Categories
Stories

House

House is the story of a house that picks itself up off the ground and walks across town.

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Grapes, 9/11/2018, Washington state

Then one day the 1926 two story white house with the green shutters at 4224 Whipple Lane—in that green, affluent suburb with the wide winding roads—tugged its foundation from the ground, scattering clumps of dark brown earth and roots, and began moving down the broad road, soon to be lost from view. The house’s family, when they returned from the mall, were quite surprised.

Little chunks of concrete and wood cracked off the house’s foundation as the house ambled down the road that led to the port. Inside the house, a clear glass vase on a hall table shook, and the vase’s water spilled out onto the glossy hardwood floors. The irises and petunias inside the glass trembled and shook, and the grandfather clock, which nearly always kept the wrong time, gonged in protestation. But with a mighty, creaking shrug of its wings, the house yawned through its windows, sucking fresh air through musty passageways. The air was salty from the sea, and the house’s windows drew up and down slowly, as if deeply inhaling. Chips of paint flecked off the sills and the bottoms of the windows, the curtains flapped and stretched themselves, and the fluttering blinds sounded like tambourines as they flexed in the warmth of the summer sun.

The house turned down wide, two-laned Maple Street, a quaint residential road whose houses butted up against one another like the apartments of New York City and whose yards seemingly were the size of postage stamps. At the far end of Maple Street was a cul-de-sac, and beyond the cul-de-sac lay a small grassy hill, a fisherman’s wharf, and the gently lapping ocean. The house continued along Maple, and the house moved so noiselessly and unobtrusively that, despite its colossal mass and concrete foundation, not even a man reading a newspaper at the Maple & 8th street bus stop noticed the house pass. When the house was not more than ten feet in front of him, the man, who was immersed in an article on Pennsylvania football, let a page of the newspaper dip and, for a moment, seemed to have discovered the house which moved blithely by. But the man picked up the drooping page, ruffled the paper, and continued reading, not any more aware of his circumstances than he was a moment before.

Further down the road, the house’s oven door fell open, and the scent of burnt casserole wafted out while crumbs of blackened crust pattered to the ground. The refrigerator door swung wide, and the cheese drawer fell open to reveal a healthy wheel of Gouda and three quarters of a cold salami. Shaking from the movement of the house, the milk sloshed in its plastic gallon jug, the zucchinis rolled onto the floor, and two half cut lemons gently bumped the side of the refrigerator. A woman beating her rug against her third floor balcony railing threw her hand to her mouth. The rug slid from her hands and fell at her feet. It wasn’t until the house had nearly passed her balcony that the woman recovered her voice, yet when she found it, she screamed so loudly that even her deaf neighbor shuddered, and the man reading the newspaper four blocks away pulled up his head, frowning in curious mystification.

In an instant, many of the windows were full of gasping faces. Doors opened. Men in slippers and women in curlers flooded into Maple Street, crowding the sidewalks as if a parade were passing. Simultaneously, a bus pulled into the station on 8th and Maple and, when the passengers discerned what was happening, the bus emptied, and the driver turned off the heavy diesel engine, descended, and locked the bus’ doors. The family who owned the house had followed the trail of cement, roots, and broken two by fours, and now they stopped their car a few blocks away, merging with the crowd that was following their house.

A woman with a big black camera which had an enormous flash strode up to the house, contorted her body and drew the camera to her eye. Every time she shot a photo, the people nearby blinked in stupefaction and had what seemed to be an eternal after-image from the blast of the flash. Onlookers began packing together more tightly, jockeying for the superlative view. With flashing red and blue lights, police began slowly motoring through the crowd of pedestrians, who parted like the Red Sea. The police dug barriers out of their car trunks, set the barriers parallel to the sidewalks, and formed lines to keep the crowds confined to the sidewalk.

“Move on back!” yelled an officer, shooing people back to the sidewalk like they were chickens. A family—bustling, grabbing their children’s wrists, and quickly counting to make sure all their children were present—moved back to the sidewalk. “Oh God, John,” said a woman with a baby in her arms and another six or seven year old with curly blonde hair held by the wrist, “I’ve just realized I forgot to take my birth control this morning.”

Staring up at the house, holding a three year old over his shoulder, and calling to a nine year old boy, John replied, “Not the first time… Lord, would you look at that house move!”

Dogs whimpered at the sight of the house, running off with tails tucked between their legs and casting pitiful looks over their shoulders. A girl limped behind the line of people, holding her father’s hand and pointing at the house. The father of the girl, a man with a short cinnamon beard, hairy forearms, and a bag of supplies slung over his free shoulder observed the house in silence while listening to his girl.

Past the cul-de-sac on the wharf, an enterprising vendor was selling fresh-caught shrimp out of his stall when he saw the house approaching his stand.

“You lazy shrub,” said the vendor to the pimply fifteen year old who worked for him. “Go out and tell those people to buy shrimp from me. There’s two thousand people lining those streets, and I’ve got seventy-five pounds of jumbo shrimp to sell. Can’t you see the business? Can’t you do the math?”

The boy saw the people, all of whom were focusing only on the house that was moving quietly down Maple. “I don’t think they’re hungry,” he observed.

Cursing filthily, the shrimper picked the boy up with a hand that only had four fingers, set the boy outside the stand, and kicked him to the ground with all his might, “Do I pay you to use your mouth or do I pay you to work?! Work!”

Picking himself up off the splintered, soggy boards of the wooden wharf and rabbiting away, the pimply fifteen-year old cast fearful glances over his shoulder as he hawked, “Fresh shrimp, fresh shrimp!”

In the crowds, a preacher nudged his wife and mentioned that the house was a parallel to the parable of the prodigal son. “That house… It’ll come back,” the preacher reassured her, and she nodded absently, her mouth agape at the sight of the moving house. A group of construction workers, greasy and unshaven, with thick arms and suntanned skin came over to watch the house.

“Huh,” observed one. “Wonder what happened to its plumbing?”

“Beats me,” replied a tall worker with jet black hair, “Probably broke it off. Whoever laid that foundation did a hell of a job, though, I can tell you that. Look at how fast that house is moving—you don’t have a house that moves that fast with a poor foundation.”

“Yep,” nodded the foreman. “You got that right.”

The sounds of conversation mixed and buzzed through the air, and the people followed the house’s path, making guesses as to where it was going, why it was moving, and how it moved at all.

“I know how it works,” said a fellow with short brown hair and brown eyes, nodding his head up and down and pointing at the house’s foundation. “There’s a motor in the kitchen of the first floor—there! you can almost see it through the window there—and that motor powers the wheels of the house which you can’t see because they’re hidden behind that concrete foundation. I know that much for sure. My only question is, why didn’t I think of it first?”

On the other side of the road, near the preacher and his wife, the wife in the family who owned the house spoke in rapid, rainy tones to her husband, “It’s my fault, isn’t it? I never cleaned the bathroom enough, and I just knew that something would happen—”

“Beatrice!” exclaimed her husband, nearly in a shout, “You didn’t know anything like that would happen. How many times do I have to tell you not to kick yourself for things that aren’t your fault?”

“I knoooow,” Beatrice whined mournfully, “But I just think that if we had treated the house better, it might still be where it belongs?”

Her husbands lips tightened and he shook his head.

“Bill!” said Beatrice, “Are you mad at me?”

“No,” he answered, his tone clipped and short. “I just think it’s silly that you think a house getting up and walking off is your fault. And I kind of wonder where it’s going, that’s all.”

“I can’t help overhearing you,” said the preacher, “But I can tell you, whereever that house is going, it’s sure to come back.”

Soon enough, the house came to the cul-de-sac at the end of Maple drive. A small hill lay to the house’s left, about a quarter of a mile away, and straight in front of the house—just past the end of the cul-de-sac and the fisherman’s wharf—lay the broad ocean. At the cul-de-sac the house veered from its path and climbed to the zenith of the small hill, where sailors and citizens backed out of its way. The house circled partway around, so that its back doors commanded a vista of the ocean, and its front faced the people and their town, and there, with a resounding thump, the house settled.

Categories
Stories

The Skeleton Train

The Skeleton Train is the story of a train of skeletons who steam into a quiet village on one snowy winter’s night.  They are celebrating a girl, and her father–a terrible, violent man–cannot understand why.

I wrote The Skeleton Train when I was 23, then I did nearly nothing with it for more than a decade.  But the story always stayed on my mind.  When I re-read it yesterday, I only changed a few commas here and there, and I took out a pair of words that I added seven years ago; they were not part of the original draft.

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Skeleton wedding.  Nov. 11th, 2014, Mexico.  For Death don’t us part.

Snow fell, and the wind pushed it into drifts.  Railroad tracks carved past glacial lakes. The night slept: the trees resting their needles, the drowsy flakes blanketing the white hills, the mute town lights in the distance winking good night.

Aboard the screaming train, the skeletons shrieked.

Inside the compartment, fire red rugs rippled, and candles swung on a chandelier, flinging wax and spitting drops of fire. Splintery tables and chipped chairs rocked side to side and beat against one another’s legs as the silver, speeding train yanked around corners and bulleted up and down hills. Scenery whipped by the window: trees, boulders, and mountains.

The skeletons wore gruesome grins, and their heads were bone-white, round, and rough. Their arms flailed, long and fleshless; the skeletons stretched them out above their heads, pushed them down below their waists, sashayed them at their sides. Circling madly the room, shrieking, throwing their heads back, shaking their hands in the air, pushing off chairs and tables, the skeletons clattered their bones with their dance, and their shadows—hideous, porous—were thrown against the walls by the candle chandelier.

Ahead of the silver train, a tunnel yawned.

The train shot through the tunnel, throwing the skeletons’ car into near blackness, the compartment lit only by the swinging chandelier. Magnified in the tunnel, the train’s screams rose shrilly, cracking the silence of the peaceful night. When the train shot out of the tunnel, a light in a hushed, distant town winked yellow. As the train steamed nearer, lights in the town began flicking on. The lights winked one at a time, then a few at a time sporadically throughout the town, then in great numbers, until the whole town was lit, and the town clock—which read twelve minutes to the witching hour—was bathed in an artificial glow.

With a wail of brakes the skeleton train, whose windows were dark nightmares, save for the single lit window through which the skeletons could be seen, screeched into the station. A whoosh of its brakes announced the termination of its journey, and the locomotive exhaled a jet of white steam which hung sleepily in the snow chilled air. Some of the town’s folk nearest the station came to their doorsteps, but none spoke. Many people wore pajamas with slippers on their feet. Other people stayed inside, wrapped in robes, their faces pressed against the glass of a window to see the spectral sight.

The train door slid open, and an inferno of red light silhouetted the skeletons. The skeletons stood in the doorway. There were five, all identical. One stood with crossed legs, and an arm hanging by its side. This skeleton leaned against the frame of the train door, and it drummed its fingers slowly on the metal frame, one after the other. The pinky started first. One. The ring finger followed. Two. Then all the skeleton’s fingers clicked against the cold steel frame. A second skeleton stood with crossed arms, and a third skeleton slowly extended its arm out the train door and turned over its hand. The skeleton extended a single finger, and on its tip landed a snowflake.

A few moments passed in undisturbed silence. Then the five skeletons hopped from the train, their bones bending so their elbows nearly touched the ground when they landed. The snow before the skeletons had already been trampled; footprints meandered across the snow and a red splash lay in a frozen pool from a littered raspberry ice. Slowly, their knees bending, their hollow eye sockets searching, their arms swinging at their ossified sides, the skeletons proceeded up the main street of the town.

The street was an old one, older than the town. The houses that lined the street were pushed together, like the apartments of New York City, and before each house lay a tiny plot of land for a front yard. The land seemed not much bigger than a postage stamp. The houses were narrow, mostly two stories, sometimes three. The windows were lit. The street terminated in a doughnut shaped cul-de-sac, and the tall town clock, which read five minutes to the witching hour, stood stiff as bone in the center of the circle. With a gold façade and architecture like Big Ben, this timekeeper gonged the hours.

The skeletons walked down the street, pausing now and then to look at the numbers on the doors. Snowflakes fluttered through their ribs, and a rogue flake fell into the eye socket of one skeleton. The skeletons turned their heads; they took measured steps. One checked the clock. There still were no sounds in the street, and the white jet of steam that the locomotive had released hung dormant in the air.

Watching from their doorstep was an old couple. The man wore blue striped pajama pants, brown leather insulated shoes, and he held an unlit pipe between his teeth. His wife—stooped, bent, with silver hair kept in a bun by a tortoiseshell clip—stood by his side. She kept a cane in her right hand, gold-rimmed glasses on her nose, and her breath blew pearl smoke from ancient lips. As the skeletons passed by, viscous as deep sleep, her nod of recognition was nearly imperceptible.

The skeletons stopped at a door near the end of the street. It was the door to one of the few single story houses, and a mother and daughter stood staring through a window. She was taller than her mother now, wearing short blue shorts and a t-shirt. One of the skeletons raised its hand to knock. Its hand paused, rapt and pristine in the cemetery silent air, before falling with a hollow sound upon the door. At the precise moment the skeleton’s knuckles rapped the door, the bone stiff clock in the cul-de-sac gonged the witching hour.

The door creaked open, and a man’s head filled the space between the door and the frame. He peered out, ghastly and thin, with a shriveled mustache and brown and white thin hair to his shoulders.

“What do you want? I’ve got nothing for you. Get on with yourselves.”

The man began to shut the door, but the skeleton who had knocked lifted a finger in the air. As the man closed the door further, the skeleton gently laid the tip of its finger against the door and pushed the door open wide. On the skeleton’s face was a hideous grin, and each skeleton behind this first wore the same. The five skeletons walked in, and the last skeleton, nodding, shut the door. It put its arm against the door, turned the handle, and pushed the door closed, never making a sound.

“They’re lovely,” the young woman whispered.

“Yes. They are,” murmured her mother distantly, remembering the time she had seen them before. She squeezed her daughter’s shoulder.

The five skeletons stood near the end of a long table. The tablecloth was frost white, immaculate, and on it stood two candles with tapered, Christmassy light bulbs in place of wicks. The skeletons looked around the room slowly, and one skeleton picked up a picture off the top of a black piano near the fireplace. The skeleton wiped away a hazy film of dust. The photo showed the young woman as an infant, bundled in pink wool. The skeleton set the photograph back in its place.

The father had backed away when the skeletons came into the house, but now he stepped forward, “You can’t come in here,” he said loudly, gesturing toward the door with his hands. “I didn’t invite you in.” His hands gripped the back of a chair so hard that his veins pulsed.

He tried shooing them to the door again with his hands, then turned his head towards his daughter, “Run to your room Wendy, quick now!”

“No, I’ll stay to see the skeletons.”

“You’ll do what I tell you,” he answered, keeping his eyes on the skeletons.

A skeleton dragged a finger across the tablecloth. The skeleton turned its hand over and looked at its finger, which had not a trace of any dust.

“I washed it today,” said Wendy, before she thought not to let her secret out.

“I’ll thank you to shut your mouth,” said Wendy’s father. “And I’ll ask you another time,” turning back to the skeletons, “—because I’m being as nice as I know how—to get out of my house before I get angry.”

The skeleton who had wiped its finger across the tablecloth showed its spotless finger to the other four skeletons and snapped the fingers of its other hand. One skeleton leaned over to examine the finger. This skeleton stretched out a finger of its own, to touch the finger that had touched the cloth. Bone touched bone.

Another skeleton looked at the finger. This skeleton tossed its rough, bald head back, opening wide its mouth in voiceless laughter, its thin fingers wrapping around its ribs. A fourth began to jig its feet, its toes clicking on the hardwood. It opened its mouth, as if it was shouting.

“What are you doing?” demanded Wendy’s father. “I want you out of my house!” He picked up the dining room chair by its back, and he slammed it against the floor. Its legs produced a cacophonic clatter.

Wendy’s father stood at the corner of the long dining table, his whiskered jaw jutting and his hair hanging down like icicles from bad water. A few feet away stood his wife and Wendy, and across the table, a few steps past its end, a fireplace sunk into the wall with red embers still breathing in the crevices of black logs. Wendy’s father eyed the poker, heavy black iron, standing near the hearth.

Wendy’s mother followed his eyes. “Oh God, Jim,” she murmured so softly only she could hear, “Why is it always violence?”

The skeletons paid him no mind. The skeletons shrieked, circled, linked hands. They tossed back their heads, swinging their shoulders, kicking their feet, laughing soundlessly.

“They’re so joyful,” whispered Wendy.

“I’ve had enough!” Jim roared, gripping the dining room chair and tossing it against the wall so hard that one leg cracked. “Get out, you demons! Get the hell out of my house! You come in here without my permission, and I’ll break your bones!” Rushing to the fireplace, Jim snatched the poker up, accidentally catching its hook on a log in his haste, sending sparks whizzing up the chimney and rolling the logs.

“You two, to your rooms, the both of you! I’m throwing these skeletons out of my house!”

“Don’t you understand?” exclaimed his wife. “They’re celebrating for Wendy!”

He turned, leering through crooked teeth and past the thin strands of hair that covered his eyes. “You’ll both do what I say you will, otherwise I’ll make you feel my palms!”

At that, the skeletons’ dance stopped. The skeletons ceased their muted laughter, silent singing, and noiseless shrieking, craning their necks and peering forward with ghastly grins to observe the scene.

“Daddy, don’t, don’t, don’t!” pleaded Wendy. “Haven’t you seen them before?”

“He hasn’t seen them before,” said her mother, keeping her eyes fixed on Jim. “I never knew your father when they celebrated for me. He can’t know. But we can help him understand. Just listen to us for a moment, will you? The skeletons, Dear, they’re here—”

“They’re here for Wendy! I heard you the first time—But what kind of creature do you want to have in your house? A monster? If you want to be their mistress, Dear, go on and take ’em—side with a skeleton over your own flesh and blood husband.”

“Oh, no no no no no! it’s not that at all!” his wife cried, “You don’t understand! You never understand!” She looked across the long dining room table, seeming to plead him with her eyes. “Say something,” she begged, holding her hands together. “Say anything! Help me, won’t you? Just a little?”

“Just go to bed, will you?” her husband said, tucking his hair behind his ears. “Or do I have to use force?”

She looked at him, knew his face, and clutched her daughter’s arm. “Wendy… Honey… I’m so sorry… Let’s just go to bed, now dear. We have to go to bed.”

“Mom!” cried Wendy. “Don’t! It’s my night!” She yanked her arm away, crossing her arms across her chest. “I want to see them! I’m going to stay!”

“You’ll go to bed, girl, when I say you will!” he said, keeping a wary eye on the skeletons.

“I’m not your girl anymore.”

“You’re my baby until I tell you otherwise. Now. To bed, the both of you!”

“I won’t.”

“Honey, please,” implored Wendy’s mother, taking her daughter’s hand, keeping her eye on the poker the whole while.

“Why?!” exclaimed Wendy, gesturing with her hands, “The skeletons have come to celebrate me!”

“Because I said so!” He took two quick steps towards her, and Wendy and his wife screamed and fled the dining room.

Jim turned to the skeletons, his fist clenched near his chest, “And I’m coming now for you, I am—and I’ll show you the poker. I’ll break your bones!” He heard two doors slam shut in succession and two locks turn. “By God! I won’t have doors locked in my house! They’ll never keep this man out!”

Poker in hand, he darted from the room and disappeared down the poorly lit hallway. A heavy thud could be heard, and a shrill scream flickered from behind a locked door. The sound of crunching, tearing wood could be heard.

The skeletons turned towards one another, staring into one another’s eye sockets. One dragged a finger across the table cloth again and showed it, as if to bring a second chorus of laughter, but the white finger only snuffed the electric candles and threw the room into a darkness so black that the white finger became luminescent. The finger glowed white in the inky darkness, and slowly the house lights were restored, until finally the skeleton’s finger no longer seemed to glow. A woman’s scream reverberated against the walls, and Wendy’s father cursed. The poker sounded again on that locked door. One skeleton opened the house’s front door, and the remaining four skeletons followed it outside. The shutting of the front door muffled the screams within. The street stretched empty. Snow fell. The snow which had been earlier trampled by boots had become soft dimples by the falling snow. The town’s clock, even from a distance, seemed taller.

Chancing to look from her window, the old woman with the silver hair saw the skeletons. “Harry! Come look!” After a few moments, her husband joined her at the window. “The skeletons are going back to their train – it’s only a quarter past the witching hour!”

“Something’s gone wrong,” he agreed.

“I bet it was that awful father,” she mused, “Look at how those skeletons slink! They ought to be dancing!”

“They ought to be, I know.”

“Do you remember what it was like for us, that first time?”

“I do.”

Silence.

“It was that husband!” she said again. “He doesn’t understand anything, and I know Christine had Alan before him; why, everyone in town knew but Jim, he was so blind.”

She paused, tracing her finger up and down the curtain. “They were coming to celebrate Wendy, and he ruined it for her.”

“It’s the way of the world, honey,” her husband said sympathetically. He took one last look at the skeletons then hobbled back to bed.

Categories
Limericks Poems

Sunday Limericks

Mark Tansey - The Innocent Eye Test
Mark Tansey – The Innocent Eye Test, 1981.

The Lazy Artist
There once was an artist from Chartres
Who loved but one thing more than fine art
And that was to be as lazy as hell
And for that he slept long and well
So his magnum opus he never did start.

The Chillin’ Brazilian
There once was a girl from Brazil
Who loved to do nothing but chill
She’s get as high as a kite
And stay awake through the night
And by day she’d sleep for her fill.

The Marvelous Child
There once was a marvelous child
Who drew pictures that were unusually wild
For the pictures that he drew with his pen
Were ones that you and I could step in
And we could live amongst the landscapes he styled.

Categories
Limericks Poems

Sunday Limericks

NUL14127
Jakob Bogdani – Scarlet Macaw in a Landscape

A Sea of Trees
There once was a fabulous sea
Whose waves looked like summery trees
There were breakers like ash
Whose foamy leaves fell with a crash
Amid a forest that ebbed and flowed mistily

The Scarlet Macaw
There once was a scarlet macaw
Who had but a single real flaw
It became the happiest bird
When it would shout a curse word
And leave the polite people in awe.

The Lazy Artist
There once was an artist from Chartres
Who loved but one thing more than fine art
And that was to be as lazy as hell
And for that he slept long and well
So his magnum opus he never did start.

Categories
Poems

Dessert Storm

In this surreal and quirky poem, a young girl named Suzy escapes from her vegetables and runs to the confectionery through a storm of desserts.  In this storm,  marshmallow droplets fall from clouds of meringue, lakes turn to cocoa, and boulders become cake.   When Suzy arrives, the confectioner tells her that his desserts have changed their names to blend with the elements.  Now there are baklavolcanoes, ambrosialanches, tortenados, and much more!

Sarah Lamb - Chocolate Mousse
Sarah Lamb – Chocolate Mousse, 2015.   www.sarahlamb.com

Suzy was just seven, and when vegetables made her sickly
She had to run and race to the confectionery quickly!
Down came rain and hail, and in blew wind and snow,
Near the purple mountains appeared a colorful rainbow!
Then ivory marshmallows fell from the sky like rain,
And all the clouds above were whipped into meringue!
The distant boulders turned to huge crumblings of cake,
While the nearby reservoir became a cocoa lake!
Through the dessert storm, Suzy forged on to the treats,
Where the kind confectioner helped her to the sweets.
“In peculiar times like this,” said he, “A sweet will change its name!
It joins with stormy weather, although its taste remains the same!
Here, my dear, we have cannoliclones and churrocanes!
Sugarsqualls and strudelfalls!
Here the tortenados and tart-typhoons
Surround us like a wild monsoon!
We have ambrosialanches and dangerous fudge slides
That have been tumbled down the mountain sides!
We have coconut cakequakes and chocolate cupquakes
And a tiramisunami that once devastated a land—
With its sweet coffee flavor and its ladyfingery savor
There was no end to the mascarpone demand!
We have solar éclairs that will brighten a day
And a dust-devil’s food cake to blow you away!
We have erupting baklavolcanoes and a shaved ice storm,
A maple barrage and a torrential sundaeluge—
Still the dessert that you want, my dear, depends upon you!”
“I think,” said Suzy, as outside, honey drops began to fall,
“I think, that I would like to have just one of them all!”

Categories
Stories

The Gift of Flight

In “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.

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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

And Tim Was Left All Orange

This is a poem about Tim, a baby tiger at the zoo, whose stripes all fall off when he rubs against his water trough.

Baby Tiger Cub

Tim the Tiger was born at the zoo,
With a trait that caused a hullabaloo:
When the cat rubbed against his water trough,
Every one of his stripes fell off!
And the baby tiger was left all orange.

The stripes lay like leaves on the ground,
Fluttering in the wind, with rustling sounds.
So the zoo director said to glue the stripes back on,
In the depths of night, before the dawn,
So the baby tiger wouldn’t be all orange.

Well the night that night was a deep, dark black,
When the keepers re-adhered the stripes to Tim’s back.
And the baby cub thought it a very fine game,
Because they petted and stroked him and said his name.
For the baby tiger never knew that he was all orange.

So the keepers worked by Orion’s dull shine,
And, finishing, found they’d made an odd design!
For without the aid of their trusted sight,
They’d glued the stripes from left to right!
And they’d left Tim’s tail completely orange.

Well the people came to the zoo next day,
And they admired the very stylish way,
Tim the Tiger seemed to stand
With his stripes in a horizontal band,
And a tail that was entirely orange.

And although the zoo director was raging mad,
The keepers they were not too sad,
For they said, “Well, if he thinks that Tim has caused a stink—
Just wait till he discovers that our penguin’s pink!”
And over time the stripes fell off, and Tim was left all orange.

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Poems

The Color Yellow Hosts a Picnic

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Yellow was feeling sunny,
Blue was feeling blue,
And although Red was being quarrelsome,
Yellow told him to come too,
To a midday picnic party
In a field beside a wood,
One day when the sun was shining
And the temperature felt good.

Well, Blue asked his two neighbors,
The colors Purple and Green,
If they would like to come too,
To the pleasant picnic on the green.
Although Purple felt too aristocratic
To make an appearance there,
Green accepted quickly,
Because she loves the clean, fresh air.

Orange was feeling warm,
Toasting his feet before the fire,
When the invitation came to him,
To join the other colors on the shire.
But he was feeling too contented
In his old, ancestral home,
Wearing his pumpkin-colored robe,
And reading from a pleasant tome.

So Orange and Purple, they stayed in,
But the others joined Yellow that day,
On an afternoon when the warm wind
Carried the fragrances of dirt and hay.
They spread out a checkered blanket,
Which was checked with red and white,
And Yellow said the blanket made her think
Of her friend who reflected beams of light.

At that, impetuous Red nodded and said,
How he and White had once had a drink,
And Red said that his passion had led
Them to produce the color known as Pink!
Well, the other colors blushed to hear this,
But Red was well known for his lack of tact,
So they each continued in their way on that sunny day,
And let every color be as is their nature to act.

Categories
Poems

A Whale with a Handlebar Mustache

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Wilbur the whale had a distinguishing feature
That made seem nobler than his fellow sea creatures:
For on his grey face, the good Lord elected to place
A handlebar mustache that made Wilbur look ace!

In all other respects,
Wilbur met the strict specs
That govern how a baleen whale should be built…
But in this one critical facet
He’d been given an asset
Claimed by no other whale of his ilk!

Wilbur became the pod’s greatest star
And lady whales swam in from quite far
To view and admire his whale whiskers.
For it must be admitted,
Amongst even the most jaded of blisters,
That big blonde mustaches don’t often grow on a whale!
Yet Wilbur he had one, and it was a gem,
Bushy in the middle and curled at both ends!
It required no maintenance,
Nor had it ever.
All that it did was make its wearer look clever!

So Wilbur he swam on through the deep seas,
Year after year, as fine as you please.
He grew old, and he wrinkled,
But that mustache never crinkled,
And he stole a thousand lady-whale hearts.
They just couldn’t resist
The chance to be kissed
By a debonair whale with a mustache so fine!
He’d lift up his eyebrows, and he’d kiss their whale cheeks,
And they’d coo, “Oh, that Wilbur’s divine!”