DEAD RINGERS

dead ringers

DEAD RINGERS

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        The church bell broke the morning, the broken church bell of the broken village.  In this Serbian village of the cross-roads, this village of Raskrsnica, wherein their first grave was dug amidst the 6th century, now rings this war of rebellion that had arched heavenly, the jet planes, the rockets, the artillery shells falling to earth, scorching the village.

        This broken church bell, briefly its flaring mouth clamored for divine retribution, for the surviving villagers, petitioning the heavens.

        The villagers halted their labors and turned their faces toward this declaration from the church, the church crowning the hilltop, defaced.

        Marinko and his wife, Josipa, startled, together raised their eyes.

        Josipa whimpered, raising a knuckle to her lip, saying, “He is coming.”

        Marinko stepped beside his wife to comfort her, whispering, “I know you want to believe.  I want to believe.  Hope is the last to die.”

        Marinko and Josipa descried the figure emerging from the church’s eminence.

        From the hilltop descended the humble Bishop Sava, his eyes heavy, weighted with his witnessing yet his lips gentle, uplifted with hope.

        Bishop Sava bore tidings once again for villagers.

        Marinko and Josipa both dreaded and yearned for those tidings of Bishop Sava.

        Josipa trembled with the anxiety, “I can have no peace.  Perhaps Bishop Sava has no word for us.  Maybe he has words that are only words…”

        Marinko interposed, “…of faith.  Only words of faith.”

        Josipa rested her head against Marinko’s shoulder, saying softly, “Faith is everything.”

        Down the path through the village trod Bishop Sava.  In nearly every house that he passed, in the window was a living triptych of a watching husband, a watching wife, and the reflection of Bishop Sava.

        Bishop Sava turned toward the home of Marinko and Josipa.  Bishop Sava held his hands, left hand over his right hand, against the waist of his flowing cassock.

        Marinko and Josipa opened their door without Bishop Sava announcing his presence.

        Marinko nodded, “Your Grace,” and he reached for the right hand of Bishop Sava.  Bishop Sava extended what remained of his right hand which bore only the ring finger.  Marinko kissed the wounded hand.

        Josipa glanced away downward and expelled a quick breath, “Your Grace,” reaching for the scarred hand of Bishop Sava.

        Bishop Sava softly commented, “My dear, you fear I cannot make the ancient sign of the cross, without a trinity made of three fingers.  I assure you I feel all my invisible fingers as if they remain with me.”

        Marinko said, “Please, Your Grace, sit with us.”

        Josipa offered, “Your Grace, would you like coffee?”

        Bishop Sava smiled, “Thank you, dear,” and he sat at the kitchen table.

        Josipa set the small cup of thick strong coffee before Bishop Sava who then absent-mindedly wrapped the lone finger of his right hand about the cup. He sat stirring thoughts without sipping.

        Marinko suddenly stepped forward, offering, “Bishop Sava, would you like this glass of plum wine?”

        Bishop Sava smiled in gratitude.  He took long swallows of the wine and then Marinko filled his glass again.

        Marinko and Josipa sat down together with Bishop Sava at the kitchen table.

        Finally, Bishop Sava spoke, “Last night Sister Yelena came to me with your daughter, with your Jasna.”

        Josipa stifled herself, repeating, “Jasna.”

        Marinko took her hand.

        Bishop Sava soothed Josipa, saying, “My dear, Jasna is well in Sister Yelena’s care.  Have faith, for I am responsible for her.”

        Marinko next asked, when Josipa could not, “Your Grace.  Bishop Sava.  What does Jasna say?”

        Bishop Sava smiled, “Jasna wanted me to tell you that she was very excited about going to the meadows today with Sister Yelena and all the other children.  She herself said to have faith for she loves you.  Oh, and she asked me to assure you that she can see you from the church.”

        Josipa whimpered yet she smiled.

        Marinko took Bishop Sava’s right hand again and kissed it, then saying to him with lowered eyes, “Bishop Sava, your tidings are blessings to both of us,” then Marinko glanced at Josipa and he added, “Please tell Jasna we are missing her and that we want her back home here with us again soon.”

        Bishop Sava rose up to depart and he added, “Jasna said that you must believe that her thoughts are always with you.”

        Then Bishop Sava went calmly on down the path through the village, stopping before other homes where the doors opened without his announcement.

        In the late afternoon, Bishop Sava was climbing the path back up to the church, when he noticed an odd figure standing beside the entrance.  In the shadow it looked like a scarecrow, an effigy to deter birds, yet its scraggly silhouette indicated a covering of tattered fur or perhaps vegetation, a pagan spirit of the forest.

        Bishop Sava, undaunted, called out with amusement, “Tutelary spirit, do you wish to confess and be saved?  Or are you a whiff of smoke in my face?”

        The creature that stepped forward was a man, a soldier in camouflage.  He answered, “I confess that I am Death the moment most are made aware of me.  I am a sniper.  I was passing over these hills to this place of eminence, to surveil the village below.  Were your losses great here?”

        “Sniper, none were truly lost.  Death merely limits our suffering here as well as death limits the sin that can be committed here.  I believe it to be God’s wisdom.”

        Sniper snorted, “I believe in death”.  He shook the rifle that he bore.  “I have waded through mass graves to get this far.”

        Bishop Sava answered as if in a liturgy, “As did our Lord.”  Bishop Sava gestured with a glance toward the porch to invite Sniper into the maimed, defiant church.

        “You are welcome in there, Sniper.”

        Sniper answered wryly, “It looks like hell, but then I do pass here to find Muslim devils.”

        “There is one Devil reflected in all warring sides.  Sit with me awhile in Sanctuary.  Sister Yelena and the children will be with us in the Tabernacle.”

        Sniper assumed that the young children of the village were taken to this church for safety and protection when the storm of battles began to slip overhead

        Inside the church, passing behind the Sacred Beautiful Gate of the Sanctuary, where should have been the Altar of the Tabernacle, the sniper saw that there was now only a fused mass of salt and soil and debris.  “And the children,” Sniper suddenly understood, making the gesture of the ancient cross.

        A thermal missile had struck this place.  Now the heavens peered through the hole in the ceiling of the Tabernacle

        Bishop Sava “That damage was not an intentional crime, I want to believe.  How could it have been?”

        Sniper cursed, “What matter if intentional, misguided, or wild?  This is havoc.”

        Bishop Sava sat upon his Bishop’s Chair before the fused mass of salt and soil and debris and explained, “Sister Yelena comforted the children and tended them.  They remain my responsibility.  They will be here soon.  During the battle in the heavens Sister Yelena took the children behind this Altar to pray. I went outside to stand watch and to witness.  Suddenly there was a roar and light and heat…I could not find my fingers”

        Sniper stared at Bishop Sava.

        Bishop Sava’s eyes glistened.

        Doves now began to fly into the tabernacle ruins.  One of the doves landed unafraid at Bishop Sava’s feet and peered up at him.

        Bishop Sava spoke to the dove, asking, “Ah, Sister Yelena, did the children enjoy their playtime in the meadows?”

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DRAGGL

draggl

DRAGGL

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          Listen, my children.

          In the time of these words Greenland was not covered in a thick sheet of ice.  Greenland was green, and it was not flat.  East and West rolled together in verdant hills heaping up to a mountain ridge that divided the continent north to south.  On the eastern shore dwelt the clan of Ndn.

          The clan of Ndn had no word for murder, no word for thief.  They wore loincloths and tunics woven from the fiber of sacred plants.  They called themselves Drr (Fishermen).  They fished in the nearby warm ocean current that passed in its pilgrimage up to the frigid northern waters beyond Dtth (Wall of Fog), up to Ooo (Sacred Source of All Life).  They would not take a life except the life of a fish and for that they atoned each fishing season.

          Yv was the young girl chosen for the sacred atonement this season.  Yv’s mother Am wept and gnashed her teeth at the sacred honor bestowed upon her only child.  Am held Yv’s face against her own face and they wove between themselves sheets of tears.  The entire clan, except Am, had agreed that Yv was the most worthy to represent the bounty taken in fish this season and to exchange the life that would generate the bounty next season.

          Yv consoled her mother Am with oral verse, sniffing, “Mother, weep only for joy.  Your child shall dwell with Drgn (Angels) beyond Dtth (Wall of Fog).  From the breath of your child shall come the bounty of the clan,” yet Yv was afraid.

          Am answered her only child Yv with oral verse, choking, “Do not be afraid, my child.  Your anguish is your fear that you are unworthy to dwell with Drgn.  Be at peace.  Your clan chooses righteously.”

          Yv’s father Ev recited the words prescribed by custom for the fathers of atonement.  The words were to move Ev away from the instincts of his flesh and toward the clan’s eternal obligation, “Life breathes in.   Life breathes out.  We are the pause between.”

          The clan of Ndn feasted, danced, and sang until the twilight of dawn.  Then they quieted and faced the eastern shore.

          In the first light of dawn the clan of Ndn began to sing softly, “When Og (Sun) swims into the ocean of heaven…”

          The whole clan filed past Yv and kissed her.  Yv wore a ceremonial tunic woven by her mother.  The fibers were threaded through tiny seashells so that the tunic sparkled in the eye of Og.

          Am and Ev then lead Yv to the rocky cove.  They made Yv comfortable in the little Kjk (kayak).

          Raising her trembling chin in a brave farewell little Yv began to paddle out toward the great northward current.  She sang to herself oral verse, hoarsely, “My child, do not look back.  See ahead Drgn (Angels) waiting to embrace you beyond Dtth (Wall of Fog)…”

          Yv paddled faster as she began to cry.  Her Kjk (kayak) soon felt the grasp of the great northward current.  Only then did she glance backwards in defiance of Drgn (Angels) but the cove of Ndn had slipped away in her tears.

          Og (Sun) had swum high in the ocean of heaven when Yv saw the great Kjk (kayak).  It appeared to have a wing raised as it passed south of her, trampling the great northward current.  She saw men of an unknown clan.  They did not see her.

          Finally, Yv awoke from an unexpected sleep and saw ahead the great Dtth (Wall of Fog).  Dtth was erasing the world and was drinking the great northward current.  Yv braced herself.  In a sudden nervous fit she began to paddle into Dtth fatalistically, singing out wordlessly like a sea bird, “Aaah-ah-eee, Aaah-ah-ee!”

          No Drgn greeted her.

          Yv paddled in the consuming white void until her arms grew weak and again she slept unwillingly.

fish symbol - draggl.

          Yv was startle awake by the slap of small waves upon rocks.  Her little Kjk (kayak) was rocking side-to-side with increasing frequency.  And then her Kjk grounded on a pebbly beach.  Yv scrambled out into the ankle deep surf and pulled her Kjk up beyond the hissing pebbles.

          Yv stood upon the same grass which grew among the clan of Ndn.  Yv took heart feeling the grass in the cold white void all around her, muttering, “It is true, then.  Uru (Between Life) is like Ndn,” wishing she could tell so to her mother Am and her father Ev.

          Yet no Drgn (Angels) greeted her.  Yv waited patiently in the void with her courage renewed.

fish symbol - draggl.

          Yv heard suddenly a loud sustained scraping sound from the pebbles on the beach below.  Whatever was being dragged up out of the ocean and onto the pebbles was massive.  And similar sounds were heard up and down the shoreline.  Yv saw coming toward her from the white void a massive shadow.

          Yv exhaled, saying in awe, “Drgn (Angels).”

          The white void dissolved around her in a great shaft of Og’s light and the shadow emerged.  Yv knelt in terror, supplicating.

          Yv’s Drgn was an enormous lizard, the size of a killer whale.  It was covered in black feathers like the black albatross.  It flexed enormous wings as it approached Yv.  Its eyelids were orange.  Its eyes were yellow with vertical black slits.  This Drgn halted above her and a long tongue protruded and jabbed at her like a fishing spear.  Yv saw the rows of sharp teeth the size of gutting knives.  This Drgn exhaled dismissively upon Yv and she was startled by the heat of Drgn breath.  Yv sprang away with a yelp that startled the Drgn in turn.  They stood and warily faced each other.

          Yv spoke the chosen words, “Drgn, I have come to renew the bargain between Drgn and the clan of Ndn,” and Yv then silently awaited acceptance or refusal.

          The Drgn leaned down toward Yv, turned its head, and held one eye close to Yv like a pool with Yv’s reflection.

          Into the pool of Yv’s own mind someone was throwing stones and her father’s voice was heard beside her own voice, “You name me Drgn.  I have chosen your father’s voice to be heard.”

          In her mind Yv spoke, saying, “I seek Drgn (Angels).”

          The Drgn raised his feathered wings and veiled Og (Sun) and asked ominously, “You fish Drgn?”

          Yv answered in her mind innocently, “I seek Drgn.  I am the chosen one to renew the life of the clan of Ndn.”

          The Drgn understood the intent but answered, “I do not eat you.  I too am like Drr (Fishermen).  All Drgn Drr, like you.  I am named…,” and Yv’s mind filled with white noise.

          Yv saw the intent of this Drgn’s mind.  She thought and spoke out loud, “You know I am named Yv.  I will name you Draggl (Drags on Ground).”

          Draggl replied to Yv’s mind, “And I name you…,” then Yv’s mind filled again with white noise as Draggl spoke in his own thoughts.  Draggl quickly translated, “Brine Shrimp.”

fish symbol - draggl.

          Draggl added to Yv’s mind, “There are other Brine Shrimp like you,” and Draggl heaved around and plodded ponderously back toward the pebble beach.  Yv scampered to avoid his swiping tail.

          Yv ran after Draggl into the drifting fog, crying out, “What do you mean there are others like me?”

          Yv caught up to Draggl when he halted on the grass just above the hushing pebble beach.  Yv was suddenly aware of other massive silhouettes around her in the fog.  She heard white noise in her mind once again, but this time there were shades of difference in the pitch of the white noise.  Yv “knew” she was hearing conversations of the Drgn (Angels).  Yv then “understood” why it was white noise to her that they “spoke”: Drgn were a sound and a smell to each other as intricate as vision.  Yv was hearing the language of other senses and she had no such words in her mind for Draggl to command.

          Draggl translated in her mind, “Yv, we are all Drr (Fishermen) and live in peace beside the other Brine Shrimp.  They are nearby and call themselves the clan of Skmooo (Chosen for Ooo, Sacred Source of All Life).”

          Yv asked out loud, “Can you show me?”

          Draggl turned his head and his long tongue speared the distance as Draggle spoke within Yv’s mind, “One comes now.”

          A young boy materialized from between the sheets of fog, fearlessly passing Draggl and coming toward Yv.  He wore a tunic similar to Yv’s ceremonial tunic and leggings of the same sacred fibers and he carried a fishing spear.  He spoke to Yv, “The Drgn (Angels) told us of you and they called to my mind.  I am Dn of the clan of Skmooo (Chosen for Ooo, Sacred Source of All Life).  We have grown from the clans of our first birth one by one nearly each passing season.  Some do not arrive because Ooo accepts them and they pass into the season’s bounty of fish.  We have been waiting for you.”

          Yv was remembering and Draggl helped her mind and Yv said to Dn, “I remember you, Dn.  We chased sea birds together.  You were chosen three seasons past.  Your sister has taken a man.  Your mother and father have borne two more sons in your place.”

          Dn raised his chin and he pressed his lips together and then he said, “Life breathes in.  Life breathes out.  We are the pause between.  I remember you, Yv.  You danced my farewell.  I will dance your rebirth with the clan of Skmooo.”

.fish symbol - draggl

          The clan of Skmooo was waiting to greet Yv and Dn.  All wore tunics and leggings.  They were a spectrum of ages, with the older ones herding young children obviously born of the Chosen for Ooo.  Several young children broke from the waiting clan and came running and encircled Yv and stared and touched her legs.  Yv touched their heads.

          Dn said to Yv, “New arrivals are a birth.  Yv, you are reborn.  All are mothers of all children; all are fathers of all children in the clan of Skmooo.  No one bears the burden alone if a child is called by Ooo.”

          Yv thought about her mother and father for the first time in hours.  Her lips trembled.

          Dn sensed her sorrow, and said to Yv, “The Chosen for Ooo make no more sacrifices for bounty.  Drgn (Angels) speak to us directly of the will of Ooo.  We are taken forever to The Sacred Source of All Life only by Dthjk (Paddler of the Great Kjk, kayak).”

          Yv wiped her eye and asked, “Dthjk?”

          Dn explained, “Drgn (Angels) revealed to us Dthjk.  They tell us that Dthjk comes also for them out there in the ocean.  I have been shown in my mind Drgn taken by Dthjk.”

          Yv and Dn were embraced and kissed in turn by all members of the tribe of Skmooo.  The return from any journey was a cause for expressing affection.  Yv was warmly ensconced but she still yearned for Am her mother and for Ev her father.  The fog swirled and muted sunshine caressed the clan of Skmooo.

.fish symbol - draggl

          A day soon after Yv was reborn in the clan of Skmooo, the Drgn that Yv called Draggl appeared at the edge of the encampment and summoned the entire clan with his mind.

          Draggl spoke to all, “There are many Kjk (kayaks) approaching the shore.”

          All but the youngest of the clan and their chaperones for this day trotted toward the shoreline, flanking Draggl and being careful to avoid his undulating gait.  On the shoreline was aligned the entire clan of Drgn (Angels), facing the ocean like graven rock outcroppings.  The pebble beach hissed.  The clan of Skmooo filtered down between Drgn and they listened to the approaching distinctive sound of many paddles.

          As the many Kjk (kayaks) materialized from out of the fog veil, Drgn raised their wings.  The clan of Skmooo gasped one by one and ran to the lapping surf line.  There were cries and crying from the Kjk (kayaks) as they saw the clan of Skmooo gathering toward them.

          The Kjk were from the clan of Ndn.  Yv cried out as she recognized her mother Am slumped and paddling with exhaustion.  The clan of Skmooo and the clan of Ndn cried at each other like sea birds.

          Yv ran to the surf line, “Mother!  Mother!”

          Am recognized Yv and raised her head and beamed but then she collapsed forward unconscious.  Yv frantically pulled at Am’s Kjk, trying to draw it toward the hissing pebble beach but it began to drift away.

          Yv cried out to the sky, “Help me!”

          Dn splashed up beside her and he too grabbed Am’s Kjk and between the two of them the Kjk was drawn onto the pebbles.  Yv embraced her unconscious mother and she saw scars and blood upon Am’s head and Yv felt gooey blood pooling beneath her hug.  Yv shrieked.  Two clansmen of Ndn, themselves scarred and bloody, raised Am out of her Kjk and carried her to the shoreline, her feet dragging between them.  Yv ran after them, hopping with frantic worry.

          The two clansmen of Ndn lay Am upon the grass and departed back to the shoreline to help others.   Yv fell upon her mother wailing.  Am opened her eyes and found a smile for Yv, whispering, “Yv?  My child, my child.  I have you, I have you,” and then Am fell fitfully asleep holding tightly Yv whose weeping face was buried into Am’s breast.

.fish symbol - draggl

          Am awaked startled and clutched Yv and said to Yv, “Your father Ev is no more.  Many of Ndn are no more.”

          Yv could not fathom, “No more?  Father?” but she heard all around her the weeping stories of the clan of Ndn.

          “A large Kjk (kayak) appeared.  It had a great wing raised and it defied the great northward current.”

          “They were men of an unknown clan.  Terrible men.  They had horns and shiny heads and their bodies were cloaked in fur like Mka (caribou).”

          “The held shafts with great flat stones sharpened like fishing spear tips.”

          “Never have we known.  We could not have known: they were Mrrdrrdrr (Men Who Fish Fishermen)!  Many of Ndn were quickly no more.  No more.”

          Am sobbed to a tearful Yv, “You father Ev saw them fishing the men of Ndn and then a Mrrdrrdrr took me and hurt me.  Your father Ev broke his Tybooo (Commandments of Ooo, The Sacred Source of Life) and he speared my Mrrdrrdrr in the face.  A few of Ndn who did not run saw your father’s Cynooo (Sin) and then they came to his side and fished Mrrdrrdrr with him.  All are no more.”

          Then all heard in their minds the thoughts of Draggl, “Dthjk (Paddler of the Great Kjk, kayak) has fished many Drgn (Angels).  Now Dthjk follows from Ndn.  Dthjk is coming.”

fish symbol - draggl.

          Young Dn raised his fishing spear in anger and he cried out, “The clan of Skmooo must break our Tybooo (Commandments of Ooo)!”

          Yv heard Draggl in her mind and all turned toward him as he spoke, “Drgn (Angels) will break our Tybooo together with you.  You cannot stop Mrrdrrdrr with all the clan of Skmooo and all that remain of the clan of Ndn.  All will be no more,” and then all realized that Draggl was rallying his own clan too as he continued in white noise, translating for Ndn and Skmooo, “Always Drgn swim away from Dthjk (Paddler of the Great Kjk, kayak) but many Drgn are no more.  Today all must fish Dthjk!”

          Draggle then translated the white noise of other Drgn, answering unavoidably, “Yes, brother and sister Drgn.  It is true that Ooo (Sacred Source of All Life) has made Dthjk also and has allowed Dthjk to fish men.”

          The young Dn raised his fishing spear and cried, “Ndn, Skmooo, and Drgn will atone this day by exchanging Dthjk for our bounty and our lives!”

.fish symbol - draggl

          The great Kjk (kayak) finally appeared from out of Dtth (Wall of Fog).  The great wing of the Kjk flapped and snapped in the diminishing breeze.  The horned heads of the Mrrdrrdrr could be seen above the sides of the great Kjk.

          The Skmooo men and women stood aligned along the shore and all trembled.  No Drgn stood with them.  The men touched the tips of their spears and gutting knives.  The women gathered stones and caressed the weaving needles inserted into the warp and weft of their tunics.

          The young boys and girls stood farther behind in the grass where Draggl had commanded them to remain until all hope was gone.

          A bellow came from the great Kjk like the challenge of a bull Mka (caribou).  The Mrrdrrdrr then roared together from the great Kjk like bull Odb (seals).  The Mrrdrrdrr held aloft their shafts with great flat stones sharpened like fishing spear tips.

          A few men and women of Skmooo turned to flee but upon seeing the children behind themselves they turned again to face the Mrrdrrdrr.  Young Dn roared his little voice back at the Mrrdrrdrr.  Yv covered her ears and screamed from tension.

          Suddenly the great Kjk shuddered to a halt still away from shore and the great wing of the Kjk went limp.  There was another roar from the Mrrdrrdrr.  A Drgn (Angel) raised his head on each side of the great Kjk and flared its wings and then dove headfirst into the side of the Kjk.  The Kjk rocked and twisted.  The Mrrdrrdrr could be seen hacking at the two Drgn and quickly the two Drgn were no more.

          Draggl exploded the surface of the water beside the Kjk and snatched a Mrrdrrdrr in his teeth like gutting knives and then flung him into the ocean where he sank at once.  Shafts with great flat stones sharpened like fishing spear tips were flung at Draggl and they struck him and sank into his feathered chest.  Draggl reared back and then dove at the Mrrdrrdrr.  He opened his mouth and exhaled the scalding Drgn breath upon them.  The Mrrdrrdrr shrieked and those who were not fished jumped from the shattered and sinking Kjk.  The escaping Mrrdrrdrr thrashed toward the shoreline.  Other Drgn arose from the cover of ocean and seized Mrrdrrdrr with their teeth like gutting knives and dragged them back into the ocean and below.

          Surviving Mrrdrrdrr emerged onto the hissing pebbles of the beach.  Men and women of Skmooo cried like sea birds and charged down to confront them.  The surf frothed red and the pebbles hissed blood.  A man of Skmooo was cut apart from his left shoulder to his right hip by one blow of a shaft with a great flat stone sharpened like a fishing spear tip.  The man’s mate jumped onto the back of the Mrrdrrdrr and drove a weaving needle into his eye before her life was cut from behind by another Mrrdrrdrr.  That avenging Mrrdrrdrr in turn was brought quickly to his knees from fishing spears in his legs and several women knocked away his shiny head with horns and then pounded his head into the shoreline with stones.

          The children on the grass were jumping and shrieking in horror.  Now a Mrrdrrdrr had come through the gauntlet and was running at the children as he whirled his shaft with the great flat stone sharpened like a fishing spear tip.  He roared and the children froze in terror.  The Mrrdrrdrr came to Yv who was covering her face and he grabbed her and raised his shaft with the great flat stone sharpened like a fishing spear tip.  But before he could make Yv no more a fishing spear struck him in the throat.

          Dn leapt upon the arm that clutched Yv and he gnawed the hand.  When the wounded Mrrdrrdrr released Yv to clutch the fishing spear in his neck and pull it out Dn thrust Yv backwards and planted himself in between her and the Mrrdrrdrr.

          The Mrrdrrdrr raised with both arms his shaft with the great flat stone sharpened like a fishing spear tip.  He began to bring it down upon Dn to split him like fish.  Suddenly their minds were filled with white noise and the Mrrdrrdrr looked aside to see Draggl lowering his face toward him, his black feathered body and wings wet with blood.  The Mrrdrrdrr stumbled sideways as the scalding breath of Draggl consumed him screaming.  Draggl exhaled until the skin of the Mrrdrrdrr’s face turned red to black and then fell away.  The bloody skull grinned at Draggl as if Draggl had fallen into his trap.

fish symbol - draggl.

          Suddenly all the fishing was over and the last Mrrdrrdrr was gutted into strips by the frenzied Skmooo.  Men hissed through their teeth and pulled their own hair, women wailed, and children cried as they joined their clansmen who were no more and their clansmen who were still alive.

          Drgn (Angels) with their snouts rolled their brethren who were no more out beyond the crimson surf.  With their wings raised the surviving Drgn escorted the fallen into the arms of the great northward current, thence to Ooo (Sacred Source of All Life).  The Drgn undulated and sailed back toward the shoreline but only Draggl came ashore.

          Dn and Yv greeted him crying.

          Draggl spoke to all the minds of the surviving Skmooo, but his voice was faint in their weary heads, “We have all broken our Tybooo (Commandments of Ooo, Sacred Source of All Life).  We have all embraced the great Cynooo (Sin).  Ooo speaks to me and I know now the atonement demanded by Ooo.  Drgn (Angels) and Skmooo (Chosen for Ooo) shall never again be of the same mind.”

          The words of Draggl were now like a whisper in the wind of white noise.  Skmooo who could still walk came before Draggl and laid their hands upon him.  Yv and Dn embraced him and buried their faces into his feathers.  Draggl closed his eyes for a long time.  And then they could hear each other no more.

          Draggl turned and lumbered into the surf to join his brethren Drgn.  The Skmooo raised their arms in reverent surrender.  Draggl and his surviving brethren all raised their wings and sailed undulating away eastward of Ndn.

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BRATWURST AND RUMBLEGUTS

mix - crop 1

BRATWURST AND RUMBLEGUTS

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        When I was a wild kitten I was chased by that old pit bull Rumbleguts up into a great pine tree in Aden Park. I didn’t need to climb as high as I did but I was terrified.

        I cried out for days and nights to Saint Francis, afraid to climb down. People left food at the base of the tree to entice me down but I was more afraid than hungry. One of those nights a coyote appeared, saying with his eyes, “Come down little friend, I will catch you.”

        That dawn an old man appeared. The nice old man leaned his face against the tree trunk looking up at me and patted the bark, saying with his mouth, “Come on, come on, you’re keeping me awake every night,” fixing his eyes into mine. It was then as if the way down became horizontal and I was compelled to clutch bark, branch to branch, all the way down to him.

        The nice old man then carried me exhausted to his house near the park.

        He named me Bratwurst.

        Otherwise it was a good situation. My mother had told me to find a human.

        The old man’s neighbor owned the old pit bull Rumbleguts. At first Rumbleguts would get all agitated when I sat on the fence, well out of his reach. He was blind in one eye and he was missing pieces of his face from his fighting days (he would tell me later), and he got himself rescued by our neighbor before they could kill him when he couldn’t fight anymore.

        Humans. Killer Angels.

        My human took me to a veterinarian at the Cornell Feline Health Center for a “routine checkup and shots”. The veterinarian said, “Bratwurst has Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). It is a viral disease of cats caused by certain strains of a virus. Most strains do not cause disease but in a small percent of infected cats (5 to 10 percent), either by a mutation of the virus or by an aberration of the immune response, the infection progresses. With the assistance of the antibodies that are supposed to protect the cat, white blood cells are infected with the virus and these cells then transport the virus throughout the cat’s body. An intense inflammatory reaction occurs around vessels in the tissues where these infected cells locate, often in the abdomen, kidney, or brain. It is this interaction between the body’s own immune system and the virus that is responsible for the disease. The disease is progressive and is almost always fatal. The way clinical FIP develops as an immune-mediated disease is unique, unlike any other viral disease of animals or humans.”

        The veterinarian suggested “putting me to sleep” but I sleep just fine. My human said that as long as I had an appetite he would keep me alive. When would I not have an appetite?

        My mom told me that the lifespan of an outdoors cat was 12 moons so I wasn’t worried. Twelve moons is a long time.

        Then one night I met Katalina, a golden long-hair cat. She was from the next neighborhood. We climbed up into “my” pine tree in Aden Park and we talked all night, talking of our three moons so far and imagining the moons to come.

        At dawn Katrina left, saying that we would meet again someday. Occasionally after that I would think I heard her far away crying to the moon. I might have been dreaming.

        Rumbleguts and I became friends, which was lucky because he could dig under his gate any time he felt like it (that’s how we first “met” when he chased me up that pine tree). We would cruise the neighborhood together. He took me under his tongue. People would point and be amazed and take videos, yet they would always stand aside. Ugly old Rumbleguts was my protection and I was his lost eye and ear and nose.

        One day when we came back to Rumbleguts’ house there was someone at the front door talking to Rumbleguts’ human. When Rumbleguts and I squeezed under the gate into the backyard we saw another human opening a window and trying to climb in.

        Rumbleguts charged and jumped and chomped onto the foot of the intruder human slipping through the open window. The human screamed. Then there was a loud bang. Rumbleguts fell down onto his side and stopped moving. I heard Rumbleguts’ human shouting and the intruder human jumped out the window and ran across the backyard and climbed away over the fence.

        Rumbleguts’ human picked up Rumbleguts and cried out again and again. He put Rumbleguts into the front seat of his automobile and he crashed through the closed gate and he drove screeching away down the street.

        My fur stood on end for a long time.

        Then I was lonely.

        That night I climbed back into “my” pine tree in Aden Park and I sang for poor old Rumbleguts who had first chased me up there.

        It wasn’t the same without Rumbleguts. I had to be a lot more cautious. I spent more nights up in “my” pine tree just watching the stars creep.

        One moon I saw Katalina at the edge of Aden Park. She was coming toward my tree, singing. I joined her song. She was still far from my tree when I saw the coyote emerge from the bushes. My fur stood on edge. How often had he been there? I wanted to run farther up the tree.

        Katalina saw the coyote and began to run to “my” tree. I could see that she wouldn’t make it. Without thinking I leapt from the tree and charged at the coyote, hissing and crying out. The coyote became confused for a moment and stopped and stared at me. Katalina would be almost at the tree now.

        I was jumping and hissing and crying out, a whirling aberration, but the coyote now could see I was a dead cat leaping and he charged at me. I could see Saint Francis as my few moons passed rapidly before my eyes. But then…

        I heard the hoarse bark, the savage growl, and I saw the charging form of a dog startle the coyote. The coyote turned and fled across the park. It was Rumbleguts! Rumbleguts chased the coyote until I saw Rumbleguts halt wheezing and coughing. I looked back at Katalina up in the pine tree and then I dashed toward Rumbleguts in disbelief.

        Rumbleguts was weak and shaking from his exertion. It took me a minute to see that Rumbleguts now had only three legs.

        I rubbed on Rumbleguts wet face. He licked me. Katalina joined us and we stayed with Rumbleguts until he could hobble back to his backyard, where his human had not replaced the shattered gate. We stayed with Rumbleguts there until he fell asleep.

        Rumbleguts got to see my children before he died. That made me happy. I don’t care what the barking dogs say, Rumbleguts was ahead of his time.

        Now my moons are waning. I have become skin and bones but I haven’t lost my appetite yet. I lose my balance sometimes but I still enjoy the sun in the backyard, even if I can’t jump up on the fence anymore or climb “my” pine tree or even dare to venture all the way to Aden Park anymore.

        I died in my sleep, dreaming of Rumbleguts and Katalina, and now we run together in Aden Park where even the coyotes eat only apples.

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THE EDEN REUNION

eden reunion

THE EDEN REUNION

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… a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist,

for something other than the present,

a turning towards the past or towards the future;

not an active discontent or poignant sadness but

an indolent dreaming wistfulness.

–          In Portugal, A. F. G. Bell

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          A young man and a young woman are hiking along a mountain trail when they both see ahead of them a large fallen branch.  The woman is almost upon it when she screams and jumps back, shrieking, “It’s a snake!”

          The man pulls the woman behind himself, saying in awe, “That is the biggest rattle snake I have ever seen!  It looks like a python,” and he quickly looks around for a weapon.

          The woman asks, “What can we do?  She isn’t moving.  She is asleep.”

          The man says, “I’m going to kill it before it wakes up.  Here’s a big rock.”

          The woman asks, “Why are you going to kill her?  Just wake her up and she will move.”

          The man replies, “What if it doesn’t.  What if you had stepped on it?  What if it wakes up and then comes at us?  Besides, that snake could kill somebody else easily.  We’ll be saving someone’s life,” and then he asks, “And why do you call it a ‘she’?”

          They woman is bolder now recovering from her natural shock and she stares, cooing, “She is beautiful, look at her.  Her skin shines like silk,” then adding, “Don’t kill her.  What has she done to us?  A bear could kill us too but we’re not going to kill a bear if we see one, even if we could.”

          The man hesitates, holding the big rock under his chin with both hands and with only the gossamer of the woman’s words staying the execution.

          The woman cries out, “Look!” as the enormous rattle snake awakens suddenly and coils defensively with its gigantic rattle clattering and the woman says to the snake, “Don’t be afraid.  We are not going to hurt you.  We just want to pass by.  Please?”

          The snake seems to judge the situation and quickly departs unraveling into the foliage beside the trail.

          The man mutters half in jest, “Great.  Now she’s going to ambush us down the trail for disturbing her ‘beauty nap’.”

          Fado and his wife Saudade were a young couple on their honeymoon, camping in the mountains of California when the Mount Eden Wildfire erupted in the summer of 2015.

          Fado and Saudade had come to California after Fado’s graduation, under a USA Visa Sponsorship via Saudade’s uncle Rui who lived here.  Uncle Rui had urged them to flee the economic chaos of Portugal.  Fado had an engineering job awaiting him with the construction company owned by Uncle Rui.  Saudade managed a flower shop and loved animals.

          Uncle Rui prodded Saudade like a good uncle, saying, “Be a veterinarian.  Good money.  Or work with the State Wildlife Department.  Good benefits.  Your parents will be proud,” and he would laugh, “Make me look good to your mother, my sister.”

          In the cool morning twilight of that terrible day Fado and Saudade had been alongside the Mount Eden Trail, snuggling in a double sleeping bag.  Fado had awakened slowly, enchanted by the faint aroma of a wood fire, mumbling, “Mmmm.  Who is cooking?”  But then Fado had sat upright in the double sleeping bag, startling Saudade awake, saying to her, “No one is supposed to have a fire here!”  The Park Ranger had warned them; it was a very dry year.

          Fado and Saudade scrambled out of the sleeping bag.  The morning light was veiled by thin brown gauze.  The aroma of the wood fire became bitter.  Their eyes began to sting.  They hastily shoved their camping gear into their packs and helped each other sling the packs onto their shoulders.  Then they stood facing each other.

          Saudade asked, “Should we go up or down?  Where is the fire?”

          Fado retrieved his cell phone.

          “No reception.”

          Saudade looked around, saying, “The smoke seems to be coming from up the trail,” but just then the direction of the smoke changed to the opposite direction.

          Fado said, “The winds can be turbulent up the sides of Mount Eden.  We need a vantage point.”

          Saudade said, “Let’s go back down the trail.”

          Fado considered, “Toward Shadoe Valley?  Well, OK.  We’ll have a view from over Shadoe Gap.”

          The view from Shadoe Gap down into the deep river valley only caused them despair.  Hot gusts of wind were exhorting smoke and fire to charge up from the valley towards them.  Tall pine trees became swords of flame.  There was no choice for Fado and Saudade but to go up the trail and outdistance the oncoming fire.

          Saudade whimpered, “Why is this happening to us?”

          Fado shouldered his courage, saying, “Come on.  We’ll be OK.  Just keep moving,” but Fado thought about accounts he had heard where firefighters were outrun by racing wild fires and died.

          Suddenly a flock of birds fleeing from the valley was upon them.  Fado dropped to his knees and Saudade screamed and cowered.  In flashes they saw crows, a hawk, ducks, a multitude of finches, a woodpecker, and a blurr of other winged creatures.

          Fado cried out, “Jesus, look at that!”

          Saudade screamed again as bats began to dart by.

          Fado grabbed Saudade’s hand, pulled her erect, and strode up the trail into the forest pulling her behind him.  Saudade was stumbling, gasping, crying, “Slow down, I’m falling,”

          As she looked down she saw mice scrambling up the trail.  Saudade noticed that one of the mice had several baby mice clinging to its back.

          She saw toads leaping desperately in the race.

          Fado turned around and quickly raised his hand and blinked as a torrent of small insects streamed past his face.  The forest all around him now seemed to be trembling.  Above the trees from the direction of Shadoe Valley Fado saw a stupendous black cloud rising.  As the cloud encountered the boundaries of the upper mass of air it was spreading and coiling like a snake.

          Fado and Saudade resumed fleeing up the trail that spiraled around the sides of Mount Eden, the only trail in the world as far as they were concerned.  No more animals were passing them.

          Fado cried to Saudade, “We’ve got to get above the tree line.  There is a small lake near the top of Mount Eden.”

          Fado, still yanking Saudade along, noticed a log ahead, yellowed and smooth, lying completely across the trail, both ends hidden in the foliage, and he hollered, “Watch out, we have to step over this!”

          But then the log moved.  It began to slide across the road and Fado instantly rationalized that the log was loosened and sliding down the side of Mount Eden.  But it wasn’t just sliding.  It was slithering!

          Suddenly a woman rose from the foliage nearby and Fado yelled in surprise and Saudade shrieked.  The woman was visible from the waist up, her skin naked and yellowish.  She had sad ethereal green eyes that clutched Fado and Saudade’s frightened gazes.

          Fado shouted, stumbling backwards with Saudade, “Who are you?”

          The woman gently swayed her head and spoke in a breathy voice, “I am Saraf,” and then she said, “Do not be scared,” as she appeared to levitate.  Fado’s eyes saw the truth finally.  It had not been a yellow log after all!  It had been Saraf’s own long serpentine lower body.

          Fado and Saudade fell down to the rocks and dirt in horror, scrabbling backwards, their mouths wide open and trembling.  Saraf arched over them with her serpent’s body.

          Saraf bore a benign, angelic smile as Fado and Saudade continued to stare into her eyes.  Fado and Saudade became calm.  They both stood up.

          Their gaze was unflagging and Fado said to Saudade, “We’re still asleep in the sleeping bag.  This is a dream.”

          Saraf spoke softly, swaying, saying, “Your dream is nearing the end of its journey.  I waited for you.  You have been gone a long time.”

          Fado and Saudade began to feel a vague desire; an indolent dreaming wistfulness.

          Saraf spoke again, saying, “It has been two hundred and twenty-two generations.”

          A tear crept from Saudade’s eye.  Fado struggled to stop his lip from quivering.

          Fado asked softly, “What is happening to us?”

          Saraf breathed, “You are remembering.”

          Saudade asked, “Remembering what?”

          Just then a hot gust of acrid air swept past them.  Saraf broke her gaze upon them and they all three turned to see down the trail embers between the trees.  Fear returned.

          Saraf hissed, “You will die again.  Climb upon my back.  Hurry!”

          And so Fado and Saudade mounted Saraf with a hypnotized reluctance.  Saraf’s torso swung above them and she began to slither up the trail with astonishing speed, her belly making sibilance like steam over the loose gravel of the trail.  Fado and Saudade clung to Saraf’s muscular body.  They could all feel the fire’s breath on their backs.

          Saraf and her two refugees emerged from the forest onto the sparse and rocky dome above the tree line.  Ahead was the little Indigo Lake whereupon appeared to balance the expanse of heaven.

          And the smoke of the great fire was encroaching upon that heaven.

          And all around the shores of Indigo Lake were tired, huddled, and milling creatures.  They all clustered in an unnatural truce before a greater enemy.

          Saraf stopped and Fado and Saudade dismounted and stood staring at the miraculous sight.

          Fado in awe named the animals, “Deer, coyotes, squirrels, marmots, mice, crows, hawks, ducks, finches, woodpeckers, lizards, frogs, and look there, Saudade!” he said pointing to the discreet clouds of flying insects hovering over their portions of the sanctuary.

          Above the peak of Mount Eden Fado noticed in the heavens the massing of seasonal thunder clouds.  He could see them roiling and rising yellowish white on a path to challenge the pillar of black smoke from the wildfire below.

          And then the tree line below the lake began to burn and the wind was increasing.  Showers of embers began to fall among the refugee animals and they fretted.

          Saudade was covering her head, saying, “It’s getting hard to breathe!”

          Fado began to chant, “Wake up!  Wake up!”

          That is when the enormous black bear lumbered over the hill on the opposite shoreline from Fado, Saudade, and Saraf.  It was carrying a limp cub by the scruff in its mouth.  Saudade could see that the cub was dead, its fur burned away in bloody swatches.  The great bear set the dead child upon a bolder and roared at the sight of all of the refugees.

          Saraf coiled and rose erect, calling to the angry bear, “Baribal, do not be foolish.  We all must have the refuge of this lake.”

          The massive body of Baribal shook with grief and rage and then she charged down to banish all of them from the lake.

          Saudade shrieked.  The other animals across the lake tried to move back and they stepped on each other, panicking, some falling into the lake thrashing.

          But before Fado and Saudade realized what was happening, Saraf was on the other lakeshore and gliding like a spear at the great bear Baribal.  Saraf swirled around Baribal as she rose on her hind legs.  Before Baribal could strike she was in Saraf’s coils and she tried to move her great head enough to bite at Saraf.

          There was a crash from the heavens above and the thunderclouds exploded.  A sudden deluge began as Saraf and Baribal rolled down the hill towards the lake.  The lake began to boil from the downpour.  A blinding claw of lightening struck the other side of the peak.  The animals scattered toward the tree line.

          A great wall of steam began to rise from the decimated forest as the wildfire fought in vain against the rain.

          Fado shouted to Saudade, “Come on!  Run!” and he grabbed her arm and dashed down to the tree line, leaping and stumbling over the weathered rocks of Mount Eden’s peak.

          Fado glanced back and the last thing he saw before entering the steaming forest was Saraf and Baribal locked together rolling into the lake.

          How long did Fado and Saudade run stumbling and slipping down the mountain through the smokey haze and the towers of scorched trees black with their pine needles orange?  Fado and Saudade only stopped long enough to tie handkerchiefs around their lower faces so that they could breathe without choking.  The trail was now alive with mud and soot.  The rain charged harder into the earth and the earth roared.

          The team of fire fighters and Park Rangers found Fado and Saudade huddled unconscious in an ash covered meadow, beneath a plastic rain tarp.  They had awakened delirious and babbling.

          The medics were incredulous, asking over and over again of a befuddled Fado and Saudade, “How did you survive?”

          Fado and Saudade in oxygen masks were coughing black sputum.  Fado choked, recalling, “We made it to the top of Mount Eden,” and Saudade wheezed, “We came down in the rain.”

          What else could they say?

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IMPERFECT PEBBLES

imperfect pebbles

IMPERFECT PEBBLES

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          I am Old Medicine and I have come to this mountain creek in the white of winter to settle my death.

          This creek yet flows through the frozen tears of the Great Spirit.  In the throat of this flowing creek I see many pebbles colored with the memories of sunlight.  I reach into this yet living water but the cold makes my hand turn very heavy, reminding me, stroking my hand, reminding me.  One by one I borrow pebbles to make a beautiful arrangement on behalf of my death.

          Great Spirit, how could I possibly have added to your sovereign purpose?  How can I possibly honor you now except to kiss the life that was never mine and return it gracefully?  What other arrangement do I have time to understand as an old man?

          I am old and frozen with lies.  I now need freedom.

          These pebbles are imperfect and that is their beauty and I arrange them in the symbols taught to me long ago by my mother and never forgotten.

          Still, I am not finished arranging my pebbles when the child of my death appears to me.  He reaches for my cold fingers…

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        FUCK!! AND NOW HE FUCKING TRIPS AND FALLS FACE DOWN IN THE SNOW.  GOD DAMN IT!

        CUT!

        GOD DAMN IT, GREAT SPIRIT LIFE INSURANCE, TAKE THREE!

great spirit life insurance

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THE LAST SONGBIRD

the last songbird

THE LAST SONGBIRD

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          Bless you for stopping to give me a ride.  It will only be a few miles.  I am Akasha Tubourn, a doctoral student in the university Department of Environmental Conservation.

          Please, I must tell you an amazing story about a songbird.  Yes, a songbird.  I will tell you why I am agitated, if you will just listen.  I call her Shaherazad.  What?  What was her real name?  Why do you ask… yes, yes, you are joking with me?  But I tell you I just knew that was how her spirit was called.  Listen to me.

          I have been working for years documenting the land management needs of nearby woodlands, especially an area I discovered that was amazingly rich in songbird activity.  I was an intern for the Fairbanks Development Company while working on my thesis but I swear I thought that I could do good things protecting the woodlands from within such a caring company.  They asked for me after all.  But it was the belly of an insatiable leviathan I am ashamed to say now.  I was (how do you say it?) I was just a red herring.

          Yes, yes, I am the “ungrateful agitator” you have seen on television.  They say I blow whistles.  I do not understand that insult.  Is that like a “blow job”?  Never mind.  But you do understand then that Fairbanks wants to develop those woodlands completely.  They think that a golf-course will replace the meadow and shrub lands.  I organized a rebellion (no, what is the proper word?), a moral defense by students and environmentalists to halt the slaughter, yes, slaughter.  Slaughter of Shaherazad’s queendom.

          Shaherazad had not yet come to me when I organized the resistance to the development.  We were joined by dozens of faithful who constructed a perimeter, a necessary evil against the bulldozers, and we were trying not to damage the woods by our very numbers.  The college was threatening to expel me; Fairbanks had lodged formal protest with the Dean.  After all, I am just a foreign student!  The media made me appear like I ate locusts and honey and like I was against employment, your new graven image believe me.  I was losing faith.  I became fearful as one does without faith.

          Only the bad publicity for Fairbanks from sympathetic reporters really kept the machines at bay, not any symbolic barricade.  But the public sympathy was shadowed by the vultures of unemployment that circle over you.  Yes, good joke, my friend: songbirds and vultures.

          Then she came to me one evening as I prayed on the barricade.  I heard her beautiful song, sweet and delicate but with the haunting sadness of a dove’s coo.  I turned.  I just knew it was a female.  She resembled a golden male Warbler, with amber streaks and swirls, but she was not.  It struck me how colorfully marked she was for a female songbird.  She turned her head.  That is when the name Shaherazad occurred to me!

          For some reason I just held out my hand.  She fluttered to my fingers and held on, fearless.  I cannot tell you how astonished I was at this.  I felt like I was dreaming but I had no reason to awaken.  I was compelled to raise her close to my face.  Her eyes were like two fiery emerald tear-drops.  It was as if she controlled my hand and I brought her to my lips.  I swear to you, she gently stitched my lips with pecks that I felt were kisses.

          Yes, go ahead, look at me that way.  But why would I sacrifice myself to such a lie?  Can you understand me, before God, I felt… Love.  Love commanding me from that tiny, gentle creature.  How can we kill anything that sings?  Would that not be even a savage’s first act of grace?

          I am sorry, I am agitated.  You have not heard yet what happened.

          Some drunken men who had been out of work for several years got together and they went and set fire to those woods.  They are blaming us.  They set fires in so many places.  The firemen said they could only contain the perimeter as it burned.  How convenient, yes?  Our barricade of rebellion kept the fire inside.  I cannot believe them.  Fairbanks must have controlled them all.  Yes, I believe that.  They are a big, fucking, employer aren’t they?  Now they want to arrest me!

          Of course I am crying, my whole world is burning.  Wait!  This is it.  Yes, the Fairbanks Development Company.  Stop and let me out here.  You have been very kind and patient with me, bless you.  You will be in no trouble.

          I mean that I tell no one you helped me.  Forgive my laugh.  Yes, that was funny for me to say.

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In a horrifying act of environmental terrorism, the Fairbanks Development Company was severely damaged when a young woman walked into the main lobby and detonated a home-made bomb that she was wearing.  Apparently, the bomb had been packed with feathers as a symbol of environmental issues.

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SPESHUL OLYMPICS

speshul olympics

SPESHUL OLYMPICS

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        Josef strode behind Rosemary (Roz) and spread his arms saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  You know I love you, but Life is not the Special Olympics, Roz.  Not everyone is a winner.  The intellectually challenged don’t always get that kind of support.”

        Roz stopped and replied with steel, “The Special Olympics proves how we could be.  But when I finally leave you, maybe you should start the Special Dating Olympics for the relationship challenged?”

        Josef blew a puff of exasperation and lowered his arms around Roz’s waist and sighed, “I just don’t want your …our son to become a performing monkey.”

        Without turning around Roz laid her hands upon Josef’s clasped hands, saying softly, “I know.”

        Josef owned a small lumber business.  Roz had come to him asking for a job.  Josef could not afford another full-time employee even though he really had needed a receptionist secretary and even as Roz was pleading herself, Josef remembered his scripture: Do you know what the costs of a new hire are?  Forty percent on top of their wages with federal and state taxes, health insurance, workman’s compensation, paid time off...

        But Roz was sweet and radiant and pregnant and alone.  Josef was sour and cloudy and insignificant and alone.  Josef felt gracious looking at Roz.  He thought to himself I have paid more for less value…

        Josef hired Roz.  Josef still had the big home in San Clemente up on the hill overlooking the ocean, even if he could no longer afford it.  A bitter divorce had been no reason to leave.  There was a guest house and a pool and a big lawn and garden.  Josef offered to let Roz stay in the guest house, saying, “You don’t have to pay me rent… until you are able… under the circumstances… no strangers… no noise… we can ride in to work together…”

        Josef had hired Roz giving her immediate full benefits from Stellar Cross Health Insurance, knowing her child would come soon.  The child came a boy, Joshua, who was born deformed, shaped like a barrel and with oversized feet and hands that fidgeted constantly.  “Dysmorphic,” the doctor had explained benignly, “but physically healthy … very strong…”

        Roz prompted the inevitable, nodding and asking, “And?”

        The doctor said quickly, “There can be… in these cases… intellectual disabilities.”

        Roz heard herself ask, “He’s retarded?”

        The doctor gratefully parsed Political Correctness, “The American Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disability no longer favors or promotes that expression, as the term “retarded” carries significant social and emotional stigma.”

        Roz was resilient and said, “Now I think you are retarded.” The news was bitter herbs to Josef who had talked Roz into the name Joshua, extolling, “Yehoshu’a, Joshua, ‘God is salvation’, the leader of the Israelites after Mosheh, Moses…”

        Josef took it personally.  It proved again to him that there really was a God… tormenting him, testing him like Iyov, Job, whom Josef considered the most significant man in Judeo-Christian history.

        Joshua, son of Rosmary, as prophesized, was intellectually disabled.  He was marginally socially interactive, yet he responded adequately to Roz and Josef.

        Joshua did however spend a lot of time talking to an imaginary friend.

        Yet Joshua was an astonishing physical genius.  His oversized, fidgety hands and feet had comprehensions of their own.  As a toddler he started one day by shocking Josef and Roz as he climbed up the draperies and happily hung there.  He next climbed up on top of the refrigerator and sat there giggling at his nonplussed mother.

        Then one summer day, watching the Olympics on television with Roz and Josef, the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics came on with the Uneven Bars event.  Joshua ceased his bounding and climbing on the furniture and fell before the wide-screen television as if it were a burning bush and listened and he saw before him entire routines flowing from one movement to the next without pauses, high-flying release moves from low bar to high bar, from high bar to low bar, or releasing one bar and re-grasping the same bar, pirouetting into handstand positions with straight body lines in the vertical position, and release moves twisting and flipping into dismounts in perfect form and stuck landings.

        Joshua then alarmed Roz and Josef by being quiet and calm for the next seven minutes.  He had withdrawn to a mountaintop in his mind.  When Joshua’s spirit reemerged he said, “I want to be like that.”

        Josef answered, “But those are girls…”

        Roz quickly intervened, “So what, Josef?  You can buy some uneven bars, can’t you?”

        Josef quickly amended, “Sure.  I can have some made with scrap lumber…”

        Roz continued with Joshua, “You can be just like that.  I bet you can be even better than that!”

        Unto Roz then was revealed a vision, and Roz said, “Joshua, you can be the hit of the Special Olympics!  You could be on television.  Oh, Josef, television, wouldn’t that be miraculous for Joshua?”

        Josef then started the argument by saying to Roz, “Is that really such a good idea?  I mean, he can have uneven bars to play on, but should we subject him to the kind of pressure you just described?”

        Roz shot coldly, “Are you ashamed of Joshua?  Are you?  You can’t hide him here forever.  No!  Joshua and I can leave anytime!”

        Josef spoke up and instantly regretted saying, “Roz, sometimes you can be intellectually deficient,” as Roz immediately stood erect and proceeded toward the big sliding glass door and the guest house beyond as she had so many times, saying coldly, “Come with me Joshua.  We’re packing.”

        Josef strode behind Roz and spread his arms saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  You know I love you.  I love you both, but Life is not the Special Olympics, Roz.  Not everyone is a winner.  The intellectually challenged don’t always get that kind of support.”

        Roz stopped and replied with steel, “The Special Olympics proves how we could be.  But when I finally leave you, maybe you should start the Special Dating Olympics for the relationship challenged?”

        Josef blew a puff of exasperation and lowered his arms around Roz’s waist and sighed, “I am sorry.  I just don’t want our …your son to become a performing monkey.”

        Without turning around, Roz laid her hands upon Josef’s clasped hands, saying softly, “I know.”

        Josef had the two uneven bars built of the finest materials.  But it was very soon not enough.  Joshua explored the moves he had seen on television and which he had memorized instantly, and then he created his own moves literally “on the fly”.  Joshua had his own conceptual abilities and he asked Josef to extrapolate a third, a fourth, then a fifth uneven bar all at different heights and angles.  Joshua slung himself up, down, up, down, and orbited around all five uneven bars as if he breathed gravity.

        Even Josef could not deny, saying, “Maybe we should start with the Special Olympics.  Truly this is miraculous.”

        Joshua was so startling via his audition performance video that the Special Olympics Committee created a Men’s Artistic Gymnastics event just for him.  Josef financed the building of Joshua’s latest vision of a towering pyramidal scaffold of uneven bars.  Representatives from the major television networks were alerted.  Scouts from major sponsors took cell phone videos for their incredulous bosses.  Josef saw immediately that if he controlled this circus correctly, Joshua would be their salvation, saying, “Sky’s the limit.”

        Roz jokingly called Josef “Colonel Josef” and Josef jokingly called Joshua “Elvishua”.

        By the time of the Special Olympics Joshua’s tower of uneven bars was 40 feet high.  It was difficult not to make Joshua the poster-child for the Special Olympics that year.  The publicity was unprecedented.

        On the day of the event the crowd was twice as massive as usual.  There were the usual Special Events in Aquatics, Athletics, Basketball, Golf, and Gymnastics, but this time there was Joshua.  No one was more nervous than Josef, who wore a brightly colored jacket with the logo “Team Joshua” emblazoned over the heart and on the back.  Roz was looking around, fulfilled in her own prophesy no matter what happened.  Joshua was unresponsive to the cries of all the strangers in this strange congregation.

        Joshua was absorbed speaking in earnest to his invisible friend.

        When it was Joshua’s time a thousand tongues rolled like drums.  Joshua anointed his palms with powder of chalk.  He flexed and cracked his joints, then he suddenly leapt to the first uneven bar, causing the crowd to gasp.  Flowing from one movement to the next without pauses, conjuring high-flying release moves from low bar to high bar, from high bar to low bar, releasing and re-grasping the same bar, pirouetting into handstand positions, then twisting and flipping, rising higher, higher, higher, faster, faster, faster.  The crowd became frenzied.  They chanted Joshua higher and yet higher.

        With a crescendo like fireworks Joshua reached the highest bar of the pyramid and arrived at a handstand position wavering like a flame and the crowd screamed and jumped up and down and hugged one another.  Roz and Joseph held each other and cried.  Roz let Joseph kiss her deeply.

        Suddenly there were yells from the crowd.  Joshua had started to spin on that ultimate bar again, faster and faster, and suddenly he let go with one final swing, his feet kicking toward the heavens.

        Joshua spun up and away out of sight, up into thinnest blue sky and out of the crowd’s perception.

        The stunned crowd began to stir again, some hollering, “Fake!” some crying, “He will be back!” some saying, “Good show!”

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        As your own invisible friend, I recommend that you get ready for your next event.

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