~ink, markers, magazine paper
~ink, markers, magazine paper
Trapper John had a little ramshackle house on the east side of the river that ran through a long forest in what used to be the continental United States. It was up in the North and it was cold there. This story takes place sometime around wintertime, near the end of it, you know, when you’re tired of the whole ordeal and are just ready for the damn thing to get itself over with so you can stop wearing three jackets. But you know the spring is going to come and it’s going to be weird, so you’re not looking forward to that. Getting sick because the temperature is all over the place. No thanks.
But none of that mattered. The fact was that Trapper John was in his house. What was his last name? Well Trapper John didn’t really have a last name, he was kind of like John the Baptist. He was John the Trapper. Course there were other trappers around there, indeed, outside of the little village of Caswartz was mostly trappers staking their claim to those lands. They were mostly good at trapping, all except one greedy trapper who all the trappers hated. He would try to make a quick profit every year. They killed him, a bunch of them had gotten together and made a blood oath never to tell who killed him, and then they stabbed him, Julius Ceaser style, one after the other.
But that wasn’t important, in any real sense.
There were icicles coming down the sides of the rotten gutters that John had put up one ambitious summer. Since then he had realized the folly of gutters on a tilted roof like he had on that shack. There was just no need for em, and in fact, he didn’t call them gutters anymore, he called them icicle holders. There were a lot of projects like that, all of them from that one summer. It was the same summer they killed that trapper. And they all had learned something from it, hadn’t they?
There were icicles long as spears coming down protecting the house like it was a jail. Trapper John was used to the cold, they all were, but today was particularly cold. John could feel it in his marrow and he thought he must be succumbing to old age at last.
No one knew just how old Trapper John was, anyway. He was an enigma in more ways than one.
John heard footsteps in the snow outside and then, “Hey John!”
John opened the doors and greeted his friend Marley. The icicles started crashing down like to kill Marley and it was because the door hadn’t been open for a while. He’d been in there in solitude for a while. Just sitting there thinking, he would meditate like that for weeks on end. People wouldn’t notice, and if they did, they knew John wasn’t dead. Some people believed he couldn’t die.
“Lord!” Said John, ushering Marley in with a quick motion and then slamming the door behind. Outside a cacophony of ice like an avalanche erupted.
Marley said, “Reckon I won’t be able to get out of here till the snows melt.”
John started clearing a little path through the muck of the shack. He wasn’t a clean person, really, because he consumed things and then he would just leave the unconsumable parts lying around because he couldn’t be bothered to dust, like Thoreau, he would throw things out the window in despair, unfortunately there were no windows, and things bounced right back into the middle of the room.
Marley just glided across the room on those huge legs of his. They seemed to be about two times the length of his torso. He was pouring himself a cup of coffee before John noticed that the path he had cleared wasn’t necessary.
John looked at Marley drinking the coffee that he had brewed for himself and he nodded. That was just the way, wasn’t it?
John cooked his coffee over a single burner. And that was about all he cooked, and he was just about out of it. That was his last cup, and Marley was a drinking it.
“I guess you heard about the business over west,” said Marley.
Marley shook his head and then looked at the fire. “You want to light a fire here, must be six below in this hovel.”
“Sure don’t,” said John. “Cold’s good for the head.”
“In what way?” Asked Marley.
“Damn you what was that business about?”
“Well,” said Marley, “I’ll give you one guess.”
“I don’t have a guess,” said John.
“Fine,” said Marley. “You don’t want to guess, I don’t want to tell you, we all get what we want. What’ve you been thinking about in here anyway?”
“Alright I’ll guess,” said John. “You’re a miserable trickster from the wrong side of hell.”
“That’s not a guess.”
“Shut up,” said John. “I guess my Aunt Dorothy has finally sold her plot west of here and you’re the new owner, you skeeving bastard.”
“Nope,” said Marley. “What it was, my friend, was a good old fashioned killing.” He sipped his coffee and watched John.
John’s face didn’t change. “What do you mean good old fashioned killing?”
“I mean,” said Marley, “that our old friend Snoops is dead. He was killed by a gunshot to the head from a great ways off.”
“That’s right,” said Marley. Marley sipped his coffee and put it on the floor, since there was no table around for it. He searched for one and he wondered why there would be no place to put a drink. Not that he expected the shack to be well appointed, but you know, some things were usually a given.
So he put the coffee on the floor and wiped his fingers on his legs. “Hm,” he said to himself.
John was pacing the floor now.
“Now John,” said Marley, “you’ve never been a quick study, so I’m going to tell you what this means for you.”
“Everything south of the river is mine!” Said John. “And that old Brattle Head is dead. If he comes back, there will be problems, but he won’t come back, will he? No, he won’t come back.”
“What are you talking about?” Asked Marley. “What are you mumbling on about over there?”
“Well,” said Marley, “that’s fine. Everything south of the river technically will become yours, only that won’t matter. Because what this really means is an inquisition. An investigation. And I’ll put money on the cops blaming you for the whole thing.”
“Cops?” Asked John “There’s no cops around here.”
“Seems there are,” said Marley. “Snoops had people who cared about him, or else he called the police himself, I’m not convinced which. It would be just like Snoops to kill hisself to spite somebody. You in this case.”
“Snoops wouldn’t kill hisself,” said John. “Not after the year he had. And besides, even if he managed to put a murder rap on me by shoving off, well he’d be unable to annoy the living hell out of me any more and that just wouldn’t do.”
“Hm,” said Marley.
“But maybe he did kill himself,” said John, quietly, “maybe he did. In which case he might be back.”
“What are you saying?” Asked Marley.
“Oh, shut up,” said John. He started to build a fire.
“Anyhow he was shot from a long way off,” said Marley, “everyone knows that. So he couldn’t have killed himself unless he had help. What are you doing?”
“I’m building a fire,” said John.
“Cold’s good for the head, but not for the nerves, eh Johnny? Heh well it don’t matter.” Marley picked up his coffee and drank some more. “You know what I wish? I wish I had a dad I could go to in these situations. A dad like you.”
“Oh Lord,” said John.
“Lord knows you’re old enough,” said Marley. “Just how old are you anyway?”
“Go ask a rock,” said John, “because it’ll know better than me.”
“Best thing for you to do,” said Marley. “Is skip town. How’re you going to prove your innocence if you stayed?”
“Ah, devil take you!” Said John. “I wouldn’t skip town now after gaining all that land. I had my eye on that property since ’97. And wouldn’t you like it if I did leave? Then my newly enhanced claim would fall to you!” John licked his lips and sat down on the floor in front of the fireplace.
“Say John,” said Marley, “you ain’t making much progress on that fire.”
“To blazes with the fire,” said John “You think they’re going to pin this on me? What kinda penalty zat carry?”
“Penalty?” Said Marley. He swallowed the last of the coffee and stood up. “Why John we’re talking about the death penalty.”
“Hm,” said John, “pretty steep. Say, do you know who killed him?”
“I thought you did,” said Marley.
“No, you damned fool, if I did it I woulda got closer and done it with a knife heated in a billows until it was about to start melting. I hated that Snoops. No, from a long ways off it musta been some lowlife coward same as himself. Or it was himself, maybe he’s learned to clone himself to, or project bullets way out, there’s no end to what that lowlife bastard could learn. He’s got the book has he?”
“What are you babbling about, conFOUND IT!” said Marley.
John looked up, surprised, it seemed, to be joined by another. “Get out of here will you!”
Marley nodded. “Yeah, I guess you’ll have a path to cover up, eh?”
Once Marley was out of the house, Trader John lit a fire in the fireplace and stared into it.
Marley! Trapper John realized now it had been Marley all along. Marley was no friend, no he was a Satanic dignitary, an emissary of the unholy, yes that son of a bitch was keen to take all the land here, and for what? In what earthly purpose would a being such as that take interest?
Nothing made sense now, but it was clear, there was no staying here for the miserable trapper.
He went to the door and dressed in long furs, hiding a rifle in the folds of the coat. He had to check things out for himself. For all he knew, Marley was so wiley that he had concocted the whole story to get John’s land by default. That would be a crafty trick, and one John wouldn’t mind playing on someone else if it came down to it.
John walked across the land, smelling the air and looking around like the wild animal that he always appeared to be. A couple dogs rolled up on him, but he paid them no mind. They were his dogs mostly, and a couple belonged to Snoops; they had always come to John for protection against that cruel master. Yeah he was good with animals, he’ll he was basically an animal himself, and not just basically.
John cleared his mind and tried to not come up with new things to think about. If Snoops was alive, he’d like as not shoot John dead for coming too far into the property. But John tried not to think about that sort of thing. There were several occasions John could have shot Snoops on his property and been within his rights to do so. John didn’t have a heart like that. He didn’t have a heart like Snoops had a heart, and Snoops didn’t have a heart. Snoops would lay somebody out for approaching the edge of his property, would have left the house with a posse of dogs and checked the scene, would have surveyed the land and if he found that somebody was actually within their own property lines, he’d just drag their carcass across the line and call it spades.
But that could work! Why didn’t John just pick up Snoops body and put it on his land, leave him there and let the detectives work it out. Open and shut trespassing case.
“You there!” Called an unfamiliar voice, and for John, there were no unfamiliar voices out here. It had to be the police.
John turned, his hands on his rifle, and there stood a squad of officers, just staring at him.
The one in the front said, “And so, the criminal always returns to the…”
“Shut up,” said another policeman.
“I’ll say what I please,” said the first policeman. “O’Malley, you stupid stupid man I’ll say whatever I went. You stop holding me back.”
O’Malley returned, “I’ll hold back whatever I want, you stupid fool, I’ll hold you all back!” And he would, too, he was that kind of guy who just constantly held people back from their full potential because he knew he would never have the strength and pluckiness to pursue his own stupid goals of becoming a theater star in communist Russia in the eighties. He had missed the boat because of an unfortunate mix up with his papers. But it didn’t matter, because O’Malley was nobody’s senior, and what he said held no weight with anyone besides the man he had addressed earlier, who was called Postalthwait.
“Now what in hell is this about?” Asked Trapper John, not sure why the policeman had begun squabbling with his fellow. “Why are you squabbling with your fellows?”
“That’s no concern of yours,” said O’Mallley.
“Let him be concerned if he wants,” said Postalthwait.
And then a third voice joined the fray, it was a mammoth and beleaguered voice, the voice of a generation. It was the voice of the chief of police in that area, a man named Gant. “Steady there, Trapper John,” it said. “Steady there. Now, you’ll be wondering why I’m not with these fine men.”
“Would you turn that recording off!” Yelled Postalthwait, and indeed, O’Malley was holding up a large speaker of some kind and directing it in John’s direction.
“Well, it’s just that I’m on vacation in Monte Carlo, as is usual this time of year. You’ll remember, I’m sure, my eccentric uncle, who enjoys a visit to these parts every year at this time, and cannot be without his favorite nephew. Say hello, Uncle Godfrey!”
Uncle Godfrey said hello and a number of other things while Postalthwait attempted to relieve O’Malley of the speaker.
John made a run for the woods. They’d never catch him in the thickest part. The only man alive who knew it better him was the chief of police.
Mansford, a young offficer of some distinction, ran after John. The other policemen just stood there. There was no reason for such a large police detail, really. But Mansford didn’t care about the logic of the thing, he was upset that no one would work as hard as him and was afraid that one day the entire police station would dissolve into just so many petty arguments.
Trapper John had a sixth of a mile lead and anyway, Mansford could barely be seen through the trees. He dodged tree after tree and they grew thicker and thicker. One tree, two trees, three trees growing out of a single stump then. Rocks, rocks and more rocks growing bigger and bigger.
John scrambled up them with his gun and his furs held in close. He passed groundhog burrows and beaver dams and surprised woodcocks in the midst of copulation.
Behind him padded the young policeman Mansford, deftly dodging and scrambling, becoming more and more lost as he became more and more sure he was on the correct path. He could see furry trapper John in the distance and he was closing in. That old codger was no match for him. He must’ve been a hundred and twelve, Mansford reckoned.
And then Mansford was alone with Trapper John in a miraculous clearing, why was Trapper John stopping? Because it wasn’t trapper John or any human at all, it was a god damned grizzly bear.
The bear turned to Mansord and examined him, and there was Mansford so full of fire and surprise well he couldn’t help but shoot the damn thing immediately. He was no old soul, he was full of heat and rage and insecurity and he lashed out at the big creature with three shots to the chest.
But a grizzly bear don’t pay much mind to that sort of thing. Mansford backed up slowly at first, and then ran faster than he ever had, but the bear followed him easily.
How in God’s name could something that big move through these trees like that? How the eyesight? How the footwork? And a man was so puny an animal in these trees. Mansford knew then he should have moved to the big city like his brother.
Just as the bear closed in and made to swipe the life from Mansford’s spine, who should pop out of the trees but Trapper John! He surprised the bear himself. John spread his furs wide and high. He shook his rifle and shook his feet and jumped up and down, roaring like a lion or some other kind of animal like that.
And the bear went down to four feet and he muttered curses at John and went away. Even bears had to respect a man willing to make a fool of himself for not all too much of a reason.
“Hey man, why’d you save me?” Asked Mansford.
“Save you? What are you talking about?” Asked John.
“The bear, I mean, you scared it away. It was about to eat me,” said Mansford.
“Well,” said John, “Pretty dumb of me to scare it away then.”
“I suppose,” said Mansford. “But anyway, I’m young and idealistic, so I’ve got to just do my job and not worry about the ethical implications of it. I’ve got to arrest you.”
“Sure,” said John, looking around.
“Now you understand,” said Mansford. “If a man wants to get ahead in this world, he’s just got to keep his head down and do the damn thing, you know what I mean?”
“I know exactly…”
“For instance, say a man’s up for promotion, just say, and he’s got another man next to him who’s up for the same promotion, see, it’s a zero sum game, now, right? Unless you believe all this about the new economy, it’s so much new math if you ask me, but who are you going to promote, in a world like this, the guy who uses his head and causes a disruption, who lets a man get away because he saved that man’s life, or are you going to promote the guy who gets things done, no excuses, I mean what are rule books for otherwise?”
“I wouldn’t know about a rule book,” said John, aiming the rifle directly at Mansford’s head. “I never had the luxury of hearing no rules no nor being able to read anything at all.”
“Well I hardly think that’s cause to blow my head off!” Screamed Mansford, who’s voice was consequently drowned out by the gunshot. Afterwards he was surprised to find that he could still speak. He turned around and dead behind him was a large wolf, raving mad and all for nothing. You could tell, couldn’t you, by the foaming mouth. It was apparently and thankfully a lone wolf, but the first time you counted on something like that, the damn wolf would get up and attack you straight from the grave with a hundred of it’s fellows you had discounted.
“Let’s move,” said John, grabbing Mansford by the arm and leading him west.
“Good god!” Said Mansford. “Where are we going?”
“Where there’s one wolf in these woods,” said John, “there are a multitude of predators.”
“Indeed! And a man like you can’t read, you say?”
“Stop the yappin’,” said John. “You can talk when you’re dead.”
Mansford wondered why none of his coworkers had appeared by now. They must’ve heard the gunshots, if nothing else. John led him through a labyrinth of timber and into a cave.
“This is where that old bear used to live,” said John, “in fact he’ll be around in an hour or so, but for right now, you couldn’t find a safer place.”
“How is it you know this bear’s schedule so intimately?”
“We went to school together,” said John, “school where you don’t learn how to read.”
“Well, seeing as how you’ve saved me twice,” said Mansford, “we’re in a highly unlikely situation. But anyhow I’ve still got to ask you to come down to the station with me, in handcuffs. I mean, maybe you didn’t shoot this guy Snoops anyway. But you’ve really got to come with me.”
“At this point, you foolish man, I’d love to accompany you to the gates of hell rather than be here. But we are where we are and there is no way to get anywhere else, lest you can invent some kind of teleportation device from rocks and sticks…which I reckon wouldn’t be out the wheelhouse of someone who can read and write. Can you read and write?”
“This is no time for a discussion of my clerical abilities,” said Mansford. In truth he was terrible at reading and writing. His real skill was running fast and following directions, kind of like Forest Gump, but that was nothing to brag about, or at least, that’s what his father always told him.
Trapper John nodded and sat down on the ground. He reloaded his rifle.
“What could you possibly be thinking about?” Thought Mansford. Then he remembered that he didn’t have such thoughts, and didn’t care a lick for the answers.
“So,” started Mansford, turning to the task at hand, “let’s turn to the task at hand.”
“And what is that, precisely?” Asked Trapper John with a wrinkled up brow. Trapper John squinted at Mansford roundly.
“Well, we’ve got to get out of this bear cave, I suppose, and back to the unit. Especially if the owner of this bear cave is to return soon. Say, how do you keep time in a bear cave like this one?”
“You don’t aim to keep time in a place like this,” said Trapper John, “you aim to move on well before you need to, and you do that by taking no second for granted.” John stood up and jutted his finger at the cave entrance. “There’ll be a storm both literal and metaphysical coming that way, mark my words. Now I’ll be a bandicoot’s uncle if there’s not a back way out of here.”
“Hm,” said Mansford.
“You hem and haw if you need to, son, I’ll be moving on.”
Trapper John moved stealthy across the rocks to the back of the cave which only seemed to get narrower and narrower. Mansford couldn’t believe there was a way through that and he was actually quite tired after the ordeal this morning. When you’re running through a forest after a madman you do just that and you don’t think of how tired you are. But once the madman is caught, well, what do you expect is going to occupy your faculties then? Nothing, especially when you’re in the middle of a goddamn bear cave.
Then, just like that, Trapper John was nowhere to be seen. Dropped right out of sight not to be seen again in this world or the next, apparently. And with that, Mansford caught the sound of heavy footsteps and a guttural heavy breathing.
“Trapper John!” Mansford yelled and ran after him, just like in those slapstick movies his father had forced him to watch as a child. Were those movies formative for him, or did they really inhibit his emotional development? Well, there was really no metric for it, no way to tell what the solution was.
In any case, at this point, it didn’t matter, he was hurtling toward those rocks which came to a point, no escape. Behind him the growling subsided, clearly the bear did not know he was in here, yet.
But there was another sound behind the bear, some kind of human sound, what was it? Some kind of hunting party? Foxhunters? For some reason, Mansford felt that it was fox hunters. They were on top of horses, that was for sure, was it the mounted Canadian police?
It didn’t matter, where was the hole, how had Trapper John escaped? Mansford didn’t know, there was no apparent answer, though he crammed himself against the rocks.
Then shots rang out outside, the growling became more and more intense, and what was there to do? He couldn’t find the hole, he had to do something…perhaps men were getting killed outside. Maybe Trapper John had just evaporated into a new dimension.
And then, a hand shot up in the darkness, and Trapper John was saying, “Come on!”
“John!” Said Mansford, “What the blazes…”
“Shut up you periwinkle varmint!” Said John.
“But there’s something going on outside the cave!” Said Mansford.
“Well of course there’s something going on outside the cave, you foolish bastard! It’s probably the rise of the fifth reich! Let’s get the hell out of here, what kind of sick bastard are you anyway?”
Mansford heard the bear starting up again so he grabbed the hand and down they went. He immediately regretted it, fearing he should have made the opposite decision and stayed and helped his fellow humans. Just who was this Trapper John anyway? What was his story? Why did he feel the need to save Mansford three times over now? Mansford couldn’t be bothered to think these thoughts through, he couldn’t be bothered to give these questions any importance.
He cleared his mind and tried to scramble back up through the multidimensional opening in the rocks, back to where he was needed and away from personal escape.
He would guess that he would have to tell himself that the reason, in the end, that he grabbed Trapper John’s hand was that he had a duty to arrest the old man, and to bring him to justice, and whatever was going on outside the cave, he had no glimpse of, and probably no hope of being assiduous in any case with his ineffectual armament and complete lack of knowledge of the enemy.
And so at last he followed Trapper John to what seemed like the end of the world, or barring that, some kind of dwarf cave from The Lord of the Rings.
Finally, after several hours of running and walking and climbing and descending, Trapper John stopped sat on the ground.
“Have a seat,” he said, and started a fire.
“Where are we now?” Asked Mansford.
“To hell with discussions of place in a place like this.”
“Are you saying we’re in some kind of hell?” Asked Mansford.
“I’m saying nothing of the sort.” Said Trapper John, “Have a seat.”
Trapper John himself sat down at the base of the fire and built it up a bit around the edges.
“Where’d you get that timber to build that fire?” Asked Mansford.
“Didn’t get no timber from nowhere,” said Trapper John. “And you ask too many blazing hellfire questions.”
Trapper John waved Mansford off when he opened his mouth again, and once the fire was set to his satisfaction, he laid back on the bare earth and went straight to sleep.
Mansford couldn’t sleep. The air felt wrong and he was dizzy in the head. His mind was running in circles, on top of the whole physical thing of it, and he was sure he’d never get back to the surface. He was sure he’d never find a way out of this strange conundrum.
The night passed slowly, if it passed at all, because he couldn’t be sure it was at all night in any case.
Finally Trapper John sat straight up in his furs with folds of skin coming down his face and puffy eyes and he said, “Why are you sitting there like fast? Didn’t you get any sleep?”
“Say,” said Mansord, “since there’s probably no hope of me getting you back to the precinct, you can just tell me whether you killed this Snoops.”
“Snoops! The guy you’re under arrest for murdering.”
“Ah,” said John, “down here a man forgets things. Down here a man is chased by demons of unknown origin.”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” said Mansford.
“I didn’t kill him,” said John. “I can’t imagine who wouldn’t kill him given a license to do so. The man was a parasite on the back of honest farmers and hunters around here, in fact, a parasite on any man who’s ever done a lick of work in these parts, or for that matter, any part of the world. If there was any redeeming quality in him, I don’t know what it was. You may ask if I tried to uncover it, and I’ll tell you that I did, many many years ago when I first came here. I was like you, and I believed that there was something good in everyone. Snoops wasn’t the only one who proved my theory false.”
“What was so bad about him?” Asked Mansford.
“Everything!” Said John. “I don’t want to talk about him.”
“Well, you’ve got to, really,” said Mansford. “I don’t see a way out of it right now.”
“How’s that?” Said John.
“The alternative is we sit here staring at each other.”
“That’s hardly the alternative. I can look in a million different directions without staring at any part of you,” said John. “Anyhow, we can probably go up to the surface soon.”
“How do we get there?”
John said, “There’s no telling.”
“How long do you expect it’ll take?” Asked Mansford.
“Ain’t you listening to nothing I’m saying?” Asked John.
“You ain’t sayin’ much of nothin’!” Said Mansford. Mansford stood up and walked across what he could see of the cave. There was a strange odor coming from the wall over there, and a large crack and beyond the crack he fancied he could hear hissing. Not hissing like a snake or an air leak, hissing like a cockroach out of Madagascar.
“I wouldn’t stand near that crack,” said John as he started to put out the fire. He saved some and made a torch with it as Mansford stood away from the crack.
“You been here before?” Asked Mansford.
“Yes,” said John, “yes you pestering brute I been here a number of times. I suppose you have no idea what goes on around these parts, being as young as you are and as optimistic, but what happens around here every year is a blanket of darkness covers this town, deep emotional heartfelt abysmal black, and no thinking person can see their way out of it. Now bears and lions and wolves, they can see just fine! So they do, they go around devouring men in a daze and what do you think happens then? The men die and the land is refreshed. The thinking men had their time for thinking, and the surviving men get to surviving, and those that had a foot in each camp well they’ve got to choose sides. Me, I come down here and I wait it out. It’s about over now, you can just feel it in your bones is how I know, and that’s the answer by the way to a lot of things that old people know and not because they don’t feel like telling you that but rather because by God it’s true.”
“When we go up there,” said Mansford, “what will have happened to my friends?”
“Those men up there ain’t you friends,” said John, “if ever they wasn’t and I’d be damned surprised if they were. Now come on. Best not to think such thoughts in a place and a time like this.”
“How is it you’ve been here, but you don’t know how to get out?”
“How is it you don’t know when to shut up?” Asked John. With that he wrapped his furs tightly around him and led the way into the waiting dark.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, people were standing around wondering what had happened to the new kid. Had the farmer killed him? Maybe he had, maybe they’d both been eaten by bears. They had all forgotten to bring their rain gear and now they stood around staring at each other in a half stupor.
The chief’s second in command was there, acting like a fool. He had had an affair with one of the cops, and everyone knew exactly that much. There were only two lady cops and they both denied having the affair. That left them liars, or perhaps it left the chief’s second in command what would be defined as a sexual deviant in this part of the world.
They all pondered this as they watched the chief’s second in command berate this officer and then that officer. They tried to pick up on any favoritism, positive or negative, as a clue. They were hardly interested in the cases of the day, but internecine police drama always found a place at the top of their minds.
“Why don’t you go on after Mansford,” said the chief’s second in command at last to a young corporal who had just arrived to tell him that his wife was looking for him.
“Where’s Mansford gone?” Asked the corporal, who’s name was Justin Brookings, and whose family owned a large portion of the state of Alabama, what was left of it.
“Off in the woods there.” The chief’s second in command indicated the darkest, scariest part of the forest. It seemed to be spitting fire, ball lightning was rolling back and forth in the entrance and a pair of vultures flew down to cluck and stew over what would happen next.
“Sure thing,” said Brookings. “Now mind your wife, Chief, she was in a hell of a mood.”
“Don’t you tell me a damn thing about my wife, Brookings!” Yelled the chief’s second in command. “I think I can handle my own affairs!”
Everyone laughed except for the chief’s second in command and Brookings.
“What are you laughing at?” Roared the chief’s second in command, turning back to the crowd.
Brookings ran off into the forest, and no one ever saw him again.
The chief’s second in command paced back and forth and finally decided it was time for them all to go. “Alright, let’s all go,” he said.
“What about Mansford?” Asked some loud mouth in the back of the room.
“To blazes with Mansford,” said the chief’s second in command. “He was just a busybody anyway.”
“And the criminal?”
“Nothing doing,” said the chief’s second in command, “weather like this makes a man want a nice pot of corn stew and a Labrador to pet on the head. Think of where you will be, and it will be so.”
The chief’s second in command walked away from the woods to his squad car and backed down the long winding muddy driveway. “Stupid forest,” he said as branches of pine trees sunk their teeth into his roof.
“Where’s our car?” Asked the loudmouth. “Someone’s taken the car, I believe.”
“Let’s get inside,” said some other fool. “We’d be fools to stand out here in this rain all night. And least wise in there we can make a proper decision about who stole the car.”
“Wise words,” said the fool next to him, and with that they went into the house.
Then across the sky a giant crash erupted and they all ran into the house for cover.
There were no physical affects that they could observe, but they all began to feel hungry and lonesome and no one felt like talking about it.
Then, the body of Snoops rose up from the chalk outline and everyone started really feeling weird about the whole thing.
“Hey!” Said Snoops. “What are you lot doing in my house?”
“It’s raining out there,” said Jacobs, who was acting a damn fool half his life.
“To hell with that,” said Snoops, “out in the rain with you!”
Half the gathered police felt that you didn’t argue with a corpse, but the other half just didn’t like rain and they didn’t give a damn about corpses so they just decided they weren’t going anywhere.
Snoops drew a long knife from behind his back and said they’d all better leave and make haste doing so.
Jacobs drew his service revolver and shot the knife out of Snoops hand. Jacobs said, “Now you better calm down, or I’ll lay you out the same way you just was.”
Some of the officers laughed and Snoops well he just stared at his bloodied hand and got madder and madder.
Snoops said, “Well, this is something else! A bunch of coppers in my kitchen what refuse to leave and then shoot my blamed hand off!”
“I guess you never know what you’re going to get in this life,” said one of the cops.
“I guess you never know what you’re going to get in death neither,” said another one.
They all got quiet and thought about home. All except for Snoops, who went upstairs, washed his hand off, and went to bed.
Things weren’t making sense, but at this point, no one in the police force could even bring themselves to care. They stood around in the living room of the risen dead man and grumbled uncertainly about this or that injustice. Finally, Brookings said, “Hey, seems like we wrapped this whole case right up. Dead guy, not dead, so we can all go home in the morning, right?”
“You fool,” said some loudmouth. “Now it’s an attempted murder we’re dealing with.”
“But you know,” said the other idiot nearby, “now all we have to do is ask him who shot him.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Until you remember,” said Brookings, angry that his breakthrough insight had been so summarily shut down, “that he was shot froma long distance off.”
“Ah, whatever,” said the first loudmouth. “Let’s turn in for the night.”
“If you think I’m shutting my eyes when you crazy cats are prowlin’ hither and thither, well you’re just wrong!”
While the police tried to figure out how to handle the situation, the sun rose.
“Ah, to blazes with it.”
“Let’s go upstairs and ask that fool Snoops a few questions.”
So they marched upstairs and searched the rooms, but old Snoops was nowhere to be found.
Miles downwind, Trapper John and Mansford were walking past a big nest of racoons.
“What do you think the police are doing now?” asked Mansford.
“From what I can see,” said John, “they’re walking right next to me asking stupid questions.”
“Alright,” said Mansford, “we’ll leave you alone.”
“You and who?”
“You said ‘we’?”
“I guess we’re feeling a little confused this morning.”
“Well, at least you know what time it is.”
Marley came running out from behind some weird bushes. They were weird because they had been green at one point, Trapper John was sure of it, even I was sure of it, but damned if they weren’t purple this morning.
Marley said, “Trapper John! Thank God you’re alright!”
“What the bills is the matter with you?”
“The whole town! It’s a pile of rubble. The storm last night wiped everything clean! My house is a dung heap!”
“You’ve always lived in a dung heap.”
“That’s true enough,” said Marley, “but there’s still the issue of the town to be excited about.”
“Excited in a good way?” asked Mansford.
“Of course not!” roared Marley. And then he said pensively, “Although…”
“No time for pensive talk!” yelled Trapper John.
“Who is this fool, anyhow!” Marley yelled back, pointing at Mansford.
“This is some fool cop who tried to arrest me last night,” said John.
“Do they know you’re behind the destruction of the entire town!” said Marley. “Ho! Ho ho!” he laughed like Santa Claus and bit his fingers. “Hm, yes! You’ll be drugged down to the depths where you belong, foul bastard!”
“And so it comes to this,” said Trapper John. “Say, I believe you might’ve killed Snoops after all, and set me up!”
“Let’s not change the subject,” said Marley.
“No, please, let’s change the subject!” said Mansford. “Did you kill Snoops?”
“No one killed Snoops, you fool!” said Marley. “Snoops is running around the neighborhood as we speak, terrorizing women and children!”
“Well, in that case,” said Trapper John, “somebody ought to kill him.”
“I’m writing that down,” said Mansford. “This will be used against you in the court of law.”
“What court of law!” roared Marley like a gol dern lion. “What court of law could you possibly be speaking of! Did you not hear that the entire town is rubble now! By Christ, man, what is wrong with you!”
“I’m writing that down, too.”
“Well, you’re an annoying man, writing things down,” said Marley. “I wish they had not taught you to put pen to paper. Do you know that even Charlemagne could not write for most of his life, and when he set his mind to learn, his fingers were so gnarled after ripping the heads off of pagans that he could not properly grasp the implement?”
“Of course I know!” snapped Mansford. “Everyone knows!”
“Quite right,” said John. “Now why don’t you both shut up so we can figure what to do.”
“There’s no figuring what to do!”
“I said shut up you blamed fool!” said John, cracking Marley across the forehead with the butt of his rifle.
Marley went to the ground holding his bleeding head. “Ah, good christ! You devil! What madness is this!”
“If you don’t stop talking about it, the madness will strike again!”
Mansford had the sudden instinct that he should run very fast, but then his higher brain reminded him that Trapper John had outrun him before, and would likely turn against him if he ran now. But then, perhaps John wouldn’t even care if Mansford disappeared. He hadn’t shown any sign of liking him up to this point.
“Say,” said Mansford, trying a different approach, “do you mind if I get back to the unit? I mean, it’s clear that there are things going on which make the death of Snoops slightly irrelevant, God rest his soul.”
“God will not rest his soul!” yelled Marley. “For two reasons! The first being…”
John shut his mouth with another blow to the head, this time from the heel of his boot.
“Shut up you!” said John. “And you,” he turned to Mansford, “get the hell back to your tribe if you can! But don’t cry out my name when they swallow you like a small ugly goldfish at a small town carnival!”
“Right-o!” said Mansford, saluting and walking perpendicular to the path, straight into the woods.
“Now,” said Trapper John to Marley, “tell me if my house still stands.”
“Perfect. Now, go on being the miserable sap you’ve become in this brave new world.”
With that, Trapper John ran down the path with abandon, all the way to his house, thinking not of the fate of any of the men he had come into contact with that day.
Back at Snoops’s house, things were getting ugly. The men had no recourse. There was nowhere to go, and they set out to find a way to go. They ended up scattered to the four winds inside the forest, calling to each other like children playing Marco Polo.
Mansford by some miracle found his way to them after falling into an Alice in Wonderland like rabbit burrow of some kind.
This kind of thing happened often in that world, in those times, especially around that man trapper John. He was kind of an asshole, but you got used to him after three or four days. He was the kind of guy who would help you out of a jam and pretend nothing ever happened. He didn’t like to appear weak.
Yeah, but anyway, Mansford was there, finding his way to them. They were all surprised and amazed to see him. It was like the return of Christ to them. They had never liked him before, but now they were falling over themselves. None of them could explain it, but Mansford had this inexplicable magnetism now and everyone just wanted to be close to him however they could. Physically worked fine for the moment and so they all crowded around him thinking, “Wow, this is just heaven. Perhaps we’ve all died, and that’s why Snoops is up walking around again.”
But no one was paying attention to Snoops any more, no one was wondering where he was, no one cared. And that’s when Trapper John knew that he was going to have to kill Snoops after all.
“Dammit,” he said to himself when he came upon the house and saw them all hailing Mansford like a god. “Now what?”
Only he knew what. He was scared, but he knew what. He knew no one would stop Snoops now if not him. So it was time to lay that ultimate trap.
He had done it before. Oh yes, he had killed before. Had set the ultimate trap. It was something you never got used to, he used to tell himself to convince himself that he wasn’t a cold blooded killer, because he was, after all, and this disturbed him to no end. He tried to tell himself he wasn’t, but like a bunch of adults going out to brunch, he was an alcoholic trying to hide behind cute names.
That evening, well, to get through the day John laid low in the fields, meditating and sleeping alternately. He would need all his physical and mental strength for this task.
See, the problem was that Snoops was a man on a mission. He had been toying with the idea of cheating death for some time, and just hadn’t had the guts to go through with it. When John heard of his death by some mysterious accident, well, he knew then that Snoops had finally worked up the energy to jump off the precipice. Now that he had risen again and made everyone feel weird, now the real bullshit would start.
Snoops, he was a kind of natural backwoods, kind of a hippie redneck sorcerer. He said spells over and over without results, he summoned spirits and he talked to the dead. He crawled around in his sheets like a cockroach with a brain aneurysm. He grabbed the sheets and he clawed at them and foamed at the mouth. He led seminars at his house for recovering sex addicts, but they never recovered.
Snoops had big plans for the little village. He would subjegate all the peoples and make them sing terrible songs in minor keys. He just loved hearing songs in minor keys. He had had a wife once, but she would not sing in a minor key so he shoved her off a cliff. She was a more accomplished sorcerer than he, though, so she simply flew off the edge and became a bird. She stayed that way throughout his life because she said while he was a human she wouldn’t want to be a member of that race.
And that was the problem really. He never got over her and that rebuff, mostly because his mother had never accepted him either. So he raced around the world in the recesses of his mind, searching for her and choking himself, wrapping his hands around his throat and squeezing until he passed out every night alone in a bed full of sweat and piss.
Snoops never had a use for toilets, and that’s why his house always smelled like death. If he had died of natural causes, they would never have found him.
But what was Marley’s game? This thought trapper John as he rose from the gulch in the field where he had lurked the whole day through.
And what was Marley’s game indeed. At that moment, he was setting up an altar to some forgotten God in the backyard of a municipal officer’s suburban residence.
“Hey!” Yelled the municipal officer. “What are you doing in my yard?”
“No one cares about you,” said Marley. “Be gone!”
Back at the gulch, John walked the length of the field and tightened the furs around him. He would need supplies. Ammunition. Reinforced steel, corrugated cardboard, he would need a great many things that no one could offer him on short notice in that part of the world.
So he walked and walked and he tried to make bricks without straw just like the ancient Egyptians. He wondered if anyone would see him, but they didn’t and he slipped through as undetected as the day he was born. The day he was born his mother had held him in her arms and then died a peasant’s syphillitic death.
Snoops was the same in many ways. He looked for that girl with the angel wings who had taken off away from him. He would subjugate and own her, too, because now that was the only way he knew how to love. It was a sickening thing, a blood curdling and disgusting thing, the kind of thing that made you think of raw eggs in the morning. Snoops himself threw up a lot just living with himself. That was one of his tricks for dealing with himself. It was a tough lot, to be sure, but someone had to live with it, someone did, right? But perhaps they didn’t. They probably didn’t, but he couldn’t think of things like that right now. If he did, he would go mad, and to be mad he would be useless to everyone.
Snoops was somewhere around Trapper John’s hut. He had always suspected that Trapper John had indeed trapped his special girl there or somewhere, somewhere on the earth he was sure the girl was trapped, and no one could trap like Trapper John could trap.
If she wasn’t trapped, she would fly right back to him, he knew. Everyone knew. Everyone knew that Trapper John was a cold hearted bastard with no where to run any more. Now that Snoops was resurrected, he would weild the powers of those from the underworld. Funny, thought Snoops, he didn’t remember the underworld at all, not even as a vague dream like he thought he might.
No there was just this and the nothing and the nothing of the night and the nothing of death were similar except for there was no reprieve in death and no toil in tedious dreams of old.
Trapper John kept many things around his hut, traps he had made in the past, new ideas for traps, old keyboards and things of a musical nature that no one, including Trapper John, understood. Snoops searched through these things without moving them. He could sense their inert nature now, could hear them not breathing like the sound of a million extinct awks ambling around in the morning. And there in the rubble, there was no angel. She was not there.
Snoops screamed loud and strong but a scream not a roar and up went the little shack in flames. Furs, traps, coffee, little stove, all an inferno now.
He laughed as it burned and the flame climbed high into the sky like a pillar, not spreading out like it might if it were beach sand, but stacking like wet mud, like bricks made with straw carried on the backs of a thousand chosen ones. It climbed into the heavens like the tower of babel before the split into a thousand dialects. Snoops jumped into the flames and was carried upwards like a rocket and disappeared into the storm clouds which were gathering again.
Meanwhile, Mansford looked up. He saw the storm and he wondered how the weather had taken this malevolent turn lately. “Dang nabbit,” he said, “all the time now it’s storms and pestilence.”
“Pestilence,” murmured his followers, the former police officers of the little town.
“Yes,” said Mansford. “Let’s move.”
“Yes,” said the police force.
They left the house and walked out into the greenish tinted woodland. It was greener than green now and Mansford’s followers murmured thanks to him for the wondrous gift of nature. He let their praises go unheeded, because he had other things to think about now.
“I must find out about this Snoops,” he said.
“Snoops,” the followers said.
“Go forth and bring back news of Snoops,” he said.
“News of Snoops,” they said, and bounded forth.
He yelled after them: “Go forth in different directions!”
And so they split up and some came back running and they ran directly through Snoops’s house. One was so committed that he ran directly through the bricks of the house, leaving a bugs bunny like hole in the side of it.
“What in blazes,” said Mansford. He went back into the house to search through Snoops things.
Meanwhile, Trapper John was in the woods shaking his head and wondering when the madness would end, when who but Marley should show up shaking his head too and wondering when the madness would really begin in earnest. Neither of them had time for pleasantries any more and so they only nodded to each other and immediately rejoined on a course to a restaurant some distance off known as the Villager’s Place.
The Villager’s Place was a sordid place full of mud and strange puddles of unidentifiable liquid. It wasn’t that the place smelled like shit, but it was that the place kind of smelled like something you wouldn’t want to eat. But the food was good and the coffee was strong and the proprietor sold drinks to underage men and women of a certain ilk, so business was always booming there. And when I say booming, I mean that this was the only restaurant in a town of about a hundred people, which is to say that sometimes there were more than two customers inside.
By the time Marley and Trapper John arrived, the rain was falling like hellfire on Sodom and Gamorrah and things were beginning to get uncomfortable.
The lady behind the bar at The Villager’s Place was tall and iron handed and she knew seven languages including the language of the dead. She only worked at the restaurant during the day because she couldn’t sleep at night nor in the day, and she did her regular business during the night, which was of course the business of sorcery.
Marley and Trapper John took seats at the bar and the lady poured them some water. It was rainwater captured on her roof and heated to an infernal temperature.
John looked at the water and said, “Well, Snoops is on the loose.”
“Snoops is hardly the problem,” said the woman.
“Yes, well, moving on then,” said John, and they left the bar. Then they went back into the bar. Marley shook his head in disbelief at this inefficiency. But the second time they went into the bar, there was a table set for them with candles and incense and the woman had changed clothes. She was now wearing some kind of royal burka.
“Why are you wearing that royal burka?” asked Marley.
“Don’t ask me shit like that,” said the woman. “Not when I’m in my royal burka.”
“Yes,” said John, “don’t ask her shit like that when she’s in her royal burka.”
“Fine,” said Marley, sitting down. “Is there anything to eat?”
“You’ll eat the food of the dead,” said the woman in the burka.
“The hell I will,” said Marley.
“Are you saying he’ll die?” asked Trapper John, sitting next to him.
The woman in the burka looked intently at Trapper John. She said, “Would that be a revelation to you?”
“Oh, shut up and tell us where Snoops is going,” said John. He said in an aside to Marley, “Ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous,” said Marley.
“Anyway!” said the woman in the royal burka. “Anyway, moving on!”
“Right ho,” said Trapper John.
Then there was a knock at the door.
“God damn it!” screamed the woman. She flipped the table over, sending the candles and incense crashing to the ground, the air filled with flames. She ripped the burka off and threw it into the growing fire and all at once the whole apparatus she had put together disappeared.
She answered the door. “Yes, what!”
But there was no one at the door. She looked down and there was a small brown parcel from the United Parcel Service.
“Aw son of a bitch!” She slammed the door.
She was halfway across the room back to the bar before she turned around and marched back to the door. She opened it, grabbed the box, and closed the door.
“What the hell is that?” asked Marley.
“Cat shit bags,” she said. “They’re biodegradable.”
John noticed for the first time a black cat sitting in the corner. He was afraid of cats anyway, and this one was especially evil looking. “Alright,” said John. “Well, we’ll take our chances I guess.”
“Ah, Christ,” said the woman. “Snoops is going to look for the angel woman. He’s going to burn every house in town because he suspects she is being kept against her will. Alright? Jesus Christ!”
“Fine!” said Trapper John. He motioned to Marley and made the sign for crazy, eyes askance at the woman. Then they left the bar.
Meanwhile, Snoops was wasting no time. He was burning every house in town already by the time they got the news.
People were running from the town screaming and grabbing their children by the arm. The children were upset because they had up until that point been following the pied piper into some kind of pre-dawn wonderland. But now they were running from a hellish scene straight out of some Greek romanticism movie.
And their arms hurt, too.
“My arm hurts,” said one of the kids to his mom, who was pulling him down the main highway right behind this other mom she hated so bad she couldn’t stand looking at her if it wasn’t for the fact that their home and everything they ever loved was being burned down by some madman screaming about a woman.
“You think it’s bad now,” said the mom to the kid, “you just wait and see. You just wait and see!”
“What the hell does that mean?”
The mom didn’t lose a step, she just backhanded the hell out of the kid across the mouth and kept pace with the other fleeing families.
The other kids saw the slap and they all said something to their mothers who all rolled their eyes and wished that first mother would have stayed and been incinerated in that house.
Snoops waved his arms in the air, trying to catch her in case she was invisible. His girl. She was there somewhere.
Then, across the burning field he could sense Trapper John. There was a tall, tall man with Trapper John, some kind of alien force he couldn’t or wouldn’t identify. He couldn’t admit to himself that he knew who it was. Some kind of outsize personality with unlimited power of the world of the dead.
But, he reasoned, it didn’t matter. That tall man didn’t matter, because he, Snoops, had died and returned and he was now of both worlds and he served none.
He would find the angel. He would ask the tall man if he had to.
Trapper John looked out over all the destruction and rued it. He rued the day he hadn’t gone to make double sure Snoops was dead. How had he not known that Snoops was the type to try and conquer death? How could he have missed that?
No one could say, for sure, how he had missed something like that, but no one was impressed by it, that was safe to say.
Anyhow, he stood in the wreckage and he took his rifle and he aimed it across the field where he believed Snoops to stand.
Marley stopped him. “Don’t do that!” he said. “Don’t do that!”
“Why not?” asked Trapper John.
Then there was a great clamor as Mansford and his followers arrived at the scene. Mansford was carrying a giant green jewel.
“What in tarnation is that?” asked Trapper John.
“He’s got the jewel of chancery,” said Marley. Marley shook his head and laughed. “Who is that ruddy fool?”
“Well,” said Trapper John, “that’s Mansford and half the bloody police force.”
“We need the goddamn fire brigade out here,” said Marley. “Not no damnable police force. Leastways that looks to me to be some kind of cult rather than a police force.”
Indeed, the whole troop were dressed in forest green rags got up to look like cloaks. Mansford held the jewel high over head.
Then the three forces marched together toward the middle of the burning village. The heat inside was tremendous, and Trapper John shed his furs.
“Won’t you need those?” asked Marley.
“No,” said Trapper John. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“I think I do.”
“Shut up, Necromancer,” said Trapper John. “I say you don’t.”
“How do you know me?” asked Marley.
“By your stench,” said Trapper John. “Now let’s finish this business.”
“Snoops you mean?”
“Yes,” said Trapper John.
“Ah, right,” said Marley.
Mansford’s followers were flinging themselves all over the place, jumping on fires to stifle them before Mansford could be heated by their rays.
“You treat your followers poorly!” shouted Marley, across a burning house.
“Where is my love!” shouted Snoops. He appeared as a flame of darkness in the midst of Marley, Mansford, and John.
“Where did you put her last?” asked John, crossing his arms and smirking an awful smirk.
Snoops swung at John and connected.
John took it in the jaw and went down to the ground laughing.
Snoops jumped on him and waled on him left right left right while Marley and Mansford looked on.
Marley snapped his fingers and an army of ghouls arose from the ground.
The ghoul army advanced, throwing Mansford’s followers to the left and right and finally encircling the two fighters.
They reached their dead hands into that dark flame and pulled Snoops, who was still flailing, away from John.
“Stop flailing, you fool,” said Marley.
“Where is she, angel of death!” yelled Snoops. He shouted and the ghouls all fell dead immediately. Snoops pounded on the ground and a white flash encircled the party.
They were in some kind of alternate universe. There was no fire and no sound. There was only Marley and Snoops and Trapper John and Mansford.
“I told you it would get weird, boy,” said Trapper John, standing up and leering at Mansford through a mangled face.
Mansford looked around for his followers and then sat on the ground. “What’s happening?”
“Where is she!” yelled Snoops, coming for Marley.
Marley shot out one of those stalkish legs and caught Snoops on the chin. Down went Snoops to the ground.
“Calm yourself, Sorcerer!” said Marley. “You’re a disgrace.”
“I’m not disgrace!” said Snoops. “You’re the disgrace! Now and evermore!”
“Well I don’t know!” said Snoops, standing up again. He muttered something under his breathe.
“Shut your mouth,” said Marley.
Snoops kept incantating and Marley sighed. “Well, this is the end.”
“Do something!” said Trapper John. “Do something you fool!” Trapper John could not move. The spirits there held him in place as he watched Snoops muttering and muttering and muttering and no one would do anything to stop the muttering my God it was horrible.
“My god!” said Mansford. “This is horrible!”
“Fine,” said Marley. “Here she is.”
With that, the woman appeared, arrayed in light.
She frowned and the illusion went away, they were all in the midst of the burning village once more, only the village had burned to the ground and all that was left were skeletons of the houses.
Snoops stopped muttering and stared at her.
“Why have you brought me here?” she asked them all, no one in particular.
“Your boyfriend is gone mad,” said Marley.
The woman reached into Snoops chest and pulled out his still beating heart. “You were mad before you died and you are mad now,” she said. The heart erupted into flames and turned to ash. Then the woman reached into Snoops head and pulled his brain from there. It too turned to ash. But Snoops lived on, staring at her.
The woman grabbed Snoops by the throat and threw him into the air. He grew wings in an instant and flew around in circles like an awkward vulture.
John took aim and shot through his wings and down came Snoops to the ground.
The woman turned to John and said, “You’re an asshole.”
John shrugged and walked over to Snoops, who was crying. Snoops said, “It was all so beautiful!”
“Down into the earth with you, foul brute!” said John. John started pounding on Snoops’s back with the butt of the rifle and down he went like a nail into a wall.
“What madness and ludicrous men are these!” said the woman. She turned to Marley. “Let me go home.”
“I have no power of you,” said Marley.
“How is it I was drawn here then?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Marley. “I guess you still have feelings for Snoops.”
“What will happen to him?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You do know.”
“Don’t be a fool, I know nothing!” said Marley.
And then the woman from the bar appeared.
Mansford threw up his hands. “All I wanted to do was be a good policeman!”
“All you wanted,” said the woman, “was a good paycheck and four square meals a day. Well guess what! The world you were born into doesn’t play that way.”
“What are you doing here?” asked the angel woman.
John said, “I’ll be with the lot of you in a minute!”, just to remind everyone that he was there, hammering Snoops’s inert body into the earth.
Marley walked over to him and looked down into the hole. “What’s going to become of him?” he asked Trapper John.
“He’ll grow into an accursed tree, and then I’ll chop him down,” said Trapper John, “and I’ll use the timber to build a boat, and on that boat, I’ll lash you and Mansford to the mainsail, and you’ll set off toward the horizon, to the land of the sirens, and all the forest will be mine again. That’s what.”
“That’s a lot of talk,” said the bar woman.
“You’re a lot of talk,” said Trapper John.
The angel woman said, “Can I go now?”
“I don’t know,” said the bar woman, “can you?”
“I don’t know if I can deal with the grammar police right now!” Said the Angel. “I’m freaking out! I had a maths exam last Tuesday and none of it made sense!”
Everyone looked at the Angel askance.
Then she said, “Oh, never mind, that didn’t actually happen, it was a dream I was having.” Sometimes the Angel woman would have such wretched, wretched reams. She would be starving and screaming out for someone she could never recall who when she woke up later but she would be sitting there screaming and screaming and tears and all of that. One time in a dream she made herself sick in the waking world. She dreamed on the clouds and imagined that there was a place both better and worse than the one in which she lived, it was a place that no matter what, could not be accessed by the waking. But those barriers were about to come down. She was going to see something that she had never seen.
She looked at Trapper John and she realized somehow someway he was the key to that strange world full of adventure. Somehow he could lead her where she would need to go. But she knew she would have to give up her wings for it, and these wings had cost her dearly.
But there was that strange man who was sitting there banging a human being into the ground with the butt of his rifle. There he was just banging and banging and banging. Oh wait, she thought, that was the trapper himself, in physical form, in earthly form outside of dreams. And the human he was beating into the dirt was her tormentor, that demon maniac who had brought about her transformation.
Mansford started screaming at the top of his lungs when he realized he could not move his facial features. He screamed but people onely heard a dry murmur because his mouth wouldn’t open.
Finally, John had hammered in Snoops just as far as he would go and he gave up the project. He got up out of the hole and he walked over to Marley.
“Hey, you coffee drinking son of a bitch,” he said. “You go cover up that hole and you wait there for that accursed tree to grow.”
“What are you going to do with all your new land?” Asked Marley. Marley didn’t give a damn what John would say to that, he just needed to keep the old man talking.
John said, “You think you can set an old man to talking with a weak question like that? Well you can’t, you fool bastard, you can’t and you won’t. You go stand next to that pile now, push in that dirt, and you wait, you long legged freak.”
So Marley walked over and set to the task of covering up Snoops’s body.
“And you,” said John to Mansford, “I walked with you through the hollows of the earth and you were transformed into a demigod. Yet what have you done with this gift? Well, I don’t know what you have done, but I know you didn’t do anything for me, so damn you! Damn you to hell, lashed to the mainsail of an accursed vessel. Go stand and watch Marley and when he is done covering you make sure that tree stays good and watered.”
John turned to leave the area, to return to the solitude of the woods, but the Angel stopped him. She said, “May I come with you?”
“You do whatever you want, you old bird,” said John. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re thinking, which is what you’re thinking.”
“Damn how did you know that?'” asked the Angel.
“And don’t try flattery either!” said John.
The bar woman said, “Listen, if anyone wants half priced shots, you know where my bar is, don’t you?”
“You can’t be serious,” said John, wiping his forehead. He had been through many trials and many tribulations and he had always come out on top. But it wasn’t easy, and it hadn’t left him without any scars. He had scars both emotional, mental and of course he had physical scars so strong they could jump off his body at any time and go and cause havoc. He sent them out regularly to keep them in shape.
But even John had not managed to learn to deal with that crazy bar woman. She was just the woman for him. She could never be figured out, could never be controlled, could never be understood. She was like that cat she kept in the bar, and damned if John didn’t imagine that it was her, that cat was, and why not? It was likely a woman like her would keep a familiar spirit around, wasn’t it? It was indeed.
And so our story comes to a close as John follows the bar woman to the bar, having defeated his foe, his eternal foe, and gotten the love of his woman in the running, and then scorned that beautiful angel woman for the devil that she was. It had been a productive day for him.
Years later, many years, tens of hundreds of years later the tree was large enough to build a ship from and John went back to that very spot, where two ancient oak bushes stood guard and he called to them.
“Marley! Mansford!” And they shook their heads of their revery and came alive and dug the tree up by it’s roots and carried it to the shore while John followed, eating cashews one at a time.
They set the tree by the shore and John hammered and hammered on the tree with a rifle until it was in the shape of a boat. He lashed Marley and Mansford to the mainsail and he sent them on their way. He laughed to think of the adventures they would have, he laughed to see the death they would defy, because he knew they were ready for this journey, had earned their bones the hard, hard way, the long, long way, as oak bushes in a great field of death.
And then, as the ship receded from view, John turned and wrapped three long furs about him and spat on the ground. He scratched his head and he wondered to himself, “What had become of this life?”
Image by Christine Renney
The boy had pushed his dad so far that he had hurled his dentures across the room. They lay broken beside the dog bowl. His dad picked them up and sat at the kitchen table pushing the pieces together, trying to stick them with glue.
The boy kept on pushing. He didn’t really know very much about anything; he was just a numb blonde kid with bad skin and braces. He had once threatened his dad with a knife but on this occasion the boy’s mum pulls them apart and no weapons are involved other than their fists.
At seventeen the boy’s dad had enlisted in the Army. He had begged and pleaded with his own dad until at last the old man, worn down, signed the papers.
The boy’s dad was posted to Germany and he had learned to drive on the Autobahn. But he didn’t fit, wasn’t suited and so the boy’s dad had headed for home. Just like that.
That wild blue yonder?
There’s a time
when it’s summerless.
And that’s when my cat left;
I packed her lunch myself.
I was at Jane’s bar on Benton Place when I met the street artist who called himself the Klondike Kid. He’d asked me for a cigarette like this: “Hey mate, can I have a cigarette? This tea is so bad, I don’t know who would drink this tea.”
What made him think I had a cigarette, man, is what I said to him. He was drinking tea that he’d brought himself. He just sat at the bar with a thermos and no one seemed to care. I thought it was weird and I was kind of offended. I didn’t think it was right for him to take up a seat at the bar. It was Wednesday night around dusk. People were standing around trying to order.
I said to him “Aren’t you going to have a drink. Anyway wouldn’t it wash away the taste of the tea?”
He said he was the Klondike Kid, and it was clear I was supposed to know what that was.
“I don’t know what that is,” I said, but it sounded familiar. I didn’t tell him that it sounded familiar, because I knew it didn’t sound familiar because of anything he did. I had read it somewhere. Or maybe it was a commercial.
“It’s me,” said the Klondike Kid and he drank more of that tea and he made a face and said: “Can I have a cigarette, seriously this tea…”
“Leave me alone,” I said and shook the ice in my glass. Jane put another bourbon down and I said to her, “What’s with this guy, doesn’t he have to order something?”
“That’s the Klondike Kid,” said Jane. “Don’t worry about him. He’ll leave soon enough.”
Then I started getting really angry because I’d been coming to this bar for years and I never heard of this Klondike Kid and he was clearly nothing special and I hate when people think they’re something and I said to him, “Say, kid…”
“Call me Tomas,” he said.
“No,” I said. And then I forgot what I wanted to say. I drank some whiskey and followed Jane’s advice. I turned away and tried to find someone else to talk to.
The kid was still there an hour later and he was still drinking that god damned tea and making that face and I was drunk at that point, and I said: “Kid stop drinking that tea, god damn it.”
“You got a cigarette?” he said and that really pissed me off. I took out a pack of cigarettes and I lit one up for myself.
And I said, “Screw you, kid.”
“You know that mural on Lavendar Avenue between Marcy and Sparks?” He said this to me.
“No,” I said, even though I did. It was a beautiful piece of work. A giant blood orange was hanging from a pine tree and a woman was reaching up for it. She was an old woman, with her tongue out, and there was something magical about her.
“Come on,” said the Kid, “give me a cigarette.”
“There are a hundred people in this bar who’d give you a cigarette.”
“It’s not really about the cigarette, though,” said the Kid. “I’m the Klondike Kid. I painted that mural.”
“Go to Hell,” I told him. I gave him the pack of cigarettes and I left the bar.
Later I checked with Jane and she said it was true.
i’m walking around in that same old rain
each tired drop splats a fresh cliché
i’ve been so scared for the longest time
but, really, can i shrink any more?
when i’m hung out to dry, how small will i be?
isn’t this all just a bad dream?
this can’t be the world we live in
breathe it in, boy, the sun at your back
sun kisses, you fool, sun kisses for you
the sun kisses her shoulders too
i’m a stranger burning beneath a fake sky
where there’s smoke there’s chimneys
she’s got a severe case of the chiminy changas
and i’m not supposed to notice that, but…
so help me, i do
his letter landed on the hall way mat like a whisper
she was in the top bathroom, where the wicker shades made everything warm and orange, taking a hot bath, a purge of sorts
her bags packed, she bathed, no urge to touch the frozen parts of her, threatening to disrupt her plans, outside was monochrome, the dullness of impending Winter shifting itself stiffly in chair
still and far from her, he knew he had the power
the letter read ten pages, one message, come out into the night and sit with me I have to win you back before you leave
if she could go back now in time she would say to herself sitting in hot bath, wiping the condensation and seeing her youth
instead she went, hearing his call like the sound of blood, she went and she opened a vein and he drank deeply
they had nowhere to be alone so they climbed over the gates of the bowling park and he pressed her against the cherry trees in his departing lust
then she ached, between her and for her, knowing by saying yes, she was creating an impossible journey
Her father’s car stolen they drove a large rental van with her futon and toys in the back she left most of her books and hardly had any music, though she packed frugally she took with her the biggest thing, that stone wrapped in twine threatening to drown her
he watched her as she turned the road and the white van recedes like a winter bird
he felt he had captured the bird again and for this, he was glad
arriving she saw the sterile room, the bed punched to the wall hardly large enough for even anorexia, like a shelf bidding her to climb down and sleep in trees
her father tried not to cry so much his face turned to chalk and they walked down by the lake and watched the birds shimmer on the cold surface without seeing their reflections
when he left she tried not to howl, retreating to her room she hid like she knew to do so well and soon the others in the dormitory thought the room was uninhabited and they were partially correct
The day after
She called him from the pay phone, she wanted to say, come up, come up and wipe away my emptiness
instead she said it was okay and talked about the rabbits and the birds and the classes she had written down on a long list next to her books and her packs of cigarettes and her emptied stomach
he felt content knowing she was on a shelf waiting for him to pluck her in dissection
The week after
It isn’t hard she thought, to leave this world and inhabit another
by day she walked the concrete catwalk of the college, watching fat cheeked children, doused in piss and vinegar, play at maturity
by night the children of mirth drank themselves into glasses, and she who could not afford to eat, sat outside her room on the balcony and wanted to jump
The month after
The counselors proclaimed her fit to continue, she knew how to out fox any psychological tests, her eyes did not give her away but had they looked underneath her sleeves maybe then she would have been packed on a train and sent to a calm room with a larger bed
he visited briefly, enjoying the unfurling countryside whisked past on train, and the feeling of being out of the city, as much as his devour of her and her increasing thinning skin, illuminated by moonlight
they lay together, smoking and reading, he took frequent sips of her until she ran dry and then he took another long draught, ensuring she knew who marked her for possession
when he left, she cycled back from town, wobbly from not eating, light-headed in a dreamy way that made it easier and switched to sleeping on the floor
The second month after
Starvation is an art, rarely employed willingly she knew those who did, were certain of their actions, whilst she, only knew what she did not want and she did not want to be aware of herself
the instructors noticed the girl in the back of the room wrote thoughtful essays if a little disordered, and she did not seem to talk to anyone else
she saw his absence, the welt on her ribs, and knew if she had not accepted him again she would now be feeling nothing of his rejection, it was only her and her alone who was at fault for being weak enough to believe stone changes from stone to water
the boy without eyes scratching surfaces, turned to her with his savage instrument pointing her way, and with his mouth spoke entreaty and she felt sorry for him and let him into her small room and her tiny bed on the floor and they broke themselves into pieces trying to burn each other out
afterward a life flickered dimly, hardly holding on in the shrinking of her, it clutched at her resource like a rabbit seeking burrow at night fall
he did not visit because he had found that other flowers grew by the side of the road and one in particular, a night rose, had petals he was addicted to
Three months after
She bore with all her energy, the watery rose-tinted creation who without breathing, moved and then died in a grave of her tears
she buried her grandparent and her child on the same hill overlooking the lake, in her heart, and stood still enough for birds to feel safe and land nearby to search for worms beneath the frosty grass
he came once more, enveloped by the smell of others, curious more than longing, and this time he was not kind and his eyes looked away when she bled and hurt for his return tore her open, when she had been deliberately folding herself like a stained sheet back into perfect square
leaving the school she walked up to the furthest point of the hills above the lake and lay down, a blanket of wool and some pills the doctor mistakenly trusted her with, a quart of something that would drowse regret
the boy without eyes did not know she was fading, he was writing songs about his conquests and his heart was full of excitement because he now knew his own power and the taste of a girls acquiescence
it was never told that she carried a part of him within her, and had he been aware, it is doubtful at that time he would have cared. Twenty years later it was a distant regret and no more, he didn’t even spend time wondering what became of her, or consider the soil beneath which, his flame slept
he grew rich because he believed in himself and his infallibility, and the women who passed through his bed, they confirmed this, with their nodding heads and compliant thighs parting to show him where he could plunder
such is the inequality of them
Twenty years later
She lies still for the surgeon, he cuts and perforates whilst listening to Chopin
soon a part of her that made life, is dull and suspended in formaldehyde
she has empty arms
his arms encircle her waist
imagine seeing you here in the city again after so long!
she is still as slender as a reed, he has a little balding but has the same sharp teeth and black eyes
are these your children? she asks nodding at the little hands clasping his trouser legs
yes this is Amy she’s ten, Mark is seven, Sylvia is five and my wife is holding Jo he’s only fourteen months
you have a beautiful family
thank you it’s so good to see you again you’ve hardly changed
as they part ways, she feels the heaviness of his hand around her, and the flicker of interest on his lips wet with speech
A week later
I thought I would call and see if you’d like to go to lunch?
I would love to
they meet in a place they used to go, his suggestion and that’s how she knows
your company gave you this apartment in the center of town?
yes for late nights, it’s easier than commuting to the suburbs, my family understands
he lays her down by the fire-place on the rug, and the years between them are no longer
where did you get this scar? he points to the thin silver crossing her pubic bone
it was an accident
he takes off her clothes, she is still concave and white like a pearl in the reddened darkness of the room, he has a slight paunch and several strains of bacteria picked up from riding horses until they dropped
you’re the same slip of a girl you were when I first met you, your hair is still red, and you still smell like autumn
as he lowers himself onto her, he feels her mouth on his neck, a whisper, like an envelope falling onto mat
i loved you so much
then a stinging feeling, light-headed, almost pleasurable, he doesn’t understand why everything is slightly tilted
now he is lying on the rug, looking up at her, she is dressing, she doesn’t bother with her buttons and throws her coat over her cold breasts and shivering
he cannot form the words, if he knew what they were, he would like to say, as edges begin to finger indistinct he might say you are still so beautiful, he might say, I never loved you, I planted an abomination in you and I left, glad for my freedom and your neglect
and she would say, before closing the door quietly, no I am not beautiful I am dammed, and I am empty, and I have drunk my fill of you and this has set me free and now I will run with the wind until it gathers me up into pieces and flings me every which way, so that I do not exist and you do not exist and this, this we made, sleeping in earth, can be still at last
such is the equality of them