Not Randy’s Day, Part 1 of 2

We’ve now, finally, at long last, arrived at Story #16, entitled Not Randy’s Day. This is the final vignette from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Hooray! Fuck, I bet you thought this would never end. Today’s installment is Part 1 of 2.


Backstory:

I signed up for a creative writing class during my sophomore year of college. But I don’t think it helped me be creative. After all, how do you teach creativity? And how do you judge creativity? Seems impossible to me. Therefore, how can someone truly teach “creative” writing?

Creative writing classes subject students to the biases of their teachers. And sometimes even the teachers don’t know what they like. Or in the case of my teacher, they won’t admit it. I don’t remember my professor’s name, but I do remember she had a fungiform shape. So I’ll call her Mrs. Mushroom.

One day, Mrs. Mushroom assigned us to write a story on the theme of a very intense, personal, and emotional, experience. I had a lot of fun with that assignment. I liked to make a lark out of Mushroom’s assignments. I’d turn and twist them around into utter nonsense.

Because to me, that’s what creativity was all about. It was about jumping out of the box and taking matters into forbidden areas. It was about kibbling convention, stomping stereotype, and discomfiting the reader with uncomfortable dalliances into roguish rulebreaking.

She graded my paper and superscribed some comments at the top. But before she handed it back to me, she decided to read it aloud to my fellow students. I don’t know why, unless it was to instruct the class on what not to do, with her assignments.

As she got into the thick of my story, she started to giggle. She suppressed it. But a few paragraphs later her giggling returned, and with greater intensity. She tried to suppress it again. But it kept coming back like percolating coffee.

Suddenly that coffee pot boiled over and she melted down into hysterical laughter. She lost complete control of herself for about a full minute, howling so long and hard she became almost cataplectic. And that must have caused her to suck some saliva down her windpipe.

A fit of coughing and choking ensued. She struggled for her breath, while gasping and hacking. Her face turned red as the marks she made on our papers. She struggled to her feet, staggered between our desks, then rushed out the door, coughing and choking the entire way.

She returned about 20 minutes later, looking haggard but breathing normally. She composed herself at her desk and resumed reading my story, slowly, with a strained, straight face. And somehow she was able to finish while maintaining her normally somber demeanor.

Then she handed the paper back to me, with the comment she had superscribed at the top, before her near-fatal decision to read the story to the class. The comment read, “Not sure if you were trying to be funny, but if you were, the humor didn’t come across. B-.”

Yep, that’s what it said.

And this illustrates why it is impossible to judge creativity. Sometimes we think we don’t like something, when we actually do. And sometimes we very much want something to not be funny, because it blasphemes every fiber of the principles we hold dear. And yet for some damned reason, we can’t stop ourselves from laughing.

Creativity follows no rules, knows no bounds, and cannot be captured in a jar, bucket, or classroom. It just is what it is, and it’s constantly changing all the time. To appreciate creativity, you must recognize the value in change, unknowns, and surprises. And if Mrs. Mushroom had been that way, she would have never written that comment on my paper.

I can be intense. I can be personal. And I can be emotional. But when I am these things, I like to have fun with them. I hope you’ll have some fun too, as you read the story that nearly killed my creative writing teacher. This is a tale about a young man named Randy, and an intense, personal, emotional day that was not at all tailored to his liking.

Not Randy’s Day (Beginning)

 

Plip. Plip. Plip. He woke up. Ice water battered his forehead as it dripped from the top freezer section of the refrigerator. He propped himself up on his hands where he lay on the floor, and two sticks of dynamite suddenly exploded behind his nose. He groped around for something to wipe his nose with, but had to finally settle for a shirt sleeve. He was shivering, and he was sick. He had a bad cold. And there was the sound of falling water outside. It was raining.

Randy’s right hand bumped against a beer bottle. He looked around and saw bottles scattered all over the kitchen floor. That’s when he remembered. Last night was an awful night. Oh, such an awful night. He blinked back tears as it replayed in his mind.

His girlfriend—the lady he meant to marry—he could see her so vividly. He saw that frightened look on her face when he barged through the door. No one had answered the door when he knocked, but he’d heard some busy activity and hushed, anxious voices. He thought she might be in trouble, so he flung the door open and rushed in like a combat soldier expecting a firefight. And that’s when he saw those two scared, wide-open eyes. And that’s when he saw the man she was with.

A big man, half-naked, hairy chest, with a taunting sneer on his face.

His guts melted with the impact of the fist. It was like swallowing a hot gulp of water, and it took all his breath away. He fell and blacked out, lying there on his back. It took him a few minutes to gain enough strength to barely open his eyes. And then his fiancee dropped her engagement ring onto his chest. “It’s over,” she said tersely, as she quickly turned her back and walked away.

When he got back home he found the beer in his fridge. And he didn’t care. He drank one bottle, then found another. And then another. And he drank and he drank. And when he ran out, he changed from beer to a cocktail. And for the second time that night, he passed out.

Now Randy wished for another drink, but only found empty beer bottles on the floor, scattered around like little bowling pins. And the vodka was finished. And besides, all the ice in the freezer had melted.

The refrigerator was warm and empty, both doors open—its compressor humming persistently away.

He picked himself up and staggered into a chair at the kitchen table. His nose exploded again. Damned cold! He wiped his face with the tablecloth. There was a balloon floating around inside his head, slowly inflating. It pushed out against the inside of his skull, and pressed harder and harder.

He held his head in his fingers and rubbed his temples. A hangover with a cold, he thought. What a great combination to go with a broken heart. And a tear erupted from his eye and tumbled down his face at the thought.

It was pouring outside. There was a low rumble of thunder, like God was muttering angrily over the stupidity of humans. A distant flash, then another low rumble. Rain tap-danced on the roof above, and tickled at the windows. Water gurgled off rain gutters and splattered into puddles on the ground below. And a hard cold wind shook his house with hammerblow gusts.

Early dawn—or it should be. His clock showed 6:13, but the storm clouds made it dark as the heart of jealousy outside. Randy massaged his skull some more and pondered over how life would be now, without his fiancee. He could only think of black loneliness.

An unfair loneliness too—for after all, he had been such a good friend to her and had not done anything to deserve this desertion. Why did she treat him so ungratefully? How could one person do this to another? And what had made him fall in love with such an unfaithful girl anyway?

He pondered over love, hard-won and lost, as so many have pondered before. And in the midst of his thoughts there came a vigorous rap on the front door. Could it be? Could she have returned, with sorrow for her betrayal? Two palms on the kitchen table, Randy pushed himself out of the chair. He sneezed and staggered sideways. Then he found the door and opened it.

“Telegram for a Randall Dreenk,” the man spoke with a shiver in his voice. Rainwater dripped over the brow of the courier’s plastic yellow hat. Randy signed for the telegram then fought back a gust of chilly wind as he closed the door.

Telegram. He had never received a telegram before in his entire life. He opened it and read the contents. It said, “We regret to inform you that your parents, Egan and Elsa Dreenk, died in an airplane accident here last night.” It had been sent by some sheriff from a place called Mountain County.

Randy held the paper in his hands for a full minute, staring at the words with disbelief. No no, this must be a joke, he thought desperately. You get a phone call—a police chaplain comes to your door—something like that. You don’t ever get this kind of news this way. Do you? Oh no, oh God! he thought. Then he backed into a wall—slid to the floor, slumping forward with hands in his face.

He thought of his parents and the last time he’d seen them. They were waving goodbye inside the cockpit of their Cessna. He had always felt unsure about that plane. He’d always had a premonition that one day they might not complete a flight with it. And now . . . and now it seemed that his premonition had come true.

Lightning flickered close, and thunder immediately followed the flash. It crackled. It roared. And Randy Dreenk’s parents were dead.

Randy remained on the floor, unable to gather strength against the force of the blows that had most recently struck him. He remained on the floor and thought of his parents and cried and cried and cried. And there he stayed in a pool of misery for several hours, until the phone rang.

It rang again, and Randy decided that this could be a good sign. Perhaps some sort of mistake had been made and someone was calling him now to correct the problem. Perhaps his parents weren’t dead after all. That person on the phone was trying to reach him to let him know. Randy stood up, squelching a sneeze, and found the phone.

“Randy, what the hell are you doing?!!” his boss’s screaming voice invaded his ear. “I told you not to be late anymore. Well, you’re damn near an hour late now and you’re still sittin’ on your ass at home! No more excuses Randy! You’re fired!!!”

The phone hung up before Randy had a chance to speak.

“You’re fired!!!” the words echoed in his ears over and over.

The bastard! Randy thought. Here he was, at the lowest point in his life, and his boss wouldn’t even give him a chance to talk! To tell him what had happened. To speak of his troubles. To allow him to let his emotional misery out and reach out for some consolation. Instead he was fired!

Fired. Just like that. With such quick and efficient dispatch. This job meant so much to him. It meant his career. It meant his life. He had worked and studied so hard just to get where he was at now. And now he had just been fired. His career was all over with the click of a phone.

Randy was shot with rage. He wanted to shout. To scream at someone. But there was no one in the house but him. He began to shake. His lips trembled. His hands opened and closed. His legs loosened, and he fell weakly to his knees.

Nervous breakdowns happen to the friendless. They happen to those who have no one to turn to for reassurance. And at this moment Randy was truly without a friend. His girlfriend had deserted him. His parents were dead. And he had been cut off from his fellow workers at his job place. There was no one in the world left to listen to Randy and reassure him that one day all would be well—that things would surely get better.

But then he remembered his church. Yes, yes, he could go to church. This was a Wednesday, but there was always a priest at church, every day of the week. He could go to church and find a priest to tell his woes to. He could hug a pew and feel the warm heart of God healing his spirit. He could find hope and deliverance from this personal tribulation, within the strengthening walls of church.

Randy felt in his pocket for the keys to his green Porsche. They rattled like metal bones between his fingers. He found the Porsche parked helter-skelter partway up his driveway where he had left it the night before. The driver’s side window was halfway down and rain was pouring inside. But Randy didn’t care. This was nothing compared to everything else that was happening to him.

He settled into the squishy seat and rolled up a barrier to the driving rain.

Randy wandered through the flooded streets of the city, in search of his church. The windshield was fogging against the rain, matching his current state of mind.

He parked his green Porsche beneath a gray-black foaming sky. Through the thick rain he ran, up to the large wooden doors that gated his sanctuary. He was home. Home at God’s place. Now he could find a friend. Now he could share his troubles with a priest. Now he could receive some consolation and sympathy and healing for all the wounds that had been inflicted upon him.

He grabbed a large, gnarled wood and brass doorknob and twisted. But it didn’t twist. Something was wrong. He twisted harder, but still no give. He tried the knob on the other door next to it. It too held fast. That’s when it sank in. The doors were locked. Randy had been locked out of his own church. He pulled on the knobs, but the doors didn’t budge. He pushed—still no luck.

He pounded on the doors in hopes that a priest would open up from the inside. But no one came to allow entrance. He stayed in the rain, pounding and crying. He slumped against the door, and tears on his face joined the rainwater on the wood. He was hysterical. He could not believe that God would forsake him like this. He felt so alone, and so helpless, and so abandoned.


Middlenote:

It was at this point that my creative writing teacher, Mrs. Mushroom, lost all control and melted down into a laughing, coughing, helpless mess. She rushed out of the room, giving us about a 20-minute break. So I’m going to give you a break, too. We’ll read the conclusion to this tale, tomorrow.

The Devil And Sagittarius Rolfdown

This is Story #15, entitled The Devil And Sagittarius Rolfdown, from my book, Go West or Go Weird.


Backstory:

I felt nervous. It was my first day of college. And I was in English class. I assumed English college professors were tough, dry, and dull as a stale bagel. And I wondered if I could survive this class. I even considered walking out, and dropping out of college right then, rather than undergo the tortuous mental discipline of a rigorous academic education.

Professor Rolfdown resembled a gray Abraham Lincoln, although his grizzled beard was even longer than Abe’s, extending below his Adam’s apple. His tall figure and wizened face came across imposing and intelligent as he began our first lesson, with chalk to blackboard, screeving descriptions of nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

But about five minutes into the lecture, he set down his chalk, removed his wire-rimmed spectacles, and solemnly informed us that this concluded our English lesson for the day.

He then had us form a circle with our desks, asked us to hold hands, and then led us in a meditation session. And that’s how we spent the rest of our class that day.

I felt relieved, because English never seemed so easy before. But I also felt a little puzzled and annoyed. I signed up to learn English, damnit, and not some weird eastern religion. Why, I thought I had matriculated into a community college, not some hippy-assed California commune.

And as my anger smoldered, I strongly considered transferring out of this class and replacing it with fuck, who knows, badminton maybe. But I needed credits in English. And this seemed like an easy way to get them. Hell, Professor Rolfdown had turned English into a gut course. So I stayed on for the easy ride.

But not without remonstration. A pattern developed. Every day of class began with a simple, five minute lecture about English. Basic shit I already knew all about, from elementary school lessons. And after that, the bearded professor would segue into lessons on eastern religion, meditation, psychic phenomena, and the paranormal. Then he’d have us write a short essay about what we’d just learned. And every time, I wrote sarcastic, satirical essays, expressing skepticism about all this bullshit, and lampooning it as New Age nonsense.

He would chuckle at my essays, and gently tell me that God loves humor. But such reverse psychology never dissuaded my skepticism.

One day, after I’d written an especially strong satirical rebuke of the lesson he’d just taught, he asked me why I hadn’t dropped out of his class. I told him that I needed the credits. He then ordered me to visit him in his office after class, for some counseling.

I sat cornered in the tiny cubby of his office. His beard strands were inches from my face. And his breath reeked of coffee, as Professor Rolfdown referenced my need for credits. And then he said something incongruous. He told me that he didn’t think I would be very good in bed.

Strange. And then it occurred to me. He might be making a pass at me. I suspected that if I reacted by defending my sexual prowess, he would have told me to prove it. In other words, this professor seemed to be implying, in a weasely sort of way, that if I didn’t suck his cock or let him fuck me in the ass, I might not get those English credits I was hoping for.

Now I felt even more nervous than my first day of college. He truly was a tough English professor.

I didn’t take the bait. Instead, I quickly changed the subject, and told him I was running late for my next class. And then I excused myself and got the hell out of there.

But I continued my defiance and sarcasm, in my essays. In fact I stepped it up. And I determined that if I failed this class, I’d raise a holy row, and expose this son-of-a-bitch for what he was, to the school administrators.

On the last day of the semester, our final exam consisted of us writing an essay explaining how we had changed after attending this “English” class. You can bet I laid the satire on thick and heavy, and lampooned the hell out of Professor Rolfdown.

He returned the paper to me, with the superscribed comment: “God loves humor. But God also loves change. So what grade do you think you deserve?”

I didn’t fall for it. I left that class giving him no response, and no final chance to try to mulct a sexual favor out of me. And his little smarmy, written question provided just the evidence I needed, in case I had to protest a failing grade.

He gave me a B. So I let the matter go, since a B was sufficient to get the credits I wanted.

But I also felt a little burn, having to go through such bullshit, and having to learn the hard facts about professors with hard-ons.

About a year later, just to get all this bullshit off my chest, I wrote one final sarcastic essay about this pervert professor and the eastern religion crap he tried to shove down his students’ throats. And I changed his name to Sagittarius Rolfdown. I thought that name was more fitting.

I submitted it to my Creative Writing teacher, and she read it to the entire class, then asked if anyone felt offended by it. To my great disappointment, nobody raised their hand. I don’t remember what grade she gave me but here, I humbly submit my essay now, for your grade. And please, if you feel offended by it, be sure to raise your hand.

The Devil And Sagittarius Rolfdown

 

The bearded man was eighty-five when he finally died of old age. He was in the middle of a meditation session when he went into his first chakra and had a heart attack.

On his death bed, he said the cosmic experience from the first chakra was so powerful that his heart began palpitating with excitement, only to become completely exhausted a moment later.

After he died, the bearded man expected to become a cosmic part of the great universe above him. But instead he felt himself being hurled downward, downward, downward until he finally fell on his ass before the burly gates of Hell.

The gates were a sooty black color, and had a sinister, gothic look to them. A red sweaty figure stood behind these gates, sneering and jeering at his newest arrival. “This is not my idea of becoming a piece of a great cosmic dustcloud in some ectoplasmic galaxy far away,” the bearded man mumbled in a low, confused tone of voice.

“Shutup!!” the red devil roared, “Just who the hell do you think you are to talk without my permission?!

“Wait a second, I think I know who you are,” he continued, playing with his pitchfork thoughtfully, “Why, you’re that space-cadet who fell heads over tails for eastern mysticism and such garbage as that.

“I’ve been waiting quite a long time for you, Sagittarius Rolfdown. I’m glad that goddamned God finally gave up and let you into my clutches. What foolish thing have you to say for yourself?”

“Where the hell am I?”

“Foolish enough.” Lucifer chuckled. “You are now exactly 450 miles beneath the surface of the earth, sitting in the bowels of Hades. Is that cosmic enough for you?”

“They say the inside of the Earth is like the outside of a star.”

“Goddamnit, one more reference to this place being like a heavenly body and I’ll root you in the butt through a volcano and send you to the heavens!

“And now, before I allow you the privilege of entering through these gates, let me explain how things will be while you’re down here, which will be forever.

“I will be your father and your mother, your brother and your sister, your godmother, godfather, and even God himself. You will be my slave and I will be your master. You will follow my orders to the letter and punctuation mark. What I say goes, even if it means jumping into a sea of boiling hot lava. Yes, life will be tough down here in Hell. Almost as bad as a Marine Corps training camp.

“But before you can pass through these burly gates, I am instructed by the Jesus Peace Convention in Heaven to allow you a few questions as to why you’re down here instead of up there with Simon Peter.”

“My first question,” the bearded man asked, “is why have I been sent to Hell if I spent my whole life on earth devoted to learning how to go to Heaven?”

“Because you’re a sucker!” Satan screamed with delight. “And God hates a sucker! It was God, you know, who first said ‘never give a sucker an even break.'”

“I thought that was W.C. Fields.”

“It was W.C. Fields. He stole that line from God, though.”

“B-But I still don’t understand,” Sagittarius stammered, “h-how am I a sucker?”

“Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!” the devil roared. “My computer readout for your life on earth shows that you spent over a hundred thousand dollars on psychic phenomena books, religious cult magazines, astrology and biorhythm charts, and other such useless things, during a sixty-year span of your life. You were so easily conned out of your money, in fact, that God almost rated you as bad as those foolish churchgoers who tithe. What suckers they are! But still, you’ll be getting harder labor than most of them down here!”

“Why is that?” the bewildered Sagittarius asked.

“Because of your actions!” the devil ranted, pounding his pitchfork on the ground and switching his pointed tail furiously. “You stupidly devoted three hours out of every day of your life in worthless meditation (which amounts to one-eighth of your life). You wasted the average of another hour of each day reading that lousy literature you bought. And worst of all, you wasted a total of over one thousand weekends as a Hare Krishna disciple, walking around busy airports and pestering weary travelers with your ridiculous eastern religion philosophy.

“Being suckered out of your own physical actions by doing things slick con-artists like gurus and preachers want you to do, is a crime more heinous than wasting money. Money can be replaced. But the short time you have to enjoy life on earth, cannot.

“You could have spent your time doing more enjoyable and worthwhile things like procrastinating, bar-hopping, or stealing, but instead you gave your life away to enduring hardships like meditation (very boring) and mind reading (very futile) for a bunch of fat gurus. For this reason you have been sent to Hell instead of Heaven.

“But enough of this talk—it is now time for you to learn coal shoveling for my vast furnaces. They must be kept very hot if I am to maintain this Hell of mine.”

Beelzebub then opened the burly gates and began prodding the bearded man through with his pitchfork.

“Oh no, oh no, oh no!” Sagittarius began to cry. “I’m doomed to live in this burning Hell forever and work beside evil people, like whores and heathens!”

“Whores and heathens?! Shit, they go to Heaven!” the devil exclaimed.

The Lonely Wish, Part 3 of 3

This is the conclusion to The Lonely Wish, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For earlier Parts, click on the links below:

Part 1

Part 2


The Lonely Wish (Conclusion)

 

One night it was closin’ time at the diner, when Penelope sat down by the counter beside me. She had been a faithful wife up until now, but this time she really seemed interested in me, like I’d caught her special attention. She studied my face for a few moments an’ was quiet an’ serious in her looks as she sat there. All solemn-like ‘n all. There was just she an’ me an’ some old guy hunched over a cup of coffee way down the way. A little cigarette smoke was rollin’ around in silver-blue river patterns up aroun’ the fluorescent lights.

The whole atmosphere gave me a lonely shake. Made me think of that-there famous painting of another diner. A haunting painting called “Nighthawks” by a feller named Hopper. An’ the empty barrels at the bottom of my soul were ready to pour out my lonely heart.

Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I told someone about my lucky star. Penelope listened with big, round wonderin’ eyes. I told her everythin’. I told her about the Yankee attack on my farm. The attempted suicide. The first time I saw the star. I told her about my wives, about the decades I’d lived in, and about my loneliness. I just broke down an’ told Penelope everythin’.

And then I popped the big one. I asked Penelope to be my wife. I told her it was possible with my lucky star. All she had to do was say yes, and I could make it so. I told her that I loved her, and that she could cure my loneliness. And in return I could make her young forever, and give her everythin’ she wanted. All she had to do was be my wife.

To please be my wife.

Penelope was an angel, she truly was. First, she said she loved her husband too much to leave him for anythin’. An’ she said she could not be unfaithful to her weddin’ vows.

Then she said that I had a problem. She said that she cared for me very much—as a friend—and she thought that I needed some professional help. She told me I should see a psychiatrist.

She urged me to please seek psychiatric help.

For a couple weeks after I did not see Penelope Frooze. Instead I spent my time wonderin’ how I could convince her I was authentic, and not some nut with mental health problems. And how I could convince her to accept my marriage proposal.

Then one day Penelope got a visit from the U.S. Army. It was very bad news. Her husband had been killed in action. She was now a widow.

And a free woman.

I waited about a week, until I thought she was over the worst of her grievin’. The funeral was past, an’ she had just returned to work. So I figured now would be an appropriate time to approach her.

It was evenin’ when I visited her at the diner. I waited around ’til closin’ time, then asked if she’d like to go out for a walk with me.

The sky was clear, and full of bright, twinklin’ stars that evenin’. We walked for a few minutes, and then I stopped and held her arm. I pointed to the east and said, “Penelope, do you see that big star that fills up almost the entire horizon?”

She says, “Is that the lucky star you think you see?”

“I know I see. Don’t you see it?”

“No.” she says. “Listen, I really do think you need some help. It can’t hurt to go and see one of those doctors. There’s nothin’ to be ashamed of. And they can help. They really can.”

“You can’t see it, Penelope, because it’s not your lucky star. It’s mine. But I bet I can help you see it. Just watch.

“Lucky star,” I said, “I wish she could see my lucky star, too.”

I looked over and saw Penelope’s eyes get wider and wider. Yes, now she was seeing it, too. Now she could believe me.

“I see something!” she says, “I really do see it! Oh, it’s beautiful!!”

“That’s my lucky star, Penelope. That’s what I’ve been tellin’ you about. Now do you believe me?”

She looked over at me with wonderment in her eyes. The same look I prob’ly had the first time I saw the star. “Yes,” she slowly says, “. . . yes, I guess I do believe you. I do believe you now.”

“Penelope, I’m tired of bein’ a lonely man. So I have to be honest with you if I expect to truly win your heart. Penelope, I have a confession to make. Whenever I wish upon that star my wish always comes true.

“After I proposed to you, you said you could never break your weddin’ vows. But weddin’ vows say, ‘until death do us part’. So last week, Penelope, I made a wish upon that star. I wished that your husband would be killed in the war. That’s how much I love you and want you. I wished your husband dead. I’m sorry, Penelope. Will you please forgive me?”

Penelope’s face just seemed to twist up like a wrung out washrag just then. She suddenly looked up into the sky and began to cry. “Please tell me you didn’t do this!” she said over and over to me.

I felt like I had to be honest. It was the only way I could end the loneliness that was torturing me so, and begin an authentic relationship with someone.

“I can’t Penelope, I did do it. I’m sorry.”

For a few more minutes she cried.

But then she suddenly looked back up into the sky, and I should have been warned by the fire in her eyes.

Slowly, and with trembling lips, she said, “I wish it was my lucky star, and not his.”

I quickly looked up, but only in time to see my star quickly shrink down to nothin’, just like the picture would shrink down to a little dot on the old TV sets, after you turned ‘em off. It vanished, and for the first time in over a hundred years I saw a night sky without my bright lucky star in it.

I grabbed Penelope and pleaded, “Please, please, bring it back!”

“No.” she said. She was like a rock.

“Please Penelope, please! I must have it back! I can’t live without it! Bring it back! Please! Wish it back for me Penelope.” I demanded! “Wish it back!”

She looked at me and said, “The only thing I should wish is that you were dead.”

“Oh no, no! Please don’t wish that!” I got down on my knees. I’d never felt so helpless and vulnerable before. “Please watch what you wish! Please be careful!”

I’m ashamed to say that I then began squealing in a high voice. “I’ll die if you wish that! Please don’t wish that! Please! Please!!”

She didn’t wish me dead. But I never saw her again, either. The next day I went to her house to beg for my star back. But she was gone. She’d moved out overnight.

I’ve been lookin’ for her ever since. From town to town, city to city I’ve traveled. Searchin’ the phone books for a Penelope Frooze. Prowlin’ around the advantaged homes of the upper-middle class for a glimpse of her.

I suspect she’s made herself somewhat rich with my lucky star. I suspect she’s also changed her identity several times. And I suspect I’ll never find her, in spite of how hard I search.

She’ll be forever young, forever kind of rich, and forever lucky, just the way I was.

I’m gettin’ kinda old now. In about ten years or so I’ll prob’ly die of old age, if it don’t get me sooner. Still, it’s not bad for a guy who was born in 1818, don’t you think?

I doubt if I’ll ever see Penelope Frooze again. But I’ll bet about now she’s startin’ to get a bit lonely herself. And maybe by now she’s lookin’ for someone she can trust. Someone she can share her true self with, just like I thought I could with her.

Perhaps you’ll meet her one day. And perhaps one evenin’ the two of you will go for a walk under some starry night sky.

If she should start talkin’ about some lucky star of hers, tell her you won’t believe it ’till you see it. And when she shows it to you, you know what to do next. Don’t be shy or hesitant, just do it. It’s yours for the takin’, jist like she took it from me.

And you’d be a fool to pass it up.

But if you do take it, I’d like to ask one thing of you. Some evenin’ while you’re lookin’ at your lucky star and makin’ a wish for somethin’ you’ve always wanted, I’d like you to think of me.

And then maybe if you would please, wish a little luck my way, too.

The Lonely Wish, Part 2 of 3

This is Part 2 of 3, of The Lonely Wish, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Click here to read Part 1.


The Lonely Wish (Continued)

 

The next day I started to walk into town. I was no longer a crippled man, so now I figured I could look my fellow brethren straight in the eye and ask ’em to let me do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage. I felt like a respectable man. An upright respectable man, now that I was a whole man.

But before I got to town a temptin’ thought hit me. I thought, supposin’ I should stay out of town for jist one more night and see if that lucky star comes out again. Then I could wish for enough money so that I wouldn’t even have to work. I could go into town and be not only respectable, but also rich.

Shore enough, that night the lucky star did come out again, fillin’ up the eastern horizon with all its brilliant shinin’ colors.

“Lucky star,” I said, “I wish I could have a thousand dollars in gold, right here in my pocket.”

My pocket suddenly ripped, and the weight of a thousand dollars in gold fell down my pant leg and hit my foot.

So I wished that my foot would stop hurtin’, and it did. Amazingly, the pain just went away like blowin’ a candle out.

That night I also wished for a new suit and a fine horse. I got both, and rode into town the next day a rich and respectable man, who only two nights earlier had been standin’ on a bridge contemplatin’ suicide.

I turned the heads and eyes of a lots of folks, especially a lot of women-folks. But not too many of the younger, more attractive women were lookin’ at me, and I realized it was because of my age. I was 48 years old and had the kind of wrinkles an 80-year-old might have, due to all the misery I’d been through the past few years.

But I was a man with a lucky star, so that evenin’ I wished I could be twenty years old again.

The next day the young women were finally lookin’ at me, and I told ’em I was the rich son of that old galoot who’d come through the day before.

Soon I had it all. I had a pretty young wife, a mansion, fine horses, lots of money, and lots of respect from the townsfolk. I was a rich, respectable young man, far from that old white trash dirt farmer who’d been burned out way back in Georgia. I was a man who owned a lucky star. And all of my wishes were comin’ true.

But after awhile I learned not to wish for too much. I learned that havin’ too much money, too many possessions—too much of anythin’, in fact—was dangerous. It got people to talkin’. And talk about a wealthy man attracted thieves. Thieves have been known to kill for money, and I did not want to die for what I had wished for.

You see, my lucky star was no good to me by day. It was only good for me at night, when I could see it. And if it should happen to be a cloudy night, then it still worn’t no good for me. If I couldn’t see my lucky star, I could wish ’til my lips turned blue and it wouldn’t do me no danged good. I had to see it, to wish on it effectively.

So I learned to be careful about my wealth. I learned that by jist bein’ borderline rich I could feel safe enough from thieves, or from jealous poor people, or the like.

I learned to keep a low profile and not to make much of an impression on people. That kept the talk down, and helped me feel more comfortable with my wealth.

Somethin’ I refused to do was let myself age. I loved bein’ twenty years old. For one thing, it made thieves think twice about attackin’ me—young, strappin’ and healthy as I appeared. Also, I was afraid that by aging I would be more susceptible to ill health. I didn’t want to suddenly get sick and wind up dyin’ before I could get a chance to see my lucky star and wish myself back into good health. That was a great fear of mine.

But unfortunately I had to let my wife age. Wishin’ her to stay young would eventually lead to some questions bein’ asked, and then a lot of talk that could become harmful. Perhaps people would accuse her and me of bein’ in league with the devil or somethin’. I was afraid of that kind of talk, and what it could lead to.

But after about ten years, people did begin to talk. They talked about me, and why I wasn’t aging. They wondered aloud, and even joked half good-naturedly with me about it. The handwritin’ was on the wall, and I knew the time had come for me to leave. Leavin’ seemed to be my only option.

My wife was a nice enough person I guess, but the time had come. So one mornin’ she woke up and I wasn’t in bed next to her. I had moved on.

I wound up in another town a thousand miles away. I took on a new identity, with new looks, to keep from bein’ recognized by someone from my past who might come travelin’ through my present. I wished myself new wealth, and began courtin’ young women.

Soon I was all set up again, just like before. And for another ten years I was able to live the life of a comfortably rich, but quiet man, with a beautiful young wife. No one talked about me much or bothered me very often. In fact I think I was hardly ever even thought about.

And the cycle continued. Decade after decade I would pull up stakes and start a new life somewhere else. The years were like a gentle breeze on a summer day—they just seemed to slip by without me noticin’ anythin’ but a pleasant good time.

The years rolled on into the twentieth century. And on they went, through World War I, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the Korean War. And on I went, with my lucky star as my guide.

But somethin’ was a’changin’ inside me. I guess I was goin’ through a kind of a personal crisis. I was feelin’ kind of hollow inside. More and more all the time. I would look back at all my wives and all my lives and ask myself if it had been worth it. I would ask myself if I was really happy. I would want to know what the meanin’ of life was. And I would want to know if I was fulfillin’ the meanin’ of life.

But when I boiled it all down, I decided I was just plain old lonely. Here I’d had so many wives and I had left them all, each time just when I was beginnin’ to know and appreciate them. And they had never gotten to know me. I had lied to each and ever one of ‘em about my past and the source of my wealth, because I didn’t want ‘em to know about my lucky star. I was afraid they wouldn’t believe me. Or that if they did believe me they would talk about it to others. Talk seemed to be the most dangerous enemy I had. And so to prevent talk about myself, I had to keep from talkin’ about myself. And that meant remainin’ lonely, even with my wives.

The Vietnam War busted loose on a lonely world for me. I had just left another wife, who was beginnin’ to wonder how I’d kept my young looks for so long. This time, I vowed, I would not get married again until I met a woman who I could trust. A woman who I could tell the truth to about myself, and who wouldn’t talk it around to others. A woman who I could get to know, and who could get to know me. A woman who I wouldn’t feel lonely with. This time I would wait until I met such a woman.

In 1969 I met Penelope Frooze. She was 25—a little older than what I was used to. But she was a darn purty woman. Beautiful both on the outside and on the in. She was someone I could talk to in confidence, and who I knew would keep the cats in the bag. She just had that special kind of personality that could make a believer out of anyone who came into contact with her. Includin’ myself. She was sympathetic, humorous, happy, gregarious, fun, and interestin’ to be with.

An’ I loved her.

She was a waitress at a diner. That’s where I met her. Her husband was over in ‘Nam, fightin’ commies. Well, that was his problem. I had me a lucky star and he didn’t.

And I was determined to make Penelope my wife.

But Penelope had to volunteer to be my wife. I wanted someone who I could trust and talk to, not someone I had to force and be afraid of.


End of Part 2. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 3, and the conclusion to this tale.

The Lonely Wish, Part 1 of 3

We’re now at Story #14, entitled The Lonely Wish, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Today’s installment is Part 1 of 3.


Backstory:

I grew up on the move. From the day I was born, to the day of my 18th birthday, my family moved 19 times. And they usually took me with them.

There was that time in the first grade when my brother and I came home from school and our family was gone. A few hours later, as we sat tristfully upon the front porch, my mother pulled up and saved the day. I can’t blame her for forgetting us. She had five kids, pets, and a shitload of possessions to transport. Her brain must have been frazzled.

I changed school 13 times while growing up. Because usually when we moved it was to another town, far away.

We weren’t in the military. Nor were we gypsies. Basically, we were just dirt poor vagabonds. So sometimes we moved because the sheriff had posted an eviction notice on our door.

My stepfather was a drunk, liverish, child-abusing and molesting pervert. I suspect that some of the moving was his attempt to escape his own miserable self. But he was also eternally discontent with his employers. Sometimes he’d move us a hundred miles, just to get a nickel-an-hour more in wages.

And then my mother divorced him. And we moved. And then my mother divorced her next husband, and went back to the pervert. And so we moved again.

I got so accustomed to the vagabond life that I thought it was normal to move around like that. That is until other kids would regard me with astonishment when they discovered how many different schools I’d attended.

But I liked moving. It taught me the fine art of making enemies and then skipping town. Moving gave me the courage of a coward. I could behave with bravado, and then, just when the bullies were plotting a pummeling, I’d stop showing up to school without warning. Because we moved.

In fact, I liked it so much that I continued moving as an adult. From age 18 until age 32, I moved 29 times. I even figured out how to move a lot while in the military, and got myself stationed to three different bases over four years, not counting basic training and tech school.

It was the escape that motivated me to relocate so much. I became addicted to washing my hands of my current situation and starting out anew. I felt safe with noncommitment. And like my stepfather, I might have been trying to get away from myself. Though not for his fucked up reasons.

But deep down inside lay a desire to settle down. And by age 32 I could no longer suppress this yearning. I succumbed to the domestic life. I got married and moved into a house, where I lived contentedly with my wife for the next quarter century, while holding down the same job. We finally moved, but only because it was to a nicer house that my wife inherited. And here we plan to remain until we die.

When I was in my 20’s, the loneliness of the peripatetic life would sometimes well up inside me. And I knew my soul couldn’t survive if I remained fiddlefooted into old age. I pined for an anchor. I wanted someone to give my love to. And for a few fleeting moments my vacant heart would be ready for commitment.

During one of those wistful moments, I pondered how it would feel if this vagabond life were to continue forever. And these ponderings evolved into a plot. And that plot became the basis for a fantastical story. A story that I naturally had to imprison on paper, lest it escape my mind the way I had escaped so many of my addresses.

Come visit this inmate of a story and give it some company. And learn a lesson from a very old man who stayed on the move, and the lonely lengths it drove him to.

 

The Lonely Wish (Beginning)

 

I’m lookin’ for a lady name of Penelope Frooze. Been lookin’ since I was twenty years old. She’s prob’ly a rich woman by now, and she no doubt lives in a mansion. An’ I’ll bet she’s young and beautiful. I’d like to find her again. Because last time I found her, she became the luckiest woman in the world.

I met Penelope in 1969. But it all began more than a hundred years earlier, in 1864. I was 46 years old at that time, an’ just a poor white trash dirt farmer workin’ a spot o’ land down in Georgia. In 1864 the Civil War was breakin’ things up down there in Georgia like a fire at a barn dance.

One day some Yankee soldiers rode onto my farm. These here soldiers were interested in pillagin’. It was Sherman’s way of winnin’ the war. They wanted to loot, murder, and destroy. They tried to kill us all, but I escaped and ran into the woods with two of them soldiers chasin’ me on a’horseback. One of ’em got in a lucky shot and shattered my elbow with a minie ball. I just kept a’runnin in spite of the pain. Into the woods and into the woods, deeper and deeper.

Got away from ’em, but the next day I come back to the farm to see what they’d left behind. Nothin’—there was nothin’. They’d murdered my wife and kids, burned out my crops, and taken all my possessions—what few I had. To pour salt on my wounds, they’d torched my house before they left.

So that’s what I got out of the Civil War. I got a ruined farm, a crippled arm, and a poor little graveyard for my family.

With my crippled arm I wasn’t worth much to no one, not even to myself. So I left my farm and began wanderin’. In my wanderin’s I began to think of just how cruel this here world was to me. And the more I thought about it the more I felt sorry for myself. And then the more depressed I got.

A few years went by though, before I wound up at the end of my rope. By this time I was a half-starved rail of a man, dressed in rags, and sufferin’ from premature old age. I looked old and frail—bait for the wolves. And inside myself I felt even older. By this time my life wasn’t even worth one old Confederate dollar to me. I just felt totally worthless and was ready to put an end to it all.

I went for my last walk on this cruel earth the evenin’ of October 17th, 1866. Walked on over to a little bridge that spanned Fetchtoe creek. The waters of Fetchtoe rushed furiously through a big maze of rocks, so I figured by jumpin’ in, it wouldn’t take long for me to be dashed to pieces and die.

There was a clear, starry sky that October evenin’, and it made me happy to be under it, in spite of my dreary self. The constellations were beautiful—shinin’ so brightly up there. So when I reached the bridge I paused for a few minutes to take the great sparklin’ sight in. It would be the last good thing I’d see, so I figured I should enjoy it while I could.

But then, while lookin’ to the east, I all of a sudden saw somethin’ real strange. It looked to me like one of those night stars out there was bustin’ apart and explodin’. It kept gettin’ bigger and bigger and bigger, and kept throwin’ off all kinds of different colors. It looked red and gold and yellow and green and blue, and shined so bright it took up almost all the eastern horizon.

So I watched with my eyes and mouth a’wide-open at this grand celestial display and began to ask myself why this was happenin’.

And then I thought, perhaps it’s a lucky star. Perhaps it’s one of those stars you hear-tell you can wish upon and things will come true.

Well seein’ that star, and how unusually bright and colorful it was gettin’ to be, anythin’ was beginnin’ to make sense to me. So I figured I’d try it. I figured I’d just make mahself a wish and see if anythin’ come of it.

“Star,” I said. “Star, if you be my lucky star, then I’d like to make me a wish. I wish you could make my crippled arm well again.”

I felt a little silly after makin’ the wish, ’cause I knew I was just indulgin’ in child’s play. But then all of a sudden I felt a warm sensation in my elbow. The same elbow that Yankee soldier put a ball into.

So I tried movin’ my arm up and down, and as sure as catfish live in the mud, it began to work. I swung it up and down with no problems a’tall. There was no stiffness, no pain, nothin’. Just freedom of movement, the way I used to have it.

I looked back up at that star and began cryin’ with happiness. “Thank you star,” I said, “thank you.”

Didn’t kill myself that night. Instead, I went to bed and fell asleep playin’ with my arm. I was a happy man that night, and slept very well.


End of Part 1. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 2.

Narwhal the Little Magical Furry Unicorn

Do you believe in unicorns? Some people actually don’t. But the folks in the “Show Me” state of Missouri do. That’s because they’ve actually seen a unicorn. Yes, they’ve been shown. And so as good Missourians, they must believe.

Unicorns come in all shapes and sizes, as you may be well aware if you’ve followed my blog for very long. Because at Chasing Unicorns, if it’s new, wacky, novel, crazy, funny, silly, strange, weird, different, unheard-of, or otherwise unique, it’s a unicorn.

The particular unicorn I’m referring to in this post, comes in the shape of a puppy dog.

Narwhal the Little Magical Furry Unicorn is a beagle-mix puppy who was rescued by Missouri animal shelter, Mac’s Mission. Narwhal is very special, because he has a unique little furry horn growing right out of his forehead. And his horn is soft and cuddly, just like a puppy dog’s tail.

They love Narwhal so much at Mac’s Mission, that they’ve decided to keep him. He will not be put up for adoption. Instead, they’re using him as a spokesdog in a “Different is Awesome” campaign. And I agree. Different really is awesome. I believe variety is not just the spice of life, but it’s our very lifeblood. We cannot survive without unicorns like Narwhal.

You can learn more about Narwhal the Little Magical Furry Unicorn, by clicking on the link to the news story, below:

https://www.chron.com/news/article/Unicorn-puppy-will-stay-with-Missouri-14878580.php

Death At A Well

This is Story #13, entitled Death at a Well, from my book, Go West or Go Weird.


Backstory:

Flash fiction is the art of writing a very short story, or the “short short”. Generally, 1,000 words or less is considered to be flash fiction, although some claim stricter limits. I’ve dabbled in this art a few times, but not nearly as much as Carolyn, in her blog, joyroses13.

I think death is a subject well-suited for short shorts. I mean, why not? Death shortens everything.

In fact, the world’s shortest piece of flash fiction is sometimes touted as this six-word tale: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Legend has it that Earnest Hemingway wrote this tiny work, but this is unlikely, for it first began circulating when he was 10 years old.

I wonder if Hemingway got the attribution because someone wanted to lend literary value to this story. But a six-word tale is hardly literature. After all, there’s no real plot development in a mere six words. It can be argued that to qualify as a genuine short story, the writer must invest enough words to immerse the reader in a plot, and leave them with the sense that they’ve been involved in a complete story.

I once read that the world’s shortest story, containing enough plot development and enduring appeal to qualify as a bona fide work of literature, is an ancient Arabian fable. And of course, it’s about death. This fable has been written in different ways, but here’s a 176-word version:

 

Appointment In Samarra

 

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market. Shortly, the servant came back, white and trembling.

“Master, just now when I was in the marketplace, I was jostled by a woman in the crowd, and when I turned I saw it was Death. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture! Now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra, and there Death will not find me.”

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, dug his spurs in its flanks, and as fast as the horse could gallop, he went. Then the merchant went to the marketplace, and saw Death standing in the crowd, and confronted her.

“Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”

“That was not a threatening gesture. It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

 

###

 

The first time I read this story, and learned that it was the world’s shortest short story, I decided to break the record. I wanted to immortalize my name, by writing a story even shorter than this. A story that would have substantive plot development and enduring appeal. So I wrote my own tale about Death.

But wordmongering got the best of me. I was undisciplined. I indulged in too much verbosity and failed to beat the record.

So like the Baghdad servant, the name of Tippy Gnu is doomed.

What follows is my 460-word failed attempt at immortality, with my own piece of flash fiction about an encounter with Death.

Death At A Well

 

One day, Death on horseback rode out of the desert to a certain house where a man had a well. He appeared parched thirsty and asked the man for a drink. Being very afraid of Death, the man was quick to allow permission, and Death dipped a drink from the well.

“I’ll make you a deal,” said Death, after he finished swallowing. “If you save this well for me alone, and let no others taste from it, I will make you immortal.”

Naturally this keeper of the well desired eternal life, so he eagerly agreed.

Thereafter he had to fight off many a person. Usually passing strangers who desperately needed water after a long, hot ride through the desert. He killed most of them, but they never succeeded at harming him. He was immortal, but they did not know that, or they would not have fought him. And none of them ever got a drop from his well.

He turned aside hundreds of travelers who had depended on his well for water. Most of those who did not die fighting him, perished of thirst later. Only a few ever survived.

However those few spread the word, and eventually the well developed a reputation for being inaccessible. Thus travelers came less and less often, and there were fewer and fewer people for the keeper to kill. Until finally, no travelers passed through the area anymore.

One morning the keeper of the well spied a lone horseman approaching from the desert. When the rising sun glinted off the white bones, he knew the rider to be his friend, Death. The keeper waved a hand of greeting as Death grew closer. But Death did not acknowledge it.

Death rode his black horse to the edge of the yard and drew a long bow made from a rib bone, and an arrow made from an arm bone. He took aim at the surprised keeper of the well and shot him through the stomach.

The wound was mortal, but the keeper still had a few breaths of life in him. With fading eyes, he looked up at Death and asked why he had not lived up to his end of the deal.

“I have lived up to the deal. Did I not say that no one should drink from the well, but me?”

“And no one has,” the man sputtered.

“A lie. Since we made the deal I have watched the well every day. And every day I have seen you, yourself, dip the bucket into the well and quench your own thirst.”

Suddenly the keeper comprehended his mistake, and a fire of realization burned in his eyes.

But a chilly wind from the mouth of Death blew the fire out.

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