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Wordmongers' Masque
Limbo.

"If you tell us where your base is we can end the pain." The voice grates in my skull. Not my ears. That's not where it comes from. Another bit of knowledge that I wish I could pass on to the others.

I wonder how much longer it will be before I die.

Death is the only hope I have left. For the first few days, I let myself consider the idea that a team could get me out. And then I realized the insanity behind that thinking.

They'd probably already decided that I was dead. Even if I wasn't, they couldn't take risks to get me back. One man was not worth the loss of a dozen. We all knew the rules when we volunteered. Being captured was an instant declaration of death.

See, each of us was given a false tooth. Filled with a poison that guareented we wouldn't be able to spill any secrets.

Easy way to keep base safety.

If we take them...

"We can keep you alive for as long as we need to. We are quite interested in the amount of pain a human body can withstand. And, even more peculiar, is the length of time that the mind remembers that pain." Trying to ignore the voice is useless. Trying to shut it out is useless. All I can do is take it.

I should have bitten the damn tooth. I get that now.


"And what are you to do if ever captured, upon the first realization that you have been apprehended?"

"Break the tooth."

"Andrew, I want you to look me in the eye when you say that. I will not have you or anyone else, for that matter, risking everything we have here by not ta-"

"Michael-Sir," I focus my eyes straight to his, "I will break that tooth."

A soft smile comes to his lips and he nods. He turns to walk away.

"And one more thing, Andrew. Stop with the sir thing. It's just Mike..."


So I'm weak. I get that too.

Who wouldn't be?

I couldn't kill myself before the Krags got to the tooth.

That's why I'm not going to break. Then everyone would know. Then everyone find out that Andrew broke. They'd remember that it was me who forced an evac.

"Tell us something, Andrew. And we can stop the pain."

As he speaks my body seems to explode. Fire covers every part of my body and instead of trying to manage it, I just let myself go.

Fade to black


"What is your name?"

Names are inconsequential. Give them that. Stop the pain.

"Andrew." Andrew. Just Andrew. Just one name.

"Excellent. Andrew." They lessen the pain and I'm able to think again. "And what is your mission?"

"I am-" my throat constricts and I begin choking. One of them comes over to me with water. They pour it into my mouth. A smile reaches my lips. "I am here, you pieces of shit," and I spit the water back in their face, "just to piss you off."

A fire of pain consumes my body and I just stop trying to fight it. I can't hear anything but my own drowning screams.

It all fades to black.


I awake to find myself being thrown onto a hovercycle. Normally, it would hurt. But I can hardly feel my body anymore. I flex my hand to make sure it's still there and, sure enough, it moves. At least that's something.

"Unable to attain information of any use. Subject has withstood all extraction techniques. Take to processing plant."

I don't dare say anything, but a smile touches my lips. I won. Damn right you bastards are unable to get anything out of me.

And then a sad realization hits me. I'm not leaving this ship to go back home. I'm actually goin-

An explosion rocks the entire ship and I brace myself against the hovercycle. The entire room shakes and I realize that one of the walls has been hit with something. Something big, as the wall crashes inward and kills a couple of my Krag guards. The only reason I'm not hit is the hovercycle's metal plating keeps the debris away from me.

The rest of the Krags are frantically trying to get to consoles. Not one of them is fixated on me.

I climb into the front seat. I have no clue how to work this machine, but I'm not sure I care. After looking frantically for any sort of buttons, I sigh. Nothing at all. They speak with their damn mind, they probably navigate with it to.

After slamming my fists against the front of the machine, to no effect, I calm myself. For one, the moving just hurt. For two, maybe I can move this beast forward.

And suddenly, responding to my very thoughts, the hovercycle glides forwards. I think right and it floats right. Normally, this would be a game. Right now, it's get out alive time.

I manage to escape the ship and navigate my way to the ground. Behind me, the Krag ship is crashing to the ground. At first it looked like they were going to continue just fine, but a rocket or something hit the ship and it begins to spiral towards the ground. Rockets. Haven't seen those in years.

Before I can see what's happened, everything fades to black again.


"Andrew, damnit. Get up!"

The voice is familiar. I'm obeying before I even realize who it is.

"Mike! Sir!" I jump up, not even feeling the pain that was so involved before. A quick glance around and I realize that Suthers is laying on the ground near me. Part of the hovercycle is crushing his leg. "Sir, are you... Can I?"

He shakes his head at me and smiles. Something isn't quite right about it. I sigh, realizing he's probably in a lot of pain.

"No... Listen, Andrew. I'm stuck here. But the Krags think I'm gone. Which should buy you enough time to get back to base and get a team out here." He winces as he speaks and takes a deep breath. His voice sounds hollow and strange.

"Oh. Uh... Yes sir! I'll be as fast as I can." I nod my head and stand up to go. I give him another glance and an uneasy feeling falls over me. Ignore it, my mind says. And I do.

I'm not positive about where I am, but I recognize some of the bigger landmarks. It takes me five minutes to get my bearings, but I start out running.

Suddenly, it all hits me. The ease of escape. The flying of the hovercycle. Finding Suthers.

It was all a set-up. God no. It was all a damn set-up.

"No. NO. NO! NO! NO!" I scream and beat my fists against the ground. It hurts, but I ignore the pain. "THIS ISN'T REAL," tears roll down my face, "but I won't tell you a damn thing. I won't give them up. I won't." I don't even have the energy to hold them back.

Bright lights flare up and reality fades back into place. I am still in the cell, looking up into the eyes of a Krag. The now familiar pain floats back over my body.

"So be it, Andrew. But we've got a thousand other methods and nothing but time. We will break you."

I wish I'd taken the poison.

The need for masks seems to be universal, around the globe and throughout time.
David Bishop

It's official; more votes have been cast for this than during the last season of Pop Idol.

E2 has decided to go with option (Drum roll, if you please)

6

Enjoy.

Worst day in the history of bad days.

I'm going to be court marshalled. At the moment I am still part of the official investigation.
(Well I'm being interrogated at the crime scene.)
'We would love to hear how this little mishap came about Wilson.' Smirked Commander Pierce.
'Remind me; is being a total prick considered conduct unbecoming?' I fired back. Maybe I've spent too much time undercover.
Barry once said 'the's nay pont stoopin' if tha johnnys split; yuse as well hav sum fun afor goin’a the clinic'.
However whenever Barry whispered that in my ear, he meant it literally.


I didn't see Barry much after we hacked Gordon love's mansion. I was supposed to be watching him but for all I knew he was harmless; I was using Barry to get to the bigger boys. Barry was on the periphery of an organisation known as R.B.B.R.: Rule Britannia, Britannia Rules, or "rubber" for short.

(That cheeky little nickname we gave them will become the new synonym for terror as soon as the press conference is over.)

Then Barry came in one night when I was asleep and sat on the edge of the bed.
A wus tryna kep yu adavit but we need y elp
What's goin on? Do y kno the bleedin' time! Focks sake Barry! I said, only just remembering to put on the accent.
dinna y use'a ave a job in computers? My ears picked up, this could be a way into R.B.B.R.
'Aye am retired ofa tha payoot from wean microso bough IBM'
Dna be so fockin' daft; A need somon canny wi computers rt noo. Git up an come wi mi.

I showed off a bit that night. Maybe that's how they fingered me as MI5. The hack was easy with my training.
Barry had broken into the country estate of Graham Love, (It was a gift from the Queens portfolio after we couldn't pay him for the ID cards.) Barry told me that he presumed two things. Firstly that the drinking ban would be legislated through the ID cards and secondly that Graham Love would have left a backdoor in the system he helped to design. He was right both times; the ID card’s computer system was Swiss cheese.

'Am in'
'Fockin brilliant!' Barry shoved my seat aside.
'Donna git too excited yu canna change nothin' I canna access tha content editor tuls'.
''Wut dy thiny were ere fo? Lemmie put this ini'

God knows where he got Gordon Browns ID card number from.


'After the Olympics were bombed I was on this think-tank; Professors and everything. Nobody came up with shit like this'. I don't think I've ever seenCommander Pierce impressed before.
'It too simple, that’s why.' He ignored my assessment of the idea.
'Once you get past the body-bags you can really appreciate the genius; come and have a look at this.'

Every TV station in the world has the pictures. Hi Mum, Hi Dad. The major news networks are still crowding behind the gates, but Downing Street is closed off. The BBC had the bright idea of using a remote controlled blimp, (quite a publicity coup for Harrods). The BBC’s pictures tell the whole story:

10 Downing Street is rubble.

As we walked around to Horse guards parade, Special Opps were raiding Barry's house in Glasgow. I know they'll find trajectory calculations, my fingerprints and an inventory of Gordon Brown's weekly appointment times. They won't however find a copy of the Anarchist's Cookbook.

Original ideas don't come from manuals.

'So this is because of the drinking ban?'
'That's what he told me.' I still had the recording of him on I-pod. 'He did love his booze'
'They say 80% of violent crime is alcohol related.' Pierce laughed at his own joke. I didn't. The white flatbed truck was swarming with forensics.

'Let me fill you in on some terminology,' Pierce strode around to the back of the truck and pointed inside. 'Trebuchet: a large wooden catapult used in mediaeval warfare, capable of throwing a four ton block of concrete 400 yards or more.'
I know; I was in the cabin when it fired.' I felt the marks the handcuffs made on my wrists
'Now if you look here, this is what I really love about this, It adds a certain class to the operation: do you notice anything missing'
There is a hole in the ground where part of the blockade used to be.
The four ton block of concrete that killed the entire cabinet this morning was the same one that was supposed to keep the terrorists out.

Barry is going to be fucking famous.
Osama didnt have Barry's sence of irony.

Goodbye Wordmongers' masque! (see you next year?)
(Please)

The Masquerade
continued

"Are you sure I look okay?" Dany fiddled with the corset of her gown nervously, tugging at fabric here, matting it down over there. "It's super important that we show them we can handle this sort of wealth."

"Relax, sweetheart. They're watching me, not you. You're not going to manage their portfolios, are you?" Marc kidded, smiling as he caught the scent of her new perfume. He slipped the ornate mask over her golden curls and adjusted the eyepieces. Dany was transformed; there before him stood a beauty in swan's guise, with an elegantly sloping neck to match. De Léon would almost definitely be impressed. Her arm in his, the phoenix guided his swan away from the valet and began the long walk to the front door of what could only be described as a castle.


"That's fine. I, uh... yeah, we'll have time. Don't worry about the Tokyo numbers--they're useless... No, we're going to have to get Janie on that first thing Monday." One sharp elbow to the side, one quick intake of breath, one annoyed look exchanged between bitter spouses. "Yeah... well, hey, Ben, I gotta get going. That's right, we're at the De Léons... The what? I don't know what prize--What prize is he talking about?" The last question mouthed cartoonishly to the owner of the elbow. Only a shake of the head and angry glare replied. "Yeah, well, I dunno buddy but I gotta go. Later." Jonathon Summerfield returned his cell phone to his jacket pocket with a loud sigh and an annoyed scowl. "What's with you tonight, anyway? Not enough Xanax with your usual three bottles of wine?"

Angeline would've had a hard time taking anyone else seriously in a frog mask, but this was the man who had swept her off her feet and managed to ruin her life after only 5 years of marriage. "Nevermind the prize. We're here, we're late, and the chauffeur has been waiting 10 minutes to open my door. Let's. Go." She consciously unclenched her teeth and signaled for Paul to open the door. None of the other arriving guests were misfortunate enough to see the angry side of Angeline, for when she stepped from the hired car, she was all glimmer and princess.


Stan and Tess Moreau were laughing when they eased out of their Bentley. Tossing the keys to a valet, Stan offered his arm to his newlywed bride. They were both smiling, mostly because Tess was still kind enough to laugh at his jokes, of which he'd made many in the last hour. Mostly the jokes were about their crowns and masks--lighthearted stuff--but the truth was that Stan was slightly on edge.

When Tess told him about the mysterious grand prize for best couple, he could hardly contain himself. Her family was wealthy, his only moderately affluent, so naturally the prize captured his attention while the social opportunity captured hers. Old money didn't gift cheaply, and when the money is as old as Count De Léons, it gifted so well it could change your life. Filled with anticipation and the tiniest bit of greed, Stan's mind was preoccupied with winning the secret--whatever it was.


Lora's eyes were wider than Stan's, practically drinking in all the money around her. As Gage escorted her to the front door of the chateau, she had to bite her tongue to keep from gushing about all the new sights and sounds. In the modeling world, you were always exposed to other people's fortune. This was different, somehow. More authentic. It made every lush hotel and lavish party she'd been to morph into a pale imitation.

Gage sported the standard tuxedo and black tie, but from the neck up he was all cat. Magnificent whiskers, orange ears, spots and tufts of fur--it was as if Gage had been born to play the Tom. And Lora at his side, mouse ears slightly less innocent when coupled with her plunging neckline and micro-dress, was an absolutely stunning catch. Gage adjusted his cuffs, waited for the doorman, and dreamily planned tonight's foreplay.

...conclusion tomorrow, at the stroke of midnight.

<--Previous

I awake refreshed, yesterday's drudgery a barely present memory like a vodka hangover - a mere hint of an ache. It's not every time that I get such a clear Event reading and I'm vaguely optimistic about what today will bring. Making first contact relies greatly on attitude, and exuding confidence in my prediction can sway more minds than I would have believed before my TCA acclimatisation classes. I check my communicator and see that today's overwatch has already scheduled Monolith to go with me. Not a bad choice; it always lends more weight to have someone visibly enhanced along. I just hope he's not too imposing - it's better that they listen out of respect for the TCA rather than fear of a meta. Quick shower and I throw on my work clothes, sending up another thanks to our future for the slip technology that lets me live a vaguely normal life. My leathers, cloak and facemask concealed behind the holo unit's display, I take a brisk walk to Hyland Lake park and wait. The flyer lands in the field fifteen minutes later.

We don't generally use these to cart people around, but the first impression we make will be the most important one, and it's worth this slight extravagance. Monolith nods and hands me a Quofee; he knows how hard it is to get that stuff as a permanent field operator. Oh, everyone claims they finally got the beans to grow in a gravity field, but it just doesn't taste the same. There's always a small stash at headquarters though, and I nod my thanks at his forethought. We take off cleanly and quietly and let the autopilot head for Uptown - there's java to be enjoyed, and no rush. Overwatch expects around forty percent habitation at this time of morning, enough for the first visit. It's easier to think of just numbers now.

I make the call to the property owners, following the slightly modified template for metahuman activity follow-ups. It's modified for obvious reasons - there aren't too many precogs around, at least not stable ones. This is the easy part, and they absorb the information in silence. I can almost hear the financial wheels spinning furiously as they ponder how to best deal with a potential loss like this. It's easy because they have no emotional attachment to the property, it's just a folder in a cabinet somewhere to be evaluated and weighed. We make arrangements for them to follow-up with a "Letter from the Management" and to notify us should the property change hands. All very businesslike, the call concludes swiftly and I sit back, mentally checking off another task.

The vehicle creaks as all six hundred plus pounds of Monolith step out onto the Uptown pad. His appearance is a total meta cliche - granite-gray skin, almost literally chiseled features that you could cut yourself on, and a basso profundo voice to complete the ensemble. The cliche would be perfect if he was meek as a kitten under the tough exterior, but it breaks down there. Monolith is ex-military - he never said which, and no one asks - and he's just as tough and coldly efficient as his features. He leads the way, dressed as usual in the tan fatigues the TCA has enhanced with a compound that won't tear on contact with his body. He can't really feel the texture of the cloth, so he never was sure whether he was walking around in rags or not. It's funny, more power than a small tactical nuke and the man's biggest worry is whether his laundry is done. I follow behind, now decked out in my leathers, voluminous cloak and full face mask. I'd be more comfortable in my regular slacks and shirt, but this isn't the time to be comfortable.

The first apartment is occupied by a young couple and currently only the woman is there. She is a short and t-shirt clad neo-hippie, all dark hair and big eyes getting bigger as she opens the door and sees us. She stammers out: "Yes?"
Monolith launches into the spiel with no preamble. We have a lot of ground to cover. "TCA, ma'am. Monolith and Harbinger. Are you familiar with Harbinger's work?"
She's silent for a moment and frowns - my stomach starts its slow descent in response. As used I am to the explanations I never really get into the groove of doing so smoothly. She's quick though, this one. She responds shakily "Ye-, yes I am. How..." she has to stop for a moment and collect herself. "How soon? How... how bad?"
Monolith waits and I step forward. "Between one week and 1 month. The entire building will be gone." I hasten to add "It's a very high probability reading. Do you understand what that means, ma'am?"
Now we wait for the reaction. Fortunately it's a favorable one, as she nods decisively and say "Yes, I understand. Thank you."
It never ceases to amaze me that they sometimes think to say that, and I always get a little hitch in my chest even as I utter the sacred mantra, "It's our job, ma'am."
I pause, letting her collect herself a little more.

There's only a few items left on our list now. I give her the TCA's holocard and the short spiel about providing temporary accomodations, as well as letting her know that we will be monitoring the site daily. In return we get her to sign that she will has heard and understood the import of the situation. That's it. We can't officially ask if they choose to believe and leave, or scoff and stay - we just need to do our dilligence and get them to sign off on the sheet. Fortunately in her case that's not an issue, and I can already see her attention fading from us and to the tasks that lie ahead of her, newly armed with this knowledge.

Monolith breaks the silence and says that we must see to the rest of the building, and we move on. She thanks us again almost absent-mindedly as she closes the door, and I'm glad. This one will live, at least on this occasion. Out of personal curiosity I tap briefly into my talent and see absolutely nothing. Always a good sign.

Over the next 3 hours we run the gamut of textbook reactions. Anger, laughter, denial, disbelief, calm acceptance, resentment and even hate - they all make their appearance here. Some even take a swing at us, but in Monolith's case they can only hurt themselves, and in my case it's completely futile. I don't even notice personal attacks any more - I'm simply not there when the projectile, fist or even explosion intersects the space where I should be.

After a few of the latter, I'm once again glad that the impersonal template exists. The TCA definitely has supernormal intervention procedures down, that's for sure. Trouble doesn't strike until later in the day when an irate old man straight out of Scooby Doo becomes convinced that we've come to finish him off for his sins, and starts beating on Monolith with his cane while frothing at the mouth. After an intervention involving his neighbours whom we fortunately visited earlier, we manage to calm him down and get him to sign off on the form. I hate to admit this, but at this point I don't really care if he understood what he was signing or not.

I feel like a total heel later when I check back at HQ. Turns out the the old fart's realtime birthday was only 20 years ago - he fought in the Timeslip War as Doomcannon and Doomcannon II and like countless others gained, lost, regained and lost again a fairly significant amount of power. A little confusion is to be expected and I make a note to visit him unofficially later and apologize. Well, if he's feeling lucid anyway.

Eventually we knock on the last door and sign off on the last resident. The hardest part is as always, making them realise that if nothing at all happens, the plan worked perfectly. This is the main reason why we go for that first impression - even if they have the boy who cried wolf syndrome through previous word of mouth, and are skeptical, we hope that enough meta-glitter will convince them. That's right; all of our successes exult in the absence of proof.

We leave on schedule, always a good sign. It means things went mostly according to template, and my past experience shows that generally this translates to high survivability. Throughout the next week I'll be checking back to see if anything changes, and trying to persuade those who haven't left to do so. I'll be on-call for the relocation efforts as well, since I'm a familiar face now, and that's in-between other scheduled patrols for other Events. I can't say that I'm happy, but I'm content to be this busy - it means lives are being saved thanks to my talent. I'm making a difference; it's all anyone can ask for.

*************************


- How did it go?
- Good. He's stable and actually seems to be thriving.
- Repeated exposure effect?
- Minimal. No change in acuity. By the way, the projected survival ratio is 60/10.
- Great. Let's lower it a bit, something like 50/20 equivalent next time. We really need to be speeding this up.
- You got it. I see a good one in mid October, that do?
- Perfect. You up for lunch?
- Sure, let me just send this off.

*click*

*************************

The Man in White- Pt. 7

From this point onwards time seemed to roll forward into a blurry mess. The clues that seemed to dance about joyfully fell into place, as the three of us and the police made sense of everything. Several times we broke out into arguments. A whole host of theories were put forward but they lacked something. There seemed to be something missing, till a copper showed up with the ledger and Louise's notes. Louise was not there, having already made her escape into the night. Seems someone tipped her off that the police were coming for her.

With the ledger all the clues and hints shuffled into order. Several civil servants showed up in the middle of the night. Along with a whole host of bankers and men of finance. By about three in the morning, we'd come to a conclusion and made a decision.

The police had one last job to do and they couldn't think of anyone better for the job then me.


I can hear footsteps. I motion to Laura and John. They nod and shuffle into the corners of the office.

Sitting on a swivel chair I rotate round, with my back to the door. As I hear someone enter, I swivel back round and smile.

"Evening Governor." No obvious reaction from him. It seems he was expecting me.

"Mr. Lavell? Care to explain what you are doing in my office, before I call security?"

"Go ahead. You won't get any response. We've cut the wires to the alarm system. I don't particularly want to be disturbed. I think you and I should have a little chat." I'm lying about the wires. Security is on our side.

"About what?"

"Murder. Corruption. Fraud. I'm gonna tell you a story. I want to see how you finish it. For many years now a corrupt leader has been smuggling funds out of office. Massive amounts in fact. He does it in such a way that it is unnoticeable. But he gets too greedy and his theft attracts the attention of a higher power."

"If you are suggesting that I am a thief..."

"I am doing no such thing. I suggest you let me finish. Now then this higher power sends one of it's agents in to find out what's going on. Sadly the agent can only get a glimpse of what's going on. No matter how hard he researches, there is something missing from everything he finds."

"It is just his luck then that he meets a clerk that serves the leader. The clerk has some vague suspicion that something is not right. He delves a little and finds our agent. Together they try and work out what is going on. Sadly, the story ends for them here."

"Another man however who was also in contact with the agent works out what is going on and hides. He works out that the leader has freed some monster which was meant to be incarcerated and is using it to do his bidding."

"Sadly the monster eventually gets him. But the trouble with monsters is they are uncontrollable."

"5 people Governor. People not involved in this sordid affair. I hope you have an explanation for when the police catch up with you."

I've broken through his poker face.

"The police know nothing! And they won't believe you, because you see things that aren't there!"

"Oh yes! I’d forgotten that part of the story! That's the part where you hire me, because of my condition, to mask the actions of your killer!" I'm angry now, I push back the chair and yell "I wouldn't bother denying it. I've already found out how you threatened my doctor into giving him my medical details and then threatened him to feed my a line about my condition. And then you make him replace my medicine with hallucinogenics!"

"Then all you had to do was hire me! You knew I wouldn't believe the evidence in front of me! And that the police wouldn't believe- because the man in white is not meant to exist. And then you dope me just to make me think I'm going insane."

"I was your cover. My investigation was what protected the murderer. If it wasn't for the fact that he lies dead in a police morgue I probably wouldn't believe it myself."

"You're right. But you won't get out of here alive." At this he pulls a pistol out of his coat and points it towards me. John and Laura step forward and draw their pistols aiming directly at the governors head.

"I believe I will. And even I don't the police have just heard a confession from you over the intercom."

In response he jumps backwards through the door and shoots. I duck and drawing my own pistol give chase. He disappears out of the office corridor and up the escape to the roof.

Damn. No escape for him. But no easy way to approach without being shot at. I am about to open the door when a thought occurs to me. As I open it I jump to one side. A bullet drives through the air where I would've been standing.

I climb the stairs carefully and peak over the roof. He's standing there pistol drawn waiting. How the the hell am I supposed to approach this? I see John come up and watch the situation carefully. His logical face passes over him as he looks at the Governor, the roof and the material below the roof. He seems to come to a conclusion and disappears back down the stairs.

A few seconds later a pistol shot rings out and the Governor is screaming, clutching his arse. He's dropped his gun. That's all the distraction I need. Getting a run up I tackle him to the ground.


There is not much else to say. A few months afterwards the police finally got a conviction, after much arguing with the Governor's lawyer. I've ruffled a few feathers it seems. I've got a death threat through my door.

I have yet to see the man in white again. I suspect that once a hallucination becomes reality it cannot be revert back. However I did see something strange...

As I was walking through the city streets, I happened to the howl of a harmonica. Turning around I see Bill playing his harmonica.

I begin to wonder if I'm hallucinating, but instead I sit down, pull out my own harmonica and start playing.

The End


Previous

For the Wordmongers' Masque

Glass and Shadow
Part Six -- The dust up

It's a quarter til midnight and I'm standing in the gravel parking lot outside of the World of Wheels roller rink smoking a cigarette. The pink neon roller skate on the sign blinks off and off at random like some crazy man's morse code. There was a roller derby bout there earlier tonight and a few drunken losers are lingering around waiting for the girls to come out. A few give me nasty looks. I don't pay 'em any mind. I figure it's too warm of a night to get all heated because some ugly mug's got a staring problem. I crush my cigarette out in the gravel and head over to the front door. I figure it never hurt anyone to be a little early and Clover was very specific about unpleasant things happening if I chose to be fashionably late. There's a tall, homely chick at the door with Ruth on her nametag. She's got buckteeth and big hands and a crazy look in her eyes tells me that she'd enjoy taking out every name she got called in high school on me. I give her my best smile and say, "Evening miss. I've got an appointment with Clover."

She gives me a bored look and asks, "Name?"

"Clover will know. He's expecting me."

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you in here without proper identification, and I need to check your name against my list," she says, clearly enjoying this.

"Look, Ruth-- I'm sure you're just trying to do your job. But Clover's expecting me and if he finds out I was late 'cause the hatcheck girl wouldn't let me in without a Driver's License, I can't imagine he'd be too pleased with either one of us. Now, you know a lot better than I do what happens when he ain't kept happy. But it's your choice."

She seems to consider this for a moment then says, "Come in. But wait inside the doorway."

I do as she says. Seconds later two big lugs in cheap suits come over to me. One of 'em starts to frisk me without saying a word. I say, "A man like me likes to get an invitation to dinner and a movie before the heavy petting. Otherwise, he feels cheap."

The lug doesn't laugh. The other guy takes a piece of quartz out his pocket, clear as glass, and starts to stare at me through it. After a second he turns to the other ape and says, "He's clean."

A redhead in a roller derby uniform rolls over to me. It's the same redhead that did the talking while her friends pummelled me the other night. She gives the two brutes in the sweat shop's finest the eye and they both nod. She smiles at me and says, "Mr. Hutchence. So pleased to see you again."

"I'll bet. You didn't a chance to get your licks in."

She keeps going like I ain't said anything, "Clover has been anxiously awaiting your arrival. He'll be quite pleased to discover that you are so punctual. If you'll follow me?"

She rolls further into the building. I don't bother trying to keep up with her; I don't have wheels. I look around a little as we go past the rink. There's a bunch of girls still practicing beating the stuffing out of one another while whipping round the rink at breakneck speeds. I see one girl crash into another with enough force to give a rugby player pause. What I don't see is Red's two accomplices. Red reaches the far end of the rink and sits down for a moment to take off her skates. She carries them in one hand and goes up a shadowed flight of stairs and I follow. There's a door at the landing, she opens it and gestures at me with a fancy "after you" bow. I enter.

I'm in this room full of antique furniture and gilt-framed oil paintings. There's a couple of persian rugs on the floor and a fire crackling in a granite fireplace. Some soprano is singing about lost love in Italian on the radio. A whole wall of the room is a one-way window that looks out on the roller rink below. It's a classy set-up. And sitting in a wing chair, wearing a smoking jacket and an ascot and that damn white panama hat is the world's hugest gentleman of leisure, Clover. Flanking him are the blond and the brunette with the mean right hook. The blond's carrying a silver tea set. Clover blows out a puff of smoke from his pipe and says, "Mr. Hutchence! Do have a seat," he points at the wing chair across from him.

I sit down and grab a cluster of grapes out of a fruit basket. I pop one into my mouth and munch thoughtfully. Clover temples his fingers and stares at me with those piggy little eyes. He clears his throat and says, "At long last, we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement. Are you prepared to lift the spell on the item?"

"Did you bring the money?" I pop another grape into my mouth.

"You will be compensated after you perform your service."

I shake my head, "Nothing doing. I'm not lifting the spell until the money's in my hot little hands. You've got your lovely little valkyries here, no reason for you not to trust that I won't do my part."

"Your tenacity is admirable. Very well. Brenda, pay the man." Red scurries away a his orders and gets a briefcase from behind and overstuffed chaise. She hands it over to me and unsnaps the clasps. There's a lot of money in there. Slowly and cautiously I count it. After I'm satisfied that it's all there, I say, "Hand me the folder."

"Do you really think I'm going to hand over my asset to you after you've received your money? Undo the spell from there."

"I can't. I have to touch it. It's not so simple as saying bibbity-bobbity boo. Now, hand me the folder."

Clover bites his lower lip but passes it over to me. I pull out a safety pin and jab my thumb. I trace a simpler sigil in blood than last time and chant the words of release. The sigil glows green for a second. I pass the folder back over to Clover. He clutches it close to his chest, then opens it, quickly scanning every page and moving on to the next. I pull a cigarette out of the silver case Dixie gave me last year for my birthday and hold it between my right index and forefingers. Clover laughs, a high, unpleasant sound and gestures to his weird-o sisters, "Kill him."

I laugh like he's just told a funny and say, "Oh, I don't think so."

Then the lights go out. I can't see the tip of my nose in the blackness, but the screams, wet splattering sounds, meaty thuds and sickening crunches are more than enough to give my imagination a workout. After a short while, the screams stop and there's only a sound like a junkyard dog gnawing on a bone. After that, silence. The tip of my cigarette flares up. The tiny, flickering flame gives me enough light to be glad I didn't witness Clover's messy end. I take a deep drag from my cig and the house lights come back on. There's a perfect circle that extends about a foot outward from my chair where everything within is clean and untouched. The rest of the room is spattered with blood, guts and flesh like a mad Jackson Pollock painting. A shadow in the corner lenthengs and darkens till it looks like molasses that can stand on its own. The shadow smiles, it has gleaming white teeth. When the shadow starts talking it sounds like Screamin' Jay Hawkins, "Oh my, but that was the most fun I've had in ages. It's been so very long since I've had a little something to wet my whistle. Mr. Alex don't let poor ol' Mr. Saturday have no fun. Maybe I should stick around you for a while."

I shudder at the thought. Mr. Saturday picks up Clover's blood-splattered white panama hat and cocks it on what would be his head. He dances like Bojangles all through the gore and muck. The radio abruptly changes from Opera to the chit'lin circuit classic "the boogie man's ball". I clasp the briefcase closed. Get up and trudge through a whole lot of Clover to get to the door. I yell back at Mr. Saturday, "That was the easy part. This whole thing ain't over yet."

Mr. Saturday de-materializes and the radio plays only static. I walk down the stairs with fifteen grand in my hand and a trail of bloody footprints. I'm almost to the door when the person I was expecting about four minutes earlier makes his appearance. It's Avery. He's dressed to the nines. His face breaks into a smile like he was meeting his long, lost brother and he says, "Hutchence! You did it. Congratulations. My employer is very pleased with your performance."

"I'll bet he is. I got that kid and I managed to get rid of an annoying rival at the same time. By the way, the extermination service is gonna cost you extra."

"Of course, you're entitled to a reward for your exemplary service. Where is he?"

I spit a grapeseed on the ground, "He's not here. See some things have changed and I figure I'm in a position to renegociate terms as long as I can keep Andy's location a secret."

All warmth drains from Avery's face. His eyes are steely and sharp. In clipped and professional tones he says, "My employer will not appreciate your insolence."

"Well, since he's waiting right outside, why don't you call him in here so he can tell me that."

Avery laughs, it's a wild, dangerous sound. Blue flames appear in a ball in his hand, they lick at his fingers without burning. His eyes glow the same marsh gas blue. I suck in breath in surprise, "You're a sprite!"

His expensive tailored suit bursts into the same blue flame and falls on the floor in ashes. His skin sloughs off and I shield my eyes from the brightness underneath. Floating in the air before me is a thin, glowing being with pointy ears and fingers that are too long for any human. I can't tell whether Avery is a girl or a boy, but either way he's beautiful. In a voice like a bell he calls out, "Master!"

The front doors bang open and in walks a tall man with skin as smooth and dark as polished mohagany. He gestures with one hand near my left and a crystal bauble appears and hovers in mid-air. It's soon filled with a tiny black cloud with shiny white teeth. He's already put Mr. Saturday out of play. He reaches Avery's side and says, "There will be no new deals. You will tell me where you have the child, or I will crush your body and enslave your soul. I will have forever to rip it out of what remains of your mind. You have no room to bargain."

I look down at my hands and slump my shoulder like he's won. The both of them get nearer to me. I try and look meek when the big, bad boss is staring down at me and I say, "Okay, I know when I'm outclassed. I tried to pull a fast one and it backfired. That's the breaks, I guess. And I guess I don't got no more cards to play except this one -- NOW!"

Almost immediately after I shout the word 'now' a cold wind whips up from nowhere and tentacles made of shadows coil up around the three of us. The earth shakes and red bolts of lightning crackle and flicker in the beams supporting the roof. Avery screams in terror and the Boss struggles in vain against the coil of blackness that has him trapped. I shout loud enough that I can be heard above the roar of the wind, "Now you will listen to my terms. You will let me go without harm and you will vow to never seek to harm me and my blood."

"What is this?" snarled the Boss.

I smile and say it just loud enough that he can hear me, "the spell of dissolution!"

"Impossible," he roars, "No one could have taught it to him."

"I could have," I say, "I did."

"Even if this were so, the Spell of Dissolution requires a sacrifice of one's own kin the boy has no blood family" Avery wails.

"He's got kin. Me," I see the fear in the Boss' eyes and know he knows it's true, "Guess your boss didn't share everything with you, Sprite. He wanted you to hire me because someone of his blood could get through the protections his spirits put up easier. Thought I didn't know. My parents never told me I was adopted. But I found out when they died anyway. And Andy knew the whole time. He called me Alex when we first met. I am Alexander Laveau and I am the locus for the spell of dissolution. Andy ain't gonna call it off unless I tell him to."

"But you will be destroyed," the Boss screamed through the howling winds.

"Maybe, but I'll take you two bastards and half this rotten city with me."

A lightning bolt crashes down within inches of the Boss's feet. Chunks of the floor get uprooted and begin swirling in the widening vortex. You can hear the creaking of the steel as it begins to bend under the strain, the boss shouted, "I'll meet your terms!"

"Swear on the seven, you conniving bastard!"

"I swear on the Seven by name, Girzlamek, Vindor, Baruchan, Lor, Aryndiel, Coramin and Tryndael that I and mine will never seek to harm you or your blood and that all rights of vengeance are foresworn. Should I prove false to my oath, may the darkness be upon me."

I wait for the rainbow glow that signifies a true oath then shout, "Andy, call it off!"

A second later the world goes still. The boss looks up at me with true hatred in his eyes, but I know he can't touch me now. He snaps his fingers and the crystal shell around Mr. Saturday breaks. Being the focal point for a spell that could unravel the world is tiring, but I still have a spring in my step. On my way out, I drop an envelope at the boss' feet. He picks it up and asks, "What's this?"

"My bill and some expenses. I figure I completed my end of the bargain. I kidnapped the kid just like you asked."

I hear soft cursing as I open the door and step out into the night. The stars are out and I feel like whistling. Everything's going to be alright. I suppose there's still that Lady in Grey left to deal with, since assassins can be tricky to call off once you've set them on someone, but I figure she's nothing the Laveau brothers can't handle.

My last dance in the wordmongers' masque

MELISSA

-------1-------

Her eyes were the color of melted caramel. It was my second day Sears Driving School, and seldom in my teen-aged life had I seen a girl more confident and beautiful than Melissa. A couple of inches shy of five feet, but she could stop a crowd with her fire and her beauty; she literally took my breath away.

I was not nearly as smart as the so-called "Einsteins" that made up the majority of my circle of friends. Nor was I as cool as the stoners who rounded out my social circle—but I learned a few tricks from them. It was 1979, and I was almost always decked out in style: all designer jeans and drop-tinted shades and terrycloth shirts. My rock-star clothes earned me the nickname "Stone" (for Rolling Stone magazine, which was insanely popular at the time)–only the teachers seemed to think I was being called "Stoned."

Mustering a bit of confidence, I started talking with Melissa. When I asked her if she would like to go out, she gave me her number.

-------2-------

We had a wonderful summer. We saw our first rock concertCheap Trick rattled the roof on our local arena, and when I shyly put my arm around my diminutive beauty, she did not pull away.

I was there for Melissa’s Sweet Sixteenth birthday party. We held hands and she blew out sixteen candles on a big pink cake. Somewhere, a photograph exists of the tiny beauty hugging a gawky lug in drop-tinted shades, a teenaged Jennifer Connely in miniature and a real-life realization of that guy from That Seventies Show. You know the one, with the shades? That was me once upon a time.

Autumn brought with it the beginning of my Junior year. Melissa invited me to a dance at her high school. She showed me off–she ACTUALLY showed me off ... I’d never imagined someone wanting to be my girlfriend, let alone being proud enough to show me off to her best friends.

After the dance, we got into her Mustang (which had been the main gift at that birthday party) a telephone directory and a pillow on the seat provided her sufficient height to drive. I took her to the nicest restaurant I knew of, The Magic Pan, a creperie. We exchanged glances over cherries in brandy sauce over folded crepes. After dinner, she kissed me.

I’d never been kissed–well, not like that. She kissed me for real, not some spin the bottle crap where they kiss you even if they don’t want to. This was the real thing. I was elated. Later, I panicked. There was no tearful breakup, no heated arguments, we just sort of drifted apart. I think I got scared. Maybe she did too. After that night, I never saw my sweet girl again.

-------3-------

Widower: God how I have learned to hate that word. It seems so old-fashioned, so ugly. It never has fit me, not even five years after a woman, nearly-unconscious on pills and vodka, roared through a stoplight and extinguished my precious Sheri. In one cataclysmic instant ten of the happiest years of my life were snapped off cleanly in a cacophony of metal, glass and fragile flesh.

Sometimes, late at night, I still think I can hear her speak to me. I've never believed in ghosts, and yet it seems so sad to pass off Sheri's sweet voice as some sort of auditory hallucination. It still comforts me when I think hear her or catch a whiff of my darling bride's soft hair as I am waking up. I know I should start dating again, I should meet a girl and have a mid-life girlfriend or something. I know that is what Sheri would want.

The office where I work is a natural place to think about romance. I'm the only man there in the graphic arts department, and I don't really care what people say about inter-office romances–Terry and Mike both met their wives at work.

There are some wonderful women there: Kenna is Japanese, intelligent and a superb conversationalist. She also wears outfits that push the lines of good taste–I flatter myself that maybe she is wearing them for me. Angie is tall and lanky and blonde and seems to know every trivial detail about every one of the Star Trek shows, which is pretty cool. A lovely woman (coincidentally) named Melissa is our office manager, and we get along well. She and I are both from upstate New York, and we reminisce at length about our childhoods there.

And then there is Candice. Weird, new-agey Candice, with her crystals and her "no transfusions" card in her wallet (she can't risk getting someone else's "energies"–even if it means dying). Candice is a weird cookie; her adorable daughter is named Morgan. Morgan calls me Uncle Dave and every time Candice brings Morgan (aka 'Little Bit') to work, I let her play in my office as long as she wants. Co-workers say "Dave, shoo her out if you need your space"–but I never do. Sheri and I never had any children, and Little Bit thinks watching me do floor plans in Illustrator and property photos in PhotoShop is cooler than anything in the world. She made me a note on a big piece of that ugly pulp paper (we used to have Big Chief pads when I was a kid, are they still called that?). On it, in her childish, but weirdly precise handwriting, she wrote, "I love you Uncle David, you are a rock star! Love Morgan." She circled the whole thing with a big pink heart. It still hangs right in the middle of the bulletin board, next to the photo of my nephew in his dress blues and Sheri and me at some big cathedral in Canada.

My wise old mom once told me "If you dote on a woman's kids, you'll have her wrapped around your little finger." I suppose I can be pretty clueless sometimes though. When Kenna took me into an office a closed the door to tell me "something private," I really hoped she'd be professing her undying love to me. As I'm sure you've guessed, there was no such luck.

Now, despite her 'naturopathic medicines' and her chakra re-alignment and her insistence that she can see the auras of people, plants and animals, Candice is really a nice woman. I could easily ignore a little freakiness, but there is a major factor which will forever prevent us from dating. She has a husband; he is about four inches taller than me and has a prison record. I may at times be a little slow of mind, but I'm not crazy.

-------4-------

After I told Candice 'no' things continued pretty much as usual for the next month or so. One Friday nigh], however, I got a telephone call from Little Bit.

"Uncle Dave! Did you used to date Melissa?" Was the first thing she said.

The last thing I needed were rumors about me and the office manager. Or, to be accurate, I did not want to get accused of anything I did not get to do! "No honey, Melissa is the boss, not my girlfriend."

She feigned exasperation in the adorable way that little kids can do, "No, silly! Miss Melissa from the gym! She was your high school sweetheart..." She said the last words dreamily, I could imagine her putting a hand to her cheek or forehead in a melodramatic, cartoony gesture.

As it turns out, the girls from the office take their children to a certain gymnastics place, and they were gossiping about me (fancy that) around the teacher. So, can you imagine who that teacher turned out to be ... (what's that? You have? Well you're way ahead of me there...let's go on to the last chapter, then.)

-------5-------

There was nothing for it–I had to go. Still, it was guaranteed to be weird. Nearly thirty years have passed and things just have a way of changing.

We arrived at "HomeTown Gym" on a Tuesday evening–just Candice, Morgan and me, along with two boys belonging to one of the other women in the office. The place was like a largish warehouse, with yards and yards of gym mats and equipment. Kids, from about five years to fifteen wandered about, playing, cartwheeling and seeming to have a lot of fun.

Behind a folding table sat the first girl I ever kissed. Time had added highlights to her hair and tiny traces of lines around her eyes and mouth, and her beauty and fire were undiminished. When she spoke to Candice, the voice I knew from a long time ago came back, identical to my memory.

Eye contact–a thrill ran through my body, she smiled, "And are those your boys?"

The question caught me off guard, I laughed. "No, no. I'm just a family friend." A pause, "I hadn't seen you in almost thirty years, I thought I'd come along.

My tiny blonde co-conspirator, Morgan, covered her mouth with both hands and laughed. Michelle looked absolutely puzzled, "Thirty years ...?" Then, those melted-caramel eyes met mine again, "David?"

If this were a Harlequin Romance or one of those chick flick movies (what is that writer's name? Efron?), we would have embraced and run off together, perhaps to a happily ever after ending. That's not what happened, of course, but I can't say I was disappointed.

It isn't easy to condense 30 years of living into 15 minutes of talking, but we did pretty well, between her barking at the children and introducing me to her cute, teenaged daughter, Danielle. Me: widowed, community college for journalism and photography then a career of pre-press, layout, design. No kids, a modest house that is paid for, two cats. Her: divorced, scholarship to a small but very prestigious university for biology then some graduate school to learn about helping special-needs children. Going back to school this fall to start on her masters. Ultimately, she wants to teach disabled kids. She was always a noble one.

There is a speech in my brain somewhere that I had prepared for this occasion, believe it or not. It starts with the words "I'm so sorry we drifted apart like that..." That is as far as it got, or ever will. Her laughter cut it off and those beautiful eyes filled with mirth. She said, "We were so young." A meaningful look at her daughter and a pleased smile. We were so young.

I walked with a light gait out to the SUV where Candice awaited, curly hair glowing in the vehicle's interior light. "What did you find?" she asked.

I just smiled, there are times when it becomes very easy to communicate with new-age crystal-wavers. "I found some peace."


"Face to face
no telling lies
The masks they slide to reveal a new disguise"—Siouxsie and the Banshees, Face to Face

There's a three-legged dog on our street. It's a Shetland sheepdog. One of those miniature nuclear powered Lassie dogs that would wear a hole in the Earth's crust running in circles before it ever got across "Timmy's in the well." It's missing its left front leg.

The dog gets around as if having been born with four legs was a mistake of evolution. It dodges and weaves and barks and generally makes a nuisance of itself whenever you pass its home. The Dog Whisperer would mention it was bred to tend herds. When it runs up its driveway and onto the street yapping like the broken wheel on a grocery store cart, it's keeping us away from its herd of imaginary Shetland sheep.

The first time I saw it, I didn't know it was missing a leg. It got around like a quadruped. One day my landlord said to me, "Watch out for the three-legged dog," and I thought she was cautioning me not to step on it.

If it was human it might have been lying around feeling sorry for itself, bemoaning the loss of its paw, complaining it couldn't run the doggie wheelbarrow races anymore. But it was running and weaving and yapping, just like it was born to do.

It antagonized me and my dog as we walked past the driveway it was protecting, hopping around madly like a weird transpecies creature: a bird going through surgery to become a mammal. Occasionally my dog would look up at me with that, "What exactly are you going to do about this?" look that pack members give the alpha male. "What is your plan? You do have a plan for dealing with this, don't you?"

But there was no plan.

"You should kill it so we don't have to worry about it biting us and maybe we can eat it," my dog seemed to say.

What I said with my body language, the only language a dog can really read from a human, was, "Let's get the hell out of here before one of us gets bit. I am much bigger than you, but I am stupid and planless. I am not worthy to lead."

What I said with my mouth in a language incomprehensible to my beast was, "Come on. Leave it. Leave it."

That's what dogs are all about. They see what is there, and not what you say. They do what they're born to do from the beginning to the end with no complications. People might not like what a particular dog is doing. We may scoop them up off the city streets and euthanize them. But sane people can't blame a dog for doing doggie things any more than you could blame a bear for doing bear things or a fly for being a pest.

As much as we would like for everything to fit our pattern of thought, the physics of life knows no need for such compliance. Things are rarely as we say they should be, were, or are. We talk about our existence as if it's a film we're directing, where we control the lighting, the camera angles, and the actors.

But it's not like that.

Dogs know it.




Primary day in Alaska was August 29th. The big race is for governor. Sarah Palin won the Republican nomination, soundly defeating everyone, including the incumbent governor.

Tony Knowles won the Democratic nomination. He has been governor of Alaska before.

Lots of other races were decided. I will not list them all here.

On primary day lots of citizens were out on the streets carrying campaign signs. In the capital city, every street corner was populated by one or more supporters of a particular candidate who were waving signs and encouraging cars to honk their horns.

It was a generally peaceful scene, save for Anchorage, where someone shot at the Frank Murkowski supporters.

All of that was interesting and is now in the past as we veer onward toward election day.

Yesterday as I was driving in to work I noticed a group of people standing on a prominent street corner waving signs and banners, encouraging people to honk their horns. These were supporters of Randy Wanamaker, who is running for state assembly.

As the primary is in the past, it is unclear exactly what these people were doing. While there is no reason they could not support their candidate at any time they chose a Tuesday morning to do it. It was a Tuesday that happened to be the primary day in other states.

And so it looked like the Randy Wanamaker team was a couple weeks too late and presumably, a couple dollars short.

Perhaps they'd erroneously entered the Alaska primary date on their PDAs. Perhaps they overslept on primary day and were having a make-up day. Perhaps they felt they should support their candidate on non-election days or perhaps they were drunk.

Whatever the reason, their being there, vigorously supporting their candidate on a Tuesday upon which no voting was occurring in the state of Alaska suggested to the casual passerby that they were less than the sharpest tacks in the box.

This is an example of at least one way in which trying to do something good politically can backfire on you.






Politics can be fun, but it's probably time I took a step back. I've been watching too much MSNBC. Reading too many internet blogs.

It's time I took stock. Why am I so worked up about politics? Why does the mere mention of the name of our president make my stomach churn?

What is my truth?

I would like to go back to being a moderate "fence sitter". I would like to be able to vote for Republican candidates without feeling I'm committing America to further fascism.

I'm tired of politicians of any breed. I'm tired of being told bald-faced lies by any administration. The difference with this administration is I'm being told I'm not American for not believing the lies. Prior administrations at least let me believe casting my vote meant something other than "you're either for us, or against your children's future."

I would not like to see a Democratic sweep of the legislature in November and the executive in 2008. Generally, I don't think they're strong people. I think they are wimps for the fact they can't administer the coup d'grace to an administration that is mired in its own hubris and the blood of nearly 3000 soldiers lives squandered slashing at Republican windmills. While there is less coordination of ideology in the Democratic party than the Republican party (and so the Demos would be less likely to force a national religion down our throats) the tension needs to be maintained. I want to see the branches of our legislature unbalanced. I want them all to debate in public. It shouldn't be that a couple dissenters from the majority party have to drag the whole thing into the light of reason because their consciences won't let them continue to administer and follow the lies.

I think we have lost the war and not one Democratic incumbent or candidate has the guts to stand up and say it. The administration did it by sending our fathers and brother and mothers and sisters into harm's way without the proper equipment, with no plan, and no clear objective. Get our people out of there - or - come up with the means to equip them and a goal they can achieve and a plan to get them there. This has got to be fixed. We have allowed ourselves to be blindsided by idiots.

Legislative gridlock would be better than this mess.

This is what I think about when I try not to think about politics.






It is beautiful in Alaska this morning.

When it is sunny in Juneau, there is no prettier place on earth. The morning sunlight turns the glaciers orange-pink. The bay turns azure and the bald eagles soar against a deep blue sky. The air is crisp. Snow-capped mountains far in the distance pierce the horizon like the remnants of a dream from which you've just awakened.

When it's sunny in Juneau each tree stands straighter, proud to have its own shadow. Fingers of light touch the forest floor and filter through the soft pine needles to animals sleeping below. We are an outpost of humanity in the mountains, surrounded by ice and trees. A place where visitors wonder how all of us came to be here, and why we would ever think to leave.






I have had a fight with my brother. In our lives we have had many disagreements, and several fights. When I was younger, they were fistfights. As adult males, both in our forties, they're wars of words.

My brother is a highly skilled, highly principled person. He tries to practice the rules he sets out for himself and he is merciless on himself when he strays.

He has been very concerned with his family matters, to the exclusion of everything, and everyone else. And his family matters have been numerous and serious. There are health issues to be considered as well.

So when my own family matters became all-encompassing, I could not expect to turn to my brother for help, and I didn't. When he offered his advice and judgment on my situation, I was unaccepting.

The therapist I was seeing recommended that I do not confront my brother about how action he has taken has hurt me and my family. She felt he would not be accepting. In fact, could not accept someone else's plight while he went through his own trials.

I didn't take her advice.

I'm not sure where we stand now. I have friends in this world but I only have one brother who has been my partner in trudging through this messy life. He has been my best friend, though I doubt he would say the same of me. I have never really known how to reach him through the thin veneer of attitude and stricture which kept him from ever expressing any strong feeling toward me that wasn't a criticism.

It's certain, I'm not a saint. Takes two to tango. Etc.

And as much as my brother has held me up against his own barometer of behavior, I have held him to mine. At times, we have both found the other grossly lacking.

But he is my brother.

I don't know what's best in this world, anymore. Times have been hard and I have been taking out my personal frustrations on the politics of the world. Now I understand the pundits and pollsters. When you have a big hole in your life you try to fill it with other things. Politics is easy to adopt as a scapegoat for frustrations.

When you get on the plane they tell you - put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. This is because you will quickly fall unconscious if you don't have oxygen. When you're unconscious, you're unable to help anyone else first.

My brother would argue that it is better to die while helping another put on his mask first than to help yourself during the limited valuable time another has to live. They might be dead by the time you get your mask on and regain the presence of mind to help them. And besides, he'd add, it's a stupid thing to consider having to do.

I say I would follow the airline's instructions.

In reality, neither of us has been in that situation, so neither of us knows what he would do. I only know what we are doing now.

Would it have been better to have not said a word and maintained tranquility till a time when we could discuss it more rationally? Or is it better I don't have those feelings eating at me anymore? Do either of us have the energy to try to understand the other?

I only ever had one brother. I miss him.

I wish he missed me.






What separates men from Shetland sheepdogs is we claim to have the ability to step out of our skins and observe ourselves from a distance. We not only think, but we can think about thinking.

We can examine our behavior and correct it where necessary, or applaud it where appropriate.

These days I feel like a three-legged dog who's too busy protecting his imaginary sheep to realize that people aren't threats - that they admire him for how well he gets around with his handicap. And that in their admiration they refrain from expressing the glaring truth that there are no sheep to guard, so perhaps there really was never any need to get around so well on only three legs.

It's happened in Montréal now too. A school shooting, at the Dawson CEGEP.

Montréal. That's Canada. The same Canada that appears in Bowling for Columbine, where Michael Moore walks into unlocked homes and says hi.

This is just too close to home. I didn't go to Dawson, but I did visit its campus several times, and I had several friends who attended school there. It's an anglophone CEGEP, but so far there seems to be no evidence that the gunman had any racial or ethnic motives. He simply shot people randomly.

Only one person killed besides the gunman. Nineteen wounded.

Dawson is a beautiful school, and I would have never expected anything but peace from it.

It's not the first time this has happened in Montréal. Something similar happened before in Concordia in 1992, where a prof went mad and killed four other profs. Everyone is also remembering the École Polytechnique shootings of 1989, when 14 women were killed by another crazy gunman on account of being female students at a technical school. I remember the yearly memorials and services held for those women. I wonder if there will be another one held for the young student who got killed this time.

There's no need for me to put links here to the news articles. You can all find them yourselves. But this is absolutely mind-boggling.

Just as everyone else, I am asking "why?"

Another contribution to the Masque

"Y'alright Sandy? Ready when you are." That's Geoff, celebrity guerilla DIY expert. He's just arrived at the Johnsons house to fix a toilet on film. It isn't too bad today, he's only 30 minutes late. The Johnsons were all starstruck from the second they opened the door. Now they're fetching him cups of tea and asking for his autograph while he gets his tools out of his bag. "Come on girl, you've forgotten some of the fittings. you need to be doing better than this." I grit my teeth. I know it's a cliché, but stardom has changed him. When I first me him, he'd a charming and helpful handyman, a regular at my ex boyfriend's local pub. He'd always had time for his Sandy and Andrew, we were in there almost as much as he was. When the executive producer of a prime time Home Improvements show asked me to come up with a feature to get our audience more involved, perhaps something to generate revenue from premium rate phone competitions, I approached him. Jamie Oliver was high in everyone's mind at the time and I figured another genuine face couldn't hurt. The deal I proposed was that he would get a standard deal from the production company, he would bring tools and expertise, and I would bring a camera and together we would produce a Geoff's Guerilla DIY. It was actually really good deal for him. There was a fixed budget for the slot and the execs weren't too fussy how it was spent as long as we didn't go over. The only costs were his wages, my time and 2 rooms in a hotel near the shoot for a night.

"I'm ready." I say and start rolling. I know how to hold a camera, which is 1 less expense in the budget. I count down "5..4..3", sign 2 and 1 then point for his cue. At least he's good at talking when you want him to. "Hi and welcome to another edition of Geoff's Guerilla DIY. Today we're in Ashton with the Johnsons, trying to fix their toilet. Dave, tell us what's wrong." The father of the house launches in a detailed explanation while turned to the camera. Starting with how he discovered the problem, what he tried to do to fix it and how it affected his water bills. Geoff was doing his best to pay attention but was spending an awfully long time looking at Dave's eldest daughter. She was 23 and single, just his type. I noticed that he'd established this pretty soon after he arrived at the house.

Over the past of 2 years he's become more arrogant. He expected me to look after more of the details. It started with me going to buy some lengths of wood for some shelves when he was running late, then looking after his tools, and finally all he did was turn up at the shoot and collect his money. When I stopped acting like his slave he complained to the execs. They called me in and made it clear that the audience loved him and therefore it was his slot, he called the shots. They even went as far as naming him co-producer. I no longer had any control over him. He was careless now. We had recieved complaints from viewers that were in the business saying that he was doing things incorrectly. Just a couple of weeks ago we got a letter from somebody's solicitors saying that we were being sued for someones injury following his bad advice.

Dave finishes his monologue and Geoff takes a second to hear his cue. "OK Dave, I'll talk us through what I'm doing. First we take the lid off the cistern." He tries to lift the lid gently at first and when it come free he yanks it, putting his whole back into it. There's a loud crack and water starts gushing upward like a fountain. "But...but...I told you about the tape I'd used!" Dave blubbers. He puts his hands to his head and watches the water soak the carpet. To his credit, Geoff takes it all in his stride. "Now wate have we learned here?" He says while smiling at the camera, "Always make sure that you turn off the water supply using the valve behind the bowl before you start."

I get the feeling this shoot is going to be long and expensive.

Things I saw today that were not masked:

7:30am
A pair of feral lovebirds twisting green and blue moebius strips through the air behind my car in the driveway.

7:40am
Striding down Thomas Road, a tall, TALL cowboy, thin as a paperclip and all in black, his ten gallon hat
shading the tiny baby in the tiny stroller he was pushing. They were headed west, of course.

11:10am
Under its own power, a lone bottle of wine works its way to the edge of the eight foot tall racking in the
warehouse and kamikazes itself straight at my warehouse guy. He was not nearly as startled by this as I was.
It made me wonder what was going on when I was not there. Maybe there is some undeclared war going on
that I should know about. Will investigate.

3:40pm
Indy 500 car abandoned mid-lap by driver, pit crew, and screaming fans for the more alluring ice-cream truck
headed in the opposite direction.

7:49pm
One white rose in the vase on my table drops nine petals slowly, one by one, then stops.
A private dance of the seven veils, plus two.

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