Books, Dreams and Nightmares, Experimental, Fiction, Hardboiled, Murder, Short Stories, surreal, Uncategorized, Urban Legends, Young Adult

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.

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Books, Dreams and Nightmares, Experimental, Famous Serial Killers, Fiction, Hardboiled, Murder, Short Stories, surreal, Uncategorized, Urban Legends, Weird, Young Adult

The Road Hog

(One from a few years ago.)

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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.

Standard
Books, Experimental, Fiction, Humor, Short Stories, short-short, surreal, Weird, Young Adult

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?”

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

Customs

I was standing on an upper floor of what could have been a cheap, dirty hotel room in a foreign port.

Perhaps I was somewhere in South Asia. I think the weather felt tropical, humid against my skin.

Bugs frittered away and died in the light fixture, their sizzling bodies sending up wafting clouds of stink as the crisped and crumbled in a suicidal urge to penetrate the core mystery of the burning sun, the incandescent wonder of the All-Seeing light bulb.

At any rate, the oily, noxious smell of their deaths penetrated the room. Outside, I could hear music, many voices,a nd the banging of what I took to be drums and gongs, tambourines, and the blowing of horns. I went to the window, pulled back the stiff, musty drapes,a nd peered down into the streets.

Outside, I saw that the streets were filled with shuffling throngs of natives. There seemed to be some sort of festival or parade going on, and I wondered that I had managed to alight on the island (if that is what it truly was) during carnival season.

A number of puzzling, colorful floats came sailing by in the streets. The roar of the music and the shouts and imprecations of the onlookers grew deafening as my mind focused with a sharper intensity on the scene below. The sights of the carnival, and, most especially, the smell of sweat, oil, frying corn, heavy incense and other, more exotic aromas, did much to drive the musty, oily and sick stench of my bug-infested room from my mind.

It was then that I spied the most curious display. A massive green float, in the shape of a toad, or, perhaps, what I take might be some local legendary beast or even deity, was topped in front by two faces, females, who were lying inside the thing with only their heads and long, thick, oily black hair hanging down at the sides of their heads. Either they were acting, or they were in a great deal of pain and discomfort, for tears streamed down their faces, and they were moaning and weeping profusely.

On each side, as if to drive the beast forward. two men in dirty tshirts and shorts stood in the steets, barefoot, and beat the back of the frog-like float with what I took to be bamboo rods. At each stroke, they would cry out in anger, and the twin faces at the front of the float would scream and moan in pain. Later, it was expalined to me that the women inside the float had their backsides exposed to a board filled with nails. This was connected to the outside of the float by a little target marked with tape, so that at each fall of the bamboo rods, the nails or spikes were driven into the backsides of the captive women, causing them intense pain and making them yell out.

This brought shouts and cries of laughter from the crowd, who threw rice and rotten vegetables, lit firework, and danced. Children carried colored paper dragons and puppets to and from, running in and out of the way of the strange float.

I never found out whether this was a performance, a religious ritual, passion play, public rite, tradition or punishment. I don’t suppose it really matters. Such customs can have no place in a rational world.

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Books, Fiction, Humor, Monsters, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Young Adult

The Man Who Took a Log as a Wife

Once, there was a foolish, raggedy man who entered a village. He worked hard for a stupid master, but after earning a little money, quickly set himself up in business as a costermonger, but soon became lonely for the comforts afforded by a wife.

One day, while trundling his cart along the village square, he spied a plump, stupid girl with a bucket of milk. Pushing his cart up to her, he asked her her name.

“Myrtle,” she replied. “Myrtle Wormhead.”

To which he replied, “Oh, my! That is the loveliest name that ever I heard! We should be married!”

And the plump, stupid girl consented immediately. Off they went to the village priest, but, bot having the money for a wedding, and the girl having no dowry, were soon turned away.

Down cast, the foolish costermonger said, “We shall run away together, and seek our fortune on the continent. Then, when we have suffcient funds to arrange a wedding, we shall return, be married. And live happily ever after!”

And so the two luckless fools went out of their village, walking the weed-choked paths through the forest, until they became hungry, and settled in a dark place.

Now, close by lived a vicious ogre, and his wife, a deadly witch. Climbing through the brush, he spied the two hapless fools walking, and said to himself, “My, she is fat and plump, and would make a juicy morsel for me and my wife. I will capture her, and steal her away, and put her ina cage to fatten her up. The man I do not want, as he is too lean and tough-looking.”

And so he followed them stealthily, and soon they came to a place where there was a little cave, and the fool said to his wife, “We can live here in this cave! It will shelter us from the rain and the scorching sun, when it is too hot.”

And the foolish girl, thinking this a wonderful idea, set about making their home in the cave.

Now, it so happened that a terrible hermit lived in a cave nearby, and he had a terrible appetite for human flesh. He came upon the fool and his wife while they were out gathering firewood one day, and he said to himself, “Mm, that young girl looks as if she would be delicious to eat! I will steal her, and take her back to my cave, and keep he in a cage! Then, I will fatten her on cream until she is ready to be gutted and stewed!”

And so the terrible, crazed hermit hid int he bushes, waiting, and watching. Finally, seeing his chance, as the fool told his wife he was going deeper int he woods–“To gather more wood for the fire, as what we have been able to find out her, so far, is mostly wet!”–he left his foolish wife alone.

Very quietly,t he hermit crept from his hiding place amid the bushes and shrubs, and, going sneakily down to where the foolish girl sat on a rock byt he tream, picking flowers, said to her, “And how now, my pretty one! Where do you come from, and where are you going?”

And the foolish girl, startled by this, looked up, but dare not turn around for fear fo what she would see standing behind her.

“Oh,” she said, “I come from yonder village, and I live in yonder cave. Who art thou to ask such questions?”

And to this the terrible hermit replied, “I am one who has admired you from afar. But now, I am close, oh so close to you!”

And to this, the foolish girl replied, “Oh! And how close art thou?”

And to this the hermit said, “Clsoe enough to smell your sweet scent!” and then said, “…and it smells delicious!”

And the foolish girl said, “Oh, my, whatever can you mean by that? How, in fact, does it smell?”

And the terrible hermit replied, “Like broasted beef on a summer day!”

And the foolish girl giggled, and said, “Oh, that is mere foolishness! How can I smell so? Tell me truthfully, how does my scent strike thee?”

And the hermit said, “Like succulent lamb on a winter morn!”

And the foolish girl said, yet again, “Oh! That is nonsense! How can my scent be compared to succulent lamb! Tell me truthfully, how does my scent strike thee?”

And the hermit finally said, “Like the stew I will make of thy flesh, the bread of they bones, and the wine of thy blood! Now, come!”

And with a cry he reached forward,a nd grabbed her in his hairy, dirty arms, carrying her away as she cried for her husband.

The hermit put his hand over the foolish girl’s mouth, but her husband (who was picking and poking around amid the trees, not far away) heard some rustling in the bushes. He got the distinct feeling (despite the fact that he was so foolish), that his wife migth have met with some trouble, perhaps with a wild animal. So, dropping the kindling he was carrying, he raced back through the trees to the mouth of the old cave.

The hermit had carried off the unfortunate young woman, kicking and screaming. He tied her with vines, thrust some old rags in her mouth, and told her to wait for him (what else could she do?). Then, he went back to where he had found her and, a sudden idea striking him across his big hairy noggin, scouted around in the bushes until he found a log that was quite in the shape of a young woman. He placed this log where he had taken the foolish man’s wife, and waited until the young man came bounding back through the trees.

“What ho!” exclaimed the young man. “Where is my wife?”

The hermit, clasping his hands in front of him, said, with tears glistening down his cheeks.

“Oh it is terrible sir, terrible! I happened along when, seeing the Old Witch if the forest, I hid behind a tree to see what she would do. Well, your wife was busy picking boison berries, and when the Old Witch approached her, she asked for the little basket of berries! Oh, your wife was very loath to give it up, and told the witch so. So, in anger the witch turned her into…into this log!”

And the devious old hermit began to weep and sob. The young fool raised his hands to his head in anguish, exclaiming, “Oh! How terrible. Oh, love of my life! How terrible a fate you have suffered for a little basket of boison berries. If only I could find some way to turn you back into a living woman. Alas! I am no great wizard, and know not where one can be found!”

He wept bitterly at what he thought must be the unhappy death of his wife. Then, a thought possessed the fool. He wondered if, just because she was turned into a log, she might not still, in some manner, be considered “alive.”

“For,” he said to himself, “I do not know of a powerful wizard who could reverse this evil spell, BUT IF I DID, sould she not simply change back into her former self, and be as good as ever she was before?”

And, thinking that, he realized she was still, after all, his wife, and must be treated as such. So he took the log into his arms, and, huffing and puffing and sweating, carried the thing back to town.

He went back to his former master, and, imploring him for his old job back, was grudgingly let in the door, still carrying his log.

The old master looked puzzled at what the young fool was carrying in his arms,a nd, after a time, straightaway asked him, “Fool, why are you carrying that log in your arms?”

To which the fool replied, “Oh, this? This, I am afraid, is no mere log. It is my wife! An evil witch happened upon her while she was picking boison berries, and, because she would not give her the basket, turned her into this log. But, for all that, she is still a rather wonderful wife, wouldn’t you agree?”

The fool’s master, thinking the man quite mad, simply nodded his assent and said, “Why, yes. Of course! She is a most excellent wife for a man such as yourself!”

And the fool, somewhat mollified now, went about doing his master’s bidding. During the day, he carefully dressed the log up in an old dress and bonnet, and, carrying her about in one arm, took her with him to the market, and to the pub, and even to church.

Everyone who met the man thought him quite mad; but no one wanted to risk angerign such an obviously mad man. So they always pretended to respect and recognize the log as his wife, each and every oneof them.

When he had friends over to dinner, the log, dressed in her plain old wrap of a dress, was seated at table just as if it had been a real, livign and breathing woman. The fool even took to feeding it, and asked it if it would like some more gravy, or another helping of pot roast, and would then answer for it in a shrill, weird, womanly voice.

And the guests got to where they expected this strange ritual, and took very little notice of it when they came over for impromptu dinners and gatherings. It even got so that the fool found himself quite a popular gent, a sort of local curiousity, and some folks were quite eager to get a chance to have dinner with “The Man Who Took a Log as a Wife.”

Well, unbeknownst to the fool, his actual wife was locked up in the hideous cave of the old hermit, who passed her porridge and delectable vittles, and which she always refused.

“All the better to fatten you up, my dear! You are much, much too thin!”

The old hermit would lick his withered lips, and with drool dripping down his chin, would pace around the cage, muttering to himself about buttered parsnips and boiled potatoes, and wondering just how big of a broiler he would need for the fool’s wife.

The fool’s wife, realizing just why the hermit wanted her to gin weight, let the dishes pile up until she was starving. The hermit, seeing this, grew angry, exclaiming, “You’ll eat soon enough! Why, even that fool of a husband could see how skinny and hungry you are!”

And with that, the hermit stormed out one day ina huff, and did not immediately return, leaving the fool’s wife to ponder just how she could ever hope to free herself from her cage.

Well, as the sun came down, she lifted her weeping eyes to heaven, and prayed, “Oh Lord, please let me find a way from this terrible cage and back to my husband! For, I do not wish to die as the dinner for some terrible old man!”

It was just then that the fool’s wife spied the pots of slipper, slimy mush that had accrued, uneaten, day after day since she’d been imprisoned by the hermit. THey were sitting there on the floor of the cage, uneaten, stinking and drawing flies. She bent over, dipped her fingers in the mush. It was slippery as butter. She then looked at the lock of her cage. An idea came to her.

She carefully began to work the slippery, nasty stuff into the lock, between the bars, and greased the cage down until the mechanism of the lock became quite slippery and loose.

“Incredible!” she exclaimed to herself. “It is a miracle!”

Indeed, it did seem to be a miracle. She pulled at the door of the cage, heard the bars slip and slide, and. suddenly, the door popped…open!

She carefully looked out into the darkness of the cave. It seemed as if the hermit was still out for the night.

“He is probably out gathering roots or herbs for his potions!”

And, in truth, he was doing just that. The poor girl slipped from the mouth of the dark cave, and made her way across hill and down thorough dipping valley, and across the dark ravine, and through the thick shrubs and trees until,a t long last, she found herself at the gates of the town, and begged and pleaded withe the guard to le her in.

He, seeing no threat involved, did just that, and the terrified girl made her way down the quiet, deserted main street, until she came to he house of the fool’s former master, who was inside snoozing. The fool was in his attic room, curled up in bed next to the log. The girl, not wanting to wake the master, picthed pebbles up at the fools window until, his eyes cloudy with sleep, he came over and, throwing open the wondow, yelled below, “Hello down there! Do you have any ide what time it is?”

To which his wife replied, “Thou fool! Worry not about the time, for it is I, your wife, come home to you from being imprisoned by a fiend!”

At this the fool goggle and, throwing a glance back over his shoulder at the log in his bed, turned again tot he window and exclaimed, “How can this be? For, were you not changed into this log by the Old Witch of the Forest? And have I not kept this log with me, day and night, and cared for it as if it were thee, oh wife of my bosom? And so, how canst thou be standing there, int he flesh, and be, at the same time, a log lying in my bed?”

and, at hearing this, the fool’s wife spat, “Oh, cursed am I that I should have married such a fool! I haven’t time to explain to thee! But, here: so that we will not wake the master of the house, make a rope of knotted sheets, and throw it down, and I will climb up to thee!”

And so he did. In a short time, the fool and his wife were reunited at the window overlooking the street. Unbeknownst to them, however, as they stood there, the mad hermit had followed the fool’s wife back to town, and right to the door of the house where they were presently reunited. Shouting from below, he exclaimed, “Ha! You thought to get away from me, dod you! Well, I’ll show you! Just as soon as I climb up this rope made of tied-together old sheets, I’ll kill one and carry the other back to my lair! And then, when you’re good and fat, I’ll EAT YOU FOR DINNER WITH TURNIPS AND BUTTER! Do you hear me? TURNIPS AND BUTTER!”

And the mad old hermit began to climb. The fool, for once in his foolish life suddenly thinking of the right thing to do, rushed over to the bed, grabbed the log, and rushed back to the window. With a heave and a ho, he sent the log hurtling out the window and straight into the wrinkled old forehead of the mad hermit. The blow brained him, killing him instantly. He fell to the ground in great gush of blood.

Later, the fool and his wife told everyone that the spell had finally worn off.

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Books, Fiction, Humor, Short Stories, Young Adult

Tale of the Spanish Dancer, or One True Love!

Once upon a time there lived a poor girl in Barcelona, who envied the rich and well-dressed girls who sauntered by in the promenade.

“Oh,” she said to herself, “if only Papa could afford to buy me such fine and beautiful dresses as all of those rich, spoiled girls have, why, I would count myself the luckiest girl in the world!”

But of course, her Papa did NOT have such money, and so she went about in rags.

One day, as she was walking through the market, carrying her basket of goods. she saw a gypsy dancing for pennies in the square. She went over to watch the men, who were pitching the coins at her, and were obviously quite taken with her looks.

The gypsy had the most beautiful dress she had ever before seen. It looked as if it had been woven of beautiful wild flowers, and it made the poor girl weep with envy to see it.

Instantly, the gypsy stood beside her, and asked, “Girl, why are you weeping so?”, to which the girl replied, “Oh, I am weeping because you look so beautiful dancing, and I am but a poor girl who could never afford such a beautiful dress!”

And the woman laughed and smiled, and said, “Well, girl, I’ll tell you what: I’ll let you wear my dress, and dance for me here, and give me a well-deserved rest. But, you must be careful to clean the dress every night with this special brush, and place it carefully in your closet, and take the best care of it. For, this dress is an enchanted dress, and the wearer of this dress shall find her true love, by and by!”

And with that, the young girl was exceedingly glad, and clapped her hands, and said, “Oh thank you M’lady, thank you! I shall do all that you say, and take the most wonderful care of your dress, and wear it with pride as I dance all day, and dance all night!”

And the lady laughed, and said, “Very well! Here–”

And, to the amazement of the young girl, the lady snapped her fingers, and suddenly, the two had traded clothing. Now, the lady was wearing the young girl’s tattered rags, and the young girl was wearing the beautiful gypsy dress. And each fit the other perfectly.

“Now,” said the strange woman, “I must be off. Remember what I told you, take special care of my dress while I am gone!”

And with that, the strange girl ran off into the crowded market, and was lost from sight. The young girl, delighted to be wearing the beautiful dress, immediately went into the town square, and began to dance.

Young men, some of whom asked to be her suitors, came and pitched coins at her as she went. Her dancing was divine, and she felt as if her toes were drifting on the wind as she went. And she danced and danced the whole day and night, and the next day, and hardly slept a wink in all that time, until she was exhausted.

Finally, she realized she deserved a rest, and she went home, carefully taking off the dress, and taking out the brush…but, she was so tired from all that dancing that she suddenly yawned and said to herself, “Oh, I am so tired, I shall just die if I don’t lie down for a moment! I shall look after the dress after I get up from my nap! The lady wont mind; after all, she is so kind and generous to allow me to borrow her beautiful dress!”

And so the foolish young girl laid down upon her bunk, and was soon fast asleep. It was not long however before she was awakened by what she took to be a flickering flame. She wondered if the sun had started to come up, when she opened her eyes, and saw the mysterious lady with the dress, standing in a circle of glowing fire!

She now saw the terrible truth of who the lady really was, and the young girl trembled from head to toe to realize that she was in the presenc of the living, breathing Devil himself!

“Foolish girl,” cried the devil, pointing one long, scaly finger at the trembling girl! “I told you never, never to fall asleep without first carefully combing out my dress, and making sure it was washed and hung up properly! Now, you will pay the price for your indolence and lack of care!”

And with that, the Devil snapped his fingers, and the dress flew from the couch upon which it had been carelessly tossed, and the Devil said, “Now, you must wear this dress day and night, forever and ever, and you will not be able to take it off! And you will dance and dance and dance, and you will never, ever stop dancing! And anyone who sees you will dance, too! And if you meet your true love, he must not look upon you, or he will turn to stone!”
And with that, the Devil shrieked with laughter and delight, and disappeared in a cloud of flame and smoke. The young girl was horrified to find the dress wrapped around her; and indeed, struggle as she might, she could NOT get the dress off!

A curious thing then happened: the young girl began to shudder and shake, so that she could not sit still! Her arms began to wiggle, and her legs began to wobble, and she soon found herself on her feet, hopping and skipping and jumping about.

Her mother came in, and saw what was happening, and exclaimed, “Oh my! You have been bewitched, and now cannot stop your dancing! You must go out of this house, at once, lest you dance a hole through the floor, or break all of our furniture flailing about!”

And with that, the young girl was thrust out of doors, where she found herself dancing down the road. It was not long before she had danced her way, like a crazed maniac, all the way to the town square.

Well, when the people saw her, they were quite taken with her, and said, “Oh look! It is the dancing girl from the other day! My, look at her go! It’s as if she cannot help herself!”

And then, as if a mania swept through the gathering crowd, those that beheld her strange, maniacal dancing, began to dance themselves. They gyrated,a nd twisted about, and pulled their hair, and gnashed their teeth, and wagged their tongues and clucked their heads and exclaimed, “Oh my! it is as if we were bewitched!”

And another yelled, “No, it is worse! It is like a legion of devils inside my pants!”

And still another said, “it is as if we have been bitten by the tarantula!”

And so the crowd began to roar and gyrate, and fell upon the dusty ground, and danced through the street, and ripped their clothes,a nd tore their hair, and soon, the village priest came by.

Seeing such brazen, sinful behavior, he quickly exhorted the people to stop what they were doing.

But they simply replied, “We cannot! it is as if our bodies are moving but our minds are asleep!”

And then they told him, “It all started when we watched the little girl in the dress dancing! She has bewitched us! Oh, can’t you do anything to help?”

And the priest, realizing that such an enseemly display was sinful,a nd must not be allowed to continue, thought for a moment, before commanding a few men to go and fetch him a tent. Then, he carefully told them, “You must raise this tent around yon girl. But take car that you do it with your back turned, and do not look at her, or else you will end up just like all of these other poor souls!”

And, with his back turned, the priest pointed at the young dancing girl who had started all the commotion, and the men, with their back turned, slowly put up the cloth barrier between the morning market crowds and the girl.
Soon, no one could see her, and consequently, the dancers soon ceased to dance.

“Good!” said the priest. “That seems to take care of one problem, at least!” But, as to what to do with the girl, now hidden behind the folds of the tent, he could not say. So, he quickly decided to go back to his study and meditate on the matter.

It was not many hours before a dashing young man rode up on a horse. He was a man quite taken with tales of chivalry, and was on a search for his “one true love”; and, so when seeing the strange striped tent in the middle of the street, he became quite curious.

“Ho stranger! And what, pray tell, is the reason for that tent being pitched in the center of the road, where it blocks the traffic?”

And the man said, “Of sir! Behind the flaps of that tent is a young girl who has been bewitched, so that she cannot stop dancing! And, worse, anyone who looks upon her begins dancing as well, and cannot stop! So the village padre has commanded that a tent be put up around her, so that she is hidden. But, as to what else can be done about it, who can say?”

And the man, who was rather stupid, shrugged his shoulders and wandered off. The young squire, overtaken with heroic feelings of chivalry and daring, conceived a plan whereby he might save the girl from her bewitchment.

He decided to go to the door of the tent, with his back turned, and looking at the girl only in the polished surface of his shield.

“For, if I do not look directly at her, the bewitchment cannot effect me as it did the others.” Or, so he reasoned.

So, dismounting, he carefully went to the dark opening of the tent, where, inside, the exhausted girl was still flinging herself about madly, dancing and sending up great clouds of dust in the darkness.

“Oh, kind sir!” exclaimed the girl. “I have angered the Devil himself, who gave me this dress so I might become a great dancer! Alas, in his vengeance, I have been condemned to wear this dress, which causes me to dance and dance! Oh, if only there were some way you could relieve me of this burden, and I would surely go with you, and be your wife!”

And so the bold young man said, “Never fear, my dear! Your salvation is near!”

And, scooting backwards on his heels, with his shield held up before his face, he made his way to the wildly gyrating girl–no easy feat, as she could not stop moving!

Cautiously, he put out a gauntleted hand, and prepared to rip the dress from her body when, viewing her face more clearly in the polished surface of his shield, he suddenly exclaimed–

“Wait! I know thee! I have beheld thee in a dream. Thou art my ONE TRUE LOVE!”

And, forgetting that he could not look directly upon the girl, he turned suddenly. The dancing girl put her hands to her cheeks and screamed in terror, but it was too late!

The young man fell to the earth, stone dead.

Aghast, the young girl decided she could no longer go on. She danced from the tent, through the streets, and to the bridge above the river. It was here she cast her dancing body into the water–which was no easy feat, as she kept moving back and forth, away from the edge!

No, one was sorry to see her go.

(If there is a moral to this story, we haven’t found it yet. Except, perhaps: don’t fall asleep without hanging up your clothes.)

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