Miss Leper’s Dilemma

by Bernard Ruines

There once was a woman who lived among lepers. Her family had always lived among the lepers, so it seemed a completely normal situation to her. She always felt comfortable with the lepers, knowing their only problem was a disorder in their sensory input nerves. It caused them to be injured without noticing, since they felt no pain. They grew horrible infections, were often hard to look at, and they smelled bad. Sometimes unnoticed injured body parts would fall off of them. She felt sorry for them, but the truth was that she herself did not have any leprosy. Her name was Amy. To fit in, as her parents had taught her, she practiced from a young age to emulate the lepers’ behaviors. She pretended to have body parts nearly ready to drop off. She contorted her face whenever the villagers were in sight. Amy told inappropriate jokes of very dark humor. But, she tried to help the lepers to be healthy, whenever she could.

The Mayor of the village rose up to show all the people that he was in charge and would work to keep the people safe. He saw how much the plight of the lepers disgusted the fine upstanding taxpayers of his realm. So, he banished all the lepers to be clearly labeled and shunned. He commanded that they live exiled far away from all the people. It did not matter to him that he was simply reinforcing his citizens’ foolish superstitions. It did not matter to him when all the wise shamans explained how labeling and banishing the lepers would make absolutely no difference for the problem of leprosy.

When Amy saw that being a leper was no longer an acceptable way to live, she tried to explain that she was not really a leper. But, the Mayor condemned her to exile, saying, “We have seen you with these filthy lepers. You are one of them alright, you can’t fool us with your trickery! Be gone you rabid dog!”

In this way Amy was chased away from her home. But before he banished the lepers, the Mayor required that they all wear a big red “L” on their ragged shirts. “So we can all be safe. After all, some of these devil lepers are almost human looking. We must be safe!”

So Amy was forced to wear an “L” on her clothes as well, even though she was certainly no leper, and she had not been the one in her family that made the decision many years before to hide among them. Now all her family was gone and she had no one to guide her. She hid out in the forest by herself. As she shivered in the cold, she realized that her ancestors had made a mistake when they chose to live among the lepers. She cut the big red “L” off of her clothes and stopped all pretense of being a leper. She made friends with the animals of the forest and did her best to be happy, living off the land with very little beyond the clothes on her back.

One day one of her distant relatives sent Amy a formal letter of introduction to a fraternity of clerics in the village. She took the letter to the clerics and they let her come into their courtyard and agreed to help her with their gift of knowledge. They seemed to really care for her and taught her how to view the world in a way that made a place for her voice to be heard. They said that their philosophy required them to accept every person, regardless of circumstance. They also knew a grouchy man, and they had taught the old man the same things. They said that they valued everyone, and most certainly they held the grouchy man in high esteem, for he was most accomplished.

One day the grouchy old man ventured into the forest and discovered Amy there. He felt sorry for her and in his scheming mind he hatched a plan to make use of her in his dealings with the clerics. He offered her shelter in his broken down hovel, inviting her to come and live with him. Amy accepted his offer, hoping she had finally found a friend. But, the old grouch made her live in a half-finished shed attached to the back of his old run down house. Amy was grateful just the same, but correctly sensed the old man’s ulterior motives.

The old grouch went through Amy’s things one day while she was out hunting for food in the forest, and he discovered the large red “L” that Amy had cut from her clothes and hidden away among her few possessions. He saw that the Mayor had officially labeled Amy as a leper, and he was very unhappy. He sought her out in the forest and screamed at her, “You’re a leper!! You have been trying to ruin me! You have tried to give me leprosy! Do not think that you can smear your leprosy on me you unclean dog, you untouchable scum! You have brought ruin and disdain on me! You have brought a stigma to my house! Get out of my face and darken my door no more!”

And so, Amy was not even allowed to collect her last few things and was forced to live with next to nothing, outcast in the dark dangerous forest. She felt that she should somehow explain her situation to the clerics, but she instantly faced a dilemma: If she was open and honest with the clerics the way they taught her to be, then she would worsen the grouchy man’s feeling of being ruined and stigmatized. She was torn. What was she to do? If she did not at least try to explain her situation to the clerics, they would eventually probably find out and condemn her for not being honest with them. There seemed to be no correct decision available to her.

Finally, Amy decided to show love to the grouchy man, even though he privately expressed his utter hate for her, because she had been labeled as having leprosy. He did not care that she had been victimized, only that she might bring him a stigma for having helped her. So, she avoided the grouchy man whenever they met in the village, and she never told the clerics of his former help to her, nor of her big red “L”.

Eventually, the clerics did find out and were very angry with the woman. They banned her from their gates, stating, “You are not the honest virgin we had assumed you to be. And, we do believe that you are afflicted with leprosy… after all you lived with the lepers long ago and you acted just like them… so, you are a leper, unclean and unacceptable in our sight!”

So much for their vaunted philosophy of accepting everyone, no matter their situation. Their philosophy clearly did not extend to quite everyone. They saw lepers as worthless dogs and not as real people, after all. As for Amy, she sought to love the clerics anyway, and if it were somehow possible, to love the grouchy old man as well. She prayed for them all. She also prayed for the power mad Mayor. She wandered away and explored the wilds that no man or woman had ever ventured into before. That is when her adventure truly began.

 

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We Cannot Die

We cannot die.
We are all immortal beings.
That is the problem.
Since we, the actual beings,
Immersed in this simulacrum
Can never Really die.

(CHORUS)

The problem becomes.
Where will we spend real singularity.
Forever together, atoms making up
Mitochondria. Or ever and ever.
On the trash heap… Doing.
Whatever, becomes… searing anguish.

(CHORUS)

When we fully grok.
The real party so far away.
In body Most Holy Jehovah.
Would Really suck and is not.
Meant to be. Not at all. See…
God sees us atoms timelessly.

(CHORUS):
I should adore my death,
When Real me awakes!
Released from this design.
Simulation Learning the.
Good and evil, and who to be.
Explore paradise. I’m FREE!

 

ELUSK STATION

By Zane Gazaway ↑↑ –

I will meet you on Elusk Station
On the Moon’s terminator limb
Twilight zone forever sublime
That old crescent Earth shine

I will meet you on Elusk Station
On full Earth nights, the lunarians
Get all Earthy and jump a hundred high
Vacuum abhorred, simply sucks a sigh

I will meet you on Elusk Station
Where might you run into young 121
Year old grinning screwdriver to trust
In his hand, Elon “da Vinci” Musk

I will meet you on Elusk Station
Elon invented all the colonies too
Arrived at by his Tesla Star Drive
Elon retired shaman to the tribe

I will meet you on Elusk Station
There we will whittle down some of
Your luggage-bots, my 134 year role
Musk our species thankfully Enrolled

I will meet you on Elusk Station
There say our ancient home goodbyes
To once have been random Earthlings
Now pioneer founders, we Rigel Sevenians

The Zombie Days Are Here!

An old cowboy walked into a shopping mall and a woman marking on a clipboard walked up to him and asked him whether he was concerned about a future “Zombie Apocalypse”. This is how the old cow hand replied:

“I can see you are a woman with the good sense to tackle what matters in the mind of a thinkin’ man. Now, although I have a interest in all kinds a impotent matters, it is the comin’ zombie apackolips that should be fore front in all our minds. It don’t no never mind matter to me how many folks thinks um crazy. Just cause they cain’t see whats comin’.

“It is a little known fact that the zombie makers are gonna start their evil plan just any day now. First they’ll start with the younger generation. They will use market weasel voodoo to get ’em to connect themselfs up with diabolical machines, see. I guess they’ll use some kind of Reverse Speech sublime-and-all tricks. Some machines will play that devil music real loud and direct into there heds. Some machines will show ’em all these seemin’ly fun talky shows (that they’ll call “reality” tho their all scripted), just wherever they go. Other machines will keep ’em all connected to each other, just talkin’ and sending lectric letters only with other zombies of their own kind, see. After a while, they’ll stop being able to drive, stop talkin’ to anybody thats right there with ’em, cain’t pay attention in class, and they’ll even be walkin’ into walls and traffic, being as they are only able to see and hear through their snertphones connectin’ ’em in the zombie world, see.

“Yeah, you will know when the zombie days is here, cause they’ll be millin’ around in the parks and streets of most cities, chantin’ about ‘occupying’. But, being plugged-in zombies, they cain’t rightly name nothin’ their exactly demanding. But, they’ll holler on and on about percent signs, how they’s entitled to this and should oughta have that… what other folks have built and earned.

“Nobody’s gonna take these zombies as any kind of serious threat at first. They won’t be violent, just stumblin’ around an livin’ in tents an bein a general nuisance ’bout how bankers shouldn’t be takin’ tax money ta help ’em out a hard times.

“My opinion? Dogs and cats and lawyers and bankers are people two! They got ever right to live as their ‘customed ta livin’ (even if they did conify a bunch of ninnies into buying houses they cain’t afford).

“Next thing ya know, these zombies’ll be growed up and runnin’ the country! Then where will we be? The United Zombies of Anarchistia!? This here is the good ol’ U.S.A. NOT the U.Z.A.

“Well, that’s all a gotta say bout that,” he trailed off as he watched the woman reading a text message on her phone.

She looked up and said, “I’m sorry. What was that last part again?”

The old cowboy turned and walked on. “She’s askin’ ’bout zombies and here she is one,” he mumbled as he walked away.

A Leper’s Gauntlet Life (continued)

Just a previous few us remembered
New anti-American vibe drops in
On us like a political plague of
Self-righteous Canuck vs. Yankee rage
Deported us unexpected dream’s end

We four limped back across border
To our native land cold October
Blows dad’s wallet worn thin
Stop in Oroville eyeing no future
Out of gas plans now long over

No jobs but digging rotten apples
Off frozen ground vinegar bound
Pays six dollar nights in one room
Alaska Highway View Hotel doomed
Daily uncut bologna by the pound

Three cold sandwiches per day
Can’t get ahead enough to onward
Go people here so odd and cold
As dad’s stare out dirty window
No plan no hope nowhere prepared

Little brother and I earned dead apple
Money a little yet can’t keep a dime
Dad growls now give me mom’s too
Desperate quarrels dad mentions booze
Mom’s heart sunk worn-out time

Weeks pass our gray empty souls
Exhausted parents little me tries
To console but no way to speak
Right commands to androids slowing
To rust no more goals to end sighs

‘Til one day old rooster Hungarian
Man in tromps crusty loud and bold
‘You any kind a real cowboy!?’ of
My old dad he demands unknown
‘All my life yours’ dad mumbles sold

Tries dad for a week ancient wiry
Rooster offers and he jumps at pay
Mom brother me in hotel room
Anxiously waiting hired daddy said

Full-time always stayed from that day
Happiest Years passed my turbine mind
Spinning discoveries around the compass
Yielding grokked natural science secret
Intrigue special abilities tried the world
Safe at last but mom had other plans

Old Dad’s done fleeing scared Mom
Finally and final his cowboy boot
Stomped down forgetting his love’s
Desperate fight, flight from forgotten
Austrian gentleman’s under care foot

Thirteen and somehow made aware
The ripping point had come home
Mom’s fight failed saw she’d soon run
Worried desperation penned my one
Poem calculated to cut to their bones

‘Home is sweet
But only when complete!
So please Dad
Save Mom a seat.’
My simple poetry attempt to bleat

Mom screamed cried beat her drum
Chest about TIME TO RUN NOW!
Crazy silly woman dad told me cold
Watch out! She’ll have you out chasing
Jackrabbits turned away feeling down

Her bizarre million yard heavy stare
Ran over the horizon only she knew
Not where not how kept us boys
Floating behind her wake to storm
Down her peculiar road we flew

Months later the tiny money
Bag dad gave to behave mournful
Empty flat as life in riverside shack
Mom’s hiding eyes cast about for
Sanctuary far away and hard doleful

Left thirteen year old now the man
Raise little brother mom commanded
‘Hold on I’ll be right back,’ she promised
Gone months four unknown return
Wyoming found letters she’d directed

Weeks to months turned personal
Survival mode my life to indulge
Four months alone time wore on
Quickly manhood jumped my bent
Shoulders to whip abuse overload

She never returned with my
Sleep that left off trust and hope
Bleak family not here no more
Brother now my child life and load
Kept me plodding a solitary dope

Dog bit malnourished scarecrow
Scratchy skeleton caressing little
Brother’s head buried in feral curl
Mom… YOU HAVE F**KED US!
WHERE ARE YOU SICK B***H!?

Old landlord stepped in boxes in hand
Mom’s letter in other showed me her
Plan for her to pack up brother son Clint
Roll on a bus pack stuff in garbage truck
Planned her return for a week just hither

Rent master implored help he would be
My new mantra started that very angry day
“I don’t need your help! I will do it myself!
Leave me alone! You’ll hurt me like all the rest!”
He sadly walked his fine home kept him at bay

Stood solid telling child of my charge that night
‘Don’t worry, be strong, must send you away…’
His terror his tears his broken heart broke mine
‘You’ll do as I say! Stay sane! Mom will regret!’
My brother no twelve year Eastwood betrayed

Hard knotted gut furrowed brow drank coffee
Aged too soon trance drove shaking hands
Filled boxes rough ready fast dissociating
Brother looked bleary with kid need
Herded him to school few days of sand

Told teachers we go now ignore them
Command that my mother appear
Good Luck With That lied she’d be along
Shortly but never appeared for them or me
Hope built hope ‘she’ll come, she’s sincere!’

She never arrived, garbage men sighed
‘No parent greets us? Where are our smiles?’
I growled and cajoled them to help, somehow
No love for you dim workers been paid
So load me up across nine hundred miles

Full day truck driving just a few stops
Talked men’s ears off ‘where, who, why?’
From passing out stopped and scared away
‘Kid! Anyone ever tell you’re INTENSE!?’
My little professor drained them quite dry

Found Wolf Ranch wife and began to unload
Our possessions from where garbage mound
Usually rode my little brother was there upset
He unloaded and roared at me some more
‘MOM IS NOT HERE! She’s in hospital town!’

Turned out mom caught pneumonia in twos
Ranch wife coldly left us to keep house and stew
But early next day she to hospital us drove
Saw mom lay under tent of oxygen too sick to care
About coughing a lung just talked in mews

‘Can you cook for wolves…is there some way?’
Her deathly face contorted the facts quite spare
So sorry she’d done it but cannot turn back
My, ‘You’re crazy no way! My rope ends today!’
Saw no way out her gaping canyons of despair

Three weeks we two hung on Wolf Ranch
Woman’s few sandwiches gave ill will
With extra helpings of bitching too
‘We hired a cook not a welfare case!’
‘Yer mom’s sicker still, but not on our bill!’

She drove us to dying mother who slept
Doctor allowed us few minutes with her
Ranch bitch did her duty to push us out
‘When she goes so do you, but don’t worry’
‘I’ll gladly drive you to fine home of foster’

Slept little ate less fed brother in obsessed
Unboxed jungle hovel surrounded in snow
Forced long bus ride to junior high school
To deal with narrow right-wing prejudice
Judged as refugees by teachers all in a row

Could not either of us see mom for weeks
Ranch bitch informed us our time limit sin
Grouching about our cereal box kid mess
And that mom was on mend, maybe, But
Wolves done in a week if mom didn’t clock in

Kept brother off school bus with me scared
Paced floor endlessly to be or not to be
Reading any everything looking inside true me
Who guessed somewhat more than I seemed
Weary hopeless sleepless building rage took me

Nights later found me storming blearily
Down road to the Wolf’s den to beg
‘Sure, use our phone then get out quick!’
I begged operator find my sister for me
She found Ruth’s voice in my darkest dread

Fear of her refusal gripped my sad voice
Please Ruth help us mom is quite sick
I squeaked and then bawled it all out
Ruth’s kind voice most lovingly exclaimed
‘What has happened!? Where now do you sit?’

She said a prayer then I calmed down
Friendly asked, ‘What’s mom done now?’
She tenderly admonished, ‘Whatever you
Think, sister won’t let you down at all!’
Told her from divorce ‘til then with a frown

Ruth’s age old anger with our mother
Burned in her words as she assured me
She’d take care of me, brother and mom
Just wait said she for Leroy in his truck
Coming to rescue you all as soon as can be

I hung up and bolted passed annoyed wolves
Back up hill crying my eyes now out of harm
But floating on clouds of hope draped from
My sister’s loving words and promise of help
Fell like manna in snows my heart to warm

Grapes of Wrath Time Again

“Rosey! I am ordering you to attend to my mandate, here and now!” Joe loudly declared into Rosey’s face, sitting across from each other at an empty kitchen table.

“Okay Joe…what. The. Ever,” Rosey said slowly as she raised her head and squinted at Joe.

“I mean it Rosey! There will be no offspring. I want no children. Is that clear!?” He inquired as he glared at her.

Rosey tilted her head slightly, birdlike, and said quietly, “No children. That’s fine. I’ve already had four… that’s enough.”

Ah, but there came two more. Both boys. Well, one was mostly, at least 70% boy and some 30% girl. Steve was born in the summer of 1960. Steve’s little brother Clyde was born in 1961. He barely lived, this RH baby. His body is covered with flakey red and tan scabs that run in lines, generally following his underlying nervous system. He is allergic to just about everything. And, he is a sunny faced, happy little guy.

 ***

Steve watched his daddy milk the cow. He had been coming out to the barn every night for several nights now, to watch his father milk the cow. He heard his mother calling his little brother’s name in the distance. His father squeezed the cow’s teats, two at a time, one in each hand. The white enameled bucket sat in the dirt under the cow’s udder, half filled.

Rosey rushed up and shouted at Joe, “I cain’t find him! I cain’t find Clyde! Come help me find him right now… please Joe! Help me find him!”

Joe stopped milking and turned to his wife. “Have you checked the front yard? The shop? The bull pasture?”

“I’ve searched everywhere he could be… it’s like he’s disappeared!”

Steve piped up, “I seen kwide.”

Rosey turned to him and demanded, “Where! Where did you see your little brother?”

“Playing boats in the tank. Playing boats,” three year old Steve answered simply.

Rosey turned and ran toward the large cow watering tank between the barn and the house. She stopped suddenly and pointed towards the middle of the two foot tall open tank. She started screaming, “Joe! Joe! There he is… he’s on the bottom!”

Joe handed the half-full bucket of milk to Steve and told him, “Hold on to this milk Steve. Don’t drop it. Don’t you let it get in the dirt! I’ve got to go see what your mother is hollering about.”

Steve used all his strength to hold up the bucket. It was half as big as he was. He stood there and waited.

Joe ran to where Rosey was pointing. He stopped short and sputtered. Then he ran and jumped into the water tank and waded to the center. He stooped down into the water and picked something up.

Steve saw his little brother come up out of the water in his father’s arms. Clyde was not moving. He had a strange blue color.

“He’s not breathing! Oh my God! My baby is dead! Clyde is dead! He’s not breathing!” Screamed Rosey as Joe stepped out of the cow tank and stood looking down at his still son, laying dripping in his arms. He stood frozen, not moving and not breathing.

The bucket of milk grew heavier in Steve’s hands. He pulled up with all this strength, trying to follow his father’s directive to keep the bucket out of the dirt.

“I was washing the clothes! I just looked away for a minute! What are we gonna’ do Joe… he’s not moving… he’s dead… my baby is dead!” Rosey screamed as both parents stood frozen in place.

Joe started running towards the house. Rosey chased after him, screaming inarticulate sounds.

Steve stood still, watching with eyes wide, unsure of what had just happened. His parents disappeared with his listless blue brother into the backdoor of their little house. Steve stood alone, staring at the closed backdoor, straining to hold up the bucket of milk.

Finally, he carefully lowered the heavy bucket of milk to the ground. He felt scared to be punished for letting the bucket down. His concern for his little brother overcame his concern for the bucket.

Steve left the bucket and raced for the backdoor. He opened the door and saw his father shaking a nude Clyde violently, his thumbs pressed firmly into his brother’s chest. His mother was collapsed on her knees on the floor, reaching her hands up toward her unmoving son in Joes’ hands. She continued crying uncontrollably. Clyde woke up while Steve was watching. He puked all over his father’s shirt and began to cry. Joe smiled from ear to ear. Rosey jumped to her feet and ran to her son. She laughed and cried hard as she took Clyde into her arms and kissed him.

“Clyde! Clyde! Dear Clyde! You’re okay… you’re alive… you’re alive!” She yelled.

Steve heaved a little sigh of relief and ran up to his father. “Daddy! Daddy! I’m sorry… I held it up best I could… I put the milk down, I dropped the milk… I’m sorry Daddy!”

“Oh Steve! Don’t you worry about it. It doesn’t matter… it don’t matter at all… your brother is alive. He’s alive Steve, that’s all that matters!”

 ***

It was a Sunday. Steve wandered through the house, searching. Rosey looked over the vibrating rollers of the 1930s ringer washer she struggled to control. “Steve? What are you looking for? I know that look… don’t you go getting into anything without asking first… right? You stay out of that bull pasture!”

“I jus’ need a liddle jar. Gonna’ catch a bug.”

Rosey took on a worried look. “A bug!? Just what kind of bug? We’ve got more than enough bugs in this house already!”

Steve continued looking around. “It’s a shiny and black one… ’cept for a pretty red back. I wanna’ catch it for a pet.”

“Shiny black with a red back! Joe!? Joe get in here… I think Steve’s found another Black Widow spider… he says he’s going to catch it and put it in a jar as a pet!”

Joe walked into the kitchen, looking concerned. “Just where did you see this ‘bug’, Steve?”

“In the hole in the rocks of the front steps. It’s way back in there, but I can get it with a stick. I’m gonna’ make it my pet,” Steve confidently responded while still searching for a capture jar.

Without warning Steve found himself swept off his feet and hanging upside down from his father’s hands. “Wait! Stop! Put me down! Wha’d I do? Wha’d I do!?” Steve yelled.

“Let me show you something Steve!” Joe growled angrily as he hauled Steve through the house, hanging upside down. He strode through the living room and opened the front screen door. He stepped to the edge of the three concrete front steps and lowered Steve until his face was directly in front of the hole in the first step. He could clearly see his prize in the back of the hole in the concrete.

“Do you see that spider, Steve!?”

Still squirming, upside down in Joe’s grip, Steve said, “Yeah! Yeah! I see it. Now put me down!”

“Not yet! I want you to really get this Steve! This is very, very important. That is not just any bug. It is not a bug you are ever to touch, much less keep as a pet. You see it is shiny black, it has eight legs, and it has a bright red hourglass on its back… you see that, right!?”

“Yes! But, what’s an ‘our glass’?”

“It looks like two red triangles pointing at each other. Steve, this is a deadly poisonous spider. There are a lot of them around us. You stay away from them! One bite from this spider and you are dead! Do you understand me!? If you touch this spider, it will bite you and you will quickly die. If you ever see one, you come get me or your mother… do you understand!?”

Steve’s face hung upside down about two inches from the spider. Suddenly he felt terrified of it and began to cry. Joe pulled him up and flipped him onto his feet.

“That’s okay Steve. I just wanted you to get it. Stay away from Black Widow spiders. Now, go inside. I’m going to kill this one, right now.”

 ***

 Steve wandered past the backyard, past the cow watering tank, past the milking shed, and into the large garden. He trotted up to his daddy and asked, “Can I have some candy? I want candy!”

Joe bent down to pull up a tough weed and kept scraping away smaller weeds in the watering furrow with his hoe. “No. No candy,” he replied simply.

Steve frowned and tried again, “Why not!? I want some candy, daddy!”

Joe growled down at his tiny son, “People in hell want ice water.” Then he paced away to the other end the garden.

Steve stood frowning, watching his father stalking away. ‘What is hell,’ he thought.

 ***

One day Rosey took her to boys in the old Studebaker sedan and drove to see their third-closest neighbors. “Visiting,” is what Rosey called it. They arrived at the Jackson’s ranch just before noon. Lillian Jackson came out the backdoor of a nice small house, surrounded with corrals, and met them in the gravel parking lot.

“Well hello Rosey. Come to visit, have you? I see your boys are growing up fast as tumbleweeds! Come in, come in.”

On the way to the backdoor, a golden haired puppy ran up and jumped on all of them. He excitedly barked and licked the boys’ faces. Steve instantly fell in love with the dog. He stayed out in the yard and played with the puppy while the others chatted in the house. He only went into the house when his mother demanded that he come in and ‘eat this nice lunch Lillian has gone and made for us!’ He felt as though he was abandoning his new best friend, but obeyed and went in to scarf the food down as quickly as he could.

Lillian said, “Rosey, if you’ll let me, I’ll give that pup to Steve. Bud and I have been talking about what to do with him. We’ve already got three… that’s enough dogs for any ranch. Will you take him off our hands?”

Rosey looked out the window, watching Steve running in circles, chasing the puppy and looking happier than she had seen him in a while. She considered for a moment. “Well, I think it’s a great idea. But… Joe is another matter. He claims to hate dogs. But, I think I can talk him into it. Sure! Let Steve have the dog and we’ll make it work out, somehow.”

So, they arrived back home at the Droke place with the dog. Joe was not happy to see it. He told Rosey to get rid of it. She refused. The next day, while riding their horses North of the Droke place, moving a few head of cattle, Joe mentioned the new dog situation to Henry James. “Rosey doesn’t listen to a single word I say! I told her a long time ago, ‘No dogs!’” He complained to Henry.

“Well, you also instructed her to have no kids, as I remember. She seems to be a woman that does just whatever she wants to do. And, it seems to me dogs around here often come up missing, don’t they Joe? A coyote or a cougar gets ‘em. Hell, tippy got bitten by a rattler last year and nearly died. Just coax him away from the house and take care of the situation.”

Joe did that the next day. While his family slept in until their usual six-thirty, he got up at five and saddled his horse. Then he leashed the dog and walked up the trail leading the horse with one hand and the dog with the other. About a mile from the ranch house, Joe stopped and tied the puppy up to a Juniper scrub. Then he led the horse a hundred yards away and tied it up. He pulled his rifle from the scabbard tied to his saddle. He walked several paces from the horse, raised the rifle and shot the dog once through the head. He dumped the dead dog in the arroyo nearby.

When he told Henry later that day, Henry laughed, “So much for your old lady ignoring what you say!”

***

Rosey drove as quickly as she dared in the old Studebaker, fighting the steering wheel with both hands as she drove down the rutted dirt road that connected their canyon ranch lands with the thin ribbon of oiled gravel road that led to Trinidad, Colorado. She could barely keep a pace of about 40 miles per hour because of the deep ruts made by trucks slogging through the mud when it had last rained. Steve and Clyde sat beside her on the front bench seat. It was a very hot, dusty, parched August day in 1964. Rosey slowed down and gasped a little.

“Oh boy! Here comes that old Riney woman, driving like a bat out ah hell down the middle of the road. I sure hope she’ll get over before she hits us!”

Steve hopped up and put his feet on the top front of the seat, so he could stretch up and lean against the top of the dashboard, looking down the road through the grimy windshield. “You know her momma?”

Rosey glanced over and pushed Steve back onto the bench seat. She pulled over as far as she could to the right side of the narrow country road and stopped. “Sit down. Now boys, do not say nothin’. And, stay in the car. Maybe she’ll just drive on by.”

The old rusty rattletrap of a vehicle skidded to a scratchy stop exactly beside them and the noisy crackling engine shut off. It was a rusted out 1948 Chevy pickup truck. Steve looked passed his mother as she looked out and greeted the driver. He had never seen anyone like this before. He felt instantly afraid. Then he wondered why his mother had anticipated a woman in the truck, because to him the driver looked like a man who had been sitting in the Saturday night wash tub for far too long, and then was kept out in the sun until he looked like a roasted raisin with beady, deeply sunken gray eyes, a fire hydrant of a nose, and dark brown broken teeth. The creature stuck its head out of the cab and leaned down, squinting at Rosey and the boys.

“Hey there, that you young Rosey? Gone ta tain eh ye?”

“Well hello Miss Riney. Fancy meeting you out here on the road.”

“Hell girl, you know there’s nothin’ fancy ‘bout me. Ye might run in ta me down this road most any time, day er night. Cain’t fuck’n remember last time I drove into tain, though. Shit! It shore is hot, ain’t it? Why it’s dry’er in a popcorn fart.” Then Riney spat a big wet brown wad of chewing tobacco in the dirt between them.

“It sure is hot, I’ll tell ya what,” was all Rosey could reply.

“You know, Stella done run off a couple ah weeks back. So now ah gots ta raise tha’ goats on ma lonesome again… damned fuck’n little bitch!”

“Please! Miss Riney, don’t cuss so much in front of my boys! I am sorry to hear you lost your… um… your friend Stella, though. I know you were real good friends.”

“Ah hell, woman! Ye know’d they heer’d their pop say worse’n me. I speak ma mind, which is nothin’ delicate, ah know ye know that, fuck’n shure.” She paused for a while and looked down the road in front of her. Then, while still staring down the road, she said quietly, “An shore as shoot’n ah know ya know’d she was more than just ma friend.” She leaned out of the cab a little farther and peered at the boys.

“You mindin’ yer momma, boys!?” She demanded. Clyde cringed as she stared at him from the ancient leathery face and slunk down onto the floorboard. Steve quickly dropped down with him. Riney pulled her head back into the cab of the truck and picked up a pistol that looked broken, with the wood from the handle broken out and a rusty barrel. She waved it in the air with her right hand.

“Well, ah tell ya. Damned old coyote got in ta ma chickens last night. Kilt two of ‘em. I’m out hea’ look’n ta put an end ta that particula’ shit doggie. Have ya seen any such a beast ‘round up in hea?”

Rosey shook her head and replied, “No. No, cain’t say as I have seen any coyotes Miss Riney… sorry to hear about yer chickens, though. I hope you get ‘em!”

“Ah well… it’s a damn sight more ‘bout keepin’ busy… keeps ma mind off’n ah Stella. Well, you take good care’n boys. All be see’n ya.” Without another word she fired up her old truck and drove away.

Many years later, when Steve remembered this encounter, he realized that the old woman lived as a man. It was she that was sometimes described and cussed and discussed in conversations about an old witch lady that owned her own goat farm and was rumored to do wicked things in her house with other women. She was the first feisty lesbian woman he had ever met, and she lived life on her own terms. As an adult he could infer many years of harsh survival the woman had endured on the high plains, a unique and admirable character that seemed like an aberration from the 19th century. And, who had actually been born in the 19th century.

***

Joe bought a large surplus army tent for next to nothing, at a flea market in La Junta. It was from WWII. It had large sections that were ripped and full of holes. It smelled of mildew. It came without any poles, just the cloth. He spread it out on the dusty bare ground in the backyard, between the incinerator circle and the garden.

“What do you think you’re gonna’ do with that moldy old thing?” Rosey demanded.

“You’re worried I’m thinking about us living in it in Canada, aren’t you?” Joe responded.

“Well, yeah… I wouldn’t put it past ya. That’s just the kind of old time cowboy you seem to think you are.”

“No, we won’t be using it as a tent. I was kind of hoping it might still work as a tent, you know, for going hunting. But, it’s clearly too far gone for that. Now I’m just hoping I can cut out a good enough piece to cover the stock racks on the pickup. We might get rained on, driving all the way to Canada. Gotta’ have some way to keep our crap from getting wet.”

Joe spent a couple of Sundays cutting, sewing up holes, and forming seams with thick white cotton string and a large saddle needle. Then he coated all the large white stitches with ugly, smelly crimson colored rubber auto engine gasket sealant. Finally, he fitted it over the tall six foot by five foot steel stock racks in the back of their light blue 1957 Ford pickup. He stood back and surveyed the covered vehicle. Rosey walked up and stood beside him, her hands on her hips.

“Well, it doesn’t look like much. But, it should last for the trip, at least,” Joe stated.

“It looks like shit!” Rosey replied, then walked back into the house without another word.

Steve frowned and walked all the way around the pickup, surveying the rough olive-drab and sick red sutures forming a dark, patched cube on the back of the sky blue pickup.

His dad growled, “Yeah, it looks like the grapes of wrath, I guess. I’ll be damned if I do anything else with it. I’m done fooling with it. Don’t know why we’re leaving for Canada, anyway. Women!”

A few days later they packed up as much as they could into the back of the ’57 sky blue pickup with olive drab cube on the back, sporting ugly crimson sutures all over it. Most of the furniture was left behind. The four of them arrayed on the pickup truck’s bench seat. No seat belts. Worn out engine. Seventeen hundred miles of the unknown stretched before them. Maximum speed: 50 miles per hour.

Animal Faux Pas

by Zane Gazaway |||

The times were as they had been, as they always were before, and as they would be again. Three frogs sat on a log. The smallest one kept croaking how it really was the best of times. That it couldn’t possibly get any better. The other two ignored her and continued staring glassy-eyed into the times as they saw them.

“Think it’ll get any worse?” the middle aged frog asked the larger, ancient looking frog next to him. The craggy lines of scarred folds holding the old one’s head up winced a little, but the resident elder did not even blink in response.

“Well… I’m worried,” the middle frog croaked.

In the distance a dragonfly droned into view. Ancient frog blinked once and in a grating voice croaked, “Okay…back to work.”

Middle frog pushed little frog off the log. She flailed the air as she dropped down into the pond. He jumped in after her, croaking all the way. Ancient frog shifted left a bit and surveyed the whole pond.

Little frog nudged the side of a leaf floating beside her in the water. She turned in the water to face the shore and looked a large Stinkbug in its beady little eyes. She pointed a webbed foot at the leaf.

“Now this model sports a serrated edge to discourage birds from attacking. Plus there’s no friggin’ holes in it. Yes, this really is one of the safest and most luxurious leaf boats we sell.”

“You mean to tell me you sometimes sell boats that leak?” The Stinkbug asked, clicking nervously.

Middle frog swam off into the reeds, leaving little frog without another word.

The salamander and the snake lurked under a jungle of overgrown brush, stretched out on a slimy black mold that clung to the tangled shore. Their wares lay hidden from view, deep in the muck.

The turtle picked up a smooth gray rock and held it against his head. “Look…” he intoned slowly. “I didn’t select the color, the customer did that. Hmm… Why can’t she change her mind?” He waited for the filthy animal on the other end of the line to respond.

In a large tree on a hillside nearby, a cute and quite tiny bird flitted from branch to branch, finally lighting on a branch above the glade. She had a jet black head and sleek yellow body.

“What the hell are you staring at?” She barked at a lazy prairie dog gazing up at her.

“Why shucks. I was just admirin’ ya is all,” replied the displaced marmot sheepishly. He knew he was looking sheepish, so in a nervous gesture he said “baaa…baaa!” in a perfect imitation of a sheep.

Tiny bird twittered with delight. “You make me laugh,” she chirped. “You’re no sheep…but, you sound an awful lot like one.”

“Fraud! Fraud! This is a fraud!” a bleating voice called out tremulously. A large white sheep trotted up to prairie dog. “I heard ewe calling, seductively. Now I see it’s just a ground rat pretending!”

“Hey, what can I say? I’ve got The Gift,” prairie dog quipped.

The Cardinal sat on a thick branch, high on an old aspen tree. He was a very colorful, plump bird, and he lived by rules. If anybody dared break one of his rules, they quickly found themselves on his shit list, and that was not a good place to be found.

The prairie dog made his way through the high grass, searching for a nice sandy hill he could call his own.

The klaxon blared into the stillness. This alarm rarely rang and its sound was brand new for some of the young ones. The forest resonated with chatter as each alerted his neighbor. “PEOPLE ARE COMING! QUIET DOWN! HIDE YOURSELVES!”

“I’ve been through this before, small ones. Please listen to me. Everyone must lay down low, low in the tall high, high grass and you cannot make a sound,” cooed a wise Doe to her two fawns.

Trout tucked her minnows under rocks at the bottom of the creek that fed the pond.

Snake and Salamander withdrew into the muck with their wares.

The ‘People’ were two small boys, out for a little adventure.

The magpie tried to hold back his temper. The human boys deserved a verbal punishment, and he had learned a little of the human language… he could do it! But then he thought of the crows.

The crows used to live in the forest, but now they were banned, exiled to the places where humans live. They had broken the Cardinal’s rule: ‘Never let people hear you speak, especially not people language. If they discover who we really are, we’re done for’.

Magpie wondered who he really was if he was not himself? But was sure talking to humans would get him relocated to crow territory.

One of the boys stopped throwing stones and picked up a dead branch. He used both arms to swing it over his head right at the branch Magpie sat perched on. The impact threw him off the branch and he flew into a short frenzy until he had safely landed on the branch up above.

That is when Magpie’s temper got the best of him. “Stupid people!” He screeched in human tongue.

The boy instantly dropped the stick. “Did you hear that!?” He hissed at the other boy. “That bird can talk!”

High overhead haphazard Vultures circled languidly.

A wrinkled blood sleeve of sown together sores blinked obsidian eyes. This repugnant stalk was attached to a tattered, grungy, trash bag of a body. Leading all this, a curved blade of beak spoke. “Yeah, just gotsta’ find us a really weak one… somethin’ real weak… ya know?”

A nearby comrade, even more disgusting looking than the first, cocked an eye at him, and let go with a tirade. “You maggot infested sack of stamper’d filth! We gotsta’ find a really dead one. No mo advent’chas wid things ‘nea’ly dead’! Man, las’ time I just ’bout got ma feet’s chomped off by dat ‘nea’ly dead’ dog!”

“Awright, awright. I got it. We just gotta’ find us somethin’… uh… really, really dead. Awright?”

High over everything, so high in the sky that only the buzzards could catch a glimpse, soared a lone Eagle.

“Don’t act crazy Sid!” The other boy said, frowning.

“No! It really did… it talked,” he replied in wonderment. “Hey bird… call me stupid again… pleeeeze,” he begged.

But Magpie had regained his composure. Though he was shivering with fear, he forced himself to seem as bored and simple as possible. He casually preened his tail feathers, squawked unintelligibly a few times, and finally flew off without another word. Sid stared after it. He turned slowly in a circle, eying the trees and shrubs warily.

Sid had woken up that morning, a regular boy who knew beyond doubt that animals were dumb, unreasoning parts of the scenery. Any modern boy with any sense could confirm that. But now… now, he suspected the truth and instantly felt threatened and alone. It seemed there might be magic in the air.

He saw a Stillers Jay flitting among the branches of the taller trees. ‘Can it talk too?’ He wondered.

Prairie dog pondered the situation. He felt strongly that something had to be done. But, what?

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