Peter, Susie and the Tea That Ran Up the Wall!

Peter and Susie were walking along the weird, overgrown path, wondering at the purple plants and all the other strange things arrayed about them.

Since they had come to this enchanted place, this Valley of Kirk-Havens, or whatever the sign back there had said precisely (the letters seemed to keep shifting as they had tried to read them), they had seen no end to strange and unusual things; so many, in fact that, at one point, Susie had turned to Peter and said, “I do wish the rabbits wouldn’t babbit, and the snabbits wouldn’t crabbit, and the plants weren’t purple, and the grass would stand in one spot under your feet. For, the way everything around here is always shifting and snoozling, and sneezingly oozling, it fairly gives one a tummy ache trying to keep up with it all!”

Peter, who, under different circumstances, might have scolded his sister for coming up with nonsense words like “snoozling” and “oozling”, let the matter lie, as the world they had awoken to find themselves wandering (After falling asleep in the meadow reading a smashing great book of stories, all about knights and the like) seemed to be just the appropriate place for sneezing out a mouthful of nonsense words (like “snizzlepickle,” “snatbrat,” or “scrumcuddlyrumptious”…all of which, thought Peter, sounded like perfectly delicious words to him).

“It’s okay Sue. I suppose it’s something you just have to get use to if you find yourself lost here.”

Susan looked frightened suddenly.

“Then we are lost! Oh, whatever shall we do? It will be getting dark soon, and we’ll be hungry and cold, and Mother will miss us and be terribly worried and afraid!”

Peter frowned, leapt forward in front of her path, and wagged his finger.

“Don’t you go losing your head on me, Sue!”, he exclaimed, and then said, “We’ll find our way back out of this, soon. That is, if we aren’t simply having a huge, fantastic dream!” He stopped, put his finger to his bottom lip, and considered.

“Why, for all we know, right now, you or I are back home, cuddled up in bed, with visions of sugar plums and sweets taking a little break dancing around in our heads, waiting for Christmas morning and all the sugar plum cookies we ate last night to wear off. Pretty soon, we’ll be dreaming something merry and cheery, and forget all about this place, and it will be time to open our eyes–”
“And our presents?” Sue suddenly asked, brightening. Peter didn’t know if anything he just told his sister was true or not, but he thought it was better to have her cheery and smiling than gloomy and crying, and so he said, “Why, of course! You don’t think a bad dream can last forever, do you!”
Sue said, “Of course not!

And Peter replied, “Of course not!”

And then, as the wind shifted, and the woods grew darker, and the breeze seemed to carry odd laughter and tinkling music up and down the dark, twisting path, Peter peeped up and said, “Sue? Do you smell that?”

Sue raised her nose to the air and sniffed.

“Jam cake!” She said, her dark blue eyes brightening. “Why, I smell jam cake!”

Peter nodded his head, and agreed, saying, “Yea, and hot baked cross buns! And buttered scones!”

And Sue quickly added, “And lemon tarts!”

And Peter replied “And peach ice cream!”

And the children (who, if they weren’t merely dreaming, realized they had not had any food for hours) raced forward, following their noses.

Soon, they found themselves standing on the crest of a little hill, looking down into a hollow. At the bottom of the hollow nestled a little cottage.

“Hey, look! I bet you that’s where the delicious smell is coming from, Sue!”

And Sue said, “Sure enough! Why, I can smell it coming out in delicious waves of smell! I bet they’re cooking up a feast fit for a king inside. Say, Peter: do you think they would overmind so very much if we happened in on them, two little kids like us, and maybe, well, we COULD do the dishes or something in exchange for whatever we eat…”

Peter looked at his sister, half annoyed, and half frightened at the prospect of going up to a strange door, in a strange land, and begging to be let in for dinner. Plus, “overmind” was another of the little words she was always making up, so that following what she said often became a spot of bother. Little wonder her nickname was “Miss Malaprops.”

“Well, well I suppose you’re right, Sue! But, at any rate, if we don’t at least ask them, we’ll starve to death out here! Of course, they could be crazy people, or even hideous trolls or monsters–”

And Sue, upon hearing this, put her hands to her mouth and exclaimed, “Oh no, don’t say that!”
Peter frowned. “Well,” he stated matter-of-factly, “it’s true. We don’t know that they are, but they COULD be!” He paused for a moment, shuffled his feet, puffed out his lower lip, and said, “Well, I guess since I’m the oldest one, and a boy, it falls on me to go up and knock! You wait here, just in case–”
And Sue almost squeaked out, “Just in case WHAT?” in mounting fear and terror; but, somehow, she found her voice catching in her throat.

Peter went up to the door, his little heart hammering in his throat. He was amused to note that the door was perfectly round, and green, with all sorts of lovely and weird flowers painted on it in bright colors. In the center, of course, was a little round brass knob.

Above this was a knocker, designed to look like a ring in a boar’s snout. He put his fingers to it (they were shaking a bit, to be perfectly honest), and he made three stout raps and then waited. It seemed as if he waited there a long, long time, shifting nervously from foot to foot.

Finally, after what seemed like a terribly long, long period of time, he could hear some shuffling and wheezing from behind the door. His heart began to race a little in anticipation. Then, the wooden door began to squeak and squeal open, with a shuddering shriek of rusted hinges and creaking wood, and, standing there, half hidden in the dark, was the form of a bent, crooked old crone, with a long crooked nose. (And, of course, with a wart on the tip.)
She stood in the doorway wheezing and puffing for awhile, her seamed, wrinkled and warty face working in consternation and puzzlement. Hoarsely, she spat out, “Well? What in the world do you want?”

Peter fidgeted, his hands in his pockets. Behind him, Sue looked as if she might burst out bawling. Peter then worked up the courage to speak.

“Oh, Missus, you must help us! My sister and I have taken a wrong turn somewhere, and gotten ever-so-lost in this strange, wonderful country. We smelled the delicious smell of tea and blackberry jam as we were walking past, and we thought that you might see fit to give a slice of bread and jam to us!”

At this, the old woman fidgeted and fadgeted, and scratched her noggin, and shook her head a little warily, rolling her eyes and twisting her face up into a look that rendered it almost inscrutable. (And, as ugly as it was, it was a darn hard thing to try and make out, really, just what in the world was going on beneath the flowing mop of greyish hair atop her head, to be perfectly honest.)

“Oh, well, come on in, the both of you! But, be quick about it! It’s sundown, soon…”

Peter didn’t know what she meant by that, but he and Susie went, a little cautiously, through the round little door and into the kitchen, which was rather clean and neat, but which, weirdly seemed to lean one way, and then another, the walls seeming…off somehow. In fact, a person really couldn’t tell, exactly, just how the walls intersected or held together.

“Oh Missus,” said Peter, his thumb on his lower lip. “These walls are so very peculiar!”

And the old woman said, “Why, what on earth could you possibly mean?”

And Peter scratched his head, and fidgeted around, tossing the weight of his body on one foot and then the other. Finally he said, “Well, Missus, it’s just that the walls seem…funny to me. It seems they are off, somehow.”

“Off,” said the old woman, her voice a rasping croak. “How do you mean off?”

“Well,” said Peter, scratching his chin, “it’s just that, they don’t seem to join together at proper angles, and it confuses the eyes. I mean, one wall seems to join up with the other over here, which is ALL wrong, and then when you blink or get a different perspective, it seems to join up with that one over there. And, at first, it seems to lean this-a-way, and that wall, fer instance, seems to lean that-a-way; but then you blink again, or shift around a bit and find out that you were completely wrong. Wrong. Wrong.”

And Peter thrust his hands into his pockets with a little “humph” of consternation.

The old woman considered a moment, casting her gaze about the crazily leaning walls and doors, and the dipping and rolling ceiling, before blowing air through her puffed-up cheeks and exclaiming, “Stuffin’ nonsense!”

Susie came up behind Peter cautiously, but then, sliding one of the kitchen chairs across the rickety, uneven wooden floor, she exclaimed, “Oh, whatever you’re baking smells so frightfully, frightfully good, Missus! Why, it smells like gooseberry pie! Why, it’s been so dreadfully long since we’ve had supper, and it’s almost time for tea, and, my gosh!” Susie scrunched her little face up into a pitiful state, managed a tear or two, and said, “Might we not have a taste of your so-delicious pie?”

The ugly old woman cogitated a moment before slapping her open palms against her apron, smiling a toothless smile, and exclaiming, “Oh, my yes! Missy! My, where are my manners! Here, I’ll just be a moment.”

And, before either of them knew it, the old woman had opened a creaking round door into the kitchen, revealing a quaint little sideboard stacked with tea kettle, saucers and cups, and a truly MASSIVE iron stove, so big it seemed to almost fill the entire little room. The front of the stove looked, for all the world, like an angry iron face.

The old woman rustled around a few moments, her bum stuck in the air, before emerging again with a silver tea service and setting it carefully on the table.
Then, she went back through the creaking door. Peter and Susie could hear her huff and puff and strain, but, soon, she emerged from the kitchen with the most ENORMOUS gooseberry pie either Peter or Susie had EVER seen in their lives. The two kids goggled at each other in stupefied wonderment.

The old woman carried the thing over her head with two hands, heaving and straining and sweating before setting it down on the little table (which, on the whole didn’t look large enough to hold it, or even sturdy enough); she then took out two comically little plates and forks, asking Peter and Sue if they wanted a slice of cheese on top–but then, putting her finger to her chin in a quizzical manner, she said to herself, “Oh, oh my no. I guess not. I fed it all to the mouse of the house. He gets so dreadfully hungry and fed-up just nibbling away at the cheese crumbs, old bits of stale bread and the woodwork and whatnot, I felt rather bad for him. So I gave him some of the smelly cheese. Oh, never fear: you wouldn’t have liked it anyway; it stank to high heaven…Phew!”

And, as if to demonstrate, the old woman put her fingertips to her nose and squeezed. Peter and Sue both began to devour their square sections of gooseberry pie, ravenously hungry both.

The two kids both tried to fill their tea cups. But, to their shock and amazement, the little things quite quickly took legs and skittered up the wall! The tea itself went gushing after, trying as best as it could to land its wet bottom in the terrified porcelain cups. Peter and Sue looked at the old woman quizzically.

She laughed, and waved her hand as if to shoo away their doubts and wonder.
“Oh, don’t mind them, children. Happens around here all the time. Why, them cups is scared half to death of that hot burbling tea! Afraid it will burn them good and proper. And it would!

“So the tea kettle and tea goes chasing the cups, and the saucers join in because they must, simply MUST have someone sit on them to keep them company.

Don’t you pay it no nevermind!” Lacking anything to say to that, Sue and Peter looked at each other like baffled little orphans before turning to their food again.

It was not long after that a weird, snorting and scuffling sound could be heard coming from the overgrown yard outside.

Sue looked up from her plate through one of the weird, crooked windows that looked out on the dark, weed-choked backyard. She patted brother Peter on the arm.

“Oh Peter! Lookity-look-look-look!”

There were a troop of weird little men marching, single file, across the wide expanse of yard. Each seemed to be wearing an identical little suit, each had their perfectly slicked, black hair parted down the middle and combed over side to side, and each had a terribly ugly, gnome-like little face. As a matter of fact, thought Susie to herself, they quite look like gnomes if one gets right down to it!

Huff-puff-grumble-grimble-snort-chew-whoosh!

These were the sounds that seemed to be emerging from outside, as the strange little line of dwarfs came up to the crazily-leaning backdoor. The door was then thrust open (it seemed to hang precariously from the hinges), and the little troop of strange men came pounding in with their terrible heavy-soled, hobnailed boots banging on the floor.

“Hi Ma!” said the first.

“Hi Ma!” croaked the second.

“Hi Ma!” wheezed the third, and on and on as they entered.

There were maybe two dozen of them, all remarkably similar, all very small and grunting and wheezing and stamping and snorting as they went. They all came through the door, still single-file, like a troupe of overgrown infants; and, as each of them entered, they all said, in the same croaking grunt, “Hi Ma!” one after another.

Ma nodded pleasently, a toothless smile crossing her face. Seemingly from out of nowhere, a huge table and chairs was produced, and the place where Sue and Peter was sitting eating was swept out of sight. The boys, all of them, sat down their grubby mits at the table, while Ma went around, scolding them, calling them “Damned little piglets!” and wiping behind their ears with a damp sponge.

“Look at them! Will you just look at them? D-mned little piglets every one! Think they’d bother washing their filthy little hands before they come in to dinner? Think so? Why, of course they don’t! D-mned little oinkers!”

Suddenly, Ma threw up her hands in the air, causing her apron to flutter up to her surprised face. “Oh! The soup is burning!” she exclaimed.

As she rushed into the kitchen. her strange little sons soon began to pass out the plates from a strange little cupboard which Peter and Sue hadn’t seen before. They set the table, and Ma set the huge soup kettle on the table, which sent the plates and spoons rattle-clattering, and the table skittering a bit.

She ladled out heaping hot bowls full, passing each bowl back across the line of her weird, dwarfish little troupe. She then went to retrieve a loaf. Peter and Sue were also offered a bowl, but Peter was woozy and full from all the gooseberry pie, and Sue didn’t quite like the smell of the stuff. So they both said no.

The piggish sons bent their noses into their bowls, and each began to slurp and slurp, with soup running down their chins, and some snorted as they sucked soup up through their nostrils occasionally; and some stopped to belch, long and loud and free, and rather rudely, considering they were all still sitting at the table.

The old woman bounded back into the kitchen for the bread and jam. She brought both out, heaving and puffing and huffing under the weight of the heaviest and largest jam pot either Peter or Susie had ever seen.

“There, you little piggies,” she said, wiping her greasy jam hands, dripping with butter, on her apron. “Now, I hope you and your filthy fingers are all satisfied!”

The boys fell upon the bread, not bothering to use the knife, but pulling sweet handfuls of the huge loaf (Peter and Sue could not yet see how such an immense pot of jam, loaf of bread, and kettle of soup could all fit on such a tiny table; but, as the walls and floors also seemed curiously out-of-whack, they should probably not have wondered too much.) out and stuffing it in their gobs.

Soon, the boys were belching and rubbing their big bellies in contentment. One boy piped up, “Shnat! Shnat! do something what entertains us as we let our food crawl around our guts!”

To which was replied: “Shprat, I’m too derned stuffed to even get up out of my seat! Bolger, Bolger ain’t there a song ye keed sing, or a tune whistle, to keep us all entertained while the soup sloshes around in out bellies?”

To which Bolger replied: “Nah, Molger! Tis too early for whistling and too late to sing! Anyway, I’m fair fit to be tied! Fit to be tied, I tells ya! Duffle, can’t you come up with something to keeps our guesteses entertained?”
To which Duffle replied, “Aye, Fluffle, I think I’ve got just the thing. Oh, Willwee! Williewee, my dear…”

And he approached the littlest brother, and put his arm on his back, and said, “Why don’t you show ’em that gooseberry pie trick you showed us at three-thirty on the a and ’em yesterday? Fair kept us in stitches for forty-five minutes, twelve seconds…” and, considering a moment, he raised one finger and added, “and a hair and a click!”

And with that Williwee got up, and, dusting off his trousers, swooped over to Sue’s half full plate of gooseberry pie; and, greasing his hands and feet down with the delicious filling, and blossoming up his puffy cheeks with the stuff, began to skate around on the wooden floor, trailing a slug trail of black gooseberry filling behind him.

He’d skate by on one foot, and skate by on another, holding his leg behind him as he went, doing circles and somersaults and leaving a sluggish gooseberry trail of slime in his wake. This spectacle was greeted by shouts and claps and cheers from the other sons, and wonderment from Peter and Sue, who each stared at the spectacle other with faces agoggle.

“Why it gets madder and madder every minute here!” exclaimed Sue.

“Yes, most curious, isn’t it? As if we’ve really fallen down the rabbit hole, like Alice.” Peter tsk-tsked like a grownup, almost in disapproval.

“Yes,” retorted Sue again. “A real life, Alice in Wonderland hole in the ground!”

Ma came blundering, with her big, huffy bulk, out of the kitchen; and, when she saw the sort of mess that Williewee was making of the floor, threw her hands in the air and exclaimed, “Tarnations, boy, look what you’re doing to my nice clean floors! Why, I’ve a mind to make you scrub it all up with your tie! Now, stop that! Stop it right now!”

But no sooner had she taken a step forward when, her heavy feet caught in the slug-like trail of gooseberry innards, she began to slip and slide.

She jerked this-a-way, and that-a-way, flailing her arms out and sending black splatters of gooseberry all over everything, and saying to herself, “Oh dear!”
and “Oh my!”, and even, “How arfully, bleedin’ undignified!” But, wonder of wonders, the woman and her great bulk managed to keep their balance (although, truth be told, a few of her sons surrounded her, their arms out thrust, in terror of her falling and not being able to get back up!).

Soon, she righted herself, and managed to say, “Well, it’s too messy is all. Going to take all day and night to clean these floors!” And she snapped her fingers imperiously.

“You, Fadget! Fetch the mop! And you, Dadget! get the bucket!”

She held her old crooked fingers out, then turned her attention back to Peter and Sue.

“As for you two…well…” She rubbed her hairy chin. “I suppose we DO have to make sure you’re nice and entertained until it is time for you to leave. Now, anyone have any idea how we should go about doing that?”

The sons ambled around for a moment, muttering amongst themselves, scratching their oily headed, slicked-down hair, seemingly without a solid idea of how this could be done. Finally, one of them piped up, exclaiming, “I know, I know!”

Ma put her fists on her hips and, leaning over to meet his gaze, asked, “What?”

“Well gussie up the gander and lay claim of the goose!”

And Ma considered this a moment, her face twisting up into a pretzel of consternation. After a few moments, she replied: “No. No, I don’t think that will do at all.”

Another son then piped up, “We’ll mollify the Mock Turtle as it meanders in the mire!”

To which Ma retorted: “Oh! Do come on! Can’t any of you think of any better ideas than that?”

And then yet another son piped up and said, “We’ll scrutinize the scrutable! We’ll dutify the dutiful! We’ll magnify the beautiful! We’ll multiply the fruitable! We’ll…”

Ma threw up her hands in exasperation, her apron fluttering upaward as she did so.

“Oh, now I’ve heard everything! None of these darned ideas are worth a plug nickel in a brass bucket. Oh, my, I thought I raised all of you better than that!”

Then she considered, putting one knobby old finger to her chin. She turned to Peter and Sue, who were sitting at table still, a little sleepy, but quite amused for all of that.

“I suppose we’ll ask you two. Now, Petey and Susie, what sort of things do you two like to do? What do you think of as fun?”

And Sue and Peter both scrunched up their faces in consideration. Why, they seemed to say to each other with their eyes, we enjoy all sorts of things and find them to be fun; but, seeing as how we don’t have our jump rope, or toy soldiers, our jacks or badmitton set handy, we certainly are at a loss as to how we could manage to have fun right here, right now.

And then Peter said, “Well, Sue and I, sometimes, when we’re alone in the treehouse, and the wind is blowing, and the sky is darkling, and the lark is larkling, we like to…we like to…”

“Tell fairy tales!” Sue suddenly chimed in.

Peter’s face brightened.

“Yeah, that’s the ticket! Why, Sue and I just love to tell those old stories. ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Cinderella.’ Mum use to lull us to sleep with them when we were wee little tots!”

A huge grin stretched across Ma’s face at hearing this, and she clasped her gnarled old hands together and exclaimed, “Why, what a wonderful Idea! And, you know: my boys are just chock-full of old tales to tell, great stories they share with each other on those long, hot days when they are down in the peppermint mines!”
Sue exclaimed, “Peppermint mines?”

“Yes,” answered Ma. “They’re very near the butterscotch lakes. Now, all of my boys know a tale or two, so if you’ll just settle in by the fire…”

And, before Peter or Sue could even be surprised by this, they saw, as if by magic, a crackling fire and a pleasant hearth in the far wall of that very strange house; though, said Sue later, she was certain it had not been there before.

Regardless, everyone settled around the fire, and Ma said:
“Now, I’m off to the kitchen to make tea and scones. You chaps keep our little guests entertained while I’m away. Ahem.”

And with that she disappeared. There was a long moment of silence, as if, silently, the sons were communicating who was to go first at storytelling. Then, one slowly opened his mouth and began to speak.

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A Fit of Trembles!

Once upon a time there was a poor girl from a poor family, living in a very poor village at the edge of a vast barren plain. This girl was cursed from birth, it would seem, for, whenever the clock struck the hour of half-past-noon, her body would begin to shake and tremble, and jars of jelly would fly from the shelves, and pots of butter would crack, and the thatch of the roof would come cascading down, and plaster would peel from the walls.

“Oh, woe is me,” thought the girl to herself, “for I have been cursed to have a fit of trembles, every day, at half-past-noon; and so I will never marry, for if I grasped my husband at half-past-noon, I would tremble and shake, and break the bones in his precious body. Likewise, I can never have children, as at half-past-noon, just as I am to feed them their bottles, or spoon them their curds and whey, I will have another fit of trmebles, and shake the milk from the bottle, and splash and splosh the curds and whey all over the floor and ceiling!”

And with that, she began to cry, and soon she became so discosolate that her father implored her mother to do something.

“Alas,” said the mother. “There is nought that can be done, my husband. For, when I was pregnant, I went to the witch woman, for thou hast said I should bare a daughter, like as not, as I had, hitherto, borne only sons. And so I went to the woman and asked, ‘Oh, couldst thou not use thy sorceries to ensure I bare a daughter now, instead of the sons I have givern birth to hitherto?’
“And she replied, ‘Why, the thing is simplicity itself!’ And passing her wand over my belly, she spake an incantation, and throwing sea salt and baby’s breath into the air in a pinch, said, ‘It is accomplished!’ Then she said, ‘There is just one thing! Thou must needs leave one dram of goat’s milk and two of cream at thy doorr every night for a fortnight, six months after the babe is born. You must do this every night, and NEVER FORGET, lest ill-tidings fall upon thee!’ And with that, I knew that the thing had been accomplished, and so I left.

“Oh my husband, how I would delight in telling thee I did the thing she asked without fail! Alas, it was not to be! For, as the babe was born, and was our delightful daughter, I grew petty and forgetful, and likened the birth to something, anything but the incantations of the olde witch. I wanted so badly to forget that I had relied on her strange spells, that I soon was lax in leaving out the dram of milk and two of cream, and clean forget them several nights in a row.

“Well, I began to feel afraid, so I started putting them out again. And I thought, my husband, that this should be sufficient in mollifying the old witch. But, one day, while I was slaving for thee in the kicthen, a terrible gust of wind and a smelly smoke wafted up from nowhere; and, who should I see therein, but the terrible form of the old witch herself!

“Her face gleamed with a terrible rage, and she exclaimed, ‘Curses upon thee! thou wast instructed, as per our agreement, that thou shouldst leave for me one dram of milk and two of cream at thy door, every night, for a fortnight, as payment for the infant wench; and did I not, likewise warn thee, if thou shouldst fail to do so, a curse would fall upon thee, so that thou wouldst rend thy garb, and tear thy hair, and curse the day of thy birth?”

“And, fallimg to my knees, I implored her, with upraised, folded hands, as if to heaven, to forgive my impudence, and spare me her wrathe.

“Alas, she would have none of it. Instead, her eyes became blazing coals, and her face a hideous, death-like mask; and heaving to and fro, and smoke flying out her nostrils, she shrieked, ‘I curse thee, thou impudent old wretch, that thy newborn suckling shall have not a day of rest, nor a moment of peace, all the days of her life; instead, she shall tremble and quake ere the coming of midday, when the devil is let loose to walk with earthly feet!’

“And with that, oh my husband, she disappeared in a cloud of reeking smoke.
Well, I cursed my ignorance, and gnashed my teeth, and pulled my hair, and rent my garment fore certain; but, these things were to no avail. For, ever since the fateful day, our daughter has trembled and shaken so that the dishes fall from the shelves, the Bible flaps open like a huge brown bird, the boards of the house crack and creak, the floorboards moan and cry in pain, and the mouth of stove flies open like a snuffling iron snout. Oh, husband, whatever are we to do?”

Well, the husband was most disturbed by all of this. So he paced the floors for a few hours, pulling thoughtfully at his pipe, before exclaiming, “I shall have to take her away, deep, deep into the forest, and leave her for the animals.

For, we cannot very well have her here, where she causes the dishes to fly from the shelves and shatter, the Bible to flap like a bird, the plaster to chip and moan, the floorboards to groan, and the stove to shudder and frown! Come, now, and say your goodbyes!”

And the woman was beside herself with griwf. But, realizing that what the husband said was true, she quickly got hold of herself and, taking a kerchief from the cupboard, wrapped for her daughter some bread and cheese, and then told her, “I am sending all the luck I have in the world with you, though, as you cna see by looking around you, that isn’t much!”

And, weeping madly, she fell to her knees, beating her fists on the floor as the husband lead his poor daughter away to abandon her in the forest; where, he surely must know, she would never be eaten alive by the wolves.

Well, the strange duo journeyed high and low. They walked by night, and rested by day. Soon, as they were deep in the forest, down a lonely trail, the man realized it was midday. He said, “Oh, we should not tarry here long, for, we are standing under an acorn tree, and thou art about to be taken with a fit of trembles!”

As if in reply, the unfortunate daughter suddenly began to shake and tremble so violently that the ground felt as if it were moving beneath them. The trees above them, heavy with acorns, suddenly began to rain them down, and the father exclaimed, as squirrels and birds began to fall from the trees,”Come, before we are pelted to death with acorns, or have chipmunks fall upon our brows!” And so they ran down the path, arm in arm, but, before long, they were met with the presence of Tom the Cotter.

Tom said, “Lo, I have traveled high and low, looking for a wife to bear my children and be my mate. And, just a few moments ago, as I traveled, I could feel the ground rumble beneath me, and the trees shake like fingers above me, and I know that I had received a sign from the Lord above!”

And with that, the girl’s father, suddenly realizing the opportunity he had been granted here, said, “Yes, indeed, “’tis a sign from above. Here, take my fine daughter to be the wife of your youth. For, is she not comely and young, prim and demure, and will she not bear thee stout children, and be a good woman and friend?”

And Tom the Cotter said, “Oh, indeed, she is a fine lass to behold! Why, I think she’ll do quite nicely!”

And so, without further ceremony, the young woman was lead off to be married to Tom the Cotter.

After the wedding, as the young woman was being placed in her new position as mistress of the house, Tom the Cotter was home from the fields one day, taking his lunch, when the clock struck noon.

He was amazed to see his wife begin to tremble uncontrollably, shaking violently, so that the dishes fell from the shelves above, the dog hid behind the bureau in terror, the windows cracked in their frames, the plaster fell from the walls, the boards fell from the ceiling, and Tom the Cotter fell from his chair!
“Alas!” he cried, “what deviltry is this?”

And, turning to her new husband shamefully, the woman implored him, “Oh, good my husband, thou hast been decieved most dreadfully. For, I am a woman suffering under the dreaded curse of an ancient witch, who has burdened me grievously! For an imagined slight she has made it so that, at noonday every day, I am took with a ‘fit of trembles,’ so that I shake with such violence that all standing anywhere near me are effected by it!”

Upon hearing this the new husband was wroth; but, straightway divining what he must do, he took the wife by the hand and, leading her out the door, went through the forest until, passing by the shop of Stuart the Smithy, stopped when he heard, “Ho! Who is it leads such a fair and comely maiden outside my door at noon of the clock?”

And to this Tom the Cotter replied, “Oh, ’tis but an errand I am on.” And, introducing his wife, the Cotter said, “Takest thou this woman for thy helpmeet? For, she is a lax and lazy dullard, and her I cannot abide!”

And upon saying this, Tom the Cotter quickly turned and fled back through the forest. (And, after so humiliating himself, he must have decided to move on to another hamlet, for he was never seen in those parts again.)

Well, seeing how beautiful and comely the fine but unfortunate trembling daughter was, he opened wide his door, and said, “Comest thou inside, and be mine helpmeet, oh daughter of Eve. For, I am a lonely smithy, and am wanton, and thus, must have a wife.”

And with that she entered. But, seeing as how it was midday, soon the terrible change began to come over her. Her body began to shake, and tremble, and soon the hammers and saws and instruments of iron began to rattle and shake on the walls.

The Smithy became outraged. “Oh thou miserable and tortured wretch! I cannot keep thee as my wife. Why, to do so would destroy everything in my shop, and ruin me, and would cause me to pull down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave! I’ll have to throw thee out of doors to wander, alone and disconsolate as Demeter looking for Persephone!”

And the Smithy began to move forward. But, before he could reach her to throw her out of doors, the trembling and shaking disloged a heavy iron hammer where it hung from the wall.

It came crashing down on the poor Smithy’s head, sending him reeling back into the fire of his own forge! His head exploded in a ball of flame!

Fearing for her life, Trembles ran screaming from the Smithy shop. She flew through the forest as fast as her legs could carry her, her arms flung above her head, until, stumbling over a craggy bit of rock, she went tumbling, head first, into a sodden bundle of old rags.

To her astonishment, the rags jumped up and yelled.

She sat back heavily on the ground. Getting up before her was the dirtiest, foulest-looking man she had ever seen. His hair was matted and filthy, his beard was long and scraggly, and his body was covered in smelly rags that looked as if they might badly itch. This was Vincent the Vagrant, the village idiot.

“Howdee doo, missy?” said Vernon, beating the dust from his trouser legs. As she looked up into his craggy, care-worn, sunblasted face, Trembles could see that the man had only a few teeth left in his head. His smile, nonetheless, was oddly infectious. She began to smile too.

“Missy, I see that you’re a feller down on his luck, just as am I. Come! We’ll sit on yonder wall together, facing the passersby. And we’ll hoot, and we’ll holler, and we’ll beg bread, and we’ll beg cheese, and they’ll throw tomatoes and raw eggs; and if they aren’t too rotten, we can eat our fill of those.”

And so, starving as she was, she decided to join Vincent atop the wall. All day long they wailed like banshees, and clucked like chickens, and barked like dogs, and crowed like roosters, and grunted like pigs, and generally, played the daft fools so well that disgusted travelers, when passing by, would,

indeed, throw eggs and acorns, tomatoes and old, rotten fruit. Occasionally, too, children passed in little gangs to tease and throw rocks.

Whenever food was thrown, in between throwees, Vincent would climb down from the wall and collect the boiled eggs and old raspberries, and acorns, and half-rotted tomatoes, and gather them in his apron, and then the two of them would eat. But, thought Trembles, it is, none of it, very good.

All the same, she was happy enough to have it.

Well, everything was going along swimmingly until the next day, when noontime came. Then, Trembles began to shake and tremble as always, and the wall that her and Vincent the Vagrant sat on began to crumble and sway.

“Oh my!” exclaimed Vincent. “Young lady, this is no good. No good at all! Why are you doing that? You must quit doing that!”

But it was too late, for the wall soon came tumbling down, dashed into smithereens. Clouds of dust flew upward, and Trembles coughed to clear it from her throat.

When the dust had finally settled, she was amazed to see a little knot of villagers gathered around.

“Look!” one of them exclaimed, pointing, “Vincent the Vagrant! Why, HE’S DEAD!”
A little tow-headed boy with snot dribbling from his chin stepped forward and excaimed, pointing, “She did it! She killed him! I saw it all!”

“It’s Trembles,” excalimed another. “She’s cursed!”

“She starts to tremble and shake, and things fly all over the place, as if there is an earthquake.”

And, so, not knowing exactly how best to deal with trembles, the mob of villagers quickly bound her head and foot, and the Burgomaster, a rather fat, pompous and stupid fellow, exclaimed, “Come! We’ll imprison her in the old stone tower in the middle of the cursed, thorny vines! Then, if she is guilty, she will be eaten by the ogre.”

And one man peeped out, “What if she is innocent?”

The Burgomaster considered a moment, putting his fat finger to his wobbly chin, and then said, “Then, surely, she will not be eaten. Instead, she may jump down from the tower window, and thus find the mercy she was denied in life.”
And another villager said,’But…but if she jumps she’ll be killed!”
To which the Burgomaster replied, “That, my friend, is no business of mine!”
And so they carted Trembles off to the stone tower, which rose great and grey and grim in the center of a huge forest of thorny bushes and vines. (How, precisely, they got her to the tower, and inside, without having to pass through the forest of murderous thorns, we are not told. Rest assured, however, the thing was accomplished.)

Trembles sat in the uppermost room of the tower, weeping. She was cold and hungry and alone, and knew that she would, most assuredly, die here, alone and unloved. Soon, she heard heavy steps outside, and the heavy wooden door suddenly flew open.

Standing there, horrible beyond horrible, with bald, peeling head, red eyes, blazing lips, huge, tusk-like teeth, filthy beard, ragged clothes, and hobnailed boots, was the Ogre, who lived in the tower, having been banished here by magic spells, many years ago.

“You!” he growled, pointing one filthy, scaly, crooked, claw-like fingernail at her. “Don’t go thinking you’re gonna sit around here all day weeping and wailing and not doing any work! No! Thou shalt earn thy keep by the sweat of thy brow! Seest thou that spinning wheel, yonder?”

And, spittle flying out his mouth, the Ogre pointed his crooked, filthy, claw-like finger at the wheel; which, as it was really the only other item in the room, was rather hard to miss.

Trembles nodded tearfully. Beside the wheel was a huge pile of flax.

“Thou shalt toil day and night, spinning this magic wheel, spinning this flax into gold! And thou durst not ever cease, for I’ll be coming up here to make certain thou art working most dilligently. And if thou shirkest thy toil, I shall grind thy bones to powder, and thy flesh to clay, and eat thee for dinner that night!”

And with that the foul, reeking Ogre blew out the door. Weeping bitterly at her sorry lot in life, Trembles sat at the spinning wheel and began to spin the flax, which she was amazed to see actually did turn to long, ropy strands of gold as she worked.

“Oh, wailings and lamentations! MIsery and hardship seem to be my lot in life! Whatever shall I do? For, if I work ceaselessy spinning flax into gold, I shall surely drop dead from exhaustion, hunger or thirst! Bit, if I stop, the Ogre will find out, and he’ll grind my bones, and drink my blood, and bake me in an oven, and turn me into stew!”

And she began to weep loudly and long,. And she wept all the night through.
That morning, just before dawn, a young nobleman came riding by on his noble steed, when he heard the tears and imprecations of the so-distressed damsel.
“Hark!” he exclaimed, cupping his hand with his ear. “Methinks me hears the sorrowful tears of some distressed damsel, some unmerry maiden who requires the immediate attention of a strapping young palladin to come to her aid in her hour of distress?”

And, following the sound of her weeping, and the plop-plop of her copious tears on the stones below her window, the young nobleman used his sharpest dirk to cut a path through the thorny brambles; although, to be honest, it was damn hard work, he was stuck more than once, bled all over his sharp, expensive leather jerkin, and carefully avoided looking at the hanging skeletons of men who had braved the thorny jungle before and had not survived. Finally, dripping with sweat, sore and bleeding, the young nobleman stood beneath the high window of Trembles.
“Ho!” he exclaimed. “Why weepest thou so, oh sweet and bounteous young maiden? Dost thou not know that in Spring the roses bloom, and the trees grow full, the snow melts and the weather brightens? Happiness waxes and weariness wanes.

Wealth increases, and merriment reigns?”

But, alas, the poor maiden could not halt the flow of her tears. She exclaimed, choking on her sobs, “Oh, my Lord! I am a poor unfortunate girl held captive here for a crime she did not commit. Now I am doomed to spend the rest of my days spinning flax into gold, lest the ogre of this foul tower keep come and gobble me up straigtways. Og, coudst thou not see fit, oh brave and noble man, to climb up this golden spun flax, as if it were a sort of rope, and rescue a maiden sore beset in this cruel world, plagued by one terrible tragedy after another!”

And, upon saying this, Trmebles threw down a knotted rope of spun gold, affixing the other end to a hook in the wall opposite. (The hook was, most likely, used to chain up prisoners in the terror in years gone by.)
She then went back to the window and called down.

“There my Lord! It is really quite strong and secure. I think that thou shalt surely not fall and tumble to thy death if thou dost climb to my rescue. But, do hurry! The hour grows late, and something tells me the ogre comes!”

And, never having seen a maiden quite so lovely as Trembles, the handsome young nobleman grabbed onto the golden rope, and slowly and carefully began to make his ascent. He huffed and he puffed, and he was already quite tired from having to have had to cut his way through the thorny brambles.

“Oh, my Lord! Dost thou come?” asked Trembles, cautiously. The young nobleman answered in the affirmative, exclaiming, “Never fear thou miserable maid! I shall be there in one, two, three shakes of a horse’s tail!”

Finally, sweating and heaving, and scratched and bleeding from head to foot, the young nobleman climbed up to the window, seated himself on the ledge, and finally entered the tower room in a bleeding, filthy heap.

“Oh!” exclaimed Trembles in exultation. “Oh my handsome, brave and bold savior! Come to me! I want to throw my arms around you and smother you in kisses!”
But, before she could do this, the door of the tower room blew open; and, standing there, smoke blowing from his nostrils and his eyes blazing in fire, was the Ogre!

He pointed his clawed fingers at the two, and yelled, “You think to escape me, is that it? You shall not, I swear. leave this tower alive!”

The vicious Ogre flew forward, his teeth bared and his claws gripping a heavy hammer with which to crush his enemies. The young nobleman was prepared for this , though, and, with a speed and strength that Trembles could not have believed he posssessed, he drew his sword and, with a magnificent swing, chopped the charging Ogre into two bloody, horrible halves (so that one half of him fell one way, and one half the other).

Trembles, who had been holding her breath in terror, said, ‘Oh, my, thou hast slain the most terrible Ogre, oh my Lord! I did not think, truly, that the thing were possible! But, come, let us now leave this terrible, terrible stone tower, and be away!”

“Yes,” said the young nobleman. “I shall make thee my wife, and thou shalt bear me a son, an heir to my fortune and lands. We both shall live ever after–happily. Now, come, it is almost midday…”

But, at hearing that it was almost midday, the unfortunate Trmebles suddenly remembered her curse. Her heart caught in her throat as her body began to shake horribly. Suddenly, the force of her shaking was so powerful that the stones of the tower began to fall from the ceiling and wall, and the tower bgan to wobble first one way, then another.
The shaking and trembling then brought the tower crashing down, killing the two young romantics within, before they even had a chance to truly be in love.
The end.
***
“Oh my!” cried Sue. “That was terrible! Terrible! Terrible ! You’re a horrible, horrible person, Peter Sampson, and I hope your life is like one long winter which never finds Spring!”
And she folded her arms across her chest, puffing her bottom lip out in defiance. Peter laughed, shrugged, and looked far, far below them.
“Sorry if my story upset you, Sue. But, hey, look, it’s out house! Down below! And Bub Drubb, bailing hay!”
***

It is Snowing Thinly in the Yard

it is snowing thinly in the yard.

Go in the door, and the place is large and cavernous, haunted, and only the television in the back room seems to be working. I hear a bitchy voice, outside, which is “Emily”; and I know she has come to scrounge or scavenge, just as I. Out front, it is muddy, and Granpa sits in a little scoot-chair, pointing to an airplane up in the sky. It is suddenly 1917, and he has regressed to the point of infancy. In the yard, over a puddle, a gaggle of women surround a dispatch runner trying to fix a motorbike. He has on a flight cap, goggles, is extremely thin, and possesses three amazing tusk-like front teeth–could almost be false. Actually, most likely they are.

Then, on the set of Ken Russell’s Gothic. Sitting with the cast in a castle room, and someone somewhere in a room beyond, a ruined room, is weeping. I say “that one annoys me” to the assembled, but move forward through space and who knows time with my drawing pad.

And begin to draw, and even the mountains look good and natural as I move into a new technique.

And it is a weeping woman ULALUME, “La Llorona,” I suppose. But next, we have the Monster laid out on his surgery table, and a whorish slut walks like slippery dung from a duck’s ass down the length of the table; and I think, “Russell’s camera captures everything organically, making no value judgments as it pulls back and lets her slow-motion saunter sexily slide (she is wearing white hose, panties and garter, and what seems a sweater, with flowing curls and not much else) down the length and breadth of the viewers subconscious.” Russell.

Lastly, at a counter in a dimly-lit area of the villa that is, apparently, a sort of modern clinic. Shelley tosses a burning fireball at me, who am Renfield, and I slap it back as Byron, a hulking, cloth-masked character who is playing at being the Monster chases me into a waiting lavatory and I awake thinking of the “Ode to Joy” and Carl Panzram. The End.

The Road Hog (2014?)

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(One from a few years ago.)

The surrounding countryside was scrubby arroyo. The highway cut through it, rendering it vast and empty and dead on one side, sparsely populated by a low skyline of dusty, lonely, intermitten buildings on the other. He found “Skyline Hotel” quite easily. The setting sun was burning up the landscape in a dry was of brilliant orange and pink and bold black shadow-fire.

He got out of the convertible. It wasn’t his. The owner was leaking what was left of her brains out of a hole in her skull, stuffed into a drainage culvert a hundred miles away. For right now, all was well.

He went inside, not liking the faux Western decor, but immensely satisfied with the faded black and whit portraits of dead gunslingers hanging, some of them crookedly, from the wall. Between those pictures was standard thrift-store fair such as clowns, ships, etc.

A fat man with curly red hair and a moustache sat behind a counter in the lobby, which smelled of mildew and unwashed laundry and bad food and stale smoke and something even more unpleasant he couldn’t quite put his finger on. The little man had a black-and-white old-fashioned tube television set in front of him, an item that looked, for all the world, more like a prop than anything. It was apparently playing old porno flicks, to judge by the sound.

“Excuse…excuse me?” he said, approaching the seated figure. Suddenly, a small jolt of recognition tickled his spine. Goose walked over his grave.

“Damn,” he said to himself, “this guy’s dead!”

He thought perhaps the man had had a heart attack while sitting there. perhaps overstimulated by his porn films. If so, he had died with a curious, wide-eyed expression on his face, a sort of Howdy Doodey grin frozen in time across his fat kisser. He put out a gloved hand, experimentally, to feel the figure.

A voice said, “Oh, he’s mine. I was just testing my replacement.”

A little man with a bald head (“A little crawfish of a man,” he would laugh to himself later) walked thoughtfully up to the counter, eyed him warily, and then went behind.

He grabbed his “replacement” by the neck, at which point the air began to hiss out of him

“Just a dummy…dummy.”

he made no reply.

He waited, said, “I need a room for the night. Maybe a couple nights.”

The little man looked down at his feet, but his lower lip (his face was splotchy, as if he had a perpetual case of bad nerves) quivered a little as he said, in an off-hand way, “Oh sure. That’ll be two hundred bucks.”

He goggled.

“Two hundred bucks? For a night in this dump?”

The little man looked as if he didn’t exactly know how to reply, but said anyway, “That comes with the entertainment. Take it or leave it.”

The little man shrugged his shoulders in boredom. The Road Hog took out a battered brown wallet, forked out a couple of bills, laid them on the counter.

“Where do I sign?”

A huge plastic ledger was picked up from beneath the counter.

He carefully scrawled in a fake name. If the little dope wanted some ID, he’d just leave.

“Okay. You need a wake-up call? Room service?”

The little man laughed bitterly.

“How about fuckin’ filet mignon?”

“How about a snifter of brandy and some caviar? Maybe we’ll just forget it, huh?”

The Road Hog exited stage left. Outside, burning on the hot tarmac, his car sent off waves of heat exhaust. He went around, opened the door enough to pop the trunk, and went aound to get his luggage. In a faded, tan overnight bag, he had a human head wrapped in plastic.

He went back inside, put on his best “don’t fuck with me if you want to keep your spleen” face, and looked over at the clerk or whatever. The little man said, “Here’s your room key. Two-oh-one. I’ll buzz you on in.”

He certainly did. With the sort of loud electronic buzzer that is more commonly used in fun house attractions. The Road Hog wasn’t sure, for a second, if he was in a hotel or at a rodeo, getting ready to ride a bucking bronc.

He took the door handle, walked down to the elevator, saw the “Out of oardur” sign, neatly and legibly scrawled across a cardboard boxtop affixed to the door, and then realized he would have ot take the steps.

The sound of drip-drip-dripping seemed to permeate the hollow, echoing stillness of the place. The walls were yellow, peeling, with a few scrawls of absent-minded graffiti here and there.

He made it, not even out of breath, to the second floor. It looked typical and rundown and dull as paste. It looked like roaches went there to die.

The room was sparsely furnished. The smell of the hallway (which had approximated insect spray, cigarette smoke, must and boiled cabbage) was less strong here. There was more a stagnant water smell of old pipes…the building, he realized, could probably get up and crawl away by itself.

“This bed,” he said, talking to himself, “I don’t really want to use this bed.”

He pulled the covers off. He took out some plastic garbage bags he had stuffed in his valise, spread those across the surface of the bed. Then he picked up the remote.

It was an old-fashioned tube TV mounted on the wall. All the channels were fuzzy, except for the one showing porn; probably showing it 24/7. It looked like some loop he had once paid twenty-five cents to see in some grimy little bookstore in Des Plains.

There was a brief commotion out in the hall. He went to the door, unlocked it, careful to keep the chain fastened. Outside, he could see a few guys milling, drunkenly, around a battered hotel room door. One of them seemed, unfortunately, faintly familiar. Shit. The last thing he needed was to be recognized, placed here.

One of them said, “We’re going out for more beer. Be right back. Anyone need smokes?”

Poetry.

Young guys. Party time. Bill and Ted. Excellent.

He shut the door again with a mui of disgust on his lips. On the television screen, a porn star calling herself “Aunt Peg” was being jack hammered at both ends. He would have turned it off, but it was all he had for company right at the moment.

He sat down on the bed, his throat so dry it seemed to be crawiing. He had given up the smoking habit years ago, but right now he wished for all the world for a butt. Something to take the edge off.

The walls felt as if they were crawling with bugs. In the light fixtures, the curling, browning little bodies fried in the sickly yellow glare of the exposed bulbs.

“They commit unintentional suicide. They can’t help it.

They’re attracted to the light, drawn to it magnetically. But then, they can’t get out of the light fixtures. Can’t climb out, even though, oddly enough, they can fly…I can’t see any logic in it. So they die, slowly, we must assume, agonizingly, transfixed next to the source of their great fascination. Dying next to the bright white flame of their light bulb god.”

He didn’t know who he was addressing, and wasn’t sure why he was speaking at all. His voice fell flat, echoless against the bare walls. Those walls looked like they might be a cheesecloth of roaches, infested down to the very rocky, fibrous surface.

He heard the buzzer downstairs.

He waited.

In a few moments, she would be at the door. The whole thing choreographed down to the grim specifics. He knew. He always knew.

A few seconds later there was a knock at the door.

He opened it, keeping the chain securely fastened. A slightly puffy, bruised face peeped in at the crack. It was a woman’s face.

Mascara smeared around the eyes. Face too pale; lips thin and colorless.

“Hey.”

She paused with pregnant . As if that had been a question, almost.

“Hey,” he returned. He wasn’t altogether sure of how to respond.

He undid the chain. She sauntered in. He saw she was wearing a cheap denim miniskirt, a pair of plastic slippers, and a bad strapless top. Yellow.

Her arms were covered in bruises and bad tattoos. She wore no hose; her legs were pale, skinny, the skin was splotchy. She kept scratching absentmindedly at bug bites.

“Yeah, so anyway, I’m Sabrina. You look like you’re new around here. I mean, I haven’t seen you before or anything. Lot of people just passing through I guess. Not so many now, though, since they changed the highway. So yeah…”

She trailed off, sat down in one of the cheap plastic chairs lining the wall.

“Hey, mind if I smoke? I know it bothers some people. Some guys really hate it, I mean, They hate of a girl smokes, smells like smoke. One guy I was with wouldn’t kiss me. said it was just like kissing an ashtray. He still elt me blow him, though.”

She finished this last with a great guffaw, as if it had been the height of hilarity. He sat down on the edge of the bed, eyed her warily.
“No,” he said, as if she had actually been asking his permission. “Go ahead and smoke if you like. It won’t change anything.”

Her eyes narrowed. She began to roll a skinny joint with shaking, dirty fingers. Her fingernails were corroded with pink polish and grime.

“Um yeah, okay. I don’t guess that it will. Anyway, I usually charge a hundred bucks for a hand job. One-fifty for a bj, and another hundred gets you the works. So–”

She toked in, held her breath for what seemed an interminable moment, and then tried to pass the reefer to him. He held up his hand, palm upward, as if to say, “no thanks,” and then smiled. A smile that was perhaps too wolfish, too predatory to make her feel comfortable.

After a moment she asked, “What’s a matter? Don’t you like to talk? Awful quiet.”

She tried to sound disarming, but he could hear the hint of suspicious unease creep into her voice. Her eyes darted to the door, and he thought, She’s judging how long it would take for her to bound over to it, undo the chain, and get out of here.

“No,” he said slowly. “I don’t guess I’m much of a talker.

People should work on being good listeners, don’t you think? It’s much more to their advantage.”

She said,

“Hey, if you want me to come back some other time, I, like, totally understand.”

He knew she was suddenly eager to be out the door, whether or not she made any money or not. He sighed, got up from the bed, went over to the window, pulled back the sash, Outside, the sun was a thin sliver of fiery peach behind a cresting hill. Miles beyond, the lights of the city gave mute testimony to the presence of a civilization they seemed perched just on the edge of. In between, concrete overpasses, railroad trestles, vacant industrial parks (opened like the cancerous maws of toothsome old crones), and miles and miles of dusty scrub alienated this desolate way station of hell from the rest of the world. Here, time froze like the semen in a dead man’s balls.

“Have you ever though about time?” he finally said, turning toward her. He interrupted himself, saying, “I’m talking now. You should be happy that I am.”

Silence.

“Anyway, I’m sure you’re not going to believe what I have to say. In fact, I’m not sure, given your obviously limited capabilities, that you could even understand it. But, you see, we’ve been through this before–”

Silence. Then–

“Yeah, well, okay man. I don’t really have time for this. I mean, I’m going to go ahead and go, okay? Maybe–”

“No, really, just hear me out. No, sit down. I won’t take very much of your…valuable time. I promise. Anyway–”

She seemed curious enough to listen to him. Or, maybe she just thought that this was his come-on. Either way, she remained in her chair.

“You see, everything moves…in circles. Like in cycles. DO you follow me? You do follow me, don’t you?”

He said this last with a thin veneer of hostility. His voice had an icy, cool edge to it he knew could slip out, like a whirling blade, and slice their good feelings as easily as slicing a jugular. She fidgeted in the cheap plastic chair, leaning forward, obviously needing a fix. Her eyes were wide, puffy; bloodshot. Mascara was caked in ugly circles around her swollen lids.

“Yeah, you’ve been bruised. You’ve been battered. Desiccated and dissected again and again. Tell me: who hurt you? Who was it?”

He leaned in close, the smell of her breath making a noxious counterpoint to his rapidly rising interest.

Why do you keep hurting me? he thought she whispered.

But, with tears streaming down her face from formerly dry eyes, he realized, suddenly, that she said nothing.

It was in a bright blue hotel, a wide, spacious place the likes of which had never been built before. A flight of short stairs lead up from a lobby that was cool and carpeted and, also, surprisingly, even shockingly blue.

Blue, blue–blue everywhere. The stumbled their way inside from the street, drunk and with another couple. Up the stairs then, through the glass doors, and into the darkness beyond. The Sanctum Sanctorum.

Up the stairs again (couldn’t they have taken the elevator? But, alas, that would have been too easy.) to the darkness of the upper floor. The four of them stumbled down the hall, into the spacious suite, into the darkness.

Then, stripping off eachothers’ close. Flesh against flesh, tongues entering mouths, fingers groping and plying and pressing.

The young couple fell to the floor laughing, the woman baring her naked breast, the flap of her blouse pulled open and the buttons popped. The man she was with gyrated on top of her, trying to get his pants off, too drunk to do much of anything but stumble across the floor on his hands and knees.

But the moaning and the movement in the shadow old him that the man had found his mark. He could hear the chippy moaning and gasping.

He turned to his own date. The Starlet. The Ingenue.

“You ought ta be in pictures!” he sang softly, sweetly, mockingly.

The dame had fiery red hair. Or maybe it was just some trick of deceptive lighting (how? It was as dark as the tomb in here.) He put out his quivering fingertips, stretching toward her as she reclined her back against a fusillade of pillows. She still had her hat and boa wrapped around her.

“Did…did you ever…did you ever?” he couldn’t get the words out.

She looked at him quizzically. Suddenly, the young couple grinding away on the floor disappeared entirely, and the spotlight seemed to be on the two of them.

“Did I ever what?” she trailed off suspiciously.

He paused, laughed suddenly, said “Did you ever…fuck Clark Gable?” He couldn’t stop laughing, snickering. But she had the queerest, most serious expression come across her.

“Gable? No. ‘Fraid not. Next question.”

She dragged reflectively on her cigarette, held it away from her face at an angle, turned upward. The air in the room suddenly felt twenty degrees cooler than it had previously. All external sound sources seemed to fade being in this damnable hotel to him felt like being digested, slowly, in the belly of the beast.

Cut off from the rest of reality, they were. The world outside ceased to be. Her face was suddenly a cool, placid surface, a sort of living painted surface or waxen effigy. It seemed timeless. No wonder audiences ate up her image up there on the screen. You couldn’t stop looking at those cool, grey eyes, those high, heavy cheekbones, flaming red hair pulled into quizzical and stylish buns. Skin was milk-white porcelain, but she exuded anything but weakness.

She opened her red, red lips (they almost shined black), said, “Why do you keep hurting me?”

He retracted, physically; he felt himself pull away, losing his sensual idolatry, retreat into a cool, husky little ball. He wasn’t certain about the question, but it had the pregnant weight of prophecy connected to it. He started to blubber a lame response, felt his voice catch in his throat.

It was when he came back later he was told he had been banned from the hotel. A little woman in what looked to be a red marching band outfit but was probably some uniform for bellhops told him that his starlet had expressly forbidden anyone without proper identification (whatever that might be) from entering beyond the glass doors, into the cool, otherworldly darkness…

“She’s rented the whole hotel for the next few weeks. She can decide who comes and goes,” yadda yadda yadda.

He considered for a moment how he might slip in anyway, but then thought better of it. House detectives and hotel psychics and snoops and hidden microphones all meant he would, most likely, get caught. And a place like this would certainly press charges.

The little woman in the bellhop uniform or whatever it was shifted from one foot to another. She looked tired, and her nose fidgeted.

“Oh, by the way Mister, she DID give us something to give to you, though. A package. You see how she is? She gave our manager here a whole mess of beautiful flowers for his birthday…”

He was so fascinated by the birthday bouquet, but he said, “I’ll jut take the package and go.”

She looked as if his rudeness irritated her marginally, but reached back behind the counter (curiously, several women with hot plates seemed to be preparing room service with wads of money bulging in one fist, and spatulas in the other), and produced a cardboard box.

He placed it under one arm, went out the sliding glass doors into the busy street.

Later, in the dark of his dingy room, with stink beetles dying slow, brilliant deaths trapped int the light fixtures, he opened the small cardboard box with trembling fingers.

He thrust a hand inside. It was filled with a large passel of photographs. Shocking stuff.

Crime scene. And pornography of an indescribable filth. There were other photos, stuff made on the spot, obviously: women in lingerie, garters, bound and gagged with nylon stockings, posing lasciviously with legs spread, tied down to iron bedsteads; posed with animals, blank stares and bored, hollow cheeks and bad teeth and puffy, swollen eyes.

And then there were the dead women, posed in faux erotic semblance; arms and legs amputated, entrails wrapped around icy ankles and flesh frozen in time.

Severed heads on bedspreads…

His fingers trembled as he dragged shakily on a cigarette. That phrase came back to him again–

Why do you keep hurting me?

And, on each of these photographed faces, these erotic atrocities, he could see the image of his ingenue, his starlet, reflected, like the shattered fragments of a mirrored reflection. And he wondered about time, and the cycle of things.
***

He brought the heavy suitcase out to the boot of car, wheeling it on a little board mounted on roller skates. The desk clerk barely acknowledged his going, seemingly catatonic with his fuzzy, filthy head resting on his skinny, nicotine-stained fingers. he wondered if the man were dead, asleep, or if it were another of the mysterious inflatable dummies the prankster had foisted on him last night.

Outside on the walk, he stopped at a newspaper dispenser and reached inside. He didn’t bother to pay; the door was broken.

He leafed through, reading by the dim orange glow of the crime lights. He finally found an article, buried back a few pages, about the infamous interstate killer the FBI were actively searching for, the fabled murderer the press had dubbed the “Road Hog.” He smiled. That was him.

He was happy that they were taking notice of his handiwork.

But it made things that much more dangerous for him. Obviously, he couldn’t continue like this forever. But there was no turning back, turning away from what he was.

“Big deal,” he said, mimicking the words of one man. “Death always came with the territory. See you in Disneyland.”

He pulled the little rope, wheeled the heavy luggage out to the trunk of his car. The asphalt seemed hot enough to cook eggs on, he fancied he could see thermal exhaust coming from it. A few dire insects pestered him, but they were easily dispatched with a slap. The air was so close you could barely breathe.

He hefted the thing into the trunk. He was lost, momentarily, in a fantasy of what he had heard happened in such hotels as these.

A young couple checks in. Maybe they’ve just had their honeymoon. Who knows? They begin to make love, thinking they are luxuriating in the lap of it. Their sex is really hot stuff, all over the heart-shaped waterbed, sweaty sodden sheets thrust to the floor.

Moaning, groaning, screaming and crying imprecations to God–that kind of shit.

So they go away and forget about it for a few years. And then, maybe ten years goes by, and the man says “Honey, let’s relive all those old memories of our honeymoon night. Remember that old hotel we stayed at? Heart-shaped waterbed and making love all night?”

And she says “Oh, yes! That’ll be just the sort of thing to put the spark back into our flagging romance.” Okay, so maybe she didn’t put it quite like that. Whatever.

So they find that place again, and they go in. And they realize that the place has really gone downhill since last they were there–which was probably ten years.

So they go into their room,and the husband says, “Man, this place looks like it’s turned into a real fleapit since we were here last. Sorry, honey.”

And the wifey forgives him of course, as he didn’t know. And she is unpacking her curling iron or whatever, and he lays back on the bed, and says, “Hey, they have a TV. I bet we can find some dirty movies!” And he flips on the TV, with a glass of wine in his hand.

A few minutes later he drops the wine.

“Oh, me Tarzan, you Jane–aaahhaaa, aaa!”

Oh my god, he thinks, that couple on the screen, in the porno movie–that’s us on our honeymoon night!

And so they both cringe in horror, realizing they’ve been secretly films. He reminds himself that eyes are everywhere, all the time. The walls see, even if they do not speak.

Why? Why do you keep hurting me?

Had he? Did time circle back in on itself, like a great loop or wheel, instead of a flat, angular plane? “Maybe time is a goddamn Moebius strip,” he laughed bitterly. He could see her face still, clueless and terrified, I-can-do-anything-you-want-me-to face. She could be whatever he needed, her and her pockmarked, ugly little visage.

Would he stuff her body under the bed. In the box springs? There was a legend about that, too.

No. He went back inside. The eyes had walls. The walls had eyes. He went back through the automatic door, the high, torturous rude electric buzz announcing his presence to no one, to the darkness. To the flies dying in the light fixtures, to the tics and nits dying on the mildewed sheets.

“Hey, hey bro!”

A darkened voice at the end of the hall. As if in a dream, or maybe a Fellini picture, a stumbling, skinny dweeb looked over at him from the shadow by a half-open doorway. He was talking to a smaller man, holding a beer. There was faint talking from inside. Radio music.

“Hey, hey bro! Damn, imagine seeing you here! Long time no see!”

Whoever this was, Hog needed to lose him. Quick. He wanted to be out of there and down the highway. But, like a bad dream, someone from the past steps in, unexpectedly, haunting you like a walk-in in a bad foreign art film.

“Wow man,” the skinny, taller man sidled up to him in the gloom, said, “it must be like, damn. Twenty years? since high school? When we use to run around together.”

The Hog didn’t know how to respond. He stalled, said nothing, looked blankly at this guy. He knew full well, suddenly, which it was. A high school drinking buddy, a guy he use to bird dog chicks with. He had dumped such garbage long ago, had purified himself. Now, it had returned to haunt him. It and the bad odor.

“Yeah, well, I’m not really. I mean, I don’t have time right now.”

His buddy held out one skinny, twitching hand. In it was a ten dollar bill, a shot glass of what was probably hundred proof alcohol, and each finger was crowned with nails that were skinny, black with dirt.

His friend looked at him blankly. His eyes watered a little. He looked as if he were in there with his boyfriend getting high. Getting stoned. Getting wasted.

The skull beneath the skin twitched It sensed rejection, the face scruntching up until pain could be read on the outlines of the head. The sudden flash of hatred, brought about no doubt by a sense of rejection could be read in every line.

There was a long pause, but like an unstable recording device, the voice jumped forward. Warbled, said–

“Oh, hey buddy, I completely understand. Sure. Right. We’ll have to get together sometime, relive old memories.

“Sure, we’ll do that Bob. Er, I mean George.”

“Jeff, old buddy. Just plain old Jeff.”

It was a terrible name, he thought. Like Todd, or Scott. It denoted a frat guy who might wander around the dorm in his boxers, with a stogie, flunking college English, fantasizing about porn
models, and planning his future as an accountant

But not THIS Jeff, of the dirty fingers and shot glass. He had lost himself in the fabled “Roman Wilderness of Pain” that Jim Morrison had sang about. He had been steam shoveled under his own sense of defeat, his passion for being purposeless. He was a victim of himself.

“See ya,” he said, the smile stretching across Hog’s plastic, too-perfect face as he hefted the heavy luggage out in both hands.

Thorough the plexiglass door, he buzzed to get out. Out into the sleeping hallway, where time was an illusion, hiding like the arched back of a cat in the dark.

On the television an inscrutable dialog proceeding thusly:

“So we go downstairs, to the crook of the stairs.”

“The crook? You mean the first floor landing?”

“Right, right. Some sort of landing where there is a window. And she’s sitting there in a Victorian dress, drinking an iced tea, or whatever. And the guy turns to me, say, ‘We haven’t figured out yet if she’s alive or a ghost. Nobody speaks to her; she’s always there, it seems.”

“Great. I’m betting she’s a former tenant, committed suicide by eating a combination of cough syrup and ant paste. Just like Florence Lawrence.”

“Florence Lawrence? Isn’t she like a cook on TV?”

“No. First movie star. Died in 1938. Today she’d be 129. Say, you want o know how stupid I am? I forgot to water my pussy.”

“Sounds like a personal problem.”

“No, ignoramus, my cat. I didn’t leave any water out for my cat. I come home, she’s on the point of literal death. From hunger, also.”

On and on it went. What was that sitcom? At the desk, the real clerk was sitting, with his deflated alter-ego in his lap, nodding off over a crusty back issue of Hustler. He went outside, carrying his luggage in front of him, not knowing if he was leaving little droplets of red in his wake.

Outside, heat lightning flashed over the hardscrabble earth, the dusty desert landscape disappearing into darkness beyond, with naught but pinpoints of city lights and man-made fires in the distance. In the distance, and up ahead by the never ending march of the boots of TIME, was an ugly strip of bleak fast-food chains, down-at-the-heels strip malls, movie theaters, gas stations, little mini-marts staffed by Pakis named Abdullah. Was this hell? He often wondered.

He opened the trunk, placed the leather carrying case inside, slammed shut the creaking boot. The asphalt was dark and hot, bugs buzzing past his ears. They would die by the thousands in the sleek electric polish of his headlights.

Hot, it was stifling hot. He fancied he could see thermals projecting p like the hideous, shapeless forms of forgotten phantasms–despite the fact that it was still too dark.

The moon overhead, watching him. The newspaper he had nicked on the way out had had a story.

Hog Strikes Again. Nationwide Manhunt. No Suspects. No Discernible Pattern. POLICE FRUSTRATED AND BAFFLED.

He liked that last bit. A foldout in the newspaper (What? Was this their equivalent of a Hustler gate fold?) showed a petty blonde victim. Her face was ice cream cold on the newsprint, her hair fanning out about her in a moment frozen in time, some happy instance that would be imprinted on the memory of whomever she had been with–but not her. Or, maybe?

Did he believe in ghosts?

Why do you keep hurting me?

He slid behind the wheel. Ahead, darkness and the road invited the hog to move onward. To the next great adventure.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot see the falconer…

What was that?

What rough beast is this? Its hour come ’round at last.

Slouches.

“Toward Bethlehem?”

Well, he was headed somewhere. But not there.

The Road Hog

(One from a few years ago.)

img001

The surrounding countryside was scrubby arroyo. The highway cut through it, rendering it vast and empty and dead on one side, sparsely populated by a low skyline of dusty, lonely, intermitten buildings on the other. He found “Skyline Hotel” quite easily. The setting sun was burning up the landscape in a dry was of brilliant orange and pink and bold black shadow-fire.

He got out of the convertible. It wasn’t his. The owner was leaking what was left of her brains out of a hole in her skull, stuffed into a drainage culvert a hundred miles away. For right now, all was well.

He went inside, not liking the faux Western decor, but immensely satisfied with the faded black and whit portraits of dead gunslingers hanging, some of them crookedly, from the wall. Between those pictures was standard thrift-store fair such as clowns, ships, etc.

A fat man with curly red hair and a moustache sat behind a counter in the lobby, which smelled of mildew and unwashed laundry and bad food and stale smoke and something even more unpleasant he couldn’t quite put his finger on. The little man had a black-and-white old-fashioned tube television set in front of him, an item that looked, for all the world, more like a prop than anything. It was apparently playing old porno flicks, to judge by the sound.

“Excuse…excuse me?” he said, approaching the seated figure. Suddenly, a small jolt of recognition tickled his spine. Goose walked over his grave.

“Damn,” he said to himself, “this guy’s dead!”

He thought perhaps the man had had a heart attack while sitting there. perhaps overstimulated by his porn films. If so, he had died with a curious, wide-eyed expression on his face, a sort of Howdy Doodey grin frozen in time across his fat kisser. He put out a gloved hand, experimentally, to feel the figure.

A voice said, “Oh, he’s mine. I was just testing my replacement.”

A little man with a bald head (“A little crawfish of a man,” he would laugh to himself later) walked thoughtfully up to the counter, eyed him warily, and then went behind.

He grabbed his “replacement” by the neck, at which point the air began to hiss out of him

“Just a dummy…dummy.”

he made no reply.

He waited, said, “I need a room for the night. Maybe a couple nights.”

The little man looked down at his feet, but his lower lip (his face was splotchy, as if he had a perpetual case of bad nerves) quivered a little as he said, in an off-hand way, “Oh sure. That’ll be two hundred bucks.”

He goggled.

“Two hundred bucks? For a night in this dump?”

The little man looked as if he didn’t exactly know how to reply, but said anyway, “That comes with the entertainment. Take it or leave it.”

The little man shrugged his shoulders in boredom. The Road Hog took out a battered brown wallet, forked out a couple of bills, laid them on the counter.

“Where do I sign?”

A huge plastic ledger was picked up from beneath the counter.

He carefully scrawled in a fake name. If the little dope wanted some ID, he’d just leave.

“Okay. You need a wake-up call? Room service?”

The little man laughed bitterly.

“How about fuckin’ filet mignon?”

“How about a snifter of brandy and some caviar? Maybe we’ll just forget it, huh?”

The Road Hog exited stage left. Outside, burning on the hot tarmac, his car sent off waves of heat exhaust. He went around, opened the door enough to pop the trunk, and went aound to get his luggage. In a faded, tan overnight bag, he had a human head wrapped in plastic.

He went back inside, put on his best “don’t fuck with me if you want to keep your spleen” face, and looked over at the clerk or whatever. The little man said, “Here’s your room key. Two-oh-one. I’ll buzz you on in.”

He certainly did. With the sort of loud electronic buzzer that is more commonly used in fun house attractions. The Road Hog wasn’t sure, for a second, if he was in a hotel or at a rodeo, getting ready to ride a bucking bronc.

He took the door handle, walked down to the elevator, saw the “Out of oardur” sign, neatly and legibly scrawled across a cardboard boxtop affixed to the door, and then realized he would have ot take the steps.

The sound of drip-drip-dripping seemed to permeate the hollow, echoing stillness of the place. The walls were yellow, peeling, with a few scrawls of absent-minded graffiti here and there.

He made it, not even out of breath, to the second floor. It looked typical and rundown and dull as paste. It looked like roaches went there to die.

The room was sparsely furnished. The smell of the hallway (which had approximated insect spray, cigarette smoke, must and boiled cabbage) was less strong here. There was more a stagnant water smell of old pipes…the building, he realized, could probably get up and crawl away by itself.

“This bed,” he said, talking to himself, “I don’t really want to use this bed.”

He pulled the covers off. He took out some plastic garbage bags he had stuffed in his valise, spread those across the surface of the bed. Then he picked up the remote.

It was an old-fashioned tube TV mounted on the wall. All the channels were fuzzy, except for the one showing porn; probably showing it 24/7. It looked like some loop he had once paid twenty-five cents to see in some grimy little bookstore in Des Plains.

There was a brief commotion out in the hall. He went to the door, unlocked it, careful to keep the chain fastened. Outside, he could see a few guys milling, drunkenly, around a battered hotel room door. One of them seemed, unfortunately, faintly familiar. Shit. The last thing he needed was to be recognized, placed here.

One of them said, “We’re going out for more beer. Be right back. Anyone need smokes?”

Poetry.

Young guys. Party time. Bill and Ted. Excellent.

He shut the door again with a mui of disgust on his lips. On the television screen, a porn star calling herself “Aunt Peg” was being jack hammered at both ends. He would have turned it off, but it was all he had for company right at the moment.

He sat down on the bed, his throat so dry it seemed to be crawiing. He had given up the smoking habit years ago, but right now he wished for all the world for a butt. Something to take the edge off.

The walls felt as if they were crawling with bugs. In the light fixtures, the curling, browning little bodies fried in the sickly yellow glare of the exposed bulbs.

“They commit unintentional suicide. They can’t help it.

They’re attracted to the light, drawn to it magnetically. But then, they can’t get out of the light fixtures. Can’t climb out, even though, oddly enough, they can fly…I can’t see any logic in it. So they die, slowly, we must assume, agonizingly, transfixed next to the source of their great fascination. Dying next to the bright white flame of their light bulb god.”

He didn’t know who he was addressing, and wasn’t sure why he was speaking at all. His voice fell flat, echoless against the bare walls. Those walls looked like they might be a cheesecloth of roaches, infested down to the very rocky, fibrous surface.

He heard the buzzer downstairs.

He waited.

In a few moments, she would be at the door. The whole thing choreographed down to the grim specifics. He knew. He always knew.

A few seconds later there was a knock at the door.

He opened it, keeping the chain securely fastened. A slightly puffy, bruised face peeped in at the crack. It was a woman’s face.

Mascara smeared around the eyes. Face too pale; lips thin and colorless.

“Hey.”

She paused with pregnant . As if that had been a question, almost.

“Hey,” he returned. He wasn’t altogether sure of how to respond.

He undid the chain. She sauntered in. He saw she was wearing a cheap denim miniskirt, a pair of plastic slippers, and a bad strapless top. Yellow.

Her arms were covered in bruises and bad tattoos. She wore no hose; her legs were pale, skinny, the skin was splotchy. She kept scratching absentmindedly at bug bites.

“Yeah, so anyway, I’m Sabrina. You look like you’re new around here. I mean, I haven’t seen you before or anything. Lot of people just passing through I guess. Not so many now, though, since they changed the highway. So yeah…”

She trailed off, sat down in one of the cheap plastic chairs lining the wall.

“Hey, mind if I smoke? I know it bothers some people. Some guys really hate it, I mean, They hate of a girl smokes, smells like smoke. One guy I was with wouldn’t kiss me. said it was just like kissing an ashtray. He still elt me blow him, though.”

She finished this last with a great guffaw, as if it had been the height of hilarity. He sat down on the edge of the bed, eyed her warily.
“No,” he said, as if she had actually been asking his permission. “Go ahead and smoke if you like. It won’t change anything.”

Her eyes narrowed. She began to roll a skinny joint with shaking, dirty fingers. Her fingernails were corroded with pink polish and grime.

“Um yeah, okay. I don’t guess that it will. Anyway, I usually charge a hundred bucks for a hand job. One-fifty for a bj, and another hundred gets you the works. So–”

She toked in, held her breath for what seemed an interminable moment, and then tried to pass the reefer to him. He held up his hand, palm upward, as if to say, “no thanks,” and then smiled. A smile that was perhaps too wolfish, too predatory to make her feel comfortable.

After a moment she asked, “What’s a matter? Don’t you like to talk? Awful quiet.”

She tried to sound disarming, but he could hear the hint of suspicious unease creep into her voice. Her eyes darted to the door, and he thought, She’s judging how long it would take for her to bound over to it, undo the chain, and get out of here.

“No,” he said slowly. “I don’t guess I’m much of a talker.

People should work on being good listeners, don’t you think? It’s much more to their advantage.”

She said,

“Hey, if you want me to come back some other time, I, like, totally understand.”

He knew she was suddenly eager to be out the door, whether or not she made any money or not. He sighed, got up from the bed, went over to the window, pulled back the sash, Outside, the sun was a thin sliver of fiery peach behind a cresting hill. Miles beyond, the lights of the city gave mute testimony to the presence of a civilization they seemed perched just on the edge of. In between, concrete overpasses, railroad trestles, vacant industrial parks (opened like the cancerous maws of toothsome old crones), and miles and miles of dusty scrub alienated this desolate way station of hell from the rest of the world. Here, time froze like the semen in a dead man’s balls.

“Have you ever though about time?” he finally said, turning toward her. He interrupted himself, saying, “I’m talking now. You should be happy that I am.”

Silence.

“Anyway, I’m sure you’re not going to believe what I have to say. In fact, I’m not sure, given your obviously limited capabilities, that you could even understand it. But, you see, we’ve been through this before–”

Silence. Then–

“Yeah, well, okay man. I don’t really have time for this. I mean, I’m going to go ahead and go, okay? Maybe–”

“No, really, just hear me out. No, sit down. I won’t take very much of your…valuable time. I promise. Anyway–”

She seemed curious enough to listen to him. Or, maybe she just thought that this was his come-on. Either way, she remained in her chair.

“You see, everything moves…in circles. Like in cycles. DO you follow me? You do follow me, don’t you?”

He said this last with a thin veneer of hostility. His voice had an icy, cool edge to it he knew could slip out, like a whirling blade, and slice their good feelings as easily as slicing a jugular. She fidgeted in the cheap plastic chair, leaning forward, obviously needing a fix. Her eyes were wide, puffy; bloodshot. Mascara was caked in ugly circles around her swollen lids.

“Yeah, you’ve been bruised. You’ve been battered. Desiccated and dissected again and again. Tell me: who hurt you? Who was it?”

He leaned in close, the smell of her breath making a noxious counterpoint to his rapidly rising interest.

Why do you keep hurting me? he thought she whispered.

But, with tears streaming down her face from formerly dry eyes, he realized, suddenly, that she said nothing.

It was in a bright blue hotel, a wide, spacious place the likes of which had never been built before. A flight of short stairs lead up from a lobby that was cool and carpeted and, also, surprisingly, even shockingly blue.

Blue, blue–blue everywhere. The stumbled their way inside from the street, drunk and with another couple. Up the stairs then, through the glass doors, and into the darkness beyond. The Sanctum Sanctorum.

Up the stairs again (couldn’t they have taken the elevator? But, alas, that would have been too easy.) to the darkness of the upper floor. The four of them stumbled down the hall, into the spacious suite, into the darkness.

Then, stripping off eachothers’ close. Flesh against flesh, tongues entering mouths, fingers groping and plying and pressing.

The young couple fell to the floor laughing, the woman baring her naked breast, the flap of her blouse pulled open and the buttons popped. The man she was with gyrated on top of her, trying to get his pants off, too drunk to do much of anything but stumble across the floor on his hands and knees.

But the moaning and the movement in the shadow old him that the man had found his mark. He could hear the chippy moaning and gasping.

He turned to his own date. The Starlet. The Ingenue.

“You ought ta be in pictures!” he sang softly, sweetly, mockingly.

The dame had fiery red hair. Or maybe it was just some trick of deceptive lighting (how? It was as dark as the tomb in here.) He put out his quivering fingertips, stretching toward her as she reclined her back against a fusillade of pillows. She still had her hat and boa wrapped around her.

“Did…did you ever…did you ever?” he couldn’t get the words out.

She looked at him quizzically. Suddenly, the young couple grinding away on the floor disappeared entirely, and the spotlight seemed to be on the two of them.

“Did I ever what?” she trailed off suspiciously.

He paused, laughed suddenly, said “Did you ever…fuck Clark Gable?” He couldn’t stop laughing, snickering. But she had the queerest, most serious expression come across her.

“Gable? No. ‘Fraid not. Next question.”

She dragged reflectively on her cigarette, held it away from her face at an angle, turned upward. The air in the room suddenly felt twenty degrees cooler than it had previously. All external sound sources seemed to fade being in this damnable hotel to him felt like being digested, slowly, in the belly of the beast.

Cut off from the rest of reality, they were. The world outside ceased to be. Her face was suddenly a cool, placid surface, a sort of living painted surface or waxen effigy. It seemed timeless. No wonder audiences ate up her image up there on the screen. You couldn’t stop looking at those cool, grey eyes, those high, heavy cheekbones, flaming red hair pulled into quizzical and stylish buns. Skin was milk-white porcelain, but she exuded anything but weakness.

She opened her red, red lips (they almost shined black), said, “Why do you keep hurting me?”

He retracted, physically; he felt himself pull away, losing his sensual idolatry, retreat into a cool, husky little ball. He wasn’t certain about the question, but it had the pregnant weight of prophecy connected to it. He started to blubber a lame response, felt his voice catch in his throat.

It was when he came back later he was told he had been banned from the hotel. A little woman in what looked to be a red marching band outfit but was probably some uniform for bellhops told him that his starlet had expressly forbidden anyone without proper identification (whatever that might be) from entering beyond the glass doors, into the cool, otherworldly darkness…

“She’s rented the whole hotel for the next few weeks. She can decide who comes and goes,” yadda yadda yadda.

He considered for a moment how he might slip in anyway, but then thought better of it. House detectives and hotel psychics and snoops and hidden microphones all meant he would, most likely, get caught. And a place like this would certainly press charges.

The little woman in the bellhop uniform or whatever it was shifted from one foot to another. She looked tired, and her nose fidgeted.

“Oh, by the way Mister, she DID give us something to give to you, though. A package. You see how she is? She gave our manager here a whole mess of beautiful flowers for his birthday…”

He was so fascinated by the birthday bouquet, but he said, “I’ll jut take the package and go.”

She looked as if his rudeness irritated her marginally, but reached back behind the counter (curiously, several women with hot plates seemed to be preparing room service with wads of money bulging in one fist, and spatulas in the other), and produced a cardboard box.

He placed it under one arm, went out the sliding glass doors into the busy street.

Later, in the dark of his dingy room, with stink beetles dying slow, brilliant deaths trapped int the light fixtures, he opened the small cardboard box with trembling fingers.

He thrust a hand inside. It was filled with a large passel of photographs. Shocking stuff.

Crime scene. And pornography of an indescribable filth. There were other photos, stuff made on the spot, obviously: women in lingerie, garters, bound and gagged with nylon stockings, posing lasciviously with legs spread, tied down to iron bedsteads; posed with animals, blank stares and bored, hollow cheeks and bad teeth and puffy, swollen eyes.

And then there were the dead women, posed in faux erotic semblance; arms and legs amputated, entrails wrapped around icy ankles and flesh frozen in time.

Severed heads on bedspreads…

His fingers trembled as he dragged shakily on a cigarette. That phrase came back to him again–

Why do you keep hurting me?

And, on each of these photographed faces, these erotic atrocities, he could see the image of his ingenue, his starlet, reflected, like the shattered fragments of a mirrored reflection. And he wondered about time, and the cycle of things.
***

He brought the heavy suitcase out to the boot of car, wheeling it on a little board mounted on roller skates. The desk clerk barely acknowledged his going, seemingly catatonic with his fuzzy, filthy head resting on his skinny, nicotine-stained fingers. he wondered if the man were dead, asleep, or if it were another of the mysterious inflatable dummies the prankster had foisted on him last night.

Outside on the walk, he stopped at a newspaper dispenser and reached inside. He didn’t bother to pay; the door was broken.

He leafed through, reading by the dim orange glow of the crime lights. He finally found an article, buried back a few pages, about the infamous interstate killer the FBI were actively searching for, the fabled murderer the press had dubbed the “Road Hog.” He smiled. That was him.

He was happy that they were taking notice of his handiwork.

But it made things that much more dangerous for him. Obviously, he couldn’t continue like this forever. But there was no turning back, turning away from what he was.

“Big deal,” he said, mimicking the words of one man. “Death always came with the territory. See you in Disneyland.”

He pulled the little rope, wheeled the heavy luggage out to the trunk of his car. The asphalt seemed hot enough to cook eggs on, he fancied he could see thermal exhaust coming from it. A few dire insects pestered him, but they were easily dispatched with a slap. The air was so close you could barely breathe.

He hefted the thing into the trunk. He was lost, momentarily, in a fantasy of what he had heard happened in such hotels as these.

A young couple checks in. Maybe they’ve just had their honeymoon. Who knows? They begin to make love, thinking they are luxuriating in the lap of it. Their sex is really hot stuff, all over the heart-shaped waterbed, sweaty sodden sheets thrust to the floor.

Moaning, groaning, screaming and crying imprecations to God–that kind of shit.

So they go away and forget about it for a few years. And then, maybe ten years goes by, and the man says “Honey, let’s relive all those old memories of our honeymoon night. Remember that old hotel we stayed at? Heart-shaped waterbed and making love all night?”

And she says “Oh, yes! That’ll be just the sort of thing to put the spark back into our flagging romance.” Okay, so maybe she didn’t put it quite like that. Whatever.

So they find that place again, and they go in. And they realize that the place has really gone downhill since last they were there–which was probably ten years.

So they go into their room,and the husband says, “Man, this place looks like it’s turned into a real fleapit since we were here last. Sorry, honey.”

And the wifey forgives him of course, as he didn’t know. And she is unpacking her curling iron or whatever, and he lays back on the bed, and says, “Hey, they have a TV. I bet we can find some dirty movies!” And he flips on the TV, with a glass of wine in his hand.

A few minutes later he drops the wine.

“Oh, me Tarzan, you Jane–aaahhaaa, aaa!”

Oh my god, he thinks, that couple on the screen, in the porno movie–that’s us on our honeymoon night!

And so they both cringe in horror, realizing they’ve been secretly films. He reminds himself that eyes are everywhere, all the time. The walls see, even if they do not speak.

Why? Why do you keep hurting me?

Had he? Did time circle back in on itself, like a great loop or wheel, instead of a flat, angular plane? “Maybe time is a goddamn Moebius strip,” he laughed bitterly. He could see her face still, clueless and terrified, I-can-do-anything-you-want-me-to face. She could be whatever he needed, her and her pockmarked, ugly little visage.

Would he stuff her body under the bed. In the box springs? There was a legend about that, too.

No. He went back inside. The eyes had walls. The walls had eyes. He went back through the automatic door, the high, torturous rude electric buzz announcing his presence to no one, to the darkness. To the flies dying in the light fixtures, to the tics and nits dying on the mildewed sheets.

“Hey, hey bro!”

A darkened voice at the end of the hall. As if in a dream, or maybe a Fellini picture, a stumbling, skinny dweeb looked over at him from the shadow by a half-open doorway. He was talking to a smaller man, holding a beer. There was faint talking from inside. Radio music.

“Hey, hey bro! Damn, imagine seeing you here! Long time no see!”

Whoever this was, Hog needed to lose him. Quick. He wanted to be out of there and down the highway. But, like a bad dream, someone from the past steps in, unexpectedly, haunting you like a walk-in in a bad foreign art film.

“Wow man,” the skinny, taller man sidled up to him in the gloom, said, “it must be like, damn. Twenty years? since high school? When we use to run around together.”

The Hog didn’t know how to respond. He stalled, said nothing, looked blankly at this guy. He knew full well, suddenly, which it was. A high school drinking buddy, a guy he use to bird dog chicks with. He had dumped such garbage long ago, had purified himself. Now, it had returned to haunt him. It and the bad odor.

“Yeah, well, I’m not really. I mean, I don’t have time right now.”

His buddy held out one skinny, twitching hand. In it was a ten dollar bill, a shot glass of what was probably hundred proof alcohol, and each finger was crowned with nails that were skinny, black with dirt.

His friend looked at him blankly. His eyes watered a little. He looked as if he were in there with his boyfriend getting high. Getting stoned. Getting wasted.

The skull beneath the skin twitched It sensed rejection, the face scruntching up until pain could be read on the outlines of the head. The sudden flash of hatred, brought about no doubt by a sense of rejection could be read in every line.

There was a long pause, but like an unstable recording device, the voice jumped forward. Warbled, said–

“Oh, hey buddy, I completely understand. Sure. Right. We’ll have to get together sometime, relive old memories.

“Sure, we’ll do that Bob. Er, I mean George.”

“Jeff, old buddy. Just plain old Jeff.”

It was a terrible name, he thought. Like Todd, or Scott. It denoted a frat guy who might wander around the dorm in his boxers, with a stogie, flunking college English, fantasizing about porn
models, and planning his future as an accountant

But not THIS Jeff, of the dirty fingers and shot glass. He had lost himself in the fabled “Roman Wilderness of Pain” that Jim Morrison had sang about. He had been steam shoveled under his own sense of defeat, his passion for being purposeless. He was a victim of himself.

“See ya,” he said, the smile stretching across Hog’s plastic, too-perfect face as he hefted the heavy luggage out in both hands.

Thorough the plexiglass door, he buzzed to get out. Out into the sleeping hallway, where time was an illusion, hiding like the arched back of a cat in the dark.

On the television an inscrutable dialog proceeding thusly:

“So we go downstairs, to the crook of the stairs.”

“The crook? You mean the first floor landing?”

“Right, right. Some sort of landing where there is a window. And she’s sitting there in a Victorian dress, drinking an iced tea, or whatever. And the guy turns to me, say, ‘We haven’t figured out yet if she’s alive or a ghost. Nobody speaks to her; she’s always there, it seems.”

“Great. I’m betting she’s a former tenant, committed suicide by eating a combination of cough syrup and ant paste. Just like Florence Lawrence.”

“Florence Lawrence? Isn’t she like a cook on TV?”

“No. First movie star. Died in 1938. Today she’d be 129. Say, you want o know how stupid I am? I forgot to water my pussy.”

“Sounds like a personal problem.”

“No, ignoramus, my cat. I didn’t leave any water out for my cat. I come home, she’s on the point of literal death. From hunger, also.”

On and on it went. What was that sitcom? At the desk, the real clerk was sitting, with his deflated alter-ego in his lap, nodding off over a crusty back issue of Hustler. He went outside, carrying his luggage in front of him, not knowing if he was leaving little droplets of red in his wake.

Outside, heat lightning flashed over the hardscrabble earth, the dusty desert landscape disappearing into darkness beyond, with naught but pinpoints of city lights and man-made fires in the distance. In the distance, and up ahead by the never ending march of the boots of TIME, was an ugly strip of bleak fast-food chains, down-at-the-heels strip malls, movie theaters, gas stations, little mini-marts staffed by Pakis named Abdullah. Was this hell? He often wondered.

He opened the trunk, placed the leather carrying case inside, slammed shut the creaking boot. The asphalt was dark and hot, bugs buzzing past his ears. They would die by the thousands in the sleek electric polish of his headlights.

Hot, it was stifling hot. He fancied he could see thermals projecting p like the hideous, shapeless forms of forgotten phantasms–despite the fact that it was still too dark.

The moon overhead, watching him. The newspaper he had nicked on the way out had had a story.

Hog Strikes Again. Nationwide Manhunt. No Suspects. No Discernible Pattern. POLICE FRUSTRATED AND BAFFLED.

He liked that last bit. A foldout in the newspaper (What? Was this their equivalent of a Hustler gate fold?) showed a petty blonde victim. Her face was ice cream cold on the newsprint, her hair fanning out about her in a moment frozen in time, some happy instance that would be imprinted on the memory of whomever she had been with–but not her. Or, maybe?

Did he believe in ghosts?

Why do you keep hurting me?

He slid behind the wheel. Ahead, darkness and the road invited the hog to move onward. To the next great adventure.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot see the falconer…

What was that?

What rough beast is this? Its hour come ’round at last.

Slouches.

“Toward Bethlehem?”

Well, he was headed somewhere. But not there.

Verbal Flatulence; Or, What You’ve Told Me Really, Really Stinks! (A Puerile Piece.)

The Space Beetle had sent one of his hired goons:

“It’s a new weapon,” he waxed mysteriously. “Developed by our researchers on Triton. Scrambles the molecular field holding together the human sphincter. Discombobulation of the oral and anal cavities. Breath replaced with divine flatulent wind. Reeking odor of falsities and perfidious nonsense, made manifest in a turgid, thick, burbling rotten egg stench.”

We can set the stage–a medium-sized auditorium; hustle bustle of milling throngs. people holding signs and placards. “Tatty, short-haired women, and long-haired men.,” to quote someone who was quoted in Russell Miller’s book on L. Ron Hubbard. The lights ared immed, the music swells; an underwhelming onrush of applause.

S/he took the podium. An immense yawn was covered, like the arched back of a serpentine sin, cowering below the surface of a sewer stream, by the clip-clap of assorted hands. A few rumble-bumbles of roiling stomach competed with the announcer’s announcement that Madame Secretary was taking the stage. Willowy Le Pugh, the future President of the United Islamo-Soviet States of Americo. Or, presumably the future president.

S/he, began, opening salmon colored lips, pale, iridescent gums shining in the click-clack-clackety-click of whirring old-fashioned flashbulb cameras what constitute an anachronism already.

(The Space Beetle, we might remind our comic book readers, is a super-secret master villain of cosmic and intergalactic proportions, hiding behind an ever-shifting succession of aliases and disguises, forms both extraordinary and mundane. You might encounter him as a waiter, a busboy, a dry cleaner on Mars, scrubbing furiously at custard stains on the collar of an overpriced satin jacket; alternately, he could be the state executioner on a backwaters moon circling a forgotten world in the lower crotch of the Crab Nebula. His ministrations and scoundrelisms are matters of legendry; his name and even the mere mention of it have been known to freeze the human colon. C’est la vie!)

“Friends, neighbors, comrades, brothers of unity, workers of the world united! Hands and handmaidens of the One True Prophet! I come to deliver you from the fetters and bonds of your great and magnificent oppression! Behold, I stand at the door and knock!”

A swell of applause erupted throughout the audience, and not a few murmurs and shouts of “Power to THE PEOPLE!” and “Right on, Sistah!” and “Everyone is my gender-neutral brother!,” etc. etc. etc.

The Agent crawled through the seats, holding his piece in his hands. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand…he counted to himself. The particular item in his possession was thick, long, cylindrical; it shined with heavy metal profundity. He checked the dials and diodes.

Professor Croyd, a beetling browed man with strange stertorous breathing and crossed eyes, had instructed him as to the use of this particular hand cannon; he had snuck it into the concert hall disguised as on over-sized iron dildo, a coy statuette presented to the visiting dignitary by the Junior Anti-fascist Sex League, on the anniversary of their great victory desegregating Eurasian-only golf courses.

He dialed. He waited. He adjusted. He sighted. He smiled. He aimed. This was a moment that would go down in the historical records, right next to the first man who saw an orgasm in t he flashbulb of Uranus.

“My Godless opponent, that leering, gesticulating Minister of Snark, would have you believe the pernicious LIES proffered about me by the malicious hacks of the dirty, dirty subversive press, those Joo bankers and power-broker pawnshawp dealers who trade in lies, innuendo, half-truths, gossip, legend, myth, fantasy and sweet Nectar of Ambrosia, for all I know. Well, I’ll have you know, that these people have thrust in their sickle, and what they sow, THEY SHALL SURELY REAP!”

More applause. A few guffaws. A stifled laugh, and not a few bawling moans of worshipful adulation. General murmur of good tidings. But then, something strange happened–
Someone thought she must have belched. No belch ever let forth that sort of effluvial, reek though; a general murmur of nauseous disgust began to filter up from the throngs at the foot of the stage. Vile retching volcanod forth, as little by little, people fighting to hold their gorges lost it in a multicultural rainbow shower of vomit streams that soaked the backs of folks in the front row, ruined the theater seats, made the floor and isles into a sopping, miasmic stew of swirling, biologically hazardous stinkery.

It was her vocal farting, the rearrangement of her mouth and anus, so that flatulence issued forth with every proclamation and lie, while exclamations of piety, shock and outrage squeezed themselves out from between the pendulous cheeks of her pale, porcine derriere. The spell had worked, the molecular biology realigned; the prank a thing of resounding success. Mission accomplished.

Willowy Le Pugh suddenly threw her notes into the air. She farted, “Oh, oh my, why it’s just like a scene from a Stephen King thriller! Really, everyone, I’m sure we can get this cleaned up and resume the festivities in no time! Everyone, everyone–back to your seats!”

But everyone was not listening, and, in a panicked huff, she turned like a top, apologies still blurping and blarting out from between her ass cheeks, and retreated into the shadows backstage.

The Agent, covered in puke, but, nonetheless, dry for the invisible skinsuit he was wearing, like a veritable shield, all over his sweating, satisfied form, signaled the Madrigal to turn on the teleporto beam and GET HIM THE HELL OUT OF THERE.

Two gentleman, one a withered man with a great, broad flank of a noise, and the cool, pitiless gaze of some deep-sea creature cast, by the caprices of Poseidon, upon the rocky surface of the damned earth, turned to his neighbor, and said with cold, metallic inflection:

“I ever tell you about the asshole that taught his man to talk?”