasturtiums, buckeye leaves and dogwood petals. Tourists made pilgrimage to New York, eschewing the Statue of Liberty and Radio City to take photos of Pigeons. I was happy to see the little winged clowns get the spotlight for once; I always thought Pigeons were cute. I have a sneaking suspicion that all New Yorkers do as well, New York code forbids one from admitting it.

A month passed, feathers in the trees waving the breeze, sparrows with buttercups for wings flitting about, and still I had no idea why these two species decided to mix it up. Was it a fluke? I decided to try my usual suspects.

I checked in with the Super Villain that lives on 175th, by Highbridge Park, but he only laughed at me. “What sort of stupid evil plan would that be, turning fowl to flower and arbor to avian?” I made sure to let all his lab mice out of their cages before I left, setting whatever plan he had scheming back a few months.

I had similar luck with the Witch Queen of Gowanus. She simply shook her head and sadly remarked, “It pains me to see the birds so limited in flight and the trees so unnatural. I pray to see their return to normalcy by the hour.”

Even the Frost Alien who disguises himself as a Great Pyrenees in Washington Square Park couldn’t tell me anything.  “Woof. Woof bark,” he said. “I’m not an alien, why do you keep asking if I am? What about the trees?” He declined to comment further.

Exhausted, I grabbed a Falafel and a Coke and sat on a park bench with a cigarette. Tourists from around the world frantically photographed flowered Pigeons. On the bench next me, a little girl fed a Pigeon who had sprouted wide, flat leaves adorned with acorns.

“She’s the Fairie Queen of Birds,” the little girl said, throwing scraps of a hot dog bun for her majesty, the Queen Pigeon.

I nodded and browsed my phone.

“You look angry,” she said to me.

I raised an eyebrow. “Why do you think these birds have flowers?” I asked the girl. “Why did a bunch of trees all of a sudden grow feathers?” I stomped out my cigarette.

“Because,” she said, eyes focused on the canopy of feathers above her. “The trees want to fly and the birds want to be more beautiful.”

She threw another scrap of bun for a group of birds that fought and pecked for it and turned to me, smiling.

“That’s stupid,” I said, grabbing my phone and keying ‘birds of prey’ into the search engine. “Look at this Eagle. And this Falcon. They’re beautiful. Have you ever seen a Peacock? Or a Toucan? Look…. look at this redwood tree out in California, look how deep the roots go. Birds are already beautiful and if trees wanted to fly they wouldn’t have dug into the earth so far.”

I shook my head and walked away.

_________________________________________________________

I never did figure out what it was, but when Wilson came back, I fed him the girl’s response. He pulled a face, but agreed it was poetic. If the supernatural couldn’t explain it, it might as well say something that sounds beautiful about it.

This year, as the birds molt and March slogs through some late snow, everything seems to be back to normal. Birds with feathers, Trees with leaves and flowers.

I guess we’ll never know why exactly it happened, but I long ago decided not everything needs an explanation. Not everything happens for a reason because sometimes, the reasons just don’t make sense. You’ve gotta let the trees dream of flying and the birds dream of, um, photosynthesis? Don’t ask me, I’m just one man with little poetic spirit.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going out for a smoke.

 

BlogBattle award 1

 

 

 

The Gravity of Ken Sulane- Part II (Short Story)

“They all have a story or a grudge or a debt,” Ken said, locking eyes with the god. “They’ve always come, my whole life, so forgive me if I’m a little sick trying to make up for something someone who lived hundreds or thousands of years before I did.”

“You don’t understand, Ken. This is coming for you regardless of you accept or not. You don’t need to accept or decline, it will affect you either way. You see, back-”

The large, red bearded man cut Apollo off. “Oh, so you’ve accepted his quest then?” he accent was thick, not quite Irish, not quite Scottish, not quite easy to understand.

“No, I haven’t Brian.” Ken said wearily.

“Lad, how could you?” Brian whined.

“How could I what? I haven’t done anything!” Ken protested.

“The god said.” The giant Samurai noted, stepping forward. “If you accept to right the wrongs he brings you, please, reconsider my plea-“

“There is still our matter to be settled!” The Renaissance man spat. “Ken, your great ancestor, Antonio Di Siricusa is the true artist and creator of the works attributed to Michelangelo!”

“I’m sure he’s not.” Ken said testily.

He is not allowed to go anywhere!” All twelve of the shadowy figures that hung from the ceiling said in a wavering, robotic voice. “You must pay for the sins of Huang Zhiyuan,. The feeble tendrils of your life belong to us. Ken Sulane, we are owed a soul that must come to the netherworld, at the last gate at the base of the Mountain of Spirits.”

“Yeah, I’m not going. I’m never going with you guys, so you can stop waiting.”

It is not a choice, Ken. You will come.”

“I won’t.”

You will.

“You cannot take him,” said the woman that had been talking with the Renaissance man. “Kenneth, you must come and save me. I have awaited the prophecy to be fulfilled, for a man of your bloodline to rescue me from my imprisonment.”

You will come.

“Leave him be!” she implored the floating figures.

“Hilda,” Ken said. “We’ve talked about this. It’s 2016, you are a strong woman and you don’t need a man to rescue you! Also, you’re dead.”

The Union soldier spoke up, his wife grasping his arm. “Ken, you promised you’d help find our lost war treasures. As your great-great-great grandfather, I think I take precedent.” Ken’s great-great-great grandmother nodded frantically.

“YOU MUST HELP FIND MY TREASURE THAT YOUR ANCESTOR, THE FIERCE AND BEAUTIFUL TSUWEI, HID FOR ME,” the Dragon roared from outside.

“We would like our treasure!” Great-great-great-Grandfather protested.

“I WOULD ALSO LIKE HIS TREASURE,” the Dragon yelled.

Ken’s great-great-great-Grandmother harrumphed loudly.

From the middle of the room, a dark man faded in from nothingness. He was a warrior, armed with a thin, ovular shield and a pointed, sharpened spear.

He was so tall that he needed to kneel to speak with the sitting Ken, which he did, opening his arms wide.

“I implore you again, many-great grandson of mine, to find my brother, your many-great uncle, my assassin, the one who took from me my life with poison, and regain our rightful throne.”

Ken sighed. “I’m sorry man, but like I keep saying, I really think you have the wrong Ken Sulane.”

Apollo tried again. “Ken, I apologize for what is clearly an ongoing problem with your bloodline, but-”

Ken laughed, unhinged a little. He stood and walked to the bed, where he scratched Wixon behind the ears. “It’s more than a problem, Apollo. You want to talk about my bloodline? Thanks to all of you, I can trace every movement of every ancestor I ever had! Who they screwed over, who they screwed, what they made or lost, what insane magical beast they befriended or made an enemy of. My father’s ancestors came from Greece, wise politicians and rumored to be of a god’s bloodline, someone I’m sure you knew Apollo. Probably someone who did something you’re here to warn me about! Right? Well they moved from Greece to Italy, to the Greek colony of Syracuse, later Siracusa during the time of the Romans, where they stayed for many, many years before moving North to Ireland sometime in the 1600s. There they met the other component of my father’s ancestry, as evidenced by Big Red Brian over here. They narrowly avoided the famine of the 19th century by about 80 years, moving around 1800 to America where they’ve stayed ever since.”

Apollo’s patience was wearing thin. “Yes, Ken.”

“Then my mother? She traces her family back to China, to the earliest known peoples there. Apparently someone pissed off a bunch of ancient floating shadows so they won’t leave me alone, as well as hid a Dragon’s treasure for him.”

“HELLO,” the Dragon said again, more cheerily this time.

“In the meantime they moved to Japan. I know this because I get more ghostly kitsune spirits than anyone should have, not to mention Mr. Samurai the Giant there. They moved back to China at some point and then from there to California during the Gold Rush. In between that, my ancestors really got around. If you’ll notice there is a fully armored Dragoon on horseback outside that has sworn to protect me and my kin from any harm as long as I live, the ghost of a Great Dane, who’s purpose here is still unknown to me and this fucking gnome who will not stop snoring and…. just wake the fuck up! Come on seriously, who sleeps this long WAKE UP!!! So no. No, no no Apollo, I really don’t care. I cannot add another. I am full. No Vacancy. Please. Please I beg you to leave me alone.

I’ve never had a normal life. I never had a normal childhood. When I was 13, a Pegasus came to me and told me I, by proxy of my ancestors, was his true owner. He tried to follow me everywhere and at first, it was amazing. How many other kids have a flying horse? He, by the way, was the one that told me you’re the last of the Greek gods. We had fun for a few years, but after everything, after all the people and creatures that came to me, I couldn’t stand to look at him anymore. It made me feel sick, like I made a Taco Bell run at 4 in the morning. A few months ago I sent him to the moon. I told him I needed a very important rock and off he went, flying higher and higher until he was just a small white speck. I sent a fucking horse to space, Apollo, because I am so burnt out on hearing about my ancestors and whatever it is that they did. I don’t even know if that Pegasus can breathe in space! There could be a dead flying horse on the moon for all we know. I can’t handle it anymore, Apollo. I am only human and I just do not have the capacity for this. ”

“Ken,” Apollo said, and it was not a question or even simply his name, but a command ushered into the world for the first time where it cemented itself as a force, hanging in the air for a moment, tense and sharp. “You do not have a choice.”

Apollo began to explain, but he barely moved an inch before the breeze in the windows faded and Ken’s room systematically, inch by inch, blackened. Ken and his nuisances remained as a large, motley group, floating in the nothingness of a blank, black canvas.

“Shit. What is this?” Ken asked.

Apollo shook his head. “What I tried to warn you of.”

There was nothing all around Ken, but he still felt as though he were standing on solid ground. His brain, however, screamed to any synapses that would listen that Ken was falling, that there was nothing beneath him and he should currently be panicking; finding any way to survive a fall into an abyss that apparently did not exist. Ken felt a sort of dizzying seasickness. He closed his eyes, but found he couldn’t tell if they were open or closed. The darkness seemed to contract for a brutal moment before expanding. Ken opened his eyes and saw earth, the size of a marble, hanging in the sky. It grew as he watched it, until he found himself standing under the Earth, slowly spinning on its axis like an exhibit in a dark, forgotten room of a museum.

It was different than it looked in pictures, in part because Ken’s brain couldn’t quite process that he was staring at the planet he should be standing on and in part because of the giant, robed Lizard Man holding the earth on its shoulders. The Moon hung in the sky near the Lizard Man’s head; a ghostly after-image of the Earth.

The Lizard Man peered down through a pair of golden slits Ken supposed were eyes. Its tongue flitted through the air like a dragonfly. It locked eyes with Ken and from somewhere deep inside, rumbled a growl that rumbled its way to a roar.

“Thermistocles!” it shouted at Ken.

“No, Vrssa, this is not Thermistocles,” Apollo called to the creature.

“Thermistocles!” it shouted again. “The time has come for you to fulfill your promise to me. It is your turn to hold the earth!”

“What happened to Atlas?” Ken asked.

“Your ancestor, Thermistocles, was tasked by Hera with killing Atlas,” Apollo explained. “But he needed someone to hold the earth in the meantime. He convinced Vrssa, a Lizard man from the Nile delta to hold the earth while he disposed of the Titan. In return, he would give Vrssa Ra’s golden scepter.”

“Let me guess,’ Ken said. “He never had a scepter. He told scaley-face over there that he’d come back and never did. And Atlas probably paid him off not to kill him.”

“Yes,” Apollo said, impressed.

“Why don’t you ask Heracles!?” Ken called to the serpent.

“Don’t-“ Apollo began, but Vrssa let out a primal, guttural roar.

“YOU DARE SPEAK TO ME OF HERACLES?”

“Heracles killed Vrssa’s wife,” Apollo explained.

“Okay, sorry! I’m sorry!” Ken said. “Listen, Vespa,”

“Vrssa,” Apollo corrected.

“Whatever. I’m not Thermistocles. My name is Ken and I’m not going to hold the Earth for you.”

“You look like Thermistocles!” Vrssa growled, squinting so much that its eye slits almost closed.

“No, Thermistocles was my great ancestor. But I have no plans of making up for whatever it is he promised you. See these people with me? They’re waiting for the same thing you are, but it’s never going to happen.”

“Thermistocles or not, it is your responsibility to take the earth from me and give me the Scepter of Ra.”

“It is not my responsibility!” Ken bristled. “Vrssa, no one has to hold the world! No one, including you, has to hold the Earth because there is a thing called gravity! Just put the earth down!”

“I cannot!” Vrssa cried. “If I put it down, it will tumble out of the sky and I will lose my hordes of gold, my salt mines, and the favor of Set!”

“I can’t imagine any of those things are there anymore,” Ken muttered.

“If you do not take the earth from me, as was promised, and give me the Scepter of Ra, as was also promised, I will disembowel you and feed you your organs in small pieces before using your skull to pick your coagulated blood from my teeth.”

“Oh,” Ken said.

“Um,” Apollo said.

“EW,” the Dragon said.

Apollo cleared his throat. “Vrssa, please, there is no need for that. Ken will take the earth from you.”

“The fuck I will!” Ken cried. “No one needs to hold the earth! There is gravity to hold it up!” Ken waved his arms in the air emphatically, moving from person to person in an unwavering, non-determined zigzag. “I don’t understand why that is hard concept. I don’t understand why you all want to live in the past, to live forever focused on one deed or one act a long dead ancestor of mine may or may not have perpetrated. It’s not the past anymore, there is no treasure and no debts to be settled, there is no need for gods and warriors! There is gravity! No matter what, there is always gravity! But none of you know this! No one bothers to find anything out about now, about what governs the world now. You can’t keep yourselves in the past and drag me back there with you. Feel the gravity! Okay, maybe not here because we seem to be standing in the atmosphere, but you know what I mean.

I will not take the earth. I will not, under any circumstance, avenge anything or anyone, I will not find treasure or travel to the gate of the dead or the valley of the lost or whatever other depressing fucked place you want me to go to!  I won’t put up with any more bullshit from the past!” Ken turned, locking eyes with Apollo. “Is that clear!?”

Apollo did not say anything, but kept his eyes locked with Ken’s.

“HE MAKES THIS SPEECH ONCE A MONTH. YOU DON’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO HIM IF YOU DON’T WANT.” The Dragon said to Apollo, attempting to whisper but failing.

“I never do,” The Renaissance man said. The others murmured their agreements. The ghost of the Great Dane barked once. The gnome still snored.

Ken sighed.

“Fine. I’ll take the earth.”

“Ken, you can’t.” Brian said. “It will crush you. You’re only mortal.”

Ken stepped forward, growing in size with each step he took towards Vrssa. By the time he reached the Lizard Man, he towered over the retile, towering enough to take the earth from the Lizard and rest it atop his shoulders. Apollo’s mouth hung open. The others gasped as the Dragon shouted “WOW!”

Vrssa grew smaller as he walked away from the earth, rolling his shoulders and cracking his joints. He grinned a reptilian grin; all teeth and pencil tongue, before jumping from space back to the earth, presumably to find no gold, no salt mines and no crocodile god Set. Ken stood, massive and glowing, no strain on his face as he held the earth, a blue and green jewel that spun ever so slowly. Continents brushed Ken’s back, his hair touched mountains and oceans. From somewhere on the moon, Apollo swore he heard a horse whinny.

“Ken,” Apollo said. “Are you okay?”

Ken did not respond, but instead locked eyes with the god and, in one breathless movement, dropped the earth.

No one moved.

The earth did nothing. It hung in space happily, spinning slowly, undisturbed and content to continue its existence with or without someone holding it.

Ken shrunk back to his normal size as the others admired the earth spin. Ken joined them, space slowly fading away as Ken’s room became their state of existence.

“I told you,” Ken said.  “Gravity.”

Wixon barked happily upon finding herself back in her room. The others seemed unfazed by what had happened, as they resumed earlier conversations and activities.

Ken sat on the bed next to Wixon. “I told you, we don’t need anyone to hold up the earth anymore. We’ve figured out those inexplicable fears we used to have. We don’t need debts and vengeance and spirits. We have gravity.”

He paused, staring at the floor.

After a long time, he looked up and examined Apollo with a dense concentration. “We don’t need you,” he said finally.

It stung the god, Ken could see it in his face.

“I’ll leave you.” Apollo said. Ken made a fist and pounded his leg just once, grinding his teeth.

“Still,” he said before Apollo could move. The god eyed him with a seasoned wariness. “I guess I should have listened to you from the start instead of complaining. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” the god said, his eyes like bright suns.

“Come back if you’d like, preferably without a Lizard Man.” Ken said. Apollo nodded and, like the last rays of sunset, disappeared from the room. Ken could see the light outside that had not entirely faded.

Apollo stood outside Ken’s window, a Dragoon o horseback eying him suspiciously, the great Dragon floating in the sky like a fiery kite. He heard Ken pluck a few chords on his guitar.

Ken’s voice carried outside the window in the summer sunset. He sang:

“And though I sleep tonight without my crown

Gravity could not weigh me down.”

The Gravity of Ken Sulane- Part I(Short Story)

Ken Sulane sat in front of his Mac, Garageband open and displaying a rainbow of colored, recorded tracks, tuning his guitar. It was the zenith of sunset in July, the kind of night where 9:00 comes and goes and the sun still hasn’t quite set yet. An open window let in a silent summer breeze, like cool feathers floating in the room. Opening a window wasn’t Ken’s usual course of action when recording for fear of neighbor’s lawnmowers or barking dogs showing up in his songs, but it was late in the evening and he seemed to be the only one still awake. Besides, it was hot, and the open window made the heat of his room more manageable.

He played back a track, listening through his headphones and picking out a harmony on his guitar. On his bed, his Australian Sheppard, Wixon, adjusted her position to get a more comfortable spot on his pillows. Ken took a sip of hot water with lemon before adjusting the playback volume on another track.

Ken was a 25 year old studio musician that had, by a stroke of luck, inherited his house when his parents moved south to Virginia a year ago. He had turned the house into his own, walls lined with minimalist art and vintage pieces of furniture, a whiskey collection in the basement, all while keeping his mother’s Grand Piano exactly where she always kept it and his father’s garden just as he left it. Ken suited the house and the house suited Ken; it was as if he had been given a chance to improve upon and update his childhood. He liked the neighborhood, liked the convenience to his rented recording space and favorite dive bar, Try It!, and proximity to the lake. Sometimes, it felt lonely without the sounds of his Dad falling asleep to Conan or his mom’s practicing jazz at the piano, but they had traded cold winters for better prospects in Virginia. None of that interested Ken. He wanted the space he had lived in since he was a baby.

He put on his headphones and hit the record button, singing back the same words he had recorded only a few minutes ago but this time, harmonizing. For a moment, he thought he saw a bright light flash from outside, but it passed. He smashed the mouse on the square STOP button and looked around the room, waiting for something. Just let me finish this harmony, at least, he pleaded with the universe silently. A still moment passed, and just as Ken turned to his computer, Wixon gave a short woof and jumped off the bed. Ken turned to ask her what the matter was when he saw a man sitting on his bed.

Ken sighed.

“Hello,” the man said. He had dark, brown curly hair that rested on his head as though it had been placed carefully rather than grown. It should have been too long for him, but suited him better than it if it was short. His eyes were gold, a shimmering, unwavering gold. He was clean shaven and well-dressed, with expensive sandals and nice cut slacks that he paired with a navy dress shirt.

“I don’t care,” Ken said to the man, agitated. He put his headphones on.

“Excuse me?” the man asked.

“Sorry, it’s not you. It’s just that I don’t care what you have to say.” Ken said. Wixon wagged her tail and trotted over to the man on the bed.

“I haven’t spoken.”

“Wixon,” Ken whistled, “Come on girl, don’t. Don’t encourage him. Can’t you bark and snarl like a ferocious guard dog?” Wixon jumped back on the bed and began to lick the man’s face. “Okay, great. Good girl.” Ken said.

“Good dog,” said the man, but rather than stay for an impromptu bath, he stood and crossed to Ken. “Ken Sulane, I am here to warn you. I am here to ask for your help. I am Apollo, ancient god of Light and Music. You-“

“Apollo?” Ken asked, turning.

“Yes, I am a god. I am the Apollo,” Ken read the man’s face and saw that he was somewhere between holding back a smile and a great pain.

“That’s impossible. All the old gods are dead.” Ken said, turning back to his computer.

Apollo halted. He blinked in rapid succession. “Yes, that is true. By their own choice but, how did you know that?”

Ken sighed and set his guitar down on a stand next to his computer.

“Apollo, I know why you’re here. You’re here to tell me about my ancestor, something one of them did long, long ago before the world was unsure there would be a time when I could even consider being born. You’ll tell me what a noble person they were, how they got into trouble with something or someone or some deity and you ask me, or warn me, or pledge a debt to me although I doubt you’re the type who pledges debts or is indebted to humans at all, and I’ll rush off to travel through time or to some far corner of the earth to help you.”

“I-” Apollo tried to cut in.

“No. I’m sorry but no. You think you’re the first?” Ken asked, his voice raising and carrying out the window. He worried that his neighbors might hear, but he found he didn’t care all that much anyway. “You think you’re the first deity, or being, or ghost or crazy fucking creature to come bearing a warning?”

“Well,” Apollo said.

“You’re not! Look around!” Ken shouted, waving his arms wildly.

Apollo narrowed his eyes before looking around the room. At first there was nothing, just the breeze carrying Ken’s drapes in and out of the room like a soft pendulum, but, when he really looked, he saw them: shapes that were there, had been there the whole time wishing to be unseen. It was as though Ken’s room were some sort of casting call for a piece of historical fiction that verged on high fantasy.

In one corner of the room stood an enormous Samurai, a faded monolith of a man still covered in blood. Near the door a sort of Renaissance artist spoke with tragic but beautiful woman in garb that seemed older than that. A bear of a man, with red hair and skin with scars the color of peat moss stood solemn and silent by the bed. All manner of fairies floated about the room while a Roman man in a royal looking toga scowled at them.

“Um,” said Apollo.

A man and a woman, the former dressed in the uniform of a Union Cavalry soldier and the latter in a nurses frock, hovered near Ken. The ghost of a Great Dane sniffed around Wixon who paid him no mind. Near that, a fully living Garden Gnome snoozed lazily on the carpet. At least twelve shadowy Chinese figures hung about the ceiling, glowering as they shimmered between light and dark. There were more, too many for Apollo to count or take stock of. He looked back to Ken who pointed out the window.

An enormous scarlet and gold Chinese Dragon, four tiny arms sprouting along its serpentine body and a head that resembled a cartoon dog more than a reptile, mouth open to reveal huge, sharp golden fangs, twirled the shadow of a firework in the air.

“HELLO,” The Dragon roared in a voice that sounded like flint on stone crossed with a lion singing bass in a choir.

“Oh,” Apollo said lamely.

“You’re A Mean One” (short story)

February fucking sucks.

Actually, this February is the only one that’s ever been really bad. Usually, February means Mom, Dad, my sister Cassie and I skulking through Miami International at 6am, luggage in tow, barely anyone around to soak up the morning sun and smell of too much coffee, to catch a flight to the land of lake effect snow, Syracuse. It’s such a stark difference, going from the beaches of Miami to a city that looks like it’s covered in sludgy marshmallow. My grandparents don’t live in Syracuse, exactly; they still live one rent-a-Volvo away in Pelopidas, a small town in a large valley that keeps the strange tradition of naming towns in the glacier emptied valleys of central NY after Greek and Roman politicians and cities.

This February though, the warmth of my Grandparent’s house, all pine and down comforters, christened by cold and snow, usually a welcome change during February break, feels less like it looks in movies and more like how it looks in people’s crappy Facebook pictures. Grandpa died in November, which meant I got one more trip to New York last year. It had already snowed, but we still stood outside in the cemetery said our goodbyes as they lowered his casket down into the ground, quarter-sized lumps of wet snow pelting our heads and intruding on our frozen grief. We stuck around for a few more days, my aunt and uncle and cousins piled into the house filled with cold cuts and baked ziti that no one in our family had bought but had still somehow materialized on every inch of every counter, just to make sure that Grandma would be okay. She insisted she would be, but I know that the loneliness would set in once we left.

Our trip to New York was always the bright spot in a barren post-Christmas landscape. Christmas break never seems to last long enough, and dragging myself back from days spent in front of a Legend of Zelda marathon instead of slogging though brain scorchingly boring high school classes is always far too difficult. January brings a welcome day off or two, but February break was always what kept me going, the thought of seeing Grandma and Grandpa for our ‘Second Christmas’, spending time in front of a roaring fire to gain back the warmth lost from Grandpa and I exploring the valleys that surround their house, is what kept me awake and tuned in on a week to week basis. After dinner, Grandpa would build said fire and, from his ancient celadon and moss patched chair, tell us stories of his time in the Pacific during World War II, how he and Grandma met in San Diego during his extended stay in the Navy, or the strange people he met as owner of the local theatre he opened when he and Grandma moved back to his hometown. He had met so many celebrities; Johnny Carson, Eartha Kit, Boris Karloff; even the Who.

His strangest story by a wide margin, however, was of the snow monster that lived atop the high peaked hill behind the house. He told the same story, of the time he was young and his Border Collie ran off after a raccoon and up the hill. Through the thick pines he chased the dog, calling after it until he found himself flat on his back in the snow, cold and out of breath. Over him loomed a terrifying creature, covered in green lichen with yellowing teeth and watery eyes. It let loose a broken roar and sent grandpa fleeing through the trees back home where he found the dog already at the door, pawing to get inside.

Frequent internet searches tell me the locals constantly report strange happenings in the town but no other sightings. The strangest thing about this creature was that every February, when we would have our make-up Christmas, Grandpa would, on ‘Christmas Eve’, forgo It’s A Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street or even my dad’s favorite, A Muppet Christmas Carol and instead put on How the Grinch Stole Christmas, all the while pointing to the green monster on the television screen and, over Boris Karloff’s crooning voice, insist, “That’s him! That’s the monster on the hill!”

______________

 

Our rent-a-car pulls up to Grandma’s house late Friday evening. It’s not a long flight from Miami to Syracuse, but we always leave as soon as Cassie and I are done with school and never end up getting there before 11.

The usual Christmas lights were not on the house, which should have been my first clue, but I thought maybe they just weren’t on. We step out of the car and into the slush, me frantically packing my Ipod away while Dad grabs luggage from the trunk, and we bound into a frenzy of hugs from Grandma.

The house was alarmingly different, not only because Grandpa’s larger than life presence was missing, but because there was no Christmas. No tree, no lights, no garland on the stairs or stockings by the fireplace.

Grandma sighs as we fumble into the living room. “I thought everyone was getting too old for all the decoration and fanfare,” she said.

It looks wrong. Incongruous, even. To see the snow outside, wet and stuck to the pines, but not Christmas inside is a spirit breaker. I feel what little anticipation I had built up deflate a little. I flop on the floor next to Grandpa’s chair and pick at a hole in my jeans.

My mom nods. “How are you mom? How’s the house doing?” she asks.

“Oh, it’s quiet. The deer will not stop eating the trees out back. Gus Spirilios -you  remember John’s son? He came over and put those mesh things around the trees to discourage them but they keep coming back. Does anyone want coffee? Anyone hungry? Cassie?”

From the couch, my sister shakes her head no and pats the cushion. “Come here Grandma,” she beckons.

“I’m going to bed,” I mumble, and Grandma insists on giving me a hug and a kiss before I head upstairs and crawl under the flannel sheets.

______________

 

I wake up the next morning to the sound of my mom opening the bedroom door.

“It’s 10:30,” she says. I mumble a strong nothing and close my eyes again after she descends down the stairs. “Let him sleep!” I hear my Grandma urge.

“It’s almost noon!” My mother cries an hour and a half later. She bursts into the room and opens the blinds, which, true to their name, blind me with the reflected light of a valley’s worth of snow covered peaks.

I pull the covers over my head and fume silently for a moment, pressing my head into the pillow. The bed is as warm and welcoming as I remember it always being.

I forcibly remove myself from the embrace of the down and flannel and flop down the stairs to stomach a bowl of cereal while the rest of my family sits in the living room and talks. Usually, Grandma has some fresh Christmas cookies I can steal after breakfast, but these too are absent.

“I didn’t even bother with a tree this year,” I can hear my Grandma explain.

“It’s okay, we don’t need one,” my Dad says.

“So what did you do instead on Christmas Eve instead of buying a tree?” Mom asks.

Cassie interjects: “People are always like, who buys a tree Christmas Eve? And I would tell them how my Grandma and Grandpa would do that just for us.”

She’s right; they would always wait until Christmas Eve and keep the tree up until we came and visited. Grandpa would jokingly decorate it as a President’s Day tree and a Martin Luther King Jr. tree while they waited for February.

I head upstairs and start to layer up on clothing, putting one pair of socks on, then long underwear, then another pair over that. I grab my heaviest hoodie and return downstairs. I put on my gloves, hat, boots and heavy coat that I keep here in New York. I waddle into the living room like an engorged penguin.

“Where are you going?” My mom asks.

“Outside.” I say, crossing to the sliding door that leads to the back porch and into the valley beyond.

“You can’t go outside!” My mom protests.

“Why not?” I ask.

“It’s too cold out there.”

“I’ve got layers, mom.”

“Well, still. There’s too much snow.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s the point. It’s not like we get a bunch of snow in Florida.”

“Why do you want to go outside?” She asks pointedly. My sister stirs uncomfortably and I feel my cheeks get hot.

“He can go outside if he wants!” My Grandma says.

My mom shakes her head and turns to my Grandma. “Mom, it’s too cold outside. Aren’t you a little too old to go out and play in the snow?” She asks disparagingly.

“I’m not going out to build a freaking snowman and make snow angels while I wait for Santa to read my letter,” I spit sarcastically. “I just want to go outside.”

“Why are you such a pain in the ass?” Cassie asks.

“Cassie.” My dad warns.

“Stay inside. Come on.” My mom urges.

“I don’t understand why I can’t go outside. It’s just outside.”

“Because you don’t need to go outside!”

“No one needs to do anything! I’m not going because I need to, that’s not the point! And I’m not a pain in the ass. I’ll be back soon, for Christ’s sake it’s only right outside!

“Fine! Go!” My mom shrieks.

“THAT’S WHAT I WATNED TO DO IN THE FIRST PLACE!” I scream and it feels good to scream, to make some noise in a house that feels like an abandoned amusement park. I open the sliding glass door and a cold wind slices through and into the house. I leave it open for a moment, to remind my mom exactly where I’m going  before stepping through the doorway and out into the quiet, white and green world.

I crunch through the most striking contrast between where I’ve grown up and where my Grandpa grew up, following the trail into the evergreens that he made years and years ago. It’s still well worn and well marked and I intend to keep it that way. I replay my mom’s biting words in my head, kicking up snow and punching my way through low hanging branches. I fume and fumble through the woods, not paying attention to where I’m going, stepping out of my way to kick at smaller trees in frustration. Snow whips around me as I head farther up the hill and, as I realize with a wash of cold sweat, well off the path. The world expands in a sickening lurch. My vision, once focused on the feet in front of me and how they could express my anger, now unravels outward up and all around me. The silence of snow meets my ears. My ever expanding vision is accompanied by ever expanding panic. The forest seems too large and too quiet; too damn depressingly empty around me. I try to keep calm, but my natural response to this seems to be to run faster and faster until I’m even more lost than I was before.

I stop walking and make a full 360 turn. Nothing looks familiar to me. I take a deep breath and fumble with my scarf and hat, trying to let some excess heat I’d built up out. It feels like I’m hiding a small star in my coat, threatening to burst and turn my stomach into some sort of black hole, primed and ready to feast on infinite quantities of white, wet snow.

I walk back the way I came, breaking into half a run. The path is completely gone, replaced in front of me by a sloping hill that, thanks to my quickening pace, I slip on, tumbling down in a violent storm of snow, dirt, pine branches and despondent curses. My cartoon tumble stops finally and I come to rest in front of a small clearing that looks out to another valley filled with houses. I desperately search to see if any look familiar before realizing that of course I wouldn’t know any of the houses and even if I did, what would I do next? Ask for a ride back to my Grandma’s house? I’d have no idea how to get back.

A crack splits the sky and rings sharply through the trees. It’s an incredibly familiar sound that I realize, with a fuzzy, nervous clarity, is the sound of a gun.  I drop to the ground and stay there, trying to make myself smaller while frantically working out what kind of danger I’m in.

“Shit, kid! I thought you were a deer!”

I look up and see a man dressed in hunting gear, a long rifle in hand now pointed at the sky for safety. I mumble an apology and he helps me up.

“You okay?” he asks. His face is red and splotchy under a heavy mountain of layers. I nod and start to brush myself off.

“What are you doing out here? This is a designated hunting space, don’t you know that?”

“No, sorry. I’m not from here. I’m visiting my grandpar- my grandma. I got lost on the path.”

“Oooooooh yup, that’d explain it. Come on, I’ll take you back to the Nature Center. Do you have a phone?”

I shake my head no. I left my cell phone by my bed this morning.

“You can call for a ride from there,” he chuckles.

“Thanks.” I say, not wanting to go home but ready to get out of the snow. We trudge down the mountain, dodging pine trees until they thin out. The hunter, who, thorough talk of snowfall this month and diseases that are killing the trees, sneaks in that his name is Rudy, manages to also tell me about the sudden emergence of far more deer in this area. He talks all the way to the nature center, which is a large, wooden structure, designed to look rustic and alpine but offset by modern looking doors and windows. . We walk through an enormous set of glass doors that open automatically before walking through a second set and into an open room. I get the feeling that I’m walking into a snowy Jurassic Park. A full Mastodon skeleton greets me, set next to an ornate staircase in the middle of the room that runs to the second floor. Angled skylights grace the ceiling, letting bright, snow-white light inside in gluttonous quantities.

Rudy takes me to the Director of the Nature Center, an older, skinny man named Xander. “Short for Alexander,” he tells me, shaking my hand.

Rudy claps me on the shoulder and says goodbye.

“I’m gonna see if I can get at least one before sunset,” he says jovially.

Xander looks at the clock. “You’ve only got a couple more hours!” He calls to the man’s back. Rudy raises a hand in acknowledgment and laughs. I still can’t get used to the sun setting at 4:30 here, but these guys have known it all their life.

“I’m not sure I know you,” Xander says leading to me to a sort of large, open cubicle where his desk resides. The skeleton of the Mastodon looms overhead as if to say, we’re all here because the ice age, am I right? He sits at his desk and I have to suppress a bit of a laugh because he looks like a man in a Boy Scout uniform or like a Park Ranger from a Hanna Barbera cartoon. He even wears the wide-brimmed hat and an orange and white checkered ascot. He moves with the grace of an old movie star.

“I’m visiting my Grandma from Florida,” I say. He asks my name and when I tell him my name and my Grandma’s name, his features depress themselves into sorrow.

“Your Grandpa and I go way back,” he says and sighs. “I was heartbroken when he passed. I think I remember seeing you at the funereal, now that I think about it.”

“I miss him,” I say, and Xander nods knowingly.

“Did he ever tell you,” he says dreamily, taking off his ranger hat and setting it on the desk, “About the time the snow monsters on the hill came down and tried to steal Christmas?”

I narrow my eyes and sit down.

“There used to be two monsters, you know, but back in…oh let’s see, this was ’41…there had been more and more sightings of the creatures. Then, and I’m not kidding, Christmas Eve, they came down the hill and snuck through town in the middle of the night. They smashed their way into houses and stole presents and even stole the lights we put up on the big tree outside of town hall. But! Your Grandpa and I, we were up late with Phil Cazzarelli and John Spirilios, both dead now too, over at John’s house, oh about quarter mile down the road from here, and the monsters tried to break in. As soon as they saw us they turned and ran.

John grabbed his Dad’s hunting rifle and Phil grabbed a net and I grabbed flashlights and we chased them down. Your Grandpa kept shouting about not hurting them, about wanting to talk to them, but John and Phil didn’t care. The two monsters split up, so Phil and John followed the one. Phil almost caught it with the net, but a Spruce tree cut the thing when he threw it too high. But John, now John never missed a shot when we went out hunting, even when it was dark. And when we hit the clearing up by Drucker Pond, he shot the thing square in the back.

Well, the monster was on the other side when John shot it, so before we got around the other side of the pond, the other one comes crashing through the trees, roaring like a gorilla. John could’ve shot it, but none of us wanted to stick around after we heard that thing scream. We got down the hill back to John’s place but your Grandpa was nowhere to be found. So we start calling his name and finally he pops out of the trees about twenty yards away. He caches up to us, all out of breath, and says that he called after the thing, asked it to wait, but it just scooped up the body of the other monster and walked back up the hill.

So we start to head back when your Grandpa pulls out this little box and says he found it buried in the construction site that was all set to become this very nature center. We get back to John’s house and open it up and inside is, well…”

Xander reaches into the top drawer of his desk and pulls out an oversize, ornate bronze key. Lines of silver glyphs are carved into the surface and, as he holds it up in the light, I can make out an inscription:

?Λllæ

“Your grandfather kept that key as proof of the night we encountered the monsters. He was fixated on the idea that the key belonged to the monster, that he wanted it back. We told him he was nuts, it was just an odd key buried somewhere, but he wouldn’t listen. He took the key with him when he joined the Navy, where his CO was a Princeton Grad with a degree in Linguistics. Even he couldn’t tell what the inscription on the key were.”

Xander leans back in his chair and heaves a sigh as dense as the forest.

“Your Grandfather came by for a visit a few months ago. He gave me this key, but I think you should have it.”

“He gave it to you.” I respond, my taking the key an opposition to what I’m saying.

“I don’t know what this key is or what is does, but your Grandfather seemed to think he knew. Whatever it’s for doesn’t matter anymore, what matters is that you can carry a little piece of him with you.”

The key feels cool in my hand and I swear that as I stare at it, it gives off a high, clear tone, like someone running a wet finger on the rim of a wine glass. It’s strange to think that this is something my Grandfather took with him everywhere, at least for a small part of his life. It was with him when he served in the Navy in World War II, when he met my Grandma in San Diego after the War. He even took it back to New York when he came back and bought the theatre.

And through this, the inescapable thought that this key never really belonged to him crashes lazily around my brain. There is something more to this key; whatever innate sense Grandpa had was right.

“Let’s call your folks, shall we?” Xander says as he pulls out an old school rolodex. He dials a number on his phone and waits as it rings. “I’m glad to have met you,” he says to me as the phone rings, “Sharing stories of your Grandfather was as much a treat for me as I’m sure it was for you. Maybe while we wait I’ll tell you about the time he and your Grandma and I drove all the way to Rochester to see Perry Como- Hello?”

When I hear my Grandma’s voice on the other line I decide to run for it. Now might not be the time for this but there is something in this key, something unfinished that my Grandpa surely would have wanted me to do. I hear Xander call after me, but I’m faster and he gets tied up in trying to explain what’s happening on the phone and trying to put the phone down and chase me. I speed through the enormous glass doors and tear around the building, not knowing where I’m going but sure that somehow, I’ll get there. All the while, the inscription on the key floating in front of my field of vision, like the afterglow of sparklers on the Fourth of July; the more they burn my eyes the more they resolve themselves clearly into a word, one I can’t believe is churning in my head, one I need an answer to.

Whoville

______________

 

I can tell it’s getting darker, but I bumble frantically through the snow. The key acts like some sort of diving rod, singing louder if I head in what I can only assume is the right direction and staying quiet if I make a wrong turn. Soon, the tallest hill in the valley resolves itself from the dense canopy of trees and the key adds a second tone, one that harmonizes with the first and creates the illusion that I have a tiny choir in my hands.

The hill gets steep as I march closer to the sky, which does its part by darkening ominously as I get closer. When the key sings a third tone and an angelic chord sounds from my hands, I know I must be close. Sure enough, there is an outcropping of rocks that forms a cave. Squinting, I can see the dim light of a fire somewhere deep inside. Every bone inside me screams not to go in, to do anything else, to roll down the damn hill and see where I end up, but I know I have to go in. I didn’t come this far not to.

The cave splits into two paths only a short way in. In one direction, the key practically sings an ‘Amen’ to me; the other, murderous silence.

I take the right path and follow the squandered light from something deep inside. Strange groans join my humming friend and soon the mumbling of a voice pricks my ears. I reach the end of what I hadn’t noticed was a sloping hill as it resolves itself into an atrium of sorts, a high walled portion of the cave. In front of me is a sheer wall about 10 feet high with an ornate wooden staircase leading up.

Part of me wants to believe that I’ll meet not the monster up there but I’ll discover that it’s just some old farmer named Old Man Biggs or Farmer Smith in a mask who, Scooby-Doo style, will reveal to me that he found some valuable substance here in the cave and he’s only scaring people away because they want to take his cow land away.

The top of the staircase is behind me now, and I’m in what appears to be some vile imitation of a living room. The cave is almost dome shaped here, like a birdcage with a blanket thrown over top. A beautiful red Persian rug offsets the cave floor. The far end of the wall holds a fireplace carved of stone, more of a hearth than anything else. Torches line the walls and spill flickering light onto a couch and matching love seat. An enormous desk, overflowing with books and papers sits against the farthest wall. On top of it, bookshelves line the walls. Another, more crude staircase leads to some unknown portion of the room. To my right, a door twice the size of me sits, made of stone the color of graves, detailed carvings of elk and pine trees forming an upside down U shape around it.

A green blur shocks me from my right side and a roar, somewhere between a car engine and a polar bear, blasts my eardrums. My brain desperately tries to make sense of the sound as it turns me around and pushes me to the ground at the base of the loveseat.

I look up and meet a set of yellowing eyes, wet and sharp. The creature has a sort of white fur that barely peeks out through a strangling amount of pale green lichen. It looks almost fuzzy in the dim light, the lichen covering it from head to toe, as if a tree came to life. It has a wide, pear shaped body, with thick legs and thin, taught arms that can’t be more than just muscle and skin and fur. A thin neck supports an almost otter-like head, complete with whiskers but without ears. It has canine teeth in its top jaw and horse-like flattened teeth on the bottom row. It roars at me again, pinning me against a chair.

“Please!” I sputter, “Please, I only wanna talk. And I know you can talk. No creature has a couch and a desk filled with books that can’t talk.” I unleash more anger than I want to in this statement, mad at myself for being here and running away but mad too, at this monster for thinking me so dumb as to think I see it as another wild beast.

The monster clamps its mouth and narrows its eyes, straightening itself. It has a fat, flush nose with almond shaped nostrils, which flare menacingly at me for a moment. The lichen that covers its body is a darker green in some places and almost white in others.

“Forgive me,” he says in a voice completely not fitting the beast that it comes from. He sounds like Noel Coward reciting his thesis, like Stephen Fry reading the encyclopedia.

“You’re the Grinch,” I say, and it sounds just as dumb coming out of my mouth as it sounded in my head.

“Would you like something? Some port, perhaps?” he asks.

“I’m sixteen.”

“Nothing takes the chill out of your bones like a little port,” he says, crossing to a refined looking bar and pouring two glasses. “Come, please, hang your coat and sit.”

I stand and do as he asks, accepting the port that he offers. He sits in the loveseat and takes a sip. I follow suit. The port really is warming, even if it does taste like someone put their cigar out in a cherry.

“Thank you,” I say, giving him a slight toast. “I’m sorry for barging in. I didn’t think you’d… well…”

“You didn’t think I’d welcome you, let alone wish to talk?” he offers.

I nod. “I expected… Well, I don’t know what I expected. I guess I thought you’d try to rip me apart and eat me. Anyone who’s met you seems to get that greeting.”

“My dear boy, there is a wide margin between entering with a ‘Hello’ on your lips and entering with a gun in your hands.”

A moment of silence passes. The Grinch seems content to sit and enjoy his port. I have too many questions to ask, so I settle for nothing for a moment.

I find one. “How did you get all of this in here? The couch and stuff, I mean.”

He polishes off his port and stands to refill his glass. “This is only a small part of a larger cave which I used to call home. Many years ago, I lived in another world, one of many of my people. We lived in the caves above another race of people, the Suntermilactarianistvunderststs.”

“The who?” I ask. He gives me an ironic smile.

“Funny you say that. They called their village Who-Ville,” he pronounces the word in such a strange way, more like Hyuo-Fil,  that it takes me a moment to understand he said Who-Ville.

He continues: “Every winter, my people and I would carry on a tradition that spanned centuries, wherein which we would sneak down to the town and interrupt their Winter Festival. It was always in good fun, you see. Their mayor would pretend to take offense, we would destroy a few things, steal gifts and eat their food, until finally the smallest child of their people would make an offering to us. Then the party would commence in splendid fashion.

It was a reenacting of the first meeting of our people, before any contact had been made. It looked as though my people would destroy their village entirely, when one of the children made a peace offering. From then on, our two races formed a symbiosis.

In return for this act and for a share of their crops the rest of the year, we protected their village from all manner of fearsome creatures that would otherwise see them as a fast meal.

One year, I lead the procession down and into the village, but no gay horns or tempting feasts greeted us. There was no Winter Festival. The Mayor’s wife had been dragged off and mutilated by a pack of Rtrs the night before,” I open my mouth to ask what a Rtr is, but The Grinch waves my question away.

You did not protect her! The mayor shouted at me. I attempted to explain that we did our best, but accidents happen. They had before. But this particular mayor, a young one who had previously shown disdain for our traditions, rebuked me. He and a group of his strongest, armed for battle, offered us an ultimatum: Stay or Die.

I wanted no bloodshed, so we left. I would give the young one time to calm and mourn, then try to establish a fresh, new rapport.

The mayor did not see things my way. He had one of his most deft wizards follow me home. When I was warming myself by the fire that night, he snuck into my cave, closed me in this room, cutting me off from the rest of my home, and sent this room away to another world.”

He points to the cathedral-like door. “I was enraged and alone for quite some time. Everyone I had ever known was gone and I was stuck in this strange, foreign land. I was completely abandoned. Then, one glorious summer evening, my cunning Sister walked through the door. She held a key triumphantly in her hand, beckoning me home.

Unfortunately for us, the key she had fashioned to link me home via that door had been discovered by the Suntermilactarianistvunderststs. They sent the wizard in after us. He put a spell on the both of us and stole the key. Rather than bring it back to our world and risk it being discovered, he decided to hide it here in this world. I can only assume he killed the keymaker upon returning, because no one has come for me since.”

The sound of the fire, burning and popping fills the room. I can feel the key in my pocket, now silent but heavier than ever. I consider giving it to him, but can’t shake the thought that Grandpa never did. There must have been a good reason.

I can’t help it anymore, so I ask: “Do you know that you are the main character in a children’s story?”

The Grinch gestures behind him to his desk. In the dim light, I hadn’t noticed how high the bookshelves stretched to the ceiling, but now that he points it out, I can make out books spanning at least twenty feet high. Ten feet of shelves is made up of an assortment of the same book, in various publications, through the years. I stand and, squinting in the firelight, I can make out How the Grinch Stole Christmas on each and every copy. They come in a myriad of colors, with mostly red, white and green spines. Some are old and dirty, some new.

“I collect them. Whenever I can take a copy from somewhere, I do. From houses, libraries, even the bookstore in town. I sneak into town often for supplies.”

That explains the port.

“How?” I ask, pointing to the books. I need to know how he came to be a character in a book.

“From what I understand, someone told my story to this Dr. Seuss person.”

“Wow.” I say, admiring his collection.

“You didn’t ask what happened to my sister,” he remarks dryly. I can’t quite make out the tone with which he says this. Was it anger? He seems calm, but there is a terrifying ferocity in him. I try to remember not to let the British fop in him lull me into letting my guard down.

“I know what happened to her.” I say, locking eyes with him. He tilts his head up and narrows his eyes.

“I think,” I begin, “I think you knew my Grandpa. He told me stories about you. Earlier today, I learned some friends of his shot your sister when he was young. I also know that he tried to talk to you. Many times. I think you met him. I think that he also came to you with a hello instead of a loaded gun.”

The Grinch sets his drink down and slowly walks to the silent, useless door, staying silent for a while.

“I was inconsolable in regards to my sister,” he pauses, as if expecting an apology. I certainly don’t owe him one. “We were depressed and angry at being trapped here. We thought trying to revive the old tradition, this time with the humans in village down the hill, would cheer us up. We weren’t trying to steal Christmas,” he elongates last two words with a poisonous amount of disdain.

“I paid them back though. I descended from my mountain peak and killed their most beautiful, most fertile girl. I watched and waited and, one night, when she and her lover had parked their car, I flung open the door and dragged her out. The young man she was with begged me not to kill her, to take him instead, but I slashed her chest open and left her to die. That was the third time I saw your Grandpa.”

Grandpa never told me that story. He did tell me his high school sweetheart was killed, but never by the monster. Never ripped apart. My head spins at the image of my Grandpa, looking on as The Grinch tore his first love to shreds. I grab the desk for support.

“My Grandpa wanted to talk to you. He never wanted to kill you.”

“Still. I learned a lesson that night to leave humans alone. Too much unnecessary bloodshed.”

I shift uncomfortably, surreptitiously checking that the key is safe.

“It was your Grandpa, you know, who told my story. He told me that while stationed in a Naval base in San Diego, he met Dr. Seuss. He told him my whole story.”

“Which means you my Grandpa your story.”

“Yes. I remember, only a few years after the incident with my sister and the girl, he came. I chased him out, but he kept coming in, insisting that he only wanted to talk. He said he was to be shipped away to another part of the world to fight a war. Not his own personal war, but his country’s war. I relented, and we talked for a while. When he left, he turned to me and thanked me. I asked him why ever would he thank me, and he told me, If knew you weren’t a monster. I accept that I might die out there in the Ocean, but I couldn’t leave without you knowing that someone in this world cared to hear what you had to say.

My eyes fill with tears. “He was a great man.”

The Grinch doesn’t seem surprised to hear me talk of him in past tense. “Even now, after all this time, I’d give anything to go back,” he says, despondent. He traces the patterns of glyphs on the door.  “I miss my family and my people. I miss my world. It’s too hot here in the summer, too cold in the winter. I’d do anything to make things go back to the way they were.”

He’s moves behind the couch now, talons gripping the fabric tightly.

“I didn’t see your Grandfather again for a long time. Last year, however, he paid me a visit. He told he had something to apologize for. He said that he could not forgive me for killing his love. He said he had something that I needed, that he never gave to me. He said he had given it away. I didn’t deserve it, he told me. When he had come to see me all those years ago, he was so sure he wouldn’t return from the war. Then, he could offer me understanding, but not forgiveness. In seventy years, he said, that had not changed.”

He moves closer to me now, the fire casting wild shadows on his otter-like face. He looks more brown than green in the light, like he’s part of the cave walls.

“I realized later that he meant he had my key. He had my way home. If I hadn’t killed his love, he would’ve given it to me. Of course, I wouldn’t have killed her had his friends not killed my sister.”

“Which they wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t broken into people’s houses and terrorized them!” I protest.

“He had my key. So I came down from my hill and found his house and I asked him where it was. When he didn’t tell me, I killed him.”

My body coils with rage. I want to attack, to cry and bash his stupid face in, but he’s pressing me back towards the cliff face.

“He didn’t have the key, lad. It only follows that he gave it to someone else, someone special, perhaps. Maybe his Grandson?”

“No!” I cry. And I realize, in a sad way, that I’m right. He didn’t give it to me. Grandpa knew I would be in danger if I ever had the key and yet, like an idiot, I walked right to the most dangerous place I could possibly be in.

“I THINK YOU DO!” he roars. I see his arm raise, feel the talons ripping me apart, scattering me to pieces across the floor like a piece of glass, where I reflect the fire one thousand times over as he crushes every part of me to dust.

Instead, I’m shocked to hear my second gunshot of the day. A bullet whizzes above my head and through The Grinch’s arm. He howls in pain, stumbling back into the couch.

“Leave him alone you freak!” the last voice I ever expect to hear shouts. Cassie, my sister and now savior, comes bounding up the stairs and levels a hunting rifle at The Grinch. He rises, but stays where he is.

“Xander told us you had run off. You are a complete idiot, you know that?” she says to me.

“Yes,” I mumble.

“Don’t ever come near my family again.” She says to The Grinch. He growls a ferocious growl. She turns to me. “Come on, Theo.”

I don’t want to turn my back, because I’m scared he’ll come after us, but as I look him in the eye one last time, I see something. It’s sorrow. It’s complete despair, a loss of control; the inability to go back. And I can help him.

“Wait,” I say to Cassie. I pull the key out of my pocket and cross to him. I place it in his hand. “You can go back, but I’m not sure it will be the same. It’s not my choice though, just like it wasn’t my Grandpa’s. It’s yours.”

He grasps the key and his yellow eyes fill with tears. He only nods, looking at the ground instead of at me.

My sister and I turn and leave the cave, carefully navigating our way back down the mountain.

“Thanks.” I say as we walk through the snow. She pulls me into a one armed hug and holds me close as we head back, following the trails my Grandpa had painstakingly made through forest and back to his home.