Books, Memories, Rants, Short Stories, short-short, Young Adult

IF…

There was once a used bookstore just off of the Marion bypass. It was located in a little cul-de-sac, beyond a gravel parking lot, catty-corner with another shop I can’t quite remember. The bookstore was called Redbeard’s books. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would, thirty years later, use a digital publishing platform on something called the “Internet” to sell books by an author named Redbeard. But, I couldn’t have foreseen that at the time.

It was the typical, cramped little place, and very dim inside. Back then, my mother use to wait patiently while I combed video shops (those carried videocassette tapes, which are now essentially museum relics. Back in those days, there were specialty shops on every corner, catering to your particular taste in VHS.) and little junky bookshops. Often, she just sat in the car. Thank God for the patience of mothers.

All I remember of it, from thirty years on, is that the screen door opened up on to two rooms, one where a sort of fat hippie sat behind a desk or counter, surrounded by books…this room leading to two additional rooms, one with heaving shelves of books, and a smaller room with a sort of bin in the center, with books and comics stacked flat. At least, this is how I remember it.

My single purchase at this establishment was a graphic novel adaptation of the movie Bladerunner. A sequel has just been released the month I am writing this; which is a nice coincidence, but has nothing to do with this story.

The other book, Deviant by Harold Scechter, was a true crime biography of Ed Gein. I didn’t know it then, but I would go on to write about Ed Gein myself in three separate books. The Deviant book had grainy, black-and-white crime scene photos that made me feel rather sick. I put the book down as if the vibes from it could poison the soul. Maybe it could, and did. I turned to the comics because they cheered me. It was very dim in that store.

The store was the downstairs of a two-story house, bright white with a cracked pavement walkway around the side to the porch. Well-kept, which was what made the single, cryptic word of graffiti that had been spray painted on the side so perplexing. Around town, I, as many others, had seen such cryptic phrases as “eat shit,” and the even more utterly incomprehensible “1,2,3 CAT!” painted in dripping, horror movie letters on various alley walls and abandoned office buildings. But, “If”? If…what, pray tell? What the hell was the meaning behind this inscrutable expression? And, why was it allowed to drip there, day after day, on that clean white house wall, without anyone ever bothering to paint over it?

That it was the first thing you saw on the way to a bookstore, one brimming full of fantasy and science fiction books, comics, role playing games…maybe it was a challenge to wonder? To fantasize. To dream. It has always struck me that that might be what the mysterious “If” was meant to convey; a sense of plunging headlong into a world that challenged you to ask, “What…if?” What if dragons really slept on piles of gold, in lonely dungeons? What if spaceships flew through the galaxy, hopping from star to star, with alien minds aboard? What if? “Ask yourself,” it seemed to be saying.

“If” is the title of a poem by Rudyard Kipling. It ends with the line, “You’ll be a man, my son.” When I first saw the ambiguous “If” as it had been put upon the clean white wall by some rascally, unknown intellect, (trying to communicate, SOMETHING to the unwary observer), I was not yet, legally, a man. I was probably nine years away from that particular malady.

Rudyard Kipling is considered “politically incorrect” in the year 2017,BTW.

“If” was the name of a science fiction magazine edited by Frederick Pohl. That, in this context, seems appropriate.

“If” is the title of a British art house film, rather obscure, starring Malcolm McDowell, who played H.G. Wells in the movie Time After Time. The film “If…” concerns a British schoolboy who perpetrates a shooting massacre. Today, we live in a world that is rotten with massacres, both shooting and otherwise. Especially at schools. But, in 1987, not so much.

There are other “Ifs”. Silent films. Bad Novels. Forgotten popular songs.
***
IF I had known, in 1987, how much pain was in store for me in life, I might have decided to freeze time in that bookstore, like something from a bad sci fi paperback.

IF I had known what the world of 2017 would be like, what MY world would be like, thirty years ago, I would have chose to stop the clock. I’d be in that damn bookstore forever, and Mom would be waiting patiently out in the car, for eternity.

If wishes were fishes, boys and girls.

If…

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Books, Fortean, Humor, Mystic, short-short, Uncategorized, Urban Legends, Weird

Fox Met Cromwell

George Fox, the esteemed Quaker visionary, once met Cromwell while out riding. In a burst of vision, he exclaimed that, “I smell the stench of death about you!” As bizarre as this seemed to Cromwell, it turned out to be prescient, as Cromwell died a few weeks later, on Sept 3, 1658.

Certain death portents include the stopping of clocks, raps on the door whe no one is there, pictures falling mysteriously from the wall, and raps on the headboard.

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automatism, Dreams and Nightmares, Fortean, Ghosts, Hauntings, Holographic Universe, Humor, Mystic, New Age, Short Stories, short-short, Spiritism, Uncategorized, Urban Legends, Weird, Young Adult

Stead’s Folly

WT Stead

Socialist reformer W.T. Stead was fascinated by spiritualism and psychic phenomena, so much so that when a medium told him he must not, under any circumstances, travel by sea, he went and booked passage aboard an ocean liner for her maiden voyage.

He died aboard the Titanic, April 15, 1912.

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Books, Hardboiled, Noise, Poims, Uncategorized

Sayings of Redbeard – Ragnar Redbeard

The infernal wisdom and heroic verse of the mysterious “Ragnar Redbeard” is preserved here, in this tiny, forgotten tome from another day, another age. The fierce, brutal logic of the author of “Might is Right” is presented herein, along with his epic songs and exhortations to Thor, Odin, and old, battle-hardened, bloodthirsty gods from the long ago. Whether you worship Odin or simply revere the brutal, cynical logic of the strange wordsmith who advocated a “World of warring atoms,” you will not fail to delight in this small book, available again in print for the first time in many, many long and silent decades. From an original, crumbling edition of 1890.

ragbeard

PURCHASE AT LULU:
http://www.lulu.com/shop/ragnar-redbeard/the-sayings-of-redbeard/hardcover/product-23229312.html

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Books, Hardboiled, Rants, short-short, Urban Legends

The Inscrutable Wheel

Kimberly mining camp in South Africa, in 1873, was a rough and tumble collection of shanty shacks, gambling “hells”, dens of iniquity and vice, prostitution, drunkenness; what one would expect, for the most part, from a boom town that had grown up overnight, its development driven by the lust for glittering riches, hidden in the form of diamonds buried beneath the earthen crust.

It was into one of these establishments that a young man entered, possessed of a small sum of money he was eager to multiply. Seeking out the roulette table like a lemming looking for a cliff, he sauntered up, laid down his bets, and began to play. And lose. And go again. And lose again. and, yet, for him, at least, losing only a part of his wealth was not enough.

The gambler’s mania had gripped him, and, soon, he found himself dispossessed of all but a single British pound. (Or, we at least assume it was a British pound. I suppose it could have been a single Rand. We’re unsure of this. Let’s compromise for now and just call the measly currency he proffered a “dollar,” shall we?)

Raymond Chandler has a story called “You Play the Black, and the Red Comes Up.” Raymond Chandler novels were full of desperate men and beautiful, deadly dames, all of whom lived in a world that was, essentially, amoral, predatory, rife with scoundrelism and, just beneath the aching, tired, weather-beaten and undeniably phony fa├žade , was corrupt deep down to the core. Life is ugly, men are predators, and dames is “no damn good.”

Of course, the young man was soon divested of this money, and beating his breast in despair (or, so we assume), dragged his sorry carcass out the door of the so-good den of gambling and vice, much to the cheers and jeers of the other assembled gamblers. It was not long after that a shot rang out in the street.

“Well, I’ll be damned. The sorry bastard has went and done himself in!” someone must have shouted.

(You’ll forgive us the literary license of putting words in the mouth of a fictional bystander. We do it only toward the establishment of a dramatic effect.)

In the dusty, rutted, dirty road lay a bleeding body, the hand still gripping the butt of the pistol, a pool of crimson wetting the earth around the rawboned, grief-addled, but undeniably handsome visage of the dead young miner. A small crowd gathered to circle, like human vultures, and spit forth exclamations, mutterings, and various imprecations to the preservative power of putative saints.

They must have dragged the body off to the morgue. I suppose it was unceremoniously deposited into a cold, lonely, paupers’ grave, to be eternally forgotten, except by the windblown trees.

Soon after, as if in a cosmic chuckle at the ill-starred fate of the so-unfortunate suicided loser, a quite similar young fellow entered a gambling establishment called Dodd’s Canteen. He had only one dollar in his pocket. His name, incidentally, was David Harris.

He sauntered over to the roulette table. Should he lay down his single, hard-earned dollar, risk the only money he had, all and everything, on a simple intuitive feeling?

He finally decided to do so. Mr. Harris left Dodd’s Canteen 1,400 dollars wealthier than when he entered it. In time, he would develop this small sum of money into a vast fortune.

So turns the inscrutable Wheel of Fortune. For one man wealth and happiness; for another rack and ruin. The completely illogical nature of this seems, to us at least, to almost smack of a kind of cosmic sadism; or perhaps, it’s all one big joke, with the final joke always being on you.

Even the Prince catches up with the Pauper, eventually; in the shallow depths of a cold, hard grave.

But, still, one must surely beat his breast, raise his fists to heaven, and damn God for the inscrutable way in which he metes out destiny in the world. C’est la vie!

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Books, Dreams and Nightmares, Experimental, Fiction, Poims, Short Stories, short-short, surreal, Uncategorized, Weird

One Night in a Dutch Hostel

WE must have been stranded in Amsterdam, at the world’s oldest, ugliest youth hostel. The girl that was with me had red hair and freckles, pale skin. (Note: It is my studied observation that, at least in my dreams, I am always somehow fucking death.)

Outside the window, crossing the pavement, a swarthy man in tight shorts, with a bulging, flabby gut is walking around like the proverbial caged animal of yore, apparently the sap rising in his veins or whatever passes for virility in this day and age.

“The sonofabitch has a higher testosterone count than I,” say I, turning to the girl, whom I instruct must not only froog in the upstairs window, but must thrust her head out and let fall her long tresses Rapunzel-like, so that the potential customer milling about below might crawl up them toward paradise, heaven, Nirvana.

“It’s not working,” say I. “Fish won’t bite.”

“Maybe he’s scared it’s some sort of sting operation,” she say, licking dry, greedy lips in the waning light of an amber sunset glow. Funny I think, the walls in here collect red from the light.

Red, red, everything is red. Hair, freckles; her body, though, is translucent white.

I crawl on top of her. It is late and maybe there is some requisite appreciation of the role I am playing as the impromptu pimp/provider. She covers my mouth with her own before wiggling, jelly-like, out from under my bulk. “I can’t fuck you,” she say. “Sorry.”

I think that this is a completely understandable position for her to take. My repressed sexual drive, however, seems to have made manifest in the turbulence of the barometric drop; as night falls, vast storm clouds seem to roil and brew across the curiously desolate face of Alternate Amsterdam.

(Isn’t this the way it is in gothic hokum stories of mad families living atop reeking, stinking tarns, stories wherein the desolation and madness of the incestuous line is made manifest in the heaving, wild weather, the environment that spills out of the pages and into the desolate soul of the reader, as he [alternately she] envision a living Sheol?)

At some point in the night, I prowl the musty, too-close claustrophobic halls, beating the walls with a club as if looking for hollow spaces. I suppose I was dress-rehearsing a murder, but, as fantastic as it sounds, vast, shimmering clouds of what I could only take to be some sort of globular, mist-like lightning began to shine through the windows, seeping uncannily through the cracks in the plaster. prerecorded and clearly artificial feminine telephone operators are being loudspeakered from some distant park, sounding as if they are trying to coax a 747 out onto the runway.

The Redhead is sitting Siva amidst a glowering crowd of scruffy but undeniably blonde young men. The central figure, a young man not unknown to me, looks upward as I enter, his face a soft pillow of stupid, bovine expectancy. I suppose I could have cleaved his face in twain; or, at the very least, crushed his skull like an egg with the powerful force of my wooden cudgel.

Instead, I compose this poem.

“Lying in bed, I turn over stare blankly as shadows roll across the wall. You bitter red pill that you are, hard to swallow in one exquisite mouthful.

“‘I suppose,’ you say, ‘I taste hot and rank.’
“I dunno, but, for one moment, an entire world lived and died on the tip of my tongue, rolling one bead of sweat down to die…”

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Books, Fiction, Ghosts, Poims, Public Domain, Quotes, Spiritism, Young Adult

The Silver Sixpence by Ethel Clem (?) 1905 (?)

The following poem was found, uncredited, in an edition of the book The Tower of Wye by William Henry Babcock. The book dates from 1901. This copy is inscribed to “Ethel Clem, 3-05” and a card inside proclaims “from Sophomore and Junior.” A yellowed piece of paper has the following poem written, uncredited, in shaky pencil.

The Silver Sixpence

BY

Unknown (Ethel Clem?)

It was only a silver sixpence,
battered and worn and old,
But worth to the child that held it,
As much as a piece of gold.

A poor little crossing-sweeper,
In the wind and rain all day —
For one who gave her a penny,
There were twenty who bade her nay.

But she carried the bit of silver–
A light in her steady face,
And her step on the crowded pavement,
Full of childish grace.

Straight to the tender pastor,
And, “Send it,” she said, “for me,
“Dear Sir, to the heathen children,
On the other side of the sea.”
***

I don’t believe in coincidences, nor do I think a poem such as this should be lost. If anyone knows the true authorship, let me know.

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