That is a line from my latest stab at the third book of my ‘trilogy’. Saint Lysette and Bloody Alice. The second is done– Alice in Oregonlandia.
I’ve started that third book over X amount of times [at least four] and have stumbled upon…well, will do a whole blog post on that. I am determined that September will be ABOUT WRITING AND WHAT I’M WRITING OR ELSE I’LL EAT MY OWN HAT. I have two hats. One is from Thailand. I won’t eat that one. Because I got it in Thailand and I need to remember I was once a brave little world traveling cookie.
American politics, at the moment, make me want to write snarky comments under news stories and start my own religion so I can get a megachurch, too. The Church of Annabella. I’ll preach on America First, everyone else can just suck it and why guns are holy and in the Bible.
Hence, the focusing on the gentle art of writing and the gentler art of promotion of said writings. Yippee skip, my cowpokes and cowladies. Mostly because anything I write that way– [I edited out a mini-rant on AmeriJesus running over SJW’s in a chariot. Uh huh.]– makes me a bit, well, unfocused and scattershot. So!! Let’s get promotin’!! Isn’t this fun?
The first leg comes out in September.The House on Clark Boulevard.
Ghosts. Holiday meals. Human sacrifice. Will Nancy ever get those Christmas cards written? How can a housewife get a kid potty-trained if she’s fighting the forces of darkness? Who is Mr. Peepers and just why does Mr. Blue do what he do? Who will get up to let Fred in? It’s certainly not Art! Will that turkey ever cook?? Is Calgon far more magical than that company let on? Find out these questions and more!!
The House on Clark Boulevard.
The street is real, by the way. That house, which is one of the characters in this book, was one of my childhood homes. I was just a little older than Alice Stockhorst when I lived in the actual house on Clark Boul-de-bard. That’s how I said it, because I was, like, four or five.
We were living in Washington State by the time I hit first grade…Paterson Elementary, where you could spend your whole recess watching barges go up and down the mighty Columbia if you so wished. We took field trips to McNary Dam [giant man-eating catfish!] and to Tri-Cities [Pasco, Kenniwick and Richland] to see the ballet. Memory, it cleans up those images you wish to be sparkly and nice, doesn’t it. Oh yes.
Oh, I made my grandmother–the real Grandma Joan in my about to hit the market book, whose middle name was Joan– drive us past the dead bull when I lived in that house. A dead bull they had not yet taken away. Yes, one of the truly darker parts of that happy fantasy friendly barn yard picture some of you hold dear in your heads. What happens to large dead animals? When they get all ripe and stinky and very very very dead? La la la!
It fascinated me, that gas-bloated dead behemoth, and she indulged my morbid tastes, like any good granny does. Kids, they love death and gooshy stuff. That shiny, balloon-looking carcass we had to visit as long as it remained a fixture of the landscape. Back then the roads had not yet been paved and the ruts shook her little car.
A Lynx. Or maybe that car came later, maybe she had another car before that, there’s so few left to ask. And I find I’d rather romanticize than ferret out the boring make and model of whatever car she ACTUALLY had at that period of time. I remember her silver Lynx, a Ford. I remember the bull and my grandmother driving us by it so I could get a good look. That much is true. That much will go in the documentary called What Ann Wrote. It will be produced two hundred years from now when people ‘discover’ my writing and there’s fan clubs and…
Oh look, there’s me not being a total unicorn-happy butterfly of positivity!
Back to this book about to TAKE THE WORLD BY STORM. Yay!!!!
A friend of mine has helped me set up readings. In Ontario, Oregon. At the local library and possibly, at this little wine place that features ‘local talent’. Second and Wine is the name in case you’re ever in Ontario, Oregon. Chefs, authors, foot models, who knows. I don’t get out and about, I am not in the loop, even the tiny Eastern Oregon/Western Idaho loop. I’m nearly a total recluse at this point in time.
So, the reading/s.
There might even be a Boise, Idaho one. Big city, bright lights, fellow babies. I know, Boise is relatively ‘small’ when compared to, say, Los Angeles or Hong Kong, but I am not getting on a bunch of planes to go to Hong Kong. That takes more than the seven dollars I have in my purse at the moment. Just saying. There might be ‘some places’ in north Boise– which is apparently the arty end?
If you know Boise at all, that’s mildly funny. If you have no idea what a Boise is or have never heard of the state of Idaho, well. Maybe that’s God’s will working wonders in your life, who can say at this point in the narrative. I’m being totally, like, sarcastic, so let’s return to our regular blog post road, shall we?
Being a grad school grad, I’ve had public readings of my stuff.
Oh yes. I’ve seen my work done on stage, either really well or so badly I actually died a little. I’ve had to sit and take criticisms that were more about tearing me apart than addressing my work. I’ve gotten great stuff from actual enemies who hated my guts. I’ve gotten many a neutral ‘good job’ from actual friends who perhaps didn’t wish to hurt my feelings.
So I’m not shaking over reading a few pages for the public’s amusement/boredom. I probably will be a lot more nervous once actual dates and times are nailed to that cross of public speaking, oh yes. But it will be more about– what do I wear, my hair should be murdered with a nuke, should I just shave my head or what and what did I do with my beige iridescent lipstick? [A shout out to the real Dirty Dancing]
Oh hey, I have a new book coming out!! You can buy Oregon Gothic!! I also write plays, so produce them!! I’m fabulous!!
Alliteration aside…or not, that is up to you, toads of the post-modern landscape…this is going to be about me swinging back to JUST BEING ME.
I have lost my way. As a writer, as a human, as a human writer. I’m more focused on what can sell or does sell or doesn’t sell at all, fuck it god damn it fuck…than on actually writing stuff. Stuff and things. The things that catch my attention. Instead of focusing on market trends and just how much to blog and share and how to infiltrate writer’s groups and not come off as creepy or aggressive bitchy salesperson…I should instead glory in figuring out how a giant squid can devour an entire village of lesbian giraffes. [I made that up. I’m not actually working on a tale or play about a giant labial-ish squid, in the manner of Cthulhu,set to devour a village full of prickly quadrupeds who are full of the love that dare not speak its name. Mm. Mm!! I could call it–Jesus Sends a Squid, and then market it to fundie Christian markets. Or not.]
I need to stop trying to be commercial or whatever that is. Stop being hesitant. Self-censoring. Hesitant. JUST BE ME, MYSELF AND I, HELLO, SHUT THE DOOR, GET OUTTA HERE, DUH. Just fucking write. Stop worrying about how to sell it or market it or get it into the correct slot! [Except realistically I can’t do that. I don’t have a trust fund. I’m not in a Hallmark movie. Reality never bothered me much before so why start actually facing shit now?]
Gosh, will this fit into the PG family-friendly horror category my publisher wants or more toward kitchen sink post-apocalyptic anti-modernist comedy stylings that seem to be trending right now?
Just write. Write. Let it splatter out like hot shit from a goose’s saucy backside. [As they poop a lot. A lot. As in they have lots and lots of poop and it splatters.] Stop caring about things like dragging in pennies every few years for something I’ve put out there! So what if my family has written me off as a good argument for an abortion. Just write.
If you don’t know already, I’m not talking to the collective you. I am ripping into myself in a sort of pep talk. I am trying to get some inner riptides to savage me. Yeah, I went there. I had to find a way to give that romance novel bodice ripper compound title up there some sort of legitimacy. I’m trying to rip the scabs off and let the inner infected fluids fly out as they will.Splatter and splash as they will. Yippee kye aye!! Stop trying to be something you’re not, kiddo!! Stop trying to please everyone with your bowl of limp wilted lettuce offerings. Stop trying to produce prose that slinks apologetically about like a whipped canine. Get busy writing or take up sculpting!
Gol dang it, could you be any more precious and fragile?
I could be. Oh yes, I could be.
For those of you who might be confused, this is where I pretend I pretend I don’t actually have inner voices talking to me all day long. It’s cute. It’s probably getting stale by now. It has a whiff of cutesy stale crackers by now. Okay!
Well, don’t. End this buckaroo burbling and bumble off…BINT.
Funny. Bint. Ha ha. Urr urr urr. Too bad I can’t harness you to a wagon and turn you into cash.
What? Was that a crack about how we’re not pulling our weight?
Kinda. If the shoe fits.
Maybe you should try writing something people actually want to read. Try that! Why has that not occurred to you?
Like what? I am open to suggestions. Hit me. Power point me. Note card it and do a speech at the podium.
Are we actually having this fight in public for the one person who actually bothers to read this bumblesnatching burblefluff?
Why not? Posting my actual work seems to be a real snort-and-ignore.
A snore?? Bwha ha ha ha. Bwha ha ha. There’s more laughter coming at your expense. For the rest of the day.
Thanks, as always, for your non-help. You do realize we’re all in this together?
Hey, we can migrate to other brains and infest them any time we wish. We’re imaginary!! Maybe you should get back to being precious and writing creativity checks you can’t cash.
Oh fuck you.
That’s the spirit! You go, girl!! Go write something good for once. Don’t worry, you’ll get all tough and don’t-care and then come right back to wah wah wah can’t write can’t write wah wah wah!
That was just mean.
Oh we’re sorry. Do you want a donut? Hey…
I’ll end that there. Because why be self-indulgent when you can be off writing about a giant squid attacking a village full of talking same-sex giraffes?
PS– Hi. Hi there. It’s the day after this, um, we’ll call it a post and not a mental breakdown…Yours truly has, indeed, tackled the lesbian giraffe village attacked by a giant squid possibly sent by Jesus. Apparently, Sunday afternoons is when my short story gears grind into motion. I plan to clean said short story up and submit it. I might even do a series of tales about my beloved, now, to me only at the moment, characters from Deadlion’s End, who live along Beasthead Bay. Always Be Hustling. ABH.
Oh, I totally lied, gentle readers. I’m not going to jump into my enduring love for Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King. Not right now, anyway. I’m teasing you, for now, you–the collective three people that drop by once in a while to peruse whatever I’ve smeared and smushed into an incoherent blog post. Thank you all, by the way, for reading my posts. I appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I wrote this short story about a miniature dragon.I set it in one of Idaho’s actually truly historically famous towns–Idaho City. Which used to be the biggest city between St. Louis and Portland during the late 1800’s. Used to be. There was a gold boom in Idaho, and Idaho is now known as the Gem State. They have Famous Potatoes, but they’re actually the Gem State. Anyway!! Personal note: my aunt and uncle used to live up past Idaho City, up around Centerville, which might sound gigantic and Chicago-sized, well, it’s not. It’s teeny. As is Idaho City. We visited there a lot for holidays and otherwise, so yes, Idaho City and those gorgeous mountains do figure in my writing. Gold miners, murders, boom town, Native Americans, history of the real west…it’s like human nip to me. That’s cat nip, except for humans! Or maybe that’s just chocolate. Or coffee. Or fries drenched in gravy. Or homemade bread just out of the oven. Or tacos. Or. Or. Or.
So I just imagined, being a writer, that’s kinda my job…a business owner with a surefire tourist attraction, a little dragon in a cage. A woman business owner, who has made the best of her situation and where she lives and what she has to work with. This is probably one of the favorite things of mine I’ve ever composed. I like how pragmatic and practical Jane is and I rather like how that dragon developed. I won’t post the whole story, as it’s close to eight thousand words…and hey, you can read it yourself in…wait for it….wait for it…OREGON GOTHIC!!!Which is available for purchase! And– if you can, go leave a review. Good, bad, indifferent, leave a review. I need to start asking folks to LEAVE A REVIEW.Apparently, word of mouth only works if there is actually, um, word of mouth.
Oh…even though my BOOK might be titled OREGON GOTHIC, it does include tales of a somewhat Idaho-laced Gothic nature as well. Because Eastern Oregon, where I am and Western Idaho happen to be hopelessly intermingled. Eastern Oregon is rather snidely referred to as part of Idaho. We’re even on Mountain Time here, instead of Pacific, like the rest of Oregon. You switch time zones when you go past Farewell Bend, up by Huntington, if you’re inclined to go investigate that. Snake River, Farewell Bend, Huntington. Anyway!!!
And now!! An excerpt from COME FOR THE PIE, STAY FOR THE DRAGON, one of the tales included in the fabulous and awesome and wonderful and fabulously awesomely wonderful OREGON GOTHIC:
Along Idaho Highway 21, there’s a little mining and logging town called Idaho City. Well, once upon a time, about a hundred years or longer, it had mining and logging and the reputation of a real hot place to be any time of the week. Now, it’s more of a sedately dying tourist trap. But that’s for quite another tale. People do drugs here now and sell stuff to tourists passing through. There’s also skiing and snowmobiling during the winter months. It’s a busy little two-lane heading up into the Idaho mountains, that ole 21.
Now, Jane Spudman, she changed her name because of the tourist trade, her actual last name was something like Heinburg or Hindendammer, Jane ran a little diner and curio shop. The name over all this was, yes, The Spudster. It featured local game– elk and venison and pheasant, mostly– the famous Idaho potatoes, homemade pie and one caged, tiny, always depressed miniature dragon.
This combo diner and curio shop sat smack right on the highway, where one just had to jerk the wheel a little to arrive in the dirt parking lot. Jane had painted the outside a sedate pioneer white– the actual color on the paint cans had been Pioneer White. This had been obtained from a mark down sale at Home Depot, she told everyone. Jane hunted out bargains and mark downs the way others hunted fish. Her eyes would light up, her blood would race as she made her ten dollars, usually all she carried in cash, stretch to the utter limits. She even bargained at times if she had to. Americans don’t know how to haggle but Jane did. Well, Jane knew slightly how to haggle. She mostly just walked away if she got insulted enough. Where or how she had gotten that miniature dragon in the cage, she never said. It was her greatest secret, she often murmured, with a twinkle in her very German blue eyes. Her grandfather had spoken German and lived in Nebraska most of his life, Amherst, Nebraska– if Jane can be trusted. Her ancestors had come over right before the Civil War, she was the daughter of actually very acceptable immigrants. She often said she was not Irish. For some reason, she had a great loathing of Irish roots. Also, her far-distant German immigrant ancestors had not been slave-owners, which she was also proud of. Jane had a framed picture of some grim-looking folks who vaguely resembled her, wearing old-timey clothes, a black and white print, which she claimed was her relatives from the 1880’s. As Jane stood over six foot tall, with dyed black hair, and wore a Levi vest over a Boise Broncos t-shirt most days and Wrangler jeans over bright purple cowboy boots, well, there was really no telling if Jane had simply found this old picture and claimed it as her own. People did that when they worked with tourists for a living.
So, on a late fall day, with snow threatening at any moment, Jane put a freshly made coconut cream pie in her revolving pie and dessert case. There was also key lime, banana cream, lemon crunch, rhubarb, cherry, apple, huckleberry, chocolate silk and peanut butter. She changed the lineup of her pies to keep things interesting. Once in a while, she whipped up a cake, during those long winter months, to amuse herself. Cake just seemed more filling and right during January storms, she said. Her cook, Leanne, flipped burgers on the grill, her hair held back in a bun covered by a hairnet. A couple of hunters sat drinking coffee and waiting for their burgers and fries, and yes, pie. They wore the Day Glo vests of orange and also wore the camouflage pants that no deer or elk, of course, could see, ever. The deer were always fooled by the half-missing humans pointing bang sticks at them. One hunter was bald, the other was not. Others in the Spudster ate omelets and stacks of pancakes, as breakfast was served all day long. People liked breakfast all day long, Jane had never understood diners who only served eggs and toast and bacon to ten or so in the morning. Give the people what they want, they’ll pay you money for it, was her genial motto. Her waitress, [ and of course Jane had several waitresses on reserve with names like Becky and Susie], Cathy, who had dropped out of high school to give birth to a very much unwanted baby just last year, slopped coffee and topped up water glasses. She never smiled but she did manage to keep her snarl of a voice pleasant enough when at work. Nineteen and already used up and spit out by life. Cathy also said the dragon had come from Satan’s bedroom. Cathy had taken up Jesus big time since her life had gone to Shitsville for a possibly life-long stay. As Cathy didn’t bother the dragon or even go near it, Jane let it slide. As long as Cathy worked and slaved for pennies, what did it matter how Cathy thought the dragon had come from God’s arch-nemesis? It was more funny than threatening. And God knew laughs were needed to get through a day spent with tourists.
Jane went to the curio side of her business. Two children stared in at the sleeping dragon, which had two mottled bicolored wings– fog gray and grass green– curled along its sinewy back. The boy was about ten, with an upturned pig snout of a nose. The girl, a sister or even twin sister, was about the same age or just big for her years. They had reddish-orange hair, curly and rather repugnant. Jane had no urge to pat their heads nor did she honestly find them adorable. They were not. But she put on her pleasant face, and busied herself near the shelf of antique dishes. The dragon slumbered on. There were faded scars on its shoulders and the long, horse-like face where it had tried to bust itself out of its jail. Jane had placed the cage, five feet by five feet, on a pedestal and had roped off the area around it so no one could poke at or hurt the dragon. It was, after all, about a foot long, maybe longer. Men judged everything on inches, she did not. She had no wish to see her big draw taken out by a careless or malicious tourist, and truth be told, tourists were both most of the time. People traveled out of their home towns and turned into bona fide turds. She herself experienced this the further she got from Idaho’s borders. On the rare instances Jane did manage to drive or fly anywhere, her impulses went from kindly and polite to unkindly and impolite. She pushed and shoved and demanded with the best of them. Once in O’Hare, she had shoved an old lady to get on a tiny plane headed back to Boise. It had been a supreme act of arrogance and meanness. And so satisfactory!
“It’s not a real dragon,” the boy said, looking at Jane like one might look at a math problem one didn’t want to do, with loathing and exasperation and disbelief. The girl clicked her tongue, making a tuk-tuk-tuk noise. What had they been doing in here unsupervised? Oh dear.
“I assure you, it is.” Jane moved her carnival glass up to eye level. Cathy served the hunters their burgers and fries. She had even more zits clustered around her mouth than usual today. A good healthy dose of self-esteem and Dove soap might help. Cathy also needed a winning Powerball ticket, and a trip to some bountiful future where poor stupid girls became rich intelligent women.” You two from around here?”
They were not. Jane knew just about everybody who crouched, lived, squatted and rented around these parts. These two goblins masquerading as children were not local spawn. “Pasadena. The good part. We ain’t from this fucking shithole. We’re from California. God!” The girl said.” It’s not a real dragon. It’s an iguana. Or a Komodo Dragon. I watch a lot of reptile shows. I know reptiles.”
“Yeah. A fucking iguana. This is lame.” The boy added, giant shallow eyes raking over the curio side of the diner with absolute disgust. The dragon in the iron cage opened one sky blue eye. The girl stepped back, barely avoiding a jet of tiny black-tinged flame. The boy hooted like a sick owl. “What the hell!”
“It’s not an iguana,” Jane reiterated gently. The no-trespassing space about the dragon was both to protect the little animal and to protect tourists and locals alike. It spat fire now and then. She had been burned rather badly during a careless moment passing too close. That burn, on her left forearm, had taken almost a year to heal. The doctor had had to graft skin from her thigh to close up the nickel-sized hole. Jane had not been careless like that since. The dragon hated her with all its tiny might. It never grew tame or compliant. But. It drew in customers and customers paid the bills. And very few people these days in Idaho City could actually pay their bills.
“It’s a trick, a dirty old trick.” The girl said, quite determined to prove an actual dragon just an ordinary lizard which someone had rigged with fire-breathing abilities. “Come on, Walter. Let’s go get some pie. Stepmonster said we could have some if we behaved.”
Walter, the boy, the goblin in disguise as a boy, all children were actually goblins in disguise, sniffed, wiped his nose on his sleeve. “I thought dad said no.”
“Dad can suck it,” the unnamed girl said without a look at Jane. But the blue-eyed dragon got a glare, which it returned with interest. Jane smiled her vague, of course I’m happy to be here with you smile. The dragon was due for a mouse. It ate them from the tail to the head. Tortured them as it ate them. But. It was the only food Jane could get the miniature monster to eat. She had tried lettuce, seeds, nuts of every kind including the expensive macadamia. She had tried hamburger and pork sausage, both raw and cooked versions. Chicken, too. The dragon had allowed itself to be fed a mouse now and then. A live mouse or at times, if the dragon was hungry enough, a dead one from a trap. Its hide, a smooth furless hide, would ripple and change color when it was hungry. From the normal dull gray-green to bright poisonous lime and bright black. She knew then that it would accept any mouse in any condition when its body looked like a tennis ball intersected with bright black bands. Minus the fuzzy roundness, as it was a lean little monster, with its ribs clearly marked, the hollows of its long face marked and immediate. It was also unnervingly silent. It just watched. It just observed. When she cleaned the cage, she had to put the dragon into a gunny sack full of nails. The dragon had to be handled with falconer gloves and placed into the gunny sack. Full of nails. Little iron nails. The dragon would not move. And she very carefully placed a bucket over this. The dragon had tried, once, to escape, even though touching the nails had clearly hurt it severely. It had panted and moved about and shuddered for days after. And licked the raw places the iron nails had touched, looking at Jane with real understanding that it was Jane and Jane alone who had caused all this misery. Some sort of allergy, had to be. As she herself had an allergic reaction to metals, she had a faint sympathy for her tourist draw. Her ears grew into bright red, pus-filled horrors if she wore earrings. She had tried three times to have pierced ears. Same result every time.
Of course other places had tigers and bears and alligators for draws. Or some sort of sideshow. She had heard of a small hole in the road somewhere in the wilds of the Cascades, somewhere in Oregon, where they kept a naked two-headed boy on a chain. And the tourists could pay money to watch this two-headed naked boy being fed rats. Or chickens. Sort of a messed up version of the circus geek, usually a male who had bitten the heads off live animals for people’s amusement. As people were highly amused by watching cruelty and observing freaks. Always had been. Always would be, no matter the clime of political correctness.
The two goblins disguised as children went back to their table where their parents, two ordinary pinkish sorts, were slurping down chicken fried steaks and talking about leaving their awful offspring somewhere for others to raise. Or so Jane imagined. She liked to amuse herself imagining rather terrible things about her customers. It helped her deal with their demands and impossible arrogances. It helped her deal with their disbelief that an actual tiny dragon existed, let alone existed in a cage in Idaho City, Idaho, Boise County, United States of America. She considered such dark fantasies harmless and was very good at wiping her face clear of any actual emotion or reaction she might have felt toward anyone.
This is a short story from my Oregon Gothic collection. This particular story is not set in Oregon; it’s actually set in Bangkok, Thailand. I went there for a week or so in my second year of teaching in China. All by myself, by the way. I even spent the night at the Macao airport to save money. How many airports have I spent a night in now? Mm. O’Hare in Chicago. LAX in Los Angeles. Houston, when I flew into Honduras. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting or have blocked out. Oh. Denver! I spent a chilly night in Denver waiting for a seven thirty AM flight to Boise. I got in at midnight, flew out at seven in the morning…yeah.
Which has nothing to do with this short snippet of a story at all.
Other than I spent a night in Macao before flying on to Bangkok.
So. I picked, at random, a hostel [they are cheap and all over Asia, so roll your eyes elsewhere.] called the Chili Bangkokand booked it. I somehow managed to get there, via a real taxi; the driver spoke English. I didn’t speak a word of Thai, still don’t. I had the address of the place written down to show the taxi folks; moi had prepared! I didn’t yet know about tuk tuks. Which are the tiny three-wheeled taxis where the drivers charge whatever they want. I got lost my first or second day and had to take a tuk tuk back to some point I vaguely recognized. Boom, big fee for not that far of a distance. But. That’s traveling and I was so relieved to be not so lost, I paid. And resolved not to get lost again. And I got to see, well, some garbage-clogged waterways, some houses, flowers that were just gorgeous, some Buddhist monks walking about, this and that and that and this.
So. And here’s a TMI tidbit coming up so either skip this next part or just grit your teeth and bear through. My Aunt Flo was visiting and I do mean VISITING WITH A CAPITAL SCARLET. So, my vacation was pretty much me hunting down ibuprofen, discovering how to work the hostel washing machine and walking about looking at stuff. Yeah, Aunt Flo viciously waited until my vacation to knock on my inner doors. And didn’t let up until I was back again in the dorms in frozen Shenyang. I’d call her a name but she doesn’t really care and does whatever she wants anyway, so…
There was a small 7-11 down the street, where I bought pain killers and little fruit pies filled with cassava instead of cherry, chocolate or apple. They were so good. Yep, I went to Bangkok for the junk food. Yep. No, I didn’t. I went because I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand. And since I had the almost funds to do it, I went. In the school where I taught, we had almost two months off between January and March, due to the big New Year’s celebrations. So many teachers used that time to travel China and other places nearby or to even fly home and back again if they had that kind of moolah. I did have the requisite Thai iced tea and did eat Thai food, mostly chicken and cashews because I don’t like fish. I drank a few Singh beers and generally mosied about in my area, on foot, and just had a most leisurely time of it. [Aunt Flo just laughed and laughed.] And I booked a day trip to Pattaya beach. Which went quite well. The tour group picked me up just down from my hostel and took a small group of us over to Pattaya for the day and brought us all home and dropped me off near my hostel. I also booked a trip to the River Kwai to go see the elephants but…I waited and waited for the tour van, the next morning after the beach trip, which…never…showed…up. I waited for two or three hours, then gave up and just took a long walk that day, sunburned and irritable anyway from the day trip before. [As in wanting to go back to the beach, not because the beach trip sucked.] I wandered into a festival celebration with dancers and a street fair, so that was groovy. Somehow I even managed to get back to the airport and back to China and back to my dorm room, all on my own. I don’t speak Chinese, so that’s quite a feat. Going from a hot tropical friendly place to a cold, iced up Siberia wannabe SUCKED SUCKED SUCKED. [Shenyang is about the coldest damn spot on the planet. I will swear on a stack of Bibles they have winter nine months out of the year. Get me some Bibles.]
The following short tale came from me enjoying real coffee, [China does not seem to have coffee other than Starbucks or the odd little place that caters to Westerners] and real bread, French-style bread, at the French bakery place by the River City Mall. [Chinese bread is boiled and sweet, for the most part.] Watching people come and go on the ferry. Listening to conversations around me, sometimes in English, often times in French or German or some language I didn’t know. I just got a ‘what if a mermaid popped her head up out there in that dirty river?’ stray cat sort of thought.
And the rest is my somewhat slightly bitter ode to Bangkok.
THE MERMAID OF BANGKOK
Every day, at around one o’clock, she breaks the surface of the dirty water. She is bald, with slime-covered skin, gills behind her vestigial ears. She has long eyelashes like a seal, long thin arms with webs between each taloned finger. People gather against the railing of the River City deck– point at her, take pictures, record her as if they’ve suddenly all become Hitchcock with a dash of Bergman. They have members of their party pose with her in the background, rather like one would pose against the lumbering miserable indifference of a zoo animal. Having been to the Beijing Zoo, I rather know that indifference the Asian captive zoo denizen exudes.
Her other half ends in a tail. Like a goldfish, it’s rather pretty– gleaming shiny coppery scales, with dark brown and even a dull red scale here and there. Bangkok or the administrators at River City, the big mall that overlooks the Chao Phraya river, where the boats go up and down obligingly, have designed her costume well. Touches of random brilliance make up her wet fine feathers. There’s a French bakery place, called Folies, where you can sit and not see the mermaid. You have to be seated at the Thai eatery, with its astronomical prices, to enjoy a Singha beer and watch the half-female, half goldfish break the tainted surface, bob up and down, look toward the deck and the gawking gawkers with a truly indifferent laissez-faire indifference and then disappear. She is of course, fake. She has to be.
Mermaids are imaginary.
And this is not a world of wonders, no matter what the shiny posters say.
I labor under the delusion that this world does not actually contain anything magical or fantastic. A tiger is magical enough. An elephant. A bulldog contains elements of real wonder as to its skeletal construct. A tornado can do magical-ish things, like rip the roof off a barn. And leave the barn standing. It will ignore the three year old child standing in the barn watching the roof get torn off by the tornado. How does the tornado know to ignore the child and not the roof? Magic. God. It can’t be chance, right? Chance doesn’t work like that or, there’s no such thing as chance, we just made up that word to explain things we can’t explain yet. I labor under the belief that this world is very dull and everything is eventually explainable. That there is a mathematical formula for God, if one wills. Something with angles and pi and x. I’m not mathematical so someone with a mind for such things will have to have a go at the God equation. I also utterly know there’s no love or hope left, at least in my life. But I won’t get tiresome.
I watch her rise and sink on the river current. She needs a rock to sun herself on. That would be a picture for National Geographic, or Weekly World News. There is a cut across the back of her head. I saw it when she turned her bald head to peer at the Sheraton that looms over the river in magnificent rather phallic splendor. The manager at my hostel, who’s surprisingly tall and has better English than I do, told me about this newest attraction to grace Bangkok– the mermaid in the Chao Phraya. There was a weariness in his face that perhaps he was not aware of– that exhaustion of dealing with the public for a living. Oh the mermaid, he said with perfect polite tones; she’s not yet on the tourist map he tore off to show me spots to visit. I’ve only made it this far so far, about a five minute walk to my tiny room. My ambition to explore went away before the great wet heavy heat here, the sunshine like a slap. I cannot seem to venture out and be bravely energetic. I sit here sipping an iced coffee, at sixty baht a glass, and eating cashew chicken, judging her, wondering how she can bear to be in that filthy water with the dead sandals and dead coconuts floating around her midriff, which is bloated. Or perhaps her costume needs adjusting? Her breasts are tiny, but it is Asia, and an Asian mermaid would not be stacked like a Hollywood enhanced starlet, it would not be believable. Or family-friendly. Though breasts are very family-friendly if you actually consider such considerations.
She is probably one of many. With a latex suit or a wet suit decked out to look like a mermaid’s morphology. Probably some enterprising racketeer designed her suit and hired a few local girls for this acting gig who had no desire to spread their legs or cheeks or lips for tourist penis. Is that cynical? To imagine being a fake sea monster in a dirty Thailand river is better than being a blank-faced greased up hole for sweaty, red-faced German visitors who work for BMW? If I had to choose what fate suited me best, I’d go for being a fake half-fish.
Call me kooky.
My iced coffee is watered down by the melting ice. Ice, such a novelty after living in China. Where everything is warm and the coffee tastes like lukewarm ditch leavings. I study the beads that form on the clear glass, trying not to see the sixty year old women in their too-colorful sundresses. Their skin runneled and brown, their hair carefully styled and streaked or pulled back in those ponytails only the sort of rich can pull off with any aplomb. I am wearing a black tent, the bottom stamped with some dull brownish pattern, as apparently even here fat women are designated to the black-only and must-be-tent-shaped to fit clothing option. I am considering just sewing two colorful scarves together to make a colorful something or other. Why not. I’m already damned for being fat, might as well go to hell in something other than a black, shapeless circus tent.
But this isn’t about me. This is about a strange tourist draw. The mermaid of Bangkok. I watch her as she swims about. Surely a real mermaid would not choose to surface anywhere near Bangkok. Where she’d be in danger of being caught, hooked, eaten over a bed of jasmine rice. Or examined in a lab, have a look at her own steaming guts before dying as some scientist slices her open with a surgical knife. While she’s still breathing, of course. Just like every movie ever made about finding some magical creature– the evil scientists gather to mangle, destroy, hurt, murder. That there are records of scientists doing just that, well, giant shrug of ironic proportions, baby. But the mermaid doesn’t seem to know how life works. Or that she should sashay her fishy ass to Phuket or Pattaya, where she can access the real big wide salt water someone carelessly colored aqua, using the entire aqua crayon.
Oh no, this Bangkokian mer-person swims about with total unconcern. For about five minutes or so then she dives with a saucy, slow flip of her flippers and tail.
She’s tiny, not a big peasant-type mermaid. A tiny typical white guy’s version of an Asian chick, if you get my not-so-subtle dig. Except she’s bald, a mermaid with cancer. Or a mermaid making a statement. A feminist mermaid perhaps.
Ah, there’s the flippy tail, the end of her aquatic show. I’ve been here three times now, it’s always the same. People murmur and rumble all around me, in French, Thai, Chinese, German, English, Japanese, other languages from the Middle East, from Africa, from Turkey and Scandinavia. Families drag around their children like annoying accessories they wished they could trade in for fancy purses. People stalk by with their eyes glued to their tiny phones, so self-important I want to smile and feel some sort of absurdist delight in their self-importance. But I don’t. I just feel rather flat and annoyed with it all. Remember when phones used to stay home, attached to the wall like a chained dog to a tree? Ah, the good ole days! Remember when we could leave our electronics at home? Is this progress or a nightmare? These are my thoughts in the hot Thai sun, the air stirred now and then by the wind’s spoon. If wind uses spoons. Obvious thoughts already thought of a lot by other thinkers.
People move away from the railing, return to roving through the little shops inside, full of silk scarves, carvings of elephants and Buddhas, necklaces of shell, stone and bone, clothing in every color but Protestant beige, and, of course, purses. The big purses that are just fancy sacks with elephant prints. And gelato and iced coffee and Tha iced tea. That orange liquid that tastes of smoke and sun and spices.
Except today, the mermaid surfaces again, the boats passing by her with unconcern, the tourists leaning down to take more pictures, more pictures, pointing, then taking more pictures. Is she changing her show now? Did she make a mistake? Stage fright? Her wide bony slimy face worried and somehow oddly fragile. Those giant black eyes search the crowd, for a moment even meet my eyes. This is new, she’s never broken her routine before. My stomach knots for her. I long to offer her a beer, ask her how she got this job. Did she have to interview? Did she just know the right people? She goes underwater, the greasy surface rippling and foaming, the ferries going by. I can sit here and drink too-expensive coffee or wander about, buying trinkets and observing Thai life. Today when I arrive in River City, knowing I should have shaved my legs, the stubble embarrassing, I note that there is a crowd down below the railings where the mermaid shows up to delight the tourists before dipping down into the polluted river to tend to her mer-babies or whatever she does. I note that there are several Thai police, that an ambulance has been driven onto the wide white courtyard. Did someone fall over the railing into that river? Did someone fall off one of the various boats, hurt themselves on the rocks and garbage? I hear tourist voices, low shocked humming excited voices. And I draw nearer, ignored.
It’s the mermaid, with her head split open, her eyes wide and unsparkly. What’s left of her wetsuit, ah, floats in the water like a sad remnant of some Mardi Gras ride. Coppery scales lay atop the water bravely, torn away from where someone patiently sewed them in place. Her legs, no longer forced together for her art, are wide apart, her sex bare as a child’s. We all pretend to look away from her nakedness. She had really shaved her head. The police draw her all the way from the water, then place her remains on a stretcher. And cover her with a white pristine sheet. And we, the watching gore crows, know nothing of shame or remember that she’s human like we are. She’s just another exhibit in exotic, sexual, erotic, deadly Bangkok. A dead one now, one we will forget in twenty seconds as we look for bargains on silk scarves with elephant patterns.
The dead mermaid is lifted over the railing and the crowd barely parts for her until a policeman barks in extreme irritation at one and all. So we shuffle aside, staring, staring, at the bumps and dents of the sheet over her, at the red spot that is glued to her broken head. Dark red and glistening as raspberry jelly. It makes me want toast. How perverse, how perverse what we think of before death itself.
A man is crying, one of the waiters at the Thai eatery that overlooks the river. Another waiter pats his shoulder, they are soft-spoken Middle Eastern men with liquid ink eyes. The sky holds fat, artistic clouds, perhaps it will rain. The two men speak to each other, their black heads bent and reverent. Perhaps they knew the mermaid woman, or perhaps loved her. And how did she come to such a fate? Did a boat hit her? Did a human take a club and try to drink her brain juice like one would drink coconut milk after breaking the shell? I’d have to go with boat, propeller or other such equipment. Like manatees getting bludgeoned in the Florida Keys. Just a horrible accident. And I strangely felt sadder over the thought of a gray, puppy-faced manatee getting killed than that mermaid woman.
Or not so strange. Humans somehow deserve every miserable awful desecration that befalls them. Manatees don’t. Simple as that. All the collective bad choices of generations visited onto the present generation, if you want. All that murderous greed come home to roost like a monstrous radiation-contaminated chicken. Laying an egg already rotten and full of black gunk when cracked open. That’s my view of the human race at this point in my life.
I sit at the French place, after choosing a sausage roll and an Americano. I have Pride and Prejudice with me, but it sits on the table, looking elitist. I cannot bring myself to open it, read about Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s quick draw impressions. People come and go off the ferry. They file by, in flip flops and six inch heels, in suits and ties, in shorts and tiny little skirts, in t-shirts and silk. They automatically glance toward the whirling cop lights but continue on to wherever they will go that day. My coffee is hot, strong and welcome. The fruit vendors are slicing and dicing their wares out on the street, pineapple, papaya, watermelon, some pale green melon, perhaps durian.
And I wonder if there will be a new mermaid tomorrow.
I hear people, two English-accented older gents, talking about the dead. They are behind me, also sipping coffee from white cups. “Did you hear? I heard she hit her head on the bottom of a ferry.“
The other man answered, sounding like a bored James Bond with a lisp. “Weally? That’s so bloody awwwful.“ The ‘ awful ‘ drawn out like a sigh over a bad selection of deli meats at a dull party.
“Poor thing. I bet someone killed her then dumped her body– it’s how they are here. Bloody violent.” The first man opined. As if England was the land of peace and Gandhi.
“Almost as bad as America,“ the first man added. I ducked my head, unable to refute that. Being American myself.
The two continued. But it was about where they were going for the day. How they wanted seafood for dinner. How the air conditioning in their rooms was not strong enough. How the Chinese girlfriend just wanted more and more jewelry…and by then I could no longer stand their chattering.
Of course she wanted more jewelry! It took diamonds to suffer that smelly little dick near her lips!! Oh the things I wanted to say to strangers and friends alike. But I had no desire to be part of their evening stories. Some crazy Yank told us off for no reason, Martha, Xiu Su, for no reason at all. We were drinking coffee, there was this murder, we were minding our own bloody business. Or perhaps the Chinese galpal had named herself something like Dolphin or Rainbow or Taco. Or Firecrotch. Who am I to judge?
I had no desire to be tattooed into those two men’s memories.
At the hostel, I overheard once again, about the murdered mermaid.
I was sitting outside, smoking. With a bottle of water nearby. The cats that lived in the alley were eyeing each other and me and everyone else, when not checking each other out for future mating possibilities, as not a single cat anywhere seemed fixed. They wailed all night. One cat was small and black, the other a Siamese, ha ha, a Siamese cat in the heart of Siam. But. At the other table, the annoying Euro trashies complain about the murdered mermaid. How they had penciled her in for tomorrow before they caught their train and now that was ruined. One girl, with dirty ashy blond hair done up in a tres chic backpacker French braid, spoke into her phone to her mum, as the girl called that said personage, mum, we were supposed to go see this silly mermaid show and she got butchered, butchered, mum, I said butchered.
They all smoke, all five of them. You come to Asia and you smoke, nothing feels right unless there’s a cancer stick in your elitist fingers.
The others murmur how violent and twisted the world is. How sad. How sad.
Butchered, mum, butchered!
I long to smack them with their own still-beating hearts.
They move on, to real topics. A trip is being planned to Phuket. They will spend one more night here at the Chili Bangkok. Then drift out into the world like stemless daisies. To tramp over the beaches and pet the elephants and pull on monkey tails, and take pictures of their dirty unwashed selves to post on Facebook or Twitter or…some new site somebody’s inventing even now. I will post pictures myself, with a tired certainty that no one will even care or hit the like button by any of them. I will be in none of them, I’ve asked no strangers to snap my image against this or that. And I took pictures of that mermaid woman and I even took a picture of her being hauled away beneath that sheet. I am no better than anyone else, I am no worse. It’s rather comforting and awful to know such a thing.
I cannot seem to help myself. After another night spent on the most uncomfortable bed ever invented, other than that bed with the nails driven up through it for those skinny guru guys to rest on, I tramp down toward River City. The tuk-tuk drivers call out to me, hey madame, you need ride? Hey Madame. Hey Madame. Their fragile little vehicles wait, open on all sides, basically a golf cart. They charge what they want. From twenty baht to four hundred. I was lost my first day here, took the ferry just for fun, got out when people on the ferry shoved and yelled at me, I was standing in the wrong spot or just looked like I needed to be yelled at and shoved. I thought I could just walk down along the river…but of course not. The road twisted away, developed into an octopus of roads and I was lost and confused. And a tuk-tuk brought me back, for about eighty baht.
I made the mistake of taking a tuk-tuk for a tour, but he kept trying to take me places to buy stuff, so I got out, paid him the twenty he wanted, and then tried to figure out where I was. Another tuk-tuk, piloted by a truly emaciated little man, tried to charge me 400 baht to take me to River City, and I laughed and laughed. At least then I knew I was being scammed, right?
So, I ventured out at noon. To see if they had replaced the mermaid.
No, there was no new mermaid in the river.
I sipped lime-flavored iced tea. And waited. Ordered a cheeseburger. I know, it’s Thailand, but it was what I wanted. Fries are extra. And counted the days, three, until I went home, back to my crapfest of a job as an ESL teacher. Red. ABC. Red. But America has no jobs and I am unemployable, unpretty and so debt-riddled it should be a crime. Many work in China who are running from their real lives. Which is fine. Running is a way of life anymore. That face up to your problems mantra…is just nonsense.
A sleek bald head emerges from the river, in almost the same spot the other mermaid emerged from.
I hold my breath. She is different, with a different-colored tail. Blue-green, her fingernails painted to match. She looks afraid, her eyes too big in her pinched wet little face. She is gone too quickly, she does not have the exquisite timing of the other mermaid yet. Yet. But she will.
I am almost happy. I am so somewhat glad they will continue this. That the copper-ended mermaid woman did not die in vain.
As House on Clark Boulevard is in editing at the moment, I’ll take that as a good sign from whatever dark gods control the universe. As the editor took sick, well, that’s par for the course. My hope barrels are full of sand and ticks and I should probably post something totally optimistic and up with people, but I just fucking can’t do it right now. Sorry.
But hey, the Oregon Ducks get to advance in the Great Basketball Tournament of Death, or whatever it’s actually called. March Madness. I know what’s it bleeping called. I already used up my one allotted cussword. I’m still trying, desperately, to be a lady. Sigh. March Madness! Suddenly America goes nuts for b-ball. And ignores it the rest of the year. Unless you’re an actual basketball fan, of course.
Danger noodle, wah.
Okay. What was I blatherskiting about? Oh yes!! Upcoming book coming out. What’s it about, Ann? Let me tell you, gentle readers!
It’s about novel length and is not a short story. Ha ha. Ugh. Okay.
No, for reals and such.
Set in 1978, against the backdrop of Thanksgiving and Christmas, this is one young-ish housewife’s fight against the forces of darkness as well as wrestling with a family she’s not sure she likes, enjoys or even loves. Mr. Blue claims he can make all the ghosts and beasties that torment her on a nearly daily basis go away. The giggling ghost boys who play pranks on her, some times all night long. The rolling teethed beasties who sometimes try to push her down. Mr. Peepers, who lives in her daughter’s room. All she has to do is sacrifice her oldest child, Alice. Nancy balks as this, of course, because she’s supposed to be a good wife and a good mother, damn it! She’s also dealing with a toddler who hasn’t yet mastered where to poop or pee, a husband struggling with his own dreams, the newest girlfriend of her ladykiller brother and holiday turkeys that sometimes won’t cook fast enough. She’s got a lot of shit on her plate, man! Alice, by the way, can see the ghosts and beasties as well, and lets this slip at the most embarrassing moments, of course. Nancy decides maybe she can trap these annoyances, after a trip to the local library. But it’s Mr. Blue she starts to gun for as a showdown looms between a woman trying to play the role of good wife and mother to one and all around her and a possible demon come to make Nancy his personal pet project.
Frankly, I wanted to have some fun with the haunted house themes. Every movie I seeor book I read about people and ghosts has the people screaming and loosing control of their bowels. Or so it seems.
What if, I went, what if someone just found the haunters annoying and in the way and just another thing to deal with in a day filled with cleaning, cooking constantly and never-ending childcare duties? [And yes, this is totally about my mother, okay?? Okay.]
Nancy is hard-headed practical and pragmatic. She tackles what she can tackle. I rather like how she let me tell her story. She even showed up, at times, to steer me into how she wished her story told.
Not that, she’d say. No, that isn’t what happened. I remember Anne Rice talking about her creation, Lestat and how she had Lestat looking over her shoulder as she wrote about him. Nancy was in that same category.
I scrapped several versions of the scene where Nancy flees her own house. Until I happened upon the one that seemed right. Where Nancy calls on her brother, who won’t ask her questions and will drop whatever to come get her. Nancy wouldn’t go to outsiders for her problems or…well, you’ll see if that book ever does actually come out of editing limbo and gets put out on the market.
Here’s a bit of a blurb. A taste. A nibble. THE HOUSE OF CLARK BOULEVARD. Oh and the sequel is done, too. I know!! Alice in Oregonlandia. About, you guessed it, Nancy’s daughter dealing with her own life and the fallout of her mother’s battles with Mr. Blue. Are you excited, gentle sorts??
The following is how the book opens, with Nancy preparing her little house for Thanksgiving’s excesses. Well, you’ll see…
The telephone hung in the air. Nancy ran the vacuum cleaner over the shabby green and gray carpet of the living room, ignoring that floating beige receiver held out to her to take. “Not today,” she said briskly. “I’m busy.”
The telephone bobbed in the air, she saw it do so from the corner of her eye as she resolutely went after every last bit of dirt and dust. Which did no good at all in this dusty afterthought of God’s country. Dust drifted up and drifted down, it did not good at all to actually expect it to stay away once a vacuum or rag had been after it. Something pressed against the back of her knees, hard, trying to knock her down. “No. Not today.” She repeated, using the vacuum to keep herself from falling. Another push against her legs. “No!” The see-through little girl peered at her from Nancy’s open bedroom door, in her flour sack dress, holding that severed doll’s head, her face bruised. Her eyes held sorrows, her hair held sticks and leaves and snarls. She disappeared, like hot fat in a frying pan.
Nancy heard the click of the telephone as it returned to the cradle. It rang. She let it, the roar of the Hoover as it sucked up filth a far more welcome sound than the reet reet of the phone. The walnut hutch held her good china, which she would use tomorrow. Her husband had anchored it to the wall. Her brother had helped. Nancy moved a chair out of her way, the four that sat around the dining room table, the table made of polished oak with two removable leaves. These sat in the hall closet, waiting for holidays. The every day floral tablecloth had stains, gravy stains and ketchup stains and mustard stains. She’d get out her good tablecloth for the big day. Dark blue, with a blocky yellow edge. Her Aunt Pansy had made it. Right now, her table had room for about four people. Tomorrow she’d put those leaves in so everyone coming by for Thanksgiving would have a place. She had folding chairs ready to go. She, Arthur, Arthur’s parents, her parents and Aaron and Alice, her two children. Eight people expected. She didn’t know if her brother would show up, with his newest girlfriend, some dishwater blond who liked whiskey. Who would like whiskey a lot. He kept showing up with the same woman, she just had different names. Her eyes rolled. Tom had a talent for picking out blondes who adored whiskey far more than anything else. The phone stopped ringing, after ten reet reets.
The thump of a small something hit the carpeted floor of the living room. She turned slightly and there lay a handful of thrown jacks, waiting for her to take her turn, a small battered red ball moving enticingly, trying to tempt her. “No, not ever.” The ball bounced and some of the jacks disappeared, rusty little toys from some other era. That red, worn ball floated toward her. “No! I am busy!” They tried to get her to play with them. At times, she could almost see whatever wanted her to play jacks. A small form, child-sized, with only half a face, at times. A little girl in a flour sack dress and chopped off dark hair, with eyes as pale as water. She thought there might be two little girls. A giant boy, so skinny she quite wanted to make him a milkshake. Rather harmless, wanting her to sit and play jacks. If only the damn house were infested with such harmless toy-playing things! The jacks, about ten of them, disappeared, the little well-used red ball as well. She had hurt their feelings. Oh well.
Something rolled past the doorway into the small, warped-floor kitchen, where she would cook the big turkey, make gravy from powdered cream of chicken soup and boil potatoes to mash. Something that would stand as tall as her knees, a big fuzzy furry black something that moved swiftly but slyly enough to let her catch a glimpse of it. Over and over as she got that rug into tip-top shape. Except for the eternal dust, the dog hair and the dust, of course. Over and over, that creature rolled, flashing by the door into the kitchen. Once it had tried to push her into the deep freezer. Whatever it was, its humor was that of a ten year old boy. As boys liked to hurt and harm, with no concept their pranks could actually cause damage of any kind. “Go take a nap, I am busy. No. Now leave me alone.” She often thought the fuzzy rolling ball of mischief had, at one time, been a boy. Maybe all little boys who died came back as rolling fuzzy balls that haunted housewives as they tried to get everything done for the damn holidays.
So far, no Mr. Blue. No unseen lips whispering at her. No if you kill her we’ll all go away So far, no Mr. Blue.
I realized, gentle readers, in my vomitus bloggaria attack of last week or so, that I probably need to post this and that from my writing collection. To better remind the few and dogged that I am, indeed, something of a writer. To reveal my hits, misses and downright head-scratchers so that we can continue our friendly ways.
So, aye. Here’s a sampling. I shall even annotate them. Or make something up if I can’t remember just why I bothered in the first place.
Below is a poem I wrote for a contest. They provide a picture and you have to come up with something inspired by said picture. Now. Not much came to me. So I finally called it a day and sent the following in. Because I was doggone determined by that point, no matter what dribbled out of my fingers after days looking at some bland lanscape smeary thingo. I was going to submit something!! Yeah. I think I called it Whale Clouds. I’ll let you know when they name me Poet Laureate of the Planet. Yay! Happy face.
I looked at that picture and went, whale clouds. I saw clouds full of whales above a landscape I’d seen since a child. Dust and yellow fields of wheat and duty stones and houses full of dull good people living dull good lives. I’ve been trying to write something poetical and deep. It comes across as trite and laughable so I will just write this. Poetry is honest little nibbles, yes? Or it’s supposed to be. I should hope that someone reads this and wants to quote it or make a poster around it to tell them something they wish to hear or that sparked some ‘ah, there it is!’ moment. Is that not a moment, to see a whale in those careful or careless cloud smears? Or do I see what I want? And before I can descend into something depressingly precious I’ll end this little shriek with something about hawks and panting coyotes and a black fence that seems quite aggressively divisive and old man ‘keep off my lawn’. Probably just me. Probably just me.
The next offering in my Fragments tour is Mouse Bones. It was written for some little contest that gave you a single word and a word limit. I think the word was ‘Jars’. I rather liked this and might ‘do something’ with it.
Her fingers scrabbled against the jar, stuck far back on the high shelf in her mother’s closet, behind the shoe box full of receipts for the Dollar Store and every purchase made at Dave’s Second Chance Thrift Emporium. The shoe box had gone into the big hefty bag, to be put out on the curb. As her mother had gone into the earth, to await Jesus dropping by for her soul. There, just an old Mason jar. Oh. A mouse skeleton rested in the bottom. How long had it tried to climb those slick icy walls? How long? Just tufts of fur left here and there on the delicate little bones. The tiny skull where those ink drop eyes had once regarded the world with such suspicion and terror. I’m sorry, mouse, she thought, as she dropped the jar into the garbage bag. Receipts, mouse bones, some sort of lesson.
GARRISON KEILLOR ATTEMPT
Below, now, was written for some humor contest. Also had to be only so many words. This is where I, as a writer, cannibalize some family tale for my own selfish uses. See Jellyfish Gravy and Zombies where I said I do that. Stranger and the Bear is prob’ly the name for the following…
Gran’pa looked over at me. “It’s time to tell the story.” I groaned, just the right groan because Gran’pa so enjoyed me groaning. He settled his skinny butt on the seat, braced his feet; this was gonna be good, he was telling me already. “That bear was a big bear. A great big bear. I says to your dad, now your dad was a wet little squirt yet, didn’t know his shirt from Shinola.” Gran’pa meant to use another word but Gran’ma gave him the stink eye. And Gran’pa does what Gran’ma wants, it’s just easier all around on everyone and he’s a wise old coot in some ways. “I says to your dad–look at that, it’s a bear! We was hunting out there in the Blues, way up back, you had to walk in or take a horse. We hadn’t seen any elk but we saw a big ole bear. Now, we had your dad’s ole dog, Stranger, who’d bite a friend and curl up with a thief, Stranger who once brought home a skunk for us all to enjoy. He was a big red hunting dog with a chewed up ear.” Gran’pa took a long suck of his pipe, let the smoke curl out, making me wait, making me wait to hear what came next. I let out a big sigh, just as Gran’pa liked it. He nodded, tapped the table to show the good part was seconds away. “Now, your dad and I stared at that ole bear, a black bear, grizzlies ain’t been around in those mountains for years now, but it was big enough to be a grizzly. Then we saw Stranger. Stranger and that bear were about to tangle. There’d be dog all over creation in a bit! I admit I started feeling real bad for that dumb idjit dog, that was an idjit dog, I’ve never met a dog stupider and meaner than Stranger. I got my rifle up, your dad had tears in his eyes. You bet we were expecting that ole bear to just rip that dog in two before our eyes! Welp,” Gran’pa paused, eyes wide. “There was this big ole pine tree. The bear walked past it heading south. Stranger walked past it heading north. They plum missed each other! I ain’t never seen the likes of it. That bear went one way, Stranger went another.” Gran’pa’s eyes came to me. “A’course, Stranger chased after a farm truck not a week later and lost. But that dog had the devil’s own luck that day, up thar in the Blues. I don’t believe in miracles, but I saw one, when that bear went one way and that dog went the other.” He laughed, and let smoke rings drift up. It would be at least three days before he told that same story again; perhaps he’d add another bear. I hoped so. Maybe he’d add some wolves, too. And a dragon. “Stranger and the bear, it actually happened.”
STEPHEN KING ATTEMPT
The following rather grim little tale I wrote for Halloween, obviously, for a writing class I was teaching. To high schoolers in China. Now. I did not, obviously, share this with them. I wrote something else for an example. At least I don’t remember sharing the following with my class. Sigh.
THE IDAHO DEVIL
The devil works in a dingy café in the middle of Idaho, on one of those backwoods roads that come from nowhere and end nowhere in particular. He cooks fried egg sandwiches and deals for souls. I know, I made a deal and I’ve traveled here to make another. My name is Rusty. I’m a little bit of sawed off nothing to look at, about the same weight as a sack of taters and I ain’t never had any luck come my way. I been kicked around and beat down, sure, been in and out of the system here in the Gem State, been beat up for looking at a guy wrong, sure. He broke my fingers one by one while the other boys just laughed in that one home I lived at for almost two years. They took me to the hospital but it didn’t do no good. Cause I got something wrong with my bones, they don’t heal so well. So my fingers are all crooked and knotty and no woman likes to hold my hand. Now before you start sobbin’ over my life, you gotta know I ain’t no saint, I never rose above or made lemonade out of the rotten lemons that got chucked at my head every day of my life so far. I’m as mean as a broke-back snake. And when I heard the rumors about the devil working the grill at the Sawtooth Café up there outside a Stanley, well, I had just gotten out of jail in Ontario for breaking a beer bottle over this woman’s annoying head. Called it assault or some such you know what. I was real glad when she kinda slithered to the floor, all bloody-headed, with a piece of glass sticking out of her forehead. Real glad. You see? I ain’t no saint. So I got a ride up into the mountains, it was summer, there were tourists and I acted real friendly and harmless. I wasn’t intent on hurting anyone, people can pick that up. They get jittery, then you know you gotta get what you want or back off. Anyhoo, I got dropped off on that little nothing of a road and there it was, the Sawtooth Café, all weathered and worn down and looking, well, evil. Some places just have this look. You know you’re risking something more than your life walking through the door. But I was already long gone lost, if you know what I mean. There were big hogs parked in the dirt parking lot, a few pickups with Idaho plates, so all local flavor. No shiny scrubbed tourists here to look down on the local warts. And there he was, the devil. I sat at the counter, the scratched red counter, and the waitress, with her nametag reading Shawna, pinned to her flat chest, came over after a bit, eyeing me like one might eye a giant slimy pile of chicken guts left to steam in the sun. “ Yeah? Whatcha want?“ For a moment I was too busy staring at the devil, who was a good-looking Indian guy, Shoshone or even Nez Perce, but with these pale colorless eyes that flicked to me, his black hair in two braids hanging over his thin shoulders. Sorry, Native American-looking, right, gotta be all PC now cause of the Lib’rals. Thin, tall, his hands around that spatula flipping burgers sure and easy. He wore a white apron over his white-t-shirt and regular old Wranglers and cowboy boots. “ Hon? You gonna order? “ Shawna asked, her eyes going carefully and respectfully to the devil flipping burgers and adding yellow cheese slices to some of them for the group of bikers in the corner who were drinking coffee and wearing leather, long filthy hair and sunglasses. “ Oh sure. Coffee. You got any pie here? I’ve been hankering for some pie. “ Oh how full of it I was. “ Sure, hon, we got pie. “ Shawna told me and the devil turned his head my way as if he sensed I wanted to do some wheeling and dealing. I was just the sort the devil loved, all out of luck and full of desperation and bullspit. “ We got apple, coconut, blueberry and peanut butter, banana and custard. “ “ Peanut butter. And that coffee. “ I told her, not really wanting pie, but I had maybe five on me and pie was two twenty five a slice, plus coffee, would just about bankrupt me. But I acted like Joe Moneybags and she never called me out on it, just brought me some bitter, black as hell coffee, and about the best slice of peanut butter pie I’d ever had. She drifted over to refill coffee cups for the bikers and the devil spoke to me from that greasy, spotted, dim kitchen. “ You know me, Rusty? “ Not even pretending he was anything else but Lucifer or whatever the devil calls himself in private these days. “ I do, “ I told him, deciding if the devil already knew my name, then he knew I wanted to deal. And probably already knew what I wanted to deal over. “ I can give you seven years. “ His voice was low, smooth as new cream. Sweet as a promise you know won’t get kept. “ You can start over. “ My biggest wish. To just…erase my past. To not be a tiny, broken, ugly, pathetic mess. To not be me. “ Sure. I have to sign anything? “ “ You just have to shake on it these days. “ The devil smiled and his white teeth gleamed. I took his hand, his cool, smooth, lineless hand. No lifeline, the devil had never been born and would never die.
So I’m back. He made me a child. My parents lived past their accident, and my memories did not support this, I still saw the State cops in the door trying to tell me my mom and dad were smeared over the Interstate like human puddings. I played with toys they bought me at Christmas while my real mind screamed that it wasn’t real, wasn’t real…so the devil left me with my old life, just put a new face over me, made me a child again. And for seven years, seven years, I tried to cut those real memories out of me, the broken fingers, the jail time, the stealing, the just trying to live another day, get through another day. It was all the same. The same Sawtooth Café. The same waitress. The same man cooking burgers on the grill. And this time he had eggs frying. And he looked at me and grinned. “ Rusty, time has been kind to you. “ And how he laughed as the waitress kept her eyes down, her heavily black-rimmed eyes that said she had made deals, too. “ I want my life back. I brought you a gift. “ I had had a dream. A horrible, wonderful dream about what I needed to do. “ Did you. “ The devil did not wear a hair net, but I doubt the Idaho Health Inspectors came here to check out the rat and bug situation. “ I do like presents. “ I lifted the bag onto the counter. I beckoned him over. Shawna kept her eyes down, poured coffee for a local wearing an Obama Sucks! pin on his Boston Red Sox cap. The devil peeked in the sack and then reached in, and took out the human heart I had brought him. “ My, my, “ he said and the smell of him, for a moment, sizzled in my nostrils. Something of heavenly cinnamon and something of hellish ash, like apple pie and burned popcorn. “ A baby heart. “ “ Yes,” I said, meeting those pale eyes, the eyes that had looked into the eyes of God and smirked. Or wept. “ I want to make a new deal. “ “ And? “ His fingers caressed that lump of muscle and lifeless tubes. Caressed it like one might pet a puppy, I could not stop watching the motion of his hand. “ I want my life back…I want my life back. “ Oh the despairing cry of those in the pit. But I cried it, I cried it anyway. “ Bring me a heart a year. A child’s heart. “ And so here I am, with a new deal, and my luckless life back in place, with that other ghostly visit to what could have been a strange smear in the back of my hot, aching brain. You understand now why I have to kill kids? I just take the unwanted ones, the ones that are like I was. Those kids nobody gives a shit about. And only one a year, I can live with that. I can live with that just fine.
Yeah, okay. Human sacrifice, the devil frying eggs, that’s pretty tame stuff for moi, truth be told. All righty! Some fragments, some flash fiction-y offerings, even a bad poem. Hope this makes up for the Danger Noodle Trilogy of Terror. Oooh, remember that movie?? With the evil little doll? Ugh a bug! I still get chills.
So, I’m working on a a sequel to a novel I just finished in December. Which might be coming out soon, I never know these days. How’s that for vague?? I have about twenty five thousand words for Alice. No idea where it’s going. But it seems to want to go and drag me along behind it. Hurry up hurry up! So that’s either a good sign or I’m going insane in the membrane. And then I look up and notice my country [the United States of Pre-Civil War II A’Brewin] seems to be exploding in all directions as hard and fast as possible, so I dive back into my scribbling foray and head off, again, to the shining city on the hill Eighties of Herr Reagan, Dirty Dancing and small town politics. Oh and ghosts, because I’m supposed to be writing about scary things but can’t seem to write anything scarier than the rapid decline of Not-Canada.
See what I mean? And you wonder why other people are defending this who had relatives who came here or who themselves are refugees or recent immigrants or…and then you realize people can justify anything if they try hard enough and want it to be true. Which gives you a case of the cold dead shivers. And makes you want to watch Pixar movies and just wait for the end of it all. So!! Ahem.
I’ll put a bit of Alice in Oregonlandia here, because I’m a shameless huckster now of my own writing, bwha ha ha, ahem, and you can judge me on a first draft effort. Yah?
“Because. Mr. Blue is visiting again.”
My stomach dropped, my skin went cold, I bit my lower lip so hard I nearly severed it. I tasted blood. “Are you shitting me? Why? He always loses when he takes on my mom. Always.” I knew he was about again, but it hadn’t yet been confirmed. That’s why I’d wanted to go to the house and see for myself. Maybe I should call off our Saturday Night Adventure.
“Maybe he wants his slick girlhog.” Mr. Peepers actually said to me. “Maybe he’s sitting there like a patient toad for a particular slick girlhog.” Those obsidian eyes regarded me moistly. The little gross thing actually did actually love me. And, I was not going to let Mr. Blue scare me. My mom had kicked his ass to the curb, twice now. Didn’t he know to stay away?
“Oh please, ” I replied, shooing him off my bed so I could sit. He went reluctantly, those little strange feet slapping down, slapping down. Lysette curled up into a little ball of arms and legs. “I’ve seen the horror movies, you freak. Don’t go in the house! And then they go into the house! This is real life, fruitcake. Real life. He’s afraid of girls. I’m supposed to ignore that, Peepers, old friend, ole pal?” I tried to sound tough, to sound smooth and tough and fearless. Because I did not want to go visit that burned down childhood home of mine now. At all. But pride. Pride, man, it’s a bitchkitty.
Mr. Peepers went to our closet. Lysette and I shared everything, after all. He gave me a look from those awful black eyes of his. Sometimes they had little orange dots in them, as if his eyes were on fire. “That’s what he wants, Missie Alice. He’ll come sniffing out the holes in this house now…JUST YOU WAIT.” The traveler laughed and laughed, slapped his droopy little potbelly and then stalked off into the closet. He had a nest in that house on Clark Boulevard. Where he kept a deck of cards, some socks and other things I made myself forget as soon as he told me. I just like cards, they’re small and slick and pretty, he had admitted one night. I’d wait until mom and my dad were well and truly asleep, not fighting or anything else…and then get up out of bed or off the couch. And play Old Maid with Mr. Peepers or hear stories from the little girls. Rosiecheeks had one story she told–a version of Little Red Riding Hood, where the little girl doesn’t win. The other little girl in that house liked to talk about her doll and the doll’s tongue would come out and try to touch my face. It became a game to not let that tongue touch me. Dirt, what she called herself as she didn’t remember her name at all, would just smile and smile as her doll’s head tried to lick my cheek. It’s not much fun over here, she would complain. It’s not much fun at all. Sometimes the little boys would show themselves, if they weren’t too busy stomping from the back door to mom’s room, over and over. They thought that so funny. Especially if they could get her to wake up and check on the noise.
But where do you go? I asked Rosiecheeks that once or twice. She didn’t know. Or she didn’t want to tell me. Or she couldn’t tell me. Then, to distract me, she’d go into her version of Little Red Riding Hood, where the little girl dies and no one comes to save her. The wolf licked her blood off the walls and Little Red Riding Hood watched this as she died. That’s where it ended. Every time. The story always started with: A bad little girl in a bright red cloak walked into the forest.
Why didn’t that little cloaked brat save herself? I never thought to ask that. A wolf is just a big dog. Pick up a stick, fight back.
So. It’s four in the morning. I’m awake. I wake up, more or less, between two and four every morning, so this is normal. Don’t worry, I go to bed around seven. Because that’s when the heroin kicks in. Just kidding. That’s what you say when you say or write something awkward and want to dull the edges a bit. “Just kidding” is rather like using the term, allegedly, when you say something that you know is probably ninety percent true. It’s just a version of CYA.
Welladay, it’s snowy here in Oregonlandia. As in destructive, can’t go anywhere in this crap, why am I upside down in a ditch, when did that happen? snowy. Buildings are falling down here in Ontario, Vale, and Nyssa. Over in Idaho, poor Weiser lost its only grocery store. A town of about three thousand people, and home of the Old Time Fiddler’s Convention– http://www.fiddlecontest.org/
Okay, this is supposed to be a bloggie blog about my writerly writings attempts, fails, victories and other assorted bleep, bloobs and blumberings. [As a writer, I can make up words. I give myself permission and sign that executive order to make up all the words I wish because I can and it’s bigly good and I approve of this message.] So aye, maties, let’s stop dawdling and get to the meat.
I actually did start a cheerful dystopian not-gritty not-rebooted Shitweasels of Desire. Except now it’s tastefully called– Pimple Hollow. And since it’s amusing to me, and lets me funnel off some of my brain-melting depression a bit, I’ll probably write at least twenty some pages on it. Or start it all over again, and then again after that, until some sort of story actually occurs to me or I’ll put it aside and work on something else I put aside. Because, being a total Gemini– I even have a tattoo in case people doubt that I am indeed a total Gemini– I have more than one novel, play, short story, bit of sloppy self-indulgent poetic snippet or what I call–“junkcrap no one gets to read because it’s on level with something my dog wrote, if my dog drank whiskey and did crack” going at any one time. And then I read where Neil Gaiman does that, too. Have several projects going at any given time, so that when he gets bored, he can focus on something else for a bit and then come back. Oh my gosh!! I DO THAT, TOO. I so do that, too, Neil!!
I also did manage to finish my ghost novel, House on Clark Boulevard. It’s set in one of my childhood homes [we moved around when I was little, so I have several.] during the end of the Seventies. Around the holidays. And yes, it’s a weird mixture of family memories and a housewife fighting the forces of darkness. Nancy, my pragmatic heroine, has to find a way to defeat Mr. Blue, who’s offering her quite a horrific deal. She also had to get through the baking of two turkeys, rocky family waters, and what major appliance will break down next. It’s a full life!
Now, since writers seemingly have to have a series these days, I actually thought, vaguely, of a sequel for House on Clark Boulevard [if you keep repeating something, apparently, people, even though they’ll make faces and gagging noises, will remember it. I think that’s true of propaganda, movies stars, and obscure book titles. Yay!]. I don’t have a title yet, other than Alice of Halliday Road or maybe Alice Remembers. Or something with Alice in the title, since Alice is the name of Nancy’s daughter from THE HOUSE ON CLARK BOULEVARD. Did I mention, yet, that I am already considering a sequel to THE HOUSE ON CLARK BOULEVARD? Well, consider it mentioned!
So!! This as of yet somewhat sorta named not at all yet sequel would be set in the late Eighties, maybe the last year of Reagan. [As HOUSE ON CLARK BOULEVARD was set in the last years of Jimmy Carter’s turn as POTUS. See what I did there?? Points if you noticed, dear reader.] Alice would be taking up the fight, more or less, that her mother, more or less, fought. How’s that for a ‘must-read that!’ tagline?? Sucks, yeah. Thanks. I could also explore how others see Nancy from HOUSE ON CLARK BOULEVARD. And get different versions of events from HOUSE ON CLARK BOULEVARD. Fun! [Points again if you notice the repeating title I keep repeating, dear reader.]
I also started a novel about ghouls. Which I labeled “Infection“. But. It’s fairly hardcore graphic and has cannibalism right off the bat. I might post some blurbies from it for future bloggie blog postings, the scrubbed and nice paragraphs only, of course. We might be in a post-PC world now, but there is a limit!
It’s probably tortureporn a bit, ayway and should be kept locked away in this writer’s little trunk of “nevva evva gonna show that to a living soul, amen”. Why am I bringing this one up?? It’s a project that I set aside! It’s not calling out for me to come play. Oh, did I mention I finished HOUSE ON CLARK BOULEVARD??
I’ll end this rambling screed with a shudder at anyone eating lamb blood pancakes with raisins sprinkled in the batter. Raisins. In pancakes. No!! I saw that on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman. Some supercold, Northern European place, where they slaughtered a lamb, then used the blood to make blood pancakes and…blood oatmeal cookies. [There was oatmeal in the fried blood pudding– they thickened it with oatmeal, then pan-fried slices of that blood pudding in butter– and Andrew took a bite of it, nodded as he does, and pronounced that it tasted like a ‘bloody oatmeal cookie’. With ‘bloody’ being used to describe the flavor, not how it was a wanker. That’s what I got from that, anyway.] So, there were two kinds of blood pancakes made– with and without raisins. Always, always, choose to leave the raisins out. I can’t put a positive spin on that. Just leave the damn raisins out!
HOUSE ON CLARK BOULEVARD. OREGON GOTHIC, by the way, is, like, totally available and doesn’t even have any Goths in it. What??? Buy a copy and find out why it doesn’t contain any Goths!! BUY A COPY TODAY. https://www.amazon.com/Oregon-Gothic-Ann-Wuehler/dp/1514140527