The Comedian's Notebook: Killing Hitler

~ Say what you will about Hitler, but he did kill Hitler. Would you kill Hitler? That's always the time-travel question. Most people say 'yes' but the right answer is 'no.' Hear me out! You're being asked to go back in time and kill a baby. With no knowledge of what the actual consequences would be. The only way saying 'yes' would be the moral choice is if you were assured that the only consequence of killing Hitler would be that The Holocaust never happened. In which case, there would probably be no Israel, but that's another story.

    You'd have to make it look like an accident because, how many of you, taking home a bundle-of-joy from the hospital would relinquish it to some nutcase in zany clothes with a strange accent claiming he's from the future and needs to kill your baby in order to prevent a genocide? 

‘So there’s the explanation, we cool? Cheers.' Dropkick motion.

Maybe the 2,500 cases a year of SIDS are just time travellers from the future preventing genocides. There's so many because killing one changes the continuity and new cases keep arising. C'mon future! Get your shit together. 

The real reason no one's killed Baby Hitler is because of all the nuclear testing we did in the forties. Messed with the atomic structure of the universe and any time travel before Hiroshima simply isn't safe.

    This will definitely need to be trimmed, but there're some keepers I think.

~ There's a giant bird with a sphere on its head carved into the wall right above the Rasmus Building elevators. I'm in there sometimes three times a day. How have I never noticed that before? It’s just carved into the wall and not colored in or anything, but it doesn't even have the Rasmus logo on it. Maybe it was there before they moved into the building.

~ Adding 'like an animal' to the end of stuff seems to get a laugh most of the time. For instance, 'I don't turn my phone off when I go to sleep like an animal.’ Maybe think of something more snooty and unexpected.

~ First staff meeting today and it was fucking torture! Do people do shit like that all the time? They must, I deliver things to them. Staples, paper, hardware . . . Apparently PantherFootWork has these meetings every quarter. That's their way of making it sound like less than four times a year. 

    Engman talked for fifteen minutes straight about how he felt he was getting shafted out of his break by two minutes a day because a lot of times he has to wait longer for the freight elevator. Marty was apologetic and explained the time-clock system (as if Engman doesn't know that) and outlined other possibilities for break options other than going all the way downstairs (yes, there are stairs as well) then asked if he had answered Engman's question. Engman then said no, he felt his question hadn't been answered and then started to repeat his initial monologue. Luckily, Marty interrupted him and said they could talk after.

    Oh shit, how could I forget this? Leo was wasted and had to leave. Holy fuck. His shift and mine normally only overlap for an hour or two so I don't see him that often. But when I saw him today I said, “Hey dude,” and waved and he looked at me without saying a word, then tucked his head into his shoulder and continued walking toward the meeting room.

    “You gonna stay awake for this?” I asked. ((So fucking sue me, I'm not a good conversationalist. I know I bitcha lot about what other people say, but this was just the spur of the moment because Leo was acting weird. Maybe I'll add things I say to my list of Things That Aren't Funny. Would that make you happy?))

    Leo mumbled something totally unintelligible and I got a blast of booze-breath right in my face. I was thankful that he sat at a far table. Unfortunately for him, he kept speaking up at different times. Marty stopped the meeting and asked him if he was okay. This actually happened two more times before Marty took him outside and sent him home. I guess he got a cab or took the bus or something. Marty assured us that he wasn't fired or anything because he wasn't technically working even though all of us got paid for being there.

    Marty seems to be at pains a lot of the time to not seem like he's got a corporate stick up his ass. And he doesn't seem that way to me anyway. I guess I don't really find him that approachable, but that's just because he outranks me in so many ways. Anyways, that was today.


The Comedian's Notebook: Things That Are Not Funny

~ Things that are not funny:

1. Saying ‘it’s not even funny.’

2. Happy Friday! (I swear, every office I deliver to people say this and get genuine laughter as a result. I assume these people know each other because they have similar schedules and maybe even see each other every day, and for some reason for them - IT NEVER STOPS BEING FUNNY.

3. Adding to someone’s hypothetical punchline with ‘or not’ and then laughing to yourself.

~ This will come as a great surprise to all of you but . . . I know a chick. And she's really hot. She's also really cool. But on a cold day I get confused because she looks hot, says she's cold, but I know she's cool. Women! I'll never understand them.

~ My horoscope told me today that something might happen. Maybe possibly anything! But then again it might not so I should be open to new possibilities. I must not be doing this life thing right because it's the same horoscope day after day after day . . .

~ I've heard that Lavish does some sort of comedy every night and that it's actually a good place for open mikes. The reason for this is that everyone is there to see comedy and the audiences are pretty forgiving. At least, that's what Verena told me. She said she wants to get a really good solid three minutes before going up there though, and that makes sense. What I didn’t say is, if the audience is forgiving, you'll never know what actually didn't work.

    Haven't really gotten into the swing of staying out late yet. I get home at around 4 am at the very latest, then I still have five hours until I have to be at work. Showering and eating takes time, but so does sleeping. I feel more awake if I don't sleep at all than if I just get three hours, but that isn't something I can realistically do five nights a week. Ugh. Just need to make a schedule and stick to it.

~ The words ‘monosyllabic’ and ‘polysyllabic’ have the same amount of syllables.

~ Some Creationists believe that everything was created 6,000 years ago and nothing has changed since then. These people, of course, will be born, hit puberty, grow old, get sick and die. Biology happened to them too! How can you possibly claim that God created everything except for the life process? Isn't that what God is supposed to do? And who created the life-process then, Satan? According to their assaults on teaching biology in schools you'd think so. This, however, could be the founding of a new religion: CreataSatanism. Eat that, grow up and get out!

Holy Books - XIII: What the Dead Care About

the missing chapter thirteen


1   Companions lifelong, the only best friends are the dead. Every year the graves move a little closer together. Despite seismic activity which would tend to cleave them, the dead’s connections are deeper than dirt. But rest assured, the dead care not about you. What do the dead care about? Their favorite birds?

2   No. Definitely not you. It doesn’t matter how many horror movies there are where the ghost performs seemingly only for the audience. The dead do not care about you. Or your date. So what do the dead care about?

3   We don’t know. Yeah yeah, we get it. We’re a holy book, we’re supposed to know everything, but we don’t really know what the dead care about. We were not written by the dead. I mean, at some point, we will be. But not right now.

4   The longer you wait to read us, the more likely it is that we’ll have been written by the dead. So maybe just have a little patience, hmm?

5   What if . . . hold on . . . what if the dead don’t care about anything? You know, being dead? 

6   Which would make this entire chapter a blight in an otherwise perfect masterwork which dissects and then reveals all the mysteries of existence.

7   Ah yes, it’s all there. You just haven’t looked hard enough. Dear Reader. That’s why this chapter is appearing to you. 

8   Those who have seen, do not need this part. Maybe, those who missed the entire book are the true seers. Most of the world.

9   That can’t be right, you say. Most of the world are idiots. Yes, but most of the world are dead. And they don’t need this chapter. 

10   We’re writing these words in the present, while still alive. Maybe we’ll edit them soon. Even divine inspiration can benefit from a once-over for clunkiness. You wouldn’t think so from reading other holy books, but seriously folks . . .

11   For many readers, this chapter on death will not appear. But nonetheless, they will claim to have read it. In fact, we predict that entire volumes of holy books will be dreamed up by people claiming to be in on some secret ‘know.’

12   But it all started here, with the missing chapter thirteen. At the back of everyone’s mind. Hovering over their life like a translucent shawl in the breeze. Waiting for the moment, that mis-timed refle, that heartbeat just a little off. The stray piece of material that’s going to wind up stuck somewhere it shouldn’t be.

13   Oh, you mean like this chapter, you say? Ha ha. We’ve heard that one before.

14   But the real joke is on you. Dear Reader. Spending your life in the service of the dead. Your entire world is built by and on the dead. All the techniques you know, taught by the dead. 

15 Here’s some advice since you’ve stumbled upon the missing chapter thirteen. If indeed you are intended to be the prophet of a new age - and believe us, we’re not happy about it either - swallow, rather than swim in your own darkness. 

16   And definitely don’t take advice from holy books.

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 2)

    Penny unpacked her vital things and then went out. The rain which assaulted them on their way up had stopped. In fact, the afternoon was humid and seemed to be getting warmer. In front of the cabin was a small porch which looked out onto the fire pit. Circular and square grills lay to each side of the metal cylinder. Hopefully, the group would get to use them and have some camaraderie-time before retiring. 

The hill sloped downward but Penny decided not to explore those paths. She wanted to know what the others were up to. The wind whispering through trees gave way to unearthly sounds emerging from the forest. Tones of a bell. Individual plucks on thick string followed by a shimmering whine. Music that wasn’t coming from a speaker. How typical. She gets stuck with the boring people and the other cabin already sets up music.

    Around a corner in the path, she saw the tall head of an instrument. Penny pressed herself behind a tree, taking careful glances. Dani and Yaser stood almost together in front with Ryleigh a few feet behind them. The two instruments that Dani held were square contraptions with a bell in the middle of them. They were connected with a piece of metal that zig-zagged and produced a wavy sound, like an 80s synth. Dani occasionally turned a knob with her fingers on top of either square which produced a ring from the bell. 

Yaser's instrument was half the length of his body and resembled bellows for a fire, although without the bag. Hanging off of either handle were two metal devices that looked like tuning forks and sang when swayed. Chirps, like a combination of bird and cricket sounded when he squeezed. 

Behind them, Ryleigh held a stool with a triangular top. Running down each side was a chainlike string tied to the legs, which made sounds like a bass underwater. In timed intervals, she produced a thin piece of metal and struck the top of the stool to produce a hollow ping, in stark contrast to the vibrating depths of the chain-strings.

    Penny watched as the group played on, either practicing something pre-rehearsed or just improvising. Eventually she felt guilty. Maybe they were going to surprise everyone with an impromptu performance later on. Her mind occupied itself with the question of how they brought such enormous pieces of equipment up here without anyone noticing. And if they did bring them up here, where was their camping gear? Surely they couldn't have brought both. The judge in her head told her that she was dumb for not recognizing the culture these instruments were from. 

    On the way back, Penny realized that her wishes for a communal dinner were unrealistic. It was still too wet and everyone was getting settled. Maybe someone in her cabin had brought a game or a deck of cards. That hope was dashed as well when she saw that the windows were dark. She went inside and found the switch for the front room. There was a couch, a table and some fold-up chairs in the far corner. The kitchen had an electric stove next to a slim counter. A coffee machine plugged in beside it. No microwave, but a small fridge. The ranger was right. Young artists were too spoiled to be camping out here. This couldn't even accurately be called camping.

    Penny noticed flickering lights coming from underneath one of the bedroom doors. Was someone watching a movie? If you're not gonna accurately camp, then you may as well go all out, she thought. She knocked on the door and Frank answered. “Occupied. I mean, working in here.”

    “It's just me,” said Penny, hoping the fact that she was a girl held some sway. “What're you doing?”

    “Art,” Frank replied. “I've spent a long time setting this up and opening the door would ruin the illusion. Please don't mess with it. Thanks.”

    “Sorry,” she muttered to herself and turned away. “Artists.”

    Down the hall, Cezar's door was open. At least, she assumed it was his and that Chinonso would have taken the far room closer to Penny's. She poked her head in. Cezar sat in front of a computer display although it was not a television or movie, but rather a digital representation of circuits and meter readings.

    “Hello,” he said, not turning his head. A metal contraption was attached to either temple and wires ran up both arms.

    “Is this a –?”

    “No. You may come in,” he said. “I have a genetic condition I've been battling my whole life. Which funnily enough was not expected to exceed seven years.”

    “Wow,” Penny said. “So you're some sort of medical miracle?”

    “Hardly,” Cezar replied. “I became enamored with electricity at a young age and read all the medical literature I could. All of these monitors are of my own devising. My parents thought they were toys and paid them no mind until the doctors pointed out that I should be getting much worse.”

    “That’s pretty amazing,” said Penny.

    “I apologize for my triteness,” said Cezar, “I've just recited that little speech so many times.”

    “Of course,” said Penny. “But you can't blame people for being interested.”

    “And I don't,” said Cezar, “which is how I got the grant. I'm seeking others with my condition, or similar and see if I can partake in some controlled trials.”

    “Well,” said Penny, really wanting to ask how he transported all this equipment through the rain without damage, “everyone else seems to have disappeared. If you want, I could cook us up something to eat.”

    He turned toward her. “I would like that. Thanks. I'm not picky, so please, whatever's easiest for you.”

    “Sure,” she nodded. “I was prepared for crap, but there's a stove and fridge here.”

    “Yep,” said Cezar, “not to mention complicated medical monitoring equipment. We're really roughin' it like the pioneers.”

     Penny went to the living room when outside movement caught her eye. Through the window, she saw Ryleigh, pacing aimlessly around the fire pit. Penny went outside.

    “Ryleigh,” she called.

    Ryleigh turned to her, saying nothing.

    “Ryleigh, it's Penny,” said Penny, extending her hand.

    “Of course,” said Ryleigh, “I figured you'd come out here sooner or later. I was afraid you'd disappeared for the night after your afternoon stroll.”

    “So you . . .” said Penny.

    Ryleigh nodded. “Yes, we were playing together earlier. It seems so long ago now.”

    “We're about to have dinner,” said Penny,  “Well, some of us and you should–”

    “I want to show you something quickly,” said Ryleigh. She pointed down a path behind the cabin. “It's down that way, and it won't be for long.”

    “Like an animal? Or -” asked Penny.

    “Whatever,” said Ryleigh. “But you need to see this.”

    She started down the path and Penny followed. At some point, a faint fog had settled. Or else it was creeping up to them from down below. Ryleigh knew exactly where she was going, twisting and turning with the expertise of a bat. The fog became thicker and they ended up at a grove of trees with a missing part of its circle. Ryleigh pointed ahead. “See them.”

    Penny looked and realized in her gut that somehow, they were standing near the edge of a cliff. In front of her was a lake of fog and no more trees. But something peeked through the fog and the harder she concentrated on it, the clearer it became. At first she thought it must be more forest and she was subject to some illusion. Specks of green poked through the clouds. But the specks became peaks of far away mountains which grew. As her eyes adjusted for perspective, she found herself staring at a range of emerald mountains, raising through the fog as if sitting on top of a cloud.

    “What a view,” said Penny. “Should've brought my phone.”

    “It wouldn't show up,” said Ryleigh.

    “Of course they would,” said Penny. “Why wouldn't they?”

    “Have you ever tried to take a picture of the sun, when it's a red ball behind a cloud? Or the moon during an eclipse? It just doesn't work right,” said Ryleigh.

    “Maybe we can see them better in the morning,” said Penny. “What range is it? As if I know the names of any ranges around here.”

    “Their name is probably unpronounceable,” said Ryleigh. She pointed at the bed of fog which now resembled jagged rocks. “We were playing for it earlier. We'll know soon enough if it heard our song or not.”

    “That's really beautiful,” said Penny, again feeling dumb that she didn't understand whatever cultural reference Ryleigh was referring to. “Thank you for showing me this.”

    “Oh, I had to,” said Ryliegh. “Because no one else -”

“What were they all too lazy?” asked Penny, still staring ahead.

 Ryleigh pulled on Penny’s arm several times before Penny shook the trancelike hold of the peaks.

What the Caterpillar Calls the End of the World

The shell-shaped leaf glides along the sidewalk 

Solid from the cold 

skittering like a pebble along a frozen lake 


Landing against a worm 

the worm pays it no mind 

and the wind moves the leaf along

A brown curled puzzle piece 

Once a part of something grand


 Between many shuffling feet. Impatient with frost 

Nothing is more patient than frost

An edge, caught in the nick of a wooden power pole 

Fine, just fine 


No wind can release the leaf from its catch

and, invisible to the traffic-dampened ears of humanity 

the leaf waits, attuned to the breezy symphony 

from trees across the land 

 borne by a hungry and restless wind 


The current creates eddies around the phone pole 

many leaves missing orbit, shot out into the road 

knocked into the mulch of a freezing ditch 

Fossilizing before the eyes of a populace that knows 

with certainty that everything takes too long 

A populace constantly in the grips of plan making 

Impossible plans with timelines resting on certainties 

supported by nothing more than 

delusional blind faith 


But for every dozen lost leaves, a catch 

A sibling slides into a crack and stays 

They speak in flutters, only when the wind lets them 

but that is all they need to say 

It has begun. 


Over many days, they are joined 

A leafy base at the pole, like a bird’s nest 

Some days, the wind stops entirely. 

Some leaves are lost to a clumsy foot, an irritated shove, playful dogs 

But they still build. 

The stronger their base, the easier the capture of newer leaves 

Fresh green ones, lost in the clearing of a yard. 


A child wonders, how did all these leaves get to covering half this pole? 

A mother shrugs. The wind. The wind. 

A curious city official investigates. It’s not an invasive plant. 

Just leaves 

To take them down would create a greater mess, and we’ve got garbage cans to empty. 

People complain if their garbage does not disappear instantly. 

The leaves here are climbing the pole, not gathering in rotting clumps on the street. 


 Sensing danger, the leaves connect 

their veins peeking out of the margins like curious hairs, finding each other and lacing. 

Once one pair does it, they all learn 

and spend the next week latticing and gathering other brethren to reach the top. 


A curious populace notices something new. 

Undifferentiated, the green pod seethes with life. 

Dark vibrant green, with hints of flowing fluid throughout.

It breathes.

No one wants to touch it.  


The power company must intervene. Scientists petition to stop this. A barricade is formed. 


This enormous cocoon covering the pole, glowing green and ready. 

Concentric circles surround it: 

civilian protestors 

scientific researchers 

government plants claiming to be scientific researchers and protesters.  

City landscapers and the power company, ready for . . .  


Days and nights pass 

Barbecues set up on the street. 

People camp in cars. 

Music plays, tasers are fired. 


One afternoon, from the tip of the cocoon, a sprout 

Is it an antenna? A proboscis? 

A thousand cell phone cameras point as the shooter reaches upward 

and one spark. 


A ripple down the cocoon followed by tearing followed by an expulsion of burning jelly. 

The smell of searing pans 

flying globs of white hot pus spatter over the populace, burning faces irreparably. 

a mess of organs and fine fur spreads like a blanket


A sharp crack and the phone pole splits toward the roof of the nearest shop. 

sparks fly from adjacent poles as the wires fall to the ground, like spasming worms themselves. 


Police move in, riot gear to get the hurt protestors out of the way. 

Everyone steps in muck. 

Green skin floats to the ground like slimy feathers. 

Fires start in buildings three and four. 

The mob scatters, many stealing bits of the animal for themselves. 

People fleeing with hands full of burning guts. 


No vehicle can move until police barricade the area and scatter the last of the civilians. 

The power company gets to work and anyone with a cell phone near the barricade

 is threatened with deadly force. 


The remains cleaned, sent away, studied in an invisible lab. 

That part of the city razed, rebuilt, gentrified. 


And still the leaves skitter and dance, hearing music meant only for them.

Here's the Thing about Grandpa's Stories . . .

Here’s the thing about war. It’s a laugh riot. None of the other soldiers’ll tell you this. I saw Johnny - you’ll love this - I saw Johnny, you know, we all called him ‘Horse Knees’, I saw ol’ Johnny Horse-Knees stab at the enemy with an imaginary bayonet when he got too close. A bayonet! We haven’t put bayonets on guns in decades. But the enemy, he stumbled back just like an actual knife had been shoved in his face. An actual knife, but there was nothing there, and he stumbled back, stumbled into - the enemy, I swear to God they’re just like us but you don’t have time to think about that on the battlefield - stumbled into a bog of swamp-muck that let out a fart sound so loud a flock of birds took off and a screeching monkeyed with its family. Both the enemy and Johnny looked up, looked up at the canopy for a moment - it’s hard to laugh during war, you don’t ever feel like it but by golly I did then, we all did - and Johnny took his chance, stumbled forward toward that enemy stuck in the muck and Johnny, with a flying leap straight outta the pictures, like an arrow attached to a person, like a person riding an arrow, took a flying leap right into the enemy’s chest and he - you’re never gonna believe this - he bounced back, ol’ Horse-Knees was flung back by the enemy who couldn’t move in the muck, sprung like a spring, and Johnny fell on his ass and boy we where whoopin’ and hollerin’ just like those birds - you remember - those birds scared of the fart noise, you know some people eat things that’re so smelly that birds fall out of the sky? anyways, Johnny lay there, expectin’ to be killed because he lay there huffing on the ground, just trying to breathe, huffing and he looks up and the enemy is trying with every bit of muscle, and veins too, look like thick snakes, red snakes crawling along his forehead, trying to rush out of that quicksand, but unable to move a single . . . goddamn . . . leg, and Johnny here, ol Horse-Knees himself, he remembered that his gun hadda, gosh darn it gets me every time, he remembers his gun, the gun right? has a trigger - it ain’t got no bayonet on it mind you - but it’s got a trigger, and just laying there, stupidest you-know-what that ever lived he was, he pulled the trigger and the recoil, it’s basic physics, if that ain’t blasphemy to be taught in schools these days, guns fire forward and push back, and the gun rapid fired itself, pushing right into that nose-bone what have you - I know that noses don’t have bones, anyway, the handle, the butt, shoved itself right into Johnny’s face, splittin’ his skull wide open, but he got that sonuvabitch he did, ol Horse-Knees was the best shot in the platoon he was, and every one of those bullets tore that limey limb from limb but he wouldn’t fall, and - you’re not gonna believe this - but the swamp-muck had eat him up to his knees and he couldn’t bend backward no more like one a them, uh, I don’t know, those inflatable punching things only this one you could shoot, boy howdy we tried to lead every enemy to that patch after that I tell you -


Here’s the thing about raising a kid. It’s easy. None of the other parents’ll tell you this. But just you look around. Watch parents with their children. They clearly spent no time on that. I remember it so well. Having a party. That’s all a kid is. People expect you to be all tired and worn out, but hell, the kid’s the one doing all the running. I can’t believe no one’s caught onto this. Like jet-lag. You tell the kid ‘oh I’m tired ‘cause of jet-lag’ but the kid says he’s tired and you point out, you just sat on a plane for hours, what you got to be tired about? and the kid doesn’t know that you’re full of shit yet, it’s fucking great. All your friends think you’re doing something right. That’s what life is all about, they tell themselves. And then they have kids, and they feel guilty about how easy it is, and that’s how the whole charade continues. Sure they’re a little gross at first, but you all keep pets, don’t you? People still have farm animals. A kid’s really no different than that. They pick it all up on their own. We let ‘em go run around shrieking. Everyone says, isn’t that cute? Everyone except the teenagers. Something about teenagers they see right through that shit. All that guilt, all of it’s for nothing. That’s why we make them get jobs. Can’t have a whole demographic of people in the prime physical condition of their lives and not enslave them. Otherwise the rest of us wouldn’t have it so easy. 


Here’s the thing about being the President. There is no president. We made it up. Other world leaders, you ever watch the news? Countries, entire countries in the grip of poverty yet somehow their leader wears a suit to all the international meetings? I don’t think so. It’s all made up. They’re actors. What do you think happens to all the actors? All them who become president, ego-maniacs. Borderline sociopaths. Some a’ them full-blown. When they find out that there is no such thing as the president, the last thing they want is for everyone else to realize that. So they pretend it’s all hard. Dye their hair gray. But the day they step outta that office they’re all back to normal. When I was in the military, they’d tell us the president was coming to see us and I’d think bullshit, the president got killed four days ago, and my buddy down in the other squadron would say nah, that was the other guy, the president visited us yesterday, and he’s scheduled to tour the other coast squadrons next week. And then the briefing for the mission would say ‘due to the murder of our President’ right as the president was shaking hands with someone at the end of the line. They’d flub up like that constantly. But it don’t matter that we all know there is no president. The story will always be that there is one. But they’re actors. They’re all actors. Which begs the question about warring nations, but that’s another story . . .

Holy Books - XII: The Speed Round (Part 1)


A Biblical Epic in Six Chapters (1-3)

Clue of the Cold Puppet

1 Jenny and Josh took the rolled up badminton net to the shed. Their grandparents told them to be careful of spiders. Why couldn’t the adults do it? Because it was the children’s job to clean up the mess. Even if it was an adult game, like badminton. 

2 Josh struggled with the rusty lock on the door. Like it hadn’t been open in decades, even though, according to their grandparents, the net had only been set up this afternoon.

3 “It’s freezing,” said Josh.

4 “Stop being such a sissy,” said Jenny.

5 Josh turned around, arms crossed. “So you can call me a sissy and I can’t file a hate-language report?”

6 Jenny stuck out her tongue. “Those rules only apply in school. And you know the drill, we only use them against teachers.”

7 Back to the lock. “I know, I know,” said Josh. “All against the elder. Which brings me to another confusing point . . .”

8 Throwing the net down onto the grass, Jenny stomped over. “Just let me do it. And we’re doing what they want because we can’t fight all the time. Do you want them to feed us or not?”

9 Josh was about to point out that parents had to feed their kids because it was against the law not to, but Jenny got the door open right away, squeaky hinge and all.

10 Sheepishly, “I loosened it for you,” he said.

11 Together, they picked up the net and took it into the shed when Josh abruptly dropped it and screamed.

12 “What is it?” yelled Jenny, rushing forward.

13 “Cobwebs,” said Josh, “holy shit, loads of them, wire-thick . . .” he flailed, caught.

14 Jenny grabbed his arms and looked at the strings enveloping him. “They’re not cobwebs you dolt. Stand still.” She moved her hands up to his shoulders to steady him.

15 Breathing heavily, Josh froze as Jenny untangled the strings around his arms and hair. “What are you stepping on?” she asked.

16 A wooden cross beneath Josh’s feet was the source of the strings. Together, their eyes followed the strings up to the ceiling where they lead to a block of ice. Impossible in the summer heat, but unmistakable. And once they saw it, they could feel the cold wafting down, fighting for its own dominion through the humidity.

17 “What is that?” asked Josh.


18 “Looks like it’s screaming,” said Jenny.

19 Within the block of ice, a string leading to each appendage, was a marionette, an old man dressed in rags with a long warty nose, face contorted into a howl of agony.


2099: Necrosis

20 The Grand Adjunct stared from his tower at the creeping blight scouring the land approaching closer with every day. “It’s up to us to begin the world.”

21 “I don’t like this,” said the Queen. “How do we know they’re not starting already?”

22 “They’re just a bunch of kids on the run.” The Adjunct closed the window and moved toward the center flame, rising out of its stone circle like a lonely flower. “When they do try to reproduce, they won’t know how to do it. Carry a child to term, I mean.”

23 “Certain young women aren’t affected by the necrosis,” the Queen pointed out.

24 Taking her by the hand, the Adjunct led her toward the stairs. “I’d like to show you what we can do about that.”

25 The Queen refused to face the Adjunct. She did not want to know what he had downstairs. Rather, she did not want to see it. 

26 “I forgive you, you know . . .” he said. 

27 She put her hands over her face, as if that would block out the memory. 

28 The Adjunct said, “It was the right thing to do . . .”

29 She believed herself to be the eldest NonAffected. Likewise, with him. But she wouldn’t have him. She wouldn’t bring up a child in a dying world. But when all the other children ran away, possibly becoming feral savages, she could not bear to die alone either. Being the last of anything . . . 

30 All the blood, and they both still lived through it. As if the Necrosis was a stasis of death after a certain age.

31 “There’s plenty downstairs,” he said, taking her by the waist. “I just want you to see . . .”

32 Together, they descended the stone steps to the castle basement. One. By. One.

33 “Those that didn’t get away . . .” he said.

34 He knocked on the large wooden door. Slow echoing footsteps approached and the door creaked open, revealing Dr. Block. Unshaven, wild-haired Dr. Block. Insisting on the white lab coat when its color was now anything but.


35 “Has she agreed?” he asked.


36 “Willing to see . . .” said the Adjunct.


37 The delighted doctor led them through the torchlit hall into his lab. Glass jugs covered wooden tables, with tubes exchanging fluid between them. In each glass jar, an organ, sometimes enveloping a barely human shape.

38 “I apologize for the smell,” said the doctor, “but whenever we find a fresh one, we need to harvest the uterus as soon as possible, and well, the wild animals haven’t been coming as quick as usual . . .”


39 “I understand, doctor,” said the Adjunct. “But my question remains the same. Are they viable, and can she support one?”

40 He placed his hand on the Queen’s belly, feeling even through the gown, the rough scar of her self-vivisection. The same scar he felt between his own two legs.

Ice of Flight

41 It seemed there were endless layers of sky. That’s what they were told in the academy. Levels of fire and ice. So cold up there, and gravity had such little effect, that ice would form and just stay, however, the light would refract through the layers in such a way that tremendous heat could be generated rapidly. 

42 Depending on what level you were flying at, you could be underwater, in an ice-storm, surrounded by flame, or in a calm zone. Likewise, each of these levels had differing degrees of severity to them. 


43 The ships could withstand most anything, and the battle-flyers biggest problem was encountering enemy ships. 


44 As usual, other people ruin everything.

45 Most no one had even seen the ground for years. Maybe their entire lives. A flyer took to the air and stayed there. It’s a hard but swift adaptation that takes away the urge to live any other kind of life. Shuttling cargo and people from place to place. 

46 The ever-constant battles meant there was always a host of wreckage flying around. Much of it salvageable. Some flyers didn’t even have their own ships or suits, but survived merely from wreckage-hopping and cobbling parts together. It tended to limit your mobility, but it could be done and was a cheap way to live. 


47 Is it really more dangerous to live non-fighting and without protection than to constantly be fighting with protection? Different answer every time.

48 Some people, those without ships, were rumored to have traversed the layers of wreckage all the way back to the original ground level. Any number of stories about the ground made their way up. 

49 That a regular human society lived there with no knowledge at all of the layers of sky. That they believed something entirely else was up there. That a plague had ravaged the ground, making all life impossible. Most likely a combination, depending on where you touched down at.


50 How futile had things gotten down there that a large chunk of society had taken to the sky permanently? A reflection of that question passed among the lips of pilots at various watering holes. What is the point of the never-ending war up here? Where no one knows who is fighting whom? And if it has gotten that out of hand, should we try the ultimate adventure and take to the ground?

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 1)

 On fallen logs, the group sat and kept their belongings close until the ranger showed up. When he did, he ushered all eight of them onto the tram. Young writers and artists and documentarians. A contrast to the usual forestry workers and red-state hunters who predominated during this time of year. Although most of the group tended on the young side, there was a middle-aged man. He was the only one dressed - like the ranger - appropriately and not making any concessions to fashion.     

“Alright,” said the ranger, taking a last look out the door. “Everyone got everything? 'Cause we ain't goin' back.”

    The group glanced around each other and gave a collective shrug.

    “What're ya goin' for, a whole week?” asked the ranger to himself, smiling. “Aw, you guys get less fun every year. Put away yer damn phones. Nothin' to see, yet.”

    He closed the door and the tram moved upward. Within a minute they were in the fog, heading toward a base where they would then hike up with mules. A majority of the group checked their phones once they realized there would be no view. The ranger counted down on his hands. The moment everyone lost their signal was the moment he hit zero. 

“Yep,” he said. “Happens every time. Don't worry, though, there’s wireless setups at those cabins. Installed 'em four years ago maybe. I didn’t - someone who knows about 'em did.” No one answered him again.

    Penny took in the group. The older man, Frank, stared out the window. Dani and Ryleigh sat next to each other. Ryleigh rooted through her backpack for something and Dani applied skin cream to her face. Chinonso wore a brown robe with dark yellow diamonds across it. While counterintuitive for hiking, the robe seemed to adapt itself to whatever posture she took. There were two other men besides Frank. Yaser, who was very well dressed for this occasion, and Cezar, who had mysterious bulges under his shirtsleeves. Penny kept hoping someone else would break the silence beside the ranger. Eventually, Frank did.

    “You know, my wife always said that sex was like a rainstorm. You never know how many inches you'll get and how long it'll last.”

    The swaying of the tram imitated the chirping of crickets.

    “Sorry,” said Frank, clearly not sorry. “I forget everything's so PC now. Well, to make you all feel better, it was actually my ex-wife who said that.”

    The ranger laughed at that.

    Yaser spoke up. “I read that Snoop Dog purchased an umbrella Fo'Drizzle.”

    “Oh my god,” said Dani.

    “I didn't understand a goddamn word of that,” said the ranger.

    “I got hundreds of 'em,” said Frank. “Not to sound like an old man but . . . back in my day, a friend of mine would research jokes about certain classes we hated in college. We'd get into the classroom early and write them all on the board. The teacher would get there and be annoyed, but have to read every one of 'em because it's his subject, you know? Anyways, it always killed a few minutes. Sometimes the favorites would stay.”

“So you go to class early just to kill time?” asked the ranger.

“That uh . . . didn’t occur to us,” said Frank.

    The tram screeched to a stop. The ranger got out and told everyone to wait a minute while he freed the mules.

    “Do those animals just live up here and lug people's shit all day?” asked Dani.

    Chinonso got up and took her only bag down from the rack. “So many animals for so few people. One of my neighbors bought a donkey and spent four years in debt for it.”

    “Are they that expensive?” asked Dani.

    “She is very poor, but the donkey more than paid itself off eventually,” said Chinonso.

    Dani put away her skin cream. “And she farmed by herself?”

    “Many of the men leave for the cities,” said Chinonso. “The majority of farming families I knew are run by women.”

    The ranger poked his head back in. “Alright, load 'em up.” He wore an earmuff hat like Elmer Fudd.

    There were four mules for the eight of them so each person walked on either side of a mule. The trail pointed upward and the shrubbery was so dense that anyone brushing a bush would cause a ripple effect and dump water from the trees above. Everyone had a poncho from the ranger and kept their heads down in a one-step-forward stasis. The trees thinned and the group was at the mercy of thick sheets of sleet.

    “Whooeee, lookit those treetops way down there,” the ranger yelled, presumably pointing. “Almost at the top now.” He rolled a cigarette as the wind worsened.

    The group rounded a few bends and entered the woods again. Even though it was still raining the difference was like entering a shelter, and some even took off their hoods.

    “Right up there.” The ranger fell behind the group so he could smoke. One cabin was visible on top of a small hill. He pointed to a trail that lead from the front of the first cabin. “Other cabin's just down thataway. Things'll dry up right quick so don't you worry about that. The generator's all full so,” he started counting on his fingers, “lemme see you got, power, heat, plumbing, wireless, all the shit ya come up here to get away from,” he cackled. “Nah I'm just jokin' you kids are doin' great work. See ya in a few days.”

    He helped them unload the mules onto the porch, then led some of the group to the other cabin. Finally he took the mules, all tied together in a line, back down the trail. The group in the first cabin unpacked in their living room.

    “What a psycho,” said Cezar.

    “Yeah,” said Penny, “but at least he's not critical. He could have blasted us for being 'on vacation' while he's at work.”

    “True,” said Frank. “He didn't seem bitter at all. Just an old dude who's happy to wake up in the morning.”

    “So who else is with us?” asked Penny.

    “Cezar, and Chinonso,” said Frank, reading from a sheet of paper. “Although I don’t suppose it really matters.” 

    “Oops,” said Dani, “I'm supposed to go to the other cabin with Yaser.”

    “Did he go there by himself?” asked Frank.

    “I don't think so,” said Penny.

    “Hang on, there's . . .” Frank counted then shook his head. “I'm too tired to do high single-digit counting. How many of us are there Cezar?”

    “Too early to tell for sure,” said Cezar.

    “Yeah, I try and make bad jokes too,” said Frank, slapping Cezar on the back. “Oh shit, sorry, I forgot you've got a . . . thing.”

    “It's fine,” said Cezar, “just a blood chemistry monitoring 'thing' as you put it.”

    Penny spoke up from another room. “Holy shit. Hey, guys? Have you checked out your rooms yet?”

    “Nope,” said Frank.

    “Are there pictures all over your walls too?” Rows of them from ceiling to floor on each wall except for the entrance. Every photo had as its subject: sand dunes. She couldn't tell if there were any duplicates yet.

    Frank peeked his head in. “Weird,” he said. “I'm sure you can take 'em down, though. Last person was probably too lazy.”

    “Nope,” said Penny. “They're glued on or something, I'd have to rip them off and that would leave things looking worse. I'll bet that crazy ranger would have known who left them.” But she was talking to no one as Frank had already gone to explore his own room.

    Some of the pictures were faded as if older than others or exposed to sunlight for long periods of time. The style of all of them was similar. Always photographed from below, and each dune rose into a piercing blue sky.

The New Nature Writing

We’ve got plenty of time out here in the ways of the woods. Not like in your putrid cities, where everything’s a rush. People who walk slow in cities are openly mocked. One day, a worm became my pet. It crawled in between my toes like a piece of string. This worm had been broken by the hobby fisherman’s attempts to uproot its entire valley via steam-shovel. When will people learn? Then, the worm became two. Buried beneath this dirt, was a treasure-trove of inexhaustible consciousness. The worm speaks to the dirt which is the source of all that grows. The dirt transports nutrients to the roots which transmit their needs based on their relationship to the sun. I named him Herbert. It’s a male name with the word ‘her’ in it. His other part I named Herman. Turns out, after enough rehabilitation, worms can fly. When the birds get ahold of them. 

I am a tree. Sometimes, right-wing militias hang out around me. Sometimes hippies. Both bang their own drums. Although for this purpose I am pretending to understand and care about human culture, I have never known who the President of the United States is, or even, what the United States is. Great Britain. Nigeria. The Philippines. I have friends in all these places. We talk differently than the way mushrooms do, but we still talk. Having been made into paper, please allow me to point out something. None of your writing agrees with each other. Maybe this is old news to you, but then why do you persist? ‘It’s a tragedy the trees are being cut down’ you write on the corpses of trees. It’s a tragedy either because the loss of a natural ecosystem is a threat to the global climate, or everything is being paved over for low-income housing for immigrants. There are two irreconcilable schools of thought here stemming from the same agreement.

I am a building. Rumor has it, buildings like me are not supposed to exist in this area. Lack of stable ground, lack of resources, interruption of the natural air flow.  Sometimes, people advocate for flushing all of my toilets at the same time. That’s supposed to cause an apocalypse or something and make a point. Look, do what you want. You always do. But might I just ask a question before the inevitable dirty bomb explodes in my lobby or envelopes of white powder are mailed to the executive suites? (I mean the dangerous white powder and not the usual white powder which flows through these hallways smoother than oil) Why are you more secretive about your bathroom habits than you are about engaging in the exploitative materialistic consumption that you hate so much which requires the construction of buildings like myself?

The golden sun sent piercing phosphorescent beams through the emerald canopy. A diamond panorama of criss-crossing brilliance, sliding off the arabesques of curling bark. Wet earth breathed a ponderous silence, room only for the chirping of birds, the calls skating across the surface of sound which hid a language older than any ‘God’ dreamed up by humanity. A stream. Tickled by the tips of rocks as its babbling laughter swept along rafts of sticks and the delicate grace of skidding spiders. Minutely existing whirlpools form and dissolve around the edges where everything comes together in a vortex of play. To the careful observer, the whirlpool may vanish, but the circulation continues.

The photons bent by the cornea and received by the cones of the human eye had a dominant wavelength between 570 and 590 nanometers. The canopy of photoautotrophs absorbed the photons through their chlorophyll, distributing it among the organelles where the carbon dioxide and dihydrogen monoxide was processed into oxygen and glucose. The mostly lignin exterior tissue was shed due to insufficient moisture and seasonal revolution. The interaction between the pedosphere and hydrosphere created the odor of petrichor, whose odorants bound to specific sites on olfactory receptors within the nasal cavity. The avian syrinx resonated with sound waves made by membranes vibrated with forced air. A specific magnitude and direction within the flow of dihydrogen monoxide, when met with sufficient obstacle, and/or opposing currents may produce a whirlpool with sufficient downdraft to draw in localized organic matter.

If the writers of the preceding two paragraphs ever met in public, they’d fucking kill each other.

I am an alien. Not like those illegal people you’re all so fond of. I believe the politically correct term would be extra-terrestrial. Upon my observations of life on Earth (I really came here to observe eclipses. You have no idea how fucking lucky you are to have eclipses!) I made a bizarre discovery. Life exists in symbiosis for the most part. Things eat other things, things grow and die, patterns emerge, recede, repeat. We all know this. The weird part is the human narrative. Every single human being does the exact same things, lives the exact same life, 99% of the time, and yet you all hate and fear each other. Why is that? You all eat, sleep, copulate, work, raise families, play, and this encompasses the VAST MAJORITY of everyone’s life. And yet . . . a few disagreements on pieces of paper is the sole reason why peace is impossible? The reason that neighbors who live EXACTLY THE SAME LIFE can hate each other is due to abstract written concepts?

Maybe you should stop cutting down so many trees.

I Laugh in the Face of Death (Conclusion)

Today's incident happened after I took the bus to the bank in order to inquire about my new credit card. My old credit card will expire in a week (although that doesn't much matter now) and I have yet to receive a new one in the mail. 

I was waiting in line for a teller when a voice shouted, “Alright everybody down!” followed by a gunshot to the ceiling. I hit the floor with everyone else while the shooter paced back and forth and told us what to do. First of all, be quiet or he would kill someone. I was worried about laughing. The gunman told the teller to call the cops. He explained that he didn't want money. He wanted to go to jail for the health care. Although to get there he would plan on executing tellers for working for such a corrupt institution.

“I used to be somebody!” he insisted.

Laying on my stomach with my hands clasped over my head, I snorted laughter into the floor. Reflexively I sucked in the drool and turned over to wipe the slobber off my face. The robber was infuriated and pointed the gun while ordering me to stop laughing. I tried to explain in between breaths, but the robber just stared, his face becoming more confounded by the second.

He turned around when a fat banker charged him with a three-hole-punch. The robber shot the fat man in the chest. The hole-punch fell to the floor and the banker clutched his wound. Gasps surrounded me, but I laughed even harder, folding forward. The robber repeated the word 'shit' over and over again. He turned back to me, waving the gun around. He told me to stop laughing, it wasn't funny. I said, I know.

The windows shattered all around us as police burst in. The startled robber pulled the trigger which fired upon someone on the ground. A bloody pile of skull, fingers and hair remained.

Meanwhile, the customers were all getting up and running toward the police, despite orders to the contrary. My chest convulsions were getting more piercing every second. Something landed at my foot and hissed out a white cloud. This happened at a few other points throughout the bank. Through my tears of laughter, I saw row upon row of customers running toward the police and then falling. I almost fell over laughing and had to steady myself on a post while slipping in the blood of civilians.

Holding my breath was the only way to regain composure. I headed toward the interior of the bank. Plenty of chaos back there too, but fewer smoke bombs. A young lady ran into me. Instead of apologizing like intended, I brayed into her face. She pinched her nose as if I had bad breath. Always time to be rude. A bullet whizzed over my shoulder and got her in the eye. I covered my mouth in order to avoid accidentally drinking her fountaining blood. She slumped down and from behind me I heard a familiar voice. “There he is!”

Looking in the direction of the voice, I saw a cop pointing at me. The cop, in fact. He had recognized me by now from previous incidents. Two other cops emerged out of the smoky haze of the lobby. Instinct would demand that I run, but all I could do was lean against a desk and laugh. They stared at me. 

As I laughed, a loud crack came from above us and a chunk of ceiling, turning sideways as it fell, embedded itself halfway into the first cop's head. Another round of full-bodied bellows came from me as the cop spasmed and flung his gun-arm to the side, shooting one of his companions in the neck. A stream of blood shot into the third cop's eye and he fell to his knees. My laughter finally died down, but it was still a good fifteen seconds before I had regained my breath and started to run.

I became lost in the interior of the bank. It seemed deserted aside from an occasional person hiding under a desk. Eventually, I found a door marked 'exit' and I took it to the alleyway between the bank and the next building. To my right were police cars. I exited the alley to the left and saw my bus just pulling up to the stop. Apparently the whole area had not been closed off yet. My transfer ticket was still good. The bus passengers wondered what all the commotion at the bank was about. Someone said that it was probably nothing since it's impossible to go ten minutes in the city without hearing a siren.

The first thing I did when I got home was close and lock all the doors and windows. I'm writing this in my bedroom, which is farthest from the front door. Since I've managed to tell the whole story it occurred to me that I might be overreacting. Maybe security cameras linked to large computers haven't traced me back to where I live. But I hear sirens getting louder. They're pulling up in front of the house. That's the door being broken in. I've been spotted. They're telling me to surrender or they'll shoot. It's difficult to keep writing when I'm laughing so hard.

Holy Books - XI: It Can Get No Clearer, or I Hate Manifestos

1 In this story, the cow is represented by a teacup. Tea is strained, water being poured through its leaves representing the flowing vitality of life only to be contained in a cliched cup with flower patterns held by old ladies daintily discussing murder. 

2 Old people have family visit them out of a sense of obligation which the author clearly illustrates by the parable of the snowflake and the rhinoceros. 

3 Here, the rhino - another animal like the cow - is a stand-in for flight. Rhinos have birds who live on them. But the relationship is not mutual. No relationship is, so by placing the rhino in the story it is a comment on the give and take of relationships. 

4 By not commenting on the snowflake, having no prominence at all in the parable, we reflect on our attitude toward snowflakes in general. Are they absent for us? Even in the midst of a storm? Like ignored static in our minds?

5 Which brings us to what the mother says when opening the drawer. As we all know, the opening of a drawer has a powerful allegorical link to the ancient myth of The Gorgon’s Mailman, in which mail delivery is likened to a lifetime of being stone. The perceived slowness of the mail has its origins in this myth.

6 As the mother opens the drawer, she says ‘Heaven’s light in the darkness’ before picking out a broken necklace. The mother’s sense of humor is a constant highlight of the text, this incident being a prime example. 

7 ’Heaven’s light in the darkness’ is her stand-in for the family car, which is in the shop for a new set of hoses. Please note the set of hoses and how it calls, like a damsel atop a castle tower, to an incident long ago forgotten, but still resonant along the moors. Do we remember the exercise wheel? That is what the moors unflinchingly remind us of. 

8 The hamster which represents a towel, the only thing that gets wet while drying.

9 There are always pictures on the walls of houses. The house is a stand-in for insects, which often live in the walls. In many ways, insects are like clouds. Raining unpredictability is always a symbol of glue and other adhesives. 

10 The symbology here is rich, as the sky is held together, like pieces of a puzzle, drawing attention to their metaphorical relation. Aren’t they so often found when searching for the light of heaven in the drawers of our cabinets? 


11 A beat begins. Music is key in a silent work such as this. But what is music? Not one character hears it or scene features it. Is it thus, the turning of the page? Our own interaction with the text is the music that no one hears. And no one hearing it, it thus is heard by all the characters, who are often commenting on a piece of furniture which is in their way. 

12 Wasn’t there a stubbed toe at one point? Don’t people have to get out of bed? To examine the toe is to drink the coffee, and hark, a tape recorder. Co-workers whispering, but no one really has a job because no one knows what jobs are like. 

13 Further reading reveals the stand-in of employment as the sole burning force of proposal. And since the grandfather may have been a secret agent, all rides on the train take on a new meaning. In this story, the train is breakfast. Leaves and fog.

14 The final pages. A chain-link fence which no one really sees anymore hammers home her determination, as represented by the interaction between the talking caribou and felt puppet ginger plant. Puppets always point to new manufacture, and the machine which assembles the plant is as human as the tissue of a fungus is blue under the pining fluorescent lights spelling the word ‘slab.’

15 Thus, expounded upon abovely is the clearest proper philosophy of life, correct political and religious belief system as well as the only right way to behave as a human being.

Eyes Open, Childhood Dreams (Conclusion)

    Braden sat at the table after Mommy left. He moved his plate off the placemat and ran his fingers along the maze which traced the dinosaur's skeleton like he had to do every time he ate. Then he slid his plate back onto the mat. He picked up the sandwich.

    Something poked his finger. In between the pieces of bread were twisted nails and broken glass that fell in a powdery tinkle onto his plate. He set the sandwich back down. The sound of typing from the other room stopped. Daddy was no longer at his desk. Braden slid off his chair and picked up the plate to carry it over to the sink.

“What the hell do you think you're doing?” Daddy stood there wearing a red clown wig, loose gold bathrobe, and black parachute pants.

    Braden dropped the plate, it broke into pieces. He hugged himself.

    “Absolutely everything you do is calculated to drive me crazy,” said Daddy, bending forward. “I know what you're really up to. And I'll bet you still think I'm the bad guy.” He grabbed Braden by the shoulders. “Don't you?” He let go. “Clean this up. Quietly.” Daddy opened the cabinet beneath the sink and took out the dustpan and brush, leaving them on the floor. He then walked to the hall and stood there, his back facing Braden. It didn't look like he was breathing.

    Braden knelt down and swept up the mess, taking care not to make any unnecessary noise. He placed the bread on the dustpan, swept up the glass, then placed the nails on one by one. He was about to throw the pile away when Daddy slammed a cabinet door. Braden dropped everything and whined. He slapped his hands over his mouth and turned to Daddy.

    Daddy now wore a grass skirt and suspenders over a shirt with a picture of corn on it. The clown wig was still there. He set down a transparent pack of coffee beans. He looked at Braden. “You're still here?”

    Braden turned wide-eyed to the mess beside the garbage.

    Daddy waved it off. He turned his attention back to the coffee beans. He picked up the bag, held them up to the skylight and scrutinized them. “I know you've been poisoning these pretty regularly. Of course, I kept drinking them. I still will because part of me just can't believe. My own son.” He set the pack down and shook his head.

    “Have you told Mommy?” asked Braden.

    Daddy raised his eyebrows. “What?”

    “Does Mommy know about the coffee beans? And about all . . . the other problems?”

    Daddy put his hand on his chin and said, “No, I haven't. It's never come up.”

    Braden walked over to the table with the phone and picked up a notepad and a pen. He offered them to Daddy. “Do you think you could write her a note about it? She doesn't believe me when I tell her anything.”

    Daddy took the notepad and pen, tore off a piece of paper, and pressed it against the closed cupboard door. He held the pen up to the paper. “I suppose I should. It's good to be honest.” He started writing small words that Braden couldn't read. “And I just . . . hate you so much.” The words grew large and dark and the pen tore the paper in half. Daddy ripped off another sheet and held it onto the cupboard and started writing again. His hand was picking up speed.

    “Daddy, why are you writing sideways?” asked Braden.

    Daddy's face crumpled into sadness. “God-fucking-dammit.” His hand continued writing and became a blur. The paper shredded. He replaced it with two more sheets. His chin twitched to the side, exposing his teeth. “You inhuman waste of life,” he growled. Shreds of paper fell around him like snowflakes.

    Braden walked backward out of the kitchen.

    “Why can't I just . . .,” Daddy's voice was low and raspy and he continued to write even though there was no more paper. The pen broke. “Tear out your bones,” his voice shook the windows. He looked, seeing that Braden almost escaped and let loose a growl.

    Braden turned and ran through the dining room into Daddy's office. He took a look back before opening the door to the backyard and saw Daddy charging at him. Braden slid open the glass door and jumped outside and slammed it shut behind him. He ran across the backyard toward the barn.

Glass shattered followed by a howl. Daddy continued chasing. Shards of glass stuck out of his skin.

    In the barn, Braden opened the door to the room where he had hidden from the dog. Even though Mommy said that that had never happened. Like his teachers and friends didn't believe that Daddy showed up at school. Like his Daddy didn't believe that all Braden wanted was for him to be happy. He closed the door and slid the lock into place, breathing in the dust he had kicked up.

    The locked door shook on its hinges as Daddy banged against it, shrieking like a wild animal. Braden thought his ears would bleed and he shrieked back, but it hurt his throat. He coughed a lot and wiped tears out of his eyes and saw the giant scissors on the wall. Braden took down the giant scissors. The space between the handles was as wide as his shoulders. He opened and closed them a few times and walked to the shaking door. The lock held steady so it was easy for him to slide it out. At the sound of the lock squeaking, the banging stopped.

    Braden saw the handle move and when the door opened, he lunged forward with the scissors. They went straight into Daddy's stomach and before Braden's feet hit the ground he had opened and closed the scissors three times while they were inside Daddy. He kept a firm grip on the handles.

    Stepping back, Daddy tried to grab the blades but they were slippery and he fell against the woodpile. Blood poured out of his mouth all over Braden and he pushed at Braden but had no strength left. He slumped down and Braden felt the scissors stick against the wood on the other side of Daddy.

    Braden let go of the scissors. He wiped blood from his face onto his arm.The scissors stuck out of a big, bloody hole in Daddy's stomach, through his white T-shirt. Slimy dark-red shapes slid down Daddy's blue-jeans onto the ground. Daddy remained propped against the woodpile. The scissors held him there. He was not breathing.

    Braden looked through the side of the barn at his neighbor's driveway. Nobody home. He walked out the way he came, down the garden path and across the backyard. The back door was open and unbroken. He walked into the house. On the kitchen floor was a broken plate and a squished tuna sandwich.

    A green shadow crept across the floor. Braden looked out the window and saw that it was coming from outside. He went back into the yard and looked up at the sky. A river of slime flowed overhead. It came from behind the treetops and dripped down in a single stream on a hill in the far distance. Braden sat on the lawn and watched it. Eventually, the slime would cover the whole world. 

Art (Hypno) Therapy

You are getting very sleepy. 

(I saw you at the museum. Looking at pictures? Is that what you call it? You seemed confused. The person you were with was just as confused, but each wanted to impress the other. I saw that you genuinely wanted to know, so here we are.)

You will not actually fall asleep or become unconscious, and you will certainly not do anything that you don’t want to do. You’d like to learn about art? I’m afraid there is no other way.

We’ll start with objects. Repeat after me: The chrome base and stainless steel mountings alchemically transform middle-class aspirations into luxe longing with a surging vitality.

This should by obvious to anyone with eyeballs.

Two stones, a feather, and teacups holding lab glassware evoke the periphery of space in a spectacularly imposing panorama of forceful grit.

Didn’t see that right away? Hmm . . . 

(These lessons apply to painting as well, but it’s better to start with the willfully obtuse.)

You are getting very grandiose.

(Shall we move on to poetry?)

The narrative thread juxtaposed by non sequitur is mordant and lilting to the touch.

(Repeat after me)

Haunting, haunting careful havoc tinged with erotic underpinnings, each letter, a shape like a lover’s body, the visceral conclusions we cannot help but sear into our cortices. 

You’ll never get a date if poetry doesn’t speak to you like that. And if it does and you still can’t get a date, well then clearly the militant organizations for dulling our senses are winning. It’s not your fault. They just don’t understand you. This is the whole purpose of poetry.

(Repeat after me)

They don’t understand you.

(Onto the theatre!) 

The action unfolds with the figurative expressionism of self-immolation. Minimalist prop design transcends the baroque set pieces raising the intercultural interpretations of the acerbic performers with the weight of history.

(These lessons apply to dance as well, but we’ll start with words since you’re

rather dull.)

Drinks in the lobby.

Always keep talking so people will see you talking.

(Repeat after me)

It’s not about entertainment.

An invitation to cultural animus.

(You’re getting the hang of it)

(Repeat after me)

The secret to art: Repeat after me.

The secret to art: Never stop repeating.

I Laugh in the Face of Death (Part 3)

One of my clients is a group of medical doctors based at the local hospital. A fellow puzzle-team member is also employed in the hospital cafeteria. I thought it might be fun to deliver the finished accounts in person and surprise my friend at the same time.

    The supervisor I wanted to see was not in his office so I left the paperwork with the nurse/receptionist/whatever-she-is. She could not overemphasize how odd it was for me to leave paperwork with her, but I insisted that since I was there she should give it to the supervisor when he got back. I thanked her very much and started to apologize, but her eyes told me to leave immediately.

    I became gripped by panic when I felt the giggles rising. In a hospital, there are people in all states of dying and perhaps my visit was ill-conceived. It seemed as long as there wasn't death in my immediate vicinity I was free from those bothersome explosions of mirth. I hoped the cafeteria was a safe distance from the terminal patients.

    In a lobby I located a directory, pointing me to the cafeteria. The giggles had become knots of pain in my stomach and they burst forth, spraying spit all over the placard. Luckily, the lobby was bustling and I wiped my mouth and began laughing into my handkerchief. Behind me someone yelled, “She needs a doctor right away!”

    Pressing my forearm against my face, I turned around. Next to the man waving his arms was a crying and very pregnant woman with blood pouring down her legs. My laughter jumped up another level and the expulsion of breath made a rude, prolonged farting sound against my forearm. Startled, I dropped my arm from my mouth. I was now the center of attention and my laughter threw me against the wall, tilting my head back.

    “What the fuck is wrong with you?” I heard the man scream. The woman yelled, “Oh god,” followed by the sound of mud between toes. I wiped tears from my eyes. The baby slithered down her leg in a red river, hanging from the umbilical cord like a spider, and landed with a thick splat on the floor. 

Screams filled the lobby, allowing my laughter to double in volume. The woman stared at the ceiling babbling nonsense and pulling out clumps of her hair. I could hardly contain myself and fell forward on one knee, my shallow breath squeaking like a rusty door.

    The lady stared down at the mess while trembling with fright. She took a step back, the umbilical cord wrapped around her leg and pulled the baby toward her. She screamed and fell, her knee landing right on the baby and exploding it like a water balloon. Her hands hit the floor and slipped from underneath her and she face-planted into the deflated fetal-skin.

    I thought the hilarity was over now that the baby was dead, but I remained in hysterics taking in the woman desperately trying to swim out of her own guts. She lifted her head, tore off the fetal skin from its cord and  threw it like a discuss. It splattered on a painting leaving a red baby-shaped stain. 

The fetus fell on the shoulder of a man emerging from the bathroom. “Ju-hee-zus!” he said, slipping backward and cracking his head against the doorframe. He slid onto his back wearing a goofy grin leaving a trail of red. My chest felt caved-in and my breath came out in short gasps.

    People in medical scrubs headed towards the center of the room where they grabbed the ex-mother and the fallen man. The father had to be sedated. My sides hurt like I had actually exercised for once. A nurse eventually noticed me. I was now sitting against the wall. She asked if I was alright and asked me to help give a statement to the police. I said yes to both. Since this was a business lunch I had my phone on me and called ahead to the office, informing them that I had to stay at the hospital longer than expected – as is usually the case with hospitals.

    The sedated father had referred to a 'laughing maniac' and the cop wanted to know if that might be me. I said that I had heard a report on the radio about people who laugh involuntarily during or after a major tragedy because the instinct-mind is so relieved that it happened to someone else. The cop seemed skeptical. He became outright suspicious when I told him why I was at the hospital in the first place. Even though it was the truth and not a cover story, I must admit that my meeting a friend in the cafeteria for lunch sounded implausible. He took all my information and let me go. After all, I'd done nothing wrong. Well, nothing illegal that is.


Eyes Open, Childhood Dreams (Part 2)

    Mr. Marks was the substitute teacher in class today. Everyone wanted him to be a real teacher. He would do funny voices. Near the end of the day while the class was working in silence, Braden heard the sound of chalk. This was followed by quiet giggles from the other kids.

    Braden looked up and saw that Mr. Marks was drawing a funny face on the board. He was standing in front of it so Braden couldn't see much. When Mr. Marks was done, he went back to his desk. On the board was a portrait of Braden's Daddy. It was drawn with colored chalk which no teacher had ever used before and wasn't in any of the classrooms. Green bubbling goo dribbled from the portrait's mouth and left burn marks on the chalkboard as it slithered down. The portrait's eyes were hissing insects. Braden kept pretending to work. It was impossible with the constant screaming.

    The last bell of the day rang and Braden gathered his things and stood up. The picture on the board had changed to Lukemoore, The Monkey Dog, a cartoon that all the kids liked. Braden didn't remember Mr. Marks drawing anymore after the portrait of Daddy, but he hadn't been paying much attention either.

    Braden waited by the parking lot with all the other kids for either buses or parents to show up. Mommy's red car pulled up and she waved to him. He got in the car.

    Mommy asked him how his day was and he said fine. She apologized for not being able to stop for ice cream, but she had to drop him off at home and go straight back to work. Mommy liked driving him home because it got her out of the office for forty-five minutes. Daddy would be home, though. Braden asked what Daddy was doing. Mommy said that Daddy gets to work from home now so they won't have to pay a babysitter.

    Braden asked if Mommy could keep a secret. Mommy said yes. He told the story of their last babysitter and how she had brought a really mean dog to the house that chased him around. His Mommy seemed shocked, but Braden kept talking. He told her of how the dog had chased him into the barn and he'd had to hide in the room with the red and yellow plastic jugs and the big scissors on the wall. He stayed there all day while the dog growled outside the door.

    Mommy's hands squeezed the steering wheel and she told him that his story was impossible and rude. No one had ever brought a dog over. Every time they had come home Braden had been playing in his room. He had always been fed a snack and allowed his afternoon TV show. The babysitter had even helped him on his homework a few times. Why would he say such horrible things about her?

    When they got home, Mommy and Daddy kissed and Braden made a face. His Daddy was wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans. Daddy walked them to the kitchen and said he made a tuna sandwich for Braden. It was on the table. He said that once Mommy was out of the house, maybe they could go for ice cream. Mommy shoved his shoulder and said she had to get back to work. So do I, said Daddy. He said that once he got adjusted to the new schedule, he wanted to make time for the pool in the afternoon for a few laps and take Braden with him of course. It's going to get hot soon. He ruffled Braden's hair and said he had to get back to work and Braden should eat his sandwich.


And I Quote

Poems Composed of Lines from Speeches by U.S. Presidents


1. War

when an abused and irritated people

may abstain from disobedience

and look like dopes

the boil had to be pricked

wool is illusory 

ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference

disaster, their patriotism

stimulates a habit of reckless improvidence

and be technically indictable but morally innocent

intercourse between the nations

the speedy erection which is urgently demanded

has caused increased suspicions

because of his close personal ties

the wildest accusations have been given banner headlines

civilized methods for brute force

the cattle syndicate now occupying the lands

they had done in an excess of loyalty

and inviting schemes of public plunder

too often assume the proportions of national disaster

the evil anticipations which have accompanied the coinage

to divorce, as much and as fast as can be safely done

1,200 pages of transcripts of private conversations


2. Immigrants 

To better record and track aliens

his long and eminently useful career was terminated

the dolphin was subjected to very severe trial tests

relating to the killing of seals and other fur-bearing animals

Although disease, assuming at one time 

the characteristics of a widespread and devastating pestilence

to avoid these irritating and vexatious delays

it does not make the community more virtuous

thence her boundary shall run

a secure harbor for the evil doers

who shall comprimit the neutrality

after providing for the sinking fund

received of a dangerous excitement

the inexhaustible deposits of guano

flagrant frauds upon the pension bureau

likely to be crowned by happier results

has passed from the scenes of earth

avowed enemies of the social order

visited the scenes of commotion

millions of people are unknown to the law

3. Women

we are at peace with all the other nations of the world

an all-out attack on mental illness

after looking at some of the cartoons you have drawn

we should have violated every tradition

in the old style of steamers

pig production has more than doubled

the predictions of evil prophets

in the marrow of my bones

a naval force in that quarter during the fishing season

sends envoys of lower grades

ravages of a dreadful pestilence

fatality attending travel


one of the great rice bowls of the entire world

deprecated His wrath

opportunities for committing crime

the tragic impotency of nations

their graciousness to my wife

fright and ruthlessness and barbarity

martyred on her flaming alters

Holy Books - X: A tour de force

1 During the recession which led to the war, Takis Steliou completed his application for college, which was to be sent overseas, despite the wishes of his father, that he remain a merchant in these uncertain times.

2 The family store, consisting of fabrics and metals was constantly under threat of being requisitioned by the military, and profits needed to be sufficiently high so that Chatur Seth, the patriarch, could bribe military officials in order to stay in business for himself and not for them. 

3 But his wife, Gisele Papon played cards with other local families and couldn’t bear to see them exploited at the expense of their own. 

4 She was born in 1842. Raised in wheat and rice fields where the women regularly gave birth during their labor. 

5 One of the first things she remembered becoming in her life was a big sister. Since the new mothers were still at work in the fields, Gisele gathered the babies and put them in straw beds, tending to them between her chores. The mothers would first see their newborns during the night hours. 

6 Many children grew nocturnal due to this upbringing. They were called the Hyrng Nylbbla. Children of the Night. It was a poor omen for the working families to have them, and they were frequently let loose in the hopes that they would never return. Many never did.

7 After the invasion, Colonial Ajax Curley was left in command of the region. A stout, mustachioed and monocled man of a stiff upper lip. He was never seen by the villagers in anything other than perfect posture and immaculately groomed. Although rumors circulated that his billowing laughter was what echoed from the officer’s tents at night as he let his hair down for games of great mathematical skill.

8 Bullied heavily in school due to his portly demeanor, this did not stop Ajax from eventually excelling in sports, when the instructors gave him a chance. He discovered that stoutness could equal strength and resilience, whereas the rail-thin beanpoles which filled most of his age group could not withstand the constant pummeling of contact sports. 

9 His best friend, Colum Cille Flimean had a rare childhood disease. Inferisma Selitas which people whisperingly referred to as Ironbark Shaking.

10 Whenever an epidemic swept the newborn or childhood community, Doctor Cletus Lynn had to work, not only at curing the bodies of the young, but at curing the minds of the old, who resorted constantly to superstition. A poor attempt to retain power over the unseen aspects of the physical world. 

11 As he often said, “give a parent with a sick child something to do, and they’ll do it until there’s no one left.” 

12 Cletus was born to Mildred and Me Sai Dalen in 1908. Their family settled in the shelter of Mount Sallem, the largest volcano on the continent. Although many centuries dormant, the soil around the area was always vital with freshly moved nutrients. Several centuries being half-an-eyeblink in geologic time. 


13 The children formed factions of gatherers, based on the neighborhood. They went in herds to different areas - agreed upon in the silent language of children who never need to consciously pass down their games - and gather roots, seeds, animal droppings, anything interesting, and bring it back to the adults who would find uses for it in farming. The agricultural ingenuity of the region spread in legend and practicality.

14 What starts out harmlessly tends to end in tribalism. As the children grew older, their loyalties to their childhood groups fossilized, and much like the useless harder rocks they would find, become good only for weaponizing. 

15 Instead of working together and combining their strengths, the community separated and argued, increasingly violently, over what was the correct way to farm.

16 Mother Eden Verkler warned of the angry Earth, should such pride destroy the families. But they did not listen, and, although she always had her tea with the mineral mixture she perfected at age three and a half, the taste became bitter with the dissolution of her people. 

17 She taught her daughter, Claudine Jung, how to play the last of the ancestral games, Frameworks. 

18 Born in 1736, Claudine always loved being called Miss. Miss Claudine, and even though none of the boys and girls got along, she could still make the boys blush by requiring that they call her Miss Claudine. 

19 After her Phd in Neurosurgery, she taught Poetry in the graduate program and was visiting Chair of Medical Admissions, overseeing the standards for tomorrow’s young physicians. 

20 But there was always the longing - sometimes her husband could see it in her eyes, the way the light caught off the edge of her pupil from their kitchen window over the sink during twilight between the weeks of February 4th and March 16th - the longing for the time that she and a band of other children had attempted to hike to the mouth of the volcano, just to witness the birth of all life. Maybe, with just a glimpse of the ingredients, we could all make a fresh start.

21 Author’s Note: It has been pointed out that this novel relies heavily on autobiography which explains its richness in personal catharsis, relevant timeless cultural insight, and heart-wrenching humor beautifully scribed by a master of language. 

22 Nobel Prize in Literature please . . .

Question Everything

Dandelion Machine Children are:

a. a white supremacist organization

b. infants brain-damaged with jaundice

c. a hippie band from the late 60s

d. indisputable evidence that you don’t sleep enough

The Slice Ascendancy broke through the inner mantle to the outer core of planet Bernunft, looking for worms.

“Shit,” uttered the geologist as the craft took a lurch during transition. 

The captain asked, “Are you still working on that stupid test?”

“It’s now or never,” said the geologist. 

“Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to look out the window?” asked the captain. “This is, after all, your field.”

“We know what’s down here, it’s all in the book,” replied the geologist. “But I gotta pass this test to upgrade my license. Get that higher pay grade.”

“You academics are all the same,” interjected the pilot. “You never stop taking tests, even when you’re the ones giving them. It’s a sickness.”

“Let me know if you see anything,” said the geologist.

‘Uncanny irony’ in literature refers to:

a. twists of fate engineered by the antagonist which unwittingly result in the failure of the antagonist’s goals but teach the antagonist a lesson, despite the efforts of the hero

b. Two identical 50s housewives seeing each other through the window while doing the ironing, each thinking the other is a reflection

c. the universe’s 10th most abundant container spilling Fe atoms about like loose marbles

d. no one knows (hint: the right answer isn’t always the right answer)

The walk light turned green, and even the people on their phones glared at this person scribbling with a no. 2 pencil in the appropriate bubble.

Before the test taker saw it was time to cross the light was counting down from five. He ran and made it just slightly after time ran out. A car honked at him. Disgusted, the test taker stopped and walked over to the driverside window. He put his foot under the front tire and made sure the driver could see that. He motioned for the driver to lower the window.

“Excuse me,” said the test-taker, “but I most vehemently apologize for mildly inconveniencing you in your climate controlled moving vehicle. Can you ever forgive me? A lowly peasant on foot, having the audacity to breathe the outside air which is of course, reserved solely for car exhaust. I most humbly beseech your absolution and you have my oath to the very edges of Providence, that I will firmly attempt to never inconvenience another driver again as long as I live. Because it’s clearly me who has all the power, and not the person behind the steering of 4,000 pounds of steel I . . .”

“You’re totally mental,” said the driver, rolling up his window. “Get your foot out from under my tire. You see these people behind us? One of them will start shooting real soon. It happens every day.”

“Perhaps you could answer me just one question,” said the test taker . . .

If the National Imperdiet Velorctuai reaches 89% over a two year differential, then at what magnitude opus doest the Peligree Inkspot need to respond at in order to maintain a carpet market weave of 87/9340 and 2/3.9/7? Show your work.

a. 1

b. A zillion

c. my favorite film is ‘Tropicana Nights’

d. to get to the other side

“Oh, it’s not all fun and games being a fun-and-game-show host,” said the host. “Sometimes, you have to ask questions that belong only in hell. At least I don’t have to write them.”

“What’s your least favorite question?” asked the reporter.

“Probably along the lines of, ‘so what do you do?’ or ‘do you have anything interesting to share with the audience that I could ask you about?’”

“And they give the responses . . .” said the reporter.

“It’s always something like ‘I was in the this-something club at school and we used to do this zany thing . . .’ my god, blow your fucking brains out! 

“That’s my new favorite question. The next time some starry-eyed contestant tells me some ‘wacky’ thing about them, I’m just going to ask, 

‘why don’t you blow your fucking brains out?’”

a.

b.

c.

d. 

Time’s up class, pencils down. Be sure to line the birdcage with your papers as you leave. A fitting metaphor for your life. Don’t be alarmed, it’s all of our tax dollars at work.

I Laugh in the Face of Death (Part 2)

   Next weekend found me once again on foot. There's a shop across the bridge that sells books and games. The Wand’s Want. I’m quite fond of number puzzles – although the accounts I work with belong in that category, they still feel like work and the puzzles I do for fun do not. I play online in a few teams and have even traveled out-of-state for tournaments before.

     While the bridge does get rather crowded on nice days, being a solitary man not up-to-date with any fashion, I walk smoothly through crowds. The sun in my eyes forced my gaze to one side and a flock of birds caught my attention. Clumping together, spreading apart, circling around the same patch of sky. They wove through several phases of geometry with the unity of a single breathing heart. No one else was noticing this. 

    So absorbed was I in congratulating myself for seeing the unseen that I bumped into someone! Both of us stumbled back. He was younger than me (everyone seems to be nowadays) and he had a similar-aged friend with him. I apologized and he shrugged it off as no-trouble-at-all. His friend looked at him as if more fuss was expected. We wished each other good day (not literally, no one says that anymore, even fogies like me) and went our separate ways.

    My mind continued on other topics when a laugh escaped me. At first I thought it was the absurdity of me thinking I saw more than others and then bumping into someone. But then I remembered last week. My diaphragm heaved, and out came more laughs. This time there was no stopping it. My stomach hurt from the repression and I folded in half, laughing into my knees. I sniffed exaggeratedly, hoping that people would assume I had just been the victim of a particularly vehement sneeze. Steadying myself on the handrail, I let the laughter run its course.  

The wind was cold against my tears. After three complete breaths, I risked straightening up. Everyone in front of me stared in horror. The giggles began again, and I continued with my efforts of repression. I tried to compose myself and began to speak when I realized it wasn't me they were looking at.

    I turned around and beheld a scene straight out of the news. The man I had bumped into was up on the handrail, about to jump to his death. His friend was pleading with him not to. The suicidal man said that he would jump if anyone tried to stop him. I reflected with some satisfaction that if this man had really wanted to die, he would not have had his friend accompany him on the bridge. This was a cry for help, and it would all end well.

    My life has never been referred to as ‘enviable’ by anyone. I graduated from college and went straight to work for the company that I still work for, although now I can more or less choose my clients. I've always been chronically shy and have never had the urge to explore social relations through partying. Still, you don't see me creating a ruckus on the news about how nobody loves me. In general I like people and wish humanity well. So, why was I unable to stop laughing?

    As the friend leapt the border to stop the jumper I slapped a hand over my smile and continued slobbering and snorting like a pig. The man jumped, and my laughter died with him.

    Again, dozens of cell-phones captured these moments. The police took the grieving friend away for questioning and I noticed him pointing at me. An officer asked if what the man had told them of our earlier encounter was true. I said it was and they let me go. No mention of the laughter.

Eyes Open, Childhood Dreams (Part 1)

  On top of the playground, Braden, Dylan and Ashley were arguing about how much recess was left. Dylan asked if there was an hour left. Ashley said they never had an hour-long recess. How long did he think an hour was? Braden answered sixty minutes. Ashley smiled. She asked how many minutes recess usually was. Braden answered twenty minutes. Ashley said that's right and that's why she liked Braden. She gave him her turn down the pole. When his feet hit the ground he saw on the other side of the fence a man in a pink tutu holding a plank of wood and wearing a graduation cap with a tassel on it. It was Daddy.

    Braden told Ashley and Dylan that he had to see his Daddy. Ashley asked where his Daddy was, but Braden ran too fast across the yard to answer. His Daddy just looked at him and switched the plank from arm to arm. His tights ripped when he kneeled.

    “I thought Mommy was picking me up today,” said Braden.

    Daddy looked at the ground. “Yes, she is.” He nodded. He trembled. “You think I'd waste my time on a fucking shit like you?” He smacked the plank against the sidewalk and pushed his face against the fence. “I hope I'm not wasting my time here. Am I wasting my goddamn time?” His spit spattered Braden's face.

    “No Daddy. I want to help.”

    Daddy slammed the plank flat on the sidewalk and perched on it like a bird. He adjusted his graduation cap. “That's rich, coming from you. But maybe you're learning something after all.”

    “I am Daddy.”

   Daddy rattled the chains on the fence and bared his teeth. “Shut. The fuck. Up.”

    Braden stepped back.

    “You make me sick. You're doing it on purpose too. Don't think I don't know, but we'll deal with that later. I'm giving you a chance to redeem yourself because you're my son. My. Son.” Daddy retched and stood up. His torn tights sagged at the knees. “That girl you've been talking to?”

    Braden turned around. Both Ashley and Dylan stared at him from across the yard. Braden said, “Her name's Ashley. She's my friend.”

    Daddy kicked the fence and got his toe stuck through it. He shook out his toe and picked up the plank, leaning on it like it was a cane. “If you laugh so help me I'll come in there and spread your guts all over the fucking concrete. I'm taller than this fence you idiot.”

    Braden lowered his head.

    “Sit down, back against the fence.” Daddy lowered himself to a crouch and whispered in Braden's ear. “That girl is the . . . one of the . . . reasons you are so terrible to me. Never deal with her again, is that clear? Don't fucking turn and look at me.”

    “She's in my class, I see her every day.” Braden felt the fence shake from behind him and Daddy's drool piled on his shoulder.

    “Hurt her until she won't come back.”

    Braden shivered.

    “You really want to help?” asked Daddy.

    Braden nodded, afraid to breathe.

    “That will be a start. Don't fucking look back at me. I'll know if you don't do it. Scram.” Daddy hit the plank against the sidewalk.

    Braden stopped himself from running and stared at the sky on the way back to the playground as if looking at birds or clouds. There weren't any.

    Mrs. Leary, the Yard-Duty, headed towards him. She asked what he was doing by the fence.

Braden said that he was talking to his Daddy. Mrs. Leary thought that was silly. His Daddy would have to come through the office in order to see him like all the other parents. People aren't allowed to hang out by the fences and talk to kids. It's against the law.

    Both Ashley and Dylan were waiting for him. Braden apologized and said he didn't know how long his Daddy would talk to him. Dylan said Braden's Daddy must be really small because neither he nor Ashley had seen him. Braden said his Daddy was taller than the fence.

    Braden stood in line for the pole behind Ashley. If he took a running start and pushed her, she would fly past the edge of the playground and land on the blacktop. That would hurt. She might even die. Braden would be in trouble. But Daddy would be happy. Braden pressed himself against the wall and then shot forward. On the first step, his legs turned to jelly and he fell over.

    Ashley turned around and laughed. Then said she was sorry for laughing and asked if he was okay. Braden said yes. The bell rang as she slid down the pole. Braden had failed.

    Daddy was outside the fence by Braden's classroom. He had on a sleeveless leopard-print shirt and baggy red-white-and-blue striped pants. On his face were oversize plastic purple glasses with no lenses. He held the wooden plank like a baseball bat. He swung it and hit the fence which cracked like a gunshot in the post-recess silence. Braden shut his eyes tight.

    “Braden, what are you doing?” asked Mrs. Leary.

    Braden found himself by the shaking fence. Daddy was nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Leary grabbed his arm.

    “Don't kick the fence,” she said. “Line up and go back to class.”