Chapter 2: In media res

There isn’t a beginning for us to start at, so wait patiently with me for however many months to pass and turn into the right years gone wrong, the ones your mother warned you about, they don’t bear counting, so don’t bother asking, until-
-and though Emma did not believe in superstition or signs or even, particularly, in the strange foreshadowing that had followed her all her life, the brilliant black eyes flashing down at her, the weight on her chest, was undeniable and awake as the room around her.  And you, closet, and you floor, are you awake too?  And if you are, can any living thing sleep through these jubilant witching hours?  Emma would later allow that the question warranted a slew of well considered answers, but the moment and the cold push of a wet nose against her chin called for more decisive and immediate action.  She yipped-a noise unfamiliar to her ears, but that her vocal chords knew the precise timber and frequency for, as if they had been training and waiting their entire lives to get that call, now boys, now’s your time. Something sharp tore through her nightgown, found skin and ripped hard to the right with the weight, propelling as hard as it was holding fast.  Mike bolted upright next to her, “Jesus, what? Who, what’s happen-“
Emma threw her arm up and out, an instinct more than an action, and the suspicious black lump flew across the room and hit the wall, hard.
“What the fuck, Mike?”, she said, sitting up and clutching at the bleeding welts she at last had time and presence enough to feel.  The pain was sharp, but less oppressive than the heavy fear that muddied her fight, flight, stay put senses into a frenzy of kinetic stasis, a constant shaking that threatened to vibrate her over the edge of the bed.
Mike fumbled through the dark.  Sleep weighed a cool, seductive gravity in his eyelids, his night vision more myth than reality.  The righteous sleep like the dead, Emma thought wryly, with similar utility and practical function.  She snapped on the lamp beside her and let her eyes adjust to the bitter burn, 40 watts of illumination when all you want is ignorance.  But bliss is for the young, and I am not so young anymore, she thought, resting her hand over her kicking stomach.  Oh good.  At least we’re all awake now.
Mike had grabbed a paperback copy of “Cat’s Cradle”, held in the defensive posture of confused desperation recognized and acknowledged since time memorial.  “What’s happenin-oh Jesus, what happened to you?  Are you ok?”
Emma rolled her eyes, and found with some minor key relief that she was still able to register irritation, even in that heightened, troubled state.  Oh, these small favors, she thought, as Elise kicked staccato and arrhythmic against her kidneys, a fiendish jazz musician manically determined to reduce her mother, already close enough to pissing herself from fear, into a sopping, salty mess.  What a time to have to pee, she thought, and almost, instinctively stood up to race for the bathroom.  A fat drop of blood hit her hand before she could feel the cold of the hard wood against the soles of her feet.
“Yeah, I’m great”, she said, raising an eyebrow.
“What did that to you?”
“I don’t know, there was something on me.”
“Something on you?”
“Yes!  Please find it!”
“What is it though?”
“I don’t know what it is, Michael, other than still in this room.”
“It could have run awa-“
“It did NOT RUN AWAY.”
She gestured emphatically towards the corner, where a black mass trembled in the shadows.
“It must be a raccoon.  Or a squirrel.”
Emma sighed.  “I don’t care what it is, get it out. Please.”
“What if it bites me?”
Emma gestured to her chest, knicked and torn, an oozing, bloody mess.  “Sorry, but you lose this coin toss.”
Mike sighed.  “Maybe we should call animal control.”
Emma’s enthusiasm for sharing the room with her attacker was waning in exponential degrees and sweeps, and as appealing as waiting to see if an entirely unpredictable and unstable compound would rise felt, she grabbed Mike’s arm.  “Just shoe it out.  Please.”
Despite being well equipped at all times with rational arguments and a litigators passion for pedantic speechifying , the “please’ broke through Mike’s carefully achieved stillness.  He stood slowly and crept towards the corner.  The creature had secreted itself into the angle, obtuse and welcoming, created by the open door and the wall and as Mike approached, it pushed itself deeper into the vertex, softly sealing the room, and spilling light over it’s small body and revealing it’s true form…
A puppy.
Trembling and matted, covered in mud that flaked crisply onto their floors, the autumn of all discontents given over to ennui and fear.
Mike looked at her.  “This is what attacked you?”
Emma pushed herself further up the head board.  “He could be rabid.  Look at him, he’s filthy!”
But she felt herself soften; he and not it, now.  He, a frightened thing, reacting to fear.  He, slowly coming further into the light to gently nose at Mike’s lowered hand, then to nuzzle softly into it.  He, who had been resting on her chest, and had mirrored her own fear back to her.
“He can’t stay here, Mike.”
Mike rubbed his floppy ears and said “What do you propose we do with him?  It’s 2 in the morning.”
“Yeah, and by the way, how did he get in here in the first place?”
Mike shrugged.  “We were painting earlier.  We must have left a window open.”
Emma had, since the beginning of her courtship with Mike, experienced brief but intense moments where she knew with an unspeakable and unnamable clarity that she was a stranger to him, an alien being wearing the skin and sighs and speech of someone familiar, someone he believed he knew beyond the pale, but who was, instead, something of a reverse hermit crab; the shell remained for different versions of Emma to pass through and inhabit as she grew and evolved.
There was no other explanation as to why he would ever suggest she would go to bed with a window still open.
But even exhausted, frightened, absolutely hemorrhaging with urine, she bit down on the impulse to loose the poison from her tongue to remind him that while HE may leave windows open all night in October, she sure as hell didn’t.
Temperance, she thought.  Temperance and calm.
“The windows weren’t open.  He must have gotten in some…”
She swallowed the other way well before it crossed her tongue, already too late, and swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, arose a murderer, stepping gingerly over the ashen corpse of sleep, rest in peace, resting in peace, long live awake and chaotic, awake and rampant, awake and a jangled, blasting, barrel of nerves.
Who needs sleep anyway?
Well, Mike did, of course and obviously, yawning his arms into cartoon windmills, his jaw unhinged, can you even imagine being this sleepy?
Emma sighed, measuring steps in regret and mistakes and memories of the times that she didn’t but should have and vice versa, stretching back to the womb and maybe earlier, to being an egg, to being a moment of passion in the backseat of a car, an adored unplanned for dribble out between her mother’s thighs, and she made it all the way up to petting the Emerson’s dog, the one with the reputation for biting little girls, before she glanced out the window and caught the first glimpse of the woman.
“Well, shit….” She said, and Mike made his way over to her with far less urgency than she felt the night had in general warranted, a no, nothing particularly out of the ordinary has happened here tonight, why do you ask, kind of pace.
The negative had begun to fade by the time he reached her side, but the outline was still there, a slim, strangely angled creature with twilight hair that suggested the kind of itchy dying finger that got activated at the earliest hint of internal crisis.  She was shuffling clumsily into the dark, looking nowhere near the window Emma and Mike currently peered through, but waving, slowly, fondly.
Mike furrowed his brow.  “Should we call the cops?”
Emma shrugged.  “I’m not certain, but I don’t think that standing on the street at 2 in the morning is a crime, no matter how weird it is.”
“So no on the cops?”
“Let’s go with no.”
A cold, moist nose pushed into Emma’s hand, and she felt the crumbling dust of a dirty muzzle crumble against her palm.
“This animal is filthy.” She said, not particularly to Mike, just to the night, to the assembled presence of the room now 3 and a half, only two who understood, but 4 who listened.  A declaration with no realized intent behind it, though the pregnant and itching hope that perhaps her husband, seeing the distress his exhausted wife was in, would chuck her chin, say “sure, toots, I’ll wash that critter”, and get down to it.  It was idle, and based in no real sense of opportunity or chance; Mike was already crawling back under the covers and nestling into a cozy little ball.
“You’re going to sleep?”, Emma said, but the question mark was a courtesy, a tip of the head to the idea of asking, pit against the reality of her husband’s eyes, already heavier than they had any right to be.
“Hmmm….if we’re not calling the cops….”
“How can you sleep right now?”
A spirited kick tremored agreement throughout Emma’s entire ribcage, and she patted her ambitious bump, a kung fu master already and not even out of the womb yet.  She may not have appreciated the vibrations in that precise moment, but the affirmation of a tiny foot-a tiny foot that she created, that she was housing and protecting and growing with only the resources her own body provided-helped mitigate the cold, metallic taste the strange events of the evening set bubbling in the back of her throat and coursing disease and uncertainty through her veins.  She was not alone, not in this world, not in this house, not in this body.
Mike pulled the covers back on her side of the bed.  “What would you have us do instead?  You said you don’t want to call the police…”
“No, I don’t want to call the police.  But you could stay up with me.  Keep me company while I figure out what to do with this ridiculous critter…”
A deep, cavernous sigh, hard wind rushing through an abandoned coal mine, and Mike slowly threw the blankets off.
Allies are born through the dullest of circumstances, and plop, plop, plop, the pup padded over to Emma and nuzzled close against her leg.  She absently reached down and ruffled its fur, only to immediately recall the mysterious stiffness, and the abundant whats and whys that she wasn’t entirely sure she was prepared to consider that evening.  He was right, though, of course….
“No, never mind.”
“I’m getting up.”
“No, I don’t want to have to force you to.”
“No, I want to.”
But the room was becoming suffocating; the musty smell of dog and three quarter truths rendered acidic and ruinous was more than Emma’s stomach could stand.  She held up her hand and said “go back to bed.  I’m going to clean this dog.  We’ll talk about this in the morning.”
Mike gave her one final, perfunctory “are you certain?” look, and at least waited till the final decline of the nod before he fell backwards into the bed.
“It’s not always like this”, Emma said, leading the wriggling dog into the bathroom.  She ran warm water, filled the tub halfway and considered briefly how important it was to use pet specific shampoos on animals.  The question was moot;  and anyway, she thought wryly, the line of demarcation between men’s shampoo and dog’s couldn’t be that great.
“Alright, buddy.  Let’s get you into the water.”
He put up little resistance, eagerly pressed into her hands, starved for touch.  The water was pleasantly warm, and though Emma did not actively know the general canine party line on hot water, she made it a temperature she herself would find pleasant and hoped for the best.
A predicted cloud of filth spread oil slick rapid through the water, and Emma sighed, leaning into the promise of an arduous task and a long night, rest your thumbs, I’ve got this one, and began to run her fingers through the thick, matted fur.
The water turned brown, then black, then opaque, and she refilled the tub 3 times, before the muck and murk subsided, and the brown turned to a stale, rusted red that bloomed slowly into an anemic pink.
Emma sat perched precariously on the side of the tub, the mutt staring at her with his tongue lolling happily out of his mouth, licking at the tender fingertips that had provided such nice scratches and rubs.  The first, she was beginning to realize, in quite some time.
Little friend, she thought, where have you been?

Gin and Juice

More lonesome dispatches, delivered with love and longing, or some of one and none of the other, or perhaps the other way around, who can really say these days, straight from my office.  And of course, of course, one could easily get tangled in the intricacies of whether or not a better than half empty diner really constitutes an office, but that strikes me as a rather petty waste of time, and I admit, I’ve perhaps taked a little too much whimsy with my orange juice and clear liquors (I’ve switched to clear liquors willingly, the orange juice, a little less so.  I’ve heard rumors about vitamin C, but I often question if it’s really worth it.)
But Monsterman and I started the morning singing, so even though everything’s the same, it feels a little better.  It’s not, but it feels that way.
Liam knocked in the middle of verse two of “Chateau Lobby #4”.  He’s been tutoring Monsterman, firm in his belief that my propensity for colorful but good-natured (but as often, not) obscenities, and naturally misanthropic disposition might not turn out the most well-adjusted Monsterman.  Much better he have the spiritual guidance of a very mysterious, cryptic fallen Priest, whose decision making can be labelled “questionable” at best.  I mean, have you seen that guy’s friends?  What am I saying.  Of course you have.   But now I might be making his case for him.
Anyway, Liam, destined to be the angel on some shoulder more willing than mine, knocked once and let himself in.  This was our absurdly agreed upon method-founded in the belief that if I were to be, say, in a state of undress, I’d have some warning about his arrival.  But really, who can go from zero to clothed in one knock?  No one moves that fast.  I have yet to parse whether or not this system-once ratified-has remained unchallenged more because he hopes to see, or because I hope to be seen.  Practically, probably some slight fusion of the two. But since I have authorial dictatorship, and he the measly magics of an editor, I’ll say it’s him.  ALL HIM.
Luckily, I was mixing our morning cocktails while Monsterman and I attempted to rediscover his A’s through song-interesting, the things you don’t anticipate losing through resurrection…you anticipate some less, perhaps a sense of self, memory, but never vowels.  And yet.  While elements of the aforementioned have been fractured and sacrificed, it is, at the moment, the letter A I believe he misses the most.
Liam opened the door, and upon seeing my cocktail shaker immediately assumed the mantel of righteous indignation-how lovely it falls on you, my pretty thing, and for a moment I’m blinded, in a way I confess is not completely dissimilar to how Oliver still blinds my minds eye.  Of course, then he opened his mouth.
“Hey!  Hey, are you feeding that guy alcohol?”
“Think about what you just said.  Want to ask it again?”
“In a different way, perhaps.”
“A less stupid way, I mean…”
“No, I know what you mean…”
Monsterman cleared his throat.  “I cun”-quick note, a’s have been replaced by the “uh” sound a u makes.  This might be relevant in some later capacity, and will definitely be useful for purpose of understanding what the damn hell I’m writing.  “huve ulcuhol. I’m un udult.”
He looked to me quickly.  He hadn’t said “right?”, but I understood the question, and nodded.
“You’re alot like an adult.”
“But not?”
“That gets into a tricky sort of-”
Liam threw up his hands.  “Yes.  You’re an adult.  You’re an adult, ignore her.”
“Oh c’mon, that’s not very good co-parenting…”
Monsterman’s eyes widened instantly and immensely.  He pointed his index finger rapidly between us.  “Purents?  Whut ubout Hershel?”
Hershel has, OF COURSE, been telling this poor, baffled Frankenman that he is his father.  I mean, of course he is.  Would you ever doubt it?
“That jackass is not your father either.”
Monsterman, a truly quick study, has been mimicking my facial expressions with some success since the awakening.  However, owing the the state of…let’s call it “disrepair” certain chunks of his flesh have fallen to, some have proven more difficult than others.  And so it was that when he went to execute the Karen-patented whatchu talkin’ bout eyebrow raise, it was only through intervention of his bony fingers that he pulled it off.  But the point was made.
Liam sighed.  “Sorry.  You’re taking us too literal, and Karen’s an ass who doesn’t think before she speaks.”
I wanted to fight him, but he was a little too right.
“Nobody you’ve met yet is a parent to you.  And we definitely should not be viewed as such.  We’re your friends and at very best your teachers.  Though I strongly recommend you learn as little as possible from Karen.”
“That’s not very sporting, Father.”
He cringed.  It’s a fun game to call him “Father” when I’m angry at him.  Fun for everyone, really….but especially and mostly for me.
“Could we get back to the question of why either of you are drinking booze at this hour of the morning?”
“Which hour would you prefer?”
“Not the morning!”
“Why not?”  Monsterman.  Always has my back.
“Great question, Monsterman!  Why not?”
“You’ve gotta stop calling him that…”
“It’s his NAME….”
“It is not…”
“I like Monstermun.”
“See?  He LIKES it….”
“Whut’s my reul nume?”
“Oh, it’s a doozy-”
“Don’t tell him that-”
“A real stinker.”
Pointer finger to the eyebrow.  My padawan learns well.
“How bud is it?”
” You want to tell him?
Liam shuffled uncomfortably.  “Alright.  It’s, uh…it’s pretty bad.  It’s….Hiddlestein.”
Monsterman’s hand dropped.  “It’s whut?”
“Agreed.  So say we all.”
Liam smiled.  He clearly had just, in one fell swoop, figured out a way to outflank me.
“Why don’t you pick your own name?  Clean slate.”
Monsterman smiled a little.  “Thut could be good.”
I handed him his wake me up gin and orange juice.  Tricksy priest won a battle but lost the war, so take that, I hope you’re reading it, Father, and really choking on it.
“Very well!  Off to work I go!”
And I did, with a thermos full of eye opening, Vitamin C providing wake-me-up.

I wonder what he’ll choose…

Back to Black

Ok, so….
Here I am.  Here we are.  There you are.  And I am generally speaking, glad we’ve gotten that out of the way.  Let’s move on, put it behind us, let us never. speak. of. it. again.
And yet…I sense some resistance.  We’ll come back to that.
Let us instead establish what a here is, it’s approximate geographic location, where ever you are on a map it’s here.  And yes, there’s a lot of ground I’ve failed to cover, there’s a lot missing.
But there’s always going to be something missing, don’t you think?  Of course you do.
But I have a story to tell you, something that happened today.  And why today?  Look, I’ve been busy, ok?  Better late than never, right?  And honestly, how much changes?
So anyway, I was in a restful, deep hibernation this morning, cat asleep across my face, which is no way to be awoken by a knock on the door, but is the exact condition I was in when I was, in fact, awoken by a knock on the door.
I checked the clock, foolishly assuming that it was a reasonable time, because, well, I’m an ok person, I’m alright, and it doesn’t seem impractical to assume that some dictate of civility will prevent people from knocking at my door at a sub-reasonable time.
Buuut, then again….I should know better by now, shouldn’t I?
And so, of course, it was 5 in the morning, which I think we can all agree isn’t even really morning, it’s some witching, wanting hour, not night, not day, just confusion and chaos.  Boo to it, and a pox, I say.
Of course, there is only one kind of malcontent so villainous, so diabolical and so utterly without fear, that they would dare knock on my door at the trembling, ruinous hour of 5 in the a.m.
A teenager.
Of course.
I knew it, without rising, without moving, the monster on the other side of my threshold was a horned up adolescent.  The worst thing in the world.  And I have seen some things.  And realizing that if you feed that beast, it will gnaw on your bones till it’s reached the marrow inside, I knew that some distinctive action was necessary.
So I commenced ignoring it.
Unfortunately, it is difficult, nigh on impossible, to truly ignore almost anything when you live in an apartment with a big, writhing pile of Hell hounds, awoken from their sleep to remember that hey, they’re starving, and wait a second, shouldn’t that sleeping female human be feeding them, because of course, of course, of course she should!  Fortunately, this is not my first rodeo, and in preparation for such a scenario, I always keep Huckleberry friendly snacks by my bed…the easy translation oh which is literally anything they can chew.  Or swallow whole.  Either way.  Which is pretty much everything.   This morning, it was a bag full of Herschel’s old sweat socks, and the Hucks tore into them like they were gourmet.  I had bought myself some time.
Unfortunately, the currency of sweat socks doesn’t spend too far or wide, so while the hounds were chewing and the teenager was knocking, Monsterman ambled over.
Oh right.  He’s awake now.  Did I not mention that?
We’ll revisit that later.
I squeezed my eyes shut as tightly as I could, but I heard his bones creaking towards me, and his careful, measured breaths.  This poor guy…this poor fool.
He cleared his throat, and said, tentatively, still so tentatively; “Door.”
I nodded, but kept my eyes shut.  He reached down and pulled the lids open with his boney fingers, and I immediately snapped them shut again.
And then he outsmarted me.  I suppose it was inevitable, the pupil would outmatch the master, and whomp, with the oldest trick in the book.  He held my nose.  Just put the old lobster pinch on my nostrils.  Not cool, Monsterman.  Not cool.
Anyway, he forced my hand, so I stumbled out of bed with grace and aplomb, gracefully calling him a son of a bitch.  He only shrugged, but his half-smile was indication enough that he was learning, fast.  Maybe too fast…
So I opened the door, and of course it was her, Emily, acting as if it weren’t 5 o’clock in the damn morning, and why shouldn’t she be at my doorstep.
I pushed a hand as much through my hair as the state of early morning decay would allow it to go.
“What.  What do you want.”
I refused to make it a question-that was a greater courtesy than I was prepared to give.
She squirmed uneasily, and waved at Monsterman.
“Can I come in?”
“You cannot, little vampire.  No.  Absolutely not. What do you want?”
She fidgeted a little in her pocket, and pulled something out.  A small box, wrapped in shiny paper.
“For me?  Well, shucks, I didn’t get you anything.”
I suppose it’s cruel to torment her thus, but ever since Monsterman woke up, she’s been a real pain in my balls.  Lurking around outside like a little creeper….throwing rocks at my window…Usually, when she is outside, or around, Monsterman hides where ever he can.  She has frightened my monster.
At this particular moment, this one we’re dropping in on, unannounced, but quite casually, he is beneath a happy pack of Hell Hounds. They smoosh him flat as quickly with love as with their absurd, jiggling bellies.  Some protectors, I tell you, some beasts!
“It’s uh…it’s for him.”
“Uh-huh, I knew that.  I was being an asshole.  I’ll give it to him.”
“Don’t you want to know why?”
“I really and truly don’t.”
Which I thought was a great exit line, but the kid was just standing there and looking pathetic, and let’s face it, I’m nothing if not a big softy at heart…so I sighed.
“Tell me anyway.”
She smiled, and I worried that she would always spend her life waiting for someone to ask her to do the thing that would make her happy.  I wanted to tell her then…precious few will take that initiative.
But that’s not my problem.
“It’s his birthday.”
“Who’s birthday?”
She nodded her head in towards the man shaped pile of dogs.  “His.”
“Which part of him?”
“No, no, not like that.  You know, it’s…um…it’s Loki’s birthday.”
“Loki’s not a thing.  Loki’s not real.  If he were real, his nose would not be made of play-doh and he wouldn’t smell like formaldehyde and disappointment.  But frankly, all that is moot, because Loki is a fictional character.”
She glanced at her feet, our wounded little bird and said “You know what I mean.”
“I do know what you mean, but you need to make a series of distinctions here. First and foremost, between an actor and the character he plays.  And that shouldn’t be that hard, for Christ’s sake, the motherfucker’s inexplicably British…don’t you find that weird?  Problematic?  A Norse god is British?  But putting that aside, even if somehow Johnny British and Loki, the entirely fictional god of mischief, were one in the same, they are not also my Monsterman.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter.  Remind me to tell you about the False Dmitri’s someday, you’ll see how much it matters.”
“You could tell me now.”
“But I won’t.  Go to school.  Meet a boy your own age.  Or don’t, I don’t really care, but don’t spend so much time obsessing over 3 different men, of which, only a half of one is real.”
She pointed into the room, where a low, scratchy sound was coming from beneath a pile of dogs. It took me a moment to register what it could be, but when it hit me, it struck hard.
“That’s pretty real”, she said.
“Yeah, it is.”
I closed the door, decorum be damned, and walked into the sound of his laughter.

Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground

So. A little clarity.
I have what feels like no less than a million thoughts bouncing around my skull, floating through my haunted hallways, and let us be frank, let us make no bones about it-we shall be boneless or we shall perish, says I!-they haven’t got one damn thing to do with one another.  If they did, well, we’d still have hope-hope for thematic uniformity, so important in this day and age, or smooth transitions.  They will be bumpy. They will be awkward.  And I could apologize for that at the outset, but I refuse. I choose to embrace my deformed, socially incompetent transitions.  In fact, here comes one right now:

It is winter.  Well, it’s damn close.  Too close for the 60 or so degrees it is outside.  Come on now, global warming.  Let’s be reasonable, dammit.  I know I’m supposed to be all happy and tra-la-la-ing this late season surge of temperate weather, but I can’t help but feel it’s all going to fuck us in the ass later.  Call me pessimistic, and I won’t readily contradict you.
But, oh, winter, you used to know what you were doing.  You used to stand for something, and now, what you’ve succumbed, accepted being bullied by a late-blush strawberry spring, a little too drunk to stand up at all, let alone for yourself?
You’ve let us all down, winter.  You’ve let us all down.

I can almost feel you rolling your eyes at me….all of you.  The Target, the Editor, and the teeming masses of somes of people reading this. I know, I know…I’m supposed to hate the cold, but I don’t.  I don’t!  Goddammit, I can’t even pretend I do.
I love snow, piles and heaps and droves of it, up to my kidneys, up to my eyeballs!

And I feel my life has been scored by snowfall, it’s surging strings marking my footfalls, and letting me know this matters.  This is important.
But sometimes it’s harder to know for certain if that’s accurate or if it’s just how I have decided to remember it all. I wonder if it is important to know, and I deeply fear that it is.  There is a line between “was there snow?” and complete revisionist history, and though it is not so fine, it is also invisible and difficult to know if you’ve crossed it.  So I feel my way in the dark, extend my hands and fingers to the very tips of my bones until I can feel the walls, and so some comfort even if it’s borrowed.  I have to believe, to some extent, in the integrity of my memory.
And here is what I know, regarding snow.
Well, I’ll tell you the way I told MonsterMan, just a few days ago.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, and I had the day off, as Larry wisely predicted a food coma that would spread like wildfire through the streets of the town, and closed the diner.
The day after Thanksgiving, I have always simply had too much momentum to stop eating abruptly.  You have to come to a rolling stop, you see.  Some priest/editors have suggested that perhaps about the time where my stomach distended, I should consider myself full and throw in the towel, but I’ve never been a quitter, and I could still walk.  The goal of Thanksgiving, as I’ve always seen it, is to eat so deeply and so gratuitously that you no longer take any sort of pleasure in it.  You are proving a point.
(Editor’s note:  This is insanity, and I intend to have a firm talk with our little author about this.  Don’t worry.)
Anyway, while I was casually eating things I didn’t even remotely want, I put a Santa hat on MonsterMan and started idly chatting to him.
“Hershel would hate this.  He’s not going to like that I put a different hat on you.”
Hershel had, of late, accused me of using MonsterMan as something of a giant decoration.  The temptation to do so has simply been too great.  I can’t resist it’s call!
In my defense, the Huckleberries are all wearing scarves right now.  They seem generally baffled by them, and periodically try to eat them off of each other-and it’s worth noting, I suppose, generally succeed in those attempts-but mostly they’re good sports about it.  They look at me with big, black hell doggy eyes that seem extravagant with pity, and nudge their enormous domes under my chine, as if to say “Ok, human.  Whatever you need.”
So anyway:
MonsterMan, behatted, arguably far creepier somehow than he was those 7 or so times his play-dough nose fell off, seemed absolutely rapt.  Clearly desperate for more fine conversation.
“It’s snowing.  This is your first-ish winter, so that might not mean anything to you.  Or it might.  I truly can’t even begin to imagine the extent to which your brain remembers or comprehends.  If it does at all.  Which I’m overall pretty sure it doesn’t.  But if it doesn’t….well, then I’m talking to myself, and that’s what crazy people do.  And I am clearly not a one of those.”
(-Editor’s Note:  this is a question of some debate)
“It was snowing the night we gathered your assembled pieces.  Not until really late in the night or early in the morning, depending on whether you’re a glass half full or half empty sort.  Which, if you follow, means the ground was frozen, and fucking impossible to shovel.  And Hershel was, well, pretty useless as a digger.  So the kid and I had to do most of the work.  Even though I was opposed to the operation from the beginning, no offense….Anyway, I was told that I would have only one real job, and that was pe-”
“I’m scared to hear the end of that statement.”
Liam walks lightly.  Presumably that’s something you learn to do on day 3 of Priest school.
(-Editor’s Note: it is not.  Day 2)
I hadn’t even heard him open the door.
“You didn’t knock.  You usually knock.”
“You told me not to.”
“Yes, but you always do anyway.”
“So you didn’t mean it when you told me not to?”
“No, I meant it, I just didn’t expect you to ever not do it.”
“I think I’m lost.”
“Just go with it.”
“I’m not entirely sure what that means in this scenario.”
In all of the brutalest honesty neither was/am I, but there’s a point where I feel it’s important to pretend that I know what I’m talking about, even if I don’t.  And sometimes, if I commit hard enough, it all comes around anyway.
(Editor’s Note: I KNEW IT!)
“Doesn’t matter.  What brings you to this neck of the woods?”
He shrugged.  “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…boredom?  I think I used to pass my time in a reasonable fashion before I met you and Hershel.”
“Admit it, you’re just here to see my abomination.”
He shrugged boyishly and smiled, and the smile was rakish, which I think we can all agree, is a very inappropriate kind of adjective for a priest.
“It’s a pretty solid abomination.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Not even a little.”
“Do you want food anyway?”
I rifled through the fridge and pulled out containers at random-until I realized that as quickly as I was putting them on the counter, the Huckleberries were eating them.
“I think they ingest more plastic than is healthy…”
I put my hands on my hips, not particularly appreciative of Liam’s criticism of my hellhounds’ diets.  It may have been valid, I really don’t know.  I mean…hellhounds.  That book hasn’t exactly been written yet, has it?
“I think they get exactly as much plastic as their diet dictates.”
“And how much is that?”
“Some.  If anything they’re not getting enough.”
“well, they keep eating it.  The body craves what it needs.  So the Huckleberries maybe need MORE plastic.”
“No, your dogs are just ruthless eating machines”, he said, even as one such ruthless eating machine rolled onto it’s back and exposed his big, fat belly to Liam, requesting-nay demanding!-rubs.  Which, to be fair, were dispensed with promptly.
“Whatever.  You try raising a hoard of hellhounds and we’ll talk. In the meantime, do you want stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, what?”
“Jesus, Karen, it’s 9:30 in the morning…”
“Are you allowed to say ‘Jesus’?”
“Well, I’m allowed to, I guess, but it’s frowned on…except, you know, who’s around to frown?”
“I could frown.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll manage.”
“Don’t say I never tried to help you out.”
“You’re a truly noble soul.”
“Anyway, so it’s 9:30…you want everything then?”
“So.  Why are you really here?”
“I’m stopping by.  Checking in.  That’s something friends do, isn’t it?”
I shrugged.  “I don’t super know.  I didn’t exactly have friends, in the strictest sense, until I got here.  And now I have Hershel, who’s something…well, he’s altogether different, don’t you think?”
“I definitely think.  What about the Mouse?  Surely he was your friend?”
I stopped a little short.  My dear Editor very seldom says your name.  In point of fact, he’s maintained a near clean-slate level of active discussion about my past.  Possibly because acknowledging it would be acknowledging that it’s still there, malevolent and teethy, waiting for me.  Maybe waiting for us all.
“He was….sort of my friend.  I guess.  You know, it was actually a day sort of like this the Mouse really became….the Mouse, I guess.  It was snowing, and we had off from school…and we were curled up together in my bed-”
“But he was your brother.”
“No.  He was my step-brother.  He and I both existed before his father met my mother.  No DNA shared.”
“It’s still borderline…Greek.”
“I disagree both in the literal and on principal.  Also, it wasn’t sexual.  We were just…kind of lonely.”
Liam smiled at me.  “Maybe you were.  He’s torn the world down for you.  It’s always been more than loneliness for him.”
I shrugged, but that’s well trod, so let’s just keep moving.
“It doesn’t matter.  The point is, we were just talking and laughing and reading our own books, until I got sort of bored and pissy.  No good reason, it just flipped.  I just started being grumpy.  And he took my hand and a ballpoint pen, and he drew the first version of Reginald Rat on my hand.  He made this dumb little cartoon rat talk to me in a silly, squeaky voice, say funny things, make me laugh. There were so many points over our time together where despite our closeness, he didn’t seem to know how to talk to me.  But for some reason, that dumb little rat was always perfectly comfortable with me.  He always knew what to say.”
“So…he became the Mouse to always have a voice to speak to you with?”
“That sounds very sweet and romantic…but it’s not really the case.  Even as the Mouse, he still had trouble.  He was only ever at complete ease when he was just a voice, no physical part of himself.”
“So what will you do?”
“About what?”
He rolled his eyes at me.
“What will you do…when you face him again?”

I shrugged.
What else could I do?


See the Light

I have seen the face of the devil.  And it looked remarkably like a big-ass burrito.
It started out as lunch.  It turned into vendetta.  It ended in victory. Painful, painful victory.
Let me set the scene.
Liam and I were sitting down to a logistics lunch-the logistics being that we were both hungry, and wanted lunch.
It all seemed so innocent.
How young we were then.
How foolish.
We still believed that a burrito was just a burrito and not a gastronomical monstrosity the size of a submarine.
Liam’s eyes went huge.
“What. Is. That.”
“It’s a burrito.”
“It’s not a burrito.  It’s the burrito.”
“Like, it ate every other burrito to absorb their powers.”
“The alpha burrito.”
“Sure, something along those lines.”
I studied it from every possible angle.  The dimensions suggested that it was designed for use as a raft, some sort of carefully constructed cheese and rice dirigible.
“Let’s discuss something civilized.”
Liam cocked his eyebrow.  “That’s not the most common way to introduce conversation.  You get that there’s a good chance that we would have perfectly naturally and organically begun a conversation-as history has proven we are capable of-but now you’ve made it weird.”
“That’s what I do.  I make things weird.”
“Quite an achievement.”
“My point is, I feel like somehow all of my conversations these days are about dead guys-”
“Let’s call him ‘dead-ish’. ”
It is absurd the number of times I find myself in active debate with people about the distinction between full dead and -ish dead.  In all fairness, I’ve argued both sides.
“Fine.  Dead-ish.  Or hellhounds. Or mystery spiders.”
“You’re saying you don’t want to talk about those things?”
I could legitimately see his point, so it was time to throw a diversionary grenade.
In the form of guacamole.
“Hey!  did you really just throw guacamole at my face?”
“Did I?”
He wiped the green globs from his face.
“I’m pretty sure you did.”
“I recall it differently.”
“Oh?  How do you recall it?”
“As…me….throwing…guacamole at your face?”
His eyes thinned to slits.
I concentrated all of my efforts on the burrito at hand.  I had been eating it for a solid 15 minutes that felt like 24 years.  A quarter of it was gone.
“So…your solution for civilized discourse is to throw avocado product at my face.”
“You were asking for it.  Shit this burrito is huge.”
“So stop eating it.  How was I asking for it?”
“I feel like I can’t.  It tastes really good.  I’m not hungry anymore, but it still tastes good.  Hey, I’ve got an idea!”
“Do tell….”
“Let’s talk about your mystery shrouded past, oooo!  Great idea Karen!”
I held my hand up for a high-five.  Surely he would tap that.  He simply had to.  It was so obviously the law of the land.
He did not.
“And you call yourself a man of the cloth…”
“Nowhere in my vows is it stated I am required to provide high-fives for my local neurotic.”
“Oh come on.  Neurotic?  I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I think you really could have come up with a better insult…”
He focused his eyes on me, in that weird way he does (don’t edit out “that weird way…” You do.  You really do.).  Rather intense.  Kind of intoxicating. (Shut up.)
“I don’t want to insult you.  I’ve never wanted to insult you.  I have literally no compulsion to hurt you.”
The silence stretched too long not to keep eating burrito, and who am I to fight the laws of science and etiquette?  No one, is the answer, so I disregarded the growing food baby, and introduced several more pounds of cheese to my stomach.  Still so much burrito left.
Good work, Karen.  Played it cool.  (Editor’s note:  You may have, at some point in your life, played something cool, somewhere.  But not since I’ve met you.)
“I can’t believe you’re still eating that burrito.”
I had come back around;  it was awesome again.  I could totally beat this burrito.
“I can’t believe you think I’ll be distracted by burrito talk.  Seriously, why don’t you ever want to talk about your past?”
He shrugged.  “I don’t actively NOT want to talk about my past….I just don’t see any reason to.
“Listen, we’re homies, right?”
“Seriously?  Homies?”
“Yes.  And you know ALL about my past…I would argue way more than I ever wanted anyone to…”
“In all fairness, so does everyone else.”
“Nothing fair about that, my friend.”
“Anyway, it’s unfair.  It’s uneven.  If you’re friends with someone, you tell them stuff.  You let them know you….”
He sighed.  The burrito was starting to taste like cheese cement.  It was sitting in my stomach like an anvil, but now it was personal.  I would persevere!
“You really should stop eating that.  You’re turning a little green.”
“This is my white whale.  Concentrate.”
“Alright.  Listen.  Here’s the thing.  There was a girl.  A really, truly amazing girl.  She was….she was everything.”
“Did you meet her before you were a priest?”
“No.  I was already a priest when I met her.  She sort of…stalked me.  But in a not creepy, sort of adorable way.”
“That, sir, is absolutely not a thing.”
“Sure it is.”
“No.  Cute stalking doesn’t happen.  It’s just not real.”
“Well, maybe stalking is too harsh of a word, then.”
“Or is it?”
“Eat your damn burrito.”
I didn’t really want to, but since a man of the cloth dictated it, I felt I needed to.
“Anyway, she got to me.  In a huge way.”
“Through the power of confession.”
I put down my fork for the first time during the meal.
“Ahem.  The power of confession?”
He put on his defensive eyebrows.  “Well…yes.  Sexy confession.”
“Sexy confession.”
“What the hell is that?”
He tapped a finger impatiently on the table.  “I think you know.”
I smiled.  “Tell me more, tell me more!”
“I will not tell you more.  I will tell you no more.  You get the idea.  Anyway.  She brought some rather….unique baggage to the game.  Some stuff I really wasn’t at all ready for.  My god, give it up already!”
But I couldn’t!  True, I was now slumped in my seat, but there was less than an inch of burrito left.  Time to see this thing through.
“What kind of baggage?”
“Even if I were inclined to tell you-I’m not-you wouldn’t believe me if I did.”
“You’re joking of course.  I mean, um, have you met me?  Have you failed to notice the Huckleberries?  The stiff in my apartment?  The spiders from Mars?”
“I’ve noticed those things.”
“Then you should know that I don’t necessarily have trouble believing things.”
He smiled lazily.  “One bight to go.”
It was just one bight.  I had to finish it.
“I think I might legitimately explode if I eat this.”
“Oh c’mon.  You have to now.”
“I don’t. Do you want my blood on your hands?  Or more specifically, my guts on your everything?”
“I might be ok with it.  I’m into some pretty weird stuff.”
“You are some pretty weird stuff, son.”
It was the end.  I was sure of it.  I know that you think me writing this now proves that I’m being melodramatic, but spoiler alert, my ghost is writing this.
Nah, I’m just kidding.  But if I had to go today, what a way to go!  Death by burrito.
I ate it.
I ate the whole fucking thing.
And in my current state, it felt like a victory.  A shameful, painful victory.
(Editor’s note: I’m afraid that this may have painted a romantic picture of eating a giant burrito.  Please do not try this.  Karen suffered intense tummy discomfort owing to the 17 pounds of rice, cheese and beans she ingested.  She whined profusely, and alienated her friends by blaming them for letting her finish the burrito, as if they stood any reasonable chance of coming between her and all of that jack cheese.  As if they didn’t value their hands.)


Rescue Blues

1 o’clock has over-stayed it’s welcome.
It has, put simply, lasted too long.
I know, I know, we all concede that generally the hours of the day have agreed to the terms and limitations we have set, pending the Lisbon conference of ’29-to whit, 60 seconds per minutes, 60 minutes per hour, no more, no less, no negotiations.  It’s fair!  It’s reasonable!  And 23 out of 24 hours have adhered to it’s dictates, but 1 o’clock, pm to be fair and give am it’s due, man, it just refuses.  It plays by it’s own rules, because I swear to you, it has to be nothing shy of 1:234 right now.
Sure, by the time I push the pretty blue publish button this will probably be moot.  But I stand by it, if only to teach 1 o’clock a thing or two about rules and how to follow them. And who not to fuck with.  Specifically, me.

Alright, now that’s out of the way.

I am taking a brief Hiddlestein reprieve today, because I want you to know that I remember.  There may be a lot of things I hate about you-no, scratch that, not maybe, there definitely, decidedly are-but I still remember your birthday.  Every year.
This year, Hershel brought me the cupcake.
He set it down on the counter in front of me, while I was “working” my shift (“working” of course, is a nebulous word…it can mean all sorts of things.  From “taking an order”, to “trying really hard to get a pebbles out of your shoe without actually removing it”.  I will leave it to the reader’s imagination to determine which I was more likely indulging in.)  It was perfect, blue frosted, with all the appropriate portions-Lisa’s learned that I prefer to have as much icing as cupcake.
Anyway, Hershel just plopped it there, unceremoniously, and I cocked an eyebrow, as one is so frequently forced to do in the presence of Mr. Goldfarb.
“Hello to you too.”
“Here’s your cupcake.”
“Yes, I see that. I thought you disapproved of the practice?”
“Well, I don’t understand it.  But Lisa told me that I don’t have to understand it to respect it, so there you go.”
Something didn’t quite fit about that explanation.  If all it took to persuade Hershel to grudgingly accept this practice was to ask him to respect it without embracing it, I’d have taken care of it long ago.
Sometimes in life, we hit all the marks, just so, just right, and every domino knocks the next one down right on time.
The phone rang.  Larry answered.  Here’s what we heard:
“Hello? Oh, hey grandma-yes, Hershel’s here.  Yes, he’s given her a-oh. Oh.  Sure…so you didn’t call to talk to-no, yeah, I’ll put her on.”
He handed me the phone and pointed a finger at Hershel.
“I have some very real issues with your relationship with my grandmother.”
Hershel patted him enthusiastically on the shoulder. “Oh you shouldn’t.  We have a loving, sensual relationship.”
I chose to not hear anything after “sensual relationship” and turned my attention to the phone.  “Hello?”
Lisa’s warm voice said “Did he give you the cupcake?”
“Yes, he did.  Some big revelation?  Epiphany? Change of heart?  Whatever you said, good job!”
She laughed.  “What I said was ‘if you don’t give this cupcake to that girl right now, you can’t have any’.”
“Aha!  See, I knew it.  I knew that sounded more accurate.”
“Yes, well…I sort of thought he might just eat it on the way there, consequences be damned….but I know that this is important to you, and that you’re important to him, so he’s got to make some sort of peace with it.”
I shrugged.  It’s amazing the things we imbue with importance.  And because I have given your birthday significance, I can’t blame Lisa for attributing a relevance that was generally absent to Hershel’s refusal to accept my acknowledgement of it.  And even as I wrote that sentence, I realized that it took some absurd linguistic turns and became something of a narrative labyrinth.  I won’t change it.  Maybe my dear editor will (yeah, I see you there…not literally, but…well, you get it).
Realizing, a bit too late to not be embarrassed, that Lisa couldn’t see a shrug through the phone, I said “It’s not such a huge thing.  But you’re sweet to care.”
She chuckled.  “Well, truth be told, I sort of enjoy giving Hershel the business.”
“Ok, well, that’s the best reason for doing anything that there has ever been.  Ever.”
“Bonk him on the nose for me and tell him I’ll see him tonight.”
“You got it.  And thank you for always being so damn sweet.”
“Nothing to it.  By the way, we’re going to have to talk about these spiders eventually.”
“You know my stance.”
“We’re not squishing them.”
“Then I am afraid we are at an impasse.”
“Hm.  Enjoy your day. We’ll fight later.”
“Fair enough!”
And I imagine we will, but because it’s Lisa, it will be downright civilized.
I bopped Hershel on the nose, per my agreement with the lady, and said “She says she’ll see you tonight.”
Larry grumbled, groused and generally grumped.  “I truly don’t like it.”
Hershel looked at him, vaguely wounded.  “But you like me.”
“Yes, of course I do.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Grandmothers aren’t supposed to be….sexual.”
“Oh, but yours is!”
Larry threw his hands up.  “See?  This!  This is what I don’t want to know.”
I patted his hand.  “You’re going to need to ostrich it then….”
He sighed, but seemed to come to the conclusion we all eventually do.  Some battles just aren’t worth fighting, so…eat a cupcake.  I’d already cut mine in half, and handed him the left rib.
“So it’s that time again.”
“It is indeed.”
Hershel hrmphed.
“I don’t understand why you celebrate.”
I sighed.  We’ve discussed this many times before. “The same reason I told you before.  I celebrate it because once upon a time, there was a boy, not a man, not a mouse.  And he was scared and lonely, and he was my friend.  And on his birthday, my mom let us play hooky from school, and we’d lay in bed together and I’d read to him.”
Hershel propped his cheek on his fist.  “Why didn’t he read to himself?”
“Because…sometimes there’s something very comforting about having someone else read to you.  It makes you feel….focused on.  Important.  And he always needed comforting.”
Larry raised his eyebrow.  “From anyone…or just from you?”
I shrugged, but I knew, as I’ve always known, as I’ll always know….as if there will always be a place in time where we are a little too young for the way our bodies are reaching for each other.  As if there will always be the secret that we cannot quite name at that point in our history, of knowing that our legs intertwine a little too tightly, that the pressure your hips pushed against my stomach-well, we didn’t know it for exactly what it was, but we had an idea that it could tear and burn.  It could destroy.  That the only comfort was that moment before knowing anything for certain.
So Happy Birthday.
Blow out your candles and try to wish for something better for all of us.

cookie monster

Secret Meeting

I can’t remember what I dreamt last night. I remember waking up and thinking “this is fantastically important”, in the way that dreams sometimes are, and then, as I brushed my teeth, feeling it leave me like a ghost, slipped out in a yawn, didn’t even leave a note.  It’s lingering with me, though…and all the stranger for not being able to place a face, a name, any real point of reference to it.  What if all dream just turns into memory, and we lose track of what is real and what is sleep?  It’s the sort of fear that nibbles on my temporal lobe, that waits until I’m half-way to a peaceful slumber and then leaps into action, screaming “What if?”, as if I don’t already have more than enough “what if?”s.  I could build a house out of what ifs…the foundation would be shaky.
See what I did there?
I made a joke.
I feel it’s important to periodically demand acknowledgment of a good punchline, or more frequently and more accurately, a bad one, because let’s face it, screaming into the void or not (and it is, it is, good god, it is!), this bloggifying, it’s all just mirror gazing.  It’s reflective, you see.  It’s a way for me to be sure there really is a me.  That I’m really here.
And you are a lovely ruse, a beautiful excuse.  It’s wonderful to say that I’m doing it to get your attention, to say the things to you that I’ve always wanted to.  Hell, to provoke you. To fight.  Any of these comes out better than the idea-the reality-that I’m doing it to hear myself talk.  To see myself and to know that I am here.  That I am real.  To you, and it’s a weapon.  To myself, and it’s masturbation.  And that is a subject I know a thing or two about.
But let’s get back on track, shall we? In as much as there is a track, and I’m not just laying it as we go, o! pioneers.
When last we spake, I was beginning to tell MonsterMan, and by default, you, the story of the night we stole his parts.

Hershel arrived with a duffel bag, in addition to the shiny fanny pack of doom.  He dropped it unceremoniously on my floor and beamed-I shit you not, beamed-at me.
“I have brought provisions!”
“Yes, I see that.”
“Aren’t you curious?”
I crossed my arms over my chest.  “I feel relatively confident that a decent portion of that bag is filled to the lips with sandwiches.”
“And muffins!”
“Of course.  And muffins.”
Emily looked confused.  “What are the sandwiches and muffins for?”
Kids are so dumb.  What are the sandwiches and muffins for, she asked….
Hershel and I shared a glance, tacitly acknowledging that it would be probably the only time we’d agree that night, if not for the year.  We try and parcel out the same pages that we’re on-we don’t want that book to get too long.
She furrowed her brow.  “But how does that apply to…uh…the…uh…situation at hand?”
Hershel sighed  expansively.  “Because you have to eat to do things.  Please stop asking stupid questions.”
“I thought there were no stupid questions?”
“Whoever told you that was a liar.  And probably stupid.”
Hershel tossed her what one could safely assume was a pastrami sandwich, as most of Hershel’s sandwiches are pastrami sandwiches.
“Fortify yourself!  Build up your digging strength! Because I will not be doing any digging!”
My spaghetti arms felt the implications of Hershel’s declaration far before it passed to my brain and comprehension.
“Um, excuse me?  You will not be digging?”
“I’m old! Infirm! Fragile!”
“I’ll support old…maybe even infirm, but fragile?  C’mon, Hershel.  Let us not tell lies, eh?”
He elaborately sucked in his gut and, to a more ridiculous extent, his cheeks.  Emily poked my arm and said “Is he ok?”
“That’s a whole can of worms, but mostly, yes, he’s fine, he’s just something of a jackass, and let’s not mince words, rather a chunky one.  One who is trying to get me to do all the work for a project that I STRONGLY disapprove of and want no parts of!”
Sorry, MonsterMan.  I wasn’t always your biggest supporter, but I stole you a dick anyway.
“Look, we can debate who doesn’t do what digging later on-”
“We cannot.  There will be no debate, sir.  You will dig.  I will complain.”
And then…we both looked at the kid. Before you judge us….she’s sturdy.
“Well.  Look, I brought disguises!”
“Disguises? Why?”
“So no one recognizes us.”
“The point is to not be seen.  If we’re seen, we’ll be arrested.”
“Right, but no one will know who we are.”
“First-I suspect, given what I know about you-that disguises or not, yes they will know who we are.  Second, who even cares?  We’ll still be arrested.  And we know who we are.  Because we are us.”
“Sure, but it doesn’t count if we’re dressed as someone else.”
“I think the better part of valor here is to not get caught.”
Emily, who was at her best when she remained quiet and I could forget her presence, said “I think he might have a point.”
“Oh?  And that point it?”
“Well…I’m not so good at climbing things, and also not very fast.  So we might get caught.”
I threw my hands up.  “Quite the team you’ve assembled here, Hershel!  You know, there are easier ways to get arrested.”
“Well, sure, but none of them end with me getting what I need.”
THIS probably won’t end with you getting what you need.”
He smiled.  “Oh sure it will.  We just have to stick to the list.”
I took a deep and glorious swallow of some high-brow whiskey I’d found under my bathroom sink.
“I’m not ready to look at your list yet.  Listen.  We are going to a cemetery that closes at 8.  It’s a reasonable amount away from the road and from residents.  So here’s what we do.  We don’t get seen, we don’t get heard, we don’t get caught.”
“Well, that’s all very well and good in theory, but what if someone hears our digging music?”
And I should have known.  I mean, really, why didn’t I know?  “Digging music?  There will BE no digging music.”
Hershel put his hands on his hips.  “I’m sorry, I’m the captain of this operation.  And there most certainly will be digging music.”
“Or what, you’ll kick me off the team?”
“No, I’ll just keep turning it back on.”
He really had me there.
“I’m almost afraid to ask….what is your digging music?”
“Well, I would have thought that would be pretty obvious….”
Emily said “Black Sabbath?”
The girl clearly lacked-and I see no reason to assume it’s changed, so lacks, why not-observational skills.
Hershel scratched his head “What who now?”
“Nothing.  Answer my question.  It’s not…”
“Of course it is!”
“Hershel.  No.  This is already going to be unpleasant enough.  Under absolutely no circumstances are you to play Engelbert Humperdinck, but especially under the circumstances of grave robbery.”
“It’s how he’d want it.”
“It’s not.”
He patted my hand.  “I think I know a little better…anyway, back to disguises.  Here, put these on!”
He handed Emily and I each a pair of Groucho glasses.
“You’re joking”, I said, even as Emily slid her’s on.
“You know, Karen, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you just don’t want to be a part of this project.”
“You don’t know better!  I’ve been wildly outspoken about this!  I really and truly don’t want to be a part of this project!  Follow that instinct!”
He smiled.  “Don’t worry.  I know you really do want to be a part of it.”
It’s often hard for me to tell whether he’s straight not listening to me, or just putting my words through some strange, Hershel-izer once they get into his head.
“This is going to be a disaster.”
“Put on your glasses.”

(Editor’s Note:  It is strange reading this history and knowing that I am not a part of it.  That I am concurrent to it.  That you indescribable weirdos were doing all of this while I was reading quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore.   I confess that it makes my own strange history…well, no less strange, but somewhat less isolated.  Still, I cannot help  but feel obligated to at least point out that I-man of the cloth, emeritus, esquire-in no way approved the preceding…and I’m prepared to make a prediction that the same will hold true for whatever comes next.)


Do you remember the first time?

There is no peace.
There never has been.
I think about this, about the nostalgia we feel in remembering a world that never was, and I wonder over and over again, why I didn’t kill you when I had the chance.  My editor-in-bossy-pants will be tempted to take that out, to blame it on the daytime partial drunk, be he’d be wrong, you’d be wrong our Father, so leave it.  Leave it, or I’ll just put it back, as many times as you can delete it.  Because it would have been right.
I could have ended it all.  You wouldn’t have thought twice.  You never did.  You never bothered to have a thought that warranted a second look.  Such was the weight of being a self-stylized Harrison Bergeron.  Who was there to contradict you?  Say anything with enough confidence, enough authority, and you’ll fool everyone.  You certainly fooled me.
But now I feel the rush of the lives you discarded, and they break against me until I am drowning, until I can’t breathe.  There is on ocean of love and loss swirling; so many lives, meant for so little, perhaps, but their own, macro revolution.  To live, to die, but on their own terms.  Not yours.  Never yours.
And you have used your flags and your ribbons to fool people into thinking there is anything more stupid than sending strangers to kill each other, people who have all the same pieces and parts, the same chemistry, the same blue prints, people who also long and ache and breathe and hurt and love and want, people who have the same ancestors, somewhere, sitting in time, eating an apple and wondering what the taste of the shiny shiny red will feel like when it touches their tongues, and after it does, the flood of knowledge, that these same tongues, used so far only to taste, can be used to speak, to wound, to create.  The tongue that kills is the same tongue that loves, the same tongue that tentatively reaches out and touches another in a dark, stolen moment, that first time, in my bedroom, at night.
And I suppose, when it really all comes together, at the punctuation of intensely long run-on sentences (all food things must end! and also, fuck you), that is why I didn’t kill you.  Because destroying is so much simpler than creating, and I finished with the easy way out a long time ago.
But no.  I’m being too generous.  Understand.  I never meant to not kill you.

Anyway, this is all a bit heady for me, and I am not fully convinced there is any great benefit to following that perky little rabbit down his hole.  I suspect it’s dark, and rabbit sized, and I am only one of those things, thank you very much.  So let us consider, instead MonsterMan.
It is a sad thing to not know your origin story.  To not know where you came from.  Even if-just hypothetically speaking-you’re an inanimate, organically based hybrid corpse creature.  You know, if that just happens to be your story.  It’s not mine, but I’m hardly judging anyone who falls into that criteria.
In fact, it’s terribly interesting, if you think about it.
To have so many stories in one body.  To have a finger that’s live an entire life that your spine could never even dream of. A kneecap that’s seen things your eyes aren’t even vaguely aware of, and an elbow that’s truly lived.  And if my life’s breath woke you up, would you live any differently, would you be any wiser?  I certainly hope not.
But even for these various and disparate doll parts, bits and pieces that might not even acknowledge each other walking down the street, were they back on the dead people they belonged to, even these must have a beginning as whole.  As a team, if you will.  And it is my particular goal to tell MonsterMan the story of how his foot met his leg, to say nothing of his internal organs getting acquainted with  his rib cage (I think it might be important to gloss over that part, as I am relatively certain that Hershel just threw them all in.  When I asked about it, he stomped loudly and said “The geography doesn’t matter, as long as all the parts are accounted for!”.  When I told him I was pretty sure that was incorrect, he just shook his head and said “How much do you really know about anatomy?”-fair point-“now hand me his other liver.”  But let’s not get into the great “how many livers do we all have?” debate.  That comes later, and the horse should never go before the cart.  Much like the kidneys should never be next to the lungs…..)
So here’s what I’m gonna do.  I’m going to tell MonsterMan the story of a dark and stormy night, and how all of his pieces came to be him.  I’m going to write it down while I tell it to him out loud, and I really don’t think that should be hard at all.  I’ll just talk veeeery slowly.  BECAUSE WHY NOT!?!?!
Now before a certain Mr. Smarty Pants Continuity police starts saying…stuff….yes, it is possible there will be breaks in the narrative.  But it doesn’t matter, because shut up.  Life is in the interruptions.

Anyway, it was a dark and stormy night, which was terribly accommodating, given the circumstances.  Our crack team consisted of: Hershel-geriatric, obese, lunatic.  Emily-some weird little girl who spends way too much time reading fan fiction on the internet and not nearly enough time not reading fan fiction on the internet.  And of course, me-unwilling partner, sad excuse for a voice of reason.  Comprehensive grave robbery experience between the 3 of us-I’d read some books, and Hershel had been practicing shoveling in his garden.  And since holes deep enough to plant tulip bulbs were CLEARLY as deep as holes used to, oh you know, inter human bodies, we were golden.
The Groucho glasses were the first snag.

Where do we go now but nowhere?

I have some of my best ideas right before I fall asleep.  They pop into my head, burst out of my brain like big, pretty, stupid sunflowers that have mistaken my brain juice and viscera for sunlight, and I think “well, clearly an idea this good will last till morning.”
They never do.
You’d really think I’d learn to write things down.
And yet I haven’t.
Periodically, while I’m in the heart of one of these brilliant idea, when it’s still fresh and rosy and covered with dew, there will be a part of me that says “hey dumbass.  Write this down.”  But unfortunately, a much louder-but, let us be frank, the aforementioned “dumbass”, for all it’s volume, all the same-part says “this, THIS is such a good idea, there is absolutely no way it won’t last the night.”
And in the morning I find myself wondering….did I forget because, duh, of course I forgot, or because it was never as good as I thought it was, right then, in the moment before I fell asleep.

These are the questions that haunt me.

I carry their ghosts around with me, these little fledgling beasties, embryos never allowed to develop into functioning, contributing adults-I feel their presences, but I do not know their faces.  They are a kind of pregnant amnesia.  A knowing that there’s something I’m forgetting, but I can’t quite put my finger on.

And I think about it alot.  Because I know that the night, that one night, the night I burnt it all down, I had one of those thoughts.  This idea, and then I fell asleep…and when I woke up, whatever that idea had been carried me.  It pushed me, even though I couldn’t then and I cannot now, remember what it was.  I just know that whatever I thought in that moment-whoever the ghost-it wrapped my fingers around a box of matches and propelled me.

But tell me, are my thoughts my own?  Do they belong to only me?  Or am I sharing the airwaves?  Who is listening on the other side of my frequency?

I find that I all too frequently can’t think straight.  That I often feel like the world is pressing down, crushing my bones to stardust and memory, until I am diamond, until I am solid again.  But then….then, too, I feel like there is nothing happening…and as if the weight of all that nothing is more than any one person can stand.

I spent the morning throwing eggs at MonsterMan’s head.  It wasn’t terribly mature, ok, I admit that.  But in my defense, I had a good reason.  (Editor’s Note:  It is, of course, up to the reader to determine, but it is the opinion of this writer that the reason was not, in fact, good).  (Author’s note: Disregard the editor’s note.  It leads the reader to a bias.  I would attempt just deleting it, but I suspect that the editor, being firmly in possession of my password and username would just log in and put it back there.  Rat bastard.)  (Editor’s note: the editor objects to being called a rat bastard.)  (Author’s note:  the author objects to the editor being a rat bastard.)  (Editor’s note: there’s no need to call names.)  (Author’s note:  Yes there is.  Because you’re a jerk.)  (Editor’s note:  That’s really mature.)  (Author’s note: YOU WANNA TAKE THIS OUTSIDE?!?!)

(The author and editor have made temporary peace to explain to the reader that we have gone outside and made-tentative-peace.  We will try, from here on out, to only fight face to face.  Which you’ll still here about.  Because that’s the way we blog.  And also, because we only sort of believe in you.)

And that good reason was that he wasn’t doing anything.  Before you empathize too deeply with our poor MonsterMan, keep in mind that none of the eggs actually connected.  Every egg I threw was almost instantly caught by a happy hell-beast, who was absolutely convinced we were playing delicious catch and everyone was the winner.  I suppose raw eggs are probably bad for them.  I suppose egg shells aren’t doing their digestive tracts any favors.  But I once witnessed a Huckleberry eat an entire bike tire, and when I considered intervening, received a look as if to say “look at all these things we eat so that we never have to eat you.”
I mean, bike’s are over-rated anyway, right?
Anyway, a dozen eggs later and I’m no closer to an omelette, or a functioning MonsterMan.
But he sits there, and he looks so much like a human, so much like a person…and I think that if he looked less so, it would bother me less, the prolonged silences, the way that I feel he is always this close to breathing.  This close to speaking.
I really thought we were onto something, the night of the spiders.  Too much strangeness not to mean something.  Too much omen to be coincidence.  Thunder and lightning and rivers of spiders….transformations and blood lust, just portents as far as the eye could see.
And then, with the same speed of disaster, it all abated.  Lisa told Hershel to call off the dogs.
And then she called the spiders to her.
Why isn’t anyone just what they are?
Why am I exactly what I see, but no one else follows that rule?
I went to see Liam before work and demanded answers to almost that exact question.
I burst through his double doors, which is not a euphemism, but certainly sounds like one and maybe should be, and demanded satisfaction.
“Confession!  I demand confession!”
He looked up at me, his dark eyes rimmed and his stupid ginger hair falling over his stupid perfectly shaped forehead.  I find his physical attractiveness infuriating and uncalled for.
“You demand confession…you demand I confess or you demand to confess?”
“Yes! And both!”
“Well, first, no…”
“Can’t blame me for trying.”
“I think I probably could, if I were so inclined.”
“Are you so inclined?”
“Not at the moment. At the moment, I’m more curious as to what the hell you’re talking about.”
“Are you allowed to say ‘what the hell’?”
“Sure, just maybe don’t put it in your blog.”
“Oh, I wooooon’t.”
I totally did.  I REGRET NOTHING!
“Anyway, Karen, what do you want to confess?”
I started pacing, because pacing was action, and action seemed right.
“I threw eggs at MonsterMan this morning.”
He cocked an eyebrow.  “Why?  That seems…uncalled for.”
“Because he just sits there.  He just sits. He doesn’t do anything.”
Liam sat down, and smiled at me.  Bemusedly. Goddamn bemusedly.
Motherfucker.  I know you’re reading this, and I’M NOT SORRY!
“What precisely do you want him to do?”
“Anything!  Anything at all.  It’s the nothing I can’t handle.”
“Karen, I’m not a therapist.  But I can tell you that if a man is angry at a withered plantain, he’s not angry at the fruit.  Not really.”
“You see what I’m saying.”
“That I have penis envy.”
“That’s between you and your living god.”
He shook his head.  “Not really.  What I’m saying-and I believe you know this, but I’m indulging you because you’re a crazy person, and that’s what you do with crazy people-is that it’s not about the fruit, it’s about the dick.  And you throwing eggs at McHiddleMonsterStein isn’t about what he is or isn’t doing.  It’s about you.”
Which of course and obviously and duh.  It still sort of sucked to hear.
“So what do I do?”
He shrugged.
“Sometimes you just have to ride out the total shit situation.”
“Is that what you did?”
He looked down.  “I did alot more damage before I rode anything out.”
“I started a war.  Can you beat that?”
A smirk and a shake.  “No.  You win that one.”

So here I am, the biggest disaster on the street, sitting with my abomination and wondering where do we go from here?  Somewhere surely, but I’ll be damned if I know. But me and my monsters, my monsters and me, well, at least we’ve got each other.  I’m sitting in fading light, with my back against MonsterMan’s shin, and hellhounds huddled as close to me as my skin permits, without them actually breaking through my dermis and permeating my blood.  And isn’t this cozy?  Isn’t this something?  A keeper of beasts, well there are worse things I could be.  There are worse things I have been.
I lean my head back onto MonsterMan’s knees and look into his lidded eyes, which I swear spark just a bit.  And I tell him “Once upon a time, a time, a time, a time….”


Make you better

I’m sorry.
So deeply, wildly sorry.
I’m so. damn. sorry.
You honestly can’t imagine how badly I feel, how deeply I regret my actions and words….my god!  I would fall on my knees and tear my hair, but I’m afraid I’d receive forgiveness and I AM NOT WORTHY!
Do you see what I’m trying to say?
I’m trying to apologize.
Because I feel bad.
Call down heaven and raise up hell and crush me between them until I am nothing but scattered dust of purgatory shards, and it’s still too good.
That’s how sorry I am.
I’m that sorry.

All of which is to say, I spent the better part of yesterday and today-literally hours(editor’s note: having both delivered and timed the lecture our little ingenue is complaining about, I can tell you it lasted for 17 minutes.  Actually, literally.)-being scolded by a certain priest about the shame of both narrative continuity and my general lack of discretion, when it comes to a filter (an unfair assessment, I think, given all that I do NOT include).  And since the Vatican has apparently adopted an extremely stringent and inflexible stance against fractured narrative lines, I throw myself on the mercy of the Pontiff and all his pointy hatted clerics.
I can almost feel you glaring at me through this, Liam.  But I’m being totally sincere.

Ok, readers, now that we’ve fooled the priest, let me tell you that I’m not being sincere at all!  Take that, the Pope!  Well, not really the Pope.  I have nothing against the Pope, personally.  He seems alright.
In fact, I suspect he’d be on my side.  He’s almost definitely on my side.  He agrees with me.
I am not bound to “narrative continuity”.  I am under no obligation to it, and generally speaking…I spurn it.  I spit on it’s grave, ptoooo.
Let me tell it how I want to.
Let me tell it how it feels.
Because I don’t know what’s important, at any given time.  I don’t know what’s going to matter in the future; this strange collection of bone and death, held together by little more than hope and love, and skin stretched thin enough to fall apart-to say nothing of Liam, Hershel or Hiddlestein McMonsterman!
I threw the “Mc” in there because….well, because I like it.  I think it makes him sound more regal, and the other day, for no good reason, I bought him a bowler.
It was an impulse buy, completely and entirely, and though I told myself at the time that it was for me, I knew the second I put it on my head that really, there was only dome that hat would ever be happy on mine, and if I was reading the signs correctly (and believe me, I was), ’twas not mine.
The thing about the hat is, once I’ve put it on Monsterman, he becomes anyone.  He becomes everyone.  A tilt to the left, and the shadows fall in such a way that if I squint my eyes and glance at him, just from a distance, he looks a little like Oliver.  Rakish angle to the right and with my left eye shut and the lights off, he’s the mirror image of…well…you.  Of you.  And in those moments, I am almost too much emotion.  I am new colors of anger and loss and I lose the ability to speak.  And yet…it’s the way that I can’t stay too far from the edge of a high building, even though heights frighten me.  I have to face you over and over and over again.
I showed Hershel the trick, and he was, relatively speaking, unimpressed.
“You’re delusional.”
“I’m not.”
“You are.  What kind of a magic face do you think he has?”
I looked at him long, incredulously.  “Are you even remotely serious?”
“Yeah.  Of course.  I mean, he really only looks like one person.  Ron Hiddlestone.”
“Who? Oh, you mean Tom Hiddleston.”
“Who you…um…based him on.”
“You mean Ron Hiddlestone.”
“That’s not his name.”
“I’m pretty sure it is.”
“Your knowledge of pop culture is astounding.”
He patted his stomach happily.  “It really is.  People have noticed.”
“Who’s noticed?”
“What people?”
“I bet Michael of Dorkbutt has….”
“Am I missing something?  Have you been…corresponding with him?”
He shrugged. “Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t.  Who can say for sure?”
“You could.”
“I really could.”
“You are infuriating.”
“It’s what my public’s come to expect from me.”
Some times I wonder if I’ve made some sort of a monster.  By making Hershel a pivotal character in a blog, read by upwards of twos of people, if perhaps I haven’t swelled an already rather water-logged noggin.
We may never know.
“Let’s get back to the point”, because sometimes it’s the only chance of regaining anything resembling equilibrium.
“Yes, let’s.”
“I think the only person I can safely say it doesn’t look like is Ro-goddammit!”
“See!  It IS Ron!”
“It’s not Ron!”
He raised an eyebrow.  “That’s not what you said 20 seconds ago!”
“That’s exactly what I said 20 seconds ago.”
“45 seconds then.   Let’s not get hung up on semantics.”
I couldn’t even risk trying to say it again.  Ron Hiddlestone was too deeply engraved in my brain as a name not to say for me to ever hope to avoid saying it.  The conclusion was foregone.  All hope was lost.
“That guy.  That’s the one person MonsterMan doesn’t look like with the hat.  Or in any light. Ever.”
Hershel humphed, huffed, harumphed, then said “Do you think maybe you’re just seeing in him what you want to see?”
“Of course I am.  Of course.  I don’t think that, Hershel, I know it.”
He looked slowly but kindly, and patted my shoulder.
“Well, then.  Sometimes I wonder what the world is like in your head.”
I smiled.  “Likewise.”