An entry for the Wordmongers' masque

The Mysterious Mr McKee’s Masks and Masques

Down a grey London side-street stood the most peculiar shop on earth. The shop's sign was blacked-out, as were its windows. A hand written note informed museum curators that they could 'enter on pain of samurai sword attack'. Despite all evidence to the contrary the other sign on the door read 'open'.
The whole building was so entirely unappealing that people would only enter the shop under duress, in this instance to ask for directions.

'Excuse me my good fellow could you direct me to 52 Festive Roa-' The man looked up from his map, 'Err, the err, well, erm, I am certain it's just, around the corner ahm; good-day.' The anonymous caller made his hasty retreat.

Being a peculiar chap the shopkeeper had arranged the entire store so that from the dusty doorway every single piece of merchandise was visible. Three hundred and thirty two masks hung in the air eyelessly interrogating any unfortunate visitors.

Walking into 'Mr McKee's Masks and Masques' was a mixture of the humiliating and the horrifying; like falling on-stage, only to discover that the entire audience had died.

Mr McKee's attire did not match the day's ostentatious standards of fashion. His black suit jacket was tailored so it fell long over his hands, and hung down to his knees. When it was fastened it closed high around his cravat and the stiff collar cut into his chin. All parts of Mr McKee’s body were wrapped in the smooth dark patternless cloth. Like his shop he too was dressed for the utmost invisibility.
Mr McKee had a face so deceptively inexpressive, it seemed a smile could break it. It was the face of somone who had grown used to quiet paranoia.

Mr McKee sat immediately in front of the shop's entrance. His chair was positioned so that when he sat upright his face filled the space in-between, two beautiful examples from his collection.

To his right hung the steel war-mask or 'mempo' of Miyamoto Musashi the legendary Japanese swordsman. To his left was a Venetian masque fashioned from Murano glass.

Every mask in Mr McKee’s collection had a story, and as he marvelled at how the shifting afternoon light made the mask change facial expressions, he remembered hers.

The mask of Floretta de Bon had a proven lineage to a wager that the legendary Casanova made with Count de Montagnu. The wager was that whoever could make, upon public opinion, the most beautiful pair of masks for the Venetian Ball, would win the opponents masks.
Montagnu, being a magnificently unimaginative brute, threw a fortune into undoing 'that plebeian upstart Casanova'. He ordered Venice’s finest goldsmiths to create two masks to rival the crowns upon all the heads of the European monarchs. The solid gold masks were encrusted with diamonds; and padded with feathers from extinct birds.
When it came to the Ball the masks were so heavy, the Count and Countess de Montagnu, were unable to dance.

Floretta de Bon and Casanova appeared late, just in time for the public judgment. Montagnu appeared to be triumphant; Casanova arrived barefaced, and so had shamefully backed out of the wager. When it came to the vote however Casanova eloquently argued that 'being the most beautiful man and escorting the most beautiful woman in Venice he had no need for gilding and gems' like the Count had put into his priceless mask. Casanova then apologised for his poor diction, explaining that something wasn't allowing him to enunciate properly. To the astonishment of the crowd Casanova and his female companion removed their transparent disguise.

Upon loosing the wager, Montagnu flew into such a rage that he beat his opponent, shattering Casanova’s mask in the process.
This disgraceful behaviour lost him the title of Count.
To further rub salt into the wound Casanova offered the golden trophies back to Montagnu so he 'could live comfortably without the profit his title usually afforded him'. Such chivalry elevated the injured Casanova into the stratosphere of the European gentry.
As we are about to find out stories like this were not the thing that made such masks valuable to Mr McKee.

'Good gracious the weather is terrible!' The man’s drenched overcoat stuck in the door so that as he stepped forward the resulting force caused him to spin around. The man bowed, twisted and pulled until the arms of his coat turned inside out and fell frustratingly from his wrists, revealing a smart pinstriped suit. How his oversized bowler hat stayed on his head was a mystery.
Throughout all this Mr McKee sat upright, his motionless face blending into the wall of other faces.

'I was wondering if you could give me directions to ...' He looked up. 'Oh my, what a serendipitous event!' The man realised that this was the place he had been searching for.'Mr McKee I presume?'

Mr McKee stared blankly at the extended hand.
'I do apologise, terribly bad manners to have the advantage of someone, I am Dr David Linklater. You are the proprietor; a, Mr McKee? I heard that you needed an assistant.'

Mr McKee stood up, straightened his waistcoat, and grabbed Dr Linklater by the face.

Dr Linklater assumed the posture of someone being forcibly drowned. He leant forward, his arms thrashing helplessly in the air. Soon his shock gave way to anger.

'What in the bloody hell are you doing sir? Unhand me!' He shouted through Mr McKee’s hands.

'I needed to make sure that you are not a "Wearer,"' said Mr McKee unapologetically as he stepped past his new acquaintance. Mr McKee locked the door and cast some furtive glances up and down the road; 'the purpose of this "shop" has come to an end. Please follow me.'

'Give me one good reason why I should!' spat Dr Linklater.

Mr McKee rounded slowly on Dr Linklater and looked him in the eyes for the first time. 'Let me tell you a little about yourself; you are mathematically minded with a strong memory for methods but a dreadful memory for facts. You have never been in a play nor have you created a single work of art or poetry in your life. You are a social misfit who never goes to a restaurant or public house. You are exceptionally good at telling when other people are lying; you know that I am telling the truth now. But most importantly you have never, ever; worn a mask. Knowing that I was once like you in all these respects, how could you not work for me?'
'So that was the job interview?'
'Yes and you begin immediately. Hand me those mahogany boxes from off the floor' Urgency had crept into Mr McKee.

Mr McKee took the Japanese and Venetian masks from their hooks and placed them carefully into the boxes Dr Linklater had handed him. 'Ignore the rest they are replicas.' Mr McKee gave the boxes to Dr Linklater. 'Under no circumstances drop these; they are more valuable than anything you can imagine.'

The threat was underlined when Mr McKee picked up two swords from under his chair. 'Stay no more than one step behind me and don’t look back.'
At this moment a burning object flew through the window and exploded against a side wall. 'The "Wearers" are already onto us; come on!' shouted Mr McKee, who was already halfway inside a trapdoor, descending a spiral staircase.

Dr Linklater closed the trapdoor behind him as smoke filled the room. The floor flowed like mercury over their exit and set solid.

'Do you wear a mask or does the mask wear you?' asked Mr McKee as he skipped down the ever darkening spiral staircase.

'Is this a trick question?' asked Dr Linklater as he wiped the smoke out of his eyes.

'From now on it might be best if you assume that all my questions are trick questions: Does a mask wear you? Yes or no?'


'Ha! You have answered too correctly; you answered like a "philosopher"!' An honest answer would have been 'No' and a correct answer would have been 'Yes'. By trying to avoid the trick question you fell into it!' Mr McKee smiled over his shoulder at Dr Linklater.

'I am not in the mood, for an interrogation Mr McKee, I was very nearly set alight!'

'You brought up the subject of trick questions.' A few moments passed, punctuated by footsteps on the stone steps. 'Do you believe in destiny, Doctor?'

'I'm leaving.'

'Ah good! Now you are being honest! If it will stop you from leaving I don’t believe in destiny either. We are no more destined to have this job than an accountant is to have his. It is my belief that we are happiest when we do what we are best suited for'

'Actually, the newspaper didn’t tell me what my job would be, could you tell me what my duties are?'

'Remind me what did the advertisement say exactly?'

Dr Linklater recited from memory;

'Help wanted for thankless and arduous task.
Chances of mental retardation high.
Boredom certain upon success, infamy guaranteed otherwise.
Room provided.'

'Only a "Masker" would ever reply to that! We are the persecuted elite of people with a rare skill. I could talk about what makes us special but the fact is that there is nothing that makes us special. We are the most boring people on earth.'

Dr Linklater took offence at this, 'I beg your pardon...'

'Oh you’re not a dullard; I have already said that you have exceptional intelligence. Let me put it this way,' Mr McKee turned around sharply so Doctor Linklater had to halt his decent. 'Which do you prefer; strawberry cheese cake or apple pie?'

'Well, I don’t know; is this another trick question?'

'No but it is a question that you cannot answer. No matter how hard you try you could never give me a satisfactory answer to that question. Your ego is so weak that you effectively have no personality.' Mr McKee continued back down the stairs.

'You and I are the original blank slates. We call ourselves "Maskers"; we might be the only two people in the world who are capable of truly being "worn". When we put on a mask we bring nothing of our own personality to the experience, the masks use us to express their true personality.'

'So we're actors?'

Mr McKee breathed in sharply through his teeth, 'I'll forget I heard that;' He took a moment to shake the comment from his head and began his soliloquy again, 'if a mask is owned by a strong personality it is imbued with the entirety of that person’s soul. A mask is a mould of the skills, thoughts, beliefs, opinions, language and mannerisms, of the original owner. There are about one thousand people who can experience this "soul-image", but we are the only ones who can do so without destroying it.'

By this time they had reached the bottom of the staircase and Mr McKee stood outside an arched door. The room behind it was a circular vaulted gothic hall. Around the walls there were curving wooden shelves three stories high with masks filling every inch of them.

In the centre of the room was an iron chair, it was bolted to the ground and had leather straps over the arms and legs that were clearly designed to restrain the sitter.

Radiating from the chair was an ingenious inventory system. The contents of the library had been painted onto the floor so that the masks nearest the roof were written closest to the chair.
Mr McKee took Dr Linklater’s awestruck silence as an opportunity to make some flamboyant introductions.

'Welcome to the "Animus Tabularium" the "Soul Record". To my left, are the female masks and to my right are the male ones. As you enter the door you walk past the masks that are most artistic, joyful and enlightened. If you keep walking past this chair you will come face to face with the most violent and warlike masks. The bottom row of masks are the easiest to wear and the more advanced masks are at the top*'. Mr McKee theatrically spun around, fell comfortably into his chair and addressed the room. 'And this is the kind and honourable Doctor David Linklater, who I think will be spending some time with us.'

* The room was arranged in this way so that if an earthquake should strike (or if the Underground began digging again) the most powerful masks would fall onto the weaker ones. If this happened the weaker mask’s soul would be destroyed, but in comparison to the destruction of the stronger personalities it would be an acceptable loss.

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On the plus side, the weather's turned warm and sunny all of a sudden.

On the minus side, that's a whole of two days we're going to get of not-misty-rain-and-chilly-winds.

On the plus side, only two weeks until I start to head home.

On the minus side, it says something about my plans to spend a year here after college that I'm so excited to come home after only two months. I've loved it here, but if I'm going to go for fluency in this language, I'm going to have to be better mentally prepared the next time I come to this country so I don't get so homesick.

On the plus side, mmmmm bread.

On the minus side, why does no one eat in public here? I want to just buy a candy bar and munch it down on the way home without feeling all rude and culturally insensitive. Or am I just imagining that the Japanese never eat in public? Then why'd that eight year-old come up to me in the train station babbling something about "nippon" and "gohan" that I couldn't understand while I was trying to load up on carbs for the hour-long bike ride home? Am I just being paranoid? Cuz if there was ever a country to make someone paranoid...

On the plus side, the convenience store workers recognize me now as That Crazy Gaijin Who Comes in And Buys Bread, Whiskey, or Beer and one of the workers said, "itsumo arigatou gozaimasu," to me with a big smile (translatable somewhere along the lines of, "thank you for shopping here all the time").

On the minus side, he then asked me a question I didn't understand and I just had to give him an embarrassed grin and say, "Sumimasen, shitsumon ga wakarimasen deshita." About ten seconds after I left the store, I realized that he'd been asking me, "Do you live around here?" in crazy super-polite Japanese (literally he asked me, "In this area is it being lived?" You can understand why I was a little confused). Curse you, keigo passive!

On the plus side, I've been exchanging lots of messages with my friends

On the minus side, now I miss you even moooore! EMO EMO EMO.

And finally, on the plus side I've been exchanging messages with a cool guy from Iceland over OkCupid and this quote from him made me giggle:

Though I can tell you that Iceland isn't all dreamlike with lots of eccentric people walking around reciting poetry and discussing introverted matters with the local elves.

And I don't have crazy sex orgies with my big-breasted blonde cheerleader girlfriend while chewing bubble gum and listening to gangsta rap in the back of my gas-guzzling gargantuan SUV parked next to the megachurch we just finished our evangelical youth group at.

Thus is international understanding promoted.

I'll be haunting people around here for the next little bit. Thought I'd let you know. The living always seem to want a heads-up before anything meaningful occurs in their lives, though they seem so ill-prepared for it once it comes. We'll start it off simply, no real narrative involved.

The one with long hair and the German officer's jacket. Another friend of ours claimed that most of us, to some extent, wanted to be you. You told me once that you wanted people to look for you in dissolving crowds, to seek you out for your idealism and radical thoughts. I didn't want to be anything like you, but you did have things I wanted - the effortless gait, the endless hallway of open doors, the prettiest of the girls; all of it. But behind closed doors, where I knew you best, you were never quite so sparkling, and the same incredible romanticism that won that girl and many others over also apparently gave you license to get drunk and hit her. A few months later, she gave me her phone number in a bout of miraculous luck, but I never called it. I found it didn't suit me anymore.

The kid who introduced me to oolong tea. You said: we can't possibly keep up, but we are more than the sum of our parts. Let's condense our lives into short vignettes rather than complete thoughts or stories, scribbled poems on the backs of napkins rather than published essays. Here is mine, and you may try it on for size. (If it doesn't fit, return it.) We both know that, as one of my personal rules, I don't make promises. It's my rule, though, and I can break it: I will drive with you, as far North as we can make it, if that's really what we have to do to find what it is you're looking for. Maybe I'd be paying off some of my debts.

The girl with the wireframe glasses, who loved Chinese food at least as much as I do. You made me angry. I didn't think I still had it in me. I went home for Christmas this year and couldn't even stand being home for more than two days, so I went back to my own place and picked up shifts to give myself a reason to be there. I didn't tell you so that I didn't have to talk to you, to hear that lovely, lyrical voice contorted into a hateful shriek. I've never felt so despised, and you told me you were positive that I felt equally contemptuous. I didn't. You were the one that convinced me that I should wish my company on no good woman, and that I made you feel disgusting and ashamed because I couldn't bring myself to look you in the eye. You told me you felt sick for days when I left your house in the middle of the night, but let's be fair - you told me to go. Now I recognize fully what I only suspected then - that any attempt at intimacy on my part is half-baked at best, that as soon as I border on honesty I either ignore future questions or dissapear completely. When I raised my voice to match yours, it occured to me that it hadn't happened in years, so at least you showed me that I still have the capacity for something passionate, even if it's anger. I don't think I ever want to see you again, though, and all future letters will be burned. In addition, it is incredibly difficult for me to sleep with another person in the bed. I harbor few regrets, but know that I hope you have the good fortune to meet a better person next time.

The finest liar I've ever met. When I was strung out on anything I could get my hands on, having not eaten or slept in weeks, you brought me food, tons of it, for days. You didn't think twice, and I suppose that's how a family is supposed to operate. Remember this: that, as far as I am concerned, I only exist in case you need protecting.

Glass and Shadow
Part Four -- Beauty and Soul

Miss Belinda's House of Beauty and Soul Food takes up a whole city block in Leimert Park. Fifteen years ago Belinda Parker bought an abandoned old department store and set up shop. Lotsa folks laughed at her. That drafty, old eyesore was a white elephant and had brought nothing but heartache to all six of its previous owners. Belinda must have been lucky number seven, because after fifteen years she'd manage to fill every nook and cranny of that building with something profitable. The Soul Food kitchen she'd started took up the entire second floor, and on friday nights or sunday mornings the wait could be as long as an hour. They sold all kinds of crap on the third floor, groceries, religious candles, cards, adult novelties, cigarettes and cheap chocolate. And the first floor was taken up by the salon.

It was a woman world's with hot pink and mint green wallpaper and gleaming white and gold hair dryers as far as the eye could see. Belinda had the aesthetic sense of an old-west whore, and for some reason the women of this city responded to it. Even a no-nonsense babe like Dixie had been known to book a spa day here. Me? I ain't been anywhere near here since I had a falling out with Shalene a few years back. Belinda don't take kindly to anyone who upsets her girls, and Shalene and I get along as well as snakes and mice do.

I'm standing outside this House of Beauty and Soul underneath a palm tree. Its shadow looms over the street, chilling me; nevermind that the sun's out and it's going to be a scorcher.

I ain't welcome in this place, but it's where I gotta go next. So I go. I push through the big brass and glass revolving door and I stand in the lobby. I was hoping that maybe Miss Belinda had taken the day off or went on vacation, but no, there she is big as day staring down at me. She's a woman you don't want to cross. She stands almost six feet tall, and if she's put on some pounds from her cooking it don't mean she lost any of the muscle underneath. Her hair is braided in cornrows so tight it looks like they oughta squeak. The look she's giving me is anything but friendly, "What you doing in my place Rick? You know I don't like trouble. You always stink of trouble."

"Ms. Carter, you know I don't want any bad blood with you. I wouldn't come here if I had any other choice, but I need to see Shalene."

"You want to see Shalene, you make an appointment same as anybody else," she looks down at my hands, "You're a nailbiter. Maybe a manicure would pretty you up some. But Shalene ain't working today, so your luck's ran out."

"You know it ain't nails I want to see Shalene about. And I know she's here, working or not."

She eyes me up and down and cracks her knuckle; gemstones sparkle from rings on every finger. I'm worried that she's gonna start getting hostile, and that's the last thing I need, but

then she says, "Could be she's here. What makes you think she wanna see you?"

I say, "Pretty sure she don't want to see me. But I need to see her, and I know the fact that's she's nitro and I'm glycerine won't stop her from working with me if I can meet her terms. And I think I can."

Belinda sighs, "She said you'd be by today. Said I was supposed to try three times to stop you and then take you on back if you kept insisting. She's waiting in VIP room for ya. Can't see why, but come on."

I follow Belinda back past through the salon, past hair stylists blow-drying, washing, dyeing and cutting. There's a thick smell of aquanet, lye and burnt hair. Some of the girls that know me glare in my direction. Belinda's long spread the word that I'm no-good and I pay them no mind. At the end of the main styling room Belinda pulls aside a tapestry with naked people skipping through a glade and reveals a staircasing spiraling down. I follow her into the bowels of the House of Beauty and Soul.

Belinda keeps a room in the basement to pamper special customers. She calls it the Arabian room. Peacock feathers and velvet throw pillows everywhere, and paintings with names like "The Ravished Odalisque" hang on the wall. The lamps are all covered with red silk scarves. She pipes in eastern-sounding music and fills the air with clouds of cheap insense. It's god awful enough to embarass Rudy Valentino. Last time I heard there was a wait two months long to reserve the room. We walk in silence towards the soothing sounds of Enya or Yanni or whoever the fuck is playing in that room. We reach a beaded curtain which Belinda plunges through without brushing aside and I follow.

Sitting in all her glory and smoking a Virginia Slim out of a cigarette holder is Shalene. She's the Mistress of Nails at Belinda's place and since she got that title she's been putting on airs like she's the Queen of Sheba. Today she's wearing a red velour pantsuit worked with rhinestone birds that glitter in ice blue and green. Her eyeshadow is in the same arctic green and blue as those birds and makes snowfields beneath the pencil-thin arches of her eyebrows. Her lips are painted the same color as movie blood. She sees me and waves one of her deadly, taloned hands at Belinda, indicating that we should have a little privacy.

Belinda leaves. Shalene beckons at me with her other claw and I move closer to her side. We've known each other since we were both snot-nosed punks glaring at each other from opposite sides of the playground. She was a skinny, hateful girl who grew up into a wiry, meanspirited woman who uses too much hairspray. But she was probably the best clairvoyant in the city and I needed her help and I say as much, "Shalene, I need your help."

"Ha. I knew you would, you no-good, know-nothing grifter. Call me a two-bit, tea-leaf readin' bitch and then have the nerve to crawl back to me. I hope you burn. I been waitin' for this day for three years. There ain't nothing you can offer that'll make me help you so you might as well --"

"How about money?"

I see that larcenous gleam in her eyes, "How much money we talking about?"

I have her wriggling on my hook already, "More than you make in tips here in a month. If we play it right, maybe enough for you to finally be able to move out of that double-wide in Tustin. Tornado season's coming."

She sucks in a breath, "You know how to get a gal's whistle wet," then her eyes narrow, But this can't be no easy-peasy japanesy job, otherwise you'd just finish it and hand over that moolah to your best friends, Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. What kind of bullshit you getting me caught up in?"

"Oh, the usual kind that comes when someone offers me four times my regular fees plus expenses without blinking."

"So, you're neck deep and wanna borrow my shovel. Alright, I'm in. Give me the skinny."

I tell her everything that had happened so far, from my meeting with Avery, to what I could remember about Andrew Laveau and my abduction and bargaining session with Clover. She nods at points, shakes her head at others and finally says, "Give me a second."

Her eyes take on a faraway, glassy look and the temperature in the room goes from pleasant to icebox. I sit for a couple of minutes shivering and chattering my teeth before she snaps back. She stares at me and says, "You ain't involved in nothing nice. That Clover plans to kill you soon's you give him what he wants, but if you don't give him what he wants he'll kill you anyway. And Avery's nose ain't clean neither. But I got a way out. If we get to the kid before you meet Clover tonight, we change the rules of the game on him. After we deal with Clover we got just what Avery wants and way to bargain for your rightful reward, maybe more. We play this right, we walk away with a whole lot of filthy lucre and more importantly, alive."

"So, you're coming with me?"

"Of course I am. And don't think it's 'cause I give a rat's ass about you. I wouldn't spit on you if your eyebrows caught fire. But if you get your damn fool self killed, I don't get paid. So let's grab the kid and work from there."

"Okay, we taking my car?" I ask.

"Fuck no," she yells, "I am Shalene, Mistress of Nails. I ain't going 'round in some broke down hoopty. We'll take mine. We need to arrive in style."

Shalene slipped on a pair of dangerously high-heeled mules and grabbed a monogrammed keychain from a hook on the wall. She went through the curtain of beads and again, I followed.

part of the wordmongers' masque

The Man in White- Pt. 6

Thankfully I grew unconscious quite quickly. I don't know what happened next. My memory only remembers waking up on a bed dripping in sweat.

"He's awake." I could hear John's voice from the room next door. Both Laura and John walked in with concerned looks on their faces.

"How're you feeling?" he asks. "Are you still hallucinating or have they stopped?"

"It's stopped. How'd I get here? Where am I?"

Between the two of them, they tell me what happened. When I started to hallucinate, John had quickly called to Laura to help him. Apparently I refused to get up from the street, so seeing no other alternative John knocked me unconscious and carried me up to Laura's office.

"You went white, Tom. Never seen you quite so scared."

I'd been out for several hours. I had a suspicion the two of them had a very long talk, but decided not to delve into it.

"So is this a sign that your hallucinations are getting worse?" Laura asked.

"It would seem that way."

"Actually..." John had that look upon his face. It's the one where he is logical brain kicks in and takes over. "I don't think it is a sign you're getting worse. The collapse should be gradual right? But from the way you looked that seemed like quite a strong hallucination."

What are you implying John?"

"Someone's dosing you. Can I see those pills you took?"

I hand him the bottle and he takes one. He nods his head.

"Very mild hallucinogenic. Wouldn't have much of an effect normally, but because of your condition..."

This is just what I needed another piece of the puzzle that didn't fit with any other pieces.

This brings us back to how are story began. Laura had not received word from her contact and I was in no state to continue my investigation. I went back to get some sleep. As you can know it wasn't peaceful.

A Mr Taylor had been murdered quite violently so John went to investigate. It was when John returned to show me the fabric that Laura called.

"Turn on the news" she said.

So we did. There greeting us were 6 more bodies, murdered in a violent fashion.

I can't work this one out and neither can she. One of the bodies, Laura tells me is her contact. One of them is Taylor. But the other four are completely unrelated from what we can tell (I suspect Taylor was unrelated as well). It throws any pattern out of order.

"Any chance these are coincidental murders?"

"No. Just asked a friend of mine in the police. He said they found small traces of blood and so on- DNA essentially- that link these murders to the attack on the two police men in the building. But they don't know who's DNA it is. Seems to be missing from their database."

We discussed it for a few more minutes. Before he died, her contact told her to go to King's Bridge Railway station. He said that he'd left something in one of the lockers.

In retrospect, that should have set off alarm bells. It was only after she'd left to find it that it occurred to me that it might be a trap.

The car wheels screamed round the corner into King's Bridge Railway Station. Jumping out of the car John takes the lead sprinting into the station. He is gone before I can stop him. It is deserted. Perfect place to hurt someone then disappear.

Stupid! Stupid! So obvious. Even if the same man was killing people randomly there was no telling what the contact had told his killer. Or if the killer had worked out where the drop point was.

I hear a scream and then sounds of a struggle. Coming from the platforms above. The words stupid! keeps repeating in my head as I race up the stairs. Working on nothing but adrenaline and guided by nothing but what I hear, I approach the lockers. Standing there, a blade in his hand is the man in white.

He's got a black eye. Good old Laura.

But Laura isn't incredibly strong. He shoves her down on the floor and readies the blade.

Now would be the time to intervene, I tell myself. Searching for a weapon I find a broken off locker door. Grabbing it, I rush towards him and swing it towards his head. He spirals backwards but somehow shrugs it off. I look into his eyes and see a mad man.

This is real madness. This is the psychotic nightmares that make Hollywood. Someone who will brutally kill and continue to kill for his own twisted reasons.

I don't intend to give him a chance. I swing the locker door again, but this time he blocks. He throws in my direction and I dodge. Instinct takes over.

The main aim of any fight is to hit the other guy until he stops hitting you. No rules. No restrictions. Hit first.

He punches again. I dodge and his face meets my elbow. He blinks back the pain, dropping his knife and shoves me to the floor. He turns to Laura, drops on one knee and tries to strangle her. I say try. It would be easier for him if she hadn't stuck both her thumbs in his eyes.

He doesn't let go however so I get up and kick up him across the chest, all the while wondering where the hell John's gone.

I've winded him somewhat and got him to let go, but it's clear he won't go down easy. Grabbing the locker door I smash it across his face. He's still standing. He smashes the door out of my hand and then reaches down and scoops up his knife. He lunges for me and I'm not fast enough. He cuts deep into my arm.

He tries to lunge again but this time I grab his arm. We dance round the locker room and he pushes me up against the wall. Suddenly Laura shows up and kicks him in the crotch. He doubles over and loosens his grip. Regaining his resolve he punches her hard. She collapses against one of the lockers.

I struggle but it's no use. He's too strong.

This would be the ending if John hadn't shown up. Out of the corner of my eye I see him running towards us. He plucks the man in white out of the air like a rag doll, like he's rugby tackling him. It's almost something a bull would do. Running towards the edge of the platform John flings the murderer forward. I see a white flash tumble into the black below.

There is a thud and it is all over.


For the Wordmongers' Masque

Top of His Game

This Apex Products catalog is amazing. Yes indeed. Look at this thing–a catapult that fires an anvil. Guaranteed accurate over 300 meters! Creezy! That's almost a third of a kilometer!

And to think I spent decades and sent thousands of dollars to those morons at Acme. Rocket propelled skates, flying bat suits, giant magnets ... what the hell was wrong with those people? They must have liability lawsuits lined up for the next century! They are just lucky I'm not the litigious type.

Oh no, not litigious at all. Just single-minded. Some would say monomaniacal, obsessed, even ... mad. But no, I am not mad, simply committed to a goal. A simple, single and very natural goal of ridding the earth once and for all of that accursed BIRD!

Ahem. Yes. Well. Anyway, look at that catapult. Took me three days to set it up. Cost the better part of ten grand, and it is worth every penny. I had to haul the anvil onto the basket with a truck winch.

Oh, but it is a beauty–nothing precarious at all about it, nothing slip-shod or makeshift. All the parts were included, and the directions! Oh, a CHILD could have followed them. Not that a super-genius like myself needed them, but I used them anyway. Anodized alloy pipes, solid construction, laser rangefinder, Jiminy Christmas, just looking at it makes me want to cry!

The time is now. I switch on the LCD screen; it lights up with bright blue sky, beige desert and bright red crosshairs. What ho! A small yellow sidebar lights up, calculating windage and servos whine, fine-tuning the aim. I am in heaven.

Hark! Is that a strange, beeping sound I hear over yon horizon? Yes, indeedy, a plume of yellow dust spirals up into the cerulean desert skies, reducing cacti and mesas to hazy ghosts. Moving with preternatural swiftness he comes, I begin to adjust the sights. I twist the tiny knobs and the accursed creature centers in the viewfinder–so careful! So precise! One shot at this, then never again. One shot and it goes into the dismal yard sale of my failures with the rocket-assist hang glider and the spring-loaded shoes. There! He's in my sights!

My hand moves instinctively, with no conscious thought. I never remember hitting the glowing, red button–I flinch instantly. Decades of falling anvils and long falls, explosions and malfunctions have ingrained in me an almost Pavlovian response. My shoulders shrug in a natural, defensive gesture.

But there is no boom, no splat, no sound like five tons of springs falling from a great height. There is a "swish" like oiled leather and the anvil flies high into the bright blue afternoon sky.

I can't believe it! It is flying straight AT him! Unlike that piece-of-garbage catapult that flipped upside down and shot a boulder high into the sky, so perfectly that it came right down upon me. Or the one that went ape-stuff berserk and pinned me against the wall of my laboratory for three days. No, this one worked without leaving the ground or throwing a single part loose.

The bright display still shows my nemesis, running obliviously through the middle of the trackless deserts. A red X is superimposed over his smug form, blinking with increasing fury. I don't breathe. My heart doesn't even seem to beat.

A funny thing happens when there's sufficient distance between a thing and the observer. Well, it is not funny as in "comical," although one supposes that it could perhaps be put to some comedic usage if one were of such a mind. No, I mean funny in the sense of "peculiar." Ahem, yes, so ... The lag between the speed of light and the speed of sound is intensified. I see the bird disappear under tons of solid steel and, moments later, I hear the thud. No, actually I feel the thud. It is almost infrasonic, but so powerful that it nearly throws me across the cave that has been my latest makeshift lab, headquarters and home.

I got him! I really did it and I got the son-of-a-biscuit! He's gone!

Oh by gum! He's gone. I fall back against the warm, soft leather of my tall-backed swivel chair. My held breath leaves my body as I throw back my head–a single, exhausted exhalation. I close my eyes. After all those years, and all those failed plans and foiled schemes, the bird is finally gone.

My eyes snap back open, then narrow to near-slits.

What now?

You bought a mask, I put it on
You never thought to ask me
If I wear it when you're gone
Get real
Get another—Sisters of Mercy, When You Don't See Me

Rough House

We crash into the wall and I wish that I could freeze time. The studs creak and she has tiny specks of plaster on her nose and cheeks. I want this split-second to last, I am pressing my weight into the building, through her. I want to keep this new expression of hers in a jar, this breakfast blend of defiance and rage. Her foot snakes around my ankle and I am thrown assward into the concrete. No time to think. I roll onto her and press her shoulders. Sweat and heat makes her fragrant. I detect Ivory soap and salt. A wad of my spit lands on her face, and she says, "I love you, Shane."


She looks startled, but now fingers are clencing a nerve between my arm and my chest and my grin fades. I yell and she throws my opposite shoulder to the floor. My head hits too. Nails rake down my chest, across my abdomen and over my groin. I flinch and her hand finds something warm, soft. She twists. I scream and her boot connects solidly with my knee. I'm dizzy. The back of my skull is throbbing.


It's her turn to smile now as she stands and leaves me on the cold floor. I try to gather myself together, and glance around the room to find my clothing. Missing. I'm breathless as ice pours down my spine. I see her toss a goblet of crystal, Austrian, mine, at the wall, just before I pass out.

Shall we dance?

Yoga -- zilch.

I've really got to get my sleeping patterns right, but sleeping through my yoga time wasn't really my fault. My alarm was set for the right time. The alarm just never went off.

I woke up because my foot had twisted strangely in my nightsplint and felt like it was being attacked by kittens. As I sat up to unstrap it, I noticed that the room was completely dark. No numbers peered from the dueling alarm clocks on either side of our bed, the ceiling fan had stopped and the nightlight we kept on in our bathroom in case RunningHammer decided to visit wasn't on.

Crap!! We lost power. I pressed the light button on my watch: 6:27 a.m.

I immediately felt Vix's side of the bed to make sure she was up and out. If she was still sleeping, she was about three hours late for work. She wasn't there -- must've gotten out of the house before the power failed -- but RunningHammer had climbed on to her pillows and curled up like a squirrel. I pulled the covers over him and grabbed the flashlight next to my bed.

I walked through the house. Yep -- everything was off. Without the binary hum of the computers in the living room, the house was hurricane quiet. On the walkway, TinyGranny stood in her pajamas smoking a Pall Mall and talking on her cell phone, telling the overnight person at Winter Park Utilities that, no, no one has been out to repair the outage even though she'd been calling since 3:00 a.m.

I pulled the trash and recycleables to the curb, watered orchids, basil, rosemary, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, then took a hose shower outside so whatever hot water we had was available for the kids and Granny. Not that I mind being naked outside or anything.

Hammer was awake and weilding a flashlight like a lightsaber when I got back inside. "Are you going to work this day?" he said.

"Of course. And you are going to school."

"I know. When do I have a no-school day?"

"In four days."

"Because I used to be four a long time ago."

The power hadn't come back by the time I hopped in my loveable little Corolla for the race to work. Traffic seemed heavier and a fender-bender on one of the surface streets snarled things even more. Nothing seems to be working right.

This theme runs through my world too much lately. nothing is working the way it should. Needles shoot in to my Achilles' every morning and whenever I start to walk after a while, despite gently running and regularly (except for today) doing my yoga. I invested in the housing market, building one townhome and remodelling a house, and the second both of them are ready to sell, the market goes flat.

My wonderful job is degrading in to a daily grind, opportunities drying up and being blown offshore with every corporate email I receive.

The microwave blew. The pool pump bearings whine like a chainsaw. My household is hemorraging money.

For some reason, despite all the care we've taken, SweetFaceBoy's transition from elementary school to middle school is not going smoothly. He's getting A's and B's in advanced math, science and language arts classes, is a stand-out player on his soccer team, plays a mean drum set and is on his way to being a talented orchestral percussionist. He still will still grasp my hand to hold it as we walk together in public or around the house. Yet there is an underlying unrest that manifests itself in uncharacteristic disrespectful and offensive behaviour. There's a broken bridge there as well.

Even Vix and I aren't working. She's working more because I can't pick up any more hours at my job. I've sent out resumes and applied for second jobs everywhere I can, but the resentment is high. We spend no time together and haven't for a while. More often than not our conversations begin and end in conflict. We do not shout or fight, but a tightening tension fills the growing space between us.

We're nothing like we once were. Growth and change are constants, impermanence is permanent, but it's not happening the way I thought. Well, what did you expect? a small wise voice says. It's all about money, but I thought we were more than money. Apparently not.

I'm glad I unplugged the computers and printer before I left. With my luck, the utility company will power on/power off/power on in rapid succession (they've done it before). The last time they did that it took a week to get everything working correctly.

Once I got to work I called home and learned from TinyGranny that the boys had a good morning and the lights were back on. Maybe I can do some yoga tonight if I can find the power.

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