Lunch in the Desert Part 3: Midnight Snack

He cracked his eyes open for a moment before he felt them roll back and close. After rallying consciousness for a few more moments he opened them again. His eyes lethargically and aimlessly slid over his blurry environment.

He rubbed them and looked again. Lines and colors began to detach themselves from the formless smear that surrounded him though the shapes they took were unfamiliar and disorienting. He had just woken up but couldn’t remember when he had gone to sleep or where he was before he awoke. As the objects in the room came into focus he noticed a dull ache that seemed to pulse through his entire body, paying special attention to his head. This added to his disorientation but he was young enough that it didn’t overly upset him. He rubbed his head and looked around with an increasing clarity.

He was sitting up in a booth at a dusty old Formica topped table in a restaurant, the booth across from him was empty and seemed further away than it must have really been. The restaurant was dark inside like it was closed and he seemed to be the only person there. The only person there. This thought seemed to echo in his mind for a moment. Then his heart leaped into his throat. Where were his parents? Where was the car? What time was it? What day was it? His insides felt like the guts of a piano; all vibrating strings struck into a tight, frantic hum by the realization that he was completely alone. His skin felt suddenly chilled while his insides churned and clenched.

He pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them grabbing each wrist with the opposite hand until his knuckles were pale. He scanned the room intently now, looking for any sign that might indicate that he wasn’t totally alone, but everything seemed to indicate that not only was no one else in there with him, but that no one had been in this place for some time. He tried to process his situation but his mind remained an insistent blank so he continued to sit there on the cool vinyl booth awash in moonlight from the large window next to it which he then noticed.

He looked out into the sprawling desert all composed of shadows and dim night shades, the land mostly flat, rolling here and there in barely distinguishable swellings of sand that tricked his eyes and gave the landscape an eerie illusion of movement like a sea that only surged in the periphery of one’s vision and stiffened when looked at directly. There were few solid features to observe.

There was the telephone pole that, just that morning, his parents car had hit and dislodged from its grounding leaving it leaning tiredly in toward the parking lot of the diner with some remaining debris scattered across the sand around it, though this did not register as anything significant to the boy. That pole could have been moved by anything at any time. A crooked and weathered telephone pole looked no more out of place in that arid, abandoned landscape than the dry, twisted shrubs near it or the senescent, dilapidating truck sitting away to the right of the lot. The debris around it simply blended in with all the other things that looked forgotten and lost out in the jumble of the desert. The young mind  that was observing all this had not, at this point, developed to where those sort of subtleties stand out as clues to be investigated and to make deductions or extrapolations from. He merely absorbed them, taking them for granted as part of the landscape as though they had always been there. Beyond the physical form of his parents he had no idea what to look or hope for.

He moved his awareness back into the dark of the dining room and scanned it again. Taking in the sight of booths and tables and menus and trays he then realized that he was hungry. The sensation of hunger blended into and was dulled by the physical manifestations of anxiety and fear he was experiencing but he isolated it now enough that his desire for food had reawakened.

He released his grip on his own wrists and let his legs slide back under the table into a sitting position and set his palms on the vinyl seat on either side of his thighs. He noticed again that the parts of the booth that he hadn’t been in contact with were cold and his skin prickled uncomfortably as he slid himself sideways across the seat and out from behind the table. His hunger pangs were almost lost again as the sensations of physical cold stirred the rough kneading of anxiety in his stomach but were held loosely in place by his consciousness of them and by the dull hope of food.

He stood up slowly from the booth on legs that felt like they were made of water and steadied himself by gripping the table tops and chair backs as he hobbled across the musty, silent dining room toward the kitchen. He stopped suddenly and gripped a chairback with all the strength in his hand, his eyes widened by the instinct to immediately take in all the visual information possible in order to aid his self-preservation against a newly encountered terror.

He thrilled with his gaze fixed upon two human figures stiffly upright in a booth by the door. They appeared alien and threatening in their unnatural and haunted posture; their clothes completely unassuming to their forms and their visible features harsh yet misshapen and eroded. His joints locked, his body instructing him not to move until the figures moved first or until the moment could be read and understood and then adequately judged as either safe or dangerous. He stood, staring, waiting for the opaque fog of his mind to clear. Slowly the details of the scene trickled in as his mind, thawing from the initial fear, began interpreting the information provided by his still wide eyes.

Their hair didn’t sit right on their heads. Their skin didn’t look like living skin. Their postures did not seem sustainable. They exhibitted none of the subtle movements of life; no breathing, blinking, swallowing or trembling. They seemed very old, too old for the sort of muscle control that would allow them to be so stock still in such unnatural positions. His young mind realized that they must either be corpses or dummies. In either event, while the former possibility held the undefined yet unavoidable fear of the dead, neither seemed to present much immediate physical danger so his body released him for movement and he inched toward the haunted booth combing it again and again for further information with his eyes as the gap between him and the figures closed. He came within arm’s reach, stretched out his hand and touched one.

Verdict: Dummy.

A crisis was averted and he relaxed a bit though the presence of the figures was still unsettling. Now he observed them with more ease, this new discovery and its uneasy excitement was enough to distract his young mind from all the worries currently besetting it. They looked like indians, like the sort he had seen in cartoons with reddish skin and leather clothing and feathers in their hair with the exception that the alternatingly grim and raucous, warrior like behavior portrayed in the cartoons was replaced with a decrepit, lifeless abandonment which set a puzzle before him that he was more interested in observing than solving.
Once this new distraction dulled sufficiently for his hunger pangs to return he resumed his journey toward the kitchen, walking a little more steadily now but with a nagging presence trailing behind him as his mind was not willing to so lightly forget its initial reaction to the dummies and their lingering presence in the room.

He paused as he approached a counter lined with stools fixed to the floor in front of it topped with the same garish vinyl trim as the booths. There was nothing of value in sight. The kitchen area appeared as abandoned and empty as the rest of the diner and all the darker for being further from the moonlight spilling in through the front windows. The boy instinctively looked around before walking behind the counter into the kicthen area as the ingrained matrix of social behaviors instilled in him through countless experiences with his parents, relatives, strangers and myriad authority figures reminded him, regardless of the present circumstances, that this was something he was not typically allowed to do and should take precautions against being caught and scolded should he persist in doing so. He scanned the area behind the counter and saw nothing of interest; bulk napkins for stocking the smaller holders at the tables, silverware, cleaning agents, rags, paper bags of various sizes, and other items typical to a diner with the exceptional of anything edible.

He stepped through an open doorway into the actual kitchen and paused again. Horizontal and vertical planes of burnished stainless steel filled the room: Freezers, coolers, countertops, grills, unrecognizable appliances of various sorts all wearing a bleary reflection of what little light and shadow the room contained. After rummaging through some of the cold, clinical looking cupboards the boy had gathered a couple of buns, some pickles and few packs of crackers. Most of the other food was frozen in stiff, cloudy plastic bags, the heating or preparing of which did not even confront the boy’s mind as a possibility. He stood still in the kitchen nibbling the bread, content to be eating and to feel the food immediately being converted into a comforting energy in his empty system.

After a few bites he began to slowly wander across the kitchen, looking about half interestedly as his increased sense of physical satiety dulled the mental stress of being still inexplicably alone and in mild bodily pain. Now that his metabolism was working again there was a sourceless and indistinct sense of comfort that of course his parents must be coming back and that this was going to be sorted out at some point in the near future.

He paced slowly back across the smooth, worn tile floor toward the doorway but was snapped to a sudden halt again and dropped the piece of hamburger bun he was eating with a bit of it still in his mouth pressed between his clenched molars.

He was confronted with yet another shape of a man, this one slumped into a chair to the right of the doorway he had just walked through. He had passed it once without noticing it on his way into the kitchen as his attention was focused the other way checking for food behind the counter. The relief he had experienced after the diffusing of his previous encounter in the dining room allowed him to approach this situation with a bit more calm, but this felt different. The figure wasn’t stiff like the others were and it’s position in the chair seemed to be appropriate for an object that was, or had been, made of animate tissue.

The boy, with his mouth still half full of hamburger bun, approached the figure but this time he did not reach out for it. His mind worked, slowly turning over this new experience and examining it, trying to make real sense of it. It was surely a man. An old man. He looked at his skin. He looked at his cloudy, unmoving eyes and his gaping mouth. He looked at the wrinkles in his shirt and his scuffed leather shoes resting on the heels with the toes pointing off in disparate directions. The thin, mostly combed but partly disheveled white hair and the strange spots on his skin that he recognized from seeing on his grandfather when  they went to see them in Pennsylvania. This was definitely a man and he was dead.

The boy had never encountered a dead man like this. His mother had brought him with her to a funeral once but that was different. That man was wearing a suit and had his mouth and eyes closed and was in a coffin. He looked like he was supposed to be dead. At the time he wasn’t even sure if he was supposed to be sad for the man in the coffin. No one else seemed to be very sad. They were all just eating and talking while the man laid there in the fancy casket like he was just a decoration for the room along with the flowers and ribbons. The main decoration maybe, but still just for show. But this man wasn’t like that. He didn’t look like he should be dead. Which made the boy start to wonder why he was dead and how it had happened and if the same thing could happen to him.
The sudden entrance of unexplained and unmasked death into the situation shredded every bit of comfort the boy had allowed himself. Never before had he been faced with this grisly and alien reality and for it to happen now, to come crashing prematurely into his fragile psyche in the midst of being stranded and alone in this unfamiliar and already frightening place broke something inside him. The rationalizing of this encounter demanded too much from him and the absence of any sort of guidance or reassurance or the mere touch of a well meaning and composed authority figure’s hand on his shoulder allowed him to slip into the void.

He stared at the corpse and the rest of his meal fell from his grip and dropped soundlessly to the floor as his mind assaulted him with a hail of questions he had no answers for and threats he had no security from. The weight and hopelessness of his situation crashed in upon him in total and he reeled from sudden despair. He walked numbly backward, eyes fixed on the slouched shape, heedless of what was behind him, until he bumped into the far wall behind the counter. He slid down it and slumped onto the floor himself, a smaller, mirrored calamity of the shape across the room, not yet dead, but pulled far away into another place.

And then, all at once, as sudden as the onset of the despair had been, came the blackness; a forgetful slumber that fell over him like a leaden blanket and he did not resist it.

Lunch in the Desert Part 2: The Dinner Bell Tolls

The sun was slanting lazily in through a door that rarely opened.  I leaned on the counter.  Outside the diner dust blew around in the wind while the bright desert sun beat mercilessly down on everything.  I stared through the glass doors at the empty road and yawned.  I looked down at the fine layer of dust that had gathered on the countertop, dragged a finger through it and yawned again, deeply.  The yawn stirred an ache deep in my chest and I leaned more heavily onto the counter waiting for the pain to pass.  This place was dying and so was I.  Both of us were slowly dilapidating out in the desert alone.

I waited for the pain rolling through my chest to subside but it persisted.  I shuffled across the silent kitchen and sunk into an old molded plastic chair against the wall and heaved long heavy breaths.  The walls shifted and moved around me.  I felt dizzy and cold even though the air conditioning had been out of service for years.  I wondered if I would die there, in that forgotten old diner; the abandoned livelihood of my father and the relentless reminder of my failures.  It seemed fitting enough.  One corpse swallowed up inside another and left to rot in the heat. 
I used to hate being in that place.  I had wanted to leave but felt a duty to my family to keep the diner running.  I was bad at it and I loathed doing it, but it was my father’s sole and pathetic legacy.  He had prided himself on it all: the gaudy sign out front, the cheap, southwestern knick-knacks scattered everywhere, the couple of withered old dummies propped in the corner booth by the window.  They were made to look like old Native American men, a tacky decoration and a weak historical reference my father had always loved and customers used to take pictures with.  They all taunted me now in my old age, as my father had hung on into his own old age blocking me from leaving, from making a life of my own. 
By the time he finally died Sarah, the young girl I had roped into marrying me, had left and been long gone.  We never had any kids; we never had so much as a dog or an apartment.  She had stuck it out with me for a year and a half in hopes that things would change.  We lived in a dusty little trailer just a quarter mile into the desert from the diner.  The same broken down old trailer I had lived my entire adult life in.  Everyday I walked from the trailer to the diner and back again in the evening.  Sarah was wasting away there; sitting in the trailer or wandering over to the diner, making small talk with my family or the customers, just trying to busy herself with anything she could.  It was only a matter of time until she had to leave.  I just didn’t have the guts to go with her. 
Years later once my father was finally gone I no longer had the motivation to leave.  I tended my mother for a couple of years until she passed and then I just gave up.  The diner slid, customers thinned out, the bigger highways were paved nearby and the staff moved on.  But I stayed.  My despair allowed me to languish there in solitude when everything and everyone else had left. Once in a while someone would come through:  a trucker who still used the old roads, drifters, and every now and then a lost, vacationing family who had wandered off the highway. I hadn’t cooked food for anyone but myself in that place for months and I rarely had the stomach for anything more than toast at that. 
My chest still throbbed.  It wasn’t normally this painful but I hadn’t seen a physician in years, who knew what was going on in there.  It didn’t matter anyway.  I was trapped.  Trapped in the desert with my little trailer home and my failed roadside diner.  I laid myself out on the floor.  It was cold.  I stared up at the ceiling for a while.  I thought of things I could have done with my life.  I wondered what could have happened if I had left earlier on.  I imagined myself living in an upscale apartment in New York City with Sarah and our children.  I pictured myself sitting on the porch of a large, rustic house overlooking a wide forest watching hawks wheel in the air with a grandchild propped in my lap.  I imagined Sarah and myself just sitting quietly next to a fire somewhere feeling lucky to have been together through all the years.
I closed my eyes.  Waves of pain now billowed across my chest.  I imagined letting myself go.  Just letting myself drift off lazily into death like a withered old branch on a deep, slow moving river.  I meditated on the idea of letting go.  I wondered if I could really let my spirit evaporate out of my body and float off somewhere.  I hoped that if I could just convince myself that it was OK, that it was time, I could die peacefully right then and there on the floor of the kitchen and finally be rid of it all. 
Everything was so quiet, so peaceful.  I thought I could almost feel myself sliding away.  Maybe just into sleep but maybe not.  My mouth gaped and my eyes rolled slightly back and then I heard it.
I was jolted into my senses again.  My eyes snapped open and I jerked into a sitting position.  The pain flashed across my chest like lightning but I was too intent on the sound that had woken me to pay it any mind.  There was a crash that shook the ground.  All at once were the rush of broken glass, the creak and whine of twisting metal and a deep, resonating boom. 
I sat there on the linoleum floor of the kitchen in a daze for several moments waiting for another sound but none came.  I shook myself out of the daze and scrambled to my feet.  Staggering as quickly as I could from behind the counter to the front of the diner I saw through the glass of the front door a car up to its engine in a broken telephone pole.  Smoke was billowing from under the rumpled hood and fluids were gushing from the back.  There was no other movement, no other sound.  It was a scene with a strange look of fate to it; that car smashed into the only telephone pole for hundreds of feet and nothing else close by. 
I pushed open the door and felt the heat hit my face.  I squinted into the bright sunlight and headed for the car, shuffling through the dust and past bits of debris flung from the wreck.  I looked through the cracked passenger side window.  There was a man at the wheel and a woman in the passenger seat.  Both were lurched forward lying limply against the steering wheel and the dash.  Blood was smeared and sprayed across the inside of the windshield and I couldn’t see either of their faces.  I looked into the back seat and there was a child sitting unconscious but still buckled in; a young boy, maybe eight years old.  He wasn’t visibly injured and I pulled at the door handle to retrieve them before the car caught fire.
The door was jammed and I pulled frantically at the handle.  I stopped and leaned against the roof of the car and rested my head on my sweating forearm for a moment.  I felt exhausted already and I noticed the pain was now a steady burn in my chest.  My breath hissed through my teeth.  I took a few more deep breaths and then grabbed the door handle again with greater determination.  I planted my foot on the side of the car and heaved with all my weight on the handle.  The door swung open and I tumbled backward into the dirt.  Scrambling to my feet I threw myself into the backseat, pulled the unconscious child from the restraints, and dragged him out of the car.
I pulled him from the ruined vehicle until my strength gave out only about 60 feet away and laid him down in the dust of the diner parking lot.  I sat down in the dirt next to his motionless little frame to catch my breath before going back to the car for the other two bodies.  I looked at him as I wheezed and battled the growing fire in my chest.  He was so small and looked so calm and peaceful.  His eyelids fluttered and his chest gently rose and settled with his breath.  I summoned my waning strength and pulled myself back up.  I started toward the car wondering if I had the strength to pull two insensible adult bodies across the parking lot when the car burst into flames. I staggered back from the heat and watched as the car was engulfed in a billowing globe of furious light that blackened and floated off into the sky leaving tongues of fire licking upward after it. There were no screams.  The other two had probably died in the crash.  I watched the car burn for a moment and then turned back to the boy lying in the dust.  Scooping his frail form into my arms I walked back into the diner on trembling, unstable legs and laid him on the cool, cracked leather of a booth near the kitchen.  I dialed the police in a daze to report the accident and was told paramedics would be arriving shortly. 
I slumped into the booth across from the boy.  He was still asleep, his eyes darting about under their lids but otherwise still and calm.  Waiting for the police to arrive I watched the car burn through the window of the dining room.  I wondered what was to become of the boy.  I couldn’t imagine being that young and waking up from an accident only to find out both your parents were dead.  To be one minute on a family vacation and an orphan stranded in the desert the next.  Life is indeed cruel.
A cloud of dust several miles down the road heralded the arrival of the police and paramedics.  I slid out of the booth but hesitated as I moved to lift myself from the seat.  My head swam as the pain in my chest surged again and I leaned back with my arm on the table.  I closed my eyes and pushed through the dull ringing note of pain, as though a bell had been rung inside my chest and its undulating vibrations were agonizingly rippling through my limbs and head.  It began to pass after a few moments and I pushed myself onto my feet and headed for the door. 
The heat smote my face again as the door swung open and the din of sirens and tires rumbling over unpaved, potholed roads filled my senses in the bright, arid light.  I staggered toward the scene of the accident as police cruisers and an ambulance roared to the side of the burning vehicle.  I was hazy from the intensity of the afternoon’s events and the pain.  The flurry of movement as police officers and paramedics leapt from their vehicles and swarmed the scene like huge, gangly moths beating about a flame washed over me in a blur of sickness and confusion.  I lingered on my feet nearby incase someone would approach me for questioning but all efforts were focused on the car and I dropped to my knees in the dust and sat in the heat in semi-consciousness for what felt like a long time.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up into the burning radiance of the desert sky.  A dark silhouette bobbed in front of a smoldering white sun and a voice floated indistinctly down from it as though I was hearing it through deep water.  The figure and its voice slowly came into focus and I shielded my eyes as I looked up toward them.  I felt an arm slip under my own and I was raised unsteadily to my feet until I was eye level with the now visible figure.
“Sir, are you alright?”
“Yeah, yes, I’m fine.”
“Were you involved in the accident?”
“Me?  No, I uh, I called.  I’m the one that called the accident in.”
“Did you see the accident happen?”
“No, no not really.  I heard it though.  And I saw the car catch fire right before I called.”
“Sir, we pulled two bodies from the car.  Did you see anyone else in the vehicle or get out of the vehicle at any time?”
At this I paused.  I felt flushed and confused.  My chest roared with burning pain and my head spun on my shoulders.  “No, I uh, I didn’t really look in the car.  And no one came out of it.  It was a nasty lookin wreck so I figured I should just call 9-1-1 straight away and leave it to them.”  I didn’t know why I lied about the boy.  There was something that flared up in me that didn’t want to let the police to take him.  I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing them lay his frail, unconscious little figure in the back of a police cruiser and drive off with him never to be seen again.  I knew it was none of my business and I had no right to hide his presence from the authorities but some reflex took over and I denied everything and played dumb. 
“Hey, who’s in the diner, there?  There’s someone in the booth by the window.”
My blood froze.  I had already lied about the boy, how could I now explain an unconscious child laying in my diner just yards from an unrelated accident?  My palms sweated and I rubbed them against the back of my disheveled trousers as I cast an anxious glance toward the window the officer was looking at.  But I let out a sigh and passed my hand across my brow.  The officer had only seen the old dummies that haunted the booth near the front window.  The boy was still out of sight in a different booth.
I forced a weak laugh, “Sorry officer, those are just a couple of old dummies, decorations for the place.  Unfortunately I haven’t had any live customers for some time.”  The officer took a few steps toward the diner, shaded his eyes and squinted hard at the unmoving figures and then cracked a smile.
“Hm, I guess so.  So there’s no one else in there, staff or anyone?”
“No sir, officer.  It’s just me.  Not much need for help these days.”
After a few more questions the officer dismissed me and I hobbled back into the diner.  I slumped back into the booth across from the boy and looked at him over the table.  There was no change. He lay there asleep on the sun warmed booth just as I had left him.  I rubbed my chest with my fingertips.  It felt like everything inside me was clenching tightly and then unclenching, all muscles seizing and relaxing in excruciating time.  As I waited out the pain I gazed back and forth from the boy to the commotion outside.  The fire had been put out and there was a tow truck approaching. 
The boys eyelids fluttered, my heart shrieked like it was in a vice and the remains of the car were dragged onto the bed of the truck. 
My body jerked and I lifted my head from my arms and realized I had been slumped forward onto the table asleep.  I was sweating and my heart felt like a rag being wrung out by strong hands. Dusk was beginning to fall as the last of the police moved off and disappeared down the dusty road under a dirty sky still smudged with lingering smoke.  I looked at the boy and wondered when he would wake up.  Maybe he needed some water, or food. I got up and headed toward the kitchen to get a glass of water but stumbled and fell against the counter clutching it with one hand and my throbbing chest with the other.
I could hardly breathe and my mouth went dry so that my tongue stuck to my pallet.  Hissing breaths between my clenched teeth I dragged myself over to the molded plastic chair against the wall by the kitchen door.  I fell into it and immediately curled forward hugging my chest, blinded by an onslaught of pain.  I moaned and grunted in frustration and fear.  I writhed and squirmed in the chair gasping for air.  I felt as though I would split open and spill across the dusty linoleum floor. 
Then suddenly everything went still.  The pain was still there but it was steadier and warm.  I felt surreally calm and there was a silence more profound than any I had ever experienced.  It felt like time had stopped.  It wasn’t time that stopped, but my own clock.  My heart had ceased to beat and my body was coasting frictionless through a twilight, like a car driven off a cliff feeling the fated weightlessness of those few dream-like moments before its free fall is over.  I leaned back in the chair and felt my head rest against the cool, tiled wall behind me.  My arms dropped numbly to my sides as thoughts rushed effortlessly over me like cold, distant stars wheeling overhead in a deep, unbounded dark. 
It was finally happening.  I was leaving.  These were my last few moments staring at the empty, sullen diner; the last few seconds of the hollow lonely life I had been dragging myself through for long resentful decades.  The moment contained a new sweetness I had not known before but was interrupted by a second flow of thoughts. 
What was to happen to boy?  I had kept him, selfishly, for myself.  My instincts were not those of his protection but of my own desperate grabbing.  Perhaps it was a pitiable and useless attempt at trying to force something meaningful into my life.  Or did I have some subconscious desire not to die alone?  I didn’t know, I never knew.  But it was too late now; I was disembodied.  The pain was gone and I felt only a deep chill creeping through me.  I lamented for myself one last time that even the full sweetness of my death was robbed from me in my foolishness.  My new freedom was fettered still with thoughts of the boy that lay asleep in the now abandoned diner in the middle of nowhere.  I had managed to put my feeble finger on one more thing before I left the world and it was ruined in its youth.
Then the void took me and everything became nothing and I left the light forever.

Lunch in the Desert Part 1

I was passing through New Mexico on my way to California.  I had pulled off the main road and found a dilapidated little diner out in the dust.  It looked like my kind of place, though I usually didn’t like places that I considered to be my kind of place.  I don’t know how that works but it always seems to be the case. Lousy little dumps that no one cared about and had quit keeping up decades ago.  There was something easy about places like that.  You didn’t have to care about anything or anyone in those places.  It was the atmosphere of resignation and apathy.  Not even despair.  No one cared enough to go to the lengths to despair about anything. No one that goes to places like this are invested in anything enough to feel strongly.  I liked it.  It put me at ease even if the look of the place was unpleasant. 

It was empty and quiet when I walked in which wasn’t much of a change from the outside.  There was a booth in the corner with two decrepit old dummies propped in it. They were meant to look like a couple of elderly Indian men.  They were wearing stiff old ponchos over western style button up shirts and blue jeans and had long black wigs on that had gone dry and thin from years of baking in the sun that poured in through the window next to the booth.  One had a band around his head and I imagined they had probably stuck a feather in it years ago and it had since fallen out and of course no one cared enough to put it back.  Or maybe some kid plucked it off the dummy and played with it on the car ride away from the diner before letting it go out the window and watched it flutter down the road behind them.  The figures were grotesque looking; bent and withered.  They had the general shape of a human body but everything was off.  They were facing each other but their eyes were vacant and unfocused, staring unblinkingly at nothing for years and years.  
I wandered around the dining area for a couple minutes looking at the clutter that filled the place.  It was obviously meant to be kitchy and stereotypically southwestern, which I guess it was, but it was lazily thrown around and tacked to the walls without any direction or sense of purpose.  Old signs, ropes, some paintings of indians, a cow skull here and there, dirty blankets and mounted guns.  I walked back to the row of booths to sit down and wait for someone to realize I was there.  All the booths were empty. There wasn’t a soul in the place so I decided to sit with the dummies.  I slid in next to one and I could smell the dust on it.  As I looked at it I squinted from the sunlight glaring on the table top. I slid right back out of the booth on an impulse and walked out to my truck in the dirt lot in front of the diner.  I pulled open the door and reached into the stifling heat of the cab for my bag.  My wife had given me a polaroid camera years ago before she left and I took it with me whenever I went on a long drive.  I always liked polaroid pictures. 
I walked back into the diner.  There was still no one else in the dining area.  I paced back over to the table with the dummies, squinted through the viewfinder, squaring them up in the frame and pulled the shutter open.  The spring in the button twanged and reverberated in the plastic camera body and the photo slid out with a mechanical whirring sound.  I plucked it from the camera and slid back into the booth.  I flapped the photo around for a minute but it didn’t turn out.  The little black patch of celluloid turned a cloudy greyish-brown and stalled out.  I stuck the ruined photograph into the breast pocket of one of the indian’s shirts.  He could keep it.  A memento of our featureless, unmemorable lunch together in a forgotten diner in the desert.
I sat in the booth for a couple more minutes watching the dust play in the sunlight, waiting for someone to come out of the kitchen and acknowledge me.  I hadn’t heard a sound from the kitchen since I walked in.  I didn’t even notice the smell of food.
I got up again and walked over to the counter by the cash register.  My footsteps seemed loud in the vacant room.  I leaned over the countertop and peered back into the kitchen; no one.  I said hello loudly and with the tone of a question as people often do when trying to discover if they are alone.  There was no answer.  I went around the counter and edged toward the kitchen. 
Off in a corner I saw an old man sitting in a chair, leaning against the wall as if asleep.  His cheeks were sunken in, sticking to the sides of his teeth.  His eyes were partially open but only the whites were visible.  His skin was pale with a bluish cast and his fingers were curled into stiff little claws hanging rigidly at his sides; another old figure with the shape of a man but not the shape of a living thing.  I stood there staring at him.  I walked back to the table and grabbed my Polaroid camera and went back over to the old man.  I held up the camera and looked at him through the viewfinder.  I debated for a moment whether to take a picture of his whole body or just a portrait shot from the chest up.  I snapped the picture, the flash went off and the little gears inside the camera whirred again as it pushed out another photo.
I continued to stare at the old man as I waved the photo in my hand.  This one turned out. His rumpled shirt, his out of place hair, his dusty old tie hanging crookedly on his ribs; it was all there in the picture.  I don’t know why I took the picture.  I didn’t care to remember this.
As I slid the photo into the pocket of my shirt I heard a sound behind me and turned quickly.  There was a kid sitting in the corner, knees pulled up to his chest peeking over the dirty, frayed knees of his jeans at me with wide eyes.  He was probably only about seven or eight years old, but I’m not good with kids or ages.  Who knows how old he really was.
I looked at him for a moment, waiting for him to say something.  He didn’t look like he was going to. 
“Hey, what happened here?”
“Did you know this guy?”
“Are you OK?  Can’t you talk?”
“Is anyone else here?”
The kid wouldn’t say anything.  He just sat there staring at me.  If he had been here as long as the dead guy he must have been sitting alone in this place with a corpse for a couple days at least.  I stepped toward him but he flinched and curled more tightly into the corner and looked away. 
“Look kid, this guy’s dead and there’s no one else here.  What are you gonna do?”
I took another step toward him and he squealed.  He grabbed a ladle off the floor next to him, threw it at me and curled back into the corner covering his ears and looked away again.  I thought about taking a picture of him too but decided not to. 
I sighed in mild frustration.  I walked further back into the kitchen.  There was no one else there.  I opened the back door and looked outside as the heat hit me in the face.  There was an old truck sitting in the dirt lot behind the diner, must have been the old man’s. There were no other cars and no other tracks in the dust other than the ones still slightly visible behind the rusted out pickup that wound away toward the main road. 
I walked back into the diner and let the door shut the heat and the light out behind me. I wandered through the kitchen and back to where the kid was sitting.  I looked at him and he stared back up at me, his eyes shifting between me and the figure slumped in the chair. 
“You gonna come with me or what?  There’s no one else here and who knows when anyone will show up.  I can maybe drop you off somewhere.  You got family around here?”
No answer again.
“C’mon kid.”
I walked back over to the table, grabbed my bag and walked out of the diner toward my truck.  I got in and slammed the door. Before I started it I looked back at the front door of the diner and pictured the kid inside.  I didn’t know what was going to happen to him. Someone would eventually find him, the cops or something.  Plus there was probably still a lot of food in there in the refrigerators; he would be OK, maybe.  I decided I didn’t care either way, turned the key and let the engine come to life. 
I looked back at the diner, barely visible in the haze of heat and dust in my rearview mirror as I drove away but I didn’t think about anything as I looked at it.  I just drove down the dusty, brown road toward California. 

Grumlig the Cloudwright

A story for Lorah Campbell, on her birthday

At the foot of a tall, tall mountain near the edge of the sea lived Grumlig.  Grumlig was very old but still very strong.  He was a Cloudwright and made all the clouds that sailed the skies of his country.  He lived all alone except for the animals of the woods and everyday we would weave the clouds and send them up into the air for all to see.  Some brought rain, some gave only shade and some sent storms out over the ocean but all of them were made by Grumlig.

Every morning he would wake up while all the birds were still asleep and would walk out among the trees of the forest that surrounded the mountain he lived on looking for little white mushrooms he called pilvi.  Grumlig would dig around the roots of great, old trees to find them.  They were not always easy to find but Grumlig was better at finding them than anyone else.  Once he filled a small pouch with them he would bring them back to his old house at the foot of the mountain and roast them over a fire until they were warm and crisp and gave off a sweet, earthy scent.  

These mushrooms were special because they made Grumlig’s beard grow.  While he ate them it would grow very long and very fast.  In fact it grew all the way to his waist by the time he was done eating them.  Once his beard was made long and soft by the pilvi Grumlig would cut it off and weave it into clouds.  Most days it made bright white clouds but some days, if he cooked the pilvi too long and made them dark or if he didn’t clean them well enough before roasting them the clouds would be dark and these clouds would bring the rain and wind and storms over the land and water.  But whatever sort of clouds he wove he would carry them all the way up to the very top of the mountain and place them in the sky and then set them adrift with a great puff of his mighty breath.  This he did everyday.

One day, however, Grumlig could not find any pilvi.  He looked and looked.  He searched around the roots of all the biggest, oldest trees where they were most likely to grow but he could find none.  Grumlig spoke the language of every animal that lived among the trees and asked many of them to help him look but no one could find even a single pilvi.  Never before had Grumlig been unable to find any pilvi in the morning and he was very worried about what to do.    

Grumlig left the forest, which he rarely did, and walked to the beach on the very edge of the sea.  There he met with Hiekka who lived on the beach.  Everyday Hiekka would walk to the foot of the mountain to gather the big boulders and stones that fell from its shoulders and carried them back to the shore.  There he would use his giant hammer and pick to break and crush the stones into sand.  Then with the sand he made he would replace all the sand that the sea swept away from the beach.  

Grumlig arrived as Hiekka was breaking apart a large boulder and asked him if he could help him find some pilvi so he could make the clouds for the day.  “I don’t know much about what grows in the woods,” Hiekka told Grumlig, “but I do know that there is plenty of seaweed that grows in the water near the shore that is good to eat, though I don’t know if it will help you.”  Grumlig decided he would try.

Grumlig waded into the water and gathered up a handful of seaweed.  It was dark and slimy and he did not like the touch or the smell of it but he was in a hurry and the afternoon was quickly approaching. He rushed back to his house at the foot of the mountain and cooked the seaweed as best he could.  It gave off a scent but it was airy and salty, very unlike the rich scent of the pilvi.  After Grumlig cooked it he ate it all in a few big, unpleasant mouthfuls.  His beard did grow, but only a little and it was rough and wiry instead of being long and soft.  He cut it off and tried his best to weave it into clouds but the hair was so tough it would not hold together.  In a fluster and a hurry Grumlig ran out and grabbed some sticky, waxy honeycomb from an old tree near his house and used it to clump the hairs together but it did not make a nice cloud at all.  It was sticky and gooey and dark and prickly but it was the best he could do.  

The sun was now beginning to peek through the trees and Grumlig climbed and climbed as fast as he could up the steep side of the mountain to the highest peak.  Then he reached as high as he could and hung the gummy, mushy, spiny cloud up in sky.  It wavered and wobbled and looked very out of place against the pale blue sky shot with new sunlight.  Grumlig took in as big a breath as he could and practically blew a gale at the big, gooey cloud but it did not sail across the sky as he hoped.  Instead it seemed to topple and flip and fell from the sky, rolled down the mountain and onto Grumlig’s house crushing it to bits.

Grumlig clambered back down the mountain and gazed sadly at the pile of sticky wreckage.  He stood there between a cloudless sky and a ruined home and felt very gloomy and defeated.  A little brown bird fluttered over and landed on Grumlig’s shoulder and looked at the broken house and then at Grumlig himself.  

“Don’t worry Grumlig,” he tweeted, “we’ll help you build a new house and it’ll be bigger and cozier and better than your old one.  And I bet we’ll find lots of pilvi while gathering wood for it too.”

Grumlig sighed, “you may be right, little one.  Let’s get to work.”  And he turned and walked into the woods with the little brown bird perched on his shoulder and another woodland animal joined him with every step he took as he marched out into the trees to rebuild his home with his friends.  

Paul F Tompkins and Richard Dunn!


I forgot about this! - Paul


Worst Fireman Ever

Staring: Paul F. Tompkins 

Directed by Bob Odenkirk 

“The thing about fire is…it’s a real creep.”

(via paulftompkins)

Fixing a Broken Tree

There was a really bad storm one evening.  The wind was everywhere and was  very fast and strong.  I saw a man’s tree break right in half.  Not so much like a pencil or a match stick would break in half but more up and down like. A whole bunch of it just split away from the rest of the tree with a long pointed end on the broken half.  It fell into the man’s yard and broke a little stone goose, right at the neck.  It was a big tree.

The next day I went over and looked at the part of the tree that was lying in the man’s yard.  The leaves were already getting wrinkly and light colored compared to the part of the tree that was still in the ground.  The man came out and looked at it too.  I asked him if he had liked that tree.  He said that he had.  I asked him if he wanted me to help him fix it and he said OK.

He picked up the broken half of the tree.  It was really big and looked very heavy.  His face was all red and shaky looking while he was holding it.  He looked very small holding that big half of the tree in his arms.  He put it against the tree pretty much where it was before and I used all the tape in my house and all the tape in his house to tape it back on.  I used duct tape, masking tape, electrical tape, cellophane tape, all the tapes.

It stayed up and we smiled at each other and up at the tree.  The leaves were already getting greener and more stand-uppy again.  It felt good to help something even if it couldn’t say thank you to you afterward.  But a bunch of big black birds came and landed on it.  They landed on the branches that were on the broken side of the tree and I heard the tape squeak and pull.  I yelled at the birds to sit on the other side of the tree for now or to go away.  Instead they all started jumping up and down on the branches and the tree started shaking and the tape was making lots of noises.  The man that owned the yard that the tree was in looked worried.

I was scared the tape would break because we didn’t have any more to replace it with.  I told the man to slip the broken half of the tree back out of the tape.  He did.  The he turned it upside down and shook out all the birds.  One fell onto the grass near me and I kicked it.  The other birds saw me kick that bird across the grass and knew they were in trouble too so they all flew away.  Even the bird that I kicked flew away but he didn’t fly very straight at first.

We put the broken half of the tree back into the band of tape that was holding it before but the tape wasn’t sticky anymore.  The leaves were starting to look sick again. The man asked me what we should do now.  I told him I didn’t know.  Leaves were starting to fall off of the tree and we had to hurry.

We decided that the tape wasn’t strong enough anymore.  Nails are strong, but metal nails hurt trees.  We decided we would make some wooden nails.  We used some twigs and smaller branches that fell from the tree when the birds were jumping up and down in it and made a whole bunch of sharp wooden nails real quick.  We could make them so fast because nails are small.  Then we used a hammer that was in the man’s garage to pound the nails into the tree making the broken half fit into the place it had fallen from.

We pounded in all the nails that we had made and then stepped back to look at the tree.  The tree looked as good as new.  The wooden nails disappeared into the trunk, the bark grew back together where it was broken and it started growing huge, bright red apples all over even though it wasn’t an apple tree. They swelled up within a couple of minutes and two extra plump ones fell from the branches, one into each of our hands, me and the man.  We each took a bite of our apples and they were the juiciest, crunchiest and most delicious apples we had ever eaten.

The end.

Love Hides in the Wreckage of a Destruction Derby

I love the sound of shattering glass; the shrill, tinny twist of steel raking against steel, the heavy thud of bulky objects colliding.  The destruction derby field is my symphony hall and its cacophonous chaos quenches my carnal cravings like nothing else.  It was there that I found myself one Saturday afternoon watching senescent, dilapidating vehicles smash into one another all for the sake of violence. It was a particularly enjoyable derby.  One car, number 38 it was, put on an impressive display of fender bashing prowess and took the derby in a near flawless victory.  Oh, how we cheered for him.  We screamed his praises for hours and hours until our throats were raw and lacerated and blood speckled the bleachers.

Once the cars left the smoky, debris strewn field and the crowd finally began to disperse I walked toward my own car dreaming of T-boning other vehicles at every intersection and forcing neighboring drivers off the freeway the entire way home.  However I stopped short while walking past the parking area for the derby competitors when I saw car 38 slowing to a stop not more than 500 feet off.  I felt compelled to go over and congratulate him on a derby well destroyed and to thank him for the cathartic, therapeutic entertainment he had so generously risked himself to supply me with.  I jogged over to his car which would have been very difficult to manage if I suffered from gout. I sincerely feel for people that are afflicted with gout.  It seems a terrible nuisance to say the least.  Every morning I wake up and thank the gods that I am not a gout sufferer.  Oh how wretched my life would be otherwise.

I trotted up to the dusty, concavitous car and knocked on the partially open window to alert the driver to my presence.  I was not greeted with a reply, which seemed natural given the state the driver was likely to be in after completing such an event so I lowered my head to peek into the window and issue my praises and gratifications when I was met with a most uncanny site.  There in the driver’s seat sat neither man nor woman but a dog.  A small dachshund was crouched on the seat with a helmet strapped to his head comically plastering his little ears to his cheeks where they poked out from under it.  He stared up at me in alarm with a look of panic in his eyes.  We both froze and the surrealism of the moment became as intense as the reek of oil and dirt that hung over the lot.  

I took several dazed steps away from the car and tripped blindly over the fender of another car parked near by. I tipped backward and landed splayed over the hood of the inert vehicle.  I looked over into the driver’s seat through the smudged windshield and saw there a German shepherd engaging the emergency brake and removing the keys from the ignition.  My mind raced as it scrambled for rationalizations of these feverish visions.

I leapt off the hood and onto my feet; my eyes darting from car to car searching desperately for  something to bring sense to this madness.  I was not so easily soothed for every car in the lot was piloted by a domesticated animal.  Poodles, Dobermans, Terriers, and Tabby cats all sitting in the driver’s seats of the cars I had just watched being operated with such great skill and precision.  My eyes went back to number 38 and the poor, frightened looking dachshund that still sat in the driver’s seat with his eyes fixed worriedly on me.  Such was my disorientation that I began speaking to him.  “What’s going on?  Why are you in this car?  Did someone put you all in these cars after the derby?  Where are all the drivers?”

The quivering little fellow offered no reply but only continued to stare unblinkingly up at me.  I felt pity for the frightened little creature.  He looked so out of his element, so alone on that big, cracked leather seat.  “Hey, it’s OK.  I won’t hurt you.  Are you alright?  Would you like to come home with me?” I asked him as tenderly as my frazzled state would permit.

Just then I heard a loud, harsh voice come barking at me over the tops of the cars, “Hey!  Who the hell are you?! Whaddya think yer doing here?!”  It was the manager of the destruction derby and he was coming my way and fast.  “You can’t be back here!” he shouted while he advanced threateningly.  I watched the manager approach for a moment, cast one last glance on the dachshund and took off running toward my car before the manager was close enough to put the rusted length of exhaust pipe he was wielding to use.  

My mind reeled as the experience washed over me again and again on the drive home.  Question after question assaulted me and I had no answers.  I felt scared for the animals I had seen in those cars.  Could the obvious suspicion be true?  Were they being forced to drive in the destruction derby against their wills by the malevolent derby manager?  I had to dig into this and do what I could to help these poor, tortured creatures.  

Once home I quit my job and told my girlfriend we would have to spend some time apart from one another.  I would need all my time and resources at my disposal to come to the aid of these animals before it was too late.  I figured I would start with the Humane Society.  They should prove to be powerful allies in this fight I thought to myself as I thumbed through the yellow pages which I had dug out of the trash since no one uses phonebooks anymore thanks to the internet however in this instance I hadn’t paid my cable/internet bill in three months and found myself crawling back (literally crawling as I had not taken out the trash in several months and the phonebook was near the bottom of a pile of trash accumulating against the back wall of my kitchen) to the discarded old paper phonebook in order to locate the number for the Humane Society.  It took me longer than I had anticipated to locate the number as it was, I presume, erroneously printed in a section for “plumbing/meatdrying” (another reason why the old fashioned phonebook is rightfully going extinct).  

I dialed the number and waited patiently for an operator to answer.  After a few brief but pleasant moments of Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” I was met with the wispy voice of an elderly woman.  I told her that I needed to report a potential case of animal abuse and was placed on hold to be softly admonished to sail toward my dreams for another half a minute before being connected to my new ally.  They had an overly kind voice that oozed concern and it asked me what exactly I had seen.  

“Well”, I began, “I realize this may sound odd but I witnessed what may have been a large number of dogs and cats, at least a dozen if not more, being forced to drive cars in a destruction derby just earlier today.”

“… Are you sure about this?  It does sound a bit… unlikely”, they responded.

“I’m afraid I’m quite sure of it, at least as sure as one can be of such a fantastical sight.  But directly after the derby I approached a car just as it was coming to a stop and there was without question a small dog at the wheel as was the case with many of the other cars there.”

“I see… and you’re quite sure of this?”


“Can you attest to being sober at the time?”

“Of course.”

“Is there anyone that can possibly corroborate your story?”

This gave me moment to pause.  It did indeed sound far fetched and I was aware of no one else that had witnessed it.  Certainly the derby manager was no friend in this matter so I was on my own.  But I couldn’t allow myself to be deterred.  “I was the only witness at the scene but I really must insist that this be looked in to, and soon.”

“Sir, not to cast any doubt on your character as you seem a sharp chap but being a sharp chap you must understand how this must sound.  In light of this I am not sure I can send someone to investigate this claim unless you can provide more conclusive evidence of animal cruelty being com—“

“Now see here ma’am!  I do indeed, as a sharp chap, understand how this must sound to someone unfamiliar with both me and the scenario however in spite of this I really must insist that, upon my honor as a sharp chap, there are goings-ons at this destruction derby that absolutely must, at all costs be thoroughly investigated immediately!”


“Ma’am? Ma’am are you still there?”

“You really should just let this go, sir.”

“Excuse me?”

“Let it go”, she warned, all the care and concern gone from her voice; replaced with a hollow, foreboding air.

The call had taken a dark turn.  “Ma’am, regardless of how off putting this sudden shift in tone is I will not, nay, can not be dissuaded.  I will do whatever it takes to have this investigated either by you or someone else.”  There was a long pause before she spoke again.

“Meet me at the corner of Drundle and Bofter and we can talk there.  Tonight at midnight.  Don’t be late”, she said and then immediately hung up.  Events had certainly taken an unexpected turn but at least they seemed to be moving forward.  

I waited impatiently for the meeting.  I paced the filthy, tattered, garbage strewn floors of my apartment replaying everything in my mind: the destruction derby, seeing the dogs in the derby cars, the manager shouting, and the strange phone call.  The more I thought about it the more I felt as though I was getting into something that was bigger than I had expected.  But I steeled my nerves with a few episodes of classic American Gladiators and headed off to the designated meeting place with a determined mind and a steak knife in my pocket, just in case.

I arrived at the corner a bit early and waited under a street lamp.  I then realized that I didn’t even know what this person looked like nor would they know what I looked like.  Though I doubted it would matter as the area seemed completely deserted.  I glanced at my watch frequently enough that time seemed to barely move.  

I heard a car pull up and stop not too far from where I was standing.  I glanced over and saw a van but no one got out of it.  I didn’t think much of it as this seemed the sort of place where all manner of shifty happenings transpired.  And just as this thought triggered the suspicion that, yes, this did seem like a very strange place to meet with a member of the Humane Society I heard a hurried step behind me.  Before I could turn around a bag was thrown over my head and I received the most forceful punch in the stomach I have ever been dealt.  As I doubled over and wheezed embarrassingly I was caught up by a pair of strong arms, my hands were bound and I was dragged in the direction of the van I had seen just moments before.

I was thrown forcefully into the back of the van and endured a very uncomfortable ride that lasted approximately 20 minutes from what my muddled mind could make out.  I slid to and fro across the dirty floor crashing into the doors, walls and what felt to be a steel mesh divider near the middle part of the vans cargo area.  I feared I had been kidnapped, though for what purpose I could not imagine.  I did not come from a wealthy family, nor did I possess any wealth myself.  Perhaps the reasons for my capture were far more nefarious than just acquiring money.  I shuddered at the possibilities as they flashed before my mind.  Yet even in this state I couldn’t help but think of the animals from whose rescue I had been derailed; perhaps permanently.  

Eventually the van came to an abrupt stop causing me to slide forward into the steel meshing again.  Footsteps circled round the van and the rear doors were flung open.  Those same cruel hands grabbed me by the ankles and dragged me out of the van, across an open space and dropped me onto a loosely jointed wooden chair.  My senses were a mess and I was dizzy and disoriented.  As of yet neither my captors nor myself had spoken a word since the encounter began.  But once my mind cleared enough to form a thought I weakly asked, “Who’s there?  Why are you doing this to me?  Where am i?”

As soon as these last words crossed my lips the hood was yanked aggressively from my head.  It didn’t take long for my eyes to adjust to the light for there was very little in that dark place.  All at once I took in the scene.  I was in an abandoned industrial building with high ceilings gridded with pipes and ducts, broad walls darkened from years of moisture leaking through deep cracks, and filthy, dust covered floors strewn here and there with old tools, broken machines and scattered rubbish.  But there in the midst of it all stood the manager of the destruction derby surrounded by cats and dogs all silently staring at me.  The manager’s arms were crossed imposingly over his large chest and his demeanor was grim.  He stared hard at me without saying a word.  There were several moments of tense silence.  I didn’t dare an utterance.  I hadn’t any idea what to say at any rate so I waited for him to speak.  

“Do you have any idea why you’re here?” the manager asked in a rough voice.  He sounded Midwestern.  He had a fairly non-regional accent but with just a hint of northeastern inflection.  

“I, I don’t think so,” I stuttered out.  My mind was still a bit foggy and I didn’t want to give out much information until I started to understand my situation a bit better.  

“It’s because you almost ruined everything we’ve worked for.  Or at least you were trying to.”  I remained silent and looked from the manager across the faces of the animals and back to him.  He was waiting for a response and I tried to quickly process what he might have meant by that.  Evidently he was upset that I was trying to break up his animal slavery/derby ring.  

“That’s right, and I still am!” I replied growing bold as my conviction to help these poor, abused animals surged back.   “I am the untiring agent of ruin for all who misuse animals for their own selfish gain and I will never give up my crusade to free them from any imprisonment whether it be at a destruction derby or elsewhere!  Fear not my animal friends, for you shall soon be liberated from your foul captor and shall roam forth with me into the—“

“Aw, shut up!” the manager interjected, cutting me off rather rudely in mid-passion.  “You don’t have a goddamned clue what you’re talking about!”

“I am afraid that you, sir, are the one whom does not understand what he is talking about!  As I said before I will not—“ and again I was cut off as he struck me across the cheek with his open hand sending a sharp slap reverberating through the cavernous building.  I am not ashamed that I teared up a bit at this.  And perhaps cried a little.  Just a whimper, you see but under the circumstances I don’t think that it was either immasculine or inappropriate. He hit me very hard.  Have you ever been slapped, full force, by a grown man?  I highly doubt it.  

As my deep, manly eyes welled with tears I saw the manager drop his guard a bit and within a few moments the intensity broke, he sighed and then spoke with candor and sincerity, “Look buddy, I don’t mean to be too rough on you.  I just didn’t realize you were such a pussy at first.  I think you mean well but you don’t really know what’s going on.  I’m the one saving these animals.”

“What do you mean?” I asked taken aback by the sudden shift in the conversation’s tone. 

“All of these little guys were on skid row,” he began, “set to be destroyed in shelters.  I got a real soft spot for animals.  They never did nothin’ to nobody.  So some chump bought his kid that’s allergic to cats a cat for Christmas.  Now this poor little fellow has to sit in a filthy cell for months on end til they drag ‘im out to kill ‘im and throw ‘im in a hole with a bunch ‘a other dead cats… it just aint right, you know?”

I nodded in agreement though I don’t think a response was genuinely solicited.  He seemed to be talking to himself and his mammalian companions as much as he was to me.  I was stunned and touched by this unexpected display of compassion.  He continued.

  “So I started cleanin’ out the death row cells in shelters in the area but I couldn’t afford to just take care of all these little guys by myself and I couldn’t find places for ‘em neither.  So I decided they needed jobs, they had to earn their own keep if they’re gonna survive. Then I remembered that my brother-in-law runs the destruction derby right here in town and had the idea to teach the animals to drive the cars.  It was perfect.  You can’t see who’s in those things from the stands and no one cares enough about the derby guys to ever pursue talkin’ to ‘em afterward.  So I started teachin’ ‘em all to drive.  Then the better drivers taught the new guys as I brought ‘em in and now I got a whole team goin.

And lemme tell ya, these little fellas are better than most human derby drivers.  I mean hell, at least they’re sober!  And with the dogs’ natural instinct to go after cars and the cats’ keen eyesight and sharp reflexes, well, you were there.  You saw how well they do, am I right?”

I was getting emotional now and felt a love for this man and these animals that rivaled any other love I had ever felt before.  “You are most correct sir.  I love derbies and never before had I felt so compelled to make personal contact with one of these derbiests until I saw this little fellow behind the wheel.”  I pointed to the small, chocolate colored dachshund that I had locked eyes with just the day before but this time the little fellow looked at me without fear or apprehension and he seemed to smile at me and gave me a subtle nod of recognition and thanks.  

“Well I’m glad to hear you say that, pal, ‘cause now we’re comin’ to the tough part.  You know now.  You’ve seen it all first hand and regardless of the service we’re providing and how much the animals love doin’ this we’d get shut down for sure if the wrong people found out.  It was all I could do to get the Humane Society on my side so you can imagine how pissed I was when I heard you was tryin’ to fluff that up for us.

So now you got a choice.  You can either join up with us and become part of the project or I bludgeon you to death with this pipe and have Yelpy and Ol’ Hemp here dig you a shallow grave out back.  So what’s it gonna be?”

I paused, not because I contemplated whether or not to join this family of intrepid souls but because I felt overwhelmed at the prospect of becoming one of them.  I also did not like the look of that pipe in the least.  But that did not matter.  I would have begged to join them even without the threat of being beaten to death.  So with quivering lips and a rapidly swelling cheek I agreed to abandon my current life and become part of the secret pet destruction derby.  I was immediately loosed from my bonds and embraced by my new family.  We climbed into the van together and left.

“So where are we going?” I asked the manager.

“Back to the derby field.”

“Oh, are we getting right to training tonight?”

“No no, no training tonight.  We’re just going home.”

“So we live at the derby field.  In the field building or do you have a house near there?”

“Nope, this van is home.  We just park there most nights.”

“Oh, so this it.  We live in this van?”


“All of us, all together like this?”

“Yeah, why?”

“No, nothing. It’s fine. I’m sure it’s, yes, it’s… it’s fine.”

So I curled up in the back of the van that had started as my prison cell and became my beloved home and, surrounded by my new family, slept the night away in a contented state of bliss.  Over the coming weeks the animals trained me to drive in the derby.  I became rather proficient if I may say so, though I was never able to match Patterson, the little chocolate dachshund that became my teacher and mentor.  

I then became a scout, patrolling the animal shelters, rescuing the poor little unfortunates set for destruction and training them to drive the derby. My life had never been richer and my work had never been more rewarding.  Until during one derby Patterson was killed in a wreck and when the authorities found his twisted and torn little dog body in the car it led to the subsequent discovery of the project and Gil (the manager) and I were sentenced to jail ourselves and all the remaining animals were replaced in pounds around the city and eventually put down.  But you know, it was good while it lasted.  And as soon as I am released I plan to adopt a child, name him Patterson and teach him to drive the derby.  ”The Patterson the Dog’s Memorial Children’s Destruction Derby”… He would like that.


Tales of a North Hollywood Ferret Trainer

North Hollywood is a vibrant community with a varied and fascinating population.  From the wealthy and affluent to the lazy and largely worthless there is a little something of everything here.  Being a reputable and well established ferret trainer in this community I deal mostly with the former set, which suits me fine.  I never have enjoyed the constant parade of human misery that is the life of most “typical” people here or elsewhere.  It’s just my own opinion that celebrities and the wealthy are the only people I have ever met worth the amount of space they occupy.  Therefore is my joy that my only contact with anyone is constituted by these bastions of human potential and achievement. 

Even though each moment spent in the presence of these exemplary specimens of the human race is a sincere delight there are some moments and meetings that shine even brighter than others.  And while I will conduct myself with all due diligence to make sure that these tales of the infinite are not wasted on or exposed to the crudities of the common man for fear they be somehow soiled and/or sullied I none the less feel it is necessary to breech this risk so that the wonders therein may be enjoyed by those worthy of them. 

And so to begin.

I was once called to the home of the velvety voiced Kelsey Grammer to humbly offer my expert guidance in the training of his ferret, Josephine.  Some days before his niece had gone missing.   The police were of course looking for her as expediently as a ragtag bunch of commonplace miscreants could manage but clearly this would be ineffectual and unreliable.  Fortunately Kelsey had a ferret named Crispin that was originally trained by my mentor, the most renowned ferret trainer in the Northern Hemisphere, Antonio De La Forte, to track down and rescue missing individuals.  This remarkable creature had been taught to recognize, by scent, every member of Kelsey’s family and was capable of tracking them to distances exceeding 300 miles with a cold start. 

So Kelsey nobly assigned Crispin the task of finding his niece.  However this was several days before and he had not heard from Crispin since the day he was sent out.  This was most alarming as Crispin was taught to check it periodically via a miniature transmitter that was affixed to a small and absolutely darling little collar he wore on all reconnaissance missions. This total lack of communiqué was more than enough evidence that something was terribly wrong.  At this point Kelsey considered his niece, whose name I can’t recall, a lost cause (as I would have advised him) and was determined to have all rescue efforts directed to brave Crispin. 

But what efforts?  The police were plenty busy chasing their own filthy tails and no one else we could think of was worthy of such a weighty task.   Kelsey was at a loss, but only for a moment.  He soon felt a gentle paw on his leg and as he looked down into those precious little eyes shimmering like pools of deep, crystal waters he could almost hear Josephine whisper to him, “send me, for mankind has failed you.”  Once Kelsey regained his composure (for who could maintain themselves in the presence of such unveiled generosity and love?) he acknowledged that Josephine was the only one he could entrust with Crispin’s recovery.  Yet he knew Josephine would need some help, especially considering the ostensible difficulties the intrepid Crispin had encountered.  So he turned to me.

I arrived on a beautiful, sunny morning and despite the obvious cares that weighed on Kelsey’s mind he still maintained the graciousness good will to have his serving man fetch me drink and a massage before our consultation.  Once we sat down in his luxuriously decorated front sitting room he told me the tale of anxiety and grief that had been gripping him for the past several days.  He told me that he believed Josephine to be Crispin’s only hope and that he needed me to prepare and send her forth as soon as could be managed.  This was of course no easy task. 

However Josephine proved to be unlike any ferret I had yet encountered.  Her eyes expressed a wisdom that was beyond even that of her impressive species.  It was as though I could hear her speaking to me, softly yet unmistakably, almost guiding me.  Showing me what she needed and working alongside me as an equal.  To this day I am not sure who learned more during this cosmic encounter.  But within a few hours I was as sure of her ability to find and bring back Crispin as I was of anything.  So I strapped on her transmitter, sharpened her claws and released her into the wide outdoors to find Crispin as Kelsey retired to his inner chamber and wept for the cruelties of a world that brought such ill fated events to pass. 

But Josephine proved a worthy choice.  It wasn’t more than a couple of hours before we heard some chattering over the transmitter which informed us that she had picked up a definable trail and was following it with all speed.  Our hopes swelled.  Every few hours there was another transmission encouraging us that the trail was getting clearer and clearer and that Crispin was close at hand.  But then, during her 5th update there was a loud sound of interference as though something struck or grabbed at the transmitter she was wearing.  We gasped, held our breath and the sound made our blood run cold.  Some further interference, a struggle and then the dreaded silence of a dead radio.

Kelsey grabbed the receiver, screaming and weeping over it and in a fit of desperation and helplessness threw it across the room into a hanging mirror shattering it dramatically.  He cast himself onto the floor and lost consciousness and I was left alone in his silent, palatial estate staring from his limp body to the broken receiver among the sparkling glass and back again.  I was at a complete loss.  I felt bewildered and abandoned.  I waivered there on that decadently overstuffed leather sofa for I’m not sure how long, lost in a void of uncertainty and near despair.  And then, in that terrible silence I heard that same whispering voice come to me again.  Wafting to my consciousness like a sweet scent from all around.  “Come for me, for you already know where I am,” it said and I knew it to be Josephine.  And in that same moment of epiphany I did know exactly where to find her, but I knew I could not go alone.  Kelsey was her soul mate.  The recovery of Josephine could not be done by myself alone, her spirit brother would also have to join the pursuit.

However Kelsey still lay senseless on a particularly soft rug of mink pelts.  Time was of the essence so I lay down beside him on the floor and I took a lock of his hair into my hand and braided it with one of my own.  And I laid there joined with him and waited for I wasn’t sure what.  But after several moments a warmth and a flash of light rolled over the room and at once Kelsey stirred and looked at me.  Then we both heard Josephine, clearer than before, say to Kelsey, “awake my friend and come to me.  For I am now in such need as never before and now is the time for mankind to prove himself.” 

We both arose at once and in that movement our braid was loosed and we both knew what was to be done.  We climbed into Kelsey’s cream colored Aston Martin and leapt from the safe confines of his 20 foot privacy gate in a roar and a frenzy and took off in hot pursuit of his beloved Josephine.  The lush, coastal California scenery melted past us as we careened onward in instinctual navigation.  Our speed increased as our destination neared, we could feel the mighty presence of both Josephine and now Crispin and we knew that she had at last found him and our goal was now twofold. 

We roared southward along route 405 to Route 10 and then onto Ocean Ave feeling the heat of our pursuit burning within ourselves.  Higher and higher the fires of our wills raged as we closed steadily in on our dear ones.  Then it was as though lightning struck off to our right near the coast line and Kelsey veered off the road toward the sea.  We crashed through trees and bushes, roared over the undergrowth that lined the free way and blasted through the greenery in a mad fever.  Suddenly Kelsey smashed on the brakes and the car spun out of the woods and stopped a hairs breadth from the edge of a cliff looking out over a heaving sea.  And there, dangling from the cliff was Josephine and clinging onto her was brave Crispin; both wet with the mist of the ocean crashing against the rocks far below them. 

We both charged from the car toward them but heard Josephine cry out to us to stop and look behind us.  We did and saw just a few feet away a large puma, with Josephine’s dainty little collar hanging raggedly from its mouth.  The puma glared at us; teeth bared, eyes narrowed into hateful slits and snarling with primal rage.

I confess that at that moment I was petrified with fear.  Ever since I was a boy growing up on an avocado farm in Panama I had been terrified of pumas, more so than any other animal on this terrestrial sphere.  I daren’t even imagine what tragedy would have surely befallen us there, so close to the end of our mission, had I been alone.  Yet it proved true indeed that Kelsey needed to be there as, though I was not aware until after the fact, he is famous for being unafraid of large predatory cats of any kind.  So while I stood, completely frozen save for the uncontrollable quaking that racked my senseless frame, Kelsey strode forward without hesitation toward the bristling feline and selflessly and passionately engaged in a fierce combat unlike anything I had ever witnessed.  How those mighty titans tore at one another, crashing about and leaping atop each other in animalistic fury.  It was a spectacle truly terrifying to behold.  

In fact I was so horror-struck that all my intentions of rescue were driven from my mind by the raging mammalian storm before me.  Then, cutting through all the chaos and din came the clear, urgent call of Josephine, “Hurry, Fernand!  There isn’t much time!”   I was shaken from my trance and looked to the cliff only to see Josephine begin to slip through Crispin’s trembling paw.  All at once the direness of our circumstances rushed back upon me and I leapt toward the cliff as Kelsey heroically continued to combat the puma behind me.  

As I ran I watched Josephine’s delicate, Lilliputian paw began to slip, one digit at a time out of Crispin’s grasp.  Crispin’s eyes were wet with tears and his jaw was clenched as he held on with all his strength.  I dove for the edge of the cliff and just as Josephine slipped free of Crispin’s tiny grasp I caught her arm and her lithe body swung over the yawning abyss below yet was held tight in my grasp.  She looked up at me while dangling over the churning waters far below and her eyes tenderly limned that she knew I would come for her.  

I gently hoisted Josephine over the cliff and laid her on the soft turf.  Crispin threw himself on the grass beside her and clung to her in joy as he wept to have her with him safe and sound again.  I stood, rapt in the sight before me when I heard a great caterwauling scream from behind and was reminded of Kelsey’s desperate fight that still raged on.  However it would not continue much longer for as I turned I saw Kelsey grab the throat of the attacking cat as it bit deep into his shoulder.  He gripped it fiercely and tore it forth and asunder, out of the thick bristling neck of the puma.  The wretched, feral gurgling and screeching that poured out of the cat along with all its hot, thick blood was awful to hear.  It released its hold on Kelsey and collapsed to the ground clawing at the rend in its throat, wheezed its last breaths and died.  

Kelsey stood over it for a moment, heaving with fatigue and the shock of the battle.  He was flecked with saliva and blood and bore many injuries from the great cat.  Then he turned and as soon as his eyes, still dark with the trauma of battle, alighted on the slight figures of his beloved Josephine and Crispin they immediately burst with tears of gladness and relief and he ran to them, scooped them up in his arms and kissed each of them while uttering many thanks and praises for their safe recovery.

We all sat there in the grass for some time gazing upon one another in excitement and relief.  It brought tears to my eyes as I watched Kelsey cuddle and play with Josephine and Crispin.  Such an hour of victory and joy I may never know again.

We climbed into Kelsey’s car and headed home to spread the news of the ferrets’ safe return.  Then I bid him a fond farewell among many oaths of brotherhood and love and went home to recover from the events we had partaken of together.  I assume the search for his niece continues.


Next Time, Write One About Rodeos

I went to a museum yesterday. It was filled mostly with paintings so, though I neglected to check, I assumed it was some variety of art museum. Upon entry I discovered that there was no admission, only an acrylic box marked donations by the entrance. Regardless of the lack of obligation I felt it was both my civic duty as well an my responsibility to the arts to contribute to this noble institution which gives so much and asks so very little. So I slipped in a rather difficult to find coupon for 39 cents off of any Super Tony’s microwave entree. It was a terrible blow to my finances but the artistic community is a worthy cause, or so I thought to myself as I gingerly, almost reluctantly, placed it in the donations box.

As I began walking about the museum I couldn’t help but contemplate the extensive and serious implications of my sudden burst of generosity and began to wonder if I hadn’t over done it a bit. Eventually I came upon a painting, a Van Gogh I believe it was, that I liked very much. “Well,” I thought to myself, “perhaps if I took this painting in exchange for my excessive donation it would even things out a bit and put my mind more at ease.” So I proceeded to remove the painting from the wall and continued on the the next exhibit.

Suddenly half a dozen security guards were all round me with pistols drawn shouting for me to lay down the painting and to lay down myself next to it with my hands behind my head. “Good heavens,” I thought, “they must not have seen me deposit my donation earlier, of course they couldn’t have.”

So I began to explain to them that there was nothing to worry about, I had placed a rather large note in the donations box that would more than pay for the painting as well as its frame and mounting. However before I even recounted a fraction of my explanation I was shot through the thigh by a small, nervous looking security guard. I am still not sure, even now, whether or not it was an accident. Of course this frightened me and hurt rather smartly, as might well be expected, thus causing me to fall forward directly onto the painting, smearing blood from the wound all over the antique oil painted canvas.

Well apparently this served as a cue for the remaining guards to issue a round of shots striking me in the left knee, left elbow, right shin and directly through my right shoe cleanly removing my pinky toe. “Malediction!’ I thought as I rolled off the painting and looked down at my bloody, ruined trousers, “What the blazes do they think they’re doing?” After a thorough survey of my personal damage I looked up and there was a short balding man, whom I later learned to be the curator of the museum. He had a somewhat frazzled and frantic expression on his face, eyes twitching and his dry little lips all a quiver.

Just as I was about to ask him what in the saint’s name was the meaning of all this commotion he produced a small derringer pistol from his breast pocket, pinched up his little face as he squeezed the trigger and planted an antique ball bearing in my left arm midway between my wrist and my elbow, then dropped the pistol, fell to his knees and began weeping over the ruined painting.

The guards all stood there awkwardly awaiting further instructions from the curator and not altogether sure what to do in the meantime. I also waited in a rather uncomfortable fashion for the curator to compose himself. After a long while he finally came around and told me I would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and would hopefully rot in jail. Naturally after all of this I was quite put out and, once I had pulled my injured self up and hobbled back to where I had entered, I sternly yet as politely as was possible, requested to have my donation returned to me as I sorely needed a good Italian meal after such an evening.


Why People Missing Eyes Should Never, Under Any Circumstances, Be Trusted

One eyed men are not to be trusted. This is something I have learned the hard way. I had just finished a lovely cup of coffee in a cafe that I regularly visit and stepped onto the sidewalk. It was a chilly day in early November so I decided to ride the bus in lieu of walking.

As I stood waiting by the stop a rather stout fellow, only slightly taller than myself joined me in awaiting the bus. He seemed a perfectly normal chap at first glance, however, after several minutes had elapsed he turned toward me and I noticed he was missing an eye. I hadn’t noticed this since only his ”good side” had been facing me, but once it was in sight it was quite gruesome. He wore no eye patch or covering, there was simply a deep, dark, fleshy hole gaping in his face. I made a polite attempt not to notice but I doubt my success.

He asked me if I had a light for his cigarette and since I always carry matches was happy to oblige. I felt quite the humanitarian for being so readily able to answer the request of a disfigured person. I struck one up, shielded it from the breeze and offered it to the unfortunate gentleman. He paused for a moment and I then realized he did not have a cigarette to light. I was just about to ask if he would like one when he suddenly lunged face first into my extended hands forcing the match into his empty eye socket.

I stumbled back and thought he had slipped or been shoved from behind and so was ready to offer him assistance when he quickly straightened upright, clasped his hands wildly about his missing eye and began screaming bloody murder. This seemed like a somewhat reasonable reaction for someone who had just been jabbed in the eye socket with a lit match, however, I grew a bit confused and nervous when the man’s raving and thrashing became directed primarily at me. He began shouting that I was mad and had shoved a burning match tip into his eye on purpose. I began to remonstrate, “Now see here sir, this is clearly a—” but I was savagely pushed aside by this now hysterical man who was rushing towards two constables nearby.

Naturally I followed him at a safe distance wondering what on earth he was at now. He approached the constables, with his hands still clutched firmly over his gaping crater, and began shouting, just as loud as before, “This man shoved a burning match into my eye! He’s mad! Mad I tell you! I demand that he be locked up immediately!”

Of course the officers were skeptical of the outrageous accusation. “Now, now sir, this ‘ere is a very serious accusation you’re making, what proof ‘ave you got?”

“Finally some sensibility”, I thought and began to relax a bit assuming this whole messy situation was about to blow over at last. At this the man thrust his hands dramatically from his face revealing the hideous missing eye claiming maniacally that it had been burnt out.

"You see? He’s burned it completely out! I’ve lost my eye! The pain, the pain! This man has taken my eye!" I found myself chuckling at the preposterousness of the man’s claim and was about to simply turn and walk away form the entire situation when I was suddenly seized by both arms. I assumed at first it was the hysterical man and whipped about to demand my release when I saw it was actually the two constables, and they appeared rather mortified at that.

"You’re under arrest sir," one snorted as I was being dragged toward the nearest station.

"Now officer, you surely don’t think I actually did that to that man. How is it possible for a match to burn an entire eye out? The wound is already healed for pity’ sake! It was a paper match how could it possibly-"

"That’s enough out you, you eye burning wretch!" the officer holding my left arm shouted over me as they continued to lead me onward. At this point I was in quite a daze over everything, it was all so absurd. However I did notice, as I was being dragged off, the one eyed man. He was smiling contentedly, walking off with a rather haughty gait.

“What on earth is he so happy about?” I wondered briefly and then noticed he was walking off with my matches…. the blighter.