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Stories

The Gift of Flight

In my story, “The Gift of Flight,” a few children around the world begin to float.  They float up and up and away.

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“Good night, Danny. Sleep tight.”

Mr. Dawson kissed his son’s forehead and tucked the covers under his chin. Then Daniel’s father left the second story room of the family barn, since converted into their home.

Violet, velveteen night enveloped the bedroom. The feeling of the kiss—damp, with a slight itchiness from the flaxen mustache’s bristley brush—lingered until Danny drew his purple pajama sleeve across his forehead. Danny shut his eyes, his fingers gripping the edge of the turned-down sheet.

He waited for piscine Slumber to gently nibble, bite, then swallow him whole. After a few fishlike nibbles from Sleep, Daniel felt himself fade away and float upwards. He opened his eyes.

He was hovering above the bed.

*****

In London, close enough to Big Ben that Kate could hear its bass toll, see its dull and colossal shape, its peering face, and its aging splendor, Kate listened to the high music of her mother scraping away at the violin. Her mother was playing Bach, a gigue, from partita number three, in E major. She was sitting at the window in the next room. Kate’s mother tended to get drawn away into a ruminative reverence, touching bow to strings with Chagallian fluidity and grace; she dove into the instrument until the music enveloped her, stripped her nearly bare, like a woman swimming undersea in a thin white gown. The sound was so lush, so liquid, that Kate could feel herself gradually falling into it, swaying her head in pleasant reverie, like a pearl diver dropping into sunlit coral depths.

The apartment was simply furnished: unscrolled wooden chairs, a white cloth sofa, a black and white photograph of Kate’s grandmother—her mother’s mother. Kate stared at the photograph for a moment: at the woman’s mesmerizing eyes, grim mouth, conservative collar, and wrist-length, lace sleeves. When Kate turned to look out the window, into winter’s night, she found that she was floating in air.

*****

The gift of flight was bestowed upon very, very few children. One in ten million. Perhaps fewer. That night in December, ten year old Hans—in northern Norway, drinking a cup of hot chocolate and looking out across the fields of twinkling, glittering snow, into the forest of black pines that lay lit by the waving, emerald contours of the aurora borealis—drifted upwards.

Mikael Proudhom—born in France, raised in Russia by a French mother and a Russian father—glided over his town: a living ghost, a silent, warm specter. He glided across the fallow wheat fields, swathed in snow. He sailed toward St. Peter’s basilica, one child pointing at him—wordless in surprise—as Mikael obscured the moon, ah what a gorgeous photograph that might have been, and swept northwest.

*****

And what was the reaction of the people? That is the natural question. The dreamers, who have minds like Italo Calvino or Borges or whom-have-you, contemplated the spectacle of flying children with delight and wonder. The children’s flight may have been excessively romantic, an immoderate venture into the sentimental. But, what to do? The flight was as natural as a rainbow. It was not the stringed stage flight of a Broadway artist. The dreamers mused and appreciated. Hunters, of course, joked about shooting the children down, like ducks. Ten points. Twenty points. The priests, as you might expect, chattered worriedly about the rapture, the Muslims called it Haram, and the Buddhists said Live and let live. In short, the people acted according to their natures.

There was only one thing that was beyond-a-doubt baffling, and that was that the children could not seem to come down.

*****

In the case of Kutu Boro, a Masai child, he floated off into the clouds, then higher and higher.  He finally grew so cold that he shivered, shook, then he suffocated from lack of oxygen. His body continued to rise. When he reached the exosphere, his body heated, until it caught fire and was incinerated, then his remains drifted to terra firma. Ashes to ashes.

Daniel’s flaxen haired father, a very practical man, tossed a bedsheet up to his son, who was floating against the roof of the converted barn. Using the sheet, Mr. Dawson pulled Daniel down. The father then looped a belt around the son’s waist, and he attached a carabiner to a line that he strung throughout the barn. Now Daniel could move like a mountain climber, hand-over-hand, from one room to the next.

Kate’s mother didn’t have ingenuity like Daniel’s father, nor did she have carabiners. So poor Kate just bumped repeatedly against the ceiling.

*****

The marvel turned into quite a disaster. In the first twenty-four hours—while statisticians attempted to determine how many Floaters there were, while scientists tried to determine what had relaxed gravity’s laws for some but not for others, and while people who wished to fly muttered, “What the hell? That’s not fair!”—the vast majority of the floating children perished horribly, in the same way as Kuto Boro.

Hans, from northern Norway, was let outdoors by his brother, Samuel. Samuel and Hans wished to see how high Hans could fly. The last that Samuel saw of Hans, he was vanishing like a helium balloon, albeit like a balloon that waved and shouted frantically.

Mikael Proudhom, very fortuitously, got his belt stuck on the steeple of the basilica. After the citizenry calmed enough to credit his predicament, they proclaimed that he was in a dilemma. The citizens, accordingly, dispatched firemen to the rooftop and charged them with getting the boy safely down. Thirty anxious minutes later, Mikael was safe and sound.

As for Kate, the joys of flight wore off quickly, as she felt herself being gently pressed by a reverse gravity against the ceiling.

Danny, attached to carabiners, felt delighted.

*****

Heaven only knows how statisticians do their jobs, and the devil only knows how accurate their numbers are, but twenty-four hours after the children first took flight, the figures were in. Of the estimated 248 children worldwide, 231 of them had floated into outer space and been suffocated, and one had floated upwards only to be sucked—like some otherworldly or ungainly goose—into the turboprop of a passenger aircraft. That left an estimated 16 children. Sixteen very unlucky—or very lucky, depending on how you look at it—children.

*****

A few theories began to circulate about what to do with the floating children. The first was that the children should be given time, and that they would come down on their own. This was, as you might expect, answered with the question, “Well, what if they don’t (come down)?”

The second theory involved the addition of weight. Those advocating this theory suggested that the children could walk around with a backpack of full of lead weights and water, and, much like a hot air balloon with ballast, the weight would keep the kids at equilibrium. Those people against this solution asked, “What if the children, by accident, don’t carry enough weight? They will zip up into the atmosphere, and we know what happens then!”

The final prevalent theory (there were many minor theories), was that a medical procedure could be performed on the floating children, so that they could be cured. This was advanced with much of the same pseudo-science as the theory of curing homosexuals with electro-shock therapy. In other words, there were some very confident, very determined predictions, but there was not one iota of actual evidence that this procedure would work.

The gist of this last idea was that the children would benefit from a small surgical incision in the belly, and that, much like the deflating of a helium balloon, they (the children) would return gently to earth. The children’s parents balked at this idea, and, because the scientists had no rats with this particular floating syndrome, no lab trials could be conducted.

The long and the short of the problem was that nobody knew what to do.

*****

Daniel’s father, recognizing no quick solution to the problem, chose to bolt steel plates with eyelets to the barn walls, with the idea of permanently anchoring the carabiner lines. His plan worked out flawlessly for his marvelous son.

Mikael Proudhom’s mother, who was more practical than the father, permitted a team of government-endorsed doctors to perform psychological tests upon her child, at the rate of 55,000 rubles, or $23,000, per test. Five tests were scheduled, and by the time that the doctors were finished (one shudders to report honestly, but accuracy is the name of the game), Mikael was blind in both eyes, and his brain had been reduced nearly to cinders.

Still, he floated.

Kate’s sensible mother, knowing that the press would hear of Kate, first changed her floating daughter out of a skirt and into a pair of jeans.

“The first thing those pigs at the Daily Mail will do is take prurient pictures of my daughter,” Kate’s mother muttered.

Indeed, it was only a matter of time before the men in the media stormed their quiet apartment, and, when they did, Kate was front page news in denim.

But stories must have legs, or they will cease to run. So, after a month without developments, even the story of the floating children was relegated to the back page. After still more time, the story vacated the newspapers entirely.

*****

On the one year anniversary of the day that the children were given flight, the floaters descended to earth. Each of the children drifted slowly back down.

Mikael Proudhom, who had the brain of an infant, could not walk, and he never would walk again.

Kate, who would go on to become a botanist, described the experience in her artful way, “I was, for awhile, but a bird.”

Daniel told the story to his friends with a great deal of glee, and, later on, he married a sturdy Nebraskan wife, and together they farmed wheat.

The doctors scratched their heads, the carrion eaters circled once more with their microphones and cameras, and the statisticians sent up a final tally. Of the original 256 children (the number had been adjusted throughout the year), 250 had died; one (Mikael) had suffered mental incapacitation; two more had suffered physical incapacitation; and that left Kate, Daniel, and another girl named Azahara.

It was Azahara who created the works that you can see today in the Prada Museum in Madrid; they are the wonderful oil paintings of flying women. And it was she who, in her black-and-white photographic studies, captured the intimate daily life of Catalonians. Finally, it was she who became world renowned for her impersonal literary diaries, of which this shall be her final entry.

Categories
Poems

Late Last Night I Went to Bed

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Late last night I went to bed
And tentacles crawled around my head
They pulled me deep
Into my sleep
The tentacles around me curled
And pulled me to another world
One with dreams and nightmares real
With swimming sharks and snakes and eels
With valley floors with heads of stone
With dancing skeletons made of bone
With burning coals and fires blue
You know these lands, for you’ve slept too.

I stood atop a rocky spire
And looked upon the world entire
I saw winged creatures gold and black
And leapt from the spire to one’s back
It sailed with me past ticking clocks
And places where mermen lived in rocks
And then I fell from that beast’s back
And plunged and plunged into the black
A cyclops hairy, vast and great,
Roared that I’d be the next thing he ate
His voice rolled off the cave walls as he spoke
And remained in my mind after I awoke.

Categories
Poems

Ray’s Home is Overgrown with Flowers

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Diego Garcia – Mixed Species Marsh, Wikipedia Commons

One day Ray woke to discover that plants had overgrown his home.
A tree rose through the chimney, the carpet was covered with brome,
Ivy crawled up the bricks and wound over grout,
And when Ray squeezed his toothpaste tube, roses came out!
He had to brush his teeth with a paste made of petals,
So his evergreen breath smelled of needles and nettles.
While on the bookcase, where the photographs of his parents had lain,
Were garlands of daisies, tied in tender knots in a bright daisy chain,
And in the picture frame which’d featured a Eurasian magpie,
There was now a photograph of a desert landscape full of succulents and cacti.
In the kitchen bowl where there’d been garlic and chilies,
There was now water, and, in it, red and white Santa Cruz lilies!
When Ray opened the refrigerator door,
He discovered its chamber was abundant with bright slipperwort.
And when Ray walked into his once plainly furnished living room,
He found it overflowing with fungi, a forest of mushrooms!
All throughout his home, wherever he went, wherever he stood,
Ray was surrounded by orchids, azaleas, wisteria and wormwood!
But the most peculiar thing of all, was that Ray felt something in his foot,
And, looking down, he noticed that it had grown a root!
And from his fingers, there were growths of shoots and leaves
And the woody drapes that a liana weaves…
Ray suddenly felt thirsty for water, though his urge to pursue it was scant,
And with a final green look at the verdurous world, Ray turned into a plant!

Categories
Poems

The Monster at the Party

The Williams host a fine dinner party, but a monster shows up uninvited, wearing a tuxedo and monocle.

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A fine party was thrown at the Williams’ home,
And the guests they all wore their best.
Lily had come with her hair in a bun,
A tennis bracelet, and a brooch at her breast.
And Cindy’s diamonds did shine,
While her emeralds looked fine,
And the gentlemen wore cuff links and vests.
But of all the attendees who came,
One was not quite the same—
He stood out from the rest of the crowd.
He wore a suit (that is true),
And he had polished his shoes—
But it wasn’t his clothes that stood out…
He was a good nine feet tall,
And nearly as wide as the hall…
With a face like a tyrannosaur!
He was mottled and scaly,
His white eyes glimmered palely,
And on his sharp teeth were remnants of gore!

Mrs. Williams she said,
“Now I may be misled…”
(Here she gave her husband a forward shove)
“But you should tell him, my love,
That although we’re delighted,
This fellow has not been invited,
And this party is just not for him.
And if he’s aggrieved,
Well, firmly ask him to leave,
And tell him we’re sorry, but there’s been a mistake.”

So Mr. Williams approached the stranger and said,
“Good evening, my name is Fred,
But then Fred stopped himself there…
Because the monster gave a menacing glare,
And Fred’s heart dropped in his chest for a mile
Before he steadied himself and put on a diffident smile.
“Ahem! My friend!” Fred began again,
As he puffed his chest and sucked his gut in,
“Well, I see that you have six arms!
And that’s just one of your charms—
For at the end of your arms there are claws,
And razor sharp teeth in your crocodile jaws!”
At that the monster gave a broad grin,
That creased his pebbly skin.
Then the monster looked through his monocle,
That made his eye seem maniacal,
And he took his top hat off his head.
And wouldn’t you know it,
But there were two antennae and so it,
Seemed he had already heard everything that Mrs. Williams had said.

The monster said, “I hope you won’t fret,
If I’m not ready to leave just quite yet,
Because the reason I’ve come,
Is to feast upon some
Of the guests whom I have just met!”

Then the monster flexed his great chest,
And the muscles burst out of his vest
Revealing skin that was like a dinosaur’s!
There was screaming and wailing amidst his terrible roar,
As the monster broke from his formal wear,
He commenced to rip and to tear
The doors from the walls
The ceilings and halls,
And to destroy everything that was in sight
He ate up Mrs. Williams,
And her diamonds worth millions,
And then he disappeared into the night.

When the dust cleared from the raid
And all the guests stood afraid
One man stood up and began to proclaim,
“Well, Mrs. Williams she was a fine host,
And so I propose a fine toast,
Of her finest and Frenchest champagne!”

And so the glasses were raised
And the revelers continued on in their ways,
Drinking and dancing that night.
For it’s better to stay up,
Through the small hours and sup,
Than to try to sleep while you’re frozen with fright!