Six Feet Small

 

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

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

 

 

 

“Stop it,” she said tersely.

Daron raised his eyebrows. “What?” he asked, surprised.

“Floating. Stop it,”  She said.

“Oh. You noticed that?” Darron asked.

His date scoffed. “Yes.”

They stood at the bar of an upscale Italian Restaurant that was trying a little too hard not to be Italian. Darron liked to bring his dates here because the bar was impressive and the food sounded lavish. Darron touched his feet to the ground just as the host called his name for a table for two. His date looked like she was seriously entertaining the idea of leaving. Darron sighed.

 

_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_

 

 

He had been the first person to float in over three hundred years, all thanks to a blood-red, leather bound book he had found in the garbage room of his building. Under a precariously placed gold statue of Krishna and an old Ralph Nader button he noticed the book, which he promptly picked up and leafed through, skepticism swarming his face.

“Um,” he said to no one in particular, wondering very much if this was a joke.

He brought the book upstairs and never let it go.

It was without a doubt an old book of handwritten spells. A Witch, at least Darron had a strong sense she was a witch not only because of the spells but due to the large meticulously scrawled “I AM A WITCH, HA HA HA” written in the front cover, had spent considerable time gathering these spells together and making sure they were recorded.

They were mostly inane spells; how to make a stone fly or how to preserve beets without pickling them, but there were more complicated spells every now and then. It wasn’t just that they were complicated; to Darron they seemed unnecessary. Why would he ever need to turn a pig inside out? Or create a second moon?

All in all they were pretty helpful and, all things considered, Darron really liked beets, so he considered the finding of the book positive event. He found a spell permanatly removing dust and another to summon an obedient Cat, which he did late at night by candlelight. The cat was very friendly but not very obedient, which was fine with Darron because he needed the company and never really believed in such a thing as an obedient feline anyway.

But, for all the multiplying pennies or unlimited shade spells, Darron found the most useful to be the spell that made him float. All his life he’d been short, and Darron always felt that the only thing holding him back from meeting more women was a few inches.

Now, he could float himself to six feetntall. The only problem was, woman always noticed.

 

 

_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_

 

“She didn’t fall for it either, huh?” Darron’s sister asked, snickering.

Darron sat behind the counter of the Magazine shop he owned in Long Island City, a small but quickly growing part of Queens nestled under the shadow of the 59th street Bridge.

“I’m not trying to trick anyone, C.” Darron groaned, unpacking a box and extricating an invoice.

Catherine scoffed. Where Darron was short and squat, with a face like a boulder and dark features, she was light and energetic. She was like a sunrise; Darron was like a water buffalo.

“I don’t get you Darron. You’ve always tried to trick people into thinking you’re something you’re not. “

“I have not,” Darron said, counting a shipment of magazines.

“Yes, you have! Remember in High School when you tried to make Layla Riccoritti think you were Turkish?”

“Hey, we could be! Mom’s family doesn’t remember which Mediterranean Island they came from.”

Catherine laughed. A few customers poked their heads up from reading to try to locate the source. “Let’s review. You find a book of magic tircks-“

“Spells,” Darron muttered.

“Spells, fine, you find a book of spells which grants you powers-“

“C, it doesn’t grant them, I had to master them!”

“Like magic tricks?” Catherine smirked.

Darron fumed silently, typing commands into his computer.

“You find a book of spells and instead of, oh, I don’t know, conjuring piles of gold to get out of selling Hipsters lame magazines for the rest of your life, you use it to trick women.”

“My clients are not Hipsters and my magazines are not lame!” Darron said through gritted teeth. A man with gauges in his ears wearing a tank top with suspenders approached the counter. He handed Darron a copy of Integrated Clockworks. Darron rang him up with a smile, attempting to inject some warmth into the tension.

“I like your Elk tattoo,” Catherine said to the man. He blushed and muttered a thank you.

After he left, Darron rounded on his sister. “Don’t you have something better to do today?”

She laughed again, but more serious this time. She punched her brother’s shoulder and locked eyes with him.

“Stop trying to trick women. No one is ever going to fall for it.”

 

_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_

 

 

A few hours later, the Spring sky had darkened late, leaving the reflection of the Manhattan skyline in Darron’s window. He dropped a box down on the counter and stretched his shoulders, trying to get the knots out. No one was in the store as The Queen is Dead by The Smiths played from the store speakers.

A woman with shoulder length chestnut hair walked in. Darron greeted her with a hello and was struck by how pretty he found her. She nodded at his hello but did not smile; not in reaction to Darron but because she seemed like the sort of person who saved her smiles, perhaps for decrepit graveyards or a murder of crows closing in on a smaller, weaker bird.

Darron shook his head, trying to clear it of such bizarre images. While her back was turned, he floated a few feet, raising his height to what he judged was taller than she.

She spun on her heel so fast Darron doubted whether she had ever turned her back.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Um,” said Darron.

She crossed her arms and glared at Darron. He smiled.

The woman snapped her fingers and turned Darron’s eyebrows into Seagulls which, Darron later reflected, was the most painful thing that had ever happened to him.

She returned him to normal, albeit sweating profusely.

Darron pointed at her and shot a small, violent tornado at her which she scooped up like a kitten and quelled very easily.

She smiled, making Darron feel very much like a small, weak bird.

“Would you like to go out for a drink?” she asked.

“Ought to Do Right By Me”

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

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

 

You could see the lake from outside the venue; a usually an ominous dark blue monster now rendered incongruously beautiful by the reflection of a sunset of pinks, oranges and reds. At the entrance to the music hall, a young man stepped up to a large, bearded ticket taker wearing a shirt that said ‘SECURITY’

“Ticket please.” the bearded man said.

“Here you go,” the young man said, handing him a ticket.

The bearded man examined it, and then scanned it.

“This is not a ticket.”

“Yeah it is.”

“It’s not a valid ticket.”

“What? Why not?”

“Well, it looks like you drew this ticket.”

“Yes.”

“Okay. So, that is not a valid ticket.”

“Yeah, it is. You need a ticket to get in, and I have a ticket.”

“No, see, hand-drawn tickets are not valid tickets.”

“That’s ridiculous. Where does it say that?”

“If you look on our website, you’ll see the rules and regulations for buying a ticket.”

The young man made a show of bristling. “I’m offended!”

“I don’t think you are,” the bearded man said.

“I am!!!”

“Nope.”

“Now I’m offended that you don’t think I’m offended.”

The bearded man raised his eyebrows. “I’ll live.”

“I demand to speak with your manager.”

“Don’t have one.”

“Your supervisor.”

“Don’t have one.”

“Your boss!”

“No.”

The young man stared pointedly at the man’s beard.

“I still don’t get why I can’t get in. Bermuda 467 is my favorite band and I have a ticket; this should be a simple transaction.”

“It’s a shame one of us is making it hard.”

“I agree.”

“I meant you.”

“And I mean you!”

“Listen, kid,” said the bearded man, brandishing the hand-drawn ticket. “This isn’t a valid ticket because you didn’t pay for it. You have to pay to get in.”

“Oh! Here, hold this,” the young man said, placing something in the large, bearded man’s hand. He took the ticket back. “There!” he said. The bearded man unfolded his hand and found a quarter.

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

“I’ve purchased my ticket, and here it is. Thank you!”

“Tickets are $55 plus tax.”

“I’m a college student who works to put himself through school; I don’t have $55 plus tax for a ticket I already paid for!”

“I’m not letting you in.”

“You will let me in!”

“I won’t.”

“You will!”

“I won’t.”

“You won’t!”

“You’re right.”

The young man snapped his fingers. “Bah! That usually works.”

“When?” the bearded man asked. “When does that usually work?”

By now, the bearded man’s boss, a thin, elderly man who resembled an oil painting of a crane, had wandered over.

“Is there something wrong  here?” he asked, lifting a pair of glasses on a chair to his eyes.

“No,” said the bearded man.

“Yes!” said the young man. “This,” he motioned vaguely to the bearded man, “man refuses to accept my ticket.”

“It’s not a ticket,” explained the bearded man.

The young man scoffed. “Who are you to say that!? What’s a ticket anyway? Just a piece of paper that grants you access to an event, right?”

“A ticket,” said the bearded man, “ is a piece of paper or small card that gives the holder a certain right, especially to enter a place, travel by public transport, or participate in an event.”

“Um,” said the young man.

“Further more,” continued the bearded man, “for this venue, a ticket is said piece of paper purchased from the venue or through a valid third party distributor. Not, and I can’t say this enough, something hand drawn.”

“Aha! By definition, the ticket is simply a piece of paper or card, regardless of its origin, as long as it’s a piece of paper that gives the right to participate in said event if purchased from the venue. The quarter in your hand is proof that I purchased this ticket from the venue. Therefore, I should be granted access!”

No one spoke.

“He’s got you there,” said the bearded man’s boss. “Come on in.”

“Thank you!”

“Wait,” said the bearded man. “He would have me there, except I am authorized only to take tickets and work security for the band. I am not an authorized ticket seller, rendering your proof of purchase invalid, rendering this ticket invalid.”
“Oh,” said the man’s boss.

The young man sighed.

The bearded man smiled. “The line for tickets is over there. You can purchase one for $55 plus tax.”

The young man walked away without saying anything.

It took about a half hour to make it through the line. By that time, the sun had set and the lake had returned to its inky color; an ever-watching behemoth in the distance.

The young man reached the ticket window and pulled out three crumpled twenty dollar bills.

The ticket seller eyed him. She checked a note someone had left for her and examined the young man.  “Your ticket has been paid for. Here you are.” She handed him a ticket.

The young man narrowed his eyes, but the ticket seemed to be valid. He approached the bearded man again.

“Ticket please,” The bearded man said.

“Here you go,” the young man said, handing him a ticket.

The bearded man examined it and then scanned it.

“I’m not letting you in.”

“You will let me in!”

“I won’t.”

“You will!”

“I won’t.”

“You won’t!”

“I will!” The bearded man blinked.  “Oh, that does work.”

The young man walked in, but turned back. He opened his mouth to say something to the bearded man, but stopped. The bearded man tossed him a lanyard. “Eddie, the bass player, he and I grew up next door to each other. I asked him for a VIP pass. Have fun kid, and tell him Rick sent you.”

“Thanks, Rick.”

Rick, his beard an inky color,he himself an ever-watching behemoth; smiled.

Invisible Sun

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

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

 

 

Tomorrow is my birthday. Getting older is inevitable, I know, but does it have to be so boring? Maybe for other people getting older is some kind of journey, something they share with a loved one or friends, but  me? I’d rather eat sand.

 

Okay, stay with me because I’m about to tell you something very strange. I live in a desert wasteland. Plenty of people live in a desert wasteland, yes, but when I was fifteen years old, I slipped indiscriminately into a void occupied by said desert wasteland. Sand stretches infinitely in all directions and the sky is forever black. It’s not the black of night or a permanent marker; it’s the empty black of a cardboard box or an vacant theatre. The sky is empty, and I mean that both in the way that there is nothing in it and that there is no substance to it. It’s just black; just a void that hangs over sand.

I’ve been here for ten years. Happy Birthday to me.

 

I made a joke earlier. I actually do have to eat sand to stay alive. If anyone thinks that’s weird then I would gladly change places so they can experience the sand. It’s not bad, but it’s not good. Hey, people eat mushrooms and livers, why can’t I eat sand?

 

My mother and father were both Professors at Yale. One night, we were invited to a fundraiser on campus at an enormous mansion, a mahogany beast that had many previous owners; Mark Twain and Groucho Marx among them. That night, however, the Drama Department was auctioning items from the previous owner before they turned the mansion into a new campus library for yet-to-be translated Greek plays. The man who owned the house, famous filmmaker and Oscar winner Pytor Sansk, had died only a few weeks before. Sansk’s film career began with artsy, black and white films that explored death and loss before he moved to a focused, magically staged series of films in color that explored death and loss. Each piece was set in a different country, in a different area of history, but kept a through line of actors and story. As the auction crept into its fourth hour, I decided to explore. I slipped upstairs, where I found Pytor’s office; an enormous room with an oversized telescope, a skylight that stretched across the entire ceiling, and walls of storyboards.  I had found a piece of the man left behind, not valuable enough to sell for money but valuable enough not to touch. I poked around for close to an hour, sifting through old scripts and examining Pytor’s library. It was there I found the indiscriminate catastrophe that would doom me here: a door, marked with an upside down triangle with three vertical lines through it. It sat between two shelves of Shakespeare plays, old and grey; an incongruous post-it note attached that simply read: NO.

I didn’t listen to the post-it note. I walked through the door.

 

Mostly, I just keep walking. I have a playlist of songs in my head that I sing. Today, I’m going through all The Police albums I remember. My older brother, well, half brother, was a huge Police fan. He used to come over for dinner every Wednesday night and, after coffee with my parents, sit and listen to music with me, determined to make sure I did not succumb to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears of the world. So today, it’s Ghosts in the Machine, and then maybe to Synchronicity from there. All the while, walk, walk, walk.

 

Is it healthy to daydream about your first crush for ten years straight? My answer is yes, but I’ve also been without human contact for ten years, so judge me all you want. I was in love with this girl, Maya, and maybe I still am, but is it love at 14? We dated for about half a year before she broke up with me because her family was going to move. She didn’t move, but after that we never really got back together. Actually, my favorite memory of her isn’t even from when we were together. It’s from later, about a week or two before I made my indiscriminate mistake of walking through that damn door. Don’t laugh at me, but we were on a band trip. On the bus ride back, my best friend Ryan ditched me for the cute blonde girl who played first trumpet, but Maya made a seat for me. We made some small talk in the afternoon sun that stretched across our laps before Ryan came to ask some advice. When he left, Maya had buried herself in a book, so I grabbed my CD player, A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay, and my headphones. The next thing I knew, my eyes pulled themselves down like divers into the sea, and I fell asleep. I woke up as the last song on the CD began and found my head had slipped onto Maya’s shoulder. My eyes flickered open but I immediately closed them. She wasn’t asleep, but nor was she reading, just staring out the window, a blur of green moving past her. A rush of old emotions came to me; the feel of her hand in mine, sitting next to her at the piano, how she smiled even when I didn’t say anything funny.  She hadn’t moved my head or tried to wake me up when it slipped there. Instead, she let me rest, let some part of me stay attached to her. She let us both slip into memories, just for a little while. It didn’t change anything between us, but it was a silent acknowledgement that we did have something, that we were right to feel how we felt, that in the quiet parts of the afternoon, she thought about me too.

I wish I could thank her for that.

 

 

This morning, I stopped walking. Why? Why today, of all days? Because I heard a voice. Someone else is here! Someone else among the empty black and the infinite sand! I’ve gone insane, at this point in time that is an inevitable destination, but I swear on every grain of sand below my feet that I recognize that voice.
I just have to find her.

 

“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!”

 

 

===============================================================

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.

 

 

==============================================================

“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.

___________________________________________________

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

 

 

 

“Fearless Minds Climb Soonest Unto Crowns”

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

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

 

The whole army was behind him, their swords sharpened, their armor clanking a cacophony of sound as they marched along the river bank.

John had seen the river before, long ago, and although his men grumbled at his back, he swore on his grave that it hadn’t been this big. He had played in the water with his sister. Their father had crossed on horseback.

Now the river had swelled; that or it had eaten another river. No horse could cross, let alone a man on foot. John was unsure a boat could cross without the river greedily swallowing it whole. With the advice of the local farmers, John now lead his army three miles out of their way to a bridge.  John and the army were coming on it now, and a cry snaked its way back through the ranks of men. They stopped to rest along the banks, stretching and drinking from the flowing waters.

After speaking with a few of his generals, John approached the bridge, meaning to walk about halfway out to examine the river, when a strange sound greeted him.

It was a laugh that, at one point in time, must have sent lesser men running with chills in their bones. Now, it was half cackle and half cough that leaned more towards a lung deflating wheeze. It bordered on alarming, so much so that John searched frantically for the source so that he may try to aid it.

A troll loped up from under the bridge. Its skin was sallow and slate colored; large, sunken yellow eyes bore into him. It was not the large, land troll that John had previously encountered but the wily, river kind. At least it had been.  A mess of white hair lay about its pointed ears. One hand was missing a thumb among its long, centipede fingers. It wore a dusty tunic, perplexingly dusty given its proximity to water.

“Halt!” It cried, wheezing. “Who goes there?”

“Are you alright?” John asked as the troll fell into another fit of coughing.  He risked a look behind him, but none of his men seemed to notice the troll.

“This is my bridge and none shall cross!” the troll cried. It pointed menacingly at John, sharp teeth peeking out from a broken grin.

“I have an entire army at my disposal. Please, move or be destroyed.”

“An army?” the troll asked. John nodded and pointed behind him.  “Oh,” It said. “Well perhaps then I’ll need to kill them first.”

John laughed.

“Go ahead and try!” He goaded.

The troll closed its eyes and chanted a song strange and gruesome; something old and devastating, sung in a language that had never been written down for fear of what the words might do or where they may try to go.

The water in the river began to rise, forming a wall one hundred feet high. It stood, full of kinetic energy waiting to be unleashed, and John did not want to watch it crush his army like ants in the rain.

“Wait!” he cried. “What is it you want? Please,” he finished lamely. Two of his best generals came running up the bridge, one with an arrow notched in his bow. John motioned frantically for them to stand down.

The troll opened one eye and exhaled slowly, the wall of water shrinking with its breath.  It cackled again, this time without wheezing.

“I’ll need four pigs, a knife of infinite sharpness, five pounds of gold, the liver of two chickens,” it began.

“They are yours. Anything else?”

The troll smiled an evil smile. “Yes. Your hair.”

“Um,” said John.

“What is it?”

John removed his helmet. His bald head shone in the sunlight.

The troll said, “Oh.”

“Yes.”

“Oh my. You’re, um,”

“I am,” John said.

“But you’re a young man! How?”

“It runs in my family, I’m afraid. I lost it all completely a few years ago.”

“I’m so sorry!”

“Yes, well, now you’ve gone and made me feel bad about it,” John said, annoyed.

“I didn’t mean to!” The troll protested.

“Doesn’t matter if you meant to, you’ve done it. It’s bad enough that I’ve no hair left, you had to go and rub it in.”

“I-“

“It’s shameful, you know? Shameful to be the young, virile King of an entire land and be completely bald, but you don’t care do you? You just go about, willy-nilly demanding hair from people, and why? Because you’ve magic powers that can drown an entire army?  My men don’t even know, by the way. But perhaps I should show them? Perhaps I should go show my bald, shiny head to my men so that they can laugh right along with you. That’s what you want too, isn’t it? To humiliate me!”

“No!” cried the Troll, shaking its head miserably.

“It is! You magic folk are all alike, picking on humans. You’re no better than the elves that come to the castle, laughing away, calling me ‘Baldylocks’ and ‘King Hairless III’. I’m not even the third! I’m John the Sixth! Cheeky buggers!”

“I am sorry King John, I- I did not, please I did not know, I swear!”

“No, it’s fine. You may have your other demands. I am sorry I cannot provide you with hair. Perhaps we can shave my steed. It is only fitting, I suppose, for a bald King to ride upon the back of a bald horse!!”

“Please, please no!  It’s no matter, really. I am sorry! Let me make it up to you! You and your men may cross my bridge, no charge!”

“Are you sure?” John asked.

“I would be an honor for a great King such as you to pass overhead,” the troll shook John’s hand and retreated back under the bridge, bowing repeatedly to cried of ‘all hail!’ King John and his two generals made their way back to the banks of the river.

“Your majesty?” The taller of the two Generals asked. “Permit me, Highness but… well, you’re not bald.”

“No, I am not.” John said, smiling.

“So, you knew-”

“Let’s get a move on, men!” John called. He smiled and mounted his horse. “When faced with the unexpected,” he said running his hand over his smooth head, “Always prepare.”

“A Fountain Among the Fox”

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

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

 

 

“A Fountain Among the Fox”

It was less of a fountain and more of basin, filled with water from a small stream that snaked its way up a hill and out of sight, lost to anyone in the overgrown swamp brush but the animals that knew it.

There was a certain flock of birds that came to basin every year on their migration from the cold winters north. How long they had been coming is uncertain, but it’s been said that the same flock of birds stops there to even now.

It remained long undiscovered until one day, a sweaty, bearded man, dressed in gleaming armor and an oversize, wide brimmed hat, came crashing through the palm trees to the shores of the small basin.

He turned a full turn and looked down, then around again, as if someone had hidden his own house from him.

“This is it?” he cried. The palm trees answered with an affirmative sway in the breeze.

He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the water in the pool; clear and blue in the afternoon light. The water, for its part, did nothing. It didn’t care what this man’s ire, it was water.

The man sighed and produced a glass bottle from a calfskin bag. He knelt down to fill the bottle.

“I wouldn’t do that,” someone said. The man jumped to his feet and withdrew a long, sharp knife.

“Who said that? Who’s there?” he asked fervently.

“Leave the water alone. It’s not going to do what you think it will do,” the voice said again. The man turned, tripping over himself trying desperately to find the disparaging voice.

“Show yourself, you dog!” he cried.

A Fox jumped from a craggy rock and landed, soft as a pillow, on the ground next to the man.

“Woof,” it said.

“Um,” the man said.

“What’s your name, stranger?” the Fox asked. It grinned, which, all things considered, was impossible because Foxes can’t grin, but they can’t talk either and the Fox had clearly asked the man’s name.

“Diego,” he said, knife pointed between the dog’s eyes. “Yours?”

“You can call me Fox,” the dog said, licking a paw.

“Of course,” Diego said. “Are you the devil?” he asked, never moving the knife.

“I am not,” the Fox said. “I’m just a friendly, ordinary Fox.”

“Who can talk.”

“Who can talk, yes.”

“And grin.”

“Yes, grin. I can also chase my tail and touch the sky and chase down the fastest rabbit, but you don’t see me bragging about it.”

“What was that about the sky?” Diego asked.

“Nothing,” Fox said. “Listen, about what I said before, about the water, disregard that.”

Diego gave Fox a sharp glare, but bent down again to fill his bottle.

“But don’t touch it!!” Fox yipped.

“Why not!? I traced my way here, through swamps and seas, I sailed from Spain!”

“And that is why, dear Diego, I would hate to see you fill your bottle with the wrong water! You’re looking for the water that will keep you forever young, am I correct?”

Diego nodded.

“Well! This is the wrong fountain! I’m sorry I have to be the one to tell you, but it is!”

Diego shook his head. “It’s not,” he said gravely. “I procured a map from one of the local natives and, as I mentioned, traced my way here.” He unfolded a rough sketch of the stretch of land the fountain belonged to. He had quite literally traced the map; it was crude but aesthetically pleasing to see the world set out flat like that, mountains and hills small triangles and semicircles, little doodles of palm trees and shaded waters. Diego felt achingly attached to his map. It made this strange land easier to understand laid flat on the map.

“Yes, but-” Fox said.

“It’s here, this is the correct place.” Deigo once more knelt to fill his bottle, but Fox quickly ran through his legs and placed himself between the bearded man and the water.

“Move, beast! I have come too far-”

“All in search of the water that will keep you forever young, yes, I know. The problem with this water isn’t that it won’t do what you think it will do, it’s that it will do exactly what you think it will do. You will never stop getting younger, until you’re nothing but dust!”

“You want it all for yourself, don’t you!” Deigo realized.

“This water is not yours to take. I can trace my family back generations to these swamps, to this land. You are a thief, a usurper and you are not welcome here.”

Diego lunged, knife point searching for Fox’s grin, but in an instant he was stuck. His limbs felt like they were trapped at the bottom of a Rum barrel. Heavy rain began to fall despite the cloudless sky only moments before.

Diego struggled. “Please, you don’t understand. It’s not for me, it’s for the woman I love. She’s taken ill. Please, her father has stated that any doctor that can cure her may have her hand in marriage!”

“It’s not yours to take. And you’re not a doctor!”

“I’ll kill you!” Diego raged.

“You can’t,” Fox said as though he were remarking on a palm tree being a plant or the sun rising every morning. It was a fact, clear and sharp in Diego’s mind. He sighed. His hat sagged in the rain.

Fox let him go and the rain stopped. As long as he sat by the fountain, Diego could not take the water.

He straightened his armor and stood proudly, trying his best to accept defeat with poise and grace. The tear running down his cheek belied this feat, but he tried nonetheless.

“Fine. I will return home. Mark my words, I will save her with or-”

Fox had vanished.

“Without…” Diego finished lamely. Fox was gone, yes, but there was something there, unmoving and unseen, that growled at Diego to go.

With a heavy heart, Diego pulled out his map and traced his finger along the path he had taken away from the fountain and back to the coast.

Unbeknownst to him, in his calfskin bag was a bottle with one small sip of water.

 

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.