Yesterday

Steam from the pot filled my flaring nostrils and delivered the odor of burnt coffee straight to my brain.  Even by the low culinary standards of the convenience store industry, this java was long overdue to be changed.  Perhaps the only things older than the coffee were the ancient hot dogs, infinitely spinning on that weird roller thing and waiting for the End of Days in hopes that they may be reborn as a higher form of sausage, like a bratwurst.  It was food far past its prime, to be sure, but if one paid attention to the smells that permeated the atmosphere of the store, one could adjust their expectations accordingly.

I poured the burnt coffee into my cup, which was actually a small vase I had grabbed on my way out of my house that morning.  An empty vessel I brought in with me meant it was a refill and would keep me from getting charged for a new cup.  It was the most thought out thing I’d managed to do in what felt like an eternity.

The haze and fog that occupied my head were cut by the burnt coffee smell and a glimpse of the coherent world was let in.  Wheels started turning as I began to try to get a handle on everything when I turned around and almost ran into an old woman standing directly behind me.

Witchy Woman copyShe was a haggard-looking homeless woman I had seen around town, mostly in alleys behind businesses, rummaging through dumpsters and trashcans.  Under a wrap that was
somewhere between a blanket and a shawl, she wore a ragged dress and mismatched shoes: an engineer boot on the left foot and a cowboy boot whose ostrich skin hide looked almost as tough as her own on the right.  Her hair was silver and wiry and hung over large sections of her face, obscuring the left side almost completely.  An unfiltered cigarette in a long holder stuck out the right side of her mouth, clenched in the few teeth she possessed.  A trail of smoke rolling off the end of the cigarette kept her head enveloped in a halo of toxic haze.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you there,” I apologized, still jarred and fighting to make sense of things.  “Where did you come from?”

“I’ve always been here,” she replied calmly. She exhaled smoke forcefully through her nostrils, reminiscent of a bull keeping a matador at bay.

“Always?” I asked.

“Not literally always,” she replied.

“Since when?”

“Since I’ve had to be.”

I pondered her answer for a time.  My head already cloudy, her cryptic answers were not helping matters…at first.  Then the clouds parted.  It was as though the two confusing elements worked in concert to achieve clarity, like two negative numbers multiplying to become a positive.Late

“What day is it?” I blurted out.

“It’s yesterday,” she replied, still calm.

“Oh, shit!” I said. “Shit, I’m so late!”

“Late for what?” the woman asked.

“I was supposed to have a doctor’s appointment three days ago…which, I guess, is just two days ago now…right?  Anyway, I missed it!  I missed it, and I needed to go!”

“Calm yourself, Phil,” she said, taking a step toward me.  “You made it.”

“I made what?”

“You made it to your appointment.”

“I did?”

“You did,” she replied.  “You made it to your appointment, answered all the doctor’s questions, and she prescribed some anti-everything drugs for you, which you promptly started taking.”

“I’m on drugs?” I asked.

“You’re on medication,” she said.  “It’s still settling in.”

“How do you know all this?” I asked.

“I have a gift,” she said, reaching up to the hair that hung in her face. “I know what has already happened.”

She pulled her hair back and revealed her left eye to me.  It was completely white with a jagged scar that ran down the length of her face.  It stared at me with no emotion, yet it wasn’t lifeless.

Has Happened Eye copy

“I can see,” she continued in a raspy, overly dramatic whisper. “The past!”

“The prophecies were right,” I said, referring to the calendar full of appointments on my phone.  “But what do I do now?  I’m stuck in yesterday.  I don’t even know how I got here!  I want to go back.  I need to get back.  I need to get back to today.”

“Let the medicine help you, but don’t let it take your present away,” she said.  “Leave the bean alone and sleep today.  Sleep the sleep of a thousand lazy hound dogs and when you wake, you will find tomorrow and know it as Today.”

I stared at her.

Sleep!” she shouted.

My hand opened and the vase full of coffee dropped to the chipped tile of the floor, landing in an explosion of black coffee and microscopic shards of glass.  I followed the vase to the floor, dropping out of conscious instantaneously and sleeping as a thousand hound dogs would.

I woke up in my bed.  I had no idea how I got there, and I really didn’t care.  The events of my trip to the store were crystal clear in my head.  I had done the thing prescribed by the chain-smoking homeless woman and gotten sleep.  I sat up and found my phone on the nightstand to check the date.

Thank the gods, I thought, it’s today.  It won’t be yesterday until tomorrow.  The Natural Order has been restored.

I took my medicine and walked out of the bedroom.  Patsy was in the kitchen and had just brewed a pot coffee.  Perfect.  It wasn’t burned or anything.  It was good to be back in today.

Patsy filled me in on the rest of the events that occurred after my witchcraft-induced narcolepsy had taken hold.  Apparently, she had picked me up at the store after they had called her to tell her I collapsed and had been babbling in my sleep about “homeless tomorrow hounds”.  She had spoken to my doctor, who had set her mind at ease about side effects and the fact that they would pass.

Patsy told me all this as she searched cupboards and ended her story by asking me if I knew where a certain vase was.  I told her “no” and then proceeded to tell her of the events (sans vase) that preceded the ones she had just told me of.  She listened patiently and nodded, punctuating her reactions from time to time with “uh-huh” and “really” to let me know she was on board with the story.  Truth be told, I could tell she was skeptical about everything, up to (and including) the vase I was lying about. Patsy TRex copy

She doesn’t believe me, I thought, but that’s okay.  She hasn’t really been herself lately.  Maybe I’ll talk to her about this again someday, when she doesn’t have the head and arms of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

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The King and I

Poetry SlamI’m not sure who recognized a demand for a hipster coffee shop in a town full of geriatric
tourists, but somewhere along the way, someone in Cape Coral, Florida did just that.

The Brew-Haha was established to fill a perceived need to service a demographic that barely existed in “The Cape”. It was located in a retail plaza, sandwiched between Sensei Travis’ High Flying Kicks of Fury Dojo and Sonny’s, a corporate-owned, outlaw biker-themed bar and grill. The resulting communal parking lot hoarded a mix of mini-vans, Harleys, electric cars, and fixed-gear bicycles. With diverse groups of white people living and socializing in harmony, it truly was a marvelous display of the melting pot that is Cape Coral.

One Wednesday evening, I journeyed to The Brew-Haha for their open mic night. I would be performing a spoken word piece I’d written about warlocks and breakfast cereal while my friend, Stella, accompanied me on the bongos. Due to the fact that I was over-caffeinated and Stella had shown up high, we had a hard time syncing up our rhythms. Eventually, about halfway through, we managed to find something resembling a mutual tempo.

Our performance ended, garnering confused and courteous applause from scattered sections of the audience.  The rest of the crowd let us know, in no uncertain terms, that they thought we sucked. At best, I considered this a mixed reaction, but Stella convinced me to focus on the positive. We agreed to call it a win and headed outside for a victory smoke.

Stella and I leaned on a police cruiser we found parked in the lot, passing a joint back and forth. She told me my piece was fantastic and I told her that she’d kept perfect time on the drums. We were both lying, and we both knew it, but it was well-intentioned bullshit between friends. We took it for what it was worth.

Stella got a call and told me she’d have to go run down a story lead. Journalists are like that. They’ll happily show up to have a drink, smoke your weed, and play bongos for you, but as soon as they’re done with that, they’re out the door and chasing stories again. She took one last toke and offered it back to me but I told her to keep it for the road. She thanked me, hugged me, and wandered off to find her car.

I went back inside to watch the rest of the evening’s performers. The evening included a hypnotist who couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t put coffee drinkers into a sleepy trance, a mime with Tourette ’s syndrome, and a comedian who failed to recognize that “edgy” was not necessarily the same thing as “funny”.

The roster of performers built to a crescendo that immediately came crashing down with the performance of a haggard-looking Elvis impersonator whose act resembled more of an LSD-inspired nightmare than the ’68 Comeback Special. His jumpsuit was a couple sizes too small and his karate kicks were executed in a way that made one think he was trying to keep from shitting his pants. He waddled across the stage for three songs before leaving the stage due to lack of demand for an encore.

He walked his awkward walk through the maze of tables. When he got next to mine, I told him that I’d seen classier tributes to the King on black velvet.

“What did you say, man?” he said, stopping short. His voice was still trying to channel Presley, but sounded more like Nicolas Cage trying to talk while eating s’mores.

“I said your performance was terrible enough to make the earth open itself and swallow Graceland into the depths of hell to spare it from being on the same plane of existence as you.”

“Elvis” flew into something resembling a fit of rage and struck a karate pose. I couldn’t tell if he was staying in character or if he was an actual disciple of Sensei Travis. Almost immediately, a hand from behind him gently grabbed hold of his shoulder. Elvis was coaxed aside by someone standing behind him who referred to him as “E”. As the false King (kind of a usurper, if you ask me) waddled aside, the man behind him was revealed to be dressed as Colonel Tom, instantly changing my opinion of the entire act. Clearly, this was the most ingenious Elvis impersonation of all time.

Elvis, the Colonel, and Me copy

I had to tell them. I needed to erase the insult I’d thrown out that still hung heavy in the air, but before I could even open my mouth to deliver the apologetic compliment, Colonel Parker’s right fist crashed into it. I fell to the floor as everything faded to black and the sound of cappuccino machines and shouting baristas drifted away. The last thing to cut through the blackness was the scattered glints of light reflecting off the King’s rhinestone jumpsuit.

I found myself on the sidewalk in front of the coffee house some time later. No one seemed bothered by the fact that I was lying on the pavement, which means I’d been there long enough to become a fixture. I was like a town square statue of a local hero no one remembers. I was a monument to bad judgment.
White Trash Monocle copyI rose to my feet, assessing the damage as I went. Everything was sore, but that wasn’t really out of the ordinary. My left eye was swollen shut and the eyeglass lens that had been in front of it was gone, presumably smashed into dust by Colonel Parker.

 

I looked across the street from the plaza I stood in and saw a structure full of fluorescent lights. I squinted through my remaining lens and realized it was a laundromat, a sad little building full of people whose only common ground is that they wished they’d leased an apartment with washer and dryer hookups. I knew this because it was my laundromat back when I had an apartment without washer and dryer hookups. I thought about what I knew about the laundromat as I reached into my pocket to make sure the Colonel hadn’t cleaned me out of my pocket change. It was still there, so I sighed and started across the street like a moth to a depressing flame. On my way across the street, I popped the remaining lens of my glasses out of its warped and mangled wire frame and placed it over my relatively good eye.

 

I walked into the laundromat, struggling to count all the loose change in my pocket through the fingerprint-smudged lens of my white trash monocle. I made my way through a maze of washers, dryers, and industrial fans whose monotonous hum drowned out whatever blather came from the wall-mounted TV nobody was watching. Under a flickering fluorescent light in the back of the room, next to a pay phone whose receiver had long since been removed in a presumed fit of anger, I found the most storied vending machine in the state of Florida. I couldn’t believe it was still there, but I was glad it was. I started feeding it coins until a 32-ounce can of malt liquor dropped into the receptacle at the bottom of the machine.

 

I walked out to the sidewalk and sat on the curb, as is customary when drinking malt liquor on the street. I took a big swig of the lukewarm beer, set the generic-looking can down, and took a look at the plaza. Who would’ve thought there’d be an ass-kicking at a coffee shop? This was a hipster paradise flanked by two places whose very images were built on the premise of violence: A dojo pretending to teach Eastern philosophy through the practice of what Sensei Travis labeled “The Nine Principles of Ass-Whoopery”, and a bar catering to bankers, lawyers, and salesmen who wanted to demonstrate that they had a rugged outlaw individuality by dressing exactly like other bankers, lawyers, and salesmen who wanted to demonstrate that they had a rugged outlaw individuality.

Corporate Bikers copy

“I didn’t think I’d ever have my ass kicked at a coffee shop,” I said to myself.

I guess that settles it: You can provoke violence anywhere.

I looked around and saw no one… until I reached for my beer and saw that it was looking at me. In an abstract kind of way, the oversized aluminum can had a sort of face on it that was formed out of tiny dents, crinkles, and imperfections in the aluminum that mixed with my swollen and damaged brain.

I asked if it had said anything.  It answered me:

I said that violence can come from anywhere, especially if it’s provoked.

“I didn’t provoke anything,” I replied, “I simply expressed an opinion.”

You didn’t express an opinion, you bludgeoned him over the head with it… metaphorically, or course.  Literal violence was handled by the Colonel.  Opinions have consequences… especially when presented without tact.

“Are you saying I don’t have tact?”

Do I really need to tell you that?

“You weren’t even there, man. Colonel Parker hit me without saying a word.  Was that tactful?  Not even close.  At different times in my life, and by different people, I have been called everything from a monosyllabic simpleton to an elitist douchebag. Taking into account context, tone, and source, it’s tough to say which one I am ultimately more offended by.”

What’s your point?

“My point is that a variety of people find me disagreeable for a variety of reasons. Still, in all of those disagreements, with all of those different kinds of people, being beaten up without a word is an extreme response.”

I’m not saying that Colonel Tom Parker’s response was right. It wasn’t. It was a reaction to negativity. Maybe all the negative reactions, from being beaten up at a coffee house open mic, to being called a monosyllabic douchebag—

“Simpleton… douchebag gets attached to elitist.”

Fine. My point is that your chances of these reactions lessen if you lessen the amount of negativity you put out in the world. Be nicer and maybe you won’t get your ass brutally kicked next time.

“I think the word ‘brutally’ is a bit… brutal.”

Why don’t you tell me that when your eye isn’t swollen shut and you aren’t experiencing concussion-induced visions of talking beer cans?

“Wait… You know you’re a hallucination?”

Of course I do. The fact that you asked that question means that you know it too.

“That means your advice is fake too,” I said, relieved. “Looks like I don’t have to be positive after all.”

Wait, that’s not the point. This conversation means you already know these things. Think about it, I exist in your brain. You know everything I’m telling you!

“Nope. Fake.”

Please don’t call me fake, I find it offensive. I’m real, I just don’t exist in the phys–

I picked up the sentient container and shot-gunned the rest of the rapidly warming, certainly past the “best by” date, malt liquor before tossing the can into a nearby trashcan as I rose to my feet. I walked away, but could hear the can’s weakening voice echoing off the interior walls of the trash receptacle as it begged me to reconsider its advice. The voice of hallucinatory reason faded as I walked down the street, trying to remember in which direction I needed to travel to get to the hospital.

Curb Drinking

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Drinking Alone With a Friend

Jukebox-ink

Certain places are just made for day-drinking.  Typically, they’re seedy little holes in ancient, weather-beaten structures whose insides reek of cigarette smoke, stale beer, and defeat.  Windows are minimal, or altogether non-existent, architectural features which allows for the time of day in the outside world to remain ambiguous. Hints of it streak through a glass door in desperate beams of sunlight, only to be swallowed by clouds of blue-gray smoke and absorbed into the atmosphere of said hole.  In Cape Coral, Florida, that hole is Rooster’s Lounge.

Rooster’s is a single story building whose cinder block structure has taken beatings from hurricanes, tropical depressions, occasional bullets, and intoxicated drivers slamming their high-mileage, DUI-prone monstrosities into their home away from home as they fail to make the distinction between “Reverse” and “Drive” upon leaving their parking spaces.

It was a Monday afternoon. I was a little more than a couple hours and a few beers into a lunch break in an establishment that did not serve food.  My feet were planted in front of the jukebox I leaned on while I searched for the perfect soundtrack to an afternoon buzz.

The song couldn’t be too sad, for there was just too much of the day left to set the tone for full-fledged depression. It also couldn’t be too upbeat; the floor of Rooster’s, littered with dozens of shattered dreams in the form of discarded scratch-off tickets, indicated this was no place for happiness.  My browsing slowed when I saw albums filled with the blue-collar righteousness of Springsteen and the optimistic social consciousness of Dylan.  These were closer to my taste, but still didn’t speak perfectly to me.  I needed music for the lazy, apathetic thirty-something.  Sing me the song of my people, jukebox.

“You got any Prine on this thing?”  I shouted over my shoulder to the girl behind the bar.

She was the perfect age for day drinking, a tough activity to do with any sort of grace after age 24. She had opted instead to take on the responsibility of having a job enabling those of us with less impulse control despite the fact we had passed that benchmark age of acceptable irresponsibility more than a decade ago.

“What’s a Prine?” she asked, answering my question with a question, never looking up from her phone.

I sighed heavily and shed a tear for the millennials.  Fuck it, Allman Brothers it is.

I spent the next few minutes selecting songs, punching numbers on the keypad, and draining my mug of beer.  As the sound of a Hammond organ and bottleneck slide guitar filled the room I took a few uneven steps toward the bar, set my mug upon the warped wood surface, and slid it toward the rail.

For a brief moment, sunlight flooded the room. It drowned out any existing light, which up to that point, had consisted only of neon beer signs, a flickering fluorescent above the pool table, and a couple strands of white Christmas lights strung lazily around the bar.  The bombardment of Vitamin-D signaled that someone had entered the bar from the outside world we were all desperately trying to forget existed.

As the sunspots began to vanish, I realized that whoever had just come in had sat down beside me despite a dozen other empty stools populating the bar.  A familiar voice ordered a beer and my slow-to-focus eyes saw that the person with the least regard to my personal space was the one who understood my need for it more than anyone.  The newcomer was me.

He was aged, slightly leaner, and free of the goatee I wore on my chin, opting for a stand-alone silver mustache instead.  He wore dark glasses and had a smooth bald head, free of gray stubble.  A stranger might have likened him to an emaciated D.B. Cooper, but despite these few slight shifts in features, there was no mistaking my own face.

My refilled mug returned to me at the same time a beer was set down in front of him.  We reached for them simultaneously, which is when I noticed the biggest difference between him and I. Instead of arms, my doppelganger had scrawny tentacles coming out of his shirtsleeves.  They were bluish-green with an off-white underside, filled with dozens of tiny suction disks.  The familiar stranger sipped his beer, unafraid of anyone noticing and remarking on his strange limbs.  He seemed to understand that the few sad patrons scattered around the barroom were so wrapped up in their own drinking, slot machine gambling, and bullshit story telling that they would likely never even notice anyone else’s deformities or freak show tendencies.The Regulars“Hello, Phil,” he said, turning to me.  “Yes, I am.”

“Yes you are what?” I asked.

“You,” he said.

“I wasn’t asking.”

“But you were thinking it.”

“No, I wasn’t.”

For some reason, I felt compelled to play it cool and pretend that seeing a copy of myself with tentacles was not blowing my mind blown.  Play it cool, Phil. Act like, you know, this kind of thing happens to you all the time.

“You were.  I know you were, and I know because I distinctly remember having the thought.  I am you,” said the stranger who apparently wasn’t a stranger.  “I’m you from the future.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but stopped myself.  I turned my attention to my beer and he did the same.  We drank in tense silence for a few minutes, letting our brief exchange hang in the air like a fart in an elevator.

“You’re me,” I said, once I’d downed my beer.

The flood of alcohol was working to kill enough brain cells to slow my mind’s spinning to a manageable rate.

“Yes,” he responded.

“From the future.”

“Yes.”

“And you remember this?”

“Yes.  I remember this conversation, how it affects you, and what happens next… and no, I can’t tell you.”

 

Once and Future Phil copy

I took a moment to digest this, causing an awkward pause in the conversation that coincided with an awkward pause in the music as the jukebox switched to the next song I’d paid for.  The seconds void of music felt awkward and I struggled for a joke to fill the silence.

“Can I call you Phuture Phil?”

I laughed at the joke far more than it deserved before realizing that it only made sense on paper and in my brain.

“That’s very clever,” he said.

I asked him if he remembered making that joke now that I’d said it out loud.  He told me that he did and that he remembered regretting it almost immediately.  I stared at the bar vacantly.  Yeah…

Future Me drained his mug and set it on the bar.  I pushed mine forward and motioned to the millennial barkeep for a refill.

“Does your dad want one too?” she asked.  I stifled a laugh and told her yes, but Future Me quickly amended his order to a boilermaker before crossing his tentacles and pouting.  Only after drinks were set in front of us and she had walked away did he speak again.

“I’m not that old,” he said.

“Let it go, man,” I told him.  “She’s young as hell.  Anyone over thirty looks old as dirt to her.”

“Let it go?  You are telling me to let it go?  When’s the last time you let anything go?”

“I’m gonna guess it’s the last time you let something go too,” I responded. Clearly my propensity for holding grudges would get no less powerful as I aged.

“Five years,” he said after a minute.

“Five years, what?”

“I’m only five years older than you.  I’m from five years in the future,” he said, clearly irritated.

“Are you serious?  You look so much older!”

He turned to me angrily and raised his voice:  “Well it’s your fault!  It’s the middle of a Monday and you’re in a bar!  Did you expect to do that and age gracefully?”

“You know,” I said, “you’re in a bar in the middle of the day too.”  He did look older than five years my senior, and yes, it was likely my fault, but it was his fault too… right?

Future Me sat and sulked for a few minutes before picking up his shot of whiskey with a tiny sucker at the end of his right tentacle.  It was almost as though it had been grown specifically for the purpose of lifting a shot glass off a bar.  He held it over his mug of beer and the glass dropped into the mug, sloshing beer and foam over the rim.  He picked up the concoction and poured it into his head with one giant gulp before slamming the empty mug on the bar, rattling the empty shot glass still inside it.  Yes.  It was definitely also his fault.

“Funny you should mention my tentacles,” he said, shifting the conversation by responding to a question I hadn’t yet asked.

“You know,” I said, “if you’re going to carry on an entire conversation by yourself based on memories, you’re going to end up with a memory of how much we believe ourselves to be an insufferable asshole.”

“Those wheels were set in motion long ago,” he said, laughing.

Future Me pulled a pipe from his pocket and bit down on the stem.  Somehow, he manipulated a wooden match with the end of his right tentacle enough to strike a flame, which he touched to the open bowl.  He puffed out strong, sweet smelling smoke as the flame danced and cast an eerie glow on his wrinkled face.

“You know,” he said, “I brought this tobacco with me from the future.”

“Is that right?”

“It is,” he continued.  He leaned back against the bar and looked at his pipe with his head cocked slightly to the left.  I immediately recognized the posture as my “holding court”Holding Court copy
pose, but it seemed strange and portentous seeing it from another angle.  I am such an asshole.

Future Me continued:  “I’m smoking tobacco that hasn’t even been planted yet. I’m burning it and smoke is filling this room and when the door to this abysmal place opens, it will escape into the atmosphere and add to the overall makeup of air throughout the world, which will ultimately play into the conditions of the soil that this very tobacco is planted and grown in.  Those conditions will change the final makeup of the tobacco plant ever so slightly.  It will then be harvested, processed, packaged, sold, sent back in time, and smoked, thus continuing an endless cycle of modified tobacco meeting and affecting its future self.”

“So,” I began, deciphering the metaphor after a long moment of letting his bizarre statement sink into my head, “I’m the tobacco plant, and you’re the smoke, and we’re endlessly cycling and affecting each other in a weird paradox, which causes the smoke to… grow… octopus arms?”

Future Me stared for a long second before saying, “Good Lord, I’m an idiot.  I was just commenting on something cool that I realized.  There’s no metaphor here, man.  It’s just something cool, that’s all.  I’m not here for the purpose of growing squid arms via paradox.”

“I said ‘octopus arms’,” I corrected.

“I came back,” he continued, the pitch and volume of his voice rising, “to tell my past self to stop making deals with that guy who lives in his car behind the Bingo Hall.”

“But that guy has the best weed,” I defended.

“Not that guy, and not that Bingo Hall,” he shot back.  “I’m talking about the wizard who lives in his car behind the condemned Bingo Hall.  That guy who makes Faustian bargains with everyone.  The reason you are missing fingers.”

“Oh that guy,” I said.  I’m just missing the one finger.  “Why?”

“Are you serious?” he asked.  “Look at me.  I’ve got tentacles; for the sake of the gods, Phil, tentacles.  Quit dealing with that crazy old man or else he’s gonna put a curse on you that will make us calamari hybrids for life.  Get it?”

A ray of sun shone through the haze of beer and jukebox standards that clouded my head.

“Yeah, I got it,” I nodded slowly, connecting the dots between the warnings and tentacles and the strange dudes who lived in their cars behind Bingo Halls.  “So I can still buy weed from that other guy who lives in his car?”

“Yes,” he said, “though I think you should do it less frequently.  While I’m at it, I guess I should advise you to stop spending your days in this bar too.  Seriously, look at what it does to us.”

I will if you will.

“I heard that,” he said.  A tentacle went into his pocket and came out rolled around a wad of bills.  He began counting them out and told me he’d leave enough for a couple more beers if I wanted, which he knew I did.  I insisted that I had it covered and he told me that it didn’t matter because my money was his money.

“It’s like having a joint checking account with myself,” he said.

Joint.

“No,” he said, without looking up from his money counting, “I don’t have any weed from the future.”

Future Me dropped a stack of bills on the bar, told me he’d see me later, and walked out the door, once again flooding the room, and my brain, with an intense reminder of the outside world and the realization that I would continue to be a condescending asshole in the future.

The last of my prepaid jukebox songs finished playing and the machine fell silent.  The remaining patrons of the bar filled the auditory void with bullshit stories and pick-up lines delivered by, and to, the tragically sad and lonely. I drank the remainder of my beer in one swift chug and left the empty mug on top of the bills on the bar.  I stood and addressed the young lady behind the bar.

“This more than covers the tab.  Take the remainder and buy yourself a John Prine album.  I recommend Sweet Revenge, Bruised Orange, or possibly The Singing Mailman Delivers if you dig live stuff.”

I turned on my sneaker’s heel and strolled out into the sunny outside world, confident that, on occasion, even condescending assholes could change someone’s future for the better.

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Rats!

Rats

Florida is a strange place.  The native people and wildlife form a bizarre ecosystem that makes this state like no other place in the world.  A love child of a carnival sideshow and an earthen belch of swamp gas, Florida is a place whose reality is incomprehensible to many, but just accepted as business as usual to those who live here.

This applies to the weather here as much as anything.  Rainy winter afternoons may sound like a miserable day where you’re from, but in Florida, it’s the exact opposite.  A rainy January day in Florida is the perfect day for opening your home up to let in the dry, cool air of winter and clear out the stuffy air, germs, and whatever that smell is that comes from your son’s bedroom.

It was one such day that I found myself lazily leaning back in my recliner, half awake and flipping through my four TV channels, not quite sure if I wanted to be entertained by drivel, or fully embrace the opportunity for a nap that sang to me like a Siren.  After several minutes and several dozen flips around the channels, I grew very annoyed that local station programming didn’t seem very interested in entertaining anyone, opting instead to find the loudest, stupidest, most obnoxious shows in existence to shove into the faces of their audience.  I was not entertained, I was visibly upset… and also sleepy.

I shut the TV off and adjusted myself in the chair to sit back and drift off to sleepTripping Phil copy.  About a half hour earlier, I had drunk a glass of absinthe, and was hoping for some hallucinatory dreams to fill the entertainment void left by local television.  As I turned my head to get comfortable, the corner of my eye caught some movement on the floor of the dining room, right inside my sliding door.  A pair of rats was scurrying around the tile around my garbage can, obviously trying to figure out how to get inside of it to eat coffee grounds so they could get pumped up on caffeine and amass super strength and maximum consciousness so they could be the beginning of a race of highly evolved super rats.  You know, stuff rats normally do.

This is the bad part of rainy winter days in Florida:  You open up your home to let the bad air outside, but in Florida, literally the entire outside is alive, and much of it tries to come into your home.  Snakes, mice, squirrels, aquatic birds, possum, banshees, monitor lizards, and yes, rats, had all strolled into my home over the winters as though it was a structure not specifically built to keep them out.  With my wife at work and my kids at school, I was left to deal with this.  I forced the footrest to my chair down and rose to my feet.  I clapped my hands twice, loudly and rapidly, commanding the attention of all living things in the house.  The rats looked surprised as they turned toward me and stared.

“To those rodents about to die,” I proclaimed, “I salute you!”

The rats looked confused; they could tell something was about to happen, but they were not sure what.  It’s entirely possible that they were starting to question their decision to enter the house, but it’s far more likely that they wondered what the lunatic in the recliner was ranting about.

Attack!” I shouted, my voice booming and bouncing off the sheetrock of the walls and the tile on the floors.  Immediately, the door to our laundry room flew open, and a blurry streak of fur and wheels raced out of it.  The streak took a corner quicker than a physical object should be able to and rocketed through the living room, past my chair, and made its way toward the dining room sliding door where our intruders stood tensed and waiting to see what was coming for them.Ferret Chariot copy

Upon hitting the dining room, a combination of the streak slowing down and my liquor-impaired eyes focusing on it allowed me to see that it was, in fact, what I had unleashed.  My cat, Meowcus Aurelius, wore a Roman battle helmet and drove a tiny chariot pulled by a pair of ferrets directly toward the rats who, upon seeing him, ran madly around the dining room in a blind panic.

Meowcus held reins in his right paw and a whip, which he cracked at the ferrets’ hind quarters, in his left.  He urged the vermin to pick up speed as they rounded the table after one of the rats.  Meowcus’s whiskers blew back and his eyes took on a look that was wild with bloodlust as the chariot got faster and faster, gaining on the trespassing beast as it attempted to turn and duck under the table.  Meowcus swung the tiny whip around his head before extending it out from his chariot and wrapping it expertly around the beast’s ankle.  He wound the handle of the whip around a cleat on the chariot and then shook the reins wildly.  The ferrets sprinted and the chariot dragged the rat behind it.  I stood from my recliner and cheered wildly.

Rat Whip copy

The second rat had turned around and attempted to scurry back toward the open sliding door.  Its tiny clawed feet slid and skated on the smooth tile surface as it struggled to gain speed and control.  Meowcus’s chariot skidded around the corner of the table and straightened out, bearing down on the terrified rodent.  Meowcus released the whip and sent the rat in tow skidding across the tile to slam into a dining room baseboard, where it remained.  Aurelius ran his ferrets faster and faster, to the point where I almost expected them to drop from exhaustion.  We had housed this warrior cat for three years at this point, and I’d never seen him run his chariot at the rate he now did.  It was a spectacle to behold and one I’ll not soon forget.

Instead of running over the rat with his vermin-driven death wagon, Meowcus drove alongside it.  They were fast approaching the open sliding door as they sped along the tile, but the warrior cat didn’t seem to notice.  Meowcus Aurelius reached out with his left paw, extended his lethal claws, and took an almost casual, yet painful looking, swipe at the rat, dropping it to the floor almost immediately, where it slid to a stop right in front of the open sliding door.

Meowcus turned his chariot, slowed it considerably and made a casual trip around the dining room table, surveying his arena.  He rode past the first rat he chased, noting that it did not move, and was not likely to again, seeing as its head was twisted and sitting at an angle not intended by nature.  He then drove his chariot to the second rat, slowing down as he approached, and came to a stop just short of it.  He climbed off of the chariot and walked a wide circle around the bleeding rodent, taking note of its labored breathing and its pitiful eyes.  Meowcus stood over the rat and hissed at it.  His claws were out and he bared his teeth at the beast that had invaded his home and made it his battleground.  The cat paused, looked up at me, and waited.

I surveyed the scene and reflected on what I had just witnessed. I leaned back in my c
hair and extended my right arm in front of me, making a fist that left only my thumb extended and parallel to the ground.  The fresh air from the outside that had
circulated throughout the house
suddenly took on a feeling of tension and apprehension as Meowcus, the remaining rat, and the two ferrets stared at me and waited for my verdict.  Slowly, I turned my thumb toward the floor.

Meowcus Aurelius smiled.Thumbs Down copy

 

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Coffee, Donuts, and Tiny Warriors

Being a self-loathing individual, I’ve always been on the lookout for someone who is my opposite to hang out with, so as not to have too much me on the premises.  When I met my friend Stella, I thought she seemed to fit that criterion very well.  On the surface, she was a perfect candidate for my opposite:  A gay Panamanian journalist with a good vocabulary and an outgoing personality was quite a ways off from me: a straight white American man who speaks in grunts, grumbles, and curse words.  On closer examination, however, we found ourselves to be incredibly compatible and the perfect partners in crime.

We bonded over a mutual respect for one another’s work, a love of genre fiction, and mind-bending conversation.  It was not uncommon for us to whittle away an afternoon on her porch or mine while we did bong hits, drank brown-bagged malt liquor, and read Tolkien passages aloud (not the cool Goblin King shit he wrote about, mind you, but those entire chapters that were dedicated to describing meadows and trees).  We talked of personal issues and universe-altering scenarios, we blew each other’s minds, and we always, without exception, stumbled off the porch knowing we’d had a day well spent.

Sometimes we met at a gourmet coffee shop in the Historic District of Downtown Fort Myers where we discussed hipster ideals while denying that we were hipsters and analyzed science fiction to a degree that would make Joseph Campbell roll his eyes and say “I think you might be reading a little too much into that, guys”.  We constantly walked the razor’s edge between being elitist douchebags and intellectual giants, the balance kept intact by the fact that I was the former and she, the latter.

One such morning, we sat at a rustic wooden table in the corner of the deck of our coffee shop, leaning against the railing that enveloped the wooden patio.  Only a few feet away a single tree crawled toward the sky and leaned its weathered trunk back and forth, the result of a few too many tropical storms.  Stella and I sipped richly roasted coffee and nibbled pseudo-fancy European cookies, delaying our inevitable dive into baskets full of donuts topped with maple icing and bacon.  Our table was cluttered with coffee-stained notepads and sketchbooks that we furiously scribbled on as we discussed the virtues of not owning a television.

The vision of Stella and I sitting across the table from each other was an exercise in charisma.  Stella wore capris, a tank top and a scarf, topping off the look with mirrored aviator sunglasses and a faux-hawk of rich black curls that formed themselves into a futuristic pompadour that only she could make look respectable by all standards.  By comparison, I wore very similar clothes: Cargo shorts, sandals, and a t-shirt, topped off by a five-day beard and thinning gray stubble across my skull, but the sum of these parts amounted to people assuming I was homeless and forcing their pocket change upon me. One of us could pull off the casual, don’t-give-a-fuck look with style and the other could only manage to look like he’d slept under the Midpoint Bridge the previous night.

I picked up my mug and raised it to my face, needing to wash down a mouthful of concentrated unhealthy when I felt a sharp sting on my left forearm.  I dropped my coffee, shattering the mug on the deck and splashing scalding bean juice all over my bare feet.  I looked down, expecting to see a wasp, honeybee, scorpion, or a pygmy vampire bat sinking its stinger/fangs into my arm.  What I saw instead was an arrow.  It wasn’t a full size arrow like those used in Olympic archery events and Robin Hood movies starring actors who can’t manage British accents, it was miniature.  My first thought was that this was perhaps a runaway dart from some kind of traveling pub that just happened to be wandering past with a handful of British soccer hooligans and an old-timer with a red nose, sad eyes, and a voice so distorted by a mixture of regional accent and ale-induced slurring, that no one had any idea what he was saying.  Sadly, a quick survey of our surroundings revealed no such traveling pub.  I looked at Stella who was not looking for a pub.  She wasn’t looking for even a single renegade hooligan who might be lurking about with a pint glass and a handful of darts.  Stella was looking up the tree on the other side of the railing.  Her voice had cut off right in the middle of her sentence about how even when she did watch TV, it was only PBS.

“Hold still for a moment,” she said calmly.  It hadn’t even occurred to me to do otherwise.

“Why?” I asked.

“Dude,” she said, still looking up, “look at your arm.  There is an arrow in it!  A tiny fucking arrow!  Things are happening here!”

Time has always been difficult for me to judge, mostly because the speed of the outside world differs greatly with the speed at which my brain turns itself over and over.  Couple that with my inability to quantify a concept as abstract as a “moment”, and I had no idea exactly how long I was supposed to sit without making a movement.

“Slowly turn your head,” Stella said calmly, “and follow the trunk of the tree up until you see it.”

I did as I was told and ran my eyes slowly up trunk of the tree, taking time to linger spots where the bark was stripped away or woodpeckers had drilled into the lumber.  I ran my eyes up to the lowest branch, which was a good six feet above our heads.  There, standing on the branch, its back to the trunk, was a ragged looking squirrel holding a tiny bow and arrow.  The small projectile was set nocked on the string, waiting simply to be drawn back and fired at us.

Archer Squirrel-webI come from the Midwest, where squirrels grow fat enough that a properly prepared one could conceivably feed a family of four.  Florida squirrels, by comparison, always seemed scrawny, weak, and pathetic to me; scavenging, foraging nuisance animals who served no purpose in nature except as a beast to agitate and annoy dogs through sliding glass doors.  This squirrel, the one eying us and wearing a tiny quiver of arrows on its back, was just as scrawny as the playful tree rats I’ve become accustomed to seeing in Florida, but this one looked different.  Its fur was matted and wiry, frayed in some places, absent and replaced with scar tissue in others.  It had a look on its face as it stared us down, telling us that it meant business.  This squirrel looked menacing.  It looked dangerous.  It looked like nothing that could be bought off with peanuts or seed corn.

“What the absolute f–,” I started.

“Do you see it too?” Stella asked.

“You’re talking about the armed squirrel, right?” I responded.  Stella hated when I answered questions with questions.  She hated even more when I answered questions with stupid questions.

Chikachikachikachikachik…

It was still early enough in the morning that a light mist from the nearby Caloosahatchee River hung over the place and worked to slightly mute some of the sounds around us, but the sound of a rattle cut through the mist and straight into our ear canals.  We kept looking at the statuesque squirrel with the bow as it stared back at us.  The rattle hadn’t come from the rodent, but it had come from its direction.

The rattle cut through the air again, this time longer, more sustained, more insistent.  My eyes slowly continued up the tree to the next branch up.  There, perched on the limb, were half dozen squirrels, similarly decked out in warrior garb as the tiny archer who had shot me.  They held tiny spears, edged weapons, and bows, and they all stared at us.

Squirrel Horde-web

The one whom I presumed to be the leader of these tiny tree warriors held a long stick, on which were tied crow and mockingbird feathers along with pebbles, small bones, and a long, mean-looking rattlesnake tail:  the source of the sound that had cut through the haze.  The warrior chief also wore the skull of a small mammal over its head, its beady eyes glaring out from the shadowy sockets.  The skull had, at one time, belonged to a raccoon or a small dog, I thought.  Another possibility was that it was a possum skull, and from there it was only a short wandering of the mind that led me to thinking that the coolest thing that could possibly happen at that moment was if it was a possum skull and the possum wasn’t actually dead, but just taking the concept of “playing possum” to a whole new level.  It might even wake up at that very moment and consume the squirrel that wore it.

“Phil,” Stella said, her eyes fixed on the tiny warmongers above us, “whatever cloud your head is in at this moment, I need you to pull it out and help me figure out what the hell is going on.”

“I spilled my coffee,” I replied.  “Also, I got shot and I didn’t get to finish my donut.  If you see the waitress, ask her to bring me another cup of coffee please.”

This is the moment when we simultaneously realized that the arrow I had been shot with was likely tipped with toxins, and not the fun kind.  On second thought, if I’m telling the truth right now, it was kind of fun.  I was very lightheaded and foggy and felt as if the only thing missing at that very moment was a long-winded description of a lake shore or some rocks.  I pulled the arrow out of my arm and turned my attention across the table.

“Stella,” I was starting to slur, “you gots to try this… ‘scool…”

I reached over and made stabbing motions at her arm, trying to get her high on tiny squirrel arrows with me, but not realizing that I was stabbing her with my empty hand.  She slapped me across the face and told me to stay with her and that we were in danger.

“I know we are in danger,” I said, “I forgot to bring that book with the dwarves and the forests.”

Chikachikachikachikachika…

The noise commanded our attention and snapped us back to looking up into the tree.

“Y’all gots anymore of those arrows?” I screamed toward the tree.

The possum-wearing squirrel in the middle of the branch held up its staff.  All the squirrels surrounding it brought their weapons to the ready and prepared to rain tiny hellfire down upon us in an effort that would possibly kill us, ruin our breakfast, and kill the buzz I had, until that moment, been enjoying.

Stella grabbed my arm and yanked me from my seat.  Despite the fact that I outweighed her by a good 50 pounds, she did it with seemingly zero effort as she simultaneously kicked our table over, scattering papers, dishes, and fragments of donut everywhere.  She threw me to the deck and we took cover behind the table just as another rattle rang out and by the sound of arrows whistling through the air could be heard.  Tiny spear and arrowheads could be heard impacting the opposite side of the table we cowered behind and an incessant chirping and squeaking echoed through the morning air as the squirrels unleashed their high-pitched battle cry.

“Ssssstellllllaaaa,” I said, immediately unsure whether it was my speech or my hearing that had slowed down, “I thiiiinnnnnnnk I’mmmm dyinnnng.”  The words poured from my mouth like molasses, but their morbid nature didn’t stop me from laughing.  I didn’t want to be killed by barbaric squirrels, but damn if they didn’t send you out partying.

“Shut up and eat this,” Stella said abruptly, picking a piece of donut up off the deck and shoving it in my mouth.  “Don’t forget to chew.”

I thanked her for the reminder and contemplated the idea that my last meal would be a cup of coffee that had scalded my foot and a piece of donut from the floor.  I don’t know what it says about me that I found it fitting and not at all degrading.

Stella told me to stay perfectly still.  I told her that wouldn’t be a problem since I could no longer feel anything below my neck, but I was still curious as to why stillness was necessary.  She told me that the natural enemy of the squirrel was dangerous and reacted harshly to quick movements.  I lied and told her I understood and continued lying still behind the table.Not Faux-web

Stella ran her fingers through her faux-hawk and it started to quake and shake upon her head, as if it was a sentient creature, being awakened by her.  The hair began to puff itself up and seemed to change shape from a stripe of hair down the middle of her head into something larger and almost independent of her cranium.  Large quaffs of hair rose up out of either side and extended out like wings, the curly locks of hair forming into… feathers?
Near the roots of her hair, a large, four-toed foot with dangerous looking talons extended out and rested upon Stella’s head, followed by an identical one on the other side of her head.  These feet pushed down and lifted Stella’s entire hairdo off her head, revealing it to be a deadly-looking bird of prey.  There was nothing at all faux about her faux-hawk, it was an actual hawk and it was here to protect us.

The raptor leapt off Stella’s now-bald head and took to the air, circling the tree and surveying its targets.  It flew in an arc that took it high into the sky, then folded its wings back toward its body, pointed itself at the branch full of warrior rodents, and dove like a missile.  My vision blurred as I tried to fight the stupor in my brain enough to track the bird, but it was no use.  I heard the cry of the hawk, and everything went black.

Chasing Squirrels-web

 

Two weeks later, I was out of my coma, out of the hospital, and out of sick days as I found myself using my last one to hang out at Stella’s place.  We sipped tallboys while her turntable was playing some music I could not understand the lyrics to because, despite living in South Florida for over fifteen years, I could not understand any more Spanish than necessary to navigate a restaurant kitchen.  She lit a joint, took a toke, and handed it to me.

“You sure you’re up for this?” she asked.

“Yeah, it’s actually the perfect time for it,” I responded.  “I had so many toxins and medications pumped into me in the last couple weeks in the hospital, I’ve got a perfectly valid reason for failing a drug test at work.”  I pulled a doctor’s note out of my wallet and waved it around like it was a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card.

We whittled away the afternoon like that, just like we always did.  We smoked, read, listened to music, and scribbled away on notepads and sketchbooks.  Finally, I thanked her.

“For what?” Stella asked.

“For saving us from the squirrels.  The hawk.  You know…”  I ran my hand over the middle of my skull, “… the hawk?”

Stella stared at me blankly for a few moments before telling me that she had no idea what I was talking about.  I recounted every single event, just as I remembered it while she continued to look at me blankly.

“Maybe I should have let you stab me with that arrow, it sounds like it was full of some potent stuff,” her blank look turned to a dopey grin.  “I’m glad you had fun, Phil.”

Stella stood, hugged me, and announced that she needed to burn some incense before her girlfriend got home so she wouldn’t walk into an au factory assault as soon as she hit the door. As she left the room to get some hippie potpourri, I felt a faint tickle on the side of my neck.  I reached up and found a feather on my shoulder, right where Stella’s head had been when she embraced me.

 

Hawk Feather-web

© 2016, Phil Rood

 

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Screaming Guitar

Tuning-web

Blurry-eyed and still clad in pajamas, I stumbled out my front door on a beautiful Sunday morning carrying a cup of coffee and a ¾ scale acoustic guitar I had picked up a thrift shop.  It’d seen better days (the guitar, not the cup of coffee), but a new set of strings and a forgiving ear made it worth every one of the twenty-five dollars I had paid for it.

I found a seat on the faux wrought iron bench on my front porch.  The metal made strange and overly complicated weaving patterns as it wrapped its way around itself in an attempt to elevate its status from “bench” to “hey, look at that bench”.  A pleather cushion was the finishing touch of class and served not only to add to the look of being one of the finer things in life, but to keep one from getting a series of bizarre red marks on one’s ass after having sat on overly complicated weaving patterns of faux wrought iron.  It was the kind of bench that was sold to poor people who wanted something for their outdoor sitting needs that was slightly classier than plastic chairs, but not as decadent as a throne made of human skulls.  It was the perfect patio furniture for those in denial of their white trash status.

I took a sip of coffee and felt life course through my veins as it woke my drowsy head and breathed life into my extremities.  Next to the bench was a glass-topped end table which matched the seat in both aesthetic and classiness.  I set the mug on it and strummed the strings of the beaten and battered guitar.  It released a chord that drew from as many different keys as possible.  An old man walking by with his dog heard these notes and stopped dead in his tracks at the end of my driveway.

“You need to tune that thing, son,” he called out, clearly not interested in minding his own damn business.

“It is tuned, sir,” I responded, as I started to pluck at the strings.

He wandered up the driveway, and dragged with him what could only be described as the ugliest dog in existence.  The beast was big-nosed but short-snouted, had a short body length, waddled around on four stubby legs, and wagged its sad nub of a tail.  Its eyes were wide-set aOld Man and Ugly Dog-webnd googly, like those of a concussed pug and its ears were small and pointy, like those of a minion of Satan.  It looked like the offspring of some type of hound and another dog who had been the offspring of a Doberman and the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  It was a short, fat ball of misery who did not at all appear to be a lover of guitars, music, walking, the old man, Sunday mornings, or existence.

“What kind of tuning is that?” he asked (the old man, not the dog).

“One of my own design,” I answered.  “Low to high it goes G, G sharp, F sharp, just flat of E, C sharp, and F.”

The old man looked confused, perplexed, a little bit high, and anxious.

“Why the hell would you tune it like that?  Trying to attract banshees?”

I told him that I actually was trying to attract banshees because I’d read that they make great pets for households with children.  He responded that I might want to read some more about them (Where, I thought, in ‘Banshee Fancy’ magazine?) because they are definitely not great pets.

“Thanks for the tip,” I responded.  It seemed easier than explaining the concept of sarcasm.  I continued to fingerpick the strings and an almost pleasant melody started coming from the thrift-store treasure across my knee as I continued to explain.  “I actually tune it this way because it helps me compensate for this.”

I held up my left hand and revealed to him my handicap:  the ring finger of that hand stopped at the second knuckle.  I strummed and picked a folksy kind of melody as I went on to regale him with the story about my boyhood trip to the World’s Most Aggressive Petting Zoo and how an incident while feeding unidentifiable food pellets to a wombat had resulted in my having my left hand ring finger disfigured.

This was, of course, not true.  I had actually visited the World’s Most Baboon Escape-webAggressive Petting Zoo as a child, but the only thing of note that happened that day involved a paperclip that I found, a picked lock, and a spontaneously free-range baboon… but that’s a story for another day.

The shortening of my left-hand ring finger was actually the result of a sacrifice that had to be made to save someone.  A wizard, who was oft-mistaken for a homeless man who lived in a 1974 AMC Gremlin behind the condemned Bingo Hall in my city (mostly because the wizard also lived in an AMC Gremlin, though his was a 1976 model and was parked behind a functioning Bingo Hall), had demanded it as payment in order to rescue my guitar teacher and bring him back to our plane of existence.  I agreed, severed my finger at the second knuckle, and my guitar teacher was brought back from the limbo he had fallen into when he played music he had found scribbled in blood on the back pages of the Necronomicon.  I was able to continue my lessons, though I soon found that conventional guitar instruction methods would no longer work with me, due to my shortened ring finger.  What nobody tells you about wizards is that they thrive on irony more than O Henry does.

My three regular fingers and my one hobbled finger danced around the fretboard, hitting notes exactly where my otherworldly tuning had placed them.  My right hand continued to fingerpick, gaining speed and momentum until it was a claw-hammer of madness.  The faster I went, the more perplexed the old man looked that the tuning was working and the more agitated his ugly dog got, waving its head back and forth and starting to yip and whimper.

The old man looked amazed that I had been able to make my unique tuning work and yelled something about me being a mad scientist of music theory.  I opted to take it as a compliment and continued playing.  The scratched and dented flattop of the guitar vibrated and sang with a madness that made sense once it was released into the air and all the separate parts were woven together.

The ugly mutt at the end of the leash howled, bayed, barked and yelled.  It paced back and forth and in and out and around the old man’s legs in a desperate attempt to stretch the line that kept it from running away as fast as its short and cankled legs would carry it.  I figured that something about the heightened sense of hearing that dogs have, even one as genetically messed up as this one clearly was, was what caused the mutt to be a complete spaz about what it heard.  Side effect of super hearing or not, I was beginning to take it personally.

Instead of stopping, I decided to keep playing and see just how wound up I could make this old man’s dog.  I’d show them both, and then maybe they’d think twice about interrupting my Sunday morning coffee and music session and questioning the tuning I use.

The dog sat up on its hind legs and wailed at the top of its stupid lungs.  I played louder, faster, more intense.  The dog threw its head back and opened its mouth wide, baying in a way I’d never heard a dog bay before or since.  The dog took the pitch higher and higher as my hand went lower and lower down the guitar’s neck.  My fingers slowed and picked a slower tempo melody as the manic dog on my porch demanded the lion’s share of my attention, along with the rest of my street that it was now waking with its unholy noise.

“You’ve done it now,” said the old man, as he started to inch his way back from his mutt.

The dog’s muzzle opened wide, as if the lower jaw had come unhinged and it was attempting to swallow an entire pig.  I considered the possibility that the dog was actually part snake and decided, based on the unholy ugliness of it, that it was not out of the question.  The dog’s howl was so high pitched and so intense that it could no longer be classified as a howl.  It was a scream.  It was the kind of scream that exists only in the nightmares of those who fear of clowns.  The wide open mouth revealed something inside and I would not have to wait long to see what it was.

Out of the unhinged jaws of the dog came a banshee, a wailing lady-ghost who was nearly as ugly as the dog she had been using as a disguise.  Her screams and shrieks cut through the stillness of the early morning air.  My coffee mug exploded and the strings of my guitar broke with a series of pops and pings.

Banshee-web

The screaming spirit emerged fully and floated in place for a moment, leaving the dog skin that had held it lying useless and still on my sidewalk.  The banshee flew around me and the faux wrought iron bench, wound herself around my guitar neck, in and out of the sound hole, and seemed to occupy the whole of my front porch, the entire time, she screamed and wailed like a child who’d been slapped by Santa Claus.

“I told you they make horrible pets, son,” the old man screamed, fighting to be heard over the screams of the music hating ghost.  “They get in your home and you can’t get rid of them!”

The old man picked the dog disguise up off the pavement, wound up the tangled leash, and started down the driveway, leaving me to deal with the screaming problem on my own.  At that moment, a familiar looking 1976 AMC Gremlin pulled up and parked on the street at the end of my driveway.  A grimy, bearded man smelling like weed and trouble got out and looked at me, smiling through his gnarly whiskers.

“I can remedy this for you,” he said, “for a price.”

I looked down at the fingers on my left hand and sighed, wondering what kind of tuning I’d need to come up with next.

Gremlin Wizard-ink-web

© 2016, Phil Rood

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