Sunday, January 29, 2006


He lives on the edge of forever. Where the plain turns from a rocky desert into a smooth expanse covered with sand and fine dust, his hut leans into the constant wind blowing toward the stars. In the direction of the world of men the vast emptiness is a desert strewn with rocks, occasional boulders, sparse vegetation. In the direction of forever the drifting sand and thins out, spreads out, gradually fading into nothing, losing itself in the stars.

A gravel road fades into the dirt beside his door, terminating at a row of strange columns marching into the twilight. These pillars, each different from its neighbor, are evenly spaced, making their procession unified, dignified. Each is separated from its neighbor by five steady strides. All face, if they have faces, away from the things of men, leaning toward distant stars. Something about the vertical forms suggests movement, a pace that is individual yet universal. They diminish and blur in the distance, forming a faint streak, fading softly into the flickering nameless constellations.

The nearest pylon towers over the shack, a great weathered grey-blue rock, following its companions toward the distant non-horizon. Strange lichen-covered markings have been chipped into its sides, but are smoothed by centuries of wind and rain.

Further on a monolith is hunched over, its gnarled, petroglyph-covered shape looks as if it has crept from some lonely aboriginal landscape to join this silent procession. Beyond is a spire twisting gracefully toward the sky, leaning slightly toward the sparkling motes twinkling above the end of all things. The next stone is a black stella which quickly tapers to a four-sided tip; it is covered with strange cuneiform inscriptions. Beyond rises a huge obelisk reflecting the surrounding landscape from its stark smooth marble sides. Next a wooden pole, which may have once been a gnarled ancient oak, has sides so smoothed by countless hands that it seems to be a swirling, twisting tower of earth toned material, no longerwood. Beyond it is a spire of rocks, a complex jigsaw of odd shaped stones that have been so carefully matched it presents no space, no gaps, hardly even a seam, in any of its sides. The line continues through countless types of pillars. Some are polished wood displaying lacquered bands of vibrant colors, their dynamic hues singing of long vanished cities. There are Asherah and totem poles, pillory posts, stocks, and crosses. Stalagmites, crystals, and fossil-encrusted towers are followed by finely carved thin pilasters rising gracefully into the purpling sky. Immense monoliths give way to short wooden posts, and strange marble blocks half reveal struggling forms like unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo.

The columns, though wildly different from each other, form a unified progression that conveys a sense of movement. Each pylon motionlessly moves in file toward the edge of forever.

He feels his role is the caretaker of this strange regiment marching into eternity. He wanders beside the long file of columns Once he walked for four days into the distance, to where the starlight had begun to shine through the dirt.
A dusty stranger paused at the road’s end, beside the caretaker’s door, and his eyes rested on the gentle transformation of Earth and Heaven. He was robed in rough brown cloth; his dirty feet were thickly calloused from many leagues of travel. His right hand held a staff of twisted wood, the remains of a small tree that had once struggled against wind and dry air, gripping glacier-worn rocks until this stranger’s hand had coaxed it from its hard-won purchase. His left hand was resting gently on the lichen-covered carvings of the grey-blue monolith.

The man who lived on the edge of forever let the stranger gaze silently into eternity throughout the afternoon. But when the distant sun crept behind the horizon of the world, he offered a humble meal, and the cot inside.

The stranger, ignoring the offered respite, asked if other men come this way. Had there been any others who had come with ascetic apparel, simple hearts, and singular minds to search for what could not be found elsewhere? Had there been anyone else, companions in his quest for truth, who had tarried here?

The caretaker told him no, no one had come this way, no one had spent more than a night in the many years that he had been here. The few who had ventured this far had fled in terror at the vision of the immortal universe lapping at the shores of Man. That he had been here nearly all his life, and that his only colleagues were the silent columns; his closest friend was the large blue stone upon which the stranger now rested his hand.

The stranger was silent, saddened. He thanked the caretaker for his hospitality, but said he wanted only to spend the night beside the silent row and watch the stars creep overhead. Perhaps in the morning he would start his journey, forward or back he knew not. For now the quiet of the evening and the solemn file that moved into eternity were all he craved.

So the caretaker left him with his thoughts beside the great blue stone, and retired within.

Morning came with the weak rays of the distantly beckoning sun, and the caretaker stepped out to see after the stranger. But he was gone. No one slept or moved in all the area around the hovel.

Once again his only companions were the ones he always had. The columns continued their timeless march into forever.

Yet there was one difference. The first pillar was no longer the great grey-blue stone. That one was now second in line, a little further toward forever. In its place stood a new one, a weathered brown sandstone column, leaning eagerly in the direction of eternity.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


I’m anticipating...

I’m anticipating eating too much...

drinking too much eggnog...

and complaining about the weight I gain.

I’m anticipating...

cleaning the gutters...

and putting up the lights...

and running four times to the store to buy spare bulbs.

I’m anticipating...

cutting down a Christmas tree...

and dragging needles through the house...

and pulling out the old decorations (25% will be broken).

I’m anticipating going enthusiastically to buy special somethings for special someones...

and getting frustrated with traffic and crowds and prices.

I’m anticipating...

I’m anticipating...

I’m anticipating special times of prayer, and sharing once again the wonder of the nativity and the joy of knowing...

that I love this season where the creator of the universe crept into the world through the womb of a young woman, and set the world right.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

In the Dark

(An attempt to connect theology and the concept of an ever-expanding universe with science fiction.)

In the Dark

He was not cold. He was not hot. He was not comfortable or uncomfortable. In so very many ways, he was not anything at all. Which was appropriate for he was nowhere at all.

Through the long night his temperature had dropped so that it was just a few degrees above kelvin, barely above the background temperature of the universe. But the sense of comfort, of being warm or cold, was so long ago, so long gone, that it would be called forgotten, except he had not spent the energy to forget it. He could not forget anything unless he desired to do so. All that was important now was the contemplation central to his existence. Indeed, he was more thought than anything else.

Here, at the end of time, at the edge of the universe, his slow, grand thoughts sparked along the edges of the great hole in space with the stately pace of a creature close to immortality.

Despite his deliberate, dignified amble through the ages, he felt quick, alive. But his thoughts turned upon themselves with the same deliberate rhythm that was once the spinning beat of entire galaxies. His ancestors counted time in seasons, or years. Now 40,000 years was merely a contemplative moment, a time to gracefully turn an idea over, to consider its implications.

He was a creature of folded space, where energy was marshaled by the hot spin of the black hole that fed him and provided a time piece to keep him aware, to count the epochs as he had once counted the minutes. His appearance was neither thin or thick. He wasn’t truly visible at all, for he teetered at the edge of an event horizon that swallowed all light, and the sleet of evaporating x-rays obliterated any other vision that was possible in this ultimate vortex. He was a shimmering of potentials, of maybes and not-quites, that cascaded up, down, and through fourteen dimensions without truly being a part of any of them. He simply was. His thoughts, his spirit, clung with tendrils, with ghosts of a long-lost biped form, with a consciousness to the inter dimensional boundaries between space and time, on the lip of the gigantic maelstrom of the huge singularity.

He was solitary. There were others like him, but the effort to speak, to interact, was beyond what he could afford in energy and time. The distances were far too formidable for contact. Even light speed was no longer efficient enough, quick enough to tie what was once called humanity together.

Long, long ago, his ancestors had chewed on the ends of cosmic strings, filaments of space-time created at the moment of creation. They hoped that these infinite threads would lead to infinite energy. But once the skill at slicing them was grasped, nature learned to perform the same act of sacrilege. And so the eternal became mortal. Nature mimicked man, and diced these threads up, rolled them into tiny, evaporating black holes, and tossed away what had always been. What had lasted a trillion years simply became the latest source of energy scavenged by marauding humans.

The great cities had been built in the dark, feasting on the energies of the snapping, sparking, infinitely thin, infinitely long, infinitely powerful threads. These cities had lengths that would have spanned the orbit of the original home world. The long tubes were the arks of a fleeing humanity that was attempting to escape from the graduation others had taken, the lifting to another, holier realm of existence. These arks tried to disregard the long night, to remake humankind into creatures that could live on into the twilight of the universe. It was an act of defiance that had carried some away from the promise of Heaven, from the reality of Hell. It was but a temporary purgatory, the foyer to a silent, introspective Hell that was deferred a few eons into the dark.

When the great tubed cities feasting on the infinitely thin had finished their repast, they had wandered in search of new meals. Finally, the last source of sustenance had been found in the gigantic black holes that had been fed the masses of thousands of galaxies, and were now on starvation diets in which they spun off an ever-so-slight radiation. The slow evaporation would eventually dissolve these gigantic gravatic funnels in a future that could be measured in a few trillion years.

Those gigantic cities were as remote as the caves. A quick life, a hot life, had nothing to do with the steady turning of thoughts through the twilight of the universe. It was too foreign, too alien, to be of interest.

Those worlds were dust, and the dust had been swept up by great eddies of the universe, and had reformed into new stars. And those stars had ignited, and grown, and quickened life on new worlds, and those worlds were now dust as well. The dark had crept slowly through the universe. The stars had slowly expired one at a time, and no new candles burned in the chill that was left behind. All that remained was the slowly evaporating black holes, singularities of intense gravities, spinning alone in the silence.

There was no true circle of things. There was no ending to a vast circle that began the universe. But there was a distinct connection between the end and the beginning. The end was just as real, just as solid. It existed in some fashion with and for the beginning. And everything between that intense, energetic start and the quiet, cool now, was also here, also now.

There was only the dark. Only now. Only himself. His sense of identity was forever coupled with being alone, being lonely. And with this growing sense of being single on this singularity, there crept into his being a monophobia. His rejection of God and his grasping of the self had led to an intense longing for truth, and then a loathing of the self. He had sat on the edge of a cold fire, and come to recognize that Hell was indeed fires and brimstone. A cold and lonely flame. The immolation he considered the stepping off into the infinite of the event horizon, was the only sense of identity he had left. Being one. Being single. He sat alone in the dark, in the cold.

He had made a choice, so very long ago. There had been a choice. He had chosen this mockery of immortality. He had gambled that living on the edge of these great energies, to be able to contemplate for what might be eternity, was preferable to joining the humanity which had progressed to the grand union promised through the ages. He had chosen to dive into this narcissistic hole, and here his nearly infinite mind contemplated how he had chosen, and what it meant.

Despite the infinite things that he might consider about the universe, about the interpretations of how it unfolded, what it became, what it might have been, what it soon will be, was the beginning which had eventually led to his own existence. The only thought he found of interest, here at the end of all things, was the thought that He had thought that began it all: “Let there be. . ."

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

What They're missing

They have built a new park in town. It’s pretty slick. Shiny bright plastic structures with slides, and ramps, and all sorts of cool things to crawl on and through and over. Everything is smooth, and soft, and rounded; there isn’t a sharp edge to be found.

Things were different when I was a kid. The slides were metal and under the summer sun they reached a temperature that could grill a steak. The areas were separated by splintering wood held in place with spikes and pipes. Swings were always attached with what may have been meat hooks. The “merry go round” was simply a spinning instrument of nausea and injury. Its main purpose was to teach children about Newton’s first law of physics: that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. It also gave the bigger kids a lot of good exercise trying to see if they could get us sick enough to throw up. The teeter totter was another tool for teaching physics, and a little bit of social dynamics. Larger kids liked to play with us on that toy. A few "gently" teasing minutes hoisted in the air, a little begging and tears, and then the drop of death.

There was a thick rope hanging from a tree 3/4 of the way up a high hill. One would grip the knot and race down the hill and then arc out into space, swinging gently over a 60 foot drop, spinning slowly to glide gently into the hillside backward where a rock or tree root would leave the bruise of courage upon one's back. Good times.

Parents saw nothing wrong with these playgrounds. In fact, as long as we stayed out of the house, they were fine with whatever we did as long as the cops didn’t show up.

My dad encouraged a little rough fun. He made his living in demolition and earth moving. So we were around a lot of buildings that were ground up and hauled to the dump.

We liked going with the truckers to the dump. Sometimes we would stay there and catch the next trip back to the job site so we could explore the detritus of modern life. Most of the demo trucks my dad used were end dumps. These were long trailers pulled by a semi. A hydraulic ram would tilt up one end of the trailer and all the debris tumbled down and out the 60 foot long slide. Sometimes, if the truck was parked on an unleveled spot, the trailer would fall over. Pretty exciting to see that six story trailer lean, waver, and then crash to the ground. The look on the driver was always memorable and we got to learn new words as well.

Our favorite load to watch dump was concrete slabs. The big pieces of concrete would slide down, striking the sides of the trailer making the top sway as much as six feet from side to side. It was cool. The best view was from the front/top. We lay on our bellies and "ooohed" and "aaaahed" high above the shifting debris. The idea of the trailer tipping over gave the experience the element of risk, making it a real adventure.

Sometimes we snuck into the load headed to the dump without the trucker knowing it. That was fun. Standing atop of the debris, arms wide, wind in hair, flying down a freeway. (I'm the king of the world!) Once a driver was ticked off enough to pull over and chew us out. He didn't like the cool clanging sound dirt clods make when they hit the signs we were passing.

Once my dad had told us three brothers to make sure no one was in the six story hotel that was being demolished. It was a little after 6:00 a.m. and the start up time was 7:00. So we explored that old hotel on Skid Row in L. A. Mike found a set of false teeth, and David a fake leg (with the straps and everything!).

We were up on the fourth floor, horsing around. We ran from room to room, knocking holes in walls, stuff like that. I was removing the vials of mercury from old light switches to add to my collection. We opened a door and was just entering a room when it disappeared.

One moment there was an old room with a smelly rug on the floor and a dresser, and the next there was dust, blue sky, and a wrecking ball swinging away, dragging bits of walls and floors with it. Old Red had started the job a little early.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. . .” We went screaming down the stairs, laughing and jumping three or four steps at a time. Lots of fun.

One of our favorite games was “Riding the Roof." Dad would move around a two or three story building with the loader, breaking the walls with the machine, leaving just the interior walls to support the structure. Then he would drop the bucket to the ground and we all jumped in. Up we’d go to the edge of the roof and scramble out onto the shingles. We’d race to the top and give him a thumb’s up.

He’d hit the eaves with the loader and snap the interior walls in one blow. We braced ourselves as the roof jerked and crushed everything underneath. It would settle down the twenty or thirty feet with a grinding, crushing growl as dust and debris squirted out the edges all around us. We’d yell and jump and laugh. Especially if a board or something suddenly speared through the roofing.

Good times. Kids today just don’t know what they are missing.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


This is something I wrote quite a while ago. So, just to keep things fresh here, I thought I'd drop it into this blog.

Lucky. Happy. Love. Rights.

What rights have we to love? The world is unhappy. Death, sorrow, true suffering: the common state of humankind.

So, what rights do we have to love?

Isn’t love selfish?

Not at first. There is that time when love, in love we say, it is so giving. Giving, receiving, self sacrificing.

And the love ages, some say matures. We turn that giving into expecting, and demanding, and hurting, and being hurt. Love becomes the “right” to bend another to our will. The glorious courtyard becomes a battlefield. What was once ours in sharing becomes ours in confrontation.

The courtyard is divided along contested lines. Each seeking to stretch their own boundaries, to claim new territory, in admonitions, “helpful suggestions,” sarcasm, and even direct confrontations. The questioning look, the patronizing smile, the subtle edge to the voice. We create a no man’s land in the space between two sleeping backs, maintaining a distance as intractable as the noxious, smoky, torn land between the lines in The Great War. And sensing the futility in the space between us, we seek the courtyard once again. It moves from courtyard to battlefield, and back again.

When we open our eyes to the changing terrain, we see the wreckage, and sometimes we strike a truce. We search separately. We search together. And together we find new ground, a new courtyard. Usually it is far smaller than the courtyard we first walked together. Usually we furnish it with what is familiar.

And so we circle, moving around the furnishings as the moods for battle or for love dictate. We make a game of staking out the lines for battle, and we make grand gestures of erasing those lines.

Perhaps the desire we have for that courtyard is more love than anything we felt before. We want a place where we can touch each other. A place that is peaceful, safe, and larger and grander than our first impetuous courtyard that was filled with wild things.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Let's Vote On It!

We were a team. And it worked like this: We did everything together. If one of us had an idea, we voted, us three boys. If it was a matter of who should try it first, we voted.

So if we were in a tree and the power line to the garage ran through the branches, we would vote on whether or not to touch it. Then we would vote on who would touch it first.

I’m the eldest, most cautious of the trio. Mike, a year younger, was the most agile and adventurous. David, the youngest, was the follower.

Usually Mike had the idea, and I often opposed it. David was the tie breaker. So I was the first to get the shock. I was the first to fly through the air on some rope we had tied to a cliff-clutching tree. I was the first to light the cannon made of cans and gasoline.

I was six and my dad was on his motorcycle climbing the hills by the lake with his friends.

It was 1962 and motorcycles weren’t designed for off road yet. The men would race toward the hill and see how far they could go. Some of them dumped the bike part way up and then slid back down. There was a growing group of men tinkering on the repairs off to one side. The grass was turning to brown streaks up the side of the hill, creating a triangular path that ended in a point about fifty feet from the top.

When the noise of the motorcycles died down and was replaced replaced with the loud talk of young men drinking beers and eating sandwiches Mike had an idea.

“Hey, let’s take this old tire and push it up the hill!”

A quick vote, a unanimous tally.

So a first grader, a kindergartner, and a preschooler were soon pushing and shoving the old tire up the dirt while laughing men watched by the road. It wasn’t a quick task, but once our trio decided to do something we could stick to it. This job took us almost a half hour.

We were in the grass way up the hill. None of the motorcycle tracks had reached this far. Below us were various cars and pickups from the forties and fifties lined up haphazardly along the paved road. A few motorcycles were scattered here and there, one or two of them surrounded by men making repairs.

That didn’t hold our attention. It was time to roll the tire!

“Wait, I’ve got an idea,” Mike said. “Somebody could ride in it!”

“I dunno,” I said cautiously. I knew I would get in trouble if one of us got hurt. (“You’re the oldest. You should be watching out for your brothers,” Mom would say.)

“Let’s vote! Should somebody roll down the hill?”

Two hands go up.

“OK, who should go? I think Will should go since he’s the oldest.”

Two hands go up.

I look at the tire. I look at the slope. I look at my dad, a distant figure that I know is going to be unhappy with me. I look at the tire. Mike is holding it up, sideways to the slope so it won’t start rolling too soon. I look back at the slope.

“Get in! It’ll be fun!”

I reluctantly squeeze in, my butt sliding into place, the edges gripping my waist.

Mike is full of advice.

“Hey David! Help me hold it! Now put your feet up higher Will so you fit tighter. Remember to keep your hands in!”

He seems to be rushing this a little.


Before I can answer he turns the tire and it begins to roll.

My head goes up and over my feet. The dry grass is framed by my brothers’ feet. My head goes down, my brothers are grinning, upside down, their heads against the blue sky. My head goes up, I’m looking at the dirt. My head goes down, I see sky. My head goes up: brown, my head goes down: blue. Up/brown, down/blue. Brown, blue, brown, blue, brown. . . it all smears together, like the finger paintings I did in kindergarten.

Vaguely I hear some shouting.

The spinning is all there is. Around and around and around and around until even that is just a smeared sensation of movement. Suddenly I don’t feel the ground at all. I’ve hit the ditch at the road’s edge and I'm air borne.

Though I’m scared, I do think this is a little cool. I’m FLYING!

WHAM! I hit the ground again, I’ve cleared the road!

The tire wobbles and falls over. I sit up and rub my elbow while I wait for everything to stop spinning.

But before they do I feel hands grip my upper arms and I’m lifted into the air. I’m turned around and I’m looking into my dad’s face. Various emotions are playing across it: fear, relief, anger, amusement, a touch of pride. Over his shoulder I can see my brothers coming down the hill.

I’m carried to the car, sideways like a sack of flour, and the rest of the afternoon I watch my dad and his friends attempting to climb that hill from my personal jail house while Mike and David go off to catch lizards.

Monday, August 22, 2005


We were all peering down the concrete lined hole. It's dark down there, and a little unsettling. I kick a rock in.

“One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand thr. . .”


We are looking inside a nuclear missile silo. The cap has been removed (it’s lying off a little ways in the desert), and so was the missile. All that is left is this concrete slab and a deep hole. Around the upper edge is a huge spring, coiled just inside the lip. The wire must be 18 inches thick. There are huge clamps holding it in place.

My dad looks at Red.

“I dunno, Red. That spring is under a lot of pressure. I don’t think we can just cut it out with the torch.”

“Ah, you’re a pussy,” Red growls. “Just cut the damn thing.”

The spring was designed to throw the steel reinforced concrete cap clear of the silo in the event of a launch. And that cap is huge. It was designed to survive anything except a direct hit from a Russian ICBM. Our job is to remove everything within twenty feet of the surface, then fill it in. The first step is to remove this huge spring.

Dad looks around for support. No one says anything.

My brothers and I are just kids and we don’t know what to say. We’re just glad to be hanging with these tough grown ups who make their living removing anything. From orange groves to towering buildings, my dad and his friends can take it apart and haul it off.

Dad runs his hand over a clamp. It reaches down around the spring with a mighty grip. It is perhaps two feet wide and ten feet long. I guess the thickness to be about six inches.

“What do you think is going to happen when those clamps come off?” Dad asks Red.

“Nuthin’! Aw, it might pop up a bit, but it ain’t gonna hurt nuthin’. Stop bein’ such a pansy and cut the G*d damn thing.”

We all shuffle our feet. I’m only 13 and it makes me uncomfortable, this tough guy telling us that we are just scared. But I trust my dad. He knows what we should do.

After a little cursing and grumbling Red makes a decision.

“Get the hell out of the way you bunch of weenies. I’ll cut the damn thing.”

He grabs the handcart with the cutting torch and drags it over to the lip of the pit. He flicks the striker over the cutting tip and squats down beside a clamp.

It takes a while, but finally he shifts his body, stands up, and kicks the clamp. It goes spinning off into the dark. One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand th. . .


He drags the torch to the next clamp.

“Bunch of G*d damn pussies, afraid of a little work. . .”

He kneels down and goes back to cutting. The smell of hot steel and burning dust floats in the air.

Soon the next clamps falls away, the giant wire quivers.

Red goes to work on the third clamp. The metal glows and drips into the pit designed to handle a greater inferno than these little red drops of steel. When there is just a couple of inches of the clamp left something amazing happens. That thick piece of steel twists. It lets out a groan and bends upward from the pressure of the giant spring. I see the wire quiver and jump a couple of inches.

The overweight grouch with the salt and paprika beard stretches and looks condescendingly at my dad.

“No big deal. If ya got balls.”

He moves to the next spring.

We watch as he begins cutting. We look at that huge coil running around that shaft in the desert. And as he gets about half way through that clamp my dad shifts uneasily. He glances at my brothers and me and jerks his head slightly toward the desert. We all step back a few feet.

Red is crouched over the clamp, puffs of smoke curling up from his work. And then everything changed.

There was some sort of grinding, twisting, metallic groaning and then a flash of movement. We look up and framed against the bright blue sky is Red. His arms and legs are spread out and he is slowly turning around and over. The tanks of gas for the cutting torch are up there too. And everywhere are huge pieces of concrete, streaking upward into the sky.

I stand there, my mouth open, watching the bits and pieces of the concrete slab recede.

I hear someone yell.


Oh. Right. This stuff is going to be coming back!

We scatter, running as fast as we can into the desert.



Big pieces of concrete start landing here and there.

“Wham. Thump! Crash!”

Finally it is just a pitter patter sound, like hail, which quickly stops.

We go back, pick up Red and haul him to the hospital in the back of the truck where he spends the next few months.

Sometimes I don’t mind being a little bit of a wussy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Best We Have Done (fiction)

The gods have a museum. It is off an alley on the east side of the river next to an industrial complex.

I was looking for pop cans along the freeway and noticed the door ajar. Squeezing past the dumpster I went in.

There was an old man sitting at a desk littered with the remains of weeks of BBQ spare ribs and empty bottles of cola. His oily hair hung over his face, but failed to hide his missing eye. There was a name plate beside the empty fried chicken bucket and a dusty framed tin type of Stonehenge:

Odin, son of Bor

“Welcome! Feel free to look around. Let me know if you have any questions.”

It had been years since I was in a museum, but since my schedule was not so pressing, I began to stroll past the exhibits.

The first display case was filled with little figurines with featureless faces, curly hair, triangular legs, and huge breasts. A label was taped to the inside of the glass:

Fertility goddesses
Kish, Mesopotamia
ca 4,800 bce

On the next table lay a glowing sword with geometric designs in its hilt and cryptic runes along its blade labeled as forged by the Roman god Vulcan.

There was a huge model of the Gardens of Babylon. I hefted the ebony oar of Charon and tried to bend the bow of Odysseus. I gazed long at terra-cotta figures of warriors sworn to the service of Emperor Chi’n Shih. An intricate calendar of the Aztecs was propped between ivory figures from Kush and a monolith of Uruk.

I wandered through the halls, gazing at treasures of cities long faded to dust, wonders of cultures now unknown, but found nothing from our own age.

“Pardon me,” I stammered to the immortal who was flipping through a trendy mail order catalogue. “Is there nothing from our age?”

“Oh certainly there is. We pride ourselves in obtaining the most important artifacts of each culture and every age. Here I’ll show you.”

He led me past crowded shelves to a small space inset into the wall.

A box stood on a shelf, an advertising poster behind it. A cartoonish man with an implausibly long mustache and dressed as a pastry chef was proudly displaying a heaping plate of pancakes.

Everlite Pancake Mix!
Always light and fluffy. Always a deee-light!

I raised an eyebrow.

Odin shrugged.

“It’s the best you have done.”

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Beaver State (fiction)

As a city engineer I spent the day supervising the dykes and levies that kept the river out of the city. The rain continued to pour, the snow pack continued to melt. Foot by foot the water rose, the smaller creeks and rivers began to flood.

From my office window I could see a beaver working on his doomed dam. The foolish creature could not see the larger picture. Though he was felling trees feverishly he would soon fail. He could abandon his home, swim up the creek to safety, but he worked until his dam, his lodge, all he had went spinning away in dark water. Still he continued to fell the trees until he was crushed and his limp form was swept away in the debris and muddy water.

That night I studied plans, and maps, and elevations of our city, designing ways to save homes and businesses. I could sacrifice Water Front Park and place concrete barriers along the avenue. The docks would be gone, but the courthouse would be safe. As I worked the ghost of the beaver swam through the walls and stood before me, dripping and laughing.

“What do you find so amusing?”


“Go away, I have work to do. I have plans to make, crews to direct, a city to save.”

“You thought I was silly, working on my home during the flood.

“You are silly,” I replied. “It was hopeless. And pointless. It was only a lodge. I am working to save a city. Museums and zoo, parks and university, I work to preserve art and industry. This is my legacy, my contribution to the building of a civilization.”

“You think your city grand, your civilization supreme. But it is no more than a lodge of sticks in a muddy creek.

“You create your own disasters. I don't know what will sweep you away, disease, overpopulation, your violent nature, your abuse of what is, but you are doomed.

“My struggle was one nature gave me, a natural wrestling match. You are battling the changes you made to the river, the loss of the forest, the caustic air over your streets, the pavement that throws the water back at you. In a few centuries your kind will be washed away by the flood of your own foolishness. Today you laughed at me while you are working on your own doomed dam. You cannot see the larger picture.”

The beaver continued to chuckle as he swam through the wall into the falling rain.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Mr. Incredible (non-fiction)


Sunday night, July 10, nearly midnight

“Are you crazy? Get off! Get off!”

I think: "Maybe I am." Just 60 seconds ago I was asleep in my bed. Now I’m hanging onto the back of a pickup truck racing down the street.

Two gang members are reaching across a bicycle in the back of the truck trying to make me let go. Fortunately the swerving truck is making it hard for them to keep their balance enough to reach me. It is also giving me every incentive to keep a firm grip. We must be going at least 40 and I don’t want to hit the pavement at this speed. Not in just a T-shirt and my Sponge Bob Square Pants boxer shorts.

We slow down a little to make a squealing right turn and I hang on, bracing my feet on the bumper, gripping the tailgate. We accelerate into the darkness.

“How am I going to get out of this?” I start gathering mental evidence for what is bound to be a very bad ending:

1. white Ford ranger, no plate, dealer decal reads “Atlas”, black vinyl bed liner.
2. bicycle: medium sized, red, with knobby tires.
3. gang member A: shorter than average, close cropped hair, hispanic, studded earring in right ear.
4. gang member B: thinner, about the same height, little younger.
5. gang member C: passenger in cab, looking out rear sliding window and. . .

The truck hits the brakes, I jump off before it completes the stop.

“Go! Go! Go! Go!” gang member A yells. The truck speeds away.

“Great,” I think, now I have to walk home six blocks in my underwear.

The truck stops again, about a half block away. Uh oh.

The bicycle lands in the street. The truck peels away.

“Cool! A ride home!”

It’s a little small for me, but I’m home within two minutes. The police haven’t arrived yet.

Brenda is on the phone.

“My husband is back!” she says into the phone, and looking at me with a mix of “are you nuts?” and maybe a touch of pride (probably just wishful thinking on my part). She gives our address.

“There must be someone hurt pretty bad out there,” she continues to the 911 operator. “. . . Thank you. . . We’ll be outside waiting for you.” Hangs up.

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say sheepishly as I put on some pants.

“What did you do that for?”

“I’m not sure. I was just waking up, and when the truck pulled away, instead of letting go, I jumped.”

We went out to the street to wait for the officers, and to see if we could find the pummeled one.

Brenda explained. “I woke up when I heard the pick up come to a stop in front of our house and then the sounds of them hitting somebody. I ran into the yard and started yelling at them to leave him alone when you came running out. I know you were thinking you were trying to protect me, but you ran right past me into the street!”

“Well I wanted to see if someone was getting hurt. I only saw those guys jumping into the back of the pickup, so I went to see if they had dragged somebody into the truck.”

“Well why did you jump onto the truck?”

“I dunno. I was holding onto the tailgate to look inside the bed and when the truck pulled away, I just jumped.”

She looks at me as if I’m nuts. Not the first such look I’ve gotten tonight.

We are in front of Bob’s house. He lives across the street and keeps an immaculate yard. A darkened figure comes around the corner, carrying what looks like a spear. (He looks very little like a Greek athlete.)

“Who is that?” I call out.

“I’m just looking for my friend. He got beat up. Angel?” he calls into the darkness.

“What’s that you’ve got?” Brenda asks, pointing at his “spear”.

She takes it away from him. It’s a metal fence post, the kind used for barb wire.

A couple of patrol cars are gliding down the street toward us, their lights off. I step into the street and wave, headlights come on, they pick up speed and pull in front of the three of us. Brenda and I step away from the gang member.

Soon the cops are searching around Bob’s house.

The drunken javelineer sits despondently by the mailboxes.

“Got any cigarettes? I’m nervous ‘cause I’m on probation.”

“No, we don’t smoke,” I say.

Brenda steps toward him shaking her finger. “Smoking isn’t good for you! And if you’re on probation then you should be home in bed.” Ah, my little mother hen.

He’s concerned about his bicycle and I tell him that it’s leaning against my garage. The policeman had said they would take care of it.

Bob turns on a floodlight in his backyard revealing Angel’s legs beneath a tarp behind the shed. He’s bleeding quite a bit from the back of his head, but refuses medical help or to press charges.

After giving a statement, I thanked them for responding so quickly.

Just as I am about to go I laugh and tell them how I was dressed on my little ride.

They get a pretty good laugh out of it. One of them says that next time I should just be a good witness and not try the super hero gig.

I go back inside and my wife is shaking her head. “You’re my Mr. Incredible,” she says. “Middle aged, over weight, and still acting like you’re 25.”

“Well, all super heroes work in their underwear.”

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Warsaw (experimental writing)

Preface: This story is a little different. I awoke from a strange dream, rushed to my computer, and tried to capture it, mood, images, "plot" and all. I'm not sure it makes sense, a psychologist might be better at answering that question. At any rate, here it is, an experiment in capturing the flotsam and jetsam of the subconscious.

The Warsaw

Strange, fun little restaurant. It was raining, and my old Italian cowboy hat was drooping around the brim, and though I had already eaten, I just had to step inside.

It was crowded. Not just with people, but the space before the cashier’s desk was tight, and the people seemed close in ways that had nothing to do with proximity.

The maitre de' asked me if I wished for a table, mentioning that today’s special was a very special Thai dish made from shell fish.

"That sounds delicious."

He was a large man, without seeming large, and he scooped me up in his arms, lifting me over the rails, and setting me at a table with an elderly couple. He took my hat and set it atop a globe of the constellations.

My glasses had gotten wet, and as I wiped them the couple smiled and nodded toward me. "An Italian cowboy. How perfect. I'm sure you are going to love this place. Everything they serve is wonderful."

The food was delicious, and the overly warm maitre d' was also the owner, a man with a sense of humor that bubbled and spread through his customers.

I was supposed to meet a friend for a movie. Someone I had known for a very long time. We had shared so many things that we were more like two halves of a single person than simply old school friends.

I stepped back into the rain, my overcoat flapping in the wet gusts, looking dramatic, and a little strange.

The Warsaw was an old hotel, a towering presence at the upper end of Broadway. It stood tall and stately, casting a dignified atmosphere over the smaller, newer buildings that surrounded it. I was to meet my friend, and his friend, there. The street was slick, and steep enough to make it too much work for casual walking. I walked with my face bent toward the sidewalk so that the hat brim sheltered my glasses from the light drizzle.

"Ah, there he is!"

I looked up, and there was my friend, looking so much like myself, and his friend, looking so much like a half remembered actor from my childhood. They were both in a very good mood.

"Come on," they cried. "Where have you been?"

They called out in laughing voices sharing some private joke that is too new for an old friend to understand.

"I'm coming."

I felt slow, old, and wanted to join in their carefree mood.

I felt wonderful. Perhaps it was the strange, friendly atmosphere of the restaurant. Perhaps it was the aftertaste of the tangy Thai food still lingering in my mouth. I felt as if the world was new and so was I.

I walked briskly, trying to be sure of my footing on the slick pavement as I followed them toward the old hotel and the movie theater within.

I was lagging behind as we strode up the street. I knew that I was not as tall as I had been moments before. And when I got in line behind them, they noticed as well.

My friend’s friend, with friendly candor, said in an amused voice that he had no idea that I was so short, and what took me so long? I smiled up at them, especially at my friend who had always been my height, but now stood a foot taller. He looked back at me, his beard as shiny black as mine had once been. I reached up to cover my smile and run my fingers through a beard that was now more salt than pepper.

"You can’t shake me as easy as that,” I joked. “Let’s go in."

I hung back a little, so this newest member of our group felt a little social pressure to pay for the tickets. I hung back a little to let the grandeur of The Warsaw sink in.

It is an old hotel. Made when elegance was an important thing, something to be crafted, and appreciated, from a time before money became dear, and was now returning to that time, trying to capitalize on a nostalgia we felt for things we never had.

The lobby was all greys and blues, the carpets and marble on the walls seemed to fit closely to a modern age when chrome and dark colors are sheik. But the decor changed as we moved past the theater. As we I swept up the stairs, the grand style of the old building wrapped itself around us. I sensed in the elegant lines of the staircase, felt rather than saw the large oil landscapes in ornate frames, I basked in the swirling deep oranges of the marble.

The landings held oval tables, offering cut vegetables and dips, furniture and treats that seemed a little out of place. There wasn't room for two to pass.

The mood was grand, as grand as the hotel.

I watched my friend, becoming comfortable with the strange resemblance we shared. I already knew what we were.

My friend and his friend had begun to see the similarity our faces shared.

My face held the lines of age, his was smooth, innocent. We were the same, yet a difference of time and experience lay within us, and it wrought startling changes to our bodies and thoughts. We were twins, clones, a single individual clove by three decades of mortal experience.

We looked the same because we were the same. The differences in height, in the color of our hair, the wrinkles of our face, came not from different backgrounds, different genetics. We were the same.

We fled the Warsaw, my friend and I. Staggering, rushing down the street away from the old hotel, glancing in horror behind us. I was not as fearful as my friend. This was all much newer to him than to myself. He was shorter now, as was I. I had also shrunk another six inches. I knew the process we were undergoing, but he was frightened. I had gotten used to the idea. True, this was a bizarre twist to what had already been happening, what I had come to be comfortable with.

For our new friend gained twice over all that we lost. He stalked behind us, a 12 foot tall figure staggering behind us on grotesquely long stilt-like legs, his long tan trench coat flapping around him, his floppy hat perched so far above, his friendly, innocent smile, as the rain slowly misted over us. We fled down the glistening sidewalks, a surreal trio. We led, he followed. We with the height we had not known since junior high school, and he with twice what we had lost.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Smell (fiction)

The smell stopped him on the busy downtown sidewalk. A man who’d been following too close bumped into him, and muttering something unclear and unkind, brusquely pushed past. The steady flow of pedestrians parted around him, a sweaty flood around a sudden obstruction.

It was a sweet smell, medicinal, somehow reassuring. Something from long ago, a time when things were simple, when the world was black and white, and everything was clear. Love, hate. Right, wrong.

He turned and sniffed. A few steps back the way he had come was an old hardware store. The battered outer door was open, the smell was stronger. A screen door kept the flies at bay, a tin sign displayed an impish yellow-haired boy, wearing a soda bottle cap and waving customers in:

Switch to Squirt!
Never an Afterthirst!

Hours: 7:00 - 6:00

Drink Squirt!

He stepped in. It was cool, dark, and musty. The old wood floor was worn, nail heads crowned tiny wooden peaks, like little rows of volcanoes in an ocean of rippling grey wood, marking the beams that had supported thousands of customers, salesmen, and loiterers for nearly a century.

The walls were covered with tools and farm implements. The smell was stronger. It had something to do with animals, from a time when he was little.

The roof was high and dark, hidden beyond dusty trusses, past the glare of tin-hooded lamps that shone through ancient webs, garden hoses, long pieces of molding, scythes, railroad lanterns, and scores of other half-remembered things.

“Can I help ya son?”

“Oh. Uh, yeah. I mean, I don’t know. I’m just looking.”

Why was he in here? He had a job to get to. He was an important man. An editor for the metro section of the largest newspaper in the region. And here he stood, in some ancient store following his nose when he should be worrying about inept employees, column space to fill, and ever-present deadlines.

Embarrassed, he tried to look like he had a purpose for being here. He strode toward the back of the store so he wouldn’t feel the pressure of the eyes of the old man. He squeezed past a trash can restraining the leaning rakes grasping at his expensive suit, past bins of nails, nuts, bolts, hinges, and found himself staring at shelves in the back of the store.

There was a pail on a lower shelf, a regular tin pail, except it had a nipple like a cow’s udder at its base, and the smell was suddenly strong. On the farm of his early childhood his father had a cow, and when it calved they milked her and the calf was fed from a pail like this one. Dad had put something in the pail, some mixture of dehydrated milk with vitamins and medicines to help the calf survive. This smell drifted from a sack on a shelf above the pail.

“This is silly,” he muttered.

Still, he could not leave yet.

His father had been a good man. At least it seemed he was. He could not really remember. Dad had left when he was just eight. He had never known why. There was a silence around the event. The adults would stop talking when he came into the room, and when his questions had come close to asking where his father was, the talk had quickly drifted somewhere else.

The stack of bags rose to just above his eyes, and he reached to stand the top one up so he could read the label. It was only a twenty-five pound sack, but he found it surprisingly hard to lift with one hand. He put his immaculate leather briefcase carefully down.

His father had handled such things easily. He had held such bags with one hand while the other had torn the corners. At the time it was part of what adults did, giants did.

He now realized his father had been a young man, probably half the age of this portly and greying figure trying to mimic the careless ease of handling such things. Perhaps his age was showing in more than the paunchy belly that was gradually descending toward his belt. He had been too long behind a desk.

With both hands he sat the bag up. An Indian maid seductively offered a box of butter, and a green, blue, and yellow border framed a picture of a calf:

Land O Lakes

Milk and Glymaxene
Calf Milk Replacer

25 Pounds

The cloying aroma filled his nostrils. He set the bag back down and looked at the fine white dust on his hands. He worried for a moment about getting his suit dirty.

There was a time when this stuff seemed pure magic, clean, mysterious. This was the miracle-working concoction his father used to turn a scrawny, moaning calf into a healthy animal frolicing in the field.

He picked up his briefcase and turned to go, but the smell held him, the way his father had held him a long time ago. The gentle pressure of the scent reassured him, told him he belonged. Suddenly it didn’t matter if his suit got dusty.

Impulsively he picked up the sack with his left hand, which was after all just as strong as his father’s had been, and swung the dusty sack atop his shoulder. He grabbed the pail, which banged against his briefcase, scratching the leather, and strode to the old man at the counter.

“Didja find everthin’ ya wanted?” The grey eyes twinkled in the wrinkled face, not at the incongruity of purchase and customer, but in a friendly private way filled with understanding.

“Yeah, this is it.” He had no idea why he was doing this.

“The calf milk is $28.99, and the nursing pail is $9.49. Your total is $38.48.”

He pulled out his wallet and fished out a credit card, not caring how he would justify this on his expense account.

Click, CLACK. The old man ran the card through an old fashioned credit card imprinter, filled out the information, and slid it across the plate glass counter top for his signature, not asking for ID.

The businessman signed it, hefted the sack back up to his shoulder, and gripped the pail and briefcase with the other hand.

He sauntered through the door like a young man. Rejoining the throng on the sidewalk he turned left toward his office.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Paternal Instincts (non-fiction w. inserts)

The large dusty boulders are circled with dry, tall weeds. The leopard crawls over them, dropping into the tiny den. He emerges a moment later with a cub he has killed. Three more times he slides between the speckled grey rocks, killing the litter. A year later four new cubs are four months old. He watches as his cubs clamber and play on the rocks.

When we moved away I missed him. I dreamt he and I shared a bath. He was washing my hair and laughing. It felt so good to be close to him. His loving eyes were set in a strangely red face, which was framed with a goatee and horns. His barbed tail waved in the background before the doorway to the screened-in balcony were we slept one summer night as a family, overlooking the yard where my brothers and I were cowboys and Indians, pirates, and Tarzan.

He was a powerful man. Strong, quick, and he knew so much. He smelled of diesel, grease, grain, and sweat. He was a mysterious giant, a god, and they told me I looked so much like him. I leaned in doorways with my arms folded the way he did, and tried to swagger. And I tried to be powerful, strong, and quick.

I couldn’t do anything right. Not for him. I poured too much oil in the truck. I couldn’t pick up a hubcap stuck in a pile of dirt with the track loader racing over it at full throttle. I couldn’t even find a date (“I think the kid’s a fucking homosexual!”). I couldn’t even pick up sticks and debris right (“Get back to work! I want to see nothing but assholes and elbows!”).

The stag, protecting his harem from predators, hunters, winter, and other males, begins the process again. The cows have foaled, and the young scamper and play in hidden meadows. The young males tussle and play that will lead to real contests of strength in the fall. Some will push others out, but in the end, at least this year, all the young bulls will lose. Their patriarch will push them out, protecting his herd from within as well as from without.

My father loved me. I think he was just disappointed. I read too much for him. Or talked too much. Or thought too much. Perhaps the first-born should be different. Mike was agile enough, mechanical enough, more libido-driven.

In our teens Dad did share a dream of his with us, and so we built, Dad and us three boys, the Gxxxxxxxf Ranch. Too bad we lost it to Mom and my stepfather for back child support.

There were a couple of strange incidents after we moved under his roof. Once, in San Clemente, an old tall house was coming down so that a new tall house could stand on long stilt-like toes on the cliff’s edge, to better peer at the crashing surf below.

Mike and I played with the fire hoses to keep cool while my dad mixed screwdrivers. I was taking a nap when a shaft of water from the three inch line woke me, pushed me, and finally knocked me off my feet. We laughed and I plotted revenge.

After lunch Dad started the loader and yelled for us to grab the bucket. Mike and I jumped to catch the edge of the dinosaur-like machine, its neck stretched out level, its jaws closed. It raised up; our bodies swung against its cool metal chin while the ground dropped away. I had grabbed the sharp cutting edge and shifted quickly to a rounded metal tooth. Gently the bucket rolled downward until we could see him at the controls, laughing, cheering us for our strength.

The machine clanked slowly forward; he was watching us carefully to see if we were weakening. He looked proud of us. We watched the ground roll beneath our feet, then the rocky cliff edge, the vertical slope embracing open space, and the surf forty feet below. Under us sea gulls were dancing on foaming water.

He was smiling. Mike and I glanced at each other. This was hard!

Slowly the bucket tipped forward, its front edge lowering to dump. The bucket’s interior turned from a shelf to a downward slope. When the level was greater than 45 degrees dirt slid out, dusting Mike and me as we clung to the metal teeth of the steel-jawed monster. Dad was no longer smiling.

There was a quick up and down shake; we held on. Neither Mike nor I yelled. Abruptly the bucket tipped back up, and the mechanical dragon retreated to the pile of crushed house waiting for the truck to return from the dump.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Emissary (fiction)

The envoy stepped away from the trees and waited for the native. This act of bravery would be long remembered, whatever the outcome.

First contact is a tricky proposition. It must be done just right. During the twelve millennia of the modern galactic culture there had been great wars raging across the stars because of mishandled first contacts. Religion, xenophobia, economics, and technology are all reasons for one species to war upon another, and the moment when a young race sees that it is but one of many is a moment when anything might happen.

So the council debated on how to best approach the new race emerging into space. And it was finally decided, with much contention, to send a member of the noblest species of the Galactic Confederation. The Ecnoubs were small and therefore non threatening. They were ancient, both as a species and as individuals, and this age provided them with a great deal of wisdom, and respect. And they were beautiful. Their alcohol-based blood was colorless, giving their thin, rectangular and slightly crumpled bodies a translucent, shimmering, pearl-like appearance.

From this graceful and powerful people the United Galactic Council selected an important individual as ambassador, Ynwod. His shimmering beauty proclaimed to all that he was of royal blood, a prince of an ancient house. The crisscrossing creases of his body proclaimed his rank, caste, and family, a clear statement of the honor being bestowed upon this new people.

Ynwod had a versatile tongue and spoke several thousand Union languages. He had already prepared himself by learning six major languages of this world. He was courageous, and would go naked and alone to greet this new species. The envoy stepped away from the ship and fluttered past the “trees” to wait for the native.

The starship, and its pilot, Yenned, waited at the edge of the complex, a "farm." The native, a "farmer." A raiser of food. Each morning he tended his animals, and was certain to be alone. A perfect time for this meeting.

The ambassador of the Union waited near a "barn" a cavernous structure that held animals and their food. Ynwod sweated in the heat, alcohol fumes slowly rising from his body. He came from a world far colder than this "winter"-chilled place. Earth is too warm for a creature with alcohol-filled veins. Moments ago he had discovered with horror some of the dangers of this environment. While circling the barn, he had to pass a pile of feces, one and a half meters high, radiating deadly heat.

The envoy lifted his front plane to straighten up, and crinkled his mid section to communicate non-aggression. Though his sponge-like body had shriveled in the planets warmth (he was now a mere centimeter in thickness), he still retained his overall rectangular shape, and softly glowed a pearlescent white. If he could have fully straightened in this heat, he would have stood nearly a half-meter tall. But crumpled and bent over in the middle, swaying in the warm, just-above-freezing breeze, he posed no threat to a nearly two meter Earther.

The Earthman emerged from his "house." He lumbered along the ground, staggering from one foot to another (bipeds move so strangely!). He carried buckets, and from one he spilled liquid water, so warm it was free of ice, and even steamed a little.

These moments, when galactic culture grasps a new hand reaching for the stars, are epic. Often these encounters are revered by the young race, and become the sources for much drama, pageantry, and sometimes religions. Knowing his role in history Ynwod straightened as much as possible.

With great dignity the envoy stepped into the open and gently swayed his flat body back and forth in the universal gesture of goodwill. With the grace royalty Ecnuob bent over, and let the breeze blow him softly toward first contact.

The Earthmen strode by, actually stepping on a corner of the envoy, and opened a door to a cage containing animals. In a thundering voice the giant spoke. It was loud, and Ynwod had difficulty understanding. Perhaps it was a greeting? Something about the weather?

"So how are you guys this morning?" Mel joked with the rabbits. "Cold enough for you? I see your water is frozen." He opened cage doors, pulled ice off water dishes, and poured in warm water. He put green food pellets and a carrot in each tray, and locked the cage doors.

"Who's got eggs?" Cold hands prompted annoyed, sleepy clucks, while five fresh eggs went into a bag. Food and water quickly appeared, the door shut. Mel turns to the bleating sheep pen, thinking about hot coffee.

Ynwod rolled gently before the barn door, and flattened himself as much as he could. He knew he was beautiful. He hoped he was not intimidating. With his soft, crackling voice, he spoke.

"Fellow sentient! I welcome your kind to the stars!"

"Well, there you go," he said to the animals. The farmer held the bag of eggs in one hand as he shut the door, and snatched up a sheet of paper on his way back to the house. The paper felt a little weird, spongy, like a large sheet of that fabric softener his wife used in the dryer; it twisted and clung to his hand in the morning breeze.

The living room had grown cold through the night, the wood stove had nearly died out, and Mel turned to coax a morning fire out of it. He opened the metal door and checked the small bed of glowing coals. He tossed in the clinging paper, a few slivers of kindling, a small piece of wood, and blew gently. The paper crinkled loudly and erupted in a beautiful blue flame.
Counter placed June 29, 2005